Bible Secrets Re-revealed! How Do We Differentiate Between What is Scripture & Other Ancient, Religious Writings?

**How did the ancient church know what to consider Scripture?**

SERIES INTRO: Have the right narrator and ominous music and anything can sound scandalous.  Recently, I watched several episodes of the History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed TV show.  It was amusing but troubling at the same time since these sort of sensationalist shows aren’t about history or education, but preying on people’s lack of knowledge.  The sort of one-sided, half-information thrown around on these TV shows is sure to resurface.  So, here are some quick responses to some questions that might arise from such quality TV programing.

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How do we know the right books are included in Bible?

Often skeptics and TV shows like Bible Secrets Revealed make a big deal about other ancient writings not in the Bible that include Jewish or Christian themes or may even include biblical characteristics or people.  Often the mistaken idea they’re promoting is that these written works are just as worthy of being Scripture but the church excluded them for some unscrupulous reason.

My question is, Why does everything have to be a conspiracy?  (The obvious answer: scandals sell.)  The truth is usually much less scandalous (and exciting).

Think of it this way: If I write a story involving Adam, Eve, Moses, Paul, and the angel Gabriel, and I even include some Christianity-themed lessons in it, does that mean it’s Scripture?  Of course not!  Likewise, just because an ancient piece of writing has biblical elements, it does not immediately make it Scripture worthy of the Bible.

It also should be noted, some of these works not included in the Bible teach flat-out heresy, but others may still be considered faithful books that teach biblical truths, but this still doesn’t make them Scripture.  They may be great reads for historical or religious insight (or just for quality entertainment), and, as I said, they may even include a lot of godly truth.  But they’re still not scripture, any more than works by, say, C.S. Lewis, John Piper, or Tim Keller are scripture. All 3 men are godly men who are wise in the Lord, and reading their books will benefit you, but their writings still do not hold the authority of Scripture.

So, why were some ancient writings considered Scripture and others not?

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THE NEW TESTAMENT

There are primary 3 requirements a written work must meet in order to be considered New Testament Scripture:

1.  Apostolic Authority

2.  Universality

3.  Orthodoxy

Apostolic Authority

First: Is the work written by an apostle of Jesus or by someone closely associated with an apostle of Jesus?  For example, John and Matthew were apostles of Jesus, but Mark was a disciple of the Apostle Peter, and Luke was a close companion of the Apostle Paul.

If a work was written long after the time period when the apostles lived, then it obviously cannot be closely related to an apostle.  No book in the New Testament is more than two persons removed from Jesus; thus, if the writer was not an eyewitness himself, he recorded the teachings of an eyewitness.

Universal & Orthodox

Next: Is the work universal and orthodox?  Do the teachings of the work apply to the whole Christian church, not just to specific sects or denominations (or cults)?  And are the teachings in line with traditional beliefs as given by Jesus and the apostles?

For example, many of the Gnostic Gospels taught things that were contradictory to the four earliest Gospels and the letters of Paul, which are the earliest Christian writings.  The Gnostic Gospels were also written long after the apostles lived, so they obviously don’t have apostolic authority.  (More about the Gnostic Gospels below.)

Likewise, failure to meet these simple standards is one of the reasons (among many) that current, traditional Christian churches consider, for instance, the Book of Mormon heresy.

To give another example, the only reason the TV show Bible Secrets Revealed gives for the ancient work The Protoevangelium of James not being included in the New Testament is that the work focuses on Mary, so it would have to be placed before the Gospels in the New Testament and it would take too much time for a reader to get to Jesus!

This is an absurd assumption!  Even the TV show tells us that The Protoevangelium of James was written 100 years after the life of James.  This alone would exclude it from being written by an apostle or during the time of the apostles.  Further, the teachings aren’t in line with the undisputed works of the New Testament, such as the 4 Gospels and the majority of Paul’s letters.

Interesting to note, we do have a book in the New Testament that meets the requirements for Scripture that was written by James, the brother of Jesus.

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THE OLD TESTAMENT

Why are the “hundreds” of other ancient Hebrew manuscripts not included in the Old Testament, like The Life of Adam and Eve and The Book of Jubilees?

 

The Old Testament was written so long ago, it’s hard to know the exact details, but various prophets of God – like Moses, David, Solomon, and Isaiah – wrote the books of the Old Testament.  If the ancient Jews recognized a certain book to be Scripture, they must’ve had good reason, such as the writer was a prophet.  The Old Testament itself gives us insight on how they recognized prophets:

“But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my [God’s] name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)

There is no evidence from Old Testament times – or any other times – of any other Hebrew works being considered as authoritative and sacred like the books included in the Old Testament.  Some books that are in the Old Testament were disputed, but the major works never were.  Further, no other books were ever considered to be worthy of placement into the Old Testament canon by the Jews.

Based on the evidence, the only works ever considered to be worthy of inclusion in the Old Testament are in the Old Testament.  Further, Jesus and the New Testament writers only refer to works found in our present Old Testament specifically as Scripture.

Forgery = Pseudepigrapha

Why is Enoch 1 not considered part of the biblical canon, but it’s part of the Ethiopian Orthodox church’s canon?

 

The ancient writing called Enoch 1 is what is called an Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, a work attributed to an ancient Old Testament patriarch or important figure who lived long before the work was written.  Thus, it’s a forgery and the author is unknown.  Interestingly, Jude, in his letter in the New Testament, does quote 1 Enoch, but he doesn’t call it Scripture.  Further, there’s no evidence that the Jews ever considered Enoch 1 Scripture.

Thus, it appears the Ethiopian church is incorrect in including Enoch 1 in their Bible.

1 Enoch and other Pseudepigraphaical works are useful in some ways, but they’re still not to be considered on the same level of authority as Scripture.  Other Pseudepigraphaical works, as well as the Apocrypha, have never been considered sacred, divine scripture by the Jews.

The Apocrypha is comprised of Old Testament works (written in Greek) that are included in the Roman Catholic Bible and Eastern Orthodox Bible but not in the Protestant or Jewish Bibles.  In fact, the Roman Catholic Church didn’t make the Apocrypha officially part of their Bible until 1546 in response to the Protestant Reformation.

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New Testament Forgeries

Why is the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which is written by Jesus’ brother, not included in the New Testament, but the letters of James and Jude, other writings by Jesus’ brothers, are in the New Testament?  Is it only because the Infancy Gospel of Thomas has “scandalous” stories about Jesus, which the church did not want people to know?

Bible Secrets Revealed makes it sound like the only reason the church didn’t include the Infancy Gospel of Thomas in the New Testament is because it has “scandalous” information in it, but notice that the show also dates the writing of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas in 125 AD.  This late date alone is the problem and a “deal-breaker” of whether the Infancy Gospel of Thomas should be in the New Testament or not.

All of the New Testament was written by the end of the First Century – by at least 100 AD.  The Gospel of John is widely considered the last Gospel of the New Testament to be written, sometime around 95 AD.  Since the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was written around 125 AD, it was written too long after the events to be considered a candidate for inclusion in the New Testament.

Eyewitnesses or close associates of eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry wrote the four Gospels included in the New Testament.  If the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was written in 125 AD, it wasn’t written when those who knew Jesus Christ were still alive.  Therefore, Jesus’ brother Thomas couldn’t have written it.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is another pseudepigraphic writing, because it falsely claims its writer is a key figure in Jewish/Christian history.  It’s also considered a Gnostic Gospel.  Gnostics mixed pagan philosophy with Christian beliefs.  They believed the physical world was evil, so God couldn’t have come in the flesh.

Along with the late dates of origin for the Gnostic Gospels, their contents alone illustrate these so-called gospels didn’t belong with the traditional teachings of Christianity.  Finally, no Gnostic document was ever considered worthy for inclusion in the New Testament.

One Last Important Point 

Finally, it must be pointed out that the biblical truths given by the prophets and apostles were confirmed by godly signs and miracles.  To explore this further, two of my earlier articles may help:

Why is God’s Presence So Obvious in the Bible but Not Today?

Is the Bible Any More Accurate than Other Religious Texts?

Other articles in this series:

Did Constantine compose the New Testament?

Did God have a wife?

Could Jesus & the Disciples Read & write?

Was the Oral History Before the Gospels Were Written Reliable?

Has the Bible Been Lost in the Translation?

