The Joy & Angst of Four Gospels – Part 5 – Narrative Creativity: Selective Representation & Chronology

Can an author use narrative creativity when telling a true story? Can literary creativity explain Gospel differences?

SERIES INTRO: Often skeptics point to differences in the four Gospels of Jesus Christ and claim they are contradictions. This series will cover some general principles that you can use when you do come across a Gospel difference. By using these principles, many of these perceived differences can be easily explained. On the other hand, this series is not simply to defend the Gospels, but to positively show that having four Gospels brings our understanding of the life and work of Jesus Christ deeper than any one piece of writing can do.

** Read Part 1 HERE: Differences or Contradictions? **

** Read Part 2 HERE: Basic Principles: Understanding the Gospels as Literature, History & Theology **

**Read Part 3 HEREDealing with Differences in Jesus’ Words**

**Read Part 4 HERE: The Gospels as Ancient Biography & History & “Narrative Creativity”**

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Last article, we started looking at the “Narrative Creativity” of the Gospels, which means the Gospel writers used narrative freedom within a factual framework. This is seen in other ancient histories and biographies and include some shared characteristics:

  1. Selective Details
  2. Selective Representation
  3. Selective Chronology
  4. Selective Telescoping & Compressing
  5. (And Knowing some History & Culture Helps)

In this article, we will look at characteristics #2 & #3:

(2) Selective Representation

Type A

Sometimes the Gospel writers (and other ancient writers) will focus on only 1 person to represent the whole. Instead of mentioning every person involved, only 1 person is focused upon.

EXAMPLE #1:

How many demon-possessed men did Jesus encounter in Gerasenes?

Matthew 8:28 – Two men (unnamed).

Mark 5:1-20 – One man (calling himself “Legion”).

Luke 8:26-39 – One man (calling himself “Legion”).

In Gerasenes, Jesus encountered two demon-possessed men, but Mark and Luke chose to focus only on Legion, perhaps the worse of the two. Whether telling of one or both, the same purpose is accomplished. A similar idea is reflected in modern literary writing: if the same goal can be accomplished with less characters, choose to go with less characters.

EXAMPLE #2:

Who was 1st to find Jesus’ empty tomb?

Matthew 28:1: Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary.”

Mark 16:1: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salmone.

Luke 24:10: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women.

John 20:1: Mary Magdalene.

 

When reporting an event with many people involved, many reports will only report the most prominent by name. All four accounts confirm that Mary Magdalene was among the first to find the empty tomb. Being the most prominent of Jesus’ female followers, John chose only to focus on her.

I came across a great example of this from modern times when I was teaching a class about Gospel differences at my church a few years ago: On March 19, 2011, UFC fighter Jon Jones helped to stop a thief in Paterson, NJ on the day before he was to fight for the light heavy-weight title in Newark, NJ.

The first articles I read about this incident only mentioned Jon Jones being involved, but other articles I read later stated that his two trainers were also involved and equally important in catching the thief. Because Jon Jones with the prominent one, some reporters decided to leave his less-renowned trainers out of the story. Nowhere did the articles that did not mention the trainers state that Jon Jones alone stopped the thief or that it was only Jon Jones who stopped the thief.

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As we did in the last article, let’s take a quick moment to note the harmony of the four Gospels with an easy experiment: If we remove all the details that the 4 Gospels don’t all report about the first people to find the empty tomb, what are we left with? What can be known?

After Jesus’ crucifixion, some women followers of Jesus — one of them being Mary Magdalene — were the first to find the tomb empty.

What is really incredible is that because of the low status of women in First Century Palestine, a woman’s testimony was not even allowed in court. Yet, the Gospels all report that women were the first to find the tomb empty. Even skeptical historians agree that this detail, reported in all 4 Gospels, screams of authenticity.

Type B

Similar to the most prominent person involved only being mentioned, a messenger or servant represents the one who sent him, so the messenger or servant is often not mentioned.[1] This is not uncommon to see in ancient historic writing.[2]

For instance, today, instead of saying, “I sent my supervisor to ask my boss for a day off,” you may say simply (but accurately), “I asked my boss for a day off.”

EXAMPLE #1

Who scourged Jesus?

