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Articles for Reference


God’s Plan of Salvation

A troubled jailer in the first century once asked two Christian leaders, “what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). This in fact is the most important question that anyone can ask. We are troubled not only by the evils of our world but also by our own faults. We often feel guilty for those words and deeds that our own consciences tell us are wrong. We probably sense that we deserve God’s judgment, not his favor. What can be done—or what has been done—to rescue us from our helpless situation? We begin our answer by offering an overview of God’s plan and his work to bring salvation, followed by a more detailed unpacking of these truths.


God made this world and all that is in it: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. … God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:1, 27). He created human beings to be like him and to have unhindered fellowship with him, and when his work of creation was finished he saw that it was “very good” (Gen. 1:31).


Although the first people God created, Adam and Eve, had complete freedom to live in friendship and trust with him, they chose to rebel (Gen. 3:1–7). Because God designed that Adam would represent the entire human race, his sin was catastrophic not only for him but for us: “one trespass led to condemnation for all men” (Rom. 5:18). Our fellowship with God was broken. Instead of enjoying his holy pleasure, we instead face his righteous wrath. Through this sin, we all died spiritually (see Rom. 3:1–20; Eph. 2:1–10) and the entire world was affected. God also cursed the world over which humanity had been set to reign as his lieutenants (see Gen. 3:17–19). “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it” (Rom. 8:20). And we all individually sin against God in our own lives: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).


God would have been perfectly just to leave matters there, with all human beings under his holy judgment, but he didn’t. God instead set in motion his plan to save his people from sin and judgment and set free the entire creation from its subjugation to sin and the curse. How? By sending his Son as a true man who would bear the penalty for our sin and die in our place: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3).

The best-known verse in the Bible summarizes the required response to this good news: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). To “believe in” Jesus includes both a wholehearted trust in him for forgiveness of sins and a decision to forsake one’s sin or to “repent”: All who truly “repent [or turn from their sins] and believe [in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins]” will be redeemed (Mark 1:15) and restored to a right relationship with God. To “believe in” Jesus also requires relating to, and putting trust in, Jesus as he truly is—not just a man in ancient history but also a living Savior today who knows our hearts and hears our prayers.


God not only rescues lost sinners but he restores all of creation. We read in Romans 8:21: “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” The heavens and the earth will “pass away” and be radically transformed (2 Pet. 3:7–13; Rev. 21:1). We read of the glorious culmination of this in the book of Revelation, where God’s people, the redeemed, are brought into the presence of God to live forever (Rev. 21:1–22:6). This is life as it should be, literally as it was meant to be.

Filling in the Details

Let’s now stop and review this more carefully and specifically, addressing the questions of God, man, Christ, the response, and the result.


The God of the Bible is the one and only true God. He is the greatest of all beings. He depends on no other being for his existence. He exists eternally as one God in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—a mystery beyond our understanding, but not a contradiction. He plans and acts according to his own good pleasure. He “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). God created the world and acts in it today in accordance with his own perfect, holy, good, and loving plan.

In the same way that this perfectly good God created everything according to his own purposes, so he has acted to save people who have rebelled against him. This action, too, is not because of anything external compelling him, but it is “according to his great mercy” that “he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3).


People are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27–28). What does that mean? In part it means that we are privileged to act as God’s representatives, as sub-rulers over God’s creation, subduing the creatures of the earth, reflecting God’s good rule over us. Our authority is derived from God’s (Eph. 3:14–15) and is meant to reflect his own. But beyond function, being in God’s image also means that we are like God in many ways. Like God, we are spiritual and rational beings. Like God, we communicate and establish relationships. Like God, our souls endure eternally.

However, the Bible also teaches that there has been an enduring effect of the sin of Adam and Eve recorded in Genesis 3. Because of that sin, we are born morally fallen. We are naturally turned away from God and toward sin in every area of life. We are not as bad as we possibly could be, but we are at no point as good as we ought to be. We are now all sinners, and we sin in all areas of life (Rom. 3:23). We are corrupted and make the wrong choices. We are not holy, and are in fact inclined to evil; we do not love God, and therefore we are under just condemnation to eternal ruin, without defense or excuse. We are guilty of sinning against God, fallen from his favor, and under the curse of Genesis 3, and the promise of his right and just judgment of us in the future and forever is guaranteed to us (“the wages of sin is death,” Rom. 6:23). This is the state from which we need to be saved.

Jesus Christ

It was, then, when all human beings were desperate and helpless, that God “loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Fully God.
The Son of God, who has eternally existed with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and who has eternally possessed all the attributes of God, became a man. He was born as Jesus, son of the virgin Mary. The Son entered this world with a purpose: he came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), which means he came to redeem us from sin and guilt. He was not an unwitting or unwilling sacrifice. He, following his Father, chose to love the world in this way. Though now fully human, he was also fully God throughout the time of his life on earth (and remains fully God to this day). Jesus himself clearly taught his deity in the way he fulfilled prophecy, which was associated with the coming of God himself (Mark 14:61–62). Jesus forgave sins (Mark 2:5), he accepted worship (John 20:28; Revelation 5), and he taught, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

Fully man.
Jesus Christ was also fully man. He was not a deity pretending to be human when he was not. Jesus was fully human (and remains fully human to this day). He was born and lived in submission to his earthly parents. He had a fully human body. He “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom” (Luke 2:40). He learned the carpentry trade (Mark 6:3). He experienced hunger, felt thirst and tiredness, faced temptation, and eventually suffered even death itself. Jesus Christ was, and is, fully God and fully man. The eternal Son of God became a man in order to save sinners.

Perfect life.
Jesus Christ lived a perfect life. Indeed, all his actions were as they should be. His words were perfect. He said only what the Father commanded. “What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me” (John 12:50). He did only what the Father willed (John 5:19; e.g., Luke 22:42). So, the writer to the Hebrews concludes, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Jesus lived the life of consistent, wholehearted love to the Father that Adam and Eve and Israel—and all of us—should have lived. He deserved no punishment from God because he was never disobedient.

Teaching. Jesus came to teach God’s truth, especially about himself (Mark 1:38; 10:45; Luke 20:42; 24:44). He taught the truth about God, about his relationship with God the Father (John 14), about our sin, about what he had come to do, and about what we must do in response. He explained that the Scriptures of the OT were about him (Luke 24:44).

Crucifixion. But God sent his Son especially to die for us (Mark 10:45; John 3:16–18). This is how God has shown his love for us (Rom. 5:8; 1 John 4:9–10). Christ gave his life as a ransom for us (Mark 10:45; 1 Tim. 2:6). By his death he paid the penalty for our sin. Jesus Christ’s crucifixion was a horrible act of violence by the people who rejected, sentenced, mocked, tortured, and crucified him. And yet it was also a display of the self-giving love of God, as the Son of God bore the penalty of God’s wrath against us for our sin (Deut. 21:23; Isa. 53:5; Rom. 3:25–26; 4:25; 5:19; 8:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 2:8; Heb. 9:28).

Resurrection, ascension, return.
On the third day after his crucifixion, Jesus was raised from the dead by God. This demonstrated an acceptance of Christ’s service in his ministry and specifically showed God’s acceptance of his sacrifice for all those who would repent and believe (Rom. 1:4; 4:25). He ascended to heaven and “will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Christ’s return will bring God’s plan of salvation to completion.


So if God has done this in Christ, what are we to do to be saved? We must turn to God in Christ, which entails turning back from sin. If we repent of (decide to forsake and turn from) our sin (as best we understand it) and trust in Christ as a living person, we will be saved from God’s righteous wrath against our sins. This response of repentance and faith (or trust) can be explained in more detail as follows:

Turn to God.
In the OT, God commands people to turn or return to him, and so be saved (e.g., Isa. 6:10;Jer. 18:8). In the NT, Christ preached that people should turn to God, and Paul summarized his account of his preaching with that phrase: “that they [everyone] should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:20; cf. Acts 26:18). Thus, as Paul said earlier, he preached “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). To repent means to turn. And the turning that we are called to do in order to be saved is fundamentally a turning to God. James could refer to the Gentiles who “turn to God” (Acts 15:19). To “turn to,” in this sense in the Bible, is to orient your life toward someone. As God’s people—those who are being saved—we are to play the part of the Prodigal Son who, though conscious of sin, guilt, and folly, flees to the Father (Luke 15:20). Paul at Lystra calls the people to turn to the living God (Acts 14:15). Paul refers to the Galatian Christians as those who had come to “know God” (Gal. 4:9); this is what we do in repentance: we repent to, we turn to God, and henceforth know him as the God who forgives our sins and accepts us for Christ’s sake.

Turn away from sin.
Turning to God necessarily implies our turning away from sin. The whole Bible—OT and NT—clearly teaches that to repent is to “acknowledge [God’s] name and turn from [our] sins” (1 Kings 8:35; cf. 2 Chron. 7:14; Jer. 36:3; Ezek. 14:6; 18:30; Acts 3:19; 8:22; 26:18; Rev. 2:21–22; 9:20–21; 16:11). We cannot start to pursue God and sin at the same time. First John makes it clear that our basic way of life will either be oriented toward God and his light, or toward the darkness of sin. Christians in this life still sin, but against our deepest desires and better judgment; our lives are not guided and directed by sin as before. We are no longer enslaved to sin. Though we still struggle with it (Gal. 5:17), God has given us the gift of repentance (Acts 11:18), and we have been freed from sin’s dominating power.

Believe and trust.
Put another way, our response is to believe and trust God’s promises in Christ, and to commit ourselves to Christ, the living Lord, as his disciples. Among Jesus’ first words in Mark’s Gospel are “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The obedience that typifies God’s people, beginning with repentance, is to result from the faith and trust we have in him and his word (e.g., Josh. 22:16; Acts 27:25). Thus sins are sometimes called “breaking faith with God” (e.g., Ezra 10:2, 10). Having faith in Christ, which seals our union with him through the Holy Spirit, is the means by which God accounts Christ’s righteousness as our own (Rom. 3:21–26; 5:17–21; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8–9; Phil. 3:9). Paul could refer to “salvation through faith in Christ” (2 Tim. 3:15). Frequently this initial repentance and faith can be simply expressed to God himself in prayer.

Grow in godliness and battle for holiness.
Such saving faith is something that we exercise, but even so it is a gift from God. Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9). At the same time, Paul explained that Christians know an internal battle: “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal. 5:17). God’s gift of salvation has been given to Christians, but the evidence of that salvation is lived out in the continual work of God’s Spirit. We can deceive ourselves, and so Paul encourages his readers to “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5). Peter encourages Christians to grow in godliness and so become more confident of their election (2 Peter 1). We don’t create our own salvation by our actions, but we reflect and express it and so grow in our certainty of it. Because we Christians are liable to deceive ourselves, we should give ourselves to the study of God’s Word to be instructed and encouraged in our salvation, and to learn what is inconsistent with it. Jesus’ descriptions of his followers (seeMatthew 5–7), or Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit’s work in us (see Gal. 5:22–23), act as spiritual maps that help us locate ourselves to see if we are on the path of salvation.


God’s plan is to save his people from their sins—and to bring his people fully and finally to himself (Matt. 1:21; 2 Tim. 2:10). Christians experience salvation in this life in both a past and present sense, and we anticipate salvation in a future sense. Christians have been saved from the penalty of our sins; we are currently being saved from the power of sin; and one day, when God’s plan of salvation is completed and we are with Christ, we shall be like him, and we shall be saved even from the verypresence of sin. This is God’s plan of salvation.


History of Salvation in the Old Testament: Preparing the Way for Christ

The notes in this feature are identified by single verses only, for easy cross-reference with the main study notes on Bible-text pages. However, many of these notes apply to more than just the one verse by which they are identified. Directions for the reader to “see note on” another verse refer only to notes within this feature, not to the external study notes.


After God creates a world of fruitfulness and blessing, Adam’s fall disrupts the harmony. God purposes to renew fruitfulness and blessing through the offspring of the woman (3:15). Christ is the ultimate offspring (Gal. 3:16) who brings climactic victory (Heb. 2:14–15). Genesis traces the beginning of a line of godly offspring, through Seth, Enoch, Noah, and then God’s choice of Abraham and his offspring (Gen. 12:2–3, 7; 13:14–17; 15:4–5; 17:1–14; 18:18; 22:16–18; 26:2–5; 28:13–15).

1:1 God’s act of creation is the foundation for the entire biblical history. A considerable number of passages refer back to creation (e.g., Psalms 8; 104; 148; John 1:1–3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:15–17; Heb. 1:2; 11:3; 1 John 1:5–7). All the rest of the Bible depends indirectly on it.
1:3 God speaks, and it is done. The centrality of the word of God in the acts of creation anticipates the deeper truth given in John 1:1, that the second person of the Trinity is the Word.
1:3 God created physical light. The Bible also says that God is light in a moral and spiritual sense (1 John 1:5). By God’s design, the physical aspects of creation can serve as vehicles for developing themes about God and his salvation. Jesus is “the light of the world” (John 8:12).
1:26 The divine Son is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). Man was created in a way that reflects the imaging relation among the persons of the Trinity. The redemption of man from the fall and sin includes re-creation (2 Cor. 5:17), his being “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness,” in the image of Christ (Eph. 4:24).
1:28 God created a permanent order of creation. But he also intended a development in which man would play a central role. Because Adam failed and fell into sin, Christ came as the last Adam to achieve dominion (see 1 Cor. 15:22, 45–49; Eph. 1:21–22).
1:31 Sin is a later intrusion into an originally good creation. It is not inherent in the world, and so it can be completely removed when God achieves his purposes in the consummation (Rev. 22:3–5).
2:2 God rested from his works of creation. But he continues to work in providence and (after sin enters) in redemption. See John 5:17. As human beings we look forward to entering into God’s consummation rest (Heb. 4:4, 9–11).
2:3 Man imitates the pattern of God’s work and rest in the sabbath cycle of days (Ex. 20:8–11) and years (Leviticus 25). The sabbath points forward to the rest that Christ achieved with his resurrection and ascension (Heb. 10:12–13), and which will be fully manifested in the consummation (Rev. 22:4–5).
2:7 God has life in himself and imparts life to his creatures. The impartation of physical life anticipates the impartation of spiritual life (John 1:4; see 1 Cor. 15:45). Life is in the Son (John 5:21, 26; 1 John 5:12) and comes to us through the Spirit (John 3:5).
2:8 The garden of Eden and paradise reminds us of what we have lost (Joel 2:3) but also of what will yet be renewed in the world to come (Isa. 51:3; Rev. 22:1–3).
2:9 After the fall, the tree of life was barred to man (3:24). But God promises fruitfulness to those who know him (Ps. 1:3) and to those who obtain wisdom (Prov. 3:18). Eternal life is obtained in Christ (John 5:24), and free access to the tree of life reappears in the consummation (Rev. 22:2).
2:24 Divorce is a deviation from God’s design in creation (Matt. 19:4). The marriage relationship anticipates the relation of Christ to the church (Eph. 5:22–33). See Overview of the Bible, concerning Christ as the last Adam.
3:1 Later Scripture indicates that Satan worked through the serpent (Isa. 27:1; Rev. 12:9). He was defeated by Christ’s work on the cross (Heb. 2:14–15), and will be utterly destroyed in the events leading to the consummation (Rev. 20:7–10).
3:4 Throughout history Satan is engaged in deceiving (2 Thess. 2:9–12; Rev. 12:9) and casting doubt on the word of God. When tempted by Satan, Christ rejected his lies (Matt. 4:1–11). In spite of Satan’s attacks, the word of God will stand forever (Ps. 119:89; Matt. 24:35).
3:8 God appears and judges Adam and Eve, anticipating the final day of judgment in Christ (John 5:22). Because of the sacrificial work of Christ, judgment can be tempered with mercy on those who belong to Christ.
3:15 The offspring of the woman who inflicts decisive defeat on the serpent is Christ (Heb. 2:14). But earlier in time, within the OT, there are partial defeats through people who prefigure Christ and foreshadow the final conflict. (See Overview of the Bible.)
3:24 When Christ opens the way to eternal life, the barring of the way to life is removed (John 14:6;Heb. 10:19–22; Rev. 22:2).
4:26 The line of Seth appears to be a more godly line, corresponding to the promise of the offspring of the woman (3:15), while Cain and his descendants correspond more to the offspring of the serpent. The line of Seth ultimately leads to Christ (Luke 3:38).
5:5 Death is a repeated, grim occurrence, reminding us of the reality of the curse (2:17; 3:19) and the need for God in mercy to provide a final remedy for death through Christ (John 11:25–26; Rev. 1:18; 21:4).
5:24 Enoch’s walk with God makes him an early example of faith (Heb. 11:5–6), and his being taken by God without dying anticipates the eternal resurrection life that Christ gives (Rom. 8:11).
6:9 For Noah’s faith, see Heb. 11:7. Noah by his righteousness saved not only himself but his family, prefiguring the righteousness of Christ by which Christ saved his spiritual family.
6:18 God promises in a covenant (see Overview of the Bible) to save Noah, prefiguring the new covenant in Christ by which we receive eternal salvation (1 Cor. 11:25; Heb. 10:15–18).
7:23 The flood brought a whole world to an end (2 Pet. 2:5; 3:6). It prefigures the final judgment, which ends the present heavens and earth and brings a new world (Rev. 21:1). God preserves those who belong to Christ, the final Noah.
8:13 The emerging of a new world prefigures the creation of the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21:1–4; see 2 Pet. 3:5–7).
9:7 God repeats the command given to man in 1:28. Noah is a new head or representative for humanity, prefiguring Christ, who will be the final head of the new humanity (1 Cor. 15:45–48). All those descending from Noah are privileged for his sake.
9:11 In a covenant God guarantees to all mankind blessings that come through Noah. He shows mercy, based on sacrifice (8:21), pointing forward ultimately to the mercy that comes through the sacrifice of Christ (Heb. 10:12).
10:32 All the nations of the world are encompassed in the plan of God. He chooses Abram alone (12:1–3), but eventually “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him” (18:18; see 12:3; Rev. 5:9).
11:4 Babel, and later Babylon (Revelation 17–18), is the quintessential worldly city, where man tries to exalt himself to the position of a god. It contrasts with the holy city of God’s people, whose name is made great not through their prideful self-exaltation but by the power of God (Gen. 12:2; Rev. 21:2).
12:1 God will give Abram a great name, in contrast to the self-exalting desire in Babel (11:4). The choice of Abram narrows down the line of the offspring of the woman (3:15) to Abram’s offspring. Ultimately, Abraham is great as a progenitor of Christ (Rom. 9:5).
12:2 God’s promise is reiterated and expanded as time passes (13:14–17; 15:4–5; 17:1–14; 18:18; 22:16–18; 26:2–5; 28:13–15; 35:10–12).
12:3 The inclusion of all the families of the earth anticipates the spread of the gospel and salvation in Christ to the ends of the earth (Matt. 28:18–20; Acts 1:8; Gal. 3:8).
12:7 God’s promise has a short-range fulfillment when the nation of Israel conquers Canaan under Joshua (Josh. 21:43; see 1 Kings 4:21). Ultimately the offspring narrows down to Christ (Gal. 3:16), whose dominion extends not only over the land of Canaan but over all the world (Matt. 28:18). The land of Canaan prefigures the eternal inheritance of the world in Christ (Heb. 4:1–11; 11:10, 13–16). In Christ believers are the offspring of Abraham (Gal. 3:7, 29).
13:15 God confirms and expands his promise to Abram (see notes on 12:1; 12:2; and 12:7).
14:18 Melchizedek, a priest and king, prefigures Christ’s priesthood (Heb. 7:1–8:6).
15:6 Abram’s trust in God is the model for Christians’ trust in God’s promises in Christ (Gal. 3:6–9). Righteousness is “counted” or reckoned, not on the basis of our achievement, but because in faith we look to God who supplies righteousness in Christ (Rom. 4:5–9; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:6).
15:17 The flame, symbolizing God, passes between the pieces, symbolizing that God himself will bear the penalty if the promise is broken. Ultimately, Christ bears the penalty for our disobedience.
16:10 Because of the line of chosen offspring, leading to Christ (Gal. 3:16), some blessings overflow and extend even to collateral descendants like Ishmael.
16:13 Hagar perceives that the Lord has spoken to her, which implies that “the angel of the Lord” is divine. Some think that this is a preincarnate appearance of Christ. Christ is the final, divine messenger of the covenant (Mal. 3:1) who is anticipated in this scene.
17:4 The multiplication of the nation of Israel represents the proximate fulfillment of God’s promise (Ex. 1:7). Those who place their trust in Christ, the offspring of Abraham (Gal. 3:16), now become sons of Abraham (Gal. 3:6–9), so that ultimately all the multitude of the saved (Rev. 5:9) have Abraham as father (Rom. 4:17–18).
17:10 Circumcision symbolizes the covenant relation to God, which demands holiness. It is fulfilled in Christ’s purification of believers (Col. 2:11).
18:2 Two of the “men” turn out to be angels (19:1), while the third is the Lord (18:22). The appearance of God in human form anticipates the incarnation of the Son (John 1:1–18).
18:10 The miraculous birth of a son according to the power of God’s word anticipates later instances where God’s word overcomes a “dead” womb and brings new life: 25:21; 30:22; 1 Sam. 1:20; Isa. 54:1. The pattern culminates in the virgin birth of Christ (Luke 1:35), and has relevance for understanding God’s sovereignty in election (Rom. 9:8–9).
18:24 Abraham’s limited intercession fails to spare Sodom. Christ’s perfect intercession always succeeds (Heb. 7:23–25).
19:16 Though Lot is a mixed character who makes compromises, God saves him and his family, prefiguring his mercy in eternal salvation (2 Pet. 2:7–9).
19:24 The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah prefigures eternal judgment (2 Pet. 2:6, 9–10; Rev. 14:10–11).
20:6 Even though Abraham misuses her, God in mercy preserves Sarah, who embodies the line of holy offspring leading to Christ.
21:2 The miraculous birth of Isaac, the special offspring of promise, prefigures the coming birth of Christ, in accordance with all the promises of God.
21:4 Circumcision represents purification and holiness, anticipating the purity of Christ (Luke 2:21; 3:22; Col. 2:11; see Gen. 17:10).
21:10 The distinction between the miraculous son of promise and the son from human planning prefigures the distinction between the church and natural descendants of Abraham (Gal. 4:30).
22:3 Abraham demonstrates the reality of his faith in action, serving as a model for how our good works demonstrate our faith (James 2:18–24).
22:8 Isaac comes near to being sacrificed, but God provides a substitute. Ultimately God will sacrifice his only Son, who dies in our place (Gal. 3:13, 16). The ram prefigures the sacrifice of Christ.
22:16 Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son leads to great blessing to his offspring. God’s sacrifice of his only Son leads to even greater blessings to Christ’s spiritual offspring (Rom. 5:8–11; Heb. 6:13–14).
23:19 Abraham takes care about Sarah’s burial, expressing thereby his faith in God’s promise that he will possess the land. The fact that the land is not theirs during Sarah’s or Abraham’s earthly life points forward to the resurrection of the dead (Heb. 11:13–16).
24:4 The marriage of Isaac is important, because he is the offspring of promise through whose offspring the world will be blessed. The special provision of a wife for Isaac prefigures God’s offspring of promise, Christ, receiving a bride, the church (Rev. 19:7).
25:23 Jacob the chosen one and Esau the one not chosen prefigure the age-long struggle between the chosen people and their adversaries (Mal. 1:2–3; Rom. 9:10–13). The principle applies in the OT to Israel and in the NT to the church.
26:28 Abimelech’s respect for Isaac prefigures the salvation of the nations through Abraham’s offspring in Christ (18:18).
27:35 God carries out his sovereign purpose of confirming Jacob as the chosen line of the offspring of Abraham (12:7; 25:23), in spite of Isaac’s intent to bless Esau and in spite of the sinfulness in Jacob’s deceit.
28:12 The opening of access to heaven anticipates Christ, who opens access permanently (John 1:51;Heb. 10:19–20).
29:25 Even in the midst of trickery God sovereignly works to give Jacob wives, through whom he will fulfill the promise to multiply Abraham’s offspring (15:5).
30:1 In the midst of sordid competition between Leah and Rachel, God sovereignly fulfills the first stage of his promise to multiply Abraham’s offspring (12:2; 15:5; 17:5; 26:4; 28:14).
31:24 God protects Jacob, fulfilling his earlier promise (28:13–15) and protecting the line of chosen offspring leading to Christ (Gal. 3:16).
32:24 God appears in human form, anticipating the incarnation of Christ.
33:4 God delivers Jacob and his family from a feared attack by Esau, fulfilling his promise to Jacob and his offspring (28:14–15) and protecting the offspring leading to Christ.
34:9 Though Simeon and Levi are later criticized for their deceit and violence (49:5–7), God uses them in preserving the line of holy offspring from intermarriage (see Deut. 7:3), thus protecting the line until the coming of Christ the final offspring (Gal. 3:16).
35:10 God confirms earlier promises to Abraham and his offspring (see note on 12:2).
36:1 The record of collateral, rejected offspring (25:23) is given before continuing with the record of the line leading to Christ (Gal. 3:16).
37:7 Prophetic dreams concerning God’s plan for the offspring of promise foreshadow the final prophetic unveiling of God’s purposes through Christ.
37:20 Joseph, who is to be the key deliverer of God’s people, has a scrape with death, and is finally glorified (41:41), foreshadowing the suffering and glorification of Christ the final deliverer.
38:29 In spite of unrighteous sexual behavior by several males, God brings about his own purpose of continuing the offspring leading to Christ (Matt. 1:3).
39:9 Joseph, in contrast to Adam and Eve, firmly rejected temptation, anticipating Christ’s rejection of temptation (Matt. 4:1–11; 16:23).
40:23 The trials of Joseph, testing his faith, anticipate the trials that come to Christ as man (Matt. 4:1–11), and that come to disciples of Christ (Acts 14:22; 1 Thess. 3:4).
41:36 Through prophetic gifts given by God, Joseph is able to save from famine not only Jacob and his family, but Egypt. He foreshadows Christ, whose prophetic teaching and suffering bring eternal salvation both to Jews and to Gentiles. (See 18:18.)
42:9 God works according to his plan, which was already revealed in Joseph’s dreams (37:5–9). God cares for the line of offspring leading to Christ (3:15; Gal. 3:16).
43:9 Judah offers himself as a substitute, prefiguring the substitution of Christ the offspring of Judah.
44:33 See note on 43:9.
44:29 Salvation through Joseph includes not only rescue from famine, but a change of heart in the brothers, compared to their earlier envy and violence toward Joseph. The change prefigures the change of heart that Christ works through the Spirit (John 3:3–8).
45:15 Reconciliation springs from forgiveness, prefiguring God’s reconciliation and forgiveness in Christ.
46:4 God delivers the entire family from famine and promises permanent care, anticipating both the exodus from Egypt (Exodus 1–14) and the subsequent generations leading to Christ.
47:6 Through Joseph’s deliverance abundant blessings come to his family, prefiguring the blessings of deliverance in Christ.
48:5 The transformation of one tribe (Joseph) into two further illustrates the fruitfulness of blessing to the line of offspring that God has chosen and blessed.
49:10 At this early point God already reveals that through Judah will come a line of kings, leading finally to Christ the great, eternal king (Matt. 1:1–16).
50:20 God uses even evil to work out his good purposes, foreshadowing the time when he will bring the supreme good, namely, eternal salvation, out of the wicked actions of the men who condemned and crucified Jesus (Acts 2:23; 4:25–28).
50:24 God’s promises stand firm through generations (12:7; 15:13–14). His faithfulness is expressed climactically in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20).


Through Moses God redeems his people from slavery in Egypt, prefiguring Christ’s eternal redemption of his people from slavery to sin.

1:7 The multiplication of the people fulfills God’s promise to multiply Abraham’s descendants (Gen. 15:5) and to bless the world through them (Gen. 18:18), specifically through Christ (Gal. 3:8).
1:13 Bitter suffering precedes release, symbolizing that suffering under sin precedes the deliverance from sin in Christ.
2:10 Moses, the special agent for God’s deliverance, has his life preserved, anticipating the rescue of baby Jesus from Herod’s murders (Matt. 2:13).
2:15 God brings deliverance through his power and in his way, through the weakness of the cross, not through merely human impulses for justice (1 Cor. 1:25).
3:5 The overwhelming holiness of the presence of God anticipates the presence of God in Christ’s incarnation.
3:12 The commissioning of Moses by God’s word and God’s power prefigures the commissioning of Christ for his work (Matt. 3:17).
3:14 The name “I am” anticipates the “I am” sayings of Jesus (see John 8:58), which show his deity.
4:13 Moses’ reluctance points forward ultimately to the need for a divine deliverer, Jesus Christ.
5:2 Pharaoh’s refusal to recognize the true God prefigures the resistance of people to Christ’s claims, even though miracles supported his claims.
6:8 The mention of the patriarchs (see Gen. 12:7) shows the faithfulness of God and the continuity of his purposes over time. This faithfulness comes to ultimate fruition with the sending of the Son.
7:17 The plagues on Egypt foreshadow the plagues preceding the second coming (Rev. 11:6).
9:16 God uses even those who resist his will, prefiguring his use of Herod and Pilate (Acts 2:23).
10:4 The locusts prefigure the judgments associated with the day of the Lord (Joel 1–2; Rev. 9:1–11).
11:5 The plague of death reminds us that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Only through the death of God’s Son are we delivered.
12:6 Deliverance through the blood of a lamb prefigures the coming of the Lamb of God to obtain final salvation through his death (John 1:29).
12:46 Because Jesus is the fulfillment of the Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7), it is fitting that none of Jesus’ bones were broken (John 19:36).
13:3 We now look back to the final Passover in which Christ brought eternal salvation from sin (1 Cor. 5:7), and we remember it in the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:23–26).
14:19 God’s special presence in the cloud prefigures his presence in Christ, who is our protection and refuge against all the attacks of Satan.
14:22 The people go down symbolically into death and come up alive, prefiguring the reception of resurrection life through Christ (see Rom. 6:4; 1 Cor. 10:2).
14:30 The death of Egyptians prefigures that final destruction of all God’s enemies (Rev. 20:15; 21:8).
15:2 Praise for God’s salvation anticipates the songs of praise for Christ’s final work of salvation (Rev. 5:9–14; 15:3).
15:17 The conquest of Canaan prefigures the entrance into the final sanctuary of God’s presence, mediated by Christ (Heb. 10:19–20; Rev. 21:22).
16:4 Manna prefigures Christ the bread of heaven, who gives eternal life (John 6:31–35).
16:18 The sufficiency of the manna prefigures the sufficiency of Christ to meet every need of his people (Phil. 4:19).
17:6 God providing water after striking the rock prefigures Christ, who is stricken to provide the water of eternal life (John 4:14; 19:34).
18:18 The limitations of Moses prefigure the need for Christ, the divine judge, and Christ’s appointment of shepherds under him (elders) to carry out his will (1 Pet. 5:1–4).
19:6 The privileges of Israel prefigure the higher privileges of the NT church (1 Pet. 2:9–10), won through Christ’s redemption (Heb. 10:10).
19:12 The threat of death illustrates the impossibility of sinful people approaching a holy God. The impossibility is overcome only through the sacrifice and mediation of Christ (Heb. 10:19–20).
20:2 Christians now obey God’s commandments because he has brought us out of sin and death (Rom. 13:9; Col. 1:13; Rev. 1:5–6).
20:11 The celebration of the Sabbath looks back to creation (see notes on Gen. 2:2 and 2:3), back to redemption from Egyptian slavery (Deut. 5:15), and forward to final rest through faith in Christ (Heb. 4:1–11).
20:13 The Ten Commandments are deepened through Jesus’ teaching (Matt. 5:17–48) and fulfilled in Jesus’ perfect righteousness (Heb. 4:15; 5:9).
21:2 The ordinances concerning slavery anticipate our being freed from slavery to sin and becoming slaves to Christ (Rom. 6:20–22; 1 Cor. 7:22).
21:12 The principles of retribution and restitution, though they hedge in sin and give partial remedies, do not bring a perfect kingdom, but look forward to the perfection of the kingdom of Christ (Isa. 9:6–7;Matt. 5:38–48).
23:1 The truthfulness of God, coming to its climax in Christ, is to be reflected in truthfulness displayed to fellow human beings, and the compassion and justice of God is to be reflected in treatment of fellow humans.
24:8 Consecration through blood prefigures consecration through the blood of Christ (Heb. 9:18–26).
24:11 Fellowship with God prefigures our seeing God in the face of Jesus Christ (John 14:9). Christians enjoy fellowship with God in Christ, who is the food of eternal life (John 6:53–58), symbolized in the Lord’s Supper and consummated in the final feast (Rev. 19:9; 22:4).
25:8 The making of a dwelling place anticipates Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6) and prefigures God’s dwelling with humanity in Christ (Matt. 1:23; John 2:19–21; Rev. 21:22), in the church (1 Cor. 3:16;Eph. 2:19–22), in the individual Christian (1 Cor. 6:19), and in the consummation (Rev. 21:3, 22–27). The actual construction of the tabernacle is described in Exodus 36–39.
25:22 God’s meeting with and speaking to his people prefigures his intimacy and communion with believers in Christ (John 15:4).
25:30 Bread expressing fellowship with God prefigures Jesus feeding us as the bread of life (John 6:35, 52–58).
25:37 The provision of light in the presence of God prefigures Jesus as the light of the world (John 1:4–9; 3:19–21; 8:12; 9:5).
25:40 The tabernacle is a shadow or copy of the heavenly, final dwelling of God, as indicated in Heb. 8:5. The symbolism in the tabernacle therefore consistently prefigures Christ and the church (see note on Ex. 25:8).
26:33 The curtain bars access to all except the specially qualified high priest (Leviticus 16), prefiguring that only Christ can open the way to God (Heb. 9:7–14; 10:20).
27:1 Access to God is only through sacrifice on the altar (Lev. 4:10), prefiguring the necessity of the sacrifice of Christ (Heb. 9:12–14).
27:9 The hangings of the court erect one more barrier to approaching God, thereby emphasizing his holiness. See note on 26:33.
28:2 The external holiness and beauty of the priest prefigures the perfect holiness of Christ (Heb. 7:23–8:6).
29:1 The priests, being sinful, need atoning sacrifice for themselves, contrasting with the perfection of Christ’s priesthood (Heb. 7:26–28).
30:1 Burning incense represents intercessory prayer (Rev. 5:8), prefiguring Christ’s intercession (Heb. 7:25).
30:16 Atonement money prefigures Christ’s buying us at the price of his own blood (1 Pet. 1:18–19).
30:20 Washing prefigures cleansing from sin in Christ (Zech. 13:1; 1 Cor. 6:11).
31:3 The giving of the Spirit prefigures Christ’s building the church through the Spirit (Matt. 16:18; 1 Cor. 14:12; Eph. 2:20–22). The building of the church is based on Christ’s resurrection through the Spirit (John 2:19–21; Rom. 8:11). See note on 1 Kings 7:14.
32:12 Moses’ intercession prefigures the intercessory prayers of Christ (Heb. 7:25).
32:32 Moses offers himself as a substitute, prefiguring Christ’s substitutionary death (Heb. 10:10).
33:19 God as sovereign works his will in election (Rom. 9:15).
33:22 Moses as sinful must be shielded from the full weight of God’s holiness, prefiguring Christ’s shielding us from the wrath of God (Rom. 5:9–11).
34:9 God’s mercy prefigures the mercy given in Christ (Rom. 4:8).
35:21 The willingness of the people prefigures the willingness of Christ’s self-giving sacrifice (John 10:18), and then the willingness that he works in us to be used by God (Rom. 12:1; 2 Cor. 8:9–15; 9:7, 13–15).
36:10 The construction exactly according to God’s design (26:1–6; see 39:42) prefigures the construction of the church according to God’s design (Eph. 4:11–16) and the construction of the new world (Rev. 21:2).
37:1 The construction matches 25:10–22. See note on 25:22.
37:10 The construction matches 25:23–30. See note on 25:30.
37:17 The construction matches 25:31–39. See note on 25:37.
37:25 The construction matches 30:1–10. See note on 30:1.
38:1 The construction matches 27:1–8. See note on 27:1.
38:8 The construction matches 30:17–21. See note on 30:20.
38:9 The construction matches 27:9–19. See note on 27:9.
39:1 The garments match 28:1–43. See note on 28:2.
40:34 See the parallel in 1 Kings 8:10–11. The filling of the tent with God’s glory prefigures the fullness of the Spirit in Christ (Matt. 3:16–17; John 1:14; 3:34–35) and in the church (Acts 2:3–4; 1 Cor. 3:16).


The requirement of holiness points to the holiness of Christ (Heb. 7:26–28). The sacrifices prefigure the sacrifice of Christ (Heb. 10:1–10).

1:9 The offering of the whole sacrifice to God prefigures Christ’s giving of his whole self (Heb. 10:5–10). The whole sacrifice ascends in smoke, prefiguring the ascension of Christ (Heb. 9:24).
2:1 The offering of the fruitfulness of the land prefigures the honor given to God through the fruitfulness of Christ (John 13:31–32; 1 Cor. 15:23).
3:1 Most of the peace offering is eaten by the worshiper (7:15–16), signifying fellowship with and blessing from God. It is fulfilled in Christ’s reconciliation and giving himself as food (John 6:52–57;Rom. 5:9–11).
4:2 The promise of forgiveness is fulfilled in Christ’s giving himself as a sacrifice for sin (Rom. 8:3;Heb. 10:1–10).
4:12 The position outside the camp prefigures Christ’s crucifixion outside Jerusalem (Heb. 13:11–14).
5:1 Sins of falsehood and sins against holiness are forgiven in anticipation of Christ’s work in holiness (Heb. 9:23–26; 10:11–20).
6:13 The continuation of the altar fire indicates the insufficiency of repeated sacrifices (Heb. 10:1–4), in contrast to the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice (Heb. 10:10) and intercession (Heb. 7:25).
7:20 Fellowship with God and with the things of God requires holiness, prefiguring the holiness of Christ purifying us (Heb. 10:10; 12:14).
8:1 For the instructions for consecration, see Exodus 29.
8:30 Consecration through oil and blood prefigures purification from sin through the Spirit and the blood of Christ (Heb. 9:19–26; 1 Pet. 1:2).
9:24 God’s acceptance of the offering prefigures his acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ (Heb. 9:13–14).
10:2 The rejection of human inventions prefigures the fact that Christ is the only way to God (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
11:45 Separation from uncleanness symbolizes separation from sin in order to be intimate with God. It prefigures Christ’s work bringing holiness (Heb. 7:26; 10:10).
12:7 Human birth is contaminated with sin ever since Adam. The remedy is in new birth (John 3:3–8) through Christ (Rom. 5:15–21).
13:46 Skin disease symbolizes the contagion of sin, which alienates us from God and man. Only Christ can restore the fellowship broken by sin (1 John 1:3).
14:2 Cleansing prefigures Christ’s work of cleansing from sin (Luke 5:12–14; Heb. 9:9–14).
15:1 Disorders of the body symbolize the disorder of sin, to be cleansed by Christ (Heb. 9:9–14).
16:16 Symbolical atonement prefigures Christ’s final atonement (Heb. 9:7–14).
17:11 The blood symbolizing life prefigures the blood of Christ, whose poured-out life brings atonement for sin (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 9:12–14, 18–26).
17:14 In the superior blessing of the new covenant we partake of the blood of Christ as the source of spiritual life (John 6:53–56).
18:3 Separation from pagan practices is part of holiness with God, prefiguring the holiness of Christ (Heb. 7:26) and his people (2 Cor. 6:14–18).
18:5 Ultimately, the holiness of God requires perfect obedience, which is found in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). Sinful man cannot keep the law (Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12–14).
19:2 Loyalty to God requires a life of holiness (1 Pet. 1:15–22).
19:18 The love commandment finds fulfillment in Christ and in those who are his (Matt. 22:39; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; James 2:8; 1 John 3:11–18; 4:7–21).
20:2 Sin has consequences in curse and death, prefiguring both the death of Christ as sin-bearer (1 Pet. 2:24) and eternal death in hell (Rev. 20:14–15).
21:1 Holiness requires separation from death, which symbolizes sin. The priests prefigure the priesthood of Christ (Heb. 7:26–28) and of his redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6; 5:10).
22:3 Sin, symbolized by uncleanness, disqualifies us from heavenly things and must be cleansed by Christ (Heb. 9:8–13).
23:5 See Deut. 16:1–8. The Passover prefigures the Last Supper and Christ’s death (Matt. 26:19, 26–28; 1 Cor. 5:7).
23:16 See Deut. 16:9–12. This is the feast of “Pentecost,” fulfilled in Acts when the firstfruits from the nations are gathered into the church (Acts 2:1–11).
23:28 The day of atonement, an annual day described in chapter 16, prefigures the once-for-all atonement of Christ (Heb. 9:7–14; 10:3–5).
24:2 Continual light prefigures Jesus as the light of the world (John 1:4–9; 3:19–21; 8:12; 9:5).
24:8 Continual bread prefigures Jesus as the bread of life (John 6:35, 48–51).
25:4 The rest given to the land prefigures the final rest given in the consummation (Heb. 4:9–11; Rev. 21:1–22:5). See notes on Gen. 2:2 and 2:3.
25:10 The year of liberty prefigures the liberty given by Christ (Isa. 61:1–2; Luke 4:18–21).
26:14 Sin leads to a curse, anticipating Christ’s sin-bearing (Gal. 3:13–14), and sin ultimately leads to hell (Rev. 20:14–15).
27:10 The permanence of holiness prefigures the permanence of redemption (John 10:28–29) and of the new world (Rev. 22:5).


The journey through the wilderness prefigures the Christian journey through this world to the new world (1 Cor. 10:1–11; Heb. 4:3–10).

1:3 Readiness for war prefigures spiritual war (Eph. 6:13).
2:17 The people of God are to be organized with God at the center (Eph. 4:4–6).
3:12 The Levites as a holy substitute prefigure Christ as priest, representative, and substitute (Heb. 7:23–28).
4:15 The penalty of death for approaching God’s holiness indicates the need for perfect mediation through Christ (Heb. 9:23–26).
5:20 The need for faithfulness in marriage prefigures the faithfulness of the church to Christ (2 Cor. 11:2–4; Eph. 5:25–27).
6:5 The special holiness of the Nazirite prefigures the holiness of Christ (Heb. 7:26).
7:5 Holy service prefigures the service of Christ (Heb. 7:23–8:2) and his people (Rom. 12:1–2).
8:16 Christ substitutes for us and represents us before God (Heb. 7:23–28).
9:10 Being clean for the Passover prefigures moral purity in the church (1 Cor. 5:7–8).
10:2 Summoning prefigures God’s instruction to the church (Eph. 4:1; 1 Thess. 4:1–3).
11:17 The distribution of the Spirit foreshadows the wider distribution at Pentecost (11:29; Joel 2:28;Acts 2:4, 16–18).
12:8 Rejection of Moses prefigures the seriousness of rejecting Christ’s unique prophetic ministry (John 3:32–36; 5:23).
13:31 The unbelief of Israel contrasts both with the faithfulness of Christ (Matt. 4:1–10) and the faith of Christians (Heb. 3:7–4:3).
14:35 Death indicates judgment on unbelief (Heb. 3:16–19).
15:30 Cutting off prefigures apostasy from Christ (Heb. 10:26–31).
16:2 Rebellion prefigures false teaching in the church (Jude 10–13).
17:5 The choice of Aaron alone prefigures Christ as the one way (John 14:6).
18:5 The priests turn away wrath, prefiguring Christ’s propitiation (Rom. 3:23–25).
19:9 Purification prefigures the purification of Christ’s work (Heb. 9:13–14).
20:24 The failures in the priests point to the need for the greater priesthood of Christ (Heb. 7:23–25).
21:9 Looking at the serpent prefigures faith in Christ who is lifted up (John 3:14–16).
22:12 God overrules all plots against his purposes (Acts 2:23; Eph. 1:11–12).
24:17 Partial fulfillments in David’s and Solomon’s rule anticipate Christ’s rule over his enemies (1 Cor. 15:24–27; Eph. 1:20–22).
25:3 Idolatry leads to chastisement and death (1 Cor. 10:20; Rev. 14:9–11).
27:4 Inheritance of the land anticipates eternal inheritance of the new world (Heb. 11:13–16).
28:3 Repeated, scheduled offerings anticipate one final offering by Christ (Heb. 10:1–10).
30:3 The authority of a man anticipates the authority of Christ over the church (Eph. 5:21–24).
31:16 The war prefigures holy war against sin (Eph. 6:11; 1 Pet. 2:11).
32:17 The 2 1/2 tribes receive their inheritance in Josh. 13:8–33. The tribes’ commitment to the whole nation prefigures cooperative work in the church (1 Corinthians 12).
33:2 The names of the locations record God’s faithfulness to his promise to bring his people to the land (Gen. 12:7; Ex. 6:4), prefiguring his faithfulness to believers in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20).
34:13 The inheritance is distributed in Joshua 14–19. The allotment of this land prefigures allotment to each of Christ’s people of an eternal inheritance (Eph. 1:11; Col. 1:12).
35:11 See Joshua 20. Deliverance from death prefigures Christ becoming a refuge from death for his people (John 8:51; Heb. 2:14; 6:18).
36:2 See note on 27:4.


The righteousness and wisdom of the law of God prefigure the righteousness of Christ, which is given to his people. The anticipation of entering the Promised Land prefigures Christians’ hope for the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21:1–22:5).

1:32 The people’s unbelief (see Numbers 14) contrasts with faith for entering God’s rest (Heb. 3:7–4:11).
2:24 God, not human strength, gives victory (3:22), prefiguring victory in Christ (Heb. 2:14–15).
3:12 Moses recalls Numbers 32; see note on Num. 32:17.
3:26 The insufficiency of Moses contrasts with the sufficiency of Christ, who has entered the eternal inheritance on our behalf (Heb. 9:23–26; 10:19–22).
4:6 Israel by obeying would have been a light to the nations. Christ in his obedience is the light that Israel failed to be (Isa. 42:6; John 1:4–9).
5:2 The covenant at Horeb (Sinai) anticipates the new covenant, where obedience will spring from the heart (Heb. 8:8–13), because of Christ’s purification (Heb. 10:14).
6:5 Love for God is the greatest commandment (Matt. 22:37–38). One’s relation to God himself is central to life, and true love for God and reconciliation to God are possible only in Christ (John 14:6;Rom. 5:1–10).
6:14 Holiness before God avoids compromise with evil, prefiguring the holiness of Christ (Heb. 7:26) and his people (1 Pet. 1:15–16; 2:11).
8:18 Gratitude rather than pride characterizes the people of God (1 Cor. 1:28–31; 2 Cor. 9:15).
9:19 Moses’ intercession prefigures Christ’s intercession (Heb. 7:23–25).
10:16 Circumcision of the heart comes from renewal through the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9–13; Col. 2:11; Heb. 8:8–13).
11:9 Obedience is the basis for life, prefiguring Christ’s resurrection life as the reward for his obedience (Phil. 2:8–11).
12:5 Access to God at a single location (Jerusalem, 1 Kings 8:16; Ps. 122:4) prefigures access through Christ alone (John 14:6).
13:2 False prophets prefigure the danger of false teachings drawing people away from serving God through Christ (2 Pet. 2:1).
14:2 Refraining from unclean foods symbolizes separation from sin (2 Cor. 6:17).
15:2 Release of debtors anticipates the great release from sin through Christ (Luke 4:18–19).
16:1 The great feasts (see Leviticus 23) prefigure the celebration of Christ’s deliverance (1 Cor. 5:7).
17:7 The purging of evil prefigures the purging of evil from the church (1 Cor. 5:13) and from the consummation (Rev. 21:8).
17:15 Kings prefigure the righteousness of Christ the perfect king (Isa. 9:6–7; Matt. 27:37; Rev. 19:16).
18:18 Prophets anticipate Christ, the final prophet (Acts 3:22–26).
19:4 The provision for justice prefigures the justice of Christ’s rule (Isa. 9:6–7).
20:4 God fights in anticipation of Christ’s fight against evil during his earthly life (Matt. 12:28–29), in his death (Heb. 2:14–15), and in his second coming (Rev. 19:15–21).
21:9 Provisions for purity and justice anticipate final purification and justice in Christ (Heb. 9:23–28).
21:23 The curse anticipates Christ bearing the curse of God on our behalf when he is crucified (“hanged on a tree”) (Gal. 3:13).
22:22 Provisions for sexual purity anticipate the purity of the church as Christ’s bride (Eph. 5:25–27;Rev. 19:7–8).
23:9 God’s presence in the camp for war (20:4) requires holiness, prefiguring holy war in Christ (Rev. 19:14–16).
24:1 Provisions for divorce are due to hardness of heart and are inferior to God’s design (Matt. 19:3–9), which is to be fulfilled in Christ (Eph. 5:22–33).
25:4 Provision for the ox is an illustration of a larger principle of provision for labor in the church (1 Cor. 9:9–11; 1 Tim. 5:18).
25:5 Provision for a continuing name and inheritance prefigures God’s promise and provision for our name (Rev. 2:17) and our inheritance (Eph. 1:13–14; 1 Pet. 1:4–5). It also prefigures Christ, who as younger “brother” to Adam raises up spiritually alive children (Heb. 2:13).
26:8 Thanksgiving for redemption prefigures Christian thanksgiving for redemption in Christ (Heb. 13:15–16).
27:26 All are subject to the curse, and can escape only through Christ’s taking the curse on himself (Gal. 3:10–14).
28:1 Eternal blessings of salvation come in Christ (Gal. 3:14), who removed the curse we deserved (Gal. 3:13).
29:4 Renewal of the heart is to come in Christ (Rom. 11:8; Heb. 8:8–13).
30:12 Christ brings power to obey God from the heart (Rom. 10:6–8).
31:26 God makes provision for the preservation of the law for future generations, including us (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11).
32:5 Israel’s rebellion contrasts with the faithfulness that is to characterize God’s children (Phil. 2:15).
32:6 God’s care for Israel prefigures his care for Christ’s people (Rom. 8:15–17).
32:21 The apostasy of Israel anticipates the rejection of the gospel (Rom. 10:19).
34:10 The uniqueness of Moses anticipates the uniqueness of Christ (Acts 3:22–26).


The conquest through Joshua prefigures Christ conquering his enemies, both Satan (Heb. 2:14–15) and rebellious human beings. The conquest takes place both through the gospel (Matt. 28:18–20) and in the destruction at the second coming (Rev. 19:11–21).

1:6 Joshua’s role prefigures Jesus empowering his disciples (Matt. 28:18–20; Acts 1:8).
2:9 Rahab in her faith anticipates the salvation of Gentiles through faith (Gal. 3:6–9; Heb. 11:31; James 2:25).
3:11 God’s presence brings the people through the waters of death into the land, prefiguring Christ leading us to eternal life (John 11:25–26).
4:6 Memorials of God’s faithfulness look forward to the message of Christ’s salvation.
5:14 The divine commander anticipates Christ, who is the commander in climactic spiritual war (Matt. 28:18; Heb. 2:14–15; Rev. 17:14; 19:11–21).
6:2 The fall of Jericho prefigures the fall of Babylon and the end of the world (Rev. 18:2).
7:11 Israel’s suffering because of unholiness prefigures the need for holiness in the church (1 Cor. 5:1–13).
8:32 A permanent record and a recital of the covenant fulfill the instructions given under Moses (Deut. 27:2–8). Intimacy with God through the covenant looks forward to the new covenant in Christ (Heb. 8:8–13).
9:3 Though Israel fails in not consulting the Lord (9:14), the result prefigures the time when through the gospel people from many nations will come to recognize the God of Israel (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8;Rev. 5:9–10).
10:14 The great display of God’s power on behalf of his people prefigures the power of Christ’s resurrection and God’s commitment to save those who belong to Christ (Eph. 1:19–23).
11:23 The whole conquest takes place according to the plan and promise of God (Deuteronomy 7, etc.), illustrating God’s commitment to Israel in love and anticipating his commitment to believers in Christ (Eph. 1:3–14).
12:1 The list of defeated kings prefigures the triumph of Christ over all nations (Eph. 1:22; Rev. 5:9–10; 19:11–21; 20:8–9).
13:8 Inheritance takes place according to plan (Numbers 32), prefiguring God’s faithfulness with respect to the eternal inheritance in the new heaven and the new earth (Eph. 1:11, 14; 2:18; 1 Pet. 1:4; 2 Pet. 3:13).
14:2 See Numbers 32–35, especially 32:33; 33:54; 34:17; 35:2. Inheritance takes place according to the plan of God, anticipating eternal inheritance.
14:6 See Num. 14:6–8. Caleb is a special example showing that inheritance comes to those who have faith in God and his promises. He prefigures eternal inheritance by faith (Rom. 4:13–16; Gal. 3:7, 18).
15:1 Detailed specification of boundaries underlines for future generations their participation in the promise. It prefigures the detailed care and provision that God makes for each of us, anticipating the full inheritance in the new heaven and the new earth (1 Pet. 1:4; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1).
16:1 Each of the tribes is provided for (Num. 33:54), and with it each of the members of the tribes, prefiguring God’s provision for each follower of Christ (John 10:3, 14; see also John 6:35).
18:4 The situation is reminiscent of the spying of the land in Numbers 13. But this time the result is more favorable, prefiguring the even greater blessings that God has in store through the new covenant (Heb. 8:8–13).
19:1 See note on 15:1.
20:1 The selection of cities of refuge fulfills the instructions through Moses (Num. 35:9–29; Deut. 19:1–13). It makes provision for refuge from death, prefiguring the coming of Christ as final refuge and solution to death (Heb. 2:14–15; Rev. 1:18).
21:2 The distribution of the Levites among the tribes fulfills Gen. 49:7 and Num. 35:1–8, and provides all the tribes with people to teach the law (Lev. 10:11; Mal. 2:4–9). Their teaching prefigures the knowledge of God from the heart in the new covenant (Heb. 8:8–13).
22:26 The altar confirming participation in God’s promises prefigures the Holy Spirit sealing participation in Christ (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13).
23:6 The call to loyalty to the Mosaic covenant prefigures the call to faith in Christ (Matt. 28:18–20;Heb. 3:12–14).
24:15 God must be served with exclusive loyalty (Deut. 5:7), prefiguring the exclusivity of commitment to Christ as the one way of salvation (Matt. 6:24; 10:34–39; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Cor. 10:21–22).


The judges save Israel, thus prefiguring Christ. But the judges have flaws and failures, and Israel repeatedly slips back into idolatry (2:19), spiraling downward to chaos. They need a king (21:25), and not only a king but a perfect king, the Messiah (Isa. 9:6–7).

1:2 The leading role of Judah anticipates the rise of kings from the line of Judah (Gen. 49:10), beginning with King David and culminating in Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:1–16).
2:18 God raises judges to save the people, prefiguring the sending of Christ (Matt. 1:21). But the judges’ help is only temporary (Judg. 2:19).
3:20 The surprise prefigures the surprising character of salvation in Christ, which seems to the world to be weakness (1 Cor. 1:25).
4:9 The glory goes ultimately to God, not to human strength or courage, prefiguring the divine glory through human weakness in the cross of Christ (1 Cor. 1:25).
5:4 God’s power and glory at Seir (Deut. 33:2) prefigure his present and future triumphs (Rev. 19:6).
6:15 God again chooses to save Israel through a weak and timid person (cf. 4:9), prefiguring the triumph of divine glory through human weakness in Christ (1 Cor. 1:25; 2 Cor. 13:4).
7:3 God reduces the number of troops, prefiguring his work of eternal salvation through a single person, Jesus Christ.
8:16 Those who despise the work of God through a small number prefigure those who despise the work of God in Christ (1 Cor. 1:18–31).
9:56 The horrors due to Abimelech give evidence for the need for a king, thus looking forward to the coming of David and his descendants, above all Jesus Christ, the son of David and final king.
10:6 Disobedience and idolatry further multiply (see 2:19), giving further evidence for the need of permanent salvation through the coming line of King David.
11:2 Jephthah is a flawed judge because of his ancestry, because of his appointment by the elders rather than a direct call from God, and because of his foolish vow. He makes evident the need for permanent salvation through the coming line of King David.
12:4 The fighting among the Israelites shows the need for a king in the coming line of David who will bring unity to the people.
13:5 Samson is to be a Nazirite (see Numbers 6) and especially holy. He shows great promise as a savior of Israel, prefiguring Christ.
13:8 The “man of God,” “the angel of the Lord” (v. 15) is God himself (v. 22), anticipating the incarnation of Christ.
14:3 Israel is told not to intermarry with the Canaanites (Deut. 7:3). In Samson’s case the Lord uses it for good (Judg. 14:4), but it ultimately becomes Samson’s downfall (ch. 16), indicating the need for a perfect savior to deliver people from their spiritual “marriage” to idolatry.
15:14 Samson triumphs after being delivered as a captive over to the enemies, prefiguring Christ’s victory after being delivered to his enemies.
16:30 Samson, though sinful, delivers Israel through his death, prefiguring Christ the sinless one delivering his people.
17:2 Sin is compounded, in stealing, making an idol, partly backing down from a vow (v. 4), and making a false priesthood (v. 5). This shows further descent into sinfulness and the need for the coming king in the line of David.
18:19 The multiplication of sin shows the need for salvation through the coming king in the line of David.
19:30 Gibeah has become like Sodom (Genesis 19), showing the depths of sin and the need for salvation.
20:14 Division and war, rather than unity in righteousness, show the need for salvation through the coming king in the line of David.
21:10 The tribe of Benjamin is saved from utter annihilation, but only through further disunity, slaughter, and disorder. The disaster shows the need for permanent salvation through the king.


The line of offspring leading to Christ goes through Judah to Boaz to David (4:18–22; Matt. 1:5–6). Boaz the redeemer (Ruth 2:20), prefiguring Christ, enables Naomi’s disgrace to be removed and Ruth, a foreigner, to be included in God’s people (prefiguring the inclusion of the Gentiles, Gal. 3:7–9, 14–18, 29).

1:16 Ruth expresses faith in the God of Israel, as well as love for Naomi, anticipating the role of faith when Christ comes to bring salvation.
1:20 Naomi’s transition from bitterness to blessedness prefigures the participation of God’s people in Christ’s death and resurrection (Phil. 3:10).
2:20 The kindness and protection of Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer, prefigure the work of Christ the redeemer.
3:9 Christ spreads his protection over the church, his bride (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25–27).
4:11 The blessing of fruitfulness has a near fulfillment in the birth of Obed (v. 13), but points ultimately to Christ and his fruitfulness (Heb. 2:10).

1 Samuel

David, the king after God’s heart (16:7; Acts 13:22), prefigures Christ, in contrast to Saul, who is the kind of king that the people want (1 Sam. 8:5, 19–20). Saul’s persecution of David prefigures worldly people’s persecution of Christ and of Christ’s people.

1:11 By his power to bring life out of barrenness God raises up Samuel as his representative, prefiguring the virgin birth of Christ (Matt. 1:25).
2:7 The raising of the downtrodden that Hannah experiences prefigures the reversal of positions with Christ’s coming (Luke 1:48–53).
3:19 Samuel’s calling at an early age prefigures the intimacy with God that Christ as the Son enjoys with the Father from all eternity.
4:11 The capture of the ark, which symbolizes God himself, and the death of the priests is a kind of “humiliation” of God’s name, prefiguring the humiliation of Christ in his crucifixion. But it all takes place in accordance with God’s sovereign purpose (2:34–35; Acts 2:23; 4:25–28).
5:4 God executes judgment on Dagon, prefiguring the judgment in Christ against all idols and idol worship (Rev. 2:20).
6:12 By miraculous power God delivers the ark, the symbol of his name, prefiguring the miraculous deliverance of Christ from death.
7:8 Samuel acts as a faithful judge (v. 15; cf. Judg. 13:5), prophet (1 Sam. 3:19–20), and priest (7:8–9), prefiguring the work of Christ as king, prophet, and priest (Heb. 1:1–3).
8:5 A king like the nations contrasts with God’s kingship (v. 7). God intends Israel to have a king (Deut. 17:14–20), but the people’s desires and the kings themselves fall short. Saul’s failure contrasts with David’s success. But eventually David too fails (2 Samuel 11). The failure of merely human kings points to the need for the perfect king, Christ, who will be divine and human (Isa. 9:6–7).
8:7 The people’s rejection of God’s ways prefigures the rejection of Christ (Acts 3:13–15; 7:51–53).
9:16 God indicates his sovereignty over the appointment of kings, prefiguring the appointment of Christ as king over all (Ps. 2:6; Eph. 1:20–22; Phil. 2:9–11).
10:1 The oil prefigures the coming of the Holy Spirit to empower. Saul’s later failures show that he is only a shadow of the greater anointing that comes to David (16:13) and climactically to Christ (Luke 4:18; John 3:34), and then to those who belong to Christ (2 Cor. 1:21–22).
11:15 Saul is initially successful, receiving the benefits of God’s favor. This temporary favor contrasts with the lasting favor on David and his offspring, supremely on Christ (Matt. 3:17).
12:14 As the king goes, so go the people. Their failures show the need for the coming of Christ the perfect king, who is able to change the hearts of his people.
13:12 Saul knew that sacrifice was supposed to be offered only by the priests (Num. 18:7). Saul’s sins lead to his replacement by David (1 Sam. 13:14; 16:7), prefiguring the need for Christ the perfect king.
14:6 The Lord saved Israel through Jonathan that day (v. 23). Ultimate salvation comes through one man, Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5).
15:22 Sinners replace real obedience with outward tokens (see Mic. 6:6–8). Full obedience from the heart is found in Christ (Heb. 10:5–10).
16:7 The choice of David contrasts with people’s looking on outward appearance (10:23–24). The contrast prefigures people’s rejection of Christ’s humiliation and suffering (Isa. 53:3; 1 Cor. 1:18–31).
17:47 God’s working national deliverance through David prefigures international salvation through Christ, who defeats Satan (Heb. 2:14–15).
18:3 Despite Saul’s antagonism, Saul’s son Jonathan and daughter Michal go over to David’s side. David prefigures the spiritual attraction of Jesus Christ, who is the final David (Matt. 4:18–22; 8:9–13).
19:10 Saul’s repeated persecution of David in his innocence prefigures the repeated persecution of Christ (John 8:44–47).
20:33 The conflict with Jonathan prefigures the conflict within households over loyalty to Christ (Matt. 10:34–39).
21:5 The exception made for David as God’s anointed prefigures the role of Christ, God’s anointed, in relation to the law (Matt. 12:3–4, 8).
22:16 As Saul continues to pursue David, Saul’s sins multiply, prefiguring the progressive enslavement to sin on the part of those who refuse to come to Christ.
23:2 Directions from God repeatedly help David to choose a path forward, prefiguring the direction from God through Christ to the road to eternal life (Matt. 7:24–27; John 5:24).
24:6 David respects Saul’s position as God’s anointed king, unlike Pilate, who failed to recognize Jesus’ position as God’s anointed King (John 19:10).
24:17 David shows mercy to Saul, prefiguring the mercy of Christ even toward those who have opposed him (1 Tim. 1:13–16).
25:24 Abigail offers herself as a guilt-bearer for her worthless husband, prefiguring the gracious guilt-bearing of Christ (1 Pet. 2:23–25).
25:29 Vengeance belongs to the Lord (Rom. 12:19). In recalling this, David prefigures Christ’s willingness to leave vengeance in God’s hands (1 Pet. 2:23).
26:9 See the note on 24:6.
27:1 Though David loses heart, God continues to protect David in fulfillment of his purpose to make David king (16:1). God’s faithfulness even to an imperfect man magnifies his faithfulness in the case of Christ, the perfect king.
28:7 By consulting a medium, Saul makes a further step into wickedness, further contrasting his life with the righteousness of David, and the climactic righteousness of the Messiah.
29:11 God continues faithfulness to David by removing him from involvement in the death of Saul and Jonathan (31:2) and enabling him to return to Ziklag in time to rescue the wives and children (30:1–31). See note on 27:1.
30:6 David through the strength of God acts as deliverer, prefiguring Christ the deliverer of captives (Luke 4:18–19).
31:6 God fulfills his word against Saul (28:19), showing that sin in a ruler brings suffering and death not only on himself but on others under his care. The failure of Saul shows the need for a perfect ruler in the line of David (Isa. 9:6–7).

2 Samuel

David as a model king brings blessing to the nation until he falls into sin with Bathsheba (ch. 11). Though he repents, the remainder of his reign is flawed, pointing to the need for the coming of Christ the perfect messianic king.

1:23 David mentions nothing of Saul’s failures and sins, prefiguring the grace and forgiveness of Christ.
2:10 Judah and Israel are eventually united under David and Solomon (5:1–5; 1 Kings 4:20), but division reappears under Rehoboam and his successors (1 Kings 11:11–13; 12:16–24). The strife points to the need for permanent union, which will be achieved only through Christ the king.
3:37 David’s graciousness and respect for Abner, in contrast to Joab’s vengeance, display the qualities of a godly king, prefiguring the graciousness of Christ.
4:11 David’s respect for Ish-bosheth, like his respect for Abner, shows the desire for reconciliation and forgiveness, prefiguring Christ’s reconciliation.
5:2 David unites Israel and Judah under one head, fulfilling God’s prophetic purpose (1 Sam. 16:1) and prefiguring the greater unity of God’s people to be accomplished in Christ (1 Corinthians 12; Eph. 4:1–16).
6:7 Only the Levites were to carry the ark, touching only its poles (Ex. 25:14; Num. 4:15). God in his holiness destroys sinners who approach him unauthorized, but his presence can also bring blessing (2 Sam. 6:12). The tension is resolved only when the way to approach God is opened through Christ’s work of purification (Heb. 10:19–22).
7:12 God’s covenant with David has a proximate fulfillment with Solomon (1 Kings 1:46; 8:15–21). But Solomon fails (1 Kings 11:1–10). God preserves the line of offspring (1 Kings 11:12, 36; 15:4; 2 Kings 8:19) until Christ the everlasting king comes (Matt. 1:1–16).
7:14 God promises David that he will be a father to Solomon. As God’s son, Solomon prefigures Christ the eternal Son (Heb. 1:5).
8:15 David as model king subdues enemies and brings justice, prefiguring the work of Christ the king (Isa. 9:6–7).
9:1 David’s graciousness toward the house of Saul fulfills his earlier promise to Saul (1 Sam. 24:21–22) and Jonathan (1 Sam. 20:15–17), and it prefigures the graciousness of Christ the king.
10:2 Willingly or unwillingly Ammon comes to acknowledge David’s rule, prefiguring the willing or unwilling submission of all nations to Christ’s rule (Psalm 2).
11:4 David later repents (12:13). But David and his house and his rule over the whole nation suffer various consequences for the rest of his life. The devastation from one sin points to the need for Christ the perfect, sinless king (Isa. 42:1–4).
12:13 God is gracious to forgive, ultimately for the sake of Christ (1 John 1:9). But sin still brings consequences (2 Sam. 12:10–12, 14). See note on 11:4.
13:22 The sin of Amnon, in its similarity to David’s sin (11:4), begins a series of devastating consequences for David’s house (12:10–12), including not only Absalom’s actions but David’s neglect of discipline and justice toward Amnon and Absalom. See note on 11:4.
14:1 David’s love for Absalom prefigures Christ’s love for sinners. But David falls short of Christ by neglecting justice: murder deserves death (Num. 35:31–34).
15:1 Absalom’s betrayal of his father prefigures Judas’s betrayal of Jesus (John 13:18), and more broadly the treachery of all who rebel against God the Father and Christ.
15:30 David’s sorrow prefigures the sorrow of Christ as he leaves Jerusalem and prays in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:30, 36–46).
16:12 David leaves vengeance to God, prefiguring the patience of Christ before his enemies (1 Pet. 2:23).
16:22 Absalom’s sordid behavior fulfills God’s prophecy in 12:11–12, further illustrating the devastation of sin and the need for a perfect redeemer king.
17:5 Through Hushai and other circumstances, God shows mercy to David and answers David’s need expressed in 15:31–37. The turning back of the effects of sin, and David’s rescue from death, look forward to final redemption in Christ.
18:33 David’s grief, though flawed (19:2, 5–7), prefigures the willingness of the Son of God to die in place of sinners (Rom. 5:8).
19:22 Forgiveness under the reestablished kingship prefigures forgiveness for former rebels under Christ’s kingship (1 Tim. 1:12–16).
20:1 Divisiveness continues to rear its head after Absalom’s death, partly because of David’s preference for Judah in 19:11–15, leading to the anger in 19:43. The kingdom continues to suffer indirect consequences from David’s sin with Bathsheba, underlining the need for Christ the perfect king. See note on 11:4.
20:10 Though David is reconciled to Amasa (v. 4), Joab kills him, probably because of his role in Absalom’s rebellion (17:25). See note on 20:1.
21:3 Atonement and blessing are needed, but David’s solution (v. 6) does not give ultimate satisfaction (Deut. 24:16). Full resolution of justice requires Christ the divine king with infinite wisdom, and the coming of resurrection from the dead (Rev. 20:11–15).
22:1 This song is included in the Psalter in Psalm 18, indicating that it is to be sung by the people of God as well as David. See note on 1 Chron. 15:16.
22:50 The spread of praise among the nations anticipates the spread of the gospel (Acts 1:8; Rom. 15:9).
22:51 God’s salvation for David prefigures his salvation through Christ the king.
23:8 The list of mighty men prefigures the might in the army of God under Christ the king (Rev. 19:11–14).
24:1 Out of the need for atonement comes the designation of the site for the temple of Solomon (1 Chron. 21:28–22:1), which prefigures Christ as the final temple where atonement is accomplished (John 2:19–21). See note on 1 Chron. 22:1.
24:17 The suffering of the sheep for the sin of their king is reversed when Christ suffers for the sins of the sheep (John 10:15). Christ’s suffering answers David’s request that God’s hand would be against “my father’s house,” the line leading to Christ.

1 Kings

The reign of Solomon fulfills the first stage of God’s promise to David to establish the kingdom of his offspring (2 Sam. 7:12). Solomon in some ways is a model king, prefiguring Christ. But his decline into sin (1 Kings 11), the sins of his offspring, the division and strife between Israel and Judah, and the continual problems with false worship indicate the need for a perfect king and an everlasting kingdom (Isa. 9:6–7) surpassing the entire period of the monarchy. Many passages in 1 Kings have parallels in 2 Chronicles.

1:13 David’s purpose prefigures the purpose of God to establish Christ as king, when many prefer alternatives (Psalm 2; Acts 13:33).
2:6 Solomon’s wisdom is tested in dealing with unfinished business from the reign of David. Solomon’s wisdom prefigures the wisdom of Christ (Matt. 12:42; Col. 2:3). The combination of mercy and justice characterizes David and Solomon in anticipation of Christ.
3:9 See note on 2:6. God promises wisdom in 3:12, and fulfillment is seen in 3:28 and 4:29–34.
4:1 The blessings of order, peace, justice, and prosperity in Solomon’s reign prefigure the blessings of Christ’s reign.
4:34 The attraction of Solomon’s wisdom prefigures all nations hearing the wisdom of Christ (Acts 1:8).
5:5 Solomon’s building of the temple fulfills God’s promise in 2 Sam. 7:13 (cf. 1 Chron. 17:12) and prefigures the building of an everlasting temple. Christ’s resurrection body is an everlasting temple (John 2:19–22), and then Christ builds the church as a temple (Matt. 16:18; 1 Cor. 3:16).
5:8 The aid in building from Hiram, a Gentile, prefigures the inclusion of the Gentiles in the building of the church as a temple (Eph. 2:19–22).
6:2 The temple is like the tabernacle of Moses (Exodus 25–27; see note on Ex. 25:8), but it is larger and more magnificent, symbolizing an expansion and a further stage in God’s purpose to dwell with his people. Still further development takes place with Ezekiel’s vision of a new temple (Ezekiel 40–43), with the church (Eph. 2:19–22), and with the new Jerusalem in the consummation (Rev. 21:3, 10–22:5).
7:14 See note on 5:8. Hiram’s God-given wisdom is like that of Bezalel and Oholiab, who supervised the construction of the tabernacle (Ex. 31:1–6). It prefigures the wisdom of Christ and of his servants in the building of the church (Eph. 2:19–22).
7:23 The sea greatly enlarges the basin for washing that was in the tabernacle (Ex. 30:17–21). See note on Ex. 30:20.
7:27 The stands with their basins (v. 38) represent small, mobile versions of the sea (vv. 23–26), further underlining the abundance of water (see note on v. 23). The multiplication of water, compared with the single basin for washing in Ex. 30:17–21, anticipates the even greater abundance when the water provided by God becomes a river of life (Ezek. 47:1–12; John 4:10–14; 19:34; Rev. 22:1–2).
8:11 See Ex. 40:34–35. The glory of the Lord later departs, because of the apostasy of the people (Ezekiel 10). The coming of God’s presence prefigures the fullness of the Spirit in Christ (Matt. 3:16–17;John 3:34–35; 1:14) and within the church (Acts 2:3–4; 1 Cor. 3:16).
8:24 The promise to David is in 2 Sam. 7:13. The temple anticipates the greater fulfillment in the dwelling of God with man through Christ. See notes on 1 Kings 5:5 and 6:2.
8:30 The key role of the temple in prayer prefigures the role of Christ, through whose name we have access to God (John 14:13–14; Heb. 10:19–22).
9:8 The desolation comes to pass in 2 Kings 25:9–11, indicating the need for true obedience and a greater temple that is to come in Christ (John 2:19–21).
10:1 The queen of Sheba’s coming to hear wisdom, mentioned also in Matt. 12:42, prefigures the coming of the nations to Christ (Acts 1:8; Col. 2:3).
11:2 Solomon’s disobedience leads to disastrous judgment (vv. 9–11), anticipating the judgments on later idolatries among God’s people. Solomon’s failure indicates the need for Christ the perfect king in the line of David (Matt. 1:1–16).
12:15 God’s prophecy in 11:29–39 begins to be fulfilled, and God’s people split into two kingdoms. Both Rehoboam’s failure and the resulting disunity and strife among God’s people show the need for Christ the perfect king as the unifier of his people (1 Corinthians 12; Eph. 4:1–6).
13:2 A striking prophecy, fulfilled in 2 Kings 23:15–17, shows the power of God’s word even in the midst of sin, corruption of worship, and chaos. The power of the prophetic word prefigures the power of Christ, the final prophet (Acts 3:22–26; Heb. 1:1–2).
13:34 See the description of Jeroboam’s sin in 12:26–33. Judgment for sin is prophesied in 14:9–12, and falls in 14:17–18, 15:29–30. Jeroboam’s sin continues with his successors (15:34; 16:2, 7, 19, 26; 22:53; 2 Kings 3:3; 10:29, 31; 13:2, 11; 14:24; 15:9, 18, 24, 28), ultimately leading to the exile of the northern kingdom (2 Kings 17:21–23). The judgments on false worship show the need for true worship, prefiguring Christ as the one way to God (John 14:6).
14:10 See note on 13:34. The power of God’s word is seen when the judgment falls in 14:17–18 and 15:29–30.
14:22 Just as in the northern kingdom (v. 9), false worship in the southern kingdom eventually leads to exile (2 Kings 23:26–27; 25:1–21; see note on 1 Kings 13:34).
15:4 In spite of sin God is faithful to the promise to David (2 Sam. 7:5–17), and maintains the line of David (1 Kings 11:12, 32, 34, 36; 2 Kings 8:19; 19:34) down through a list of kings of Judah leading to Christ (Matt. 1:1–16).
15:18 In contrast to the kings of Israel (vv. 26, 34), Asa is a good king (v. 11), prefiguring the righteousness of Christ his descendant. Yet in this case he fails to rely on God (see 2 Chron. 16:7–12), underlining the need for perfect righteousness in the king.
15:29–30 The killing fulfills the prophecy in 14:9–11 (see note on 13:34). The wiping out of the king’s line of descent contrasts with God’s faithfulness in maintaining the line of David leading to Christ (see note on 15:4).
16:3 See 15:29–30. Judgments on the northern kingdom show the consistency of God’s word and his holiness (see note on 13:34).
17:1 The power of the prophetic word prefigures the power of Christ’s word (Heb. 1:1–3).
17:14 The miraculous supply of food through the power of God’s word prefigures the power of Christ to multiply bread (Matt. 14:13–21; Mark 8:1–9) and to himself be the bread of heaven (John 6:26–51).
17:21 Impartation of life prefigures Christ’s resurrection of Jairus’s daughter (Matt. 9:18–25), his resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:38–44), his own resurrection (John 10:18), and his role as “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25–26) who gives spiritual life to us in anticipation of the resurrection of the body (John 5:28–29).
18:39 Miraculous power anticipates the resurrection of Christ, which displays the power of God and draws the nations to acknowledge him (John 12:32).
19:2 Jezebel’s opposition undermines Elijah’s previous work, seeming to lead to failure (v. 4). But God’s purpose through his prophetic word stands (vv. 12, 15–18), prefiguring the victory when Christ fulfills prophecy.
19:16 See v. 19. Elijah is not the end, but one of a succession of prophets leading to Christ, the final prophet (Heb. 1:1–2).
19:18 The 7,000 illustrate the concept of a remnant, to be fulfilled by the Jews who believe in Christ (Rom. 11:3–10; see note on Isa. 6:13).
20:28 God’s desire to magnify his glory enables Ahab to defeat Ben-hadad twice (see vv. 19–21). The victory in battle prefigures the final victory of Christ and his army (Rev. 19:11–21).
20:42 Ahab’s failure contrasts with the complete elimination of enemies in the final battle led by Christ (Rev. 19:11–21).
21:19 The prophecy is fulfilled in 2 Kings 9:25–26, 36–37; 10:10–11, 17, showing the power of God’s word in judgment. This power prefigures the power of Christ’s word (Heb. 1:1–2; 4:12–13; Rev. 19:15, 21).
22:19 The superiority of God to all earthly thrones is shown when Micaiah’s prophecy (vv. 23, 28) is fulfilled (vv. 34–36). The power of God and of his word anticipates the power shown in the resurrection of Christ (Eph. 1:20–22) and in the spread of the gospel, which confounds worldly authorities (1 Cor. 2:6–9).

2 Kings

Following the history in 1 Kings, Israel and Judah continue to decline through their false worship and disobedience, leading to exile (2 Kings 17; 25). Some good kings (notably Hezekiah and Josiah, chs. 18–20; 22:1–23:30) prefigure the need for Christ the perfect king, while Elisha prefigures the need for Christ the final prophet (Heb. 1:1–3). Many passages in 2 Kings have parallels in 2 Chronicles.

1:4 The prophecy is fulfilled in v. 17. The triumph of God’s word over all opposition prefigures the triumph of Christ and of the gospel.
2:11 Elijah’s ascent prefigures the triumph of Christ over death and his ascension (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9).
2:14 The dividing of the waters, reminiscent of Moses at the Red Sea (Ex. 14:21–22), Joshua at the Jordan (Josh. 3:7–17), and Elijah at the Jordan (2 Kings 2:8), confirms that Elisha has received the prophetic succession from Elijah (v. 9). The power over the waters (which are a symbol of death and chaos) prefigures the resurrection of Christ.
3:17 The provision of water, like the provision under Moses (Ex. 17:6; 20:8–11), prefigures Christ as the giver of the water of eternal life (John 4:10, 13–14; Rev. 22:1).
4:34 The giving of life, like the instance with Elijah (1 Kings 17:17–24), prefigures the resurrection of Christ and the life he gives to us through union with him (Rom. 6:4, 8–11; 8:10–11; Col. 3:1–4).
5:14 Cleansing from leprosy (Leviticus 14) prefigures cleansing from sin through the power of Christ (Luke 5:12–14). The inclusion of Naaman, a Syrian, prefigures the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s salvation (Luke 24:47).
6:17 The vision of God’s angelic army indicates dimensions of spiritual warfare. It anticipates the spiritual war with the coming of Christ (Matt. 12:28–29; Luke 10:18–19; John 12:31; Rev. 19:11–21).
7:1 The provision of food in spite of unbelief (see Ex. 16:1–21) prefigures Christ giving himself as the bread of heaven (John 6:35, 47–51).
8:15 Hazael’s fulfillment of earlier prophetic words (1 Kings 19:15; 2 Kings 8:10) shows the power of God’s word in judgment. (See 10:32.) This power anticipates the power of Christ’s words (John 12:48;Heb. 1:1–2; 4:12–13; Rev. 1:16).
9:25 This fulfillment of earlier prophecy (1 Kings 19:16–17; 21:19–24) emphasizes the power of God’s word in bringing judgment. See notes on 1 Kings 21:19 and 2 Kings 8:15.
10:10 Jehu fulfills God’s prophetic words of judgment against Ahab’s house and wipes out the worship of Baal introduced by Jezebel (1 Kings 16:31–33), showing God’s power in judgment and anticipating the day of judgment (Rev. 20:11–15). See note on 1 Kings 21:19.
11:2 The rescue of Joash prefigures the rescue of Jesus from Herod (Matt. 2:13–15). God preserves the line of David for the sake of his promise (2 Sam. 7:16) and to carry out his purpose of salvation through the work of Christ (Rev. 12:4–5).
12:9 The attention to the temple prefigures the importance of building the church (Matt. 16:18; 1 Cor. 14:12; Eph. 2:20–22).
13:23 God’s compassion even toward a sinful people prefigures his compassion in Christ toward sinners (Matt. 9:13; Luke 5:32).
14:10 A single act of pride from Amaziah brings disaster on the people, indicating the need for Christ as the perfect, humble king (Zech. 9:9).
15:9 See note on 1 Kings 13:34. The northern kingdom goes downhill toward eventual exile in 2 Kings 17:6–23. The degeneration points to the need for perfect kingship and redemption from the heart, both of which await the coming of Christ.
16:3 Under Ahaz the southern kingdom also suffers serious spiritual degeneration, pointing to the need for perfect kingship in Christ.
17:7 The exile is God’s judgment on sin (see note on 1 Kings 13:34), prefiguring the judgment on sin that Christ bore as a substitute (1 Pet. 2:21–24) and the final judgment at the consummation (Rev. 20:11–15).
18:5 Hezekiah as a faithful king prefigures the faithfulness and righteousness of Christ (Isa. 9:6–7; 42:1–4) and its fruits in the lives of Christ’s people. See the parallel passages in 2 Chronicles 32 andIsaiah 36–38.
18:30 Rabshakeh symbolizes the voice of Satan, who deceives and attacks the faith of God’s people (Gen. 3:4–5; Matt. 4:1–10; Eph. 6:16; Rev. 12:9).
19:22 God vindicates his name against all slanders, prefiguring the vindication of his name in the resurrection of Christ (John 12:28).
20:5 God mercifully hears prayer, anticipating his mercy in Christ, through whom he hears our prayers (John 14:13–14; 15:16; 16:26–27).
21:8 Manasseh directly affronts God’s command and his holiness, which leads to a prophecy of judgment (vv. 12–15) and illustrates the pattern of rebellion leading to exile (24:2–4). By contrast, Manasseh’s evil points to the need for Christ as the perfect king.
22:2 Josiah as a righteous king prefigures Christ.
22:13 Words of prophecy, not only from Elijah and Elisha but from Moses (Deut. 11:26–28), show that God judges in accordance with his purpose and his righteousness. This righteousness is supremely manifested in Christ, both when in his innocence he bears sin (2 Cor. 5:21) and when he comes to judge the world (Acts 17:31).
22:20 See 23:30. Because of his righteousness and humility, Josiah receives a blessing. But unlike Christ (Gal. 3:13–14), he is unable to reverse the impending curse and punishment that will come to his people (see 2 Kings 23:26–27).
24:2 See notes on 21:8 and 22:13.
25:9 God’s righteous judgment falls because of accumulated sins (23:26–27; 24:2–4). The judgment also destroys God’s own house, prefiguring the judgment that will fall on Christ, whose body is the temple (John 2:19–21; Gal. 3:13–14).
25:27 The provision for the king of Judah, in the line of David, indicates that God still remembers his promise to David (2 Sam. 7:16) and anticipates the eventual coming of Jesus the Messiah through the line of Jehoiachin (also called Jeconiah, 1 Chron. 3:16; Matt. 1:11–12).

1 Chronicles

David as the righteous leader and king prefigures Christ the king, not only in his rule over the people of God but in his role in preparing to build the temple. First Chronicles looks back on the faithfulness of God to his people in the entire period from Adam (1:1) to David (3:1) and even beyond (3:10–24; 9:1–34), indicating the steadfastness of God’s purpose in preparing for the coming of the Messiah as the offspring of Adam (1:1; Gen. 3:15; Luke 3:38), offspring of Abraham (1 Chron. 1:28; Gal. 3:16), and offspring of David (1 Chron. 3:1; 17:11, 14; Luke 3:23–38; Acts 13:23).

1:1 God promises victory over Satan by the offspring of the woman (Gen. 3:15) and of Abraham (Gen. 17:7; see notes on Gen. 3:15 and 12:1). The line of chosen offspring goes from Adam through Seth and Noah (1 Chron. 1:4) to Abraham (vv. 27–28), Isaac (v. 34), and Israel (v. 34; 2:1), earlier called Jacob (Gen. 32:27–28). It will culminate in Christ (Matt. 1:1–16; Gal. 3:16).
2:1 The line of chosen offspring goes from Israel to David and includes the blessing of multiplication of offspring in the form of the 12 tribes (see Gen. 13:16; 15:5). See note on 1 Chron. 1:1.
3:1 The line of the Messiah comes through King David (2 Sam. 7:16; Matt. 1:1, 6; see note on 1 Chron. 1:1).
3:10 Solomon and his offspring are a stage in the fulfillment of the promise to David for his offspring (2 Sam. 7:16). The offspring ultimately lead to Christ (Matt. 1:1–16; see note on 1 Chron. 1:1).
4:1 After recording the Messianic line of David, which will lead to Christ (see note on 3:10), Chronicles gives the record for Judah, the tribe of David. The recording of individual names and families underlines their inclusion in the promise to Abraham concerning blessing, land, and fellowship with God (Gen. 17:4–8). It prefigures the blessing (Gal. 3:14), land (Rom. 4:13; Heb. 11:16; 12:22; Rev. 21:1), and fellowship with God (Rom. 5:1; Gal. 3:26–29) that come from union with Christ the greater David. God has enrolled our names in his book of life (Rev. 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; see John 10:3, 14; Eph. 1:4).
5:1 The record of Reuben, Gad (v. 11), and Manasseh (v. 23) indicates their continued inclusion among God’s people as offspring of Abraham and Israel (2:1–2). It answers doubts that might arise because of the location of their land east of the Jordan (Numbers 32; Josh. 13:8–32; 22:24–29). The reassurance prefigures the guarantee given to Christians (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13–14). See note on 1 Chron. 4:1.
6:49 The special list for Aaron the priest and for the tribe of Levi, which indicates some of their priestly privileges before God, prefigures the priestly privileges given to Christians through Christ the final high priest (Heb. 7:23–8:2; 10:19–22).
7:1 Other tribes descending from Israel (2:1–2) are briefly listed. See note on 4:1.
8:33 Special focus is given to Saul, because he was king of Israel (10:14; 1 Sam. 10:1). But he was superseded by David (1 Sam. 16:1, 12; 2 Sam. 7:15; 1 Chron. 10:13–14; 17:13), whose line of kings leads forward to Christ the king (Matt. 1:6–16).
9:2 The enrollment of names of returned exiles indicates God’s continued faithfulness to the offspring of Israel. It prefigures God’s enrollment and faithfulness to those who belong to Christ the Israelite (Gal. 3:14, 16, 28–29; see note on 1 Chron. 4:1).
10:14 The movement of kingship to David is the beginning of the line of kingly offspring leading to Christ (17:11, 14; Matt. 1:6–16).
11:3 David is established as king in fulfillment of God’s purpose (v. 2), prefiguring the establishment of Christ the son of David as the final king (Ps. 2:6–12; Acts 13:33; Eph. 1:20–22).
12:23 The unification of God’s people under David, and their strength for war, prefigures the unification and spiritual strength under Christ the king (Eph. 4:1–16; 6:10–20).
13:10 See note on 2 Sam. 6:7. When the Levites take the appropriate role (Ex. 25:14; Num. 4:15; 1 Chron. 15:2, 13–15), the ark is brought up safely (1 Chron. 15:26).
13:12 The supreme holiness of God, and his reaction to the approach of sinners, produces fear. The resolution comes through Christ’s propitiation, which permanently answers God’s wrath (Rom. 3:20–26; 5:1).
14:15 God fights with David against Israel’s enemies, prefiguring Christ defeating Satan and his hosts (Matt. 12:28–29; Luke 10:18–19; John 12:31; Rev. 19:11–21; 20:7–10).
15:2 Unlike Uzzah (13:10), the Levites bring up the ark safely, because they are following God’s instructions (Ex. 25:14; Num. 4:15). The importance of following God’s way prefigures the one way to God opened through Christ (John 14:6; Heb. 10:19–22).
15:16 David and the singers are involved in writing and singing many of the Psalms (see 1 Chron. 16:8–36 and parallels in the Psalms: Ps. 96:1–13; 105:1–15; 106:47–48). They prefigure the role of Christ in leading his people in singing praise to God for climactic salvation (Heb. 2:12; 13:15; Rev. 19:6–8).
16:4 See note on 15:16.
16:8 See Ps. 105:1–15. Songs of praise are to be sung repeatedly, not only to give praise to God, but to remind people of his excellence and to anticipate the surpassing display of his excellence when Christ comes. See note on 1 Chron. 15:16.
16:23 See Ps. 96:1–13 and note on 1 Chron. 16:8.
16:35 See Ps. 106:47–48 and note on 1 Chron. 16:8.
17:4 To underline the importance of Davidic kingship as leading to Christ, Chronicles records the all-important covenant with David given in 2 Sam. 7:5–16. See note on 2 Sam. 7:12.
17:16 David’s marveling over God’s grace prefigures the marveling over the grace that has come in Christ (John 1:16; Eph. 2:7–9).
18:6 The subduing of Israel’s enemies prefigures Christ winning victory over Satan and his hosts (see note on 14:15).
18:14 The coming of justice prefigures the justice of the Messiah (Isa. 9:6–7; 42:1–4; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 20:11–15).
19:2 See note on 2 Sam. 10:2.
20:1 Chronicles, unlike the parallel in 2 Samuel 11, omits mention of David’s sin with Bathsheba, highlighting more effectively ways in which David’s kingship points positively forward to the triumphs of Christ as final king.
20:8 David’s victory over Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 is one of a series of victories that destroy terrifying enemies of God’s people. The victories prefigure the victory of Christ and his people (Matt. 12:28–29;Luke 10:18–19; John 12:31; Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 12:11; 19:11–21; 20:7–10).
21:7 See note on 2 Sam. 24:1.
21:17 See note on 2 Sam. 24:17.
22:1 The selection of the site for Solomon’s temple takes place according to God’s word through Gad the prophet (21:18). Once the temple is built, it will be the exclusive place for atonement and approach to God (Deuteronomy 12), prefiguring Christ as the final one who brings atonement and opens the way to God (John 14:6; Heb. 10:19–22).
22:9 Solomon prefigures Christ as prince of peace, who opens the way to peace with God (Rom. 5:1–10).
23:26 See Num. 4:5–15. God inspires David to make a change in the duties of the Levites, corresponding to the change in the house of God. The service of the Levites prefigures the service of Christ as high priest to God (Heb. 7:23–8:6) and subordinately the service of Christians (Rom. 12:1;Eph. 4:1–16; Heb. 13:15).
24:7 The priests are a special group within the tribe of Levi, chosen to minister in the sanctuary (Numbers 18). The priesthood prefigures Christ the great high priest (Heb. 7:23–8:6). The duties rotate to the different divisions (see Luke 1:5, 8), indicating that no one priest is permanent, until the coming of Christ the everlasting priest (Heb. 7:23–24).
25:1 See note on 15:16. The attention to arrangements for singing prefigures the ordering of the church’s worship through the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12; Eph. 2:22; 5:18–21).
26:1 The gatekeepers protect access to the presence of God in the temple (Num. 18:7, 22), prefiguring the one way of access to God through Christ (John 10:7; 14:6). Church discipline, exercised under the authority of Christ (1 Cor. 5:4–5), warns the unrepentant of their danger.
26:20 The care for God’s gifts prefigures the guarantee of the inheritance of eternal life in Christ (1 Pet. 1:4–5) and the advice to lay up treasure in heaven (Matt. 6:19–34; see 2 Cor. 9:6–15). Money given for the needs of God’s people is to be carefully handled (2 Cor. 8:20–21).
27:1 Arrangements for the military prefigure the spiritual war fought under Christ’s command (Eph. 6:10–20; see note on 1 Chron. 14:15).
28:6 See the promise to David in 17:11–14, now being fulfilled. See note on 2 Sam. 7:12.
28:19 The temple is built in accordance with God’s instructions, just as the tabernacle was (see note onEx. 36:10).
28:20 The empowering of God is essential, prefiguring the centrality of God’s power in building the church, the new temple (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:20–22).
28:21 The previous arrangements of various divisions of the Levites and the people (chs. 23–27) have all been for the purpose of aiding in the service of the house of God. They prefigure God’s planning for the building of the church as temple (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:20–22) and the new Jerusalem as final temple (Rev. 21:22–27).
29:6 The generous offering is like that for the tabernacle (Ex. 35:4–36:7). It prefigures the generosity of Christ (see note on Ex. 35:21).
29:18 Wholehearted commitment comes ultimately with the perfection of Christ (Heb. 10:7–10) and the change of the heart that he works in us in the new covenant (Heb. 10:16–17).

2 Chronicles

Solomon as a wise king and temple builder prefigures Christ the king and temple builder. After Solomon the line of Davidic kings continues, leading forward to Christ the great descendant of David (Matt. 1:6–16). But many of the later kings go astray from God, and they and the people suffer for it, showing the need for Christ as the perfect king. Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29–32) and Josiah (chs. 34–35) as righteous kings prefigure Christ. Second Chronicles has parallels in 1–2 Kings but focuses on the southern kingdom (Judah) and the line of David, and it shows focused concern for the temple and its worship, anticipating the fulfillment of temple and worship with the coming of Christ (John 2:19–21; 4:20–26;Eph. 2:20–22; Rev. 21:22–22:5).

