We Only Do Exegesis (Except When We Read Things Into the Bible)

Is Exegesis Always Good and Eisegesis Always Bad?

Cain Slaying Abel (calls him an "eisegete")

Bible interpretation is one of my favorite topics. If Christians should spend time studying the Bible (and we should), it’s equally important that we know how best to interpret the Bible.

When we study this topic, we quickly encounter big words beginning with…

Hermeneutics: The art or science of interpretation.

There are two primary ways of doing hermeneutics, including…

Exegesis: Drawing meaning out of the text.

and…

Eisegesis: Putting meaning into the text.

That was easy, right?

For the purpose of this article, we need to have no doubt about this, so let’s consider the root meanings. Both words start with the Greek word hegesthai, meaning “to lead, guide.” The prefixes are ex (“out”) and eis (“in, into”), respectively. So again, when doing exegesis, we extract meaning from a text. The opposite of that, eisegesis, is adding meaning to a text.

Exegesis looks like the only right approach to take, doesn’t it? After all, when it comes to the Bible, we want to draw meaning out of the text. We should never read into the Bible any idea from outside the Bible, right? (Note: This is a loaded question, which I’ll soon answer).

Most Christian scholars agree that we should never do eisegesis. This is evident in the following quotes and definitions:

eisegesis occurs when a reader imposes his/her interpretation into and onto the text. – Bereans Desk

eisegesis: Reading into the Biblical text what isn’t there in order to conform the interpretation of the text to certain preconceived ideas or theories. – Agape Bible Study

eisegesis: Is the antonym for exegesis, which means reading into a text something that simply is not there. – The Catholic Treasure Chest

eisegesis: the interpretation of a text (as of the Bible) by reading into it one’s own ideas – Merriam-Webster

eisegesis: misinterpreting a text by reading into the text one’s own ideas – Definition-Of

eisegesis : personal interpretation of a text (especially of the Bible) using your own ideas – Princeton’s WordNet

…While exegesis draws out the meaning from a text in accordance with the context and discoverable meaning of its author, eisegesis occurs when a reader imposes his or her interpretation into and onto the text. As a result, exegesis tends to be objective when employed effectively while eisegesis is regarded as highly subjective. – Wikipedia

eisegesis: An interpretation, especially of Scripture, that reflects the personal ideas or viewpoint of the interpreter; reading something into a text that isn’t there. – Wiktionary

eisegesis… is the interpretation of a passage based on a subjective, non-analytical reading. The word eisegesis literally means “to lead into,” which means the interpreter injects his own ideas into the text, making it mean whatever he wants. – GotQuestions?org

As you can see, Christian, and even secular sources seem to agree that eisegesis is always wrong. But is that really the case?

We need to know for certain because the accusation of “doing eisegesis” is being used not only against cult members, but also against Christians. I’ve been accused of doing eisegesis simply because I used “unrelated” scriptures to shed light on another verse.

Interestingly, the idea that we should compare scripture with scripture is another widely accepted rule of hermeneutics. Does that contradict the rule which says we should never do eisegesis? After all, my critic was correct in the sense that I did impose meaning on a text from an outside source. A verse in one book of the Bible is external to those that we find in other books.

This brings us to the problem that comes with the idea of condemning all eisegesis. The idea makes no sense because…

We ALL Do Eisegesis!

Even though we shouldn’t read anything into the Bible that is unrelated to it, a surprising number of things may be related to any given scripture passage.

The fact is, we all get vast amounts of information about the Bible from outside sources—so much that without it, we could hardly understand the Bible. We readily bring this information to the Bible, even when we don’t know for sure whether or not it is entirely reliable. Here are some examples of…

Things We Read Into Our Bibles:

Personal Experiences
Whenever we read the Bible and think, “I’ve felt exactly the same way as this person,” we’re effectively reading ourselves into the Bible. How can we be certain that our own life experience is like that of anyone in the Bible? We cannot. Nonetheless, God wants us to relate our personal feelings and experiences to those of Bible characters (Jas. 5:17).

We may also read about God speaking to someone in the Bible, and feel as if God is saying that to us. “No,” you may think. “He’s not saying exactly that, but something like that.” What? Didn’t you just change the words and intent of the Bible to selfishly apply it to your own circumstances? That is tongue in cheek because I believe in doing that myself, as the Spirit leads me.

Bible Translations
Bible translators sometimes do a little eisegesis to help us associate our knowledge and experiences with the Bible. For instance, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (GW) has alternately been translated, “Everyone who calls, ‘Help, God!’ gets help” (MSG). Is salvation the same as getting help with something? That may be an extreme example, but my point is that every Bible translation will inevitably contain some eisegesis.

Map Information
As we all know, the Bible didn’t come with its own maps. The Bible seldom provides extensive detail when describing locations. Sometimes it describes landmarks that no longer exist, such as a well or a tree. That’s got to be pretty frustrating for map makers.

Most of our geographical knowledge comes from historical maps, local stories, and archaeological digs. The people who make Bible maps try to place cities on them, even when they can’t be certain about the exact locations. You may even see the Garden of Eden plotted on a map. (I might know where the Garden of Eden was located, but many people have their theories).

