FAQs on Apologetics

Click on a title to expand / contract the answer.


How do I answer difficult or hostile questions?

While it is good to know answers to questions, how you answer is as important as what you say. The basic rule of thumb is this: You approach a difficult question by focusing on the person and not just the question. If you keep the person in mind, it will change how you answer him or her. It’s just like Jesus with the widow of Nain.

Instead of arguing with people about what’s wrong with their questions, you can appeal to something good in their question or worldview. When Paul was in Athens (Acts 17), he preached the gospel to an audience that was conditioned by Platonism, which rejects the physical world as impure or less real. But the gospel is rooted in the Hebrew worldview that delights in the physical. God was born as a physical baby that cried in a manager. (The line from the second verse of Away In A Manger—“the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes”—is not true! That idea comes from a Greek worldview called Docetism that despised the physical, and therefore denied that God was truly Incarnate.) Jesus has a physical body even after the resurrection.

So how does Paul approach this Greek world with his Hebrew-rooted-in-the-earth-mentality? He finds something good in the Greek worldview. He appeals to their emphasis on the eternity or transcendence of God, which is central to their Platonic worldview. They would have agreed with him when he said, “How can God live in a dwelling made by hands?” And to make that case he doesn’t quote the Bible, but two of their own poets. He uses their “altar to the unknown God” as a bridge to introduce the true God. So instead of saying how goofy their worldview is, he takes what is right in it, affirms that, and uses that as a bridge. You can do that with almost any hard question thrown at you. The reason we can do that with confidence is because everyone is made in the image of God and some of that image will leak through, no matter how much anyone suppresses the knowledge of the true God. Hunt for that leakage and build on it.

Remembering the person helps you realize that people can change their minds. Ultimately the gospel, not logic, will win the day. I always want to get back to some aspect of the gospel story. No matter what the argument is about, try to personalize it by telling stories about Jesus or his work. A well-known evangelical was on a secular talk show after September 11th, along with several other pundits. They were asked about the Islamic terrorists who committed suicide with the planes: What did they believe happened to them after they died? The unbelievers said, “They have just disappeared.” The evangelical said, “They are in hell.” Here’s an alternative response: “Once when Jesus had a little child on his knee, he said this about people that hurt little children who believe in him: ‘It would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea’ (Matthew 18:6b). In effect, Jesus says, “You don’t want to go down that road with God.” This answer builds on something that Americans prize—children—and it gives them something personal about Jesus in the form of an image that is easy to remember. Plus it shows Jesus’ hatred of evil. It doesn’t answer the question directly, but then Jesus often answers questions indirectly. Jesus tells his followers to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16b). Shrewdness shapes its answer to the person while, at the same time, maintaining biblical integrity.

People will remember how you answer a question more than whether you answer it correctly. I can prove that. Think back to first grade. Which do you remember more: what your first grade teacher was like or what he or she taught you? Likely you remember your teacher—that is, his or her character, demeanor, or appearance—more than what you were taught. Your gentleness is the most powerful argument for the ongoing resurrection life of Jesus. Paul tells Timothy what the Lord’s servant should do: “Those who oppose him he must gently instruct…” (II Timothy 2:25a). So answer difficult or hostile questions truthfully, but gently.

How can you say that Jesus is the only way to God?

This is one of the most difficult questions to answer, not because it is a hard question, but because the bias of the question reflects the modern presupposition that all religions are essentially the same. God is at the top of the mountain and religions are the different paths up the mountain. Each path has the same goal. We have McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King; so likewise we have Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity—many choices, but the same goal.

In a potentially tense situation, people appreciate having their own idea restated. (And it buys you time while you are praying desperately to know how to answer them!) So I rehearse the ideas in the first paragraph above. Then I tell them the parable of the Man in the Pit below. A parable can keep something from turning into a debate. Paul tells Timothy, “Those who oppose him he must gently instruct . . .” (II Timothy 2:25a).

The question of different religions has been illustrated by the story of a man in a pit—in a deep, vile, filthy pit with a huge serpent in it that he is desperately trying to avoid. He has fallen into this ghastly pit! What happens?

Well, along comes an Animist (representing primitive native religions), and he looks down into the pit and sees the serpent. His eyes open wide, and he flees into the jungle lest the same evil spirit should heave him into the pit. Then, along comes the Confucianist, and he says, “Ah, so, great man never fall in pit, but walk circumspectly and henceforth you will look where you walk.”

The Hindu comes along and says, “Ah, my brother, you think that you are in a great black pit, but that is the error of mortal mind. The fact is that all is Brahman and Brahman is all and this external world is merely illusion. The pit does not exist. Think, ‘There is no pit, there is no pit, there is no serpent, and all will be well . . . peace.’ ”

Then comes a Muslim who sees the man in the pit and says, “It is easy to get out of the pit, my friend. Just practice the five truths of Islam: Give alms to the poor, make a pilgrimage to Mecca, pray five times a day to Mecca, fast during the month of Ramadan, and confess ‘There is one God, Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.’”

Then comes the Buddhist who looks down and says, “Dear friend, you are suffering greatly in that pit, and the reason you are suffering is because you want to get out of the pit. It is your desire that is making you miserable. What you must come to is a cessation of all desire, and then you won’t mind being in the pit.”

And then Jesus comes and looks with compassionate eyes at the man in the pit, and into that foul and filthy pit he leaps between the man and the serpent—who rears his ugly head and strikes at the Savior, and sinks his fangs into His side. As the venom of that serpent flows into the blood of Jesus, He lifts that man out of the pit. That is a Savior. That is the difference between Christianity and all other religions.

This parable just shows the logical consequences of religious belief. An individual Muslim or Buddhist might not act the way they are described in this parable. For instance, Buddhist philosophy really believes that the problem of human suffering is our desires. Because we believe this world is real we are in constant tension with it. The only solution for the Buddhist is reaching nirvana, where you are absorbed in the all-soul and cease to exist as person. Different religions are not different ways to God. They are radically different ways of viewing reality.

This parable highlights the fact that religions view the world differently. A friend of mine overheard someone, who believed that all religions are essentially the same, tell a Muslim, “Is not it great that we’re all going to the same place when we die?” The Muslim replied, “What do you mean? You are going to hell!”

Because we look at the world differently, our solutions are also very different. In Christianity, the person is made whole, restored. In Buddhism the person disappears. Salvation for the Buddhist is a state of being completely dissolved and swallowed up in the cosmic spirit of the universe, or All-soul. In Hinduism, good or bad karma accumulated in this life is either rewarded or punished in the next. In Christianity, sins can be forgiven through the atoning death of Jesus. Every other religion requires us to fix our own problems. Only Christianity takes our sinful human nature seriously. We can’t do for ourselves, so Jesus does for us.

Think of the Titanic. ‘Get off the ship and get in a life boat’ sounds dogmatic unless it’s the only way to be saved. Imagine someone responding, “Well, I am not going to get in the lifeboat simply because you are dogmatic. It is too narrow minded to provide only one way of getting off the ship.” But for many of life’s realities, there is only one way. The only way for a human to be born is with the egg of a woman and the seed of a man. Period. One of the most maddening things about computers is that unless everything in them is exactly ‘right’ they just don’t work. They were designed to operate only one way.

The modern belief that there are many ways to God is simply that, a belief. The source of the belief is our emphasis on tolerance in American culture. We’ve confused tolerance for other religions with the assumption that they are equally true. Accepting the right of others to believe as they want doesn’t mean that what they believe is correct. Ironically, our world has become intolerant of those who believe that Jesus is the only way to God.

A word of caution: I would not use the parable of the Man in the Pit with anyone whose religion is mentioned in the parable. For instance, when speaking to Christians, Paul boldly speaks of the foolishness of men who suppress the truth of God’s existence (Romans 1:18-32). But when Paul is speaking to the pagan philosophers, he quotes their own poets and speaks gently of an unknown God (Acts 17:16-34).

Some of what you are coming up against is the foolishness of popular thinking where truth is based on feelings: “This idea is right if it feels right to me.” True, Biblical ideas have a right ‘feel’ to them. But if your feelings are your only rule, you are lost in a fog. My college professor asked us to design our own system of right and wrong saying that ‘anything goes’. He got angry with me when I asked him about Nazi ethics. Underneath his veneer of total acceptance, he had clear ideas of what was right and wrong.

A related idea is “All that counts is being sincere in what you believe.” Calvin compares sincere but misplaced faith to a strong runner who sprints at breakneck speed into the stands. On the other hand, weak faith in the right direction is like the crippled person who can barely hobble toward the finish line.

The early church was persecuted for saying that Jesus is the only way to God. Sometimes the Roman officials would even beg the Christians to burn just a little incense to Caesar. ‘You don’t even have to believe it,’ they would plead. But Peter testified in front of men who later tried to kill him, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4.12). If we say “Jesus is Lord,” we can’t also say, “Caesar is Lord.”

How could a just God send people to hell?

Ravi Zacharias, the evangelist, says the first question he gets in India is, “Are you saying Gandhi is in hell?” This is a tough question for our pluralistic age. Here are some of the ways I answer it.

The Divine Tape Recorder.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:1,2). In other words, every time you say or think a critical thought a little divine tape recorder, just behind your left ear, starts silently recording. Day after day, all your personal rules for living, all your muttered curses, slowly accumulate. Think of all the free advice you offer other drivers in traffic—everything you’ve said about other people. At judgment day, this lengthy tape is played back and compared with your life. Could God be fairer? Your own words will be your judge. Just the thought makes me break out in a sweat.

This could be why Paul says that “every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God” (Rom. 3:19). God’s justice will be so completely just, so perfect, that the whole courtroom will fall silent when his judgment is pronounced. No one will cry, “That’s not fair.”1

Don’t judge the judge.

I am glad I am not God—though I periodically give it a go, like last weekend when our family was in Lancaster. When Jill and I travel, we have worked out a good compromise that keeps me from hyperventilating: I read the maps and Jill drives. Anyway, as a passenger, I did not like the way Jill was driving so I made some suggestions on how she could improve. She was less than thrilled. A little bit of controlling came out. I am not a very good controller. Only God is the controller. He’s not called me to control the universe. Part of being his creature is to surrender to him.

As Americans, we are so used to evaluating and voting that we think that we can do that with God. But God has not made us little gods—we are created in his image, under him. To him we must surrender our lives, our dreams, and our plan for an ideal universe. Sometimes, there are ideas in Scripture we don’t like that we have to surrender to him. It doesn’t mean you turn your mind off—tell God it’s hard—but it does mean that you can’t sit above God and judge him. Don’t judge the judge. God never tells Job why he permitted Satan to take his family away. Paul, quoting Isaiah says, “Who has ever known the mind of the Lord? Who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:34).

Jill has a hypothetical drawer in which she hides hard things from God. She shoves them in and closes the drawer. When she comes across something hard, that she doesn’t understand, she is quick to say, “That’s a drawer issue.”

Imagine a driver who sees a curve ahead in the road and says, “I don’t like that curve so I am going to ignore it and go straight.” He maintains his independence and goes right over a cliff. Truth is like curves in the road—it doesn’t change if you don’t like it. No truth was ever altered by believing it wasn’t true.2 (It is never an issue for the person raising the question. They have heard. They can believe in Jesus.)

The Consequences of Rejecting Divine Judgment.

Our age does not struggle with the question of hell. Rabbi Kushner asks the question our age does struggle with: Why do bad things happen to good people? His assumption is that people are good and don’t deserve bad things. God therefore owes us forgiveness almost like Santa owes us toys. Given this idea of God, it is unthinkable that God would send anyone to hell. This, more than anything, underlies our culture’s dislike of hell.

Rabbi Kushner says that bad things happen to good people because God can’t control evil. Philosophers call Kushner’s idea dualism. Evil and good are equal, competing forces. Taoism is an eastern form of dualism. Kushner recreates the world of paganism where God is not all-powerful—he is swept along by forces larger than himself. You too are set adrift in a sea of chaos. Go ahead and pray to God, but he might not be strong enough to help you. If you eliminate divine judgment, you are left with unrestrained evil and chaos. By contrast, the existence of hell means that God will, one day, destroy evil completely and forever.

The real question, according to Jesus, is “Why is God so patient with bad people?” When Jesus is told of a report of an atrocity committed by Pilate, he says, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:2). Paul’s comments are similar: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

The 20th century, more than any other century, denied the existence of the spiritual world and, thus, heaven and hell. Ironically, the 20th century, more than any other, created living hells on earth. In fact the three thinkers who shape our world more than any other—Freud, Marx, and Darwin—were directly responsible for the three great genocides of the 20th century. Freud was the father of our modern culture of self that has led to abortion. Marx was the father of communism which led to millions killed and imprisoned. Darwin influenced not only the robber barons of America but Hitler. German’s were the fittest to survive, the master race.

God as the Judge.

There is much about judgment day that I don’t understand—that God hasn’t asked me to understand. But I have come to trust God as a judge by watching him judge. Take David’s sin of counting the army of Israel. When the prophet of God confronts David, he gives David three choices: Three years of famine [nature], three months of war [man], or three days of the angel of death [God]. David jumps at the chance to be judged directly by God. He says to the prophet Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men” (II Sam. 24:14). This answers their concerns about the future by looking at how God has functioned as a judge in the past.

When they brought guilty people to Jesus, his judgments were always wise. He’s a judge I trust. Read the story from John 8:1-11 of the woman caught in adultery. Or Luke 7:36ff, the story of the sinful woman at Simon’s house.

Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.

Sometimes, when people raise abstract questions it is good to be very simple in response. A simple response to this question is that most of the Bible’s teaching on hell comes from Jesus. See especially Matt. 25:31-46, the parable of the sheep and the goats.

Why did Jesus have to die?

“The idea of Jesus dying on a cross and shedding his blood for our sins seems so barbaric.”

This is a very common question in small groups. The very nature of the problem that the cross solves—human pride—means that the gift of forgiveness will be underappreciated. Sin means that we do not see either ourselves or God clearly. So the sacrifice of Jesus as the Passover lamb for us will seem unnecessary. This is a particular problem in American culture. Like the Lost Son, America has gone to the far country with our Father’s inheritance. We are living off the inherited goodness of past generations. Our world is so comfortable, we can’t imagine the need for Jesus to die.

Below I’ve broken down the answer to this question into two sides. The first “Is the Atonement Really Necessary?” deals with our need for atonement, and the second question, “How Can Evil be Eradicated by Someone Dying on Your Behalf?” deals with the possibility of the atonement working.

Is the Atonement Really Necessary?

Answer #1: We do not see our Sin (from Love Walked Among Us)

Most people don’t think they have a problem. Simon the Pharisee certainly didn’t. Why? Sin is pride—selfabsorption, self-glorification, and even its flipside, self-loathing. Pride doesn’t see itself as proud—that’s its very nature. Jesus puts his finger on this in his story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Pharisee prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even this tax collector” (Luke 18:11).

Because we have trouble seeing our own evil, we have trouble seeing that our evil has consequences. It just doesn’t seem that bad. God’s anger at sin seems like an overreaction. While in a Russian prison camp, Alexander Solzhenitsyn was shaken by the depth of his hatred for his persecutors. He came to a new realization about himself:

If only there were people somewhere committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. Confronted with the pit into which we are about to toss those who have done us harm, we halt stricken dumb: it is after all only because of the way things worked out that they were the executioners and we weren’t.

Alexander, Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1965. An Experiment in Literary Investigation (London: Book Club Associates, 1974), p.168.

He was able to say, “I have evil in me, too.” Evil isn’t just out there. It’s in us. As we’ve seen, Jesus repeatedly takes our pointing finger and gently turns it back toward us. He interrupts our quiet superiority and blame-shifting by holding a mirror up to our faces. The problem isn’t other people, it’s me. It’s me saying, “I am the boss. My will be done.”

Answer #2: We do not see God.

Modern Culture has created a Santa Claus God who does not care about what we do. He forgives without a second thought. He is no different from a flaccid husband who does not care if his wife commits adultery and is thus incapable of jealousy. That is not love; that is an empty, non-human soul. But God cares. And because he cares, he is a jealous husband. He holds us accountable for our sins. Because modern culture has created God in our image, we have lost touch with God’s justice and his anger over our sin. Nevertheless, each of us has a deep sense that our sins need to be paid for. Psychologists will tell you that many people get depressed either because they’re beating themselves up for their own sins or they’re beating someone else up for sinning against them. The one we call “mental penance” and the other “bitterness.” In both cases, we have a deep sense that sin should be made right.

How Can Evil be Eradicated by Someone Dying on Your Behalf?

Answer #1: Ancient History

From the beginning of history, every tribal group on every continent has had some kind of animal sacrifice at the heart of its religious ceremony that pays for sin, that appeases the wrath of God. There was a deep, universal sense that sin needs to be atoned for. Christianity was the first religion that did not practice animal sacrifice, and everywhere it has spread, animal sacrifice has died out. But it is impossible for the blood of an animal to pay for my sins. Only a person can pay for the sins of a person.

Answer #2: Modern History

We might say, “Back then people believed that evil was eradicated through the shedding of blood, but we don’t believe it today.” But how was the evil of Hitler and Nazism removed? Blood was shed. Millions lost their lives. Abraham Lincoln came to believe that a kind of exchange occurred on the battlefields of the Civil War, in which “…every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.” Evil is not eradicated without a cost. You cannot delete evil with the stroke of a key. It is far too embedded. It infects every part of the system.

Answer #3: Modern Culture

We instinctively know that it is not right for a judge to say to a murderer, “You know I like you as a person, therefore I am going to forgive you.” When we see a murderer or a rapist go free it is not just wrong, it is appalling. It adds one crime on top of another. Something deep within us tells us that this is not right. Wrong must be paid for. The fact that we live in a moral universe is inescapable.

Isn’t it unfair for God to judge homosexuality?

      1. Draw people out to get behind their real concerns. For instance, ask them what disturbs them most about God condemning certain actions, lifestyles, or attitudes. How does that bother them? What is it they deem unfair or unjust? This will reveal the “larger” issues they are really wrestling with. You will usually get to the real issues they have with the character of God. The issues they are defending are just an example.

        Another way of getting to their heart is to ask, “Why is it so important to you to feel God approves of this?” This will also get you into territory with them that will reveal the deeper stumbling block.

      2. If people present the “inborn” genetic basis for homosexuality, ask them to offer proof of their beliefs. In the past when this has come up, I have asked people if they could name anyone who has done any scientific research on this or if they can cite any actual scientific studies that conclusively show that homosexuality has a genetic or biological basis. Almost 100% of the time no one can even cite one person or study.

      3. A couple of times in the past I have had people bring up the fact that some science has proved a genetic link between alcohol and drug dependency and so this must also be true for homosexuality. I have then gone on to talk about the fact that while these two problems have one of the highest recidivism rates, more money is spent in preventative and treatment programs and social services on these problems than any other. In other words, it is generally accepted that even though people may be “inclined” to these abuses, our society spends millions of dollars and millions of man-hours helping people not go that route or be that way. Are they suggesting that we also help set up programs that would help homosexuals not be that way? They will usually be quick to give an “of course not” kind of response. I will then remind them that they have brought up the two problems and used them to set up a comparable scenario with homosexuality. I am only being consistent with their examples.

      4. You can always take it out of the realm of the homosexual issues and offer a substitute issue or problem. Why is it, for instance, that God speaks disapprovingly of adultery or gossip? The answer is of course that there is something inherent in sin that distorts or mars both the character of God and the image of God in man and that sets man up to cease to live as a dependent creature reflecting the attributes of God.

by John Freeman, Harvest USA

Of course, in any conversation with a non-believer (or a deceived believer) one must rely on the Spirit for direction and the right kind of heart-engaging questions. I think God honors our heart desiring to engage another heart for the sake of the gospel.

Several years ago when I was on a trip to Amsterdam, I was with George Abbott, who was himself converted out of a homosexual lifestyle. We saw a guy standing beside a building one night, sort of propped up against it with one foot on the ground and one on the building. I knew that he was a male hustler looking for business. We were only about 20 feet away from him when we saw him. I said to George that we should go over and talk to the guy. George immediately said, “What will we say to him?” I replied that I did not know yet, but that we would know by the time we got there.

What transpired was a two-hour conversation not about the man’s homosexuality (that was done with as a topic within about 15 minutes), but rather his anger and disgust with God, including his history of personal suffering and disappointment with God. What we saw and initially spoke of was just a window dressing on the real issues of his heart.

I think the same is true with anyone who questions the justice or fairness of God. It’s just so politically correct nowadays to see the homosexual as such a victim, not responsible for his choices. Of course you might have to do some repenting on behalf of other Christians as a whole for their tendency to place homosexuality on the top of the scale as the worst thing someone could ever do. [It is featured prominently in several lists of sinful habits that exclude people from the kingdom of God, such as in I Corinthians 6:9-11.] In other words, you might have to concede that a lot of damage has been done to homosexual strugglers by the church. Explain that real love is always based on speaking truth and showing mercy (Jude 20-23).

Isn’t religion the cause of wars?

Underlying this question is typically this assertion: “If we could get rid of religion, we could get rid of war.” Of course, the person asking the question may also be making the not-so-subtle suggestion: “Stop talking to me about religion.” The most disarming way to answer is to agree: “Yes, religion is the cause of many wars. In the 20th century, almost all the wars were religious. Communism was a religion that worshiped the proletariat or working man. Nazism was a religion that worshiped the German people. Likewise, the Japanese practiced Shintoism, a religion that mixed Buddhism and a belief in the superiority of the Japanese people.

“Paul describes how religion works and, by implication, why it causes wars. In Romans 1:18-23, Paul in effect asks, ‘How are religions formed?’ To understand the origin of religion, Paul says that you need to begin with two observations: (1) the physical world is clearly designed by an all-powerful, personal being. Everything from the complexity of DNA to the innumerable stars in the night sky implies the existence of a designer. You never have design without a designer. (2) People spend most of the day thinking about themselves. Instead of worshiping and thanking God, they are proud, self-absorbed, and delusional. ‘For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened’ (Romans 1:21).

“So creation testifies to the existence of God, but people ignore him. What do we as people generally do with a truth that we don’t want to face (like a history of heart attacks in the family)?” [Ask the question and wait for an answer.] “We suppress it. That is what Paul says we do with this true knowledge of God. We ‘press down’ the knowledge of God. Instead of worshiping God, we worship created things. “What are some things people worship?” [Ask and wait.] “Sports, money, career. Man-made religion, at its heart, is organized idolatry. Ian Paisley, a Protestant leader in Northern Ireland, idolizes Protestants. If you worship Protestantism, then you can’t tolerate Catholics. When my dad, Jack Miller, went to Ireland he apologized on the streets of Dublin to Catholics for what the Protestants had done for the last 300 years. Yes, man-made religion is the start of most wars.”

“But you can’t get rid of wars by banning religion. You’ll just create a new one because we are beings who worship. The problem, according to Paul, is that we worship the wrong thing. If we don’t worship the true God who has revealed himself in Scripture and Jesus, then we will create false gods.”

What is the Gospel of Judas?

When were the four gospels written?

The four gospels were written relatively closely together by either contemporaries of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, and John) or people (Luke) who interviewed contemporaries of him. Jesus died in 30 AD (possibly 33) and the Four were written between 45 and 90 AD.

What are the False or Gnostic Gospels?

The false or Gnostic gospels were written about 130 to 180 AD, or at least 100 years after Jesus’ death. No one disputes these dates. The gospel of Judas is a Gnostic gospel.

Gnosticism was a 2nd century Greek philosophy that captured a small portion of the 2nd century church and was immediately labeled heretical. It said that everything physical was evil. Body is evil. Spirit is good. Thus in the Gospel of Judas, Jesus thanks Judas for betraying him because Judas is doing Jesus a favor by getting rid of Jesus’ body! I am not kidding. In the Gospel of Thomas Jesus tells Peter that he will make women into men. Sorry ladies. Why? Gnosticism created a whole series of beings and women were a lower form of humanity.

All the Gnostic gospels begin with “This is the secret testimony of _____________.” Just fill in the blank with the name of one of the disciples. They start that way because they have to explain why no one heard of them for the first 100 years after Jesus. Their answer is that they were kept hidden. They can easily be found on the internet.

How are the Gnostic gospels presented by the secular media?

The media (National Geographic, Time, The DaVinci Code) imply that the Gnostic gospels were written around the time of Jesus. So there were many different Christianities. Then church officials during the time on Constantine chose our four gospels because they showed Jesus was divine. Sort of an American Idol for the Gospels.

That is pure fiction. The false gospels didn’t show up until at least 100 years after Christ at the earliest. A collection of these Gnostic Gospels was discovered 60 years ago in Nag Hammadi in Egypt. This was the first time we actually got our hands on most of these manuscripts. But we’ve known of their existence for 1800 years. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, in “Against Heresies” (180 AD) and other Church Fathers talk extensively about them.

What’s good about all this?

Jesus is still the talk of the town 2,000 years later. You just can’t get rid of Him.

A woman in my group refers to God as she. How do I handle this?

Two small group leaders have told me that they have women in their groups who have referred to God as she. Welcome to a postmodern, post-Christian world! We’re in for a wild ride. Here are some suggestions:

    1. You are a missionary. When a missionary brings the gospel to a new culture, he or she prays, “How do I make the gospel the central issue rather than stumble over cultural issues that may be non-Biblical, but are not central?” The answer is not easy. The Spirit may want to use those cultural sins as the point of contact with the gospel. Or, the Spirit might want to by-pass those sins initially for the sake of the gospel and let the gospel have its own logic in the culture. Polygamy is an example. If a missionary focuses on the sin of polygamy before people understand the gospel, then he or she risks losing the person. People in the culture might think of Christianity as only a set of laws. Yet, if the missionary never addresses polygamy, then there is a danger of watering down the gospel so that it has no teeth. The gospel only comes alive when people come under conviction of sin. But what sins should you focus on? So pray, asking the Spirit to lead you. Watch the work of the Spirit in the person’s life, and work where the Spirit is working—it will save you lots of hassle.
    2. Pray for this person, that he or she would be taught by the Word. Have other Christians pray, too. Don’t passively say, “Oh, this is just postmodernism.” Take it seriously. Jesus says, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:13). The more work we do by prayer, the more we’ll find problems quietly disappearing.
    3. Give time for the Word to work. Many attitudes quietly disappear when they are exposed to the Word. The whole point of an inductive study is to let the Word speak for itself. Paul tells Timothy, “Those who oppose you, you must gently instruct, in the hope that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil” (II Timothy 2:25). You are bringing five powerful weapons to bear on their hearts: the Word, the gospel, prayer, the Spirit as witness to Jesus in their hearts, and your love for them. Together, these are overwhelming—let them do their work.
    4. Lift Jesus up. Let them see Jesus. “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). The gospel is on the move; don’t be sidetracked by peripheral issues. In warfare, a good general will by-pass strongholds that don’t threaten his supply lines.
    5. Ask questions. Begin by trying to understand as opposed to critiquing. Ask an obvious question: “Why do you refer to God as she? I would be fascinated by the answer.” The discussion will probably trigger more questions such as, “Have you experienced men being domineering?” Or, “Do you view the church as domineering?” Take the time to find out where he or she is coming from. You can empathize with the motive of someone’s thinking without agreeing with his or her conclusions.
    6. Provide a historical context to the Biblical perspective. If the person asks directly for an answer or is beginning to influence others in the group, then talk directly about the issue. Suggest discussing it at your next meeting time, so that you can cover it in depth and have time to prepare. This is what I would say:

      In Palestine, as well as throughout paganism, the gods were seen as a part of nature. Thus the female god (Ashteroth) was impregnated by the male god of rain and storm (Baal) every spring. If the gods were angry with me (crops not bearing fruit because of no rain), then I would need to placate them by offering to them the fruit of my womb, my first-born child, as a sacrifice. This was part of their cyclical view of history. People were trapped in the cycle of the gods.

      When the God of the Bible revealed himself to the Jewish people, he said, “It is terrible to sacrifice your children to Baal. Baal and Ashteroth are not gods. Created things aren’t god.” The Creator made the world outside of Himself. He made us in His image both male and female, but God Himself is neither male nor female.

      Under paganism, women were pushed down. Baal (or his cultural equivalent) was superior to Ashteroth. Male ruled over female. When Christianity penetrates a culture, the effect of the gospel has always been that women are treated with a new dignity. Some of the clearest examples of that are in the way Jesus treats women. A woman (Mary) is the first to explicitly hear about Jesus’ birth. It is to a woman that Jesus first clearly says that he is the Messiah (John 4:26), and it is to a woman that he first appears after his resurrection (John 20:10). Not only were we created in God’s image as male and female (Genesis 1:27), but we are equal in salvation. Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

      In Uganda, Rick Gray, a missionary, was discipling a tribal leader. Rick asked him what he was going to do with what he was learning from the Bible. He replied, “I think I am going to eat with my wife.” The tribal custom is that the wife eats by herself.

      After reading Galatians 3:28, I would explain how Jesus’ death levels us. We are all sinners. We all need grace. We’ve all been in rebellion to God. Now, when God grants us forgiveness through Jesus’ blood, we are all co-heirs with one another. The Roman slave who believes is equal to the Roman centurion. (Notice the opportunity this gives to present the gospel.) I’d turn to James 2:1-4 and show how James deals with Christians who are undoing the leveling effect of the gospel by treating rich people better than poor people at their meetings.

      That is the context of the Bible’s referring to God as He—the pronoun always used for God. There are two views among Christians as to why God is referred to as He.

      Some say that He is simply an anthropomorphism. (E.g. sailors refer to ships as she, but they don’t literally mean the ship is a woman.) These Christians believe that the choice of a male pronoun to refer to a person is typical of many languages. The Biblical writers used He because it implies both groups. She is more specific. He is more ambiguous. In this view, it is purely a limitation of language. Male and female are both created in God’s image. Both male and female are needed to truly image God.

      The other group of Christians agrees with much of what the first group says, believing that only as male and female together do we fully image God. We see in God what are considered classically feminine qualities: Seeing Jerusalem just before his death, Jesus says, “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Luke 13:34). They also agree that the usage of He is partly anthropomorphic because God is a spirit being. Yet, the choice of the male pronoun all through the Bible is not arbitrary. All three members of the Trinity are referred to as He. When God became incarnate, He was a male. Why? God is demonstrating a divine headship. There is always a head. For instance, the merger of Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz was publicly announced as a marriage of equals with a co-chairmanship. But behind the scenes, the chairman of Mercedes was the leader. Bob Eaton, the chairman of Chrysler said, “Two people can’t lead a company.” The Biblical model of the family is that the husband is the head of the wife, but it is a headship unlike the model of society. It is a dying headship—just as Jesus’ headship over the church is a dying headship. Jesus died for his people; the husband exercises his headship by a dying love for his wife (Ephesians 5:22-23). This is my own view.


Notice the overall approach. Begin by waiting and praying for wisdom. Involve other Christians in praying for the person and yourself. Concentrate on making Jesus clear to them.

Then begin by questioning and understanding them. By first listening to them and trying to find the sources of their thinking, I might be able to empathize with hurts they have had from men in the past. It is so easy to assume that someone is a feminist and relate to her out of that grid without taking time to understand her. I might acknowledge that the church, at times, has marginalized women. Jesus tells us to take the beam out of our own eye first. Even if what the other person is saying is inaccurate, I can still acknowledge the sin of the church in a particular area.

Then I show the person the roots of their faith in a matter-of-fact way. I provide context that they can understand. Then I show how their faith has historically worked itself out; i.e. paganism has oppressed women. I show the practical effects of their faith and of Christianity.

Are the gospels reliable?

I was talking with a friend recently about Jesus, and she said, “Maybe it is not really Jesus but Jesus through the people that wrote about him.” I asked her, “Why are the four New Testament accounts of Jesus’ life viewed by some scholars as constructs when they don’t view other ancient documents as constructs? I.e., the works of Julius Caesar, Marcus Aurelius, Plato, Philo, Socrates, Suetonius, Josephus. Why are the rules different?” She was surprised to hear this.

It is even more surprising when you discover that the New Testament is the best-attested, book-sized document in the ancient world. One way of testing the reliability of ancient documents is to determine how many years separate extant copies from original manuscripts. The oldest New Testament copies are Egyptian papyri (labeled “P”) that have survived in the dry desert, usually in ancient garbage pits. A fragment from the book of John called P52 dates to about AD 125-130, about 35 years after John was written. In comparison, the earliest extant manuscript for Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars is 1000 years after the original. That is typical.

The second way of testing the reliability of a document is by the number of copies that are known to exist. For the New Testament we have 24,000 surviving manuscripts. No other ancient Roman or Greek document even comes close. The second most prevalent writing of the Ancient Near East is Homer’s Iliad, for which there are 643 extant manuscripts. Few other documents have more than 10 surviving copies.

So why are the gospels treated badly? The answer goes back two hundred years to the period called the Enlightenment when the “in crowd” of the day decided that miracles did not occur. The assumption of the Enlightenment was that the supernatural is nonsense. Only what you saw or could test existed. So Thomas Jefferson wrote his famous “Jefferson Bible” in which he edited out all the miracles. People are beginning to realize that that very statement “only what can be tested exists” cannot be tested! In fact, the statement itself is a belief. And it flies in the face of an almost universal acceptance of the supernatural throughout history.

Another form of the Enlightenment attack on the gospels is the objection, “The gospels are religious writings.” The assumption is that religious things aren’t true. But most of the ancient documents were deeply religious and dealt extensively with the author’s view of the supernatural world: Josephus, Plato, Socrates, and Philo were all deeply religious in their own way. And who decided that religious knowledge was not factual? The Enlightenment did.

Another objection is that the gospels are biased because Christians wrote them. If this were true, then no people could ever write about their own life. Jews can’t write about Nazi internment camps. Americans can’t write American history books. Julius Caesar can’t write about his battles.

Another reason for the bias against the gospels was because Jesus was an outsider in a Roman-Greek dominated world. He was a second-class citizen in his own country. So Julius Caesar was in the “headlines” but peasants in backwater corners of the realm simply did not make the news because they weren’t important. For instance, where do you go to find out what the daily life of an American slave was in the 1800s? Jesus is dismissed today simply because the incarnation was so humble. Humble people don’t get noticed.

Initially, don’t try to get someone to believe the Bible is the Word of God. Just get them to treat it with the same respect they would any other historical document. The Bible has a way of selling itself!

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