“Canon Revisited” by Michael J. Kruger

{Book Review}

Though it is somewhat technical and heavy (especially where original languages are addressed) – as one would expect from a textbook – I found Dr. Kruger’s book to be an excellent (and non-overwhelming) introduction to the topic of the New Testament canon.

I especially appreciated the main theme of his apologetic purpose in the book:

“I was interested not only in when and how these books were recognized as canonical, but also in how we know these books are canonical. My concerns were not only historical but also epistemological (and theological)… Like me, the students in my class were not satisfied with just learning when and how the canon was received; they too wanted to know whether Christianity had adequate grounds to claim that these twenty-seven books were the right ones. That is the question that critics of the faith are always asking. And my students were looking for answers. This issue, then, is the motivation for this book. I have written it not so much to answer the question about whether the Christian belief in the canon is true, but to answer the question about whether the Christian belief in the canon is intellectually justified.” – Michael J. Kruger, Canon Revisited (page 11)

And I believe he has succeeded in his goal – at least, as far as is possible in one volume.

His explanation of this facet of the book in the Introduction (pages 20 & 21) – namely, his aim to answer the de jure objection as opposed to the de facto objection – was very helpful in setting up the other themes of the book.

Also, having been raised with no meaningful doctrine of canon, I found Dr. Kruger’s observations and instruction quite helpful. And his epistemology was far more intellectually satisfying – at least for me – than anything else I have ever encountered in Christian apologetics as far as the doctrine of canon is concerned.

Once he has laid a foundation for understanding the academic debate about canon, Dr. Kruger begins to help us understand that “the canon, as God’s Word, is not just true, but the criterion of truth. It is an ultimate authority.” (Page 91, emphasis original)

And he continues:

“So, how do we offer an account of how we know that an ultimate authority is, in fact, the ultimate authority? If we try to validate an ultimate authority by appealing to some other authority, then we have just shown that it is not really the ultimate authority. Thus, for ultimate authorities to be ultimate authorities, they have to be the standard for their own authentication. You cannot account for them without using them.” – Michael J. Kruger, Canon Revisited (page 91)

NOTE: this being a short review – and primarily only what I found most helpful – I hope the reader will forgive and understand that I am not including all of the qualifications given by Kruger for his statements.

And once we understand this and why it is logical or necessary for a believer’s view of Scripture, Kruger continues with a summarization of what the rest of his excellent book explores in very helpful detail:

“When we do apply the Scripture to the question of which books belong in the canon, we shall see that it testifies to the fact that God has created the proper epistemic environment wherein belief in the New Testament canon can be reliably formed. This epistemic environment includes three components:

  • Providential exposure. In order for the church to be able to recognize the books of the canon, it must first be providentially exposed to these books. The church cannot recognize a book that it does not have.
  • Attributes of canonicity. These attributes are basically characteristics that distinguish canonical books from all other books. There are three attributes of canonicity: (1) divine qualities (canonical books bear the “marks” of divinity), (2) corporate reception (canonical books are recognized by the church as a whole), and (3) apostolic origins (canonical books are the result of the redemptive-historical activity of the apostles).
  • Internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. In order for believers to rightly recognize these attributes of canonicity, the Holy Spirit works to overcome the noetic effects of sin and produces belief that these books are from God.

These three components must all be in place if we are to have knowledge of the canon. We cannot know canonical books unless we have access to those books (providential exposure); we need some way to distinguish canonical books from other books (attributes of canonicity); and we need to have some basis for thinking we can rightly identify these attributes (internal work of the Spirit).” – Michael J. Kruger, Canon Revisited (page 94)

And, as I have said, the rest of his 295 page book covers an incredible, scholarly exploration of these ideas. Not to mention the amount of “further reading” that can be found in the 40 page Bibliography.

Finally, I very much appreciated this book in light of the availability of Dr. Kruger’s lecture series as a supplement. Though I cannot yet fully enjoy the Greek reading portion of that series (still working on learning to read it!), it was helpful to be able to listen to the different examples and ideas that he gave in the series that cannot be found (in at least the same form) in the book.

I would highly recommend this work to any serious student of the New Testament who is interested in its origins and any field of Christian apologetics along with Dr. Kruger’s other work on the subject; The Question of Canon.