SOURCE & RECOMMENDED:

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Mother God & the World Mission Society Church of God – Is There Evidence of “God the Mother” in the Bible?

“The World Mission Society Church of God believes in God the Mother,” their website proudly proclaims.

Before I knew anything about the World Mission Society Church of God, including the true name of their church, I heard from a few friends about being approached by a “cult” talking about “Mother God,” thus the group became know as the “Mother God Cult.”

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(For the record, it’s not my intent here to accuse the World Mission Society Church of God of being a “cult” or to debate whether it is a cult or not.  I prefer my readers to decide.  Please feel free to comment, discuss, & debate below.  Earlier articles I wrote may be helpful.  See below.)

This article continues my analysis of the beliefs of the World Mission Society Church of God (also known simply as the Church of God).  In the first article, I gave an overview of their beliefs and analyzed their teachings that their founder, Ahnsahnghong, was the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (Read the article here).  In my second article, I analyzed their teachings about Ahnsahnghong being God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (Read the article here).

Now, this article will analyze what the Church of God (COG) is most notorious for: their belief in God the Mother (who currently lives in the flesh in South Korea).

As I did in my first two articles, I’ve purposely avoided exposing myself to any negative websites or information about the COG and have based my analysis strictly on their explanation of their own beliefs a stated on their official website.  Since they use the Bible to explain and defend their views (and they appear to believe the Bible is the Word of God), I have used the Bible to analyze, refute, and argue against their beliefs as unbiblical and as a corruption of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

(God From the Machine has published a book titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.)

God the Mother – Who is She?

I recommend reading my first article on the COG for more insight, but I’ll reprint here what I wrote specifically about God the Mother.  (If you’re familiar with it, jump down to “The ‘Evidence.”)

“The COG also believes in Mother God, also called Jerusalem Mother. She is “the Second Coming Jesus’ [Ahnsahnghong’s] wife.” Jesus didn’t give his people eternal life 2,000 years ago because he was waiting for the appearance of his wife, through whom eternal life will come. God the Mother is currently living in South Korea.

“In a video on their website, Mother God is shown at the New Jerusalem Temple in South Korea, surrounded by many happy, well-dressed admirers. The video shows her holding their hands, walking with them, and hugging them. In a testimony, Nathan from Memphis, USA, says, ‘This is the place where our heavenly mother dwells, the land of prophecy, so I came here to receive the water of life that you can only receive here in Korea from God the Mother.’ A female Korean teen states, ‘If God the Mother does not exist, there would be no happiness in the world.’

“The COG website clearly teaches that eternal life can only come through Mother God.”

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The “Evidence”

So, where does the COG get this idea that “Mother God” exists?  Most people who know anything about the Bible would be astonished (to say the least) to learn that the Bible, according to the COG, actually teaches about Mother God.

As you will see, if these verses are the best evidence the COG has for a biblical teaching of Mother God, their faith is based on a brittle foundation.  The first verse, Genesis 1:26-27, is perhaps the most quoted and the most troublesome, so we’ll start there:

The “Mother God” Interpretation

Genesis 1:26-27:

 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”   God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

In Genesis 1:26-27, God creates man and woman in his image.  The COG focuses on the plural language God uses to refer to himself: “us” and “our.”  Furthermore, they are correct in that in this passage the word “Elohim,” which is translated from the original Hebrew into English as “God,” is also in the plural form.

According to the teachings of the COG, since “the principle of nature” is that both male and female are needed to create life, and since God made both man and woman in his image, there must be both a male (Father) and female (Mother) God.  The site claims “us” and “our” is often interpreted as referring to the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit), but this is incorrect; it can’t be the Trinity, says the COG, because then three types of people would exist in the world today, not two: male and female.

Thus, in the creation story at the beginning of the Bible, we have evidence of Mother God.

The COG also cites Isaiah 6:8 to show the plurality of God:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I [Isaiah] said, “Here am I.  Send me!”

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God or Gods?

As I said above, this is the most troublesome passage used by the COG, but I only say that because it’s a difficult passage for anyone studying the Bible because it does contain some grammatically unusual features and needs more explanation than the other passages they use.  Churches with unusual, unorthodox beliefs often snatch challenging passages to justify their more peculiar beliefs.

Interestingly, the first time I came across anyone who pointed out the use of plural words (Elohim, us, our) in Genesis 1:26-27 was when I was in my early twenties in an Introduction to the Bible class in college.  The professor was either a former pastor or priest (I can’t remember which) who had evidently lost his faith.  Even though I was atheistic/agnostic at the time and I was loving and eating up much of what he was teaching, even then he came across to me as quite hostile towards the Bible and anyone who had a more traditional view of it.

Liberal and skeptical biblical scholars who don’t believe the first five books of the Bible were written by Moses but instead were a Frankenstein-like combination of various writings from the ancient world, grab on to Genesis 1:26-27 to support their views.  These liberal scholars seize on the plural words as evidence the Jewish religion – an ardent monotheistic religion – actually originated from polytheistic religions.  The most prominent theory from these liberal Bible scholars says that four earlier, different sources contributed to the formation of Genesis as we know it today.

We won’t go into it here, but conservative biblical scholars have thoroughly contested these claims.  The biggest stumbling block for the liberal scholars’ views is that there is no hard evidence, such as manuscript proof, to support their theory.  Further, I think a simple question pokes rather large holes in their theory: If Genesis is a mixing of religious texts from polytheistic cultures and the early Jews edited them into the first five books of the Bible to create a vehemently monotheistic religion, why and how did they overlook the very obvious polytheistic plural words?  Why didn’t they just change them?

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5 (Much More Likely) Alternatives to the Mother God Interpretation

Now, moving on from liberal biblical scholarship to the claims of the COG concerning Genesis 1:26-27 and Mother God: What is the deal with the plural language?  Jewish, Christian, and secular scholars have offered several explanations:

(1) God is addressing his “heavenly court,” the angels. 

Many Jewish commentators, some dating back to ancient times like Philo of Alexandria, uphold this view.  See the following passages as biblical evidence of the heavenly court: Job 1; Psalm 89:6-8; 1 Kings 22:19-22; Daniel 7:9-13; Luke 2:9-14; and Revelation 4-5.  In Isaiah 6:8 (“who will go for Us?”) God speaking to a heavenly court appears to be the clear case when the verse is read in context with the rest of Isaiah 6.

(2) God is addressing the Trinity.

Though from a Christian perspective there is a possibility that the Holy Spirit moved Moses to include this reference to the Trinity in the first book of the Bible, even conservative Christian scholars agree that this interpretation is unlikely.  Though possible, the idea is wholly speculative, and it’s highly unlikely the original author, Moses, consciously made reference to the Trinity.

 (3) God is addressing other gods.

Is the plural language evidence that Judaism grew out of a polytheistic culture?  I addressed some of the issues with this theory above.  Commentators point out that the radically monotheistic Jews would’ve never included such polytheistic language.

(4) God is using the “plural of majesty.

Like how English royalty will say “we” when speaking since royalty speaks for the whole kingdom, God as creator of all things is using plural pronouns (us, our) in relation to his supremely eminent position.  Though we see one example of this in the Bible in Ezra 4:18, this view is widely rejected because we simply do not see plural pronouns used in Hebrew this way anywhere else, whether inside or outside the Bible.  (But we’ll return to this idea later when speaking about the plural “Elohim.”)

(5) God is self-deliberating and/or self-addressing.

Basically, God is talking to himself – as if thinking aloud.  This simple explanation is the most widely accepted, and as one commentator writes, the idea is “an attested and sufficient explanation,” as it is well supported by other examples in the Hebrew language where the language shifts between plural and singular.

An example of a human doing this is in 2 Samuel 24:14:

Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress.  Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.”

Another example where God does this is in Genesis 11:6-8 during the Tower of Babel episode:

And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do.  And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.  Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”  So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.

Notice “the LORD” says, “let us go down,” but then we’re immediately told “the LORD dispersed them.”  Here, in the original Hebrew, “the LORD” is not the plural Elohim (a general title for God) but “Yahwah,” God’s name as given to Moses.  (More about this below.)  Yahwah, being God’s unique name, can only be taken as referring to a singular being, yet we also see the plural pronoun “us” used.  Clearly, there are not two or more gods involved here, but only the one true God, Yahweh.