Historical Research
Most of what we know about Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece doesn’t come from the Bible, but it does allow us to better understand the Bible. People decide which information is both accurate and relevant to the Bible, and which isn’t.

Non-Christians usually trust archaeology more than the Bible, but even Christians sometimes rely too heavily on the opinions of archaeologists. Dr. R. Albert Mohler described archaeology as “largely a matter of historical reconstruction, often with little actual evidence.”

Lexical Information
The best source of learning about the language of the Bible is the Bible itself. Our lexicons and other linguistic aids routinely use extra-biblical information. This is needful, but it can lead to misunderstandings. In particular, the early Christians didn’t always use Greek words in the same way as their Roman neighbors.

Bible Chronologies
Reconstructions of biblical timelines may come from a combination of textual analysis and historical research. In any case, scholars can’t always agree on when things happened, or in what order. For instance, some say that Jesus was crucified on a Thursday, and others that it was on a Friday. Whatever the truth may be, these scholars have to do eisegesis since exegesis doesn’t provide all the answers.

Symbolic Analysis
The most prominent example of Bible symbolism is typology. For example, you’ve probably been taught that Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac was intended by God to point the way forward to Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. What you may not know is that this is only an assumption, based on parallels between two very different events. It’s not based on any literal statement in the Bible. I don’t dispute the interpretation, but we should acknowledge that it’s based on eisegesis.

Another form of symbolic analysis is numerology. If we state, rather uncontroversially, that the number seven represents completion or perfection in the Bible, we’re doing eisegesis because the Bible doesn’t literally say that.

The “Bible code,” which allegedly reveals secret messages in the Scriptures, is in my opinion, an improper means of doing eisegesis.

Finally, we find many types and symbols in prophetic texts such as Revelation. Anyone who wants to understand prophecy must do a great deal of eisegesis. Nonetheless, God didn’t put prophecy in the Bible to confound us, but to inform us.

Someone may reply that if they have properly interpreted Revelation, they will only have done exegesis. This seems like a self-justifying way to use that word because their hermeneutical method will inevitably look like eisegesis.

Rational Analysis
We all do this with certain verses in the Bible. For instance, Mark 16:18 says we won’t be hurt if we pick up serpents in our hands or drink deadly poison. Fortunately, few Christians take this literally, as if it were a command from God. Instead, we do eisegesis by completely leaving the chapter and comparing this verse with verses such as Matthew 4:7.

Science
Many Christians, though they claim to reject eisegesis, like to read science into the Bible. They try to reconcile Genesis 1 with science, either through creation science or through a progressive creation theory.

Along with many other Christians, I think both groups are reading science into a chapter in which God never intended to provide a scientific account. The core problem is not in using an interpretive aid such as in this case, science, but in failing to recognize that the text doesn’t support a scientific reading. Therefore, instead of accusing my brethren of doing “eisegesis,” I try to show them the poetry and symbolism in the text (see Part 5 of Return to Genesis).

Newspaper Headlines
Some Christians are always trying to associate Bible prophecies with current events such as things happening in the Middle East or the alleged identity of the Antichrist. In some ways, “prophecy experts” such as Tim LaHaye (author of the Left Behind novels) set the stage for the Gulf War by demonizing Saddam Hussein and his so-called “Babylon.” Tragically, they weren’t talking about wicked people, but (relatively) innocent Iraqis, many of whom had never heard the gospel. This is definitely not how God wants us to do eisegesis.

Study Bible Notes
We’re all “guilty” of having done eisegesis by reading explanatory notes in our Bibles. The notes can shed much light on the text, or may only give us the opinions of fallible men. Some Christians don’t study the Bible apart from a Bible study book or guide.

At times, we all need teachers to explain the Bible (Neh. 8:7-8, Matt. 28:19-20). However, they tend to give us a lot of extraneous information, which amounts to eisegesis.

 

Why We Need Both Exegesis and Eisegesis

God wants us to think when we read the Bible. Thinking involves interactions such as getting knowledge and impressions from the text, and bringing questions, ideas, and outside knowledge to it.

Extra-biblical information can definitely help us understand the Bible. When we do research to learn more about the Bible, we fulfill the command to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Moreover, we naturally want to know how the Bible addresses topics that interest us, and God wants to answer our questions.

The stated goal of exegesis is to draw out the meaning of a text. However, we can’t expect to do nothing other than receive from God and His Word. The spiritual life consists of both giving and receiving.

As we study the Bible, we should be aware of multiple voices in the dialog, including the entire Bible (not just the passage being studied), the Holy Spirit, other believers, and sometimes even non-Christian voices. When we bring multiple resources to bear on a scripture passage, we do eisegesis by bringing information to the text. This helps us draw the best possible interpretation out of the text, which is exegesis.

Now that we’ve learned about the value of eisegesis, what about exegesis? Is that a nearly infallible source of information, as we’ve been taught?…

In fact, we can make mistakes even if we only seek to approach the Bible with a blank slate and draw information out of it.

First, nobody is a perfectly blank slate. Who would we be trying to kid? We all bring our own baggage and assumptions to the Bible.