1:10 See note on 1 Kings 3:9. Wisdom is needed to build the temple (1 Chron. 29:1; 2 Chron. 2:6, 12).
2:3 See note on 1 Kings 5:8.
2:13 See note on 1 Kings 7:14.
3:1 See note on 1 Kings 6:2. The location for the temple was appointed in 1 Chron. 22:1 (see note on 1 Chron. 22:1).
4:1 The altar is twice as large as the one for the tabernacle (Ex. 27:1–8), indicating the more abundant provision for atonement. See note on Ex. 27:1.
4:7 There are ten lampstands instead of the one in the tabernacle (Ex. 25:31–39), indicating the more abundant provision of light. See notes on Ex. 25:37 and 1 Kings 6:2.
5:14 See note on 1 Kings 8:11.
6:6 The selection of Jerusalem fulfills the plan given through Moses in Deuteronomy 12. It prefigures the appointment of Christ as the one way of salvation (John 14:6; Heb. 5:5–10).
6:15 See note on 1 Kings 8:24.
6:21 See note on 1 Kings 8:30.
7:1 The miraculous approval by God is like what happens with Elijah in 1 Kings 18:39 (see note).
7:2 The glory of the Lord signifies the magnificence of his presence, prefiguring Christ’s presence. See5:14 and note on 1 Kings 8:11.
7:20 See note on 1 Kings 9:8.
8:5 Solomon takes care to provide security against foreign enemies, performing one of the important duties of ancient kings and prefiguring the spiritual security given through Christ the king (John 10:28–29; see Rev. 21:24–27; 22:3).
8:14 David’s instructions are found in 1 Chronicles 23–27. See the note on 1 Chron. 28:21.
9:1 See note on 1 Kings 10:1.
9:22 Solomon’s riches and wisdom prefigure the riches and wisdom of Christ the king (Eph. 1:18; Col. 2:3; 1 Cor. 1:30).
10:15 See note on 1 Kings 12:15.
11:14 The Levites were distributed among the tribes (Joshua 20–21; see note on Josh. 21:2). But Jeroboam’s false worship (see 1 Kings 12:25–13:5) forces them and others who follow God to join Judah. The conflict over worship prefigures the conflict over the exclusive claims of Christ (see note on1 Kings 13:34).
12:6 Rebellion against the Lord leads to disaster, but repentance brings relief. The pattern anticipates God’s final judgment on rebellion (Rev. 20:11–15) and relief through repentance and faith in Christ (John 5:24; Rev. 20:15).
13:9 For Jeroboam’s promotion of false worship, see 1 Kings 12:25–33 and note on 1 Kings 13:34. The blessing on true worshipers prefigures the blessing on worship in spirit and truth that Christ brings (John 4:20–24).
14:7 Blessings come from following God’s way, prefiguring the blessings through Christ the final way (John 14:6; Eph. 1:3–14).
15:8 Asa continues to work for true worship according to the law (Ex. 27:1–8; Deut. 11:28; 12:1), prefiguring Christ’s establishment of true worship (Matt. 21:12–16; John 4:20–24).
16:9 God’s judgment takes place within history, as well as at the consummation (Rev. 20:11–15). Judgment comes climactically when Christ as a substitute takes judgment on himself, and then in his resurrection receives the reward for his blamelessness (Phil. 2:10–11). See note on 1 Kings 15:18.
17:5 See note on 14:7.
18:18 See note on 1 Kings 22:19.
19:7 Mosaic instructions for judgeship are in Ex. 23:8; Deut. 16:18–20. Promoting justice is one of the duties of the king, prefiguring the justice of Christ the king (Isa. 9:6–7; 42:1–4).
20:22 God honors those who trust in him, anticipating the giving of honor to Christ in his resurrection (Phil. 2:10–11) and the blessing to Christians who trust in Christ (Galatians 3).
21:7 The line of David is nearly, but not quite, wiped out, prefiguring the attack by Herod (Matt. 2:13–18) and God’s faithfulness to Christ the offspring of David. See note on 1 Kings 15:4.
22:11 See note on 2 Kings 11:2.
23:11 The establishment of the true king, in spite of all opposition, prefigures the establishment of Christ as king (Ps. 2:7–12; Acts 13:33).
24:4 See note on 2 Kings 12:9.
24:20 See note on 12:6.
25:16 Prophetic warning gives opportunity for repentance, but Amaziah hardens himself instead. Amaziah’s failure points to the need for a perfect king (Matt. 21:5). The call to repentance prefigures the call to repentance and faith in the NT. See note on 2 Chron. 12:6.
25:19 See note on 2 Kings 14:10.
26:16 Uzziah’s sin and its consequences point to the need for a perfect king (Matt. 21:5).
27:6 See note on 14:7.
28:3 See note on 2 Kings 16:3.
28:15 The unusual kindness shows God’s mercy (v. 9) and anticipates the love that Jesus embodies (Matt. 8:14–17; Luke 7:21–22; 1 John 3:16; 4:7–12), that he teaches (Luke 10:25–37), and that he creates in his followers (John 13:34–35; 1 John 4:17–21).
29:8 Judgments against false worship (predicted in Deut. 11:28) are reversed by Hezekiah, prefiguring Christ the king coming to remove the curse on sin (Gal. 3:13–14).
30:9 The theme of mercy and repentance looks forward to God’s mercy in Christ to those who repent and turn to him (Luke 18:13). See notes on 2 Chron. 12:6 and 25:16.
30:19 The desire of the heart is of greater importance than mere external conformity (1 Sam. 15:22;Hos. 6:6; Mic. 6:6–8; Matt. 9:13; 25:25–28), anticipating the centrality of renewal of the heart in Christ’s work (Heb. 8:10).
30:26 The contrast between Hezekiah and the past shows the difference that a good leader can make, prefiguring the climactic renewal with the coming of Christ (Heb. 8:8–12).
31:2 Hezekiah restores the temple service as specified by Moses (Numbers 18) and David (1 Chronicles 23–26). His obedience prefigures Christ’s obedience and the obedience of those who follow Christ (Eph. 4:1–16). See note on 2 Kings 18:5.
32:8 Trusting the Lord to fight prefigures trust in Christ as the victor against the kingdom of evil (Col. 1:13; 2:15; Heb. 2:14–15).
32:15 See note on 2 Kings 18:30.
32:17 See note on 2 Kings 19:22.
33:7 See note on 2 Kings 21:8.
33:12 See note on 12:6.
34:2 Josiah as a righteous king prefigures Christ.
34:21 See note on 2 Kings 22:13.
35:1 The keeping of the Passover is another high point in serving God (see note on 30:26).
35:4 See note on 31:2.
36:16 God shows his righteous judgment against sin, prefiguring the even greater manifestations of righteousness in the death and resurrection of Christ and in the final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15). See notes on 2 Chron. 12:6; 16:9; and 2 Kings 25:9.
36:21 The judgment confirms God’s faithfulness to his word, anticipating his faithfulness in Christ. It also gives the land rest in accordance with Leviticus 25, prefiguring final rest (see note on Lev. 25:4).
36:23 Cyrus’s proclamation, prophesied in Isa. 44:28 and recorded in Ezra 1:1–4, shows that God has not forgotten his people (Rom. 11:1). His continued faithfulness and repeated acts of mercy and salvation look forward to the coming of Christ as the climax of faithfulness and mercy.


History of Salvation in the Old Testament: Preparing the Way for Christ (cont…)


The restoration and rebuilding after the exile, in fulfillment of prophecy (1:1), prefigure Christ’s salvation (Col. 1:13) and the building of the church (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 2:20–22). They also look forward to the consummation of salvation in the new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21:1).

1:1 God’s raising of Cyrus prefigures his raising of Christ, who in the gospel sends out the proclamation to build the new people of God (Isa. 44:28–45:1).
1:5 It is God who empowers the restoration in the people as well as in Cyrus, prefiguring the empowering of his people through the Spirit (Acts 1:8; 2:1–4; Rom. 8:10–11).
2:1 The detailed record of people shows God’s knowledge of individuals and families, symbolizing his detailed knowledge of those chosen for salvation (Eph. 1:4; Rev. 13:8; 17:8; see note on 1 Chron. 4:1).
3:2 Restoration of true worship of God is central to the restoration as a whole. Sacrificial worship prefigures the sacrifice of Christ (Heb. 10:1–10).
3:10 Temple building, analogous to what Solomon did (2 Chronicles 3), prefigures Christ’s body as a temple (John 2:19–21), the church as a temple (Matt. 16:18; 1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:20–22), and the new Jerusalem as a temple (Rev. 21:9–22:5). See Haggai and Zechariah for prophecy relating to the restoration.
3:11 The singing, using the refrain of 1 Chron. 16:34 and Psalm 136, follows the pattern in 1 Chronicles 25 and looks forward to the praise offered by Christ (Heb. 2:12) and his people (Heb. 13:15).
4:1 The adversaries, incited ultimately by Satan, symbolize opposition to God’s purposes for his people and prefigure opposition to Christ and his people (Matt. 4:1–11; Rev. 12:3–4, 7–17).
5:1 Directives both from prophets and from Cyrus (1:1–4) have a key role in the restoration, prefiguring the role of God’s word in building the church (Eph. 2:20–22; 4:6–16).
6:6 God reverses the plans of the opponents and uses Darius to favor the restoration, prefiguring God’s work in blessing the church (Rom. 8:28; Acts 4:29–31; 8:4).
7:27 Through Ezra and Artaxerxes, God shows his providential blessing on the restoration, prefiguring his willingness to supply our needs (2 Cor. 9:6–12).
8:31 God provides protection, prefiguring his protection to those in Christ (John 10:27–29).
9:1 Intermarriage was forbidden in Deut. 7:3–4 because it led to idolatry (see Ezra 9:11–14). Separation prefigures the need for uncompromising allegiance to Christ (Matt. 10:34–39; Luke 14:26–33; 2 Cor. 6:14–7:1).
10:2 See note on 2 Chron. 12:6.
10:3 Families are put away for the sake of holiness, to eliminate compromise with idolatry (Deut. 7:3–4; see note on Ezra 9:1). The superior power of Christ’s holiness is such that, in the NT, a Christian may remain in an unbelieving family with the hope that others may come to know Christ (1 Cor. 7:12–16).


The restoration and rebuilding after the exile prefigure Christ’s salvation (Col. 1:13) and the building of the church (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 2:20–22).

1:11 Nehemiah’s intercession for the people prefigures Christ’s intercession for us before God the Father (Heb. 7:25).
2:18 Rebuilding Jerusalem prefigures building the church (Matt. 16:18; 1 Cor. 14:4–5, 12; Gal. 4:26;Eph. 2:20–22).
3:1 God records the names of the builders, indicating his knowledge of each contribution. The division of labor prefigures the cooperation in the body of Christ (Rom. 12:3–8; 1 Corinthians 12; Eph. 4:1–16).
4:1 Opposition to building prefigures opposition to the church and to Christians (John 15:18–20).
5:7 God’s law through Moses forbids exacting interest from a fellow Israelite (Ex. 22:25; Lev. 25:36). The help to the poor anticipates the church’s helping the poor (Acts 2:44–45; 4:32–37; 2 Cor. 9:6–15) on the basis of God’s generosity in Christ (2 Cor. 8:9; 9:15).
6:2 Opposition includes deceit as well as mocking and threats (see note on 4:1). This deceit manifests the deceitfulness of Satan the great enemy (John 8:44; 2 Thess. 2:9–10; Rev. 12:9; 20:3).
7:6 See note on Ezra 2:1.
8:3 Instruction from God’s Word plays a key role in building up the people of God. It prefigures the role of Christ as the Word of God (John 1:1; Rev. 19:13), the role of the gospel (Rom. 1:16–17; 1 Thess. 2:13;1 Pet. 1:23), and the role of Scripture (1 Tim. 3:13; 2 Tim. 3:16–17; see Psalm 119).
9:8 God’s faithfulness is displayed in fulfilling the promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:1–3, 7; 13:14–17; 15:4, 13–21; 17:1–14). His faithfulness to his promises is supremely manifested in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20–22), who has brought everlasting blessings to God’s people (Eph. 1:3–14).
9:38 The names indicate the personal commitment of individuals and families, prefiguring personal commitment to Christ (Acts 2:38–41; see note on Ezra 2:1).
10:29 Obedience to the law anticipates the obligation of disciples of Christ to follow him in everything (Matt. 10:37–39; Luke 14:25–33; John 14:15, 23). Christ alone is perfectly obedient to God (Heb. 4:15).
11:1 Jerusalem has a key role as the holy city. In the NT all of God’s people are citizens in the heavenly Jerusalem (Gal. 4:26–28; Phil. 3:20; Heb. 12:22–24).
11:4 The list of names and numbers indicates God’s knowledge of the details of individuals and families. See note on Ezra 2:1.
12:27 The Levites’ role in singing was established in 1 Chronicles 25. The celebration anticipates the celebration and praise to God for the resurrection of Christ (Eph. 5:19–20; Heb. 13:15) and for the consummation (Rev. 19:1–8).
13:3 See note on Ezra 9:1.
13:15 The people promised to keep the Sabbath in 10:31. The Sabbath is a sign of the covenant with God (Ex. 20:8–11; 31:12–17), celebrating creation (Ex. 20:11) and redemption (Deut. 5:15). It points forward to Christ, who is Creator (Col. 1:15–16) and Redeemer (Col. 1:18–20), and who has prepared our place of rest (John 14:2–3). See notes on Gen. 2:2 and 2:3.
13:23 See note on Ezra 9:1.


God providentially brings deliverance to his people through Esther, prefiguring final deliverance through Christ.

1:12 The rejection of Vashti is one step in God’s providential acts to deliver the Jews (see note on 2:15). It introduces the key theme of rejection and selection, by which God prepares the way for salvation.
2:15 God causes Esther the Jew to be chosen, which will later play a key role in delivering the Jews. Esther in her beauty prefigures the church as the bride of Christ (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:26–27; Rev. 19:7–8; see note on Est. 1:12).
2:22 God’s hand of providence leads to key action from Mordecai, which will later prove important (6:2). God’s providential control illustrates his continual care for his people (John 10:27–29; Rom. 8:28; Eph. 1:22).
3:1 The conflict between Mordecai and Haman is explained 1 Sam. 15:2–3, 32–33. Haman is an Agagite, an Amalekite, an opponent of Israel and a descendant of the people whom Saul should have wiped out.
3:6 Haman exemplifies all who oppose God’s people, and especially Satan (see Rev. 12:10–12).
4:16 Esther is willing to sacrifice her own life, prefiguring the willingness of Christ to die for us (Rom. 5:6–11).
5:2 The king’s favor toward Esther prefigures the favor resting on Christ as the obedient son of God who redeems us (Matt. 3:17; 2 Pet. 1:17). It is the turning point in the story, prefiguring the resurrection as the turning point in redemption.
5:11 Pride goes before destruction (Prov. 16:18). Haman typifies the false confidence of those belonging to the kingdom of Satan.
6:1 A number of seemingly “chance” events show God’s providential control and his power to act secretly on behalf of his people (see note on 2:22).
7:10 Fitting retribution comes as Haman receives what he would have done to Mordecai (Obad. 15). The retribution prefigures the justice of God’s final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15) and the elimination of the enemies of God’s people (Rev. 20:7–10; 21:8, 27).
8:8 The effects of victory now extend to all the Jews, prefiguring the extending of Christ’s victory to those who are his (Rom. 8:10–11; 1 Cor. 15:54–57; Col. 3:1–4).
9:1 The reversal anticipates the reversal of positions with Christ’s coming (Luke 1:48–53; 14:11; 18:14) and the justice of God’s final judgment (see note on Est. 7:10).
10:3 The blessings to the Jews through Esther and Mordecai prefigure the blessings that come to us through Christ (Eph. 1:3–14; see note on Est. 8:8).


Job’s suffering and relief prefigure the suffering and glory of Christ.

1:1 Job, though not sinlessly perfect, is upright, prefiguring the righteousness of Christ (Heb. 4:16).
1:11 Satan is an accuser of God’s people (Rev. 12:10). Redemption in Christ includes giving a final answer to Satan’s accusations, both by justifying the ungodly (Rom. 4:5) and by making the ungodly into godly people (Rom. 6:4, 15–19; Rev. 19:8; 21:27).
1:21 Job trusts God even though he does not know about Satan’s accusation. He exemplifies all who walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Christ as man trusted in God perfectly (Heb. 2:13; 5:7–10).
2:6 God uses even the works of Satan for his own glory and for the sanctification of his people. God forbids Satan to take Job’s life. But when Christ comes, he is allowed to die at the hands of sinful men (Acts 2:23). It is the supreme act of trust and of vindication of the name of God, as well as victory over Satan (John 12:31).
3:3 Intense suffering negates all the meaning of life, underlining the fact that both suffering and death are horrible effects from the fall (Gen. 3:19). An answer comes only with the meaningful sufferings of Christ (Phil. 3:10) and his resurrection from the dead, which is the beginning of the end to all suffering (Rev. 21:4).
4:7 Eliphaz speaks as if God’s protection to the righteous were a universal rule. But the mystery of the death of Christ the innocent one shows the superficiality of his reasoning.
4:15 Eliphaz does not realize that he may have seen an evil spirit who, like Satan, accuses God’s people (see note on 1:11).
4:17 Yes, a man can be pure, as is demonstrated by the purity of Christ. Moreover, Christ gives his righteousness to his people through justification (Rom. 5:1; 2 Cor. 5:21).
5:13 God catches the wise with the foolishness of the cross, according to 1 Cor. 3:19. Ironically, Eliphaz, who claims to be wise, is himself caught in his speeches (Job 42:7), because he does not know the wisdom of the cross, and its meaning for the suffering of the innocent.
5:18 The statement parallels Hos. 6:1. Eliphaz correctly describes God’s discipline to sinful people. But he does not see that God may discipline the innocent for more mysterious purposes (Job 1:12; 2 Cor. 5:21; see note on Job 4:7).
6:15 Job’s misery is increased by his friends. It anticipates Christ’s betrayal by Judas (John 13:18) and abandonment by the disciples (Matt. 26:31).
7:17 Note similarities with Ps. 8:4 and Heb. 2:6. God has set his heart on man and brought suffering with a view to redemption in Christ, but Job cannot see the full picture yet.
8:3 God is just, but his justice is deeper than straightforward rewards and punishments in this life. The issue of justice points forward to the achievement of justice in the work of Christ (Rom. 3:23–26) and in the final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15).
9:2 See note on 4:17.
9:14 Job sees the need for an intercessor, anticipating the intercession of Christ (Heb. 7:25).
9:24 The frustration over injustices finds resolution only in the future, with the coming of final salvation (Rev. 20:11–22:5). In the meantime, the righteous may suffer and the wicked prosper, anticipating the human injustice in the crucifixion of Christ.
9:30 Isaiah 1:18 gives hope that God will himself makes us white as snow, which he accomplishes in Christ (Rom. 8:1).
9:33 Christ is both God and man, and will stand in between (1 Tim. 2:5–6; see note on Job 9:14).
10:4 Doubts about whether God sympathizes with man are resolved with Christ’s manifestation of sympathy (Heb. 4:15).
10:11 God’s creation of Job shows care and intimacy (see Ps. 139:13–16), anticipating the love displayed in the incarnation of Christ (John 1:14).
11:17 The life of the righteous will end in bright day (Prov. 4:18), ultimately the day of consummation (Rev. 21:23–22:5). But Zophar underestimates the complexity. The mysteries of God’s providence lead to consummation only through the sufferings of Christ (1 Pet. 2:21–25) and his people (Phil. 2:10–11).
12:3 Job’s anguish is increased by what he knows concerning God’s wisdom and power, because it seems inconsistent with his sufferings. God’s wisdom and power are climactically manifested in the suffering of Christ (1 Cor. 1:18–25).
13:3 See note on 9:14.
13:15 Job’s continued hope anticipates Christ’s trust even to the point of death (Matt. 26:38–39).
14:14 Job sees that resurrection is needed to solve the mystery of suffering. He thereby anticipates the resurrection of Christ (Rom. 4:25) and of Christ’s people (John 5:24–25, 29; 1 Thess. 4:13–18).
14:17 Job anticipates forgiveness, which has now been accomplished in Christ (Rom. 4:7–8; 8:1).
15:9 See note on 12:3.
15:14 See note on 4:17.
16:11 Job’s abandonment prefigures the abandonment of Christ (Matt. 20:18–19).
16:17 See the parallel in the sufferings of Christ in Isa. 53:9.
16:19 Job anticipates the intercession of Christ, who pleads our cause (Rom. 8:34).
16:21 See note on 9:14.
17:6 The despising of Job anticipates the despising of Christ (Ps. 69:11; Isa. 50:6; Matt. 27:30).
18:21 God will judge the wicked (Rev. 20:11–15). But justice is delayed for the sake of salvation (Ps. 73:3; 2 Pet. 3:9).
19:7 See the parallel in Hab. 1:2–4. Faith is necessary in waiting for the justice of Christ.
19:19 Job’s abandonment by friends anticipates the abandonment of Christ on the cross (Ps. 55:13;John 13:18).
19:25 Job anticipates both the vindication of Christ’s justification (Rom. 4:25) and the open manifestation of righteousness at the last judgment (2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 20:11–15).
19:26 Seeing God takes place through seeing Christ, both now (John 14:9) and in the consummation (Rev. 22:4). See note on Ex. 33:22.
20:29 See note on 18:21.
21:7 A similar struggle is found in Ps. 73:3. See notes on Job 18:21 and 19:7.
22:8 False accusations imitate those of Satan (1:11; 2:5) and anticipate the false accusations against Christ (Matt. 26:59–60; 27:13; Luke 23:10, 14) and against his people (Rev. 12:10).
23:7 Job’s desire for God and for acquittal anticipates the justification that is found in Christ (Rom. 4:25–5:1; 8:1).
24:12 See Ps. 50:21 and note on Job 9:24.
25:4 See note on 4:17.
26:13 God’s victory over the serpent anticipates the final victory over Satan through Christ (John 12:31;Rev. 20:7–10). Job knows that God’s ways are mysterious, but he continues to hope.
27:5 Job’s holding fast to the right anticipates Christ’s steadfastness toward God and our privilege of holding fast to his righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).
28:12 Job cannot fathom God’s ways, but wisdom is found ultimately in Christ (1 Cor. 1:30; Col. 2:3).
28:27 Wisdom was with God even in creation, as in Prov. 8:22–31. The association of wisdom with creation anticipates the revelation that Christ (the wisdom of God) was with God in the beginning and was mediator of creation (John 1:1–3; Col. 1:15–17).
28:28 See Prov. 1:7.
29:3 Job’s time of blessing anticipated the blessings that come through Christ (John 8:12).
30:10 See note on 17:6.
30:20 The unanswered cries anticipate the abandonment of Christ on the cross (Ps. 22:1–2; Matt. 27:46).
31:1 Job’s commitment to God anticipates the integrity of Christ (Heb. 4:15).
32:12 God has put in us a desire for wisdom and understanding that will be satisfied only in Christ (1 Cor. 1:30; Col. 2:3; see notes on Job 28:12 and 28:27).
33:23 The desire for a mediator anticipates the exclusive mediation of Christ (1 Tim. 2:5–6; see notes on Job 9:14 and 9:33).
34:11 God’s reward or punishment according to justice is a regular theme (e.g., Ps. 62:12; Prov. 24:12;Rev. 2:23; 20:12–13). But final payment awaits the working out of justice and mercy in Christ (see notes on Job 8:3 and 11:17). God’s justice does not endorse a superficial conclusion about Job’s situation.
35:2 See notes on 34:11 and 8:3.
37:5 The wisdom of God is inaccessible, except through Christ (Col. 2:3; 1 Cor. 1:30; see note on Job 28:12).
37:24 The danger of man-centered wisdom is real (as in Prov. 3:7; Rom. 11:25; 12:16) and holds people back from humbly seeking God and his wisdom in Christ (1 Cor. 1:18–31).
38:4 See note on 28:27.
38:17 Only God has power over death, anticipating the victory of Christ over death (Heb. 2:14–15; Rev. 1:18).
39:9 Both wisdom and power belong to God but not to man (see note on 12:3).
40:8 Man has a God-given sense of justice, but it is inadequate in the face of the depths of God. The depths of God’s justice and mercy and wisdom are to be revealed in Christ (1 Cor. 1:30; see notes on Job 12:3 and 28:12).
40:14 Job confronts not only the issue of wisdom and justice, but salvation. Salvation ultimately is worked out in Christ (1 Cor. 1:30).
41:1 God has power even over the most untamable creature, and ultimately even over Satan, who is named Leviathan (Isa. 27:1). Christ’s victory over Satan (John 12:31) will ultimately answer all the human frustrations of suffering and injustice (Rev. 21:4).
42:3 Job finds satisfaction in knowing God and his wisdom. Final satisfaction is to be found in Christ (John 16:33; 17:3; Col. 2:3; Rev. 21:4).
42:10 Job’s vindication after his sufferings anticipates the vindication of Christ after his sufferings.


By expressing the emotional heights and depths in human response to God, the Psalms provide a permanent treasure for God’s people to use to express their needs and their praises, both corporately and individually. Christ as representative man experienced our human condition, yet without sin, and so the Psalms become his prayers to God (see esp. Heb. 2:12; cf. Matt. 27:46 with Ps. 22:1). The Psalms are thus to be seen as his words, and through our union with him they become ours.

1:1 God’s commitment to bless the righteous is supremely shown when he blesses Christ, the perfectly righteous man, by raising him from the dead and enthroning him (Phil. 2:10–11).
2:1 The rebellion of the peoples anticipates the rebellion against the message of Christ (Acts 4:25–27).
2:6 God uses David and other Israelite kings to protect his people against enemies. These kings prefigure Christ, who is enthroned after his resurrection (Acts 13:33) and now rules on behalf of his people (Eph. 1:20–22).
2:8 Christ rules over all nations (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:21).
2:12 Salvation or damnation depends on one’s relation to the Son (John 3:36).
3:1 Protection from earthly enemies prefigures protection from the ultimate evils of Satan, sin, and death (Heb. 2:14–15). God the Father delivered Christ from his enemies in his resurrection (Acts 3:13–15), and that is the basis for our deliverance (Rom. 4:25).
3:5 Being preserved through the night anticipates the hope of resurrection after the “sleep” of death (13:3; 1 Thess. 4:13–18).
4:7 The joy of knowing God anticipates the joy and peace that Christ promises (John 15:11; 16:33).
5:4 Sinners cannot stand before God’s holiness. Christ’s perfection allows us to come into God’s presence and for our prayers for deliverance to be heard (Heb. 10:19–22).
5:9 See Rom. 3:13 and note on Ps. 14:1.
5:12 See note on 1:1.
6:2 Sufferings of God’s people ultimately turn out to be analogous, on a lesser level, to the sufferings of Christ (Ps. 22:14; Phil. 3:10).
7:8 God’s justice gives hope for vindication when we are in the right. But in the matter of eternal salvation, no one is in the right except Christ alone, and in him we take refuge (Rom. 3:23–26).
8:2 Praise from infants anticipates children’s praise of Christ (Matt. 21:16).
8:5 God gave Adam a distinguished role (Gen. 1:28–30). But because of the disobedience of Adam and his posterity (Rom. 5:12–21), it is Christ who fulfills the role and receives glory and honor in his resurrection and ascension (Heb. 2:5–9).
8:6 Dominion is finally achieved through Christ’s reign (1 Cor. 15:25–28; Eph. 1:22; Heb. 2:5–9).
9:13 Deliverance from death anticipates the resurrection of Christ, and through him the resurrection of his people (1 Cor. 15:42–49; Col. 3:1–4).
10:1 The lack of immediate answers from God frustrates our desire for justice. This frustration finds its climax in the death of Christ, which from a human point of view was supremely unjust (Luke 23:14–16). But God answers in the resurrection (Acts 3:13–16), and therefore we hope for further answers, culminating in the consummation (Rev. 21:4).
10:7 The treachery of man contrasts with the righteousness to be found in Christ alone (Rom. 3:14–26; see note on Ps. 14:1).
11:4 The Lord’s holiness and power, which are supremely revealed in Christ, guarantee an answer to the distress of his people.
12:6 In the midst of lies from man, God’s word is supremely true, anticipating the truthfulness of Christ (John 14:6), who is able to deliver us from lies (John 8:44–47).
13:1 See note on 10:1.
13:3 See note on 3:1.
13:5 Salvation includes both the deliverance of Christ himself from death in his resurrection (Heb. 5:7) and the deliverance of believers through Christ (Col. 1:13).
14:1 In ultimate terms, none is righteous except Christ, through whom we may be part of the generation of the righteous (Rom. 3:10–12).
15:2 Fellowship with God in his holiness ultimately requires perfection, which we receive through the mediation of Christ the final high priest (Heb. 10:19–22).
16:8 God’s mercies to David look forward to the climactic answer when Christ does not remain in the grave but is raised (Acts 2:25–33).
17:2 See note on 7:8.
17:7 Christ above all others waited for God to deliver him from his adversaries (Matt. 26:53; 27:43; 1 Pet. 2:23).
17:15 Awaking may mean awaking from sleep, but it looks forward ultimately to the new life of the resurrection and seeing God face to face (Rev. 22:4; see note on Ps. 3:5).
18:1 David’s song from 2 Samuel 22 has been included in the book of Psalms, indicating its relevance to the people of God as a whole.
18:4 See note on 9:13.
18:17 Christ’s resurrection is the ultimate case of deliverance from enemies.
18:20 See note on 7:8.
18:34 God gives the king effectiveness in war for the sake of defending his people from their enemies in other nations. OT war prefigures Christ’s conquest of all enemies (Matt. 28:18–20; Eph. 1:20–22; Rev. 19:11–21).
18:49 See note on 2 Sam. 22:50.
18:50 Victory to David’s offspring ultimately points to the victory of Christ in his resurrection (Rom. 6:8–10).
19:1 Revelation of God through nature leaves man with no excuse (Rom. 1:18–23).
19:7 The close relation between God’s instruction through creation (vv. 1–6) and through his law (vv. 7–14) anticipates the role of Christ as mediator in creation and redemption (Col. 1:15–20).
20:6 The key to salvation to all the people is salvation to the anointed king. Christ’s deliverance in his resurrection is the foundation for our salvation (1 Cor. 15:17–22).
21:4 The blessing of long life to the king in the line of David anticipates the blessing of eternal resurrection life that Christ possesses as he sits at the right hand of God (John 11:25; Rev. 1:18).
21:8 See note on 18:34.
22:1 The suffering and abandonment of the psalmist prefigure the suffering of Christ (Matt. 27:46).
22:8 The bystanders mock Christ’s trust (Matt. 27:43).
22:18 The soldiers around the cross divide Christ’s garments (Matt. 27:35 and John 19:23–24).
22:22 Public praise prefigures Christ praising God to his people for the salvation that God has accomplished in him (Heb. 2:12).
22:27 The Abrahamic promise of salvation to all nations (Gen. 12:3) will be fulfilled as the message of Christ’s resurrection spreads (Matt. 28:18–20; Luke 24:47; Gal. 3:14).
23:1 Jesus is the good shepherd (John 10:11–18, 27–29) who embodies God’s care for his people.
23:4 See note on 9:13.
23:6 Dwelling in the presence of God is fulfilled for Christ personally in his ascension (John 16:10; Acts 1:9–11) and for believers in the consummation (Rev. 22:4).
24:4 See note on 15:2.
24:7 Heaven is opened to receive Christ in his ascension (Luke 24:51; Heb. 9:24).
25:2 See note on 3:1.
25:4 Christ perfectly followed the path of the Lord (John 5:36; 14:31). Through Christ and his instruction and through the teaching of the Spirit of Christ believers learn to be disciples and follow his path (John 14:6; 16:13).
26:1 The ultimate vindication takes place in Christ (1 Tim. 3:16), who perfectly trusted in the Lord without wavering. In him his people find vindication (Rom. 4:25).
26:12 See note on 22:22.
27:1 Christ is the light of the world (John 8:12).
27:4 Enjoyment of fellowship with God in his presence anticipates the joy of knowing God through Christ (John 15:11; 16:24; 17:3; Rev. 22:4). Christ opens the way into the heavenly sanctuary (Heb. 10:19–22).
27:11 See note on 25:4.
28:8 Salvation to God’s people and salvation to the anointed king go together. Both are fulfilled in Christ the anointed One (Luke 4:18).
29:3 God’s word is powerful to save and to destroy, anticipating the power of Christ the Word (John 1:1) and the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16; 2 Cor. 2:15–17).
30:2 God’s healing from physical sickness anticipates rescue from death (v. 3) and eternal salvation through the resurrection of Christ (John 5:24; 11:25).
31:5 Trust in God for deliverance anticipates Christ’s trust as he dies (Luke 23:46).
32:1 Forgiveness of sins anticipates the sacrifice of Christ as the ultimate basis for forgiveness (Rom. 4:7–8).
33:6 God’s power and wisdom displayed in creation and in providence encourage praise and encourage hope in his salvation. Instances of temporal salvation look forward to eternal salvation in Christ (see33:22; Matt. 1:21; Luke 2:30).
34:8 Experiencing God’s goodness anticipates the experience of goodness in Christ (1 Pet. 2:3).
34:12 Christians now imitate Christ the Righteous One (Acts 3:14) in walking in the way of righteousness (1 Pet. 3:10–12).
34:20 The OT deliverances of the righteous prefigure the deliverance of Christ (John 19:36).
35:3 Small acts of salvation prefigure the climactic salvation in Christ—that Christ is raised from the dead and that through him we are rescued from sin and Satan (Col. 1:13–14).
35:4 See note on 3:1.
35:18 See note on 22:22.
35:19 Hatred for the righteous prefigures hatred against Christ (John 15:25).
36:1 See Rom. 3:18 and note on Ps. 14:1.
36:8 Joy in God’s presence anticipates the joy that Christ gives (John 15:11), which is to be fulfilled in the consummation (Rev. 19:6–9).
36:11 See note on 3:1.
37:9 In the consummation ultimate blessing will come to God’s people and ultimate overthrow to his enemies (Rev. 20:11–21:8). The first stage of this goal occurs in Christ’s resurrection, where he as our representative inherits the earth (Matt. 28:18) and triumphs over his enemies (Col. 2:15).
38:1 Deliverance from God’s wrath comes ultimately through Christ (John 3:36; Rom. 5:1).
38:4 See note on 32:1.
39:4 The threat of death hangs over all human existence and finds relief ultimately only through the resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:12–26, 35–58).
40:7 The psalmist’s eagerness to serve God prefigures the perfection of Christ’s willingness and the perfection of his sacrifice (Heb. 10:5–10).
40:9 See note on 22:22.
41:9 The treachery against the psalmist prefigures Judas’s treachery against Christ (John 13:18).
41:12 The eternal enjoyment of God’s presence anticipates the resurrection of Christ (Heb. 9:24).
42:7 The waters of suffering threaten death (see Jonah 2:3). Such suffering according to God’s will anticipates the suffering and death of Christ, and the hope for deliverance anticipates his resurrection.
43:1 See note on 26:1.
43:3 Coming into the presence of God prefigures Christ as our representative coming into heaven (Heb. 9:12).
44:22 Victory based on Christ’s resurrection sustains God’s people in the midst of oppression (Rom. 8:36).
45:6 The kings in the line of David prefigure the reign of God the king through the reign of the divine Son (Heb. 1:8–9).
45:11 The marriage of the Davidic king prefigures the marriage of Christ to the church (Eph. 5:25–27).
46:5 The dwelling of God with his people anticipates his coming to dwell with us in Christ (John 1:14; 2:19–21; Eph. 2:20–22).
47:9 The promise of God’s subduing the nations is fulfilled in Christ (Matt. 28:18–20; Luke 24:47;Eph. 1:20–22; Rev. 5:9–10).
48:1 Jerusalem as the holy city prefigures the heavenly Jerusalem (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22–24; Rev. 21:2, 9–10), both as a present reality in Christ and as a future hope.
49:7 Reliance on God is the only solution to death. Such reliance anticipates faith in Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 10:9) and the hope for our future resurrection (1 Cor. 15:42–57; 1 Thess. 4:13–18).
50:4 God acts to judge, both in preliminary ways and climactically in the final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15).
50:15 True reliance on God is fulfilled both in Christ’s trust in God (see note on 31:5) and in our faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9).
51:1 See note on 32:1.
51:7 Hyssop alludes to cleansing ceremonies (Lev. 14:4; Num. 19:18) that point forward to the final cleansing from sin through the work of Christ (Heb. 9:19–28).
52:5 See note on 3:1.
52:8 Enjoyment of the house of God in the OT prefigures eternal enjoyment of the presence of God in Christ, both in this life (John 15:11–16) and in the consummation (Rev. 22:2–4).
53:1 This psalm is very similar to Psalm 14. See note on 14:1.
54:1 The role of the name of God in salvation anticipates the fact that salvation is in the name of Christ alone (Acts 4:12).
54:4 God’s upholding of life prefigures the giving of eternal life in the resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:42–57; Col. 3:1–4).
54:5 See note on 3:1.
55:3 See note on 3:1.
55:13 The treachery of friends anticipates Judas’s betrayal of Christ (John 13:18).
56:1 See note on 3:1.
56:3 The psalmist’s trust in God anticipates both Christ’s trust in the Father during his earthly life (Heb. 2:13; see note on Ps. 31:5) and Christians’ trust in Christ (Acts 16:31).
56:13 Deliverance from death anticipates the resurrection (see note on 9:13).
57:2 God’s acts of salvation work out his plan and purpose from all eternity (Eph. 1:3–4, 11).
57:9 The spread of the message of salvation among the nations anticipates the spread of the gospel message (Luke 24:47; see note on Ps. 22:27).
58:2 Distress over injustice will be satisfied when God brings righteous judgment (58:11). The longing for justice anticipates the justice accomplished in the resurrection of Christ (Rom. 4:25) and in the last judgment (Rev. 20:11–21:8). See note on Ps. 10:1.
59:1 See note on 3:1.
59:8 As in 2:4, God will triumph over the rebellious nations through his anointed, the Messiah (2:6–7;Acts 13:33).
60:12 Earthly foes prefigure the ultimate foes of sin, death and Satan, which are subdued by Christ (1 Cor. 15:25–28; Eph. 1:20–22; Heb. 2:14–15; see note on Ps. 3:1).
61:7 Blessing to the king is a key to the salvation of God’s people as a whole. The king in the line of David anticipates Christ the king (Matt. 1:1–16).
62:1 Salvation comes from God, not man, anticipating the fact that Christ who brings salvation is God incarnate (John 1:14; 10:30).
63:2 True satisfaction is to be found in God alone, anticipating the satisfaction and blessing in Christ (John 15:11; Eph. 1:3–14; Rev. 22:3–5).
63:11 See note on 61:7.
64:2 Wickedness can be all the more dangerous when it is secret and deceitful. The deceit anticipates Satan’s deceitfulness (Rev. 12:9). See note on Ps. 3:1.
65:4 Salvation means enjoying the presence of God. It is accomplished through Christ, the unique one whom God chooses to come near as our representative (Luke 9:35; Heb. 10:19–22) and through whom we can come near and be blessed (Eph. 1:3–14).
65:9 The prosperity of the land, which is a blessing to its people, anticipates the prosperity of the consummation (Rev. 22:1–5).
66:6 God’s salvation in the exodus produces hope for further acts of salvation, culminating in salvation in Christ (Col. 1:13).
67:2 Salvation is to be made known among the nations, anticipating the spread of the gospel to the nations (Luke 24:47).
68:1 God’s arising against his enemies anticipates the resurrection of Christ as a triumph over demonic enemies (Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14–15).
68:18 God’s ascending to reign anticipates Christ’s resurrection and ascension, through which his enemies are subdued and his people delivered (Eph. 4:8–16).
68:26 Praise is the appropriate response to God’s salvation (Eph. 5:19–20; Heb. 13:15; see note on Ps. 22:22).
69:2 See note on 42:7.
69:9 The zeal of the psalmist prefigures the zeal of Christ for the honor of God’s name and God’s house (John 2:17; Rom. 15:3).
69:21 The mercilessness of enemies prefigures the action of the enemies of Christ when he is on the cross (Matt. 27:48).
69:22 The desire for judgment on God’s enemies finds fulfillment in Rom. 11:9–10.
69:25 Retribution for the wicked has an notable fulfillment in the fate of Judas (Acts 1:20).
70:4 Praise and admiration for God’s salvation anticipates the praise for the salvation in Christ (Eph. 1:3–14; 5:19–20).
71:6 The psalmist’s trust in God prefigures Christ’s trust in the Father (22:8–9) and is also a model for our trust in Christ (see note on 56:3).
71:11 The enemies prefigure Christ’s enemies, who imagine that they have won when Christ is on the cross.
71:14 See notes on 22:22 and 68:26.
72:1 The king in the line of David has a key role in bringing justice. Justice is climactically achieved through Christ the king (Matt. 1:1–16; Rom. 3:24–26; 4:25).
72:8 Dominion for the Davidic king is fulfilled in the universal reign of Christ (Isa. 9:6–7; 1 Cor. 15:24–28; Eph. 1:20–21).
72:19 The filling of the earth with God’s glory will be fulfilled in the consummation (Rev. 21:22–27).
73:3 See note on 10:1.
73:17 In the presence of God in the sanctuary one finds an answer to frustration. His presence anticipates God’s presence in Christ (John 1:14; 2:19–21; 14:9–10).
74:3 The destruction of the sanctuary, the place of God’s presence, prefigures the destruction of Christ in death. But God answers and fulfills his promises in Christ’s resurrection (2 Cor. 1:20). In union with Christ we participate in his death and resurrection (2 Cor. 4:7–15; Phil. 3:10–11).
74:10 See note on 10:1.
74:13 God’s dividing the sea in the exodus symbolizes his power over chaos and his power to deliver his people from death. His victory in the exodus anticipates Christ’s victory over death and Satan (Heb. 2:14–15).
75:7 God’s providential control of rulers and his preliminary judgments within history give us hope for climactic judgment. And the climactic judgment began when God lifted up Christ from death to the highest position (1 Cor. 15:20–28; Phil. 2:10–11).
75:8 See note on 3:1.
76:3 The establishment of peace in God’s dwelling place prefigures the peace that Christ brings (John 16:33), first in reconciling us to God (Rom. 5:1–10), but also in reconciliation with one another (Matt. 18:15–20; 1 Corinthians 12).
76:9 See note on 50:4.
77:11 Remembrance of God’s past acts of salvation, like the exodus (v. 19), strengthen the hope for present and future salvation. Now we look back on the climactic salvation in the death and resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:29–41; Rom. 4:25).
78:2 The expounding of the deeper meaning of God’s past acts of salvation anticipates the role of Christ in expounding the meaning of God’s ways (Matt. 13:34–35).
78:4 See note on 77:11.
78:17 The rebellious hearts in Israel are ultimately overcome only through the renewal in the heart that takes place in the new covenant in Christ (Heb. 8:8–13).
78:72 The rebellion in Israel points to the need for a shepherd-king who will guide them. David is a preliminary fulfillment (v. 70) pointing forward to Christ as the final shepherd (Ezek. 34:23–24; John 10:11, 14).
79:1 See note on 74:3.
79:9 Ultimate salvation and the glorification of God’s name come through Christ (John 13:31–32; 17:1–5).
80:1 Christ is the true shepherd (John 10:11, 14).
80:17 The “son of man,” the key representative for the people of God, is ultimately Christ (Matt. 26:64; see note on Ps. 61:7).
81:1 Praise is the appropriate response to God’s salvation (see note on 68:26).
81:13 See note on 78:17.
82:2 The failure of judges to bring justice points to the need for God’s ultimate judgment. He has brought justice in Christ (Rom. 4:25) and will bring ultimate judgment in the consummation (Rev. 20:11–21:8).
82:6 Judges reflecting God’s authority (Rom. 13:1) foreshadow Christ, who is the exact image of God (Heb. 1:3) and is God himself (John 10:34–36).
83:1 See note on 10:1.
83:9 The destruction of Israel’s enemies prefigures the destruction of the ultimate enemies—sin, death, and Satan (Heb. 2:14–15; Rev. 21:4; see note on Ps. 3:1).
84:1 God’s dwelling place in the OT prefigures Christ as the dwelling place of God (John 1:14; 2:19–21), the church as dwelling place through the Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:20–22), and the new Jerusalem as final dwelling place (Rev. 21:2–3, 21:22–22:5). See notes on Ps. 23:6 and 27:4.
85:4 The forgiveness of Israel in the OT anticipates the permanent forgiveness in Christ (Col. 1:13–14).
86:2 See note on 35:3.
86:9 The coming of the nations to worship is fulfilled in Christ (Luke 24:47; see note on Ps. 57:9).
86:11 See note on 25:4.
87:4 The incorporation of other nations into the holy city is fulfilled as the nations come to Christ (Luke 24:47; Rev. 5:9–10; 21:24–26).
88:3 The miseries of the psalmist prefigure the sufferings of Christ (Luke 24:26–27; see note on Ps. 22:1).
89:4 The promise concerning offspring is ultimately fulfilled in Christ (Matt. 1:1–16). But victory is preceded by suffering, abandonment, and apparent failure of the promise, all anticipating the sufferings of Christ.
89:48 In the resurrection of Christ is the ultimate answer to death (1 Cor. 15:50–57; Heb. 2:14–15).
90:3 See note on 89:48.
90:17 Despite the reality of death, Christ’s resurrection guarantees victory and demonstrates that work has eternal meaning (1 Cor. 15:58).
91:1 God is our ultimate dwelling place and protection, prefiguring Christ as dwelling place and protection (John 1:14; 10:27–30).
92:1 See note on 68:26.
92:13 Fruitfulness is found in the presence of God (see 1:3). Fruitfulness prefigures the fruitfulness of Christ (Isa. 53:10) and of his people (John 15:1–16).
93:1 See note on 11:4.
93:4 The Lord’s power is greater than the threat of overwhelming waters. The power over waters threatening death prefigures the power in Christ’s resurrection (Eph. 1:19–22; see note on Ps. 42:7).
94:2 See notes on 50:4 and 58:2.
94:3 See note on 10:1.
94:11 The limitations of human thinking contrast with the wisdom of God, which is to be found in Christ (1 Cor. 3:20; Col. 2:3).
94:15 Final justice, accomplished in Christ, will have benefits for all who are his (1 Cor. 15:42–49).
95:1 See note on 68:26.
95:8 Israel’s rebellion (Numbers 14; Deut. 32:5) serves as a negative example for all time (Heb. 4:7–12). Faith in God, culminating in faith in Christ, is the proper response to God (Heb. 4:2).
96:1 See note on 68:26.
96:3 The declaration to the nations anticipates the spread of the gospel (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8; see note on Ps. 22:27).
97:2 See note on 7:8.
97:8 God’s people can rejoice in judgment, ultimately because Christ has taken away the negative judgment against their sins and they may receive blessing in him (2 Cor. 5:21).
98:1 See Psalm 96 and note on 68:26.
98:7 Ultimate salvation in Christ includes blessing to all nations (see note on 22:27) and renewal of the world itself (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1).
99:3 See note on 11:4.
99:4 The experience of the benefits of justice make us long for ultimate justice, which is to be found in Christ and his justification (Rom. 3:23–26; 4:25–5:1). Justice includes both the vindication of God’s people and the removal of enemies. The ultimate enemies are sin, death, and Satan (see note on Ps. 3:1).
100:4 Entering the presence of God has been made possible through Christ who opened the way (John 14:6; Heb. 10:19–22).
101:5 The zeal of the Davidic king to remove wickedness prefigures the power of Christ in triumphing over all evil and making people new (John 13:10; Eph. 4:20–24).
102:3 See note on 6:2.
102:15 See note on 22:27.
102:16 God appears in his glory climactically in Christ (John 1:14; 13:31–32; 17:1–5).
102:26 Through Christ the abiding character of God benefits us (Heb. 1:10–12).
103:4 Earlier redemptions look forward to the climactic redemption in Christ.
104:2 God’s people are to praise God for his works of creation and providence, seeing in them displays of God’s power and goodness. His power and goodness and blessing are supremely manifested in Christ (John 1:14; Eph. 1:3–14).
105:5 The faithfulness of God in past generations encourages Israel to respond in faithfulness. Christians look back not only on God’s acts of salvation in the OT, but on the climactic salvation in Christ, which gives the ultimate basis for our trust.
106:6 The unfaithfulness of Israel in response to God is answered by Christ’s obedience, and then by the obedience of God’s people who follow Christ (John 14:15; Eph. 2:10).
107:2 God’s acts of redemption in the OT prefigure final redemption in Christ (Col. 1:13–14).
108:6 See note on 35:3.
108:7 God is committed to subduing his enemies, and this commitment is fulfilled climactically in Christ, both in his resurrection (Heb. 2:14–15) and in his second coming (Rev. 19:11–21).
109:8 Judas is a chief example of the enemies whom God judges (Acts 1:20; see note on Ps. 69:25).
109:31 Christ, having been himself saved from death in his resurrection, is able to save us from death (John 11:25; Heb. 2:14–15; Rev. 1:18).
110:1 The Messiah is superior even to David and exercises universal rule (Matt. 22:44–45; Acts 2:34–36; 1 Cor. 15:25–28; Eph. 1:22; Heb. 1:13).
110:4 The Messiah has an eternal priesthood superior to Aaron’s (Heb. 5:6; 7:21–8:2).
111:1 See note on 22:22.
111:9 Final redemption and final fulfillment of God’s covenant is accomplished in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20;Heb. 7:25; 8:6–13).
112:1 Christ is the supremely righteous man (Acts 3:14), and in him we too receive the reward for righteousness (Eph. 1:3–14). See note on Ps. 1:1.
112:9 The principle of generosity continues in the NT (2 Cor. 9:9).
113:7 Attentiveness to the needy is supremely manifested in Christ (Luke 1:48–55; 6:20).
114:3 The crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14–15) and of the Jordan River (Joshua 3) are acts of salvation and symbolic triumphs over death that anticipate the triumph of Christ (John 10:18; 11:25;Rev. 1:18; 21:4).
115:1 God is supremely glorified and his faithfulness manifested in Christ’s work (John 13:31–32; 17:1–5).
116:3 See notes on 9:13 and 13:5.
116:13 See note on 68:26.
116:15 God continues to care for his saints even after death, hinting at the hope for the resurrection (John 11:25; 1 Thess. 4:13–18).
117:1 All nations will come to praise God as a result of his salvation in Christ (Rom. 15:11), fulfilling the promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:3; see note on Ps. 22:27).
118:5 See note on 35:3.
118:6 God has expressed his commitment in Christ, giving us all the more reason to trust him (Heb. 13:6).
118:22 The Lord’s exaltation of the one rejected by man is fulfilled in the exaltation of Christ (Matt. 21:42; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11–12; Eph. 2:20–22; 1 Pet. 2:4–7).
118:26 Israel ought to recognize Jesus as one who brings the salvation of God (Matt. 23:39).
119:1 People with renewed hearts delight to obey God and learn from his word, which guides them. Christ was perfectly obedient to God (Heb. 10:7–10), and through his Spirit we are transformed into his image (Rom. 8:9–17; 2 Cor. 3:18) and become obedient servants of God. Delight in God’s word anticipates delight in Christ, who is the Word of God (John 1:1).
119:11 Having God’s word in the heart anticipates the new covenant (Heb. 8:10–13; 10:16–18).
120:1 See note on 35:3.
120:2 Deliverance from deceit anticipates the purity of God’s word and God’s work of deliverance from Satanic deceit through Christ (Rev. 12:9; see note on Ps. 64:2).
121:2 Salvation comes from God alone, anticipating the fact that Christ is the divine Savior.
122:1 Joy in experiencing the presence of God in his house anticipates the joy of the presence of God in Christ (John 1:14; 15:11; see note on Ps. 27:4).
122:6 Jerusalem as the city of God prefigures the heavenly Jerusalem (Gal. 4:26–28; Heb. 12:22–24) of which we are citizens (Phil. 3:20). Christ has given peace to his people (John 16:33; Eph. 4:3; Col. 3:15).
123:2 Mercy is received ultimately through Christ (Eph. 2:4; see note on Ps. 121:2).
124:4 See note on 42:7.
125:1 Trust in the Lord anticipates trust in Christ (Acts 16:31), who has supremely manifested God’s faithfulness.
126:1 Relief from misfortune prefigures the great salvation in Christ (John 16:20–22).
127:1 The necessity of the Lord’s power for temporal achievements anticipates the necessity for God, and him alone, to accomplish eternal salvation through Christ (John 15:4–5; Acts 4:12).
128:1 See note on 112:1.
128:2 Temporal blessings prefigure the eternal blessings in Christ (Eph. 1:3–14; Rev. 21:1–4).
129:1 See note on 6:2.
129:5 See note on 60:12.
130:4 Forgiveness is ultimately accomplished in Christ (Col. 1:13–14; see note on Ps. 32:1).
131:1 The psalmist’s humble trust anticipates the humble trust of Christ in the Father (Matt. 11:29;Heb. 5:7–10) and the trust that Christians are to have in Christ (Acts 16:31).
132:12 The promise to David culminates in Christ the offspring of David (Matt. 1:1–16), who is both king in the line of David and priest in God’s heavenly dwelling (Ps. 110:2, 4; Heb. 8:1–2).
133:1 Unity among God’s people is produced in Christ and in his Spirit (Eph. 4:1–6).
134:1 Praise of God looks forward to the praises offered by Christ (Heb. 2:12), the praises of God’s NT people (Eph. 5:19–20; Heb. 13:15), and the praises of the consummation (Rev. 19:1–10).
135:4 God’s acts of grace and salvation to his people in the OT anticipate the climactic salvation accomplished in Christ (Luke 2:30–32; Acts 4:12).
136:4 God’s works of creation, providence, and merciful deliverance show the steadfast love that has now been climactically revealed through salvation in Christ (John 1:14).
137:6 Devastation to God’s holy city makes people long for future blessing and destruction to God’s enemies. God’s ultimate answer is found in salvation in Christ and in the last judgment (Rev. 20:11–21:8). Jerusalem prefigures the heavenly Jerusalem (Gal. 4:26–27; Heb. 12:22–24).
138:3 See note on 35:3.
138:4 See note on 22:27.
138:6 Mercy to the lowly comes in Christ (Luke 1:48–55).
139:1 Detailed knowledge and care for the psalmist anticipates God’s care for us (John 10:14–16).
140:1 Deliverance from enemies prefigures Christ’s deliverance from his enemies, both human and demonic (Matt. 26:46; Col. 2:15); it also prefigures our deliverance in Christ from sin, death, and Satan (Heb. 2:14–15).
140:3 See Rom. 3:13 and note on Ps. 14:1.
141:3 The need for wise speech, in prayer as well as in other circumstances, anticipates the purity of Christ’s speech (John 8:43–47) and the purity that we receive from Christ (John 17:17–19). Our prayers are heard because of him (John 14:13–14; 1 John 5:14–15).
142:4 See notes on 6:2 and 22:1.
142:6 Deliverance from persecutors anticipates the deliverance of Christ from his persecutors, after he was brought low in his crucifixion and death.
143:2 Perfect righteousness is found only in Christ, who provides righteousness for those who are his (2 Cor. 5:21; see notes on Ps. 7:8 and 14:1).
144:1 See note on 18:34.
144:10 Deliverance for David prefigures final deliverance given to Christ the offspring of David. See notes on 2:6 and 18:50.
145:1 See note on 68:26.
145:8 The Lord’s grace and mercy is climactically poured out in the salvation in Christ (Rom. 8:32).
146:3 Mere man cannot save, pointing to the need for Christ to be God as well as man (John 1:14).
147:5 God’s greatness and goodness, in both providence and redemption, motivates praise and trust. God’s goodness has now been supremely manifested in Christ (Rom. 8:32).
148:3 The created world declares the character of its maker (19:1–6), anticipating the final, even more glorious praise in the consummation (Rev. 21:1–4). The creation reflects the glory of the Son, who is mediator of creation (John 1:1–3; Col. 1:15–17).
149:4 See note on 68:26.
149:7 At Christ’s second coming rebellious nations will be subdued (Rev. 19:11–21). In the meantime, gracious subduing comes through the power of the gospel (Matt. 28:18–20).
150:2 See note on 68:26. Praise, not a cry of distress, has the final position in the Psalms, anticipating the victory of Christ (Eph. 4:8) and the final abolition of suffering (Rev. 21:4).


Wisdom ultimately comes from God and his instruction, which anticipates the fact that Christ is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:30; Col. 2:3) and that in him and his instruction we find the way of life and righteousness (John 14:6, 23–24). Through the Spirit we may walk in the right way (Gal. 5:16–26).

1:1 Solomon’s wisdom prefigures the wisdom of his greater descendant, Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:30; see note on 1 Kings 2:6).
1:7 Wisdom is to be sought from God, anticipating that we seek wisdom from Christ, the incarnate God (John 1:14; Col. 2:3).
1:8 Listening to parents is one aspect of honoring them, which is an abiding principle (Ex. 20:12; Eph. 6:1–3). Within the church we are now to have specifically Christian instruction of children (Eph. 6:4). The archetype for this obedient listening is found in the relation of the Son of God to the Father (John 8:28–29).
1:18 The principle of just retribution is broad (Obad. 15) and is to be fulfilled ultimately in the consummation (Rev. 20:12–14).
1:19 Sin leads to death (Rom. 6:23), but in Christ there is life (John 14:6; 1 John 5:12).
1:20 The call of wisdom prefigures the call of the gospel, which contains the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:18–25; 2:6–10).
2:4 The diligent seeking for wisdom prefigures the need to seek the kingdom of God (Matt. 13:44).
2:13 The path of righteousness is ultimately that of Jesus Christ, the perfectly Righteous One (John 14:6). All other ways lead to destruction (Matt. 7:13–14; Acts 4:12).
2:16 Wisdom involves the avoidance both of literal adultery and of the spiritual adultery of idolatry (Ex. 34:16; Hos. 1:2; 2:1–5; 3:1–3; 2 Cor. 11:3).
2:21 Temporal blessings prefigure the blessings of eternal salvation (Eph. 1:3–14).
3:2 Length of days prefigures eternal life that comes through fellowship with Christ, who is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:30).
3:5 Trust in the Lord anticipates trust in Christ, who is the Lord’s salvation (Acts 16:31).
3:11 Christians as sons of God receive the Lord’s discipline (Heb. 12:5–6).
3:18 The possession of the tree of life anticipates the final inheritance in the consummation (Rev. 2:7; 22:1–2).
3:34 The call for humility anticipates the role of humility in the NT (Matt. 11:29; James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5).
4:13 Instruction for the path of life anticipates the instruction of Christ, who is the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6).
5:3 See note on 2:16.
5:5 Ultimately Christ delivers us from death (John 11:25–26), and as one aspect of deliverance he gives wisdom and integrity of heart (1 Cor. 1:30).
6:6 Diligent work now has as its deepest motivation the hope of final satisfaction in Christ (1 Cor. 15:58).
6:24 See note on 2:16.
7:21 Smooth, deceitful talk is linked ultimately to the deceit of Satan (John 8:44–47; Rev. 12:9).
8:1 See note on 1:20.
8:22 The eternality of wisdom with God anticipates the eternality of the second person of the Trinity, who is the Word of God and who mediated creation (John 1:1–3).
8:35 Life is obtained ultimately from Christ, who is the life (John 14:6) and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:30).
9:2 The invitation to feasting anticipates the spiritual food of Christ (John 6:52–58) and the future marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9).
9:18 See note on 1:19.
10:1 On Solomon, see notes on 1:1 and 1 Kings 2:6.
10:2 Blessings on the righteous anticipate the blessings on Christ, the perfectly righteous man, and the blessings that come to those in Christ (Eph. 1:3–14).
10:12 Wisdom transforms relations with others, anticipating the NT transformation through love (John 13:34–35; 1 John 3:16–18; 4:7–21).
10:21 The blessing to others anticipates the blessing of gracious words in the church (Eph. 4:14–16;Col. 3:16; 4:6).
11:2 The value of humility anticipates the humility of Christ (Matt. 11:29) and of his people (Luke 14:11;Eph. 4:2; see note on Prov. 3:34).
11:3 See note on 2:13.
11:4 Temporary avoidance of death prefigures the promise of eternal life, based on the righteousness of Christ (John 5:24; Rom. 4:25; see note on Prov. 2:13).
12:18 The blessing of wise words anticipates the blessings of the words of Christ (John 6:63) and of his followers (Eph. 4:29; Col. 4:6).
13:4 See note on 6:6.
13:14 Christ the supremely wise One has the words of eternal life (John 6:68–69).
13:24 Christians are to train their children in Christ (Eph. 6:1–4; see note on Prov. 1:8).
14:2 True trust in Christ manifests itself in obedience (Gal. 5:13–26; James 2:14–26).
15:1 Gentle words anticipate the gentleness of Christ (Matt. 11:29). Gentleness is also to characterize his people (Gal. 5:23; Eph. 4:2, 25–29).
16:3 Only through union with Christ can we bear fruit (John 15:1–11).
16:12 The duty of kings to bring justice anticipates Christ, who is the great king and the one who brings perfect justice (Rom. 3:26; Rev. 19:11).
17:3 The Lord’s discernment is perfect (Heb. 4:12–13), implying the need for purification (Heb. 9:9–14).
18:3 Temporal judgments on wickedness prefigure final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15), underlining the need for repentance.
19:1 We must be discerning about real value and seek first the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33).
19:5 See note on 18:3.
19:11 Readiness to forgive anticipates the forgiveness of Christ (Col. 1:14) and the practice of forgiving among his people (Col. 3:13; James 1:19).
20:8 Authorities have an obligation to punish evildoing (Deut. 16:18–20; Rom. 13:1–4). In this they anticipate the final judgment of God (Rev. 20:11–15).
20:22 Vengeance belongs to God (Rom. 12:17–21). Christ himself waited patiently for vindication (1 Pet. 2:21–23).
21:3 See 1 Sam. 15:22–23 and Mic. 6:6–8. The requirement for real obedience, and ultimately for perfect obedience, is fulfilled in Christ (Heb. 10:5–10).
22:4 See note on 2:21.
23:4 Counsel against lust for money anticipates Jesus’ counsel about true riches (Luke 12:22–40; 16:10–13; Eph. 5:5).
23:13 See note on 13:24.
23:19 The way of righteousness is found ultimately in Christ (John 14:6). See note on Prov. 1:8.
23:30 The warning against drunkenness is repeated in the NT, and it is complemented by a positive command to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).
24:3 Human use of wisdom imitates God’s use of wisdom (8:22–31) and anticipates Christ, who is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:30) and who builds the church (Matt. 16:18).
24:19 See note on Ps. 10:1.
24:30 See note on 6:6.
25:7 The principle of humility is further developed in Christ’s teaching and example (Luke 14:7–11).
25:11 See notes on 12:18 and 15:1.
25:21 The principle of doing good to enemies is further developed in Christ’s example and his teaching (Matt. 5:43–48; Rom. 12:20–21).
26:3 The answer to folly and its disasters is found in seeking the wisdom of Christ (1 Cor. 1:30; Col. 2:3).
26:11 It is folly to turn back from following Christ (2 Pet. 2:22).
26:13 See note on 6:6.
26:20 The answer to words of strife is found in Christ’s peace and his empowering of his people to be at peace with one another (Col. 3:13–15).
27:3 See note on 26:20.
27:11 See note on 13:24.
28:1 The boldness of the righteous anticipates the boldness of followers of Christ (2 Cor. 3:12; Phil. 1:28–30).
28:2 See note on 16:12.
28:9 God desires righteousness and obedience, which are fulfilled in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21; see note onProv. 21:3).
29:2 See note on 16:12.
29:25 Trust in the Lord anticipates trust in Christ (see 3:5).
30:4 The inaccessibility of wisdom to man points to the need for Christ, who comes down from heaven (John 3:12–15; 6:33, 50–51).
31:3 See note on 2:16.
31:10 The excellent wife prefigures the excellence of the church, the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:25–27;Rev. 19:7–8).


The meaninglessness, frustrations, and injustices of life “under the sun” call out for a solution from God. Christ through his suffering and resurrection provides the first installment (1 Cor. 15:22–23) of meaning, fulfillment, and new life (John 10:10), to be enjoyed fully in the consummation (Rev. 21:1–4).

1:14 The crumbling of human works makes life pointless, unless there is relief in God. Knocking down false ambitions creates a longing for the relief that will come in Christ (Matt. 11:28–30).
2:10 The fading pleasures in this life contrast with the eternal pleasures in God’s presence (Ps. 16:11;John 15:11; Rev. 21:4).
2:14 Wisdom in this world contrasts with the wisdom in Christ that will last forever (1 Cor. 1:30).
2:16 What is needed is a remedy for death, and this remedy comes through Christ (1 Cor. 15:54–58).
3:11 Now in the light of revelation we can know that God’s purpose is to unite all things in Christ (1 Cor. 2:9–10; Eph. 1:10).
3:12 Man need not understand everything but can live a life of joy as a servant of Christ (John 15:11), trusting that God’s plans are good (Rom. 8:28).
3:17 God will execute final judgment (Rev. 20:11–21:8). But in the meantime we must endure much injustice (John 16:33).
3:20 See note on 2:16.
4:1 See note on 3:17.
4:9 The virtue of cooperation anticipates the mutual help in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12).
5:8 See note on 3:17.
5:10 The fleeting character of riches implies that we should invest in God’s kingdom (Matt. 6:33; Luke 12:22–34).
7:2 See notes on 2:10 and 2:16.
7:15 See note on 3:17.
7:18 In the midst of much confusion and frustration about outward circumstances, we must hold fast to God. God brings ultimate salvation from vanity in Christ (Rev. 21:1–4).
8:14 See note on 3:17.
8:15 See note on 3:12.
9:5 See note on 2:16.
9:7 See note on 3:12.
9:16 The seeking for wisdom ultimately culminates in Christ, who is the wisdom of God (Matt. 12:42; 1 Cor. 1:30).
10:17 Good rulers make a notable difference in the character of a nation. The final, perfect ruler is Christ himself, who brings the kingdom of God and everlasting righteousness (Matt. 12:28; Rev. 21:1–4).
11:1 Work done for Christ will be rewarded (Col. 3:22–25).
12:1 See note on 1:14.
12:7 Reckoning with death leads to abandoning a focus on selfish achievement and pleasure and seeking God (see note on 2:16).
12:14 Reckoning with the final judgment (Rev. 20:11–21:8) changes the orientation of life. We are to follow Christ who delivers us from condemnation (Rom. 8:1) and death (John 11:25–26) and gives meaning to work in fellowship with him (1 Cor. 15:58).

Song of Solomon

The Song of Solomon depicts marital love. But after the fall merely human love is always short of God’s ideal, and so we look for God’s remedy in the perfect love of Christ (Eph. 5:22–33; 1 John 3:16; 4:9–10). The connection with Solomon (Song 1:1; 3:7, 9, 11; 8:11) invites us to think especially of the marriage of the king in the line of David (Ps. 45:10–15), and the kings point forward to Christ the great king, who has the church as his bride (Rev. 19:7–9, 21:9).

1:1 The marriage of the Davidic king points forward to Christ (Ps. 45:10–15; cf. Ps. 45:6–7 with Heb. 1:8–9).
1:2 Perfect love has been demonstrated in Christ (1 John 4:9–10).
1:4 Longing for intimacy prefigures the longing for intimacy with the love of Christ (1 John 4:7–21).
1:15 The beauty of the lovers anticipates the beauty of Christ and his bride (Eph. 5:26–27; Rev. 19:7–8).
2:3 Delight in love prefigures the joy in Christ (John 15:11).
2:16 The possession of the loved one prefigures the possession of Christ and the church.
3:1 See note on 1:4.
3:11 The wedding of Solomon prefigures the wedding of the Messiah (Ps. 45:10–15).
4:1 See note on 1:15.
4:13 Edenic abundance in the “garden” anticipates the abundance and satisfaction and fulfillment of the final consummation (Rev. 22:1–5).
5:1 Satisfaction with the loved one contrasts with God’s dissatisfaction with the disobedience and disloyalty of Israel (Isa. 5:1–4), who was supposed to be married to the Lord (Ezek. 16:8–15). The remedy is found in Christ’s salvation (Eph. 5:25–27).
5:8 See note on 1:4.
5:10 See note on 1:15.
6:9 The focus on the beloved anticipates the uniqueness of God’s love for the church.
7:1 See note on 1:15.
7:6 Delight in the loved one prefigures Christ’s delight in the church (Eph. 5:26–27; Rev. 19:8).
8:6 The abiding character of commitment in love prefigures the abiding character of the new covenant (John 10:27–29; Phil. 1:6; Heb. 8:8–13).


Isaiah prophesies exile because of Israel’s unfaithfulness. But then God will bring Israel back from exile; this restoration prefigures the climactic salvation in Christ. Christ as Messiah and “servant” of the Lord will cleanse his people from sin, fill them with glory, and extend blessing to the nations. Christ fulfills prophecy in both his first coming and his second coming.

1:1 God gives the prophecies during the time covered in 2 Kings 15–20 and 2 Chronicles 26–32.
1:4 The failures of Israel precipitate the exile, and indicate the need for the messianic servant of the Lord, who will faithfully obey the Lord (42:1–4; 49:1–12).
1:9 The Lord preserves a few, a remnant for Israel. The theme of the remnant is fulfilled in Christ, who is the ultimate remnant of one, and then the remnant is expanded to include Christ’s people (see Rom. 11:5 and note on Isa. 6:13).
1:18 Ultimate cleansing comes through Christ’s sacrifice (Heb. 10:1–10).
2:2 Christ himself is the ultimate “house” or dwelling place of God (John 1:14; 2:19–21). Through him the church becomes a temple (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:20–22), and through Christ’s exaltation the nations are drawn to him (Luke 24:47; John 12:32).
2:6 See note on 1:4.
2:11 The humbling of human pride takes place in Christ (Matt. 20:25–28; Luke 1:48–53; 1 Cor. 1:31).
3:2 The lack of adequate leaders shows the need for the Messiah as the final, perfect leader (9:6–7).
4:4 Cleansing looks forward to the forgiveness and purification in Christ (Col. 1:13–14; Heb. 10:10–14).
5:7 The lack of fruit from Israel contrasts with the fruitfulness of Christ and those in him (John 15:1–6; see also Matt. 21:33–44).
6:1 Isaiah’s vision of the glory of God anticipates the glory of God in Christ (John 1:14; 12:41; Rev. 4:2–10).
6:9 The resistance of Israel to Isaiah’s message anticipates resistance to the gospel (Matt. 13:11–17;Acts 28:24–28; Rom. 11:7–8).
6:13 The holy seed, the remnant, are those in Israel who remain faithful to God. Ultimately none is completely faithful except Christ, who is the final remnant (11:1; Gal. 3:16; see note on Isa. 1:9).
7:14 The prophecy concerning Immanuel (see also Gen. 3:15) is fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:20–23). It is related to the larger OT theme in which God brings new life and offspring to barren women (see note on Gen. 18:10).
8:13 Treating the Lord as holy culminates in the holiness of Christ (Acts 2:27) and our obligation to holiness (1 Pet. 1:15–16; 3:15).
8:14 The nation of Israel being offended by the Lord Almighty prefigures their rejection of Christ (Matt. 21:43–44; Rom. 9:31–33; 1 Pet. 2:6–8).
9:1 Jesus brings light by preaching in Galilee (Matt. 4:12–17). He is the light of the world (John 1:5, 8–9; 8:12; 9:5).
9:6 The Messiah is both human (from the line of David) and divine (see John 1:14; Col. 2:9).
9:7 The Messiah establishes his rule in justice (Rom. 3:26; Eph. 1:20–22) and peace (John 16:33).
10:22 In NT times, the remnant consists of those who believe in Christ (Rom. 11:1–10; see note on Isa. 1:9).
11:1 The Messiah is from the line of Jesse, the father of David (1 Sam. 16:1). He is filled with the Spirit (Matt. 3:16; Luke 4:18), with wisdom (Col. 2:3), and with justice (Rev. 19:11).
11:10 Christ draws the nations to himself (John 12:32; Rom. 15:12; see note on Isa. 2:2).
12:1 The song of praise for God’s salvation anticipates the praise for God’s salvation in Christ (Eph. 5:19–20; Heb. 2:12; 13:15; Rev. 19:1–8).
13:6 The day of the Lord is a day of judgment. Judgments within history, such as the judgment of the exile of Israel, anticipate the final judgment (1 Thess. 5:2–11; 2 Pet. 3:10–13; Rev. 20:11–21:8). Because of Christ’s salvation, the day is a day for which Christians hope (Titus 2:13).
13:9 All sinners will be swept away in the ultimate judgment. We must take refuge in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21).
13:10 The darkening is a symbol of judgment, prefiguring judgment at the crucifixion (Matt. 27:45) and at the second coming (Matt. 24:29; Rev. 6:12–13; see Rev. 8:12).
14:4 The fall of Babylon to the Medes and Persians (Dan. 5:28) prefigures the final fall of Babylon the Great (Rev. 17:15–19:3) and the defeat of Satan (Luke 10:15; Rev. 12:7–9; 20:10), as well as looking back on the fall of Babel (Gen. 11:1–9).
15:1 Moab, one of the traditional enemies of Israel (Num. 22:1–6), is defeated, prefiguring final judgment on God’s enemies (Rev. 20:11–15) and fulfilling Num. 21:29.
16:5 Despite her record of enmity, Moab (like other hostile nations) can find refuge in the Messiah. Christ’s mercy extends to all nations (Acts 1:8; Rev. 5:9–10).
17:6 See note on 1:9.
17:7 God the Maker is seen in Christ (John 14:9) and will be seen face to face by the pure in heart (Matt. 5:8; Rev. 22:4).
18:7 The coming of the nations takes place as Christ draws them (Matt. 28:18–20; John 12:32; Acts 1:8; see note on Isa. 2:2).
19:18 Egypt, traditionally an enemy to God’s people, will come to submit to God. Christ calls the nations to himself (Acts 2:10; see notes on Isa. 2:2 and 18:7).
20:6 The failure of human hopes highlights the need to hope in God through the way that he has provided in Christ (Ps. 146:3–4; John 14:6).
21:9 The fall of Babylon prefigures the defeat of all evil and the victory of Christ over evil (Col. 2:15;Rev. 14:8; 18:2; see note on Isa. 14:4).
22:11 A basic temptation is to trust in man rather than in God (Acts 4:12; 16:31; see note on Isa. 20:6).
22:13 Abandonment of hope would be appropriate only if God did not provide salvation in Christ (1 Cor. 15:19, 32).
22:22 Kingly authority in the right hands provides security. But even Eliakim (v. 20) is ultimately not up to the task (v. 25). Only the Messiah in the line of David can bear the full weight of responsibility that will bring final salvation (Matt. 1:21; see Rev. 3:7).
23:9 After destroying human pride, the Lord brings about blessing and glory to himself (v. 18). The reversal of human ambitions takes place preeminently in the death and resurrection of Christ (Phil. 2:6–11; see note on Isa. 2:11).
24:6 In fulfillment of the curse from the fall of Adam, all the earth will ultimately be judged (2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 20:11–15). But through the work of Christ blessing comes to the godly (Isa. 24:15; Rev. 21:3–4).
25:8 God’s overwhelming victory, resulting in blessing, will come at the consummation (1 Cor. 15:54;Rev. 7:17; 21:4).
26:4 Trusting in God anticipates trusting in Christ, who has accomplished climactic salvation (Phil. 4:7).
26:5 See notes on 2:11 and 23:9.
26:19 The hope for reversal of death is fulfilled in Christ’s resurrection (John 11:25–26; 1 Cor. 15:46–57; Eph. 5:14).
27:1 Satan will be completely defeated (John 12:31; Rev. 20:10).
27:6 Fruitfulness is found ultimately in Christ (John 15:1–17).
28:1 See note on 2:11.
28:11 The foreign tongue is analogous to speaking in tongues in the NT (1 Cor. 14:21).
28:16 Christ is the stone, both providing a foundation to those who trust in him (Eph. 2:20–22; 1 Cor. 3:11; 1 Pet. 2:4) and becoming a cause of stumbling to those who reject him (Matt. 21:42–44; Rom. 9:31–33; 1 Pet. 2:6–8; see Ps. 118:22).
29:10 Spiritual hardness comes to part of Israel in Rom. 11:7–8 (see note on Isa. 6:9).
29:13 The stubbornness and disobedience of God’s people comes to a climax with the opposition to and rejection of Jesus (Matt. 15:8–9; see Col. 2:22).
29:14 Human wisdom is confounded by the gospel (1 Cor. 1:18–25).
29:18 Jesus’ healing of the blind and the deaf symbolizes the giving of spiritual light (John 9:39–41).
30:2 See note on 22:11.
30:20 Christ is the ultimate teacher who instructs us in the way of the Lord (Matt. 23:10) through the Spirit (John 16:12–15).
31:1 See note on 22:11.
31:5 The protection of Jerusalem prefigures God’s protection of his people in Christ (John 10:27–29; see Isa. 40:11).
32:3 See note on 29:18.
32:15 The blessings of salvation in Christ come in two stages, in his first coming (Acts 1:8; Eph. 1:3–14) and his second coming (Rev. 21:1–22:5).
33:6 See note on 32:15.
33:14 Only perfect righteousness will remedy sin. Such righteousness is found in Christ (Rom. 3:21–26; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 10:1–14; see Heb. 12:29).
34:2 God’s judgment against sin and evil anticipates the final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15; see notes onIsa. 13:6; 13:9; and 15:1).
34:4 The skies disappear at the second coming (Rev. 6:13–14; 20:11).
35:3 The call for strengthening occurs in responding to God’s NT discipline (Heb. 12:12).
35:5 Christ gives sight and hearing, symbolizing the giving of spiritual sight and hearing (Luke 7:20–22; Acts 26:18; see note on Isa. 29:18).
35:10 The return to Palestine in the restoration prefigures the coming to heavenly Jerusalem and the presence of God in heaven (Heb. 10:19–23; 12:22–24; Rev. 21:4).
36:1 The threat from Assyria anticipates the later threat from Babylon (39:6), which in turn illustrates all the attacks of Satan on God’s people. God answers with redemption that prefigures redemption in Christ. See the parallels in 2 Kings 18:13–20:19 and 2 Chronicles 32.
36:15 See note on 2 Kings 18:30.
37:1 God is our refuge in time of distress (Ps. 46:1). We now look to Christ for salvation (Acts 4:12).
37:23 See note on 2 Kings 19:22.
38:5 See note on 2 Kings 20:5.
38:10 The ultimate remedy for death is found in the resurrection of Christ (see note on 26:19).
39:6 God’s judgment of exile, which comes on account of sin (2 Kings 23:26–27; 2 Chron. 36:15–16), prefigures final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15). But through Christ we may escape condemnation (Rom. 8:1).
40:1 Comfort to Jerusalem prefigures the comfort that is found in Christ (2 Cor. 1:3–7).
40:3 John the Baptist uses these words to announce the coming of the Lord (Matt. 3:3; John 1:23) in the person of Christ (John 10:30; 14:9).
40:5 The glory of the Lord is revealed in Christ (Luke 2:32; John 1:14; 13:31–32; 17:1–5).
40:6 The fading of human life contrasts with eternal salvation in Christ (1 Pet. 1:24–25; see James 1:10–11).
40:11 Jesus is the good shepherd (John 10:11, 14).
41:17 God’s mercy to the poor is manifest in Christ (Luke 4:18–19; 7:22).
42:1 The servant, the Messianic king (9:6–7), rules with justice and mercy (Matt. 12:17–21; see Matt. 3:17).
42:6 Christ the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5) brings light to the nations (John 12:32; Acts 26:18, 23), fulfilling the promise to Abraham of blessing to the nations (see note on Gen. 12:3).
43:25 Forgiveness is found ultimately in Christ (Mark 2:7; Col. 1:14; Heb. 10:1–18).
44:3 See note on 32:15.
44:28 The restoration under Cyrus (Ezra 1) prefigures the eternal salvation in Christ in the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22–24).
45:1 Cyrus as anointed by God prefigures the Messiah and his salvation (Luke 4:18–19).
45:23 The submission of the nations is accomplished in Christ (Phil. 2:10–11; Rev. 15:4).
46:1 The worthlessness of idols is expressive of the principle that only Christ, the one way of salvation that God has established (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), is worthy of trust.
47:3 The oppressor of God’s people will be judged (see note on 14:4).
47:8 See Rev. 18:7 and note on Isa. 14:4.
48:20 Rescue from Babylon prefigures rescue from sin and death (Col. 1:13–14; Rev. 18:4).
49:2 The word of God is like a sharp sword (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12; Rev. 1:16; 2:12, 16; 19:15).
49:6 See Acts 13:47 and 26:23, and note on Isa. 42:6.
49:8 Now, subsequent to Christ’s resurrection, is the time of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2).
49:10 Protection and blessing ultimately come through the Lamb (Rev. 7:16–17).
50:6 The Messianic servant undergoes suffering and humiliation for the sake of accomplishing salvation (Matt. 27:26–31).
51:10 God’s redemption in the exodus is analogous to his redemption of his people from Babylonian exile, and both look forward to his climactic redemption in Christ.
51:11 See note on 35:10.
51:17 Wrath is followed by exaltation, prefiguring the movement from the wrath of Christ’s crucifixion to the exaltation of his resurrection and ascension. On the cup of wrath, see note on Jer. 25:15.
52:7 The gospel is the good news of salvation (Rom. 10:15).
52:10 The inclusion of the nations fulfills the promise to Abraham concerning blessing to all nations (Gen. 12:3; Luke 2:30–31; see note on Isa. 42:6).
52:11 The Israelites’ departure from pagan Babylon prefigures the departure of believers from the contamination of the world (2 Cor. 6:14–7:1).
52:13 Exaltation of the servant, the Messiah, follows his suffering (v. 14; 53:3–9; see note on 51:17).
52:15 Many who have not heard of Christ will be awed (v. 14) by his suffering sacrifice. Paul spreads the message to those who have not heard (Rom. 15:14–21).
53:1 The message of salvation in Christ often meets an unbelieving response (John 12:37–43; Rom. 10:16).
53:5 The messianic servant undergoes substitutionary suffering (Rom. 4:25; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24–25).
53:9 Christ was put to death between two robbers (Matt. 27:38) and buried in the tomb of a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea (Matt. 27:57–60).
53:11 Christ’s death and resurrection results in our justification (Rom. 3:23–26; 4:25; 5:19).
54:1 The return of Jerusalem’s inhabitants from exile prefigures the multiplication of children of the promise (Rom. 9:8) who will return to God through Christ (Gal. 4:27).
54:7 See note on 51:17.
54:10 The new covenant results in permanent peace with God (Rom. 5:1) and is secure forever (Heb. 9:12).
55:2 God’s offer of food is fulfilled in Christ, who is the food and drink of eternal life (John 6:52–58).
56:7 The extension of salvation to the nations takes place in Christ (Matt. 21:13; Acts 1:8; Rev. 5:9).
57:3 See notes on 1:4 and 34:2.
57:19 God gives the invitation of salvation to all, anticipating the spread of the gospel (Acts 2:39; Eph. 2:17).
58:1 See note on 1:4.
58:2 Israel’s hypocrisy anticipates the hypocrisy and externalism that Christ will confront (Matt. 15:1–10).
59:2 See note on 1:4.
59:7 Paul uses these words (Rom. 3:15–17) to show that Jews and Gentiles alike are guilty of sin. See note on Ps. 14:1.
59:17 God’s battle anticipates (1) the coming of righteousness and salvation at Christ’s first coming (Rom. 3:23–26), (2) Christians’ battle against evil (Eph. 6:10–20; 1 Thess. 5:8), and (3) the war at Christ’s second coming (Rev. 19:11–21).
59:20 The Redeemer is Christ, who saves both Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 11:25–32).
60:1 God’s glory is seen in Christ (John 1:14).
60:3 Nations come to Christ through the gospel (Luke 24:47; John 1:32; Acts 1:8; Rev. 21:24–25; see notes on Isa. 2:2 and 11:10).
60:6 The wise men, representing the nations, bring gold and frankincense and myrrh (Matt. 2:11).
60:19 God is the sole light in the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:22–24).
61:1 Christ applies these words to himself and his work of salvation (Luke 4:18).
61:10 The church as Christ’s bride is given beautiful clothing (Rev. 19:8; see Eph. 5:25–27).
62:1 Righteousness and salvation come in Christ (see note on 9:7).
62:4 God’s restoration of Israel prefigures Christ as husband to the church (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25–27;Rev. 19:7–9).
63:3 The execution of punishment anticipates final punishment (Rev. 14:20; 19:15).
63:4 See notes on 13:6 and 13:9.
63:12 Past acts of salvation foreshadow the great future salvation (see note on 51:10).
64:1 God comes from heaven both at the first and second coming of Christ (John 6:33, 38, 50; Rev. 19:11).
64:11 See note on 51:17.
65:1 The resistance and rebellion of Israel fits into the plan of God to extend salvation to all nations (Rom. 10:20–21; 11:11–32).
65:9 See note on 1:9.
65:17 Ultimate blessing to God’s people comes in the consummation (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1). The new creation has come in its beginnings already in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).
66:1 The inadequacy of a house of stone indicates by contrast the fact that God’s purpose to dwell with man is fulfilled in Christ (Matt. 1:23; John 1:14; 2:19–21; Acts 7:48–50; 17:24).
66:8 The restoration of inhabitants to Jerusalem prefigures the multiplication of children of God in the church, the heavenly Jerusalem (Isa. 54:1; Gal. 4:26–27).
66:18 On the gathering of the nations, see notes on 2:2 and 11:10.
66:24 The picture of unending judgment anticipates the NT teaching about Gehenna, the lake of fire (Mark 9:48; Rev. 20:15; 21:8).


History of Salvation in the Old Testament: Preparing the Way for Christ (cont…)


Jeremiah’s prophetic indictment of Israel is largely rejected, prefiguring the rejection of Christ’s prophetic message to Israel (Luke 11:49–51). God’s judgment on Israel for apostasy prefigures the judgment that Christ bears as substitute for the apostasy of mankind (1 John 2:2). It also prefigures final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15). Restoration from exile prefigures final restoration to God through Christ (Heb. 10:19–22).

1:2 God gives the prophecies during the time covered in 2 Kings 22–25 and 2 Chron. 34:1–36:20.
1:5 God’s care from the womb prefigures the Father’s relation to the Son in the incarnation (Luke 1:35) and also the calling of the apostle Paul (Gal. 1:15).
1:8 God delivers Paul from plots at Corinth (Acts 18:9–11) and elsewhere.
1:9 The firmness of the prophet amid opposition prefigures the firmness of Christ’s teaching amid opposition.
1:16 God’s judgment on evil and apostasy (see 2 Chron. 36:15–16) anticipates the final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15). Christ in the crucifixion bears judgment for our apostasy (1 Pet. 2:24; 1 John 2:2).
2:2 In forsaking the Lord, Israel is like an adulteress. Her unfaithfulness contrasts with the faithfulness and purity that will be worked out in the church (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25–27; Rev. 19:7–8).
2:11 The folly of apostasy prefigures the folly of rejecting Christ, who opens the way of salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
2:13 Living water is found in Christ (John 4:10–14).
2:21 See Isa. 5:1–4.
3:1 See note on 2:2 and the connection with Deut. 24:1–4.
3:10 The pretense in Judah illustrates the hypocrisy that can infect religion (Matt. 23:13–36; see note on Isa. 58:2).
3:13 Forgiveness comes to those who acknowledge guilt, but not to those who continue to think they are righteous (Luke 18:9–14).
3:17 The gathering to Jerusalem anticipates the NT gathering to heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22–24) and the future gathering to the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:24–26).
4:4 Circumcision of the heart comes in Christ (Col. 2:11; Heb. 8:8–13).
5:1 The lack of a righteous man is finally remedied in Christ (Acts 3:14).
5:9 See note on 1:16.
5:14 See note on 1:9.
6:1 See note on 1:16.
6:14 True peace with God can come only through the definitive overcoming of sin in Christ (John 16:33; Rom. 5:1).
7:11 Israel’s hypocrisy anticipates the hypocrisy and corrupt worship that Christ confronts (Matt. 21:13).
7:14 The destruction of the temple anticipates the later destruction of Herod’s temple that Christ predicts (Matt. 24:2).
8:3 The remedy for death and for sin that leads to death is the resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:42–57).
8:11 See note on 6:14.
9:1 Apostasy is a deep grief both to Jeremiah and to Christ, the final prophet (Luke 19:41–44).
9:23–24 The principle of boasting in God alone is fulfilled in 1 Cor. 1:29–31 (see 2 Cor. 10:17).
10:5 Only God, not idols, offers salvation. The uniqueness of God and his way anticipates the unique role of Christ as the way to God (John 14:6; Heb. 10:19–22; see note on Isa. 46:1).
11:8 Through Moses God predicts that disasters and exile will result from disobedience (Deuteronomy 28).
11:19 The hostility to Jeremiah prefigures the hostility to Christ as prophet (Isa. 53:7; Matt. 27:1; Luke 6:11).
12:7 God forsakes his house and his people on account of their sin. This anticipates later judgments on sin, including the forsaking of Christ when he is the sin-bearer (Matt. 27:46).
13:9 The pride of God’s people contrasts with the need for people who truly serve him. The need is answered in the new covenant (31:31–34) in Christ (Heb. 8:8–13; 10:15–25).
14:3 Drought fulfills the curse in Deut. 28:22 that must come when Israel forsakes the Lord. It contrasts with the blessing of living water in Christ (John 4:14; 6:35).
14:14 The conflict between true and false prophets anticipates the conflict between Jesus and his opponents, and between true and false teaching in the church (2 Pet. 2:1–3).
15:2 Judgments fulfill the prophetic curses in Deut. 28:15–68 (see Rev. 6:8). God’s wrath against sin anticipates the final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15; see note on Jer. 1:16).
15:10 Jeremiah as a rejected prophet prefigures the rejection of Christ’s prophetic ministry (Luke 11:49–51).
16:15 Restoration, prophesied in Deut. 30:1–5, prefigures final salvation in Christ (Isa. 40:1–11).
17:8 The blessing promised to the righteous man (Ps. 1:3) is fulfilled in Christ the perfectly righteous man (Acts 3:14) and in those who are righteous in him (2 Cor. 5:21).
18:6 God’s power as creator can bring salvation even to the wayward (Rom. 9:20–24; Eph. 2:4–10).
18:11 The call to repent anticipates the call to repent from John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2) and in gospel proclamation (Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38).
19:3 See note on 1:16.
19:9 The specific horror of eating human flesh was prophesied in Deut. 28:53–55. Horror upon horror shows the results of the degradation of sin, and prefigures the final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15; see note on Jer. 1:16).
20:2 Opposition to Jeremiah the prophet prefigures opposition to Christ the final prophet (Luke 11:49–51). Those who oppose Christ will experience judgment (Rev. 20:11–15).
21:8 Even in the midst of the greatest disaster God in mercy holds open a way of escape. The escape prefigures the escape from sin, death, and destruction through the salvation in Christ (John 11:25–26; 14:6).
22:3 The demand for justice from the king fails to be answered. The answer finally comes in Christ the king (Isa. 9:6–7; Rev. 19:11).
23:1 The false shepherds contrast with Jesus the true shepherd (John 10:11, 14).
23:5 The “Branch,” alluding to Isa. 11:1, is the Messiah in the line of David (see Zech. 6:12; John 15:1–17).
23:8 The restoration, which is parallel to the exodus (Ex. 12:33–38), prefigures rescue from sin and the kingdom of Satan (Col. 1:13–14).
23:16 See note on 14:14.
24:5 The exiles are the remnant to whom God gives favor, illustrating the remnant theme (see notes on1 Kings 19:18; Isa. 1:9; and 6:13).
24:7 The renewal of the heart, already prophesied in Deut. 30:6, is further explained in the promise of the new covenant (Jer. 31:31–34; Heb. 8:8–13; 10:15–25).
25:11 Daniel relies on the prophecy of 70 years when he prays for restoration (Dan. 9:2). The 70 years are years of sabbath rest for the land (2 Chron. 36:21). The restoration looks forward to final rest in the consummation (Heb. 4:9–10).
25:15 The cup of wrath prefigures the wrath of God in final judgment (Rev. 14:10; 16:1, 19). Christ on the cross drank the cup of wrath as our substitute (Matt. 26:39, 42).
26:6 See note on 7:14.
26:8 The desire for death illustrates a pattern of opposing the prophets, a pattern that culminates in the death of Christ (Matt. 21:33–41; Luke 11:49–51; see note on Jer. 20:2).
27:9 See note on 14:14.
27:11 To those who listen the service to Babylon becomes a judgment tempered with mercy, prefiguring the mercy in Christ (Heb. 12:5–11; see note on Jer. 21:8).
28:9 Peace with God does not come without first dealing with the issue of sin. The answer is to be found in Christ (Col. 1:13–14; see note on Jer. 6:14).
28:15 See note on 14:14.
29:8 See note on 14:14.
29:10 See note on 25:11.
29:13 See notes on 24:7 and 31:31.
29:14 Restoration from exile prefigures the reconciliation with God by which we may be gathered into the presence of God in heaven (Rom. 5:1–10; Gal. 4:26–28; Heb. 10:19–22; 12:22–24; see notes onJer. 3:17 and 16:15).
30:18 The rebuilding of cities prefigures the heavenly Jerusalem (Gal. 4:26–28; Heb. 12:22–24; Rev. 21:9–14).
31:1 The promise, “I will be … God … , and they shall be my people,” is a repeated refrain in Jeremiah (11:4; 24:7; 30:22; 31:33; 32:38). It builds on the promise to Abraham (Gen. 17:7) and to Israel through Moses (Ex. 19:5–6). It is fulfilled in the new covenant in Christ (Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10; see note on Jer. 31:31).
31:15 Past devastations to Israel anticipate the devastation when Herod kills the children (Matt. 2:16–18).
31:31 The new covenant is fulfilled in the covenant that Christ makes at the Last Supper (Matt. 26:28; 1 Cor. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:6; Heb. 8:8–13; 10:15–25) and includes Gentiles as well as Jews through union with Christ (Gal. 3:9, 14, 27–29).
32:20 A long history of God’s demonstrations of faithfulness is linked to his faithfulness in Jeremiah’s time and in the climactic salvation in Christ (Rom. 3:3–4).
32:40 See notes on 24:7 and 31:31.
33:8 Forgiveness is foreshadowed in the restoration from exile, but it is fully accomplished in Christ (Col. 1:13–14).
33:15 See note on 23:5.
34:11 The faithlessness of the people concerning the law in Ex. 21:2 and Deut. 15:12 contrasts with the faithfulness of Christ, who brings full and permanent liberty from sin (Luke 4:18–19).
35:10 The obedience of the Rechabites contrasts with the disobedience of Israel and prefigures the obedience of the Christ the Son to his Father (John 8:29).
36:2 The triumph of the word of God over opposition prefigures Christ (John 1:10–11) and his triumph over opposition.
37:18 The innocent suffering of Jeremiah prefigures the innocent suffering of Christ (Matt. 27:24).
37:19 See note on 14:14.
38:6 Jeremiah’s brush with death prefigures Christ’s being put to death (see notes on 11:19 and 15:10).
38:17 See note on 21:8.
39:1 The prophecies of disaster from Jeremiah and from other prophets (2 Chron. 36:15–16; Jer. 25:4–11) now come to pass, confirming the faithfulness of God in judgment. Judgments in history prefigure the final judgment (see note on 1:16).
39:18 See note on 21:8.
40:4 God shows mercy to Jeremiah and to those who are left, anticipating the mercy he will show in Christ (Rom. 6:23).
41:14 God shows mercy to the captives, anticipating the mercy he will show in Christ (Rom. 6:23; Col. 1:13–14).
42:6 After all of the rebellion in previous times, the people finally resolve to obey the Lord. But then they prefer their own judgment (43:1–7). Their stubbornness shows the need for renewal of the heart that will come in Christ (31:31–34; see notes on 4:4 and 31:31).
44:16 The persistence in rebellion shows the justice of God’s judgment but also the need for a radical renewal of heart, promised in the new covenant (see note on 31:31).
45:5 Even the righteous suffer as a result of the sins of the people. The righteous suffering prefigures the suffering of Christ as the sin-bearer (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22–24).
46:2 God as judge of the whole world executes judgment on the nations as well as on his own people, prefiguring final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15; see note on Jer. 1:16).
46:10 See note on Isa. 13:6.
47:1 The destruction of the Philistines, one of the long-time enemies of Israel, prefigures final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15; see note on Jer. 1:16; cf. the note on Isa. 15:1).
48:7 Chemosh, the patron god of Moab, is shown to be worthless. Destruction of false hopes and the punishment for idolatry looks forward both to the final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15) and to the gospel as a call to worship God in truth (John 4:23; 14:6).
48:47 See note on Isa. 16:5.
49:2 Deliverance for God’s people includes judgment on their oppressors. Judgments within history look forward to final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15). Sin, Satan, and death, as ultimate oppressors, have already been defeated in Christ (Heb. 2:14–15; see note on Jer. 1:16).
49:9 Some verses about Edom are similar to Obadiah (Obad. 5).
49:12 See note on 25:15.
50:1 See note on Isa. 14:4.
50:8 The command to flee prefigures the command to flee the final Babylon, the city of sin (Rev. 18:4).
50:20 Forgiveness of sins is found ultimately in Christ (Col. 1:14; Heb. 10:1–14). On the remnant, see note on Isa. 6:13.
51:9 Judgment on Babylon prefigures final judgment against God’s enemies (Rev. 18:5; see note onJer. 1:16).
51:11 Judgment through the Medes is predicted also in Isa. 13:17 and comes to pass in Dan. 5:31.
52:1 See the parallel in 2 Kings 24:18–25:21.
52:3 See note on 2 Chron. 36:16.
52:7 Jeremiah’s earlier prophecies about destruction (e.g., 7:14; 34:2–4) are here fulfilled, underlining the faithfulness of God and the power of his word. The words of judgment foreshadow Christ’s prophecies about the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt. 24:2; Luke 19:43–44) and the prophecies of final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15). See note on 2 Chron. 36:21.
52:13 See note on 2 Kings 25:9.
52:31 See note on 2 Kings 25:27.