So, to say here we see a plurality of gods because of the use of “us” is nonsensical; we have to understand “us” as a language device of the ancient Hebrews.  To say otherwise would be the equivalent of saying the following statement means that Frank is more than one person: “’Let us eat some dinner,’ said Frank.  So, Frank ate some dinner.”

Likewise, though the “us” in Isaiah 6:8 may be addressing the heavenly court, it may be another example of God’s self-deliberation as in Genesis 11:6-8.  Notice how the language shifts between singular and plural in Isaiah 6:8:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord [singular], saying, “Whom shall I [singular] send, and who will go for us [plural]?”

If we don’t want to accept either explanation that God is self-deliberating or speaking to the angels, then we have to conclude God or the writers of the Old Testament were really bad at Hebrew grammar, not knowing the difference between singular and plural pronouns!  But the one thing that certainly can’t be logically concluded by this is that God is speaking to another god, let alone God the Mother.

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In Hebrew, Even Verbs Are Plural

To hammer home this point even more, the original Hebrew of Genesis 1:26-27 uses singular forms of verbs in these passages even though plural pronouns are used.  Obviously, this doesn’t translate into English since English doesn’t have singular and plural forms of verbs.  If Genesis 1:26-27 shows Father God and Mother God speaking, why would the verbs be singular?

Thus, the explanation of God’s self-deliberation is the most likely explanation for Genesis 1:26-27 because had God been speaking to others in these plural instances – such as to a heavenly court or another deity like Mother God – the verbs surrounding the statements would be plural.

The “Names” of God

For clarity’s sake (and simply because this is good to know), there are three words in the Bible regularly used to refer to God:

Hebrew translated to English

     Elohim      =    God (title)

    Yahweh    =    the LORD (God’s name)

    Adonai      =    the Lord (title)

  • Yahweh – When you see the “LORD” in all caps in your English-language Bible, the original Hebrew reads “Yahweh,” the name of the one true God as given to Moses in Exodus 3:14 (“Yahweh” = “I AM”).
  • ElohimElohim (or El, Elah, or Elo’ah – These are the singular forms) is a general title translated “God” when referring to the one true God, Yahweh, but it can refer to false gods and other powerful beings (such as angels) or even powerful people.  (For example, see Psalm 82:1-6 and Jesus’ reference to it in John 10:34–36).  Though this word doesn’t exclusively mean the one true God, it is obvious by the context when it is referring to Yahweh.
  • Adonai – Similarly, adonai is a general title and can refer to a human master or lord.  Again, we must look at the context the word is used in to know it is referring to God.  (Also, keep in mind, there is no capitalization in Hebrew.)
  • “Lord GOD” – Sometimes we see adonai and Yahweh together, so it’s translated “Lord GOD.”  (Note the use of caps in the English translation.)

Elohim = God’s “Otherness”

So, we explained the plural pronouns, but what’s the deal with “Elohim” – the actual word translated “God” – being plural?

The use of the plural Elohim in Hebrew suggests God’s unique nature as the one and only immaterial, timeless, self-sufficiently existent and powerful creator of all things.  This can be best understood in human terms as the “plurality of royalty,” such as the Queen of England would use, we discussed above.

God’s “otherness” – meaning his uniqueness in absolute supremacy, majesty, and holiness – from all other things is a regular theme in the Bible, as the Jews understood God was wholly “other.”  Thus, the plural Elohim illustrates this.

The Baker Encyclopedia explains Elohim “is plural in form, but when applied to the true God it is used in a singular sense… The most common explanation for the plural form of Elohim as applied to God is that it is ‘plural of majesty,’ that is, all the majesty of deity is encompassed by him.”

Likewise, God’s self-proclaimed name as given to Moses in Exodus 3:13-14 is all about his exclusive, one-of-a-kind nature:

Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?”  God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

What an awesome statement by God!  Basically, God isn’t giving a name but an explanation of his being.  Since there’s no worldly thing to compare himself to – and he is so beyond any comparison – God simply states, “I AM WHO I AM.”  In other words, I am self-existent and self-sufficient; I am the Uncaused First Cause; I am the only Necessary Being; and there is nothing else like me.  In Hebrew, “I AM” is “Yahweh.”  (Hebrew doesn’t have vowels, so it’s literally “YHWH.”)  Both “I AM” and “Elohim” emphasize what the Jews knew very well: God was utterly “other.”

The New American Commentary speaks of the use of Elohim instead of Yahweh in the creation story:

“The general name Elohim is appropriate for the creation account’s universal framework and in effect repudiates the cosmogonies of the pagan world, where the origins and biography of their ‘gods’ are paramount.  From the inception of [the first 5 books of the Bible] polytheism and idolatry have no ideological or practical place among Israel.”  (See Exodus 20:1-6; Deut. 4:12-24.)

One blogger explains it particularly well:

“When used of the true God, ‘Elohim’ denotes what is called by linguists a plural of majesty, honor, or fullness.  That is, he is GOD in the fullest sense of the word.  He is ‘GOD of gods’ or literally, ‘ELOHIM of elohim.’” (See Deut. 10:17; Psalm 136:2.)

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Not Convinced?  How About Masculine, Singular Pronouns?

Even if you don’t find the explanations I’ve offered here plausible, and even if you reject all of the interpretations listed above, all of the above is still much more plausible and logical than the conclusions of the COG.  Yes, Genesis 1:26-27 uses the plural form Elohim; yes, God sometimes uses plural personal pronouns; yes, God made man and woman in his image.  But it’s a huge jump in logic to say these verses serve as evidence of Mother God.  Clearly, this conclusion can only be reached if presupposed ideas are read into the verses, not by letting the Bible speak for itself.

Let’s also note that Genesis 1:27 plainly states:

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

Yes, in the original Hebrew those are masculine, singular pronouns.  It does not say:

God created man in Their own image, in the image of God They created him; male and female They created them. 

And though we all know the immaterial God is not male in a physical sense, the masculine pronoun is clearly used.  If the COG’s theory is correct that since there are two types of people, male and female, there must be male and female Gods, then Genesis 1:27 would read something like this:

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male He created him.  And God created woman in Her own image, in the image of God She created her; female she created her.

In fact, if we’re going to go in this direction, why doesn’t Genesis 1 just plainly state that Father God and Mother God created humankind together?  Clearly, Genesis doesn’t say this because I AM doesn’t need a female partner to create.  Yes, God created the world so that much of his physical creation does need both male and female to procreate, but the self-existent, all-powerful I AM is not a physical being.  He made humankind (and everything) from nothing.  The great I AM is not restricted by the physical world; he created the physical world.  He is wholly “other.”

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And so…

One has to question why literally thousands of years of Jewish, Christian, and (much of it hostile) secular tradition and scholarship has never discovered Mother God in the Bible before.

But let’s keep an open mind: Yes, I believe this article refutes the most widely quoted passage by the COG to justify their belief in Mother God, and as I said above, it is probably the most difficult to explain due to the perceived oddity of the grammar since none of us are ancient Hebrews.  But still I’ll keep an open mind and do what I always do when someone offers an interpretation of the Bible that doesn’t seem quite right to me:

I ask for more evidence.

Certainly, there has to be more evidence of Mother God in God’s Word than one (easily refuted) passage at the very beginning of the Bible, right?

In the next article, we’ll look at the other verses the COG claims speak about Mother God.

**God From the Machine has published a book for evangelizing, educating, and refuting the World Mission Society Church of God titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.

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My two earlier articles about the COG:

“World Mission Society Church of God, Mother God & Christ Ahnsahnghong – The One True Church or Cult?”

The Trinity Mashup & the Schizophrenic God! “Mother God,” “Christ” Ahnsahnghong, & World Mission Society Church of God – The One True Church or Cult?

Also, I do not intend to debate here if the World Mission Society Church of God is a “cult” or not, and I prefer my readers to decide.  (Please feel free to comment, discuss, & debate below!)  Earlier articles I wrote will hopefully be helpful:

How Do We Identify “Christian” Cults? What’s the Difference Between a Cult & a Denomination?

Interacting with “Christian” Cult Members: Tips & Strategies

About (Poor) Biblical Interpretation: Responding to “Christian” Cults… or Anyone Who Misuses Scripture.

The Trinity Mashup & the Schizophrenic God! “Mother God,” “Christ” Ahnsahnghong, & World Mission Society Church of God – The One True Church or Cult?

