Should a pastor conduct the wedding of two non-Christians? What about a Christian marrying a non-Christian? Are there any circumstances in which a pastor should not marry two Christians?
These are questions I hear all the time from other pastors. What makes it permissible to conduct a wedding in this or that situation, and when should a pastor say no?
I’m keenly aware there are many strong opinions on each version of the marriage question, and lively disagreements about which couples evangelical pastors should marry. And with the 2015 Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, the debate does not end there.
Assuming agreement that marriage is between one man and one woman, I suggest the following boundaries within three common templates.Christian marrying a non-Christian
Most agree, as I do, that Scripture does not permit a Christian to marry a non-Christian (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14–18), so it’s unwise for a pastor to perform a wedding in this circumstance. Though many of us know examples where the unbelieving spouse was eventually converted, I would never encourage a believer to marry an unbeliever. And therefore I would never encourage a pastor to conduct such a wedding.
That said, if you are shepherding a Christian spouse married to an unbeliever, 1 Peter 3:1–6 is profoundly relevant. A Christian woman trying to live in faithfulness and peace with an unbelieving husband is one of the most powerful witnesses to Christ I’ve encountered. Still, I would never willingly encourage a woman to assume this post. Marriage between two believers is hard enough.Christian marrying a Christian
A pastor’s ideal scenario is to marry two Christians — particularly a couple he knows well, one he’s able to counsel before the wedding and will be able to shepherd through the early years of marriage. Wisdom and discernment are required when two Christians ask a pastor to marry them yet are neither plugged into a local church nor connected to a pastor who’s taken responsibility for them.
Regardless of the scenario, if you marry two Christians the ceremony should be seen as a worship service in which the gospel is preached. You should be acquainted well enough with the couple that you can exhort them to relate to one another in a way that clearly displays Christ’s love for his bride, the church (Eph. 5:22–33), and to live with one another in an understanding way when marriage gets difficult, which it will (1 Pet. 3:1–7).
If a couple is living in open, habitual, and unrepentant sin (such as cohabiting or being physically intimate), you should forego performing the ceremony — assuming they persist in their unrepentance — since you cannot commend them as public witnesses living exemplary lives.Non-Christian marrying a non-Christian
This is where much of the debate lies. Biblical warrant for marrying two non-Christians comes from Genesis 2, where marriage is viewed as a common-grace institution of creation in which God is glorified as his original design (one man and one woman) is reflected — even if the union doesn’t fulfill his ultimate redemptive purpose (Eph. 5:22–33).
But it is ultimately a matter of conscience.
If your conscience allows you to wed two non-Christians, make sure the wedding isn’t presented as a worship service. It should be done simply as a ceremony that allows you, a pastor, to join the man and woman together with witnesses present. This can serve as a strategic opportunity to preach the gospel—but I’d make that part of the agreement with the bride and groom before committing to marrying them in the first place.
Remember, you should never feel forced to do any wedding, regardless of the pressure that comes from family or church members. If you have concerns whether two people should be married, here are three ways to seek God’s guidance:Listen to your conscience
The Holy Spirit works powerfully through our conscience, and we should not ignore it. Conscience is especially important on matters not explicitly clear in Scripture. Listen well.Be guided by Scripture
Your certainty on whether to conduct a wedding should equal your certainty on how clearly God’s Word addresses the issues involved. We must not shout where Scripture is silent. As Tim Keller puts it, “We must be so immersed in God’s written Word and truth that we are trained to choose rightly even in cases to which the Bible doesn’t speak directly.”
This simple principle is helpful in determining complicated wedding decisions.Seek counsel from other pastors
We should always sit at the feet of older, more seasoned pastors, and learn from their mistakes. Often, the implications of a wedding don’t show up for years, sometimes even decades. Listen to wise voices who’ve married some and rejoiced, but have also married others and grieved. They will help you avoid similar mistakes.
And whatever you decide about a unique wedding circumstance, don’t make the decision alone. Involve others. Get help from those who’ve walked in the tracks you now tread.
Every pastor will eventually face a decision surrounding a unique wedding situation. May God grant us wisdom to think through each case with pastoral sensitivity and biblical care.
Editors’ note: This article was originally published at The Gospel Coalition.