Matthew 27:26 & Mark 15:15

Both Matthew and Mark write in the original Greek that Pilate scourged Jesus.[3] Does this mean Pilate literally did the scourging himself? No. It’s understood that Roman soldiers, under the authority of Pilate, were the ones who did the literal act of whipping Jesus.[4] (Often it is translated from the original Greek into English this way because of this very reason.)

This is no different than if Don Corleone had one of his mafia hitmen kill someone. You may say, “Don Corleone had Joey Donuts killed,” but you could also accurately say instead, “Don Corleone killed Joey Donuts.”

 

EXAMPLE #2

The Centurion’s Dying Servant[5] – Who came to see Jesus?

Matthew 8:5-13 & Luke 7:1-10

Matthew – In the shorter version of the two, it appears the centurion came in person to Jesus.

Luke – In the longer version, the centurion sends elders and friends to Jesus.

As it is Matthew’s style throughout his Gospel, his version is the “compressed” — or briefer — version. (More about compression in the next article.) Thus, Matthew cuts out the elders and friends.

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(3) Selective Chronology[6]

Have you’ve ever seen a movie not told in chronological order?

I’m not a cinema expert, but it seems to me that with the 1994 release of director Quentin Tarantino’s violent crime drama Pulp Fiction, which was not told in chronological order, it became popular for directors to experiment with telling stories not from beginning to ending, but through a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards.

But messing with the order of events when conveying a story is nothing new. Writers like William Faulkner did it long before Pulp Fiction in novels like The Sounds and the Fury (1929), and ancient writers did it long before that but with nonfiction.

Ancient writers used more flexibility in chronological and narrative sequence than modern writers when telling of true events[7] and often organized their material in topical or thematic groups.[8] The overall structure of the story stays the same, but the smaller units within the framework can be moved around.[9] In the 4 Gospels, we see the overall framework of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection — which does not change — but the smaller units or details within that framework may be moved around for topical or thematic purposes.

Also, keep in mind, “then” does not always mean immediately afterward.[10] Gaps in time may be between events appearing next to each other in the Gospels. Take special note of transitional words and phrases (or the absence of) as clues.

 

EXAMPLE #1

Jesus’ Parables

Matthew, Chapter 13

Often, we see parables in the Gospels with similar topics and themes grouped together. Did Jesus say these one after another or did Matthew lump these parables with similar messages together? Since Matthew appears to be the Gospel most organized by themes, it’s likely Matthew grouped these parables that were told by Jesus at different times together to hammer home a point to his readers.

 

EXAMPLE #2

Jesus’ Temptation by Satan

The attempted temptation of Jesus takes place in 3 locations, but Matthew and Luke report them in different orders:

Matthew 4:1-11 – Order: Desert, Temple, Mountain

Luke 4:1-13 – Order: Desert, Mountain, Temple

For what possible thematic reasons would Matthew or Luke rearrange the order?

Because of the use of “Then,” Matthew is the chronological account. Luke does not use any time-related transition words. In both his Gospel and the Book of Acts, Luke focuses on the city of Jerusalem. Luke’s account specifically mentions Jerusalem in 4:9 in relation to Jesus’ third temptation. Due to thematic reasons, Luke chose to end with the Temple in Jerusalem, emphasizing his focus.[11]

NEXT: Narrative Creativity continues: “Selective Telescoping & Compressing” and why knowing about some ancient history & culture helps.

** Read Part 1 HERE: Differences or Contradictions? **

** Read Part 2 HERE: Basic Principles: Understanding the Gospels as Literature, History & Theology **

**Read Part 3 HEREDealing with Differences in Jesus’ Words**

**Read Part 4 HERE: The Gospels as Ancient Biography & History & “Narrative Creativity”**

Inerrancy*theGospels

*All books cited below are highly recommended!*

[1] Vern Sheridan Poythress, Inerrancy and the Gospels, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 21.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 17-24.

[6] Ibid., 130.

[7] Jonathan T. Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), Loc 1385, Kindle edition.

[8] Ibid., Loc 1391.

[9] Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd, The Jesus Legend, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 254.

[10] Poythress,129.