**Is “Christ” Ahnsahnghong the Trinitarian God? Does the WMSCOG have a correct understanding of the Trinity?  Do they promote a schizophrenic God?  Where does “Mother God” fit in?**

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(God From the Machine has published a book titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.)

This article continues to look at the World Mission Society Church of God (also simply called the Church of God), but commonly called by those not in the church “the Mother God Cult.”  The Church of God believes the Bible teaches about God the Mother, who is currently alive on earth in South Korea, and the church’s founder, Ahnsahnghong, is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Last article, I gave an overview of their history and beliefs, and I used the Bible to analyze their belief in Ahnsahnghong as the Second Coming of Christ.  (Read that article, titled “World Mission Society Church of God, Mother God & Christ Ahnsahnghong – The One True Church or Cult?” here.)

Also, I do not intend to debate here if the World Mission Society Church of God is a “cult” or not, and I prefer my readers to decide.  (Please feel free to comment, discuss, & debate below!)  Earlier articles I wrote will hopefully be helpful:

Finally, before we begin, let me be clear: I’ve exposed myself to no negative writings, videos, or websites concerning the World Mission Society Church of God at the time of the writing of this article.  I’m responding strictly to their beliefs as explained on their website.  Further, since they use the Bible extensively to attempt to legitimatize their beliefs, I’ll use the Bible to respond to them.

This article will be looking at their beliefs about the Trinity and their founder, Ahnsahnghong, as God in three forms.  Before we look at the Church of God’s teachings, let’s look at the  traditional Christian understanding of the Trinity…

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Ahnsahnghong – Is this man Father, Son & Holy Spirit?

A BIBLICAL UNDERSTANDING OF THE TRINITY

Traditional Christianity believes in the Trinity: one God, three persons – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This belief is unique to Christianity, and it’s certainly a difficult doctrine to wrap our finite heads around, and, thus, it’s a favorite target of those critical of Christianity (often accusing Christians of polytheism), but it’s biblical. In order to understand it correctly, we need to understand that the three persons are distinct persons, yet of the same nature.

I find thinking about it like a 1st Century Jew helps. Jews in Jesus’ day, unlike the pagan Romans, understood that there was only one God, and everything else is not God. Thus, when Jesus says he’s the Son of God, the Jews don’t understand it as a Roman and think, “Ok, this guy thinks he’s part God,” they understand it correctly as Jesus saying, “I am God.” That’s why they accuse him of blasphemy, a crime worthy of death. Something can’t be part God. Something is either fully God or fully something else.

The Trinitarian nature of God has several implications. In Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey writes of one of them:

“The human race was created in the image of God, who is three Persons so intimately related as to constitute one Godhead… both oneness and threeness are equally real, equally ultimate, equally basic and integral to God’s nature…

“The balance of unity and diversity in the Trinity gives a model for human social life, because it implies that both individuality and relationship exist within the Godhead itself. God is being-in-communion. Humans are made in the image of a God who is a tri-unity—whose very nature consists in reciprocal love and communication among the Persons of the Trinity… the Trinity implies the dignity and uniqueness of individual persons. Over against radical individualism, the Trinity implies that relationships are not created by sheer choice but are built into the very essence of human nature. We are not atomistic individuals but are created for relationships.”

To understand the Trinity, it’s best to state the doctrine in three sentences: (1) God is three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (2) Each person is fully God. (3) There is only one God. Denying or changing any of these three statements wouldn’t accurately illustrate the Christian belief (as supported by the Bible) of the Trinity. All three statements must be accepted as truth for correct understanding of the Trinity. Moreover, I’ve found trying to explain the Trinity in any other manner tends to lead to misrepresentations of the Trinity and basically (to use an out-of-fashion word) heresy. Likewise, any analogy to explain the Trinity often proves misleading or inaccurate.

(Recommended reading: The Forgotten Trinity by James White or see Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.)

Though no diagram or analogy can properly illustrate the Trinity, this may be helpful.

Though no diagram or analogy can properly illustrate the Trinity, this may be helpful.

 

AN OLD HERESY

Now, let’s look at how the World Mission Society Church of God/Church of God (“COG” from here on out) explains the Trinity on their own website:

“The concept of “Trinity” means that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are not different entities, but are one God. The Trinity—God the Father [Jehovah], God the Son [Jesus], and God the Holy Spirit [Ahnsahnghong]—are one…

“To better understand the Trinity, let’s first consider the transformation of water. Water is a liquid, but when its temperature falls below 0° C, the water will turn into ice, a solid. When the water is boiled, it turns into vapor, a gas. Water, ice, and vapor have different names and different forms, but their substance is the same: H2O.

“It is similar to when an actor in a monodrama plays three different characters—a father, a son, and a grandson—all having different voices. Although there are three different voices and three different roles, there is only one actor.

What the COG states here and elsewhere on their website teaches that Ahnsahnghong is God appearing throughout history in three different forms. (See an overview of their core beliefs here.)  What the COG is teaching is an old heresy called Modalism.

The website carm.org summarizes Modalism succinctly:

“Modalism is probably the most common theological error concerning the nature of God. It is a denial of the Trinity. Modalism states that God is a single person who, throughout biblical history, has revealed Himself in three modes or forms. Thus, God is a single person who first manifested himself in the mode of the Father in Old Testament times. At the incarnation, the mode was the Son; and after Jesus’ ascension, the mode is the Holy Spirit. These modes are consecutive and never simultaneous. In other words, this view states that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit never all exist at the same time–only one after another. Modalism denies the distinctiveness of the three persons in the Trinity even though it retains the divinity of Christ.”

So, according to the COG, Ahnsahnghong is God the Father (Jehovah), God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit (Ahnsahnghong). All of these titles belong to him, and throughout the website he’s called “Christ Ahnsahnghong” and even “God Ahnsahnghong.”

From the COG website:

“God’s name was “Jehovah” when He played the role of the Father, and it was “Jesus” when He worked as the Son. Then, how should we call upon God when He is working as the Holy Spirit? The name of the Holy Spirit is Ahnsahnghong.”

It appears the COG believes the Bible is the Word of God since it uses the Bible extensively to justify their beliefs in “Christ” Ahnsahnghong and “Mother God.” But adopting a Modalist view that the Trinity is the same divine person appearing in 3 different forms at 3 different times, as the COG does, becomes a huge problem if we accept the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. Why? Quite frankly, it makes God look schizophrenic.

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THE SCHIZOPHRENIC GOD

Schizophrenia literally means “split mind.”  If Ahnsahnghong is both God the Father and God the Son/Jesus at different times, then who is Jesus praying to in the Garden of Gethsemane:

Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will”? (Mark 14:36)

In the Garden of Gethsemane, if Ahnsahnghong is Jesus/The Son, how is he praying to The Father? According to the COG’s own theology, when Ahnsahnghong is The Son, then he’s no longer The Father. The Father and The Son did not exist at the same time. When Ahnsahnghong was Jesus 2,000 years ago, he was no longer in the form of God the Father, so who is Jesus praying to throughout the Gospels?

Take, for example, Jesus’ prayer in John 17:

“Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life…

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me…

“O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them…”

So, who is Ahnsahnghong talking to? Himself? Let’s do an experiment: Let’s replace all of the references to God the Son/Jesus, God the Father, and all pronouns for both of them and see how that works out…

“Ahnsahnghong spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Ahnsahnghong, the hour has come; glorify Ahnsahnghong, that Ahnsahnghong may glorify Ahnsahnghong, even as Ahnsahnghong gave Ahnsahnghong authority over all flesh, that to all whom Ahnsahnghong have given Ahnsahnghong, Ahnsahnghong may give eternal life…

“I, Ahnsahnghong, do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Ahnsahnghong through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Ahnsahnghong, are in Ahnsahnghong, and Ahnsahnghong in Ahnsahnghong that they also may be in Us (Ahnsahnghong and Ahnsahnghong), so that the world may believe that Ahnsahnghong sent Ahnsahnghong

“O righteous Ahnsahnghong, although the world has not known Ahnsahnghong, yet Ahnsahnghong has known Ahnsahnghong; and these have known that Ahnsahnghong sent Ahnsahnghong; and Ahnsahnghong has made Ahnsahnghong’s name known to them…”

See what I mean by schizophrenic?

Finally, what does the COG make of Matthew 3:16-17, Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist?