The lament over Jerusalem anticipates Christ’s lamenting over the future fall of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41–44). In both cases, Jerusalem suffers for her own sins. But suffering for sin finds a remedy when Christ suffers as a substitute for the sins of his people (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22–24).

1:5 God shows his justice in judging the sins of Jerusalem. He prefigures the manifestation of justice in the last judgment (Rev. 20:11–15) and in the work of Christ.
2:14 On false prophets, see note on Jer. 14:14.
2:17 God’s fulfillment of prophecy underlines his faithfulness and the power of his word. His faithfulness is supremely manifested in the suffering and vindication of Christ (see note on Ps. 105:5).
3:14 The sufferings of the prophet prefigure the sufferings of Christ (Matt. 27:27–31, 39–44).
3:26 Even in the midst of disaster and pain there is final hope for the salvation of the Lord. This hope has come to fruition in the salvation that Christ has accomplished (Matt. 1:21), and we now wait for its consummation (Rom. 8:18–25).
4:11 The pouring out of God’s wrath on Jerusalem prefigures the wrath poured out on Christ as sin-bearer (Gal. 3:13), the wrath on Jerusalem in its second destruction (Luke 21:22–24), and the wrath in the final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15).
5:21 Restoration is promised to Jerusalem after 70 years of exile (Jer. 25:11–12; 29:10–14). The restoration prefigures final salvation in Christ (Col. 1:13–14; see note on Jer. 29:14).


God judges Israel’s apostasy through the exile. Israel suffers for her own sin, and in so doing anticipates God’s final judgment against sin (Rev. 20:11–15). But the suffering also anticipates the suffering of Christ for the sins of others. The subsequent blessing in restoration prefigures the blessings of eternal salvation in Christ (Eph. 1:3–14).

1:26 God appears in human form, anticipating the incarnation of Christ and his glory (John 1:14; Rev. 1:12–16).
2:3 The resistance to Ezekiel as a prophet prefigures the resistance to Christ as final prophet (Luke 11:49–51; see note on Jer. 1:9).
2:8 The picture of eating, symbolizing an appropriation of the words of God, anticipates Rev. 10:9–11.
3:8 See note on Jer. 1:9.
3:12 The empowering by the Spirit prefigures the role of the Spirit in Christ’s prophetic ministry (Luke 4:18), and then his empowering of gospel proclamation (Acts 1:8).
3:17 Ezekiel has a responsibility for faithfulness analogous to the responsibility in gospel proclamation (2 Cor. 2:14–17; 3:5; 4:2).
4:4 Ezekiel’s identification with the punishment of the people prefigures Christ’s bearing the sins of his people (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22–24).
5:1 The prophet’s own body becomes a symbol for the sinful people. It prefigures Christ’s identification with the sins of his people (2 Cor. 5:21).
5:2 The casting off of much of the hair leaves a remnant, anticipating the remnant in the NT (Rom. 9:27; 11:5; see note on Isa. 6:13).
5:8 Judgment against sin prefigures the final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15).
5:13 Knowing that “I am the Lord”—an important theme in Ezekiel—anticipates the deeper knowledge of God given in Christ (John 14:9; 17:1–5).
6:4 God’s judgment makes plain the worthlessness of idols. God destroys false hopes to make plain that Christ is the one, God-ordained way of salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; see notes on Isa. 46:1; Jer. 48:7).
7:2 See note on 5:8.
8:2 See note on 1:26.
8:3 God judges idolatry, making plain that the true God alone is the source of salvation (see note on6:4).
9:4 Mercy comes to those who follow God’s ways, prefiguring the mercy in Christ. The mark prefigures the seal of the Holy Spirit and of the name of God, guaranteeing our salvation (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13;Rev. 7:2–8; 14:1–3).
9:8 On the remnant, see notes on Isa. 1:9 and 6:13.
10:18 The departure of God’s presence from the temple is one aspect of judgment. It contrasts with the dwelling of God in the temple, which prefigures the coming of God to dwell with us in Christ (Matt. 1:23).
11:13 On the remnant, see notes on Isa. 1:9 and 6:13.
11:19 The promise of a new heart, reiterated in 36:25, is connected to the new covenant that will come in Christ (Jer. 31:31–34; Heb. 8:8–13; 10:16–18; see note on Jer. 31:31).
12:11 On the exile as judgment, see note on Isa. 39:6.
13:2 The false prophets prefigure Christ’s opponents and false teachers in the church (2 Pet. 2:1–3; see note on Jer. 14:14).
13:10 The religious leaders opposing Jesus are like whitewashed tombs (Matt. 23:27). On false peace, see note on Jer. 6:14.
14:3 God does not reveal himself to the rebellious. The lack of understanding anticipates the lack of understanding of Jesus’ teaching (Matt. 13:10–17).
14:6 On repentance, see note on Jer. 18:11.
14:9 The deception that falls on the rebellious anticipates the deception on those who refuse the truth of the gospel (2 Thess. 2:10–12).
15:2 Israel is a vine without fruit. See note on Isa. 5:7.
16:8 The faithlessness of Israel contrasts with the faithfulness of the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:25–27;Rev. 19:7–8). The church also is tempted to go astray from her covenant with Christ (2 Cor. 11:2–3). See note on Jer. 2:2.
17:13 The penalty for breaking a covenant with a human king shows by analogy the seriousness of breaking the covenant with God (Heb. 10:29–31).
17:22 After destruction comes a new beginning, symbolizing the kingdom of Christ and its growth to fill the nations (see Isa. 11:1).
18:4 God will execute justice. The judgments within history look forward to the final judgment, when perfect justice will come (Rev. 20:11–21:8).
18:9 The granting of life to the righteous in the short run prefigures the granting of eternal life. The gift of eternal life comes only through perfect righteousness, the righteousness of Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:23–26; 6:23).
19:9 On the exile as judgment, see note on Isa. 39:6.
20:3 See note on 14:3.
20:8 The repeated rebellion of Israel calls for judgment. God must also be faithful to his name in rescuing them. Judgment and mercy are finally both achieved in Christ (Rom. 3:25–26).
20:11 See note on Lev. 18:5.
21:31 Fire and wrath anticipate the final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15). The sword (Ezek. 21:28) anticipates the sword of Christ in final judgment (Rev. 19:15; see Heb. 4:12–13).
22:15 On the exile, see note on Isa. 39:6.
22:20 The melting process prefigures the coming of the Messiah as refiner (Mal. 3:3).
22:30 No man is adequate to the task of redemption except Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5–6).
23:3 See note on 16:8.
23:22 Any lover other than the true God will be found to be treacherous, resulting in judgment. The failure of other gods points to the one way of salvation through the true God (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
23:32 On the cup of wrath, see note on Jer. 25:15.
24:8 The coming of God’s wrath prefigures his wrath in the final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15).
24:21 The destruction of the temple destroys false pride and confidence. By contrast it points to confidence in God alone for salvation (John 2:19–21; Acts 4:12).
25:2 God’s judgment against Israel’s traditional enemies prefigures future judgments against enemies, including the final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15).
26:4 The completeness of destruction indicates God’s zeal to remove evil completely. His zeal is manifested both in the death of Christ and in the last judgment (Rev. 20:11–15).
27:9 The fall of Tyre with its riches prefigures the fall of Babylon the prostitute (Rev. 18:19).
28:13 The fall of Tyre is reminiscent of the fall of Adam (Gen. 3:1–19), and some think it is also reminiscent of the fall of Satan. The proud beauty of Tyre also prefigures the beauty of Babylon (Rev. 17:4), in contrast with the true beauty of the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:18–21).
29:3 Egypt, another traditional enemy of God and God’s people, is judged by God, prefiguring the last judgment. By depicting Egypt as a dragon, Ezekiel makes the connection between her and the defeat of Satan the dragon (Rev. 12:3–17).
29:13 God shows mercy to Egypt, in analogy with the mercy shown to Israel in bringing them back from exile. This mercy anticipates the mercy in Christ (Rom. 5:6–11).
30:3 On the day of the Lord, see note on Isa. 13:6.
31:14 Human pride is put down (see note on Isa. 2:11), anticipating the humbling of pride through salvation in Christ (1 Cor. 1:26–31).
32:2 On Egypt as a dragon, see note on 29:3.
32:7 The darkening of light prefigures the darkening at the second coming of Christ (Matt. 24:29–31;Rev. 6:12–13).
32:21 An answer to the powerlessness and humiliation of death is found only in Christ and his resurrection (John 11:25–26; 1 Cor. 15:42–58).
33:2 On the watchman, see note on 3:17.
33:11 The invitation to repent anticipates the gospel invitation (2 Pet. 3:9; Acts 2:38–41).
33:16 See note on 18:9.
33:17 See note on 18:4.
33:31 Hypocrisy among the people anticipates the hypocrisy that Christ confronts (Matt. 23:13–36; seeJer. 7:11).
34:2 The false shepherds in Israel contrast with God, who is the true shepherd through Christ (vv. 11–31; Isa. 40:11; Luke 15:1–7; John 10:11, 14).
34:23 God is shepherd in connection with David, prefiguring the fact that Christ is both God and man, and that as man he is the king in the line of David (Matt. 1:1–16).
35:5 See note on 25:2.
35:6 The principle of retribution manifests God’s justice and anticipates the final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15; see note on Prov. 1:18).
36:10 The return from exile prefigures God’s climactic redemption from sin through Christ (Col. 1:13–14; see note on Isa. 39:6).
36:22 The Lord vindicates his name in Christ when he shows holiness and justice in punishing sins and mercy in saving the sinner (Rom. 3:23–26).
36:25 Cleansing from sins is accomplished in Christ (Col. 1:14; Heb. 9:23–28).
36:27 The promise of the Holy Spirit is fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2:1–21) and in the giving of the Spirit to those who believe in Christ (Rom. 8:9–17).
37:5 The vision of new life through the Spirit has a partial fulfillment in the return from exile (37:12). It prefigures the giving of resurrection life through the Spirit of Christ (John 11:25–26; Rom. 8:9–17; Col. 3:1–4).
37:24 See note on 34:23.
38:2 Gog and Magog attack, pointing to the final war between God and his enemies in Rev. 20:8–10.
38:22 Fire comes from heaven in Rev. 20:9.
39:17 The sacrificial feast is depicted in Rev. 19:17–21.
39:29 On the pouring out of the Spirit, see notes on 36:27 and 37:5.
40:2 The vision of a new temple builds on the earlier passages about the tabernacle of Moses (Exodus 25–40) and the temple of Solomon (1 Kings 5–8). Ezekiel’s temple is even more glorious, pointing forward to several realities: (1) the glory in which God dwells with man in Christ (John 1:14); (2) Christ’s body that is the temple (John 2:19–21); (3) the church as a temple (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:20–22; 1 Pet. 2:5); (4) the body of the individual believer (1 Cor. 6:19); and (5) the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. 21:9–22:5).
40:6 The gateways give access to the presence of God from all four directions. This access prefigures the access to God through Christ, an access extending to all nations (Heb. 10:19–22; Rev. 21:12–13, 24–26).
40:38 The burnt offering, described in Lev. 1:1–17; 6:8–13, prefigures the sacrifice of Christ (Eph. 5:2;Heb. 10:5–10; and note on Lev. 1:9). God gives the vision to Israel (Ezek. 43:10–11) using the symbolism belonging to the Mosaic covenant, but all the symbolism finds its culmination and fulfillment in Christ (Heb. 8:8–13).
40:45 The priesthood descending from Aaron is described in Leviticus 9–10; 21–22; Numbers 3–4; 8; 17–18; and other passages. This priesthood is a shadow and a symbol, to be fulfilled in the eternal priesthood of Christ (Heb. 7:23–8:6).
41:2 The spaciousness prefigures free access to God through Christ (see notes on 40:2 and 40:6).
42:13 The eating of the holy food prefigures spiritual food in Christ (John 6:53–58; see note on Ezek. 40:45).
43:3 The coming of the glory of the Lord, as described in chapter 1, indicates the blessing of his presence, giving a remedy for God’s departure in chapter 10. The presence of God comes to the church as a temple through the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:2–4; 1 Cor. 3:16).
43:18 On the burnt offering, see note on 40:38.
44:4 See note on 43:3.
44:15 The holiness required to serve God prefigures the holiness of Christ (Heb. 7:23–8:6; 9:11–28; see note on Ezek. 40:45).
45:1 The expansion of holy area prefigures the holiness of the church, which is an international community (Rev. 5:9–10), and the holiness of the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21:1–22:5).
45:4 On the priests, see note on 40:45.
45:7 The princes as leaders of Israel belong to the symbolism of the Mosaic order that God uses in this vision (see notes on 40:2 and 40:38). They point forward to the leaders in the church (Eph. 4:11; 1 Pet. 5:1–5) and in the new heaven and new earth. Christ is the supreme Lord over all (Eph. 1:19–23). Fulfillment in Christ transforms the nature of worship and so displaces the forms of worship belonging to the shadows of the Mosaic order (Heb. 8:1–9:14).
45:18 Permanent purification has now been accomplished through the offering of Jesus Christ once and for all (Heb. 10:1–14).
45:21 Christ is our Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7; see notes on Ezek. 40:38 and 40:45).
46:2 On the prince and the priests, see notes on 40:45 and 45:7.
47:1 Refreshing water from the presence of God (see Ps. 46:4) prefigures the living water that Christ offers through the Spirit (John 4:10, 13–14; 6:35; 7:37–39; Rev. 22:1–2).
47:12 The trees prefigure the tree of life as a symbol of abundant blessing from God (Rev. 22:2).
47:13 The inheritance of the land with its boundaries picks up the theme from Numbers 34, Joshua 14–19, and other passages. The land prefigures the new heaven and the new earth (Heb. 11:13–16; Rev. 21:1).
47:22 The inclusion of foreigners prefigures the inclusion of the Gentiles in the blessing of the gospel and the inheritance from Abraham (Gal. 3:9, 14, 26–29; 4:28–31).
48:1 See note on 47:13.
48:21 God dwells consummately in the midst of his people in Rev. 21:1–22:5. See notes on Ezek. 40:2and 40:38.
48:31 The gates are found in Rev. 21:12–13 (see notes on Ezek. 40:2 and 40:6).


Daniel and his friends exemplify the conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world, a conflict that will come to its climax in Christ, in both his first coming and his second coming.

1:5 Daniel and his friends resist the temptation to assimilate to the idolatrous culture in which they are immersed. Christ was in this world but did not yield to temptation (Matt. 4:1–11; Heb. 4:15), and we are called to follow in his steps (John 17:14–19; 1 Pet. 2:21).
1:17 Daniel is like Joseph (Gen. 40:8; 41:39) and prefigures the wisdom of Christ (1 Cor. 1:30; Col. 2:3).
2:11 God by answering Daniel shows that he is the true God, and anticipates the time when God’s dwelling will be in the flesh (John 1:14).
2:24 Daniel also saves the lives of others, prefiguring Christ who saves us (Heb. 2:14–15).
2:44 In the days of the fourth kingdom, the Roman Empire, the kingdom of God is established through Christ (Matt. 3:2), especially through his resurrection (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:19–23).
3:6 The forcing of false worship anticipates the situation with the beast (Rev. 13:12–15) and the persecution against the church (Acts 8:1–3).
3:18 The willingness to die for the faith anticipates Christ’s willingness to die (John 10:17–18) and the willingness of Christians to be martyrs (Acts 7:55–60; Rev. 6:9; 12:11).
3:25 The one like “a son of the gods” is the preincarnate Christ (cf. Rev. 1:12–16). Christ identifies with the persecution of the Jews and in his power protects them.
3:29 The resurrection-like deliverance from death results in the spread of the message about the true God. The message prefigures the message of the gospel announcing the resurrection of Christ.
4:9 Daniel’s wisdom and ability to interpret dreams is like that of Joseph (Gen. 41:38). Daniel serves to mediate divine wisdom to Nebuchadnezzar, and so prefigures the unique mediation of Christ, who is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:30; Col. 2:3).
4:30 Nebuchadnezzar is humbled by God’s judgment. The putting down of human pride anticipates the putting down of pride when God brings salvation in Christ (1 Cor. 1:26–31; see Dan. 4:37).
5:4 The judgment on idolatry anticipates the last judgment (Rev. 20:11–15) and demonstrates the sovereignty of God.
5:11 See note on 4:9.
5:20 See note on 4:30.
6:7 See note on 3:6.
6:23 The resurrection-like deliverance of Daniel prefigures the resurrection of Christ.
6:26 The message concerning the true God is spread, prefiguring the spread of the gospel, which announces the resurrection of Christ (see note on 3:29).
7:3 The four beasts are four kingdoms (v. 17), corresponding to the four kingdoms of 2:36–40. Features of the four beasts are combined in the beast of Rev. 13:1–8, which represents a final opponent of God’s people.
7:9 Features of this appearance of God reappear in Christ (Rev. 1:12–16), who is God in the flesh (John 1:14).
7:13 Jesus is the Son of Man (Matt. 24:30; 26:64).
7:14 The dominion of Christ is associated with his resurrection and ascension (Matt. 28:18; Acts 2:33–35; Eph. 1:20–22) and continues until the consummation (Rev. 22:1).
7:21 The war against the saints is described in Rev. 11:7; 13:7–10.
7:25 The period of “a time, times, and half a time” (also in 12:7) is echoed in the half week in 9:27 and is the time of persecution of the church in Rev. 11:2, 3, 11; 12:6, 14. See also Dan. 8:14 and 12:11, 12 for possible further echoes.
8:10 The little horn, Antiochus Epiphanes, persecuted the faithful Jews and profaned the temple (168b.c.; see 8:23). He prefigures the man of lawlessness, the final Antichrist, the great opponent of God’s people (2 Thess. 2:3–4, 7–12; Rev. 12:4).
9:2 See 2 Chron. 36:21; Jer. 25:11–12; and 29:10.
9:9 Definitive forgiveness comes only in Christ (Rom. 4:6–8; Col. 1:14).
9:24 Atonement comes in Christ (Heb. 7:23–8:6; 10:1–14). Everlasting righteousness comes both with Christ the perfectly Righteous Savior (Acts 3:14) and with the righteousness that he gives to his people in justification (Rom. 3:23–26; 2 Cor. 5:21).
10:6 The glorious appearance, reflecting the glory of God, prefigures the glory of Christ in Rev. 1:12–16.
10:12 Daniel’s intercession for Israel prefigures the intercession of Christ the great high priest (Heb. 7:25).
10:13 The angelic war prefigures the spiritual war in Revelation (Rev. 12:7–9).
11:2 Tumults and wars on earth continue until the end (Matt. 24:6–7; Rev. 6:2–4) and remind us of spiritual war, part of which is invisible (Rev. 12:7–9). In the midst of tumult, Christ alone provides true peace (John 16:33; cf. Phil. 4:6–7; 1 Thess. 3:4).
11:31 See note on 8:10.
11:35 The refining process looks forward to God’s refining of the church (Rom. 5:3–5; Heb. 12:3–11; 1 Pet. 1:6–7).
11:36 The king is either the man of lawlessness of 2 Thess. 2:3–4 or a foreshadowing of him.
12:1 The book is identified as the book of life of the Lamb that was slain (Eph. 1:4; Rev. 13:8; 17:8), guaranteeing the salvation of those who belong to Christ.
12:2 Life and final judgment are controlled by the power of Christ (John 5:27–29).
12:3 The brightness looks forward to the brightness in the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:22–27; 22:5).


The unfaithfulness of Israel calls for a permanent remedy, which will come in the faithfulness of Christ to the Father and the faithfulness that Christ then works through the Spirit in his people. God’s love for Israel foreshadows Christ’s love for the church (Eph. 5:25–27).

1:1 God gives the prophecies during the time covered in 2 Kings 15–20 and 2 Chronicles 26–32.
1:2 Israel’s spiritual adultery, indicated also in Jeremiah (see note on Jer. 2:2), is a shocking rebellion that must lead to judgment on God’s part (Hos. 1:4). Yet God will eventually bring a remedy in Christ (1:10; Rom. 9:26). Christ prepares the church as a faithful bride (Eph. 5:25–27).
1:10 In faithfulness to the promise to Abraham (Gen. 13:16; 22:17) God will remember Israel. The remembrance takes surprising form in that it includes Gentiles (Rom. 9:25–26) as well as Jews (Rom. 11:25–32).
2:3 God in justice brings judgment on unfaithfulness. His justice is climactically manifested in Christ, through whom we escape condemnation (Rom. 3:23–26; 8:1), and is manifested in the final judgment (Rev. 20:11–21:8).
2:14 Punishment and restoration for Israel prefigure the punishment and resurrection of Christ, the true Israel (Rom. 4:25).
2:23 See note on 1:10.
3:1 God’s love for the wayward prefigures his love for sinners in Christ (Rom. 5:6–11).
4:5 On false prophets, see note on Jer. 14:14.
4:10 False gods are not able to satisfy. Their failure shows the folly of false worship and points by contrast to the one true God, and ultimately to his way of salvation in Christ (John 14:6).
5:4 The lack of knowledge of God points by contrast to true knowledge, which is to be found ultimately in Christ (John 14:7; 17:3).
5:14 See note on 2:3.
6:2 The invitation to come to the Lord prefigures the invitation of the gospel (Acts 16:31; 17:30–31). The granting of life on the third day prefigures the resurrection of Christ as the source of life to his people (Col. 3:1–4).
6:3 God is known truly in Christ (Matt. 11:27; John 14:6; 17:3).
6:6 Jesus teaches the centrality of steadfast love (Matt. 9:13; 12:7).
7:5 The king and princes participate in sin with the people, pointing to the need for a faithful king. Christ is the faithful king in the line of David (Matt. 1:1–16).
8:13 God in his justice punishes. Since the people have broken his covenant, he reverses the deliverance from Egypt that was an aspect of covenantal redemption. A greater redemption is needed, which is to be found in Christ (Matt. 2:15; Heb. 8:8–13).
9:10 Israel’s present apostasy repeats the old apostasy at Baal-peor (Num. 25:1–5), pointing to the need for a permanent remedy and a permanent change of heart, which will come in Christ (Heb. 8:8–13).
10:6 See note on 4:10.
10:8 Fear of God’s wrath prefigures the fearful character of the final judgment (Luke 23:30; Rev. 6:16).
10:12 Full righteousness comes in Christ (Rom. 3:23–26; 8:1–4).
11:1 Israel, labeled God’s “son” in Ex. 4:22 (see Deut. 8:5), came out of Egypt in the exodus (Exodus 14). The movement of Israel prefigures the movement of Christ (Matt. 2:15), who is the faithful Son (Matt. 3:17), whereas Israel as son repeatedly failed (Hos. 11:2).
11:11 On the restoration from exile, see note on Isa. 35:10.
12:2 God’s punishments are the product of his justice, prefiguring the justice of final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15). Such demonstrations of justice make plain the need for pardon through the propitiation of Christ (1 John 2:1–2).
13:14 The threat of death as punishment for sin (Rom. 6:23) is finally answered through the resurrection of Christ (John 11:25–26; 1 Cor. 15:55–57; Heb. 2:14–15).
14:1 The command to repent anticipates the command to repent in the gospel (Acts 2:38).
14:5 The promise of blessing prefigures the blessings of salvation in Christ (Eph. 1:3–14; see note onIsa. 27:6).


The day of the Lord, the day of God’s coming (see note on Isa. 13:6), brings judgment on sin but also may include blessing. Both aspects are fulfilled in both the first coming and the second coming of Christ.

1:4 God sent a locust plague on the Egyptians during the time of Moses (Ex. 10:1–20). But the plague in Joel’s day comes on God’s own people because of their sins (see Deut. 28:38). It shows the desperate need for forgiveness in Christ and prefigures the locust plague preceding the judgment of the second coming (Rev. 9:1–11).
1:13 See note on 2:12.
1:15 The day of the Lord, the day when God appears, is a day of judgment (see note on Isa. 13:6).
2:12 The call to repent anticipates the gospel call to repent (Acts 2:38).
2:18 Christ welcomes repentant sinners (Luke 5:32; 15:7).
2:28 The climactic blessing is the pouring out of the Spirit, accomplished at Pentecost (Acts 2:16–21).
2:32 NT preaching invites listeners to be saved by the name of Christ (Acts 2:38–41; Rom. 10:13; seeActs 4:12).
3:13 At the second coming God executes judgment (Rev. 14:14–20).
3:15 The light is darkened at the second coming as part of God’s judgment (Matt. 24:29–31; Rev. 6:12; see Rev. 8:12). The darkening at the crucifixion also indicates judgment (Matt. 27:45).
3:17 The holiness of Jerusalem is perfected in the consummation (Rev. 21:27).


God comes to Israel with both judgment for sin and promises of restoration. The judgment and restoration anticipate the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, as well as the final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15). The demand for righteousness is fulfilled in the righteousness of Christ (Rom. 8:1–4).

1:1 God gives the prophecies during the time covered in 2 Kings 14:23–15:7.
1:2 The power of God’s word in judgment anticipates the power of Christ’s word, both in his first coming and in his second coming (John 12:48–50; Rev. 19:15, 21).
1:3 Damascus, the capital of Syria, is judged, prefiguring final judgment on God’s enemies (Rev. 20:11–15). On the display of God’s justice in judgment, see notes on Lam. 1:5 and Ezek. 18:4.
2:4 God does not overlook the sins of his own people, but calls them to account just as he did the other nations (1:3–2:3). He shows his impartiality (Rom. 2:11–16). All are subject to curse for their disobedience, and escape is found only in Christ (Gal. 3:13–14; Rom. 3:9–31).
3:2 Those with greater privileges are liable to greater punishment (Luke 12:48). The principle is shown in the guilt that comes to those Jews who reject Christ (Matt. 11:20–24; John 15:22–25).
3:8 See note on 1:2.
3:10 The demand for righteousness is an integral part of God’s law. Righteousness is to be fulfilled in the righteousness of Christ (Rom. 1:17; 2 Cor. 5:21) and in his followers (Rom. 8:1–4).
3:12 On the remnant, see note on Isa. 1:9 and 6:13.
4:6 Stubbornness, like the stubbornness of Pharaoh in the exodus, increases guilt. Stubbornness characterizes Israel’s history, and comes to a climax in the rejection of Christ (Acts 7:51–53; see note onIsa. 29:13). The judgments on Israel were prophesied in Deut. 28:15–68.
5:18 People hoped that the day of the Lord would mean judgment against Israel’s enemies. But it involves judgment on sinners universally, including Israel. See notes on 2:4; Isa. 13:6; and 13:9.
5:27 The exile of the northern kingdom to lands beyond Damascus and then the southern kingdom to Babylon prefigures final judgment.
6:1 Pride and self-confidence are judged by God, anticipating the judgment against human pride in the gospel (1 Cor. 1:26–31).
7:3 The Lord in mercy does not simply destroy, but refines his people. His mercy anticipates the mercy to be manifested in Christ (Matt. 9:27).
8:9 The darkening is a symbol of judgment, prefiguring the judgment at the crucifixion (Matt. 27:45) and at the second coming (Matt. 24:29–31; Rev. 6:12; see Joel 3:15 and Rev. 8:12).
9:1 The lack of escape prefigures the universality of the last judgment (Rev. 20:11–15).
9:8 On the remnant, see 3:12 and notes on Isa. 1:9 and 6:13.
9:11 The house of David is raised up when Christ is raised.
9:12 When Christ is raised, the nations (Gentiles) become included in God’s blessings, in fulfillment of the promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:3).


The judgment against Edom, a traditional enemy of Israel, contributes to the blessing of God’s people. The judgment and vindication prefigure the vindication of Christ and the judgments against his enemies, both in his first coming and in his second coming.

3 God judges human pride, anticipating the gospel’s judgment on pride (1 Cor. 1:26–31).
10 Those who attack God’s people will ultimately be destroyed in the last judgment (Rev. 20:11–15).
15 On the day of the Lord, see note on Isa. 13:6. On the principle of just retribution, see note on Prov. 1:18.


Jonah’s rescue from death prefigures the resurrection of Christ (Matt. 12:39–40). The repentance of the Ninevites prefigures the repentance of Gentiles who respond to the gospel (Matt. 28:18–20; Luke 24:47).

1:15 The saving of mariners through the sacrifice of Jonah prefigures the salvation of all nations through the death of Christ (1 John 2:2).
1:17 Jonah is under the sea, symbolizing the realm of death. His state prefigures the death of Christ (Matt. 12:40).
2:6 Jonah’s rescue from death prefigures the resurrection of Christ from the dead (Matt. 12:40).
3:5 Gentiles repent in response to the preaching of Jonah, who figuratively has been raised from the “death” of the belly of the fish. Gentiles repent in response to the preaching of the resurrection of Christ (Matt. 28:18–20).
3:10 The repentance of Gentiles contrasts with the repeated lack of repentance on the part of Israel (Matt. 12:41; 21:43).
4:11 God’s mercy is shown abundantly in the gospel and in the salvation of Gentiles who deserve nothing (Rom. 9:30–31; 11:30).


God pronounces judgment on Israel, prefiguring final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15) and the judgment that fell on Christ (Gal. 3:13). He promises blessing through the Messiah, anticipating the blessings of salvation in Christ (Eph. 1:3–14).

1:1 God gives the prophecies during the time covered in 2 Kings 16–20 and 2 Chronicles 27–32.
1:5 God in justice cannot overlook the sins of his people. Punishment prefigures the punishment of the last judgment (Rev. 20:11–15) and the substitutionary punishment that Christ bore for his people (1 Pet. 2:24).
2:3 On the judgment of human pride, see notes on Isa. 2:11; Ezek. 31:14; and Amos 6:1.
2:12 On the remnant, see notes on Isa. 1:9 and 6:13.
3:5 On false prophets, see note on Jer. 14:14.
3:12 On the destruction of the holy city, see note on Ps. 74:3.
4:1 The exaltation of the name of God is accomplished in Christ (see note on Isa. 2:2).
5:2 The Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:1–6).
5:8 On the remnant, see 2:12 and notes on Isa. 1:9 and 6:13.
6:2 Israel does not escape judgment for her sins. This judgment prefigures the justice and thoroughness of final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15).
6:8 Sacrifices cannot replace the need for justice and kindness. The focus on real righteousness anticipates Jesus’ teaching (Matt. 5:23–24; 9:13; 15:10–20) and is fulfilled in Jesus’ own righteousness (Acts 3:14; Rom. 8:1–4).
7:6 The family treachery in Israel anticipates the family treachery from resistance to Christ (Matt. 10:35–36).
7:18 Pardon is accomplished in Christ (Rom. 3:23–26; 1 John 2:2). On the remnant, see notes on Isa. 1:9 and 6:13.


Judgment on Nineveh, a traditional enemy of God’s people, prefigures final judgment and final release from oppression (Rev. 20:11–21:8).

1:15 The good news of deliverance from the oppression of Nineveh prefigures the good news of eternal deliverance from sin and death in the gospel (Isa. 52:7; Mark 1:1; Rom. 1:1).
2:3 The attack and destruction of Nineveh prefigures God’s war through Christ against his ultimate enemies (Matt. 12:29; Luke 10:17–19; John 12:31; Rev. 19:11–21; 20:7–10).
3:4 Nineveh’s punishment prefigures the punishment for the idolatrous seduction of Babylon the prostitute (Rev. 17:1–6; 18:1–3).


God’s use of a wicked nation to accomplish his righteousness foreshadows the use of wicked opponents to accomplish his purpose in the crucifixion of Christ.

1:4 The perversion of justice in the triumph of the wicked prefigures the temporary triumph of the wicked in the crucifixion of Christ.
1:5 The unbelievability of God’s use of a wicked people, the Chaldeans, prefigures the unbelievability of the way in which the injustice of the crucifixion of Christ is used by God for salvation.
1:13 In the crucifixion of Christ the wicked leaders swallowed up Christ the righteous one.
2:4 The righteous person trusts in God; he believes that God’s promises are true and that he will bring to pass his righteous purposes. This trust anticipates trust in Christ (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:37–38), in whom the promises of God are fulfilled (2 Cor. 1:20).
2:8 On the principle of just retribution, see note on Prov. 1:18.
2:16 On the cup of God’s wrath, see note on Jer. 25:15.
3:13 God appears to bring salvation to his people and to the anointed king. Salvation comes when God appears in Christ (John 1:14; 14:9), when Christ the anointed king is saved from death in his resurrection, and when his people are saved through Christ.


Judgments on evil people anticipate the final judgment (Rev. 20:11–15) and indicate the necessity of Christ’s work and sin-bearing in order to save us from judgment (see note on Isa. 13:9).

1:1 God gives the prophecies during the time covered in 2 Kings 22–23 and 2 Chronicles 34–35.
1:2 God in his holiness is zealous to eliminate all evil. His commitment anticipates the final judgment and renewal of the consummation (2 Pet. 3:10–13; Rev. 21:1).
1:7 On the day of the Lord, see note on Isa. 13:6.
2:3 The call for humility prefigures the gospel call to repent and turn to the Lord (Acts 2:38), and the call to avoid the coming wrath (Acts 17:30–31).
2:9 On the remnant, see notes on Isa. 1:9 and 6:13.
2:10 On the punishment of pride, see note on Ezek. 31:14.
3:15 The removal of judgments and curse comes with Christ (Rom. 8:1; Gal. 3:13–14). Christ is the Lord in our midst (Matt. 1:23; John 1:14) and now indwells the church through the Spirit (John 14:20;Rom. 8:9–10).


The rebuilding of the temple prefigures the building of NT temples: the church (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:20–22) and the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:9–22:5).

1:1 God gives the prophecies during the time covered in Ezra 5–6 (see Ezra 5:1 and 6:14).
1:2 The house of the Lord symbolizes his presence and looks forward to Christ as temple (John 1:14; 2:19–21), the church as temple (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:20–22), and the dwelling of God in the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:3; 21:22–22:5).
1:13 The promise to be with the people anticipates God being with his people in Christ (Matt. 1:23, “Immanuel”) and through the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9–10; 1 Cor. 3:16).
2:4 Our work is not in vain in the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58; Phil. 2:12–13).
2:6 God shakes the old order, showing that we should put our hope in his unshakable kingdom in Christ (Heb. 12:26–28).
2:7 The ultimate glory of God is found in Jesus Christ (John 1:14; Rev. 21:22–23).


The rebuilding in the time of the restoration from exile prefigures the eternal salvation that comes in Christ.

1:1 God gives the prophecies during the time covered in Ezra 5–6 (see Ezra 5:1 and 6:14).
1:3 The call to return prefigures the gospel call to repent and come to God (Acts 2:38; 17:30–31).
1:16 Mercy on Jerusalem prefigures the mercy on sinners in Christ (Luke 5:32).
2:5 The glory of God is manifest in Jesus Christ (John 1:14; 17:1–5; Rev. 21:22–27).
2:11 On the coming of the nations, see notes on Isa. 2:2; 11:10; and 42:6.
3:4 The removal of iniquity symbolizes justification in Christ (Rom. 3:23–26; 5:1).
3:8 The Branch is the Messiah (based on Isa. 11:1).
4:6 The Spirit of Christ gives a permanent supply of power and light (John 16:13–15; Rom. 8:9–13).
5:3 We can escape the curse for wrongdoing through Christ, who bore the curse for us (Gal. 3:13–14).
6:12 On the Branch, see notes on 3:8 and Isa. 11:1.
6:13 Christ builds the temple, the church (Matt. 16:18; 1 Cor. 3:10–16).
7:9 The central importance of righteousness, rather than sacrifice, appears in 1 Sam. 15:22–23, Amos 5:21–27; Mic. 6:7–8, and Matt. 9:13, and underlines the superiority of the righteousness of Christ over all animal sacrifices (Heb. 10:1–14).
8:3 On God’s dwelling, see note on Hag. 1:2.
8:11 On the remnant, see notes on Isa. 1:9 and 6:13.
8:22 On the coming of the nations, see notes on Isa. 2:2 and 11:10.
9:9 Jesus the king comes to Jerusalem on a donkey (Matt. 21:1–9).
10:9 The restoration from exile prefigures final salvation and life in Christ (John 6:35; 14:6).
11:10 Faithlessness leads to annulling the covenant, indicating the need for a new covenant (Heb. 8:8–13).
11:12 Thirty pieces of silver is the payoff connected with repudiating the Lord as true shepherd. It anticipates the payoff for Judas (Matt. 26:15; 27:9–10).
12:10 Repentance involves looking on the crucified Messiah (John 3:14–15; 19:37).
13:1 Cleansing from sin comes in Christ (1 John 2:1–2).
13:7 The disciples are scattered at the time when Christ the shepherd is crucified (Matt. 26:31).
14:8 The living waters are found in Christ (John 4:10; Rev. 22:1; see note on Ezek. 47:1.
14:20 Holiness is found in Christ (Acts 2:27; Heb. 7:26) and in the new Jerusalem that he establishes (Rev. 21:22–22:5).


Disobedience and compromise are eliminated with the coming of Christ and his purification.

1:2 God’s sovereign love for Jacob prefigures the sovereignty of his love for the elect (Rom. 9:1–29).
1:7 The danger of despising God continues in the church at the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 10:21).
2:8 The corruption of the covenant shows the need for a new covenant (Heb. 8:8–13) and a perfect priest (Heb. 7:11–8:6).
3:1 John the Baptist is the messenger preparing the way for Christ, who is the Lord, the messenger of the covenant (Matt. 11:10–11).
3:7 On the call to repentance, see note on Jer. 18:11.
4:1 On the day of the Lord, see note on Isa. 13:6.
4:6 John the Baptist prepares hearts for the coming of the Lord in the person of Christ (Luke 1:17).


The Bible and Religious Cults

Almost every book in the NT has something to say about false beliefs and those who advocate them. We are warned, e.g., about false prophets (Matt. 7:15–16; 24:11), false christs (Matt. 24:5, 24; Mark 13:22), a different Jesus and a different spirit (2 Cor. 11:4), false apostles (2 Cor. 11:13–15), and “another gospel” (Gal. 1:8). With so many warnings, it is clear God knew that many false teachers would come, and that he did not want his people to be deceived (cf. Eph. 4:14; 2 John 7). In what follows, notable deceptions of prominent cults will be summarized, along with a brief biblical response.

From the viewpoint of those who hold to historic, evangelical Christianity, a “cult” is any religious movement that claims to be derived from the Bible and/or the Christian faith, and that advocates beliefs that differ so significantly with major Christian doctrines that two consequences follow: (1) The movement cannot legitimately be considered a valid “Christian” denomination because of its serious deviation from historic Christian orthodoxy. (2) Believing the doctrines of the movement is incompatible with trusting in the Jesus Christ of the Bible for the salvation that comes by God’s grace alone (Eph. 2:8–9). By this traditional understanding of the word “cult,” the following groups described are “cults,” though this does not imply that they share the extremely oppressive, authoritarian, life-controlling, and often immoral practices that are found in what the secular world calls “cults,” using the term in a more extreme sense.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormonism)

Apostasy and restoration. Mormons claim that “total” apostasy overcame the church following apostolic times, and that the Mormon Church (founded in 1830) is the “restored church.” If the Mormon Church were truly a “restored church,” however, one would expect to find first-century historical evidence for Mormon doctrines like the plurality of gods and God the Father having once been a man. Such evidence is completely lacking. Besides, the Bible disallows a total apostasy of the church (e.g., Matt. 16:18; 28:20; Eph. 3:21; 4:11–16), warning instead of partial apostasy (1 Tim. 4:1).

God. Mormons claim that God the Father was once a man and that he then progressed to godhood (that is, he is a now-exalted, immortal man with a flesh-and-bone body). However, based on the Bible, God is not and has never been a man (Num. 23:19; Hos. 11:9). He is a spirit (John 4:24), and a spirit does not have flesh and bones (Luke 24:39). Furthermore, God is eternal (Ps. 90:2; 102:27; Isa. 57:15; 1 Tim. 1:17) and immutable (or unchangeable in his being and perfections; see Ps. 102:25–27; Mal. 3:6). He did not “progress” toward godhood, but has always been God.

Polytheism. Mormons believe that the Trinity consists not of three persons in one God but rather of three distinct gods. According to Mormonism, there are potentially many thousands of gods besides these. However, trusting in or worshiping more than one god is explicitly condemned throughout the Bible (e.g., Ex. 20:3). There is only one true God (Deut. 4:35, 39; 6:4; Isa. 43:10; 44:6, 8; 45:18; 46:9; 1 Cor. 8:4; James 2:19), who exists eternally in three persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14). (See the discussion of the Trinity in the section on Jehovah’s Witnesses.)

Exaltation of humans. Mormons believe that humans, like God the Father, can go through a process of exaltation to godhood. But the Bible teaches that the yearning to be godlike led to the fall of mankind (Gen. 3:4ff.). God does not look kindly on humans who pretend to attain to deity (Acts 12:21–23; contrast Acts 14:11–15). God desires humans to humbly recognize that they are his creatures (Gen. 2:7; 5:2; Ps. 95:6–7; 100:3). The state of the redeemed in eternity will be one of glorious immortality, but they will forever remain God’s creatures, adopted as his children (Rom. 8:14–30; 1 Cor. 15:42–57; Rev. 21:3–7). Believers will never become gods.

Jesus Christ. Mormons believe that Jesus Christ was the firstborn spirit-child of the heavenly Father and a heavenly Mother. Jesus then progressed to deity in the spirit world. He was later physically conceived in Mary’s womb, as the literal “only begotten” Son of God the Father in the flesh (though many present-day Mormons remain somewhat vague as to how this occurred). Biblically, however, the description of Jesus as the “only begotten” refers to his being the Father’s unique, one-of-a-kind Son for all eternity, with the same divine nature as the Father (see note on John 1:14; cf. John 1:18; 3:16, 18; see also John 5:18; 10:30). Moreover, he is eternal deity (John 1:1; 8:58) and is immutable (Heb. 1:10–12; 13:8), meaning he did not progress to deity but has always been God. And Mary’s conception of Jesus in his humanity was through a miracle of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:20).

Three kingdoms. Mormons believe that most people will end up in one of three kingdoms of glory, depending on one’s level of faithfulness. Belief in Christ, or even in God, is not necessary to obtain immortality in one of these three kingdoms, and therefore only the most spiritually perverse will go to hell. But the Bible teaches that people have just two possibilities for their eternal futures: the saved will enjoy eternal life with God in the new heavens and new earth (Phil. 3:20; Rev. 21:1–4; 22:1–5), while the unsaved will spend eternity in hell (Matt. 25:41, 46; Rev. 20:13–15).

Sin and atonement. Mormons believe that Adam’s transgression was a noble act that made it possible for humans to become mortal, a necessary step on the path to exaltation to godhood. They think that Christ’s atonement secures immortality for virtually all people, whether they repent and believe or not. Biblically, however, there was nothing noble about Adam’s sin, which was not a stepping-stone to godhood but rather brought nothing but sin, misery, and death to mankind (Gen. 3:16–19; Rom. 5:12–14). Jesus atoned for the sins of all who would trust him for salvation (Isa. 53:6; John 1:29; 2 Cor. 5:21;1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18; 1 John 2:2; 4:10).

Salvation. Mormons believe that God gives to (virtually) everyone a general salvation to immortal life in one of the heavenly kingdoms, which is how they understand salvation by grace. Belief in Christ is necessary only to obtain passage to the highest, celestial kingdom—for which not only faith but participation in Mormon temple rituals and obedience to its “laws of the gospel” are also prerequisites. Biblically, however, salvation by grace must be received through faith in Christ (John 3:15–16; 11:25; 12:46; Acts 16:31; Rom. 3:22–24; Eph. 2:8–9), and all true believers are promised eternal life in God’s presence (Matt. 5:3–8; John 14:1–3; Rev. 21:3–7).

Jehovah’s Witnesses

The divine name. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that God’s one true name—the name by which he must be identified—is Jehovah. Biblically, however, God is identified by many names, including: God (Hb.’elohim; Gen. 1:1), God Almighty (Hb. ’El Shadday; Gen. 17:1), Lord (Hb. ’Adonay; Ps. 8:1), and Lord of hosts (Hb. yhwh tseba’ot; 1 Sam. 1:3). In NT times, Jesus referred to God as “Father” (Gk. Patēr; Matt. 6:9), as did the apostles (1 Cor. 1:3).

The Trinity. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the Trinity is unbiblical because the word is not in the Bible and because the Bible emphasizes that there is one God. Biblically, while it is true that there is only one God (Isa. 44:6; 45:18; 46:9; John 5:44; 1 Cor. 8:4; James 2:19), it is also true that three persons are called God in Scripture: the Father (1 Pet. 1:2), Jesus (John 20:28; Heb. 1:8), and the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3–4). Each of these three possesses the attributes of deity—including omnipresence (Ps. 139:7; Jer. 23:23–24; Matt. 28:20), omniscience (Ps. 147:5; John 16:30; 1 Cor. 2:10–11), omnipotence (Jer. 32:17; John 2:1–11; Rom. 15:19), and eternality (Ps. 90:2; Heb. 9:14; Rev. 22:13). Still further, each of the three is involved in doing the works of deity—such as creating the universe: the Father (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 102:25), the Son (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2), and the Holy Spirit (Gen. 1:2; Job 33:4; Ps. 104:30). The Bible indicates that there is three-in-oneness in the godhead (Matt. 28:19; cf. 2 Cor. 13:14). Thus doctrinal support for the Trinity is compellingly strong.

Jesus Christ. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus was created by Jehovah as the archangel Michael before the physical world existed, and is a lesser, though mighty, god. Biblically, however, Jesus is eternally God (John 1:1; 8:58; cf. Ex. 3:14) and has the exact same divine nature as the Father (John 5:18; 10:30; Heb. 1:3). Indeed, a comparison of the OT and NT equates Jesus with Jehovah (compareIsa. 43:11 with Titus 2:13; Isa. 44:24 with Col. 1:16; Isa. 6:1–5 with John 12:41). Jesus himself created the angels (Col. 1:16; cf. John 1:3; Heb. 1:2, 10) and is worshiped by them (Heb. 1:6).

The incarnation. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that when Jesus was born on earth, he was a mere human and not God in human flesh. This violates the biblical teaching that in the incarnate Jesus, “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9; cf. Phil. 2:6–7). The word for “fullness” (Gk. plērōma) carries the idea of the sum total. “Deity” (Gk. theotēs) refers to the nature, being, and attributes of God. Therefore, the incarnate Jesus was the sum total of the nature, being, and attributes of God in bodily form. Indeed, Jesus was Immanuel, or “God with us” (Matt. 1:23; cf. Isa. 7:14; John 1:1, 14, 18; 10:30; 14:9–10).

Resurrection. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus was resurrected spiritually from the dead, but not physically. Biblically, however, the resurrected Jesus asserted that he was not merely a spirit but had a flesh-and-bone body (Luke 24:39; cf. John 2:19–21). He ate food on several occasions, thereby proving that he had a genuine physical body after the resurrection (Luke 24:30, 42–43; John 21:12–13). This was confirmed by his followers who physically touched him (Matt. 28:9; John 20:17).

The second coming. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the second coming was an invisible, spiritual event that occurred in the year 1914. Biblically, however, the yet-future second coming will be physical,visible (Acts 1:9–11; cf. Titus 2:13), and will be accompanied by visible cosmic disturbances (Matt. 24:29–30). Every eye will see him (Rev. 1:7).

The Holy Spirit. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force of God and not a distinct person. Biblically, however, the Holy Spirit has a mind (Rom. 8:27), emotions (Eph. 4:30), and will (1 Cor. 12:11)—the three primary attributes of personality. Moreover, personal pronouns are used of him (Acts 13:2). Also, he does things that only a person can do, including: teaching (John 14:26), testifying (John 15:26), commissioning (Acts 13:4), issuing commands (Acts 8:29), and interceding (Rom. 8:26). The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity (Matt. 28:19).

Salvation. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that salvation requires faith in Christ, association with God’s organization (i.e., their religion), and obedience to its rules. Biblically, however, viewing obedience to rules as a requirement for salvation nullifies the gospel (Gal. 2:16–21; Col. 2:20–23). Salvation is based wholly on God’s unmerited favor (grace), not on the believer’s performance. Good works are the fruit or result, not the basis, of salvation (Eph. 2:8–10; Titus 3:4–8).

Two redeemed peoples. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe there are two peoples of God: (1) the Anointed Class (144,000) will live in heaven and rule with Christ; and (2) the “other sheep” (all other believers) will live forever on a paradise earth. Biblically, however, a heavenly destiny awaits all who believe in Christ (John 14:1–3; 17:24; 2 Cor. 5:1; Phil. 3:20; Col. 1:5; 1 Thess. 4:17; Heb. 3:1), and these same people will also dwell on the new earth (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1–4).

No immaterial soul. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe that humans have an immaterial nature. The “soul” is simply the life-force within a person. At death, that life-force leaves the body. Biblically, however, the word “soul” is multifaceted. One key meaning of the term is man’s immaterial self that consciously survives death (Gen. 35:18; Rev. 6:9–10). Unbelievers are in conscious woe (Matt. 13:42; 25:41, 46; Luke 16:22–24; Rev. 14:11) while believers are in conscious bliss in heaven (1 Cor. 2:9; 2 Cor. 5:6–8; Phil. 1:21–23; Rev. 7:17; 21:4).

Hell. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe hell is not a place of eternal suffering but is rather the common grave of humankind. The wicked are annihilated—snuffed out of conscious existence forever. Biblically, however, hell is a real place of conscious, eternal suffering (Matt. 5:22; 25:41, 46; Jude 7; Rev. 14:11; 20:10, 14).

Christian Science

Sin, sickness, and death. Christian Science teaches that sin, sickness, and death are illusions that can be conquered by correct thinking. The rationale for this unusual idea is that all things in the universe are ultimately God. Since everything is God, there can be no sin and no matter. Since matter does not exist, neither can sickness, pain, or death exist.

If everything is God, however, one must wonder where this widespread, universal delusion about the material nature of the world emerged. Is delusion a part of God? Further, the Christian Science worldview seems utterly unlivable. Why lock the front door at night if there is no sin? Why go to the dentist if there is no pain? Why buckle seatbelts in the car if there is no death? According to the Bible, God created the material universe (Genesis 1; Ps. 102:25; Isa. 44:24) and pronounced it “very good” (Gen. 1:31). The emergence of sin (Genesis 3), however, brought ruin to the creation (Rom. 8:20; cf.Gen. 3:17) and introduced the realities of sickness and death (Gen. 2:17; 5:5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27, 31; cf.Rom. 5:12).

God. Christian Science holds to a pantheistic view of God (i.e., God and the universe are the same reality). Biblically, however, God is distinct from his creatures and is a personal loving Father unto whom believers may cry, “Abba” (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). This personal God is a conscious being who thinks, feels, plans (Jer. 9:23–24; cf. Isa. 46:10), and engages in personal relationships with others (e.g., Gen. 5:22, 24; 6:9). This personal God created all things out of absolute nothingness (Heb. 11:3; cf. Gen. 1:1; Neh. 9:6; Ps. 33:8–9; 148:5). While he is omnipresent (Ps. 139:7–9), he is not “one with” the universe; he remains eternally distinct from the creation that he made and from humankind (Num. 23:19; Eccles. 5:2; Heb. 11:3).

Jesus Christ. Christian Science teaches that Jesus was a mere human who, as an adult, embodied “the Christ” (i.e., a manifestation of divinity), as other humans also can. Biblically, however, Jesus did not become the Christ as an adult, but rather was the one and only Christ from the very beginning (Luke 2:11; cf. 1 John 2:22). The precise NT counterpart of the OT word “Messiah” is “Christ” (John 1:41). The OT presents numerous prophecies regarding the coming of a single Messiah (e.g., Isa. 7:14; 53:3–5;Mic. 5:2; Zech. 12:10). Jesus alone fulfilled these prophecies, and hence he alone is the Christ (Luke 9:20). He is also absolute deity (John 1:1; 8:58; 10:30; 20:28).

Humanity. In keeping with its pantheistic views, Christian Science teaches that human beings, too, are God. Biblically, however, human beings are creatures (Gen. 1:26–27; 2:7) who remain eternally distinct from God (Eccles. 5:2) and are intrinsically weak and dependent upon God (Ps. 95:6–7; 100:3; Mic. 6:8;John 15:5; 2 Cor. 3:5; James 4:6). Christian Science proponents would do well to consider: if the essence of human beings is God, and if God is an infinite, changeless being, then how is it possible for man (if he is a manifestation of divinity) to go through a changing process of enlightenment, by which he discovers his divinity? Biblically, God does not “blossom” or grow to maturity; he has always been in “full bloom” as the perfect and unchanging God (Ps. 90:2).

Salvation. Christian Science teaches that when one ceases believing in sin, sickness, and death, one becomes “saved.” Theologically, a weak view of sin blinds one to the need for a savior. Such is the case with Christian Science. A biblical view of sin (e.g., Rom. 5:12), however, points to a dire need for salvation—especially dire in view of the hard biblical realities of death (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23) and hell (Rev. 20:14–15) as the wages of sin. Biblical salvation is based wholly on the sacrificial death of Jesus (Rom. 5:8; cf. Isa. 53:6) and is received as a grace-gift (Rom. 5:1–11; Eph. 2:8–9) by faith in him (John 3:15–16; 5:24; 11:25; 12:46; 20:31).

Heaven and hell. Christian Science teaches that people make their own hell by thinking wrongly and their own heaven by thinking rightly. Biblically, however, heaven is the splendor-filled eternal abode of the saved (1 Cor. 2:9; 2 Cor. 12:4; Col. 1:12; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1–2), while hell is the horrific eternal abode of the unsaved (Matt. 13:42; 25:41, 46; 2 Thess. 1:8–9; Rev. 19:20; 20:14–15).

New Age Movement

Unlike the preceding movements, the New Age Movement has no one organizational headquarters or leadership, but consists of hundreds of informally associated small organizations and groups. Nevertheless, it continues to gain followers in the twenty-first century.

Revelation. New Agers believe divine revelation has been expressed not only in Christianity but also in other religions including: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism. These religions allegedly teach the same “core truths.” Such a claim contradicts the facts. Consider the doctrine of God. The Bible teaches the Trinity, the Qur’an (Islam’s scripture) denies the Trinity, the Hindu Vedas teach pantheism and polytheism, Zoroastrianism teaches religious dualism, and Buddhist writings teach that God is essentially irrelevant. Since God is the most fundamental doctrine of any religious system, the claim that these religions teach the same “core truths” is flatly false.

Christianity is exclusivistic at its core. Jesus said he is uniquely and exclusively humanity’s only means of coming into a relationship with God (John 14:6; cf. Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5). His exclusivity caused him to warn against false religious leaders who contradict his teachings (Matt. 24:4–5, 23–24).

God. New Agers hold to a pantheistic, impersonal view of God. Biblically, however, God is a personal being who hears (Ex. 2:24), sees (Gen. 1:4), knows (Jer. 29:11; 2 Tim. 2:19), has a will (1 John 2:17), communicates (Ex. 3:13–14), plans (Eph. 1:11), expresses emotion (Gen. 6:6), and demonstrates character (2 Pet. 3:9). He also engages in personal relationships with others (e.g., Gen. 5:22, 24; 6:9).

Jesus Christ. New Agers claim that Jesus was a “human vessel” who, as an adult, embodied “the Christ” (variously defined, but always divine). Jesus is viewed as a prototype for the rest of humanity, since all people can embody the Christ. As noted previously in response to Christian Science, however, Jesus did not become the Christ as an adult but rather was the one and only Christ from the very beginning. Jesus even made his identity as the Christ the primary issue of faith on at least two different occasions (Matt. 16:13–20; John 11:25–27). When Jesus was acknowledged as the Christ, he did not say to people, “You, too, have the Christ within.” Instead he warned that others would come falsely claiming to be the Christ (Matt. 24:4–5, 23–24).

Humankind. New Agers hold that human beings are God and therefore have unlimited potential. If this were true, however, one would expect humans to have the same attributes as God. Biblically, though, God is all-knowing (Ps. 147:5; Heb. 4:13), while man is limited in knowledge (Job 38:4). God is all-powerful (Rev. 19:6), while man is weak (Heb. 4:15). God is holy (1 John 1:5), while fallen man’s “righteous” deeds are as filthy garments before God (Isa. 64:6). Such scriptural facts illustrate the apostle Paul’s affirmation that all humans “fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Humans are mere finite creatures (Gen. 1:26–27; 2:7), now fallen in sin (Rom. 5:12).

Sin and salvation. New Agers say humans do not have a “sin problem” but an “ignorance problem.” All they need is enlightenment regarding their divinity. Then, through reincarnation, the human soul can eventually reach a state of perfection and merge back with its source (pantheistic God).

Biblically, Christian morality begins with a personal God (see above) who makes moral requirements of his creatures (Ex. 15:26; 20:1–17; Deut. 8:6; John 14:15). While moral terms like “right” and “wrong” may not have any relevance to an impersonal, pantheistic God, they do have relevance to the God of the Bible, who calls us to obey his moral commandments (Ex. 19:5; Deut. 12:28; John 14:21). Because humans have failed to do this, they stand guilty before God (Genesis 3; Isa. 53:6; Rom. 3:23).

Jesus did not teach that humans have a mere ignorance problem but a grave sin problem that is altogether beyond their means to solve (Mark 7:20–23; cf. Ps. 53:2–3; Isa. 53:6; 64:6; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:23; 6:23). He also taught that salvation is found not by enlightenment but by placing faith in him (John 3:16; Acts 16:31) who is the Light of the world (John 8:12). Trusting in reincarnation will not suffice, for Scripture affirms that each person lives once, dies once, and then faces judgment (Heb. 9:27; cf. Rev. 20:11–15). There are no second chances following death (cf. 2 Cor. 6:2).


The Bible and World Religions

The Bible and Contemporary Judaism

Early History (c. 2100 b.c.–586 b.c.)

Beginning with Abraham, the founding “rock” of the Jewish people, and continuing to the modern era, Judaism has maintained continuity and passed down a remarkable legacy (cf. Isa. 51:1–2). Judaism has also been a religion of innovation, adaptability, and change. God progressively revealed his will and teachings to Abraham and his descendants (cf. Rom. 4:11–18; Gal. 3:29). The cataclysmic events leading to the exodus, and the revelation at Sinai, gave the nation of Israel its foundational spiritual identity. The religion of Moses, and later that of King David and the prophets, was far more dynamic than static. The understanding of Israel’s faith continued to be shaped and reshaped by social expansion, cultural interaction, and critical events such as the destruction of the temple, the exile, and restoration, all of which were recorded and interpreted in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Second Temple Judaism (c. 516 b.c.a.d. 70)

After the exile to Babylon in 586 b.c., Jews returned to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple. (Five centuries later, Herod the Great [who ruled 37–4 b.c.] lavishly expanded this second temple.) In the mid-fifth century b.c., Ezra, a priest and scribe, was a major force in reforming and reshaping the postexilic Jewish community. Ezra introduced the public reading and explanation of the Torah (that is, the Scriptures; cf.Nehemiah 8), which has remained a focal point of Jewish religious life to this day. The era between the Testaments was a very creative time for Judaism. During this period: the synagogue emerged; the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes all took shape (see Jewish Groups at the Time of the New Testament); and the oral law became increasingly important—especially for the Pharisees—in defining the boundaries of Jewish religious life. The rapid rise of Hellenism (the adoption of Greek culture) posed other challenges, some of which threatened the stability, purity, and piety of the Jewish community. In response to the surge of Hellenism, Jews in the third and second centuries b.c. produced a translation of their Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, the Septuagint Version (see The Septuagint). These and other factors contributed to the diversity and complexity of the Jewish movements at the time of Jesus. Christianity is an outgrowth of Second Temple Judaism, i.e., “pre-a.d. 70 Judaism.”

Judaism after a.d. 70 (c. a.d. 70–c. 1750)

After the destruction of the temple (a.d. 70), only two Jewish sects survived. One sect, the Pharisees, gave rise to the rabbis of subsequent centuries and eventually developed into modern Judaism. A second major sect that survived, the “Nazarenes,” were the Jewish followers of Jesus (cf. Acts 24:5). For the first few years after the death of Jesus, the earliest church was comprised mostly of Jewish believers and was viewed as a movement within Judaism (cf. “temple” in Acts 2:46). Beginning with Peter’s ministry to Cornelius (Acts 10) and Paul’s initial ministry to the Gentiles (Acts 9:1–43; 11:20–26; 13:1–52), the church expanded rapidly with the inclusion of many non-Jews, and thus the modern Christian church was firmly established (cf. Acts, esp. chs. 2; 15; Eph. 2:11–22).

One cannot draw a straight line from the Bible to every current Jewish belief and practice. After a.d. 70, Judaism continued to undergo significant reformulation and change. For example, the temple sacrifice of Passover lambs was discontinued, and the yearly entry of the high priest into the Most Holy Place was no more. The rabbis replaced these and other rituals of the temple with symbolic reminders, liturgical references, and spiritual exercises such as repentance, prayer, and good deeds. With the destruction of the central sanctuary in Jerusalem and the scattering of Jews from their land, the home became increasingly important as the fountainhead of Jewish religious life.

The most significant source in the development of postbiblical (rabbinic) Judaism is the Talmud (lit., “learning”). This massive compilation of rabbinic teachings and discussions accumulated its material in both oral and written form for several centuries, and attained its final written form about a.d. 500. Centuries later, medieval scholars such as Abraham Ibn Ezra, Maimonides, and Rashi, along with modern scholars, would further shape postbiblical Jewish thought. Contemporary Judaism thus rests on more than the Jewish Scriptures (what Christians call the Old Testament). A significant hallmark of contemporary Judaism is its recognition of an ongoing, living tradition: the commentary of the rabbis and sages, both past and present.

Contemporary Judaism (c. a.d. 1750–present)

Modern Judaism is a development of rabbinic Judaism. Like Second Temple Judaism, it is greatly diverse and sometimes difficult to define. Furthermore, there is often a difference between what a religion formally teaches and what an individual adherent may practice. Judaism today does not see itself as a dead, legalistic religion, whose mission is long over, now replaced by Christianity. Rather, Judaism considers itself a valid and dynamic faith whose followers are in covenant relationship with God. In the Jewish view, the claims of Christ are not valid, so the NT writings are not considered binding, authoritative sources, as are the Tanach (the Hebrew Bible), the Talmud, and other rabbinic writings. Therefore, Jewish interpreters of a passage in the Tanach will often differ from Christian interpreters, since Jews are not reading it through the inspired lens of the NT writers.

Judaism is a religion of laypeople. As such, it reflects the early concept of “freedom of the synagogue,” valuing individual expression and thriving on reasoning through dialogue and polarity of thought. With its community-centeredness, today’s synagogue maintains its historic threefold function as a house of study, prayer, and assembly. A congregational rabbi, though ordained by the laying on of hands, carries no vested authority over that congregation. The rabbi is primarily a scholar-teacher, a transmitter of Jewish heritage. The rabbi speaks to the people, not for the people.

Contemporary Branches or Movements

Today, Judaism is comprised of several branches or movements, each with certain distinguishing features. Orthodox Judaism is strongly committed to halakhah, the legal tradition of the Talmud and other law codes. In Orthodoxy, God is personal. The Torah (Scripture) and its mitswot, or “commandments,” are divinely revealed. The Torah is unchanging, a focal point for study and living. Orthodox Jews usually hold to a more literal interpretation of Scripture, a distinctive dress code, dietary laws, and strict Sabbath observance.

Reform Judaism, by contrast, does not view halakhah as binding. Reform Judaism seeks to adapt to modern times by encouraging innovation, diversity, and egalitarianism. In Reform Judaism, the basis for decision making is not a legal system but individual autonomy, informed by reason and experience. Consistent with that approach, Reform Judaism adopts a modern, higher-critical approach to the Hebrew Scriptures and mainly deems the Scriptures to be a product of human reflection, not a result of divine inspiration (see Liberal Protestantism, for a similar approach). Reform Jews tend to emphasize human progress, social justice, and the ethical teachings of the prophets more than specific doctrines or ritualistic observances.

Conservative Judaism, a third major branch, falls theologically between Orthodoxy and Reform. Conservative Jews accept tradition but with an openness to change. Halakhah is not “frozen” but is a dynamic entity, subject to modification or adjustment in order to make it more relevant in light of current cultural concerns. Consistent with this understanding, Conservative Jews understand the Scriptures to be the words of God but would also see God’s revelation as an ongoing process, not confined to the ancient Hebrew Scriptures alone. For Conservative Jews, the decision for change is not based on an individual’s right to choose but on the congregation or the community itself, informed by the consensus of current historical scholarship.

Two additional groups—though very dissimilar theologically—are the Hasidic Jews and the Messianic Jews. Hasidism is the mystical movement in Judaism. Hasidic Jews are very “Torah-centric,” and they are traditional in their lifestyle. God is to be celebrated, for he is present everywhere; he seeks loving, sincere hearts to let him in. Hasidic worship is characterized by dancing, spontaneity, joy, and great intensity. Folk tales abound in the Hasidic movement.

Messianic Jews are culturally Jewish people who believe Jesus is the Messiah. As a means of affirming their Jewish identity, many messianic believers attend messianic Christian congregations. Services are structured along the lines of synagogue worship, in music and liturgy. As a movement, messianic Judaism has struggled to find acceptance within the larger Jewish community. Opponents have often marginalized messianic Judaism both theologically and socially, claiming its adherents really belong to the Christian church, not the Jewish community. The theology of many messianic Jews is closely linked to that of the evangelical Christian community, from which it has generally found support.

Today, numerous Jews do not identify with a synagogue or live religiously observant lives. The religion of Judaism and being culturally Jewish are not synonymous. Jews who do not choose to practice Judaism often define themselves as culturally or ethnically Jewish; others variously identify themselves as humanistic, secular, or agnostic. For many Bible-centered Christians who are unaware of the great diversity in Judaism, such definitions appear incongruous or simply confusing. For these Jews, however, it may in part reflect the influence of modernity, the Age of Reason, and the decimating tragedy of the Holocaust upon their understanding of God and the Jewish experience.

Judaism and Evangelicalism

Evangelical Christianity and traditional Judaism share many biblically-based beliefs and much ethical common ground. Some of these concepts, however, may be nuanced differently. This common heritage is not surprising. Evangelicals and Jews share the Scriptures of the OT and are heirs of the same spiritual ancestry: early Israelite religion through Second Temple Judaism. Areas of basic agreement include belief in one eternal, omniscient God, the Creator of heaven and earth. Further, God revealed his Torah to Moses, and his word to the prophets. In the future, he will send the Messiah, will raise the dead, and will judge (Jews look forward to this as the Messiah’s first coming; Christians think of it as his second coming). Other jointly held beliefs include: the necessity to bear witness to one’s faith, the imperative to love one’s neighbor, and the recognition that all individuals are created in the image of God. Evangelicals and most Jews also agree on the sacredness of life, the integrity of the family, the pursuit of justice and peace, and the recognition that God is providentially and progressively guiding history toward a glorious climax.

While acknowledging that both faiths hold much in common, it must be recognized that major differences exist, especially in the area of theology. Jews do not consider the NT of equal authority to the Tanach. Jews are monotheists, but not Trinitarian monotheists. Jews do not embrace the concept of original sin inherited from Adam. Jews do not accept the divinity of Jesus, his messiahship, and his vicarious atonement. Jews do not teach salvation by faith, apart from works, through Christ alone.

Growing numbers of evangelicals see the importance of becoming involved in Jewish-Christian dialogue. Interfaith encounters give opportunities to build respectful friendships, thoughtful alliances, and a deeper understanding of the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. Dialogue provides an occasion to define oneself spiritually, and an avenue to eliminate misconceptions and stereotypes. Evangelicals have much to learn from Jews, and likewise Jews from evangelicals. While contemporary Judaism and evangelical Christianity are in the end two different faiths, authentic witness to one another—conducted with genuine humility and without theological compromise—allows for the establishment of trust and beneficial spiritual growth.

Evangelicals have been among the strongest non-Jewish supporters of the modern state of Israel. Many evangelicals base their solidarity and support on various prophetic passages which seem to imply a future restoration of Jews to their land prior to God’s final act of redemption at the end of the age; others appeal to certain biblical texts emphasizing God’s covenant faithfulness to his people and the promise of land (cf. Gen. 17:7–8; Jer. 31:35–36; Amos 9:14–15). However, some evangelicals prefer to support Israel’s right to a homeland more on historical, judicial, and moral grounds, rather than on specific scriptural or theological considerations. Still other evangelicals are reluctant to take a position of active support for Israel. Their reasons include: the church is a universal body and has permanently replaced Israel in God’s economy; the modern state of Israel is a secular nation and not biblical Israel; justice concerns on the part of Palestinian Arabs will be compromised if active support is given to Israel.

Eschatology should never annul justice. If evangelicals believe Israel has an unconditional “divine right” to the land, it would be unwise to uphold such a claim without first thinking through its implications for justice and compassion toward every inhabitant of the land. For evangelicals to express their “solidarity” with Israel, however, it need not imply evangelical support for any unjust treatment of Palestinian Arabs. God loves all people and he delights when the land is shared with a maximum of justice and a minimum of injustice. The preservation and return of the Jewish people to their ancestral homeland is, at the very least, evidence of God’s ongoing faithfulness and love for them (Rom. 11:1, 28–29). Whatever millennial views evangelicals hold, they must not absolutize the land, nor in any way idolize it. God alone is sovereign; he is Lord of life, Lord of history, and Lord of land.

The Bible and Other World Religions

Although the Bible nowhere discusses “other religions” as such, much in it is relevant to the subject. The OT includes repeated references to the deities and religious practices of the Egyptians, Canaanites, Philistines, and Babylonians. The NT world was populated with “many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’” (1 Cor. 8:5) and characterized by religious syncretism. But the religions of the ancient world have been replaced today by the so-called major world religions. This article will briefly examine Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Islam, noting similarities and differences between their teachings and Christian faith.


Hinduism is a family of diverse religious traditions that are the product of some 4,000 years of development in India. There is no single founder of Hinduism; it has no prescribed ecclesiastical structure; nor does it have a carefully defined creed. A Hindu may believe in one god, many gods, or no god. Some Hindus think of the religious “ultimate” as a personal being; others regard it as a nonpersonal reality. Any unity that exists within Hinduism is found in the common acceptance of the authority of the Vedas, composed between 1400 and 400 b.c., as sacred literature; belief in reincarnation of the soul in accordance with karma; and, at least until modern times, the importance of caste.

According to the doctrine of reincarnation, persons are continually being reborn as the atman (the soul) passes from one life to another. A person’s present life is one in an unimaginably long series of past and future lives. Rebirths are regulated by karma, a metaphysical principle that determines current and future states on the basis of past actions and dispositions. The repeated cycle of birth, death, and rebirth is samsara (lit., “wandering”), and the traditional soteriological goal of Hinduism is moksha, or liberation from rebirths through breaking the causal conditions of karma.

Traditionally there are three ways to attain moksha:

  1. The way of right action (karma marga) involves living in accordance with one’s duty as determined by gender, caste, and stage in life. Classical Hinduism divided society into four major castes, with hundreds of smaller subdivisions. At the top were the Brahmins (teachers, priests), followed by the Kshatriyas(rulers, warriors). Vaishyas (merchants, craftsmen) and Sudras (laborers, servants) formed the two lower castes. Menial laborers who perform “unclean” tasks were regarded as “outcastes” or “untouchables,” although they are now referred to as Dalits (“oppressed ones”).
  2. The second way to liberation is that of liberating knowledge (jnana marga). A central question in the later Vedas concerned the relation between Brahman (the supreme being; see below) and the human self, and in an influential text the self is identified with Brahman: “That thou art” (Chandogya Upanishad 6.9–13). What breaks the cycle of rebirths, then, is the existential realization of one’s essential identity with Brahman.
  3. The way of devotion (bhakti marga) is open to members of any caste and is the most popular way of seeking liberation. Bhakti means love, reverence, or adoration for a particular deity, and involves puja, or ritual worship of deities such as Vishnu, Shiva, or Krishna.

Most Hindus accept the idea of Brahman as the supreme being and sustaining power of the cosmos. But there is disagreement over the nature of Brahman and its relation to the human person. An early text declares, “He is one, [though] wise men call Him by many names” (Rigveda I.164.46). The idea that the religious ultimate can be understood and experienced in many different ways is central to Hinduism.

Thus, Hinduism includes both monistic and theistic traditions. The Advaita Vedanta (non-dualism) tradition of Shankara (d. a.d. 820), e.g., claims that the sole reality is Nirguna Brahman, a nonpersonal reality utterly beyond human concepts and categories. The world of ordinary experience is maya(appearance), a lower level of reality, and moksha comes through an existential awareness of one’s essential identity with Brahman.

More theistic forms of Hinduism regard Brahman (or Shiva or Vishnu) as a personal deity and insist that liberation comes not through knowledge alone but through devotion to the deity. The Vishisht Advaita (qualified non-dualism) of Ramanuja (d. a.d. 1137) teaches that there is only one reality, Saguna Brahman, or Brahman with personal attributes. Brahman is thus a personal being. The world is real and is the “body” of Brahman.

Theistic Hinduism teaches that Vishnu has taken on human or animal form as ten avatars (“descents” or “manifestations”), most famously as Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. Other avatars include nonhuman appearances as a fish, a tortoise, a boar, and a man-lion.


The founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama (traditionally, 563–483 b.c.; also known as “the Buddha”), was born into a wealthy chieftain’s family in northern India. Determined to find the cause of suffering and pain, he rejected his luxurious lifestyle and became a wandering ascetic. After much meditation and ascetic discipline, Gautama experienced “enlightenment,” and for the next 40 years he traveled throughout India preaching the dharma (truth) and attracting a large following.

The heart of the teaching of the Buddha (lit., “awakened one”) is the Four Noble Truths. The First Truth states that all existence is characterized by dukkha (“suffering,” “pain,” or “discontent”). The Second Truth holds that the root cause of suffering is tanha (lit., “thirst” but often translated “desire”). It is not simply wrong desires but desire itself that results in suffering. The Third Truth says that when desire ceases, then suffering ceases as well. The Fourth Truth introduces the Noble Eightfold Path, which sets out ideals in moral self-discipline, meditation, and wisdom that provide the way to eliminate desire and suffering.

The Buddha held that everything that exists is characterized by anitya, or impermanence, and is continually coming into being and passing out of being as a result of certain interrelated causal conditions. A 12-link chain of causation (the “wheel of life”) explains how these causal conditions produce people’s mistaken perceptions of enduring realities.

The Buddha rejected contemporary Hindu views about the reality of an enduring self (atman), an indestructible soul that passes from one life to another. He claimed that belief in a substantial self is mistaken and results in the grasping or desire that produces suffering. What is normally thought of as a person is merely the ever-changing combination of psychophysical forces—the “Five Aggregates” of matter, sensations, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. At death, what passes from this life to the next is not a soul but simply the cumulative karmic effects of actions, which then produce in the next life the (mistaken) perception of an enduring person.

Only nirvana is permanent, unconditioned, and ultimately real. Nirvana is not heaven. Rather, it is a state that is realized when the fires of desire and the conditions producing rebirth are eliminated. Since it is the absence of suffering in any form, it is a state of utter bliss.

Buddhism today is divided into two major groups. Theravada Buddhism, found in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, accepts only the writings of the Pali canon as authoritative, emphasizes the Four Noble Truths in attaining nirvana, and generally avoids metaphysical speculation. Early Buddhists rejected Hindu belief in Brahman, and this atheism is retained in Theravada. Moreover, each person is said to be responsible for attaining his or her own enlightenment (“self-effort”), which is restricted to the few who can master the required disciplines.

Mahayana Buddhism is today found in China, Korea, Vietnam, Japan, and the West and includes a wide variety of schools. It has developed its own sacred texts and metaphysical doctrines. The traditional understanding of nirvana as release from the cycle of rebirths was largely replaced by Mahayana in China, with an emphasis on attaining enlightenment in this life. Whereas Theravada Buddhism emphasized self-effort in attaining nirvana, Mahayana opened the way to the masses by acknowledging a vast multitude of spiritual beings, such as the bodhisattvas, who assist in the quest for enlightenment. Moreover, the Pure Land schools, the most popular form of Buddhism in Japan today, teach that rebirth in the Pure Land (a kind of Buddhist paradise) is possible, not by one’s own efforts but solely by relying on the compassion, merit, and “other power” of the Amida Buddha.

Whereas Theravada Buddhism regards Gautama largely as an extraordinary human being who attained enlightenment, Mahayana developed the doctrine of the Three Bodies of the Buddha (Trikaya). The ultimate reality is the Dharmakaya, or the Law Body, an all-inclusive Buddha essence sometimes identified with the Void or Emptiness (sunyata). The many enlightened buddhas and bodhisattvasconstitute the Sambhogakaya, or Body of Bliss. The Nirmanakaya, or Transformation Body, refers to the man Gautama as a specific historical manifestation of the universal Buddha nature.


Confucianism is a system of social, ethical, and religious teachings derived from Confucius. It has been influential in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese cultures. Confucius (552–479 b.c.) was born into a poor but respected family in northwestern China. He became educated in the ancient Chinese classical writings and offered instruction in history, poetry, government, music, and moral conduct. Confucius was given various ministerial positions in the government of the Duke of Lu, eventually becoming prime minister. Tradition maintains that his honesty and eagerness to implement changes in government led to his dismissal. After traveling widely, seeking in vain a “wise ruler” who would implement his ideas, Confucius returned to his native area and continued teaching and editing the classics. After his death his disciples compiled the Lun Yu or Analects, a collection of Confucius’s sayings that form the basic understanding of his teachings. The Analects, along with the Da Xue (Great Learning), Zhong Yong (Doctrine of the Mean), and Meng Tzu (Mencius) constitute the authoritative Four Books of Confucianism. Mencius (372–289 b.c.) was the most influential Confucian thinker after Confucius.

Sixth-century b.c. China was undergoing severe social and political pressures that eventually resulted in civil war. Confucius called for a return to the practice of ethical and social principles of an earlier era in order to produce order and harmony within the family, society, and the nation at large. During the Han Dynasty (206 b.c.a.d. 220) Confucianism became the established social and religious philosophy of the state.

Order within the family, society, and nation is patterned after the way of Heaven (Tian). Confucius’s views on God/gods are unclear, but he did speak often of Heaven. Although Heaven seems to be purposive in directing cosmic affairs, it is perhaps not so much a personal being as a cosmic principle or the ground of the moral order. The universe has a moral character, so that when one practices the moral law in social relationships, one reflects the moral will of Heaven.

Li (“propriety”), a central concept in Confucian thought, refers to a proper and appropriate way of being and doing things, including the proper way of conducting rites and ceremonies, proper interpersonal relationships, and the ideal standards of social and religious conduct. The ideal of li is reflected socially in the Five Relationships: father/son; elder brother/younger brother; husband/wife; elder/younger; ruler/subject. Each relationship is hierarchical, with distinctive roles for both superiors and inferiors. Central to harmonious family relationships is filial piety (xiao), or respect and reverence for one’s parents and ancestors. Filial piety includes participating in proper rites for honoring one’s parents when they are dead. While the practice of offering sacrifices to one’s ancestors predates Confucius, he encouraged it as a way of solidifying the family and honoring one’s elders.

Confucius sought the cultivation of the “superior man” (jun-zi), who exemplifies moral virtues such asren (“humaneness,” “benevolence,” or “love”). Ren is what makes humans uniquely human. On one occasion Confucius said that ren means “to love men” (Analects 12:22). On another he described ren by giving his statement of the Golden Rule: “Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire” (Analects 12:2; cf. 15:24). Although Confucius was ambivalent on whether human nature is inherently good or evil, he taught the perfectibility of humankind. Mencius later taught that human nature is inherently good and is corrupted by external factors, and this view eventually became Confucian orthodoxy.

Confucius never regarded himself as anything other than a man. Nevertheless, in time a state religious cult of devotion to Confucius developed, so that by the seventh century a.d. the Tang emperor mandated that every prefecture in China have a state temple to Confucius in which sacrifices to him were offered. The state cult of Confucius languished in the early twentieth century with the demise of the emperor system.


Islam, the second largest religion in the world after Christianity, is found not only in the Middle East but throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America. (See also The Bible and Islam.) Although historically discussion of Islam begins with Muhammad (c. a.d. 570–632), Muslims insist that Islam is God’s eternal religion for all humankind and that Muhammad was simply the last and greatest in a long line of prophets. Born in Mecca, an important trading center in the Arabian peninsula, Muhammad was an orphan by age six and was reared by his grandfather and uncle. At age 25 Muhammad married a wealthy widow named Khadija, and he became engaged in various business ventures.

The Arabs of Mecca were largely animists and polytheists, although there were Jewish and Christian influences in the area. Living in Mecca, Muhammad was troubled by the polytheism and superstition all around him. Around the year 610 he began to have experiences that he took to be revelations from Allah, the one true God. Convinced that he had been called to be a “Messenger of God,” Muhammad continued to receive revelations supposedly dictated by the angel Gabriel over a 20-year period. The revelations were memorized by Muhammad’s followers and were eventually written and codified in the Qur’an, which is understood to be the Word of God. Muhammad regarded himself as being in continuity with prophets of the OT and Jesus. He claimed to be restoring the original revelation of God that Jews and Christians had corrupted.

But Muhammad met stiff resistance to his message in Mecca, and in 622 he and his followers moved to Medina (in western Saudi Arabia). Under Muhammad’s leadership, Medina was transformed into an Islamic theocracy, and the social and religious patterns of Medina are regarded as an ideal for Islamic societies. In 630 Muhammad returned to Mecca, captured it, and began transforming the city. Then suddenly, in 632, at about 62 years of age, Muhammad died.

Questions about the legitimate successors to Muhammad resulted in the two major divisions within Islam. Sunni Islam, comprising roughly 85 percent of Muslims today, recognized caliphs (Islamic leaders) not necessarily related to Muhammad as his legitimate successors. Shi’a Islam, comprising 10 to 15 percent of Muslims, insisted that legitimate successors must descend directly from Muhammad and that Ali (Muhammad’s son-in-law, who was martyred) and his sons were the rightful heirs to leadership.

Both branches of Islam embrace a strict monotheism. Islam calls for acknowledgment of the incomparable greatness of Allah and submission to his sovereign will in all of life. Allah is the eternal creator who sovereignly rules over nature and the affairs of humankind.

The religious, intellectual, and social life of devout Muslims is structured around the “Five Pillars”: (1) the Shahada, or “witness” of the basic creed of Islam (“I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is the prophet of Allah”); (2) prayer; (3) fasting; (4) almsgiving; and (5) the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Islam teaches that the present world will one day be destroyed by Allah and that all humankind, past and present, will then be raised to face divine judgment. Human beings have a weakness of will and a tendency toward sin. Although humans are tempted by Iblis (the devil), it is within their power to resist and remain faithful to the will of Allah. In the judgment, each person’s deeds will be impartially weighed in the balance. Salvation is strictly on the basis of submission to Allah and faithful adherence to the teachings of Islam. Some will be admitted to Paradise, others consigned to Hell.

Jesus is mentioned frequently in the Qur’an. He is called the Messiah, Son of Mary, Messenger, Prophet, Servant, Word, and a Spirit from God. Jesus is portrayed as a great miracle worker and one of the greatest of the prophets. The virgin conception of Jesus is affirmed in the Qur’an.

But the Qur’an omits Jesus’ teachings as contained in the Gospels and provides no narrative description of his ministry. The Qur’an depicts Jesus as explicitly disclaiming deity (5:109–119) and includes numerous denunciations of what seem to have been views that were common in Muhammad’s lifetime regarding the Christian doctrines of the incarnation and the Trinity (cf. 4:171; 5:17; 9:30–31). Although a great prophet of God, Jesus is said to have been in no sense divine. Particularly offensive is the Christian title “Son of God,” which is understood by Muslims as referring to physical generation. “Never has Allah begotten a son, nor is there any other god besides Him” (23:93). Muhammad seems to have thought of the Trinity as consisting of the Father, the Virgin Mary, and their child, Jesus.

Traditionally, most Muslims have believed that Jesus was not crucified. Surah 4:155–159 denies that Jesus was in fact killed on the cross. A widely accepted interpretation of this text has been that the Jews tried to kill Jesus but were unable to do so, and that God rescued him and carried him away to a safe place in the heavens. Islam denies the need for a Savior and the substitutionary atonement. The Qur’an states that “no soul shall bear another’s burden and that each man shall be judged by his own labors” (53:38). Salvation is by works. “On that day no soul shall suffer the least injustice. You shall be rewarded according only to your deeds” (36:54).

Biblical Themes and Other Religions

Even this cursory survey indicates that there are some similarities between Christian faith and other religions. Islam and Christianity, e.g., both believe in an eternal Creator God and a judgment to come after death. Both Jesus and Confucius taught a version of the Golden Rule, and both Christianity and Confucianism teach respect for one’s parents. Such similarities are not surprising and can be understood in light of the biblical teaching that all people, including adherents of other religions, have been created by God in his image (Gen. 1:26–27; 5:1–2) and that God has revealed himself in a general manner to all peoples through the created order (Ps. 19:1–4; Acts 14:15–17; 17:22–31; Rom. 1:18–32; 2:14–15).

But the differences between Christian faith and other religions are greater and more significant than any similarities.

  1. God. The Bible teaches that there is one eternal Creator God who has created all else that exists (Genesis 1–2). Hinduism has theistic traditions, but it also includes polytheistic, monistic, and atheistic traditions. Confucianism’s views on the religious ultimate are unclear, and Buddhism explicitly denies the existence of an eternal Creator.

  2. Death. Hinduism and Buddhism both accept the idea of multiple rebirths regulated by karma. The Bible, by contrast, teaches that there is only one life, after which all persons face judgment before God (Heb. 9:27; Rev. 20:11–15).

  3. Sin. Many religions, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism, identify the root problem afflicting humankind as ignorance about the true nature of reality. But the Bible teaches that the problem is not ignorance but sin, that is, deliberate rejection of God and his ways (Isa. 59:2; Rom. 3:9–26). Moreover, contrary to Confucianism, the Bible teaches that after the fall of Adam and Eve all humankind has been corrupted by sin infecting their moral nature, so that people are not inherently good but sinful (Genesis 3; Rom. 3:9–20; 5:12–14).

  4. Soul. Buddhism teaches that there is no enduring, substantial soul that passes from one life to another. But the Bible teaches that there is an immaterial dimension of the person, created by God, which continues to exist after death (Matt. 10:28; Rev. 6:9; 20:4).

  5. Salvation. Although some forms of bhakti Hinduism and Pure Land Buddhism do teach that salvation cannot be attained through one’s own efforts but rather is a gift from another being, Islam, along with most other religious traditions, teaches that salvation is based on one’s own deeds. But the Bible clearly states that salvation is not something that human beings can earn through their own efforts; it is the gift of God’s grace, which is to be accepted by faith (Rom. 3:20, 28; Eph. 2:8–9).

  6. Christ’s incarnation. The Bible teaches that the eternal Creator is a tripersonal Being, and that the second person of this Trinity, while remaining fully God, became a man (John 1:1–14; Rom. 1:3–4; Phil. 2:7–8; Col. 2:9). In a unique onetime event, the Son of God became incarnate as the historical person Jesus of Nazareth. The Hindu notion of avatar, by contrast, concerns multiple manifestations of Vishnu as both humans and animals, and involves legendary figures such as Krishna, not actual historical persons. In fact, no other world religions teach that the eternal Son of God became a true man.

  7. Christ’s preeminence. Jesus is not just another great religious teacher. The truth of Jesus’ teachings cannot be separated from its grounding in the person of Christ as the incarnate Word of God, the eternal, omnipotent Son of God who shares fully in all the attributes of God. It is because of who he is and what he has done on the cross that Jesus is himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), the only Savior for all humankind (Acts 4:12).

  8. Christ’s substitution. The Bible teaches that salvation is based on the sinless life (Heb. 4:15) and the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on the cross, as he took upon himself the punishment for the sins of the world (Rom. 3:25–26; 1 Pet. 3:18; 1 John 2:2). There is nothing like this teaching in Hinduism, Buddhism, or Confucianism, and it is explicitly denied in Islam.

  9. Christ’s resurrection. The Buddha, Confucius, Muhammad, and Jesus all died, but there is no reliable historical record of any—apart from Jesus—being resurrected after death (1 Cor. 15:1–8). It is because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ that we, too, can have victory over sin and death and anticipate our own resurrection to eternal life with God (Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor. 15:20–22, 54–58).

The Bible and Islam

The Revelations of the Qur’an

There is no more widely recognized utterance of the Islamic faith than the declaration known as theshahadah: “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah.” Islam is about Allah and his prophet, Muhammad. The Qur’an teaches that Muhammad was an ordinary man (43:31). Yet, according to Muslims, Allah sovereignly chose Muhammad to receive a series of revelations through the intermediary presence of the angel Gabriel. While Muhammad was praying and fasting in the hills outside of Mecca in a.d. 610, Gabriel appeared to him. Many Muslims believe the first revelation to Muhammad was the command to “Recite in the Name of Thy Lord” (96:1). These revelations continued until Muhammad’s death in a.d. 632 (17:82). According to Islamic traditions, approximately 20 years after Muhammad’s death his “recitations” were written down and codified into a collection of 114 chapters (called surahs) known as the Qur’an. The word “Qur’an” is Arabic for “recitation.” The Qur’an, containing 6,346 verses (known as aya), is approximately the same size as the NT. The first chapter of the Qur’an is known as “The Opening” and is widely regarded as the greatest summary of the Islamic message. The remaining chapters are arranged by length from the longest to the shortest.

The Qur’an and the OT

The emergence of Islam and the Qur’an can be properly understood only within the larger context of the Bible and the monotheism of Islam’s two main predecessors, Judaism and Christianity. The dozens of superficial similarities between the Qur’an and the Bible are striking. For example, in the Qur’an, Allah creates the earth in six days (25:59), culminating in the creation of the first man, Adam. Adam and his wife eat of the forbidden fruit and become aware of their nakedness (20:115–122). Allah sends Moses to confront Pharaoh, inflict the plagues on Egypt, and lead the Israelites out of Egypt through the parting of the Red Sea (26:9–75). Allah gives Moses the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets, which are subsequently broken (7:143–150). Throughout the Qur’an several of the Ten Commandments are repeated, including the commands to “serve no other gods” (24:55), refrain from making idols (4:116), not covet (4:32), not murder (6:151), and honor one’s father and mother (6:151). In the Qur’an one can read about such familiar OT stories as Noah building the ark and preaching judgment to his generation (11:25–49; 23:23–32); Joseph being betrayed by his brothers, sold to a caravan of travelers, and brought to Egypt (12:7–21); King David’s adultery with Bathsheba (28:21–25); the queen of Sheba’s visit to Solomon (27:22–44); and Jonah being swallowed by the great fish (37:139–148). There are times, however, when the Qur’anic version has surprising departures, historically and theologically, from the biblical account. For example, Abraham is asked to sacrifice Ishmael rather than Isaac (cf. 37:100–111), and Jesus Christ is not accorded his full status.

The Qur’an and Christian Theology

Islamic View of God and the Trinity

Islam teaches a doctrine of absolute monotheism known as tawhid. Absolute monotheism is distinct from the Trinitarian monotheism of Christianity in that the Qur’an permits no distinctions within God. Christianity teaches that there is one God, known in three eternal persons. While Muslims welcome the Christian affirmation of one God, they maintain that belief in the three persons compromises the unity of God and makes Christianity functionally tritheistic (i.e., believing in three gods; see 4:171).

Islamic View of Jesus Christ

The Qur’an has dozens of references to Jesus (Isa in Arabic), found in 15 different surahs of the Qur’an. Jesus is often called ibn Maryam (“son of Mary”), a phrase that appears only once in the NT (Mark 6:3). The Qur’an also refers to him as “servant of Allah” (19:30), “messiah” (5:75), and “messenger/prophet” (61:6). The Qur’an even gives Jesus several honorific titles, including a “Word from Him” (3:45; 4:171), a “Spirit from God” (4:171), and a “Sign for all peoples” (19:21; 21:91).

Several of these titles appear consistent with Christian claims about Jesus. Indeed, the Qur’an often speaks positively about him: Jesus was born without sin to the Virgin Mary (3:47; 19:19, 20; 21:91; 66:12) and was a miracle worker (2:253; 3:49; 5:110; 43:63; 61:6) whose ministry was foretold by John the Baptist (3:39). Yet, several surahs denounce any view of Christ that would elevate him beyond the status of a human prophet. Indeed, some passages in the Qur’an seem to deliberately contradict the biblical proclamation about Jesus Christ. For example, “Those who say: ‘The Lord of Mercy has begotten a son,’ preach a monstrous falsehood, at which the very heavens might crack, the earth break asunder, and the mountains crumble to dust … that they should ascribe a son to the Merciful, when it does not become Him to beget one!” (19:88–91). In Surah 61, Jesus is pictured as a prophet heralding the way for the coming of Muhammad (61:6). Surah 4 teaches that Jesus was not crucified on the cross (4:155–159). Thus, while respecting Jesus as a prophet of God, the Qur’an does not affirm the deity of Jesus Christ or his death as a substitute payment for sins.

