Using Biblical Principles to Combat Heresies

Our Lord Jesus was pulled into a strongly debated issue regarding the resurrection. While the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, the Sadducees deny that such concept is found in the scriptures but rather that it is rooted in the tradition of men. The Sadducees, presenting the issue to Jesus, tried to put the pro-resurrectionists into a false dilemma whereby the pro-resurrectionist is left with either ditching Levirate marriage or ditching the resurrection.

Jesus started by proving that the dilemma is wrong. There is no marriage at the resurrection hence the problem posed by the Levirate marriage vanishes into the thin air. Our Lord went on to prove that the concept of resurrection is firmly rooted within the scriptures. Here is what He said:

And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” [Matthew 22:31-32]

Jesus referred to a Scripture that not only doesn’t mention the resurrection directly; the Old Testament passage cited (Ex. 3:6) doesn’t even have anything at all to do with the resurrection, nothing at all. It is simply a statement in which God identified Himself to Moses. For the life of me, IF Jesus Christ had not quoted this Scripture in the context of the resurrection, then I don’t suppose anyone, including me, would ever dream of turning to Exodus 3:6 to prove that there will be a resurrection for the righteous. But I am learning, and hopefully you are too.

While the Old Testament includes only a few hints about resurrection and the afterlife, passages like Isaiah 26:19 are the strongest. I don’t suppose passages like this is missing in the copy of the Tanakh the Sadducees have but it is more likely that they would have managed to resort to “special” theories or interpretations to evade the thrust of passages like this. Jesus, being aware of such evasion by the Sadducees, decided to approach the issue from another angle by the use of principles to fling out their claims. The principle Christ cited is true irrespective of which Scripture it is applied to. It is always true that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. However, it is an application of this principle that is illustrated by Exodus 3:6. There is no way the Sadducees could have taken any exception to this Scripture because it is a clear and non-controversial statement, one that didn’t seem immediately threatening to their position.

LESSON FOR US TODAY

Now, for instance, when it comes to the issue of proving the deity of Christ from the scriptures, we all know how the Heretics United bob, deflect and dodge when clear evidences are presented from the scriptures. They will keep asking “where did the Bible call Jesus God in unequivocal statement?” Do not allow them to bring you down that path where they have decided to cast the issue they way they have already slanted it. No matter how many passages you bring forth, they already have “special theories” to explain them away – theories that are really over-blown and unrealistic.

They will also inquire: “why is it that singular pronouns are used for God?” Apart from the fact that the use of singular pronouns strengthens our position that God is a unity (and that singular pronouns are used for plural persons in a unity), even if you bring out passages where plural nouns, verbs, pronouns, adjectives etc. are used for God, they already have another “special theory” to explain them away – a theory that had been proven times and over again to have not existed during the time of composition.

A saying goes, “Don’t let a beautiful woman pick your path when there is a man in her line of sight”. Dear brethren, when dealing with Heretics United, don’t start by looking for “explicit” verses – reserve those verses later for your “finishing” strike. After proving that the methodology they employed to support their position is wrong, then move on to use principles to weaken and destroy the stance of the Heretics United – the same way our Lord Jesus Christ had done several times.

The multitudes that followed Jesus Christ “were astonished” at this teaching (Matthew 22:33). The multitudes being astonished at this way of explaining the Scriptures shows that most people aren’t really prepared for explaining the truth of God by appealing to the principles that must obviously, from God’s perspective, underlie certain biblical statements. And if some people then attempt to deny the principles that have been presented, then the errors in such a denial are usually easier to spot than when the denials consist of arguments about grammatical details and translation details and similar technicalities.

As a demonstration, let’s examine some Biblical principles that proved the deity of Christ:

PRINCIPLE 1: Who can ransom and redeem our lives?

Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit. [Psalms 49:7-9]

This is one of the principles employed by Athanasius to combat Arianism – proving that Jesus can never be anything less than God. If Jesus is substantially less than God, then the Biblical doctrine of Atonement and God’s Justice entirely crumbles like a pack of cards. A man cannot even ransom the life of a single man so that the man may live forever – how much more will it take for the lives of billions and more to be ransomed that they will have eternal life? The Psalmist later went on say:

But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me. Selah [Psalms 49:15]

It was The Son who ransomed our lives and gave us eternal life – the very Person whom Stephen beseeched saying:

And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” [Acts 7:59]

For Stephen, Jesus had ransomed his soul from the power of Sheol (grave) and is ready to receive him – the very action which the OT sacred author claimed that God (and no man) can do. If Jesus is merely a creature created by God to be perfect, then there is a much simpler way to redeem us – God could have designed us the way He designed Jesus, giving us His Holy Spirit to the full right from our birth and making us completely perfect and righteous – then the world would have been a paradise! But no, Jesus is unique and the only Person that can save humanity from the power of Sheol as the passage below shows:

And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. If it be possible, remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” [Mark 14:36; Matthew 26:39]

While there have been some people seeing this verse, suddenly decide to jump up in joy and claim that this supports their contention that Jesus is just a frail man – a contention that Jesus Himself flung out of the window when He later claimed that while His Spirit is willing, it was His flesh that was weak (Matt. 26:41) – this verse shows that Jesus is the only Person that can pay the price – there is no other way or alternative. We are all aware of how justice and mercy tend to clash against each other. In as much as God’s Justice and Mercy are eternal, God’s Justice that incurs wrath due to the Fall of Man cannot just be cancelled or terminated so that Mercy may be fulfilled. It is in the Atonement of Christ that God’s Justice is fulfilled while Mercy also “went home” happy and satisfied. This means that it is the Son alone that can cross the eternal bridge and satisfy God’s eternal Justice and Mercy. No wonder we have passages like this in the scriptures:

He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede [Isaiah 59:16a]

And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. [Revelation 5:2-4]

We should count ourselves lucky because of this:

And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” [Revelation 5:5]

Note how the angel deliberately referred to Christ as the “Root of David” – a figure Isaiah will go on to identify as:

“then His own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him.” [Isaiah 59:16]

The very Arm of the LORD eventually revealed by Isaiah here:

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. [Isaiah 53:1-2]

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. [Isaiah 11:1]

The ROOT (i.e. source) of David eventually became his SHOOT (offspring) – In other words, the Creator of David eventually become his offspring by putting on flesh. No wonder our Lord said:

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the Root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” [Revelation 22:16]

This principle established the fact that The Son can never be anything less than God – if He is, then scriptures is rendered null and void – Christianity is now built on a shaky foundation.

PRINCIPLE 2: Who is the Owner and Shepherd of us?

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. HE WHO IS A HIRED HAND and not a shepherd, WHO DOES NOT OWN THE SHEEP, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. HE FLEES BECAUSE HE IS A HIRED HAND and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. [John 10:11-15]

While there have been others designated the title “shepherd” in the scriptures, Jesus said it here that they are not actually shepherd in the real sense but are really hired hands. In other words, they were hired by the REAL Shepherd to lead God’s flock and cannot lay down their life to save the flock because they are not the OWNER of the flock. On the other hand, Jesus is the OWNER of the flock and it is because of this that He alone can lay His life down for His sheep who belongs to Him – for everything that belongs to His Father belongs to Him as well. Note that Jesus didn’t say that He became the owner of the flock by laying down His life for it – no, it is the other way round! He has always been the owner of the flock and this is the reason why He can lay down His life for the flock.

This is indeed love at its peak and a lesson for us. In the Garden, man wouldn’t submit to God’s authority hence God decided to submit to man. The Son left His throne of endless glory, submitted Himself to His Father, his human parents and all the rest of humanity, descending to the lowest reaches of the earth and at the appointed time, ascended back to His previous station, seated above every other name and power named in this age and in the age to come – for indeed The Son had filled the whole universe that the scriptures might be fulfilled:

But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD, [Numbers 14:21]

For in the Economic Trinity (i.e. the unfolding of the Divine Persons with respect to our salvation):

The Father – God above all

The Son – God with us

The Holy Spirit – God in us

That God may be ALL in ALL. Amen.

PRINCIPLE 3: Did He exist before His Incarnation?

Now, another added advantage of using principles is that it eludes debates about variants and other grammatical technicalities. One thing is remarkable about the scriptures – its teachings and doctrines are TENACIOUS and stubborn such that even scribal mistakes and errors could not uproot them.

Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. [Jude 1:5-7]

Here it was said that Jesus:

  1. a) saved a people out of the land of Egypt and destroyed those who did not believe
  2. b) locked up the disobedient angels under gloomy darkness

Now, v. 5 has two other variants that read “Lord” and “God”. The textual critical editions of the New Testament have come to agree that “Jesus” is the original reading due to several reasons of which not only does the earliest and best manuscripts read “Jesus” (add to that the patristic evidences), but it also happens that “Jesus” is the harder reading and is more likely to be original.

Even if it reads “Lord”, the “Lord” here has to refer back to antecedent verse where Jesus is identified as our only Lord and Master  – so whether “Jesus” or “Lord”, the natural reading of the verse strongly suggests that Jesus was the one Jude was talking about. However, there are also other passages in the scriptures that reinforces our contention that the figure being referred to here is none other Jesus Christ.

A) Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

but now YOU SEEK TO KILL ME, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. THIS IS NOT WHAT ABRAHAM DID. [John 8:40]

Here Jesus was telling His enemies that unlike them that tried to kill Him, Abraham didn’t do that but was rather joyous and glad that he would see His day. When Abraham saw it, he was glad (John 8:56). The Jews were shocked at this statement and were like, “wait a minute! This man is crazy! He is not even 50 yrs old! How is it possible for Him to see Abraham” (v. 57). Jesus demonstrated why this query is irrelevant by telling them, saying, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Apart from the fact that the “I AM” saying of Jesus here is completely identical to the “I AM” sayings of YHWH in the Old Testament for it lacks both explicit and implied/antecedent predicate (and scholars have searched in vain for a predicate), Jesus was claiming to have pre-existed before Abraham. The query of the Jews that there is no way He could not have SEEN Abraham rests on an assumption that Jesus is less than 50 years old. This assumption was actually wrong – Jesus not only proved that He existed before Abraham, He also evoked one of the phrases in the Old Testament that YHWH uses to assert that He is eternal.

Regarding Abraham anticipating to Jesus’ day is alluding to Gen. 18 where three men came to visit Abraham and one of them was later revealed to be YHWH. It was this figure who promised Abraham that He would visit Him the following year and Sarah will have a son (Gen. 18:14) – the very figure before whom Abraham stood to negotiate the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah – the very figure whom Moses said rained down fire and sulfur from another figure identified as YHWH in Heaven (Gen. 19:24). The interpretation of the earliest church theologians is that it was The Son who rained down sulfur and fire from His Father out of Heaven to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah – an interpretation supported by several lines of Biblical evidences right from the sacred authors of the Old Testament. More could be said and written to support the point that we have already driven home but time and space is already against us.

B) Locking up the fallen angels under gloomy darkness

And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” [Matthew 8:28-29]

Now, on a closer examination, the query by the demons look somehow odd. If you read the Gospels very well, during exorcisms, you will see demons blurting out trying to “tattle” the identity of Jesus only for Jesus to silence them – it is more probable that Jesus was silencing the demons because He doesn’t want His identity to be revealed based on the testimony of the demons but rather wanted people to gradually come to know Him as He unfolds Himself in several stages. Even the disciples have their “uh-oh” moments where they were somehow suspicious that Jesus is far more than what He seems at first – this bears resemblance to the apparition of the Malak YHWH to people especially in the Book of Judges. Gideon, Manoah and his wife didn’t know that they were speaking with the God of Israel until that figure ascended even though they were having suspicions that the figure before them doesn’t talk or speak like an ordinary messenger.

Now, the demons in the passage, after identifying Jesus as the Son of God, they asked whether He had come to torment them before the appointed time. They were not even begging Jesus not to send them out of the man – in fact, they seem eager to leave their present hosts and look for other hosts – even if the host was an animal. This incident, and other incidents where demons are casted out in the Name of Jesus by His disciples – this does not look like a man having power merely because of His exaltation. No, this demonstrates that the demons already quaking in the fear of His Holy Name suggests that Jesus had always been the One punishing demons before His incarnation – this is the reason why others can use His Name to cast out demons – these disciples can never grant others the same abilities using their own prerogative the way Jesus had done even before His exaltation. Hence, it is hardly surprising for us to find Jesus being described as the One who locked up the fallen angels with eternal chains in gloomy darkness until the appointed time when He will judge them and decide their fate.

So when Jude was citing examples of earthly and celestial beings who were punished by the Lord Jesus Christ, He is asking us not to blaspheme or provoke Christ so that we may not perish like those who were punished by Him – this echoes Paul’s statement here:

We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, [1 Corinthians 10:9]

We also have MANY other Biblical principles by which we can prove the deity of Christ – one of which I’m discussing presently in my series regarding our Divine Husband and Maker. So when it comes to the deity of Christ, the Trinitarian is blessed with a lot of evidences from many angles.

This approach to the Scriptures (i.e. focusing on underlying premises or principles) means it automatically eliminated any possibilities of “striving about words to no profit”, thereby eliminating any possibilities of people being subverted by stupid arguments about grammatical details. It also automatically eliminated all the possibilities of getting enmeshed in “foolish and unlearned questions” which produce nothing but arguing and fighting (see 2 Timothy 2:23 and Titus 3:9).

Now, when the Heretics United ask you to provide him “unequivocal” passages where Christ is called God, don’t allow him bring you down to that path – even if you provide him with such passages, he still won’t be convinced, he will still try and explain them away. Tell him that Jesus while proving the concept of resurrection in the OT didn’t go looking for the words “Resurrection” – He used a passage that does not even look threatening to the stance of his opponents to fling out their case.

Again, do we actually need a “Trinity” passage for the doctrine of the Trinity to be true? No, we don’t need it even if it was “explicitly” stated. You can’t have a one-stop prooftext for the Trinity. There are too many ingredients to squeeze into one compact verse. And that’s true of Biblical doctrines generally. These are elaborate theological constructs, with many different lines of evidence feeding into them. There is no passage of the scriptures where Theism (Doctrine of God) is expounded at details. Doctrines like Inspiration, Canon of the Bible, Simplicity of God, Transcendence and Immanence of God etc. are “explicitly” expounded in the scriptures even though they are based on scriptural evidence.

So when the Heretics United especially the Unitarians go citing passages teaching the deity of The Father – which somehow makes them swoon – demonstrate how this is compatible with Trinitarianism, then ignore the other passages “explicitly” referring to Jesus as deity, go on to draw VALID Biblical principles from passages that seemingly look innocent to the Unitarian stance, use them to fling out the Unitarian position and argue for the Trinitarian stance before moving on deal out the final blow (which is even unnecessary) to bury the already dead monster by using the “explicit” passages – the very way our Lord Jesus Christ handled the Sadducees.

He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” [Psalms 46:9-10]