[11] Gregg R. Allison, “Inerrancy and the Phenomena of Scripture,” (class lecture, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, September 22, 2012).

*All books cited above are highly recommended!*

GOD FROM THE MACHINE has published its first book! Searching the Bible for Mother God is for educating both those outside and inside the growing “Mother God cult.” Visit our page HERE.

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MOTHER GOD: Analyzing the Biblical Evidence: The Book of REVELATION (World Missions Society Church of God)

The World Mission Society Church of God (or simply, the Church of God) believes “Mother God” not only exists in the Bible, but exists in the flesh today in South Korea.

This continues my analysis of the Church of God’s use of the Bible to justify their belief in Mother God.  (See list of earlier articles below.)

(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.)

MotherGodandAss

Revelation is a favorite book of the Bible for unorthodox sects, full-blown cults, and a general assortment of nuts because it’s highly symbolic and notoriously difficult to understand. Because of this, people can read all sorts of crazy things into the text that simply aren’t there.

The Church of God (COG) uses primarily two passages from Revelation, in chapters 19 and 21, to “prove” Mother God is in the Bible.  As always, before looking at these passages, we must first understand the context in which they appear.  Understanding cannot come without context, yet often verses are quoted alone by the COG and other groups that misuse and/or misinterpret the Bible.

CONTEXT: THE GRAND CLIMAX

The book of Revelation is the last book of the Bible, and Chapters 19 through 22 of Revelation are the last chapters of the Bible.  Thus, Chapters 19-22 are the grand climax of the story of salvation told in the Bible and the culmination of all history.  (For a quick overview of the story of the Bible, read my article “2-Minute Lesson on Biblical Theology – the Progressive Revelation of God in Human History” here.)

Chapters 19-22 foretell the final, ultimate victory of Jesus Christ, God the Son.  The “multitude” in heaven rejoice as Christ returns to live in peace with his creation, but first he must carry out the Final Judgment and the defeat of his enemies — evil, sin, Satan, and death — in easily the most gory, violent imagery of the whole Bible.  Afterwards, the old creation, which was corrupted by sin, passes away, and the New Heaven and New Earth come, where God the Son will live with his people eternally in peace.

MARRIAGE IMAGERY

Here’s the first verse the COG uses from Revelation:

Revelation 19:7

“Let us rejoice and exult

   and give him the glory,

for the marriage of the Lamb has come,

   and his Bride has made herself ready;”

Based on symbolic language used throughout the New Testament, including Revelation, the Lamb is clearly Jesus Christ.  Since the COG appears to agree here with orthodox Christianity and this interpretation is uncontroversial, there’s no need to discuss the Lamb imagery here.  But “his Bride” is not Mother God, as the COG believes, but the church.

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is often referred to as a bridegroom (or “groom,” in modern terms) and the church – the united community of Jesus’ followers – is often referred to as his “bride.” Though Revelation contains a lot of baffling symbolism, this symbolism is extremely clear due to its wide use.

For example, in Mark 2:19, Jesus refers to himself as the bridegroom:

“And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.’”

In John 3:29, John the Baptist also describes Jesus as the bridegroom:

The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.”

In 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul uses marriage imagery. The Corinthian church is being led astray from the truth of Christ, but Paul says he has married them to Christ, the church’s “husband,” as if they were pure virgins.

“For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.”

Further, in Ephesians 5:22-33, the love of a husband and wife is compared to the love of Christ for his church. Just as a husband and wife join lives and become “one flesh,” Christ and the church become one flesh. In fact, God created marriage to symbolize Christ’s relationship to the church.

For instance, Ephesians 5:25-27 reads:

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

And if that evidence doesn’t convince you, in Matthew 22:1-14 Jesus tells parables about a wedding feast to describe his coming kingdom.  Appropriately, when Revelation 19-21 tells us of the ultimate culmination of God’s kingdom, what sort of imagery does the writer use?  Wedding imagery!

Further, this imagery is not unique to the New Testament.  Like much of the imagery used in the New Testament — and especially Revelation — it goes back to the Old Testament.  For example, Isaiah 25:6-8 uses imagery of a celebration feast to describe the age-to-come under God’s victory and complete, perfect rule:

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
    a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
    of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.”