Secondly, we could easily misunderstand a scripture passage by failing to do eisegesis. For example, we might need to know background information such as how, in Jesus’ time, the Jews despised the Roman occupation. The New Testament doesn’t go into much detail on that, but still it’s an important contextual element.

In addition, as conservative Bible scholars know, exegesis in the form of textual criticism has led to many mistaken assumptions about the Bible. Evangelicals have had a history of problems with exegetes ranging from liberal scholars to atheists. This supposedly infallible approach to the Bible has led to:

  • Dissatisfaction with manuscript variations, however minor and inconsequential.
  • The assumption that a “redactor” compiled and edited the Pentateuch.
  • The rejection of some books of the Bible as alleged forgeries.
  • The assumption that the gospels and Revelation were written after 70 AD since the authors clearly knew about the Roman conquest of Jerusalem.

Clearly, we have no reason to presume that eisegesis is always inferior and leads to error, and that exegesis is always a superior and more enlightening way of doing hermeneutics. Such assumptions are easily disproven when we look at the history of biblical research.

I, as much as anyone, would love to have the original manuscripts of the Bible, along with a perfect understanding of the original languages. However, even that vast exegetical knowledge would be incomplete apart from eisegetical information about culture, geography, and history, as well as a relationship with God and an understanding of people and other divine creations.

Here’s a question for any Christian who says we should only do exegesis: Does the Holy Spirit do eisegesis? To clarify, when we read a scripture passage and the Lord speaks to us about it, doesn’t that knowledge come from a source that is external to the text itself? That source is the Holy Spirit, Who dwells not in Bibles, but in human hearts.

With regard to eisegesis, it’s not about whether or not someone has read something into the text, but whether or not that something ought to have been read into the text. If someone appears to have erred, we shouldn’t use a meaningless label like “eisegete.” Instead, we should say, “I think you have read something into the text that may not belong there. May I explain?” This could open the door to a fruitful dialog with the person.

We now know that misinterpretation and eisegesis are two different things. People can make errors in eisegesis, but they can also make exegetical errors.

I think the worst thing we can say about eisegesis is that on balance, we may have to be a little more careful with that than with exegesis. However, we should always be very respectful of God’s Word, and extremely careful about how we interpret it.

Why the Language We Use Matters

Someone reading this may not fully understand why I object to the way Christians use (actually, abuse) the words exegesis and eisegesis. After all, they may say that language is a human creation, and that we can define words however we want. There’s no rule that says we always have to be faithful to the original root meanings behind words.

As I will explain, there are multiple problems with this objection…

First, we’re never free to do as we please without suffering the consequences of unethical actions. Even in how we define and use words, God requires that we be morally honest and upright.

Second, nothing is neutral, including language. Some words, as people define and use them, are good, and some are bad. The worst words have falsehoods embedded in them. As George Carlin said, “By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth.”

George Orwell described the connection between control of a language and political control in his novel, 1984. He observed that language itself can corrupt our thoughts. He also wrote:

Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

Thirdly, while the meaning of words can stray from the original roots, the existing definitions assume that the present meaning remains strongly connected to the Greek language origins. That is, exegesis is drawing meaning from a text, and eisegesis is reading something into a text. Incidentally, eisegesis is a relatively new word, which was intentionally created with attention to the Greek language and to the word exegesis.

My point is that, given the root meanings that we all acknowledge, the added moral judgments—about exegesis always being good and eisegesis always being bad—fail to hold up under scrutiny.

This leads to my fourth point. Knowing that words can be good or bad, and that they can either reveal or conceal truth, the words exegesis and eisegesis are highly deceptive in the way they’re being used. This should be evident from what I’ve written above, but let’s review some of the reasons one by one. The existing definitions imply that:

  1. Good Christians don’t do eisegesis. Utterly false! Let’s not flatter ourselves (John 9:41).
  2. Eisegesis is always wrong. Also false!
  3. Whoever reads their own ideas into the Bible is always in error. False!
  4. Exegesis is the only proper way to interpret the Bible. False!
  5. There’s an in-group of Christians who properly interpret the Bible by doing exegesis. At the opposite extreme, there are people who are mistaken because they do eisegesis. Wrong again! Sweeping generalizations such as these ought to be explained and defended, not permanently enshrined in words and their misleading definitions.

The original Greek meanings of eisegesis and exegesis have been abused and distorted. Both words have been politicized and turned into falsehoods. This has led to pride, misunderstandings, judgmentalism, and division.

Since we all do eisegesis when we study the Bible, we should be honest about it. We can’t question the kind of eisegesis we’re doing if we’re in denial about the fact that we’re doing it. Eisegesis can certainly be a questionable activity, but let’s use this word to question ourselves, not only to accuse other people while justifying ourselves with the word exegesis.

Closing Thoughts

As a Christian, I always want to defend Christianity. However, let’s face it. Religion, including Christianity, often looks like a racket. I’m not talking about something that the world might see as outrageous, such as sex scandals or warmongering, though those things are also shameful. The readiness on the part of many Evangelicals to label and condemn fellow believers bothers me as much as anything else.