“After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.’”

Here, we clearly see the complete Trinity all acting at the same moment in time: Jesus (God the Son) is being baptized. God the Holy Spirit descends to him. And God the Father speaks from heaven.

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CONCLUSION

If the COG’s explanation of the Trinity (the Modalist view) is correct, then the COG has to give up on the Bible as the inerrant Word of God or accept a schizophrenic view of God.

The Church of God clearly gets it wrong when it comes to the Trinity and all things concerning Ahnsahnghong as divine.

Finally, if God had a plan, according to the COG, to divide history into 3 eras and to appear as a different form of a savior in each era, where does Mother God fit into this picture?  I’d be interested in learning when the COG began teaching that belief in Mother God was needed for salvation.  Was this a “Plan B” to preserve their church after Ahnsahnghong, Christ’s supposed Second Coming, died?  This is all speculation on my part, but I’m interested in learning when the teachings of “Mother God” emerged in the COG, since nothing is even said about her in their history as presented on their website.

Please understand that my effort to expose and discredit the World Mission Society Church of God is not out of malice, spite, or because I have nothing else better to do. I am concerned for those led astray by Ahnsahnghong and “Mother God.” The good news is Jesus Christ, the true Savior, gives new starts and new lives. No one is beyond Jesus Christ’s salvation, even sinners like you and me, who are made in God’s image and have eternal worth to him.

NEXT: Mother God – a closer look.

**God From the Machine has published a book for evangelizing, educating, and refuting the World Mission Society Church of God titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.

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World Mission Society Church of God, Mother God & Christ Ahnsahnghong – The One True Church or Cult?

** Who is Mother God? Who is Christ Ahnsahnghong? Is the WMSCOG the one true church? Is their interpretation of the Bible legit?**

 FIRST, A STATEMENT OF CONCERN

Please note: This isn’t an exercise in “I’m right” and “You’re wrong.” I’m engaging these questions on whether certain churches are teaching a distorted Gospel because Jesus Christ’s true Gospel alone saves us from eternal separation from God.  I believe what the writers of the Bible teach, which is that all people are made in God’s image and are of eternal worth to God, and neither God nor I wish to see anyone live apart from Him.

Secondly, the purpose of this article (and all articles in this series) is not to argue whether certain churches, sects, or religious groups are “cults” or not.  These articles are to inform and respond.  Whether these groups are “cults” or not, I prefer my readers to decide themselves. The following articles will be helpful:

(God From the Machine has published a book titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.)

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The Church of “Mother God” and “Christ Ahnsahnghong”

In the past few years, I’ve had several people share that they’d been approached by members of a church that believed in “Mother God.” Many of the encounters took place on the Rutgers University campus and in northern New Jersey. The people I know who had encounters with these people came to refer to them as the “Mother God Cult.”

Recently, I learned this “Mother God Cult” is actually the World Mission Society Church of God. If I didn’t know better, the name of the church wouldn’t have caught my attention much; I probably would’ve figured it was just another denomination I’ve never heard of before. Based on their website, the home church in South Korea appears to be simply called the Church of God. (For simplicity’s sake, I’ll just use “COG” to refer to the World Mission Society Church of God/Church of God throughout this article.)

Within the past few months, I’ve come into closer contact with the COG. A housemate of some friends started dating a girl who is a member of the COG and the housemate is now deeply involved. Shortly after, I found out a student of mine grew up in the COG and is currently a member. I learned of this because she had invited another student of mine to a COG service; he accepted, not realizing it wasn’t a traditional Christian church.

Considering all of this, I decided it was time to look deeper into the COG. Some people have provided me with links to websites criticizing the COG, mostly by former members, but I decided first, before considering what critics have to say about the COG, to let the COG speak for itself.

Before I read any criticisms of the COG, I visited the COG’s own website to see how they explained their own beliefs.  Let it be noted that at the time of the writing of this article, I’ve not looked at any other websites concerning the COG.  This article is a response strictly to the COG’s beliefs as explained on their own website: http://usa.watv.org/

 

History: Church of God

The COG started in South Korea. Here is a brief overview of their history gathered from their website:

  • 1948 – Baptism of “Christ” Ahnsahnghong “according to the prophecy of King David.”
  • 1964 – “Christ” Ahnsahnghong established the Church of God.
  • Feb. 1985 – “Christ” Ahnsahnghong “ascended” (which I assume means he died).
  • 1987 – Twenty COG churches established in Korea.
  • Late 90’s- early 2000’s – Church spreads outside of Korea to several countries, including to the USA in LA.
  • Sept. 2000 – Completed New Jerusalem Temple in Bundang-gu, Seongnam, South Korea.
  • Dec. 2000 – New York church established.
  • 2008 – One million members registered worldwide
  • 2009 – 2nd NY church established.

*Oddly, nothing in their history on their website mentions Mother God.

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Overview: Church of God’s Beliefs

The COG explains history as three 2,000-year eras with 3 saviors, a savior for each era: The Age of God the Father (Jehovah), the Age of God the Son (Jesus), and the Age of the Holy Spirit (Ahnsahnghong). Ahnsahnghong, a Korean man, was the 2nd Coming of Jesus Christ, though he has since died. Despite this, we’re now in the Age of the Holy Spirit.

According to the COG, without accepting the current savior, Ahnsahnghong, we will not have salvation. Thus, Jesus Christ is not enough: “…salvation will never be given to those who are stuck on the name of Jesus in this age.” We must accept “Christ Ahnsahnghong” for salvation in this age and pray in his name.

The COG partakes in 7 “feasts” or ritual celebrations throughout the year. All 7 of these have grounds in the Old Testament, but, according to the COG, each of them should’ve been practiced throughout all 3 ages in slightly different forms. For example, the COG has a yearly mass gathering where they partake in the “Passover,” though it appears to more closely resemble the Lord’s Supper. Other examples include the Day of First Fruits/Resurrection Day and the Feast of Weeks/Pentecost. Partaking in the COG’s version of the Passover is required for salvation.

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The COG also believes in Mother God, also called Jerusalem Mother. She is “the Second Coming Jesus’ [Ahnsahnghong’s] wife.” Jesus didn’t give his people eternal life 2,000 years ago because he was waiting for the appearance of his wife, through whom eternal life will come. God the Mother is currently living in South Korea.

In a video on the website, Mother God is shown at the New Jerusalem Temple in Korea, surrounded by many happy, well-dressed admirers. The video shows her holding their hands, walking with them, and hugging them. In a testimony, Nathan from Memphis, USA, says, “This is the place where our heavenly mother dwells, the land of prophecy, so I came here to receive the water of life that you can only receive here in Korea from God the Mother.” A female Korean teen states, “If God the Mother does not exist, there would be no happiness in the world.”

The COG website clearly teaches that eternal life can only come through Mother God.

Who is Ahnsahnghong?

God?  Christ?  Holy Spirit?  All of the above?

 ahnsahnghong

The COG makes a lot of claims about Ahnsahnghong. From the COG website:

“For our salvation, God divided six thousand years into three ages : the age of the Father, the age of the Son, and the age of the Holy Spirit, and He allowed a different Savior’s name for each of these ages—the name of Jehovah in the age of the Father, the name Jesus in the age of the Son, and the name Ahnsahnghong in the age of the Holy Spirit.”

“Now we are living during the last age of the Holy Spirit. Thus, God has been administrating His plan of salvation, using the new Savior’s name, the name of the Holy Spirit-Ahnsahnghong. Salvation is only given to those who believe in the name of the Savior that God has allowed to the people living in that particular age. Because we are now living in the age of the Holy Spirit, we must receive the Holy Spirit, Ahnsahnghong, as the Savior of this age.”

“The name is Ahnsahnghong, Jesus’ new name.”

“The God in heaven is our God the Father. Just as we have a physical father on this earth, we have a spiritual Father in heaven. He is God the Father, Ahnsahnghong.”

 

JESUS’ 2nd COMING: IT AIN’T A SECRET

 *Is Ahnsahnghong the Second Coming of Jesus Christ?*

Since the COG uses the Bible extensively to explain their beliefs, I will use the Bible to critique their beliefs.

Could Ahnsahnghong possibly be the Second Coming of Jesus Christ? First, let’s look at what’s written in the Bible about Jesus’ Second Coming. The Bible writers clearly teach three facts about Jesus’ Second Coming:

(1)  Jesus will return in the same way as he left.