In fact, notice the similar language in Isaiah 25:8 and Revelation 21:4, proving a further connection between these passages…

“He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces…” (Isaiah 25:8)

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

(*Since it is so common for groups like the COG to take verses out of context to “prove” their misguided interpretations, I recommend reading all of the above passages in context so you can see clearly that I am representing the Bible accurately.)

In fact, marriage language is used throughout the Old Testament to describe God’s relationship to Israel, his chosen people.  Israel is often portrayed as the bride of God, and likewise, often accused of adultery for being unfaithful to God.

All of these marriage images are important to what’s going on in Chapters 19-22 of Revelation, which describes Jesus’ Second Coming — bringing with him the New Heaven and New Earth, which is the culmination of God’s kingdom and the final, perfect union of Christ and his people, the church.

Earlier in Revelation, we already see this imagery in Revelation 14:4, where the church (Christ’s people) are depicted as pure virgins, who have remained faithful to Christ, and are, thus, ready to be wed:

“It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb”

Thus, when Jesus returns, it’s announced in Revelation 19:7 that the church, the Bride, is ready for her “marriage” to the Lamb of God, Jesus:

“for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;”

Therefore, it’s quite obvious, the Bride is not any sort of divine goddess, but the church.  Revelation tells of the final climatic union of Christ with his church, and the writers of God’s Word chose to use the earthly language of marriage to illustrate this joyous day.

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NEW JERUSALEM: CITY or WOMAN?

The other passage from Revelation used by the COG is found after Christ’s victory over evil and death at the coming of the New Heaven and New Earth, where Christ comes to live in eternal peace with his people and his renewed creation…

Revelation 21:9-10

“Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God,”

 

The COG calls Mother God, “Jerusalem Mother,” because in order for what’s written in Revelation to work in favor of the COG’s mistaken theology, Jerusalem must be understood to be not a city, but a divine woman, Mother God.

The COG uses similar thinking in interpreting Galatians 4:26 (“But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother”), but we refuted this in our last article about Mother God.

This is an odd interpretation to say the least. As with the other verses we analyzed in earlier articles, there’s nothing in Revelation that leads us to conclude that Mother God is a biblical figure or that Jerusalem symbolizes a divine goddess.  The only way these interpretations work is if we start with an assumption — an already established idea — of Mother God and insert her into the text.

The “Bride” of Revelation 21:9-10 is not a divine female person to be literally wed to God.  The “Bride” is the New Jerusalem, the holy city of the New Earth, where Jesus will spend eternity with his church, his people.

Just before 21:9-10, in Revelation 21:3-4, we are given a description of the culmination of God’s redemption of creation — the climax of all of salvation-history and the climax of the whole Bible: the coming of the New Heaven and New Earth.  All of creation is made new; sin, evil, and death have been destroyed; and God can finally live in perfect shalom with his people.  It reads:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’”

 

Revelation is highly symbolic, so how literally we should take the description of the New Jerusalem that follows is debatable, but it’s clear we are dealing with a place here — not a person — a place where God will dwell with humankind.  New Jerusalem is certainly not a female deity marrying Jesus. In fact, just before 21:9-10, John, the author of Revelation, writes:

“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (21:2)

 

Here, New Jerusalem is plainly explained to be a “holy city.” Further, it’s described as being “prepared as a bride.”  The city is not called a literal bride.  The use of “like” or “as” in a comparison shows it’s a simile – figurative language, not literal language. New Jerusalem is to be the dwelling place of God with his people.  Were it to be the other way around, where the bride was to be understood literally and the city was figurative, would it not read…

“And I saw the bride, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a holy city adorned for her husband”… ?

But that doesn’t quite work, does it?  In fact, why confuse everyone by naming the bride after a city in the first place?  Why not just call her Mother God if that is who the bride is?

As Craig Blomberg in From Pentecost to Patmos writes, “…a holy city will descend from the new heaven to adorn the new earth.  Whereas we began in a garden, we will end in a city — God’s people in perfect community.  That the city is called the new Jerusalem suggests the fulfillment of all the promises to Israel as well as to humanity in this revelation.  But the city is also a bride (just as Yahwah [God] and Christ are portrayed as bridegrooms to their followers throughout the Old and New Testaments, respectively.)”

FromPenttoPAtmos

Excellent read & resource.

When we come to Revelation 21:9-10, the verses the COG uses, the “Bride, the wife of the Lamb” is still referring to the city:

“‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God,”

We are told right in the text that he is shown a city as “the Bride,” and what follows after 21:10 is a long description of that city. If Jerusalem is, in fact, Mother God, aka “Jerusalem Mother,” then she’s a divine woman with a high wall, twelve gates, and the length, width, and height of 1,380 miles; in fact, she is a perfect (and quite humongous) cube!

Now, someone may challenge me and say I admitted above that Revelation is highly symbolic so it’s difficult to know what should be taken literally and what should be taken figuratively.  Could the description of the New Jerusalem be poetically describing the splendor of Mother God?

As I showed above, from the context we can be confident that we’re dealing with a place here, not a person.  Further, as I’ve stated many times before, nothing in the Bible gives any indication of a divine mate for God, whether it’s referring to Jerusalem or anything else. There simply isn’t any evidence.  If we accept that the description of New Jerusalem in Revelation is Mother God, then what prevents us from also concluding – despite the obvious lack of evidence – that New Jerusalem symbolizes Darth Vader, George W. Bush, or the NY Jets?

“QUEEN OF HEAVEN”

 

Though I didn’t encounter this on the COG’s website, a friend of mine who had an interaction with a young woman involved in the COG said to him that the Bible speaks about the “Queen of Heaven.” I’m familiar with the verses she referred to, and they’re about a pagan goddess named Astarte (or Ishtar).

I’ve written an article about this before called “Did God Have a Wife?” Read it here.

CONCLUSION

 

As one video on the Church of God’s website proclaims, the “mystery of the Bible hidden for 6,000 years” has been revealed at last!

Here’s a good rule of thumb: If anyone claims to have a new understanding of the Bible that has never appeared before in the over 2,000 years of history since Jesus walked the earth, be suspicious – be very suspicious.

If any church hopes to convince us of another way of understanding the Bible, there better be a dump-truck load of evidence from the Scripture. Thing is, if there was that much evidence in the Scripture, someone would’ve seen it a long time ago.

The biblical verses the COG quotes to support their beliefs are scant and inadequate, and they crumble when looked at in context. If the COG is going to accept these verses as evidence of Mother God, then they also have to accept Hosea 4:5, which reads:

“I [God] will destroy your mother.”

 

Was God a domestic abuser?

Of course, the COG would not accept Hosea 4:5 to be anything about Mother God. Most likely, they’d say I took the verse out of context.

Exactly.

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A STATEMENT OF CONCERN

If I come across blunt or even a bit harsh, it’s because I believe the Bible is the Word of God so I take it seriously when someone distorts it. That being said, I have the utmost concern for the members of the Church of God. I believe the members of the COG are hungry to know the true God, but false prophets and teachers have led them astray and their eternal souls are at risk. I pray these blog articles will lead them to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

***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.***

A great book for helping with understanding of Revelation

A great book for helping with understanding of Revelation

Great book for helping to understand the symbols used in the Bible.

Great book for helping to understand the symbols used in the Bible.

My earlier articles on the Church of God & Mother God:

“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?

Mother God & the World Mission Society Church of God – Is There Evidence of “God the Mother” in the Bible? (Genesis 1:26-27)

MOTHER GOD: Analyzing the Biblical Evidence: JEREMIAH 31:22

MOTHER GOD: Analyzing the Biblical Evidence: GALATIANS 4:26-31

Also, I do not intend to debate here whether 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.

MOTHER GOD: Analyzing the Biblical Evidence: GALATIANS 4:26-31 (World Missions Society Church of God)

But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. (Galatians 4:26)

So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:31)

 

The World Mission Society Church of God (or simply, the Church of God) believes “Mother God” not only exists in the Bible, but exists in the flesh today in South Korea.

 

This continues my analysis of the Scripture the Church of God (COG) uses to justify their belief in Mother God.  (See a list of earlier articles below.)  To read the introductory article about the COG and Mother God, click here.

(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.)

 MotherGod_IFollow

Above are two verses from the Bible (Galatians 4:26 & 4:31) that the COG quotes on their website as evidence for Mother God in the Bible.  Now, you may be thinking Galatians 4:26 even mentions the word “mother,” so it must be about Mother God! But let’s look at what Paul is writing about in Galatians.

Remember context is always the key…

 

What’s Paul So Angry About?

Galatians is considered Paul’s most angry letter. It even excludes Paul’s normal thanksgiving in his opening introduction for those receiving the letter.  Its absence is very noticeable because we see similar friendly openings in all of his other letters – even the more stern ones. So what’s Paul so upset about?

This is what Paul’s upset about: The Galatians had reverted back to legalism, believing that Christians must still follow the Jewish religious laws for salvation. This was a big issue with the first Christians because Christianity came out of Judaism, the first Christians were Jews, and Jews faithfully follow the Old Testament law.

But Christians have been set free from the law because Jesus Christ fulfilled it by his death and resurrection. The religious law was temporary until the good news of Christ came and freed us from it (See Galatians 3:15-25).

The Christians in Galatia had backslid and had gone back to believing and teaching someone must still follow the Old Testament law, even as a Christian (See Galatians 4:8-20).

When we come to Galatians 4:21-31, Paul uses a story from the book of Genesis about Abraham’s wives Hagar and Sarah and their sons to support his argument. The idea Paul is arguing is that someone can choose to be a slave to the law or free through Christ, but one cannot be both.

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Abraham & his Wives = Domestic Trouble

Abraham (Abram) is the father of the Israelite nation, the Jews. In Genesis 12:1-3, God speaks to Abraham and promises him that he will make a great nation through Abraham’s descendants, through which the whole world will be blessed. (This promise was fulfilled with the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, a descendant of Abraham.)

But later, in Chapter 15, Abraham and his wife Sarah (Sarai) still do not have a child. God reaffirms his promise, telling Abraham that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5).

In Chapter 16, we get the story of Sarah (Sarai) and Hagar. Sarah has grown weary of waiting for God to give them a child, so she tells Abraham to sleep with their servant/slave Hagar. Abraham listens to his wife, and Hagar becomes pregnant and gives birth to Ishmael.

This was sinful for both Abraham and Sarah.  Beyond the obvious sexual sin, both Abraham and Sarah didn’t trust God to fulfill his promise and they took matters into their own hands.  As you can imagine, the situation also leads to domestic trouble.

Fourteen years later, in Chapter 21, Abraham is one-hundred years-old, and Sarah is in her nineties, and as God promised, Sarah becomes pregnant!  She gives birth to Isaac. Again, as you can probably guess, the birth of Isaac doesn’t help the domestic situation.

Sarah witnesses Ishmael, now a teen, mocking either her or Isaac, so Hagar and Ishmael are cast out of the home of Abraham. Though Ishmael wouldn’t receive an inheritance from his father, God cares for him and his mother and promises that Ishmael’s descendants would become a great nation as well.

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The Free Woman & The Slave Woman

Now, back to Galatians 4:21-31: Paul uses Sarah (the free woman) and Hagar (the slave woman) to make a point about being free through Jesus Christ or a slave to the Old Testament law.  (Take a moment to read Galatians 4:21-31 here.)

First, let’s take note that Paul clearly states in 4:24 that he’s using the story as an allegory, a symbolic tale to convey a message:

 

“Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants.”

Thus, he’s clearly speaking figuratively here, not literally.

Basically, Paul’s whole analogy in 4:21-31 goes like this: God gave two covenants — one of slavery and one of freedom, symbolized by Sarah (the free woman) and Hagar (the slave woman).

Paul writes:

 

“One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.” (4:24-25)

The covenant of slavery is the Old Testament law, represented by Hagar and Mount Sinai (the place where Moses received the Old Testament law from God). This covenant of slavery is also represented by the “present Jerusalem” – the non-Christian Jews of Paul’s day, who still follow the Old Testament law.  They are the “children” of the slave woman because they’re enslaved by the Old Testament law.