Speaking of which, another word that conservative Christians routinely abuse is the word “literal.” Christians who claim to interpret the Bible literally often fault other Christians for not interpreting the Bible as they do. However, we all make decisions about what parts of the Bible to take literally or non-literally. Nobody takes every word in the Bible literally. Thus, anyone who idly accuses another of not taking a Bible passage literally begs the question of whether or not it ought to be taken literally. I have explained why I am opposed to biblical literalism here, and also in this post.

The most responsible approach to any text is to, as much as we can, view it through the eyes of the original audience. The Bible isn’t a science or history textbook, but is made up of literature. Accordingly, no Christian deserves to be caricatured as an “allegorist” or “spiritualizer” simply for having found metaphors or types in the Bible.

Labels are needed sometimes, and we do find some in the Bible. However, we need to be careful how we describe other people lest we become guilty of slander. Here are some more terms that Christians often use against one another in a pejorative manner:

allegorist, antinomian, anti-Semite, apostate, Arminian, Bible thumper, bigot, Calvinist, complementarian, creationist, egalitarian, eisegete, evolutionist, false teacher, feminist, frozen chosen, fundamentalist, fundy, Gnostic, heretic, holy roller, homophobe, hypocrite, legalist, liberal, misogynist, Pharisee, racist, sexist, spiritualizer, theocrat, Zionist

Some of these labels may accurately describe some people, but that doesn’t mean you or I will ever meet someone who can be perfectly stereotyped. Every person is an individual who deserves to be heard and understood.

It’s intellectually lazy to use labels instead of arguments, and it’s hypocritical to criticize others for doing the same things that we do ourselves.

We’ve learned that the label “eisegete” is intended to brand false teachers, only to learn that eisegesis is often necessary to understand the Bible. Every Christian does eisegesis by adding outside information to the Bible, and we all “spiritualize” some scriptures. It takes more humility to admit that we sometimes read ideas into Scripture from external sources than to claim (falsely) that all our theology comes straight from the Bible.

I pray that one day, people will find more truthful definitions when they look up words like exegesis and eisegesis in dictionaries. Then, as George Orwell would surely have agreed, we’ll also enjoy having less thought control, and greater freedom of thought.

3 Simple Changes That Could Fix the Economy

BankLending

Bank lending for house price bubbles, real businesses, and financial market speculation.

People are always trying to find ways to work smarter, be more productive, and become successful. We push ourselves to the limit, but how often do we think about the best way to do things at the national level? The first thing we ought to do is fix our broken economy. That’s the greatest thing we could do to help the poor. In addition, that will make it easier for each of us to achieve personal happiness. The question is, how can we “fix” the economy?…

When money is being siphoned at the top, we’re all being robbed, no matter how productive we may be as individuals. Unfortunately, that’s precisely what’s happening. This video posting is about how we can change that. Like most good things, it starts with education.

The following quote is attributed to Mayor Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812), the founder of the Rothschild banking dynasty::

Let me issue and control a nation’s money and I care not who writes the laws.

Unfortunately, bankers continue to create our money. I am passionate about reversing this condition by educating everyone I can about the need to restore this immense power back to the people.

Henry Ford knew something about the importance of the power to issue money:

It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.

Recently, I discovered this video, which was produced in the U.K. This short video makes our U.S. banking system (which resembles that of the U.K.) and the related problems incredibly easy to understand. It aptly conveys some of my main concerns, and presents a simple, 3-step solution.

3 Simple Changes That Could Fix the Economy

For your convenience, here’s a written summary of the video contents::


More than 97% of the money in our economy is created by banks when they make loans. Most of it goes into house price bubbles and gambling in financial markets. This has led to high personal and government debts.

Here are the 3 simple changes:

1. Take the power to create money away from the banks and return it to an accountable, democratic, and transparent process.

History has shown that when banks have the power to create money, they make too much in the good times and too little in the bad times.

The banks invest only a small amount of money (13%) into businesses outside the financial sector.

Regulation never works. Moreover, we can’t trust politicians to issue the currency any more than we can trust the banks.

We need a new committee. This committee must be accountable to the Congress (or Parliament) and sheltered from vested interests. The committee would ensure that the right amount of money is created.

2. Money must be created free of debt.

We have to pay interest on nearly every dollar in existence. When people repay their debts, that money disappears from the economy, making it harder for the rest of us.

3. Have money come into the real economy before it reaches financial markets and property bubbles.

Money should be spent into the economy on a debt-free basis. This will stimulate the economy and create jobs instead of increasing debt and inflating the next financial bubble.


I’m excited to know that other concerned, knowledgable people have independently come up with ideas very much like my own. This confirms, as I hope you’ll agree, that we already know the right solution!

I’ve written about our monetary system, the nature of money, the problems, and proposals for change at these links:

  A Plan to Restore Sound Money and Prosperity: Part 1, Part 2
The Best Way to Help the Poor

When you see something like this, you may feel as if you can’t make a difference. In reality, you never know! If you agree with this cause, all you can do is share this post with anyone who might be interested.

Some things that we try to do for others won’t make an earthly difference. We can’t control outcomes. But know this… God sees when you are trying to make a difference, and that does matter!

The Flip Side: God’s Response to Human Evil

DantesInferno

Illustration of Dante’s Inferno, Stradanus, 1587

One of the greatest obstacles to belief in God is the problem of human evil. It is often asked: If God is so good, how can He permit so much evil in the world?

The daily news is a constant reminder of mankind’s capacity for evil. The evil done by humans far exceeds the misbehavior of any other species. Even so, the Bible tells us we were created in the image of a holy and righteous God.

The Bible also tells us that Jesus Christ gave His life to reconcile mankind with God. However, nearly two millennia since the death and resurrection of Christ, the world is still quite evil. That includes the more two billion people who claim to believe in Jesus, yet who aren’t loving people the way Jesus taught us.

When questioning why evil exists, we should each begin by confessing our own guilt. We all suffer in some ways because of other people’s sins, but people also suffer because of what we’ve done. While this doesn’t answer the problem of evil, it should at least keep us humble.

Before I continue, I should clarify that this is written for people who already accept the Bible’s teachings, or who are interested in learning. If you’re not a Christian, please don’t judge Christianity without considering the Bible’s own testimony.

The Two Sources of Human Authority

You’ve probably heard the short explanation of the problem of evil. That is, people are evil because Adam and Eve sinned. This mattered because God had delegated authority over the earth to them (Gen. 1:28). Adam was the representative head of mankind. People have retained this authority ever since, but haven’t properly exercised it because we’re sinners.

That’s not the end of the story—not by a long shot…

God could have intervened to judge mankind at any given point in history. Instead, He chose to first prepare the way through ancient Israel, then send His Son to give His life for our salvation.

God isn’t the source of evil but He is the source of all authority. The Bible tells us that God delegated authority to mankind on two occasions. I’ve already mentioned the first time, in which He assigned authority to Adam.

The second time God delegated authority to mankind was in a scripture passage known as the Great Commission. After Jesus rose from the dead, He appeared to His disciples in Galilee and announced:

All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:18-20)

Since Jesus said He possesses all authority, this should leave no doubt that He defeated Satan and reversed Adam’s curse.

Jesus doesn’t tightly hold His authority on a distant throne. Instead, He makes it available to all who believe through the Holy Spirit Who dwells in us.

Each Authority’s Legacy and Reward

We have seen that according to the Bible, mankind received authority both through Adam and through Christ. These sources of authority are evident in the apostle Paul’s description of two broad categories of people, including those who are in Adam and those who are in Christ.

The problem of evil results from the fact that the children of Adam continue his legacy by sinning, thereby perpetuating the problem.

But there’s a flip side because God is counteracting the sin of Adam’s children through the children of Christ. All who are in Christ have access to every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm (Eph. 1:3). We are clothed in God’s righteousness, not our own filthy rags. We even have access to the throne of God (Heb. 4:16). God gave us the ability to progressively reverse the effects of the curse by preaching the gospel and discipling people in the ways of Christ, as He commanded us.

An objection will be raised here because, as we all know, the children of Adam also do good, and the children of God also sin. Sin is so ingrained in us that even Christians must struggle with temptations throughout our lives. How then can anyone rationally affirm that God is defeating evil in the world through Christ and the Church?

The reason this doesn’t appear to make sense is that we naturally focus on people instead of on Christ. We look at how good many non-Christians are, and at how bad many Christians are, while forgetting that one group doesn’t know Jesus and the other does. Another reason is that we look at wonderful things done by individual unbelievers while either forgetting or not realizing that secular society as a whole is under God’s judgment.

We all like to selectively point out good deeds that we’ve done. It’s true that unbelievers often do good things because after all, God created them in His image. However, even their best works are evil because of impurity, and of not being sanctified (made holy) through faith in Jesus Christ. Moreover, the standard for getting into heaven without Christ is to be without sin in every thought and action.

This becomes more understandable when we consider some commonalities and essential differences among the children of Adam and the children of God, as outlined in this table:

Nature From the Creation* Nature After the Fall Primary Ethical Standard Spirit Works

Adam’s Children

Image of God

Sinful Conscience Still in Adam. Judged as Inadequate

Christ’s Children

Image of God

Sinful Scripture Reborn through the Spirit. Accepted and Blessed

*Nature, or natural law, provides moral guidance for both, but is inadequate by itself.

Normally, evangelicals present the gospel with a focus on the individual, and on eternity. The gospel is incorporated in this table, but the emphasis is on the effect on believers, and ultimately on all mankind.

The table hints at an array of truths that are foundational to the Christian faith. Christian apologists have defended the following, related questions on countless occasions:

  • How we can know about God’s existence from the natural world
  • Why sin is the basic problem with humanity
  • How we can know that the Bible is the inspired Word of God
  • Why we need the objective moral standards presented in the Bible
  • How we can know that Jesus fulfilled the messianic prophecies and rose from the dead.
  • How the Church has been a blessing to the world. (See this recent article as an example).

When we view these truths in this framework, we can see how each of them contributes to the argument that even now, God is responding to evil through the Church. He isn’t working primarily through law (even though governments are divinely ordained institutions), but through grace. Christians are to be examples of God’s grace, not of His judgment.

This response to evil challenges all people to stop being part of the problem by repenting of sin, accepting God’s salvation through Christ’s sacrifice, and living by faith in the Son of God.

We can’t always see it, but God judges human works in this world, including those of both Christians and unbelievers. The Lord ultimately determines which human endeavors will fail, and which will prosper. The Bible tells us that God actively blesses believers and our works, but judges unbelievers and their works. Nowhere does the Bible teach that God is inactive, and only waiting for eternity to begin before He will do anything.

This brings up another apparent problem since we all know that unbelievers often prosper and Christians often fail. More specifically, unbelievers often succeed in wrongdoing, and Christians often fail while trying to do serve God.

God’s judgments in this world are not comprehensive. The Lord won’t judge all thoughts and actions until the Final Judgment, at the end of time. That’s why we don’t consistently see good deeds rewarded or evil deeds punished in our lifetimes. This doesn’t mean, however, that God doesn’t execute judgment in this world. The Bible assures us that judgment does occur in God’s timing (Ps. 73). God is more patient than ourselves.

As bad as this world is, it would be a much worse place if God were not on the side of the righteous. Overall, God has, and continues to bless the work of Christians, especially as we spread the gospel and disciple people in response to the Great Commission.

How Christians Can Overcome Evil

JesusWildernessTemptation

The Temptation of Christ by Ary Scheffer (1854)

Speaking of the Great Commission, let’s review the state of the world before that epic turning point in human history.

As Jesus fasted in the wilderness before beginning His earthly ministry, Satan tempted Him by offering the kingdoms of the world. Satan had even boasted, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish” (Lk. 4:6). Since Jesus didn’t call Satan a liar, we should assume that he was telling the truth.

Sadly, some Christian teachers cite this passage as “evidence” that Satan rules the world. They should continue reading their Bibles because Satan later lost that authority. As Jesus told His disciples (and us) in the Great Commission, He now possesses all authority in heaven and earth.

Christians shouldn’t be surprised to learn that Jesus’ death and resurrection made a difference in the world.

Even though Jesus has held all authority for nearly two thousand years, He hasn’t forcibly taken over the world. Neither does He want Christians to forcibly seize the reigns of power. Consequently, Satan and anyone he helps put in power still have substantial authority for the time being.

God wants Christians to advance Christ’s kingdom by overcoming evil. We should begin in our own lives and in the spiritual realm, but we should also consider how we can best make a difference in the “real” world (Mt. 7:5, Eph. 6:12). We’re here to glorify God and preach the gospel, with good works being an essential part of that ministry (Eph. 2:10).

Christians who deny that God intends to effectively defeat evil on this earth find it hard to explain the prophecies related to an earthly kingdom of God. The only thing they can come up with is that God will destroy this earth and create a new one in its place. In fact, the new heavens and earth result from the renewal that is taking place under Christ’s authority and dominion. They also find it difficult to defend against the charge that God is either unwilling or unable to overcome evil in this world.

Christians who say God will let evil forces prevail on this earth (as depicted in the Left Behind novels) but banish evil for eternity have, understandably, lost the attention of most unbelievers. Even if someone takes such a preposterous scenario seriously, this world matters to them. If we expect Jesus Christ and His heavenly Father to lose out to Satan and the Antichrist to the point that Jesus is forced to return with His heavenly army, God’s response to evil appears no more merciful or gracious than that of any human military leader.

Most Christian teachers and lay people today don’t think it’s possible to establish God’s kingdom on the earth apart from Jesus’ return in the clouds. Again, however, Jesus could have already conquered the world long ago.

What, then, is God’s plan? He wants to win people over through love. That’s something that we Christians are capable of doing.

The idea that we can’t build the kingdom of God is ironic since much of the work has already been done. If we understand the Kingdom of God as the extension of Christ’s life and influence on the earth, this has been happening ever since the Great Commission.

Let’s not hunker down out of fear and allow this work to either slow down or go astray. Instead, let’s not only live the gospel but take it to the ends of the earth.

Before we do so, we need to understand the precise nature of the gospel message that Jesus expects us to proclaim. Thus far, most Christians have been preaching only a gospel of personal salvation. I’m not against that, but one thing must be added if we are to be faithful to the whole counsel of God…

Jesus proclaimed, and commanded us to preach what He called the “gospel of the kingdom” (Mt. 24:14). Unfortunately, most Christians today have only a vague idea of what is meant by the word “kingdom.” In fact, “kingdom” has become another Christian buzzword that often has little more value than to help identify certain programs or ministries.

The gospel of the kingdom is the message that God is willing and able to renew the world, including not only individuals but communities and institutions. God desires to save all people, and commands everyone to repent and trust in Jesus for salvation (Acts 17:30, 1 Tim. 2:3-4, 2 Pet. 3:9).

How We Can Influence Authorities

Recently, a Christian who doesn’t believe in this idea of the kingdom advised me to consider the example of the early martyrs.

“I’m all for doing that,” I said.

He told me those martyrs didn’t die for a kingdom, nor for any political reason.

He was mistaken because Rome did feel threatened by the proclamation of Jesus as Lord. Those Christians didn’t think of Jesus as merely a “personal” Lord and Savior. As Herod had feared the baby Jesus, the Caesars understood that, if allowed to spread, the radical concept of Jesus’ universal Lordship could soon threaten their reign.

The small sect of first century Christians has now grown to over two billion, and yet most political rulers today have no fear of God. That can only be because we have reduced the original gospel to one that is almost entirely about personal salvation.

The idea is not that Christians should threaten governments or seek to overthrow them, but that we should proclaim Christ as Lord of all. Our rulers are as duty-bound to obey God as we are to obey them for the Lord’s sake.

While it’s true that such proclamations could fall on deaf ears, what’s important is that we trust in Christ to rule over us, not only from heaven but from earthly seats of authority.

Yes, by “earthly seats of authority,” I’m talking about the same politicians that you may be bitterly and incessantly complaining about. There’s a point at which this kind of reaction displays a lack of faith in God’s sovereignty.

How would you behave if your father had all the authority in the world? Our Father in heaven does. If we would honor and pray for our rulers, God would begin holding them to a higher standard.

Even though evil people often rule over us, God has each of them on a leash and will only let them go so far. Jesus didn’t die to gain His authority in vain.

The Old Covenant was characterized by Law, failure, and judgment. On the whole, this is not what we should expect to see under the New Covenant. God still demands repentance, so obviously He still has moral standards. The difference is that people now have a fuller revelation through Christ, and we have greater access to God through the Holy Spirit. The increasing failure of Israel under the Old Covenant can already be contrasted with the record of the Church’s increasing victory under the New Covenant.

In this article, I’ve examined the problem of evil in the light of the Scriptures. I explained that God has called each of us to be part of the answer. If you aren’t a Christian already, please ask Him to cleanse you from your sins and accept you. God is ready to forgive you and be gracious to you, but you must rest your faith in Jesus Christ.

If you know anyone who is wondering how God can allow so much evil in the world, please help them by sharing this post with them.

The Top Ten Lies That Satan Uses to Discourage Christians

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Every day, each of us is tempted to become discouraged over one thing or another. Discouragement is contrary to the will of God because He wants us to be joyful and thankful in all circumstances (Phil. 4:4, 1 Thess. 5:18). In fact, discouragement is the opposite of faith in God. When we’re discouraged, we’re not remembering God’s love, nor trusting in His promises of victory in this life and joy for all eternity.

It’s wonderful news that God doesn’t want us to be discouraged because who wants that anyway? God is on our side to help us live a fuller and happier life (Jn. 10:10). Since discouragement is not the will of God, we know that it can only result from falsehoods. Let’s start on the journey to joy by examining what I believe to be the top ten lies that Satan uses to discourage Christians.

1. “God has forgotten about me.”

If you feel this way, you may be waiting for God to answer some important prayers. Remember that Abraham waited many years for God to fulfill His promise to provide a son, but God came through. In nature also, we see that there are both rainy seasons and droughts. Rejoice in the knowledge that this is a time of spiritual growth for you, and know that God never forgets His children (Heb. 13:5).

2. “God doesn’t want me to enjoy life.”

When we suffer, we’re often tempted to see God as remote, and perhaps even as taking pleasure in our misfortune. Again, God wants each of us to live an abundant, joyful life. With that in mind, let’s step back and consider the reasons why we’re sometimes called to suffer (1 Pet. 2:21). The Bible tells us that suffering develops the virtues of compassion, purity, patience, character, and hope (Isa. 48:10, 2 Cor. 1:3-5, Rom. 5:35, 8:28). It also leads to greater intimacy with God and eternal rewards (Job 42:5, Rom. 8:18). By the way, no Christian has ever suffered due to the wrath of God (1 Thess. 5:9). Instead, what happens is that we share in Christ’s suffering (1 Pet. 4:13).

3. “God can’t possibly care about the details of my life.”

We’ve all felt this way because many of our trials seem unworthy of God’s attention. We may also be too proud to admit even to ourselves that we need help to cope with minor frustrations, though we are only human. These lies keep us from taking petty annoyances such as red lights and spam e-mail to the Lord in prayer. Later on, we may wonder why we let minor irritations build up and contribute to an unjustified outburst against a co-worker. God wants you to cast every care upon Him because He cares about everything that concerns you (Lk. 12:7, 1 Pet. 5:7).

4. “I’m too sinful to attain salvation.”

This is true of us all, which is why Jesus laid down His life for us. Don’t refuse God’s mercy by focusing more on your sins than on His forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:8). If Christ is in you, His righteousness is also in you. Trust in God and His Word because steadfast faith conquers everything. Feelings follow faith, and in the long run, so does our behavior.

5. “I’m the worst person in the world at/because of…”

Do you sometimes compare yourself with others while exaggerating your own misery? We’ve all done it, even though it only leads to further depression and despair. If you’re in this rut, stop making false comparisons just so you can feel sorry for yourself. Focus on the blessings you have, not on what you don’t have. Take time every day to give thanks and praise to God, while being sure to praise Him for the wonderful future that He has planned for you (Jer. 29:11).

6. “Wealth and possessions are a measure of God’s love for me.”

True wealth consists of much more than money and possessions. It’s found in intangibles, including our relationship with God (Who has promised us eternal life), relationships with others, and our inner resources. Many people have material wealth, but don’t have joy, peace of mind, good health, and other non-material blessings, all of which I hope you have. After Job lost his family and earthly possessions, he learned that God alone was sufficient for him.

7. “I’m afraid.”

We all have fears, whether they be related to people, the future, or whatever. We need to confront our fears, even if only in our minds. The way to do this is to first accept or “own” each fear. Then sit and reflect on it in the light of reason and faith. Also, find and think about relevant scriptures such as, “He Who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4).

8. “Nobody cares about me.”

The sad truth is that apart from God, everyone cares mostly about themselves. People can be lonely even if they have a spouse, a family, and many “friends.” Despite the pervasive self-centeredness in the world, we can still experience nearly unconditional love. It comes from mutual acceptance and sacrifice, which means learning to care about other people in an altruistic way. You can start by taking an interest in other people. Some of them will return the favor by wanting to know more about you.

9. “I’ve missed out on God’s plan for my life.”

God had foreknowledge of all our sins, including those that we would commit after we came to know Him. When we sin and miss paths that God wanted us to take, He’s able to adjust His plans and guidance, as He had anticipated from eternity past. Know that no matter what missteps you have made, God is always faithful. As Jesus assured us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).

10. “God doesn’t really love me.”

When we experience problems like the ones in this list, we can be tempted to think that God doesn’t really love us. However, God sent proof of His love in the Person of Jesus Christ, Who suffered and died for us. If you’re a Christian, it’s only because God chose you to believe in His Son (Jn. 15:16). How privileged we are! If you need further assurance of God’s love, seek Him, for He will surely answer. Psalm 34:18 says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

This list is intended to help you address common causes of discouragement. We can’t avoid trials, nor should we expect to. However, we can learn how to properly respond to the lies that beset us and sometimes get us down. Again, it’s the will of God that you be happy because these are not the words of Joel Osteen: “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice.” (Phil. 4:4). God’s Word also says, “Give thanks in all things, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thess. 5:18).

If this post has helped you, please share it with others who can benefit. Don’t let Satan steal the joy that could be theirs.

My Christian Belief Statement as Poetry

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I created a one-sentence Christian belief statement, which you can see under my photo on the right. This statement encapsulates some of my most cherished beliefs. Despite the brevity, the statement requires some explanation.

Although you might never have guessed it, my belief statement is intended to be understood as poetry. It’s not a western-style poem but an ancient-style one. This poetic form is known as an inverse parallelism. The simplest form is A-B-B’-A’ but further elements can be added, as in the illustration above or in my A-B-C-C’-B’-A’ structure (below).

Inverse parallelisms can often be found in the Bible. My own belief statement illustrates what they look like. This can help you recognize parallelisms in the Bible, and possibly even create your own.

A     The Lordship of Jesus

B     the defeat of Satan

C     the wisdom (of the Bible)

C’     and relevance of the Bible

B’     human responsibility

A ‘     and divine grace.

This may appear cryptic, but I can explain the pairing of the individual elements as follows:

A-A’     Through Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Universe, we have access to the grace that we sinners so desperately need (Heb. 4:16).

B-B’     Jesus defeated Satan on the cross, but we who are in Christ are called to extend that victory in our generation. Satan was, and is being defeated by Christ and the Church.

C-C’     Through Christ and His Word, we have access to divine wisdom. We are responsible for recovering that wisdom and proclaiming the Bible’s relevance for our time.

Parallelisms don’t exclude consecutive or logical relationships such as A-B. They simply add additional relationships. These can greatly increase our understanding of a message. A-B and B-B’ imply that while Jesus defeated Satan, you and I also have roles to play.

The most important elements of an inverse parallelism will often be at the center. I’m comfortable with having put the Bible at the center, and with having had A-A’ enclose everything. This brings up the fact that the final element (A’ for divine grace) is not of least importance as we might expect from a non-poetic understanding, but is in a flanking position.

When we put it all together, this tells a story. We’re in battle with the forces of darkness. However, we’re hemmed in on both sides by the victorious grace of God and we have the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17).

As you probably have guessed, the above belief statement isn’t meant to be comprehensive. In case you’re wondering, I also believe in the Apostles’ Creed. However, a single sentence is ideal for this purpose.

If you’ve concluded that my belief statement says nothing new, you’re right. Every Christian minister will say that they believe in these things. But ask yourself, does your pastor really believe that Satan is defeated, or does he teach that evil people are progressively gaining control of this world? Does he want to see Christians establish God’s reign in all areas of life, or has he largely reduced biblical ethics to refraining from sin and being good witnesses?

Bible poetry is often easier to understand and validate than this poem of mine. Nobody could have proven an intentional use of poetry here, had I not explained it myself. On the other hand, the extended poems the Book of Genesis take us through the alphabet with the many parallels.

If you agree with my belief statement and appreciate the poetic structure, I think you’ll also enjoy, and benefit greatly from my book, Return to Genesis. You can get a discounted price on it through the link on the sidebar. Finally, if you subscribe to this blog, you’ll find out when I post articles on Bible poetry and other topics.