Tag Archives: Norman Geisler

How Can God Be Both Merciful and Wrathful at the Same Time?

Within the Bible, God is described as wrathful over one hundred times. We see God’s wrath mentioned in Ezekiel 8:18 after God shows Ezekiel the idol worship taking place in the temple precincts. In the same Bible, however, God is said to be merciful. How can the same God be both wrathful and merciful? Aren’t these opposites of each other?

Theologian Norman Geisler, in Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation, explains in very simple and succinct terms how this is possible.

Wrath and mercy are not incompatible, since they are exercised toward different objects; wrath is on the unrepentant, and mercy is on the repentant. As established previously, God is consistently and unchangeably angry with sin and consistently and unchangeably delighted with righteousness.

God acts mercifully toward those who repent of their sins, while God displays His wrath toward those who are unrepentant. There is simply no inconsistency.

There is a further objection about God’s wrath. Some people cite New Testament passages which speak of Jesus Christ taking the wrath of God for sinners. If Jesus took God’s wrath, then nobody should be subjected to God’s wrath any more. Geisler answers this objection:

This objection is based on a misunderstanding of what Christ did on the cross. The salvation of everyone was not applied; it was simply purchased. All persons were made savable, but not all persons were automatically saved. The gift was made possible by the Savior, but it must be received by the sinner (Eph. 2:8–9; cf. John 1:12). In short, the salvation of all sinners from God’s eternal wrath is possible, but only those who accept Christ’s payment for their sins will actually be saved from it.

Why Doesn’t the Author of 2 Kings Mention Manasseh’s Repentance?

In 2 Chronicles 33, the author records the capture of Manasseh by the Assyrians, his subsequent imprisonment, and then his repentance and return to Jerusalem. None of this material is recorded in the parallel account of Manasseh in 2 Kings 21. Why might this be the case and, secondly, is the account in 2 Chronicles historically plausible? Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe tackle the first question in When Critics Ask : A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties:

Apparently the author of 2 Kings did not record the repentance of Manasseh because of the lack of influence it had upon the steady decline of the nation. The Book of 2 Kings concentrates primarily upon the actions of the covenant people of God as a whole. The repentance and reforms of Manasseh did relatively little to turn the nation around from its path to judgment, while his sinful leadership early in his reign did much more damage to the nation. Even in the 2 Chronicles passage we find this statement: ‘Nevertheless the people still sacrificed on the high places, but only to the Lord their God’ (2 Chron. 33:17). Even though the people dedicated their sacrifices to the Lord, they were still committing sin, because sacrifices were to be made at the temple, not upon high places which were originally altars to false gods. Despite the efforts of Manasseh, the people would not totally dedicate themselves to the Lord.

Is the account of Manasseh being taken by the Assyrians plausible historically? J. A. Thompson, in vol. 9, 1, 2 Chronicles, The New American Commentary, attempts to answer this question for us.

A historical question has been raised in regard to Manasseh’s captivity in Babylon, taken there by Assyrian forces, since there is no extrabiblical documentation for these events. This fact is not, of course, a sufficient reason for rejecting their historicity. Assyrian records are by no means sufficiently comprehensive to allow any argument from silence to decide the issue. There is valuable circumstantial evidence which has persuaded a good number of scholars that historical events underlie the Chronicler’s narrative. The Assyrian records mention Manasseh. He is listed among twenty-two kings of Hatti, the seashore, and the islands, who were summoned to Nineveh by Esarhaddon (650–669 B.C.) to bring building materials for a new palace. Asshur- banipal (668–627 B.C.) mentions him among vassal kings who participated in a campaign against Egypt.

In these references Manasseh appears as submissive to the Assyrian king. The question is asked regarding what historical circumstances would have brought about his humiliation and punishment by Assyria. Various proposals have been made. Manasseh quite possibly may have been on the side of Shamash-shum-ukin, who revolted against his brother Asshur-banipal. The inscriptions of both Esarhaddon and Asshur-banipal abound in references to Egypt and the Palestinian states in the time of Manasseh, who reigned for fifty-five years.

One other important Assyrian source is the vassal-treaties of Esarhaddon dated in the year 672 B.C. The crown prince of Assyria, Asshur-banipal, was inducted at a special ceremony where representatives of all the lands under Assyrian control were present. These representatives were sworn not to arouse the anger of the gods and goddesses against him and to serve Ashur as their god. They were bound by fearful oaths to support the crown prince after the death of his father. These treaties are not entirely intact, and the name of Manasseh does not appear. But the interest and activity of both Esarhaddon and Asshur-banipal in the west may well have forced compliance with their demands on Judah. Naturally vassals took opportunity to deviate from the treaty obligations laid upon them and even to rebel. In fact, numerous rebellions are attested in the reigns of Esarhaddon and Asshur-banipal.