Paul then writes the line used by the COG:

 

“But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.” (4:26)

 

Following Paul’s analogy and argument, “Jerusalem above” is contrasted with the present, worldly Jerusalem, which is still in bondage to the Old Testament law. “Jerusalem above” is the heavenly Jerusalem – the true, free Jerusalem. This looks forward, past the present age to the future – to the New Heaven and New Earth where the New Jerusalem will come with Jesus’ Second Coming (See Revelation 21). Keeping with the Hagar/Sarah (slave woman/free woman) analogy, Paul states in 4:26 that the New Jerusalem is the “mother” of Christians because they’re not slaves; they are free.

Keeping with the imagery of Sarah (who was old and barren when she became pregnant) and the future victory of Christianity and the New Jerusalem, Paul quotes Isaiah 54:1 in Galatians 4:27:

 

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;

break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!

For the children of the desolate one will be more

   than those of the one who has a husband.”

 

Paul goes on to explain in 4:28-30 that Christians, like Isaac, are the children of God’s promise. And just like Ishmael (“who was born according to the flesh”) showed contempt for Isaac (who was “born according to the Spirit”) when he was born, the non-believing Jews are persecuting the Christians of Galatia. Yet — Paul points this out by referring to Genesis directly — Ishmael was cast out and didn’t get the inheritance of his father Abraham, and the same will happen to the Jews who still hold to the Old Testament law and don’t believe the good news of Jesus Christ.

Then Paul concludes with the other line used by the COG:

 

“So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.”

 

Thus, Christians are not slaves, but free. To be a child of “the slave” would make someone a child of Hagar. Likewise, the “free woman” is not some divine goddess, but Sarah.

This may help you to follow the argument made by Paul:

 SLAVERY

Slavery = Old Testament law = Mount Sinai =

“Present” Jerusalem =

Hagar (slave woman) =

Ishmael =

No inheritance.

 FREEDOM

Freedom = Salvation through faith alone = Jesus Christ =

Jerusalem above/New Jerusalem= 

Sarah (free woman) =

Isaac =

Receives the inheritance.    

***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.

Great book for helping to understand the symbols used in the Bible.

Great book for helping to understand the symbols used in the Bible.

 

NEXT:

MOTHER GOD: Analyzing the Biblical Evidence: REVELATION 19:7 & 21:9-10.

My earlier articles on the Church of God:

“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?

Mother God & the World Mission Society Church of God – Is There Evidence of “God the Mother” in the Bible? (Genesis 1:26-27)

MOTHER GOD: Analyzing the Biblical Evidence: JEREMIAH 31:22

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.

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.

apostles1

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.

Angels_Dove

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.

 Apocrypha

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:

can-we-still-believe

MOTHER GOD: Analyzing the Biblical Evidence: JEREMIAH 31:22 (World Missions Society Church of God)

The World Mission Society Church of God (or simply, the Church of God) believes “Mother God” not only exists in the Bible, but exists in the flesh today in South Korea.

Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 12.23.37 AM

In the previous article of this series I analyzed the Church of God’s use of Genesis 1:26-27 and Isaiah 6:8 to justify their belief in Mother God. Below, I’ll continue to analyze the Scripture they cite as biblical proof of Mother God.

(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.)

As I did in my earlier articles, I’ve purposely avoided exposing myself to any negative websites or information about the Church of God (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 defend their views (and they appear to believe the Bible is the Word of God), I’ve used the Bible to analyze and refute their beliefs as unbiblical and as a corruption of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. (See below for other articles concerning the COG.)

 

Before reading further, I would recommend you pause and first read an earlier article I wrote about poor biblical interpretation and how certain churches, sects, and cults misuse Scripture. The principles in that article certainly apply here, as you will see.

 

The following practices of poor biblical interpretation (manipulation-?) are the most evident in the COG’s use of Scripture:

  • Isolating verses and taking them out of context.
  • Imposing views on the text rather than letting the text speak for itself.
  • Jumping from one part of the Bible to another with utter disregard of context to “prove” ideas, beliefs, or opinions.
  • Inconsistent decisions on what should be taken literally or figuratively, often based on preconceived ideas.

 

world-mission-society-church-of-god-god-the-mother

JEREMIAH 31:22

“How long will you go here and there,

O faithless daughter?

