Tag Archives: Theology

If Jesus Is God, Why Did He Get Tired?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

If Jesus is God, and God is uncaused, immaterial, omniscient, omnipotent, and eternal (and lots of other things), then don’t we have a problem with Jesus being a real man who lived in 1st century Palestine?  After all, Jesus grew tired, but God doesn’t get tired; Jesus sometimes didn’t know things, but God knows everything; Jesus died, but God can’t die; Jesus has a human body, but God doesn’t have a body.  I think you get the point.  How does the Christian church deal with this problem?

Well, before we get to the Christian church, one approach that has been taken by some religious groups over the last two millennia is just to give up on the idea that Jesus is God.  If he is less than God, then all these questions go away.  Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are two groups that took this approach, but they are just the latest in a long line.  The problem with this approach is that it contradicts the Bible’s clear teaching that Jesus is God (see the series of posts on how we know Jesus is God).  So this approach fails to take seriously the biblical data.

The approach that the Christian church has taken is to accept the fact that the Bible teaches that Jesus is both God and man.  In the early church, there was a couple centuries of debate about how this works, until the Council of Chalcedon came together in AD 451 to settle the issue.  Here is the creed that resulted from the Council:

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

What does all that mean?  It means, among other things, that Jesus is one person composed of two natures: human and divine.  The creed repeats the words Godhead and Manhood several times to hammer the point home.  So, whenever we ask any question about Jesus, we have to specify whether we are asking about his divine nature or his human nature.  In his divine nature, he is omniscient, eternal, and uncaused.  In his human nature, he was tired, he needed food, he didn’t know everything, and he even died.  Two natures, two sets of questions about Jesus.

The church never went so far as to try and explain how exactly Jesus’ two natures interacted; they set boundaries around what was acceptable, based on Scripture, and captured it in the above creed.  Many theologians have attempted to go further with this doctrine and explain in more detail how this is possible, but these details, to my knowledge, have never been formally adopted into creeds of the church.

What Are Romans 9,10, and 11 About?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I’ve touched on this topic before, but it continues to interest me, so I thought I would cover some new ground on this important section of the New Testament.

Context, when reading any passage of the Bible, is crucial to understanding it.  When we look at the context of Romans 9-11, we immediately discover that the Apostle Paul is speaking of the national condition of Israel.  If you take nothing else from this post, please take that!  Every verse in Romans 9-11 is advancing Paul’s treatment of national Israel.

Dr. Barry Leventhal, of Southern Evangelical Seminary, explains that Romans 9-11 can be outlined as Paul asking and answering a series of four questions:

  1. Haven’t God’s promises to Israel utterly failed? (Rom. 9:1-29)
  2. Why then did Israel fail to attain the righteousness of God? (Rom. 9:30-10:21)
  3. So then God has finally rejected Israel, hasn’t he? (Rom. 11:1-10)
  4. If Israel’s failure is neither total nor final, then what possible purposes could her failure serve in the overall plan of God? (Rom. 11:11-36)

Rather then answering these questions in this blog post, I invite the reader to read these three chapters and attempt to answer these questions herself.

A final point.  Some Christians attempt to draw from these chapters doctrines about individual believers’ justification before God.  But Paul has already dealt with individual justification in the first four chapters of Romans.  Certainly Paul could review what he taught in chapters 1-4, but the context of chapters 9-11 seems to deal with a completely different topic.  So be very careful when making claims about justification from chapters 9-11; you may be placing the words of Paul in a subservient position to your particular theological views.

Does God Know What I Will Freely Do? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Yesterday, I posted on the issue of free will and God’s knowledge of of human free acts in the future.  This is an area the church has grappled with for centuries.  But how do other major worldviews deal with this issue?

Most atheists think they can avoid the issue by denying that God (or divine fate) exists.  Unfortunately, once you banish an ultimate mind as the source of the universe, you are only left with impersonal physical laws operating on matter and energy.

So free will, for the atheist, is just an illusion that our highly evolved brain gives us.  Fundamentally, we are completely determined in our actions and choices by chemistry and physics, by the mechanistic movement of atomic particles .  Free will, under atheism, does not exist.  So the atheist does not really solve the problem of fate and free will.  He just rids us of both, thus denying that the problem is real.

Monistic Pantheists argue that all of earthly life is just an illusion, that we are actually part of one ultimate, impersonal being.  When we realize that we are part of this one ultimate being, the illusion of our individual lives ends as we merge with the ultimate being.

In this sense, our individual free will is also an illusion because we, ourselves, are an illusion.  The only thing that really exists is this ultimate, impersonal being.  Their solution to the problem is to affirm divine fate at the complete expense of human free will or even true human existence.

Oddly enough, even though the theistic God seems to cause problems with the existence of human free will, without a personal God, free will cannot exist!

The Christian concept of God allows for mind to precede and transcend matter, which allows human free will to exist, in opposition to atheism (who only believe matter exists).

Christians also recognize that individual people exist apart from God, in opposition to pantheism.  The concept of human free will cannot exist without individual humans truly existing.  This the Pantheists deny.

Even though we Christians struggle with this doctrine, as do other theistic religions, at the end of the day a personal God is the best ground and source for free will.  Get rid of God, and free will quickly vanishes.

Does God Know What I Will Freely Do? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Some people get hung up on the idea that God can know, for sure, what I will freely do in the future.  Their argument goes something like this:  if whatever God knows will certainly occur (as virtually all Christians agree), then either I am not free to act or God does not know what free acts I will perform in the future.

Some Christians take one horn of the dilemma and claim that humans are not really free because human free will would spell the end of God’s infallible knowledge and sovereignty over all creation.  They severely throttle back the meaning of free will to the point that most people would not recognize it any more.  These folks understand humans to be far more similar to animals, operating on instincts, impulses, and desires – all properties that God exercises direct control over.

Others grab the second horn of the dilemma and claim that God does not really know what free creatures will do in the future.  At best, he is making educated guesses, but he cannot know, for sure, what humans will do.  The future free acts of humans are unknown, even to God, until they are actually executed.

I, and most traditional Christians, reject both of these positions.  The Bible seems to clearly teach that God does infallibly know the future, including all free acts that will be performed, and that humans possess a robust free will.  Admittedly, it is difficult to hold these two concepts without tension, but Christian theologians have always done so.

Do we know precisely how God’s infallible knowledge of future free acts coordinates with human free will?  No, I don’t think so.  We always run into the intractable problem of an infinite being interacting with finite creatures.  God knows everything we will do and we are free to do those things, but I don’t think we can ever explain exactly how it works.  There is a mystery to it, but there is no contradiction.

It isn’t just Christians that have had to deal with this issue.  Throughout history, great thinkers have struggled with the seeming paradox of fate and freedom.  If all things are decreed as part of an unchangeable fate, then how is it that we humans are free to do anything?  Rather than toss one of these notions aside, many thinkers have proposed solutions to retain both realities – that some sort of divine fate exists along with human free will.  Two viewpoints – atheism and pantheism – have found other ways around the problem.

Check back tomorrow to see if their worldviews better deal with this problem.

Is the Natural World Part of God?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Sometimes Christians say things like, “When I see a beautiful flower, I see God.”  It is a common experience, when witnessing a thing of great beauty, to comment that it reminds one of God.  In fact, this sense of God’s presence is part of the blessing of being a Christian.

However, Christians need to be careful about what we mean when we wax eloquently about God and nature.  The Bible teaches that God created the world and is distinct from the world.  God is not identified with the world.

Pantheists (e.g., Hindus and New Age believers) believe that God and the world are actually one and the same.  God is the world.  The world is God.  The whole world is composed of God, so God is not distinct from the world.

Christians reject this idea of God being identified with the world, because we believe he transcends the world.  He is above, beyond, other than, and more than the world.  If God is identical to the world, then he cannot be infinite in being because he would be limited by space, time, and matter – the things that constitute the world.

Although we believe that God is intimately related to the world and present to all parts of the world equally, we reject the idea that God is the world.  This idea is completely foreign to Scripture.

Why Should We Trust God?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

There are many passages in the Bible that speak to this issue, but I want to explain it in simple theological terms.

First, God is omnibenevolent (all-good).  That means that he desires our highest welfare.

Second, he is omniscient (all-knowing).  That means he knows everything that is possible to know.  He has all the information he needs about us – our past, present, and future.

Third, he is omnisapient (all-wise).  Wisdom refers to God’s unerring ability to choose the best means to accomplish the best ends in our lives.  He makes no mistakes.

Fourth, he is omnipotent (all-powerful).  He has the power to accomplish the best ends for your life by the best means for your life.

With these four attributes, you, as a believer, can completely trust in God.  He desires your best, he knows what you need, he knows the best way to accomplish it, and he has the power to make sure it happens!

Rest assured in God, because there is nobody else like him.

Are There Things God Does Not Know?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Christians believe that God is omniscient, which means that God knows everything—past, present, and future.  In addition, he knows the actual and the possible; only the impossible (the contradictory) is unknown to God, as the logically contradictory is unknowable to anyone.

But there are passages in the Bible that seem to indicate that God is ignorant of certain facts and that he needs to discover them.  One of the best examples is in Gen. 18:20-33, where Abraham bargains with God to save people in Sodom.  God says that he “will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached [him]” (Gen. 18:21).  If this verse is taken in a strictly literal sense, it indicates that God does not know how bad is Sodom without first visiting himself.

So how do we deal with passages like this?  The answer is that we must always interpret any passage in light of all the other texts in the Bible.  They must all integrate together and they cannot contradict each other.

Reading the rest of the Bible, we discover a multitude of verses that speak of God’s unlimited knowledge.  Consider Job 37:16, which says,  “Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of him who is perfect in knowledge?”  In Ps. 139, David speaks of God’s knowing everything about him, even his words before he speaks them.  In Psalm 147, the writer proclaims that God’s “understanding has not limit.”

God announces things to men before they ever occur (Is. 42:9).  Jesus teaches that God knows every person’s needs before they ever ask (Matt. 6:8).  Every hair on your head is numbered (Matt. 10:30).  Paul proclaims the “depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God” (Rom. 11:33).  The writer of Hebrews reminds us that “nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight” (Heb. 4:13).

There is a strong theme of God’s unlimited knowledge running throughout the Bible.  So, if we understand the Genesis 18 passage to be teaching that God does not know what is happening in Sodom, we run head-long into contradiction.  How can the God who knows every hair on every person’s head not know what’s going on in Sodom?

The answer is fairly simple.  Students of the Bible have traditionally understood passages like Genesis 18 to be anthropomorphic in nature.  This means that the passage is written from a human perspective, rather than a divine perspective.  God already knows how many wicked people are in Sodom, but he wants to teach Abraham something about the wickedness of the people.  God must speak to human beings in terms they can understand, so he sometimes asks questions and expresses uncertainty to elicit appropriate human responses.

Recognizing anthropomorphisms in the Bible is extremely important.  The person who claims that passages like Genesis 18 must be taken literally is knocking an infinite God down to a finite creature.  In addition, once you deny the presence of anthropomorphic language in the Bible, you must admit that God has wings, arms, and eyes; that he repents and forgets things.  The list could go on.  The Bible, like any other literature, employs figurative and metaphorical language.  Failure to recognize this leads a reader into all kinds of serious problems.

What Does Eternity Mean?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Christians refer to eternity all of the time, but rarely stop to think about what it means.  Many think that eternity means “a really long time” or “endless time.”  These concepts are helpful to some, but they are not really accurate descriptions of eternity.

The difficulty we have is that we are time-bound creatures trying to describe a timeless God.  Our words cannot comprehend eternity, but we can make claims about what eternity is not.

Eternity literally means “timelessness” or “nontemporality.”  It refers to the nonexistence of time.  God lives outside of time  and is not limited by time.  Although the universe he created is in time, God is not.

A. W. Tozer comments, “Time marks the beginning of created existence, and because God never began to exist it can have no application to him.”  He continues, “Time is known to us by a succession of events.  It is the way we account for consecutive changes in the universe.”

God does not experience anything as a sequence of events.  He does not think or act or terms of step 1, then step 2, then step 3.  He experiences everything as one eternal Now.  He sees our entire earthly existence in one eternal “instant.”

An interesting footnote to this issue of eternity.  Modern science claims that time, space, and matter are co-relative, meaning they exist in relation to each other.  If God is in time, then he must also be made of matter and take up space.  This would necessarily entail a God who is limited by time, space, and matter – hardly the God described in the Bible.

Does God Need Anything?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Christians believe that God is completely self-sufficient, that he is complete within himself.  There is nothing that God needs that he doesn’t already have.  The quote below, from A. W. Tozer in The Knowledge of the Holy,  summarizes the point extremely well.

To admit the existence of a need in God is to admit incompleteness in the divine Being.  Need is a creature-word and cannot be spoken of the Creator.  God has a voluntary relation to everything He has made, but He has no necessary relation to anything outside of Himself.  His interest in His creatures arises from His sovereign good pleasure, not from any need those creatures can supply nor from any completeness they can bring to Him who is complete in Himself.

Practically speaking, it is a serious error to think that humanity is somehow providing God assistance that he needs to accomplish his tasks.  God may use human beings to complete certain tasks, but he never needs them.  He allows them to participate with him in the affairs of the world, but only out of his good pleasure.  Whenever humans start to think they are indispensable to God, a prideful fall is sure to follow.

Can Man Choose God On His Own?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

No.  The Bible seems to clearly teach that God must call on man before man will respond.  Original sin has caused man to reject God without God’s intervention.  Jesus said, ““This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him” (John 6:65).  The Psalmist said, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5).  God must initiate salvation because man cannot.

So does God intervene to convict all men of their sins and call them toward him?  Yes, he does.  All men are given the chance to accept or reject God because God calls all men.  According to 2 Pet. 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  According to 1 Tim. 2:3-4, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

God will freely offer the gift of salvation to everyone, but each person must decide to accept or reject this free gift.  God must call us first, as we are incapable of inclining our wills toward God on our own.

Historical footnote: The belief that mankind is born innocent of original sin and can freely choose God without God first initiating salvation is called Pelagianism.  This heresy was condemned by the Council of Carthage (A.D. 416-418).