By all accounts, the Chronicler’s narrative is historically reliable, but it of course includes a theological wording.

How Should We Understand Metaphorical Attributes of God?

The prophet Isaiah writes in chapter 40, verse 22, “It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in.” Does God literally sit above the earth in a tent? How are we to understand verses that speak of God in this manner?

Theologian Norman Geisler explains the important distinction between metaphysical and metaphorical attributes of God in his Systematic Theology, Vol. 2, God/Creation:

Not all language about God in the Bible is metaphysical (or literal). Scripture does employ many metaphorical and anthropological descriptions of (attributions to) God. God is said to have ‘arms’ (Deut. 33:27), ‘eyes’ (Heb. 4:13), and even ‘wings’ (Ex. 19:4). He is called a ‘rock’ (1 Sam. 2:2), a ‘tower’ (Prov. 18:10), and a ‘shield’ (Gen. 15:1).

The difference between metaphorical and metaphysical attributions of God is found in the nature of God and what is being said of Him. Metaphysical attribution is based on the way God actually is—it results from His efficient causality. It is like its Cause; it is based in an intrinsic causal relation between an efficient cause and its effect. . . .

However, a metaphorical attribution of God is not the way God actually is. It is based on an extrinsic causal relation; it is not like its Cause.

So why do the biblical writers employ metaphors so frequently? Doesn’t this just lead to confusion?

There are several reasons for using metaphorical expressions of God.

First, metaphors often inform us what God can do, not what He is. They often describe His abilities, not His attributes. Thus, He is like a strong tower or shield that can protect us, or He has wings that can hold us up, etc.

Second, metaphors communicate what God is like in an indirect and non-literal way. The nonliteral actually depends upon the literal. We know God is not literally a stone, since we know He is literally an infinite Spirit, and a stone can be neither infinite nor a spirit. But once we know that God is not literally a stone, a metaphor does tell us what he literally is, namely, stable and immovable.

Third, metaphors (similes and other figures of speech) are often evocative, even though they are not literally descriptive; that is, they do not literally and directly describe God. Even so, they do evoke a response to Him (while metaphysical descriptions often do not). Hence, metaphors are frequently used in the Bible because God wants a response from us. For example, compare the evocative power of a metaphorical vs. a metaphysical statement about God:

  • Metaphysical: God is the uncaused Cause of our being.
  • Metaphorical: ‘Underneath are the everlasting arms’ (Deut. 33:27).
  • Metaphysical: God is omnipotent.
  • Metaphorical: ‘Who is like me and who can challenge me? And what shepherd can stand against me?’ (Jer. 49:19).
  • Metaphysical: God is omniscient.
  • Metaphorical: ‘Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account’ (Heb. 4:13).

Verse 22 in Isaiah 40 is clearly, then, a metaphorical description of God. Since we know that God is literally an immaterial spirit, then He cannot be physically sitting down under a tent. The verse is trying to communicate the metaphysical attribute of God’s infinite power.

Is the Story of Jonah Fictional?

Some Bible scholars believe that the Book of Jonah is a fictional tale written purely for teaching purposes by its original author. They argue that the original author never meant for the story to be taken as real history. While it may be impossible to know just based on the contents of the book itself, there is one important person who seems to have considered the events in Jonah to be historical: Jesus Christ.

Billy K. Smith and Franklin S. Page write, in Amos, Obadiah, Jonah: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary):

Finally, there is the witness of Jesus Christ, which apparently was the basis for the early church’s linking the historicity of Jonah’s experience with that of Jesus, especially his resurrection. Although it would be conceivable that Jesus might have been merely illustrating in Matt 12:40 when he associated his prophesied resurrection with Jonah’s experience in the fish, it is much more difficult to deny that Jesus was assuming the historicity of the conversion of the Ninevites when he continued in v. 41 (cf. Luke 11:32).

‘The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.’

This is confirmed in the following verse (cf. Luke 11:33) when Jesus parallels the ‘men of Nineveh’ with the ‘Queen of the South,’ whose visit to Jerusalem is recounted in 1 Kings.

‘The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.’

Clearly Jesus did not see Jonah as a parable or an allegory. As J. W. McGarvey stated long ago, ‘It is really a question as to whether Jesus is to be received as a competent witness respecting historical and literary matters of the ages which preceded His own.’

Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, in When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties, add:

[T]he most devastating argument against the denial of the historical accuracy of Jonah is found in Matthew 12:40. In this passage Jesus predicts His own burial and resurrection, and provides the doubting scribes and Pharisees the sign that they demanded. The sign is the experience of Jonah. Jesus says, ‘For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.’ If the tale of Jonah’s experience in the belly of the great fish was only fiction, then this provided no prophetic support for Jesus’ claim. The point of making reference to Jonah is that if they did not believe the story of Jonah being in the belly of the fish, then they would not believe the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. As far as Jesus was concerned, the historical fact of His own death, burial, and resurrection was on the same historical ground as Jonah in the belly of the fish. To reject one was to cast doubt on the other (cf. John 3:12). Likewise, if they believed one, they should believe the other. . . .

Jesus went on to mention the significant historical detail. His own death, burial, and resurrection was the supreme sign that verified His claims. When Jonah preached to the unbelieving Gentiles, they repented. But, here was Jesus in the presence of His own people, the very people of God, and yet they refused to believe. Therefore, the men of Nineveh would stand up in judgment against them, ‘because they [the men of Nineveh] repented at the preaching of Jonah’ (Matt. 12:41). If the events of the Book of Jonah were merely parable or fiction, and not literal history, then the men of Nineveh did not really repent, and any judgment upon the unrepentant Pharisees would be unjust and unfair. Because of the testimony of Jesus, we can be sure that Jonah records literal history.

Why Did Elisha Curse a Group of Young Men?

In 2 Kings 2:23-24, the prophet Elisha curses a group of young men, seemingly just for calling him names. Even worse, some translations indicate that these were small boys. What is going on here?

First, Hebrew scholars tell us that the words used to describe the boys can indicate an age anywhere from 12-30 years old. It is highly likely, given the context, that these were adolescent young men, at a minimum, and maybe even older than that.

Second, they weren’t simply calling him names. What they said was, “Go on up, you baldhead!” This was a direct reference to Elijah’s going up to heaven, and thus an insult to Elijah and Elisha’s ministry. The term baldhead could be a reference to the hair style worn by prophets of the day, but scholars aren’t sure. It could also refer to lepers who would shave their heads, indicating Elisha was an outcast just as lepers are outcasts.

In the end, God decided that the threat to Elisha and his ministry were serious enough to warrant an attack on the young men, causing 42 of them to be seriously injured and possibly even fatally wounded by two bears.

Norman Geisler and Tom Howe, in When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties, add these thoughts about the passage:

First of all, this was no minor offense, for these young men held God’s prophet in contempt. Since the prophet was God’s mouthpiece to His people, God Himself was being most wickedly insulted in the person of His prophet.

Second, these were not small, innocent children. They were wicked young men, comparable to a modern street gang. Hence, the life of the prophet was endangered by their number, the nature of their sin, and their obvious disrespect for authority.

Third, Elisha’s action was designed to strike fear in the hearts of any other such gang members. If these young gang members were not afraid to mock a venerable man of God such as Elisha, then they would have been a threat to the lives of all God’s people.

Fourth, some commentators note that their statements were designed to challenge Elisha’s claim to be a prophet. They were essentially saying, ‘If you are a man of God, why don’t you go on up to heaven like Elijah did?’ . . .

Fifth, it was not Elijah who took their lives, but God who alone could have providentially directed the bears to attack them. It is evident that by mocking this man of God, these young men were revealing their true attitudes toward God Himself. Such contempt for the Lord was punishable by death. The Scriptures do not say that Elisha prayed for this kind of punishment. It was clearly an act of God in judgment upon this impious gang.

Are the Miracles in the Old Testament Meant to Be Understood as Historical Events?

In 1 and 2 Kings, Elijah and his disciple Elisha perform, or are associated with, more than 20 miracles. Miraculous activity characterizes their ministries like no other prophet since Moses.

Some Christians accept the miracles of Jesus as historical events, but doubt the historicity of the miracles in the Old Testament (OT). C. S. Lewis, a great champion of Christianity, took this position. Is it consistent for a follower of Jesus, though, to doubt the historicity of the OT miracles?

It seems that the answer is “no,” for the simple reason that Jesus and His followers constantly referred to events in the OT, both miraculous and non-miraculous, as real, historical events. Theologian Norm Geisler explains in his book Miracles and the Modern Mind: A Defense of Biblical Miracles.

The creation of the world is not only repeatedly cited in the New Testament but the events and persons involved are taken to be historical. Adam and Eve are referred to as historical figures (Matt. 19:4; Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 11:8–9; 15:45; 1 Tim. 2:13–14). The Romans passage is unmistakable: it is through one man that sin entered the world and thus death by sin, and thus death spread to all people. What could be clearer: we die physically because a physical Adam sinned and brought physical death on himself and all his posterity. The New Testament takes the literal creation of Adam and even so historically that Adam is even listed as the first name in Jesus’ genealogy (Luke 3:38). Likewise, Adam is called ‘the first man Adam’ in direct comparison to Christ who is the ‘last Adam’ (1 Cor. 15:45).

The authenticity of many of the supernatural events in the Old Testament are used as the basis for New Testament teaching. For example, Jesus based the truth of his resurrection on the fact of Jonah’s miraculous preservation in the belly of a great fish, saying, ‘For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, [even] so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’ (Matt. 12:40 NASB). The strong contrast (‘just as’), the emphatic manner in which it is cited, and the important historical truth with which it was associated (the resurrection of Christ) all reveal that Jonah’s deliverance was not a myth. Given the context, it is inconceivable that Jesus meant something like: ‘Just as you believe that mythology about Jonah, I would like to tell you about the historicity of my death and resurrection.’ The same is true about Jesus’ reference to the historicity of Noah and the flood, saying, ‘[even] so shall the coming of the Son of Man be’ (Matt. 24:39 NASB).

Jesus referred to numerous miraculous Old Testament events as historical, including the creation of the world (Matt. 24:21), the creation of Adam and Eve (Matt. 19:4), the flood (Matt. 24:39), the miracles of Elijah (Luke 4:26), Jonah in the great fish (Matt. 12:40), and the supernatural prediction of Daniel (Matt. 24:15).

In brief, in view of Jesus’ use of the Old Testament miracles, there is no way to challenge their authenticity without impugning his integrity. So accepting New Testament miracles as authentic, while rejecting those of the Old Testament, is inconsistent.

If Ecclesiastes Is Inspired, Then Why Isn’t It Quoted in the New Testament?

The NT writers quote the OT hundreds of times, yet they never once quote from the Book of Ecclesiastes. Doesn’t this indicate that the NT writers did not consider the book to be inspired by God?

Norm Geisler and Tom Howe answer this question in their book, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties:

There are several OT books that are not directly quoted in the NT, including Ruth, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Esther, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes. However, all these books were considered inspired by both Judaism and Christianity. Several points should be kept in mind.

First, being quoted in the NT was not a test for the inspiration of an OT book. Rather, the question was whether it was written by a spokesperson accredited by God and accepted by His people. Ecclesiastes meets this test.

Second, while no text of Ecclesiastes is cited as such in the NT, many of its truths are. For example:

‘What we sow we reap’ (Ecc. 11:1, cf. Gal 6:7)

‘Avoid lust of youth’ (Ecc. 11:10, cf. 2 Tim. 2:22)

‘Death is divinely appointed’ (Ecc. 3:2, cf. Heb. 9:2)

‘Love of money is evil’ (Ecc. 5:10, cf. 1 Tim. 6:10)

‘Don’t be wordy in prayer’ (Ecc. 5:2, cf. Matt. 6:7)

Third, the NT writers had no occasion to quote from every book in the OT. Few Christians have quoted recently from 1 Kings, yet the NT did (Rom. 11:4). Indeed, few believers ever cite 2 or 3 John, and yet they are part of the inspired Word of God. Whether, or even how often, a book is quoted does not determine whether it is inspired.

Does Solomon’s Hundreds of Wives Mean That the Bible Promotes Polygamy?

In 1 Kings 11, verse 3, we read that Solomon, the king who ruled at the pinnacle of Israelite power, had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Other great men of the Old Testament also had more than one wife. Are we to conclude that God encourages polygamy?

Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, in When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficultiesargue that the Bible unequivocally teaches that monogamy is God’s standard for the human race.

This is clear from the following facts: (1) From the very beginning God set the pattern by creating a monogamous marriage relationship with one man and one woman, Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:27; 2:21–25). (2) Following from this God-established example of one woman for one man, this was the general practice of the human race (Gen. 4:1) until interrupted by sin (Gen. 4:23). (3) The Law of Moses clearly commands, ‘You shall not multiply wives’ (Deut. 17:17). (4) The warning against polygamy is repeated in the very passage where it numbers Solomon’s many wives (1 Kings 11:2), warning ‘You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you.’ (5) Our Lord reaffirmed God’s original intention by citing this passage (Matt. 19:4) and noting that God created one ‘male and [one] female’ and joined them in marriage. (6) The NT stresses that ‘Each man [should] have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband’ (1 Cor. 7:2). (7) Likewise, Paul insisted that a church leader should be ‘the husband of one wife’ (1 Tim. 3:2, 12). (8) Indeed, monogamous marriage is a prefiguration of the relation between Christ and His bride, the church (Eph. 5:31–32).