For the Lord has created a new thing in the earth—

A woman will encompass a man.”

 

Like many of the passages the COG cites as evidence of Mother God in the Bible, Jeremiah 31:22 sounds mysterious, and may even lead you to suspect there is some sort of hidden meaning behind it, but by simply looking at the verse in context, the meaning of the passage becomes clearer.

 

CONTEXT

The prophet Jeremiah wrote his book during the harsh, tumultuous times after the fall of the Assyrians and the rise of the Babylonians, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and the deportation (the Exile) of Jews to Babylon. Like the other prophets, Jeremiah states God allowed this calamity to fall on the Jewish people as just judgment for their sin and idolatry.

 

But, also like the other prophets, Jeremiah isn’t all negative: he also gives a message of hope, where God will redeem the faithful.

 

This message of hope is seen in the verses preceding 31:22. Take a moment to read it, covering 31:15 to 31:22.

 

Rachel is Weeping

 

Verse 15 refers to Rachel weeping for “her children,” the exiled Jews:

 

“Rachel is weeping for her children;

   she refuses to be comforted for her children,

   because they are no more.”

 

We find Rachel way back in the book of Genesis. Rachel was Jacob’s second, but favorite, wife (Genesis 29:30) and the mother of Joseph, the father of Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 30:22-24; 41:50-52). Notice Ephraim is mentioned in Jeremiah 31:18 as also grieving.

 

Like many of the prophets, Jeremiah uses a lot of poetic imagery. The idea here is that the Exile is so devastating to the Jews that even Rachel is mourning.  It would be similar if I said to an American today, after someone had burned an American flag, that Betsy Ross (the woman traditionally credited with sewing the 1st American flag) is weeping over the treatment of the flag.  The person would know that I didn’t mean this literally, since Betsy Ross lived in the 1700-1800’s, but poetically.

 

But Jeremiah moves on to the good news. God will have mercy, and a faithful remnant will return to their land. Note the imagery of roads in 31:21, implying their return:

 

“Set up road markers for yourself;

   make yourself guideposts;

consider well the highway,

   the road by which you went.”

 

Israel, the Jewish people, are then poetically personified as a young woman, a “virgin” and “faithless daughter” in 31:21-22:

 

“Return, O virgin Israel,

   return to these your cities.

How long will you waver,

   O faithless daughter?”

 

And then we have the mysterious and infamous words of 31:22 used by the COG as evidence of Mother God:

 

“For the Lord has created a new thing on the earth:

   a woman encircles a man.”

 

First, it’s clear from the context of the rest of Jeremiah that jumping to the conclusion that this verse is about a female deity of any sort has no textual or logical grounding. If you continue to read the rest of Jeremiah, you will find so such evidence of “Mother God” either.

 

Admittedly, this single line “a woman encircles a man” is a bit of a mystery. One commentator even says the clear meaning of this line is “enigmatic.” Yet the only way to justify that this is about Mother God is to read a preconceived idea into the text, not by letting the text speak for itself.

 

Unorthodox sects and cults often grab onto unclear lines of Scripture and insert their own meaning into them. Further, the same commentator who labeled this line “enigmatic” also writes that though this one line is unclear, the rest of the chapter surrounding it is perfectly clear and unambiguous.

 

Though Israel is a “faithless daughter,” God will still give her a “new thing” – a new life as he brings her back to her land from exile. “Encircles” in 31:22 (“a woman encircles a man”) can also be translated “encompasses” or “protects.” What the line is most likely symbolizing is that the “woman” (Israel) will grow in strength, even to the point of being strong enough to protect “a man.”

 

As you can see, nothing in Jeremiah supports the claim that Mother God appears in this ancient book of prophecy.

 MotherGod& Aha

***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.

NEXT:

MOTHER GOD: Analyzing the Biblical Evidence: GALATIANS 4:26-31.

My earlier articles on the Church of God:

“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?

Mother God & the World Mission Society Church of God – Is There Evidence of “God the Mother” in the Bible? (Genesis 1:26-27)

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.

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.”

MotherGod& Aha

(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!”

MotherGod_Card

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?

ChurchofGod

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.