(2)  Jesus’ return will be visual and known by everyone.

(3)  With Jesus’ return will come the resurrection of the dead.

Let’s look at these 3 facts closer…

After Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and resurrection, he taught his disciples for 40 days and then ascended into heaven. Christians call this event “The Ascension.”

Acts 1:9-11

“And after He [Jesus] had said these things, He was lifted up while they [the disciples] were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”

Before going, Jesus had promised he would return for his believers:

John 14:1-3

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”

In the meantime, Jesus’ disciples were to spread Jesus’ good news of salvation, bringing more and more people to salvation through Christ until he returns. (See the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20.)

As the angels say in Acts 1:11, in the same way Jesus left, he will return. It will be visual and known by all:

Luke 21:27

“Then they will see the Son of Man [Jesus] coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”

Revelation 1:7

“Behold, He [Jesus] is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.”

The bodily resurrection of the dead is a regular teaching throughout both the Old and New Testament. (See all of 1 Corinthians 15 and Matthew 22:23-33, where Jesus criticizes the Sadducees, who don’t believe in the resurrection.  He says they don’t understand Scripture or the power of God.) The resurrection will occur at the Second Coming:

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.   Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”

With Jesus’ Second Coming and the resurrection of the dead will also come the Final Judgment. (See Chapters 19-21 of Revelation.)  Depending on a person’s interpretation of  “The Millennium,” which is only taught in the Bible in Revelation 20:1-6 (even traditional, conservative Christian scholars understand it in different ways), the Final Judgment may occur at the same time as the resurrection of the dead or later, after Jesus’ Millennium reign.

Interestingly, Jesus also gives a warning when speaking of his Second Coming. He warns not to be fooled by frauds claiming to be the Second Coming of Christ:

Matthew 24:23-27

[Jesus said,] “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.”

This is particularly interesting because Jesus is saying, yes, there will be false Christs, even ones that seem real with “great signs and wonders” but don’t believe them because it’ll be clear to all when the real Christ comes because of the specific manner of his return.  Further, no one will need to tell us Christ has returned; we will know.

So, let’s recap: Jesus will return by descending from the sky to earth; everyone will clearly understand that this is Jesus; and once he returns, the dead are resurrected.

 

And So…?

Does Ahnsahnghong fulfill any of these biblical requirements of Christ’s Second Coming? In fact, does he fulfill even one of these biblical truths? How many times have false Christs appeared in history, claiming to be Jesus’ Second Coming – only to die?

There’s a very good reason why Christianity has flourished for 2,000 years: Because Jesus died but didn’t stay dead.

Moreover, when Jesus returns, he’s here to stay.

“Christ” Ahnsahnghong is dead. He’s been dead since February of 1985. He’s not coming back. He is not the Christ. He is a fraud.

NEXT: Ahnsahnghong, The Mashed-up Trinity & Mother God

**God From the Machine has published a book for evangelizing, educating, and refuting the World Mission Society Church of God titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.

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About (Poor) Biblical Interpretation: Responding to “Christian” Cults… or Anyone Who Misuses Scripture.

Interpreting the Bible poorly is an error made by people in all walks of life, whether they be cult members, atheists or honest Christians who don’t know better.  Here are ways not to interpret the Bible… (and a few tips on how you should…)

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Concerning Scripture

This article continues from last post, which looked at general strategies for interacting with “Christian” cult members.  Though it’s written with cult members in mind, many of these strategies will assist anyone hoping to better understand the Bible.

  • Read Part 1: How Do We Identify “Christian” Cults? What’s the Difference Between a Cult & a Denomination?
  • Read Part 2: Interacting with “Christian” Cult Members: Tips & Strategies

Use the following strategies when discussing Scripture with cult members (as well as anyone who uses Scripture incorrectly)…

  • Look at verses they quote in context.
  • Scripture interprets Scripture: Clear passages clarify ambiguous passages.
  • Don’t fuse over minor doctrine; stick to major doctrines.
  • Always bring it back to Scripture: especially the Gospel & salvation.

Let’s look at each one a little closer…

*Look at verses they quote in context.*

One of the biggest errors of nominal Christians or even dedicated Christians who have a poor understanding of the Bible is to grab random verses out of context to prove the opinions they’re promoting.  In fact, in some circles, this is the norm; any opinion can be “proved” by citing a single verse.  This is also a regular strategy with cults.  Remember, the first rule of proper interpretation: context, context, context!

If anyone (whether it’s a trusted pastor, a cult member, or the Pope) quotes a Bible verse, and if what they’re proposing the verse means doesn’t sound quite right, all you need to do is open your Bible and read the verse in context.  (The footnotes in a study Bible will help too.)  This means reading the whole section, chapter, or even book in which the verse appears.

For example, if someone claims because of Psalm 148:10 that cattle should be welcomed to worship in churches with humans, you probably should open up to Psalm 148 and read the complete Psalm (and hopefully you have a common sense understanding of the difference between poetic and literal language too).  If someone claims Christians shouldn’t eat figs because Jesus hates figs, as evident by his curse upon a fig tree, maybe you should take a moment to read the episode and figure out what Jesus was truly teaching in carrying out this action.

Yes, both examples above are absurd, but they illustrate how verses or passages can be made to mean silly things they don’t actually say.  Context, context, context!

 

*Scripture interprets Scripture.*

Cults have the tendency to grab unclear, difficult, or obscure passages from the Bible and use them as a base for their mistaken theology and fantastical doctrines.

Remember this rule of thumb: Clear passages clarify ambiguous passages.  If the one verse a cult member points to may be interpreted in a way to support their untraditional view, say, “Okay, maybe this unclear verse can be interpreted that way, but what about all these other perfectly clear passages that teach something totally different than what you’re saying…?” or “Yes, that’s a hard verse to understand, but this verse clarifies it…”

Or simply put the ball in their court: if they’re making the claim, the burden of proof is on them.  Simply say, “That’s an interesting interpretation, but where else do you see that idea in the Bible?”  For instance, if someone points to an unclear verse and claims it shows God has a wife, say, “That passage is hardly conclusive.  Where else does the Bible teach God has a wife?”  Chances are their theory will fizzle.

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*Don’t fuse over minor doctrine; stick to major doctrines.*

Cults also have the tendency of making huge deals out of minor doctrines.  Yes, Christian denominations disagree on the interpretation or practice of some minor doctrines, but often cults make their interpretation of these doctrines (often unusual takes on these doctrines as well) and obedience to them as a required means of salvation.

For example, a cult may state the only true way to be baptized is in natural flowing water with your head bowed.  To be baptized in any other way than this, they claim, means one is not saved.

Now, I’m with the Baptists on the doctrine of baptism: the Bible clearly teaches baptism is done once someone accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; it’s an outward, symbolic act to bear witness to others that the one being baptized is declaring Christ as his Lord and Savior; and, finally, “baptism” means “immersion” so those being baptized should be dunked fully in water.  Do I believe this is the correct interpretation of the biblical text and we should obey it?  Yes!  Does this mean those who accept Christ as Lord and Savior but who aren’t baptized in this exact way are unsaved?  By no means!  If someone lives all of her life in a dessert where there is not one pool of water big enough to be fully dunked in, does that mean she remains unsaved?  By no means!  Salvation comes through God’s grace and faith in Jesus Christ alone.

All that being said, don’t bother arguing with cult members over minor doctrines.  They’re often just a distraction from the big issues and the big doctrines – the essential doctrines and beliefs – which salvation does depend on (as laid out in Part 1).  Focus on the big doctrines, and if you make major progress on those or you win a cult member to Christ, then it’s time to discuss minor doctrines.

Likewise, sometimes cult members make odd claims, like saying Jesus was hung on a stake instead of a cross.  Though many of these claims can be disproved, choose your battles wisely and stay focused on the essential issues for salvation.

 

*Always bring it back to Scripture, the Gospel & Salvation.*

Always bring it back to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and the salvation that can be received only through him.  Always bring it back to the true word of God.  The cult member may be dropping absurd claims on you like a dump truck, but stay calm.  You have the truth, so what’s there to fear?  Even if the cult member is a deft debater, just keep referring him back to Scripture, God’s true Word.  As long as you’re speaking God’s truth in love and praying for the intervention of the Holy Spirit, you can’t go wrong.