How do the biblical texts treat the practice of polygamy?

Polygamy was never established by God for any people under any circumstances. In fact, the Bible reveals that God severely punished those who practiced it, as is evidenced by the following: (1) Polygamy is first mentioned in the context of a sinful society in rebellion against God where the murderer ‘Lamech took for himself two wives’ (Gen. 4:19, 23). (2) God repeatedly warned polygamists of the consequences of their actions ‘lest his heart turn away’ from God (Deut. 17:17; cf. 1 Kings 11:2). (3) God never commanded polygamy—like divorce, He only permitted it because of the hardness of their hearts (Deut. 24:1; Matt. 19:8). (4) Every polygamist in the Bible, including David and Solomon (1 Chron. 14:3), paid dearly for his sins. (5) God hates polygamy, as He hates divorce, since it destroys His ideal for the family (cf. Mal. 2:16).

Geisler and Howe summarize the argument for monogamy:

In brief, monogamy is taught in the Bible in several ways: (1) by precedent, since God gave the first man only one wife; (2) by proportion, since the amount of males and females God brings into the world are about equal; (3) by precept, since both OT and NT command it (see verses above); (4) by punishment, since God punished those who violated His standard (1 Kings 11:2); and, (5) by prefiguration, since marriage is a typology of Christ and His bride, the church (Eph. 5:31–32). Simply because the Bible records Solomon’s sin of polygamy does not mean that God approved of it.

What Is the Age of Accountability?

In 2 Samuel 12:23, David speaks about his dead 7-day-old child, “But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” This verse implies that David believes he will see his child again in the afterlife, in Heaven. But why does David have this confidence?

Many Christian theologians have argued for a concept called the age of accountability. The idea is that any person who dies before they are old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, goes to Heaven. What biblical evidence do they give for the age of accountability? Norman Geisler and Tom Howe, in When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties, provide the scriptural basis:

First, Isaiah 7:16 speaks of an age before a child is morally accountable, namely, ‘before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good.’ Second, David believed in life after death and the resurrection (Ps. 16:10–11), so when he spoke of going to be with his son who died after birth (2 Sam. 12:23), he implied that those who die in infancy go to heaven.

Third, Psalm 139 speaks of an unborn baby as a creation of God whose name is written down in God’s ‘book’ in heaven (vv. 14–16). Fourth, Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God’ (Mark 10:14), thus indicating that even little children will be in heaven.

Fifth, some see support in Jesus’ affirmation that even ‘little ones’ (i.e., children) have a guardian angel ‘in heaven’ who watches over them (Matt. 18:10). Sixth, the fact that Christ’s death for all made little children savable, even before they believed (Rom. 5:18–19).

Finally, Jesus’ indication that those who did not know were not morally responsible (John 9:41) is used to support the belief that there is heaven for those who cannot yet believe, even though there is no heaven for those who are old enough and refuse to believe (John 3:36).

Did God Bless Rahab for Lying?

In Joshua chapter 2, Rahab lies to the king of Jericho by telling him the spies had already left the city and that the king’s men could track them down and capture them as they returned to the Jordan River. In reality, Rahab was hiding the spies on the roof of her house.

The Bible records that her family was spared by God in Joshua 6, and the New Testament speaks glowingly of her actions in Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25. How can this be when she clearly lied? Isn’t it always a sin to lie?

Christian thinkers have struggled to deal with this conflict for millennia. Today, there are two positions which garner the most support. Theologians Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, in The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation, explain the two main options for dealing with this passage.

Some argue that it is not clear that God blessed Rahab for lying. God certainly saved Rahab and blessed her for protecting the spies and assisting in the overthrow of Jericho. However, nowhere does the Bible explicitly say that God blessed Rahab for lying. God could have blessed her in spite of her lie, not because of it. . . .

Others insist that Rahab was faced with a real moral conflict. It may have been impossible for her to both save the spies and tell the truth to the soldiers of the king. If so, God would not hold Rahab responsible for this unavoidable moral conflict. Certainly a person cannot be held responsible for not keeping a lesser law in order to keep a higher obligation. The Bible commands obedience to the government (Rom. 13:1; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13), but there are many examples of justified civil disobedience when the government attempts to compel unrighteousness (Ex. 5; Dan. 3, 6; Rev. 13). The case of the Hebrew midwives lying to save the lives of the male children is perhaps the clearest example.

In summary, the biblical text never explicitly commends Rahab for her lie, so maybe Rahab is commended for her faith in God, despite her lie. Another option is that Rahab acted on the higher moral command (save the lives of the Israelites) over the lower command (do not lie) when she was presented with a situation where two moral laws were in conflict.