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My Husband Ruined my Favorite Devotional

{Guest Post by Mrs. J D White}

Well, that is definitely a click bait title. (But let’s face it, this blog could use one of those, hey?)

A more accurate title would be something like “my husband helped with the ruining of my ability to use the Bible as help-yourself self-help” (See why I went with the click bait?)

I grew up in a Bible-reading, Bible-studying, Bible-loving home. Claiming ignorance of Biblical teachings has never been an option. I also have been in Bible-exegeting churches all my life. I guess pretty much I’m a fish in water when it comes to Bible stuff.

That being said, it’s been an interesting process figuring out how to read, understand, and apply the Bible for my own life. (Lots and lots of failing along the way!)

In high school, I attended a Bible study led by our church’s youth pastor. He gave us a fabulous challenge.

Read all of Romans. Straight through. In one sitting.

What!? You can’t do that it’s so long. And it’s, like, the Bible. You only read it in little pieces. Like a toddler eats broccoli. Right??

Oh, and read it (straight through in one sitting) every day for a week.

Now you’re asking me to eat a whole salad in one bite?? This is crazy.

But I did it.

The first time was hard. The second time it started to actually make sense for the first time ever. By the fifth time? I was head over heels in love with Romans.

Now…zoom forward through my life a few years, to the part where da’husband comes in. He likes to read, and he studies theology like a regular seminary student (who can’t afford regular seminary so he just gets the textbooks and lectures from the library and Amazon and iTunesU.)

We have conversations about Bible stuff all the time. Life experience (by God’s grace) simply hasn’t allowed that to be optional. We’ve seen some crazy stuff (who hasn’t these days tho).

One of the things we have become super convinced of is the extreme importance of reading Bible verses in context, not using Bible verses OUT of context, and seeking to understand the author’s original intent (I have a hunch there will be a whole post on that last point, coming soon…ask me how I know)

Basically, the idea is that in order to understand any particular Bible verse well, one must also consider the surrounding verses, and even chapters and books.

For example, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” sounds like a great superhero Christian verse at face value, but it takes on a more real-life tone when you realize Paul was talking about enduring suffering and enjoying abundance to the glory of God.

Likewise, have you ever studied the context of “Without vision a people perish”? Or “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord…” or “Nothing is impossible with God”? (Consider it a dare! Go study!)

Ok, but what does any of this have to do with the title of this post?

See, I used to approach the Bible like I was simply “supposed to read it.” Because it’s “good for you.” I’d pick a chapter, and read it, annnnd….done! Check that off the list! Or I’d have a question and try to find the answer by looking up words in a concordance and doing a topical study. (“What is a Christian girl supposed to wear? Hmm, let’s look up “modesty” – I’m sure that will tell me what type of denim is the most godly.”) Or I’d read a verse or two and try to figure out how they apply to me personally (ie, the “devotional” approach).

The trouble is, it’s really hard to see the stunningly beautiful over-arching, under-girding, permeating purposes of Scripture if you just read it in smaller chunks or only use a concordance to find words. I’m not saying topical studies are bad or that you can’t read small pieces of Scripture. I just want to suggest that if you sometimes read whole books or letters in one sitting (or two or three sittings…let’s be real…Isaiah is long), and if you look for the over-all message of that book or letter, you might be amazed at the whole new level of coherence that you can discover.

But I gotta warn you. Once you start discovering the importance of context, you might have a hard time flipping open your Bible and pointing at a random verse and taking it as personal prophecy. You’ll be more likely to flip open your Bible randomly, see a book name, start at chapter 1, and keep going. And your heart just might rejoice at the amazing wisdom and glory of God that the Bible is fairly bursting with.

(I could thank a lot of people for this change of perspective- my parents, siblings, pastors, people who don’t like me, friends. And I am grateful to them, from my heart.

But it sounds funnier to just blame my husband.)

One last note of practical honesty: These days, I’m a mom of two very small children. I don’t read the Bible every day. I read large chunks of Bible on some days – and then the dishes don’t get done, I stay in my pajamas til lunchtime, the kids get annoyed at me, and dinner is late.

Monotheism

The Primary Claim and Assumption of Christianity

You cannot get past the first sentence of the first book in the Bible without encountering the concept of monotheism: “In the beginning God…” (Genesis 1:1).

However, there are those that would beg to differ – the Mormons, for example, would have us believe that “beginning” here is merely referring to the beginning of our planet or “world.” Because God, of course, is not unique – and, in fact, had to attain to “godhood” before he was able to create and populate this; his own personal “creation.”

This idea(and its fellows), is absurd and blasphemous on its face to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. And that is for the simple reason that these uniquely monotheistic religions of the world draw from the special revelation that God made of Himself to the Hebrews of antiquity. Judaism has preserved for us the Tanakh, upon which the religions of both Christianity and Islam claim to be built; or at least they claim to proceed from the same vein as the Hebrew Scriptures – thus these three religions share the doctrine of monotheism. For not only does Genesis and Job assume the existence of only One True God, but portions of the Law and the Prophets argue for and display His unique grandeur.

But before I make a case from Scripture for Absolute Monotheism, allow me to define the term for the sake of clarity.

Monotheism

MON’OTHEISM, noun [Gr. only, and God.] The doctrine or belief of the existence of one God only.”

Simple enough, right?

The authors of the Bible wrote in such a way that it is obvious they assumed the existence of only one divine being: “Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other.” ~ Deuteronomy 4:39 (NASB) (See also: Numbers 23:19, Romans 11:33-36, Colossians 1:15-17, etc…)

In Scripture we also have God’s own spoken words that ground and affirm that assumption: “For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (He is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited), “I am the LORD, and there is none else.”” ~ Isaiah 45:18 (NASB) (See also: Isaiah 43:10-13, 44:6-8 & 24, and Job 38-41, etc…)

Notice that many of these texts (and the surrounding context) teach creation itself as a proof for the existence of only one divine Creator – and by right of owning and sustaining that creation this God should be acknowledged and worshipped – moreover He deserves whatever He demands.

Thus we come to my final observation for this post:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” ~ Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (ESV)

Verse 4 quoted above is called the shema. It is similar to the shahada of Islam in that it serves as the primary declaration of belief and/or allegiance to God in Judaism. This phrase was to be recited and taught among the Jews from generation to generation (see context: Deuteronomy 6).

This declaration, the commands that follow it, and the other texts referenced above seem by themselves to be pretty solid evidence for the doctrine of monotheism. However, they are certainly not even a fraction of the story – the historical Jewish and Christian teaching about God is a mountain of information in and of itself… but that is beyond the scope of this post.

So to keep things simple for the time being, I’ll close with a link to some helpful material – while double-checking that I was spelling “shema” right – I found this interesting article on the subject of Deuteronomy 6:4: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.myjewishlearning.com/article/deuteronomy-64-the-shema/amp/

Believer’s Authority – Part 4

Continuing a critical examination of Kenneth Hagin’s book: “The Believer’s Authority”

“What is Authority?” – Chapter 2 of “The Believer’s Authority”

Now, to be honest, I could probably write an entire essay on the term “authority” and how it is used in the New Testament (as it relates to the disciple of Christ) – especially in relation to challenging the false assumptions and teachings espoused in pages 15 through 18 of Hagin’s book, The Believer’s Authority. However, I believe that Hagin’s presuppositions and questions are so shallow that anyone with eyes to see can easily point to the holes in his arguments and statements – as far as simple language and reality are concerned – and so I will not bother to waste time on semantics (unless a reader has questions to that effect – in which case, feel free to leave a comment, and we can talk). I will, however, address the passages of Scripture that he references in his second chapter and where necessary I will quote and challenge his conclusions.

So the first passage that Hagin actually quotes at any length and discusses in his second chapter is Luke 10:19

Here is the verse: “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.”

And here is the verse in context (both are quotations from the ESV):

“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.
“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” ~ Luke 10:1-24

Again leaving alone the semantics, there are a few interesting things about this section of Holy Writ that I believe should cause anyone to pause before buying the assumptions thrown at us by Hagin.

First there is who the phrase Hagin actually quotes is addressed to, i.e. the seventy-two disciples. Now, judging from Luke’s refrain from using the word “disciple” in reference to “the seventy-two,” (and the way verse 23 begins) I do not think this group included those who would eventually be called the apostles. However, that has little to do with the specifics of this point – aside from the question of why these “seventy-two” never appear again in Scripture, if they were the only ones these words (verse 19) applied to.

My primary hang up on this “who the words were addressed to” point is the phrase “and nothing shall hurt you”… that phrase most obviously – out of everything here – could not have been meant literally/physically as far as it’s broader application goes (I.e. to Christians today)… and, to an extent, at some point the words stopped being true for this group (especially if the apostles were counted among them), because they all eventually died in some manner or another – and the apostles at least (if they were included) were eventually “hurt” in many ways by others, many of them eventually being martyred.

But Hagin makes no attempt in pages 15-18 of his book to deal with these “problems” in the Biblical text. He simply assumes the words apply to him and begins to develop a doctrine entirely based upon that one verse completely removed from its context.

Now, one would think that I’d be happy that a few paragraphs into developing this doctrine he says “God himself is the power behind our authority!” (Which is true, especially in an appropriate understanding of the “authority” spoken of in Luke 10:19) But his next words point out what is wrong with that sentence: “The devil and his forces are obliged to recognize our authority!” (Page 15)

The primary problem with Hagin’s words is his use of “our.” This possessive view of what Jesus spoke of is part of what what Jesus rebukes in verse 20! Although a form of “ownership” (if you will) was involved in what was given to the seventy-two – Jesus left no room for development upon his words, and directed the thoughts of the disciples toward the great goodness of God and His gracious salvation.

But Hagin again fore goes a thoughtful argument for his idea and simply rambles off into a silly illustration about “delegated power” and how police officers exemplify his idea before mentioning Ephesians 6:10(page 16) as if that had anything to do with the false doctrine Hagin was trying to develop.

In the last half of his second chapter, Hagin provided an unverifiable story about himself that he seems to think proved his conclusions. After telling us about a dream and basically demanding that we believe his interpretation of it being a “vision from the Lord” (page 16 & 17) he quotes (in part, mind you) 1 Peter 5:8-9. I believe the entirety of the passage destroys his attempt to twist it to his own ends, so I will quote it for you here:

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” ~ 1 Peter 5:6-11 (ESV)

NOTE: the reader really should read the entirety of Peter’s first Epistle to have the whole context of what the apostle is saying in the passage above.

One immediate red flag is Hagin’s deliberate omission of the majority of verse 9 in his own quotation of the text(page 17). But anyone can see that Hagin CANNOT quote the text in full and maintain his false doctrine.

First, the rest of verse 9 implies that the original recipients of Peter’s Epistle were experiencing some form of suffering, and they should find comfort in knowing others in the Church suffered similar things. And Peter is using “the devil” as a warning for them to persist in the faith and resist temptation (whether it came directly from Satan or not) because if they did not stand firm, Peter reminds them, the devil (or even sin itself, if we take the analogy from Genesis) prowls around, looking to devour anyone who gives in to temptation… but there is NOTHING in the text that suggests that Peter expects his readers to go around making demands, giving commands, or even actively “battling” the devil to get rid of the suffering that seems to be somewhat attributed (at least in part) to him. We are simply to trust God for His ultimate deliverance, and be vigilant to stand firm in the faith and struggle forward in the Spirit’s empowering sanctification.

Now there is FAR more to the text than I can cover, but I think it is clear enough – having made the observations I have – that it has nothing to do with Hagin’s point on page 17 of his book.

Hagin again quotes Ephesians 6:10 as if it has something to do with his doctrine (which it might in his own mind, but certainly not in that of the apostle), and also tacks a quotation of 1 John 4:4 on to the end of his chapter(pg 18), obviously think it too – as out of context as it is – in some way reinforces his false doctrine. However, I’m sure the reader can see and reject the blatant eisegesis being used to substantiate something that has no Biblical substance.

So, to close;
1: I again implore the reader to demand a reason for why we should accept Hagin’s or any Word-Faither’s assumptions about these texts upon which they build their doctrine of the believer’s “authority.”
2: Never trust an interpretation of a text that ignores the ORIGINAL INTENT and CONTEXT of the passage and the author.

Finally, there is a short “prophecy” given at the end of Hagin’s second chapter(pg 18) that should cause any critically thinking and Biblically educated disciple to balk at Hagin’s blasphemous audacity.
After all of his poor “proof-texting” and eisegetical quotation without providing substantial reason for the belief he was putting forth, basically Hagin says “now I’m going to write some Scripture at the end here that assumes and proves what I’ve already said.”

The blatantly manipulative and/or “deceiving and being deceived” nature of the last paragraph of the second chapter of “the believer’s authority” alone should give anyone pause before swallowing Hagin’s kool-aid.

The Silliness of “Saying ‘No’ to Sickness”

My wife and I listen to a wide variety of speakers and preachers throughout the week to supplement the preaching we sit under (when we can) on Sunday mornings.

One such speaker we listened to recently tried to present a “Biblical view of health and healing” – and basically labeled himself a Pentecostal, if not borderline Word-Faither.

I’m not going to bother criticizing this man’s whole sermon and will not be mentioning his name for many reasons, but primarily because he is tolerably orthodox and I’m mostly just taking issue with his use of words and emphasis.

“Healing” was a big deal in the environment I grew up in, so I have had many “states” and “changes” of mind when it comes to the subject over the course of my life… but nowadays if I hear someone say something like “saying no to a cold will be the hardest thing you ever do” because of some notion of “the Enemy will come after you for it” it gets quite difficult for me to not perform a fairly painful “facepalm.”

And I proceed to practice a great amount of self-control to keep from slamming my forehead against the table when I hear people tell stories about ‘battling dozens of oncoming symptoms over the course of a specified period of time…’

I’m sorry, but your state of mind and how you think or pray do not have nearly as much correlation to God’s condescending mercy in providing “miraculous health” to your body as most Christians would like to think.

I thought of writing this post because this morning I wasn’t feeling well and one of the questions my wife and I asked while listening to this person popped into my head: “what myriad of circumstances was this person dealing with while going through this initiation into the ‘divine health’ viewpoint?”

Point being this: Any number of things could have been making me feel ill this morning; the cup of coffee I had, the breakfast I ate, how those two interacted in my stomach, how much “junk food” I’ve consumed in the last week, the emotional and mental stress I’ve experienced in the last few weeks, a virus I contracted somewhere in the last few days that my body is finally expelling (and those producing symptoms), or any number of a combination of those and other things I might not have thought of or know about!

But in spite of all those potential factors, I’m supposed to assume that “the Enemy” of the Christian has personally singled me out for an “attack” – is what it sounds like this idea is promoting when I hear it.

Frankly I think that mentality is silly for a number of reasons.

1. I’m not that important, and Satan (in particular) and the other demons (in general), would probably accomplish even LESS than they normally do in “attacking” me in that manner if they had that power (and that’s saying a lot, because they don’t accomplish very much as it is, when it comes to the saints).
2. Many people who live in “developed” civilizations have so sterilized their everyday environments and can have such poor diets that it is easier (I would think) for them to contract the common cold or other minor sickness far more easily than most people throughout history.
3. And most importantly, there is no Scriptural warrant for being borderline obsessed about the health of our physical bodies.

Also, in listening to professing Christians talk about “healing” there is always a missing element (I believe) to everything they say – and that missing element is a properly developed doctrine of suffering.

I’m convinced from my reading of Scripture that it has far more to say about suffering and human weakness and the curse and effects of sin upon creation than it does about miraculous physical healing in the here and now.

All of that to say: I would encourage the reader to look to Scripture for a proper view of suffering in order to have a proper view of health…

Scriptural Examination of the Use of “if the Lord wills” in Prayer

I have heard – far more often than I’d care to admit – so many wolves in sheep’s clothing discourage their followers from using some form of “if it be your will” in their prayers to God.

I would submit to the reader the idea that it is NEVER permissible to discourage anyone from praying “if it is the LORD’s will.”

Now, the reason I put forth this idea is that I believe Scripture teaches the seeking of God’s will over and above our own in our prayers and day to day actions.

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”– yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” ~ James 4:13-17 (ESV) (I would encourage the reader to also investigate the context of this passage; chapters 4 & 5… better yet read the entire Epistle of James)

The passage above is located in the greater context of rebuking “worldliness” among the people of God, but James’ specific idea follows the thought of the Psalmist (Psalm 39:5 & 62:9) that men are about as substantial as smoke or a thin mist – in the grand scheme of things the individual means next to nothing. Therefore, how arrogant is it for someone to assume they know how their lives will go or even how to make their lives go that way? Especially when they cannot possibly know the minute specifics of the Will of God in their lives? Thus, as God fearing worshippers, we should acknowledge and submit to the overarching and/or specific Will of God in our obedient stewardship of our own lives.
Another interesting thing that James points out here (like Solomon: Proverbs 19:21) is the fact that – regardless of all a person’s plans or thoughts – only the Lord’s Will and plans will ultimately be established, and James explicitly states that we do not necessarily know the specifics of that Will or “plan.”

An account in the Old Testament has a similar idea buried in the worldview of it’s three Jewish characters. In Daniel 3 Nebuchadnezzar’s wrath is incited again Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (a.k.a. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego respectively) for their refusal to worship the golden image he had made. When Nebuchadnezzar confronts them and threatens to throw them in a “burning fiery furnace” if they do not worship his image, this is what Scripture records as their response:

“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” ~ Daniel 3:16-18 (ESV)

I’m sure the reader has noted where my previous assumption is shared by Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, but for the sake of filling out my argument I will point the reader’s particular attention to verse 18. Specifically the phrase “but if not.” These men would not have said the things they did if they did not have a properly balanced theology of God’s choices when it comes to how He works out His own sovereignty. They knew that God was ABLE to deliver them from the fiery furnace specifically, and they knew that God WOULD deliver them out of the king’s hands ultimately, but they DID NOT know whether God would deliver them in both or just one of those ways.

There is a big deference between trusting in God’s ultimate faithfulness and mercy on behalf of His people, and presuming upon God for the specific ways in which He “must” carry out those qualities. A very big difference, indeed.

Lest there should be any possibility of my making more of something than is warranted by two passages of Scripture (though I believe what I have offered is more than sufficient to prove my case), let us examine another individual who obviously understood how to speak and think about his life in light of God’s ultimate say in the course of events.

“But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power.” 1 Corinthians 4:19 (NASB)

“…but taking leave of them and saying, “I will return to you again if God wills,” he set sail from Ephesus.” ~ Acts 18:21 (NASB)

These examples (and more that can be found throughout his epistles) are spoken by the apostle Paul. It is clear by Paul’s references to God’s will and the theology he teaches in the epistles that he believes (and even seems to just assume it without needing to argue for the point) that disciples of Christ are never CERTAIN of the exact (i.e. specific and down to the minute details) will or plan of God in any given situation. What Paul often gives the Church as certainties are God’s mercy and grace in the salvation, justification, and sanctification of the saints; His ultimately meeting out justice at the Judgement; and other such general tenets of the Christian Religion or of the character and/or attributes of God. (See Romans, 1 Thessalonians, Ephesians, etc…)

There is another person who gives us this example, however, and I am sure you already know who he is.

“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “my soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” ~ Matthew 26:36-39 (ESV) {for parallels see Mark 14:32-42 & Luke 22:39-46}

Now, the accounts of our Lord’s travails in Gethsemane are amazingly deep and rich portions of Scripture, and I pray the reader will excuse my shallow look at these Scriptures for the sake of my thesis – as it is far from the meat of the particular passage at which I am currently pointing. But I do not think I do the Lord any injustice when I look to His prayers for examples of how I should pray – after all, would He not prove to be the best exemplar of his own teaching? (Matthew 6:9-13)

The fact that I am not looking to the primary intent of the author in recording these words for us aside, notice Jesus’ words: “…nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Repeated in different forms twice more according to later verses)

My point? If the sinless, righteous, perfect Son of God; who knew/knows what was coming with greater clarity and detail than we could imagine; who had/has a more intimate relationship with and knowledge of the Father than we will EVER have; and would feel/felt with agony in the full force of the weakness of His humanity (and endured only because of the strength and perfection of His divinity) the Wrath of God against the sins of His people… if the blessed Christ included a caveat like ‘if it be your will’ in the very prayers that are recorded for us right before his being handed over for crucifixion – how dare any of us even think such a thing is inadvisable?

Again, I hope the reader can excuse my shallow examination of the example given us in a few words spoken by our Lord in one of His darkest hours, but I also hope and pray that you can see the validity of my observations.

Now, the anti-Biblical group I mentioned at the start (i.e. those who discourage people from praying “if it be your will, Lord”) generally only make their heretical statements when speaking in the context of praying for healing.

I spent the other night discussing this with my wife and wondered about this detail. As we talked I pinned down a few things that I think cause even those who seem to be more orthodox in “charismatic” circles to say such things.

The first and primary idea I concluded would cause this is a presupposition; namely “it is ALWAYS God’s will to heal.”
Now obviously if we take into consideration eschatology, any orthodox Christian could agree that the Lord does ultimately plan and desire our complete restoration and “healing.”
The difficulty is what most charismatics actually mean by the statement – and that is that “it is ALWAYS God’s will to heal supernaturally/miraculously in the exact moment a prayer is prayed and in the exact way the prayer is meant.”

Side NOTE: before going further, I want to acknowledge that this assumption is in fact quite huge and complicated, having many aspects; such as how one defines faith, how one is to “act in faith;” and many such other things. But to properly address the idea in its fullest would require far more words than I have to give at this time. So I shall merely be sharing the essence of the conversation my wife and I had the other evening.

As I’m sure the reader has already anticipated, I will say that it is a borderline arrogant, presumption upon God – without any Scriptural basis – to think you know exactly how God feels about or intends to act upon our prayers for the physically ill, handicapped, and/or infirm.

Side NOTE: notice I have said nothing to discourage prayer for the sick – I am assuming any disciple of Christ reading this will take it for granted that we are supposed to pray for them (just as we pray for all those we serve and care for), and even specifically request that God relieve them of whatever malady they might be suffering under.

The connection to this assumption about miraculous physical healing and discouraging believers from using the language of Jesus, Paul, James, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azaraiah in their prayers for healing, I think can be explained in part by a wrong understanding of (or possibly just emphasis upon) an idea most fully articulated by James in James 1:5-8 — but was also taught in many of the places where Jesus tells us we should not doubt God when we pray.

Side NOTE: my wife pointed out that James was specifically talking about requesting wisdom from God, and so that passage has a more narrow application and interpretation intended than Jesus’ statements.

Now as I came to this concept of doubt in the particular area of requesting miraculous physical healing from God, I concluded that perhaps some of the more orthodox people I have heard say we shouldn’t pray “if the Lord wills” because it displays doubt.

My answer to that misconception is twofold;
1) even if a Christian has some form of doubt when it comes to what he is praying for – and BECAUSE of that doubt he concludes with “nevertheless, not my will, but yours” – I do not think it wise to discourage this brother from his chosen phrasing simply because a: if he is requesting something God desires him to have, it will be given whether he is COMPLETELY doubt free or not (Mark 9:14-29… verse 24 I believe is specifically relevant), b: he could have experienced that doubt because he has requested something that is outside of God’s will and the Spirit has pricked his conscience on the matter, and c: if his doubt is going to affect the answer to his pray, leaving out such a sentiment will not change the consequences of his doubt…
2) If using this language necessarily implies some form of unbelieving doubt, then what are we to make of Jesus, the apostles, the men of God in the Old Testament, and the writers of Scripture themselves? There is nothing in Scripture that implies a follower of Jesus cannot be fully confident in the condescension, provision, mercy, and faithfulness of God in his prayer, and yet not know whether what he is praying for is within the particular, specific plan of God and thus he leaves God the room He is owed in the very prayer itself to answer in a way that is not anticipated by the nature of the specific request.

So, all of that to say, I would warn the reader to pause and be wary of someone who says anything negative about praying “if it is the Lord’s will” – because that person has not thought out their position, at best. Or they have an underdeveloped view of God and His interaction with His creation and a wrong view of man and prayer at worst.

“Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” ~ Matthew 6:9-13 (ESV)

May the LORD be praised, for He is worthy.

Satan and the Christian

Some observations of what Scripture says about Satan’s relationship to the Christian…

According to Strong’s Concordance, outside of the gospels and the book of Acts, in the New Testament Satan is mentioned less than twenty times. Obviously if we bring in the gospels and include references to “the devil” and possibly “the evil one” we’ll get a bit more of a base of what the Bible actually says about the fallen angels – but don’t miss the significance (or lack thereof) of the apostles’ lack of reference or teaching about Satan. And while we are on this “times referenced” point, I will also propose to the reader that Satan – as an individual or even as a general reference to fallen angels – is addressed even less often in the Old Testament.
However, I would also suggest to the reader that the most voluminous and clear teaching that we have about Satan in the Bible is IN the Old Testament; specifically the book of Job.
At this juncture I would greatly encourage the reader to pause and at least peruse (if not read in its entirety) the book of Job, paying particular attention to references to Satan (chapters 1 & 2) and God’s response to Job (chapters 38 through 42).

(Side NOTE: Satan is never referenced again after his role in the first two chapters of Job.)

From the first two chapters of Job we can assume at least 3 things about the character of Satan: 1: he is NOT omnipresent; 2: he can do nothing that God does not permit (at the very least in the sense of “does not prevent him”); 3: Satan was probably more interested in cursing God and besmirching His Name than he was in ruining Job’s life.
In the end of the book, God never rebukes Job for attributing the tragedies that happen to him as ultimately being in the hands of God; and not once in the 4 chapters of God’s challenges and questions to Job does He ever mention Satan. I believe the serious, critically thinking reader of the Scriptures should find these facts to be noteworthy.

What does all of this have to do with the relationship of Christians to Satan specifically, or demons generally?

Before we get to that, let us observe the only other scene we are given in the Bible’s historical narrative that includes Satan as an active player – the temptation of our Lord in the wilderness.

To my knowledge, Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13 are the only passages of the New Testament in which Satan (a.k.a. “the devil/tempter”) is displayed as an actual character interacting with another person. I find it significant that – as was the case with Job – Satan’s only interaction recorded for us in Holy Writ is with God Himself.

As far as what we are to learn about the devil from these passages – though their primary aim is NOT to teach about the devil – I take away primarily the confirmation of point (3) after we considered the account in Job: Satan is primarily interested and/or occupied in cursing God and attempting to besmirch His Name.

But to come to the main focus of this post, I would now point the reader to Luke 22:31-32.

In these two verses we seem to have a ‘Job-ish’ situation in which Satan has made a “demand” of God, that apparently – to some extent – God has condescended to acquiesce to (as evidenced by Jesus’ admission of his interceding for Peter)…

Now, most of us – I believe accurately – will assume that this “sifting” has something to do with the following verses in which Jesus prophesies that Peter will deny him.

I think the first thing that the disciple reading this text should take comfort in is Jesus’ concern and care for those that are His. Though I do not believe this demand of Satan is normative, it is a great comfort to know that the Lord will not allow his sheep to be tempted or tormented by “the evil one” beyond what they can bear.

Notice, however, that Jesus does not give us any more details; such as how, when, or even why, Satan will carry out the demanded “sifting.” Obviously somehow he was involved in Peter’s denials of the Lord, but I think our Lord’s lack of specificity on Satan’s end should keep us from worrying about or wanting to know exactly how Satan interacted with Peter – as it is apparently not that important for us to know.

(Side NOTE: While discussing the text with my wife, she offered the speculation that Satan potentially didn’t do or “try to do” (since Jesus has prayed for him, obviously the devil does not prevail against Peter) anything to Peter until after his denial of the Lord – based upon Satan’s tactics of deception or accusation… I offer that speculation as food for thought, but I do think the text should primarily indicate to us that we need not be concerned with more than preliminary speculation on the issue.)

So, thus far I have observed special occasions in which Satan is named as having acted – or made a request to act – in the life of a child of God. Taken by themselves, I believe they point to the NON-normative nature of the devil’s conscious, personal relationship to individuals among the people of God. And even as we move to consider more generic statements from the apostles on the devil’s ability to influence disciples of Christ, I believe my three proposals of the primary motivations and desires of Satan will stand; 1) Satan shares no attributes/abilities with God(I.e. Omnipresence, omniscience, etc.). 2) Satan is restricted by the Will of God, and can do nothing that is not first permitted – or “not prevented” by God (however that happens to work). 3) Satan is more preoccupied with his agenda to slander and destroy God than he is with any particular human being…