Islamic View of Sin and Humanity

Traditional Islamic teaching does not accept that humans were created in the image of God. Islam has no doctrine of a sin nature and therefore does not believe that humanity is either depraved or fallen. Instead, men and women have the innate capacity to believe and submit to the Islamic revelation. Islam classifies the entire human race into four categories. The first is jahiliyyah, meaning those in a “state of ignorance” (5:50) who do not have a monotheistic revelation and have not yet heard Muhammad’s message. The second are the ahl al-kitab, or “People of the Book.” These are monotheistic people who have not received the Qur’an but who have a book of revelation, such as Christians and Jews (see, e.g., 2:105; 3:64–199; 4:123; 5:15; 29:46; 33:26; 57:29; 59:11; 98:1–6). The third category is Muslim, an Arabic word meaning “those who submit”; it refers to monotheists who have submitted to Allah and regard the Qur’an as Allah’s greatest (some say, eternal) revelation and Muhammad as the final “seal” of the prophets (33:40). The fourth category refers to those peoples who have heard the message of Islam but rejected it, the kafir (meaning “unbeliever” or “infidel”).

Islamic View of Other Religions

Muslims universally affirm that Islam is the highest and only non-corrupted religion. Christianity and Judaism are accorded some respect as monotheistic religions flowing from the Abrahamic tradition (29:46). All other religions are generally regarded as expressions of human ignorance and an unwillingness to submit to Allah.

Islamic View of Salvation

Since Muslims do not accept the doctrine of the fall or of a subsequent sin nature, there is no need of redemption. Islamic “salvation” is understood almost wholly as future deliverance from final judgment. Many Muslims maintain that whoever believes in the oneness of God (tawhid) and the prophethood of Muhammad will be saved from the fire of judgment. Other Muslims insist on submission to Allah through adherence to the five pillars of Islam: confession of faith (shahadah), daily ritual prayer (salat), the giving of alms (zakat), fasting during Ramadan (sawm), and a pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj). Based on revered Islamic traditions known as Hadith, some Muslims believe that Allah grants Muhammad the honor of interceding for the entire Islamic community at the final judgment, allowing all Muslims to be saved.

Islamic View of the Bible

Muslims universally regard the Bible as a corrupted text. The doctrine of corruption (tahrif) asserts that the transmission of Jewish and Christian texts was unreliable (5:13–14), or Christians and Jews willfully altered the biblical texts because of enmity or jealously (2:109) (see the articles on The Reliability of the Old Testament Manuscripts; and The Reliability of the New Testament Manuscripts). On the other hand, the Qur’an does affirm Allah’s sending revelation in the Torah and the Gospels (Injil) (5:46, 67, 69, 71). Furthermore, the Qur’an says that Jesus’ words should be “believed” (4:171; 5:78), and even commands the Muslims to listen to those who had the Torah/Injil before the Qur’an, calling it a “Truth come to thee from Thy Lord” (10:94).

Islamic Attitudes toward the Use of Violence

There is no single Islamic attitude toward the use of violence, and scholars of Islam are divided over the extent to which the Qur’an permits or even advocates violence against unbelievers. The Qur’an asserts that there should be “no compulsion in religion” (2:256) and peacefully calls or invites (dawah) people to follow Islam (16:125). The Qur’an also permits the use of violence in certain circumstances (8:38, 39; 47:4), and two texts in particular have sometimes been cited as justification for violence against unbelievers (9:5, 29). Historically, the Islamic caliphate extended protected status (dhimmi) to other monotheistic religions and prohibited the exercise of violence against them as long as a special tax, known as jizyah, was paid.

Islam generally embraces the honor of martyrdom and affirms that integral to Islamic faithfulness is a struggle (jihad) against idolatry and unbelief. Some Muslims emphasize the “higher jihad,” which is nonviolent and focuses on the internal struggle within the individual to live in purity. However, many Muslims accept the use of violence in certain instances, especially against kafirs (or unbelievers). In the last few centuries more radical groups, such as the Wahabis and Salafis, have accepted violence even against other confessing Muslims who behaved in ways they deemed idolatrous. Most recently, the growth of extremist movements such as Islamism, the writings of intellectuals such as Sayyid Qutb (1906–1966), and the emergence of terrorist networks such as al-Qaeda (lit., “the base”) have served to make the use of violence more widely acceptable.

Islamic Attitudes toward Civil Government

Historically, Islam has envisioned the unity of civil and religious life under the all-encompassing guidance of Islamic law, known as Sharia. Until modern times, the only acceptable form of Islamic government has been the caliphate, which unites civil and religious authority under the rule of a caliph. Sunnis and Shiites differ as to how this caliph is chosen. (For the distinction between Sunnis and Shiites, see the section on Islam in The Bible and Other World Religions.) Over the centuries, Muslims have lived under a wide range of caliphates including the Rightly Guided Caliphs (7th century), the Umayyads (7th and 8th centuries), the Abbasids (8th to 13th centuries), and the Ottomans (15th to 20th centuries). In 1924 Kemal Ataturk, the president of Turkey, constitutionally abolished the caliphate. Several contemporary Islamic movements have encouraged political pluralism and even acceptance of religious diversity. However, since the 1970s more Islamist movements have emphasized the need to assert Islamic hegemony and to resist the secularization of Islamic governments.


The Bible in Christianity

Roman Catholicism

Roman Catholicism and Protestantism have many beliefs in common, both adhering to the truths expressed in the Apostles’ Creed and the doctrines crystallized and codified at Nicea and Chalcedon (regarding the Trinity and Christology, respectively). However, they have serious differences in their understanding of doctrines such as Scripture, salvation, purgatory, Mary, and the church.

The Canon of Scripture

Though all the books of the Protestant Bible are found in the Catholic Bible, the Catholic Bible contains additional books (e.g., Tobit, Judith) not found in the Protestant Bible, and additional sections in certain books (e.g., Esther, Daniel) that it otherwise shares in common with the Protestant Bible. These additional books and sections—called the Apocrypha—are all related to the OT. (See The Apocrypha.) The Catholic Bible’s NT and that of the Protestant Bible are identical in all aspects.

How did this difference come about? It should be recalled that what Christians now call the “Old Testament” was once the entire Bible of the Jews and was originally written in Hebrew. Beginning in the third century b.c., a Greek translation of this Hebrew Bible was undertaken. Called the Septuagint (Gk. “seventy”; often abbreviated lxx; see The Septuagint), it is more extensive than Hebrew Scripture, and its additions are called the apocryphal (or hidden) writings, or the Apocrypha for short. Beginning in the second century a.d., a Latin translation of the entire Bible was undertaken. The version of the OT that was originally translated was the Septuagint, not the Hebrew Bible. As the church in the West began to adopt Latin as its primary language, the Latin translation including the Apocrypha became its Bible.

In a.d. 382 Jerome embarked on a new Latin translation of Scripture, called the Vulgate. As he commenced his work on the OT, he translated from the Hebrew Bible. He considered only the writings in the Hebrew Bible to be authoritative Scripture, and he knew that the Apocrypha never had a place in the Hebrew Bible. However, Augustine urged Jerome to include translations of the apocryphal writings. As the Vulgate became the church’s new Bible, the apocryphal writings were increasingly regarded as part of canonical Scripture. Several church councils around the beginning of the fifth century a.d.ratified the Latin Vulgate. Thus, the OT with the Apocrypha (together with the NT) would be the Bible of the church. This view would go without significant challenge until the Reformation.

In the sixteenth century, one of the major disagreements between the Roman Catholic Church and the new Protestant movement was the canon of Scripture. (See The Canon of the Old Testament.) Protestants insisted that the church’s OT should match the shorter Hebrew Bible, not the Septuagint with its additional apocryphal writings. They argued that the Jewish Bible, which did not include those writings, had been the Scripture used by Jesus and the disciples; therefore, it must be considered the basis for the church’s Bible. Also, some of the apocryphal writings included incorrect historical or chronological information, and had been considered unsound by the early church. Thus, the Reformers dismissed the Apocrypha from the canonical OT.

Because of this development, the Protestant Bible was different from the Roman Catholic Bible. The effects of this were far-reaching, as the Protestant churches appealed to canonical Scripture alone as the ultimate, divine authority to establish their beliefs and practices. Because the Apocrypha was considered noncanonical, it could not be used as the basis for church doctrine. This meant, e.g., that belief in purgatory and the practice of praying for the dead (which were supported by 2 Maccabees 12, a passage in the Apocrypha) were without biblical support and were therefore discontinued by Protestant churches.

In summary, the Roman Catholic Bible is different from the Protestant Bible because of the presence of the Apocrypha in the Catholic OT. This divergence was the result of significant disputes about the proper source for the Bible’s translation, the range of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of Scripture, and the limits of the Word of God as used by Jesus and his disciples. This continues to be a major difference between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.

The Interpretation of Scripture

Another important matter separating Roman Catholics and Protestants is over the interpretation of the Bible. The Roman Catholic Church insists that the prerogative to determine the proper and authoritative interpretation of Scripture belongs solely to its magisterium, or teaching office (consisting of the pope and bishops). This was a decision that the Council of Trent made (in 1546) in response to the growing Protestant movement. Trent decreed “that no one relying on his own judgment shall, in matters of faith and morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, distorting the Holy Scriptures in accordance with his own conceptions, presume to interpret them contrary to that sense which holy mother Church, to whom it belongs to judge of their true sense and interpretation, has held and holds.” Thus, the Roman Catholic Church claims that it possesses the sole right to give the correct interpretation of Scripture.

Protestant churches do not have such an authoritative teaching office to decide correct and authoritative interpretations. Rather, they urge all believers to engage in careful and responsible interpretation of the Bible by observing sound interpretative principles, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and with the help of divinely ordained and gifted elders (1 Tim. 3:2; 5:17; Titus 1:9) or pastor-teachers (Eph. 4:11), also taking account of the way other believers have interpreted texts, especially in published commentaries that have interacted with the history of prior interpretation. Protestantism rejects the Roman Catholic magisterium and insists on personal Bible study because of its conviction that Scripture is clear and is necessary for all Christians, who are also made competent by the Holy Spirit for such an interpretative task. In an encouraging development since Vatican Council II (1962–1965), more and more Roman Catholics are becoming involved in Bible study and familiarizing themselves with Scripture.

The Sufficiency and Authority of Scripture

Another important difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants concerns the sufficiency and authority of Scripture. From its beginning, the early church viewed Scripture as the sole and sufficient source of authoritative revelation from God. This meant that all Christians were to give their attention to the Bible, finding in it the very words of God that are to be believed and obeyed, just as God himself is to be believed and obeyed. Furthermore, it meant that God does not require or prohibit anything of Christians that is not contained in Scripture either explicitly or by implication.

But a change took place in the latter part of the Middle Ages. As the Catholic Church permitted other sources to lay claim to the title of authoritative truth, a multiple-source notion of divine revelation arose. This consisted of written Scripture, church tradition, and the magisterium (see above). This meant that Scripture alone is not sufficient for salvation and becoming Christlike. And Scripture is not the only authority for the church. It must be supplemented by tradition—teachings that Christ passed down orally to the apostles, and from them to their successors, the bishops, in the Catholic Church—and by the Church’s teaching office. Against this disturbing trend the Protestant motto sola Scriptura—Scripture alone!—was sounded. More than a motto, however, this “formal principle of Protestantism” became a decisive point of division between Protestantism and Catholicism. It meant that Scripture alone is absolutely authoritative for doctrine and practice, and following Scripture alone is sufficient to please God in all things.

The Doctrine of Salvation

Many more differences arise because of these foundational issues of the canon of Scripture, proper biblical interpretation, and the sufficiency and authority of the Bible. Another key area, the Protestant doctrine of salvation, also differs from its Catholic counterpart. According to the Protestant understanding of Romans 3:21–4:8 and 5:15–19, justification is the act of God by which he declares a sinful person to be no longer under judgment for his or her guilt, but forgiven and righteous instead, because the sin-bearing righteousness of Christ is accredited to the person (see also 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9). This declarative act is not based on any inherent goodness or any personally achieved righteousness of the sinful person, and it does not render that person morally transformed (other divine acts achieve this). Rather, justification is grounded solely on the grace of God as expressed by the atoning death of Christ. Furthermore, this gracious provision can be appropriated only by faith; salvation cannot be merited by human effort in whole or even in part through moral conduct or religious activity (Eph. 2:8–9).

The Roman Catholic understanding incorrectly extends justification to include other acts of God in salvation: “Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man” (Council of Trent, Decree on Justification 6). Accordingly, justification remains a work in process which increases or decreases in relation to the degree of inward renewal of the sinful person, rendering any assurance of salvation impossible in this life. In addition, justification is said to be conferred in (infant) baptism and continued and increased through the other Catholic sacraments. Thus, a cooperative effort between God’s grace and human effort is established so that a sinful person not only expresses faith in Christ’s atoning death but also, moved by love and the Holy Spirit, merits eternal life through participation in the church and good deeds. Protestants have considered this a very serious difference, since this faith-plus-human-effort view of justification is so different from the true gospel message of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone (Rom. 4:4–5, 16; 5:1; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8–9).

The Doctrine of Eschatology

This divergence in the doctrine of salvation leads to a difference in eschatology, or personal future hope. For Protestants, only two eternal destinies await human beings: eternal life for all who are justified by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone (John 3:16; Rom. 8:1, 33–34), or eternal condemnation for all who reject this salvation (John 3:18; 2 Thess. 1:5–10). Although Roman Catholics agree with Protestants concerning these two eternal destinies, they add a third destiny: temporal punishment in purgatory for all who are on the way to final bliss. “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1030). Purgatory is this temporal punishment as a means of final purification.

Protestants deny this doctrine. It is based on an apocryphal writing (2 Macc. 12:45, which is not canonical Scripture) and on misinterpreted biblical passages (Matt. 12:31; 1 Cor. 3:15). Furthermore, the doctrine is the logical outgrowth of the Roman Catholic misunderstanding of salvation. Purgatory makes sense with a view of justification that combines a declarative act of forgiveness with inward renovation, for if this latter renewal process is not sufficiently advanced, such a sinful person will need further purification in purgatory.

However, in the Protestant view, through justification God declares sinful persons to not be penally liable, now or ever, but righteous. He does so by the forgiveness of their sins through the cross and by the imputing of Christ’s righteousness to them in and through their union with him. Therefore there can be no purging punishment in purgatory after death due to being imperfectly purified in this life. At death, with their sanctifying process completed in that moment, Christians go to be with Christ in endless joy. The Protestant doctrine of justification leaves no room for a doctrine of purgatory, because it has no need for it.

The Role of Mary

Whereas Protestantism rivets attention on Jesus Christ, Roman Catholicism adds to this singular focus some attention to Mary, his mother. In terms of her personal history, Catholics believe in Mary’s immaculate conception (she was “preserved from all stain of original sin” from the moment of her conception; Ineffabilis Deus), her complete sinlessness, her perpetual virginity, and her bodily assumption to heaven immediately after death (she “was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory”;Munificentissimus Deus).

Because of this personal history and her inseparable union with her Son, “the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix” (Lumen Gentium 62; “invoked” means “prayed to”). Catholicism honors her maternal mediation and spiritual motherhood, affirming that Mary cooperates “in the birth and development of divine life in the souls of the redeemed” (Credo of the People of God). Furthermore, “the Church’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship” (Marialis Cultus 56) as seen in the 17 festival days annually dedicated to her and the 50 “Hail Mary” prayers in the set of prayers known as the rosary.

Protestant churches acknowledge the unique role Mary played. While they agree that she is in a true sense theotokos (“God-bearer,” i.e., the one to whom she gave birth is fully God), admire her faith and obedience (Luke 1:26–38), acknowledge her suffering (Luke 2:35; John 19:25–27), and call her “blessed” (Luke 1:48), they repudiate the above-stated Catholic beliefs about her. Protestants, as did the other early disciples, recognize that Mary struggled to understand the significance of her Son Jesus (Mark 3:20–35; Luke 2:25–35; 11:27–28; John 2:1–11; 19:25–27). She also confessed that she was in need of a “Savior” (Luke 1:47) and bore other children after Jesus (see note on Matt. 13:55–56). Protestants maintain that the claims made by Roman Catholicism about her share in her Son’s mediation, and the fitness of praying to her, are either the result of poor interpretation of Scripture or arise from unchastened church tradition.

The Role of the Church

Protestantism and Roman Catholicism also differ on the role of the church as a means of the grace that is necessary for salvation. At the heart of the Catholic doctrine of the church is the idea of thesacramental economy: As Redeemer, Jesus Christ accomplished salvation through the Paschal (Easter) mystery—his passion, death, and resurrection—that occurred in history and that gave birth to the sacramental reality of the Church. As High Priest, he continues to accomplish salvation through the Church, working originally through the apostles and now through their successors, the bishops, who teach, govern, and sanctify the Church through the gospel and the seven sacraments. Thus, it is through the Roman Catholic Church alone that the fullness of salvation is extended to a sinful world.

This teaching is held to be particularly true because the Church dispenses the grace of God through its sacraments, which are necessary for salvation: baptism (which regenerates a sinful person who in most cases is an infant); confirmation (by which the empowerment of the Holy Spirit is conferred); the Eucharist (which represents the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, a reality that is ever-present in the Catholic Mass, as the bread and the wine are transubstantiated into his body and blood through the power of the Holy Spirit at the request of the priest); penance (or reconciliation for all post-baptismal sins); marriage; holy orders (for men ordained to the priesthood); and the anointing of the sick.

No Protestant denomination or church has a view of the church that even remotely resembles this Roman Catholic idea of the sacramental economy. Furthermore, Protestants have always rejected the notion of seven sacraments, maintaining that only two—baptism and the Lord’s Supper—were ordained by Christ (Matt. 26:26–29; 28:19; 1 Cor. 11:17–34), with accompanying tangible signs (water; bread and wine).


Despite the many points of doctrine they hold in common, there remains a vast difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Their Bibles are different, their idea of interpretation is different, and their view of Scripture’s clarity, authority, sufficiency, and necessity is different. And because of these differences, Protestant and Roman Catholic theologies also diverge on the crucial doctrines of salvation, purgatory, Mary, and the church.

Eastern Orthodoxy

Historical Background of Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy comprises a range of autocephalous and autonomous churches, the Russian and Greek being the most prominent. During the first millennium a.d., the Latin West and the predominantly Greek-speaking East drifted apart linguistically, culturally, and theologically. Rome’s claims to universal jurisdiction and its acceptance of the filioque clause in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed led to severed relations.

In the following years, many countries in the East, overrun by the Muslims, had limited freedom, both politically and ecclesiastically. Constantinople, or Byzantium (modern Istanbul), the capital of the Christian East, was conquered in 1453. In the twentieth century, Orthodoxy in Russia and Eastern Europe lived under Communist rule, suffering intense persecution. Orthodox churches include about 218 million adherents today, compared to 1.1 billion Roman Catholics and about 830 million Protestants.

Orthodoxy’s doctrinal basis is the teachings of the seven ecumenical councils (between a.d. 325 and 787), with reference especially to the Trinity and Christology. Evangelicals agree with most of these dogmatic decisions. The division in 1054 was prompted by objections to the pope’s endorsement of the addition of the Latin term filioque (“and the Son”) to the Nicene Creed, so that it said that “the Holy Spirit … proceeds from the Father and the Son” (a reference to the eternal relations between the Son and the Holy Spirit).

Orthodoxy is highly visual, with icons dominating its churches. Its ancient liturgy, rooted in the fourth century, is central to its theology and life.

Positive Elements of Orthodoxy That Evangelicals Can Learn From

The Trinity

The Orthodox liturgy is full of Trinitarian prayers, hymns, and doxologies; the Trinity is a vital part of belief and worship, whereas in the West it often appears as little more than an arcane mathematical riddle. Paul describes our relationship with God in Trinitarian terms: “through [Christ] we … have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:18).

Union with Christ and God

Crucial to Orthodox theology is “deification,” in which humans (while remaining humans) are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, transformed by divine grace, and in this sense become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). Though talk of deification sounds alarming to many evangelicals, the difference is largely one of emphasis. Orthodoxy has maintained a focus on the union of the three persons in God, the union of deity and humanity in Christ, the union of Christ and the church (central in the NT, e.g.,John 14:18–24; 17:20–23; Eph. 1:3–14), and the union of the Holy Spirit and the saints. In contrast, the West has often emphasized the juridical aspects of doctrine, such as the doctrines of atonement and justification.

Freedom from Concerns Raised by the Enlightenment

Due to its historical avoidance of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century (with its emphasis on the primacy of reason), Orthodox theology never became preoccupied with unbelieving critical challenges to and revisions of the faith, which in the West have often bred a detached, academic approach to theology divorced from the life of the church. This is evident in Orthodoxy’s firm belief in heaven, hell, and the return of Christ—topics that many in the West (esp. among more liberal Protestant groups) have sidelined due to possible embarrassment. There is strong commonality here between evangelicals and the Orthodox.

Unity of Theology and Piety

In Orthodoxy, the knowledge of God is received and cultivated by prayer and meditation aided by the Holy Spirit, in battle against the forces of spiritual darkness. Therefore, asceticism and monasticism have had a contemplative character in Orthodoxy. By contrast, since the Enlightenment, Western theology has centered in academic institutions, many of them unconnected to the church. Orthodoxy has profoundly integrated liturgy, piety, and doctrine.

Agreements between Evangelicalism and Orthodoxy

The ecumenical councils’ declarations on the Trinity and Christ show the extensive agreement between Orthodoxy and evangelicalism, despite their disagreement on the filioque clause in the Nicene Creed. Although they have different emphases, Orthodoxy and evangelicalism agree on the Bible’s authority, on sin, and on the fall (however, the Orthodox do not accept the specific Augustinian doctrine of original sin). They also agree on Christ’s death and resurrection (although the Orthodox regard the atonement more as conquest of death than payment for the penalty of sin), the Holy Spirit, the return of Christ, the final judgment, heaven, and hell.

Historically the justification controversy of the Reformation was not an issue in the Eastern church, but there is generally an underlying consensus between the East and several Reformation doctrines in the West. Eastern patristic writers occasionally spoke of salvation as a gift of God’s grace, and of faith as a gift of God; the famous Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) attests to Orthodoxy’s rejection of good works contributing to justification. In a similar way, there are echoes in the West of something like the Orthodox doctrine of “deification”—which is no more incompatible with justification by faith than are the doctrines of sanctification and glorification.

Additionally, the Orthodox doctrine of the church resonates with many evangelical concerns. Orthodox opposition to Rome is underlined by Cyprian’s stress on the unity of the church, the parity of bishops, and the equality of all church members—a model of the church close to post-Reformation Anglicanism.

Significant Misunderstandings

Evangelical Misunderstandings of Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy’s use of icons (visual representations of Christ and the saints) has bothered evangelicals, who argue that it can easily tend toward idolatry and worship of images of God. However, the Second Council of Nicea (a.d. 787) emphatically denied that icons are worshiped. Following John of Damascus, it distinguished between honor (Gk. proskynēsis) given to saints and icons, and worship (Gk. latreia) owed to the indivisible Trinity alone. Icons are regarded as windows to the spiritual realm, betokening in the church’s worship on earth the presence of the saints in heaven. Moreover, the idea of image (Gk.eikon) is prominent in the Bible. The whole creation reveals the glory of God (Ps. 19:1 ff.; Rom. 1:18–20).

On Scripture and tradition (the teaching of the church), both sides appeal to both sources. There is an overwhelming biblical emphasis in Orthodox liturgy—the Bible has been translated into the local vernacular wherever Orthodox missionaries have gone—while the Reformation did not ignore tradition but had a high view of the teaching of the church. The issue is not the Bible alone vs. tradition; it is which has the decisive voice, the last word over the other? For evangelicalism, the Bible is unequivocally the Word of God (e.g., 2 Tim. 3:16), while all human councils may err, and therefore the Bible must finally judge the tradition that seeks to expound it. For Orthodoxy, however, the decisions of the early church councils and church fathers often function in practice as equal to the Bible in authority.

Orthodox Misunderstandings of Evangelicalism

The Orthodox confuse the Protestant doctrine of predestination with Islamic fatalism. The Bible teachesboth the absolute sovereignty of God and the full responsibility of man, God’s decrees contemplating the free actions of secondary causes. As such, the Orthodox idea that the doctrine of predestination is monothelite, short-circuiting the human will, is misplaced.

Many Orthodox polemicists accuse evangelicals of ignoring the church’s part in salvation. However, the classic Protestant confessions attest that the church is integral to the process of salvation, the Christian faith being found in the Bible and taught by the church. Orthodoxy at this point confuses classic Protestantism with later individualist views.

Substantive Disagreement

The Eastern Tendency to Downplay the Preaching of God’s Word

Largely due to historical events (the depredations of Islam) and despite Orthodoxy’s heritage of superlative preaching (Chrysostom, Gregory Nazianzen), worship in the East is more visual than worship in evangelical churches. Sermons are part of the liturgy, but the focus is as much on the icons and the symbolic movements of the clergy. Gregory of Nyssa stressed God’s visible revelation in creation, along with the ambiguity and inadequacy of language.

The way Calvin resolved this question was to understand the knowledge of God in auditory terms: God’s Word must be heard by us in faith. For Calvin, God reveals himself in his Word by the Holy Spirit. In the Word read and proclaimed, God addresses us personally. We cannot see him but we hear him. Moreover, his verbal revelation is true and reliable.

The Relationship between Scripture and Tradition

For Orthodoxy, tradition is a living, dynamic movement, the Bible existing within it and not apart from it. Orthodoxy also believes in biblical authority but as part of a larger whole. Evangelicals believe that the Bible is the ultimate authority.

The Palamite Doctrine of the Trinity

The influential archbishop of Thessalonica, Gregory Palamas (1296–1359), promoted a distinction, later widely accepted in Orthodoxy, between the unknowable essence (being) of God and his “energies.” But this view has driven a wedge between God in himself and God as he has revealed himself, threatening our knowledge of God with profound agnosticism, since we have no way of knowing whether God is as he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. This formulation defies rational discourse, since it tells us that we cannot say anything definitive about who God is, with the result that the Christian life is reduced to noncognitive mystical contemplation. It introduces into God a division, not a distinction.

The Veneration of Mary and the Saints

Orthodoxy considers it possible, legitimate, and desirable for Christians to ask Mary and other departed saints to intercede with God on their behalf. But neither Jesus nor Paul ever suggest that this is possible.

The point is not that request for prayer is made to saints as such, for all Christians ask living saints to intercede with God for them. What evangelicals object to is the belief that departed saints can receive our prayers and so intercede on our behalf. The Bible does not encourage us to put our hope in the prayers of departed saints; it directs our hope to Christ, his return, and the resurrection, not to contact with saints departed (1 Thess. 4:13–18; cf. 1 Samuel 28; 1 Chron. 10:13; 1 Tim. 2:5).

Orthodoxy insists that the incarnation mandates icons of Christ, since God has chosen to reveal himself in human form. Evangelicals are equally emphatic that the second commandment prohibits the use of images in worship, and many think that using icons of Christ as aids to worship oversteps acceptable boundaries in that regard. Both sides claim the other is heretical; Orthodoxy considers evangelicals guilty of Manicheeism, entailing a deficient view of matter, while evangelicals argue that icons of Christ imply a Nestorian abstraction of Christ’s humanity. (Manicheeism holds that there are two coequal realities, spirit and matter, which are respectively good and evil. Nestorianism is a heresy that separated Christ’s divine and human natures.)

Synergism in Salvation

The East has a vigorous doctrine of free will and an implacable opposition to the Reformed teaching on predestination and the sovereignty of God’s grace in Christ. In this aspect, Orthodoxy is farther away from the Reformation than is Rome. The difference in respective weighting of grace and the human will is far-reaching. It entails differing understandings of the extent of human sin and the nature of Christ’s work.

Compared with Rome, How Far Away from Protestantism Is Orthodoxy?

There are ways in which Orthodoxy is closer to classic Protestantism than is Rome. Both were forced into separation from the Roman Church, and both agree in their opposition to the claims of the papacy. The structure of Orthodox churches is much closer to that of Reformed churches, especially the Anglican church. The Orthodox recognition of the parity of all believers, and the autonomy and autocephalous nature of local churches, is far closer to Reformed polity than is the Roman hierarchy. Hence, Orthodoxy does not have the same accumulation of authoritative dogmas as Rome. Moreover, the Orthodox stress on the Bible opens up a large commonality of approach.

There are, however, ways in which Orthodoxy is further removed from evangelicalism than is Rome. Protestantism shares the Roman Catholic understanding of the Trinity. Orthodoxy’s stance on thefilioque controversy, and its distinction between the essence of God and the divine energies, produce a different form of piety. Western faith is centered in Christ; the East’s is more focused on the Holy Spirit. As Orthodox theologian Kallistos Ware put it, Rome and Protestantism share the same questions, but supply different answers; with Orthodoxy, the questions themselves are different.

Liberal Protestantism

Liberal Protestantism can best be understood if one begins with a brief look at the thinkers most influential in its development.

Immanuel Kant

Liberal Protestantism arose out of the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. To understand liberalism and its view of the Bible, one must grasp something of this Enlightenment influence. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) produced what he called a “Copernican revolution” in epistemology (the study of how one comes to know what is known). In contrast to the geocentric Ptolemaic worldview (the sun and other planets were understood to orbit around the earth), Copernicus had correctly come to see the solar system heliocentrically (the planets, including the earth, orbit around the sun). Kant’s thinking underwent a similar massive paradigm shift. He had believed thatexternal objects determine what one sees and claims to know about the world. But Kant came to believe that one’s mind contains certain structures called “intuitions” (e.g., space and time) and “categories” (e.g., cause and effect) that provide all the color, shape, relations, location, temporality, and spatiality that one “sees” of the external world. A person may think, e.g., that he is seeing a towering green fir tree out the window, but in fact he simply cannot know what he is seeing. All he can know is that his mind is producing the colors, shapes, relations, and other aspects that give him the impression of what he claims to “see” as a fir tree. Therefore, the towering green fir tree is, in a very real sense, the creation of the person’s own mind. Yes, something is “out there,” but what is actually seen, in the way that it is actually seen, is the result of the mind “shaping” the external data into what the person perceives.

Kant distinguished, then, between two realms of reality. The noumenal realm referred to the actual external world that exists outside of the mind (what Kant called “the thing in itself”). Of this realm nothing can be known except that something external “is” (i.e., exists). Just what it is—e.g., how big or tall, or what color or shape—cannot be known at all. The phenomenal realm, however, is “the thing as it appears.” Whatever that “thing in itself” is, at least a person can know this: it appears to him as tall and green with broad, sweeping branches, and so it appears to him to be a fir tree. So “the thing in itself” cannot be known, and one can know only “the thing as it appears.”

Friederich Schleiermacher

The German theologian almost universally recognized as the father of modern theological liberalism, Friederich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), was heavily influenced by Kant’s philosophy. Schleiermacher applied the same “Copernican revolution” to theology that Kant had applied to epistemology. Schleiermacher proposed that the study of God must consider both the noumenal and phenomenal realms of knowledge. Certainly God himself would rightly be located within the “noumenal realm” (the realm of the “thing in itself” that would be beyond human ability to know). As many in the mystical tradition of the church had already affirmed, God is beyond human comprehension or knowledge and exists in a “cloud of unknowing.” Schleiermacher adapted this tradition within the Romanticism of his day and combined it with Kant’s notion of God existing within the noumenal realm. God “in himself,” then, cannot be known. But in the “phenomenal realm” (the realm of God “as he appears” to someone), God can be known. That is, although one cannot know God as he actually is, one can know his ownexperience of God.

Schleiermacher resisted the “cultured despisers of religion” of his day. From the very fact that religious experience is universal and has always been an integral part of the experience of human cultures through time, he argued that it is evident that humans generally have this phenomenal experience of God. In fact, argued Schleiermacher, religion rightly understood should be seen as one’s own “feeling of absolute dependence” before some supreme deity. Theology, then, cannot be the study of God himselfbut should rather be understood as the study of the human experience of God, in different ways and throughout different cultures. Theology does not attempt to describe God objectively but rather expresses ways in which thoughtful religious people experience their personal “God-consciousness” or “feeling of absolute dependence.” The religious liberalism stemming from Schleiermacher, then, was “immanentalistic” (i.e., that God-awareness, not God himself, is the heart of religion) and “anti-authoritarian” (i.e., that subjective experience takes precedence over Scripture, tradition, church declarations, and creedal statements).

The Effect of Liberalism on the Doctrine of Scripture

The implications of this liberal shift from the study of God to the study of humanity’s religious experience were enormous. One very important part of this shift was a radically different view of the Bible. Previously, the Bible had been thought of as divine revelation. That is, the God who created humankind and sent his Son to redeem them from their sin had actually revealed truth about himself and his plan of salvation, and this revelation was given in God’s own Word, the Bible. But with Schleiermacher’s Copernican revolution in theology, the Bible could no longer be “God’s word,” since God cannot be known and no word from him is possible. What is the Bible, then? For Schleiermacher and the liberal tradition that followed, the Bible was the product of various religious cultures and peoples, who recorded their own experiences with God as they imagined him to be. The Bible, then, contributed more directly to a “sociology of religions” inquiry than it did to a traditional “theology” (i.e., study of God). Since the Bible was merely the product of human cultures, over vast times, and through ancient and primitive understandings of the world, it certainly could not be understood as presenting truth that would be binding on anyone today, even if it did contain certain religious insights helpful for people of all times. Much less should the Bible be seen as divine truth, since God is beyond anyone’s tangible grasp, and no book—including the Bible—could be God’s word to humanity.

The nineteenth century, then, saw this liberal view of the Bible extended as historical-critical approaches to study of the Bible were developed. Two areas that received especially heated criticism were (1) the biblical teachings on the origins of the world and of human and other life on earth, and (2) the biblical teachings regarding Jesus’ eternal existence, supernatural origin, miracles, atoning death, and bodily resurrection. A naturalistic understanding of the world had begun to prevail among the educated elites in Europe and America, and the very notion of supernatural intervention through miracles was deemed both unscientific and unnecessary in accounting for the world. The publication by Charles Darwin (1809–1882) of On the Origin of Species (1859) signaled for liberals not only the negation of miracles in explaining life but the end of any need for God’s supernatural intervention in any form in accounting for life here on earth.

Albrecht Ritschl

Another German theology professor, Albrecht Ritschl (1822–1889), took Schleiermacher’s insights and applied them particularly to the question of the meaning of Jesus’ life. For Ritschl, Jesus was the supreme embodiment of God-consciousness and God-dependence. While being threatened by hostile forces, Jesus nonetheless trusted absolutely in God’s love and power. He is therefore the Archetypal Man, a model for affirming value and worth in dependence on God. For Ritschl, the moral value of Christ and Christianity was central, for this provides the means by which contemporary people, in the community of the church, may overcome hostile pressures by dependence on God. So even though the historical facts of Jesus’ life could never be known or verified, the moral value of Jesus’ life constitutes the religious significance of Jesus for people today.

Adolf von Harnack

German theologian and historian Adolf von Harnack (1851–1930), raised in the home of an orthodox Christian scholar, was influenced by Ritschlian liberalism. He came to see the orthodox Christian tradition as being wrongly preoccupied with doctrines and standards of belief while missing the primary thrust of Jesus’ teachings, namely, the moral responsibility to live out the righteousness of the kingdom. One must separate the essential “kernel” of the gospel (i.e., Christ’s kingdom and its victory over evil) from the dispensable “husk” of the gospel (i.e., changing forms of life and thought). When this is done, the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man is exposed for every new generation, and the law of love is seen to govern all relationships.

The Effect of Liberalism on Other Doctrines

Given the prominence of Darwinist evolutionary theory and historical criticism (which attacked the historical reliability of the Bible) at the beginning of the twentieth century, liberalism was clearly prevailing over the defenders of orthodoxy. Under attack by liberalism were such cardinal doctrines as the special creation of Adam and Eve, the literal fall of Adam into sin, the virginal conception of Christ, the incarnation of Christ as fully God and fully human, the miracles that Christ and others performed, the substitutionary atoning death of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ—and underlying all of these, the full divine inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture, which teaches these doctrines as historically and theologically real and true. And of course, since conceptions such as sin, wrath, and hell were rejected, the gospel of liberalism was morphed into the so-called social gospel. Saving of souls was replaced with relieving people’s present physical and social needs. The “good news” that liberals proclaimed was of a loving God who, through Christ’s example of care for the poor and outcast, calls his people to help bring in the kingdom by showing love to others. The growing liberalism of the mainline Christian denominations of the early twentieth century was pervaded by an optimism regarding human nature that casts off human sinfulness and depravity, and an exclusive attention to God’s love that turns a deaf ear to notions of God’s anger and just judgment. Human reason had replaced revelation as the only reliable source for knowledge, and scientific naturalism had made it clear that the supernaturalist dogmas of orthodoxy simply had to be discarded if Christianity was to survive in this brave new world.

A Blow to the Optimism of Liberalism

The outbreak of the First World War was a blow to the optimistic outlook of liberalism. Many younger liberals became disenchanted with their heritage and followed the lead of Karl Barth (1886–1968) and Emil Brunner (1889–1966) toward a somewhat more conservative movement called “neo-orthodoxy.” But liberalism’s influence continued, particularly through the mainline denominations and many prestigious institutions of higher education. Gordon Kaufman, for over 30 years professor of theology and divinity at Harvard Divinity School, in 1981 published a book whose title beautifully captures the liberal mind-set—The Theological Imagination: Constructing the Concept of God. Since liberalism does not have divine revelation to read and study, and since it regards the Bible as a collection merely of human opinion and experience of God, theological liberals are left with only their own experience, reason, and imagination. Replacing the divine revelation in Scripture on which evangelicals depend is the imagination of their own human minds. Rather than receiving the revelation of God, they construct from their own thoughts the concept of God that they believe is most helpful to an ailing world.


Protestant liberalism continues to have significant influence. It represents the underlying theological position held by most of the leadership and professors in the theological seminaries of several mainline denominations in the United States (such as the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the American Baptist Convention, the Presbyterian Church–USA, and the United Church of Christ), though all these denominations still have some conservative evangelical congregations, teachers, and people within them as well. In addition, Protestant liberalism is the most common viewpoint in campus ministry offices in secular universities, and also among the professors who teach the Bible in religion departments of those universities. (Campus parachurch ministries, however, tend to be more in line with evangelical Protestantism.)

But liberalism’s disregard for the church’s long-standing claim that Scripture is divinely inspired and authoritative has left its adherents with an authority residing only in their own minds, and with understandings of what is acceptable that are mere echoes of secular values. Reason replaces revelation, cultural relativism replaces absolute truth, human optimism replaces divine salvation—and in all this, the gospel and historic orthodox faith is lost. The sad heritage of liberalism is a warning to all Christians to continue firm in the conviction that Scripture alone is God’s inspired and authoritative Word from which one learns the truth that alone can set people free.

Evangelical Protestantism

Reformation (16th Century)

Evangelical Protestantism arose out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century. The commitment of Martin Luther (1483–1546) to sola Scriptura—i.e., to “Scripture alone” as the only absolute and ultimately authoritative written revelation of God—along with other factors, brought about a separation from the Roman Catholic Church. Roman Catholicism had understood other sources of revelation to be equal in authority to Scripture. Catholics understood the Bible to include several apocryphal books in addition to the 66 books accepted by Protestants as canonical Scripture; significantly, they also extended infallibility to church dogma pronounced by the magisterium (the pope and the bishops) and by the pope when speaking ex cathedra (lit., “out of his chair”). (This latter point was formally defined only in 1870, but most Catholics had taken it for granted since the Middle Ages.) This Roman Catholic extension of infallibility and authority was the backdrop for sola Scriptura, one of the heart-cries of the Reformation. This proclaimed Scripture alone as possessing complete infallibility and exclusive absolute authority for the church. One tangible effect of the Protestant commitment to the exclusive divine authority of Scripture for faith and practice was the diligent and courageous production of numerous translations of the Bible into the native languages of various countries and peoples. Protestants believed then, as now, that the Bible is for all the people of God. Only as people can read and study the Bible for themselves will they be able to learn well the teaching of God’s Word and, in the manner of the Bereans of old (Acts 17:11), be able to assess various and divergent views of Scripture being advocated.

Protestantism (17th–18th Centuries)

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw the rise and spread of various Protestant groupings that formed into denominations, some more directly tied to the “magisterial Reformers” Martin Luther and John Calvin (1509–1564) (e.g., Lutheranism, Presbyterianism, Anglicanism), and others that were indebted to that tradition yet differed from both Luther and Calvin, particularly in the doctrines of the church and salvation (e.g., Methodists, Baptists, Mennonites). But what these various Protestant groups had in common was a continued commitment to the Bible as the final written revelation of God, in contrast to the Roman Catholic tradition from which they all had retreated. Especially important during these centuries was the Protestant Scholastic reinforcement of the full divine inspiration, infallibility, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture. Pastors and theologians such as William Ames (1576–1633), John Gerhard (1582–1637), John Owen (1616–1683), John Quenstedt (1617–1688), Francis Turretin (1623–1687), Peter von Maastricht (1630–1706), Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), and John Wesley (1703–1791) strongly defended the full inspiration and authority of Scripture. While differing, sometimes vigorously, on what Scripture taught on various doctrines, they affirmed the truthfulness and authority of the Bible to which they appealed. The sixteenth-century cry of sola Scriptura was echoed with force and vitality in the various seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Protestant traditions stemming from the Reformation.

Protestant Liberalism (19th Century)

The rise of Protestant liberalism in the nineteenth century had a chilling effect on Christian confidence in the Bible as fully divine and authoritative. Following principles made popular in the Enlightenment (an 18th-century intellectual movement in European and American philosophy and culture), liberal scholars and teachers such as Friederich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), Albrecht Ritschl (1822–1889), and Adolf von Harnack (1851–1930) called into question the historicity of the narrative accounts in both the OT and the NT, and they rejected the Bible’s many claims to be testifying to God’s supernatural activity. As a result, a line of demarcation was established over the divine authorship and full infallibility and authority of the Bible, with liberal Protestants rejecting it and evangelical Protestants accepting it. Add to this the rising liberal biblical scholarship and the developments in evolutionary biology through the publication of On the Origin of Species (1859) by Charles Darwin (1809–1882), and one can clearly understand the mounting pressure that evangelicals faced in defending their long-standing conviction that Scripture is God’s Word and hence is utterly true.

Fundamentalism (19th–20th Centuries)

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw the outbreak of what came to be called the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy. The conservative and evangelical defenders of the truthfulness and authority of Scripture eventually came to be known as “fundamentalists” because they devoted themselves to defending and preserving for the church the most fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith that were being denied and ridiculed by so-called “modernists” (i.e., liberals). Influential scholarly defenders of Christian orthodoxy in the face of mounting liberalism included B. B. Warfield (1851–1921), R. A. Torrey (1856–1928), and J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937). They labored hard to interact with liberal attacks against the fundamentals of the faith through their teaching, preaching, and prodigious efforts in writing.

A massive project was undertaken in 1909 to assemble a formidable collection of essays written by recognized conservative scholars defending the major doctrines being assailed by liberals. The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth, published in 12 volumes from 1910 to 1915, was mailed to pastors and missionaries throughout the world. These volumes contained no fewer than 90 chapters defending against liberal higher criticism such doctrinal fundamentals as the historicity and truthfulness of the Bible, the virgin birth and deity of Christ, the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit, the saving death of Christ, and justification by faith, as well as a number of chapters devoted to the errors of liberalism, Darwinism, Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, and other false teachings of the day. Hope was high that liberalism might thus be answered and that a strong orthodoxy would prevail in mainline denominations and churches.

The 1920s saw only increased conflict, however, between fundamentalists and modernists. In religious institutions of higher education and within the mainline denominations, fundamentalist positions and arguments were routinely rejected in favor of more “tolerant” understandings that accorded with modern learning. The most symbolically important defeat to fundamentalism came with the Scopes “Monkey Trial” of 1925. John T. Scopes was tried for his teaching of Darwinist evolution in a Tennessee public school. Defending him was Clarence Darrow, a highly respected Chicago lawyer, and prosecuting the case against him was William Jennings Bryan, well known both as a fundamentalist Presbyterian and for his national political involvements. Although Bryan won the case against Scopes, Darrow publicly ridiculed Bryan’s fundamentalist position in ways that were picked up by the national media and published throughout the country. As a result, fundamentalism was decisively rejected by intellectual elites as a repressive and backward set of views, resistant to modern learning and advancement. Along with this rejection of fundamentalism was a rejection of the fundamentalist commitment to the inerrant Bible, the only absolutely authoritative written revelation from God.

The next 20-plus years witnessed a marked departure from the aggressive and culture-confronting approach of the earlier work of Warfield, Torrey, and Machen. Post-1925 fundamentalism came to be characterized more by retreat and separation from the culture than by an effort to engage and transform that broader culture. While fundamentalists continued to hold fast to the authority of Scripture, they knew that their views of the Bible and its teachings were largely rejected by the increasingly secular media and schools of higher education. As a result, they tended to become more isolationist, regularly highlighting the Bible’s call to “come out from among them, and be ye separate” (2 Cor. 6:17, kjv). Furthermore, because of liberalism’s advocacy of the “social gospel” in place of the traditional Christian gospel of faith in Christ for personal salvation from the wrath of God because of human sin, fundamentalists tended to view most kinds of social involvement with a high degree of suspicion, fearing that the “saving of souls” might be displaced by caring for human physical and social needs. In short, the fundamentalism of the decades immediately following the Scopes trial retreated from any aggressive intellectual engagement on behalf of the Bible’s truth with the culture’s most educated elites, and also withdrew from any intentional effort to address the physical and social needs of society.

Evangelicalism (20th Century)

Responding to this trend were people such as Harold John Ockenga (1905–1985) and Carl F. H. Henry (1913–2003). Ockenga and Henry were typical of a group of young evangelicals in the 1940s who were fully in agreement with fundamentalist commitments to the inerrancy and authority of Scripture and its attending orthodox beliefs, yet were deeply disturbed by the fundamentalist retreat from culture. Henry wrote what would become a clarion call to fundamentalists to reengage the culture, both intellectually and socially. His first published book, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947), questioned the separatist mind-set of fundamentalism. Henry called for a new and vibrant defense of evangelical faith in the face of the best (or worst) that liberals could produce, and for a recommitment to join social action with gospel witness such that true evangelical love and care for others might be manifest along with sharing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Also in 1947, Ockenga and Charles E. Fuller (1887–1968) cofounded Fuller Theological Seminary (Pasadena, California) with hopes that a vibrant intellectual evangelical approach to the study of Scripture might take place in full engagement with and in response to liberal scholarship. Charter faculty members were Wilbur M. Smith (1894–1977), Everett F. Harrison (1902–1999), Harold Lindsell (1913–1998), and Carl Henry. In 1956, under the auspices of L. Nelson Bell and Billy Graham, Henry became the first editor-in-chief ofChristianity Today, a magazine intended to bring evangelical scholarship and editorial commentary into evangelical homes across the country, much as The Christian Century had for decades conveyed more liberal viewpoints predominantly to those in mainline denominations.

Much health and vitality was evident in the evangelical movement of the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. Consider just some of the organizations and institutions that began during these years: Tyndale Fellowship and Tyndale House (1944) in the UK, the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (1947), the Evangelical Theological Society, World Vision (1950), the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (1950), Campus Crusade for Christ (1951), Fellowship of Christian Athletes (1954), the National Association of Evangelicals, Bible Study Fellowship (1959), Youth With A Mission (1960), Operation Mobilization (1960), National Black Evangelical Association (1963), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (1969), Food for the Hungry (1971), Prison Fellowship (1976), and Focus on the Family (1977). So strong was the evangelical presence throughout the country that Newsweek declared 1976 “The Year of the Evangelical.”

Along with this growth and increased influence, however, some of the underpinnings of biblical authority were eroding. On December 1, 1962 (so-called Black Saturday), Fuller Theological Seminary took steps to remove “inerrancy” from its doctrinal statement regarding Scripture, and this was just one notable indication of a divide within various segments of evangelicalism between those who understood divine inspiration to entail biblical inerrancy and those who denied this. So in the 1960s and 1970s, evangelical growth was paralleled by evangelical division over the inerrancy of Scripture.

In 1977 a prominent group of concerned conservative evangelicals met to design a meeting to take place the next year to define the “inerrancy” of Scripture. The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy met in Chicago in October 1978 for the first of what would be three summits. Out of this first summit came “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,” the most widely used and definitive statement on its subject for the conservative evangelical movement. At its November 2006 annual meeting, the Evangelical Theological Society adopted the Chicago Statement as its own defining declaration of the inerrancy of Scripture.

Evangelical Protestantism Today

Evangelical Protestantism today consists of hundreds of denominational groups and parachurch organizations, and represents numerous theological streams (such as the Bible-believing segments of Reformed, Arminian, Baptist, Lutheran, Anglican, dispensational, Restorationist, charismatic, and Pentecostal groups as well as many independent groups with mixtures of these traditions). In spite of the differences among these traditions, evangelicals are united in the belief that the Bible is not a merely human record of people’s religious experiences (the position of Protestant liberalism) but is actually the Word of God.

Under the large umbrella of those who believe that the Bible is the Word of God remains a continued division over what the divine inspiration of Scripture entails. Some deny the complete truthfulness of Scripture, and this inevitably leads to rejecting certain biblical teachings that one finds objectionable for one reason or another. Others, usually referred to as conservative evangelicals, continue to uphold, defend, and celebrate the full truthfulness of Scripture, since it is, in part and in whole, the very inspired (lit., “breathed out”) Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16). Clearly, the evangelical heritage that stems from the Reformers through the early fundamentalist defenders of the Bible to the fathers of contemporary evangelicalism would call readers to affirm, with them, the complete truthfulness of all that the Bible teaches, for all of the Bible is none other than the full Word of God.

Evangelical Protestantism and Global Christianity

Although often regarded as a Western religion, Christianity (which had its birth in Asia) has always been much broader than its European expression and is today a genuinely global religion. During the first two centuries of the Christian era, the centers of Christianity were in Syria, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. The faith spread rapidly, so that by the second century a.d. the church was in India, and Christians were in major centers of the Persian Empire. Christian communities were in Ethiopia by the fourth century and in China by the seventh century. It was only after about the fourteenth century that Europe, and later North America, became the heartland of Christianity. Even after the rise of Western European Christianity, however, Christian communities continued to exist elsewhere, including in lands conquered by Muslims in Arabia and Persia.

Furthermore, during the last half of the twentieth century Christianity experienced a dramatic shift in demographics, so that by the early twenty-first century roughly two-thirds of all Christians were located—not in Europe and North America—but in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. The Christian church has experienced explosive growth in places such as China, South Korea, Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil, Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana. Many factors contributed to this change, including the decline of Christianity in parts of Europe, the modern missionary movements of the eighteenth through twentieth centuries, and the evangelizing efforts of indigenous Christians.

The Bible has been central to the growth of the Christian church worldwide. Early Protestant missionaries such as William Carey, Adoniram Judson, and Hudson Taylor were motivated by the message of the Bible and convinced that all people should have the opportunity to respond to it. Moreover, from early times the Bible has been translated into local languages, and the Protestant missionary movements of the past three centuries have emphasized biblical translation. The translatability of the Bible into local languages (1) is a recognition of the capacity of all people in all cultures to understand and respond to the Word of God in their own language; (2) gives dignity to local linguistic and cultural expressions; and (3) provides resources for social change. Thus, there is remarkable diversity within global Christianity today, historian Lamin Sanneh observes:

More people pray and worship in more languages and with more differences in styles of worship in Christianity than in any other religion. Well over three thousand of the world’s languages are embraced by Christianity through Bible translation, prayer, liturgy, hymns, and literature. More than 90 percent of these languages have a grammar and a dictionary at all only because the Western missionary movement provided them, thus pioneering arguably the largest, most diverse and most vigorous movement of cultural renewal (p. xx).

While the rapidly growing Christian communities in Latin America, Africa, and Asia are in some ways distinctive, and not simply mirror images of denominations and movements in the West, they also have much in common with Western evangelicalism. Most are theologically conservative and embrace worldviews which acknowledge the reality of the supernatural. Most have not been influenced by Enlightenment rationalism and higher-critical approaches to Scripture; they regularly take the Bible in a straightforward manner, with utmost seriousness.

Protestant Christianity is undergoing massive cultural shifts and realignments worldwide, but there are common commitments and institutions which provide cohesion to those identifying themselves as evangelicals. The Lausanne Movement and the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) have been significant in shaping evangelical identity worldwide, and both are based upon strong commitments to the full authority of the Bible. The Lausanne Movement, which grew out of the 1974 Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, produced the Lausanne Covenant, widely recognized and accepted as a statement of evangelical theological commitment unifying Christians across the globe. The Covenant embraces “the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority” of the Bible as the “written word of God, without error in all that it affirms.” The WEA is an international network of churches in over 120 nations and over 100 international organizations which together represent over 400 million evangelical Christians worldwide. The WEA statement of faith affirms belief in the Bible as “divinely inspired, infallible, entirely trustworthy” and “the supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.”

Although there are significant differences among evangelicals throughout the world, they are united by a common commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all of life and the authority of the Bible as God’s divinely inspired written revelation.


How the New Testament Quotes and Interprets the Old Testament

As C. S. Lewis once observed, “one of the rewards of reading the Old Testament regularly” is that “you keep on discovering more and more what a tissue of quotations from it the New Testament is.” Conscientious readers of the Bible may well acknowledge this; but there is much disagreement among NT interpreters on just how the NT authors saw the OT from which they quoted. Questions include: Did the NT authors respect the original meaning of the OT texts? Did they put new meanings into these OT texts, and if so, how closely tied were these new meanings to the original meaning? Did a citation of an OT passage invoke the whole context of the OT passage, or was the NT writer really only interested in what he could make a particular “verse” do for him? What kind of text did the NT authors use: the original Hebrew, or the Septuagint, or another Greek version—and did the NT authors depend on the Greek, even when its rendering of the Hebrew was inadequate?

This short article cannot supply a complete discussion of all these questions, nor does it suggest that all faithful interpreters (or even all contributors to this Study Bible) see things the same way. Rather, the aim here is to offer a way of looking at these issues that does justice both to the NT and to the OT.

A Variety of Kinds of “Uses”

We begin by observing that there is a variety of ways the NT authors can refer to the OT. They can quote it directly (as Matt. 1:23 cites Isa. 7:14); they can allude to it (as John 1:1–5 alludes to Genesis 1); they can use OT vocabulary with a meaning conditioned by OT usage (e.g., “the righteousness of God”); they can refer to the OT’s broad concepts (such as monotheism and creation); and they can refer to the basic overarching story of the OT (e.g., Rom. 1:1–6).

The second observation is that there is no reason to expect a single, one-size-fits-all explanation that covers every instance of the NT using the OT. For example, an author may be intending to specify the one meaning of the OT text, or he may be using the OT text as providing an example or pattern that illuminates something he is writing about. He may draw a moral lesson from some event (e.g., Mark 2:25–26), and he might find an analogy between his audience and the ancient people (e.g., 1 Cor. 10:6–11). He might be making a point about how the Gentile Christians inherit the privileges of Israel (1 Pet. 2:9–10), or he might be explaining why Christians need not keep some provision of the OT (e.g., Mark 7:19; Eph. 2:19). Paul describes his own calling in terms that remind us of the servant of the Lord (Gal. 1:15 evoking Isa. 49:1): since Isaiah’s servant is a messianic figure (as Paul knew, cf. Acts 13:47; Rom. 10:16; 15:21), it is best to see Paul as likening his own calling in some way to that of the servant, rather than as claiming that he was the servant.

Text Form

This part is the least controversial. As a general rule, NT authors cite the OT in a Greek form that is basically the Septuagint that is available in printed form today (see The Septuagint). There are places where the NT author’s citation differs slightly from that of the Septuagint: either because the author has adjusted the quotation to fit the syntax of his own sentence or otherwise adapted it to his purpose, or because he has quoted the Septuagint from memory, or because the quotation represents a textual variation. There are places where the NT author has apparently corrected the Septuagint in order to be closer to the Hebrew: for example, “grieve” in Ephesians 4:30 is far closer to the Hebrew of Isaiah 63:10than the Septuagint’s “provoke.” In John 1:14 “full of grace and truth” may be a free paraphrase of “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6).

Many Hebraists view the Septuagint as a translation with some value, but with many obvious deficiencies. The truth is, the translation quality varies with the kind of material being translated (poetry is harder than narrative), the skill of the individual translator, and the purposes of the translation (e.g., it seems that the translators of Proverbs intended to adapt the Hebrew wisdom to their setting in the high Hellenistic culture of Alexandria, at the expense of faithfully conveying the meaning of the Hebrew). More to the point, it is not clear that translational infelicities cloud any particular NT use of the Septuagint—generally the point for which the verse is cited depends on the part where the translation is close enough to the original.

Therefore one cannot say that, in using a Greek version, the NT authors have in any way slighted the original intent of the OT authors.

NT Reflection on the Use of the OT

Several NT texts discuss the general stance by which Christians do, and should, approach the OT. The first is Romans 1:1–6, where Paul describes the “gospel of God” as “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures.” The content that follows narrates Jesus’ public entry onto his Davidic throne through his resurrection, and Paul’s apostleship as the outworking of Jesus’ program “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations”: Paul is explaining that the events of Jesus’ victory, and the witness of the early Christians, are just what the OT had foretold. This is the kind of reading the OT itself invites (see The Theology of the Old Testament). Later in the same letter (Rom. 15:4), Paul says, “For whatever was written in former days [i.e., in the OT] was written for our instruction [i.e., as Christians].” He then goes on (in vv. 9–13) to cite several OT texts about the expectation of the coming era when the Gentiles would receive the light and join in worship with the faithful of Israel: the mixed congregations of Jewish and Gentile Christians are the fulfillment of that hope.

In 1 Corinthians 10:1, Paul alludes to OT events, saying “our fathers” experienced them. The church in Corinth, however, had a considerable proportion of converted Gentiles; so this means that Paul is treating the Gentile Christians as having been “grafted in” (Rom. 11:17ff.) to the olive tree (the people of God, cf. Jer. 11:16), and every bit as much heirs of the story as Jewish Christians are. After listing the ways that God judged the unfaithful among the ancient people (1 Cor. 10:6–10), Paul explains that “these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” God expects those who profess to be Christians to be sure their faith is real, just as he did the people in the Pentateuch.

Hebrews 11 is able to parade the OT faithful before its audience (probably mostly Jewish Christians) to show them that they must persevere in faith just as the ancients did.

In Luke 24:25–27, 44–47, Jesus “interpreted to [his disciples] in all the [OT] Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Luke does not tell us what that Bible study actually said. Some Christian interpreters have understood this to mean that it is possible to find in every part of the OT a “foreshadowing” of some aspect of the work of Jesus. However, other interpreters think it is enough to recognize both that there are specific texts that predict the messianic work, and that the entire trend of the OT story was heading toward Jesus’ victory after his suffering, which would usher in the era in which the Gentiles would receive God’s light (Luke 24:47, “to all nations”).

Basic Catalog of NT Uses of the OT

When the apostles applied the OT to NT realities, they were following a long line of citing earlier Scripture, using a set of practices that can be found in the OT itself. For example, OT writers could allude to an earlier passage and elaborate on it (e.g., Psalms 8 and 104 use Genesis 1–2); or they could allude to an earlier text and give a more precise nuance to it (as Ps. 72:17 takes the more general Gen. 22:18and ties it specifically to the house of David). They could recognize a promise (e.g., Dan. 9:2 finding inJer. 25:12 a promise for the length of Babylonian domination). They could see patterns of God’s behavior repeated (e.g., many Psalms allude to Ex. 34:6–7 as God’s way of dealing with his people). They could also take texts from earlier generations and apply them to new situations (e.g., Neh. 8:14–17is often seen as an example of actualizing the laws of Lev. 23:39–42 in concert with Deut. 16:13–15; cf. also the well-known pairing of Jer. 22:24–27 and Hag. 2:23).

The NT writers exhibit these uses due to their conviction that Christians are the heirs of Israel’s story; they exhibit other uses as well due to their conviction that the resurrection of Jesus had ushered in a new era, the messianic age—“the last days” foretold by the prophets. These authors saw themselves as God’s authorized interpreters for this new era that God had opened in the story of his people.

The early Christian missionaries went to synagogues to prove from the OT Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ (cf. Acts 17:1–3; 18:26–28). This implies that they relied on and used publicly accessible arguments from the text itself, rather than merely private insights—otherwise, they would have been unjust to hold anyone responsible for failing to see something that was not truly there. Luke praises the Berean Jews, who examined the OT to see whether what Paul and Silas told them was so (Acts 17:11): this implies that the NT invites critical interaction over its appeal to the OT, and is not solely dependent on the “insider’s” point of view.

In classifying these uses, the basic questions are:

  • What is it about the OT text that enables the NT writer to use it the way he does?
  • What is the NT writer’s stance toward the “original meaning” of the OT text?
  • What rhetorical goal is the NT writer trying to achieve by using the OT text as he does?
  • In what ways does the NT author resemble and differ from interpretative principles found among other interpreters who come from the same period of time, particularly other Second Temple Jewish authors who were not Christians?

The categories in this catalog are intended to be broad and suggestive; there is no substitute for a case-by-case examination of the various passages.

Promise and fulfillment. In many cases the NT writers understood their OT texts as providing a promise about where the story was headed, and identify a particular event as the fulfillment (or partial fulfillment) of a promise. For example, Matthew 12:17–21 understood the servant of the Lord in Isaiah 42:1–3 as the Messiah, with Jesus being the promised person. Likewise, in Romans 15:12 Paul sees the spread of Christian faith among the Gentiles as fulfilling the expectation of Isaiah 11:1–10.

Pattern and fulfillment. This is often called “typology,” and it refers to the way patterns found in the OT enable Christians to understand their own situation in, through, and under Christ. For example, the way that a lamb in the sin or guilt offering serves as an innocent substitute to work atonement explains how Jesus’ sacrifice benefits believers (see note on Isa. 53:7, the probable background to John 1:29).

Analogy and application. Sometimes the NT writers find some kind of resemblance between their situation and an earlier one, and derive principles from the OT passage for addressing the new situation. The examples of Mark 2:25–26 and 1 Corinthians 10:6–10 have already been mentioned.

When an author is using an analogy, he is not offering an interpretation of the original intent of the OT text; nevertheless, the analogies respect the original intent. For example, in Matthew 21:42, Jesus usesPsalm 118:22–23 (about “the stone the builders rejected”) to describe the way the Jewish leaders rejected him. Though many understand this to be a messianic prediction, the main point Jesus makes is that Jewish leaders who rejected him are (by analogy) just as wrong and wretched (Matt. 21:41) as the great world powers that thought so little of Israel (see note on Ps. 118:22–23).

Understanding the use of analogy in this way will help when encountering some NT texts that are more difficult. In 1 Corinthians 9:9 and 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul cites an OT law (Deut. 25:4) about not muzzling an ox, and he applies it as a justification for paying those in ministry. The OT text is based on a principle of caring for working animals; Paul’s application seems to be based on a “How much more should we care for those who serve us with the word” kind of argument. In Galatians 4:21–31, Paul constructs an “allegory” from Hagar and Sarah in Genesis, in order to convince his readers to reject the false teachers. There is no need to think he is disclosing any kind of additional meaning in Genesis, nor is he disregarding the original intent of the OT passages; he is simply likening those who follow his message to the “children of promise” (supernaturally produced like Isaac), and those who follow the false teachers to him “who was born according to the flesh” (i.e., to Ishmael).

Eschatological continuity. As indicated in The Theology of the Old Testament, “eschatology” in the OT is focused on the coming era in which the Messiah will lead his people in bringing the light to the Gentiles; the NT position is that this era began with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. These are separate chapters in the unfolding story of God’s work in the world, but they exhibit continuity because it is the same God at work, who saves people in the same way (cf. Rom. 4:1–8), who grafts believing Gentiles into the olive tree of his people (Rom. 11:17), and who is restoring the image of God in them. Hence Christian believers, both Jew and Gentile, share the privilege of the mission of Israel (e.g., 1 Pet. 2:9–10, looking back to Ex. 19:5–6 and other texts). Thus, the Ten Commandments supply moral guidance to Christians (Rom. 13:8–10). The same “righteousness of God”—God’s uprightness and faithfulness in keeping his promises—that the OT celebrates lies behind God’s sending Jesus (Rom. 1:17).

Eschatological discontinuity. This category is related to the previous one and reflects the change in redemptive era. For example, God’s faithful no longer need to observe the OT food laws, whose purpose was to distinguish Israel from the Gentiles (Lev. 20:24–26; cf. Acts 10:9–23). Other aspects of the Sinai covenant are likewise no longer directly applicable to God’s people, such as the sacrificial system and the theocratic government centered in Jerusalem.

Development. Psalm 72:17 does not change the promise of blessing-to-the-nations of Genesis 22:18 but rather develops it by bringing the manner of fulfillment into sharper focus. In the same way, Isaiah 52:13–53:12 certainly describes the career of the Messiah in terms of rejection and humiliation followed by vindication and victory. As the note on Isaiah 53:10 explains, death is clearly not the messianic servant’s end; but resurrection is not explicit there (although it now seems to be the natural inference). Thus 1 Corinthians 15:3–4 can say, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (probably echoing Isa. 53:10), and “he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (developing, or clarifying, Isa. 53:10). The assumption behind these examples is that the story is moving along, and God can feed new events and insights into the process (in the case of Ps. 72:17, by giving an oracle establishing the Davidic covenant; in the case of 1 Cor. 15:4, by raising Jesus from the dead).

“Fuller sense.” Christians have used the Latin term sensus plenior (“fuller sense”) for cases where the NT seems to find a meaning in the OT that goes much farther beyond the original intent of the earlier passage than simple development. There is every reason to allow for such cases, when one considers that God is both planning events and inspiring the biblical authors as his authentic interpreters. Nevertheless it is wise to be careful: in many cases the suggestion of sensus plenior stems from a misapprehension of the earlier text or of the NT usage (see discussion of Matt. 2:15/Hos. 11:1 below; see note on Ps. 16:9–11). There are some instances, however, where this does in fact seem to be what the NT author has done: e.g., in John 1:1–5, John describes “the Word” as a divine Person active in the creation; he is echoing Genesis 1:1–2:3 but seeing something there that Moses did not say. Nevertheless, as the notes on Psalm 33:4–9 explain, this is not out of step with Genesis (see also note on Gen. 1:26 for the Trinity). One can imagine Moses saying, if he had been presented with John’s Gospel, “Well, I never thought of it that way, but now that you come to say it like that, I can see where you got it, and I like it”: that is, he would not think that his original intent had been violated. It is tenuous, however, to advocate a sensus plenior that dispenses with original intent.

Matthew 2:15 is often taken as a case of sensus plenior because it says that when the holy family took shelter in Egypt (later to return to Palestine), this was to “fulfill” the words of Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Is Matthew finding a “messianic meaning” in Hosea that no one could have seen before? Probably not: it is more likely that Matthew found in Hosea a convenient summary of the exodus that contained the term “son.” (Many prophets summarize the exodus as a way of reminding Israel of their obligations to the Lord: cf. Amos 3:1–2.) One of Matthew’s themes is that Jesus showed himself the true Messiah (the Davidic representative of Israel) by embodying all that Israel was called to be, and doing so faithfully (in contrast to Israel). On the “son of God” idea, an important theme for Matthew, see note on Psalm 2:7. So Jesus’ experience “fulfilled” the pattern of the exodus, which means that this is a case of pattern and fulfillment.

Deity of Christ. NT authors often apply OT texts to Jesus that originally applied to Yahweh, the God of Israel. For example, Hebrews 1:10–12 describes Jesus by using Psalm 102:25–27, which is about God’s eternity. This is not because the psalm is directly messianic but because NT authors accept that Jesus is Yahweh incarnate (cf. John 1:1–14). Thus the NT uses these texts consistently with their original intent—they describe the Lord—and recognize that their description applies to Jesus as being no less truly the Lord than is God the Father.

In all of these cases the NT authors view themselves as the proper heirs and faithful interpreters of the OT.


The Septuagint

The term Septuagint is commonly used today to refer to the Greek translation of the Jewish Scriptures, the books that are called the “Old Testament” in Christian terminology. Scholars who specialize in Septuagint studies point out, however, that in a more technical sense the word Septuagint refers only to the Greek translation of the Pentateuch. Uncertainties about the history of the process of translation are responsible for the variation in meaning of the term.

It is generally agreed that the Pentateuch (Genesis–Deuteronomy) was translated in Egypt early during the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285/282–246 b.c.), possibly around 280 if one can rely on the testimony of the church fathers. The books in the Prophets and Writings were translated later, certainly most of them by 130 b.c. as is indicated by the Prologue to the Greek translation of Sirach(Ecclesiasticus). Questions arise about the date of translation of each of the books in the collection known as Megilloth (Ruth, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, and Esther). Some of these may have been first translated after 100 b.c.

To complicate matters further, long before all the books had been translated, revisions were already being made of existing translations. The process of making systematic, thoroughgoing revisions (called recensions) continued from possibly 200 b.c. through a.d. 200. The precise line of demarcation between original translations and revisions in this body of texts has not yet been clearly established. Scholars are still working to prepare editions of these translations based on careful study of all available evidence in Greek manuscripts, citations by church fathers, and early daughter translations.

The Motivation for the Translation

What motivated the translation of the Septuagint continues to be debated. Five major hypotheses have been advanced: (1) A generation of Greek-speaking Jews in the Hellenistic period begun by the conquest of Alexander the Great (333–323 b.c.) required Greek Scriptures for their religious life and liturgy and/or (2) for the education of their young. (3) The translation was required as a legal document or (4) as cultural heritage for the royal library being assembled in Alexandria. (5) Aristarchus’s new edition of Homer around 150 b.c. employed textual criticism to produce an authoritative text, and this served as an incentive and a model to produce an authoritative text of the Bible for Alexandrian Jews (hence early revisions and The Letter of Aristeas).

The Origin of the Septuagint

A document known as The Letter of Aristeas purports to relate the story of the origin of the Greek Pentateuch. This document is actually a propaganda piece, written in 150–100 b.c. to authenticate the Greek version in the face of criticisms circulating at that time—criticisms to the effect that the Greek translation did not adequately reflect the Hebrew text current in Palestine.

The name Septuagint comes from septuaginta, the Latin word for “70.” (The common abbreviation for the Septuagint is lxx, the Roman numeral for 70.) According to Aristeas, there were 72 translators. The number 70 is an adaptation of 72 based on models like the 70 Elders at Sinai, the 70 Judges who assisted Moses, the 70 Elders of the Sanhedrin, etc. Likely there were just five translators for the Pentateuch, as rabbinic versions of the story indicate (Aboth of Rabbi Nathan 37; Soferim 1.7). While church fathers like Justin Martyr (c. a.d. 135) refer to the 70 translators, the earliest use of the term Septuagint as a reference to the translation itself is found in Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History (c. a.d.303).

Different Translation Approaches within the Septuagint

In both ancient and modern times, different approaches to the task of translation have been adopted. Each language employs its words as a code to “cut up” and represent the “pie” of reality. The code of one language may overlap with that of another in multiple ways or perhaps not at all in some aspects. Just as light may be refracted as a continuum of colors on a spectrum, so translations may be characterized as a continuum on a spectrum from highly literal (sometimes called formal equivalence) to functional equivalence (also called dynamic equivalence).

At one end of the spectrum translations can be woodenly literal, simply translating item for item, word for word, even copying the word order of the original language in ways that make the translation sound unnatural. The code of the receptor language is conformed as closely as possible to that of the source language. Then further along the spectrum are “essentially literal” translations that seek to render the meaning of each word in the original but to do so in contextually sensitive ways and to produce a readable, natural-sounding translation. Functional equivalence, at the other end of the spectrum, is dynamic, idiomatic, idea for idea or “thought for thought,” so to speak. The code of the receptorlanguage (even when it differs significantly from the original language) is followed as closely as possible to maximize effective communication and understanding for the audience.

Thus different notions of fidelity in transmitting the Word of God motivate the different ends of the spectrum. When the codes of source and target languages overlap in multiple ways, often more than one correct translation of an expression is possible. For example, if the source language specifies a relationship of possession between the nouns “Mary” and “purse,” there are a number of right ways to say this: “Mary’s purse,” “the purse of Mary,” “the purse that belongs to Mary,” “the purse that Mary has,” etc. The books in the Greek Pentateuch as well as those in the Prophets and Writings vary widely within this spectrum of types of translation. Some are literal in the extreme; others are more idiomatic and represent various gradations of functional equivalence.

Genesis and Exodus in the Septuagint range from essentially literal to fairly dynamic translations, while Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are quite literal. The translator of the book of Job abbreviated many of the long, windy speeches for his Hellenistic readership so that the book is one-sixth shorter in Greek. The translator of Proverbs rearranged the material to enhance the figure of Solomon. Other books, such as Esther and Daniel, have additions to them. The Septuagint version of Jeremiah for some reason differs significantly from the Hebrew text in both arrangement and text. Most of the books, however, reflect the same Hebrew text preserved in the Masoretic text.

The differences between the Septuagint and the later standard Hebrew text (the Masoretic text) are due to a number of factors. In some cases, the translators were using a Hebrew parent text that differs somewhat from the Masoretic text. In most cases, differences are due simply to a different way of reading the same text or understanding the grammar and meaning of words.

The Septuagint quickly became popular among the Jews of the Diaspora for whom Greek was the familiar spoken language. When the Christian church began to spread beyond Jewish borders, they adopted the Septuagint as their ordinary Bible, with minor modifications (while still recognizing that it was a translation). For example, the book of Daniel in the Septuagint was considered so deficient by the Christian church that they rejected it, and in its place used a later Greek translation attributed to Theodotion.

Many of the quotations of the OT in the NT are from the Septuagint, or even early revisions of it, and as a result differ from the Masoretic text. The differences range from superficial to significant. Sometimes the “quotations” are not actually quotations in a modern sense but are the NT author’s modification and adaptation of the Septuagint wording to apply to a new circumstance (see, e.g., Acts 4:11, borrowing words from Ps. 118:22; and 2 Cor. 6:18a, borrowing from 2 Sam. 7:14). At other times the NT authors correct the Septuagint reading, bringing it closer to the Hebrew (e.g., 1 Cor. 14:21, using Isa. 28:11–12;Eph. 4:30, using Isa. 63:10).

Differences due to copyist errors in textual transmission and variations in translation do not in any way weaken the strong claim made by Jesus and the apostles concerning the inspiration and accuracy of the Scriptures. They affirmed the divine authority both of the OT itself and of their own writings as they at various times used and adapted both the Masoretic text and some of the readings found in copies of the Septuagint. The differences and variations in the texts were there in Jesus’ time just as they are today. No doubt in many cases the NT authors were aware of the differences but were able to use them for their own purposes. This does not imply that they thought the Septuagint always represented the wording of the documents as originally written, but only that they affirmed the truthfulness of the words they quoted or adapted to the new context of their own writing.

Revisions of the Septuagint

Before the end of the first century a.d., Jews were reacting against the use of the Septuagint, partly because it did not reflect current rabbinic teaching and partly because of Christian apologetics based on the Septuagint, not only where it was accurate but even sometimes where it had faulty renderings. Therefore, the Jews produced a number of revisions of the Septuagint to make it conform to the Hebrew text more closely. The most important of these were by Theodotion (50 b.c.a.d. 50; literal), Aquila (c.a.d. 120; extremely literalistic), and Symmachus (c. 180; dynamic). Almost all later translations of the OT (Old Latin, Syro-Hexapla, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Arabic, Gothic, Old Georgian, Old Slavic) were made from the Septuagint rather than directly from the Hebrew. (But the Syriac Peshitta version and the Latin Vulgate made extensive use of a Hebrew text, and the Samaritan Pentateuch was itself a Hebrew text.)

Christian codices (plural of “codex,” which is an early kind of book consisting of bound sheaves of handwritten pages) of the Bible from the fourth/fifth century a.d. contain additional books beyond the 39 books of the OT and 27 books of the NT. Some of these additional books are translations of Hebrew originals, but most were originally written in Greek. These books represent Jewish literature written between 300 b.c. and a.d. 100 and were called the Apocrypha by Jerome. (See The Apocrypha.) Some have mistakenly thought that these books were included by Alexandrian Jews in their canon. Yet Judaism in Alexandria was not independent of Palestinian Judaism, as even Aristeas reveals.

Not all of the books of the Apocrypha were originally composed in Greek or even in Egypt. Moreover, 1 Maccabees, one of the books of the Apocrypha, acknowledged that inspiration had ceased (1 Macc. 4:46; 9:27; 14:41) before it was written. The prologue to Sirach (c. 130 b.c.) does not seem to include the Apocrypha as Scripture, and Philo, who ought to be a key source of information on Alexandria, does not quote the Apocrypha. Nor did he write commentaries on these books, even though he wrote on all the books in the Hebrew canon. Since the extant manuscripts of the Septuagint are of Christian, not Jewish, origin and are copies made 500 years after the original translations, the great uncial codices (early codices written entirely with capital letters called “uncials”) cannot be guides as to what was canonical in Alexandria in the third century b.c. The books of the Apocrypha were not considered inspired by either Jews or Christians, but were popular reading among both groups.

The Importance of the Septuagint

The Septuagint is important for many reasons. First, the Septuagint represents an extremely early text of the OT. Our oldest complete manuscripts of the Hebrew OT date to c. a.d. 1000, and even the portions of the OT found in the Dead Sea Scrolls date from around 200 b.c. to a.d. 68. But the Septuagint translation of the Pentateuch was done in the third century b.c. To the extent that we can use it to determine the Hebrew text from which it was translated, we have a much older testimony to the text of the OT. (On the other hand, the Hebrew Masoretic text is the result of an extremely careful process of copying and transmission and often represents a more accurate preservation of the original wording than that found in the Septuagint, although this can be decided only on a case-by-case basis. At times the Septuagint better preserves the more original wording.) And in spite of some variations, the Septuagint usually shows the same text later preserved in the Masoretic text. Since the Septuagint predates the Dead Sea Scrolls and is complete while they are fragmentary, it is more important than the Dead Sea Scrolls as a textual witness.

Second, the Greek OT, as a translation, gives us an extremely early understanding of difficult points of grammar in the Hebrew text and the meanings of Hebrew words otherwise unknown to us.

Third, since all translation involves interpretation, the Greek OT is, in effect, the earliest commentary on the Hebrew text.

Fourth, since the Greek OT was produced between the end of the OT and the beginning of the NT, it represents a key witness to the thought and worldview of Second Temple Judaism (c. 516 b.c.a.d. 70).

Fifth, the Greek translation was often used by the apostles when quoting the OT in the NT and was adopted early on as the ordinary Bible of the Christian church. Understanding the language of the Greek OT is key to understanding the Greek of the NT. The Septuagint affected the language of the apostles just as the kjv has influenced the vocabulary of Christians in our time. Such influence is especially evident in the writings of Luke, who contributed more to the NT than Paul in amount of text. For example, in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10) Jesus asks who was a neighbor to the man who fell among thieves. An expert in the Torah answers, “the one who did ‘mercy’ with him.” The expression is as strange in Greek as in English, but comes by way of the Septuagint from the expression in Hebrew for performing acts of kindness that demonstrate and fulfill covenant loyalty and love.

Finally, the history of the Greek Old Testament bears witness to debates over approaches to translation and to the problem of variations in the text of the Bible at the time of Jesus. This can shed some light on debates over similar topics today.

For these reasons, the study of the Greek OT can be of great value to the church today.


The Original Languages of the Bible

Hebrew and Aramaic, and How They Work


The main language of the OT is Classical Hebrew, but some parts are in Aramaic (Ezra 4:7–6:18; 7:12–26; Jer. 10:11; Dan. 2:4–7:28). Two words of Aramaic also occur in the place name Jegar-sahadutha inGenesis 31:47.

The form of Hebrew found in the Bible was probably spoken from as early as 1500 b.c. to some time after 400 b.c. Although Aramaic (the official international language of the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian Empires) came increasingly into daily use among Jews, many Jews (at least in the Jerusalem area) continued to use a form of Hebrew (which later developed into “Mishnaic” Hebrew, the language of the Mishnah). Hebrew documents with varying degrees of similarity to Biblical Hebrew have been found at Qumran and in the desert of Judah, with dates from the second century b.c. to the second century a.d. The synagogues in Palestine retained the use of Hebrew as a sacred language. Modern Hebrew, which was developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is based on the earlier forms of Hebrew and is one of the official languages of the modern state of Israel (founded in 1948).

Both Hebrew and Aramaic are part of the wider family of languages that since 1781 have been labeled “Semitic,” a name derived from that of Noah’s son Shem. However, languages from this group were also spoken by some peoples (such as the Amorites, Babylonians, and Canaanites) that Genesis does not record as being descended from Shem.

Semitic Languages

While there are many Semitic languages, they can generally be organized according to the three regions where they were spoken: (1) East Semitic (Mesopotamia), including Old Akkadian, Assyrian, and Babylonian; (2) South-West Semitic (parts of northeastern Africa), including North Arabic (the language of the Qur’an) and Ethiopian; and (3) North-West Semitic (Syro-Palestine), including Amoritic and Ugaritic, along with Hebrew, Phoenician, Moabite (the Canaanite branch), and Aramaic and Syriac (the Aramaic branch). When considered together, the Semitic languages have a longer continuous history of being written than almost any other group.


Hebrew, Aramaic, and some neighboring Semitic languages share an alphabet of 22 consonant letters only (23 if the sin and shin are counted separately) and are read from right to left. The shape and order of these Hebrew characters had been distilled by the second millennium b.c., before the time of Moses (and the writing of the OT). This alphabet was then passed by way of the Phoenicians to the Greeks, while the Hebrew and Aramaic forms of the script began to diverge. The form of Hebrew script generally used until at least the Babylonian exile, and still found in some Dead Sea Scrolls, is known as the Paleo-Hebrew script. Some of its letters still resemble their equivalents in the Greek alphabet. During the rule of the Persians (539–332 b.c.) the square Aramaic (or Assyrian) script was adopted for writing Hebrew, with the result that the forms of letters originally used for Aramaic are now almost universally associated in people’s minds with Hebrew (see chart).

Hebrew name Square (Assyrian or Aramaic) script Paleo-Hebrew form Sound Traditional transliteration
Aleph א ![א]( glottal stop
Beth ב ![ב]( b b
Gimel ג ![ג]( g g
Daleth ד ![ד]( d d
He ה ![ה]( h h
Waw ו ![ו]( w w
Zayin ז ![ז]( s z
Heth ח ![ח]( ch (“loch”)
Teth ט ![ט]( t
Yod י ![י]( y y
Kaph ך, כ ![כ]( k k
Lamedh ל ![ל]( l l
Mem ם, מ ![מ]( m m
Nun ן, נ ![נ]( n n
Samekh ס ![ס]( s s
Ayin ע ![ע](
Pe ף, פ ![פ]( p p
Tsadhe ץ, צ ![צ]( ts
Qoph ק ![ק]( q q
Resh ר ![ר]( r r
Sin שׂ ![ש]( s ś
Shin שׁ ![ש]( sh š
Taw ת ![ת]( t t
(The transliteration style of Hebrew characters followed in this Study Bible has been somewhat simplified from the more precise traditional transliteration depicted in this chart. See Hebrew and Greektransliteration charts.)
### Transliteration of Hebrew Words in the ESV Study Bible


Letter Name of Letter Transliteration
א aleph ’ (a closing single quotation mark)
ב beth b
ג gimel g
ד daleth d
ה he h
ו waw w
ז zayin z
ח heth kh (but h in *hesed*)
ט teth t
י yod y
ך, כ kaph, final kaph k
ל lamedh l
ם, מ mem, final mem m
ן, נ nun, final nun n
ס samekh s
ע ayin ‘ (an opening single quotation mark)
ף, פ pe, final pe p
ץ, צ tsadhe, final tsadhe ts
ק qoph q
ר resh r
שׂ sin s
שׁ shin sh
ת taw t
### Vowels
Symbol Name of Vowel Transliteration
ַ patakh, furtive patakh a
ָ qamets a
ה ָ final qamets he ah
ֶ segol e
ֵ tsere e
י ֵ tsere yod e
ִ hireq i
י ִ hireq yod i
ָ qamets hatuph o
ֹ holem o
וֹ full holem o
ֻ qibbuts u
וּ shureq u
ֳ hateph qamets o
ֲ hateph patakh a
ֱ hateph segol e
ְ vocal shewa e
ּ daghesh or mapiq if a vowel precedes a daghesh, double the consonant
The alphabet itself has had an effect on the form of certain texts in the OT. A number of the Psalms (Psalms 9; 10; 25; 34; 37; 111; 112; 119; 145) are arranged as types of acrostic poems composed around the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, as are the first four chapters of Lamentations (see Introduction to Lamentations: Literary Features).

Matres Lectionis

In order to give further precision to pronunciation of words, and to clarify ambiguities between words that shared the same consonants, three of the consonant letters came to be used to represent vowels. The letter h (ה) represented a or e; w (ו) represented o or u, and y (י) represented e or i. In inscriptions from biblical times, these matres lectionis (Latin for “mothers of reading,” i.e., “vowel letters”) were rare before the exile, and it is therefore often held that preexilic biblical writings that display extensive use ofmatres lectionis had these letters added after the time of composition to help readers understand the words properly. It is still the case, however, that earlier texts, such as the Pentateuch, are more sparing in the use of these than, e.g., postexilic writings such as the books of Chronicles.


Semitic words are generally based on so-called roots consisting of three consonants. Vowels and a limited range of other consonants are arranged around these roots to produce words. Consider the following Hebrew words:

melek (“king”)

malkah (“queen”)

mamlakah (“kingdom”)

malak (“he reigned”)

malkut (“reign”)

The constant element in all of these words is the consonant sequence m-l-k, which is associated with royal rule. Sometimes a particular word may occur only once in the whole OT, and the question naturally arises as to how its meaning is known. If, however, there are other words from the same root, its meaning can be identified in relation to them (with due consideration given also to its context).

Masoretic Pointing

The OT writings were produced using consonants only. Pronunciation was possible by adding vowel sounds to the consonantal words, and thus the particular vocalization and accentuation of Biblical Hebrew was understood aurally, and was therefore taught and memorized and passed down to each successive generation orally through the Jewish schools and synagogues (cf. the anecdote in Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra 21a–b). However, as Biblical Hebrew was no longer in use as a spoken language among the Jews, and in order to avoid ambiguities in the text by ensuring that the correct pronunciation was not lost, Jewish textual scholars between the fifth and eighth centuries a.d.devised and inserted into the OT text a system of vowel points to guide readers in how the words should be correctly vocalized and accented. These Jewish scribes, known as the Masoretes (from the Hb.masorah, “what was handed down,” i.e., “tradition”), applied this system of “pointing” by adding marks (dots and strokes) around the consonants without disturbing or changing any of them. The Masoretes thus “pointed” the Hebrew text of the OT with symbols indicating vowel sounds so that the traditional way Scripture had been read and heard in the synagogues would be preserved even though Biblical Hebrew was ceasing to be spoken among the Jewish people. Here is an example of the word “king” in unpointed and pointed form:

Unpointed מלך *mlk*
Pointed ְמֶלֶך *melek*
In addition to providing guidance as to which vowels occur within a word, the Masoretic pointing also distinguishes between different pronunciations of the same letter. The so-called *begadkephath* letters—*b*, *g*, *d*, *k*, *p*, and *t*—also had the spirant (or fricative) pronunciations *bh*, *gh*, *dh*, *kh*, *ph*, and *th*. A single dot (called a *daghesh*) inside the letter (e.g., בּ) would specify the “hard” pronunciation *b* rather than the “soft” pronunciation *bh* (ב), etc. By the position of a point, Masoretic notation also distinguished two different sounds that lay behind the Hebrew letter ש. Hebrew שׂ represented *s* (*sin*) and שׁ represented *sh*(*shin*). Medieval Hebrew manuscripts also contain a further set of marks known as accents or cantillation signs, which indicate division and cohesion in the text and specify the way the text should be sung in the synagogue.

Masoretes actively worked in three areas—Babylon, Palestine, and Tiberias—and eventually it was the tradition from Tiberias (called Tiberian vocalization), particularly the work of the Ben Asher family in Tiberias (c. a.d. 900), which is preserved in the Hebrew Bible today (i.e., the Masoretic text [MT]; thus also the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia [BHS]). However, a further guide to the historical pronunciation of words is available in the tradition of pronunciation of the Pentateuch among the Samaritans. On the surface, the Samaritan pronunciation usually seems rather different from the Tiberian vocalization. Yet when historical sound changes are taken into account, it often shows regular correspondence to that of the Masoretes.

Verbal System

Almost all Hebrew verbs are built upon three root or stem consonants (alluded to above), though these will rarely appear in the text without an accompanying affix of some kind. There are seven main stem formations (or binyanim) of Hebrew verbs: Qal, Niphal, Piel, Pual, Hithpael, Hiphil, and Hophal. Each of these seven divisions convey something different about the relationship between the subject and the verbal action (active, passive, reflexive, causative, etc.), and these are apparent by the characteristic changes that the same three-consonant verbal stem undergoes within each division (though most verbs do not occur in all seven stem formations).

The many structural differences between Hebrew and English influence translation. Whereas English has a system of verbal tenses (i.e., time of action—past, present, future, etc.), many grammarians prefer to say that Hebrew has two verbal aspects (i.e., kind of action—complete, incomplete, etc.) known as the perfect and imperfect. In the simplest terms, these aspects consider actions as either complete or incomplete, respectively. Thus, the Hebrew imperfect is frequently used for referring both to events in the future and to repeated events in the past. A further complication is the relationship that the perfect and the imperfect verb have with the conjunction “and” (Hebrew letter waw). When waw (ו) attaches as a prefix to a perfect or imperfect verb, it may at times appear to reverse the function of the perfect or imperfect aspect so that the perfect then communicates incomplete action and the imperfect communicates complete action, even if, from a historical perspective, this is not actually what is happening (it actually preserves an old tense form). Such differences between the Hebrew and English verbal systems can make translation difficult at times. However, in most prose texts, the temporal location of the narrative is immediately clear and, consequently, so is the way in which one should render a passage. Poetic texts are more complex, but there is still a surprising agreement between English translations as to which tense to use.

The Waw Particle

Closely connected with the verbal system is the ubiquity of waw (ו; “and”) in the Hebrew Bible. It is used to begin books with no previous connection with another narrative (e.g., Esther, Ezekiel, Jonah) and is the main particle connecting clauses in prose texts. Although Hebrew has some particles that carry senses such as “but,” “therefore,” and “because,” these words are less commonly used than waw, which in connection with various clauses can be rendered by a range of terms. The esv renders waw by the neutral “and” where appropriate, but also uses words such as “now” (Judg. 2:1), “so” (Judg. 2:14), “then” (Judg. 2:16), and “but” (Judg. 2:19) when the context calls for it.


Hebrew also has fewer prepositions than English, with the result that the same Hebrew preposition can be rendered in a variety of ways. For instance, renderings of the preposition b (בּ) may include “in,” “on,” “by,” and “with.” Hebrew has no word for “of,” but the possessive and other relationships expressed by English “of” can be represented in Hebrew by using the “construct state.” In the construct state, a noun is placed immediately before another noun in an inseparable (attached) position. Sometimes this involves a change in the form of the first noun as it loses stress. Thus, the underlined word is in the construct state in the following examples: melek (“king”) + yisra’el (“Israel”) → melek yisra’el (“king ofIsrael”); malkah (“queen”) + yisra’el (“Israel”) → malkat yisra’el (“queen of Israel”).


Hebrew has a definite article: h (ה) precedes the noun, usually with a short a-vowel (ַ) and doubling of the initial consonant of the noun. There is no indefinite article in Biblical Hebrew. Thus melek means “king” or “a king,” but hammelek means “the king.” In poetic texts, however, the definite article is used more sparingly, and it is therefore sometimes legitimate to use a definite article in translating a Hebrew phrase that lacks one (as in the esv rendering “in the scroll of the book,” in Ps. 40:7).

Gender and Number

Hebrew has two genders (masculine and feminine) and three numbers (singular, dual, and plural). The dual is used only to refer to two items that occur in a pair (e.g., “eyes,” “knees,” “teeth,” “millstones”). Verbs and pronouns also distinguish between a masculine and a feminine form of the second person (“you”) in singular and plural forms, and between a masculine and a feminine form of the third-person plural (“they”). The distinction between the genders of the pronouns plays a significant part in the esvidentification of speakers in the Song of Solomon (see, e.g., esv footnote on Song 1:11).


The Hebrew of the OT is not uniform. Certain songs, such as the Song of Deborah (Judges 5) and the Song of Moses (Ex. 15:1–18), display archaic linguistic features. Though there is still a strong underlying linguistic unity to the OT, the language found throughout the 39 books shows that the OT was composed over a considerable period of time. Moreover, the language of the OT also reflects dialectal differences (cf. Judg. 12:6). Occasionally features of certain OT texts are identified by scholars as coming from the northern kingdom (Israel), as opposed to Judah, for example.


The term “Aramaic” comes from the people of Aram (an ancient region of upper Mesopotamia), the Arameans, whom Old Akkadian writings mention as early as the third millennium b.c. During the eighth and seventh centuries b.c., the Assyrian Empire controlled much of the ancient Near East, and Aramaic spread in usage as an international language (cf. 2 Kings 18:26; Isa. 36:11) until the Persian Empire of the sixth century b.c. established it as the official language. The few Aramaic sections of the OT (Gen. 31:47; Ezra 4:8–6:18; 7:12–26; Jer. 10:11; Dan. 2:4–7:28) fit clearly within the category of Imperial Aramaic, the language of Persian administration. Much of the grammatical description of Biblical Hebrew given above could, with minor changes, also apply to Aramaic. Eventually, Aramaic came into daily use with many Jews, especially those in Galilee. Aramaic words appear in the NT on the lips of Jesus (e.g., Mark 5:41; 7:34), and the name Golgotha (Mark 15:22) is Aramaic in form. The term of respectful address, ’abba’, seems also to be Aramaic, but it became standard in later Hebrew as well. The expression ephphatha (“be opened!” Mark 7:34) may be Aramaic, though some think it is the equivalent form in Hebrew. Paul uses the Aramaic expression marana tha (“our Lord, come!”) in 1 Corinthians 16:22.


While Biblical Hebrew enjoyed over 1,000 years of existence as a spoken language—from the middle of the second millennium b.c. until the close of the b.c. era—it has never truly “died” but continues to thrive today through the perpetual study and translation of the writings of the OT Scriptures. Furthermore, it is still actively spoken and used in Jewish religious life and synagogues around the world. It is taught and passed down in both Christian seminaries and Jewish yeshivas. And because of its use by God as the language of the OT, it will continue to enjoy a detailed preservation and rich textual tradition virtually unparalleled by any other ancient language.

Greek, and How It Works


Starting in May of 334 b.c., Alexander, the 21-year-old king of Macedon, led his victorious army through four pitched battles, two sieges, and innumerable smaller engagements that enabled him to conquer territory that now goes under the names of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. Reaching the banks of the Beas River in Pakistan, he reluctantly turned back as his exhausted troops threatened mutiny. Three years later, in 323 b.c., he died (at age 32) in Babylon, just as he was planning an expedition all the way from Egypt along the North African coast to the Atlantic.

When Alexander died, his empire broke up into separate kingdoms headed by his disgruntled generals. But he had changed the world. In the old, now liberated cities of Asia Minor—Ephesus and Pergamum—as well as in the newly founded cities of the Middle East—Antioch and Alexandria—the culture and language of the colonial aristocracy was Greek. Three centuries after Alexander’s death, when the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth was written down, the language used was not Jesus’ native Aramaic but Greek, which, thanks to Alexander’s conquests, had become the common language of the Mediterranean world. The conclusion now universally accepted by philologists is that the Greek of the NT, in all essential respects, is the vernacular Koine of the first century a.d., the language of the Roman imperial period.

Koine Greek

“Koine” means “common” in the sense of pertaining to the public at large. Hence, “Koine Greek” means the language commonly spoken everywhere—the basic means of communication of people throughout the Roman Empire. This dialect was basically the late Attic vernacular, spoken in Athens, with dialectal and provincial influences. In addition to the Greek NT, the Koine has left other literary monuments that are invaluable sources of light on the sacred text, including papyri, inscriptions, the writings of numerous Jewish and early Christian authors, and above all the Septuagint, the ancient version of the OT that became the Bible of the early church and was used extensively by the NT writers.

Koine Greek itself exhibits three important characteristics. The first, semantic change, is a natural feature of any language. The meanings of certain words were weakened in the Koine period. For example, the noun dōma meant “house” or “room” in Classical Greek, but in the NT it came to mean “roof” of a house (Luke 5:19). In the NT the preposition eis can mean “in” as well as “into,” though it meant only “into” in Classical Greek. The conjunction hina has a much wider meaning in Koine than “in order that,” which was the meaning in Classical Greek. For instance, hina is often used in content clauses simply to mean “that.” The tendency in Koine to use the comparative degree of the adjective for the superlative may also be noted. Second, Koine Greek exhibits greater simplicity than Classical Greek. This is seen primarily in the composition of its sentences, which tend toward coordination rather than subordination of clauses. Finally, Koine Greek shows unmistakable traces of a tendency toward more explicit (some would say more redundant) expression, as seen, for example, in the use of pronouns as subjects of verbs and the use of prepositional phrases to replace simple cases. Adverbs abound, as do parenthetical statements and emphatic expressions such as “each and every” and “the very same.”

At the same time, Koine Greek was not entirely uniform. Various literary levels existed, depending on the writer’s background, education, or even sources. In the first century a.d., some writers even attempted to turn back the clock by advocating a return to the old classical form of Greek, decrying the Koine as a debased form of the language. The artificial style they produced (called “Atticistic” Greek) contrasted with the dialect of everyday life.

Styles of Greek in the NT

The NT itself reveals several styles of Greek among its authors. The highly literary epistle to the Hebrews, with its careful progression of argument and elevated diction, lies at one extreme. Luke and Acts also reveal good literary style, though the author (Luke) is able to vary his style considerably (cf. the colloquial Greek of Peter’s speech in Acts 15:7–11 with the rhetorical nature of Paul’s Areopagus speech in Acts 17:22–31, or the Classical introduction in Luke 1:1–4 to the more Septuagintal style ofLuke 1:5–2:52). Paul’s Greek is more or less colloquial, but that may be partly due to his amanuenses, the secretaries who wrote from his dictation. At the other end of the spectrum lies the grammar of Revelation, which may reflect the work of a Semitic-speaking person who lacks a polished knowledge of Greek (though many of the idioms John uses have direct parallels in colloquial papyri texts).

### Transliteration of Greek Words in the ESV Study Bible
Letter Name of Letter Transliteration
α alpha a
β bēta b
γ gamma g
γ gamma nasal n (before g, k, x, c)
δ delta d
ε epsilon e
ζ zēta z
η ēta ē
θ thēta th
ι iōta i
κ kappa k
λ lambda l
μ mu m
ν nu n
ξ xi x
ο omicron o
π pi p
ρ rho r
ρ̒ initial rho rh (or in medial double rho)
σ, ς sigma, final sigma s
τ tau t
υ upsilon y (not in diphthong)
υ upsilon u (in diphthongs: au, eu, ēu, ou, ui)
φ phi ph
χ chi ch
ψ psi ps
ω ōmega ō
rough breathing mark h (preceding initial vowel)
### Greek Linguistics

Greek linguistics has emerged as one of the most fundamental disciplines in biblical studies—as important, e.g., as the study of molecular physics in the natural sciences. Biblical scholars have recently become concerned with the problems of language to a degree equaled only in the early history of modern comparative linguistics, when NT scholars such as Deissmann and Moulton began demolishing the myth of “Holy Ghost” Greek (the belief that God created a special language in which to inscripturate the NT). Today several scholars are specifically interested in what they call the “semantics of biblical language.”

It is a central concern of semantics that a clear distinction be maintained between words as linguistic units and the concepts associated with them. All languages have several ways of expressing a concept, and rarely does a concept consist of only one word. This confusion of word and concept is one of the chief faults of Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. In treating words as if they were concepts, it incorrectly implies that the words themselves contain the various theological meanings assigned to them. But the meanings of words are determined from the way they are used in context. There is now consensus that interpreters must work at the level of the paragraph to discern meaning.

The capacity of a word to have two or more meanings is technically known as polysemy—a particular form of a word can belong to different fields of meaning, only one of which need be its semantic contribution to a single sentence or context. The principle of polysemy is frequently ignored in exegesis, leading to what is called the fallacy of “illegitimate totality transfer,” which occurs when the various meanings of a word in different contexts are gathered together and then all those meanings are presumed to be present in any single context. For example, it would be illegitimate to presume without further indication that in any single passage the word ekklēsia must refer to the church, the body of Christ. In Acts 7:38, e.g., “church” (in the NT sense) would clearly not be the author’s meaning and would actually be contradictory to the sense of the passage.

Another important linguistic concept is synonymy. Synonymy can be considered the opposite of polysemy: in synonymy, two or more words may be associated with the same meaning, whereas in polysemy two or more meanings are associated with the same word. A biblical example of synonymy involves the Greek vocabulary for “love.” The relationship between the meanings of agapaō and phileōis such that the words may be used interchangeably in some contexts. One thereafter need not be surprised that agapaō (popularly considered to refer to divine love) can describe Amnon’s incestuous relationship with his half-sister Tamar (2 Sam. 13:15 lxx) or that phileō (popularly taken to refer to a lower form of love) can refer to the Father’s love for the Son (John 5:20). Other NT examples of synonymy are logos/rhēma (“word”), horaō/blepō (“I see”), and oida/ginōskō (“I know”). In each case, according to the principle of “semantic neutralization,” any of the terms in these pairs may in some contexts be used interchangeably without any significant difference in meaning, depending on the purpose of the biblical author. (Smaller differences in nuance or connotation, however, are often still present among synonyms.)

Greek as an Inflected Language

Greek is a highly inflected language (like its contemporary, Latin). This means that most Greek words undergo changes in keeping with their function in the sentence in which they occur. For example, Greek nouns have five basic cases (or sets of forms): nominative, vocative, genitive, dative, and accusative. (English still bears a faint resemblance to this trait in such words as “dog,” “dogs,” “dog’s,” and “dogs’,” or in “I” and “he” used as subjects, “me” and “him” used as objects, and “my” and “his” used to show possession.) Because Greek word inflections designate the function of each word in its sentence, Greek allows much more variation in word order than English does, e.g., where a different word order often changes the meaning. In addition, Greek verbs function within an extensive and highly developed system of tenses, voices, moods, gender, and number, giving modern Greek students considerable consternation, but providing flexibility for a very broad range of nuances of meaning. Koine Greek’s linguistic stock (the set of words available for use) was incredibly rich, and new words could easily be coined by combining older words or adding a variety of common prefixes. These features all made Koine Greek a wonderfully resourceful language with a remarkable ability to express an author’s meaning precisely and understandably.

The Importance of Studying Greek Today

Is this ancient language worth studying today? Yes, indeed! The many tools available can give modern readers the knowledge and understanding to incorporate Greek into their own life and ministry, and into their personal Bible study. A knowledge of Greek will probably not make a reader think that the meaning of a verse is completely different from that indicated in a reliable, essentially literal modern translation, but it will certainly give the reader the ability to understand the meaning more precisely, to decide more accurately among various nuances that might be allowed by the English text, to understand why many popular interpretations are incorrect, and to have deeper confidence in knowing the precise sense of the verse. Meanwhile, those who will never learn Greek can still be thankful for scholars who have studied it extensively and who have prepared modern English translations that make available to the reading public an accurate rendering of what the original says.


Archaeology and the Bible

Archaeology and the Reliability of the Old Testament

Definition of Archaeology

Archaeology may be defined as the systematic study of the material remains of human behavior in the past. It includes written documents and objects of everyday life that are preserved in a fragile or ruined condition. In reality, as archaeologist Stuart Piggott famously remarked, archaeology is the “science of rubbish.” Indeed, archaeologists spend their time and efforts in long-forgotten heaps of ancient refuse: broken pots, shattered buildings, and crumbling documents.

The Purpose and Aim of Archaeology

The aim of archaeology is to discover, record, observe, and preserve the buried remains of antiquity and to use them to help reconstruct ancient life. In fact, archaeology is merely one of numerous disciplines that contribute to the understanding of ancient times and ways. Other fields, such as paleography and epigraphy (the study of ancient writing systems and inscriptions), history, linguistics, numismatics (the study of coins), and literature are also utilized to recover antiquity. Archaeology can paint only part of the picture; it is not exhaustive. For example, the site of Megiddo has been heavily excavated since the end of the nineteenth century, and yet only a slice of it has been unearthed. What archaeology provides for the reconstruction of ancient life at Megiddo is piecemeal and fragmentary. One cannot expect a complete picture through archaeology alone.

Archaeology in the lands of the Bible has a checkered past. It began in the mid-nineteenth century with Western pioneers who traveled throughout Palestine on horseback, compass in hand, attempting to identify and mark ancient sites from the time of the Bible. Actual excavation did not begin until the end of that century and, unfortunately, much of the work was no more than treasure-hunting. The object often was to recover as many valuable relics as possible in the shortest time. Early archaeologists would not hesitate to use gunpowder to blast open a pyramid or a burial chamber. Mummy hunters in Egypt literally waded through piles of discarded coffins to reach their prey. Much has changed since those early days. Today excavation is systematic, scientific, and multidisciplinary.

Much of archaeology in the lands of the Bible focuses on sites that have been occupied for hundreds and even thousands of years. The site of Megiddo has occupational remains dating from the Neolithic period (c. 5000 b.c.) to the Persian period (5th–4th centuries b.c.). Such settlements are called “tells” (from the Arabic word; cf. Hb. tel, “heap, mound,” Josh. 8:28; 11:13; Jer. 30:18; 49:2), which are artificial mounds. The first settlers would come to an area and build there, usually for three reasons: defense, a dependable water source, and a reliable food source. When the first settlement was destroyed by any of a number of causes, succeeding builders normally built a new settlement directly on top of the previous rubble. After each settlement, the mound would grow higher and thus be of greater strategic value. A tell, then, is like a layered cake in which each layer was put down sequentially, the most modern period being on top. The goal of the archaeologist is to disassemble in reverse the layers of the tell, and then to reconstruct the history and culture of the people who lived there; in other words, to dig up the story that is hidden in the mound.

Three primary categories of remains are uncovered through excavation: pottery, architecture, and various other small finds. Of the three, pottery is especially important for archaeology because of its durability and changeability. Pottery is found in every layer of a site because it lasts, and each layer has its own distinctive and typical pottery. By comparing pottery from different sites, archaeologists are able to derive a dating sequence and order for those locations.

The Relationship of Archaeology to the Biblical Disciplines

No greater dilemma exists in archaeology in the land of the Bible than the question of what motivates excavation. What is the relationship of biblical studies to the scientific discipline of archaeology? What is the place of the scientific disciplines in archaeology? Is there a place for “biblical archaeology” today?

Historically, archaeology in Palestine has been uniquely the work of biblical scholars. Many of the archaeology pioneers of the nineteenth century were trained in and motivated by biblical studies. Edward Robinson (1794–1863), often considered the father of scientific topography and archaeology of Palestine, was primarily trained in Hebrew and the OT. The first systematic excavators of Palestine were biblical scholars such as W. F. Albright, N. Glueck, and G. E. Wright. In the second half of the twentieth century, however, there was a loud call from the scientific community for a distinct separation between biblical studies and archaeological research. The argument was that the relationship between the two is largely artificial, and now it was time for archaeology to stand on its own as a scientific discipline. It is only natural, however, that the two disciplines work hand in hand because they are a source of knowledge and discovery for each other.

Today, a proper balance is necessary between archaeology in Palestine and biblical studies. While there have been some attempts to use archaeological finds to deconstruct ancient history and the life-setting of antiquity, the aim should rather be reconstruction: a harmonization in which biblical studies, archaeology, and other disciplines are used to recover and to understand the way people lived in the times and lands of the Bible. A prime purpose of archaeology is to shed light on the historical and material contexts in which the stories of the Bible took place. Thus, archaeology provides a life-setting for biblical texts. In that regard, archaeology can be a confirmatory tool, especially when the textual and archaeological evidence converge.

A good example of how archaeology illumines the Bible is the case of the Egyptian pharaoh Shishak and his invasion of Israel and Judah at the close of the tenth century b.c. This attack is mentioned in 1 Kings 14:25–26: “In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem. He took away the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house. He took away everything.” Extrabiblical sources confirm that this attack did take place, and they provide a wider understanding of it than what is recorded in the Bible. At the temple of Amun at Karnak, Shoshenk I (Shishak) built the Bubastite Portal, and on it appears a relief of Shishak’s invasion of Palestine. The relief contains the names of various sites on the campaign route that were either captured or destroyed.

One conclusion that may be drawn from the Bubastite Portal is that Shishak’s invasion of Palestine included more than a campaign against Jerusalem, and was leveled against the kingdoms of both Israel and Judah. Another important point is that Jerusalem is not mentioned on the relief. Why not? It is likely that it does not appear because it was not captured. King Rehoboam of Judah eluded Jerusalem’s capture by paying heavy tribute to the Egyptians (as is recorded in 1 Kings 14:25–26). In this case, the biblical evidence illumines archaeological finds.

Archaeology provides even further insight into this invasion. One of the cities listed as either captured or destroyed by Shishak is Megiddo. At the site of Megiddo, excavators uncovered a stele (or inscribed pillar) of Shishak on which is written two common titles for Shishak. Stelae like this one were commonly set up by pharaohs to claim a region as a vassal (or subject) state. In addition, there is a “destruction layer” at Megiddo that can be associated with the campaign of Shishak. Further evidence for this association appears at the site of Ta’anach, where a huge destruction layer covered the site. The pottery sealed beneath the destruction is the same as that of the destruction layer at Megiddo. Ta’anach was also mentioned as a city subdued by Shishak in the relief of the Bubastite Portal. It is indeed compelling to relate the destruction layers at Ta’anach and Megiddo to the Shishak campaign of the late tenth century b.c.

Archaeology complements both the Hebrew and Egyptian written sources as well in regard to the historical event of Shishak’s invasion of Israel and Judah. A fuller picture of the event is painted by bringing these separate sources together. And this convergence is not unique: the biblical authors set events like the invasions of Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar in their proper chronological framework and setting (cf. 2 Kings 18:13; 19:16; 24:1–10; 1 Chron. 6:15; 2 Chron. 32:1–22). These events are confirmed and filled out by contemporary ancient Near Eastern texts—the prism of Sennacherib for the former campaign, and the Lachish Letters for the latter. Excavation work has also brought to light numerous destruction layers at Judean sites that reflect both of those campaigns.

As for the bearing of archaeological study on the historical reliability of the OT, what has been the result of many decades of archaeological investigation? The answer is simple: archaeology has time and again supported and confirmed the biblical record, and many such examples are mentioned in the notes in this Study Bible.

Archaeology and the Reliability of the New Testament

Christians have often looked to archaeology to provide confirmation of the biblical record, which it indeed can. Yet the main advantage of archaeology lies in its ability to bring twenty-first-century readers into physical contact with the cultures in which Jesus and his apostles lived and ministered.

Archaeological Methodology

Archaeology today stands at the intersection of science and the humanities. Gone are the days when the amateur could take a spade and go hunting for treasures. Modern archaeology requires careful procedures, meticulous recording techniques, and a vast array of scientific technologies. Yet after all the data has been accumulated, the most interesting jobs entail interpreting the evidence.

Excavations at NT cities often uncover large structures such as monuments, tombs, and buildings (whether residential, civic, or commercial). These can be quite interesting, yet the smaller finds are often equally (if not more) illuminating. Such small finds include inscriptions, coins, papyri, figurines, and day-to-day artifacts (e.g., pottery, glass, furniture, and remnants of clothing). Visual art (such as mosaics, frescoes [paintings on moist plaster], friezes [carved reliefs], and statuary) can reveal many aspects of ancient life—from dress to social and religious practices.

Archaeological digs proceed slowly, layer by layer, in well-marked squares in order to understand each square’s relative chronology. Written records, drawings, and photographs accompany every square. While sophisticated dating procedures can be employed (such as radiocarbon), the primary techniques of dating archaeological strata typically still rely on pottery finds (both their form and their fabric) or on datable coins and inscriptions. The type of building can be identified by its architectural style, but this may not yield results as precise as those provided by the firmer dates of coins and inscriptions. Most dating methods require some degree of interpretation. It is important to realize that many excavated structures and artifacts from a city may stem from a time before or after the NT; although these can still be pertinent to understanding the cultures of the apostolic period, caution should be employed when correlating them with the NT.

Because the complete excavation of a large site can take many decades, knowledge of most ancient places is limited. For example, even though the ancient cities of Jerusalem, Rome, Ephesus, and Corinth have each been under excavation for over a century, much remains to be done in all of them. Thus, there should be caution concerning arguments from silence (claiming that because something has not been found, it does not exist). Furthermore, excavations have historically focused on the monumental architecture of those who were rich, while smaller residential structures (often constructed of short-lasting materials) may be underrepresented.

Interpreting Archaeological Finds

When there are varying opinions about a discovery, these usually occur at the level of interpretation. One of the initial interpretative acts of an excavator concerns “site identification”—discovering the ancient name of a known archaeological site. The identification of a particular locale synthesizes modern local traditions, ancient written sources, and the actual finds at that place (esp. inscriptions and coins). Sometimes biblical sites are hard to find, or more than one possibility exists. For example, both Cana (John 2:1) and Bethany across the Jordan (John 1:28) have more than one possible location. Fortunately, most NT towns are fairly well identified.

Particular architectural features within towns also require identification. Structures such as theaters and stadiums are fairly obvious, and baths have special features (such as particular heating systems), but understanding the use of other buildings may be complex. For example, the architecture of temples is often straightforward, but determining which deity was worshiped where can be difficult (e.g., the great temple in Corinth has been variously identified with Apollo or Athena). What was the purpose of a given civic building? Which set of shops in Corinth housed the meat market? In some cases, ancient literary sources may help (such as Pausanias’s Description of Greece, essentially a 2nd-century a.d. tour guide), but often interpretation involves intricate arguments based on specific features.

Even ancient inscriptions can raise questions. Do any of the extant Sergius Paulus inscriptions relate to the governor of Cyprus in Acts 13:7? How does one interpret the unusual Greek reference to the “place of the Jews who also fear God” in Miletus (see note on Acts 20:17)? At times a name appears, such as the name “Caiaphas” on the side of a richly decorated ossuary (Jewish bone reburial box), and the identification with a NT person seems probable (see John 18:24). On other occasions, some media personalities are too quick to correlate ancient finds with NT figures. Many names mentioned in the NT were common, such as the Jewish names Jesus, Joseph, Mary, James, and Matthew. Thus, when someone claims that the bones of Jesus Christ have actually been found in one of a few extant Jerusalem ossuaries labeled “Jesus son of Joseph,” skepticism is warranted, given that hundreds of people would have been so named in antiquity.

Certainly, archaeology involves scientific methods, but archaeological interpretation also requires professional competencies and a good bit of wisdom. Perhaps the best advice for those interested in archaeology would be to encourage them to read reliable sources and not to rely heavily on exciting new finds reported first in the popular media.

Archaeology and the Historicity of the NT

Many historical features of the NT can be supported from the archaeological record, and in fact one overwhelming result of archaeological research into the NT period has been to give strong confirmation to the NT writings’ historical accuracy. For example, the Gospel of John evidences an amazingly accurate awareness of the geography of Palestine. John’s descriptions of ancient Samaria have been confirmed by archaeology, including Samaritan worship on Mount Gerizim (4:20) and the location of Jacob’s well (4:6). Concerning Jerusalem, John’s Gospel carefully depicts the pool of Bethesda (5:2) and Solomon’s colonnade (10:22–23), which archaeology has been able to authenticate. Also, discoveries in 2005 helped confirm John’s portrayal of the pool of Siloam (9:7).

The book of Acts has been shown to well represent the geography of antiquity. Nearly every town in the book has been identified, and many cities have been excavated. The Acts record of Paul’s travels to Rome, including his shipwreck, presents one of the most detailed and useful travel accounts from antiquity (Acts 27). Luke, the author of Acts, even knows the correct terms for specific governors—as shown by uncovered inscriptions mentioning the proconsul Gallio (18:12), the asiarchs of Ephesus (19:30–31), and the politarchs of Thessalonica (17:1, 6).

Many other examples could be cited of historical aspects of the NT also found in the archaeological record. Inscriptions mention NT figures such as Pontius Pilate (Luke 23:1) and Herod the Great (Matt. 2:1). The synagogue of Capernaum has been found beneath another structure from late antiquity (Mark 1:21). Crucifixions were performed with nails, as the Gospel of John indicates (John 20:25), and such nails survive. The cities addressed in Revelation 2–3 often have historical features that line up well with aspects of their biblical description.

Furthermore, archaeology occasionally provides the scholar with new discoveries of biblical manuscripts. Archaeologists are partially responsible for the fact that there are now thousands of Greek manuscripts of the NT and even more manuscripts of early NT translations. All these manuscripts, some from a time close to the age of the apostles, have made the NT the best-attested set of writings from antiquity (see the article on The Reliability of the New Testament Manuscripts).

Archaeology and NT Cultural Contexts

A fuller understanding of the meaning of the NT can be achieved by learning more about the world in which its human authors and recipients lived. Biblical interpretation begins with understanding the original meaning of each passage before applying it to one’s contemporary life or situation. The original meaning was targeted toward people in particular cultures; the better those cultures are understood, the more accurately the NT can be interpreted. Archaeology can assist in this cultural understanding. In fact, while archaeological finds occasionally confirm the historicity of the NT, archaeological discoveries regularly provide insights into ancient culture. Moreover, archaeology serves as a reminder that NT events occurred in real time-space history.

If one were to tour with Paul the great Roman-era cities of his day, familiar features would appear at every juncture, and these can be reimagined with the aid of recent excavations. The shops and markets indicate a general prosperity in the cities. The civic structures show the power of Rome yet also suggest how it often worked through local governments. The theaters and odeions (buildings for music and recitations) testify to artistic endeavors, as do the many works of mosaic, fresco, and sculpture. The stadiums and their hero sculptures boast of athletic achievement. Baths, gymnasiums, and latrines evidence both the cultural aspiration to cleanliness and the training of youth. And all these theatrical, artistic, athletic, and civic functions were intricately tied to the cults of the pagan religions. More than anything, the modern reader would probably be shocked at how many pagan religious structures (from small niches to monumental temples) are found at seemingly every turn.

Inscriptions that exhibit Jewish symbols, names, and synagogue references significantly illustrate the great expanse of the Jewish Diaspora (Jews living outside the land of Palestine) throughout the Mesopotamian and Mediterranean world. Many synagogues have been found both inside and outside of Palestine. Jewish cultic objects, inscriptions, and other excavated remains increasingly reveal the complex interplay that existed between Jew and Gentile in Galilee. From Judea, Samaria, and Galilee, the structures of Jesus’ day are being unearthed.

Aspects of daily life can be understood by examining everything from the most mundane pot to the huge homes of the elite (whether in Jerusalem, Pompeii, or Ephesus). Christians adapted some homes to serve as churches (1 Cor. 16:19). Clothing and personal aesthetics are displayed in art and are attested in the occasional preserved find (such as 2,000-year-old sandals from the Judean desert). Pottery, glass, furniture, and other artifacts help explain how people lived. Animal bones, ancient seeds, and farm tools reveal agricultural practices. Coins illustrate rulers and the symbols they valued.

Ancient tombs testify to views of death. The Roman world had a range of burial practices—from cremation, to shallow graves, to family cave-tombs, to monumental mausoleums. Some Jewish family tombs clearly employed rolling stones as doors (see Mark 15:46). Jewish people would reuse their burial niches, and around Jerusalem they might rebury the skeletons in ossuaries (reburial boxes). People were often buried alongside cultural objects (perhaps viewed as special to a person or as needed in the life to come)—these tomb remains are frequently some of the best-preserved small objects from any excavation. Modern osteologists analyze excavated skeletons for such matters as age, gender, general health, and cause of death.

Papyri (such as those from Oxyrhynchus or Tebtunis) provide ancient letters and legal documents not otherwise passed down in the literary record. These give a “behind the scenes” view into how people lived. Other excavated writings allow access to previously unknown literature. Especially important have been texts from post-NT Gnosticism (found at Nag Hammadi) and the extensive collection of Jewish manuscripts from Qumran, Masada, Nahal Hever, and Murabbaat.

More could certainly be said about how archaeology has enhanced the knowledge of the cultures in which NT people lived. Yet this article should suffice to show that archaeology, in addition to its significant contribution in supporting the historical reliability of the NT, renders an even greater service by inviting readers into the world of Jesus and his followers.


The Reliability of Bible Manuscripts

The Reliability of the Old Testament Manuscripts


At the beginning of the twentieth century, textual criticism of the OT was in its infancy, with few extant early Hebrew manuscripts. However, with the discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls beginning in a.d. 1947, scholars found themselves in a better position than ever before to evaluate whether the OT texts are reliable.

At present there exist over 3,000 Hebrew manuscripts of the OT, 8,000 manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate, over 1,500 manuscripts of the Septuagint, and over 65 copies of the Syriac Peshitta.

This article examines the reliability of the OT manuscripts in respect to three main areas: (1) transmission of the OT; (2) OT textual criticism; and (3) primary OT sources.

Transmission of the OT

Jewish tradition maintains that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. If so, then portions of the OT were passed down through scribes for more than 3,000 years before becoming part of modern translations. This naturally gives rise to questions like: How did the OT text come about? How were the books copied and by whom? Are the texts available today an accurate reproduction of the originals?

How did the OT text come about? While some divine revelation may originally have been handed down from generation to generation orally, at some point it was committed to writing to ensure its accuracy. Several biblical passages indicate that from an early period parts of Scripture were held in honor and were considered authoritative (e.g., Ex. 17:14–16; 24:3–4, 7). The stone tablets of the Ten Commandments were to be stored in the ark of the covenant (e.g., Ex. 25:16, 21; Heb. 9:4), and the Book of the Law was to be kept in the tabernacle next to the ark (Deut. 31:24–26). Moses commanded the Israelites to teach God’s laws and statutes to their children and grandchildren (Deut. 4:9). The Law of Moses was entrusted to the priests, who were to teach it to the people (Deut. 33:10) and read it aloud publicly every seven years to ensure that the Israelites would remember it (Deut. 31:9–11). They were also commanded not to add to or delete from it at all (Deut. 4:2; 12:32). Both the OT (Josh. 23:6; 1 Kings 2:3; 1 Chron. 22:13) and NT (e.g., Mark 10:5; 12:26; Luke 2:22; 16:29, 31) refer to the Law of Moses as a distinct, authoritative source.

OT passages also refer to written forms of prophetic oracles (Isa. 30:8; Jer. 25:13; 29:1; Ezek. 43:11;Dan. 7:1; Hab. 2:2) and histories recorded by prophets (1 Chron. 29:29; 2 Chron. 9:29; 12:15; 13:22; 20:34). However, the first mention of a collection of biblical books is in Daniel 9:2, which suggests that by the time of Daniel, the book of Jeremiah was part of a larger collection of authoritative works that he calls “the books.”

Later biblical writers make reference to earlier biblical books (2 Kings 14:6; 2 Chron. 25:4; 35:12; Ezra 3:2; 6:18; Neh. 8:1), and the prophets commonly rebuke the people for not obeying the words of previous prophets (Jer. 7:25; 25:4; Ezek. 38:17; Dan. 9:6, 10; Hos. 6:5; 12:10).

There is good evidence from Jewish tradition and other sources that the Jewish people believed that the prophetic voice ceased following the deaths of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi (Tosefta, Sotah 13.2; Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 48b, Sanhedrin 11a, and Baba Bathra 12a; Seder Olam Rabbah 30; Jerusalem Talmud, Taanith 2.1; 1 Macc. 9:27; 2 Baruch 85.3). Therefore, it is likely that by about 300b.c. the canon of the OT was set in all its essentials. (See The Canon of the Old Testament.) While minor discussions about certain books continued well into the Christian era, they had little effect on the form of the Canon.

Jesus accepted the authority of the Hebrew canon and taught his disciples to reverence it (Matt. 5:17–18). The Christian church, which had its roots in the Jewish nation, maintained the same Hebrew canon (Matt. 23:34–35; Luke 11:50–51) and added the NT works to it.

How were the books copied, and by whom? There are no remaining original manuscripts (commonly called “autographs”) of the OT, but there do exist an abundance of copies made by scribes whose only job was to preserve God’s revelation. The autographs were probably written on scrolls made from papyrus or leather (see Jeremiah 36) that deteriorated from everyday use. When scrolls showed signs of wear, they were copied and reverently buried (since they contained the sacred name of God). Sometimes worn copies were placed in a genizah (“hidden” place) until enough were gathered for a ritual burial ceremony. One of these genizahs was found in an old synagogue in Cairo around 1890.

Initially, priests (or a special group of priests) maintained the sacred traditions. Then, from about 500b.c. to a.d. 100, an influential group of teachers and interpreters of the law arose, called the soperim(“scribes”), who meticulously copied and preserved the most accurate form of the Hebrew text that they could determine. The Babylonian Talmud states: “The older men were called soperim because they counted [Hb. soper may also mean “one who counts”] all the letters in the Torah” (Babylonian Talmud,Kiddushin 30a). There has been significant discussion as to what their early text looked like and how closely it corresponded to the modern Masoretic text (MT), the common form of today’s Hebrew Bible, but it is not an easy question to answer.

Evidence from about the mid-third century b.c. and following indicates that a variety of OT texts coexisted for several centuries (e.g., proto-MT [an early form of the Hebrew Masoretic text]; Greek Septuagint, a sometimes loose translation; Samaritan Pentateuch). Manuscripts copied before the first century a.d. show two tendencies on the part of the scribes: they preserved the accuracy of the text and, at the same time, they were willing to revise or update the specific words of the text. These tendencies are not contradictory—scribes assigned to the Scriptures a high degree of authority and upheld them with great reverence, but their desire was that readers understand them. Sometimes scribes intentionally changed texts because of things they felt were inappropriate or objectionable. Still, they carefully noted changes out of reverence for the text (e.g., in Judg. 18:30 scribes added the Hebrew letter nun above the line so that it read “Manasseh” instead of “Moses” because Jonathan was acting more like a son of wicked Manasseh than of Moses).

A group of scribes called the tannaim (repeaters) maintained the sacred traditions from about a.d. 100 to 300 and developed meticulous rules to follow when copying synagogue scrolls (e.g., no word or letter was to be written from memory; if more than three mistakes were made on any page, it was destroyed and redone). While the text was reverenced and carefully maintained, it could be updated within specific, limited parameters: (1) By about 350 b.c., texts had begun to be written in Assyrian (square) script instead of paleo-Hebrew. (2) Even before this, matres lectionis (Hebrew consonants added to a word to indicate how it should be pronounced—these were precursors to vowel points) were starting to be added and archaic spellings were modernized. (3) Some corrections were made (see 4QIsaa). It was common practice throughout the ancient Near East to update and revise texts.

Following the first century a.d., however, the priority of scribes narrowed to preserving the accuracy of Scripture, which they did with amazing precision. Manuscripts dated to the first and second centuriesa.d. (e.g., from Masada, Nahal Hever, Wadi Murabba’at, and Nahal Se’elim) reflect the proto-MT in orthography and content with very little variation. Debate continues over how and why the text became so unified following the first century a.d. Some argue that the group who maintained the proto-MT was the only one to survive the destruction of the second temple. Others suggest there was a purposeful standardization of the text. The latter seems more likely for two reasons: (1) There was a desire to provide a consistent standard for debates between Christians and Jews in the first century a.d. (cf. Justin Martyr, Dialogue 68). (2) Hillel the Elder needed a standardized text on which to base his seven rules of biblical hermeneutics (Aboth of Rabbi Nathan 37A).

The sheer number of manuscripts, as well as quotations in rabbinic literature, suggest that the proto-MT was the primary text maintained by the authoritative center of Judaism. At the same time, other textual traditions were also circulated (e.g., Septuagint; Samaritan Pentateuch). However, sometime during the first century a.d. the proto-MT apparently became the dominant textual tradition.

Are the texts available today an accurate reflection of the originals? To adequately answer this question requires some understanding of OT textual criticism, which we will now briefly explore.

OT Textual Criticism

Scholars agree that no single witness perfectly reproduces the original Hebrew text (generally called “Urtext”) of the entire OT, and therefore textual criticism is necessary. Textual criticism is the science and art that seeks to determine the most reliable original wording of a text. It is a science because specific rules govern the evaluation of various types of copyist errors and readings, but it is also an art because these rules cannot be rigidly applied in every situation. The goal of OT textual criticism is to work back as closely as possible to the final form of the text as it was canonized and maintained by the scribes. Since the texts were transmitted over such a long period, one could expect that minor errors might have crept in. Comparison of various forms of the OT text helps determine the most plausible reading of the original texts. Intuition and common sense must guide this process. Informed judgments about a text depend upon one’s familiarity with copyist errors, manuscripts, versions, and their authors.

Types of errors. Even given a strong desire to maintain an authoritative, standardized text, common copyist errors can creep in, including: confusion of similar letters, homophony (substitution of similar sounding letters or words), haplography (omission of a letter or word), dittography (doubling a letter or word), metathesis (reversal in the order of two letters or words), fusion (two words being joined as one), and fission (one word separated into two).

The process. Modern critical editions of the MT include the BHS (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia) and the BHQ (Biblia Hebraica Quinta), which follow the Codex Leningradensis (a.d. 1008), and the Hebrew University Bible Project, which follows the Aleppo Codex (c. 930). They derive from the longest and, to date, most reliable textual tradition overall. This tradition was maintained by the Masoretes, and when compared to the Qumran manuscripts dated about 1,000 years earlier, was found to be very accurate. These critical editions also provide a summary of pertinent information from other sources in their textual apparatus. The process of OT textual criticism includes examining the external evidence from various Hebrew sources (e.g., Dead Sea Scrolls, Samaritan Pentateuch, medieval manuscripts) and versions (e.g., Septuagint, Latin Vulgate, etc.) to determine which is the most plausible original reading of the text.

When weighing evidence, scholars generally agree that the Hebrew sources take precedence over the versions, though versions sometimes contain what appears as a plausible original reading. Internal evidence is then examined to see if there are any hints to help determine the original reading (e.g., grammatical structures, common spelling). At times, discoveries from other ancient Semitic languages have shed light on previously unintelligible texts. Guidelines to use in determining the most plausible original readings include: (1) Which reading could most likely give rise to the others? (2) Which reading is most appropriate in its context? (3) The weight of the manuscript evidence is then evaluated to determine whether it may contain a secondary reading or gloss. Only a very small percentage of the Hebrew text has any questionable readings, and of these only a small portion make any significant difference in the meaning of the text.

Primary OT Sources

The following are the primary sources for present-day knowledge of the original OT text:

Codex Leningradensis: The oldest complete copy of the MT, dated to a.d. 1008. Both the BHSand the BHQ follow this text.

Aleppo Codex: The oldest, incomplete copy of the MT, dated to about a.d. 930. About one-quarter of this manuscript was burned by fire, but its text is very similar to the Codex Leningradensis. The Hebrew University Bible Project uses this text as a base.

Dead Sea Scrolls: More than 200 biblical manuscripts dated from about 250 b.c. to a.d. 135 from the area around the Dead Sea. The largest number of these texts agree closely with the readings of the proto-MT (35 percent of manuscripts) and help confirm the accuracy of the MT.


Although some textual puzzles remain, and though scholars still differ among themselves in how they weigh some of the evidence, careful application of these principles allows a high level of confidence that close access to the original texts does indeed exist. Moreover, ordinary English readers should not suppose that there are hundreds of significant textual variants whose existence is known only to specialized scholars, for all the variants that translation teams thought to be significant for interpreting the text have been indicated in the footnotes of the esv and other modern English translations. Looking through those footnotes will show a reader that the significant variants affect far less than 1 percent of the words of the esv text, and even among that 1 percent, there are no variants that would change any point of doctrine. Therefore, while some places remain where it is hard to be sure of the original reading (see esv footnotes and the notes on specific verses in this Study Bible), as a general assessment it is safe to say that the OT text that is the basis of modern English translations is remarkably trustworthy.

The Reliability of the New Testament Manuscripts

Today, any group of Christians gathered together can all read exactly the same words in their Bibles. That luxury is made possible by the invention of the movable-type printing press over five centuries ago. But such a luxury can also breed a false sense of confidence that the precise original wording of the Bible can be known. When it comes to the NT, the original 27 books disappeared long ago, probably within decades of their composition. Handwritten copies, or manuscripts, must be relied on to determine the wording of the original text. Yet no two manuscripts are exactly alike, and even the closest two early manuscripts have at least half a dozen differences per chapter (most of them inconsequential variations, however, as will be seen). The discipline known as NT textual criticism is thus needed because of these two facts: disappearance of the originals, and disagreements among the manuscripts.

But even though the original wording of the NT cannot be known, that fact is not necessarily cause for alarm. It is true that the NT manuscripts contain thousands of wording differences. It is also true that a few favorite passages are of dubious authenticity. But this is not the whole picture. Christians can, in fact, have a very high degree of confidence that what they have in their hands today is the Word of God.

This article’s specific task is to (1) compare the number and antiquity of NT manuscripts with those of other ancient literature, (2) note the number and nature of the wording differences in the NT (including a discussion of a few of the more notable places in which the wording is in doubt), and (3) identify what is, and what is not, at stake in this discussion.

The Number and Antiquity of NT Manuscripts Compared with Other Ancient Literature

In comparison with the remaining manuscripts of any other ancient Greek or Latin literature, the NT suffers from an embarrassment of riches. It is almost incomprehensible to think about the disparity. When it comes to quantity of copies, the NT has no peer. More than 5,700 Greek NT manuscripts are still in existence, ranging in date from the early second century to the sixteenth century. To be sure, the earliest ones (i.e., through the 3rd century) are all fragmentary, but they cover a substantial amount of the NT. And Greek manuscripts do not tell the whole story. The NT was translated early on into a variety of languages, including Latin, Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Georgian, Gothic, and Arabic. All told, there are between 20,000 and 25,000 handwritten copies of the NT in various languages. Yet if all of these were destroyed, the NT text could be reproduced almost in its entirety by quotations of it in sermons, tracts, and commentaries written by ancient teachers of the church (known as church fathers or Patristic writers). To date, over a million quotations from the NT by the church fathers have been cataloged.

How does this compare with the average classical author? The copies of the average ancient Greek or Latin author’s writings number fewer than 20 manuscripts! Thus, the NT has well over 1,000 times as many manuscripts as the works of the average classical author.

When it comes to the temporal distance of the earliest copies of the NT from the original, NT textual critics again enjoy an abundance of materials. From 10 to 15 NT manuscripts were written within the first 100 years of the completion of the NT. To be sure, they are all fragmentary, but some of them are fairly sizable fragments, covering large portions of the Gospels or Paul’s letters, for example. Within two centuries, the numbers increase to at least four dozen manuscripts. Of manuscripts produced before a.d.400, an astounding 99 still exist—including the oldest complete NT, Codex Sinaiticus.

The gap, then, between the originals and the early manuscripts is relatively slim. By comparison, the average classical author has no copies for more than half a millennium.

Comparing the NT text to some better-known ancient authors, it still has no equal. The chart below illustrates this by comparing the copies of five Greco-Roman historians’ works with the NT. If one is skeptical about what the original NT text said, that skepticism needs to be multiplied many times over when it comes to the writings of all other ancient Greek and Latin authors. Although it is true that there are some doubts about the precise wording of the original in some places, NT textual criticism has an unparalleled abundance of materials to work with, in terms of both quantity and age of manuscripts. Nothing else comes close.

### Comparison of Extant Historical Documents
Histories Oldest Manuscripts Number Surviving
Livy 59b.c.a.d. 17 4th centurya.d. 27
Tacitus a.d.56–120 9th centurya.d. 3
Suetoniusa.d. 69–140 9th centurya.d. 200+
Thucydides 460–400b.c. 1st centurya.d. 20
Herodotus 484–425b.c. 1st centurya.d. 75
New Testament c. 100–150a.d. c. 5,700 (counting only Greek manuscripts) plus more than 10,000 in Latin, and more than a million quotations from the church fathers, etc.
### The Number and Nature of the Wording Differences

The Greek NT, as it is known today, has approximately 138,000 words. The best estimate is that there are as many as 400,000 textual variants among the manuscripts. That means that, on average, for every word in the Greek NT there are almost three variants. If this were the only piece of data available, it might discourage anyone from attempting to recover the wording of the original. But the large number of variants is due to the large number of manuscripts. Hundreds of thousands of differences among the Greek manuscripts, ancient translations, and patristic commentaries exist only because tens of thousands of such documents exist. Further, the vast majority of textual alterations are accidental and trivial, and hence easy for textual critics to spot.

These textual differences can be broken down into four categories. The largest group involves spelling and nonsense errors. The single most common textual variant involves what is known as a movable “nu.” This is an “n” that is placed at the end of certain words when the next word begins with a vowel. The same principle is seen in English: a book, an apple. Nonsense errors occur when a scribe wrote a word that makes no sense in its context, usually because of fatigue, inattentiveness, or misunderstanding of the text in front of him. Some of these errors are quite comical, such as “we werehorses among you” (Gk. hippoi, “horses,” instead of ēpioi, “gentle,” or nēpioi, “little children”) in 1 Thessalonians 2:7 in one late manuscript.

The second-largest group of variant readings consists of minor changes, including synonyms and alterations, that do not affect translation. A common variation is the use of the definite article with proper names. Greek can say, “the Barnabas,” while English translations will drop the article. The manuscripts vary in having the article or not. Word-order differences account for many of the variants. But since Greek is a highly inflected language, word order does not affect meaning nearly as much as it does in English. These two phenomena can be illustrated in a sentence such as “Jesus loves John.” In Greek, that sentence can be expressed in at least 16 different ways without affecting the basic sense. Factoring in spelling variations and other nontranslatable differences, “Jesus loves John” could, in fact, be a translation of hundreds of different Greek constructions. In this light, the fact that there are only three variants for every word in the NT, when the potential is seemingly infinitely greater, seems almost trivial.

The third-largest category of textual variants involves meaningful changes that are not “viable.” “Viable” means that a variant has some plausibility of reflecting the wording of the original text. For example, in 1 Thessalonians 2:9, instead of “the gospel of God” (the reading of almost all the manuscripts), a late medieval copy has “the gospel of Christ.” This is meaningful but not viable. There is little chance that one late manuscript could contain the original wording when the textual tradition is uniformly on the side of another reading.

The smallest category of textual changes involves those that are both meaningful and viable. These comprise less than one percent of all textual variants. “Meaningful” means that the variant changes the meaning of the text to some degree. It may not be terribly significant, but if the variant affects one’s understanding of the passage, then it is meaningful. Most of these meaningful and viable differences involve just a word or a phrase. For example, in Romans 5:1, some manuscripts read “we have (Gk.echomen) peace,” while others have “let us have (Gk. echōmen) peace.” The difference in Greek is but a single letter, but the meaning is changed. If “we have peace” is authentic, Paul is speaking about believers’ status with God; if “let us have peace” is authentic, the apostle is urging Christians to enjoy the experience of this harmony with God in their lives. As important as this textual problem is, neither variant contradicts any of the teachings of Scripture elsewhere, and both readings state something that is theologically sound.

There are two large textual variants in the entire NT, each involving 12 verses: Mark 16:9–20 and John 7:53–8:11. The earliest and best manuscripts lack these verses. In addition, these passages do not fit well with the authors’ style. Although much emotional baggage is attached to these two texts for many Christians, no essential truths are lost if these verses are not authentic.

Should the presence of textual variants, then, undermine the confidence of ordinary laypersons as they read the Bible in their own language? No—actually, the opposite is the case. The abundance of variants is the result of the very large number of remaining NT manuscripts, which itself gives a stronger, not weaker, foundation for knowing what the original manuscripts said.

In addition, modern Bible translation teams have not kept the location of major variants a secret but have indicated the ones they think to be most important in the footnotes of all “essentially literal” modern English translations, so that laypersons who read these footnotes can see where these variants are and what they say. (Textual variants are noted in the esv with a footnote that begins, “Some manuscripts …”) The absence of any such footnote (which is the case with far more than 99 percent of the words in the English NT) indicates that these translation teams have a high degree of confidence that the words in their English translation accurately represent the words of the NT as they were originally written.

What Is at Stake?

The most significant textual variants certainly alter the meaning of various verses. And where the meaning of verses is changed, paragraphs and even larger units of thought are also affected to some degree. At times, a particular doctrine may not, after all, be affirmed in a given passage, depending on the textual variant. But this is not the same thing as saying that such a doctrine is denied. Just because a particular verse may not affirm a cherished doctrine does not mean that that doctrine cannot be found in the NT. In the final analysis, no cardinal doctrine, no essential truth, is affected by any viable variant in the surviving NT manuscripts. For example, the deity of Christ, his resurrection, his virginal conception, justification by faith, and the Trinity are not put in jeopardy because of any textual variation. Confidence can therefore be placed in the providence of God in preserving the Scriptures.

In sum, although scholars may not be certain of the NT wording in a number of verses, for the vast majority of the words in the NT the modern English translations accurately represent what the original authors wrote, and therefore these translations can be trusted as reproducing the very words of God.


The Canon of Scripture

The Canon of the Old Testament

The word “canon” (Gk. for “a rule”) is applied to the Bible in two ways: first, in regard to the Bible as the church’s standard of faith and practice, and second, in regard to its contents as the correct collection and list of inspired books. The word was first applied to the identity of the biblical books in the latter part of the fourth century a.d., reflecting the fact that there had recently been a need to settle some Christians’ doubts on the matter. Before this, Christians had referred to the “Old Testament” and “New Testament” as the “Holy Scriptures” and had assumed, rather than made explicit, that they were thecorrect collections and lists.

The Causes of Uncertainty about the OT Canon

The Christian OT corresponded to the Hebrew Bible, which Jesus and the first Christians inherited from the Jews. In the Gentile mission of the church, however, it was necessary to use the Septuagint (a translation of the OT that had been made in pre-Christian times for Greek-speaking Alexandrian Jews; see The Septuagint). Because knowledge of Hebrew was uncommon in the church (esp. outside Syria and Palestine), the first Latin translation of the OT came from the Septuagint and not from the original Hebrew. Where there was no knowledge of Hebrew and little acquaintance with Jewish tradition, it became harder to distinguish between the biblical books and other popular religious reading matter circulating in the Greek or Latin language. These factors led to the uncertainty about the composition of Scripture, which the coiners of the term “canon” sought to settle.

Did the Hebrew Bible Contain the Same Books as Today’s OT?

The above analysis assumes that the Hebrew Bible, which the church inherited in the first century, comprised the same books as it does today, and that uncertainty developed only later. Many in modern times have denied this view, but for mistaken reasons.

Are the Sections of Scripture Arbitrary Groups, Canonized in Different Eras?

Until recently, the accepted critical view was that the three sections of the Hebrew Bible—the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (or Hagiographa)—were arbitrary groupings of books acknowledged as canonical in three different eras: the first section in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (5th century b.c.); the last section at the synod of Jabneh or Jamnia (as late as a.d. 90); and the middle section sometime in between (perhaps in the 3rd century b.c.). The reasons given for the datings were as follows: (1) Because the Samaritans acknowledged only the Pentateuch (the five books of the Law) as Scripture, therefore the Pentateuch must have constituted the whole Jewish canon when the Samaritan schism took place at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. (2) Because the synod of Jamnia discussed the canonicity of Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, and presumably the other three books with which some rabbis had problems (Ezekiel, Proverbs, and Esther), these must still have been outside the Canon at the time. (3) Chronicles and Daniel, which are found in the Writings section of the Hebrew Bible, would have belonged more naturally with Kings and the oracular Prophets than with the Hagiographa; from this it was concluded that the Prophets section had been closed too soon to include them.

Recent study, however, has demolished this hypothesis. The five books of the Law are obviously not an arbitrary grouping. They follow a chronological sequence, concentrate on the Law of Moses, and trace history from the creation of the world to Moses’ death. Moreover, the Prophets and the Writings, if arranged in the traditional order recorded in the Talmud (see chart), are not arbitrary groupings either. The Prophets begin with four narrative books—Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings—tracing history through a second period, from the entry into the Promised Land to the Babylonian exile. They end with four oracular books—Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and the Book of the Twelve (Minor Prophets)—arranged in descending order of size. The Hagiographa (Writings) begin with six lyrical or wisdom books—Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Lamentations—arranged in descending order of size, and end with four narrative books—Daniel, Esther, Ezra–Nehemiah, and Chronicles—covering a third period of history, the period of the exile and the return. (The remaining book of the Writings, Ruth, is prefixed to Psalms, since it ends with the genealogy of the psalmist David.) The four narrative books in the Hagiographa are this time put second, so that Chronicles can sum up the whole biblical story, from Adam to the return from exile, and for this reason also Ezra–Nehemiah is put before Chronicles, not after it. A small anomaly is that the Song of Solomon is in fact slightly shorter than Lamentations, not longer, but it is put first to keep the three books related to Solomon together. That Daniel is treated as a narrative book may be surprising, but it is undeniable that it begins with six chapters of narrative.

### The Traditional Order of OT Canonical Books according to the Talmud
The Law
*Chronological* (from the creation of the world to Moses’ death): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
The Prophets
*Narrative books* (from the entry into the Promised Land to the Babylonian exile): Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings
*Oracular books* (in descending order of size): Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, The Book of the Twelve
The Writings
*Lyrical/wisdom books* (in descending order of size): Psalms (with Ruth prefixed), Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations
*Narrative books* (from the period of exile to the return): Daniel, Esther, Ezra–Nehemiah, Chronicles
Each of the three sections of the OT canon has a *narrative component*, covering one of three successive periods of history, and a *literary component*, representing one of three different types of religious literature: law, oracles, and lyrics or wisdom. The narrative material is, as far as possible, arranged in chronological order, and the literary material, when not united with the narrative material (as in the Pentateuch), is arranged in descending order of size. The shape of the Canon is therefore no accident of history but a work of art, and in its final form must be due to a single thinker, living before c. 130 b.c., when the three sections are first mentioned in the Greek prologue to Sirach (in the Apocrypha).

The datings assigned to the recognition of the three sections are also misconceived. First, it is now known that the Samaritans continued to follow Jewish customs long after the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, and that the schism did not become complete until the Jews destroyed the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim in about 110 b.c. It seems that the Samaritans only then rejected the Prophets and Writings because of the recognition those books give to the temple at Jerusalem.

Second, the problems that some rabbis had with as many as five biblical books do not mean that those books were outside the Canon, since the rabbinical literature notes similar problems with many other biblical books, including all five books of the Pentateuch. The problems with the five disputed books may have been particularly difficult, but they, too, were eventually solved in the same way as the other problems. There was no “synod of Jamnia” but simply a discussion at its academy that confirmed the canonicity of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon—though that discussion did not end the controversy. Esther, in particular, continued to be discussed long after a.d. 90. Further, the same kinds of questions were raised about Ezekiel, which is found in the Prophets, not in the Writings; if the reasoning of the critical view were sound, then the Prophets also could not have been in the Canon, which would be absurd.

Third, contrary to what the critical view suggested, there would have been no strong incentive to put Chronicles and Daniel in the Prophets, since they were both being treated as narrative books relating to the final period of OT history and therefore belonging in the Hagiographa.

Was There a Distinct Alexandrian Canon?

A further fallacious argument that many critics have used to show that the OT canon was still open at the beginning of the Christian era is the hypothesis of a distinct Alexandrian canon, including at least some of the apocryphal books. For discussion of this argument, see the discussion of “How the Greek and Latin Translations Came to Contain the Apocrypha,” in The Apocrypha.

Did the Qumran Sect Have a Broader OT Canon?

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran has turned the attention of critics to the pseudepigrapha—notably 1 Enoch, The Testament of Levi, Jubilees, and The Temple Scroll. It is today frequently claimed that the men of Qumran (probably Essenes) had a broad canon that included these books. But it should be noted that (1) the pseudonyms used in these works belong to the biblical period, indicating a recognition that prophetic inspiration had now ceased; (2) the inspiration claimed at Qumran was an inspiration to interpret the Scriptures, not to add to them; (3) the quotations from authoritative works made in the Qumran writings are almost exclusively from the OT books, and the formulas used for quoting Scripture are not used with the few quotations from elsewhere; and (4) though the Essenes may have added an interpretative appendix to the three standard sections of the OT canon, containing their favored pseudepigrapha, it is significant that they did not try to insert them into the three standard sections, which were now evidently closed (i.e., seen as complete).

The Truth about the OT Canon

So much for fashionable errors regarding the assembling and recognition of the OT canon. The true evidence of the process is comparatively simple. First, it was recognized from ancient times that, if revelation was to be preserved, it needed to be written down (see Ex. 17:14; Deut. 31:24–26; Ps. 102:18;Isa. 30:8). This process of writing the words had been begun by God himself at Mount Sinai, when he gave Moses the two tablets of stone with his own words written on them: “The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets” (Ex. 32:16). These tablets were deposited in the ark of the covenant (Deut. 10:5) and were the basis of the covenant relationship between God and his people. Then, later writings were added to “the Book of the Covenant” (see Ex. 24:7; Josh. 24:26; 2 Kings 23:2). A significant object lesson on the importance of preserving God’s words in written form was the later discovery of the Book of the Law by Hilkiah, after it had been lost during the reigns of Manasseh and Amon: its teaching came as a great shock because it had been forgotten (2 Kings 22–23; 2 Chronicles 34).

Second, on great national occasions the Book of the Law was read to the people (Ex. 24:7; 2 Kings 23:2;Neh. 8:9, 14–17, etc.). Deuteronomy provides for it to be read regularly every seven years (Deut. 31:10–13). An extension of the same practice was the later reading of the Pentateuch in the synagogue on the Sabbath, supplemented by a reading from the Prophets (Luke 4:16–20; Acts 13:15, 27; 15:21, etc.).

Third, Deuteronomy was to be laid up in the sanctuary (Deut. 31:24–26), and that was where Hilkiah found the Book of the Law (2 Kings 22:8; 2 Chron. 34:15). It is known from Josephus and the earliest rabbinical literature that the practice of laying up the Scriptures in the temple still continued down to the first century a.d. To lay up any book there as Scripture must have been a solemn and carefully deliberated act of national significance.

Fourth, the calendar of the book of 1 Enoch, followed at Qumran, seems to have been devised in about the third century b.c. so as to avoid having any dated act recorded in the Scriptures occur on the Sabbath. At least 10 (and probably more) of the present OT books are shown to be acknowledged as canonical at this time by this listing.

Fifth, Sirach 44–49, written about 180 b.c., provides a catalog of famous men, and these are probably all meant to be biblical figures, since they are all now found in the Bible. The end of Sirach 49 sums them up, while chapter 50 moves on to describe Simon the son of Onias, a later worthy figure not found in the Bible. Accounting for these men raises the number of books to at least 16 for which there is specific extrabiblical attestation to canonicity.

Sixth, Josephus relates that the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes first became distinct and rival schools of thought in the time of Jonathan Maccabeus (d. 143 b.c.). To alter the Canon after this time would have been very controversial, and can hardly have occurred. So the Canon must have been acknowledged as closed before 143 b.c.

Seventh, the final touches may have been put to the Canon in 165 b.c. by Judas Maccabeus (making it a listed collection of 24 books in three sections, beginning with Genesis and ending with Chronicles; seechart), when he gathered the scattered Scriptures after Antiochus’s persecution (2 Macc. 2:14). This is the Bible that, two centuries later, the NT and other first-century writings reflect.

Eighth, in spite of numerous differences between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders of his time, there is no record of any dispute between them, or any later dispute with Jesus’ apostles, over which OT books were canonical. The OT canon accepted by the early church was identical to the canon of books accepted by the Jewish people.

Ninth, Jesus and the NT authors quote the words of the OT approximately 300 times (see Old Testament Passages Cited in the New Testament; uncertainty about the exact number arises because of a few instances where it is not clear whether it is an OT quotation or only an echoing expression using similar words). They regularly quote it as having divine authority, with phrases such as “it is written,” “Scripture says,” and “God says,” but no other writings are quoted in this way. Occasionally the NT writers will quote some other authors, even pagan Greek authors, but they never quote these other sources as being the words of God (see notes on Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12–13; Jude 8–10, 14–16), as they do the canonical OT books.

Tenth, Josephus (born a.d. 37/38) explained, “From Artaxerxes to our own times a complete history has been written, but has not been deemed worthy of equal credit with the earlier record, because of the failure of the exact succession of the prophets” (Against Apion 1.41). Josephus was aware of the writings now considered part of the Apocrypha, but he (and, he implies, mainstream Jewish opinion) considered these other writings “not … worthy of equal credit” with what are now known as the OT Scriptures.

Eleventh, additional Jewish tradition after the time of the NT also expresses the conviction that no more prophetic writings had been given after the time of the last OT prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi (see Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 9b; Sotah 48b; Sanhedrin 11a; and Midrash Rabbah on Song of Songs8.9.3).

Sound historical study shows, therefore, that the Hebrew OT contains the true canon of the OT, shared by Jesus and the apostles with first-century Judaism. No books are left out that should be included, and none are included that should be left out.

The Canon of the New Testament

The foundations for a NT canon lie not, as some would assert, in the needs or the practices of the church in the second, third, and fourth centuries a.d., but in the gracious purpose of a self-revealing God whose word carries his own divine authority. Just as new outpourings of divine word-revelation accompanied and followed each major act of redemption in the ancient history of God’s people (the covenant with Adam and Eve, the covenant with Abraham, the redemption from Egypt, the establishment of the monarchy, the exile, and the restoration), so when the promised Messiah came, a new and generous outpouring of divine revelation necessarily ensued (see 2 Tim. 1:8–11; Titus 1:1–3).

The OT Authorization

The prospect of a NT Scripture to stand alongside the OT was anticipated, even authorized, in the OT itself, embedded in the promise of God’s ultimate act of redemption through the Messiah, in faithfulness to his covenant (Jer. 31:31–33; cf. Heb. 8:7–13; 10:16–18). Jesus taught his disciples after his resurrection that “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” predicted not only the Messiah’s suffering and resurrection but also that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:44–48). Prophetic passages such as Isaiah 2:2–3; 49:6; and Psalm 2:8 spoke of a time when the light of God’s grace in redemption would be proclaimed to all nations. It naturally follows that this proclamation would eventuate in a new collection of written Scriptures complementing the books of the old covenant—both from the pattern of God’s redemptive work in the past (mentioned above) and from the actual writing ministry of some of Jesus’ apostles (and their associates) in the accomplishment of their commission.

The Commission of Jesus

God, who spoke in many and various ways in times past, chose to speak in these last days to mankind through his Son (see Heb. 1:1–2, 4). Bringing this saving message to Israel and the nations was a crucial part of the mission of Jesus Christ (Isa. 49:6; Acts 26:23), the Word made flesh (John 1:14). He put this mission into effect through chosen apostles, whom he commissioned to be his authoritative representatives (Matt. 10:40, “whoever receives you receives me”). Their assignment was to “bring to … remembrance,” through the work of the Spirit, his words and works (John 14:26; 16:13–14) and to bear witness to Jesus “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8; cf.Matt. 28:19–20; Luke 24:48; John 17:14, 20). In time, the apostolic preaching came to written form in the books of the NT, which now function as “the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles” (2 Pet. 3:2).

Paul and the other apostles wrote just as they preached: conscious of Jesus’ mandate. From the beginning, the full authority of the apostles (and prophets) to deliver God’s word was recognized, at least by many (Acts 10:22; Eph. 2:20; 1 Thess. 2:13; Jude 17–18). This recognition is accordingly reflected in the earliest non-apostolic writers. For example, Clement of Rome attested that “The apostles received the gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus the Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the apostles are from Christ. Both, therefore, came of the will of God in good order” (1 Clement 42.1–2 written c. a.d. 95).

The Recognition of New Covenant Scriptures

As God’s word to mankind, the “God-breathed” Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16) is self-attesting, and thus the Canon may be said to be self-establishing. Yet history records that for centuries there were variations in local church practice and disagreements among churches and early theologians about several books of the NT. Such variations, however, are not unexpected, given that the process of recognition involved more than two dozen books that came into being over a period of perhaps 50 years, circulating unsystematically to churches as they were springing up in widely diffused parts of the Roman Empire.

In its deliberations about the particular books that make up the canon of Scripture, the church did not sovereignly “determine” or “choose” the books it most preferred—whether for catechetical, polemical, liturgical, or edificatory purposes. Rather, the church saw itself as empowered only to receive and recognize what God had provided in books handed down from the apostles and their immediate companions (e.g., Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.preface; 3.1.1–2). This is why discussions of the so-called “criteria” of canonicity can be misleading. Qualities such as “apostolicity,” “antiquity,” “orthodoxy,” “liturgical use,” and “church consensus” are not criteria by which the church autonomously judged which documents it would receive. The first three are qualities the church recognizes in the voice of its Savior, to which voice the church willingly submits itself (“My sheep hear my voice … and they follow me,” John 10:27).

The Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (the earliest Gospels known) gained universal acceptance while arousing very little controversy within the church. If the latest of these, the Gospel of John, was published near the end of the first century (as most scholars think), it is remarkable that its words are echoed around a.d. 110 in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, who also knew Matthew, and perhaps Luke. At about the same time, Papias of Hierapolis in Asia Minor received traditions about the origins of Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels, and quite probably Luke’s and John’s. In the middle of the second century, Justin Martyr in Rome reported that the Gospels (apparently the four)—which he calls “memoirs of the apostles”—were being read and exposited in Christian services of worship.

In 2 Peter 3:16, a collection of at least some of Paul’s letters was already known and regarded as Scripture and therefore enjoyed canonical endorsement. Furthermore, a collection (of unknown extent) of Paul’s letters was known to Clement of Rome and to the recipients of his letter in Corinth before the end of the first century, then also to Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna and their readers in the early second century. The Pastoral Letters (1–2 Timothy and Titus), rejected as Paul’s by many modern critics, are attested at least from the time of Polycarp.

By the end of the second century a “core” collection of NT books—21 of the 27—was generally recognized: four Gospels, Acts, 13 epistles of Paul, 1 Peter, 1 John, and Revelation. By this time Hebrews (accepted in the East and by Irenaeus and Tertullian in the West, but questioned in Rome due to doubts about authorship), James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude were only minimally attested in the writings of church leaders. This infrequent citation led to the expression of doubts by later fathers (e.g., Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.23.25). Yet, by some time in the third century, codices (precursors of the modern book form, as opposed to scrolls) containing all seven of the “general epistles” were being produced, and Eusebius reports that all seven were “known to most.”

An unusual case is the book of Revelation, which seems to have been accepted everywhere at first (in the West by Justin, Irenaeus, the Muratorian Fragment, and Tertullian; in the East by Clement of Alexandria and Origen). But due to its exploitation by Montanists and others, it was criticized by Gaius, a Roman writer in the early third century. Several decades later, Dionysius of Alexandria, while not rejecting the book, argued that it could not have been written by the apostle John. These factors led to enduring doubts in the East and to Revelation’s absence from later Eastern canon lists, though its reputation in the West did not suffer.

To complicate matters, many documents were produced in the course of the second century which in some way paralleled or imitated NT books. Many of these made some claim to apostolic authority, and some gained considerable popularity in certain quarters. One or more “Gospels” written in Aramaic attracted interest because of a presumed connection to an original Aramaic Matthew. Other “Gospels” were essentially combinations of the four (i.e., The Gospel of Peter and The Egerton Gospel), a practice that culminated in Tatian’s Diatessaron, a harmony of the four (c. a.d. 172), which was the first form of the Gospels translated into Syriac.

There was a profusion of “Acts” literature, usually following, in novel-like fashion, the fictional exploits of a single apostle (Paul, John, Andrew, Peter). Letters forged in the name of Paul (To the Laodiceans,To the Alexandrians, 3 Corinthians) sought to attract adherents to an assortment of special causes. Works in various genres written to advance unorthodox interpretations of Christianity often borrowed the names of apostles (Apocryphon of John, Gospel of Thomas). In addition, a few writings, probably never intended to be regarded as Scripture, were honored as such by some Christians partly because of assumed authorship by companions of apostles (1 and 2 Clement, The Letter of Barnabas, The Shepherd of Hermas).

By the 240s a.d. Origen (residing in Caesarea in Palestine) acknowledged all 27 of the NT books but reported that James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude were disputed. The situation is virtually the same for Eusebius, writing about 60 years later, who also reports the doubts some had about Hebrews and Revelation. Still, his two categories of “undisputed” and “disputed but known to most” contain only the 27 and no more. He named five other books (The Acts of Paul, The Shepherd of Hermas, The Apocalypse of Peter, The Letter of Barnabas, and The Didache) which were known to many churches but which, he believed, had to be judged as spurious.

In the year a.d. 367 the Alexandrian bishop Athanasius, in his annual Easter letter, gave a list of the NT books which comprised, with no reservations, all 27, while naming several others as useful for catechizing but not as scriptural. Several other fourth-century lists essentially concurred, though with various individual deviations outside of the most basic core (four Gospels, Acts, 13 epistles of Paul, 1 Peter, 1 John). Three African synods—at Hippo Regius in a.d. 393 and at Carthage in 397 and 419—and the influential African bishop Augustine affirmed the 27-book Canon. It was enshrined in Jerome’s Latin translation, the Vulgate, which became the normative Bible for the Western church. In Eastern churches, recognition of Revelation lagged for quite some time. The churches of Syria did not accept Revelation, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, or Jude until the fifth (Western Syria) or sixth (Eastern Syria) centuries.

The apostolic word gave birth to the church (Rom. 1:15–17; 10:14–15; James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23–25), and the written form of this word remains as the permanent, documentary expression of God’s new covenant. It may be said that only the 27 books of the NT manifest themselves as belonging to that original, foundational, apostolic witness. They have demonstrated themselves to be the Word of God to the universal church throughout the generations. Here are the pastures to which Christ’s sheep from many folds continually come to hear their Shepherd’s voice and to follow him.

The Apocrypha

Larger editions of the English Bible—from the Great Bible of Tyndale and Coverdale (1539) onward—have often included a separate section between the OT and the NT titled “The Apocrypha,” consisting of additional books and substantial parts of books. The Latin Vulgate Bible translated by Jerome (beguna.d. 382, completed 405) had placed them in the OT itself—some as separate items and some as attached to or included in the biblical books of Esther, Jeremiah, and Daniel. In Roman Catholic translations of the Bible, such as the Douay Version and the Jerusalem Bible, these items are still placed in their pre-Reformation positions. In Protestant translations, however, the Apocrypha is either omitted altogether or grouped in a separate section.

How Jerome’s Vulgate Came to Contain the Apocrypha

In distinguishing the Apocrypha from the OT books, the Protestant translators were not doing something completely novel but were carrying out more thoroughly than ever before the principles on which Jerome (a.d. 345–420) had made his great Latin Vulgate translation of the OT. The Vulgate was translated from the original Hebrew. But a translation prior to the Vulgate, the Old Latin translation, had been made from the Greek OT, the Septuagint (or lxx). At some stage, early or late, additional books and parts of books, which were not in the Hebrew Bible, had found their way into the Greek OT, and from there into the Old Latin version. Jerome retained these in his new translation, the Latin Vulgate, but added prefaces at various points to emphasize that they were not true parts of the Bible, and he called them by the name “apocrypha” (Gk. apokrypha, “those having been hidden away”). In accordance with his teaching—and with the understanding of the OT canon held by Jesus, the NT authors, and the first-century Jews (see The Canon of the Old Testament)—the sixteenth-century Protestant translators did not consider those writings part of the OT but gathered them together in a separate section, to which they gave Jerome’s name, “The Apocrypha.”

Jerome’s reason for choosing this name is not readily apparent. He probably took a hint from Origen, who a century and a half earlier had stated that the Jews applied this name to the most esteemed of their noncanonical books. Origen and Jerome were two of the most distinguished students of Judaism among the Fathers, so it would be natural for them to use the term in a Jewish sense, though applying it to the noncanonical Jewish books that were most esteemed by Christians. Jews would never destroy respected religious books but, if unfit for use, hid them away and left them to decay naturally. So “hidden” came to mean “highly esteemed, though uncanonical.”

Jerome did not actually confine his name “apocrypha” to Jewish books but used it also of noncanonical Christian books, such as The Shepherd of Hermas, which were likewise popular religious reading among Christians. The modern expression “New Testament Apocrypha,” for late works that imitate NT literature, is similar.

How the Greek and Latin Translations Came to Contain the Apocrypha

How the Greek OT, and by consequence the Latin OT, came to contain apocryphal items has been variously understood. Codex Alexandrinus (the great 5th-century a.d. manuscript of the whole Greek Bible) was printed and published in the eighteenth century. Because it contained the Apocrypha, the editors in the eighteenth century assumed that the OT of this Christian manuscript had been copied from Jewish manuscripts equally inclusive, and that consequently the Apocrypha must have been in thelxx translation, and in the canon of the Greek-speaking Jews of Alexandria who produced it from pre-Christian times (though not in the Bible or canon of the Semitic-speaking Jews of Palestine). This hypothesis held the field for a long time, and a further assumption—that most of the apocryphal books had been composed in Greek, outside Palestine—was made to support it.

All the elements of this theory are now known to be false. (1) Leather manuscripts large enough to contain the whole OT did not exist among either Christians or Jews until the latter part of the fourth century. The earlier Christian biblical manuscripts are on papyrus, and extend only to about three of the larger books. (2) The Jews of Alexandria took their lead largely from Palestine, and would have been unlikely to establish their own distinct canon; moreover, their greatest writer, Philo, though frequently quoting from the OT in his voluminous works, never refers to any of the Apocrypha whatsoever. (3) The earliest Christian biblical manuscripts contain the fewest books of the Apocrypha, and up until a.d. 313, only Wisdom, Tobit, and Sirach ever occur in them; other books of the Apocrypha were not added until later. (4) That the Apocrypha was mostly composed in Greek or outside Palestine is no longer widely believed, and Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) itself states that it was composed in Hebrew (see its prologue; much of its Hebrew text has now been recovered). All the Apocrypha except Wisdom and 2 Maccabeesmay in fact have been translated from a Hebrew or Aramaic original, written in Palestine.

The way in which Christian writers used the Apocrypha confirms the above analysis. The NT seems to reflect knowledge of one or two of the apocryphal texts, but it never ascribes authority to them as it does to many of the canonical OT books. While the NT quotes various parts of the OT about 300 times (seeOld Testament Passages Cited in the New Testament), it never actually quotes anything from the Apocrypha (Jude 14–16 does not contain a quote from the Apocrypha but from another Jewish writing,1 Enoch; see note on Jude 14–16; also notes on Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12–13; Jude 8–10). In the second century, Justin Martyr and Theophilus of Antioch, who frequently referred to the OT, never referred to any of the Apocrypha. By the end of the second century Wisdom, Tobit, and Sirach were sometimes being treated as Scripture, but none of the other apocryphal books were. Their eventual acceptance was a slow development. Much the same is true with Christian lists of the OT books: the oldest of them include the fewest of the Apocrypha; and the oldest of all, that of Melito (c. a.d. 170), includes none.

Acceptance and Rejection of the Apocrypha

The growing willingness of the pre-Reformation church to treat the Apocrypha as not just edifying reading but Scripture itself reflected the fact that Christians—especially those living outside Semitic-speaking countries—were losing contact with Jewish tradition. Within those countries, however, a learned Christian tradition akin to elements of Jewish tradition was maintained, especially by scholars such as Origen, Epiphanius, and Jerome, who cultivated the Hebrew language and Jewish studies. By the late fourth century, Jerome found it necessary to assert the distinction between the Apocrypha and the inspired OT books with great emphasis, and a minority of writers continued to make the same distinction throughout the Middle Ages, until the Protestant Reformers arose and made the distinction an important part of their doctrine of Scripture. At the Council of Trent (1545–1563), however, the church of Rome attempted to obliterate the distinction and to put the Apocrypha (with the exception of1 and 2 Esdras and The Prayer of Manasseh) on the same level as the inspired OT books. This was a consequence of (1) Rome’s exalted doctrine of oral tradition, (2) its view that the church creates Scripture, and (3) its acceptance of certain controversial ideas (esp. the doctrines of purgatory, indulgences, and works-righteousness as contributing to justification) that were derived from passages in the Apocrypha. These teachings gave support to the Roman Catholic responses to Martin Luther and other leaders of the Protestant Reformation, which had begun in 1517.

Because of these controversial passages, some Protestants ceased to use the Apocrypha altogether. But other Protestants (notably Lutherans and Anglicans), while avoiding such passages and the ideas they contain, continued to read the Apocrypha as generally edifying religious literature. The Apocrypha, together with other postcanonical literature (esp. the pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the writings of Philo and Josephus, the Targums, and the earliest rabbinical literature) can be helpful in additional ways. They provide the earliest interpretations of the OT literature; they explain what happened in the time between the two Testaments; and they introduce customs, ideas, and expressions that provide a helpful background when reading the NT.

The Contents of the Apocrypha

Individually, the books of the Apocrypha are 15 in number (but some count 14 or 12 by combining some books; see list) and consist of various kinds of literature—narrative, proverbial, prophetic, and liturgical. They probably range in date from the third century b.c. (Tobit) to the first century a.d. (2 Esdras and perhaps The Prayer of Manasseh).

  1. First Esdras (Gk. for “Ezra”), sometimes called 3 Esdras, covers the same ground as the book of Ezra, with a little of Chronicles and Nehemiah added. It also relates a debate on “the strongest thing in the world.”

  2. Second Esdras, sometimes called 4 Esdras, is a pseudonymous apocalypse, preserved in Latin, not Greek, with two Christian chapters added at the beginning and two at the end. Chapter 14 gives the number of the OT books. First and Second Esdras are not included in the Roman Catholic canon.

  3. Tobit is a moral tale with a Persian background, dealing with almsgiving, marriage, and the burial of the dead.

  4. Judith is an exciting story, in a confused historical setting, about a pious and patriotic heroine.

  5. The Additions to Esther are a collection of passages added to the lxx version of Esther, bringing out its religious character.

  6. Wisdom is a work inspired by Proverbs and written in the person of Solomon.

  7. Sirach, also called Ecclesiasticus, is a work somewhat similar to Wisdom, by a named author (Jeshua ben Sira, or Jesus the son of Sirach). It was written about 180 b.c., and its catalog of famous men bears important witness to the contents of the OT canon at that date. Its translator’s prologue, written half a century later, refers repeatedly to the three sections of the Hebrew Bible (see The Canon of the Old Testament.)

  8. Baruch is written in the person of Jeremiah’s companion, and somewhat in Jeremiah’s manner.

  9. The Epistle of Jeremiah is connected to Baruch, and sometimes the two are counted together as one book (as in the kjv, which therefore lists 14 books rather than 15).

The Additions to Daniel consist of three segments (10, 11, and 12 in this list):

  1. Susanna and

  2. Bel and the Dragon are stories that tell how wise Daniel exposed unjust judges and deceitful pagan priests.

  3. The Song of the Three Young Men contains a prayer and hymn put into the mouths of Daniel’s three companions when they are in the fiery furnace; the hymn is the one used in Christian worship as theBenedicite (in the Church of England’s services).

As stated before, some authorities count these three books (items 10, 11, and 12) as one book, namely,The Additions to Daniel, and they also count Baruch as one book that includes The Epistle of Jeremiah; in that way, they count only 12 books in the Apocrypha.

  1. The Prayer of Manasseh puts into words Manasseh’s prayer for forgiveness in 2 Chronicles 33:12–13. It is not included in the Roman Catholic canon.

14–15. First and Second Maccabees relate the successful revolt of the Maccabees against the Hellenistic Syrian persecutor Antiochus Epiphanes in the mid-second century b.c. The first book and parts of the second book are the primary historical sources for a knowledge of the Maccabees’ heroic faith, though the second book adds legendary material. The lxx also contains a 3 and 4 Maccabees, but these are of less importance.

The Development of Religious Thought in the Apocrypha

The development of religious thought found in the Apocrypha, going beyond the teaching of the OT, must be assessed by the teaching of the NT. For example, Wisdom 4:7–5:16 teaches that all face a personal judgment after this life. This is consistent with later NT teaching (Heb. 9:27).

Other teachings add doctrinal material foreign to NT teaching, such as the following:

  1. In Tobit 12:15 seven angels are said to stand before God and present the prayers of the saints.
  2. In 2 Maccabees 15:13–14 a departed prophet is said to pray for God’s people on earth.
  3. In Wisdom 8:19–20 and Sirach 1:14 the reader is told that the righteous are those who were given good souls at birth.
  4. In Tobit 12:9 and Sirach 3:3 readers are told that their good deeds atone for their evil deeds.
  5. In 2 Maccabees 12:40–45 the reader is told to pray for the sins of the dead to be forgiven.

The first two ideas find no support in the OT or NT, and the second may be thought to give some support to the Roman Catholic idea of prayer to the saints who have died. The last three tenets are clearly at variance with what the NT teaches about regeneration, justification, and the present life as one’s only period of probation.

The Apocrypha, consequently, must be read with discretion. Though much in it simply reflects Judaism as practiced at a date somewhat later than the OT, and some parts reflect developments in the direction of the NT, there are also certain misleading passages that have historical interest but, in terms of Christian theology and practice, are to be avoided.


Reading the Bible

Reading the Bible Theologically

To read the Bible “theologically” means to read the Bible “with a focus on God”: his being, his character, his words and works, his purpose, presence, power, promises, and precepts. The Bible can be read from different standpoints and with different centers of interest, but this article seeks to explain how to read it theologically.

The Bible: The Church’s Instruction Book

All 66 books of the Bible constitute the book of the Christian church. And the church, both as a whole and in the life of its members, must always be seen to be the people of the book. This glorifies God, its primary author.

God has chosen to restore his sin-spoiled world through a long and varied historical process, central to which is the creating—by redemptive and sanctifying grace—of what is literally a new human race. This unfinished process has so far extended over four millennia. It began with Abraham; it centers on the first coming of the incarnate Lord, Jesus Christ; and it is not due for completion till he comes again. Viewed as a whole, from the vantage point of God’s people within it, the process always was and still is covenantal and educative. Covenantal indicates that God says to his gathered community, “I am your God; you shall be my people,” and with his call for loyalty he promises them greater future good than any they have yet known. Educative indicates that, within the covenant, God works to change each person’s flawed and degenerate nature into a new, holy selfhood that expresses in responsive terms God’s own moral likeness. The model is Jesus Christ, the only perfect being that the world has ever seen. For God’s people to sustain covenantal hopes and personal moral ideals as ages pass and cultures change and decay, they must have constant, accessible, and authoritative instruction from God. And that is what the Bible essentially is.

This is why, as well as equipping everywhere a class of teachers who will give their lives to inculcating Bible truth, the church now seeks to translate the Bible into each person’s primary language and to spread universal literacy, so that all may read and understand it.

The Bible Is Canonical

God’s plan is that through his teaching embodied in the Bible, plus knowledge and experience of how he rewards obedience and punishes disobedience in a disciplinary way, his people should learn love, worship, and service of God himself, and love, care, and service of others, as exemplified by Jesus Christ. To this end each generation needs a written “textbook” that sets forth for all time God’s unchanging standards of truth, right, love and goodness, wisdom and worship, doctrine and devotion. This resource will enable people to see what they should think and do, what ideals they should form, what goals they should set, what limits they should observe, and what life strategies they should follow. These are the functions that are being claimed for the Bible when it is called “canonical.” A “canon” is a rule or a standard. The Bible is to be read as a God-given rule of belief and behavior—that is, of faith and life.

The Bible Is Inspired

Basic to the Bible’s canonical status is its “inspiration.” This word indicates a divinely effected uniqueness comparable to the uniqueness of the person of the incarnate Lord. As Jesus Christ was totally human and totally divine, so is the Bible. All Scripture is witness to God, given by divinely illuminated human writers, and all Scripture is God witnessing to himself in and through their words. The way into the mind of God is through the expressed mind of these human writers, so the reader of the Bible looks for that characteristic first. But the text must be read, or reread, as God’s own self-revelatory instruction, given in the form of this human testimony. In this way God tells the reader the truth about himself; his work past, present, and future; and his will for people’s lives.

The Bible Is Unified

Basic also to the Bible’s canonical status is the demonstrable unity of its contents. Scripture is no ragbag of religious bits and pieces, unrelated to each other; rather, it is a tapestry in which all the complexities of the weave display a single pattern of judgment and mercy, promise and fulfillment. The Bible consists of two separate collections: the OT, written over a period of about 1,000 years, and the NT, written within a generation several centuries after the OT was completed. Within such a composite array one would expect to find some crossed wires or incoherence, but none are found here. While there are parallel narratives, repetitions, and some borrowings from book to book, the Bible as a whole tells a single, straightforward story. God the Creator is at the center throughout; his people, his covenant, his kingdom, and its coming king are the themes unfolded by the historical narratives, while the realities of redemption from sin and of godly living (faith, repentance, obedience, prayer, adoration, hope, joy, and love) become steadily clearer. Jesus Christ, as fulfiller of OT prophecies, hopes, promises, and dreams, links the two Testaments together in an unbreakable bond. Aware that at the deepest level the whole Bible is the product of a single mind, the mind of God, believers reading it theologically always look for the inner links that bind the books together. And they are there to be found.

Theological Reading of the Bible: A Quest for God

Reading Scripture theologically starts from the truths reviewed above: (1) that the Bible is a God-given guide to sinners for their salvation, and for the life of grateful godliness to which salvation calls them; (2) that the Bible is equally the church’s handbook for worship and service; (3) that it is a divinely inspired unity of narrative and associated admonition, a kind of running commentary on the progress of God’s kingdom plan up to the establishing of a world-embracing, witnessing, suffering church in the decades following Christ’s ascension and the Pentecost outpouring of the Spirit; and (4) that the incarnate Son of God himself, Jesus the Christ, crucified, risen, glorified, ministering, and coming again, is the Bible’s central focus, while the activities of God’s covenant people both before and after Christ’s appearing make up its ongoing story. Theological reading follows these leads and is pursued theocentrically, looking and listening for God throughout, with the controlling purpose of discerning him with maximum clarity, through his own testimony to his will, works, and ways. Such reading is pursued prayerfully, according to Martin Luther’s observation that the first thing one needs to become a theologian through Bible reading is prayer for the illumination and help of the Holy Spirit. And prayerful theological Bible reading will be pursued in light of three further guiding principles, as follows.

First, revelation was progressive. Its progress, in its written form, was not (as has sometimes been thought) from fuzzy and sometimes false (OT) to totally true and clear (NT), but from partial to full and complete. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days [the concluding era of this world’s life] he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1–2). In the Gospels, the Epistles, and the books of Acts and Revelation, readers are now faced with God’s final word to the world before Christ comes again. Theological Bible reading maintains this perspective, traversing the OT by the light of the NT.

Second, the Bible’s God-language is analogical. Today’s fashion is to call it “metaphorical,” which is not wrong, but “analogical” is the term that makes clearest the key point: the difference involved when everyday words—nouns, verbs, adjectives—are used of God. Language is God’s gift for personal communication between humans and between God and humans. But when God speaks of himself—or when people speak to him or about him—the definitions, connotations, implications, valuations, and range of meaning in each case must be adjusted in light of the differences between him and his creation. God is infinite and flawless; people are both finite and flawed. So when everyday words are used of God, all thought of finiteness and imperfection must be removed, and the overall notion of unlimited, self-sustaining existence in perfect loving holiness must be added in. For instance, when God calls himself “Father,” or his people in response call him their “Father,” the thought will be of authoritative, protecting, guiding, and enriching love, free from any lack of wisdom that appears in earthly fathers. And when one speaks of God’s “anger” or “wrath” in retribution for sin that he as the world’s royal Judge displays, the thought will be as free from the fitful inconsistency, irrationality, bad temper, and loss of self-control that regularly mars human anger.

These mental adjustments underlie the biblical insistence that all God’s doings, even those that involve human distress, are glorious and praiseworthy. This doxological, God-glorifying tone and thrust marks even books such as Job and Lamentations, and the many complaint prayers in the Psalter. The Bible writers practice analogical adjustment so smoothly, unobtrusively, and unselfconsciously that it is easy to overlook what they are doing. But the theological reader of the Bible will not miss this point.

Third, the one God of the Bible is Trinitarian and triune. God is three persons in an eternal fellowship of love and cooperation within the one divine Being. Each person is involved in all that God does. God is a team no less than he is a complex entity. In the NT this concept is apparent, but in the OT, where the constant emphasis is on the truth that Yahweh is the one and only God, the truth of the Trinity hardly breaks the surface. God’s triunity is, however, an eternal fact, though it has been clearly revealed only through Christ’s coming. Theological Bible readers are right to read this fact back into the OT, following the example of NT writers in their citing of many OT passages.

Theological Reading of the Bible: The Quest for Godliness

Theology is for doxology, that is, glorifying God by praise and thanks, by obedient holiness, and by laboring to extend God’s kingdom, church, and cultural influence. The goal of theological Bible reading is not just to know truth about God (though one’s quest for godliness must start there) but to know God personally in a relationship that honors him—which means serving Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, the world’s real though unrecognized Lord, who came to earth, died, rose, and ascended for his people, and has given them the Holy Spirit. To have him fill believers’ horizons and rule their lives in his Father’s name is the authentic form—the foundation, blueprint, scaffolding, and construction—of Christian godliness, to which theological Bible reading is a God-intended means. So, three questions must govern readers of the inspired Word:

First, in the passage being read, what is shown about God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? What does it say about what the holy Three are doing, have done, and will do in God’s world, in his church, and in lives committed to him? What does it reveal about God’s attributes, that is, God’s power and character, how he exists and how he behaves? One reason, no doubt, for God’s panoramic, multigenred layout of the Bible—with history, homily, biography, liturgy, practical philosophy, laws, lists, genealogies, visions, and so on, all rubbing shoulders—is that this variety provides so many angles of illumination on these questions for theological Bible readers’ instruction.

Second, in the passage being read, what is shown about the bewildering, benighted world with all its beautiful and beneficial aspects alongside those that are corrupt and corrupting? Discerning the world’s good and evil for what they are, so as to embrace the world’s good and evade its temptations, is integral to the godliness that theological Bible reading should promote.

Third, in the passage being read, what is shown to guide one’s living, this day and every day? The theological logic of this question, through which the reader must work each time, is this: since God, by his own testimony, said that to those people in their situation, what does it follow that he says to readers today in their own situation? The Holy Spirit answers prayer by giving discernment to apply Scripture in this way. Those who seek will indeed find.

Reading the Bible as Literature

Three primary modes of writing converge in the Bible: theological, historical, and literary. Overwhelmingly, theology and history are embodied in literary form.

A crucial principle of interpretation thus needs to be established at the outset: meaning is communicated through form, starting with the very words of a text but reaching beyond that to considerations of literary genre and style. We cannot properly speak about the theological or moral content of a story or poem (for example) without first interacting with the story or poem.

Literary form exists prior to content; no content exists apart from the form in which it is embodied. As a result, the first responsibility of a reader or interpreter is to understand the form of a discourse. It is a common misconception to think that the literary dimension of the Bible is only the form in which the message is presented. Actually, without some kind of literary form, the content would not even exist. The concept of literary form needs to be construed very broadly here. Anything having to do with how a biblical author has expressed his message constitutes literary form. We tend to think (erroneously) that authors tell us about characters, actions, and situations, whereas actually they speak with or by means of these things—about God, people, and the world.

The Bible as Literature

The idea of the Bible as literature began with the Bible itself. The writers refer to a whole range of literary genres in which they write: proverb, saying, chronicle, complaint (lament psalm), oracle, apocalypse, parable, song, epistle, and many others. Secondly, some of these forms correspond to the literary forms current in the authors’ surrounding cultures. For example, the Ten Commandments are cast in the form of the suzerainty treaties that ancient Near Eastern kings imposed on their subjects, and the NT epistles show many affinities to the structure of Greek and Roman letters of the same era.

Mainly, though, we can look to the Bible itself to see the extent to which it is a literary book. Virtually every page of the Bible is replete with literary technique, and to possess the individual texts fully, we need to read the Bible as literature, just as we need to read it theologically and (in the narrative parts) historically.

Literary Genres

The most customary way to define literature is by the external genres (types or kinds of writing) in which its content is expressed. The two main genres in the Bible are narrative and poetry. Numerous categories cluster under each of these. Narrative subtypes, e.g., include hero story, gospel, epic, tragedy, comedy (a U-shaped plot with a happy ending), and parable. Specific poetic genres keep multiplying as well: lyric, lament psalm, praise psalm, love poem, nature poem, epithalamion (wedding poem), and many others.

But those are only the tip of the iceberg. In addition to narrative and poetry, we find prophecy, visionary writing, apocalypse, pastoral, encomium, oratory, drama (the book of Job), satire, and epistle. Then if we add more specific forms like travel story, dramatic monologue, doom song, and Christ hymn, the number of literary genres in the Bible readily exceeds a hundred.

The importance of genre to biblical interpretation is that genres have their own methods of procedure and rules of interpretation. An awareness of genre should alert us to what we can expect to find in a text. Additionally, considerations of genre should govern the terms in which we interact with a text. With narrative, e.g., we are on the right track if we pay attention to plot, setting, and character. If the text before us is a satire, we need to think in terms of object of attack, the satiric vehicle in which the attack is couched, and satiric norm (stated or implied standard by which the criticism is being conducted).

In view of how many literary genres are present in the Bible, it is obvious that the overall literary form of the Bible is the anthology, as even the word Bible (Gk. biblia, “books”) hints. As an anthology, the Bible possesses the same kinds of unity that other anthologies exhibit: multiple authorship (approximately three dozen authors), diverse genres, a rationale for collecting these particular materials (a unifying religious viewpoint and story of salvation history), comprehensiveness, and an identifiable strategy of organization (a combination of historical chronology and groupings by genre).

Literary Subject Matter

Literature is also identifiable by its subject matter. It is differentiated from expository (informational) writing by the way in which it presents concrete human experience instead of stating abstract propositions, logical arguments, or bare facts. We can profitably think of biblical writing as existing on a continuum, with abstract propositional discourse on one end and concrete presentation of human experience on the other. The more thoroughly a piece of writing falls on the experiential end of the spectrum, the more “literary” it is.

To illustrate, the command “you shall not murder” is an example of expository discourse. The story of Cain and Abel embodies the same truth in the form of characters in concrete settings performing physical and mental actions. Expository writing gives us the precept; literature gives us the example. “God’s provision extends to all aspects of our lives” is a thematic summary of Psalm 23; rather than such abstraction, however, the psalm incarnates the truth about providence through the poetic image of a shepherd’s daily routine with his sheep.

The subject of literature is human experience rendered as concretely as possible. The result is that it possesses a universal quality. Whereas history and the daily news tell us what happened, literature tells us what happens—what is true for all people in all places and times. A text can be both informational and literary, but its literary dimension resides in its embodiment of recognizable human experience.

The goal of literature is to prompt a reader vicariously to share or relive an experience. The truth that literature imparts is not simply ideas that are true but truthfulness to human experience. The implication for interpreting the Bible as literature is that readers and expositors need to actively recreate experiences in their imaginations, identify the recognizable human experiences in a text (thereby building bridges to life in the modern world), and resist the impulse immediately to reduce every biblical passage to a set of theological ideas.

Archetypes and Motifs

An archetype is a plot motif (such as initiation or quest), character type (such as the villain or trickster), or image (such as light or water) that recurs throughout literature and life. The presence of archetypes signals a text’s literary quality. When we read literature, we are continuously aware of such archetypes as the temptation motif, the dangerous valley, and the hero, whereas with other types of writing we are rarely aware of archetypes.

Archetypes are the building blocks of literature. The Bible is the most complete repository of archetypes in the Western world, something that makes the Bible universal, reaching down to bedrock human experience. Awareness of archetypes helps us see the unity of the Bible (since we keep relating one instance of an archetype to other instances), and also the connections between the Bible and other literature.

Stylistics and Rhetoric

Literature also uses distinctive resources of language that set it apart from ordinary expository discourse. The most obvious example is poetry. Poets speak a language all their own, consisting of images and figures of speech. Other important examples include: imagery, metaphor, simile, symbol, allusion, irony, wordplay, hyperbole, apostrophe (direct address to someone or something absent as though present), personification, paradox, and pun. The presence of these elements push a text into the category of literature.

The most concentrated repository of such language in the Bible is the books that are poetic in their basic format—the Prophetic Books, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes (a book of prose poems), Song of Solomon, and Revelation. But literary resources of language also appear on virtually every page of the Bible beyond the poetic books—most obviously in the discourses of Jesus and in the Epistles, but less pervasively in the narratives as well.

A related literary phenomenon is rhetoric—arrangement of content in patterns and use of conventional literary techniques or formulas. Parallelism of sentence elements, e.g., is an instance of stylized rhetoric. Patterns of repetition—of words, phrases, or content units—are a distinguishing feature of the Bible. So is aphoristic conciseness that continuously raises the Bible to a literary realm of eloquence far above everyday discourse. A page from a NT epistle might include rhetorical questions, question-and-answer constructions, direct addresses to real or imaginary respondents, or repeated words or phrases.


Literature is an art form in which beauty of expression, craftsmanship, and verbal virtuosity are valued as self-rewarding and as an enhancement of effective communication. The writer of Ecclesiastes states his philosophy of composition, portraying himself as a self-conscious stylist and wordsmith who arranged his material “with great care” and who “sought to find words of delight” (Eccles. 12:9–10). Surely other biblical writers did the same.

The standard elements of artistic form include unity, theme-and-variation, pattern, design, progression, contrast, balance, recurrence, coherence, and symmetry. Authors cultivate artistry because it is important to their effect and intention. The Bible is an aesthetic as well as utilitarian book, and we need to experience it as such.

Reading and Interpreting the Bible as Literature

Any piece of writing needs to be interpreted in terms of the kind of writing that it is. The Bible is a literary book in which theology and history are usually embodied in literary forms. Those forms include genres, the incarnation of human experience in concrete form, stylistic and rhetorical techniques, and artistry.

These literary features are not extraneous aspects of the text. Instead, they are the forms through whichthe content is mediated. If the writing of the Bible is the product of divine inspiration—if it represents what the Holy Spirit prompted the authors to write as they were “carried along” (2 Pet. 1:21)—then the literary forms of the Bible have also been inspired by God and need to be granted an importance congruent with that inspiration.

Reading the Bible in Prayer and Communion with God

Communion with God is a staggering thought. God created billions of galaxies and calls every star by name (Isa. 40:26; 42:5). He never had a beginning and will never end (Ps. 90:2). His ways are inscrutable and his judgments unsearchable (Rom. 11:33). His thoughts are as different from ours as the heavens are high above the earth (Isa. 55:8). “The nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales” (Isa. 40:15).

If that were not enough to make communion with God unthinkable, consider that all of us are naturally rebellious against him. Therefore, his omnipotent wrath rests on us. We are by nature hostile to God and do not submit to his law (Rom. 8:7). Therefore, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against us (Rom. 1:18). We are “by nature children of wrath,” “sons of disobedience,” and “dead in … trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1–5). How then can there be any thought of communion with God?

For Our Joy

Before we see the Bible’s answer, let’s clarify what we mean by “communion.” Communion refers to God’s communication and presentation of himself to us, together with our proper response to him with joy. We say “with joy” because it would not be communion if God revealed himself in total wrath and we were simply terrified. That would be true revelation and a proper response, but it would not be communion.

Communion assumes that God comes to us in love and that we respond joyfully to the beauty of his perfections and the offer of his fellowship. He may sometimes come with a rod of discipline. But even in our tears, we can rejoice in our Father’s loving discipline (Heb. 12:6–11). Communion with God may lay us in ashes or make us leap. But it never destroys our joy. It is our joy (Ps. 43:4).

To God’s Glory

Communion with God is the end for which we were created. The Bible says that we were created for the glory of God (Isa. 43:7). Yet glorifying God is not something we do after communing with him, but bycommuning with him. Many human deeds magnify the glory of God’s goodness, but only if they flow from our contentment in communion with him. This is why we pray, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love” (Ps. 90:14). The joy of this communion in the love of God confirms God’s worth and shows his glory.

Because of the Gospel

But how is this unthinkable privilege of communion with God possible for sinners like us? The answer of the Bible is that God himself took the initiative to be reconciled to his enemies. He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place and bear the curse that we deserved from God. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). So the wrath of God that we deserved fell on Christ (Isa. 53:4–6, 10).

Because God gave Christ as our substitute, we can be reconciled to God and enjoy peaceful communion with him. “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom. 5:10). “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). This peace leads to the unparalleled joy of communion with God (Rom. 5:11).

The Gospel: The Bible’s Central Message

Therefore, the first thing to say about the Bible in relation to communion with God is that the message of how to be reconciled to God for the glory of God is the central message of the Bible. There is no communion with God without salvation from our sin and God’s wrath. The Bible is the only book with final authority that tells us what God did through Christ and how we must respond through faith to be saved and to enjoy communion with God (2 Tim. 3:15).

But the Bible is more. The Bible tells the story of creation, of the fall of humanity into sin, and of the history of God’s chosen people Israel leading up to the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. Then it recounts the life of Christ and his teachings, his mighty works, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension. Finally, it tells the story of the early church after Jesus had returned to heaven, and how we are to live until Jesus comes again.

The Bible Reveals God

The God-inspired record of this history (the Bible) is the only infallible and authoritative book communicating and presenting God himself (2 Tim. 3:16–17; 2 Pet. 1:21). To be sure, God is active everywhere in the world today, and we experience his precious power wherever we trust him and do his will. But we will go astray if we make this daily experience of God the basis of our communion with him. We know God for who he is, and meet him as he is, when we meet him through his Word—the Bible. We see this principle at work, for example, in 1 Samuel 3:21: “The Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.” The Lord himself is revealed by his word, that is, by what he says to us, whether audibly or in written form.

Therefore, when we seek to enjoy communion with the Lord—and not to be led astray by the ambiguities of religious experience—we read the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, God’s words and God’s deeds reveal God himself for our knowledge and our enjoyment. Of course, it is possible to read the Bible without enjoying communion with God. We must seek to understand the Bible’s meaning, and we must pause to contemplate what we understand and, by the Spirit, to feel and express the appropriate response of the heart.

God communicates with us in many ways through the Bible and seeks the response of our communion with him. If God indicts us (2 Cor. 7:8–10), we respond to him with sorrow and repentance. If he commends us (Ps. 18:19–20), we respond to him with humble gratitude and joy. If he commands us to do something (Matt. 28:19–20), we look to him for strength and resolve to obey with his help. If he makes a promise (Heb. 13:5–6), we marvel at his grace and trust him to do what he says. If he warns us of some danger (Luke 21:34), we take him seriously and watch with a thankful sense of his presence and protection. If he describes something about himself (Isa. 46:9–11), his Son (Mark 1:11), or his Holy Spirit (John 16:13–14), we affirm it and admire it and pray for clearer eyes to see and enjoy his greatness and beauty.

Fellowship with the Triune God

In all these communications, it is God himself that we most want to see. Communion with God is not merely learning about God but enjoying fellowship with God in the truth he reveals about himself. The apostle John, who enjoyed unusually close communion with Jesus while he was on the earth, said that he wrote his letters so that we might enjoy this fellowship: “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). In other words, the Bible records the words and deeds of God so that by means of these we have fellowship—that is, communion—with God.

This fellowship is with each person in the Trinity: with the Father (1 John 1:3), with the Son (1 Cor. 1:9), and with the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14). This is possible because each person of the Godhead communicates with us in a way that corresponds to his unique role in creation, providence, and salvation. As the great Puritan John Owen wrote in his classic Communion with God, the Father communicates himself to us by the way of “original authority,” the Son from a “purchased treasury,” and the Spirit by an “immediate efficacy.” Each person, as Owen says, communicates with us “distinctly” in the sense that we may discern from which person particular realizations of the grace of God come to us. But “distinctly” does not mean “separately”: particular fellowship with each person of the Trinity is always one facet of ongoing communion with all three.

Humble, Bold Prayer

Finally, from this Father-initiated, Son-purchased, Spirit-effected communion with God, we pray with humble boldness (Heb. 4:16). That is, we speak to God the Father, on the basis of Christ’s work, by the help of the Spirit. This speaking is called prayer. It includes our confessions of sin (1 John 1:9), our praises of God’s perfections (Ps. 96:4), our thanks for God’s gifts (Ps. 118:21), and our requests that he would help us (Ps. 38:22) and others (Rom. 15:30–31)—all to the glory of God (Ps. 50:15), for the hallowing of his name, which must ever be our goal.

Prayer is the verbal aspect of our response to God in communion with him. The Bible does speak of “groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26), but ordinarily prayer is the response of our heart to God in words. It may be in private (Matt. 6:6) or in public (1 Cor. 14:16). It may last all night (Luke 6:12) or be summed up in a moment’s cry (Matt. 14:30). It may be desperate (Jonah 2:2) or joyful (Ps. 119:162). It may be full of faith (Mark 11:24) or wavering with uncertainty (Mark 9:24).

But it is not optional. It is commanded—which is good news, because it means that God loves being the giver of omnipotent help (Ps. 50:15). The Bible reminds us that ordinary people can accomplish great things by prayer (James 5:17–18). It tells us about great answers to prayer (Isa. 37:21, 36). It gives us great examples of how to pray (Matt. 6:9–13; Eph. 3:14–19). And it offers amazing encouragements to pray (Matt. 7:7–11).

God Gets the Glory; We Get the Joy

The Bible shows that prayer is near the heart of why God created the world. When we pray for God to do what only he can do, he alone gets the glory while we get the joy. We see this when Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13), and then later says, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24). In prayer, God gets the glory and we get the joy. God is the overflowing fountain; we are satisfied with the living water. He is infinitely rich; we are the happy heirs.

Central to all our praying, as we have seen, must be our longing that God’s name be hallowed in the world—known and honored and loved (Matt. 6:9). To that end, we pray (1) for his church to be “filled with the fruit of righteousness … to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:11); (2) that the gospel would spread and awaken faith in Jesus among all the nations (2 Thess. 3:1); and (3) that many who do not believe would be saved (Rom. 10:1). In this way, the aim of God’s Word and the aim of prayer become the same: the glory of God and the salvation of the nations through Jesus Christ.

Reading the Bible for Personal Application

It is a marvel how personally the Bible applies. The words pointedly address the concerns of long-ago people in faraway places, facing specific problems, many of which no longer exist. They had no difficulty seeing the application. Much of what they read was personal application to actual situations they were facing. But nothing in the Bible was written directly to you or specifically about what you face. We are reading someone else’s mail. Yet the Bible repeatedly affirms that these words are also written for us: “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction” (Rom. 15:4; cf. Deut. 29:29; 1 Cor. 10:11; 2 Tim. 3:15–17). Application today discovers ways in which the Spirit reapplies Scripture in a timely fashion.

Furthermore, the Bible is primarily about God, not you. The essential subject matter is the triune Redeemer Lord, culminating in Jesus Christ. When Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45), he showed how everything written—creation, promises, commands, history, sacrificial system, psalms, proverbs—reveals him. We are reading someone else’s biography. Yet that very story demonstrates how he includes us within his story. Jesus is the Word of God applied, all-wisdom embodied. As his disciples, we learn to similarly apply the Bible, growing up into his image. Application today experiences how the Spirit “rescripts” our lives by teaching us who God is and what he is doing.

“Personal application” proves wise when you reckon with these marvels. The Bible was written to others—but speaks to you. The Bible is about God—but draws you in. Your challenge is always to reapplyScripture afresh, because God’s purpose is always to rescript your life. How can you expand your wisdom in personal application? The following four ways are suggested.

1. Consolidate What You Have Already Learned

Assuming that you have listened well to some parts of the Bible, consider these personal questions. What chunk of Scripture has made the most difference in your life? What verse or passage have you turned to most frequently? What makes these exact words frequently and immediately relevant? Your answer will likely embody four foundational truths about how to read the Bible for wise application.

First, this passage becomes your own because you listen. You remember what God says. He is saying this to you. You need these words. This promise, revelation, or command must be true. You must act on this call to faith and love. When you forget, you drift, stray, and flounder. When you remember and put it to work, bright truth rearranges your life. The foundation of application is always attentive listening to what God says.

Second, the passage and your life become fused. It is not simply a passage in the Bible. A specific word from God connects to some pointed struggle inside you and around you. These inner and outer troubles express your experience of the dual evil that plagues every human heart: sin and confusion from within; trouble and beguilement from without (1 Kings 8:37–39; Eccles. 9:3). But something God says invades your darkness with his light. He meets your actual need with his actual mercies. Your life and God’s words meet. Application depends on honesty about where you need help. Your kind of trouble is everywhere in the Bible.

Third, your appropriation of this passage reveals how God himself does the applying. He meets you before you meet him. The passage arrested you. God arranged your struggle with sin and suffering so that you would need this exact help. Without God’s initiative (“I will write it on their hearts,” Jer. 31:33) you would never make the connection. The Spirit chose to rewrite your inner script, pouring God’s love into your heart, inviting you to live in a new reality. He awakens your sense of need, gives you ears to hear, and freely gives necessary wisdom. Application is a gift, because wisdom is a gift.

Fourth, the application of beloved passages is usually quite straightforward. God states something in general terms. You insert your relevant particulars. For example:

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Ps. 23:4). What troubles are you facing? Who is with you?

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lordhas laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). What is your particular way of straying? How does the Lamb of God connect with your situation?

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). With what are you obsessed? What promises anchor your plea for help (Phil. 4:5, 7–9)?

Such words speak to common human experiences. A passage becomes personal when your details participate in what is said. The gap across centuries and between cultures seems almost to disappear. Your God is a very present help in trouble—this trouble. Application occurs in specifics.

2. Look for the Directly Applicable Passages

How do you widen your scope of application? Keep your eye out for straightforward passages. Typically they generalize or summarize in some manner, inviting personal appropriation. Consider the core promises of God, the joys and sorrows of many psalms, the moral divide in many proverbs, the call of many commands, the summary comment that interprets a story. As examples of the first, Exodus 34:6–7; Numbers 6:24–26; and Deuteronomy 31:6 state foundational promises that are repeatedly and variously applied throughout the rest of Scripture. Pay attention to how subsequent scriptures specifically reapply these statements, and to how the entire Bible illustrates them. Make such promises part of your repertoire of well-pondered truth. They are important for a reason. Get a feel for how these words come to a point in Jesus Christ and can rescript every life, including yours.

Consider how generalization occurs. In narratives, details make the story come to life. But psalms and proverbs adopt the opposite strategy. They intentionally flatten out specific references, so anyone can identify. David was troubled when he wrote Psalm 25—his emotions are clearly felt. But he left his own story at the door: “For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great. … Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins” (Ps. 25:11, 18). He gives no details. We are given a template flexible enough to embrace any one of us. As you reapply, your sins and sufferings makePsalm 25 come to life as it leads you to mercy.

In matters of obedience, the Bible often proclaims a general truth without mentioning any of the multitude of possible applications. When Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13), he leaves you to puzzle out the forms of money-worship particular to your personality and your culture. In such cases, the Bible speaks in large categories, addressing many different experiences, circumstances, and actions. Sorting out what it specifically means is far from being mechanical and automatic, but the application process follows a rather direct line.

If you have a favorite Bible passage, it is likely one of these parts of Scripture whose application is relatively direct. But our experience of immediate relevance can skew our expectations for how the rest of God’s revelation applies to our lives.

3. Recognize the Sorts of Passages where Personal Application Is Less Direct

Here is the core dilemma. Most of the Bible does not speak directly and personally to you. How do you “apply” the stories in Genesis? What about genealogies and census data? Leviticus? The life stories of Esther, Job, Samson, or Paul? The distribution of land and villages in Joshua? The history of Israel’s decline detailed through 1 and 2 Kings? The prophetic woes scorching Moab, Philistia, Egypt, and Babylon, fulfilled so long ago? The ruminations of Ecclesiastes? The Gospel stories showing Jesus in action? The New Testament’s frequent preoccupation with Jew-Gentile relations? The apocalyptic images in the Revelation?

The Bible’s stories, histories, and prophecies—even many of the commands, teachings, promises, and prayers—take thoughtful work in order to reapply with current relevance. If you receive them directly—as if they speak directly to you, about you, with your issues in view—you will misunderstand and misapply Scripture. For example, the angel’s command to Joseph, “take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt” (Matt. 2:13), is not a command to anyone today to buy a ticket to Egypt! Those who attempt to take the entire Bible as if it directly applies today end up distorting the Bible. It becomes an omni-relevant magic book teeming with private messages and meanings. God does not intend that his words function that way.

These passages do apply. But most of the Bible applies differently from the passages tilted toward immediate relevance. What you read applies by extension and analogy, not directly. Less sizzle, but quietly significant. In one sense, such passages apply exactly because they are not about you. Understood rightly, such passages give a changed perspective. They locate you on a bigger stage. They teach you to notice God and other people in their own right. They call you to understand yourself within a story—many stories—bigger than your personal history and immediate concerns. They locate you within a community far wider than your immediate network of relationships. And they remind you that you are always in God’s presence, under his eye, and part of his program.

4. Tackle the Application of Less-direct Passages

Application is a lifelong process, seeking to expand and deepen wisdom. At the simplest level, simply read through the Bible in its larger chunks. The cumulative acquisition of wisdom is hard to quantify. A sense of what truth means and how truth works is overheard as well as heard. But also wrestle to work out the implications of specific passages.

Consider two examples. The first presents an extreme challenge to personal application: a genealogy or census. These are directly irrelevant to your life. Your name is not on the list. The reasons for the list disappeared long ago. You gain nothing by knowing that “Koz fathered Anub, Zobebah, and the clans of Aharhel” (1 Chron. 4:8). But when you learn to listen rightly, such lists intend many good things—and each list has a somewhat different purpose. Among the things taught are these:

  • The Lord writes down names in his book of life.
  • Families and communities matter to him.
  • God is faithful to his promises through long history.
  • He enlists his people as troops in the redemptive reconquest of a world gone bad.
  • All the promises of God find their “Yes” in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:20).

You “apply” a list of ancient names and numbers by extension, not directly. Your love for God grows surer and more intelligent when you ponder the kind of thing this is, rather than getting lost in the blizzard of names or numbers.

The second example presents a mid-level challenge. Psalms are often among the most directly relevant parts of Scripture. But what do you do when Psalm 21:1 says, “O Lord, in your strength the king rejoices”? The psalm is not talking about you, and it is not you talking—not directly. A train of connected truths apply this psalm to you, leading you out of yourself.

First, David lived and wrote these words, but Jesus Christ most fully lived—is now living, and will finally fulfill—this entire psalm. He is the greatest human king singing this song of deliverance; and he is also the divine Lord whose power delivers. We know from the perspective of NT fulfillment that this psalm is overtly by and about Jesus, not about any particular individual.

Second, you participate in the triumph of your King. You are caught up in all that the psalm describes, because you are in this Christ. So pay attention to his experience, because he includes you.

Third, your participation arises not as a solo individual but in company with countless brothers and sisters. You most directly apply this psalm by joining with fellow believers in a chorus of heartfelt gladness: “O Lord, we will sing and praise your power” (Ps. 21:13). The king’s opening joy in God’s power has become his people’s closing joy.

Finally, figuratively, you are also kingly in Christ. In this sense, Jesus’ experience of deliverance (the entire psalm) does apply to your life. Having walked through the psalm as an expression of the exultant triumph of Christ Jesus himself, you may now make it your experience too. You could even adapt Psalm 21 into the first person, inserting “I/me/my” in place of “the king” and “he/him/his.” It would be blasphemous to do that at first. It is fully proper and your exceeding joy to do this in the end. This is a song in which all heaven will join. As you grasp that your brothers and sisters share this same goal, you will love them and serve their joy more consistently.

God reveals himself and his purposes throughout Scripture. Wise application always starts there.


You started by identifying one passage that speaks persistently, directly, and relevantly into your life. You have seen how both the direct and the indirect passages intend to change you. Learning to wisely apply the harder, less relevant passages has a surprising benefit. Your whole Bible “applies personally.” This Lord is your God; this history is your history; these people are your people; this Savior has brought you in to participate in who he is and what he does. Venture out into the remotest regions of Scripture, seeking to know and love your God better.

Hopefully, you better understand why your most reliable passage so changed your life. Ponder those familiar words once more. You will notice that they also lift you out of self-preoccupation, out of the double evil of sin and misery. God brought his gracious care to you through that passage, and rearranged your life. You love him who first loved you, so you love his other children. And that is how the whole Bible, and each of its parts, applies personally.

Reading the Bible for Preaching and Public Worship

The Bible, as holy Scripture, is the only certain source of God’s words in the entire world. Paul’s statement that “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16; see note) means that all the words of the Bible are God’s words to us. Therefore if we want to hear our Creator and Lord speaking to us, we must continually give attention to the authoritative words of the Bible. This means that the Bible must be the only true foundation and constant guide for all that we do in the life of the church, and the Bible must be central to all that happens in preaching and public worship.

Moses and Jesus confirm how God’s people are to regard his holy Word. On the very day that Moses completed the writing of the Book of the Law, he directed that it be placed beside the ark (Deut. 31:26), sang his final song (the great Song of Moses; Deut. 31:30–32:43), and then declared that “it is no empty word for you, but your very life” (Deut. 32:47). Moses’ declaration set the standard for the primacy and sufficiency of God’s Word (cf. Psalms 19; 119). A millennium and a half later Jesus, the second Moses, after defeating Satan with three deft quotations from Deuteronomy, declared, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). The Scriptures were life to Moses and food to Jesus; as such they together establish the ideal for God’s people and directly inform the Bible’s use in preaching and public worship. Jesus’ dependence on the sufficiency and potency of God’s Word raised the standard high for all apostolic and post-apostolic preaching and worship.

The Bible’s Use in Preaching

When the apostle Paul instructs his younger colleague Timothy in the conduct of public worship, he places the Bible at its very center: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. … Practice these things, immerse yourself in them” (1 Tim. 4:13, 15). Paul’s direction was: read the Word; preach the Word! (Cf. 2 Tim. 4:2.) The early church sought to follow Paul’s exhortation. Justin Martyr, writing c. a.d. 150–155, describes a typical Lord’s Day: “On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together in one place, and the memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has finished, the president speaks, instructing and exhorting the people to imitate these good things” (First Apology 1.67). In other words, the practice of these earliest churches was that the Scripture was to be read, and then preaching was to be based on that reading of the Word.

From the text. Paul directs Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). “Rightly handling” is a compound word in Greek, in which the first part comes from the Greek word orthos—“straight.” The exact charge to Timothy is to impart the word of truth without deviation and without dilution—to get it straight and give it straight! The preacher must preach the text, not the idea that brought him to the text. He must stand behind the Bible, not in front of it. He must preach what the passage says, not what he wants it to say.

Good preaching requires prayerfully interpreting the text in its context. This involves using the established rules of interpretation; understanding the text’s application both in its historical setting and in the whole of Scripture; discerning how it is a revelation of Jesus Christ and making the appropriate biblical connections; taking the trip from Jerusalem to one’s own town and coming to see its present relevance; articulating the theme of the text; using stories and illustrations which truly illuminate the text; and employing language that actually communicates in today’s culture.

From the heart. However, the proper use of the Bible in preaching requires more than good hermeneutics and homiletics; it also requires a heart that has been softened and prepared and sanctified by the Word that is to be preached. The Puritan William Ames (1576–1633) expressed it well:

Next to the evidence of truth, and the will of God drawn out of the Scriptures, nothing makes a sermon more to pierce, than when it comes out of the inward affection of the heart without any affectation. To this purpose it is very profitable, if besides the daily practice of piety we use serious meditation and fervent prayer to work those things upon our own hearts, which we would persuade others of.

Every appropriation of the truth preached will strengthen the preacher for preaching. Every act of repentance occasioned in his soul by the Word he now preaches will give conviction to his voice.

Jonathan Edwards’s Treatise Concerning the Religious Affections (1746) has provided the best explanation of what must take place within the preacher. By “affections” Edwards meant one’s heart, one’s inclinations, and one’s will. As Edwards said, “true religion consists in a great measure in vigorous and lively actings and the inclination and will of the soul, or the fervent exercises of the heart.” Edwards demonstrates from a cascade of Scriptures that real Christianity so impacts the affections that it shapes one’s fears, hopes, loves, hatreds, desires, joys, sorrows, gratitudes, compassions, and zeals.

This is what should routinely happen to the preacher: the message should work its way through his whole intellectual and moral being as he prepares for and practices the proclamation of God’s Word. When the message has affected him deeply, then he is ready to preach. Sermon preparation is twenty hours of prayer. It is humble, holy, critical thinking. It is repeatedly asking the Holy Spirit for insight. It is the word penetrating into the depths of the preacher’s own soul. It is ongoing repentance. It is utter dependence. It is a singing heart.

The Bible’s Use in Public Worship

God’s Word deserves great reverence from his people. Isaiah writes, “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isa. 66:2). Therefore when Scripture is read aloud in a worship service, the reader and the congregation should take care to convey the reverent attention that Scripture deserves.

From its earliest days the church gave primacy to the reading of Holy Scripture, as seen in the apostle Paul’s aforementioned charge to Timothy to devote himself to “the public reading of Scripture,” as well as Justin Martyr’s account of the apostolic church’s practice of reading “the memoirs of the apostles and writings of the prophets … as long as time permits.” The regular custom soon was to have two extended public readings, one from the OT and one from the NT.

Reading of Scripture. Every Bible-believing church must give preeminence to Scripture in its public services of worship. This means that the Scripture to be expounded should be read aloud, and should be set forth in its full context. After all, the reading of God’s Word is the one place where we can be sure that we are hearing God. Responsive readings can be beneficial because they involve the congregation in voicing the sacred text.

There is substantial wisdom in keeping to the apostolic church’s custom of reading passages from the OT and NT in pairs, as it were, because this practice weekly reaffirms the continuity of the two Testaments, encourages biblical theology, and counters the tendencies of many today to pit the two Testaments against each other. It also substantially contributes to the service as a service of the Word in its unity and fullness.

Congregational response to the reading with a hearty “Amen!” or the time-honored “Thanks be to God” can further elevate the corporate assent to the centrality and authority of God’s Word. Jerome said of the congregational “Amen” in his day that at times it “seemed like a crack of thunder.” How glorious and how good for the soul!

Of course, such attention to God’s Word can also prove ineffective if the reading itself is left to a last-minute assignment, such that the reader fails to prepare mentally and spiritually for what he or she is required to do. All of us have heard the Scripture abused by a reader who hasn’t the faintest idea of the meaning of what he is reading, or by reading too fast, or mispronouncing common words, or by losing his place. This is not to suggest that the Scripture is to be read as dramatically as possible or performed as a reader’s theater. But how God-honoring it is to read God’s Word well, with a prayerful spirit. Pastors and readers can serve their congregations well by prayerfully reading the text a dozen times with pencil in hand before reading it to God’s people.

A service of the Word. The Bible’s use in preaching and public worship should be in such a way as to result in a Christ-exalting service of the Word. This requires work by the preacher and the leaders of the congregation, so that God’s Word is read to his glory, the sermon is derived from the faithful exposition of the text reading, and the reading and preaching of the biblical passage is set in the context of songs and hymns and programs that are redolent with the substance of God’s holy Word.


Interpreting the Bible

Interpreting the Bible: An Introduction

The Bible contains 66 books, written in three languages over 1,500 years by dozens of authors writing in numerous genres for diverse audiences. Scripture is clear enough that anyone can grasp the essentials of the faith. At the same time, extensive reading leads to riddles: Why does Moses apparently condone polygamy and slavery? What is a denarius? Who is Apollyon? Why do the apostles care about meat that is offered to idols?

The Requirements for Interpretation

Skill in interpretation is needed to gain the most from the Bible. When Scriptures are read in the church, leaders can answer questions and orient listeners to its great themes. Still, people rightly desire to read and understand the Bible for themselves (Jer. 31:31–34; 1 John 2:27).

Interpretation of the Bible requires technical skill and spiritual receptivity. Though all God’s people have a significant ability to read and understand the great teachings of the Bible in their own language (seeDeut. 6:6–7; Ps. 1:1–2; 19: 7; 119:130; 1 Cor. 1:2; Eph. 3:4; Col. 4:16), there also remain more detailed and precise questions about meaning that sometimes require technical knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, as well as of Scripture’s historical, cultural, and intellectual backgrounds. Here interpretation resembles the reading of dense poetry or constitutional documents. Interpretation is also an art, mastered not by rigid adherence to procedures but by long practice conducted under tutors. Interpretation is also a spiritual task. To read the Bible is not to dissect a lifeless text that only contains marks on a page. As people read Scripture, Scripture reads them, questions them, reveals their thoughts (Heb. 4:12)—and it leads to a Person, not just truths. All Scripture points to Jesus’ death and resurrection, to forgiveness, and to personal knowledge of God through him.

To profit from Scripture, one must take the right posture. At one extreme, the skeptic questions and judges whatever he or she reads. At the other, the overconfident believer, convinced that he has mastered biblical or systematic theology, ignores or explains away whatever fails to support his system. Interpreters should come to Scripture humbly, expecting to learn and be corrected, willing to observe Scripture closely and accept whatever they find. All Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16), so every word counts. If a biblical narrator mentions something as seemingly insignificant as a character’s hair, this detail will probably be important—as the hair of Esau, Samson, and Absalom shows!

Interpreters also need skills. The remainder of this article explains the skills necessary to read the Bible in context, to find the main point of a passage, to develop a theme, and to apply Scripture.

Knowing the Context

It is a truism that one must read the Bible in context, but the truism hides a distinction. “Context” can refer to the historical or the literary context. The literary context includes the words, sentences, and paragraphs preceding and following a passage. The literary context locates a passage within the larger purposes of a book. Readers should ask why a particular passage is here and not elsewhere, how it builds upon prior passages, and how it prepares for the next. The disciples once said to Jesus, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). Absent a context, it seems like a godly request (which it may be in some contexts). But here the disciples say it after they hear a difficult command and before Jesus tells them they merely need the faith of a mustard seed. Considering this context, some interpreters have seen “Increase our faith” as an excuse, not a godly request.

One should also locate a passage in the context of its entire book. Paul’s statement “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God …” (Rom. 12:1) stands at a hinge in Romans. Paul had just finished recounting God’s mercies in Romans 3–11. His “therefore” summons readers to see that God’s abundant mercies lead them into heartfelt service.

The historical context includes knowledge of the culture, economy, geography, climate, agriculture, architecture, family life, morals, and social structure of the Bible’s actors, authors, and readers. Over the centuries, climate and topography hardly vary, but other factors shift more. For example, Israel was poor and weak under Samuel and Saul, strong and rich under David and Solomon.

Historical contexts help readers make sense of passages like Deuteronomy 22:8, which says a builder “shall make a parapet” around the roof of a new home, lest someone fall from it and “bring the guilt of blood” upon the house. A parapet is a retaining wall around the edge of a flat roof. Since Israelites worked, ate, and slept on their roofs, parapets kept reckless boys and restless sleepers from tumbling off. The law taught Israel how to preserve life and to love neighbors.

Again, in Luke 11:27–28 a woman called out to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts at which you nursed.” The woman’s mind-set explains her odd-sounding speech. In antiquity, women gained honor by marrying a great man or bearing great children. The woman praised Jesus by praising his mother—only a great woman could bear such a great son. Jesus nudges her in another direction: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” In other words, a woman finds greatness in discipleship more than in matrimony or maternity.

Interpreters must read carefully to recognize both obvious and hidden riddles. Some matters are less clear than they seem. Do contemporary readers know precisely what judges, elders, and talents are? Study resources include a study Bible, and also, in increasing depth, a Bible dictionary, an encyclopedia, and scholarly commentaries. The quality of sources, not the quantity, is paramount.

Background studies permit more accurate study of a text’s line of thought. The genre of the passage must be noted, since narrative, law, prophecy, visions, wisdom literature, and epistles all have distinct modes of operation, with subtypes within each genre. To simplify, however, the most basic distinction in terms of genre is between narrative and discourse.

Interpreting Narratives

Narratives can be long or short, complex or simple. They can be distinguished as speech stories, reports, and dramatic narratives. A speech story sets up a significant teaching, usually delivered near the end. Consider Jesus’ encounters with a centurion (Matt. 8:5–13) and with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1–10). Reports briefly describe battles, travels, or minor kings. They lack drama and reveal their secrets through patterns. For example, taken together, the reports of Solomon’s reign show gold slowly becoming more prominent, and more highly valued, than wisdom. Solomon spent more on his palace than on the temple, and his adherence to the law steadily declined (1 Kings 4–11). Readers can draw conclusions as they read the reports in canonical perspective.

Many narratives feature complex characters and dramatic tension. To interpret narrative, one must note the story’s time and place, its characters, and their interests. Soon conflict develops, leading to a crisis, then resolution. The reader should enter the story as if he or she were there, especially at the dramatic climax—when Abraham’s knife is poised, when David strides toward Goliath. The resolution follows—the angel calls out, the stone finds its mark. Narratives convey moral, spiritual, and theological truths (1 Cor. 10:11), but one must first look for God’s action. He is the prime character in biblical narratives. Readers should ask therefore how God reveals himself, and how he fulfills his covenant promises, in this or that particular story.

The main point of a narrative typically appears in the climax-resolution nexus. The narrator or a character in the story will often reveal that central truth. Dialogue discloses character and motivation (e.g., Luke 15:28–32). In the Abraham-Isaac account, both Abraham and the narrator say that the Lord will provide, and he does (Gen. 22:8, 14). In the David-Goliath narrative, David says, “The battle is theLord’s, and he will give you into our hand,” and he does (1 Sam. 17:45–49). The main point in these narratives is not “Abraham obeyed a hard command and believers should, too,” or “David was brave and Christians should be, too.” The lessons are that “the Lord provides” and “the battle is the Lord’s” (and then, also, that he is certainly worthy of trust!). The stories’ characters go on quests, face choices, and respond to God faithfully or unfaithfully—but the Lord is the main agent, and believers, unbelievers, and bystanders are always responding to him. In the process they show how people tend to respond, for good or ill, and Bible readers should imitate their good responses and avoid their mistakes.

Interpreting Discourse

In discourse, which is the other main type of text in the Bible, the search for the main point (not necessarily the point that most interests the reader) remains central as well. This is true whether the text is poetry, prophecy, or an epistle. The point commonly appears first or last in a passage. (Whole books also have themes that are stated first or last; see Matt. 28:18–20 and Rom. 1:16–17.) Many Psalms reveal their theme at once: “Bless the Lord, O my soul” (103:1; cf. 42:1; 107:1). Passages in the Epistles sometimes start with the main point and then elaborate on it. James, for instance, says straight off that not many should aspire to be teachers (3:1a) because they face stricter judgment (3:1b) and because the tongue is beyond control (3:2–8). Other passages build to a climax, as in Jesus’ teaching on the law, “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). On numerous occasions, writers repeat the main point. The author of Judges says twice that “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (17:6; 21:25). Paul tells the Corinthians three times to be content in their assigned calling (1 Cor. 7:17, 20, 24). Careful students of Scripture will reread a passage, both to find the main point and to observe the way the biblical authors think. Illustrations, elaborations, and answers to foes are best understood by seeing how they serve the principal lesson.

This is not to say that the main point should be considered the only point or the only important point. For example, though Romans 1:16–17 is the overall theme of Romans, literally hundreds of other theological and ethical truths are taught throughout the pages of this letter. The individual parts are best understood in light of how they contribute to the whole.

Tracing Specific Themes throughout the Bible

Interpreters also need to learn how to search through Scripture to collect its comprehensive teaching on various specific themes. Students can start topical studies by reading passages listed in their Bibles’ cross-references. Concordances are valuable, but they can mislead if readers simply limit their scope to verses that use a particular word. Students of the Bible must locate concepts, not just words, to develop a theme. For example, a concordance search on “pray/prayer/praying” would turn up only one verse in John’s Gospel (John 17:9), but several other verses tell how to “ask” God for various things, and those verses also teach a number of particular lessons about prayer. Ideas also unfold progressively within the OT, into the NT, and sometimes even within a single book. Wise interpreters still locate every verse in its context and ask how the original audience understood it. For great topics such as work, marriage, or the love of God, it helps to note what the Bible says within the frame of each of the four great epochs: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.

Applying God’s Word

Biblical application chiefly requires careful prayer and meditation, but one must realize that application is more than following commands. Applying Scripture means accepting and fulfilling God-given duties, seeking a godly character, pursuing goals that the Lord blesses, and seeing the world his way. This produces four questions readers can ask themselves that often lead to helpful application: What should I do? Who should I be (or who should I realize that I am, in Christ)? Where should I go? How can I see?

People also apply the Bible when they let it lead them to Christ. After the fall, the Lord promised a redeemer. Every good prophet, priest, king, and judge points to one who would perfectly fulfill their roles, and every false leader causes the reader to cry out for one who would be true. (For further development of this idea throughout the OT, see History of Salvation in the Old Testament: Preparing the Way for Christ.) From the start of the Gospels, Jesus is portrayed as Son of God and Son of Man. Each phase in the Gospel accounts leads toward the climax in the crucifixion and its resolution in the resurrection. Each epistle interprets that great event until Scripture ends in Revelation’s songs of praise to the Lamb and the Lion, the King of kings and Lord of lords, contemplated, trusted, and adored. Thus interpretative skills must lead beyond conceptual knowledge to a Person, and a vital relationship with him.

Interpreting the Bible: A Historical Overview

Is there any benefit to reading the Bible as it was understood by previous generations of Christians? Yes, certainly, because the Bible was written for them as well as us. God spoke to them through the Bible as he does to us today, and the spiritual gift of teaching was given to individuals then as it is now. Therefore when we read the biblical interpretations of previous generations, going all the way back to the earliest days of the church, we can often gain insight and perspectives that we might otherwise overlook because of the cultural biases of our own time.

However, before we seek to benefit from the interpretations of previous generations, it is helpful to have a broad overview of the dominant methods of biblical interpretation from various periods in church history.

The earliest followers of Christ interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures (the OT) as Jesus taught them—as a book of anticipations pointing to Christ himself. He was the long-promised Messiah, the Redeemer who would reverse the effects of the primal fall and restore the world to pristine holiness. Jesus taught that the OT spoke of him. To his critics he said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). The Gospel accounts suggest that Jesus understood the OT from a Christocentric, typological perspective; he is repeatedly cast as the fulfillment of the Scriptures. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made it clear that his views did not contradict Moses, but he had come to invest the Law and the Prophets with their proper and full meaning (Matt. 5:17). Two themes run through Jesus’ teaching: (1) the Law was the perfect revelation of God to humanity, and (2) Jesus came to fulfill the Law by meeting its exacting demands for a righteous standing before God.

This approach to the OT is how the earliest writers of the Christian Scriptures (the NT) approached their own writings. They spoke of the OT in the same way that Jesus had: as a book not merely telling the pre-Christian history of Israel but telling that history in a way that had present and future significance for Christians. The OT was the original sacred book of the church, giving assurance that Jesus was the promised and anointed one predicted by the prophets.


Not everyone in the early church grasped the concept of continuity between the two Testaments, as evidenced by Marcion, who taught in Rome between a.d. 140 and 160. He argued that the OT was vastly inferior to the writings of the apostles, most notably Paul. He adopted a literal approach to interpretation, but his dualistic grid discounted the OT, which he believed set forth a different God from the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and was not to be read in the churches. His approach pitted law against grace, and the OT God against a God of love. The wider church, however, soon recognized Marcion’s innovations as a mistake.

Justin Martyr and Irenaeus

In reaction to Marcion, other Christian teachers formulated a more orthodox way of approaching the sacred writings. Justin Martyr (c. a.d. 100–165), an early defender of Christianity, argued that the difference between the OT and NT is only a matter of degree. The OT anticipated and foretold events, and was superseded by the NT writings because they represented the fulfillment of earlier anticipations. Thus, Justin Martyr, particularly in his Dialogue, stressed a messianic continuity and utilized a literal-historical approach to interpretation.

However, it was Irenaeus (c. a.d. 130–200) who gathered the threads of interpretation more systematically. Though his approach to the OT was more literal than that of his predecessors, he also saw a typological meaning in the text. In Irenaeus’s view the Scriptures are like “treasure hidden in a field” (Matt. 13:44) in that the literal was also the typological: the Bible is full of prefigurements, especially of the Messiah. Irenaeus also championed ideas that are still generally accepted by modern interpreters: (1) exegesis should pay careful attention to context; (2) unclear or obscure texts should be interpreted by clearer ones; and (3) a nonliteral reading of some passages may be warranted. Irenaeus held that the true meaning of the Scriptures is the interpretation of the apostles as presented in the NT and is embodied in the Rule of Faith (that is, the established and widely accepted understanding of the main doctrines of Scripture) as preserved through the teachings of the church.

Clement and Origen

Christian teachers in Alexandria, such as Clement (c. a.d. 150–215) and Origen (c. 185–254), were profoundly influenced by the work of Philo (a Jewish philosopher who wrote, and thought, in Greek; d. 50) and Plato’s philosophy of Idealism. Clement and Origen read the Bible as having multiple levels of meaning. The surface meaning was literal, but it often hid a deeper, spiritual meaning. They held the Bible to be verbally accurate, and in this manner the integrity of the text was preserved; but where the literal meaning was obscure, this was thought to suggest a more profound, allegorical meaning. To Origen, who systematized this newer approach, the literal or simple meaning of the text was for those who could not grasp the intricate nature of languages (i.e., figures of speech, mysterious sayings), while the deeper meaning was for the learned or more spiritual. Using the body-soul-spirit analogy, he argued that the Bible should be interpreted literally, morally, and mystically. As a result, the historical meaning of Scripture was devalued. The deep meaning of the text could be separated from the literal meaning, resulting in theological speculation. This approach, therefore, was marked by subjectivity, depending more upon the insight of the interpreter rather than seeking consistency with other established doctrines of Scripture. Though Origen never contradicted the Rule of Faith, he did in fact speculate beyond it.

Theodore, Jerome, and Augustine

Later teachers such as Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. a.d. 350–428), Jerome (c. 342–420), and Augustine (354–430) criticized the allegorical method of the Alexandrians as being arbitrary and nonrational. These teachers argued that the Scriptures are to be interpreted in both a literal and a Christocentric sense. They insisted that their method was not the same as the allegorical approach, because it was rooted in the text of Scripture itself. They refused to disconnect the literal, historical meaning of the text from its spiritual meaning. Jerome, though initially a proponent of allegorization, later embraced the literal-historical approach to Scripture without abandoning the deeper spiritual meaning of the text that had been championed by Theodore and others. Jerome insisted that scriptural texts should be read in a historical context, something the allegorical approach had de-emphasized.

The greatest theologian of the early church was Augustine. He championed a literal, historical approach to reading the Bible, insisting that a proper understanding must begin with the mind of the writer, which required knowing the biblical languages and paying attention to context. The fourfold approach to Scripture that he put forth (see below) was widely used, and abused, in the Medieval era.

Medieval Churchmen

The Medieval church gradually became enamored of the allegorical method of interpretation, which was used to buttress church dogma that lacked a strong basis in Scripture. Medievalists developed a fourfold approach to interpreting the Bible: the literal, showing what God did; the allegorical, showing what at surface level God hid; the moral, revealing what believers should do; and the mystical, or anagogical, showing the heavenly life in which, for Christians, things will end. In effect, the method obscured the true meaning of the Bible by imposing arbitrary meanings on it. Theology took precedence over careful literal-historical exegesis.

In the high Middle Ages, the great scholastic Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) embraced the literal-historical (as opposed to allegorical) approach. In his skillful hands the proper approach to the Bible was an exegetical method that assumed the primacy of the literal meaning of the text. To Aquinas, multiplying levels of meaning in a single text was confusing in that it would blunt the force of any biblical argument; further, he thought that a parabolic sense of Scripture could be part of its proper meaning. He recognized that the intended meaning of a text is contained in words, and words can be used both literally (in a narrow sense, excluding images and metaphors) and figuratively.

The Reformers

The Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century reacted against the misuse of the Bible in Late Medieval theology. They insisted that authority rested not in the leaders or fathers of the church but in a proper understanding of the text derived from correct methods of literary interpretation. Reformers starting with John Wycliffe (c. 1330–1384) insisted on a grammatical-historical approach to the Bible. The German reformer Martin Luther (1483–1546) broke with the nonliteral, allegorical approach that was dominant in his training and returned to the patristic emphasis on the centrality of Christ in the Scriptures. He was adamant that the Bible be approached not through fanciful allegories or merely to support established dogma but through ordinary language and literal, historical, and grammatical exegesis. A proper understanding of the Bible should be the product of such interpretation of the scriptural texts and should lead to healthy theology and a robust Christian life.

The most prolific expositor of Scripture, as well as the first major systematizer of Protestant theology, was John Calvin (1509–1564). Calvin stressed Scripture over theology and saw theology as the fruit resulting from the proper interpretation of Scripture. He was a skilled linguist who approached the Bible from the viewpoint of its historical veracity, literal interpretation, and contextual analysis. He often interpreted prophetic texts in a typological manner (as looking forward to Christ), yet he strenuously opposed arbitrary allegorization, which he believed undermined the certainty and clarity of Scripture. Some assign to Calvin the designation “the founder of modern grammatical-historical exegesis,” which is confirmed by the continued popularity of his commentaries and the way in which modern interpreters still interact with him as a sober, accurate exegete.

The Enlightenment

In the generations following Calvin, the role of tradition in biblical interpretation was increasingly limited by a growing emphasis on the individual interpreter, a trend seen in the rise of the Enlightenment. (The Renaissance led to two great movements: the Protestant Reformation, which emancipated the Bible from ecclesiastical imprisonment, and the Enlightenment, which carried forward the attack on authority structures to ridicule the authority of the Bible, birthing the Modern era.) The essence of the Enlightenment was a rejection of the biblical doctrine of the utter brokenness of humanity and a belief that the human mind was capable of arriving at truth when unhindered by external authorities such as the church, tradition, or the Bible.

To many Enlightenment thinkers, the Bible became an untrustworthy book created by churchmen to keep minds captive under the threat of punishment. Thus, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, university scholarship embraced the intellectual and philosophical assumptions of the Enlightenment, turning its full force against the veracity of the Scriptures. The Bible became viewed as a parched landscape with an occasional oasis. At best, it merely contained truth; it was not itself truth. The lasting effects of this approach have contributed to the dissolution of the Christian worldview, at least in Western industrialized nations.

The Heirs of the Reformation: Evangelical Protestantism

However, from the Reformation until today, the large central core of the Protestant church worldwide has held to an “evangelical” view of Scripture, rejecting the skepticism of post-Enlightenment Naturalism and Rationalism, and continuing to believe in the complete truthfulness and reliability of the Bible. In answer to the attacks of rationalism, evangelicals have shown that there is no contradiction between full trust in the Bible and intellectual integrity. With respect to proper biblical interpretation, they have appreciated the various understandings of Scripture held by previous generations but have also sought to correct previous misunderstandings by developing more precise standards for right interpretation (see Interpreting the Bible: An Introduction). This Study Bible is written from within this broad post-Reformation evangelical Protestant tradition.


After centuries of the most rigorous scrutiny, the Bible is still the most widely read book in the world. The God of the Scriptures has preserved his divine Word—recorded in human language and illumined by the Spirit. This Word reveals the Savior of the world to the hungry hearts who affectionately embrace him and walk in his ways. Some may argue that the Bible is not true, yet the Holy Scriptures will remain an eternal testimony to God’s truthfulness long after the last critic is silenced. While not perfect, the long history of interpretation by those who read the Bible as God’s Word in previous centuries is still a storehouse of great riches for modern readers. Because the Bible uses ordinary language and teaches through concepts and experiences common to all human life, interpreters of previous centuries often were accurate in their understanding of vast parts of Scripture. For those who will read the Bible in the light of this long tradition (yet correcting and supplementing that tradition’s inadequacies), it promises to reveal the truth of a divine Redeemer and to instruct us in walking humbly before him in reverence and awe.


Biblical Ethics:

Biblical Ethics: An Introduction

From the beginning of the Bible to the end, God gives people specific instructions about how he wants them to conduct their lives. The study of these instructions and their wise application to life is known as the discipline of biblical ethics. These instructions from God about ethical living involve many commands, laws, moral standards, ideals, prohibitions, and principles of wisdom relating to moral judgment. They also concern matters of moral accountability, including rewards and punishments that provide incentives for pleasing God and avoiding what he abhors. From start to finish, ethical understanding in the Bible is about applying the holiness of God to human life on earth (Lev. 11:44–45; 19:2; 20:7; 1 Pet. 1:14–16). This article offers an overview of such biblical ethics as based on the totality of moral revelation in the Word of God, and several articles that follow it show the application of Christian ethics to specific moral issues.

An Overview of Ethical Instruction and Example in the Bible

The first example of ethical instruction in the Bible is seen when God gave Adam and Eve commands, both positively, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28), and negatively, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Gen. 2:17). Later in the Bible God gave his people the foundational guidelines set forth in the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1–17; cf. Deut. 5:6–21), and then he added the numerous, even more detailed laws that are found in large portions of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These laws not only prescribed and prohibited certain actions but also taught people about right attitudes of heart: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Deut. 6:5; cf. Lev. 19:18; Ps. 40:8; 119:16). In addition to direct commands, the Bible also teaches about moral living through narrative literature (revealing what pleases or displeases God), wisdom literature (revealing characteristics of good judgment), and prophetic words (revealing how people and nations are accountable to God), all of which indicate the kinds of conduct, character, and goals that God either approves or disapproves.

When Jesus came, he lived a life of perfect obedience to God, for he said, “I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8:29), and many passages affirm that Jesus’ life was completely free of sin: He was “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15), and he was “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8; cf. John 15:10; Acts 3:14; 2 Cor. 5:21;Heb. 7:26; 1 Pet. 1:19; 1 John 2:1; 3:5). Jesus employed three characteristic motifs in his ethical teaching. First, he often described moral living in terms of God reigning as a king and his people’s duty as citizens to obey the rules of his kingdom (cf. esp. Matt. 5:3, 10, 19–20; 6:10, 33; 13:37–43, 47–50; 18:23–35; 21:31–32, 43). Second, he frequently described moral living in terms of the obligations, loyalties, and privileges of children in a family headed by God as a loving Father (cf. esp. Matt. 5:9, 16, 43–48; 6:1–4, 14–15; 12:50; 23:9; Mark 3:35; John 12:36). Third, Jesus taught in terms of disciples following, imitating, and obeying him as a beloved teacher, mentor, and role model (cf. esp. Matt. 10:24–25; 16:24; Mark 10:43–45; Luke 6:40; John 13:15–17; 14:15, 21, 23–24; 15:10, 12). And at the end of his ministry he commissioned his followers to teach other disciples from all nations “to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). In addition to his teaching, Jesus’ life is also a pattern for believers to imitate, for “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6).

The Bible ends with a picture of the new Jerusalem, a city in which the only residents are those who obey God’s moral standards, for “nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false” (Rev. 21:27), and those who are kept “outside” are “sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Rev. 22:15). Obedience to God’s ethical standards brings him glory (Matt. 5:16; 1 Cor. 6:20) and is also best for his people (Ps. 1:1; John 14:21; Rom. 12:2; Heb. 12:10).

Justification by Faith and the Importance of Moral Obedience

The NT clearly teaches that justification, that is, pardon and acceptance with God, comes to people only through faith in Christ alone, who is offered to sinful humanity as Savior by God’s grace alone: “by grace you have been saved through faith” and “this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works” (Eph. 2:8–9). But then Paul immediately says that God wants Christians to live in obedience to him: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). It is impossible to read the NT epistles, or to listen to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, without hearing dozens upon dozens of moral commands, standards, warnings, and promises telling Christians how they should live in order to please God in their daily conduct. Therefore it must be seen as a matter of great importance to God that his people, who have been justified by faith alone, live every day of their lives walking in obedience to God’s moral standards (Heb. 12:14). In fact, in John 14, Jesus four times stresses the essential connection between loving him and obeying what he commands (John 14:15, 21, 23, 24). Empowered by the Holy Spirit, daily obedience expressing faith, loyalty, and love toward Christ will have a transforming effect. The conscience will be clear (1 Tim. 3:9; cf. 1:5); the heart will know great peace (Phil. 4:9); joy will abound (Rom. 14:17); assurance will be strong (2 Pet. 1:5–10); and distressing experiences will be taken in stride (1 Pet. 2:18–24).

God’s Holy Character as the Source of His Moral Standards

God’s moral standards are never arbitrary or capricious, but are all consistent with and derived from his own moral character. This is why Paul can say, “be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph. 5:1). This theme of imitating God’s moral character is found throughout the Bible: “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:15, quoting Lev. 11:44). The commands not to lie but to speak truthfully are grounded in the imperative that believers should increasingly live out the image of their Creator, who does not lie (Col. 3:9–10).

Other commands also reflect the pattern of imitation of God. “Honor your father and your mother” (Ex. 20:12) is a reflection of the Son honoring the Father and being obedient to the Father’s will within the counsels of the Trinity (cf. John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38). The command not to murder (Ex. 20:13) is grounded in the fact that God is the Creator and sustainer of life and places immense value on the lives of human beings created in his image (Gen. 9:6). The command “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14) is a command to be faithful in marriage relationships, based on imitating God’s faithfulness in all his covenant commitments. The command not to steal (Ex. 20:15) is grounded in a respect for the fact that a sovereign God has entrusted stewardship of possessions to various individuals, and people should respect that stewardship. The command not to covet (Ex. 20:17) is based on imitation of the fact that God himself delights in the excellence of his holy character and his providential arranging of things; therefore, we too should delight in his arrangements and never be discontented with them.

But if all God’s moral standards are grounded in his unchanging moral character, it follows that he could not have given commands that were substantially different from these. He could not have commanded people, e.g., to be unfaithful, or to lie, or to murder others. Why? Because such commands would be contrary to the moral character of God himself, or would suggest that God’s moral character changes so that he is sometimes actually unfaithful, or tells lies, or unjustly hates and destroys human lives. Anything contrary to the holiness of God is abhorrent and dishonoring to God because it violates his moral character (cf. Prov. 30:9). God cannot issue, and could never have issued, moral standards in contradiction to those he gave, not because God’s sovereignty is limited by anything or anyone other than himself, but only because God can never be other than he is. He can never cease to be God. And he can never be untrue to his unchanging moral character.

If one understands the ethical system found in the Bible to be grounded in the moral character of God, this also provides an answer to the age-old philosophical question, “How can one ever reason from what is (a description of reality) to what ought to be (a prescription of right and wrong)?” If what is (that is, what exists in the universe) begins with God himself and his moral character, then God’s very beingdetermines the nature of the things that are right and wrong, and thus God’s being determines, in an ultimate sense, what ought to be.

This understanding of the Bible’s ethical system also implies that God’s moral standards (when rightly understood and applied) are for all people and all cultures throughout all history, because they are the moral standards of the eternal Creator of the universe.

How Can People Discover God’s Moral Standards?

It may at first seem overwhelming when someone is told, “Just obey the entire Bible as it applies to your situation in life.” The Bible is a large and diverse book and contains some stipulations (esp. in the OT) that hardly seem to apply today. Must all biblical commands be treated the same, or does the Bible itself provide reasons for classifying various commands in different categories? To address this, most Christian interpreters have agreed to some broad principles for determining how various biblical commands apply today. These principles of interpretation include the following:

  1. The NT is written directly for followers of Christ living under the new covenant. Though “all Scripture” (including all of the OT) is “profitable” for the Christian (2 Tim. 3:16), immediate application to life is clearer when reading the NT, for these books were written to Christian believers who were in the same situation as Christians are today with respect to God’s overall plan for the history of salvation; they were living in the new covenant age, and so are God’s people today. Searching the NT is a good “first step” in resolving an ethical question.

  2. Many details of the Mosaic law are either no longer binding or were never meant for everyone. While some aspects of God’s law delivered to Moses reflected God’s standards of moral holiness for all time, many other aspects did not deal directly with morality but with procedures for conducting the Levitical worship system under the old covenant, or with ceremonies and rituals that showed Israel to be a distinct nation, or with administrating the civil government of Israel upon entering the Promised Land. Most interpreters agree, therefore, that what God ordered for the civil government of Israel (though wise) was never meant for other nations and other governments, and that the ceremonial requirements of the old covenant are not applicable today. Thus, e.g., laws concerning circumcision, sacrifices, unclean foods, and clothing are part of the “ceremonial” regulations that set Israel apart from other nations but are no longer binding today, in the NT (or new covenant) age (cf. Heb. 9:1–10:18). Similarly, many of the laws and penalties in the Mosaic law code were intended only for the civil government of the nation of Israel at that period of time (such as laws in Israel that applied the death penalty to the serving of other gods, witchcraft, persistently disobedient children, adultery, and homosexual behavior). But many other sections of the OT (e.g., Proverbs, but also other parts of the OT including many Mosaic laws) contain teaching that conveys God’s wisdom regarding human conduct in general. (A detailed solution to the question of which, and in what way, OT laws apply to NT believers is beyond the scope of this article.)

  3. Some general principles must be applied with wisdom from the rest of the Bible. There are some passages, especially in Jesus’ earthly teaching, that are difficult to understand in terms of how broadly they should be taken and to whom they should apply. Passages like “Do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (Matt. 5:42) are generalizations that powerfully address attitudes of the heart. But like every command, applying them to specific situations requires interpreting them in light of the whole of Scripture, including passages that command wisdom and good stewardship. Similarly, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1) must be interpreted in light of Jesus’ other command to “judge with right judgment” (John 7:24).

  4. Where it is necessary to apply a command under far different cultural circumstances, there is usually enough similarity between the biblical context and present circumstances for Christian readers to make an appropriate connection. For example, it is not difficult to move from “the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud” (James 5:4) to “the wages of the employees who work in your factory, which you kept back by fraud.” It is not difficult to move from “honor theemperor” (1 Pet. 2:17) to “honor government officials.” And it is not difficult to move from “You shall not covet your neighbor’s … ox” (Ex. 20:17) to “You shall not covet you neighbor’s car or boat.”

Similarly adjusted application seems to be required in the case of certain NT commands dealing with physical actions that carried symbolic meaning, when the meaning of the same action would be different today. In such cases, Christians should not apply the commands as first expressed unless situated in a similar cultural circumstance where the physical action would have the same meaning. Such physical actions with culturally-variable symbolic meaning include at least these: (1) Greeting one another with a holy kiss (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:26; 1 Pet. 5:14) simply conveyed the idea of a welcoming greeting, and other actions (such as shaking hands, or bowing, or hugging) symbolize the same thing in different cultures. (2) Washing one another’s feet (John 13:14) symbolized taking a servant-like attitude that can be expressed in other ways in settings where it is not customary for people to take off their shoes and wash their feet on coming in from the outside. (3) Women or wives wearing head coverings in worship (1 Cor. 11:4–16) apparently symbolized that a woman was married (see notes on 1 Corinthians 11), which is similar to what a wedding band symbolizes in many cultures today. But while a few such physical actions, by their symbolic nature, are culturally relative, readers should understand that the number of commands in this category is really quite small, and that it would be a mistake to exaggerate their significance and begin to wonder if vast sections of the ethical teachings of the Bible are culturally relative. The vast majority of NT ethical teachings, together with those OT teachings that apply to NT believers, require the direct obedience of Christians today just as in the first century.

Developing a Framework for Ethical Decision Making

The overall goal for making ethical decisions should be to understand and then obey the teaching of the entire Bible with regard to any particular situation. Here are some steps readers should follow when having to make important ethical decisions: (1) Pray. All decisions should rely on praying for God’s wisdom at the beginning and throughout the process (James 1:5). (2) Study the Bible. Search for and seek understanding of all biblical passages and their principles that have relevance for the situation under consideration. (3) Study the situation. Understand the situation by gathering and assessing relevant information (it is often impossible to make a wise decision until the facts become more clear). (4) Study the people involved. Try to understand the character, motives, and values of the people involved or affected by the decision to be made, including any relevant background, personal habits and characteristics, motivations, and relationships, as well as special interests that may be influencing the reactions of each relevant party. (5) The goal. Understand that the glory of God and the good of others are ever the twin purposes of moral action, and that the merely good or permissible must never be allowed to obstruct the quest for the best.

Wisdom is the skill of combining these factors so as to rightly apply the teachings of the Bible to real people in real-life situations, in such a way that one is truly thinking God’s thoughts after him. Such wisdom is a skill that can be improved over time through repeated practice and nearness to God (Heb. 5:14; James 1:5–8). Mature Christians who have grown through testing (James 1:2–4; 2 Pet. 1:5–9), pastors, and pastoral counselors are often especially skilled in doing this.

A good answer to an ethical question will not limit itself to a discussion of right and wrong actions, for good moral conduct in any situation will involve (1) good ends (that is, the results sought or achieved), (2) good motives (the desires and attitudes that people have in the situation), and (3) good means (the actions that are taken to achieve the ends). The Bible itself requires people to consider all three of these factors, for good ends are mentioned (see 1 Cor. 10:31; 14:26), good motives are required (see Ex. 20:17and Matt. 5:28), and good means or actions are commanded while bad ones are prohibited (Ex. 20:12–15). A life fully pleasing to God will conform to each of these three standards set by Scripture.

The Beginning of Life and Abortion

The Image of God

The ethics of abortion, embryonic stem cell research, fetal tissue transplantation, and other issues at the beginning of life will not be fully and rightly understood apart from God’s revelation about the origin and sanctity of human life. At the zenith of God’s creative activity, he made man (as male and female) in his own image and likeness (Gen. 1:26–27). From the “dust from the ground” God made a “living creature,” Adam (Gen. 2:7), whose material body was absolutely earthly (cf. Ps. 90:3 and 103:14) but whose source of life was decidedly divine. Therefore, any view of origins that does not affirm that humanity began through a special creative act of God is sub-biblical.

Since God is the Creator of human life, all human beings belong to God. As the apostle Paul would later declare before the philosophers in Athens, “In [God] we live and move and have our being; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring’” (Acts 17:28). Thus, being created by God both elevates human beings in that they are not accidents of history and humbles them because God is gracious and sovereign over them.

Although God’s words when he first created human beings were, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26), the Bible nowhere explains precisely what constitutes the image of God (Latin, imago Dei). Interpreters have suggested that it includes: (1) humankind’s upright bodily form, (2) human dominion over nature, (3) human reason, (4) human pre-fallen righteousness, (5) human capacities, (6) the juxtaposition between man and woman, (7) responsible creaturehood and moral conformity to God, (8) personhood, and (9) various composites of the above views. Because the Hebrew words for “image” (tselem) and “likeness” (demut) are used for things that are similar to, and representative of, something else, a combination of the above views is best: the image of God means that human beings are like God (in several ways) and represent God on the earth. The image of God is a rich relational and functional status that human beings enjoy by virtue of being God’s creation.

It is clear from Scripture that only human beings are said to bear the image of God. Humans are unique. In fact, the covenant with Noah specifies that while humans may kill animals for food, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen. 9:6). Animals may be killed for human sustenance, but human beings may not murder other human beings. Thus the entire human race is morally distinguishable from other living species. Even before homicide was forbidden by a direct command not to murder (Ex. 20:13), unjustifiable killing was a violation of the special dignity vested in human beings by God himself (cf. Gen. 4:8–16). This is the foundation of the doctrine of the sanctity, or sacredness, of every human life.

When the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, took on human flesh through the incarnation, God sanctified humanity. In Jesus we see both perfect God and real humanity, and in his incarnation and resurrection we see the importance of the physical aspect of human nature. The affirmation of the Apostles’ Creed that Jesus was “born of the Virgin Mary” entails that, like every other member of the human race, Jesus was once a human embryo. The creedal affirmations of “the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting” mean that the body is a constituent aspect of humanity from the beginning of life throughout eternity. Thus every human life—from conception to natural death—is to be received as a gift from the sovereign Creator, is to be treated with reverence and respect, and is not to be harmed without biblical justification.

OT Texts

God’s people were warned not to imitate their neighbors who committed infanticide through child sacrifice. The law strictly instructed them to “not give any of your children to offer them to Molech” (Lev. 18:21), prescribing the death penalty for violating this command (Lev. 20:2–5). Child sacrifice was also known during Solomon’s reign (1 Kings 11:7). The brutal practice spread to Moab (2 Kings 3:27), Judah (2 Kings 16:3), and the northern kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 17:17). But Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel condemned the practice, calling on God’s people to repent of it (Isa. 57:5; Jer. 7:31; Ezek. 16:20–21).

It is in this context that the ethics of abortion should be determined. Like infanticide, abortion was not unknown in the ancient world. The most common means were mechanical methods and drugs delivered through pessaries (devices placed in the vagina).

OT Judaism always forbade abortion. Only one biblical text has been used to argue to the contrary (Ex. 21:22–25), and its interpretation is disputed. The text says, “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined” (Ex. 21:22). Some interpret “that her children come out” as a miscarriage (“so that there is a miscarriage, but there is no further harm”). According to this interpretation, unborn human life does not have the same value as someone already born, because the normal penalty for causing death is a capital sentence (a life for a life), and yet, in this passage, the one causing the injury is merely fined.

There are good textual reasons, however, for another interpretation, namely, that the Bible is describing a premature live birth (“so that she gives birth prematurely, but there is no injury”). First, the Hebrew word yeled is used for what comes from the womb in this case. This word is never used for anything other than for a child who can live outside the womb. Another Hebrew word, golem, means “fetus” and is used only one time in the OT (Ps. 139:16, “unformed substance”). Furthermore, yatsa’, the verb that refers to what happened to the child, ordinarily refers to live births (Gen. 25:26; 38:28–30; Job 3:11; 10:18; Jer. 1:5; 20:18). The word normally used for miscarriage, shakal, is not used here (cf. Gen. 31:38;Ex. 23:26; Job 21:10; Hos. 9:14). Finally, even if the text were referring to a miscarriage, it would not indicate that an unborn child is valued less than one who is already born, for this hypothetical situation refers to an accidental occurrence. Most societies, including ancient Israel, recognized that unintentional manslaughter should be distinguished from premeditated killing. In the latter case, the death penalty was imposed. In the former, cities of refuge were established (cf. Num. 35:6). Thus, more literal translations render Exodus 21:22, “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so thather children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined” (esv). This text then places great protection on the unborn child, for “if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life” (Ex. 21:23). The death of the baby is at least judged according to the same principles that apply to the taking of other human life (e.g., the death of the mother); see note on Exodus 21:22–25.

Psalm 139 speaks powerfully to the nature of unborn human life. David exults in God’s omniscience and his omnipresence (Ps. 139:1–12). In verse 13 he celebrates God’s intricate involvement in his own fetal development: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” The word kilyah is used to refer to the “inward parts” (lit., kidneys). In Hebrew poetry the inward parts were typically the seat of the affections, the hidden part of a person where grief may be experienced (Job 16:13), where the conscience exists (Ps. 16:7), and where deep spiritual distress can be felt (Ps. 73:21). God formed David’s deepest being. He wove him, or colorfully embroidered him, in his mother’s womb, so that he was “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). In verse 16 the psalmist refers to his “unformed substance” being observed by God. David suggests that God’s knowledge of him reached even to his earliest development in utero (in the uterus). No wonder the Hebrews found abortion and infanticide morally blameworthy. In addition, David’s confession that he was a sinner from conception (Ps. 51:5) further testifies to his belief in personhood from conception, since only persons can be considered sinners.

God’s judgment fell on those who killed the unborn. Elisha wept when he foresaw the crimes of the king of Syria, who would “kill their young men with the sword and dash in pieces their little ones and rip open their pregnant women” (2 Kings 8:12). Amos prophesied against the Ammonites because they “have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead, that they might enlarge their border” (Amos 1:13).

Extrabiblical Jewish Literature

The noncanonical Jewish wisdom literature further clarifies first-century Judaism’s view of abortion. For example, the Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides 184–186 (c. 50 b.c.a.d. 50) says that “a woman should not destroy the unborn in her belly, nor after its birth throw it before the dogs and vultures as a prey.” Included among those who do evil in the apocalyptic Sibylline Oracles were women who “aborted what they carried in the womb” (2.281–282). Similarly, the apocryphal book 1 Enoch (2nd or 1st centuryb.c.) declares that an evil angel taught humans how to “smash the embryo in the womb” (69.12). Finally, the first-century Jewish historian Josephus wrote that “the law orders all the offspring to be brought up, and forbids women either to cause abortion or to make away with the fetus” (Against Apion 2.202).

Contrast these injunctions with the barbarism of Roman culture. Cicero (106–43 b.c.) records that according to the Twelve Tables of Roman Law, “deformed infants shall be killed” (De Legibus 3.8). Plutarch (c. a.d. 46–120) spoke of those who he said “offered up their own children, and those who had no children would buy little ones from poor people and cut their throats as if they were so many lambs or young birds; meanwhile the mother stood by without a tear or moan” (Moralia 2.171D).

Early Christian Literature

Against the bleak backdrop of Roman culture, the Hebrew “sanctity of human life” ethic provided the moral framework for early Christian condemnation of abortion and infanticide. For instance, theDidache 2.2 (c. a.d. 85–110) commands, “thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born.” Another noncanonical early Christian text, the Letter of Barnabas 19.5 (c. a.d. 130), said: “You shall not abort a child nor, again, commit infanticide.” There are numerous other examples of Christian condemnation of both infanticide and abortion. In fact, some biblical scholars have argued that the silence of the NT on abortion per se is due to the fact that it was simply assumed to be beyond the pale of early Christian practice. Nevertheless, Luke (a physician) points to fetal personhood when he observes that the unborn John the Baptist “leaped for joy” in his mother’s womb when Elizabeth came into the presence of Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus at the time (Luke 1:44).

More than merely condemning abortion and infanticide, however, early Christians provided alternatives by rescuing and adopting children who were abandoned. For instance, Callistus (d. c. a.d. 223) provided refuge to abandoned children by placing them in Christian homes, and Benignus of Dijon (3rd century) offered nourishment and protection to abandoned children, including some with disabilities caused by unsuccessful abortions.

Ethical Conclusions

Based on the consistent testimony of Scripture, the early Jewish and Christian tradition, and what can be known of God’s moral law through natural revelation (Rom. 2:15), the unborn child should be protected as a person from the moment of conception. A strong argument can in fact be made for this even apart from biblical revelation, for the only differences between babies in utero and babies that are born are: (1) their location; (2) their size; (3) their level of dependence; and (4) their level of development—but these are not morally relevant factors that would allow death for one set of babies (the preborn) and life for the other (those who have been born).

What then of the “hard cases” concerning pregnancy resulting from rape or incest? Christians should give compassionate care to those affected by such sins—including both the mother and the unborn child. But if it is wrong to put such a child to death after it is born (and surely this is wrong), then surely it is wrong to put that same child to death before it is born. The preborn baby should be treated as a person in the image of God.

For this reason, embryonic stem cell research, which involves the creation of human embryos in order to harvest their stem cells for medical uses, should be viewed as the intentional creation and destruction of distinct, individual, tiny human lives. Other sources of stem cells should be used instead, where the removal of the cells does not harm a human being.

What if abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother? Here it is necessary to recognize that removing the unborn child (e.g., from the fallopian tube) is done with the direct intention of saving the life of the mother, not with the direct intention of taking the child’s life (which, if the medical technology exists, should also be preserved). Nevertheless, in such a rare and tragic case the choice would be between the loss of one life (the baby’s) and the loss of two lives (both the baby’s and the mother’s). This is the only type of situation in which abortion would be morally justified, as making the best of an extremely difficult situation.

The witness of Scripture, as confirmed by the testimony of the early church, is that every human being, from conception through natural death, is to be respected as a person created in the image of God, whose life has special dignity by virtue of his or her relationship to the Creator. Like the early church, Christians should be known as a people who protect, nurture, and cherish children as gifts from the Lord (Ps. 127:3).


Bioethics is a relatively new term that literally means “life ethics.” The umbrella category of bioethics generally includes the ethics of human medicine, the biosciences, and biotechnology.

The Ethics of Western Medicine and the Hippocratic Oath

Medicine has a long and laudable history. Western scientific medicine began with the Greeks, who developed much of the early knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and even modern symbols of medicine. From the start, both Jews and Christians have had a positive view of medicine. The healing ministry of Jesus, the Great Physician (Matt. 4:23; 9:35; Luke 9:6), did much to provide the warrant for medicine among Christians.

The ethics of Western medicine reaches back to the Greek physician Hippocrates (460–370 b.c.). The son of a physician himself, Hippocrates practiced as an itinerant doctor in Thrace, Thessaly, and Macedonia. The philosopher Plato referred to Hippocrates as “a professional trainer of students” (Phaedrus 270C–D). The medical oath that bears his name was probably formulated by the Hippocratic school after his death. Jewish and Christian versions of the oath were produced after that time.

Over against the charlatans of the day, a Hippocratic physician could be counted on as someone who had mastered a particular set of skills and whose ethical standards were reflected in the oath he swore. Those who took the Hippocratic Oath promised to use their skills to help the sick and pledged not to euthanize a patient, perform abortions, prescribe abortifacient drugs, or have a sexual relationship with a patient, among other things. They also promised to teach their skills to worthy apprentices. The so-called Hippocratic consensus dominated medicine for nearly 2,500 years. Jews and Christians rejected the polytheism of the Hippocratic school but affirmed its ethical and professional ideals. Medical historian Albert Jonsen writes in The Birth of Bioethics: “The Judeo-Christian religious tradition, with its strong emphasis on divine commands that enforce respect for the sanctity of life, enhanced the prohibitions of abortion and euthanasia that are obscurely expressed in the Oath and prescribed caring compassion for the poor and even enemies. The literature of medical duty is profoundly marked by these moral traditions” (p. 7).

Only a very few medical schools still require that graduating physicians affirm the original oath. In a recent survey of the schools that used some form of the oath, only 8 percent of the oaths forbade abortion and only 14 percent prohibited euthanasia. Thus, Christians today have the opportunity to revive life-affirming ethics amid a very pluralistic medical and scientific culture in which affirmation of life is frequently downplayed.

Contemporary Medical Ethics

Current discussions of medical ethics have arisen in large part from the Nuremberg Trials in post-World War II Germany (1945–1949), which focused on the way human subjects were abused in medical research, and from debates in the 1960s over the allocation of scarce medical resources, like kidney dialysis. Early ethics committees serving medical treatment centers were disparaged in the media as “God squads” because they determined who did and did not receive life-sustaining treatment. Today, hospital ethics committees meet regularly to consult on difficult moral questions that arise in patient care and to help fashion hospital policies that enhance overall medical care.

Increasingly, emerging biotechnologies are coming under the scrutiny of the bioethics community. Genetic engineering, human stem cell research, human and animal cloning, artificial intelligence, cybernetics, nanotechnology, robotics, and an ever-expanding array of technologies require wise ethical reflection and careful policy recommendations.

Theologian Nigel Cameron has helpfully categorized the issues in bioethics under the rubric of “taking life,” “making life,” and “remaking life.”

Taking Life

While Christians differ on the issues of euthanasia, assisted suicide, and abortion, which have long been within the realm of bioethics, it is accurate to say that in general Christians are life-affirming. In fact, as the article on The End of Life argues in more detail, the vast majority of Christians agree, for various reasons, that euthanasia and assisted suicide are not consistent with the biblical witness concerning the sanctity of human life (cf. Ex. 20:13) and the role of others in providing compassionate care. Likewise, most Christians believe that inducing abortion is wrong, except to save a mother’s life (see The Beginning of Life and Abortion).

Christians are often at the forefront of alternatives to medicalized forms of killing. The early church, e.g., rescued children from infanticide by providing homes and building orphanages. Many contemporary Christians support pregnancy care centers that provide alternatives to abortion by offering pregnant mothers education, resources, and shelter as they await the delivery of their children. The hospice and palliative care movement was begun by a Christian nurse and physician, Dame Cicely Saunders (1918–2005), as a means of caring compassionately for the terminally ill.

Making Life

The range of ethical issues surrounding procreation and contraception fall under the category of “making life.” Contraception has been debated since ancient times. Christians generally divide into two camps. Those who affirm so-called natural family planning believe that every act of sexual union should be open to the possibility of procreation. From this viewpoint, no method of birth control is allowed that either presents a barrier to fertilization or introduces hormones that make the uterus inhospitable to a maturing embryo. Other Christians believe that contraception may be used to limit the number of children born to a family as long as the method is not abortifacient (i.e., something that causes an abortion).

Assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) pose significant moral questions for Bible believers. Louise Brown, the world’s first “test tube” baby, was born in 1978. Since then, in vitro fertilization (IVF, the fertilization of egg cells by sperm outside the woman’s womb) has been quite controversial. Typically, IVF involves the fertilization of about a dozen ova in a medical laboratory. Only two or three ova are transferred to a woman’s uterus, leaving the others to be cryopreserved (frozen) for later use. Given that the embryo is a human person with a right to life, many Christians have repudiated the practice due to the fact that 25 percent of these human embryos often die in the thawing process and many are likely to be discarded or used for research purposes. (However, it is possible that newer technology will allow the fertilization of only one or two ova that will actually be implanted in the woman’s womb.)

Additional reproductive arrangements—like surrogate motherhood, artificial insemination using donor sperm, and sperm or egg donation—introduce third parties or their gametes into the reproductive relationship. The biblical ideal, however, is for procreation to take place within the context of a one-man, one-woman union (see Marriage and Sexual Morality). Intentionally causing conception outside of that framework and introducing third parties into the procreative relationship raises significant ethical, legal, social, psychological, and familial concerns. The intrusion of the sperm of a man other than a woman’s husband into the intimate process of pregnancy and birth, e.g., can introduce significant difficulties into a marriage relationship. The relationship of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar in the OT illustrates the tensions that may be present in even “low-tech” reproductive relationships (Genesis 16).

Even more ethical objections arise when a human embryo is conceived and allowed to develop for a short time solely for the purpose of harvesting its stem cells for the purpose of scientific research. In such cases, a new human life is created (see The Beginning of Life and Abortion) solely so that it would be destroyed for research purposes. This is inconsistent with the Bible’s view of the sanctity of human life (cf. Ex. 20:13). Other sources of stem cells (such as those taken from adults or from umbilical cord blood) can be used in medical research without destroying a human life.

Adoption has always been commended as an ethical option for Christian couples facing infertility, and is a practical way to care for orphans (cf. James 1:27) and to provide a living parable of the Christian’s spiritual adoption by God. A particular form of adoption seems morally commendable for Christians, in which a husband and wife decide to adopt a so-called “snowflake baby” (a previously frozen embryo that would otherwise have been discarded). The embryo is implanted in the adopting wife’s womb, develops as a normal baby, and is born as a normal, healthy child. In this case, conception of the baby had already occurred as a result of the decision of others, and the couple who adopts such a baby is actually saving a life. (However, the potential “third-party” difficulties mentioned in the previous paragraph should be fully taken into account.)

Remaking Life

Researchers are increasing exploration into new ways to either repeat or reconstruct God’s fundamental design for human life. These new scientific technologies are laudable when used for healing purposes. Thus, e.g., Christians should affirm the use of implantable computer chips to assist the blind to see, and the development of high-tech prostheses to replace limbs lost in accidents or war. But using these technologies for reasons beyond healing to allegedly “enhance” human capacities is problematic.

Using pharmaceuticals (such as steroids) or genetic engineering to create higher-than-normal IQs or faster-than-normal athletes not only raises profound ethical questions about justice in academics or sports respectively but also challenges the understanding of what it means to be human and who has the authority to alter the human species.

Some suggest that life-prolonging technologies might enable people to live forever, either in their physical bodies or in some other way. Again, while few question the morality of using technology for therapeutic purposes, many worry that enhancement technologies entail a sort of hubris, sometimes described as “playing God.” The Bible warns against the sin of questioning the Creator. “Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Rom. 9:20). After all, Christians know that they are already guaranteed immortality through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:12–20) and that physical death will be followed by a resurrection to a renewed, eternally healthy physical body freed from the ravages of disease and death. This hope does not totally nullify health-enhancing and life-prolonging technologies, but it does mean that they should never be the believer’s ultimate hope (1 Cor. 15:51–54; Rev. 21:4). The wise use or nonuse of new technologies—medical or otherwise—must be seen as part of Christian discipleship.

Science and Ethics within a Christian Worldview

Christians have often been at the cutting edge of science, medicine, and compassionate care. Because they believe that all truth is God’s truth, there is no arena excluded from the lordship of Christ, including the biological sciences. At the same time, Christians are “people of the Book” and bring a Christian world- and life-view—including ethical perspectives—into their thinking about science. The world cannot afford the development of science without ethical reflection. Ethical reflection must be developed in the context of accurate information. Therefore, Christians should see it as an expression of their discipleship to celebrate biological sciences that enable them to better understand just how fearfully and wonderfully made humans are (Ps. 139:14). Christians should seek to be good stewards over the opportunities that these developments offer (Gen. 1:28; 1 Cor. 4:2; 1 Pet. 4:10). At the same time, Christians should affirm that science is to serve the glory of God and the good of his creatures (1 Chron. 16:24; Ps. 96:3; Isa. 6:3), not to provide yet another opportunity for the self-aggrandizement that constitutes idolatry. Finally, Christians must continue to demonstrate love for God and neighbor that extends itself in compassionate care of those who are suffering (Luke 10:33–37).

The End of Life

The Origin of Death

God did not originally create human beings to be subject to death, but “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). This refers to the sin of Adam recorded in Genesis 3.

God had previously instructed Adam, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Therefore when Adam and Eve sinned, they immediately experienced spiritual “death,” that is, a separation from God. In addition, the just sentence of physical death began to be gradually imposed on them in that they experienced aging, leading eventually to death. God told Adam, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). Since the time of Adam, all human beings have been subject to aging and inevitable physical death (except Enoch in Gen. 5:24; cf. Heb. 11:5; and Elijah in 2 Kings 2:11–12).

Why Do Christians Die?

Although Christians have been forgiven of their sins and are no longer under sentence to suffer the penalty of death for those sins (Rom. 6:23; 8:1; 1 Cor. 15:3), they are still subject to physical death because God has not yet applied to their lives all of the benefits that were earned by Christ for his people. In fact, Paul says that death will be the “last enemy to be destroyed” (1 Cor. 15:26). For this reason, believers today, living in a fallen world, are still subject to aging and death.

Yet death does not come to believers because God is punishing them, for, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Rather, death is the final outcome of living in a fallen world. Just as Christians are not kept from all sicknesses, floods, and earthquakes, etc., and just as the agricultural fields of Christians still grow as many weeds as the fields of non-Christians, so Christians will experience death as well.

However, Christians should have confidence that God will use even the experience of final illness and death as one of those events that “work together for good” for those who “love God and are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Jesus Christ, who himself experienced physical death as a human being, often seems particularly near to Christians as they die, for they “suffer with him” (Rom. 8:17; cf. Phil. 3:10; 1 Pet. 4:13). Paul hoped to honor Christ in his death as he had in his life: “it is my eager expectation and hope that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death” (Phil. 1:20). The risen Lord Jesus encouraged Christians in Smyrna, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10; cf. Heb. 11:35; Rev. 12:11).

What Happens When People Die?

When Christians die, their physical bodies are buried in the earth, but their spirits (or souls) go immediately into the Lord’s presence in heaven. Paul said, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23), and “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). When Stephen was dying, he cried out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59; cf. Gen. 35:18; Eccles. 12:7; Luke 23:43; Heb. 12:23; Rev. 6:9). Then at Christ’s second coming, when he returns to the earth, believers’ bodies will be raised from the dead, made perfect, and reunited with their spirits (1 Cor. 15:23, 51–52; 1 Thess. 4:16–17).

When unbelievers die, their bodies also are buried in the earth, but their spirits go immediately to experience separation from God and punishment for their sins. “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27; cf. Luke 16:24–26; see also notes on 1 Pet. 3:18; 4:6).

Funerals and Burial

It is not wrong for Christians to grieve deeply over the loss of fellowship with those who have died, even if the deceased were believers and there is great confidence that they are with the Lord in heaven. Grief at loss of any sort is natural. Although the apostles themselves were present in the early church in Jerusalem, and the believers in Jerusalem were sure that Stephen was in heaven with Christ (cf. Acts 7:59), they still expressed profound grief: “Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him” (Acts 8:2). Although Jesus knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead, when he came to the tomb of Lazarus, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). These examples indicate that it is right and proper to grieve at the death of a Christian loved one. But Christians should not “grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13), that is, their grief should not be the grief of despair, but grief mixed with joy and hope for future reunion (see 1 Cor. 15:55–57; Rev. 14:13).

When unbelievers die, if there has been no indication of saving faith in the person’s life, it would not be right to give the person’s loved ones assurance that the one who has died is in heaven. But it is still right to recall and speak of pleasant memories, and to remember the good things that the person did in his or her lifetime, much as David did after hearing that Saul had died (see 2 Sam. 1:19–25).

The Bible does not give any direct commands about how to treat the body of a person who has died, but there are recurring instances in Scripture of treating a person’s body with dignity and respect, up to and including the time of burial (cf. 1 Sam. 31:11–12; 1 Kings 13:29–30; Mark 6:29; Luke 23:56; John 19:38–42). This can be done in a variety of ways according to what is understood in each culture as signifying respect and honor to the memory of the person who has died.

Regarding cremation, Christians have held differing views. Some object that cremation (which entails destroying the physical body) undermines the expectation of a future resurrection of the body when Christ returns. (When Jesus rose from the dead, it was his same body that was raised and made perfect, and so it will be with Christian believers; see 1 Cor. 15:35–45.) Others, however, think cremation is sometimes the wisest choice, perhaps for economic reasons, because burial land is scarce, or for other reasons. The body is eventually going to die and disintegrate in any case, and God will raise it from the dead and re-create it in its more perfect condition (i.e., in its glorified prime), no matter how scattered it is. If cremation is chosen for a Christian who has died, care should be taken to make clear that the family still should expect a future resurrection of the very same body that has died and now returns “to dust” (Gen. 3:19). But many Christians still prefer a simple and dignified burial of the person’s body in the ground, in part because this gives a clear picture of awaiting the resurrection on the day Christ returns.


The sixth commandment, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13), prohibits any act that would intentionally, or through carelessness, take the life of another human being (see note on Deut. 5:17; the exceptions of capital punishment, killing in war, and self-defense are not in view here, nor are they implied by the meaning of the Hebrew terminology in the passage). The expression most frequently used for violating the sixth commandment is “shedding innocent blood” (cf. Ex. 23:7; Deut. 19:10, 13;Ps. 10:8; Prov. 6:17).

This prohibition against murder applies to all human beings, including: the elderly, those who are terminally ill, and those who wish to die. Intentionally taking the life of any of these people would break the commandment, “You shall not murder” (cf. also 2 Sam. 1:10, 14–15). Nations that have allowed for physician-assisted suicide find that a society can quickly move from merely allowing “the right to die” to the belief that there is “an obligation to die” on the part of the elderly and the very ill people who are “draining resources” from the society. In such situations it becomes likely that a number of elderly people will be put to death against their will.

It is important, however, to maintain a clear distinction between killing a person and letting someone die. Killing in the wrongful sense of murder, as prohibited in Exodus 20:13, means actively doing something to a patient that hastens or causes his or her death. But “letting someone die” means allowing someone to die without interfering with the process that is already taking place. In cases where it is clearly known to be the patient’s wish to be allowed to die, and when there is no reasonable human hope of recovery, and where death seems imminent—then it does not seem wrong to allow such a person to die, rather than either to initiate an artificial life support system or to prolong the natural dying process by artificial means. For such situations, nothing in Scripture would prohibit a dying person from praying for God to take his life. On the other hand, where there is a reasonable human hope of recovery, and where there is a realistic, practical ability to help, the obligation to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39) implies that active measures should be taken to save the person’s life. In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus indicated that the priest and the Levite were both wrong for neglecting to do what could be done to save a badly injured man, who with care was able to recover (Luke 10:30–37).

The hardest end-of-life decisions are often related to removing a dying patient from artificial life support, which can involve various measures from an artificial lung to simply providing artificial hydration and nutrition. Christians hold different positions over exactly when in such cases the moral line is crossed from letting someone die to killing. When considering the proper course of action, Christians should remember that while death is an enemy to resist (1 Cor. 15:26), natural mortality is still part of living in a fallen world (cf. Gen. 2:17; Rom. 5:12; Heb. 9:27). There is therefore nothing wrong with accepting natural mortality by removing a dying patient from artificial means that are only slowing the natural death process.

There are more complex cases where medication given to alleviate a patient’s pain may also have a secondary effect of hastening a person’s death. In such cases, some Christian ethicists say that the two most important considerations are: (1) the primary purpose for giving the medication and (2) the patient’s own wishes regarding the alleviation of pain. Other Christian ethicists claim that, in such cases, the moral value of improving life quality is always less than the moral value of honoring the sanctity of human life, and, while doing what they can to alleviate pain, Christians should never give higher priority to improving the quality of life (reducing pain) over honoring the sanctity of life (not killing a person).

Wherever possible, it is both wise and loving for people who are still in good health to complete the appropriate legal and medical forms to make known their wishes regarding medical care at the end of life. These decisions should also be verbally communicated to those who will likely have to make end-of-life decisions about each person.


Suicide is murder of oneself, and it is prohibited by the command, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13). It is a serious sin against God and brings immense, lifelong grief to loved ones who are left, but the Bible nowhere teaches that suicide is a unique and unforgiveable sin that prevents a person who has lived by faith in Christ from being saved.

Christ’s Victory over Death

Finally, Christians need have no fear of death: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The verse continues, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55–57).

Marriage and Sexual Morality

What Is Marriage?

Marriage is the fundamental institution of all human society. It was established by God at creation, when God created the first human beings as “male and female” (Gen. 1:27) and then said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28).

Marriage begins with a commitment before God and other people to be husband and wife for life. InMalachi 2:14, marriage is viewed as a “covenant” commitment in which God stands as a “witness.” And Jesus says that a married couple constitutes a unity that “God has joined together” (Matt. 19:6). Therefore when a marriage occurs, a man and woman have a new status before God: he now considers them to be husband and wife together.

Some kind of public commitment is also necessary to a marriage, for a society must know to treat a couple as married and not as single. Sexual intercourse alone does not constitute a marriage, as was evident from the conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well in Samaria, where he said to her, “For you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband” (John 4:18). She was living with a man but that did not mean she was married to him, for there had been no public commitment recognized by God or by the community (cf. also Ex. 22:16–17).

Both Genesis 2:24 and Matthew 19:5 view the “one flesh” unity that occurs as an essential part of the marriage. That is why sexual intercourse after a marriage ceremony is often said to “consummate” the marriage, and (except in cases where it is physically impossible, because of disability, injury, or advanced age) it is thought that a marriage has not fully begun until sexual intercourse has occurred.

Marriage is a picture of the covenantal relationship between Christ and the church, with the husband representing the former and the wife representing the latter: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32).


Biblical Ethics (contd…)

Some Will Not Be Married

The Bible also recognizes that not everyone will be married, and even among those who are married some will be widowed or divorced and therefore will become single again. In 1 Corinthians 7:7–40, Paul sees advantages to both being single and being married. Jesus himself was never married, and Paul was not married at the time of his ministry (see 1 Cor. 7:7; 9:5; it is impossible to know whether he was previously married or not). Jesus and Paul are examples of godly singleness coupled with wonderful effectiveness in ministry. But Paul says, “Each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another” (1 Cor. 7:7), and therefore both remaining single and becoming married are morally permissible choices depending on the kind of life that God has called each person to live (see 1 Cor. 7:17, 27–28, 36–38).


Why did God allow polygamy in the OT? Nowhere in the Bible did God ever command polygamy or tell anyone to marry more than one wife. Rather, God temporarily allowed polygamy to occur (he did not give any general prohibition against it) without giving it any explicit moral approval. Nevertheless, in the OT narratives, whenever a man has two or more wives, it seems to lead to trouble (see Genesis 16; 29–31; 1 Samuel 1; 1 Kings 11; note the prohibition in Deut. 17:17). In addition, polygamy is horribly dehumanizing for women, for it does not treat them as equal in value to their husbands, and therefore it does not recognize that they share fully in the high status of being created “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27) and of being worthy of honor as “heirs with you of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7). The requirement that an elder be “husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2) would exclude polygamists from being elders (evidence for polygamy among Jews in the 1st century is found in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 17.14; Mishnah, Yebamoth 4.11; Ketuboth 10.1, 4, 5; Sanhedrin 2.4; Kerithoth 3.7; Kiddushin 2.7; Bechoroth8.4; and Justin Martyr, Dialogue 134; for polygamy among non-Jews, see 2 Macc. 4:30; Josephus,Jewish Antiquities 17.19; Tertullian, Apology 46). This has practical application today in missionary contexts in cultures where polygamy is still practiced: the Bible would not encourage a husband to divorce any of his multiple wives when this would leave them without support and protection. But it would not allow a man with multiple wives to be an elder. This restriction would provide a pattern that would generally lead to the abolition of polygamy in a church in a generation or two.

Sexual Intimacy and Moral Standards for Marriage

The Bible views sexual intimacy in marriage as a blessing from God. God said to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28), which implies that God created them so that they would have sexual intercourse together and thereby bear children (cf. Gen. 1:31). Sex is seen within the context of marriage (“his wife,” Gen. 2:24) from the very beginning of creation. After the fall, sexual intimacy in marriage is still viewed positively (see Prov. 5:15–19; Song of Solomon; 1 Cor. 7:2–5).

Why is adultery wrong? (1) Because God says it is wrong: “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14). (2) Adultery pictures unfaithfulness in the relationship between Christ and the church, giving a picture of Christ being unfaithful to his people and abandoning them, and not keeping his covenant with them, or else picturing the church as worshiping other gods and being unfaithful to Christ (cf. Mal. 2:14; Eph. 5:31–32). (3) Adultery intrudes another person into the “one flesh” relationship of marriage (cf. Gen. 2:24; Eph. 5:31). (4) Adultery destroys trust within a marriage because it is the most serious kind of violation of a marriage vow. (5) Adultery often leads to children being born without two parents to raise them or else leads to abortion to end an unwanted pregnancy, both of which consequences contradict God’s ideal. (6) Adultery is thus frequently and understandably pictured in Scripture as destroying a person’s life: “He does not know that it will cost him his life” (Prov. 7:23; cf. 5:3–14; 6:27–29, 32–33; 7:21–23).

Sexual intercourse between unmarried persons is also consistently viewed as morally wrong throughout Scripture, from the laws of Moses (Ex. 22:16–17; Deut. 22:13–21) to the teachings of Jesus, who implicitly rebuked the woman at the well for living with someone to whom she was not married (John 4:16–18; cf. also Gen. 38:24; Matt. 15:19 [porneia or “sexual immorality” is distinguished from adultery, and the 1st-century understanding of the word would certainly include any sexual intercourse outside of marriage]; John 8:41; Acts 15:20; 1 Cor. 6:18; 7:2, 9; 1 Thess. 4:3; note the imagery in 2 Cor. 11:2).

God requires not only right conduct but also purity of heart: “You shall not covet … your neighbor’s wife” (Ex. 20:17; cf. Prov. 6:25; Matt. 5:27). The opposite of desiring to commit adultery is having a deep love for one’s wife or husband and a strong desire for a positive sexual relationship within one’s own marriage, as well as a sense of revulsion at the thought of embracing anyone else in the same way. This purity of heart, like other inward virtues, needs prayerful cultivation if it is to be sustained.

Looking at pornography is a direct violation of Jesus’ command against gazing at a woman “with lustful intent” (Matt. 5:28; cf. Job 31:1–2). Pornography attracts a man’s affections and desires away from his marriage and away from his wife. It inevitably brings moral uncleanness in the heart, long-lasting harmful memories, and destructive consequences to one’s marriage relationship (the same is true for the future marriage of those who are single). It ultimately leads in many cases to other sins, such as prostitution, rape, and other kinds of violence against women, because it dehumanizes them and fails to recognize and respect them as persons made in God’s image and valuable in his sight.

Differing Roles in Marriage

The Bible clearly affirms that both men and women are created in God’s image and have equal value and dignity in God’s sight and for the work of his kingdom on earth (Gen. 1:27, 31; Acts 2:17–18; 8:12; Gal. 3:28; 1 Pet. 3:7). At the same time, the Bible indicates that husband and wife are called to different roles in marriage. God gives to the husband a responsibility for loving, humble headship (or leadership) in the marriage. Husbands are to love their wives “as Christ loved the church” (Eph. 5:25), and “the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church” (Eph. 5:23). God has given to the wife a responsibility for joyful, intelligent submission to her husband’s headship and support of her husband’s leadership role (though never to comply if her husband tells her to sin against God). The NT says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). These distinct roles are affirmed in a number of NT passages (cf. 1 Cor. 11:3; Col. 3:18–19; Titus 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1–7). Since these responsibilities are patterned on the relationship between Christ and the church, they are not due to particular circumstances in individual cultures or societies but are applicable for all marriages, for all cultures and all time. They are a part of the “very good” creation that God established from the beginning. In addition, such “equality in value” but “difference in roles” between husbands and wives reflects the equality in deity but differences in roles between the Father and the Son in the Trinity (see note on 1 Cor. 11:3).

Are there other distinctive roles for men and women in marriage? Husbands and wives will often share in responsibilities and help each other as partners in establishing a household and raising a family. Yet a number of passages suggest that the primary responsibility for providing for the family and protecting the family belongs to the husband, while the primary responsibility for caring for the home and children belongs to the wife. See, e.g., Genesis 3:14–19 (note that pain is introduced into Eve’s responsibility of childbearing and Adam’s responsibility of tilling the ground to raise food); Isaiah 4:1 (a reversal of the normal order in a time of God’s judgment); 1 Timothy 5:3–16 (widows, not widowers, are to be supported by the church); and Titus 2:5. There is a pattern of men having responsibility to protect women and children in Numbers 1:2–3; Deuteronomy 3:18–19; 20:7–8; 24:5; Joshua 1:14; 23:10;Judges 4:8–10; 9:54; 1 Samuel 4:9; Nehemiah 4:13–14; Jeremiah 50:37; Nahum 3:13. Yet these passages (concerning men providing for and protecting their loved ones, and women caring for children) present narrative patterns rather than direct commands (as with headship and submission), so it seems that Scripture gives somewhat more freedom for individual differences in these areas.

Divorce and Remarriage

God’s Original Plan

God’s original plan for the human race, as indicated in his creation of Adam and Eve as husband and wife, is lifelong, monogamous marriage. Jesus affirmed this in responding to a question about divorce:

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female [from Gen. 1:27], and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ [from Gen. 2:24]? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:3–6).

In this reply Jesus rebukes and corrects a first-century practice of easy divorce for trivial reasons. For example, the Mishnah said, “The school of Shammai say: A man may not divorce his wife unless he has found unchastity in her. … And the school of Hillel say [he may divorce her] even if she spoiled a dish for him. … Rabbi Akiba says, [he may divorce her] even if he found another fairer than she” (Mishnah,Gittin 9.10). Rather than entering into this debate among rabbis, Jesus first affirms God’s original plan for marriage and shows that it remains God’s ideal for all marriages.

Malachi views marriage as a “covenant” between a husband and wife, a covenant to which God was a witness and to which therefore God will hold people accountable: “the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant” (Mal. 2:14). Therefore marriage is an especially serious commitment (1) between husband and wife, (2) to the society in which they live, and (3) before God himself (whether or not he is explicitly acknowledged in the marriage ceremony).

But What If One Spouse Is Unfaithful?

In marriage, a man and a woman commit to live with each other as husband and wife for life. In order for them to keep this commitment, both parties have to remain in the marriage. But when one party decides to leave the marriage for another partner, it becomes impossible for the remaining spouse to faithfully fulfill his or her commitment (a husband, e.g., cannot live with and act as a husband to a wife who is living with another man). Because of such cases, it seems that in both the OT and the NT God allowed divorce, in order to give some relief to the one spouse when the other has deserted the marriage or desecrated it by adultery.

Although divorces took place in OT times (assumed by Lev. 21:7, 14; Num. 30:9; Deut. 24:1–4), the only OT law concerning divorce is found in Deuteronomy 24:1–4 (see note). It envisions a situation in which a man divorces and sends away his wife, she subsequently remarries, and then becomes divorced or widowed. In such a case the law forbids the first husband to marry her again.

Jesus’ Teachings on Divorce

Many of the first-century rabbis expanded on Deuteronomy 24:1–4, using it to justify divorce for many reasons, even trivial ones (see above). This fact lies behind the remainder of the exchange between the Pharisees and Jesus in Matthew 19:

They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (vv. 7–9).

Jesus’ statement, “Because of your hardness of heart,” should not be understood to imply that only “hard-hearted” individuals initiate divorce but rather, “because your hard-hearted rebellion against God led to serious defilement of marriages.” The presence of sin in the community meant that some marriages would be deeply harmed, and God therefore provided divorce as a solution in those cases.

When Jesus says that anyone who divorces his wife “except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9), he implies the converse: divorce and remarriage on the ground of one’s spouse’s sexual immorality are not prohibited and do not constitute adultery. It is the one exception Jesus makes to the requirement that marriage be lifelong, for sexual immorality seriously defiles, indeed disrupts, the “one flesh” union (Matt. 19:5). When Jesus says, “and marries another,” he implies that both divorce and remarriage are allowed in the case of sexual immorality and that someone who divorces because his spouse has committed adultery may marry someone else without committing sin (see notes on Matt. 19:3–9). Therefore, if “sexual immorality” (Gk. porneia, which included any sexual intercourse contrary to the moral commands of Scripture) occurs, then divorce is allowed but not required. In fact, forgiveness and reconciliation, restoring the marriage, should always be the first option.

Where divorce was allowed—in Greek, Roman, and Jewish culture—the right to remarry (another person) was always assumed in the first century. For example, the Mishnah says, “The essential formula in the bill of divorce is, ‘lo, thou art free to marry any man’” (Mishnah, Gittin 9.3).

But in Matthew 19:1–9 where Jesus allows divorce on the grounds of porneia, Jesus was simultaneously prohibiting divorce on the numerous other grounds that were being invoked in the first century. If divorce is secured for other reasons (but see a further exception below), then God does not count the divorce as valid (for such divorcers would be committing adultery should they marry someone else; see Matt. 19:9).

In Matthew 5:32, Jesus affirms essentially the same teaching:

But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Jesus says that the husband who wrongfully divorces his wife “makes her commit adultery” because in that society, it was assumed that a divorced woman would usually need to marry someone else for financial support and protection, and yet Jesus still says this new relationship is, at least initially, “adultery” because there was not a proper reason for the divorce. But Jesus places most of the blame on the husband who wrongly divorced her, saying that he thereby “makes her commit adultery.” In the last sentence of the passage, “whoever marries a divorced woman” should be taken in context with the preceding sentences, and so it means, “and whoever marries such a wrongly divorced woman as I have just spoken about …” (see note on Matt. 5:31–32).

In the parallel statements about divorce in Mark 10:11–12 and Luke 16:18, Jesus does not include the exception clause, “except for sexual immorality.” The most likely reason is that there was no dispute or disagreement among Jews, or in Greek or Roman culture, that adultery was a legitimate ground for divorce, and Jesus is not addressing that issue (see notes on Mark 10:10–11 and Luke 16:18). This does not invalidate the more extensive teaching given in Matthew, because Jesus’ acceptance of the exception for adultery, though not stated explicitly by Mark and Luke, was assumed as being beyond question. (Other interpreters think that Mark 10:11–12 and Luke 16:18 prohibit all divorces and they then understand Matt. 5:32 and 19:9 to refer to special circumstances of some kind, not divorce in general.)

Does Paul Add a Second Reason for Divorce?

Many interpreters hold that Paul adds a second legitimate reason for divorce in 1 Corinthians 7:12–15. Paul is facing a new situation that was not addressed by Jesus—the situation of a Christian and non-Christian married to one another. (In the context to which Jesus was speaking, Jewish people only married other Jews, and both husband and wife therefore were part of the Jewish religious community.) When a believer has an unbelieving spouse, Paul says that they should remain married if the unbeliever is willing to do so (1 Cor. 7:12–14). “But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace” (1 Cor. 7:15). Most interpreters think this implies the freedom to obtain a legal divorce and the freedom to marry someone else. When an unbelieving spouse has deserted the marriage, God releases the believing spouse from the twin unending stresses of (1) a lifelong vain hope of reconciling with an unbeliever who has left, and (2) a lifelong prohibition against enjoying the good blessings of marriage again. (But some interpreters hold that remarriage is never allowed after divorce. On that view, Paul is saying only that the believing spouse is not bound to continue to seek reconciliation.)

Would this passage apply to desertion by someone who professes to be a Christian? In such cases, a question arises as to whether the person is genuinely a believer or is making a false profession of faith. Each situation will be different, and a Christian involved in such a difficult circumstance should seek wise counsel from the leaders of his or her church. Where possible, the steps of church discipline outlined in Matthew 18:15–17 should be followed in an attempt to bring reconciliation to the marriage. If that process results in the final step of excommunication from the church, then it would seem appropriate to treat the deserting spouse as an unbeliever (“let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector”; Matt. 18:17). But it must be emphasized that, if reconciliation of the marriage can at all be brought about, that should always be the first goal.

Are There Other Grounds for Divorce?

In addition to the two grounds of sexual immorality or desertion by an unbelieving spouse, are there any other legitimate, biblical grounds for divorce? Some interpreters have argued that repeated instances of physical abuse should be seen as an additional legitimate ground for divorce. Others would respond that many other means should be used to bring the abuse to an immediate halt, including separation (for the eventual purpose of bringing restoration along with the complete cessation of the abuse), church discipline, confrontation and counseling, police action, a court order, and other kinds of intervention by church members, family, and friends. But these would stop short of adding a reason for divorce that neither Jesus nor Paul specified.

Some have argued that a prominent school of rabbinic interpretation in the time of Jesus allowed divorce in cases where a husband did not provide enough material or emotional support to his wife. This was based on their interpretation of a law concerning a slave woman in Exodus 21:10–11. Since Jesus did not explicitly correct this view, they argue that he must have allowed the legitimacy of some other kinds of divorces, such as divorce for prolonged, unrepented physical or emotional abuse. But an argument from what Jesus did not say is of dubious validity, especially since Jesus’ words “whoever divorces his wife” (Matt. 19:9) are so extensive in scope and seem to rule out additional exceptions not specified in the Bible itself.

What should be done if someone has been divorced for other reasons than those given in the Bible and then has married someone else? Jesus says that in such a case the person has committed “adultery” (Matt. 19:9), so the marriage began with adultery. But when Jesus says, “and marries another” in that same verse, he implies that the second marriage is in fact a true marriage. Jesus does not say, “and lives outside of marriage with another” (which was possible, see John 4:18), but “and marries another.” Therefore, once a second marriage has occurred, it would be further sin to break it up, for it would be destroying another marriage. The second marriage should not be thought of as continually living in adultery, for the man and woman are married to each other, not to anyone else. The responsibility of the husband and wife in such a case is to ask God for his forgiveness for previous sin, and then for his blessing on the current marriage, and to strive to make the current marriage a good and lasting one.

With respect to the phrase “husband of one wife” in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6, some argue that this means that a person has never been married more than once, and therefore that it excludes from the office of elder all men who have been divorced for whatever reason and also all whose wives have died and who have subsequently married someone else. But a better understanding of this passage is that it refers to the present status of a man, either to his character of being faithful to his wife, or else to the fact that he does not have more than one wife (see note on 1 Tim. 3:2–3). In either of these better interpretations, the verse does not prohibit all divorced men from being elders, but each case should be evaluated on an individual basis.

Since marriage is not an institution only for Jews and Christians but is an institution established by God at creation, it is for all people, believers and unbelievers alike, and is in fact universal in the human community. The standards expressed here for divorce and remarriage are therefore applicable to all people. The church, where it has opportunity, should encourage non-Christians as well as Christians to abide by God’s high moral standards regarding divorce and remarriage. However, in cultures where rampant divorce for all sorts of reasons is common and has been occurring for decades, individual Christians as well as churches should seek to support and minister to the many women and men and children who have been hurt by divorces in the past, as well as the casualties of divorces in the present.

The principles expressed in this article represent the most commonly held view among Protestants since the time of the Reformation (e.g., see the 17th-century Westminster Confession of Faith 24.5, 6). Other views are also held by some evangelicals, however. Some hold that the exception clauses in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 apply only to sexual immorality committed during the betrothal period (when a couple was legally pledged to be married), and do not apply to marriage proper, and therefore there are no legitimate grounds for divorce. Others argue that, where a divorce has occurred, for whatever reason, remarriage is never allowed. And others have argued that there should be some additional, but limited, grounds for divorce. But these views have not gained majority support among evangelical interpreters of the Bible.


God’s Original Design

In God’s original design, human sexual conduct was to occur within the context of marriage between one man and one woman. The first chapter of the Bible says, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). Differentiation of the human race into two complementary sexes (“male and female”) is the first fact mentioned in connection with being “in the image of God.” In Genesis 2, which describes in more detail the process summarized in 1:27, God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:18). Genesis then applies the example of Adam and Eve to all marriages: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). This “one flesh” sexual union was thus established as the pattern for marriage generally, and Jesus citesGenesis 1:27 and 2:24 as the normative pattern that God expects all marriages to follow (see Matt. 19:4–6). Furthermore Paul, as a good disciple of Jesus, likewise strongly echoes Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 in his two primary texts on homosexual practice, Romans 1:23–27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9. Jesus and Paul both assume the logic of sexual intercourse implied in Genesis: a sexual bond between a man and a woman requires two (and only two) different sexual halves (“a man” and “his wife”) being brought together into a sexual whole (“one flesh”).

This is further emphasized in the story of the creation of Eve from Adam’s side:

And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Gen. 2:22–24).

The word “therefore” connects the making of Eve from a part of Adam’s body with the “one flesh” sexual union between a man and a woman in marriage: it is the reunion of the two constituent parts of a sexual whole. It is not another man who is the missing part or sexual complement of a man, but rather a woman. (Jesus emphasizes this connection between the two different sexes, “male and female,” in Matt. 19:4–6 and Mark 10:6–8.)

Prohibited Sexual Relations

Consistent with the pattern in Genesis 1–2, sexual intercourse outside of the marriage relationship between one man and one woman is prohibited. For example, “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14; reaffirmed by Jesus in Matt. 19:18; cf. Rom. 13:9; James 2:11). In addition, other specific kinds of sexual intercourse outside of marriage are also prohibited, such as prostitution (1 Cor. 6:15–18), incest (Lev. 20:11–21; 1 Cor. 5:1–2), and bestiality (Lev. 18:23; 20:15–16).

Homosexual conduct is also viewed as a sin (something contrary to God’s will) in several passages of the Bible. Leviticus 18:22 says, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination [‘ebah, actions that are extremely displeasing to God].” Similarly, “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination” (Lev. 20:13; cf. Genesis 19; also Jude 7). These absolute Levitical prohibitions are grouped with other relevant sex proscriptions (incest, adultery, bestiality) and are considered first-tier sexual offenses that are grouped together in Leviticus 20:10–16.

In the NT, Paul speaks of homosexual conduct:

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error (Rom. 1:26–27).

The phrase “contrary to nature” means that homosexual conduct does not represent what God intended when he made men and women with physical bodies that have a “natural” way of interacting with each other and “natural” desires for each other. (See note on Rom. 1:26–27; cf. also Rom. 1:19–20, that the truth about God and his moral law is visible and apparent in the material creation.) Homosexual desires are “dishonorable” both because they are contrary to God’s purpose and because they treat a person’s biological sex as only half of what it is. While the logic of a heterosexual bond is that of bringing together the two (and only two) different and complementary sexual halves into a sexual whole, the logic of a homosexual bond is that another person of the same sex complements, and fills what is lacking in, that same sex, implying that each participant is only half of his or her own sex: two half males making a full male or two half females making a full female. In other words, the logic of sexual intercourse requires a sexual complement, and thus a same-sex bond is a self-devaluing of one’s own gender inasmuch as one sees the need to complement structurally one’s own sex with someone of the same sex.

In a long list of sins, Paul also includes “men who practice homosexuality” (1 Cor. 6:9).This phrase translates two different Greek terms: malakos means “soft” or “effeminate” and was commonly used in the Greco-Roman world to refer to the “passive” partner in homosexual acts, while arsenokoitēs is a combination of Gk. arsēn (meaning “man”) and koitē (here meaning “sexual intercourse”). The termarsenokoitēs was apparently coined by Paul from the Septuagint (Greek translation) of Leviticus 20:13, and means (in plural) “men who have intercourse with men.” In 1 Timothy 1:10 Paul uses the same word arsenokoitēs in the midst of vices derived from “the law” (here, the second half of the Ten Commandments), which means that this verse also should be interpreted as an absolute prohibition of male-with-male intercourse, in keeping with Leviticus 18:22; 20:13. Early Jewish interpretation ofLeviticus 18:22 and 20:13, and early Christian interpretation of 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, also show that these verses were understood as absolute prohibitions against all types of homosexual conduct.

Does the Bible address the question of homosexual attitudes and desires? It must be remembered that God ultimately requires moral perfection, not only in human actions but also in attitudes of the heart. Therefore the Bible prohibits not only adultery but also a desire for adultery (Ex. 20:17; cf. Matt. 5:28), not only theft but also coveting (Ex. 20:17). This is because “the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Therefore Scripture teaches that any desire to break God’s commandments is also viewed as wrong in God’s sight. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). While an impulse to do what God expressly forbids is (by definition) an impulse contrary to God’s will, the Bible recognizes that Christians will be “tempted” by their “own desire” (James 1:14) and encourages Christians in such circumstances to “remain steadfast” (James 1:12) and to “be doers of the word” (James 1:22). This implies not actively entertaining the wrongful impulse (cf. Matt. 5:28), and not dwelling on it so that it “gives birth to sin” (James 1:15).

It is not surprising, therefore, that not only homosexual conduct but also homosexual desires are viewed as contrary to God’s will. Homosexual desires are viewed as “dishonorable passions” (Rom. 1:26), and Paul also says that homosexual partners are “consumed with passion for one another” (Rom. 1:27), giving a strong image of a powerful but destructive inward craving.

This is not to say that homosexual desire is as harmful as homosexual conduct. Though all sin is wrong and brings legal guilt before God (cf. James 2:10–11), a distinction between wrongful desires and wrongful actions can be made with regard to many areas of life. Hatred of another person is wrong in God’s sight, but murdering the person is far more harmful. Coveting a neighbor’s farm animals is wrong, but actually stealing them is much more harmful. And lustful desires for adultery are wrong, but actually committing adultery is far more harmful. Similarly, homosexual desires are wrong in God’s sight, but actually committing homosexual acts is far more harmful.

The Bible’s Solution regarding Homosexuality

As with every other sin, the Bible’s solution to homosexuality is trusting in Christ for the forgiveness of sin, the imputation of righteousness, and the power to change. After talking about the “sexually immoral” and “adulterers” and “men who practice homosexuality” and “thieves” and “drunkards” (1 Cor. 6:9–10), Paul tells the Corinthian Christians, “And such were some of you” (1 Cor. 6:11). Then he tells them, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11; cf. Rom. 6:23; Phil. 2:13; 1 John 1:9). This implies that some former homosexuals in the church at Corinth had left their previous homosexual lifestyle and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, were seeking to live lives of sexual purity, whether in celibacy or in faithful, heterosexual marriages.

It is important that the Christian community always show love and compassion toward those engaged in homosexual conduct, and also extend friendship toward them where opportunities arise, though not in a way that signals approval of homosexual practice. It is also important to extend hope for change, since many homosexuals will say that they long to establish a different pattern of life. However, a number of studies have concluded that long-term change from a homosexual lifestyle seldom occurs without a program of help and encouragement from others.


Numerous objections have been presented against the view that homosexuality is morally wrong. One objection is that some people are “born gay,” that is, that many homosexuals do not choose their homosexual orientation but it is part of their genetic makeup from birth, and so homosexuals can never change, and for them homosexual behavior cannot be wrong. But, as noted above, Paul, in talking about “men who practice homosexuality” (1 Cor. 6:9), says to the Corinthian church, “And such were some of you” (1 Cor. 6:11), indicating that homosexuals can change and become former homosexuals. This does not mean that homosexual desires will automatically or necessarily be eradicated for those who come to Christ. Becoming a Christian does not mean that people will no longer experience intense sinful urges (sexual or otherwise). But genuine faith does produce the fruit of obedience and real, substantive change, and Paul indicates that this is precisely what happened with some who had practiced homosexuality in Corinth.

Some argue that science supports the argument that homosexuality is determined by one’s biological makeup from before the time of birth. Studies have in fact shown some indirect, congenital influences on homosexual development that may increase the likelihood of homosexual development. But there are certain hereditary factors that give people a greater likelihood of developing all sorts of different sinful behavior patterns (such as frequent wrongful anger, violence, adultery, alcoholism, and so forth), and it would not be surprising to find that some people, from certain hereditary backgrounds, have a greater likelihood of developing homosexual desires and conduct. But this is far different from proving congenital determinism of homosexuality, that is, that some people are genetically incapable of making any other choice than to entertain homosexual desires and engage in homosexual conduct. Especially significant are studies of identical twins, where one has become a homosexual and the other has not, even though they have identical genetic makeup.

The moral teachings of God’s Word, not people’s inward desires, must be the final standard of right and wrong. It is important to recognize that (1) virtually all behavior is, at some level, biologically influenced, and that (2) no command of God is predicated for its validity on humans first losing all desire to violate the command in question.

As for environmental factors that have been shown to increase the likelihood of homosexual behavior, two of the most significant, particularly for male homosexuals, are the physical or emotional absence of a caring father during childhood years, and sexual abuse sometime during childhood or adolescence.

Another objection is to say that the biblical passages concerning homosexuality only prohibit certain kinds of homosexual conduct, such as homosexual prostitution or pedophilia, or unfaithful homosexual relationships. (This is sometimes called the “exploitation argument”: the Bible only prohibits exploitative forms of homosexuality.) But there is no legitimate evidence in the words of any of these verses, or their contexts, or in evidence from the ancient world, to prove that the verses were referring to anything less than all kinds of homosexual conduct by all kinds of people. Two biblical counterarguments against the “exploitation argument” may be briefly mentioned: (1) In Romans 1:23–27 Paul clearly echoes Genesis 1:27, indicating that Paul viewed any sexual relationship that did not conform to the creation paradigm of “male and female” to be a violation of God’s will, irrespective of whether the relationship is loving. (2) Paul’s absolute indictment against all forms of homosexuality is underscored by his mention of lesbian intercourse in Romans 1:26, since this form of intercourse in the ancient world was not typically characterized by sex with adolescents, slaves, or prostitutes.

Some have suggested that the Sodom and Gomorrah episode does not point to judgment on homosexual practice, but relates only to coercive homosexual practice. But Genesis 19:4–5 indicates that homosexual conduct was characteristic of the entire city and was a primary reason for God’s judgment (cf. the note on Jude 7).

Some object that the phrase “contrary to nature” in Romans 1:26–27 shows that Paul is only talking about people who “naturally” feel desires toward a person of the opposite sex but who then practice homosexuality. Paul says, “For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another” (Rom. 1:26–27). According to this view, Paul is not saying anything about people who “naturally” feel desires for a person of the same sex, for such desires would not be “contrary to that person’s nature.” However, this is reading into the text a restriction that has no basis in the actual words that Paul wrote. He does not say “contrary to their nature,” but “contrary to nature” (Gk. para physin), a phrase that is used several times in literature outside the Bible to speak of all kinds of homosexual conduct as something contrary to the natural order of the world. In other words, Paul is not saying inRomans 1:24–27 that some people switched their innate heterosexual urges for contrived homosexual urges, but rather that people exchanged or left behind sexual relations with a true sexual complement (someone of the other sex) to gratify their inward urges for sex with members of the same sex. Paul sees such people as choosing to follow their desires over God-ordained creation structures.

Finally, there is an objection from experience: some homosexual “couples” have faithful, fulfilling relationships, so why should these be thought immoral? But experience should not be used as a higher standard for moral right and wrong than the teaching of the Bible. In addition, many studies indicate that, particularly among male homosexuals, long-term one-partner relationships are uncommon, and the widespread pattern is many sexual partners, often numbering many hundreds over the years. An additional harmful result of homosexual conduct is often immense damage to the family structures of a society and also to physical health (e.g., various studies have shown a significant reduction in life expectancy for homosexual males compared to the general population).

Same-sex Marriage?

Proposals for governments to recognize “same-sex marriage” should be evaluated in light of the Bible’s teaching that one role of civil government is to “praise those who do good” (1 Pet. 2:14). Government recognition of a relationship as a “marriage” carries with it the endorsement and encouragement of that relationship by a society. Married couples enjoy many protections and benefits (legal, financial, and interpersonal) that society has granted in order to encourage marriage and signal that the institution of marriage brings benefits to society as a whole. So the question is really whether a society, through its laws, should give approval and encouragement to homosexual relationships that both the Bible and most cultures throughout history have considered to be morally wrong rather than “good,” and that also bring significant harmful consequences. Governmental recognition of “same-sex marriage” would imply a requirement to allow homosexual couples to adopt and raise children, and this would rob many children of the opportunity to be raised in a home with both a father and a mother, which is by far the best environment for them. In addition, government recognition would likely soon carry with it governmental prohibitions against criticizing homosexual conduct.


Homosexual conduct of all kinds is consistently viewed as sin in the Bible, and recent reinterpretations of the Bible that have been raised as objections to that view do not give a satisfactory explanation of the words or the context of the relevant verses. Sexual intimacy is to be confined to marriage, and marriage is to be only between one man and one woman, following the pattern established by God in creation. The church should always act with love and compassion toward homosexuals, yet never affirm homosexual conduct as morally right. The gospel of Jesus Christ offers the “good news” of forgiveness of sins and real hope for a transformed life to homosexuals as well as to all sinners.

Civil Government

God Established Civil Government

God has established civil government for the good of all people: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. … [T]he one who is in authority … is God’s servant for your good” (Rom. 13:1, 3, 4). This indicates that God has established an order of authority regarding civil government: those who are in authority have responsibility to judge right from wrong and to distinguish good from evil by rewarding good behavior and punishing wrongdoing. This means that those in authority should not use power in ways that are arbitrary or that merely serve their own personal advantage. Those who are not in authority are to “be subject” to those who are in authority.

Paul also indicates that God is sovereign over both evil governments and good ones. God not only raises nations up, he also brings them down: “He makes nations great, and he destroys them; he enlarges nations, and leads them away” (Job 12:23; cf. Ps. 75:7). In fact, he will sometimes use one nation to judge another (cf. Jer. 25:7–14). Isaiah 10:5–11 says that God raised up Assyria, which he used to judge all of the surrounding nations. But then he judged Assyria as well, at the appropriate time, using another nation. When God allows evil governments to persist, sometimes believers suffer greatly, but in such situations they also glorify God through their courage and faithfulness (cf. Dan. 3:16–23; Matt. 14:10–11; Acts 5:29, 40–42; 12:2; Heb. 11:35–38; Rev. 2:10; 12:11).

All citizens should obey the laws of the state (for exceptions, see below): Romans 13:2 says, “Whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” In other words, those who reject the authority of a civil government reject God’s authority as well. Romans 13:3–4 says,

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

This passage also indicates the purpose of government: it is established by God in order to restrain evil, punish wrongdoers, and promote the order and well-being of society.

First Peter 2:13–17 articulates similar truths: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (v. 13), which includes persons in authority like “the emperor,” or “governors,” or, by implication, other officials who are sent “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (v. 14). The reason Christians must obey in this way is because “this is the will of God” (v. 15), and, further, “that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (v. 15). This also means that Christians should honor those in authority, show them proper respect, and pray for them (cf. 1 Tim. 2:1–3).

Christian Influence on Governments

Since the moral standards of the Bible come from the God of all creation, who holds all people in all societies accountable to him, Christians should act upon opportunities given them to influence government to make laws consistent with the Bible’s moral standards (cf. Dan. 4:27; Luke 3:18–19; Acts 24:24–25; also the prophetic warnings to pagan nations in Isaiah 13–23; Ezekiel 25–32; Amos 1–2; Obadiah; Jonah; Nahum; Habakkuk 2; Zephaniah 2). Influencing a government to make good laws is one way of obeying Jesus’ command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39), for good laws bring many benefits to people. However, civil governments should not make laws enforcing allegiance to, or prohibiting the practice of, any particular religion, for Jesus divided the realms of responsibilities between the things that “are Caesar’s” and the things that “are God’s,” thus establishing two distinct areas or spheres of authority (Matt. 22:21; cf. also Luke 9:52–55; 12:13–14; John 18:36).

When Obedience to Government Is Wrong

Christians should not obey the government, however, when obedience would mean disobeying a command of God. This is indicated by several passages showing approval of disobedience to governments. For example, when commanded not to preach the gospel, Peter says, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Another example is found in Daniel 3:13–27, where Nebuchadnezzar commanded Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to worship the golden statue; they stood firm against the king: “we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan. 3:18). God rescued them from the fiery furnace, thus confirming his approval of their stand (Dan. 3:19–30). Other examples of obeying God through disobedience to civil governments include the Egyptian midwives (Ex. 1:17, 21), Esther (Est. 4:16); Daniel (Dan. 6:10); and the wise men (Matt. 2:8, 12).

Is Revolution or a War of Independence Ever Right?

Christians have differed over the question of whether God’s people should ever support revolutions against evil governments or wars to gain independence from evil governments. Some Christians argue that Romans 13:1–5 prohibits this, especially where Paul says, “whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed.” Others have argued that Paul has in mind here only the conduct of private individuals, but that lower officials who are under a wicked higher official are in a different situation. They argue that lower officials may in fact be obeying God by leading a revolution or fighting a civil war against wicked rulers, in order to protect those whom God has given into their charge, and that thus, in protecting their people, they are fulfilling their responsibility before God to be “not a terror to good conduct, but to bad” (Rom. 13:3). Biblical examples would be Moses against Pharaoh (Exodus 1–14), and some of the judges (Judg. 2:14–16; cf. Heb. 11:33).


Biblical Ethics (cont…)

Methods of Selecting Leaders for Government

Because the Bible speaks so frequently about kings, for many centuries it was assumed that only a monarchy fit the biblical pattern for civil government. People believed in the “divine right of kings,” by which kings were thought to rule by God’s ordination (an idea that some supported from Rom. 13:1–2), and the people were thought to be subject to their almost unlimited power. The common method of succession was hereditary monarchy, in which the king’s oldest son would succeed him on the throne.

But over the course of centuries more careful examination of the Bible has brought a widespread recognition among Christians that the Bible does not endorse hereditary monarchy as the only proper form of government. When read in their overall context, the tragic narratives of the hereditary monarchies that followed after David, beginning with Solomon and then continuing in both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah (see 1–2 Kings), show a progressive turning of these kingdoms away from God and a decline in their circumstances until both Israel and Judah were carried away into exile in disgrace. Though there were a few good kings, most of the kings of Israel and Judah fulfilled Samuel’s dire warnings about the ways in which kings would abuse their powers and eventually enslave the people (1 Sam. 8:10–18). And many of the pagan kings who opposed God’s people were quite uniformly evil. The overall portrait of monarchies in the Bible is not a positive one (except for the future rule of Jesus, who will one day reign over a renewed world as “King of kings and Lord of lords,” Rev. 19:16).

But what is the alternative to a hereditary monarchy? Several strands of biblical teaching combine to show the benefits of some sort of system by which (1) government gains legitimacy by the consent of the governed, (2) rulers are selected by the consent of those who are governed, and are accountable to them, and (3) the power of government is divided among several persons and groups in order to provide a check against the tendency of all sinful human beings to abuse power, especially great power. The arguments in favor of such a form of government are these:

  1. All human beings share equally the status of being made “in the image of God” (see notes on Gen. 1:26; 1:27). This is a powerful concept that leads to the conclusion that no family should think it has by heredity a “right” to rule over other families and people, or to govern others without their consent.
  2. If the government is to be “God’s servant for your good” (Rom. 13:4), government should exist for the benefit of the people, not for the special benefit of the king and his family (cf. the negative example in 1 Sam. 8:10–18 in contrast with the good examples in 1 Sam. 12:3–5; Num. 16:15). But who can best judge what is best for the people of a nation? A good argument can be made that, over the long run, the people themselves are the best judge of what is good for them. To be sure, the people may err, but they are not likely to err as grievously as a non-accountable paternalist ruler, making decisions on their behalf, might be expected to do.
  3. Scripture contains several positive examples of rulers seeking the consent of those whom they govern (cf. Ex. 4:29–31; 1 Sam. 7:5–6; 10:24; 2 Sam. 2:4; 1 Kings 1:39–40; 12:1; and, in the early church, cf.Acts 6:3).
  4. The fact that “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom. 13:1) does not require a monarchy, for God can institute governments through a process by which the people are able to select their own leaders and keep a check on their powers.

Capital Punishment

The Bible places much importance on the sanctity of human life; therefore any theological argument for capital punishment—the legal execution of someone guilty of a heinous crime—must meet high standards of biblical support and practical justice. Since human beings are made in God’s image and likeness, only God has the ultimate authority to specify if, and under what conditions, it is morally justified to take a human life.

The Covenant with Noah

After the flood, God commanded Noah and his children to be fruitful, to multiply, and to have dominion and stewardship over the earth and all of its creatures. Permission was given to kill animals for food (Gen. 9:3); but murdering a human being meant forfeiting one’s own life, for God said, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen. 9:5–6). In this verse, “shedding blood” refers to the violent, unjustified taking of human life (cf. Gen. 37:22; Num. 35:33; 1 Kings 2:31; Ezek. 22:4).

This part of God’s covenant with Noah (Gen. 9:1–17) is a crucial text related to capital punishment for two reasons: (1) the provisions of this covenant were not limited to one specific nation for one specific period of time, as the Mosaic laws were, but were given at the time of a new beginning for all of human society following the flood; and (2) the reason for the command regarding murder is one that remains perpetually valid: “for God made man in his own image” (Gen. 9:6). The previous verse indicates that this command shows how God will execute justice on a murderer, namely, by requiring that other human beings, as God’s representatives, put the murderer to death: “From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man” (Gen. 9:5).

This passage in Genesis explains what is wrong with murdering a human being and why the punishment for intentional murder should be execution: because human beings are made in the image of God. The severity of the crime dictates the severity of the punishment. This is consistent with an overarching principle known as lex talionis (i.e., the law of retribution). Exodus 21:22–25 (see note) is one example: “if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” In contrast to the malicious practices of the nations surrounding God’s people, the lex talionis was a civilizing influence in three ways (cf. Gen. 4:23–24). First, it prevented private vengeance, since the context of such laws showed that this was a principle reserved for judges. Second, it prevented excessive punishment by insuring that only an eye could be taken for damaging an eye. (For example, one could not kill another in return for blinding him.) Third, it prevented insufficient punishment by ensuring that social prejudice did not lead to treating some lives as less valuable than others. One could not require an eye for damaging an eye in one case but not another.

In biblical moral understanding, equally shared reflection of the divine image is what demands taking the life of the one who has wrongly taken the life of another. But the Bible never requires more than the life of the murderer; e.g., it never allows killing a whole village to avenge the murder of one person. According to the Bible, the value of human life does not come from anything that human beings control. It comes from reflecting something (or someone) other than themselves; it is something that all possess and that they can never lose.

Some interpreters disagree with this view. They argue that Genesis 9:6 does not prescribe capital punishment but merely describes what often results from living a life of violence. They claim that the statement “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed” is only a prediction equivalent to the saying “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52). Against this interpretation is (1) the fact that Genesis 9:5 says God himself will require this “reckoning” for the taking of human life; (2) the reason given for taking human life is not to satisfy a subjective feeling but is rather to hold perpetrators accountable for destroying God’s “own image”; and (3) subsequent laws show that God in fact commanded that human beings carry out the death penalty for various crimes (cf.Num. 35:16–21).

Many who oppose the death penalty subscribe to the so-called “seamless garment” argument. For them, the sanctity of human life means that killing another human being is never permissible, whether in abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, or war. Those who support the death penalty respond that specific teachings of the Bible, not an abstract theory (such as “never take a human life”), should determine the Christian position. And specific teachings of the Bible do give support to the principle of capital punishment. One of the strongest biblical refutations of the “seamless garment” theory is inEzekiel 13:19 where God not only condemns “putting to death souls who should not die” but also “keeping alive souls who should not live.” Someone who is “pro-life” on abortion and euthanasia can, therefore, at the same time consistently favor capital punishment. The principle remains the same in both cases: justice for and protection of the innocent, and punishment for the guilty in proportion to what they have done.

The Sixth Commandment

The sixth of the Ten Commandments forbids the unjustified taking of a person’s life: “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13). The esv footnote to this verse explains that the Hebrew term used (ratsakh) is somewhat broader than the contemporary English word “murder” when it says, “The Hebrew word also covers causing human death through carelessness or negligence.” The commandment does not, however, prohibit all killing. The verb ratsakh is never used, e.g., for killing in war. Another reason the sixth commandment cannot prohibit capital punishment is that God himself said in the very next chapter of Exodus that “if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die” (Ex. 21:14). (However, cities of refuge were established for those guilty of accidental [unintentional] manslaughter [Ex. 21:13; cf. Joshua 20].)

In the OT it was God who prescribed the death penalty. Therefore capital punishment cannot be contrary to God’s character or inconsistent with God’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). God’s laws are always consistent with his moral character, and his moral character never changes (Ps. 102:27; Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8; James 1:17).

The laws God gave Moses at Sinai for governing Israel in the Promised Land included death penalties for several other crimes besides the intentional shedding of innocent human blood, which had already been prohibited under the Noahic covenant (Gen. 9:5–6). But these additional death penalties wereonly given to govern the theocracy of Israel and were never universally applied even in the OT. While the death penalty for murder is universally commanded based on an enduring theological principle (i.e., man being made in the image of God; Gen. 9:5–6), the other death penalties later included in the Mosaic law are not. Therefore these laws were specific to the particular history of Israel at that time, and they should not be treated as necessary patterns for civil governments today. (For many of these cases regarding worship of other gods, the NT parallel would be excommunication from the fellowship of the church.)

Methods of execution in the OT included stoning (Lev. 20:2, 27; 24:14; Deut. 21:21), hanging (Deut. 21:22–23; Josh. 8:29), burning (Lev. 20:14; 21:9), and the sword (Ex. 32:27–28). OT law also ensured that capital punishment could only be carried out based on the testimony of at least two witnesses (Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6, 19). In some cases, the punishment was to be executed by the witnesses themselves (Deut. 13:6–10; 17:7), while in others it was to be inflicted by the congregation (Num. 15:32–36), the nearest of kin, or the avenger of blood (Deut. 19:11–12).

The NT on Capital Punishment

The most definitive NT text on capital punishment is Romans 13, where the apostle Paul discusses the nature of punishment and the role of civil magistrates. He writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. … Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:1–4). It is important to recall, however, that just three verses earlier Paul forbids personal revenge: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Rom. 12:19). Then in Romans 13, with no sense of inconsistency, Paul moves right on to explain that leaving punishment “to the wrath of God” means allowing punishment to come through the civil government, which is “the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (13:4). So, while personal retaliation is forbidden, civil authorities are to punish evildoers justly and dispassionately.

Both proponents and opponents of capital punishment point to “the sword” (Gk. machaira) in Romans 13:4 to support their view. Opponents note that “the sword” is sometimes used as a symbol or metaphor (i.e., the “sword of the Spirit,” Eph. 6:17; the word of God is “sharper than any two-edged sword,” Heb. 4:12). They understand “the sword” in Romans 13:4 to be only a symbol of governing authorities. Against this, proponents of capital punishment maintain that the image of “the sword” stands for governmental authority to use even lethal force if necessary. They note that even where “the sword” symbolizes authority, that symbol has no meaning without the reality backing it up. The NT also uses the same word for sword (Gk. machaira) on several occasions that clearly refer to the real use of lethal force, e.g., when Herod “killed James the brother of John with the sword” (Acts 12:2), and when it refers to martyrs who were “killed with the sword” (Heb. 11:37; cf. also Matt. 26:52; Acts 16:27; Rom. 8:35;Rev. 13:10).

The apostle Paul, who used the word “sword” in this text, showed that he knew that some crimes are worthy of death, saying, “If … I … have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death” (Acts 25:11). It is unlikely that Paul would have said this if he thought capital punishment was never justifiable. Even so, except for crimes of murder, neither God’s command to Noah in Genesis 9:6 nor any NT statement makes it necessary to treat any other specific crime as so horrible that all societies everywhere must always apply capital punishment when someone commits it. Apparently that question is left for each society or government to seek to decide wisely and justly.

The two sides on the issue of capital punishment also differ over Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:38–39). Proponents of capital punishment think that Jesus only addressed personal conduct, not how governments carry out assigned duties, while opponents claim that Jesus addressed government duties as well. The story of the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 7:53–8:11) is not thought to be as relevant by either side, both because there is doubt about whether the text itself was originally part of John’s Gospel (see note) and because Jesus’ words in the story (“Let him who is without sin … be the first to throw a stone at her”) do not pertain to the crime of murder.

Justice and the Role of Government

At the heart of the moral debate over capital punishment are often different views of justice and the role that is assigned to government in relation to it. Those favoring capital punishment usually stress the retributive view of justice (i.e., wrongdoing calls for proportional punishment). They argue that the Bible reveals that God has ordained human government to act as his agent in applying retributive justice to wrongdoers. Human government is “an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4; cf. 1 Pet. 2:14). Thus capital punishment is seen as (1) an outpouring of divine justice in this present life, (2) a deterrent from personal vengeance (Rom. 12:19), and (3) a deterrent from further crimes (see Eccles. 8:11; Rom. 13:3–4). Those opposing capital punishment either define justice differently (e.g., as distributing benefits or restoring damages), or hold that government should be less concerned with retribution (treating people as they deserve) than with mercy (not treating people as badly as they deserve).

Finally, Christians who believe that capital punishment has biblical justification also hold that it must be carried out in a just manner. So, among other things, this means that holding people accountable for wrongdoing should be done in a way that requires: (1) clear evidence of guilt established by eyewitnesses or irrefutable forensic evidence (cf. Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6, 19); (2) granting the accused due process without discrimination based on social status, beliefs, race, or economic class; (3) rendering judgment based on adequate proof of moral culpability; and (4) making sure that any punishment assigned is proportional to the crime.


Definition of War

War is a large-scale armed conflict between countries or between groups within a country aiming at changing or dividing established government. Throughout history, wars have frequently been started by rulers seeking to expand their territory and power, but wars can be started for a variety of economic, political, religious, or ethnic reasons.

Biblical Justifications for Some Wars

No recognized Christian group or Christian leader today argues that any government should engage in war to compel people to support the Christian religion. This is because of the recognition that Christian faith, by its nature, must be voluntary if it is to be genuine (note the invitations in various parts of the Bible that appeal to people’s freedom to choose whether or not they will follow God: Ezek. 33:11; Matt. 11:28–30; Rev. 22:17). Jesus distinguished between “the things that are Caesar’s” and “the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21), thus establishing that the civil government (“Caesar”) and the church (“the things that are God’s”) have different responsibilities and different tasks, and that the government should not use its power to attempt to control people’s religious faith. Jesus himself refused to use deadly force to advance his kingdom or compel allegiance to him (see Matt. 26:52–55; John 18:36).

However, God does give civil government the responsibility and the authority to use superior force, even deadly force, to protect its citizens from evil. This is because, until Jesus returns (Dan. 9:26; Matt. 24:6), there are some people so deeply committed to doing evil that they can be restrained, not by reason and persuasion, but only by superior force. Therefore, in the OT God says that rulers must “give justice to the weak” and must “deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Ps. 82:3–4). The NT maintains that the civil government has been established by God with responsibility for maintaining justice. This is why the government has a rightful duty to “bear the sword” (Rom. 13:4), to be “a terror” to bad conduct, and thus to be “God’s servant” to do “good” for its citizens (Rom. 13:3–4). Part of this responsibility is acting as a “servant of God … who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4). Peter likewise affirms that civil government is sent “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Pet. 2:14). Therefore one of the primary duties of government is to protect its citizens, even through the use of force (“the sword”) if that is necessary in order to restrain evil. This is the justification for police forces that protect citizens from any harm that would come from others within a nation. And this responsibility from God also provides justification for nations to engage in armed conflict (“to bear the sword”) in order to protect their citizens from evildoers who would attack them from outside the nation, including a defense against armies sent by other nations when those armies and nations are “those who do evil” (1 Pet. 2:14) in the pursuit of such a war.

Several wars in the OT fall under this category of a war of defense against evil aggression (such as Abraham’s war to rescue Lot in Gen. 14:1–16; Saul’s war against the Ammonites in 1 Sam. 11:1–11; and Gideon’s war to defend Israel against the Midianites in Judges 6–7). Therefore it should not be thought inconsistent in the OT for God to command people to go to war (see Deuteronomy 20, for example) andalso to command his people, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13; Deut. 5:17). The Hebrew word translated “murder” (ratsakh) in the sixth commandment is used 49 times in the OT but is never used to refer to killing in war (for which other Hebrew words are used; see note on Deut. 5:17).

Over the ages, Christians have adopted three different views on the ethics of war: crusade, just war, and pacifism.


The crusade ethic treats war as the most effective means for destroying all resistance to establishing some idealistic vision of social order: it does so by religious authority; it is led by a religious figure such as a prophet, pope, or imam; it accepts no compromise; it spares no prisoners; it sets no limits on force; it sends soldiers into battle with zeal; it ignores all odds; it demonizes opponents; it distinguishes only between friend or foe (not between combatants and noncombatants); it never surrenders; and it never ceases so long as opposition exists. But while God does order wars of crusade in the OT (such as Moses’ war of vengeance against the Midianites in Numbers 31, and Joshua’s conquest of Canaan in the book of Joshua; see The Destruction of the Canaanites), and while Jesus is pictured as leading a war of crusade when he returns to rule the earth on all levels (Rev. 19:11–21), the Bible never gives humanrulers a choice of electing to fight wars of crusade on their own initiative.

Biblically approved use of the crusade ethic occurs only at God’s initiative (see Num. 31:1–2), is led only by God himself (see Josh. 5:13–15), and occurs only in such a way that those called to participate can readily verify that this is done at the direct command of God (see Rev. 19:11–16). When Pope Urban II launched wars of crusade during the Middle Ages, he violated biblical moral boundaries in a way that has shamed the cause of Christ and the reputation of the church ever since.

Just War

The just war ethic argues that warfare is sometimes necessary in order to resist or reverse specific unjust actions taken by one government or nation against another, but it also insists that war is always regrettable, is always something to avoid if possible, and is never to be used to establish some new vision of a social order.

The just war ethical tradition arises from both biblical and classical sources. In the Bible, just war principles can be found in rules revealed for engaging enemies outside the territory of the Promised Land (Deut. 20:1–20), in God’s judgment of war actions taken by the Gentile nations around Israel (Amos 1), and in the regard Jesus had for moral wisdom relating to the way kings go to war (Luke 14:31).

The NT church included many soldiers serving on active duty and saw nothing morally inconsistent with Christians serving as military professionals. The conversion of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, was confirmed by the Holy Spirit with no question of his profession compromising his faith (Acts 10). John the Baptist responded to soldiers in a way that implied they were serving in a morally legitimate profession (Luke 3:14). And when Paul was imprisoned in Rome, many in the Praetorian guard became Christians (cf. Phil. 1:13). As a result, Christians soon came to fill the Roman “fortresses,” military “camps,” and army “companies” (see evidence provided by Tertullian in Apology 37; c. a.d. 200), and the first persecutions of the church arose because of the high number of Christians serving in the Roman army. While some early Christians opposed military service (cf. Tertullian and Origen), the majority tradition of the church has never considered military service to be inconsistent with biblical standards.

Over time, the just war ethic has developed a common set of criteria that can be used to decide if going to war in a specific situation is right. These include the following: (1) just cause (is the reason for going to war a morally right cause, such as defense of a nation? cf. Rev. 19:11); (2) competent authority (has the war been declared not simply by a renegade band within a nation but by a recognized, competent authority within the nation? cf. Rom. 13:1); (3) comparative justice (it should be clear that the actions of the enemy are morally wrong, and the motives and actions of one’s own nation in going to war are, in comparison, morally right; cf. Rom. 13:3); (4) right intention (is the purpose of going to war to protect justice and righteousness rather than simply to rob and pillage and destroy another nation? cf. Prov. 21:2); (5) last resort (have all other reasonable means of resolving the conflict been exhausted? cf. Matt. 5:9; Rom. 12:18); (6) probability of success (is there a reasonable expectation that the war can be won? cf. Luke 14:31); (7) proportionality of projected results (will the good results that come from a victory in a war be significantly greater than the harm and loss that will inevitably come with pursuing the war? cf.Rom. 12:21 with 13:4); and (8) right spirit (is the war undertaken with great reluctance and sorrow at the harm that will come rather than simply with a “delight in war,” as in Ps. 68:30?).

In addition to these criteria for deciding whether a specific war is “just,” advocates of just war theory have also developed some moral restrictions on how a just war should be fought. These include the following: (1) proportionality in the use of force (no greater destruction should be caused than is needed to win the war; cf. Deut. 20:10–12); (2) discrimination between combatants and noncombatants(insofar as it is feasible in the successful pursuit of a war, is adequate care being taken to prevent harm to noncombatants? cf. Deut. 20:13–14, 19–20); (3) avoidance of evil means (will captured or defeated enemies be treated with justice and compassion, and are one’s own soldiers being treated justly in captivity? cf. Ps. 34:14); and (4) good faith (is there a genuine desire for restoration of peace and eventually living in harmony with the attacking nation? cf. Matt. 5:43–44; Rom. 12:18).

If a war is just, it should not be viewed as morally wrong but still necessary, nor as morally neutral, but as something that is morally right, carried out (with sorrow and regret) in obedience to responsibilities given by God (Rom. 13:4). Those who serve in a just war should understand that such service is not sinful in God’s sight but that they do this as “God’s servant for your good” (Rom. 13:4; cf. Luke 3:14;John 15:13; also Num. 32:6, 20–23; Ps. 144:1).

Most nations throughout history, and most Christians in every age, have held that fighting in combat is a responsibility that should fall only to men, and that it is contrary to the very idea of womanhood, and shameful for a nation, to have women risk their lives as combatants in a war. The assumption that only men and not women will fight in battle is also a frequent pattern in the historical narratives and is affirmed by leaders and prophets in the OT (see Num. 1:2–3; Deut. 3:18–19; 20:7–8; 24:5; Josh. 1:14; 23:10; Judg. 4:8–10; 9:54; 1 Sam. 4:9; Neh. 4:13–14; Jer. 50:37; Nah. 3:13).


Since the time of Tertullian and Origen (2nd–3rd centuries a.d.), some Christians have advocated pacifism, the idea that participating in war is always wrong, or is always wrong at least for Christians. Arguments used to support pacifism are: (1) Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39); (2) Jesus taught us that “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39); (3) Jesus refused to use the power of the sword to advance his kingdom (Matt. 26:52–53); (4) the use of military force shows lack of trust in God; and (5) violence always begets more violence and does not really solve the underlying problems.

Those who differ with pacifism respond to each of those arguments as follows: (1) Jesus’ teaching on turning the other cheek was intended as a guide for individual conduct, not for the conduct of governments or soldiers or police in the service of governments (see note on Matt. 5:39). (2) The command to love one’s neighbor is consistent with going to war to protect one’s neighbor from an aggressor, as is evident from the fact that the OT commanded love for one’s neighbor (Lev. 19:18) as well as directions for the conduct of war (Deuteronomy 20). It is also evident from the example of David, who loved his son Absalom but sent the army against him when Absalom sought to usurp the throne (2 Sam. 18:1–33). (3) It is never right to use military force to advance the gospel message, or compel adherence to Christianity, but that is different from the responsibility of government to protect its citizens. (4) The believer’s trust in God must be defined by what Scripture says, including its teachings on God’s appointment of civil government to use force to protect its citizens. Therefore one should trust God to work through the power of the sword exercised by government. (5) It is simply not true that wars never solve problems: war was necessary to defeat slavery in the nineteenth century in the United States and to defeat Hitler in World War II, as well as to defeat other tyrants throughout history. In addition, non-pacifist Christians also note (6) that although Jesus stopped Peter from using a sword to resist arrest on his way to the cross (Matt. 26:52), he did not consider it inconsistent with directions given hours earlier that same evening when he instructed his disciples to carry weapons for self-defense (Luke 22:35–36; see note); and if using deadly force is justified as required under individual circumstances, there can be no objection to using deadly force as required under civil community circumstances.

Lying and Telling the Truth

The God of the Bible is the God of truth, beauty, and goodness. As seen in the Ten Commandments (“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” Ex. 20:16), God expects his people to adhere to his standard of truth. But is it ever permissible to tell a lie?

Telling the truth and the permissibility of lying have been perennial issues of concern for both Christian ethicists and for the individual Christian facing an ethical dilemma. For instance, if a killer inquires about the whereabouts of his next potential victim, is a Christian permitted to lie in order to protect the innocent? Is it acceptable to lie in order to achieve great good? May a Christian falsify documents in order to smuggle Bibles into a “closed” country?

The Sanctity of Truth and the Condemnation of Lying

The Bible clearly emphasizes the sanctity of truth. God “never lies” (Titus 1:2) and his people are to imitate him by being people “of the truth” (John 18:37). Jesus described himself as “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Moreover, Jesus promises that “the truth will set you free” from the bondage of sin (John 8:32). Finally, one of the evidences of human depravity is that people “exchanged the truth about God for a lie” (Rom. 1:25).

By contrast, lying is condemned in Scripture: “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 12:22). The devil “is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Paul tells Christians, “Do not lie to one another” (Col. 3:9). He also commands, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor” (Eph. 4:25) and says that believers should be “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). At the final judgment, those who are thrown in the lake of fire include “all liars” (Rev. 21:8). Telling the truth, therefore, is to characterize followers of Christ.

Does Scripture Sometimes Approve of Lying?

At the same time, however, Scripture records incidents that seem to approve certain examples of telling a lie. For instance, in Exodus 1, the midwives disobeyed the pharaoh’s command to kill the male Hebrew children (“the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live,” v. 17). When asked why they did not kill the male babies, they said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them” (v. 20). In other words, the midwives claimed that the births happened so quickly that they could not get to the mothers in time to make it appear that there had been a stillbirth. This was at best a half-truth (applying in only some cases), and the explanation that they “let the male children live” (v. 17) suggests that they were lying to the king. But at the beginning and end of the narrative, it says that “the midwives feared God” (vv. 17, 21).

Another example is the case of Rahab the prostitute, who hid two Hebrew spies (Joshua 2). When Joshua sent two men to evaluate the situation in Jericho, Rahab took them to her rooftop, where she hid them under stalks of flax (v. 6). When a messenger from the king insisted that Rahab turn the men over to the authorities, she replied, “True, the men came to me, but I do not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went” (vv. 4–5). Despite her lies, Rahab is commended in the so-called “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11:31 “because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.”

On the other hand, some interpreters argue that in neither case were the lies to be considered morally praiseworthy. Their lifesaving acts had a good motivation (to save lives) and good results, but those should be distinguished from the wrongful means that they chose to employ (i.e., telling a lie). In addition, some would argue that since Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute (Josh. 2:1), there is no indication that she had any knowledge of God’s moral instructions to Israel. This makes it doubtful that every aspect of her conduct is intended to be read as an example for believers to imitate.

Is Lying Ever Permissible?

Several notable Christian theologians, including Augustine (a.d. 354–430), John Wesley (1703–1791), and John Murray (1898–1975), have taught that deliberate lying is never permissible. For instance, Augustine argued in his essay On Lying that telling a lie had the effect of eroding confidence in the truth and therefore weakened the Christian faith. Like every good theologian, he first defined his terms. A joke, even if involving factual falsehoods, is not a lie because everyone knows from the tone of the voice or the mood of the person telling it that it is meant to be taken not literally but humorously. Lying, strictly speaking, is seriously affirming as true something that one knows to be false. Augustine stated explicitly that one should never lie, even to prevent rape or to save a life. Lying, he argued, would ultimately undermine the gospel by destroying all certainty that one is telling the truth. If one cannot be trusted to speak truthfully about some things, how could one be believed when it comes to matters as important as the resurrection of Christ? Besides, Augustine observed, lying is a web that entangles a person. One lie requires another lie to cover it up, which requires yet another lie, and so on.

Others, such as Martin Luther (1483–1546) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945), have argued that, while Christians should be known for their commitment to the sanctity of truth, there are exceptions to the rule against lying. Present-day ethicists who identify themselves as hierarchialists maintain that Scripture teaches that some moral principles take precedence over others. Lying may be appropriate in cases where telling the truth conflicts with obeying a higher commandment of God. For instance, one may lie in order to save a life. This hierarchialist view does not represent a cavalier attitude toward lying but holds that one is sometimes faced with conflicting moral absolutes, and it takes this situation seriously and tries to find the solution that more fully expresses God’s ideals and priorities. Thus, someone who tries to smuggle Bibles into another country probably believes that the Great Commission takes precedence over atheistic law (as in Acts 5:29, where the apostles said, “We must obey God rather than men”).

While some hierarchialists hold that breaking a lower moral command to obey a higher one is what God requires, and is therefore not sinful, others hold that breaking any of God’s commands is always sinful even though sometimes it is morally necessary. Against this position, it is argued that such a view cannot be reconciled with the life of Christ. If one is ever tempted with a situation in which all of his choices require him to disobey something in God’s Word, and so commit sin, then Jesus must have been faced with a situation like that too, because he is the “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are” (Heb. 4:15). However, that would mean that Jesus actually disobeyed a moral command of God, and if disobeying any of God’s moral laws is sin, then that contradicts the final phrase of verse 15that says Jesus “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Therefore the life of Christ encourages believers to think that they will never face a situation in which they are forced to disobey one of God’s commands in order to obey another one.

German theologian Helmut Thielicke (1908–1986) maintained that an individual or group may forfeit its right to be told the truth. In those cases, some would argue, truth telling is not obligatory. An example would be the deception and concealment involved in military contexts. In war, the “tacit agreement” of truthfulness has been made null and void. No one expects the enemy to speak truthfully about military strategy, prowess, or power. As a result, says Thielicke, the situation involves “mutual mistrust.” These are the rules of the game, as it were. Lying is not wrong in these cases because the parties involved are not committed to mutual trust. Another example might be when someone intends to use truth as a weapon against an innocent individual. If, e.g., someone is holding innocent people hostage at gunpoint, some would argue that the police are not obligated to tell the truth when negotiating with the hostage-taker. By harming others, the criminal has forfeited his claim to the truth.

In response, those who hold that it is always wrong to lie would say that there will always be another solution, often involving various ways of hiding facts but not lying (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13). They would argue that the obligation to speak truthfully is not annulled by the debased moral condition of those to whom one speaks, but is based on an obligation to always reflect the character of God (cf. Matt. 5:48; Eph. 5:1;Col. 3:9–10). And God himself “never lies” (Titus 1:2; cf. Heb. 6:18), not even to sinful unbelievers. Therefore God’s people should not do so either.

Is It Permissible to Conceal Truth in Order to Mislead?

What about actions intended to conceal truth or to mislead others? While such actions are related to the issue of lying, they are still a distinct issue, and individual examples are more complex because the meaning of an action is often ambiguous. In addition, an examination of particular cases in the Bible reveals some instances where misleading actions are wrong (cf. 1 Sam. 14:2–6; 28:8; 1 Kings 22:30;Prov. 13:7b; 2 Cor. 11:15) and other situations where they seem to be right (cf. Josh. 8:1–21; 1 Sam. 16:1–3: 19:11–13; 21:13–15; Ps. 34:1; Prov. 13:7a; Matt. 6:17–18). In any case, careful thought about lying requires treating such actions as a distinct category.

Finally, whether or not one believes that God ever approves of false statements, there are surely conditions under which it is appropriate to tell someone less than one knows or believes. For example, candor—being totally frank, or saying exactly what is on one’s mind—must be used judiciously. Charity should temper how one responds to another person. To say to the pastor bluntly, “Your sermon was terrible,” would not be edifying, but destructive. Speaking the truth in love requires discernment and restraint. Tact is a Christian virtue. In any case, the obligation never to speak a falsehood does not imply that one has an obligation to tell everything that one knows. There are many times when silence is appropriate (cf. Matt. 26:63).

Charitable Truthfulness

In sum, followers of Christ are to live lives characterized by charitable truthfulness. Failure to speak the truth in love to, or about, one’s neighbor should be resisted. Lying is a sin of which one should repent. Even those ethicists who argue that there may be rare occasions when it is appropriate to lie agree that the temptation to lie to protect one’s ego or status is so great, that few in practice are able to limit their lying to appropriate cases. In an age in which “everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak” (Ps. 12:2), Christians should, by contrast, be known as those who speak the truth and whose words can always be trusted.

Racial Discrimination

The Unity of the Human Race: Evidence from Scripture

Racial discrimination has a long and sad history, but the Bible consistently views it as contrary to God’s moral will. The entire human race has descended from Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:26–28), and Eve is “the mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20), that is, of all living human beings. This means that all human beings share equally in the exalted status of being made “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27). Furthermore, Paul says in Acts 17:26 that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.” The biblical record clearly indicates there is only one fundamental race of human beings, all descended from a single set of parents.

The Unity of the Human Race: Evidence from Genetic Science

Recent genetic studies from the Human Genome Project give interesting confirmation to the very large degree of genetic similarity shared by all human beings and the extremely small degree of genetic dissimilarity distinguishing one people group from another. The best of contemporary science shows that the human genome sequence is almost exactly the same (99.9%) in all people. In fact,

DNA studies do not indicate that separate classifiable subspecies (races) exist within modern humans. While different genes for physical traits such as skin and hair color can be identified between individuals, no consistent patterns of genes across the human genome exist to distinguish one race from another. There also is no genetic basis for divisions of human ethnicity. People who have lived in the same geographic region for many generations may have some alleles [possible forms in which a gene for a specific trait can occur] in common, but no allele will be found in all members of one population and in no members of any other.

Why then do people with different racial characteristics originate from different regions of the world? The human race, starting with Adam and Eve, has always included not only genetic variations of eye color, height, and facial appearance, but also of skin and hair color now associated with different racial groups. At some early point when people began migrating to various parts of the earth, some variations within the one human gene pool became geographically isolated from other variations, so that people living in what is now northern Europe came to look more like each other and different from people living in what is now Africa, or Asia, or North America.

Another interesting implication of this has to do with genetic inheritance of skin color. Modern genetic studies show that when a lighter-skin person has a child with a darker-skin person, none of their children will have skin darker than that of the darkest parent. This means that if the hereditary transfer of skin color has operated in the same way from the beginning of human history, then the genetic variety in skin color (which is a very tiny difference from the standpoint of human genetics) must have existed from the very beginning. This suggests that Adam and Eve’s children (see Gen. 5:4) would have likely had different skin colors, and that Adam and Eve would have likely had different skin colors as well.

Interracial Marriage in the Bible

Given the biblical evidence regarding the unity of the human race, it is not surprising to find that the Bible includes examples of marriages between different ethnicities or “races” that are treated as perfectly normal and good. For instance, Joseph (who was of Semitic origin, a descendant of Abraham) married Asenath (Gen. 41:50), the daughter of an Egyptian priest (who was African). From this marriage came Ephraim and Manasseh, two of the largest of the 12 tribes of Israel (Gen. 41:51–52). In addition, Moses married a “Cushite” woman, also an African woman from the region of modern Ethiopia and Sudan (Num. 12:1). Indeed, God punished Miriam and Aaron for criticizing this marriage (Num. 12:4–9). In addition, there are non-Jewish ancestors in the line of Jesus the Messiah. Matthew’s genealogy mentions that Jesus’ ancestry included Rahab, who was a Canaanite (Matt. 1:5), and Ruth, who was a Moabite (Ruth 1:4, 22; 2:2, 6, 21; 4:5, 10; Matt. 1:5).

There was some prohibition of marrying foreigners in the OT (see Deut. 7:3; Ezra 10:11), but as the verses in the previous paragraph show, this did not necessarily prohibit marrying people of a different ethnic group but only prohibited marrying outside of faith in the one true God (see Deut. 7:1–2; Ezra 9:1–2, 11, 14). The NT counterpart to this OT law has nothing to do with race or ethnic identity, but only teaches that believers should not marry unbelievers (cf. 1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14–18).

The Curse of Canaan

Sometimes in the history of the church an invalid and indeed shameful argument has been used to justify racial discrimination. The argument is based on a false interpretation of the curse uttered against Noah’s grandson, Canaan: “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers” (Gen. 9:25). It is simply not possible to connect this curse of Canaan’s descendants with people of dark skin, or with the members of any contemporary portion of the human race. Genesis 10:15–19 shows that the descendants of Canaan actually moved to the region of modern Palestine, where they lived in Sodom and Gomorrah as well as other nearby cities. Therefore, Noah’s curse on the descendants of Canaan was fulfilled initially when God, in the day of Abraham, destroyed the cities of the Jordan plain (Gen. 19:24), and then later when Israel, led by Joshua, conquered the land of Canaan and in the process destroyed what remained of the sinful Canaanite tribes (see Deut. 7:1–2). These groups were not connected to the people of Africa.

NT Teaching

Several NT teachings are relevant to the issue of racial prejudice and discrimination. The parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–27) was in part designed to expose the wrong of the ethnic prejudice that existed between Jews and Samaritans (the Samaritans were a mixed race of people—half Jewish, half Gentile). In Matthew 28:19 (cf. Acts 1:8), Jesus told his followers that they should “make disciples of all nations” (i.e., all ethnic groups), and Paul condemned racial discrimination in the church when he said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek … for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Paul also taught that the wonderful “mystery” revealed in God’s plan for the church is that “the Gentiles are fellow heirs [with the Jews], members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6). He taught that unity among multiple ethnic and racial groups in the church demonstrates in an amazing way “the manifold [Gk. polypoikilos, “having many facets, diversified, very many-sided”] wisdom of God” so that it is “made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10). In other words, when the gospel brings Jews and Gentiles, and by implication people of every ethnic background, together in one church, it gives testimony, even to the angels and demons in the spiritual realm, of how wonderful God’s plan is to unite all different kinds of human beings in one body, the church of Jesus Christ.

It is therefore a terrible tragedy when Christians of any particular racial background exclude people of other racial or ethnic backgrounds from participating in certain local churches. Such thinking is completely contrary to what God intends. In the book of Revelation John’s heavenly vision of the glorified church is described as:

a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9–10).

If this is God’s great plan from the beginning of time until the end, then surely the Christian church of today should be a living example of racial harmony, characterized by full inclusion of people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds united in serving Christ and his universal kingdom on earth.


The Concept of Stewardship

The entire earth belongs to God, for he created it: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1; cf. Gen. 1:1; Lev. 25:23; Ps. 50:10–12; Hag. 2:8). But while God made animals simply to dwell on the earth and eat the food they found on it (Gen. 1:30), he made man (as male and female) to rule over all the earth and develop its resources in wise and useful ways: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). To “subdue” the earth meant to exercise wise control over it in such a way that it will produce useful goods for the people who “subdued” it. This command therefore implied an expectation that Adam and Eve, and their descendants, as God’s image-bearers, would investigate, understand, develop, and enjoy the resources of the earth, with thanksgiving to God who had entrusted such a responsibility to them. This implied not merely harvesting food from the vines and fruit trees in the garden of Eden but also domesticating animals (cf. note on Gen. 2:20), developing the mineral resources of the earth (cf. Gen. 2:11–12), and eventually developing dwelling places and means of transportation, learning artistry and craftsmanship, and so forth. The ability to develop and enjoy the resources of the earth in this way is an ability unique to human beings, one that is shared neither by animals nor by angels. Therefore the innate human desire to develop the resources of the earth and produce useful goods for human beings should not be immediately dismissed as sinful or greedy, but is an essential aspect of how God created human beings to function on the earth.

Stewardship and the Environment

The responsibility to be stewards of God’s creation does not mean that humans have a right to abuse or destroy his material creation, for wisdom dictates that they should take appropriate steps to protect this gift of God from unwarranted defilement and inappropriate use. Nor does stewardship mean that people are to ignore God’s material creation, either through passive neglect or through a philosophical decision to leave nature in its “natural state.” After the fall, “the creation was subjected to futility” (Rom. 8:20; cf.Gen. 3:17–18) in such a way that nature now includes floods, forest fires, hurricanes, weeds, insects that can destroy crops, etc. Wise stewardship involves active steps to “subdue” and “have dominion” over such factors, with thoughtful development of the world’s resources, in gratitude to God and in accord with his moral laws.

Stewardship in All of Life

Whatever a person “owns,” he or she is to manage as a steward who is responsible to God. Stewardship responsibilities extend not only to the creation, material possessions, and natural resources, but also to other things such as talents or skills that have been given by God (1 Cor. 4:7), time and opportunities (Eph. 5:15–16), the wonderful responsibility of bearing and raising children (Eph. 6:4), and spiritual gifts and ministries (1 Cor. 4:1–2; Eph. 3:2; 1 Pet. 4:10).

Stewardship and Ownership of Property

The idea of private stewardship or ownership of property is implicit in the Ten Commandments, for when God says, “You shall not steal” (Ex. 20:15), it implies that one should not steal his neighbor’s ox or donkey because it belongs to the neighbor. It is, in a sense, “private property.” This becomes more explicit when the tenth commandment focuses on the desires of one’s heart: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house … or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Ex. 20:17). The neighbor’s ownership of his house and his donkey gives him control over those things and also provides the basis on which God will hold him responsible for faithfully discharging his stewardship responsibilities. Therefore the Bible does not view the ownership of property as something that is wrong or evil in itself, but rather as a solemn responsibility that God entrusts to human beings created in his image. (Regarding the statement in Acts 2:44 that believers in the early church “had all things in common,” see notes on Acts 2:44; 4:34; and 5:4.)

Stewardship and Various Uses of Possessions

The concept of responsible stewardship before God requires that believers use all their property and possessions in ways that are pleasing to God and faithful to his teachings in Scripture.

  1. Some resources should be used to support oneself and one’s family. Paul instructed the Thessalonians “to work with your hands … so that you may walk properly … and be dependent on no one” (1 Thess. 4:11–12), and to tell those “walking in idleness” “to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (2 Thess. 3:6, 12; cf. 1 Tim. 5:8). The NT does not command Christians to follow rigid asceticism (see 1 Tim. 4:1–5) but encourages believers to enjoy the resources of the earth “with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:4) to God, “who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17; cf.Eccles. 6:1–2). Yet there are also strong warnings against the love of money, the temptations of wealth, and spending that is wasteful, selfish, or self-indulgent: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have” (Heb. 13:5). “If riches increase, set not your heart on them” (Ps. 62:10; cf.Eccles. 5:10; Matt. 6:19–21; Luke 12:15–21; 15:11–13; James 5:5; 1 John 2:16; 3:17). Jesus gave a number of warnings about wealth: “You cannot serve God and money” (Matt. 6:24). “The deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:24).
  • Another morally good use of some resources is to save for future needs. Because “you do not know what tomorrow will bring” (James 4:14), it is wise, for those who are able to do so, to save some of what they have for a time when they will not be able to work (due to age, weakness, sickness, or loss of employment). A person who assumes that he will need no savings to depend on in the future is very likely deciding to impose a later financial burden on his children or relatives. However, accumulating savings also provides significant temptations to sin: Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth … but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. … For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19–21; cf. Ps. 62:10; Matt. 6:24; Luke 12:15–21; Heb. 13:5). And Christians should continually realize that whatever amount they save, that amount is not being given to the needs of others or to the building up of the church or to the spread of the gospel throughout the world.
  • A third use of resources, one repeatedly emphasized in Scripture, is giving money to those in need, or to the Lord’s work in the church and in missions. In the OT, God required his people to give a “tithe” (that is, 10 percent) of their grain (see Lev. 27:30) and of their “herds and flocks, every tenth animal” (Lev. 27:32; see also Gen. 14:20; 28:22; Num. 18:21, 26; Deut. 12:17; 14:22; 26:12–13). But while Jesus spoke about the tithing of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 23:23) during his earthly ministry, after his resurrection and the establishment of the NT church at Pentecost (Acts 2) the requirement to give a “tithe” or a tenth of one’s income is never explicitly imposed on Christians. Rather than stipulating a fixed amount, the NT places emphasis on generous, abundant, cheerful giving: “God loves a cheerful giver” who “sows bountifully” (2 Cor. 9:6–7), and promises that “you will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way” (2 Cor. 9:11). So, while Christians are not obligated to give a fixed amount, it is hard to imagine that God expects people of the new covenant to give any less than the 10-percent tithe in the old covenant.

The NT specifically encourages giving to assist others in need: “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17; cf. James 2:14–17). Jesus even encourages active imitation of God in doing good for “the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:32–36). Paul devoted a significant portion of his third missionary journey to collecting funds for the needs of poor Christians in Jerusalem (see Acts 21:17; 24:17; Rom. 15:25–28, 31; 1 Cor. 16:1–4; 2 Cor. 8:1–4; 9:1–5; cf. chart). Though it is right to give to the material needs of all people, both believers and unbelievers, the NT prioritizes giving to the needs of Christian brothers and sisters: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10; cf. “brother” in 1 John 3:17).

The NT also encourages Christians to support the needs of the church and of those who do the work of evangelism. Paul received financial support from the church at Philippi (cf. Phil. 4:15–19), and he told churches to support their elders, “especially those who labor in preaching and teaching,” for “the laborer deserves his wages” (1 Tim. 5:17–18; cf. 1 Cor. 9:6–14; Gal. 6:6). This would require that those who are part of a church should regularly give to support the ministry of the church.

### NT Guidelines for Giving
Giving Should Be References
willing and cheerful “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7; cf. 8:2–3).
a regular pattern of life “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up” (1 Cor. 16:2).
proportionate to one’s ability “Each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper” (1 Cor. 16:2).
generous “In a severe test of affliction, [the Macedonians’] abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave … beyond their means” (2 Cor. 8:2–3; cf. Prov. 14:21, 31; 19:17; 2 Cor. 9:6; 1 Tim. 6:18).
sacrificial The poor widow with “two small copper coins” is commended by Jesus for putting into the offering “everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mark 12:42–44; cf. Acts 4:32–33; 2 Cor. 8:3).
### Stewardship and the Poor

The Bible clearly and repeatedly emphasizes the need for Christians to care for the poor as one of the fundamental requirements of the gospel message. Jesus himself was born to poor parents (cf. Luke 2:24 and note) and had few possessions during his public ministry (Matt. 8:20). Jesus says that as his followers do, or do not do, to “the least of these” (i.e., those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked), so they either do it, or do not do it, to him (Matt. 25:35–45; cf. the teaching in Proverbs that connects one’s attitude to the poor with his or her relationship to God: Prov. 14:31; 19:17; 21:13). Paul and the early church took Jesus’ teaching seriously and were “eager” “to remember the poor” (Gal. 2:10). In fact, Paul anchored his appeal to care for the poor in Jerusalem in the cross, that is, in Jesus’ own atoning self-sacrifice: “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor” (2 Cor. 8:9). The generosity of the church both within and outside the family of faith eventually led the anti-Christian Roman emperor, Julian the Apostate (4th century a.d.), to complain, “Nothing has contributed to the progress of the superstition of the Christians as their charity to strangers. … The impious Galileans provide not only for their own poor, but for ours as well” (Julian, Epistles 84). Such care for the poor often takes the form of meeting immediate needs for food, clothing, and other essentials (cf. Luke 10:25–36; James 2:15–17; 1 John 3:17–18).

Meeting the needs of the poor will also mean seeking to bring about long-term solutions. These solutions, which can often require greater time and energy to implement, enable those who are poor to obtain jobs by which they can support themselves and be able to “earn their own living” (2 Thess. 3:12), as Paul commands. Useful in this regard are programs that provide job training, related educational programs, microloans to begin small businesses, and changes in any governmental policies or cultural traditions that hinder long-term economic growth.

While nearly all Christian ethicists believe that civil government should take some role in assuring that everyone has access to the most basic human needs, they differ over the degree to which civil government (as distinguished from nongovernment entities such as relatives, neighbors, churches, and charitable organizations) should assume responsibility or authority for meeting those needs. Points of difference often arise with regard to government programs to rehabilitate and train individuals, create new jobs, change social and economic structures, and/or redistribute wealth. Questions raised by these differences do not fall into categories of clearly defined biblical right or wrong, but tend rather to entail philosophical differences in economic or social theory.


Biblical Doctrine:

True Theology: Knowing and Loving God

The study of theology is considered by many to be dry, boring, irrelevant, and complicated. But for those who want to know God, the study of theology is indispensable. The word “theology” comes from two Greek words, theos (“God”) and logos (“word”). The study of theology is an effort to make definitive statements about God and his implications in an accurate, coherent, relevant way, based on God’s self-revelations. Doctrine equips people to fulfill their primary purpose, which is to glorify and delight in God through a deep personal knowledge of him. Meaningful relationship with God is dependent on correct knowledge of him.

Any theological system that distinguishes between “rational propositions about God” and “a personal relationship with God” fails to see this necessary connection between love and knowledge. The capacity to love, enjoy, and tell others about a person is increased by greater knowledge of that person. Love and knowledge go hand in hand. Good lovers are students of the beloved. Knowledge of God is the goal of theology.

Knowledge without devotion is cold, dead orthodoxy. Devotion without knowledge is irrational instability. But true knowledge of God includes understanding everything from his perspective. Theology is learning to think God’s thoughts after him. It is to learn what God loves and hates, and to see, hear, think, and act the way he does. Knowing how God thinks is the first step in becoming godly.

Many would like to think that just being a “good” person and “loving” God, without an emphasis on doctrine, is preferable. But being a good person can mean radically different things depending on what someone thinks “good” is, or what constitutes a “person.” Loving God will look very different depending on one’s conception of “God” or “love.” The fundamental connections between belief and behavior, and between love and knowledge, demand a rigorous pursuit of truth for those wanting to love God and to be godly. Hebrews 5:11–6:3 teaches that deepening theological understanding equips one to be able to differentiate good from evil, and it exhorts believers to mature in their knowledge of God and his ways:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity (Heb. 5:12–6:1).

Good theology is based in the belief that God exists, is personal, can be known, and has revealed himself. These presuppositions motivate theologians to devote themselves to a passionate pursuit of knowledge from God’s Word. Unfortunately, the word “theologian” is used almost exclusively for vocational theologians rather than for anyone earnestly devoted to knowing God. On one level everyone who thinks about God is a theologian. But a believer whose life is consumed with knowing his Lord is most certainly a theologian, and theologians are committed to truth.

Loving God means loving truth. God is a God of truth; he is truth. In Scripture, all three persons of the Trinity are vitally related to truth (see chart).

### All Three Persons of the Trinity Vitally Related to Truth
Father “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, ‘That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged’” (Rom. 3:3–4).
“For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs” (Rom. 15:8).
Son “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6).
“But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus” (Eph. 4:20–21).
Spirit “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me” (John 15:26).
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13).
In light of this relationship between God and truth, it should be no surprise that the Great Commandment includes loving God with one’s mind: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30, quoting Deut. 30:6). Fully loving God and obeying the Great Commandment requires actively engaging the mind in the pursuit of truth.

The second half of the Great Commandment—love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31)—also requires a great commitment to truth. Love, kindness, and compassion must include profound concern that people understand the truth, since their lives depend on it. God meets man’s greatest need of relationship with him through an understanding of truth: “Of his own will [God] brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18; cf. 1 Pet. 1:23). Sanctification also happens by means of the truth: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17; cf. Rom. 12:2). Authentic discipleship is marked by knowing and obeying truth: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32). Therefore, loving others involves having a deep desire that they understand truth. This is the reason the Great Commission has a vital teaching element. Making disciples of Christ involves teaching them to observe all he has commanded (Matt. 28:20). Jesus wants people to understand and obey truth and thereby find life in him. Failure to care whether or not loved ones understand the truth is failure to care about their abundant and eternal lives. People are judged and go to hell because they fail to love and obey God’s truth (2 Thess. 2:11–13; cf. Rom. 1:18, 21, 25; James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23).

Theological Method

Systematic theology seeks to summarize biblical teaching on particular topics in order to draw definitive conclusions that intersect with life. God has revealed himself to his people in human history, which is why he can be known personally. He has not only revealed himself in facts and statements, but what is objectively true of him has also been revealed in the subjective experience of historical events. The experiences God’s people had with him in the Bible become the basis for all believers experiencing him now.

God’s revelation in history is rich, personal, and wedded to real life. It can also be more difficult to understand than mere facts and propositions because the historical context of the revelation is often foreign to modern people. Because revelation of God is personal and historical, the biblical understanding of God is progressive and cumulative. The theologian then must consider the historical context and progressive nature of revelation at every stage. The theological process must include careful exegesis of passages that are relevant to the question being answered. Furthermore, exegesis should be done with great sensitivity to the historical context of the passages being studied. This theological method has produced several focused areas of study.

The Theological Process

The theological process can be categorized under several aspects and disciplines, as shown on the chart. In particular, systematic theology (the focus of these articles) builds on the conclusions of exegesis and biblical theology. It attempts to summarize the teaching of Scripture in a brief, understandable, and carefully formulated statement. It involves appropriately collecting, synthesizing, and understanding all the relevant passages in the Bible on various topics, and then summarizing their teachings clearly so that God’s people know what to believe and how to live in relation to theological questions.

### The Theological Process
Exegesis The process of seeking to determine the correct meaning out of a particular passage of Scripture.
Biblical theology The study of scriptural revelation based on the historical framework presented in the Bible.
Systematic theology A study that answers the question, “What does the whole Bible teach us today about a given topic?”
Historical theology The study of how believers in different eras of the history of the church have understood various theological topics.
Philosophical theology The study of theological topics primarily through the use of the tools and methods of philosophical reasoning and information gained from nature and reason (“general revelation”) apart from the Bible.
Practical theology The study of how to best apply theological truths to the life of the church and the world (including preaching, Christian education, counseling, evangelism, missions, church administration, worship, etc.).
Apologetics The study of theology for the purpose of defending Christian teaching against criticism and distortion, and giving evidences of its credibility.
Reference to this sort of whole-Bible theology can be seen in Paul’s insistence that he did not shrink back from declaring “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) and in Jesus’ Great Commission that the church should “make disciples of all nations” by “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19–20).

Major Categories of Study in Systematic Theology

The major topics covered in the study of systematic theology can be seen in the chart.

### Studies in Systematic Theology
Area of Study Technical Title
Method and foundation Prolegomena
The Bible Bibliology
God Theology proper
Humanity (or man) Anthropology
Sin Hamartiology
Christ Christology
Holy Spirit Pneumatology
Salvation Soteriology
Church Ecclesiology
Last things Eschatology
### Essential vs. Peripheral Doctrine

The ability to discern the relative importance of theological beliefs is vital for effective Christian life and ministry. Both the purity and unity of the church are at stake in this matter. The relative importance of theological issues can fall within four categories: (1) absolutes define the core beliefs of the Christian faith; (2) convictions, while not core beliefs, may have significant impact on the health and effectiveness of the church; (3) opinions are less-clear issues that generally are not worth dividing over; and (4)questions are currently unsettled issues. These categories can be best visualized as concentric circles, similar to those on a dart board, with the absolutes as the “bull’s-eye” (see diagram).

![Essential vs. Peripheral Doctrine](
Where an issue falls within these categories should be determined by weighing the cumulative force of at least seven considerations: (1) biblical clarity; (2) relevance to the character of God; (3) relevance to the essence of the gospel; (4) biblical frequency and significance (how often in Scripture it is taught, and what weight Scripture places upon it); (5) effect on other doctrines; (6) consensus among Christians (past and present); and (7) effect on personal and church life. These criteria for determining the importance of particular beliefs must be considered in light of their cumulative weight regarding the doctrine being considered. For instance, just the fact that a doctrine may go against the general consensus among believers (see item 6) does not necessarily mean it is wrong, although that might add some weight to the argument against it. All the categories should be considered collectively in determining how important an issue is to the Christian faith. The ability to rightly discern the difference between core doctrines and legitimately disputable matters will keep the church from either compromising important truth or needlessly dividing over peripheral issues.

The Bible and Revelation

Knowing God is the most important thing in life. God created people fundamentally for relationship with himself. This relationship depends on knowing who he is as he has revealed himself. God is personal, which means he has a mind, will, emotions, relational ability, and self-consciousness. Because he is personal, and not merely an impersonal object, God must personally reveal himself to us. He has done this in general revelation (the world) and special revelation (the Word of God).

General Revelation

General revelation is revelation of God given to all people at all times. This revelation is found both in the external creation (Ps. 19:1, “the heavens declare the glory of God”) and in internal human experience (Rom. 1:19–20, “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse”). General revelation shows attributes of God—such as his existence, power, creativity, and wisdom; in addition, the testimony of human conscience also provides some evidence of God’s moral standards to all human beings (Rom. 2:14–15). This means that from general revelation all people havesome knowledge that God exists, some knowledge of his character, and some knowledge of his moral standards. This results in an awareness of guilt before God as people instinctively know that they have not lived up to his moral requirements. Thus in the many false religions that have been invented people attempt to assuage their sense of guilt.

But general revelation does not provide knowledge of the only true solution to man’s guilt before God: the forgiveness of sins that comes through Jesus Christ. This means that general revelation does not provide personal knowledge of God as a loving Father who redeems his people and establishes covenants with them. For this, one needs special revelation, which God has provided in his historical supernatural activities, in the Bible, and definitively in Jesus Christ.

Special Revelation

The Bible is God’s written revelation of who he is and what he has done in redemptive history. Humans need this divine, transcendent perspective in order to break out of their subjective, culturally bound, fallen limitations. Through God’s written Word, his people may overcome error, grow in sanctification, minister effectively to others, and live abundant lives as God intends.

The Inspiration of Scripture

The Bible is “God-breathed” (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16) and gets its true, authoritative, powerful, holy character from God himself, who inspired human authors to write exactly what he wanted them to write. Instead of merely dictating words to them, God worked through their unique personalities and circumstances. Scripture is therefore both fully human and fully divine. It is both the testimony of men to God’s revelation, and divine revelation itself. “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20–21). Because the Bible is God’s Word in human words, it can be trusted as the definitive revelation from the mouth of God himself.

The Inerrancy of Scripture

The doctrine of inerrancy means that the Bible is entirely truthful and reliable in all that it affirms in its original manuscripts. Another way of saying this is that the Bible does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. Because God is the ultimate author of the Bible, and because God is always perfectly truthful, it follows that his Word is completely truthful as well: He is the “God who never lies” (Titus 1:2). It would be contrary to his character to affirm anything false. God is all-knowing, always truthful and good, and all-powerful, so he always knows and tells the truth and is able to communicate and preserve his Word. “O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant” (2 Sam. 7:28). “Every word of God proves true” (Prov. 30:5; cf. Ps. 12:6; 119:42; John 17:17).

Inerrancy does not require twenty-first-century precision or scientifically technical language. The following quotation from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy summarizes what inerrancy doesnot mean:

We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture. We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations (Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Art. XIII).

The inerrancy of Scripture gives the believer great confidence in the Bible as his sure foundation for understanding all God wants him to know and all that he needs for godliness and eternal life.

The Clarity of Scripture

The Bible itself acknowledges that some passages of Scripture are “hard to understand” (2 Pet. 3:16, referring to some aspects of Paul’s letters). In general, however, with the illumination of the Spirit (2 Tim. 2:7), the teaching of the Bible is clear to all who seek understanding with the goal of knowing and obeying God. OT believers were instructed to teach God’s commands continually to their children with the expectation that they would understand it: “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:6–7). God’s Word is said to “make wise the simple” (Ps. 19:7; 119:30). Jesus based his teaching squarely on the OT Scriptures: he assumed its teaching was clear and would often ask, “Have you not read … ?” (cf. Matt. 12:3, 5; 19:14; 21:42; 22:31).

Because of the basic clarity of the Bible, when Christians disagree over the meaning of a passage they can assume that the problem is not with the Bible but rather with themselves as interpreters. Misunderstandings may be due to various factors such as human sin, ignorance of enough of the relevant data, faulty assumptions, or perhaps trying to reach a definite conclusion about a topic where the Bible has not given enough information to decide the question. Yet the emphasis of the Bible is not on difficulties in understanding but on the fact that ordinary believers are capable of comprehending Scripture for themselves. In addition, God provides teachers of his Word to further help his people’s understanding (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11). Believers have the responsibility to read, interpret, and understand the Bible because it is basically clear. This was an assumption of the Protestant Reformers who sought to translate the Bible into the language of the common people. They believed that all true Christians are priests who are able to know God for themselves through his Word and to help others do the same.

The Sufficiency of Scripture

Scripture provides all the words from God that we need in order to know God truly and personally, and everything we need him to tell us in order for us to live an abundant, godly life (Ps. 19:7–9; 2 Tim. 3:15). God has given his people a sufficient revelation of himself so that they are able to know, trust, and obey him. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). God commands that nothing be added or taken away from the Bible, which indicates that it has always been exactly what he has wanted at each stage in its development throughout the history of salvation. “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you” (Deut. 4:2; cf. Deut. 12:32; Prov. 30:5–6). The powerful admonition against tampering that stands at the conclusion of the entire Bible (Rev. 22:18–19) applies primarily, of course, to the book of Revelation, but in a secondary sense what it says may be applied to the Bible as a whole: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Rev. 22:18–19).

Believers should find freedom and encouragement in the knowledge that God has provided all of the absolutely authoritative instruction that they need in order to know him and live as he intends. God’s people should never fear that he has withheld something they might need him to say in order for them to know how to please him, or that he will have to somehow supplement his Word with new instructions for some new situation that arises in the modern age. (The NT allows for the activity of the Holy Spirit in leading and guiding individuals, as in Rom. 8:14; Gal. 5:16, 18, 25; but this guidance is always in line with Scripture, never in opposition to scriptural commands.) Therefore believers should be satisfied with what Scripture teaches and what it leaves unsaid. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).

Jesus’ View of Scripture

The most convincing reason to believe that the Bible is inspired, inerrant, clear, and sufficient is because this is what Jesus believed. His teaching assumed that the OT was the authoritative Word of his Father: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:17–18). Jesus referred to dozens of OT persons and events and always treated OT history as historically accurate. He quoted from Genesis as his Father’s Word when he said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:4–6). Jesus not only assumed that the creation story was true, he also freely quoted words from the OT narrator as words that God himself “said.” It is not uncommon for Jesus’ theological arguments to depend on the truthfulness of the OT account (Matt. 5:12; 11:23–24; 12:41–42; 24:37–39; Luke 4:25–27; 11:50–51; John 8:56–58). Jesus’ view of the OT as the Word of God aligns with the way the OT regularly speaks of itself.

Jesus saw his entire life as a fulfillment of Scripture (Matt. 26:54; Mark 8:31). Throughout his life, Jesus used Scripture to resist temptation (Matt. 4:1–11) and to settle disputes (Matt. 19:1–12; 22:39; 27:46; Mark 7:1–13; Luke 10:25–26). At the end of his life, Jesus died quoting Scripture (cf. Matt. 27:46with Ps. 22:1). On his resurrection day he explained Scripture at length on the Emmaus road and to his disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 24:13–17, 44–47).

Conscious of his identity as God the Son, Jesus saw his teaching as no less divinely inspired than the OT. Jesus taught with an authority that distinguished him from other teachers of the law. He interpreted the law on his own authority rather than depending on rabbinic sources (Matt. 5:21–48). He described his teaching and the law as sharing the same permanence: “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matt. 24:35, cf. Matt. 5:17–18; John 14:10, 24). Jesus viewed both the OT and his own teaching as the Word of God. The NT apostolic witness was a result of Jesus giving his disciples authority and power through the Holy Spirit to impart spiritual truths in writing no less than by word of mouth (Mark 3:13–19; John 16:12–14; Acts 26:16–18; 1 Cor. 2:12–13).

Jesus took Scripture to be the authoritative Word of God upon which he based his entire life. Those who follow Christ are called to treat Scripture (OT and NT together) in the same way. For Christians, the Bible is a source of great delight and joy. God is to be diligently sought in his Word (1 Pet. 2:2). The Word of God is a precious treasure that deserves to be studied, meditated upon, and obeyed:

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God (Prov. 2:1–5).

What It Means to Know God

In the quest to know God, it is vital to understand just what it means to really know him. Methods, expectations, and attitudes in studying theology are determined by one’s definition of “knowing God.” Central to understanding this is the fact that God is both incomprehensible and knowable.

The Incomprehensibility of God

Scripture teaches that we can have a true and personal knowledge of God, but this does not mean we will ever understand him exhaustively. The Bible is clear that God is ultimately incomprehensible to us; that is, we can never fully comprehend his whole being. The following passages show this:

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable (Ps. 145:3).

“Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” (Job 26:14).

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8–9).

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” (Rom. 11:33–34; cf. Job 42:1–6; Ps. 139:6, 17–18; 147:5; Isa. 57:15; 1 Cor. 2:10–11; 1 Tim. 6:13–16).

These verses teach that not only is God’s whole being incomprehensible but each of his attributes—his greatness, power, thoughts, ways, wisdom, and judgments—are well beyond human ability to fathom fully. Not only can we never know everything there is to know about God, we can never know everything there is to know about even one aspect of God’s character or work.

Why God Is Incomprehensible

The main reasons for God’s incomprehensibility are: (1) God is infinite and his creatures are finite. By definition, creatures depend on their Creator for their very existence and are limited in all aspects. Yet God is without limitations in every quality he possesses. This Creator/creature, infinite/finite gap will always exist. (2) The perfect unity of God’s attributes is far beyond the realm of human experience. God’s love, wrath, grace, justice, holiness, patience, and jealousy are continually functioning in a perfectly integrated yet infinitely complex way. (3) The effects of sin on the minds of fallen humans also greatly inhibit the ability to know God. The tendency of fallen creatures is to distort, pervert, and confuse truth and to use, or rather abuse, it for selfish ends rather than for God’s glory (Rom. 1:18–26). (4) A final reason God can never be fully known is that in his sovereign wisdom God has chosen not to reveal some things: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29). Many would label it unloving for God to decide to withhold some information from his people. They wrongly believe God should reveal everything they may want to know. Yet, as with all good fathers, God’s wisdom leads him to refrain from answering all the questions his children ask him, and this contributes to his incomprehensibility.

In heaven, God’s incomprehensibility will no doubt be lessened when the effects of sin no longer ravage minds and when he will most likely share some of his secrets. However, God will always be infinite and humans will always be finite, so he will always be beyond human ability to know exhaustively.

Implications of God’s Incomprehensibility

Because God can never be fully known, those who seek to know God should be deeply humbled in the process, realizing that they will always have more to learn. The appropriate response to God is a heart of wonder and awe in light of his incomprehensible greatness. God’s incomprehensibility also means that beliefs can be held with firm conviction even though they may be filled with inexplicable mystery. The Trinity, the divine and human natures of Christ, divine sovereignty and human responsibility, and many other core teachings of the Christian faith are profoundly mysterious; believing them requires a robust affirmation of the incomprehensibility of God.

The Knowability of God

The incomprehensibility of God could lead to despair or apathy in the quest to know God, but the Bible also teaches that God is knowable. While God can never be exhaustively understood, he can be known truly, personally, and sufficiently. God is personal, has definite characteristics, and has personally revealed himself so that he can be truly known. The multiplication of grace and peace in our lives is dependent on knowing God (2 Pet. 1:2–3), and this knowledge provides sufficient resources for life and for becoming the people God wants us to be.

Knowledge of God in Christ should be our greatest delight (Jer. 9:23–24; 1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 6:14). It is the basis of attaining eternal life (John 17:3); it is at the heart of life in the new covenant (Heb. 8:11–12); it was Paul’s primary goal (Phil. 3:10); and it leads to godly love (1 John 4:7–8). God will never be known absolutely, but we can know things about him that are absolutely true, so much so that we can be willing to live and die for those beliefs. God has provided knowledge of himself that is personal, relational, and sufficient for fruitful, faithful, godly living. No one will ever be able to say he lacked the necessary revelation to know God and to start living as God intends.

Implications of the Knowability of God

God’s personal and sufficient revelation of himself should foster solid conviction among believers. We need not live in ambiguity and uncertainty about who God is and what he demands of his creatures. The increasing influence of Eastern religions on the West, certain postmodern views of truth, and religious pluralism all emphasize God’s incomprehensibility so much that he is eventually made to seem unknowable. It then becomes impossible to say anything definitively true or false about him, and people then think that the only heresy is claiming that there is any heresy at all! On the contrary, because of his gracious revelation and illumination, God can indeed be known. God’s knowability should lead to eager, diligent, devoted study of God’s Word so that we can understand him as he has revealed himself and avoid any false view of God that will dishonor him. We should never grow apathetic in seeking to know God because we are in fact able and equipped to know him and to please him with our lives.

The Character of God

“Without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Heb. 11:6)—but it is also impossible to have faith in Godwithout knowing the character of God. Faith is belief in God’s promises, which in turn are grounded in his character.

Ways in Which God Reveals Himself

God has revealed himself primarily in four overlapping ways: (1) actions; (2) names; (3) images; and (4) attributes, as seen in the chart. God reveals himself through actions, names, and images because they carry vivid, experiential, creative, and situational power. However, it is God’s attributes that are the fundamental descriptions of who he is.

Means of Revelation Examples
actions creating, judging, redeeming
names Lord” (Hb. *YHWH*, or *Yahweh*) “God Almighty” (Hb. *el Shadday*) “Master, Lord” (Hb. *‘Adon*)
images Father, Rock, Husband, Shepherd
attributes holiness, goodness, love, grace, wrath
#### Actions of God

God shows who he is in what he does. In creating the world, God shows his power, wisdom, beauty, goodness, and prodigious creativity. After the creation of humanity God talks to, walks with, and seeks out humans, even when they lapse into rebellion against him, showing that he is relational, personal, engaged, and caring. God demonstrates his holiness, wrath, and justice when he curses human rebellion in the garden and judges the unrighteous through the flood in Noah’s day. He shows his grace and mercy in establishing a covenant with Noah and Abraham. In sending his Son to live and die for humanity, he shows amazing love and compassion. Whenever God acts, we see his character displayed.

Names of God

God offers his name as a personal introduction and as a window into his character. This is why David says, “Those who know your name put their trust in you” (Ps. 9:10). To know his name is to know he is trustworthy. God’s act of naming himself is a profoundly gracious act of accommodation and engagement.

Among the many names for God in the Bible, there is none more important than Yahweh (translated “Lord”), a name that was revealed to Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3:15). Linguistically related to the verb “I am,” Yahweh is packed with theological import. It most likely communicates God’s self-existence, independence, self-sufficiency, eternality, and unchanging character. These transcendent qualities are powerfully complemented when God also tells Moses to refer to him as “the God of your fathers” (Ex. 3:15). God is both majestic and intimate, the great, eternal “I am,” the God who knows his children by name and keeps his covenant promises. Christian worship, discipleship, and preaching must maintain both healthy fear of the Lord and freedom and confidence in his presence.

Another striking and revealing name for God is “Jealous” (Hb. ’El qana’). God tells Moses that he is so jealous for his glory expressed in the faithfulness of his people that “Jealous” is an appropriate name for himself. The reason God gives for his commandment against idolatry is grounded in his character as a jealous God: “For you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Ex. 34:14). God deserves and demands absolute, exclusive loyalty and hates spiritual adultery. In his jealous love he refuses to allow his people to be supremely devoted to anything but himself. Because he is absolutely worthy of worship, allowing his people to love anything more than him would compromise his justice and love.

Images of God

Images of God are analogies from daily life that serve to illustrate his attributes. Among many other images, God is: Father, King, Consuming Fire, Judge, Husband, Shepherd, Potter, Farmer, Refiner, Landowner, Lion, Bear, Light, Water, Tower, and Lamb! These amazingly diverse descriptions from a multitude of human experiences offer pictures of God that reach minds and hearts in ways that abstract definitions do not. Images, like attributes and names, must be considered in relation to one another. If certain images are emphasized at the expense of others, God’s character will be misunderstood. The varied images in the Bible are all complementary to each other, and each is vital for understanding God. For example, God as the Rock points out his strength, stability, and justice, while God as Husband gives insight into his loving, faithful, committed heart for his covenant people.

The image of God as a Rock is used in both OT and NT. Deuteronomy 32 especially highlights God as Rock in light of Israel’s unfaithfulness: “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth” (Deut. 32:18; cf. Deut. 32:4, 13, 15, 30, 31, 37). Paul uses this image as a title of strength and applies it to Christ in 1 Corinthians 10:4: “and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” Although the Rock (Hb. tsur) of Deuteronomy 32 is Yahweh, Paul applies the same title to Jesus. The Rock that followed and provided for the Israelites in the wilderness in the old covenant was the Christ who provides for the Corinthian believers in the new covenant. The Rock in the wilderness shares the same attributes as the Rock of the table, cup, and bread.

The strength and stability of the rock imagery is beautifully complemented by the tender, compassionate image of God as the Husband of his people. “For your Maker is your husband, the Lordof hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called” (Isa. 54:5; cf. Jer. 2:2; Hosea 1–3). God’s relational involvement with his people is so intimate and personal that he is jealous when his people are unfaithful. God speaks with the jealous voice of a husband who has been betrayed by an adulterous wife: “Surely, as a treacherous wife leaves her husband, so have you been treacherous to me, O house of Israel, declares the Lord” (Jer. 3:20). The idea of God as a rock could lead to impersonal, static, cold conceptions, were it not for the intensely loving, engaged husband imagery. The marriage metaphor could reduce God to being weak, vulnerable, and pathetic if not for images like a rock (and a king, warrior, fire, etc.). Images of God bring his attributes from being mere abstractions into vivid clarity because they are based on our experiences of life.

Attributes of God

The attributes of God are the normative descriptions that images, names, and actions illuminate from different perspectives. His attributes are his essential characteristics that make him who he is. God’s attributes are typically classified as either incommunicable or communicable. Incommunicable attributes are not shared by humans as are communicable attributes. The attributes can be organized using the classifications shown in Incommunicable Attributes and Communicable Attributes.

Incommunicable Attributes
Independence (self-existence, self-sufficiency, aseity)
Unchangeableness (immutability)
Unity (simplicity)
Communicable Attributes
*Attributes Describing God’s Being*- Spirituality - Indivisibility
*Mental Attributes*- Knowledge (omniscience) - Wisdom - Truthfulness (faithfulness)
*Moral Attributes*- Goodness - Love - Mercy (grace, patience) - Holiness - Peace (or order) - Righteousness or Justice - Jealousy - Wrath
*Attributes of Purpose*- Will - Freedom - Omnipotence (sovereignty)
*Summary Attributes*- Perfection - Blessedness - Beauty - Glory
### The Unity of God

This list of classified attributes of God can be helpful in developing an organized perspective on God’s character. However, his character cannot be reduced to a quantifiable list of properties. Maintaining the unity of God’s attributes is essential in the study of his character. His unity means that although we experience certain attributes more clearly at certain times, nevertheless, his attributes are not divided into parts and must always be understood interdependently. His attributes are not petals on a flower to be plucked off and viewed in isolation from the rest. The unity of God requires finite creatures to pursue a holistic understanding of him. When God expresses judgment and wrath, he does not cease to be merciful, patient, or kind in that moment. He never expresses certain attributes at the expense of others. Fallen humans tend to emphasize attributes that affirm our personal inclinations, experience, and contemporary sensibilities. Considering God’s attributes independently of each other leads to unbalanced idolatrous conceptions of God. A biblically integrated understanding of God involves, along with a list of attributes, the work of the Spirit, the whole counsel of God’s Word accurately interpreted, the input of church history, and the input of believers from diverse cultures.

Examples of Application to Life

The two charts labeled “Practical Implications” offer a brief survey of some of God’s attributes. Each section of the charts provides a basic definition of an attribute (based on Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology), a key passage of supporting Scripture, and one basic implication for daily life.

### Practical Implications of the Incommunicable Attributes of God
Attribute Scripture Implication
**Independence:** God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything, yet we and the rest of creation can glorify him and bring him joy. “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24–25; cf. Ex. 3:14; Job 41:11; Ps. 50:9–12; 90:2). God never experiences need, so serving God should never be motivated by the thought that he needs us. He is the provider in everything.
**Immutability:** God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises, although as he acts in response to different situations he feels emotions. “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (Mal. 3:6; for “being,” cf. Ps. 102:25–27; Mal. 3:6;James 1:17; for “purposes,” cf. Ps. 33:11; Isa. 46:9–11; for “promises,” cf. Num. 23:19; Rom. 11:29). God can always be trusted because he always keeps his word, and is never capricious or moody.
**Eternity:** God has no beginning or end and is in no way bound by time, although he sees events and acts in his world in time, which is in fact one dimension of the created order. “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Ps. 90:2; cf. Ex. 3:14; Job 36:26; Ps. 90:4;Isa. 46:9–10; John 8:58; 1 Tim. 6:16; 2 Pet. 3:8; Jude 24–25; Rev. 1:8; 4:8). Those who trust the God of eternity can know peace, rest, and comfort in the busyness of life and in spite of impending death, for God keeps them in safety and joy forever.
**Omnipresence:** God does not have spatial dimensions and is present everywhere with his whole being, though he acts differently in different situations. “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth?” (Jer. 23:23–24; cf. 1 Kings 8:27; Ps. 139:7–10; Isa. 66:1–2; Acts 7:48–50). God can be sought anywhere regardless of place. Believers should never feel lonely, and the wicked should never feel safe.
### Practical Implications of the Communicable Attributes of God
Attribute Scripture Implication
**Holiness:** God is absolutely and uniquely excellent above all creation (majesty) and without sin (purity). “And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” (Rev. 4:8; for “majestic holiness,” cf. Ex. 15:11; 1 Chron. 16:27–29; Isa. 57:15; for “moral holiness,” cf. Isa. 5:16; 6:1–8; Acts 3:14; Heb. 7:26). God should be feared and obeyed, and his people should earnestly pursue moral purity.
**Omnipotence:**God is able to do all his holy will. “Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’” (Isa. 46:9–10; cf. Ex. 6:3; Job 37:23; 40:2; 42:1–6; Ps. 24:6; 33:10–11; 91:1; Dan. 4:34–35; Matt. 28:18). God’s ultimate will is never frustrated by evil, so there is peace and confidence in the face of suffering for those who trust God.
**Sovereignty:**God has absolute rule over creation as King and total control and determination over all that happens. “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Dan. 4:34–35; cf. 1 Chron. 29:11–13; Ps. 22:28; 24:1; 47:7–9; 103:19; Prov. 16:19, 21, 33; Dan. 4:25; 7:1–28; 12:1–13; Matt. 6:13; 10:29; Acts 17:26; Eph. 1:11; 1 Tim. 6:15; James 1:13–15). Mankind should obey and submit to God as humble subjects of his kingdom.
**Omniscience:**God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible—past, present, and future. “Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:20; cf.Job 28:24; 37:16; Ps. 139:1–3; 147:5; Isa. 55:8–9; Matt. 10:29–30; Rom. 11:33–34; 1 Cor. 2:10–11; Heb. 4:13). All God’s thoughts and actions are perfectly informed by perfect knowledge, so he is perfectly trustworthy.
**Wisdom:** God always knows and chooses the best goals and the best means to those goals. Wisdom is a moral as well as an intellectual quality. “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might” (Dan. 2:20; cf. Job 9:4; 12:13; Ps. 104:24; Rom. 11:33; 16:27; 1 Cor. 1:21–29;Eph. 3:10–11). God’s wisdom is not always clear to us, but it is great, deep, valuable, and should be highly desired and sought, and we should not doubt its reality even in circumstances that upset us.
**Love:** God freely and eternally gives of himself. The ultimate historical demonstration of God’s love is seen in the cross of Christ. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:8–10; cf.John 3:16; 15:13; 17:24; Rom. 5:8; 8:31–39; Gal. 2:20; 1 John 3:16; 4:16). God is eager to extravagantly give of himself to meet the needs of lost sinners, so they should flee to him with confidence (cf. Rom. 8:32).
**Wrath:** God intensely hates and responds with anger to all sin and rebellion. God hates every threat to what he loves. “Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb’” (Rev. 6:15–16; cf. Ex. 34:7; Rom. 1:18; 2:4; 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Thess. 1:5; 2 Pet. 3:9). God should be greatly feared. Unbelievers should fear his judgment and turn to Christ for salvation. Believers should fear God’s fatherly discipline. The God who loves us is also the holy God who hates sin (1 Pet. 1:17).
### God’s Attributes Are Seen Most Clearly in Christ

Jesus Christ is the most definitive revelation of all of these attributes. To see God’s character we look ultimately to God incarnate: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). In the cross of Christ all God’s major attributes are displayed in condensed lucidity. His wrath, grace, justice, mercy, sovereignty, goodness, love, holiness, compassion, wisdom, and power meet there for the world to see. When discussions of God’s attributes become esoteric and sterile, it is the face and cross of Christ that restores radical clarity, reality, and compelling beauty.

The Trinity

The biblical teaching on the Trinity embodies four essential affirmations:

  1. There is one and only one true and living God.
  2. This one God eternally exists in three persons—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
  3. These three persons are completely equal in attributes, each with the same divine nature.
  4. While each person is fully and completely God, the persons are not identical.

The differences among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are found in the way they relate to one another and the role each plays in accomplishing their unified purpose.

The unity of nature and distinction of persons of the Trinity is helpfully illustrated in the diagram.

![The Trinity](
### God Is One God: Monotheism

There is nothing more fundamental to biblical theology than monotheism (the biblical belief that there is one and only one God): “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4). This verse, known as the Shema in Hebrew (from the opening verb of the verse, meaning “hear” or “listen”), is one of the most familiar and foundational verses in the OT. God rejects polytheism (belief in many gods) and demands exclusive devotion: “I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God” (Isa. 45:5; cf. Deut. 4:35, 39; 1 Kings 8:60; Isa. 40:18; 46:9). The NT affirms the deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as we shall see, but does not waver from OT monotheism (John 17:3; 1 Cor. 8:4–6; 1 Tim. 2:5; James 2:19). Jesus quotes the Shema in a debate with the Jewish leaders (Mark 12:29), and Paul continues to teach that there is one God while recognizing Jesus as the divine-human Mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).

Implications of Monotheism

Because there is only one God, idolatry of any kind is evil, foolish, wrong, and harmful. Worship of other “gods” robs the true God of the devotion and glory he alone deserves. Idolatry can take many forms. Idols are not only man-made objects but are anything allowed to compete with God for ultimate loyalty. According to Jesus, money can become an idol: “You cannot serve God and money” (Matt. 6:24). Greed, lust, and impurity can also become indicators of idolatry (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5). Idolatry is foolish, deceptive, and dangerous—and may even involve demonic activity (1 Cor. 10:19–20).

Because there is only one God, he alone should be the ultimate object of the believer’s affections. He alone deserves absolute allegiance and obedience. The Great Commandment that follows the Shema is the obvious implication of monotheism: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5). The one true God deserves all we are and have. He deserves wholehearted love because nothing compares with him.

God Is Three Persons: The Tri-unity of God

As the nature of God is progressively revealed in Scripture, the one God is seen to exist eternally in three persons. These three persons share the same divine nature yet are different in role and relationship. The basic principle at the heart of God’s triune being is unity and distinction, both coexisting without either being compromised. Anything that is necessarily true of God is true of Father, Son, and Spirit. They are equal in essence yet distinct in function.

The doctrine of the Trinity is most fully realized in the NT where the divine Father, Son, and Spirit are seen accomplishing redemption. But while the NT gives the clearest picture of the Trinity, there are hints within the OT of what is yet to come. In the beginning of the Bible, the Spirit of God is “hovering over the face of the waters” at creation (Gen. 1:2) and is elsewhere described as a personal being, possessing the attributes of God and yet distinct from Yahweh (Isa. 48:16; 61:1; 63:10). Some interpreters think that the plurality within God is seen in the Hebrew word for God, ’Elohim, which is plural in form (though others disagree that this is significant; the word is used with singular verbs and all agree that it has a singular meaning in the OT). In addition, the use of plural pronouns when God refers to himself hints at a plurality of persons: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image’” (Gen. 1:27; cf. Gen. 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8). The plurality of God also seems to be indicated when the Angel of the Lord appears in the OT as one who represents Yahweh, while yet at times this angel seems to be no different in attributes or actions from God himself (cf. Gen. 16:7, 10–11, 13; 18:1–33; Ex. 3:1–4:31; 32:20–22; Num. 22:35, 38; Judg. 2:1–2; 6:11–18). There are also passages in the OT that call two persons God or Lord: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your companions” (Ps. 45:6–7). David says, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’” (Ps. 110:1). The God who is set above his companions (Ps. 45:6) and the Lord of Psalm 110:1 are recognized as Christ in the NT (Heb. 1:8, 13). Christ himself applies Psalm 110:1 to himself (Matt. 22:41–46). Other passages give divine status to a messianic figure distinct from Yahweh (Prov. 8:22–31; 30:4; Dan. 7:13–14).

The OT glimpses of God’s plurality blossom into the full picture of the Trinity in the NT, where the deity and distinct personalities of Father, Son, and Spirit function together in perfect unity and equality (on the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit, see The Person of Christ). Perhaps the clearest picture of this distinction and unity is Jesus’ baptism, where the Son is anointed for his public ministry by the Spirit, descending as a dove, with the Father declaring from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:13–17). All three persons of the Trinity are present, and each one is doing something different.

The NT authors employ a Trinitarian cadence as they write about the work of God. Prayers of blessing and descriptions of gifts within the body of Christ are Trinitarian in nature: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14); “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone” (1 Cor. 12:4–6). The persons of the Trinity are also linked in the baptismal formula of Matthew 28:19–20, “baptizing them in [or into] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” There are many other passages that reveal the Trinitarian, or at least the plural, nature of God (e.g., John 14:16, 26; 16:13–15; 20:21–22; Rom. 8:9; 15:16, 30; 2 Cor. 1:21–22; Gal. 4:4–6; Eph. 2:18; 4:4–6; 1 Pet. 1:1–2; 1 John 4:2, 13–14; Jude 20–21).

Differences in roles also appear consistently in biblical testimonies concerning the relationships between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The uniform pattern of Scripture is that the Father plans, directs, and sends; the Son is sent by the Father and is subject to the Father’s authority and obedient to the Father’s will; and both Father and Son direct and send the Spirit, who carries out the will of both. Yet this is somehow consistent with equality in being and in attributes. The Father created through the Son (John 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2), and the Father planned redemption and sent the Son into the world (John 3:16; Rom. 8:29; Gal. 4:4; Eph. 1:3–5). The Son obeyed the Father and accomplished redemption for us (John 4:34; 5:19; 6:38; Heb. 10:5–7; cf. Matt. 26:64; Acts 2:33; 1 Cor. 15:28; Heb. 1:3). The Father did not come to die for our sins, nor did the Holy Spirit, but that was the role of the Son. The Father and Son both send the Holy Spirit in a new way after Pentecost (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7). These relationships existed eternally (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4; Rev. 13:8), and they provide the basis for simultaneous equality and differences in various human relationships.

Within God there is both unity and diversity: unity without uniformity, and diversity without division. The early church saw this Trinitarian balance clearly. For example, the Athanasian Creed (c. a.d. 500) says:

We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity; we distinguish among the persons, but we do not divide the substance. … The entire three persons are co-eternal and co-equal with one another, so that … we worship complete unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.

This unity and diversity is at the heart of the great mystery of the Trinity. Unity without uniformity is baffling to finite minds, but the world shows different types of reflections of this principle of oneness and distinction at every turn. What is the source of the transcendent beauty in a symphony, the human body, marriage, ecosystems, the church, the human race, a delicious meal, or a perfectly executed fast break in basketball? Is it not, in large part, due to the distinct parts coming together to form a unified whole, leading to a unified result? Unity and distinction—the principle at the heart of the Trinity—can be seen in much of what makes life so rich and beautiful. Woven into the fabric of the world are multiple reflections of the One who made it with unity and distinction as the parallel qualities of its existence.

Historical Misunderstandings of the Trinity

One of the most fundamental ways to misunderstand the Trinity is tritheism, which overemphasizes the distinction between the persons of the Trinity and ends up with three gods. This view neglects the oneness of the natures of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. At the other end of the spectrum is the heresy ofmodalism (also known as Sabellianism, named after its earliest proponent, Sabellius, 3rd century), which loses the distinctions between the persons and claims that God is only one person. In this view, the appearance of the three persons is merely three modes of existence of the one God. For instance, God reveals himself as Father when he is creating and giving the law, as Son in redemption, and as Spirit in the church age. A contemporary version of modalism is found in the teaching of Oneness Pentecostalism. Both tritheism and modalism fail to maintain the biblical balance between the one reality of God and his eternal existence in three persons. A third error is to deny the full deity of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and to say that they were at some time created. This is the heresy of Arianism(after a teacher named Arius, c. a.d. 256–336), and it is held today by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Practical Implications of the Trinity

What are some of the practical implications of the doctrine of the Trinity?

  1. The doctrine of the Trinity makes definitive revelation of God possible as he is known in Christ: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18). No man can see God and live (Ex. 33:20; 1 Tim. 6:16), but God the Son provided an actual manifestation of God in the flesh.
  2. The Trinity makes the atonement possible. Redemption of sinful man is accomplished through the distinct and unified activity of each person of the Godhead: “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:14).
  3. Because God is triune, he has eternally been personal and relational in his own being, in full independence from his creation. God has never had any unmet needs, “nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). Personhood becomes real only within realized relationships, and the reality of relationship can only exist where one has something or someone that is not oneself to relate to; if, then, God had not been plural in himself he could not have been a personal, relational God till he had begun creating, and thus would have been dependent on creation for his own personhood, which is a notion as nonsensical as it is unscriptural. Between the persons of the Trinity, there has always existed total relational harmony and expression; God is, from this standpoint, a perfect society in himself. Apart from the plurality in the Trinity, either God’s eternal independence of the created order or his eternally relational personal existence would have to be denied.
  4. The Trinity provides the ultimate model for relationships within the body of Christ and marriage (1 Cor. 11:3; 12:4–6; Eph. 4:4–7).

The doctrine of the Trinity is well beyond human ability to ever fully comprehend. However, it is central to understanding the nature of God and the central events in the history of salvation, in which God is seen acting as, in effect, a tripersonal team. Biblical Christianity stands or falls with the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Person of Christ

Four statements must be understood and affirmed in order to attain a complete biblical picture of the person of Jesus Christ:

  1. Jesus Christ is fully and completely divine.
  2. Jesus Christ is fully and completely human.
  3. The divine and human natures of Christ are distinct.
  4. The divine and human natures of Christ are completely united in one person.

The Deity of Christ

Many passages of Scripture demonstrate that Jesus is fully and completely God:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1, 14).

No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (John 1:18).

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen (Rom. 9:5).

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (Phil. 2:5–7).

… waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power (Heb. 1:3).

But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.” … And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands” (Heb. 1:8, 10).

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:1).

Jesus’ Understanding of His Own Deity

Even though the passages cited above clearly teach the deity of Christ, this truth is often challenged. Some say that Jesus never claimed to be God and that these verses were written by his disciples who deified him because of the impact he had on their lives. Jesus, it is claimed, only saw himself as a great moral teacher on a par with other religious leaders. However, Jesus’ understanding of his own deity in the Gospels does not support this perspective. He clearly saw himself as God. This can be seen primarily in six ways.

  1. Jesus taught with divine authority. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, “the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt. 7:28–29). The teachers of the law in Jesus’ day had no authority of their own. Their authority came from their use of earlier authorities. Even Moses and the other OT prophets and authors did not speak in their own authority, but would say, “This is what the Lord says.” Jesus, on the other hand, interprets the law by saying, “You have heard that it was said. … But I say to you” (see Matt. 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). This divine authority is shown with staggering clarity when he speaks of himself as the Lord who will judge the whole earth and will say to the wicked, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matt. 7:23). No wonder the crowd was amazed at the authority with which Jesus spoke. Jesus recognized that his words carried divine weight. He acknowledged the permanent authority of the law (Matt. 5:18) and put his words on an equal plane with it: “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:18); “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matt. 24:35).
  • Jesus had a unique relationship with God the Father. When he was a young boy, Jesus sat with the religious leaders in the temple, amazing people with the answers he gave. When his distraught parents finally found their “lost” adolescent, he replied by saying, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). Jesus’ reference to God as “my Father” is a radical statement of a unique, intimate relationship with God, of which he was already fully conscious. Such a reference by an individual was unprecedented in Jewish literature. Jesus took this unique personal address to another level by referring to God the Father using the affectionate Aramaic expression ’Abba’.
  • Jesus’ favorite self-designation was the title Son of Man. The phrase “a son of man” could mean merely “a human being.” But Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man (implying the unique, well-known Son of Man), which indicates that he sees himself as the Messianic Son of Man in Daniel 7 who is to rule over the whole world for all eternity:

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was givendominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed (Dan. 7:13–14).

Jesus establishes his divine authority as the glorious Messianic Son of Man by declaring that he has the power to forgive sin and is lord of the Sabbath: “‘But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic—‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home’” (Mark 2:10–11); “And he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath’” (Mark 2:27–28).

  1. Jesus’ teaching emphasized his own identity. Jesus came teaching the kingdom of God, and in it he was the King. His teaching dealt with many topics but was centrally about himself. His question to his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15), is the ultimate question of his ministry.
  • Jesus received worship. Perhaps the most radical demonstration of Jesus’ belief that he was God is the fact that when he was worshiped, as he sometimes was, he accepted that worship (Matt. 14:33; 28:9, 17; John 9:38; 20:28). If Jesus did not believe he was God, he should have vehemently rejected being worshiped, as Paul and Barnabas did in Lystra (Acts 14:14–15). That a monotheistic Jew like Jesus accepted worship from other monotheistic Jews shows that Jesus realized that he possessed a divine identity.
  • Jesus equated himself with the Father, and as a result the Jewish leaders accused him of blasphemy:

But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (John 5:17–18).

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” [a clear allusion to the sacred divine name of Yahweh; cf. Ex. 3:14]. So they picked up stones to throw at him (John 8:58–59).

“I and the Father are one.” The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. … The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:30–33).

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” [a reference to Daniel 7; see point 3]. And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death (Mark 14:61–64).

Implications of Christ’s Deity

Because Jesus is God, the following things are true:

  1. God can be known definitively and personally in Christ: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18); “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
  • Redemption is possible and has been accomplished in Christ: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
  • In Christ risen, ascended, and enthroned we have a sympathetic high priest who has omnipotent power to meet our needs: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15).
  • Worship of and obedience to Christ is appropriate and necessary.

Historical Misunderstandings of Christ’s Deity

The earliest and most radical denial of the deity of Christ is called Ebionism or Adoptionism, which was taught by a small Jewish-Christian sect in the first century. They believed that the power of God came on a man named Jesus to enable him to fulfill the Messianic role, but that Christ was not God. A later and more influential Christological heresy was Arianism (early 4th century), which denied the eternal, fully divine nature of Christ. Arius (c. 256–336) believed Jesus was the “first and greatest of created beings.” Arius’s denial of Jesus’ full deity was rejected at the Council of Nicea in 325. At this council, Athanasius showed that according to Scripture Jesus is fully God, being of the same essence as the Father.

The Humanity of Christ

From the moment of Mary’s virginal conception of Jesus, his divine nature became permanently united to his human nature in one and the same person, the now incarnate Son of God. The biblical evidence for Jesus’ humanity is strong, showing that he had a human body, and a human mind, and experienced human temptation.

Jesus had a human birth and a human genealogy: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4–5).

Jesus had a human body that experienced growth (Luke 2:40, 52) as well as physical susceptibilities like hunger (Matt. 4:2), thirst (John 19:28), tiredness (John 4:6), and death (Luke 23:46).

As an old man, the apostle John was still in awe of the fact that he had been able to experience God the Son in the flesh. Like an excited child, he keeps repeating himself as he describes the incarnation:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life wasmade manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1–3).

John has known about the incarnation for over 50 years when he writes this letter, yet he still writes with wide-eyed wonder as he reflects on walking the shores of Galilee, fishing, eating, and laughing with, and having his feet washed by, a carpenter who was God in flesh!

Jesus continues to have a physical body in his resurrected state, and he went to great lengths to make sure his disciples realized this: “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39; cf. Luke 24:42–43; John 20:17, 25–27). After his resurrection, Jesus returned to the Father by ascending in his divinely reanimated body before his disciples’ wondering eyes, thus affirming his ongoing full physical humanity (Luke 24:50–51; Acts 1:9–11). The ascension has been included in every important creed of the church because it teaches the enduring complete humanity of Jesus as the only mediator between God and man.

Jesus had a human mind that, according to the will of the Father, had limitations in knowledge: “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). His human mind grew and increased in wisdom (Luke 2:52), and he even “learned obedience” (Heb. 5:8–9). To say Jesus “learned obedience” does not mean he moved from disobedience to obedience, but that he grew in his capacity to obey as he endured suffering.

Jesus experienced human temptation: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15; cf. Luke 4:1–2). While Jesus experienced every kind of human temptation, he never succumbed to sin (John 8:29, 46; 15:10; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 7:26; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5).

Jesus practiced spiritual disciplines. He regularly prayed with passion (Mark 14:36; Luke 10:21; Heb. 5:7), worshiped at services in the synagogue (Luke 4:16), read and memorized Scripture (Matt. 4:4–10), practiced the discipline of solitude (Mark 1:35; 6:46), observed the Sabbath (Luke 4:16), obeyed OT ceremonial laws (John 8:29, 46; 15:10; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15), and received the fullness of the Spirit (Luke 3:22; 4:1). These religious activities were done earnestly (Heb. 5:7) and habitually (Luke 4:16) as the means of a truly human spiritual growth process.

Given Jesus’ divine nature, the normality of most of his earthly life is staggering. It seems that Jesus spent the first 30 years of his life in relative obscurity, doing manual labor, taking care of his family, and being faithful to whatever his Father called him to do. In his public ministry Jesus performed miraculous signs and delivered authoritative teaching that could only come from God, and this was shockingly offensive for the people of his hometown, who saw Jesus’ simplicity and humility as incompatible with messianic wisdom and power:

Coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household” (Matt. 13:54–57).

Jesus did not cease to be fully human after the resurrection. He will be a man forever as he represents redeemed humanity for all of eternity (Acts 1:11; 9:5; 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8; 1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 7:25; Rev. 1:13).

Implications of the Humanity of Christ

Humans have obviously been sinful ever since the fall. Therefore, it is easy to assume that being sinful is an essential, necessary part of being a “human being.” But this is not true. Jesus was human and yet did not sin. The fact that he became man reveals the nature of true humanity. His humanity gives a glimpse of what our humanity would be, were it not tainted with sin. He shows that the problem with humanity is not that we are humans, but rather that we are fallen. Jesus’ human nature shows the potential of humanity as God intended. This display of sinless humanity reaffirms God’s declaration that creation in all its original dimensions (material and spiritual), including humanity, is by divine definition very good (Gen. 1:31).

Jesus’ humanity enables his representative obedience for us. “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:18–19). Because Jesus is truly human, his perfect life of obedience and overcoming all temptations—culminating in his perfect substitutionary death—can take the place of human rebellion and failure.

Because of Jesus’ humanity, he can truly be a substitutionary sacrifice for mankind. “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17). A man died on the cross when Jesus died, and his death truly atones for the sin of human beings, whose nature he shared.

Jesus’ humanity makes him the only effective mediator between God and man: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). Jesus’ divine and human natures enable him to stand in the gap between fallen humans and a holy God.

Jesus’ humanity enabled him to become a sympathetic high priest who experientially understands the difficult plight of humanity in a fallen world: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15–16; cf. Heb. 2:18).

Jesus’ humanity means he is a true example and pattern for human character and conduct. “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21; cf. 1 John 2:6).

Historical Misunderstandings of the Humanity of Christ

A second-century heresy called Docetism denied the true humanity of Christ. Docetism (from the Gk. verb dokeō, “to seem, to appear to be”) was based on the presuppositions of Gnosticism, which held to a radical dichotomy between the physical and spiritual realms, and a very negative view of the physical order as worthless. These beliefs led to denying any real physical substance to Jesus’ humanity. Docetic Christology taught that Jesus’ physical humanity was just an illusion; one of their statements was that “when Jesus walked on the beach, he left no footprints.” Docetism has devastating effects on the correct view of Christ, salvation, revelation, and creation. In this view, Christ does not represent humanity in his atoning work, nor does he show us God in human form. It also erodes a biblically positive view of creation which leads to either a negative or an indifferent perspective on life in the body. The NT refutes the seeds of what later became Gnosticism, with its Docetic view of Christ. John strongly condemns any view that denies Christ’s full, physical humanity: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already” (1 John 4:2).

Apollinarianism was another early heresy that denied Christ’s full humanity. Apollinarius (4th centurya.d.) believed humans had bodies, animal souls, and rational spirits. He thought the divine logos in Christ took the place of the rational spirit of a human. This view was successfully opposed in the fourth century by Gregory of Nazianzen and Athanasius, and rejected at the Council of Constantinople in a.d.381. The council showed that if Jesus is only, as it were, two-thirds human, full redemption of fully human people is lost. Gregory’s famous quotation was “that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved.” Jesus had to assume every element in a human nature in order to fully redeem humanity.

These two heresies teach believers to appreciate the importance of the humanity of Christ as well as provide a lesson on theological method. Both of these views bring presuppositions about humanity to the Bible and conform biblical teaching to them, rather than allowing Scripture to dictate everything, including the presuppositions. Evangelical theological method must always allow the teaching of Scripture to shape theological conclusions rather than transform its teaching on the basis of alien assumptions. Countless theological errors have occurred by imposing human ideas on the Bible.

The Distinction and Unity of Christ’s Two Natures

Along with Jesus’ full deity and humanity, the third and fourth necessary affirmations of biblical Christology are that in the incarnation, the divine and human natures remain distinct, and the natures are completely united in one person. The best evidence of these two realities are passages of Scripture where Jesus’ divine glory and human humility are brought together:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6).

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

… concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 1:3–4).

None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified theLord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8).

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Gal. 4:4–5).

These verses present the profound mystery of the eternal, infinite Son of God stepping into time and space and taking on a human nature. There is no greater thought that could ever be pondered than this.

Implications of the Two Natures of Christ

The belief that Jesus is one person with both divine and human natures has great significance for the possibility of fallen people entering into a relationship with God. Christ must be both God and man if he is to mediate between God and man, make atonement for sin, and be a sympathetic high priest:

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross (Col. 1:19–20).

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5).

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people (Heb. 2:17).

In his seminal work Why God Became Man, Anselm of Canterbury (c. a.d. 1033–1109) summarized the importance of the two natures of Christ for his atoning work by saying, “It is necessary that the self-same Person who is to make this satisfaction [for humanity’s sins] be perfect God and perfect man, since He cannot make it unless He be really God, and He ought not to make it unless He be really man” (Book II, ch. 7).

Historical Misunderstandings of the Unity of Christ’s Natures

There are six historical heresies related to the person of Christ listed in the chart. The first four heresies are explained above. Nestorianism emphasized the distinction between the natures of Christ so much that Christ was made to appear as two persons in one body. Eutychianism stressed the unity of the natures to the point where any distinction between them was lost, and Christ was thought to be some new entity, with only one nature, greater than mere man while being fully God in a novel way.

### Heresies Concerning the Person of Christ
Ebionism denies the deity of Christ
Arianism denies the fullness of the deity of Christ
Docetism denies the humanity of Christ
Apollinarianism denies the fullness of the humanity of Christ
Nestorianism denies the unity of the natures in one person
Eutychianism denies the distinction of the natures
In a.d. 451, leaders of the church assembled at Chalcedon (outside of ancient Constantinople) and wrote a creed affirming both Jesus’ full humanity and his full deity, with his two natures united in one person. Hereby all six Christological heresies were rejected. This creed, formulated at Chalcedon, became the church’s foundational statement on Christ. The Chalcedonian Creed reads as follows:

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us (emphasis added).


Biblical Doctrine (cont…)

Implications of Chalcedonian Christology

The Chalcedonian Creed teaches the church how to talk about the two natures of Christ without falling into error. In particular, Chalcedon teaches the church to affirm that:

  1. One nature of Christ is sometimes seen doing things in which his other nature does not share.

  2. Anything that either nature does, the person of Christ does. He, God incarnate, is the active agent every time.

  3. The incarnation is a matter of Christ’s gaining human attributes, not of his giving up divine attributes. He gave up the glory of divine life (2 Cor. 8:9; Phil. 2:6), but not the possession of divine powers.

  4. We must look first to the Gospel accounts of Jesus Christ’s ministry in order to see the incarnation actualized, rather than follow fanciful speculations shaped by erroneous human assumptions.

  5. The initiative for the incarnation came from God, not from man.

While this creed does not solve all questions about the mystery of the incarnation, it has been accepted by Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches throughout history, and it has never needed any major alteration because it effectively articulates the biblical tension of Christ’s two natures, completely united in one person.

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is a fully and completely divine person who possesses all of the divine attributes. God the Spirit applies the work of God the Son. The Spirit’s distinct role is to accomplish the unified will of the Father and the Son and to be in personal relationship with both of them.

The Personality of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is a distinct personal being with definite characteristics. He is not merely an impersonal force or an emanation of the power of God. (See the article on the Trinity and the discussion of modalism.)

The baptismal formula of Matthew 28:19–20, “baptizing them in [or into] the name [singular; not, names] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” puts the Spirit on an equal plane with the Father and the Son in his deity and personhood (cf. also Matt. 3:13–17; Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 12:4–6; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 4:4–6; 1 Pet. 1:2; Rev. 1:4–5).

The personal nature of the Holy Spirit is evident in his title “Comforter” or “Helper” (Gk. Paraklētos) found in John 12:26; 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7. Jesus says he will send the Comforter, who will take his place as his disciples’ helper: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). An impersonal force could never provide as good a comfort as Jesus. The Holy Spirit must be personal in order to fulfill this most personal ministry.

Scripture speaks of several activities of the Spirit (see chart) that can only be performed if he is a personal agent. All of these activities of the Holy Spirit are profoundly personal and interrelate with the Father and Son in a way that could only be through the Spirit’s distinct personal nature.

### Personal Actions of the Holy Spirit
The Spirit comforts John 12:26; 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7
The Spirit teaches John 14:26; 1 Cor. 2:13
The Spirit speaks Acts 8:29; 13:2
The Spirit makes decisions Acts 15:28
The Spirit grieves over sin Eph. 4:30
The Spirit overrules human actions Acts 16:6–7
The Spirit searches the deep things of God and knows the thoughts of God 1 Cor. 2:10–11
The Spirit determines the distribution of spiritual gifts 1 Cor. 12:11
The Spirit interprets and brings human prayer before the throne of the Father Rom. 8:26–27
The Spirit assures believers of their adoption Rom. 8:16
The Spirit bears witness to and glorifies Christ John 15:26; 16:14
### The Deity of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit possesses all the divine attributes, as shown in the chart. When the Holy Spirit works, it is God who is working. Jesus taught that regeneration is the work of God: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). The divine agent that brings this rebirth is the Spirit: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). God’s speaking through the prophets is accomplished through the work of the Spirit. As Paul says in Acts 28:25–26, “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: ‘Go to this people, and say, You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.’” This is a quotation from Isaiah 6:9–10, which is an address from Yahweh to Isaiah. Here in Acts 28:25–26, Paul attributes the words to the Holy Spirit.

### Divine Attributes of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is eternal Heb. 9:14
The Holy Spirit is omnipresent Ps. 139:7–10
The Holy Spirit is omniscient 1 Cor. 2:10–11
The Holy Spirit is omnipotent Luke 1:35–37
The Holy Spirit is holy Rom. 1:4
Furthermore, the Bible equates a believer’s relationship to the Spirit and his relationship with God. To lie to the Spirit is to lie to God: “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to *lie to the Holy Spirit* and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? *You have not lied to man but to God*’” (Acts 5:3–4). The Holy Spirit is the one who guarantees God’s redeeming work in the lives of believers, and he is the one directly grieved by their sin: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30).

The Work of the Holy Spirit

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in nature but distinct in role and relationship. The distinct roles typically have the Father willing, the Son accomplishing, and the Spirit applying the work of the Son. The Spirit is clearly at work in the key events throughout the history of salvation, including the creation, Christ’s incarnation, Christ’s resurrection, human regeneration, the inspiration and illumination of Scripture, and the believer’s sanctification.

The Spirit’s Role in the Ministry of Jesus

The Spirit’s role in the human life of the incarnate Christ is often underappreciated. The Spirit brings about the incarnation (Luke 1:35), anoints Jesus for his public ministry at his baptism (Matt. 3:16;Mark 1:10; Luke 3:21–22), fills Jesus (Luke 4:1), leads and empowers Jesus throughout his earthly life (Luke 4:14, 18), and raises Jesus from the dead (Rom. 8:11). The atoning work of Christ is also a Trinitarian accomplishment, with the Spirit playing a prominent role, as seen in Hebrews 9:14: “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

The Spirit’s Work in God’s People

The reality of God’s presence is brought to God’s people by God’s Spirit. His work is central in the promises of new covenant realities. “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (Joel 2:28); “And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord God” (Ezek. 39:29). These promises are inaugurated at Pentecost when the Spirit’s power is poured out on all nations.

The Spirit is the primary person of the Trinity at work in applying the finished work of Christ in the lives of God’s people. The acts of the Holy Spirit—rather than the acts of the apostles—are the focal point of the book of Acts. He is the one who enables the apostles to accomplish all their kingdom-advancing work. The power of the Spirit is the catalyst of spiritual transformation. Prayer, church attendance, moral living, coming from a Christian family, and knowing all the right religious words are not a sufficient basis for assurance of one’s salvation. But one clear guarantee that someone has passed from death into life is the Spirit’s work transforming that person’s manner of living. He marks the life and character of believers in a definitive way, as seen in Ephesians 1:13: “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (cf. 2 Cor. 1:21–22).

In the book of Acts, the Spirit’s work was often immediately manifested in miraculous gifts such as speaking in tongues and prophesying. While the Spirit may still choose to work in these ways, it is the fruit of the Spirit that is the normative and necessary evidence of God’s work in someone’s life: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22–23). After the inward renewal that makes someone who has trusted Christ a new creation, the Spirit also brings spiritual understanding, convicts of sin, reveals the truth of the Word, brings assurance of salvation, empowers for holy living, teaches, and comforts.

Although the Holy Spirit’s work is evident in the life of someone who is truly born again, even believers can operate “in the flesh” (i.e., by their own self and natural ability apart from God), rather than by Spirit-empowered transformation. God is pleased when his people walk in the Spirit and thus show evidence of his work. God-honoring, unified Christian community is possible only when believers walk in the Spirit. This is why Christians are reminded to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1–3).

The Holy Spirit Glorifies Christ

The Holy Spirit’s work can easily be neglected. Perhaps the reason for this is that one of his primary roles is to glorify Christ by testifying to his kingdom and his saving work, past, present, and future: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13–14). Because the Holy Spirit’s purpose is to glorify Christ, he is honored when this objective is accomplished. The Spirit’s deepest longing is that the Son be honored. Jesus is the focus of the Spirit’s ministry, and believers honor the Spirit by depending on his help in order to honor Christ. The Holy Spirit works to advance the work of Christ to the glory of the Father, and he empowers and anoints the people of God to do the same.

As seen in the chart, the Holy Spirit glorifies Christ in four fundamental ways. The Spirit continually points to the beauty and wonder of the Son so that people will be drawn to him, become like him, and point others to him as well: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).

### How the Holy Spirit Glorifies Christ
The Spirit illumines the Bible (the centrality of Christ) Luke 24:27, 44–48
The Spirit empowers gospel preaching (proclamation of Christ) Acts 1:8
The Spirit brings regeneration (new life in Christ) John 3:5–8
The Spirit sanctifies the believer (transformation into the image of Christ) Rom. 8:29; 1 John 3:2
Humans become like what they adore. The Spirit works to foster adoration of Christ so that people will become like him. Thus, sanctification flows from adoration, and both are accomplished by the Spirit in the believer’s life.

Implications of the Spirit’s Work

The ultimate goal of all of life is to know and love God, make him known, and thereby glorify him. This goal is accomplished primarily through the work of the Holy Spirit. Reading the Bible, going to church, Christian fellowship, spiritual disciplines, service, and worship are merely playing at religion if all of these activities are not empowered, guided, and filled by the Spirit. If he is not present, even these good things are fleshly, empty, and repugnant to God: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13). A life pleasing to God involves daily dependence on the precious Holy Spirit. He is to be known, sought, and loved. His awakening and empowering have always been the essential ingredients of true and lasting works of God in the lives of his people. His work in the transformed lives of believers is the key to a Christian life that experiences God’s blessing and becomes an effective witness to a cynical, skeptical world. Because of the Spirit’s presence, true Christians are no longer slaves to sin: “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Rom. 8:9).

It is often too quickly assumed that Jesus’ holiness and power in ministry were because of his divine nature rather than the work of the Holy Spirit in his human life. As a result, believers may discount Jesus as their true example. In his holy living and powerful ministry, Jesus often drew on the same resources as are available to all believers, especially the leading and empowering of the Holy Spirit.

The three persons of the Trinity have now been fully revealed in redemptive history, and the Holy Spirit is bringing their work to a magnificent consummation. Many believers expect a world revival in the last days that will include all peoples. Even if such a revival does not come in the generation that is now alive, God’s people should be giving glimpses of that coming revival in the character of their lives even today. Such glimpses contribute to fulfilling the Great Commission. Jesus sent his followers even as the Father sent him (John 20:21), and living under and in that authority they are able to say with Jesus, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives” (Luke 4:18). When the Spirit works, the gospel will be boldly proclaimed and God’s kingdom will advance.

The Work of Christ

The doctrine of the work of Christ is traditionally organized by the offices he fulfilled and the stages of his work.

The Offices of Christ

Christ perfectly fulfilled the OT offices of prophet, priest, and king. These offices or roles in the OT reveal aspects of God’s word, presence, and power. The anointing and empowering of the Holy Spirit and favor of God was essential if these offices were to truly represent God. OT prophets, priests, and kings foreshadowed the Messiah who would one day ultimately and definitively be manifest as God’s Son and Word, bringing access to God’s presence and inaugurating the kingdom of God.

The Prophetic Work of Christ

A true prophet of God proclaims God’s word to people. God promised Moses that he would raise up a messianic prophet who would authoritatively speak for him: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him” (Deut. 18:18–19). Those in Jesus’ day expected the Messiah to fulfill the prophetic role the OT foretold. As the author of Hebrews tells us, Jesus’ prophetic ministry brought all that previous prophets of God had proclaimed to a definitive culmination: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Heb. 1:1–2). Jesus equated his own words with the authoritative words of the Hebrew Scriptures, showing that he knew his words were the very words of God. He recognized the unchanging authority of the Mosaic law (Matt. 5:18) and gave his teaching the same weight: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my wordswill not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). Because Jesus’ words are the very words of God, they are divinely authoritative, eternal, and unchangeable.

Jesus’ prophetic authority is vastly superior to that of any other prophet because he speaks God’s wordsas God. The divine authority of his words is based on his identity as God incarnate. He proclaimed God’s truth as the One who is the Truth (John 14:6). His word is the ultimate Word.

Implications of the Prophetic Office of Christ

Since Jesus Christ is the true and perfect prophet, he is the ultimate source of truth about God, ourselves, the meaning of life, the future, right and wrong, salvation, and heaven and hell. The voice of Jesus in the Word of God should be eagerly sought and obeyed without reservation or delay. Even though Jesus perfectly fulfills the office of prophet, God’s plan is for the church to represent him with its own ongoing prophetic voice, proclaiming truth into the world. Paul certainly saw his own ministry as speaking for God: “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20).

The Priestly Work of Christ

While a prophet speaks God’s words to the people, a priest represents the people before God and represents God before the people. He is a man who stands in the presence of God as a mediator (Heb. 5:1). The priestly work of Christ involves both atonement and intercession.

The Atonement of Christ

The atonement is central to God’s work in the history of salvation (1 Cor. 15:4). Atonement is the making of enemies into friends by averting the punishment that their sin would otherwise incur. Sinners in rebellion against God need a representative to offer sacrifice on their behalf if they are to be reconciled to God. Jesus’ righteous life and atoning death on behalf of sinners is the only way for fallen man to be restored into right relationship with a holy God.

Even with the extensive requirements for the priesthood in the OT, there was nevertheless a realization that these human priests were unable to make lasting atonement (Ps. 110:1, 4; cf. Heb. 10:1–4). Jesus alone was able to make an offering sufficient for the eternal forgiveness of sins. Because Jesus was without sin, he was uniquely able to offer sacrifice without needing atonement for himself. In offering himself as the perfect, spotless Lamb of God, he could actually pay for sins in a way that OT sacrifices could not. Jesus’ atoning offering was thus eternal, complete, and once-for-all. No other sacrifice will ever be needed to pay the price for human sin.

The Necessity of the Atonement

Jesus died because of human sin, but also in accordance with God’s plan. The reality of human sin is vividly seen in the envy of the Jewish leaders (Matt. 27:18), Judas’s greed (Matt. 26:14–16), and Pilate’s cowardice (Matt. 27:26). However, Jesus gave his life of his own initiative and courageous love: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. … For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:11, 17–18; cf. Gal. 2:20).

The Father’s divine initiative also led to Jesus’ atoning work: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32; cf. Isa. 53:6, 10; John 3:16). As in all events of human history, God’s sovereign determination works in a way compatible with human decisions and actions. Even human sin is woven into God’s divine purposes, as is seen in verses that say Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23), and that “Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel” were gathered together to do “whatever [God’s] hand and [God’s] plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27–28).

Christ came to save sinners in order to accomplish God’s will. Christ died in accordance with God’s sovereign, free, gracious choice—not because he was in any way compelled to offer salvation to mankind because of something inherent in us. God did not save fallen angels (2 Pet. 2:4), and he would have been entirely justified in condemning all of fallen humanity to hell; only by reason of his amazing mercy and grace can anyone be saved.

Atonement in the Bible is explained with numerous metaphors and images. The chart shows the varied images the Bible uses to describe the achievement that is at the heart of the gospel.

### Biblical Descriptions of the Atonement
Type of Language Biblical Words Human Need The Result
Language of OT sacrifices Blood, lamb, sacrifice We are guilty We are forgiven
Language of personal relationships Reconciliation We are alienated from God We are brought back into intimate fellowship with God
Language of righteous anger at wrongdoing Propitiation We are under God’s holy wrath God’s wrath is satisfied/quenched
Language of the marketplace Redemption, ransom We are enslaved We are set free
Language of the law court Justification We are condemned We are pardoned and counted as righteous
Language of the battlefield Victory, deliverance, rescue We are facing dreadful enemies We are delivered and are triumphant in Christ
Throughout church history, various aspects of the atonement have garnered particular attention. For instance, at different times theologians have stressed the *ransom* imagery, the selfless *example* of Christ, and the *victory* of Christ over evil. These aspects of the atonement, rightly understood, contain true and important insights, but the crux of the atonement is Christ taking the place of sinners and enduring the wrath of God as their substitute sacrifice. This is evident in passages like 2 Corinthians 5:21 (“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”) and Isaiah 53:4–5 (“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed”; cf. Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). The fundamental problem of human sin has been solved in Christ’s dying for sinners who deserved eternal judgment. Any attempt to diminish the importance of the penal substitution of Christ for us (i.e., the truth that Christ died to pay the *penalty* for our sins) will diminish God’s holiness and wrath, as well as the heinous depth of human sin.

Christ’s physical suffering on the cross was outweighed by the emotional, psychological, and spiritual anguish of bearing the sin of mankind and having the wrath of the Father poured out on him. The abandonment and bearing of God’s wrath that Jesus experienced on the cross is beyond our comprehension. On account of this merciful, substitutionary sacrifice he will be worshiped for all eternity by those who are his (Rev. 5:11–12). While Jesus’ death for sinners was the basis of his atoning work, his life of perfect righteousness in their place was also necessary to win their forgiveness. He not only died for rebels, he also lived for them (Rom. 5:19; Phil. 3:9).

The Intercession of Christ

Jesus’ priestly work on the cross atoned for sin once for all. Grounded in that atoning work, his priestly work of intercession continues now and forevermore on behalf of his people: “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34); Christ “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). Jesus is alive and always at work representing and bringing requests for believers before the throne of God, intervening in heaven for them. He is the God-man who mediates and represents fallen people based on his fully sufficient work on the cross, and his intervention never fails. Jesus, the sinner’s divine lawyer, never loses a case: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).

As the people who constitute the church are intended to have a prophetic voice as Christ’s ambassadors, God also intends to use the church in a priestly role to usher people into his presence. Because of Christ’s work, all of God’s people are viewed as priests with priestly access into his presence and with the privilege of representing people before God (1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 5:9–10). Prayer, preaching, gospel proclamation, and taking initiative in personal, spiritual ministry are all ways in which God’s people can encourage others to seek and know God and can thereby fulfill their call to represent Christ as a kingdom of priests.

The Kingly Work of Christ

Christ is not only the ultimate prophet and priest, he is also the divine king. Unlike the kings of Israel who were intended to foreshadow the Messiah, Jesus’ reign as messianic King is in no way limited. He rules over all creation and for all time (Luke 1:31–33; Col. 1:17). This rule most directly touches believers at present, but one day all peoples will bow to his royal authority (Phil. 2:9–10). In addition to his comprehensive rule, Christ the King also defends, protects, and shepherds his people and will one day judge all the world’s inhabitants—past, present, and future.

God’s people represent their King when they work to see kingdom realities spread in the world. When they seek social justice—fighting to relieve the plight of the poor, disenfranchised, or unborn—they are working to spread the values of their King. When they work hard and live as good citizens, they are salt and light in a dark world, ultimately serving the interest of their King. One day, when Christ makes all things new, those who are in him will reign with their King: “The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Tim. 2:11–12a; cf.Rev. 5:9–10).

The Stages of Christ’s Work

There is perhaps no more comprehensive yet concise statement on the work of Christ than Philippians 2:5–11:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

These verses teach the profound humility and eventual exaltation of Christ in the history of salvation. The key sequence set out here has been described as the 10 stages of Christ’s work, divided into a humiliation phase and an exaltation phase. The stages are: (1) preincarnate glory; (2) incarnation; (3) earthly life; (4) crucifixion; (5) resurrection; (6) ascension; (7) sitting at God’s right hand; (8) second coming; (9) future reign (some think this will be a millennial reign; see Introduction to Revelation); (10) eternal glory.

The 10 stages and two phases can be visualized as shown in the diagram.

### The Humiliation and Exaltation of Christ

The Humiliation and Exaltation of Christ

The Humiliation of Christ

Incarnation “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Earthly Life “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Crucifixion “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).
### The Exaltation of Christ
Resurrection “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” (John 11:25–26).
Ascension “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
Heavenly Session “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34).
Second Coming “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16).
Eternal Glory “And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’” (Rev. 5:13).
#### Preincarnate Glory

To truly understand the humility of Christ in becoming a man, one must ponder what he gave up in order to make this possible. While we know very little about the experience of God before this world’s creation, we do know that he has always existed as one being, the three persons within his being perfectly relating in mutual love and glorification as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (John 1:1; 17:5, 24). Along with this intra-Trinitarian glorification, angelic beings (creatures themselves) unceasingly worship the infinite worth of the triune God. Jesus consented to surrender this perfect heavenly state so he could represent humanity in his incarnation. When he took the role of a servant and assumed a human nature in addition to his divine nature (Phil. 2:5–11), his divinity was veiled in his humanity. He willingly surrendered the continuous heavenly display and acknowledgment of his glorious divine nature. This amazing humility is taught in 2 Corinthians 8:9: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he become poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Only when the glories of heaven are finally revealed will what Jesus temporarily gave up in coming to earth as a man be most fully understood. What amazing, loving condescension!

The Humiliation of Christ


In the incarnation (lit., “in flesh”) Christ took on a full, complete human nature, including a physical body, so that he could truly represent humanity (Phil. 2:6; Heb. 2:17). God the Son chose to come to earth in the most humble way, defying all expectation. His contemporaries saw him as the son of a poor couple, born in a small, obscure village, and with nothing in his appearance to attract them to himself (cf. Isa. 53:2). In the incarnation, God shows in striking manner that he does not value what the world so often values.

Earthly Life

Christ’s earthly life was one of continual humiliation. He subtly and selectively revealed his divine glory, even keeping it a secret at times (Matt. 9:30; Mark 1:44; 5:43). He radically altered the prevalent conception of the Messiah, combining the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 with the glorious Conquering King of Daniel 7. Throughout his life Jesus was poor and at times homeless: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20). His life was one of great and consistent service for the good of others. The last grand gesture of his life before going to the cross was washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:1–17). Although multitudes followed him during his public ministry, he also faced frequent persecution and rejection, at times even in his hometown (Luke 4:28–29). The creatures’ rejection of their Creator epitomizes human rebellion. John 1:10–11 describes this tragedy: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”

Jesus’ earthly life ended with some of his closest friends betraying him (Judas), denying him (Peter), and deserting him (all the disciples, Matt. 26:56). His life was filled with rejection, loneliness, poverty, persecution, hunger, temptation, suffering, and finally death.


Christ’s humiliation reached its greatest depth when he gave his life on a criminal’s cross for sinful humanity. The cross stands at the center of human history as God’s supreme act of love (1 John 4:10, 17) and the only source of redemption for lost and fallen humanity (Rom. 14:9).

The Exaltation of Christ


While Jesus’ life of humiliation represented the life of human beings living in a fallen world, his victorious exaltation represents a pattern that will someday be reproduced (and is partially reproduced already) in those who believe in him. The exaltation of Christ began when he left his grave clothes in an empty tomb. Sin, Satan, and death were decisively defeated when Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus foretold his resurrection (e.g., Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34) and then actually did rise from the dead (as is shown by convincing historical evidence, such as the empty tomb, numerous eyewitness accounts, the radical change in the disciples’ lives, etc.). In addition to defeating sin and death, the resurrection was the Father’s validation of the Son’s ministry (Rom. 1:3) and demonstrates the complete effectiveness of Christ’s atoning work (Rom. 4:25).

First Corinthians 15 provides the most comprehensive treatment of the benefits of the resurrection. By explaining what would be lost if Jesus had not risen from the dead, Paul provides abundant reason for hope in the truth of the resurrection because “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (v. 20). Because Christ rose from the dead, the sins of those who rely on him are forgiven (v. 17), the apostolic preaching is true (v. 15), faith in Christ is true and he can be fully trusted (v. 14), those who follow Christ are to be emulated and their preaching is of great value (v. 19), and those who die in Christ will be raised (v. 18). Because of the resurrection, the Christian has great hope that generates confidence in all circumstances. The resurrection is not merely a doctrine to be affirmed intellectually; it is the resounding affirmation that Jesus reigns over all, and the power that raised him from the dead is the Christian’s power for living the Christian life on earth and the assurance of eternal life in heaven.


The ascension is Christ’s return to heaven from earth (Luke 24:50–51; John 14:2, 12; 16:5, 10, 28; Acts 1:6–11; Eph. 4:8–10; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 4:14; 7:26; 9:24). The incarnation does not cease with Christ’s ascension. Jesus lives, now and forever, as true man and true God to mediate between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5). He will come again as he left, fully God and fully man (Acts 1:11).

Jesus’ ascension is a crucial event in his ministry because it explicitly shows his continual humanity and the permanence of his resurrection. The importance of the ascension is seen in the fact that it is taught in all of the essential creeds of the church, beginning with the Apostles’ Creed. The ascension guarantees that Jesus will always represent humanity before the throne of God as the mediator, intercessor, and advocate for needy humans. Because of the ascension, we can be sure that Jesus’ unique resurrection leads the way for the everlasting resurrection of the redeemed. A human face and nail-scarred hands will greet believers one day in heaven.

Jesus also ascended to prepare a place for his people (John 14:2–3) and to enable the Holy Spirit to come (John 16:7), which he said was more advantageous for the church than if he had stayed on earth (John 14:12, 17).

Sitting At God’s Right Hand

The current state of Christ’s work is called his “heavenly session,” meaning that he is seated at the right hand of the Father, actively interceding and reigning over his kingdom, awaiting his second coming (Acts 2:3–36; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20–22; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet. 3:22; Rev. 3:21; 22:1). The OT foretold this phase of the Messiah’s work: “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’” (Ps. 110:1). Jesus told of the heavenly session which would precede his return when he referred to the messianic imagery of Daniel 7: “from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:64). The right hand of God is the symbolic place of power, honor, distinction, and prestige. Jesus “sits” to portray the sufficiency of his saving work on earth; he continues a vital, active ministry as he reigns over all creation.

Jesus’ current ministry is a great source of comfort, authority, and encouragement for the believer because it ensures that his ministry as Prophet, Priest, and King continues and will one day be acknowledged by all creation. From his current exalted position Jesus pours out his Spirit on his people: “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (Acts 2:33). His precious intercession on behalf of his people takes place at the right hand of the Father so that the believer need never fear condemnation: “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34).

Second Coming and Future Reign

Biblical interpreters are divided as to whether Jesus’ coming will occur in one stage or two (see the article on Last Things). But all agree that someday Christ will return in great glory and there will be a definitive, comprehensive acknowledgment that he is Lord over all. He will then judge the living and the dead. All people and forces that oppose him will be vanquished, including death itself (Matt. 25:31; 1 Cor. 15:24–28), “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10–11).

Eternal Glory

Prior to the incarnation Jesus was glorious. But by displaying his holy character through his incarnate life, death, and resurrection, he received even greater glory. Jesus’ preincarnate glory was taken to a new level when he entered into his eternal glory not only as God but now as God-Man. Jesus displayed his divine character through the human actions of his incarnate life, death, and resurrection. His majesty, mercy, love, holiness, wisdom, and power have been manifested sinlessly in a true man, and for this Jesus will be praised for all eternity. Therefore, the worship of heaven focuses on the work of Christ as the worthy Lamb who was slain:

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth. … Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:9–10, 12)

Christ’s eternal glory, which he shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is the supreme goal of all that he did. In redeeming a people for himself, he displayed his many perfections in such a way that he will now receive the glory he deserves. That glory will be displayed and acknowledged around his throne, in the songs of heaven forever!


God as Creator

God created human beings and everything else that has ever existed in distinction from himself. From the first verse of the Bible (which declares that God created the heavens and the earth) to the last chapters of the Bible (where God brings about a new heaven and earth), God is seen as the praiseworthy source of all that is. Worship is the right response to God’s creative and sustaining power. Often in the Bible the praise of God’s people arises out of the recognition that God made the heavens and the earth:

“You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you” (Neh. 9:6).

Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! (Ps. 95:6; cf.Acts 14:15).

God’s personal, wise power is clearly seen in creation, especially in humanity:

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth (Ps. 139:13–15).

The key passage for understanding the nature of mankind is Genesis 1:26–28:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Cf. Gen. 2:7; 5:1–2; 9:6; Matt. 19:4; Acts 17:24–25).

Both men and women are made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27), and therefore they are more like God than anything else in all creation. Human beings are intended to live as God’s created analogy for his own glory. God did not create humans because of any need within himself (Job 41:11; Ps. 50:9–12; Acts 17:24–25) but primarily so that he would be glorified in them as they delight in him and reflect his character. We were created primarily to be in relationship with our Creator and find our greatest joy in him. When people are supremely satisfied in him, God is rightly honored and delights in his creation. God describes his people as “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isa. 43:7; cf. Eph. 1:11–12).

Although God has no unmet needs, humans bring delight to his heart as they trust and obey him.

You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. … As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you (Isa. 62:3–5).

The Lord your God is in your midst … he will rejoice over you with gladness … he will exult over you with loud singing (Zeph. 3:17).

God’s delight in the Spirit-empowered faithfulness of his people is the believer’s greatest motive for holy living in the Christian life. Unbiblical motives for obeying God’s commands include pragmatism, legalism, utilitarianism, and man-centeredness. But biblical ethics insists that our deepest desire should be to find our greatest joy in bringing joy to the heart of our Creator.

Implications of Being Created in God’s Image for His Glory

1. Humility, Purpose, and Accountability

When God is recognized as the Creator of everything, he takes his rightful place as the one upon whom we are utterly dependent for all we are and have. Nothing exists apart from the creative and sustaining power of God, and all things owe honor and submission to him. This dependence should lead to deep humility and accountability before the God who made us (Rom. 9:20–21). God’s personal creation of all humans (Ps. 139:13–16) is the basis for human purpose and meaning. The doctrine of creation ensures that we recognize God as majestic and great, and recognize that we are very small before him. When people truly understand God as Creator, they recognize that he is eternal, powerful, wise, good, the owner of all things, and the judge of all. Because God is Creator, all people must answer to him; he, however, need not answer to anyone: “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (Rom. 9:20–21).

2. Seeing the Gifts and Glory of God in Creation

At the culmination of God’s creation he declared it to be “very good” (Gen. 1:31), but it was later marred and distorted by the fall and God’s curse (Genesis 3; Rom. 8:20–23). Nevertheless, the heavens continue to declare the glory of God (Ps. 19:1–14), God continues to give bountiful gifts to be gratefully enjoyed (1 Tim. 6:17), and God’s image-bearers are encouraged to see and glorify him in all things (1 Cor. 10:31).

3. Hope Due to God’s Creative Work and Power

The NT compares God’s work of redemption with his work in creation: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). When God redeems someone, he is re-creating with the same power with which he spoke the world into existence (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:10). God is the powerful, wise, good God who made everything; knowing this provides great hope for personal and cosmic transformation. There is never room for a believer to despair over his or her own level of sanctification, nor is it legitimate to doubt God’s ability to change someone we are ministering to, because God’s power as Creator is more than able to change rebellious hearts into worshipful ones. We can also be sure that this fallen and cursed world will one day be made new by the One who created it in the first place.

4. Philosophy of Ministry

Because God created everything with his glory as the ultimate goal, bringing honor to his name is the appropriate, explicit, overarching objective of all life and ministry: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). When planning a worship service or church program, thinking through a business plan, raising a family, creating art, or running a farm, the fundamental question must always be, “Will God be glorified?”

Man Made in the Image of God

Man is made in the image of God, which means that he is like God and represents God on the earth:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Gen. 1:26–27).

While everything in creation to some degree reflects something of who God is (Ps. 19:1–6), humans stand alone as made in the image and likeness of God. People are intended to live as God’s created analogies, showing his character more clearly than anything else can show it. Being made in the image of God distinguishes mankind from all other living things.

While humans are the pinnacle of creation, to say we are like God also means that we are not and will never be God. We have great dignity because we are made in God’s image, but our worth is not autonomous. God is the source of all human value.

The fall and curse of humanity distorts the image of God in man but does not remove it from him. After the fall, the image of God remains the basis for human dignity and biblical ethics (Gen. 9:6; James 3:8–9).

The image of God is evident in our unique spiritual, moral, mental, relational, and physical capacities. Humans reflect the image of God in varying degrees and ways, but no one is made in more of God’s image or less of God’s image. The foundation of Christian ethics is the assumption that all humans are made in God’s image regardless of the presence or absence of certain abilities. From conception to death all human beings are God’s image-bearers, and all are creatures of profound dignity and value, equally worthy of protection and respect. The value of human life is not affected or determined by age, disability, race, intellectual ability, emotional or mental state, relational powers, or gender.

The Great Commandment—to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength—obviously entails the second greatest commandment: to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:37–40). Love for Godmust be expressed in love for people, even one’s enemies (Luke 6:27). “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20–21). Christians are called to see beyond mankind’s fallen condition to the image of God in the people they interact with every day, and to love them based on what God says is true of them. This means they no longer regard anyone from a worldly point of view but rather see them with God’s eyes: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer” (2 Cor. 5:16). As Augustine wrote, “Yet men go out and gaze in astonishment at high mountains, the huge waves of the sea, the broad reaches of rivers, the ocean that encircles the world, or the stars in their courses. But they pay no attention to themselves” (Confessions 10.8).

Jesus, who in his divinity is already the image of the invisible God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15), perfectly reflects the divine image in his true humanity and holy life on earth. Jesus shows perfect humanness in his perfect fellowship with and obedience to the Father, which leads to his selfless love for others. These characteristics of Christ’s life are foundational to all other God-glorifying manifestations of the image of God in humanity. Therefore, to experience true humanity, God’s people should pattern their lives after Jesus’ exemplary relationship to God the Father. In this way, they will be conformed more and more to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29; cf. 1 John 3:2).

The Constitutional Makeup of Human Beings

Biblically, there are at least two distinct aspects of a human being—spiritual (spirit/soul) and physical (body). Some interpreters hold that the “soul” and “spirit” are distinct parts of a human being, and therefore that we are composed of three parts: body, soul, and spirit. This view is called “trichotomy.” However, the vast majority of evangelical scholars today hold that “spirit” and “soul” are basically synonymous and are two different ways of talking about the immaterial aspect of our being, “soul” pointing to our personal selves as responsible individuals and “spirit” pointing to those same selves as created by and dependent on God. This view is called “dichotomy” (see note on 1 Thess. 5:23–28). It is important to see that there is a fundamental unity between the physical and spiritual within humans. While a distinction is made in the Bible between the material and immaterial parts of the human being, the emphasis is on the necessary connection between body and soul. Regeneration and sanctification for the Christian is a spiritual experience intended to be expressed in the physical body in and through which we have been made to live. The separation of body and soul caused at death is an unnatural tragedy, which will be remedied when the body is resurrected, allowing humans to exist as they were intended to do.

Humanity as Male and Female

God made man (Hb. ’adam) as male and female from the beginning, completely equal in their value and in their full humanity (Gen. 1:26–27; 9:6), and yet distinct in the way they relate and function. The distinct roles of men and women are grounded in the nature of God (1 Cor. 11:3) and were part of God’s very good creation before the fall (1 Cor. 11:8–10; 1 Tim. 2:13). These role distinctions in no way minimize the worth of men or women. Both are equally made in God’s image, equally fallen (Genesis 3;Rom. 3:23), equally redeemable (Gal. 3:28; 1 Pet. 3:7), and are equally to be resurrected and glorified (1 John 3:2). This equality is expressed, however, with the husband serving in his God-ordained role as authority and servant leader (Gen. 2:23) and with the wife fulfilling her vital role as supporter and helper (Gen. 2:18; 1 Pet. 3:1–6) in the family and the church. Male authority is to be exercised with love, humility, and respect, under the authority of Christ (Eph. 5:25–33; Col. 3:19; 1 Pet. 3:7). Female submission is not servile weakness but rather a display of strength and trust in God as the woman uses all her God-given abilities while refusing to usurp the male authority in her life (Eph. 5:22–25; Col. 3:18; 1 Tim. 2:12; 3:2; Titus 2:4–5; 1 Pet. 3:1–6). The fall greatly distorted the harmonious yet distinct way men and women were intended to function together (Gen. 3:16), and God’s people are called to show the world how men and women are meant to relate in mutually beneficial ways for the glory of God. When men and women function in this complementary way, they display something profoundly and mysteriously like the relationship between Jesus and his Bride, the church. After quoting a verse from Genesis 2:24 that refers to the marriage between Adam and Eve as God originally created it, Paul gives a theological explanation that shows God’s purpose for all marriages, namely, to be a picture of Christ and his church (Eph. 5:32).

God’s Relationship with Creation

Transcendence and Immanence

God is both transcendent (majestic and holy, far greater than his creatures) and immanent (near and present, fully involved with his creatures). To understand the God of the Bible, this vital biblical tension must be appreciated. God is distinct from and far above all he has made: “The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?” (Ps. 113:4). Yet he is also always actively, personally engaged with his creation: “Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring’” (Acts 17:27–28). Those most humbled by God’s majesty and holiness most experience personal closeness with him: “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place [transcendence], and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite [immanence]’” (Isa. 57:15).

Non-Christian religions tend to one extreme or the other; either to a god who is so “other than” creation that nothing meaningful can be said about him (e.g., Eastern and New Age religions) or who is so “identified with” creation that his majestic holiness is lost (e.g., Greco-Roman and much current Western religion). An accurate understanding of God deeply appreciates both his awesome otherness and his intimate nearness. Christians relate to a God who is both the great “I am” and the “God of our Fathers” (Ex. 3:14–15). He is the eternal, infinite God who has stepped not only into time and space but also into covenant relationship with his people through the incarnation of Christ. The biblical balance between God’s transcendence and his immanence is hard to maintain, but the best worship, prayer, and daily relating to God is that which has in it a deep recognition of both God’s majestic holiness and his personal engagement with the creatures he has made.

The Providence of God

God is always personally involved with his creation in sustaining and preserving it, and acting within it to bring about his own perfect goals. Everything that takes place is under God’s control. He “works all things according to the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:11). His providential dominion is over all things (Prov. 16:9; 19:21; James 4:13–15)—like weather (Job 38:22–30), food (Ps. 145:15), and sparrows (Matt. 10:29), as well as kings (Prov. 21:1), kingdoms (Dan. 4:25), and the exact times and places in which people live (Acts 17:26). Salvation is a work of God’s governing power: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9; cf. Ezek. 36:24; John 6:37–40; Acts 13:48; 16:14; Rom. 9:16; Phil. 1:29; 2 Pet. 1:1). God’s providential power also brings about sanctification (Phil. 2:12–13) and fruitfulness in ministry (Col. 1:28–29).

God is able to work out his sovereign will within the distinctive characteristics of what he has created. He moves a rock as a rock, and moves a human heart as a human heart. He does not turn a person into a thing when he brings about his sovereign intentions in a person’s life. Paul describes sanctification as the result of both human effort and ultimate divine enabling when he commands believers to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12). He sees no conflict between divine and human activity. Rather, God is uniquely able to bring about his purposes within human beings so that they are fully engaged as persons and responsible for their own decisions, attitudes, and actions.

God’s Relationship to Evil

God controls and uses evil but is never morally blameworthy for it (Ex. 4:11; Deut. 32:39; Isa. 45:7;Amos 3:6). However God’s relationship to evil is understood, both his complete sovereignty and his complete holiness must be maintained. In his great suffering, Job says, “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). We are told that Job’s assessment of God’s providence over evil is correct in that “in all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (Job 1:22). Joseph expresses a similar attitude of the God-ordained evil actions of his brothers toward him when he says, “as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20). The greatest evil ever done, the crucifixion of Christ, happened because of unspeakable human sin, but all within God’s perfect plan. “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23; cf. Acts 4:27–28). Even human rebellion unintentionally ends up serving the perfectly wise purposes of God. Nothing—not even sin and great evil—can ever ultimately frustrate God’s sovereignty. Christians can be sure that God will one day defeat all sin, evil, and suffering. Until then, God can be trusted because he is wise, holy, sovereign, and powerful and is always working out his plan to perfection (Rom. 8:28)—even when in the short term it may not seem to be so from our earthly, human perspective.


Biblical Terms for Sin

The Bible explains human rebellion against God from several perspectives and with various images:

“doing … evil” (Judg. 2:11)

“disobedience” (Rom. 5:19)

“transgression” (Ex. 23:21; 1 Tim. 2:14)

“iniquity” (Lev. 26:40)

“lawlessness” (Titus 2:14, 1 John 3:4)

“trespass” (Eph. 2:1)

“ungodliness” (1 Pet. 4:18)

“unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9)

“unholy” (1 Tim. 1:9)

“wickedness” (Prov. 11:31)

The Definition of Sin

Sin is anything (whether in thoughts, actions, or attitudes) that does not express or conform to the holy character of God as expressed in his moral law.

Elements of the Definition of Sin

  1. Sin is moral evil (e.g., murder) as opposed to natural evil (e.g., cancer). Moral evil is personal rebellion against God, and it is what brought natural evil into the world.

  2. Sin is always and ultimately related to God. While sin has devastating societal, relational, and physical ramifications, the central problem of sin is that it offends and incurs the wrath of God. David demonstrates this understanding in his confession of adultery and murder: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Ps. 51:4). This is not to minimize his sin against Bathsheba, her husband Uriah, or the people of Israel, but rather to recognize that, relatively speaking, it is God he has ultimately offended, and it is to God alone that he must finally answer. Sin is a personal attack on the character and ordinances of God.

  3. Sin is breaking God’s law, which can take several forms. There are sins of omission (not doing what we should) as well as sins of commission (doing what we should not do). Breaking one of God’s commandments is rebellion against the entire character of God, and in that sense it is equivalent to breaking all of the commandments: “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10; cf. Gal. 3:10). God’s unified law is a reflection of his personal nature and claims, which means that rejecting one of his laws amounts to rejecting him.

Although breaking one commandment makes one guilty of breaking God’s entire law, God recognizes that there are gradations of sin. These gradations are based on differences in knowledge (Ezek. 8:6, 13;Matt. 10:15; Luke 12:47–48; John 19:11), intent (Num. 15:30–31), kind, and effect. Nevertheless, even sin done in ignorance is still sin, and everyone still equally needs Jesus to pay the penalty for their sin. While God recognizes degrees of sin on a human, ethical level, it remains the case that all people are equally guilty before God and equally in need of Christ’s atoning work.

  1. Sin is rooted deep in our very nature, and sinful actions reveal the condition of a depraved heart within: “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19; cf. Matt. 7:15–19). Internal attitudes are frequently identified as sinful or righteous in the Bible, and God demands not only correct outward actions but also that the heart be right (Ex. 20:17; Heb. 13:5).

  2. Sin has brought about a guilty standing before God and a corrupted condition in all humans. The pronouncement of guilt is God’s legal determination that people are in an unrighteous state before him, and the condition of corruption is our polluted state which inclines us toward ungodly behavior. By the grace of God, both this inherited guilt and this inherited moral pollution are atoned for by Christ: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

The Origin of Sin

Sin entered the human race in the Garden of Eden through an attack of Satan, who led Adam and Eve to doubt God’s word and trust their own ability to discern good and evil (Genesis 3). Sometime prior to this, Satan (a fallen angel) must himself have rebelled against God and become evil, though Scripture does not say much about that event (cf. notes on 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). Satan’s strategy was to bring disorder to the created order by approaching Eve and getting her to lead her husband away from God. Adam, so it appears, allowed his wife to be deceived by failing to take up his God-ordained responsibility to lead and protect her. Satan then questioned God’s goodness, wisdom, and care for Adam and Eve by suggesting that God was a miserly legalist in his prohibition of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan then simply lied, saying, “you will not surely die” (Gen. 3:4). Such deception and rebellion against God stem from a failure to trust him and be satisfied with him and his commands and arrangements. Satan and our first parents demanded autonomy and rejected God’s authority, and this has been the source and shape of human sin ever since. Unbelief (Rom. 14:23; Heb. 11:6), pride, and selfishness lead us to think we know better than God and to try to put ourselves in his place. All people, in their fallen condition, are indeed “lovers of self … rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:2, 4).

The Consequences and Condition of the Fall

God rightly judged the rebellion of Adam and Eve and brought a curse on them and all their offspring. The curse brought physical and spiritual death, separation from God, and alienation from him and others. All people are now conceived, born, and live in this fallen, depraved condition: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:10–12); “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6).

Inherited guilt and corruption leave every person completely unable to save himself or to please God. There are at least six ways this pervasive inability affects everyone. Until God intervenes with his sovereign, gracious, saving power, mankind is totally unable to:

  • repent or trust Christ (John 6:44; cf. John 3:3; 6:65)
  • see or enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3)
  • obey God and thereby glorify him (Rom. 8:6–8)
  • attain spiritual understanding (1 Cor. 2:14)
  • live lives pleasing to God (Rom. 14:23; Heb. 11:6)
  • receive eternal or spiritual life (Eph. 2:1–3)

Because of God’s common grace (that is, his kindly providence whereby sin’s energies within us are partly restrained), total depravity does not mean that every person apart from Christ is as bad as possible. It does mean, however, that none by nature can fulfill man’s primary purpose of glorifying God in relationship with him.


When the Bible speaks of “salvation” (Gk. sōtēria) in a spiritual sense, the thought can embrace the whole broad range of God’s activity in rescuing people from sin and restoring them to a right relationship with himself. Because of this broad sense, we find that the noun “salvation,” and the verb “save,” are used in the Bible with past, present, and future reference.

Thus, salvation may signify any or all of the blessings outlined in the chart. While the subjective experience of being saved may have degrees and look very different from person to person, the objective state of being saved is categorical and absolute. From God’s perspective there is a definite point in time when those who have trusted in Christ pass from death into life (1 John 3:14). This, however, is not where salvation starts. From God’s vantage point salvation begins with his election of individuals, which is his determination beforehand that his saving purpose will be accomplished in them (John 6:37–39, 44, 64–66; 8:47; 10:26; 15:16; Acts 13:48; 16:14; Romans 9; 1 John 4:19; 5:1). God then in due coursebrings people to himself by calling them to faith in Christ (Rom. 8:30; 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Tim. 1:9; 1 Pet. 2:9).

### The Blessings of Salvation
Justification has been saved from the guilt of sin Eph. 2:8
Sanctification is being saved from the power of sin 1 Cor. 1:18
Glorification will be saved from the presence of sin Acts 15:11
God’s calling produces *regeneration*, which is the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in which a spiritually dead person is made alive in Christ (Ezek. 11:19–20; Matt. 19:28; John 3:3, 5, 7; Titus 3:5). The revived heart *repents* and trusts Christ in *saving faith* as the only source of *justification*. To be a Christian means one has traded in his “polluted garment” of self-righteousness for the perfect righteousness of Christ (Phil. 3:8–9; cf. Isa. 64:6). He has ceased striving and now rests in the finished work of Christ—no longer depending on personal accomplishments, religious pedigree, or good works for God’s approval, but only on what Christ has accomplished on his behalf (Phil. 2:8–9). A Christian understands with Paul that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). As regards Jesus paying the penalty for our sins, the Christian believes that when Jesus said, “it is finished” (John 19:30), it really was. Because of this, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1), and they have been “saved to the uttermost” (Heb. 7:25). A miraculous transformation has taken place in which the believer has “passed from death to life” (John 5:24). The Holy Spirit empowers the transformation from rebellious sinner to humble worshiper, leading to “confidence for the day of judgment” (1 John 4:17).

Much of Protestantism in the last two centuries has been influenced by revivalism, which puts a great emphasis on “making a decision for Christ” in a public and definitive way. These “moments of decision” often come to be treated as the crucial evidence that one is truly saved. Other Protestant traditions, less influenced by revivalism, are often content to leave the conversion experience less clearly identified, and put the focus rather on Christian experience, identification with the church, or reliance upon the sacraments. Both of these traditions have benefits and strengths, as well as potential problems. The “decision” approach rightly emphasizes the need for personal commitment to Christ Jesus and the idea that regeneration takes place at a specific time. The potential downside is that this view can lead to a simplistic, human-centered understanding of being saved where one depends too heavily on the initial, specific act of trusting Christ as the primary evidence of conversion. As a result, one can doubt that the “decision” was real, leading to numerous journeys down the aisle (just in case), or else to total dependence on the onetime walk down the aisle, even in the absence of the necessary fruit of salvation. Other traditions appreciate the sovereignty of God and role of the church in the salvation process but can leave conversion so vague that the need for personal trust in Christ and the resulting evidence of a changed life can be neglected.

God uses vastly different circumstances and experiences to bring people to himself. As C. H. Spurgeon said, “God’s Spirit calls men to Jesus in diverse ways. Some are drawn so gently that they scarce know when the drawing began, and others are so suddenly affected that their conversion stands out with noonday clearness.” The best evidence of true salvation is not having raised a hand or prayed a prayer,or having been baptized or christened. Instead, the true test of an authentic work of God in one’s life issanctification as God continues the moral transformation he began in regeneration. This transformation will continue until the redeemed person is resurrected and made completely holy in heaven (glorification; cf. Rom. 8:28–30; Phil. 1:6; 1 John 3:2).

God’s sanctifying work is seen in growing Christlike character, increasing love for God and people, and the fruit of the Spirit (John 14:2; 15:1–16:33; Gal. 5:22–25; James 2:18). Of course, a memorable conversion experience may serve as an important reference point for a saving work of God in one’s life, but it is only the obvious, ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in making one more and more like Jesus that gives sufficiently clear indication that a person has been made a new creation in Christ. While a Christian should never be satisfied with his current state of holiness, he should be confident that through God’s sovereign, sanctifying grace he will one day have totally won the victory over sin once and for all. This will be the moment of entering by death into a larger life in which our sinful heart is finally purified. Meanwhile, living with this hope as one battles sin daily is true Christian perseverance (1 Cor. 1:8–9; Eph. 1:13–14; 1 Thess. 5:23–24; 1 Pet. 1:4–5; 1 John 2:19; Jude 1, 24–25), which is itself a sign that one has been born again.

The Church

The church is the community of God’s redeemed people—all who have truly trusted Christ alone for their salvation. It is created by the Holy Spirit to exalt Jesus Christ as Lord of all. Christ is the Head, Savior, Lord, and King of the church. The relationship between its members results from their common identity as brothers and sisters adopted into God’s family. The identity of this family is grounded in Christ’s person and work and therefore transcends any earthly distinctions of race, class, culture, gender, or nationality. True Christian fellowship is divinely brought about by God, for the purpose of displaying and advancing God’s kingdom on earth. As Christians love one another and submit to the lordship of Christ, they show glimpses of heavenly realities that are to come.

There is ultimately only one church, the global community of believers on earth plus those already in glory. In this world, however, the one church takes the form of countless local churches, each of which must be viewed as a microcosm, outcropping, and sample of the larger whole. Jesus Christ’s headship of the church that is his body is a relationship that applies both to the universal church and to each local church. Denominational identities are secondary to these primary and fundamental realities.

The Visible Church and the Invisible Church

Theologians sometimes distinguish between the “visible church” (the church as Christians on earth see it) and the “invisible church” (the church as God in heaven sees it). This distinction emphasizes two truths. First, only God, who reads hearts, knows the ultimate makeup of the “invisible church”—those whom he has called (“The Lord knows those who are his,” 2 Tim. 2:19). Second, there are some within the “visible church” who are not genuine believers, though they may look as if they are (cf. Matt. 7:15–16; Acts 20:29–30; 1 John 2:19).

Images of the Church

The Bible explains the profound mystery of the church (Eph. 5:32) using varied images and illustrations. Among the most important are the church as the building, body, bride, and family of Christ.

The Building of Christ

Jesus Christ is building his church, and even the gates of hell will not defeat it (Matt. 16:18). He is the foundational cornerstone providing unyielding stability (Matt. 21:42 par.; Acts 4:11; Eph. 2:20; 1 Pet. 2:6–7), and he promises that he will complete the building he is making (Eph. 2:21–22). Therefore, even when the church appears weak, corrupt, and lost, there is always reason for deep confidence in its continued growth and enduring strength. God’s people are “living stones” (1 Pet. 2:5) who have received their life from the Cornerstone, who is the giver of life. The building image is grounded in the temple imagery of the OT, as the place where God’s presence and glory were most often seen. The church is now the place on earth where God primarily dwells and makes himself known. This temple is not made with human hands but exists in the corporate life of those who have been transformed through faith in Christ. The presence and work of God in worship, the ministry of the Word, service to others, discipline, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and gospel proclamation are now the primary source of the presence and glory of God in the world: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor. 3:16–17; cf. 2 Cor. 6:16; 1 Pet. 2:4–10). The church will last even beyond the time of Christ’s return, and any predictions that warn of the demise of the church of Jesus Christ are greatly mistaken.

The Body of Christ

Christ is the head of the church, which is his body (Eph. 1:22–23; 4:15; 5:23). He has authority over his people and determines their direction and destiny. Each member of Christ’s body serves an important and distinct role, and none have life, power, or ability of any kind apart from Christ (1 Corinthians 12).

The Bride of Christ

Christ saves and sanctifies his people through his sacrifice on the cross, which serves as the model of the relationship between a husband and wife (Eph. 5:25). Christ’s self-sacrificial love for his bride continues as he feeds and cares for her; she who will one day be presented to him in spotless perfection (Eph. 5:29; Heb. 12:23). As the bride of Christ, the church should strive for undiluted devotion to Christ, who is her jealous husband (2 Cor. 11:2–4). God’s people should be motivated by and longing for the great wedding banquet as they await the return of their Bridegroom (Rev. 19:7–9; 21:1–4).

The Family of God

God’s adoption of lost and unworthy children of wrath into his family is a key aspect of his redeeming work (1 John 3:1–2). This adoption through new birth leads to astounding privileges that come with being fellow heirs with Christ. Those in God’s family become full beneficiaries of all his promises to his children! As adopted children of God, believers are bound by a family relationship as brothers and sisters that is greater and more enduring than biological family ties (Mark 3:31–35; cf. Matt. 19:29 par.). Earnest brotherly love should characterize relationships within the church (Rom. 12:10; 1 Tim. 5:1–2;Heb. 13:1; 1 Pet. 1:22). Such love is one of the primary ways Christians know they have truly been saved by God: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers” (1 John 3:14). All earthly obstacles to brotherly affection (e.g., differences in culture, race, income, personality, and nationality) are done away with when God adopts his people into his family (Gal. 3:28).

To love Christ means to love his church and seek to build it by word and deed. The sin and apathy often seen in the church may at times require strong criticism and be a cause for grief. But Christ shed his own blood to create the church (Acts 20:28), and the church is God’s primary conduit of his grace and glory to the world. There should be no doubt that by the grace of God his community of unworthy redeemed sinners will be triumphant and beautiful one day. Meaningful local church involvement is not an optional spiritual discipline; it is the essential context within which believers are intended to find Christ and grow in him.

Last Things

The Return of Christ

The return of Jesus Christ is the central hope of the NT. His second coming will be sudden (Matt. 24:44;2 Pet. 3:10), personal, bodily (John 14:3; Acts 1:11; 1 Thess. 4:16), and visible to the whole world (Rev. 1:7). He will come again to reign in power as the King of kings for all eternity (Phil. 2:9–11). While he has given signs that will indicate that the end times are near (Matt. 24:14, 23–29; Mark 13:10, 19–26; 2 Thess. 2:1–10), God has not revealed the time of Christ’s return (Matt. 24:44; Mark 13:32–33; Luke 12:40). Therefore, the setting of dates is fruitless and unbiblical speculation. The warnings that Christ will come unexpectedly and suddenly are intended to motivate believers to live in eager expectation and preparedness, which involves holy living and an eternal perspective. Followers of Christ are to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12–13). As good as life in this world may be at times, it can never compare to the ultimate liberation from sin and the unhindered fellowship with Christ that his return will bring (1 John 3:2). This does not preclude Christians from deeply investing in and appreciating this world; it only means that believers should realize that the best is yet to come and they should ultimately live for the day when Christ returns. Their greatest hope and the definitive solution to present suffering is to be found in the hope of Christ’s return. On that day “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16–18). Christians are commanded to “encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18), which are words of great hope.

The Millennial Reign of Christ

Revelation speaks of Christ reigning for “a thousand years” when Satan is bound and some of God’s people come to life to reign with him (Rev. 20:1–10). Christians have interpreted this millennium in one of three ways: amillennialism, premillennialism, and postmillennialism (for details, see Introduction to Revelation: Millennial Views). (1) Amillennialists believe that the thousand years in Revelation 20 is figurative language, showing that the reign of Christ from heaven is presently being fulfilled in the church age and will continue until the return of Christ. In this view, all the end-time events, such as Christ’s return and the final judgment, happen at once. (2) Premillennialists believe that, long before the final judgment, Christ will first return and establish his millennial kingdom—that is, his reign as King over all the earth for 1,000 years. Within this view there are various views of the timing of the great tribulation (whether Christians will go through it or will escape it by being suddenly removed from the earth before the tribulation begins), and of whether the 1,000 years is a literal or a symbolic number. (3)Postmillennialists believe the millennial reign of Christ will be ushered in after remarkable gospel progress establishes Christ’s reign on earth, not with Christ physically present but with the majority of the world obedient to him, and that at the end of that “millennium,” Christ will return in bodily form to reign over the new heavens and new earth forever.

While there has been much debate over the nature and timing of the millennial events, what is certainly clear in Scripture is that Christ will return and establish his kingdom and that all mankind will finally acknowledge his lordship over all creation. Once and for all, creation will undeniably submit to Christ the King, and he will reign on earth as already he does in heaven (Matt. 6:10; Phil. 2:10).

The Final Judgment and Hell

God expresses both personal (Rom. 1:18–32) and national judgment (Isaiah 13–23), and his judgments have taken place throughout history and in the heavenly realm (2 Pet. 2:4). But after the millennium (or, according to amillennialists, after the present age) Christ will judge the whole world once and for all (Matt. 25:31–33; 2 Tim. 4:1; Rev. 20:11–15). At this time the righteous wrath of a holy God will be unleashed on a rebellious world (Rom. 2:5; 3:19). Jesus often warned that he would usher in the day of wrath (Matt. 10:15; 11:22, 24; 12:36; 25:31–46), and other NT writers repeated this idea (1 Cor. 4:5;Heb. 6:2; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). Unbelievers will be judged, and the result will be punishment for even careless words that were spoken (Matt. 12:36). Those who refuse God’s gracious offer of forgiveness in Christ will suffer eternal conscious punishment in hell, a condition of torment cut off from the presence of God (Matt. 25:30, 41, 46; Mark 9:43, 48; Rev. 14:9–11). Christian believers, who understand the holiness and justice of God and the depth of human sin, should be able to relate to the martyrs in heaven who long for the day of judgment (Rev. 6:10). However, in this age, the church is primarily called to warn people everywhere to repent and flee the wrath that will come when Christ returns as Judge: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness b