The Life of Jesus: The Important Parts (#4)

This article is part 4 of an 8 part series. Go back to part 3.

life-of-jesus-according-to-four-gospelsThe Life of Jesus According to All Four Gospels

The Beginning of the End

As the end of the ministry of Jesus came closer, all the gospels stressed two points:

  • The anointing by Mary and its symbolism of death, sacrifice, and forgiveness.
  • The acceptance of the kingship of Jesus in the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

The Anointing by Mary

There is debate as to whether the four accounts of anointing are the same event and the same women.1 I’m focusing on the simple harmonized details. We know this much: all four gospels agree that a woman poured perfume on Jesus and that someone objected to the anointing.

In Matthew, Mark, and John, Jesus insists that the expensive perfume was not wasted, even though it could have been sold and the money used for the poor. He points out that the money raised would not have solved the problem of poverty. In contrast, the anointing served as preparation for the burial of Jesus, a symbol of the great value of his death as sacrifice for sin.

In Luke, Jesus defends the anointing by suggesting that the sinful woman’s sin-debt was so great that the forgiveness was more meaningful to her. The greater gift (the perfume) represented her sacrifice in proportion to her sin. The anointing was a symbolic foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus for the forgiveness of sin.

Through the anointing we have a picture of Jesus setting up the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Jesus understood what his death and resurrection would mean for the forgiveness of sin and salvation from spiritual poverty.2 Contrary to the objections raised against the anointing, he wasn’t approving of sin or ignoring the reality of physical poverty. But he was pointing towards the greater purpose of his life.

The Triumphal Entry

At the start of the final week of the life of Jesus, he sent his disciples into town to retrieve a colt of a donkey so that he could ride it into Jerusalem. He then rode it into Jerusalem. On the way the crowds gathered, laying down their garments and tree branches so that the colt would ride over them. They shouted praise to God and to Jesus as God’s kingly representative, acknowledging him as a prophet of God and the King of Israel come to rule and save them.3

Throughout the ministry of Jesus to that point, Jesus had refused to accept the title of King publicly. He chose this time to make his claim and the people accepted his claim.

Preparing the Death of a King

It is no real surprise that the prelude to the death of Jesus was his declaration of kingship. Jesus had always resisted accepting the kingship because doing so meant a near certainty of death. The Roman rulers would not take kindly to, as they saw it, an upstart king sowing political dissent and fomenting violence.

The gospel writers all preceded the triumphal entry with the anointing: the declaration of death, sacrifice, and forgiveness of sin. What was the point of accepting kingship if he knew he would be dead before the week ended?

The answer to this question leads to one of the core principles of Christianity: That we must acknowledge Jesus as our King to receive his sacrifice as payment for our sin. We acknowledge that Jesus is our Lord by following his commands and becoming his followers. We acknowledge that his kingdom, that is, authority from God, leads to forgiveness and a path to God.

1 John describes “Mary of Bethany”. Luke identifies the woman as “sinful” (traditionally interpreted to be a prostitute).  Tradition also identifies the woman as Mary Magdalen. Another difference is whether the perfume was poured on the head or the feet (presumably both). Luke differs with Matthew, Mark, and John in discussing the anointing. There are plenty of resources that discuss the differences in greater detail, so I won’t discuss them here.

2 Jesus consistently viewed the spiritual as relatively more important than the mundane. He was not without compassion, but he realized what was most important. This was the motivation behind the Lord’s Prayer and his healings.

3 They shouted “Hosanna”, which was a shout of praise. The meaning of Hosanna had an ancient meaning of “save”. They were acknowledging Jesus as their King (and by implication their savior).

The Life of Jesus: The Important Parts (#3)

This article is part 3 of an 8 part series. Go back to part 2. Go forward to part 4.

life-of-jesus-according-to-four-gospelsThe Life of Jesus According to All Four Gospels

The Ministry of Jesus

The ministry of Jesus lasted for an estimated three or four years. There are many events described in the four gospels about who he was with, what he did, and what he said. Excluding the events at the beginning and end of his ministry, only two were recorded by all four gospels.

John 21:25 says:

There are many other things which Jesus did. If they were all written down, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

While perhaps a bit of hyperbole, the point is valid. There were so many things that Jesus did, that the four gospel writers did not see fit to write about all the same things. Perhaps the author of John knew about the synoptic gospels and didn’t feel the need to repeat most of what they had to say. Whatever the reasons, they picked two very different events to highlight two important points.

Feeding of the 5,000

After extended preaching and the death of John the Baptist, Jesus was tired. So he fled the crowds. But the crowds found out where he was and followed him. Instead of turning them away, he spoke to them about the Kingdom of God and healed the sick. The day grew late and the crowd was hungry. The disciples wanted to send the people into town to buy food. Jesus asked for the food they had, five loaves and two fish, said a prayer, and divided the food up. They proceeded to distribute the food. 5,000 men were fed. Starting from five loaves there were 12 full baskets of scrap bread left over.

There are a few details taught about Jesus in this passage: He taught about the Kingdom of God, he healed the sick, he performed supernatural miracles, and he was so popular that they were ready to force him to be their king.

Of all the acts of Jesus, why did all four gospels choose to include one of the most outrageous miracles that Jesus did? I suppose if the feeding of the 5,000 is true, the other miracles must seem simple in comparison. It’s easy to reject healings as having natural causes, demon possession as mental illness, and other scientific explanations for miracles. But the feeding of the 5,000 appears to violate the very laws of physics. Or does it?.

Some posit that the real miracle was that Jesus got the crowd to work together, share what they had, realize that they had brought way more than enough to feed everyone. This has been called a “miracle of sharing”, although this isn’t really a miracle under the normal definition of miracle. That said, knowing he could get over 5,000 people to share their food enough to have food leftover is not to be scoffed at.

Others make the case the Jesus didn’t perform any miracles but that these were used as literary devices.

There is a detailed write-up about how the four accounts bolster each other to give additional legitimacy to the account and an air of authenticity that would be difficult to fake:

  • John says Philip is from the town of Bethsaida in Galilee. Luke tells us the miracle took place in the outskirts of the town. Combine the two and it is clear why John says Jesus consulted Philip, who is hardly ever mentioned elsewhere.
  • In Matthew Jesus denounced Bethsaida for ignoring the miracles performed there, but Matthew never stated any miracles were specifically performed there. When combined with Luke, it becomes clear that Matthew was referring to at least this event.
  • Mark describes the grass as green. In Galilee the grass is brown for most of the year. Except that John states that it was right before Passover, the only time of the year when the local grass could have been green.
  • Mark says many were “coming and going”, but does not say why. When combined with John, we realize that this is traffic related to the coming Passover feast.

Whether you believe that this was a supernatural miracle, a “miracle of sharing”, or a non-literal literary device, the passage demonstrates the authority of Jesus. This event represents a summary of the main purposes of his public ministry: preach the gospel of the kingdom of God, healing the sick, and performing great acts.

There has been lots of debate about the authenticity of scripture, whether the events described happened exactly as described or whether they were fictionalized accounts (possibly of real events). Over the centuries much ink has been spilled by scholars and non-scholars on these issues. Regardless of your take, the essentials of Jesus are clear.

Peter’s Profession of Faith

I debated including this point. The synoptic gospels contain almost the same exact story, but John’s description of peter’s profession of faith is different. All of them do occur in context after the feeding of the 5,000. Ultimately, even if they don’t describe the same event, they do all describe Peter declaring who Jesus was.

Matthew 16:16 says:

You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. (REV)

Mark 8:29 says:

You are the Christ. (REV)

Luke 9:20 says:

The Christ of God. (REV)

John 6:68-69 say:

…You have the words of life in the Age to come. And we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God. (REV)

Peter recognized that Jesus was the Christ (or Messiah), the holy Son of God, who was sent by God as holy messenger to preach the “life in the Age to come” (the kingdom of God).

The Essential Jesus

The two stories of Jesus show him in both his public and private light. Publicly he was a teacher of the Kingdom of God who did great deeds. Many wanted to him to be King of the Jews. In private with his disciples they saw him as the long awaited Messiah, the Christ. In only two events the whole purpose of the ministry of Jesus, prior to his death, can be seen. Jesus filled the role of prophet (as Christ Messiah) and heir to the kingdom. He would later fulfill the role of both priest and sacrifice.

The Life of Jesus: The Important Parts (#2)

This article is part 2 of an 8 part series. Go back to part 1. Go forward to part 3.

life-of-jesus-according-to-four-gospelsThe Life of Jesus According to All Four Gospels

The Baptism of Jesus

The ministry of Jesus began with his baptism. While each gospel writer chose to introduce Jesus in a different way, they all talked about his baptism.

The baptism of Jesus was remarkably simple, taking only a few sentences to describe. He was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. John did not want to baptize the Messiah, thinking himself unworthy. But Jesus talked him into it.

Once the baptism was complete, Jesus came out of the water and the sky opened up. God’s power¹ descended “like a dove” onto him. A voice from the sky proclaimed that Jesus was God’s beloved son.²

With the power of God upon him, the ministry of Jesus could begin.

The Ritual of Baptism

The origins of baptism as a ritual are debated by scholars. Did it derive from another group, the Levitical cleansings, or some other source? It really doesn’t matter. That baptism is a ritual of cleansing, repentance, and renewal is not really debated. John’s baptism of water does not differ in any meaningful way from the practice as it is done today. John baptized those who confessed their sins (repented) and the washing was clearly a symbol of a person’s inner state.

Both the early church and the church today baptized whenever there was a confession of sins and a pledge of fealty to Jesus as the savior. The pair of baptism and repentance is the only entry ritual used when becoming a follower of Christ. Of the pair, Jesus only required repentance.

Baptism, along with the Lord’s Supper, are the only Christian rituals described by all four gospels. It is remarkable given the ritualistic nature of Judaism and most other world religions how little emphasis Jesus placed on ritual. Jesus never set up religious observances, like prayer and fasting, as rituals. This is especially true of public rituals, such as prayer, where Jesus instructed that they be private affairs between a person and God.³

The Power of God

There is no reason to understand the Spirit mentioned here as anything other than the power of God. The power of God came upon God’s own Son, giving him the power he would need to do his ministry. This is why the baptism marks the beginning of his ministry.

Jesus at all points was the loyal subject of his heavenly father. It was because of his complete submission and obedience to God that he was granted power and glory. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit, or God’s power, would come to his followers as well. All Christians require the power of God in order to do God’s will.

Jesus as God’s Son

The identity of Jesus was wrapped around two essential points: That he was the Messiah and that he was God’s Son.

Jesus, time and again, kept his status as the Messiah private, constantly evading the question when it was raised publicly because of two things: (1) his time had not yet come to die and be raised, and (2) he was not yet ready to be king (See “Jesus as Heir” below). It is quite clear that the Jews did not expect the Messiah to come in two stages, first to die and be raised, and second to return to earth, resurrect [believers] and rule as king. So Jesus kept his status secret until such time as it was appropriate to let it be known.

Instead he was known as God’s Son. The purpose of this was to show that he was not God, but was speaking on his behalf. In Jewish custom, a son was always subordinate to the father, never greater. Fathers would, however, frequently send their sons as their legal representatives, or agents. The name was obviously vague enough that it sounded more like a Messiah rather than the Messiah. It was sufficiently different from the messianic prophecies that it was ambiguous.

That the voice from heaven calls him God’s Son and not Messiah should be enough to conclude that this title was preferred.

However, Jesus was known most commonly by the term he used for himself: Son of Man. Over the centuries there has been no consensus among biblical scholars about what was meant by this term. I will not attempt to define it here, only note that the term was used alongside Messiah and Son of God as the primary titles for Jesus.

Jesus as Heir

Why did Jesus wait until he was 30 years old to begin his ministry? The clue to this can be found in the genealogies of Jesus. Matthew opens his book with the genealogy and Luke gives the genealogy of Jesus immediately after the baptism. Both genealogies emphasize the decent from David. We get another clue in John 2 at the wedding feast where Jesus’s mother asks Jesus to solve the problem of a lack of wine.

In order for Jesus to take up his inheritance of the throne of David, he had to be heir to the throne. Legally speaking, this means his father had to be dead. He started his ministry at 30 years old because Joseph was dead. That is why only his mother is mentioned at the wedding feast and the crucifixion. When Jesus returned to his home town, the people wondered if this was the same Jesus that was the son of the carpenter. They remembered him as if a long period of time had passed. Joseph had been dead for a good number of years, and Mary, a widow, was no longer living in the same town. She would have been the responsibility of Jesus, her firstborn son.

James E Talmage wrote in 1922 that Jesus was the rightful heir to the throne of what would have been the kingdom of Judah, had the Romans not been occupying it. Bruce Charlton adds: “It would explain why Jesus was regarded as a credible political threat.” Both the Jews and Romans considered it possible that Jesus could have been “King of the Jews”.

It is for these reasons he was called the Son of David, a Messianic title of kingship.

This will be discussed more in later parts.

¹ The different terms used, “Spirit”, “Spirit of God”, and “Holy Ghost”, all mean the same thing: God’s power. These differences in terms only pose a difficulty for the doctrine of the Trinity where the “Holy Spirit” is defined as a “unique person of a triune God.” God’s power also descended on the believers in Acts 2, this time in the form of tongues of fire.

² There are a few minor word choice differences between the accounts. For example, Matthew says “This is my beloved Son”, while Mark and Luke say “You are my beloved Son”. These are merely narrative choices that pose no contradiction at all. The synoptic gospels call Jesus “God’s beloved son” while John calls him “the Son of God”. These are the same thing.

³ That the Lord’s Prayer has become a ritual is not strictly in keeping with the teachings of Jesus. Jesus was teaching how to pray, not what to pray.

The Life of Jesus: The Important Parts (#1)

This article is part 1 of an 8 part series. Go forward to part 2.

life-of-jesus-according-to-four-gospelsThe Life of Jesus According to All Four Gospels


We have four gospels that tell us about Jesus. But they do not all record the same story. It is interesting to see what each writer thought was important to highlight that the others did not highlight. But there are only eleven common events recorded in all four gospels. These are the essential elements that every writer considered important.

Most of what Jesus did was relatively unimportant. Only a few details of Jesus’ life were critical. In order to understand the life of Jesus, one must understand the historical context, the Old Testament, as we know it. The letters in the New Testament are important and helpful teachings, but one does not need any of them to access the central truths of Christ’s message.

In the article “Is the Bible Special?“, Ian writes:

The average person would simply not make it through the bible, and most of the few who did would be utterly baffled at what the fuss is about.

And nestled in the comments on that article is this gem by sido:

If the Bible has a series of commands for believers to follow, was it in the interest of say Christ or his Apostles in creating a book like the Bible for following generations? The teachings of the Bible don’t call for such actions, or show any signs that such a project was in progress at the time. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that a book like this will be left for us to follow.

It is simply basic fact that neither Jesus, nor his disciples, nor the apostles, called for the construction of a holy book. Apart from the resurrection of Jesus, there is nothing exceptional about the Bible.¹ Jesus did affirm the validity of the Jewish scriptures, clarifying its purpose and essence, but nowhere did he teach that something more was needed. Everything meaningful about the Jesus can be understood in light of the Jewish scriptures.

The gospels merely inform and they would do so even if our New Testament consisted of a single gospel. The message of Jesus is a simple one that even children can understand and there are relatively few critical points. This is the thesis behind this series on the life of Jesus.

The Pre-Ministry of Jesus

There are a number of stories about Jesus prior to the start of his ministry. None show up in every gospel. It would take too long to discuss every difference, so instead I will focus on just a few.

The birth narratives and early stories of Jesus’ childhood are interesting from a historical perspective, but are not essential theologically. Jesus placed all the emphasis on being God’s Son. We don’t need a virgin birth, choirs of angels, or visiting Zoroastrian priests. That Jesus was the Christ (or Messiah) is the essential point.²

Another feature that is often overlooked are the two genealogies of Jesus. The one showing the blood ties of Jesus to David (through Mary’s family), the other showing the familial ties (through Joseph and thus the legal rights of inheritance). No doubt these were essential points that needed to be made to those who cared about such things, but we no longer consider them to be essential today. They establish fulfillment of a legal requirement to be the Messiah. That is all.

Things get much more important as we discuss the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, which will be covered in the next part.

¹ This is certainly debatable, but it is not an essential point, so I will not do so here. The validity of Christianity rests solely on the validity of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

² This is troubling to the doctrine of the Trinity that relies on complex theologies about pre-existence and why the Son is God. Proponents of this theology insist that this is essential for salvation, yet another point Jesus himself never taught.


What Does Sacrifice Mean?

In a previous post discussing salvation and how it pertains to the sacrifice of Jesus, I briefly touched on the meaning of the blood sacrifice, especially as pertaining to the Passover. I wanted to explain a bit more about the sacrificial system and why Jesus had such an important role to play in it.

When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden, God established his primary rule: the punishment for sin was death and a “blood price” was required to pay the penalty.¹ God shed blood to provide them clothing to cover their nakedness. The shame of their nakedness was a metaphor for sin, and the shedding of blood to cover their nakedness a metaphor for paying the price for sin.

During the Passover, the Israelites had to sacrifice a lamb and smear the blood on the doorposts. In doing so, the angel of death literally passed by, sparing the family the punishment for sin.

Eventually the law was given to the Israelites setting down a sacrificial system for the payment of sin. When an Israelite gave animal sacrifice, the animal was the physical sacrifice, paying its life. But it was the person, not the sacrifice, that paid the spiritual cost for sin. The person had to pay the price of death for sin (by proxy). He was forced to experience the very real horror of death.

Ultimately the sacrifice was a symbol of the inner state of repentance. The sacrifice was ritually required, but on its own insufficient, to restore the spiritual link to God. God requires both the internal and external forms of repentance.

When Jesus died, it was humanity making the sacrifice. When we accept Jesus as our sacrifice, we must accept the reality of sin and that we are responsible for that horrible sacrifice. And death on a cross was horrible, there is no denying that.² When we do this, his blood washes our sin away.

Jesus then sends the Holy Spirit, God’s power, to dwell within us. This is the restoration of our connection with God. Under the old Covenant, only the High Priest could enter the “Holy of Holies” and be in the presence of God directly. The priest was the “mediator” between person and God. Under the new Covenant, Jesus is our High Priest: he mediates between God and Man allowing us to directly communicate with God through the power of the Holy Spirit.³

Jesus had to die because we needed a sacrifice. We need our spiritual connection with God restored. He didn’t do it for himself, he did it because he loved us.

¹ The cost (or wages) of sin is not pain and suffering, but death. Pain and suffering certainly do shout at us, reminding that there are real consequences of sin. But death is the penalty of sin.

² The horror of death would have been no less had Jesus died of a quiet lethal injection. The pain and suffering of Jesus was not required, only his death. But the brutality of his death forces us to recognize, by proxy, how terrible death is and the horror of sin.

³ Through the Holy Spirit, the connection with God is permanently restored. This is why the sacrificial system is no longer needed. Jesus was a perfect human sacrifice, more acceptable than any spotless animal could ever be. Repentance of sin remains an important part of our lives, but no other sacrifice is acceptable.

Athiesm and the Leper that Returned

I’ve listened to and watched many popular atheists talk about God. When asked what it would take to convince them, the most common response is some sort of personal supernatural experience. It might be an angel shouting from the sky or something equally unscientific but undeniable. But, they say, nothing short of this is enough. Arguments that these types of experiences are common in those who believe fail to sway them because they are not personal. They don’t even count as scientific evidence.

Sunday’s sermon was on the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus. The story is found in Luke 17:12-19:

12And as he entered a certain village he was met by ten men who had serious skin diseases, who stood at a distance. 13And they lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14And when he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And it came to pass, as they went, they were cleansed. 15But one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice, 16and he fell on his face at his feet, giving him thanks—and he was a Samaritan. 17And Jesus answering said, “Were not the ten cleansed? But where are the nine? 18Were there none found that returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” 19And he said to him, “Get up and go on your way. Your trust has made you whole.” (REV)

Jesus healed all ten men, but only one of them returned in thanks and honored God. Jesus said something curious to him when he said that his trust (or faith) made him whole. Were not the nine also made whole?

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus was concerned with the Kingdom of Heaven and our spiritual needs. The Bible shouts this theme over and over. What did the one leper get that the others missed? It wasn’t physical healing. It was spiritual wholeness.

The nine were healed and they did what was ritually required when they presented themselves to the priest. They went about their lives. But they were not truly changed.

Throughout my life I’ve witnessed the supernatural in my life on a number of occasions. I’ve witnessed many times in the lives of others. I’ve forgotten most of these events. How can this be? Miracles and the supernatural are relatively unimportant when it comes to proving God’s existence or being a Christian in general.

Ten lepers received a life-changing miracle. They could not have been any lower in society. They were completely isolated outcasts who had to shout every time they saw someone coming. Yet when they experience miraculous healing, only one returned to thank Jesus and praise God. Only one of them had a spiritual awakening.

Miracles are important in the life of a believer to provide confirmation that one is on the right path. They provide assurance. But it is the condition of the heart, the act of searching, that leads to truth. Miracles can, and will, be rejected. When the Pharisees demanded a sign from Jesus, he called them wicked. Jesus understood, as we should, that signs and miracles do not convince those who already decided.

The Lord’s Prayer Retranslated

This article is part of the series Adventures in Biblical Interpretation.

In the phrase “Give us this day our daily bread” from the Lord’s Prayer, the meaning of the Greek word translated as “daily” is unknown. We have no use of the term anywhere else in the entire body of ancient literature. So when it came time to translate it, they came up with something that sounded good to them. They guessed. Sure, it’s a perfectly reasonable guess, but it doesn’t seem to fit smoothly.

Ian from Irreducible Complexity retranslates the Lord’s Prayer like this:

Our father in heaven:
May your name be holy;
May your kingdom come;
May your will be done,
As in the heavens, so upon the earth.
Give us today our supernatural bread.
Forgive us our sins, even as we forgive sinners.
Do not bring us to temptation, but from hardships draw us to yourself.
—Matt 6:9-13

This is an elegant and beautiful translation.

This translation is much more thematic with the life and teachings of Jesus as laid out in the book of Matthew. Jesus did nothing if not go on and on and on about the Kingdom of God/Heaven. Jesus was far more concerned about our spiritual state than mundane daily needs. This prayer is a summary of life in the Kingdom.

We should be sinless even as the father is holy. We should forgive even as the father forgives us. We should seek the kingdom of God on earth as he draws us in, providing us support and spiritual sustenance. We seek to have the father’s holiness permeate our world.

This is a prayer of expectation. It contains the essence of why Jesus taught what he did: as the herald of God’s Kingdom on earth. For one day Jesus will return and all the wrongs will be set right. Peace will reign. And the father’s will will be done. Unconditionally.

Trinities in the Bible

This article is an early attempt to consider the biblical concepts of the trinity along with the body, soul, and spirit as three different (but related) things. The viewpoints expressed here go way beyond tradition. It is an ongoing development, an exploration of a theme. I will likely come back and modify this post.

Consider it an academic exercise. It is not a valid or complete belief system.

The Christian Bible contains a number of concepts of trinity. A proper understanding of these vastly simplifies biblical interpretation and eases understanding. Unfortunately mainstream Christianity has gotten it wrong.



Note that among these trinities, the one thing lacking is, well, The Trinity. The Trinity was legitimized when the pagan Roman Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea in 325. The Council of Constantinople in 381 solidified this as doctrine.[1] Most modern support for the Trinity comes from tradition, confirmation bias in biblical interpretation, and the King James Version Bible based on insertions to manuscripts that were sourced after these events.[2] The latter of these is the reason why almost all modern translations of the Bible do not include overt references to Jesus as divine. For example, compare the KJV to the NIV. It is interesting to note that Jewish and Islamic traditions consider the Messiah to be a human prophet.

The idea that God is made up of three distinct natures (Father, Son, Holy Ghost) while still one being is difficult to understand. Most traditions label this as a great mystical “mystery”, which is code for “we can’t explain how it would work logically”. It is why many, including thinkers like C.S. Lewis, struggled with the concept.[3]

Shockingly to most, Jesus never claimed to be God, but often spoke to the contrary. He is God’s messenger, God’s Messiah (Anointed One). Jesus is High Priest. He is greater than Abraham, the father of nations. As God’s designated agent on earth, he spoke God’s words with full authority. He is God’s Son. He was the first to be reborn and is our Lord. He sits at the right hand of God the Father. He is lower to no one but God, but is not himself God.

The Bible uses the metaphor of Wind, Blood, and Water to represent the three possible natures of created beings. This use is consistent from Genesis to Revelation.

  • Water. Body. World Awareness. Least.
  • Blood. Soul. Self Awareness.
  • Wind. Spirit. God Awareness. Greatest.

The body is the physical. The soul is the mental, emotional, intellectual, personality. The spirit is the god-connection, the spiritual. The spirit can be thought of as a phone line to God. The soul is where the essence of your being resides, or more accurately it is ‘you’. Note that this is not the same as the Platonic ideas of a mortal body and immortal soul. The Bible, while using common words, is not referring to the same thing.

Plants have bodies. Animals have body and soul. Humans (including Jesus) have body, soul, and spirit. Angels are spiritual beings that have no body or soul.

The creation story notes that man was created in God’s image and God’s own spirit breathed life into man. Your soul, who you are, was created when God breathed his own spirit into your body giving it life. Your spirit is the “spark of the divine” or the “life essence” within all of us. The spirit plus the body produced the soul. The life of animal (in body and soul) is not the same as the human (sentient) life granted by the spirit inside man.

God is made up of three parts: the spirit (the Holy Ghost), the soul (the Father), and the physical (his Word). That God’s physical form is the Word and that the Word became flesh (a literal body) in the person of Jesus does not make Jesus divine. As Jesus represented God, the word of Jesus was the Word of God.[4] But Jesus the human was not God, he only spoke for God as was promised to Moses.[5] In the same way, angels bear the message of God, speaking God’s words, but are not themselves God.


The tabernacle and later temples had three main parts: the Courts where the common people could be, the inner Holy Place where only the Priests could go, and the innermost Holy of Holies where God dwelt. When the Bible says the body is a temple, this is meant both literally and figuratively. The spirit is the dwelling place of the spirit of God within believers.

The spirit and the body are in a constant fight for the soul of man.[6] Sin separates man from God. It cuts off the spirit of the unbeliever from God. Before Jesus, when a body was defiled or unclean, this defiled the soul and prevented the spiritual connection to God. God can still poke and prod you and you can still pray to God, but there can be no relationship, no true spiritual understanding.

Just as water is required to purify the body, a blood sacrifice is required to purify the soul and restore the spiritual connection. When Jesus died sinless on the cross and was resurrected, he became the final blood sacrifice. This is the great circumcision, the permanent ‘separating’ of the corrupt influence of the world through the body from the soul.[7] No longer is man slave to the sins of the body (that is, the world), but instead ruled by the spirit of God that resides within him. This is why the Old Testament ceremonial laws no longer apply and why no other sacrifice is required.

The Message

The message of Jesus is so shocking: those who accept Jesus as their Lord become literal children of God. This is the priesthood of believers, part of the body of Christ. In the same way that Jesus came and was elevated to be with God after death, the same is promised of his followers. At the end of time when all are judged, Jesus identifies his followers and these are resurrected, given what I can only understand as literal new bodies, to live with God forever in eternal life.

What happens to those who do not believe? The Bible states what while anyone can destroy the body, only God can destroy the soul, the essence of your being.[8] The penalty for sin is [soul] death.[9] Those not redeemed through Jesus are thrown into fire and completely consumed. There is no eternity of pain or bliss. There is only permanent annihilation, as the fire (that is, method of punishment) is eternal and cannot be quenched. This is known as the second death and occurs after judgment.[10][11]

In this God shows his great love. He would rather you experience life for just a little time and be destroyed than to not have been born at all. The punishment will be the knowledge of what you could have had, but God is no sadist and no one will suffer ongoing punishment for eternity. God takes no pleasure in the destruction. He would rather all are collected to him. This is beyond heartbreaking, to have the opportunity to live forever but to chose death instead.

The message of Christianity is simple: Sin destroys the spiritual connection between God and man. The punishment for sin is death. Sacrifice is required to restore the bond, and this sacrifice takes the form of Jesus, who was the Word of God in the body, was sinless, and died to pay the blood price. He was then resurrected, given a new body, and now sits on the throne next to God the Father. We are given the same opportunity to restore the connection to God and live forever by believing in Jesus and following his commands.

The body is weak and the soul easily led astray, but the Spirit of God within believers never wavers. This is why faith is required and works cannot lead to salvation. No matter how good you are, you will eventually slip. Yet your soul is safe in the care of Jesus.

For unbelievers, the reason Christianity often makes so little sense is because the spiritual link with God has been damaged by sin. How can you communicate with God if the proverbial phone cord has been cut? There can be no direct revelation without that connection. This is why we have God’s word in print and why Jesus was sent. It is why becoming a Christian is sometimes described as a “leap of faith”. Salvation is like the opening of a blind man’s eyes to sight. Those who believe understand the nature of God because the Holy Spirit has revealed this to them through the spirit.[12] You can’t see the supernatural if that part of you is dead.

Free will is being able to choose freely. For God to show himself in undeniable proof would destroy free will. Yet there is evidence aplenty for all those who seek it and understanding for those who choose to accept it. Many have been brought to faith in Jesus through the witness/evidence/testimony of other Christians.

The Word of God states that if you seek God, you will find God.[13] Your sincere prayers will be heard and they will be answered. But beware self-delusional, fake seeking. It’s easy to put on a good show. There are preachers in Christian churches who have no relationship with Christ. To avoid self-deception, the search must be honest and an active choice. Belief is never compelled.

Do not believe the delusion that following Jesus is without cost. The reason to choose Christianity is not because it sounds best (it may not), but because it is true. The benefit is eternal life, although that is not to say there are no benefits on earth. Any Christian can attest to that.


Theological Implications

Note on Divinity

The notion that Jesus was not or isn’t divinity has relatively little impact on the Christian message itself. A person can believe quite comfortably in either position. Naturally this is the ideal deception: one that is so subtle that it can’t be easily detected and removed. This would only suit Satan’s purpose if it caused real practical problems.

It is unlikely that this difference should matter to existing Christians (although in practice, there have been many fights over relatively inconsequential matters). If you believe that Jesus is Lord and was God’s Word in the flesh, then divinity is irrelevant. It’s just a label. The Trinity is unnecessary. But for non-Christians, the idea of the Trinity just serves to add confusion. If you seek truth and find logical inconsistencies, then this would be a natural roadblock.

For example, how can Jesus constantly defer to the heavenly father if he was his equal? How could God be tempted by Satan with rulership of the earth if it was already his creation and how could God worship anyone? Why did Jesus receive the Holy Spirit when he was baptized if he was already God? Why did Jesus pray to himself? These and other difficulties make the Trinitarian position unpalatable.

Jesus could be a divinity lower than God the Father, turning Christianity into a sort of polytheism. This is roughly what the Mormon meta-religion teaches. Alternate views on the nature of Jesus are not the topic of this post. These alternative views do not cause any of the immediate logical difficulties.

Note on Hell

The notion of eternal, everlasting, on-going torture in fiery Hell is much more damaging. The Bible uses the word “eternal” in the sense of “permanent”, not “ongoing”. If you read the Bible verses about “everlasting” or “eternal” punishment and torment using this definition, the meaning changes dramatically. Satan would like to portray God as capricious, sadistic, and unjust. Speaking of a God who approves of torture is a very good way to scare off seekers.

Never-ending torment hell is a false doctrine of pagan origin.

Note on Resurrection

After the first death, judgment comes. During this time, those who are redeemed are given a new body: Not a body made of earth (“from dust”), but a body made of heaven. When Jesus was raised, he became the firstborn (or first re-born) to have this new body. It is why he sits next to God. After the resurrection, we will again be body, soul, and spirit.

Note on Time

When death comes, the body stays on earth, the spirit returns to God, and the soul awaits judgment. This is outside the time-continuum, so it does not make sense to say that the soul goes anywhere. It awaits judgment, but it isn’t doing anything because is no longer in the realm of time, just as God is outside of time. The English language lacks the proper words to describe eternity outside of a time-continuum. Most descriptions imply a sense of time.

Note on Creation and Sentience

When God created man, he first started with the body. This is important because before man had sentience, there was a body. We know that God created all forms of life before he created man. This means that there was physical life and death before Adam and Eve were created. This is not only compatible with the scientific record, but both a prediction and a confirmation of science. God formed early hominids until he had perfected man. Then he breathed his breath of life (or spirit) into man, creating his sentient soul. In no other creature did he do this, which is why out of all of nature, only man has, and can have, sentience.

These points are often missed by creationists who believe that a “day” meant a literal 24 hour rotation of earth (even before the earth itself was created!). They are also missed by evolutionists who do not believe God had anything to do with creation, even though there is no adequate scientific explanation for sentience.

Note on Death

The notion that there was “no death” in the Garden of Eden refers not to plant or animal death, which obviously had to occur. There is no logical way for the cycle of life to have functioned without physical death and decay. Instead, this refers to spiritual death, what happens when the body is separate from the spirit.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they experienced spiritual death, a separation of God from which all men suffer. This is sometimes called “original sin”, although most traditions define original sin to include a wider understanding than this simple definition.

Note on God

It is not definitive that God is a three part of “Holy Ghost”, “Father”, and “Word”. The first two are obvious, but “Word” might not be the best representation of the physical form. We do know that during creation God’s Word was spoken and that God has directly spoken to humans (such as Moses). But we also know that Jesus was the embodiment of God’s Word. This does not seem like coincidence that the Word took earthly physical form. Maybe it would be more accurate to say “Jesus” instead of “Word”. Or maybe God has a physical body made of the stuff of heaven like the new resurrected bodies of believers.  A three part body-soul-spirit parallel (“Trinity”) of God seems to be implied, but the exact nature is unclear.

Note on Heresy

All Christians are heretics. The sheer number of debated doctrines could fill articles and no one can get it all right. The fact is that many of the ideas in this article could be wrong. A different analysis of the Bible’s competing manuscripts (e.g. Textus Receptus, Majority Text, and Critical Text) could yield a different conclusion.

Christianity is home to many questionable doctrines: the Trinity, immortal soul, transubstantiation, purgatory, veneration of the saints, indulgences, eternal punishment in hell, prayers to the dead, rapture, and the papacy. We live in a time where access to the Bible has never been easier, yet people do not take the time to read and understand. Ignorance allows such deception to continue. Unitarian viewpoints are considered to be heresy by Trinitarians.

Yet none of these heresies prevent salvation. It is why so many different Christian denominations can coexist. You can believe that Jesus saved you even if you don’t understand the mechanics. Understanding is not required for faith or obedience to God. The core doctrine of Christianity remains constant: Jesus saves you from sin.

Note on Prerequisites

This article assumes the following:

  • The Bible is absolute truth and that its message is knowable.
  • The God of the Bible and Jesus are real and the Bible is the authoritative source.
  • The variations of the Bible are either inconsequential to the overall message, or it is possible to derive the correct original text by comparison of manuscripts. This is not to say that it is trivial, but only that it is possible. Debates on the authenticity of scripture may be the subject of a later post.
  • That reason is the primary way we can discern fact from fiction. Revelation is valid but it cannot contradict reason.

With these assumptions in place, the rest of the article follows logically and conclusively.

The Biblical Textual Criticism of Bart Ehrman

Bart Ehrman has become quite (in)famous for his views on the textual accuracy of the Bible. Having read Bart Ehrman’s books Misquoting Jesus and Lost Christianities and watched his debate with James White, I’ve noticed a common thread.

Bart holds that we cannot know the original text of the books in the Bible. His argument boils down to this: the oldest manuscripts we have are also the ones with the greatest number of textual variants. He reasons that, if you go back farther to the period of 50AD to 350AD where we lack manuscripts, these were the periods where the least skilled individuals made copies, thus producing the greatest number of errors. This did not sit right with me from a logical standpoint and it seemed like both an oversimplification and overconfidence.

An obvious problem is that if you keep going back in time, you do not get an ever increasingly larger number of variants, because eventually you must get fewer and fewer copies until you arrive at the single original. When did the percentage of variants and errors reach its peak? Was it closer to 350AD or 100AD? 350AD is just after the time of Constantine. Before this period the church had been expanding in geographic scope consistently. There is no reason to believe that the number of copies (and thus cumulative errors) being made had slowed in any way. On the contrary, we have plenty of reason to believe that the peak of textual variants was towards the end of this period, right around the time Constantine “standardized” the religion.

This is important to keep in mind for the rest of this post, but it was not the point Ehrman was making. He was saying that the chain of custody during that period was far worse before 350AD than it was after, so we can have little confidence that what we have now is anything close to the original. So let’s look at this more closely.

His first assumption is that the chain of custody was much “dirtier.” His second assumption is that the common ancestor (a single document or family of documents) for the diverging manuscripts we have now is late. If they shared a common ancestor from around 120AD, then the chain of custody must have been very good for the later divergent manuscripts to be as close to each other in content as they are. But if they shared a common ancestor from the Council of Nicea in 325AD, then we’d essentially have only one document family stretching in a single line back almost 300 years. In this latter case we would have very little confidence at all that the text was close to the original.

Both probability and intuition would suggest that they must have shared an ancestor that was neither very early nor very late. Still, this is an unknown and being dogmatic on the point is unwise as the margin of error in any estimate will be quite high.

Chain of Custody

Let’s look at what happened to the documents during this period. When the originals were written, they were delivered to a particular Christian community. From there, copies were made, and those were distributed. More and more copies were made at that location and the process continued. Obviously the original didn’t simply cease to exist. It could have stayed at the original location where more copies were made. Or the letter could have been passed on and the copies stayed behind. We don’t know.

Nevertheless, the most accurate early copies would have been the sources that were spread quite rapidly throughout the geographical spread of Christianity. Many of these copies would have been made when some of the apostles were still alive and able to correct false doctrines that may have arisen from forgeries or errors.

One possibility is that the spread of the early copies was extreme and that the early manuscripts we had were based on a broad geographical set of texts. This is important because the faster the spread the more any single error could not be reproduced in all the copies, meaning the original still existed in at least some of the copies. It also prevented corruption from any single authority trying to enforce a particular textual variant.

The earlier the time, the less likely that any meaningful variants could ‘stick’. Factors include the apostles correcting the errors directly. This would extend to the second generation as well: those who knew the apostles directly, church elders, would be able to correct certain errors.

200 years is a long time, but if we’re going to extrapolate what we know about humanity in order make conjectures about the number of variants, let’s use the KJV as an example. This beloved translation is just over 400 years old, and people are still using it. The original texts would have been cherished by the Christian communities. Sure they would have been copied any number of times, but these communities would have formed their own rigid doctrines, much like the communities we are familiar with. The rigidity that the religious are accused of serves to support the idea that they would have kept their copies close.

These were also not the same types of folk that we are. Many were illiterate, but they had superior capacity for memorization compared to the average modern person. These people would have memorized vast sums of the texts that they heard read to them and would have had decades to detect any errors in copies made. Sure errors would and did creep in, but large scale doctrinal changes would be much more difficult to insert and survive to become the only or “most probable” version of what we have now.

Here is a summary of some of the issues at play:

Memorization: Undistributed copies within a community would be vetted by the community itself. Anyone with children has seen how they can spot extremely minor changes in a reading. This is stronger in the oral tradition of a largely illiterate population.

Authorization: The apostles and their authorized representatives would have had an early corrective influence. We can see some hints of this in some of the letters themselves and in the external writings of the time period.

Dogmatism: Religious communities tend to be very dogmatic about their texts, likely to hold on to them dearly, extending their lifespan. They might make dogmatic ‘adjustments’ to the text, but these are likely to be in a theme and detectable (like the gnostic gospels), but also likely to be limited in number. Once a doctrine is established, it is very hard to change it, especially undetected.

It is important to remember that simply because there are textual variants does not imply in any way that we do not have the original. We may have great difficulty deciding between the original and various forgeries, but that’s not the same as not having it. Interpretation of the text cannot be avoided, but we do have reasonable confidence that we can do it correctly. By all indications, the letters were distributed quickly and broadly.

Common Ancestry

If the transmission of documents between 50AD and 350AD was as bad as Ehrman suggests, then the common ancestor of the manuscripts we have must have been late in the period. It is not only a logical deduction based on the initial assumption, but a requirement. If it could be shown that the common ancestor was not late, then the assumption falls to pieces.

Ehrman rightly points out that probability is of little usefulness when determining which manuscripts are more reliable than others. But his statement on the probability of error at a given point in time can be evaluated mathematically. If his statements were true, we would expect a random distribution of document families among the manuscripts we do possess so long as there was no external influence to selectively save some documents while destroying others. We would then expect to see extreme variation among those manuscripts we have to reflect the divergent nature and lateness of their origin. But this is not what we see at all. There are very few highly contested portions in the manuscripts we possess. Yes there are many variations, but most are minor and scholars are not in disagreement over many large issues. Their relative harmony does not coincide with widely divergent origins and a poor chain of custody.

Where did the manuscripts from the assumed widely divergent document families go? The manuscripts we do have come from an assortment of geographic locations and sources. Either there was a widely spread conspiracy to destroy those documents that opposed the ones that survived or the number of errors was much lower than assumed. The latter clearly favors the authenticity of the texts. What about a conspiracy?

A conspiracy implies one of the following:

1) That the documents were selectively and completely destroyed after they were transmitted. This is possible and certainly some documents were destroyed, but where is the evidence that it successfully occurred across the whole spread of Christianity? If it did, why would we still have so many other ancient documents of various competing sub-sects of Christianity, such as the gnostics? On such a widely geographically spread basis, this seems hard to accept.

2) There was editorial control over the chain of custody. This directly contradicts the original assumption that the chain of custody was significantly worse during this period. You can’t have it both ways.


The real problem with Ehrman’s belief is that the incidence of errors in the period 50AD to 350AD is not independent of the manuscripts we have after that period. He is extrapolating backwards based off a theory and existing documents, but he fails to extrapolate forward from his theories. If the transmission was so poor and inaccurate during the period where we have no manuscripts, then we would see evidence of that in later manuscripts, because the error is cumulative.

The evidence that we have suggests not that the documents are unreliable, but that they have a relatively early common ancestor and/or that the chain of custody was more reliable than Ehrman assumes.

Now of course we could discover additional manuscript evidence that pushes our confidence in either direction, but we can only base our belief on what we do know, and what we know is pretty good stuff.

NOTE: While I believe that I have identified inconsistencies in the presentation of the argument, this is not a refutation of Bart Ehrman’s positions. It raises a lot of questions that might be easily addressed. If they become addressed or mistakes are pointed out, I will update this article accordingly.

For a refutation of the book Misquoting Jesus, see this paper by Professor Tom Howe.

Creation vs. Evolution

One of the oddest facets of the creation/evolution debate is the misplaced priorities. On one hand extreme Darwinism is a philosophy that purports to explain the creation of life without any providential influence. On the other hand extreme creationism claims to explain the same without requiring even the hint of scientific consistency. Either God was completely uninvolved in the process or it was all created through magic hand waving.

Neither approach makes a lot of sense.

Evolutionary Theory has a lot of unanswered questions. We have a lot of educated guesses and assumptions, some of them have a very high probability. What we don’t have is scientific repeatability or what would normally constitute proof in scientific study. Fossil records are often ambiguous and incomplete.

We do know a lot about cells, genetics, and many other topics of interest. We can even speculate on how something as complex as the human eye could evolve. Yet for all that, we don’t know the method for which the eye evolved. The existence of “transitional forms” does not prove a causal link, only provides potential evidence. We can’t say that because we have an eye and we know evolution is true that the exact steps do not matter. This is circular reasoning unless you assume that God could not have participated.

When you know that God does not exist[1], then evolutionary theory must be true. It can’t not be true, else how would we all be here? If scientific explanation is the only possibility, then it must exist. And you don’t need scientific repeatability either, because there is really no point. It would be kind of interesting to know the exact details, but the accepted theories are more than good enough. There is no reason to demand the highest scrutiny. It doesn’t matter in a metaphysical sense. Discussion and debate are a complete waste of time.

This is why hard core creationists can’t find any common ground with hard core evolutionists. Evolutionists cannot conceive of a scenario where God would be possible. It does not fit their belief system. It could introduce all sorts of unfathomable scenarios and destroy their picture of the world and the way it is.

At the end of the day, denying God is metaphysics. But if God did exist, it could have a major influence on the way life developed. Even if you didn’t know anything about God, He could potentially change any variable in an unexpected way, changing any scientific theory in an instant. It wouldn’t even have to be miraculous. Just place two genetically mutated creatures in the right place so they mate to produce the desired mutated offspring: Just “tweaking the probabilities” to make astronomically low likelihood events happen.[2] It is roughly analogous to the way that we breed plants and animals now.[3] There is no metaphysical need for God to make sweeping wand-waving changes, although he could because miracles don’t contradict the laws of science.

But this is not the most shocking scenario. Nature is extremely complex, intricate, delicate, and adaptable, all at the same time. The billions of variables in the right configurations required for life to arrive where it is today are beyond human comprehension and should make statisticians shake. We are like newborn babies trying to drive a race car. And yet the notion that God was powerful enough to set an automated system in place that could do this? That is astounding. It is a masterwork.

And yet this is not God’s most amazing work of creation. We are. The human species is unique in the universe. There has never been anything quite like us. Where did our sentience come from? Where did H. erectus, H. heidelbergensis, and H. neandertalensis go? Why are we so different? Are we really just a bunch of genes and cells and random mutations? Is our sentience just an elaborate natural simulation?

God created man in his own image. In God’s image he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27 (WEB)

God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Genesis 2:7 (WEB)

God set the whole thing in motion for the purpose of creating you and I. He granted us sentience. It didn’t happen by accident, but it did happen. And the more we learn about evolution, the more amazing the consequences.

Atheism and agnosticism are not new concepts, but it is in modern times that spirituality has not been the default truth. The default belief has changed. The burden of proof has shifted. Exclusive belief in science has trumped belief in God. But it is still the case that the more difficult belief is the one that does not involve God. It is not enlightenment to believe that God does not exist: it is arrogance.

Science points directly to God, but many cannot or more likely will not see it.

The heavens declare the glory of God.
  The expanse shows his handiwork.”
Psalm 19:19

Nature is not proof of God. It is not evidence of God. It is a message from God.

[1] See this article for one of the various proofs for God from science.

[2] Although popular with creationists, this is the more unlikely scenario. The need for God to intervene directly in nature could indicate a “flaw” in the process. This is not to say that God would not do such things (think the immaculate conception), only that it makes more sense logically that he would not have to.

[3] It is not chance that humans, created in the image of God, engage in acts of creation. We may not have the same ability as God to craft new species, but look at the vast variation in dog breeds or the development of maize as proof of what capabilities we do have.