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*A Bit More About (Poor) Biblical Interpretation

 

 Some other cult (and generally poor) strategies for biblical interpretation:

  • Imposing views on the text rather than letting the text speak for itself. 

Honest biblical interpretation reads the text as it is and works to understand what the original author was trying to communicate to his original audience.  Interpretation is not: “This is what I think.  Now let me look through the Bible and find verses to support my view.”

 

  • Jumping from one part of the Bible to another with utter disregard of context to “prove” ideas, beliefs, or opinions.

We spoke about this already above in the section about reading Bible verses in context because people can make the Bible say almost anything they want if they isolate verses and take them out of context.

 

  • Inconsistent decisions on what should be taken literally or figuratively, often based on preconceived ideas.

The Bible is a work of literature.  Even an atheist would agree with that.  And this means both figurative (poetic) and literal language are used in it.

For example, psalms by nature are poetic.  Thus, when we read them, we have to be aware that non-literal, poetic language is regularly used.  Moreover, in the Gospel of John, Jesus calls himself a light, a vine, and a door.  Should we take him literally?  Like any work of literature, the reader needs to strive to understand what the author was communicating to his original audience.  We understand what to take as literal or figurative language through (once again) context, context, context.

Sometimes, it’s not so clear how figuratively or literally a verse should be taken.  When writing about things not found in our normal everyday experiences, writers often have to find creative ways to explain things.  And the Bible is filled with subject matter not within the bounds of everyday experiences.  Think about it: How do you explain with everyday language Jesus as being fully God yet fully human and one with God the Father yet different?

Yet, cults have the habit of taking verses usually taken as literal figuratively and verses usually taken as figurative literally.  The decisions are often quite random and based on preconceived beliefs.

 

  • Selective “translation” and adherence to grammar rules.

Similar to the other erroneous or dishonest strategies above, some cults have their own “translation” of the Bible, where they change words and grammar to fit their beliefs.  Because of this, be sure to refer to a legitimate Bible translation (ESV, NASB) when interacting with them.

 FourView_Revelation

A Few Words on the Book of Revelation:

The closing book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation is notoriously difficult to interpret.  Even legitimate conservative New Testament scholars break up into 4 major camps on how to understand it.  The main reason for this is that Revelation is apocalyptic literature, a style of ancient literature that is highly symbolic.

Cults almost universally seize on the ambiguity of Revelation to “prove” their views, interpreting symbols as they see fit.  (Further, many cults have an unhealthy fascination with the End Times.)

Despite these difficulties, context is (as always) the key.  There are things that can be known for certain in Revelation and certain interpretations that definitely can be eliminated.  If nothing else, be wary of anyone going to Revelation to “prove” an unusual viewpoint.

(To learn more about Revelation, read Four Views of the Book of Revelation published by Zondervan, and/or see Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.)

(To watch a great video of 3 legitimate scholars discussing/debating 3 views of Revelation, End Times, & The Millennium with John Piper, click here.)

CLOSING

In Ephesians 4:14, Paul speaks of those “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”  We need to be beacons of light to lead those upon the waves to shore.

**Two books I recommend for learning about biblical interpretation: A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible by Robert H. Stein & 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible by Robert L. Plummer.  Both books are readable to everyday Christians, not just seminary students.**

*See more recommendations below.

NEXT:  Specific “Christian” cults.

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Recommended Resources:

Biblical Interpretation:

  • A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible by Robert H. Stein
  • 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible by Robert L. Plummer.

Cults:

  • The Kingdom of the Cults by Walter Martin (Ed. Ravi Zacharias)
  • The Four Major Cults by Anthony A. Hoekema

 Highly Recommended for all Christians:

  1. How We Got the Bible by Neil Lightfoot
  2. ESV Study Bible
  3. Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
  4. Tactics by Greg Koukl
  5. What is Biblical Theology? James M. Hamilton Jr.

OR

       According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy

General Apologetics:

  • I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek (Read my review here)
  • Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig
  • What Your Wolrdview? James N. Anderson
  • Covenantal Apologetics by K. Scott Oliphint
  • Apologetics 315 (website)

More Theology:

  • What is Reformed Theology?  R.C. Sproul
  • The Forgotten Trinity James R. White
  • Jesus, the Son of God by D.A. Carson

Podcasts (blogs, websites):

  • The Dividing Line (with James White)
  • Apologia Radio

Articles:

Of course, I hope this blog, God From the Machine, will be a resource for you as well… The following articles may be helpful in some topics that arise with cult members:

Interacting with “Christian” Cult Members: Tips & Strategies Anyone Can Do

How do you respond to friends, family, and neighbors who are involved in a church teaching a corruption of the good news of Christ? 

Last article, we defined what deems a “Christian” cult, ways to identify them, and the difference between a denomination and a cult.  (To read it, click here.)

In this article, we’ll look at some general strategies for interacting with cult members, whether they’re strangers or friends or whether they’re standing on your doorstep or sitting across from you in the lounge at work.

Below, you’ll find a checklist of general strategies for interacting with cult members.  Cut-and-paste it into a document, print it out, and hang it on your fridge as a reminder.

Underneath the checklist, we’ll look at the list more in depth (with the exception of the “Using Scripture” section.  Since that is a big subject, it’ll be the topic of the next post.)  In future articles, we’ll look at and respond to beliefs of specific cults.

Rorchack_cultsbooks

Checklist:

Interacting with Cult Members

KNOW YOUR FAITH

  • Know your Scripture!
  • Know why we can trust the Bible!
  • Know your Christian theology!
  • Study apologetics!

CHECK YOUR ATTITUDE

  •  Speak to them out of love.
  • Remember: This is a person pursuing God, & made in God’s image.
  • Be aware of your body language.
  • Don’t call their faith a “cult”!

CLARIFICATION

  • Don’t stereotype, generalize, or assume.
  • Ask them questions: Why do you believe that?  Where is that in Scripture?
  • Ask them to define their terms.

USING SCRIPTURE

  •  Look at verses they quote in context.
  • Scripture interprets Scripture: Clear passages clarify ambiguous passages.
  • Don’t fuse over minor doctrine; stick to major doctrines.
  • Always bring it back to Scripture: especially the Gospel & salvation.

STRATEGIES EVERYONE CAN DO

  •  Don’t worry about “winning the argument” — just speak truth in love.
  • “I’ll look into that for you…”
  • 10 minutes/10 minutes
  • Share your testimony & the Gospel.
  • Pray for them.
  • Invite them to church.

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A Closer Look: Interacting with Cult Members

KNOW YOUR FAITH

  • Know your Scripture!
  • Know why we can trust the Bible!
  • Know your Christian theology!
  • Study apologetics!

The tips above may seem so obvious they’re not worth stating, but sadly many Christians can’t explain – and certainly can’t defend – their faith well.  Listening to a sermon once a week isn’t going to cut it.  Resist all you want, but Christians must be readers – not just of the Bible, but of works that help us understand the Bible.

Furthermore, all Christians should be familiar with Christian theology and apologetics – the defense of the Christian faith – since often cults have their own apologetics that argue that Christianity has been corrupted and their cult holds the one true, correct version of Christianity.  Some cults train their members well in their own erroneous theology and apologetics.

Luckily, there are also plenty of websites and blogs with easy, free access, and for those of you who want to read as little as possible, there are some great Christian podcasts out there. (*See recommendations below and my article recommending Christian podcasts here.)

At the very least, I highly recommend buying a good study Bible (I recommend the ESV Study Bible) and reading up on textual criticism (the study of how the Bible has been handed down to us from the original manuscripts).  For this I recommend How We Got the Bible by Neil Lightfoot, a quick, easy but thorough read.  I also recommend picking up a copy of Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem and a book on biblical theology, the study of the Bible’s story as a whole (*See recommendations below.  Also, see my 2-minute lesson on biblical theology article here.).

At first glance, Grudem’s book is intimidating because it’s thick, but it’s extremely readable and thorough.  Even if you never tackle reading the whole thing, keep it as a reference tool.  Why do we believe Jesus is God?  It’s in there.  How did Jesus’ death atone for our sins?  It’s in there.  Wondering about the End Days or the inerrancy of Scripture?  It’s in there.

 *See a list of recommended books & resources below*

 

CHECK YOUR ATTITUDE

  •  Speak to them out of love.
  • Remember: This is a person pursuing God, & made in God’s image.
  • Be aware of your body language.
  • Don’t call their faith a “cult”!

It’s easy to get heated, defensive, and even sarcastic with cult members.  Don’t.

First, remember that you, as a follower of the true Christ and led by God’s true Scripture, have no reason to feel defensive or threatened.  Knowing what you’re talking about (as we discussed above) will give you much more confidence, but even if you feel as if you don’t have a strong grasp of the Bible or theology, you should still feel secure in your salvation and the truth of Jesus Christ.  Feeling confident and secure will keep you calm.

Always remember most of these cult members are honest, everyday people just like you, who are looking for meaning and truth in life and a relationship with God.  Sadly, false teachers and prophets have led these cult members astray.  Cult members, like all of us, are made in God’s image and have infinite worth to God, so treat them accordingly.  Also remember that you received salvation by God’s grace alone.  You didn’t earn it or deserve it.  It was only through the Holy Spirit that you were called out of darkness, so stay humble.

Be aware of your body language.  Though you may be listening silently, your body language and facial expressions speak volumes, clearly revealing what you’re thinking to the cult member.  Rolling your eyes, bursts of breath from your nostrils, raised eyebrows, smirks, and furrowed eyebrows aren’t going to open anyone up to a loving conversation.  If nothing else, remember the golden rule: treat others as you want to be treated.  Your job isn’t to berate, judge, or demean cult members; your job is to speak truth in love, praying the Holy Spirit will use this to lead them out of darkness and into God’s presence.

Finally, if you’re having a conversation with a cult member, don’t use the word “cult”!  Calling them cult members or referring to their church as a cult will accomplish nothing positive.  It’s an offensive term and, after that, any chance of an open, loving dialogue will be lost.  Remember, Christians are to speak not just truth, but truth with love (Eph. 4:15-16; 1 Cor. 13:1).

 

CLARIFICATION

  • Don’t stereotype, generalize, or assume.
  • Ask them questions: Why do you believe that?  Where is that in Scripture?
  • Ask them to define their terms.

Just like Christians don’t like it when people stereotype them or non-Christians portray their faith inaccurately, other people, of course, don’t like it either – including cult members.  Remember, the goal is to have an open, loving dialogue, not demean the other person.  Even if you know some information about their beliefs (even if you read it on this very blog!) do not assume you know anything.  Remember, the person in front of you is an individual and an image-bearer of God, just like you.

Before (lovingly) challenging them on anything, first make sure you have a clear understanding of what they believe.  Ask a lot of questions, truly listening, and echo back to them their words to check for understanding.  Saying “Correct me if I’m misunderstanding you, but you’re saying…” is a great way to show you care about what they have to say and to make sure you’re not misrepresenting their beliefs.

“Why do you believe that?” is an essential question for you to ask.  So, if the cult member says their founder is the Second Coming of Christ, simply ask this question.  Their answer will lead to other obvious questions to ask.  If the cult member makes any strange claims about what’s written in the Bible, simply ask, “Where is that in the Bible?  Can you show me?”

If you’re slick, you can also ask strategic questions that lead the person to thinking out things they may have never considered before, such as inconsistencies in their doctrine.  Greg Koukl has written a great book about how to remain friendly and non-aggressive in a discussion while still challenging the others’ beliefs called Tactics: A Game Plan For Discussing Your Christian Convictions, which I highly recommend.

Finally, this is very important: Ask them to define their terms because what they mean by a certain word or phrase may not be what you mean when you use the same words.  Just ask, “What exactly do you mean by…?”  A cult member might say he believes Jesus is divine.  Great.  Case closed, right?  Wrong.  Once you ask, “What exactly do you mean by ‘divine’?” you may find out he means Jesus is a demigod, not fully God, and then you have work to do.  A cult member might say he believes in “the Trinity” only for you to find out “the Trinity” to him means God the Father, Uncle Pete the Son, and the Holy Spirit Horse of Chief Seattle.

When interacting with cult members, your first goal is listening and collecting information.

 

USING SCRIPTURE 

  •  Look at verses they quote in context.
  • Scripture interprets Scripture: Clear passages clarify ambiguous passages.
  • Don’t fuse over minor doctrine; stick to major doctrines.
  • Always bring it back to Scripture: especially the Gospel & salvation.

*See the next blog article for “Using Scripture” *

 

STRATEGIES EVERYONE CAN DO

  •  Don’t worry about “winning the argument” — just speak truth in love.
  • “I’ll look into that for you…”
  • 10 minutes/10 minutes
  • Share your testimony & the Gospel.
  • Pray for them.
  • Invite them to church.

Finally, maybe you’re nervous about facing-off with a cult member even in a friendly manner; maybe you don’t feel confident with your way around the Bible enough to recall all the verses to dispute their claims; or maybe you’re simply an introvert who avoids disagreements at all costs.  First, let me just say that I can absolutely understand all of these reservations.  Trust me.

Studying the Bible is a lifelong endeavor, so there are always gaps in our knowledge.  (But all the more reason to work for a better grasp of biblical, theological, and apologetic knowledge.)  Further, I’ve never been one for confrontations.  I grew up doing my best to avoid any conflicts that may arise with others.  But these last tips should assist anyone, no matter how introverted and non-confrontational or inexperienced and unschooled.

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Let’s look at each one-by-one:

Don’t worry about “winning the argument” — just speak truth in love

You may not be a trained debater or apologist, but every Christian knows truth, can speak truth, and can speak that truth with love.  And remember: speaking truth is important, but actions speak loudly as well.  Don’t worry about winning an argument.  Show that you’re concerned for them and their eternal soul.  Tell them the truth lovingly and leave it at that.

 

“I’ll look into that for you…”

Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to have an open, honest discussion with a cult member, and you’re even doing a pretty good job of challenging their beliefs, but then they throw something at you that you don’t know what to make of.  More than likely, it’ll be a Bible verse you’ve never thought much about before.  There’s nothing wrong with humbly saying, “I can’t answer that for you right now, but let me get back to you.  I’ll look into it.”  Then, take a look at a good study Bible, ask your pastor about it, and do some other research.

 

10 minutes/10 minutes

This is a great strategy that shows mutual respect.  Simply tell the cult member (who may be standing on your doorstep), “I’ll gladly listen to you for ten minutes – allowing you to speak without interruption – if you then do for me the same courtesy and listen to me for ten minutes, allowing me to explain my beliefs uninterrupted.”

 

Share your testimony & the Gospel

Maybe you don’t feel deft at spitting out Bible verses verbatim from the top of your head (few do, even experienced pastors), but all Christians can (or at least should) be able to share the reason why they’re Christian and explain the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Pray for them & invite them to church

These may seem obvious, but don’t forget to do these two essential things.

Remember, we’re called to share the Gospel, but we don’t convert people; that’s the job of the Holy Spirit.  So, do your best to share the truth and love of Jesus Christ and don’t forget to pray, pray, pray for the cult members.

 

NEXT: About (Poor) Biblical Interpretation: Interacting with “Christian” Cult Members.

After that: Responding to specific beliefs of specific cults.

 How-we-got-the-bible

Recommended Resources:

A Good Place to Start:

  • How We Got the Bible by Neil Lightfoot
  • ESV Study Bible
  • Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
  • Tactics by Greg Koukl
  • What is Biblical Theology? James M. Hamilton Jr.

OR

  •        According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy

Cults:

  • The Kingdom of the Cults by Walter Martin (Ed. Ravi Zacharias)
  • The Four Major Cults by Anthony A. Hoekema

General Apologetics:

  • I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek (Read my review here)
  • Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig
  • What Your Wolrdview? James N. Anderson
  • Covenantal Apologetics by K. Scott Oliphint
  • Apologetics 315 (website)

More Theology:

  • What is Reformed Theology?  R.C. Sproul
  • The Forgotten Trinity James R. White
  • Jesus, the Son of God by D.A. Carson

Podcasts:

  • Check out my article on recommended podcasts here.  Most podcast hosts have great websites and blogs that are also useful tools (so see the podcast article for that too).  If I were to write an updated podcast article, I’d add:
  • The Dividing Line (James White)
  • Apologia Radio

Articles:

Of course, I hope this blog, God From the Machine, will be a resource for you as well… The following articles may be helpful introductions into some of the topics covered here: