If Jesus is “Only-Begotten,” How is He Eternal God? Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses: John 3:16 (& 1:18)

JW Kingdom Hall

Previous posts:

Was Jesus “a god”? Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses: John 1:1

How Can Jesus be “Firstborn of All Creation” yet Eternal God? Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses: Colossians 1:15-19

MONOGENES

The fact that Jesus is sometimes called “only begotten” causes a lot of confusion (and is, likewise, emphasized by our Jehovah’s Witness friends).

The King James Version famously says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” John 1:18 in the King James Version also reads, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”

If Jesus is the eternal Son of the Trinity, how could he be “begotten”? This is a valid question. I always wondered myself how the early church justified the Son being both eternal and begotten.

First, why are we – today – still saying “begotten”? Can’t we update to “born” already? Have you ever said, “Congratulations on your newly begotten daughter”? But I digress.

Secondly, the Greek word mongenes that is sometimes translated “only begotten” can also be translated as “one and only” (as the NIV does) or “unique” or simply “only” (as the ESV and NRSV do). In fact, if you were to do a study of all the available Bible translations, you’d notice something: It’s usually the older versions that translate it as “only begotten.” Why is this?

This is because Greek scholars used to think the two smaller words that form the compound word monogenes (“mono” + “genes”) meant “only” (mono) and “to beget” (gennao). But after discovering and studying more and more ancient Greek writings, it became clear that the second word wasn’t from the Greek word gennao (to beget), but genos (class, kind). The term monogenes literally means “one of a kind.” To understand monogenes as “only birthed” or “only born” is incorrect. New Testament scholar Michael S. Heiser describes “only begotten” as an “unfortunately confusing translation.”

The definitive Greek to English lexicon (BDAG!) give only two definitions for mongenes: “[pertaining] to being the only one of its kind within a specific relationship, one and only, only” and “[pertaining] to being the only one of its kind or class, unique (in kind).” [1] Notice, BDAG only gives two definitions for monogenes; neither are “only born.”

 

BEGOTTEN, NOT MADE

The theologians who created two important creeds of the early church clearly didn’t take “begotten” literally. These creeds were statements of faith based on a close study of the Bible. 

In the Nicene Creed (325 AD), Jesus is described as “eternally begotten of the Father.” How can one be eternally born? The creed goes on to describe Jesus as “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,” and then they wrote this: “begotten, not made.” Seems to me they’re emphasizing that “begotten” shouldn’t be taken literally. 

The main purpose of the Athanasian Creed (500 AD) is to explain the Trinity. It states, “That we worship one God in Trinity…  The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated…. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal.  And yet they are not three eternals, but one Eternal.” It goes on to say, “The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten.” Clearly, the hardcore Trinitarians that wrote out this long creed to explain the Trinity as precisely as possible didn’t see any contradiction is calling Jesus “eternal” and “uncreated” but also “begotten.” This is a big clue that “begotten” isn’t being used in a literal sense.

Still don’t believe me? God calls Isaac Abraham’s “only son” three times (in Hebrew) during the event of Abraham’s way-too-close sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22. Then, the Greek word monogenes is used by the author of Hebrews in the New Testament to describe Abraham’s son Isaac: 

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only [monogenes] son.” (Hebrews 11:17)

Isaac was neither Abraham’s only son nor first son. Before Isaac’s birth through Sarah, Abraham had his son Ishmael with Hagar. Monogenes illustrates Isaac’s unique relationship with his father and special status to his father, just as Jesus, God the Son, holds a unique relationship with and special status to God the Father. 

*This is an excerpt from my upcoming, vastly revised and expanded edition of Who Jesus Ain’t.

[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 894). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Previous posts:

Was Jesus “a god”? Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses: John 1:1

How Can Jesus be “Firstborn of All Creation” yet Eternal God? Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses: Colossians 1:15-19

Visit my other website: Confidence in Christ

Confidence in Christ v2

How Can Jesus be “Firstborn of All Creation” yet Eternal God? Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses: Colossians 1:15-19

JW at Door

READ: Was Jesus “a god”? Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses: John 1:1

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…” (Colossians 1:15-19)

PROTOTOKOS” – LITERALLY?

Our Jehovah’s Witness friends believe Jesus is not the second Person of the Trinity and God-in-the-flesh but a created being lower than God but higher than the angels. Because of this, they focus on the part in Colossians 1:15 above calling Jesus “the firstborn of creation” as evidence for this belief. Where Paul giving Jesus that title seemingly favors the Jehovah’s Witness’ understanding of Jesus, we’d have to ignore much of the rest of the passage (and other scripture) to hold their understanding.

Remember: Context! Context! Context! 

First, we see “firstborn” (prototokos in Greek) used twice in this passage. Jesus is also called “the firstborn from the dead.” This is a reference to Jesus’s resurrection. The Bible teaches of a future resurrection of all the dead, and Jesus is the first – a foreshadowing of this event. The point to get here is that “firstborn” is not used in a strictly literal sense in 1:18, so it’s possible it’s not used in a strictly literal sense in the earlier usage in 1:15 either.

PAUL GETS REDUNDANT

Secondly, Paul says Jesus created “all things… in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.” The Jehovah’s Witness literature explains, “Jesus is the only one directly created by God. Jesus is also the only one whom God used when He created all other things.” But that’s not what the passage says! It says Jesus created “all things.” Yes, “all things”! Not all other things. 

Also, “heaven and earth” is a Hebrew way of saying “everything.” Paul is basically saying “Jesus created everything everything.” And he’s not stuttering; he’s emphasizing a point! If you don’t get it the first time, he goes on to say again: “all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things”! 

At this point I can imagine a snot-nosed tween rolling her eyes and saying, “Yeah, we – like – got it, Paul! Jeez!” 

Let’s keep in mind, the Bible starts by filling two whole chapters explaining about God creating everything (Genesis 1-2). Elsewhere, God fills four chapters explaining to Job how he created everything and reigns over it (Job 38-41). God being the one and only creator of all things is repeated again and again throughout the Bible. This is undeniable.

Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself (Isaiah 44:24–25)

You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you. (Nehemiah 9:6)

Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”  (Revelation 4:11)

And this is just the tip of a very large, unavoidable iceberg. Nowhere does the Old Testament or New Testament say, God created Jesus and then Jesus created everything else. No, God created “all things” and Jesus created “all things”! If there’s anything Paul is trying to emphasize in this very repetitive passage, it’s that!

ASK THE EXPERTS

Considering that Paul spends so much time hammering home this point, this is a pretty huge clue that (1) this is important and (2) “firstborn of all creation” must mean something other than Jesus is a created being. So, after doing some research, we find prototokos (“firstborn”) is often used not in the sense of the literal first child born, but as a title of prominence. 

The definitive Greek to English lexicon by scholars Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich, (call it “BDAG,” if you’re nasty) defines prototokos as “[literally: pertaining] to birth order, firstborn,” but the second definition is “[pertaining] to having special status associated with a firstborn, [figurative].” [2]

Turn to the Psalms to see prototokos in the second sense, the figurative sense (whether in the Greek of the Septuagint [the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament] or the equivalent in the original Hebrew). Speaking of the eminent King David (Psalm 89:20), God says,

And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. (Psalms 89:27)

David wasn’t the first child born to his father, Jesse. Not by a long shot. He was the youngest of several brothers (1 Samuel 17:13-14). Further, if anyone is God’s literal “firstborn,” it’s Adam, the first man ever created (Genesis 2). And God doesn’t say David is the firstborn, but he will “make him the firstborn.” This can’t be in any sort of literal sense because David is already born! 

Likewise, in Exodus God calls Israel “my firstborn son,” and in the Book of Jeremiah, God calls Ephraim “my firstborn.” Whether speaking of a person (Genesis 41:51-52), location, or tribe, it’s impossible to understand these uses of “firstborn” literally. 

“Firstborn” is a title given to someone or something that holds a special place of importance. Jesus – the eternal second person of the Trinity in the flesh – holds a place of prominence and unique intimacy with God the Father as the “firstborn” over all of creation.

*This is an excerpt from my upcoming, vastly revised and expanded edition of Who Jesus Ain’t.

READ: Was Jesus “a god”? Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses: John 1:1

[1] What Does the Bible Really Teach? Watch Tower Society

[2] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 894). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

NEXT: If Jesus is “only-begotten,” how is he eternal God? (John 3:16)

Visit my other website: Confidence in Christ.

Confidence in Christ v2

Was Jesus “a god”? Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses: John 1:1

NWT

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14) (English Standard Version)

Now not so fast! These astonishing statements in John’s Gospel are traditionally understood to tell us two key, unique aspects of Christian belief: Jesus (“the Word” in John 1) is God, and God is at least two Persons, bringing into view the Trinity. But our friends at the local Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall (and the Watch Tower Society headquarters in Brooklyn) say we’ve gotten it all wrong.

Before moving on, let me give you some basics: Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the Bible is the Word of God, but they don’t believe in the Trinity; they don’t believe Jesus is God, nor do they believe the Holy Spirit is God. In order to interact with Jehovah’s Witnesses, you therefore need to understand why the Bible does, in fact, witness to both Jesus and the Holy Spirit being God, and you need to have your theology of the Trinity tight.

That being said, we’re going to look at (in this blog and future blogs) some specific things Jehovah’s Witness may throw at you to challenge the traditional (biblical) Christian views.

The Jehovah’s Witness version of the Bible, the New World Translation, has John 1:1 as follows: 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” 

Adding one teeny, tiny one-letter word to the sentence makes quite “a” difference!

JESUS: GOD OR “A GOD”?

Alright, which translation of John 1:1 is right?

The Greek word for “God” or “god” is theos. Ancient Greek didn’t use capitalization like we do today with English, so looking at the original Greek to see if “theos” is capitalized won’t help us here. So, forget capitalization. Let’s focus on “the Word was a god” because there’s “a” big problem with this. Actually, more than one. 

First, no scholar of New Testament era Greek – whether a traditional Christian or otherwise – has ever translated John 1:1 in this way. That says a lot.

Secondly, the Jehovah’s Witnesses justify this translation by pointing out that the original Greek literally reads, “the Word was with the [ton] theos, and the Word was theos.” This is accurate. But their argument is that since the second use of theos doesn’t have “the” (the definite article, for you grammar nerds), then the first use of theos is speaking of the one and only God (“the God”) and Jesus, the Word, is something like God but lesser; he’s “a god.” 

This idea of there being “a god” has its own problems, but first let me emphasize again that this isn’t how Greek grammar works and no Greek scholar would translate John 1:1 in this way. For one, the definite article (“the”) is used differently in Greek than in English, so it’s often not even translated into English. As we see, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation doesn’t translate the “the” either, but where do they get the idea that lack of “the” means adding an “a”?

BREAKING THEIR OWN RULE

Most of us aren’t Greek scholars to know one way or another, but this next reason why the Jehovah’s Witness translation fails is very telling: The Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t even follow their own unorthodox grammar rule! To be consistent, every time theos (“God” or “god”) appears without the definite article (“the”) in the original Greek of the New Testament, they should translate it as “a god.” Again, this is according to their own reasoning. 

Theos appears many, many times in the New Testament without “the,” yet their New World Translation doesn’t insert “a” or interpret theos as a lower-case “god” anywhere else! Their own New World Translation breaks their own odd grammar rule again and again. 

In fact, we don’t even have to leave John 1 to see this! None of the following include “the” with theos in the original Greek:

               John 1:6: There came a man who was sent as a representative of God. (New World Translation)

Why didn’t they translate it “representative of a god”?

               John 1:12-13: he gave authority to become God’s children, because they were exercising faith in his name. And they were born, not from blood or from a fleshly will or from man’s will, but from God. (New World Translation)

Why didn’t they translate this “become a god’s children” and “from a god”?

                John 1:18: No man has seen God at any time; the only-begotten god who is at the Father’s side is the one who has explained Him. (New World Translation)

Why didn’t they translate this, “No man has seen a god” and “a only-begotten god”?

And there are many more examples of this throughout the New Testament. If the “translators” of the Jehovah’s Witness Bible are going to make up a grammar rule to wiggle around a clear teaching about Jesus, they could at least follow their own made-up grammar rule consistently.

DIGGING THE HOLE DEEPER

Thirdly, John 1:1 isn’t the only passage in the New Testament to declare Jesus as God. I’ve never met a mean Jehovah’s Witness, so when they come to my door sometimes I get my Bible and give them some friendly push-back. This led to me meeting up for coffee several times with a local Jehovah’s Witness elder to discuss Jesus. Of course, John 1:1 came up in our discussion, and despite me pointing out the above to him, we weren’t getting anywhere. So, I said, “Neither of us are Greek scholars, so let’s put John 1:1 aside for now and look at other reasons I believe the Bible teaches that Jesus is God.”

The whole of the Christian belief that Jesus is God isn’t based on only a single verse! I can’t say how the Jehovah’s Witnesses get around every one of them (nor would I take the time to address every one here), but the biblical evidence is substantial. 

Fourthly and finally, even if we accept “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god” as a legitimate alternative translation, this would make Jehovah’s Witnesses polytheists. The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation avoids the Trinity in John 1:1 but declares two gods! 

Jehovah’s Witnesses, of course, will deny this. Their own literature explains the wording in John 1:1 as “because of his high position among Jehovah’s creatures, the Word is referred to as ‘a god.’ Here the term ‘god’ means ‘mighty one.’” [1] Well, that seems unquestionably arbitrary! Why does this instance of theos (compared to the many, many other times theos is used throughout the New Testament) mean only “mighty one” instead of the one, true God? 

John and almost all of the writers of the New Testament were first century Jews. This Jehovah’s Witness idea of Jesus being a lower-case “god” would be totally alien to them. To a first century Jew, you were either God or you were not. There’s no third option. Ironically, Jehovah’s Witnesses claim the idea of Jesus as God was added later to Christianity by the formerly-pagan Romans, yet the Jehovah’s Witness idea of Jesus being a near-god is certainly more Roman than Jewish. For the Jews, there were no partial gods, no near-gods, no lower-case “gods.”

By the Jehovah’s Witnesses mistranslating John 1:1 to avoid something that contradicts their beliefs, they’ve made matters worse for themselves. For the record, I don’t truly think Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in more than one God. My point is that by them trying to avoid the plain grammar of John 1:1, they’ve dug themselves into a deeper hole!

*This is an excerpt from my upcoming, vastly revised and expanded edition of Who Jesus Ain’t.

[1] What Does the Bible Really Teach? Watch Tower Society P.202

NEXT: If Jesus is the “firstborn” of creation how is he eternal God? (Colossians 1:15-19)

Visit my other website: Confidence in Christ.

Confidence in Christ v2

“Sell Your Cloak & Buy a Sword!” Was Jesus an Armed Revolutionary? (Part 2 of 2)

Jesus Revolt

SELL YOUR CLOAK, BUY A SWORD – LUKE 22

He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:36-38)

 

(Picking up right where we left off in PART ONE…)

Similar to Matthew 10:34, when we look at the second “sword” passage in isolation it appears Jesus is in favor of using weapons. Yet, upon digging deeper, it appears highly unlikely. Luke’s Gospel includes the same peaceful teachings as we find in Matthew’s Gospel in the Sermon on the Mount, so what are we to make of Jesus telling his disciples to get swords?  

As Luke’s Gospel draws near to the grand climax – Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection – Jesus addresses his disciples, making reference to when he sent them out earlier (the same event connected to the first sword passage in Matthew 10). He says to his disciples,

“When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. (Luke 22:35–36)

Then, Jesus makes reference to his impending execution, which fulfills scripture no less:

For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” (Luke 22:37)

After, we’re told:

And they [the disciples] said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:38)

First, we have to once again take into account all of Jesus’ other teachings about loving enemies and turning cheeks. Nowhere do we see Jesus encourage any sort of armed uprising or violence towards anyone. Let’s also keep in mind, no writer of the New Testament nor did any of the early church fathers, all of whom were obviously closer to Jesus than we are, ever understood Jesus’ teachings as anything but nonviolent and aggressively peaceful.

Secondly, if Jesus were telling his disciples to buy swords for an armed revolt, would two swords be enough? Maybe if your “armed revolt” was robbing a first century 7-11. So, no, two swords are certainly not enough to take on the mighty Roman Empire.

But this verse has often been used in another way, one less fantastical than Reza Aslan’s creative writing project Zealot. Jesus isn’t telling the disciples to revolt (with – I just have to say it again – two swords), but he’s telling them to defend themselves. This passage is often used by Christians as evidence that Jesus was OK with using violence for self-defense.

This is much more plausible, but this still isn’t the main point Jesus is making here. Jesus’ enemies are about to make their big move; Jesus will soon be arrested and executed. Things are about to get intense. The followers of Jesus are about to enter into a new period of hardship and opposition. Could Jesus be telling them to get swords to defend themselves? It’s possible. But, on the other hand, if Jesus were telling them to get swords to defend themselves – once again – would only two swords be enough for twelve men?

Like in Matthew 10:34, it seems Jesus doesn’t expect to be taken completely literally. He’s communicating to his disciples that hardship and hostility are coming. But I don’t think his disciples get his point. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus’ disciples constantly misunderstand him, especially when it comes to his mission.

They know he’s the Messiah, and they’re expecting him to start a revolution and drive out the Romans, but Jesus keeps telling them: My mission is to die to fulfill scripture. And in this passage, the disciples totally overlook his reference to his coming death and instead zoom in on his mention of swords (not unlike us today). Even if Jesus is suggesting swords for self-defense, it’s not the thing he wants his disciples to focus on. (Moreover, even if Jesus is telling his disciples to get swords for self-defense, it certainly doesn’t suggest armed revolt.)

What makes more sense?

               Jesus: Things are about to get intense; you may want to buy a sword. I’m about to be arrested and executed to fulfill scripture.

               Disciples: Hey, we have two swords!

               Jesus: That’s enough swords. Sounds like the twelve of you are ready for battle.

OR

               Jesus: Things are about to get intense; you may want to buy a sword. I’m about to be arrested and executed to fulfill scripture.

               Disciples: Hey, we have two swords!

               Jesus: Enough about swords. You’re still not getting it.

Written in a time where scholars clearly valued bluntness over tactfulness, John Calvin calls the disciples “stupid” for thinking Jesus was telling them to take up arms [1]. If you have any doubt about this nonviolent understanding of this passage, you only have to keep reading in Luke’s Gospel – and not even very far.

Only several verses later, Jesus is arrested on the Mount of Olives and his disciples literally ask him, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” Then, one of his disciples, Peter, cuts off the right ear of the high priest’s bondservant. Jesus’ response? “No more of this!” Matthew includes in his Gospel that Jesus tells Peter, “Put your sword back into its place.” Then, Jesus famously says, “For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

No, I don’t think Jesus was the first century Jewish Che Guevara.

*This is an excerpt from my upcoming, vastly revised and expanded edition of Who Jesus Ain’t.

Read PART ONE: “I Have Not Come to Bring Peace, But a Sword!” Was Jesus an Armed Revolutionary? (Part 1 of 2)

[1] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (Complete), trans. John King, Accordance electronic ed. (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847), paragraph 71192.

“I Have Not Come to Bring Peace, But a Sword!” Was Jesus an Armed Revolutionary? (Part 1 of 2)

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34)

Che Jesus

JESUS, THE ARMED REVOLUTIONARY?

Jesus has always been considered a teacher of peace and nonviolence. Yet, the intensely saucy Reza Aslan (a man who ate human brains on TV and, ironically, shares his last name with the Christ figure in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia novels), doesn’t think Jesus was such a peaceful guy. His whole 2013 book Zealot – which was largely ignored by Christian apologists and scholars due to its weak thesis, but widely read by those who don’t know better – is built on the idea that Jesus was crucified because he was promoting armed revolution against the Romans. (And Reza isn’t the only one to attempt to repaint Jesus in this way; I’ve witnessed angry internet atheists do their best to comb the Gospels to find a reason to condemn Jesus as anything but the traditional understanding.)

Those like Reza undoubtedly bring up two times Jesus mentions swords in the Gospels (Matthew 10:34 & Luke 22:36-38) to prove that Jesus wasn’t a peaceful man (and conveniently ignore everything else he says). Reza in Zealot calls the idea of Jesus being a peaceful man a “complete fabrication.” As we’ll see, the Jesus of Zealot is the fabrication.

 

CONTEXT IS KING

Hey, remember that thing called context? It means reading all the stuff around a passage to understand what the passage means. For instance, let’s imagine that someone told you Jesus claimed to be a door. Your friend says, “I kid you not, Jesus thinks he’s a door! He literally believes he’s a door! What a nut! Why does anyone listen to this guy?” Well, Jesus did call himself a door (John 10:9-16). But when you read the passage in context, you see Jesus wasn’t being literal; he was being metaphorical. Context is important. Not just important, but essential. Context is king! And if we want to understand what Jesus means by calling himself a door, we need to understand the context.

What guys like Reza do is grab an isolated quote from Jesus and ignore the context. They ignore the context not just of the big picture of the Gospels, the New Testament, and the Bible, but even the context of the tiny section of scripture it appears in, as you’ll see. So, let’s look at these verses about swords.

 

NOT PEACE, BUT A SWORD – MATTHEW 10

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34)

Well, there you have it. Jesus must’ve been armed to the teeth and ready to go Rambo on anyone in his way, right? Oh wait: context! What’s the context? In Matthew 10, Jesus is about to send his disciples throughout the land to proclaim the Kingdom of God. He even gives them a way to prove the authority he has given them. How? Through a display of power with weapons? No, through a display of power through healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out demons.

The sword comment comes towards the end of his instructions, after he explains to his disciples that persecution will come against them. He says, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” He warns that they will be arrested, interrogated, beaten, and hated. Does he tell them to respond with violence? No, he tells them to flee if they have to. But he also tells them not to be fearful because God is with them. He tells them not to fear “those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” So far, none of this sounds much like war-mongering.

Now, understanding the context brings things much more into clear focus when he says,

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. (Matthew 10:34–36)

The parallel passage in Luke’s Gospel helps us understand his meaning:

Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. (Luke 12:51)

So, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says he came to bring a sword. In Luke’s Gospel, he says he came to bring division. Before continuing, why the different wording between the two Gospels? Easy. There’s two possibilities.

First, Jesus gave this teaching several times and he worded it differently at different times. There’s nothing odd about that. He couldn’t just make a Youtube video, so Jesus traveled around and would’ve taught the same things again and again, and like all teachers who teach the same lesson again and again, he would phrase things differently for different audiences.

The second explanation is that one Gospel writer is giving a direct quote and the other is giving a paraphrase. Despite your modern, English Bible using quotation marks, quotation marks didn’t exist back then in the ancient manuscripts in the original Greek. So, when we read Jesus’ words in the Gospels, we can’t know for sure if it’s a word-for-word quote or a paraphrase or summary. Again, nothing odd here. For example, preachers often paraphrase passages from the Bible while teaching, and the New Testament writers themselves often paraphrase the Old Testament rather than give a word-for-word quote.

That behind us, it’s clear from the context (including taking into account all of Jesus’ teachings) that Jesus isn’t speaking of a literal sword, but a metaphorical one. The sword represents division. Yes, he’s a peaceful man, but his teachings will cause division, even within families. Just before this, when speaking about the persecution his disciples will face, he says, “ Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.” Jesus’ ministry even brought division within his own family (Matthew 13:53-58; John 7:3-5).  

Not everyone will be a part of the Kingdom of God, and though Jesus’ mission is nonviolent, the response to Jesus’ ministry won’t always be, and though he preaches peace, his teachings will cause turmoil. He teaches elsewhere that the world will give his followers trouble and grief (John 14:27, 16:33). They should expect it. If the world hates you, he says, know that it hated me first (John 15:18-27).

*This is an excerpt from my upcoming, vastly revised and expanded edition of Who Jesus Ain’t.

NEXT: Sell Your Cloak, Buy a Sword! Luke 22:36-38.

7 Apologetics Podcasts Worth Giving a Listen + 1

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Other than thought-provoking entertainment, especially when you’re stuck in a car, there are three big benefits to listening to the right Christian podcasts:

(1)  The right podcasts give you access to topnotch Christian scholars and thinkers, and these people have a wealth of experience and knowledge.

(2)  Even as a former seminary student and an avid reader, I’ve come to realize the knowledge I’ve gained from my podcast listening is substantial (and the effort is minimal). Plus, podcasts often point me to books and other resources for going deeper.

(3)  Podcasts are up-to-date, addressing current events and topics of importance to Christians right now.

So, even if you don’t have a long commute, pick a podcast to listen to while you’re folding laundry or mowing the lawn or eating breakfast.  If you can’t listen to a whole show in one sitting, so what? — Listen to it in parts, even if it’s just for 10 minutes at a time.

Way back in 2013, I wrote a blog recommending Christian podcasts, so I figured it was time to update that article. (Plus, I’ve been busy with other projects and ministries, so I’ve been neglecting GFTM!)

The first three podcasts listed below also appeared on my 2013 list. Clearly, these three have been staples of my listening for years. So, where all of these podcasts are recommended, the first three have stood the test of time.

 

(1) UNBELIEVABLE?

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This British radio show is primarily civil debates/discussions between people of opposing views on various topics, whether it’s Christians debating atheists or other non-Christians or Christians debating Christians about issues within the church.

Justin Brierley, the host, does a great job of fairly mediating the debates/discussions, making sure both sides have time to flesh out their views and that the listener doesn’t get lost if it gets too academic.

Unbelievable? gives you a good introduction at controversial issues and exposes you to opposing views on that issue. The subject matter varies from current cultural topics (transgenderism, social justice, etc.) to topics concerning the existence of God and the trustworthiness of the Bible to other philosophical and theological questions.

Also, check out Justin Brierley’s Youtube series The Big Conversation.

 

(2) STAND TO REASON

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Host Greg Koukl has been challenged and tested for the over 27 years he’s been doing this show. He opens most episodes by sharing some thoughts concerning Christianity or a cultural topic, and then he answers callers’ questions on any number of topics encompassing Christianity — from personal application of biblical teachings to interpreting scripture to philosophical issues and apologetics.

Koukl’s ability to confidently, satisfactorily, and evenhandedly answer the vast diversity of questions he receives is testimony to his wealth of experience and what a valuable resource he is. Part of the fun of listening to Stand to Reason is thinking, “Wow, that’s a tough question! How will Greg possibly answer this?” and then listening to Greg’s response.

Also, check out Koukl’s two books, Tactics and The Story of Reality, and Stand to Reason’s website as a resource.

 

(3) THE BRIEFING

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Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the largest seminary in the U.S., examines current world news from a Christian perspective.  New episodes are posted every Monday through Friday. In each 20-minutes episode, Dr. Mohler gives an overview of current events, and then he analyzes them from a biblical worldview.

The Briefing is a great, quick way to keep up on important news and issues that should interest Christians one way or another, some of which get lost in all of the noise of this media age. Dr. Mohler draws from a variety of established media sources, both left- and right-leaning, and he makes all the articles he refers to available on his website.

Dr. Mohler has a background in radio, so each episode is crisp, smooth, and professional. The historical background and insight Dr. Mohler often provides during his commentary is priceless.

Also, check out Dr. Mohler’s other occasional podcast Thinking in Public.

 

(4) THE JUDE 3 PROJECT

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The Jude 3 Project exists to help Christians “know what they believe and why they believe it” with a distinctive focus on the African American community.

Like most of the podcasts on this list, the Jude 3 Project does a great job of addressing theological, cultural, and apologetic topics concerning Christians, but it also does a great job showing how both historically and biblically Christianity is not just “the white man’s religion.”

The Jude 3 Project has introduced me to many Christian scholars addressing specific topics which concern the African American community (and should concern all Christians) that I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise. The Jude 3 Project is providing an important service (and becoming an important resource) to all Christians.

Also, check out their website for resources.

 

(5) THREE CHORDS AND THE TRUTH

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Three Chords and the Truth wins the prize for the best balance of being informative and fun.

Each 40-minute episode has three parts. The first part focuses on apologetics – arguments for the trustworthiness of the New Testament and the resurrection of Jesus. Part two is some brief  “geek talk,” where they discuss a “tough topic” in comic books, sci-fi, and fantasy. (Who would win in a fight: Gandalf or Yoda? What’s more powerful: the Infinity Gauntlet or the Elder’s Wand from Harry Potter?) Finally, they look at a classic rock song from a theological perspective.

Honestly, I’ve learned just as much about rock history as Christian apologetics listening to this podcast.

Also, Timothy Paul Jones, one of the hosts, is a wealth of information. Check out his books.

 

(6) THINK BIBLICALLY

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I just started listening to this weekly podcast, but it has two top-notch hosts, Sean McDowell and Scott Rae, professors at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology, a key school in training Christian apologists. The format is easy: a 30-minute interview with a Christian author or thinker.

Looking through their backlog of interviews, I see nothing but names worth listening to on topics worth thinking about.

Also, Sean McDowell, though he’s the one doing the interviewing instead of being interviewed, is a great teacher. Be sure to seek out his other work.

 

(7) APOLOGIA RADIO

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Apologia Radio wasn’t on my 2013 list of podcasts, but I’ve been listening to it regularly almost as long as my “Top 3.” If there’s a podcast on this list that’s going to ruffle a lot of feathers, it’s this one. Apologia doesn’t pull any punches (and they have fun while doing it).

They’re especially good with addressing atheism, abortion, and cults, like Mormonism. They hold strong stances on some theological views, such as Calvinism, presuppositional apologetics, and post-millennialism eschatology. (If you don’t know what those things are, you will if you listen to Apologia Radio long enough.)

Overall, even if you don’t agree with every stance the guys and gal of Apologia take, you will be challenged, and they do a great job of engaging the culture from a biblical worldview.

Also check out Joy of Apologia’s other podcast, Sheologians, and Apologia’s many Youtube videos.

 

(8) THIS AMERICAN LIFE

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Though this wasn’t on my 2013 list, it certainly should’ve been. This American Life is not a Christian show, so it wasn’t on my last list and it shouldn’t be on this list, but I’m including it anyway. I’ve been listening to This American Life longer than every podcast on this list.

Each episode is an hour long and centers on a (loose) theme with (give or take) three true stories connected to that theme. The beauty of this show is that it often centers on people and things you would’ve never heard about anywhere else, and the stories surrounding them are engrossing, entertaining, and often quirky.

I love this show. No, it’s not a Christian show, but it’s professional journalism with master story-telling at its best.