When my wife and I were rearing our sons, some of the most exciting times when they were very young was when we measured their height and then marked it on the back door jamb to see how much they had grown since the last time we measured. As they got older, we attended their school functions and sporting events as proud parents. Before we knew it, they had all too quickly grown up to become young men. Along the way, we also had the privilege of leading them to salvation in Jesus Christ. As parents, we have been proud over the years to watch our sons grow not only in physical stature, but especially as followers of Christ.
The apostle Paul thought of himself as a father to those in the Corinthian church, which he started (1 Corinthians 4:15). And as their spiritual father, he wanted to see them grow spiritually. He provided for them some ways to do so in 1 Corinthians 3:1-17. However, many problems existed among the Corinthian Christians that hindered their growth in Christ, and Paul chided them for it.
One of the problems in the church was that its members were divided into factions following different leaders—Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ (1:11–12; 3:4–5). As a result, jealousy and dissension were present in their lives (3:3). Paul called the Corinthians spiritual “infants” and “fleshly” (3:1–3). He had given them “milk to drink,” rather than “solid food,” because they were immature (3:2).
Paul essentially told the church: You can grow spiritually when you stop acting like babies. The same is true for us. Nothing is wrong with being a baby Christian. We all are spiritual babies when we first place our faith in Jesus. Something is wrong, however, with remaining a spiritual infant and not growing in Christ; something is awry when we cannot progress beyond basic Christian teaching to more meaty doctrine due to immaturity. Just as the lives of infants are focused on themselves, so also many folks have “me-first” disease and are concerned about their own comforts, agendas, and needs, not the needs of others.
The Corinthians had a misconception about God’s messengers. Paul chided the church’s members and principally told them: You can grow spiritually when you worship the Lord and not His servants. Paul did not reject the need for leaders, but he did point out that centering our Christian lives upon various preachers or leaders was an immature thing to do. The remedy for the Corinthian misconception regarding God’s messengers (for example, Paul and Apollos) was to recognize that they were servants of God accountable to Him (3:5–4:5). They were servants He used in accomplishing His work (3:5–9).
Too many people today ardently follow various preachers and leaders, sometimes seemingly more so than they do the Lord. If not flat-out idolatry, it appears fairly close to it. Christian “celebrityism” of this sort does not please God. Paul focused instead on the Lord, the One who assigned to each messenger his ministry (3:5). God’s messengers have various roles; some water and some plant, but only God causes the growth (3:6–7). God’s servants are His fellow workers who work on His building and will receive a reward in accordance with their work (3:8–9). We need to realize these truths as we seek to advance the Gospel together. We all have our different and important roles in ministry as we serve God, and no one should be exalted above the Lord, for He provides the growth.
You can grow spiritually when you build on the foundation of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Paul compared his visit to Corinth with a wise master builder who laid a foundation while others built on it (3:10). We must be very careful about how we build upon the foundation that has been laid down, that of Jesus Christ and Him crucified (3:11; cf. 2:2). We should do so out of pure motives (3:12)—selfless service that is valuable and will stand (“gold, silver, precious stones”) rather than self-seeking efforts that are worthless (“wood, hay, straw”). Know for sure that at the judgment on the Last Day, our work done in God’s name will be revealed and tested for what it actually was (3:13–15).
You can grow spiritually when you build up and esteem God’s temple, the church. Paul spoke of the church as God’s temple; the Holy Spirit indwelt them (3:16). He permanently resides in believers. He also strongly warned that if anyone seeks to destroy the church, God will destroy that person (3:17). Paul further explained that God’s temple is holy (3:17); it is set apart by God for His purposes. The Lord loves His church, and this caution emphasizes the need for us to build up and esteem God’s church—not tear it down. Be careful and tremble if you seek to undermine the church. It does not do you or anyone else any good, and in fact, works to your eternal detriment.
Do you want to grow spiritually? Some ways we can grow spiritually are if we stop acting like babies, worship the Lord and not His servants, build selflessly on the foundation of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and build up and esteem the church.
Lord, help us to grow in Christ, we pray. May we be regarded “as servants of Christ” and “stewards” of the Gospel. As stewards, we ask that you empower and help us by your Spirit to be found “trustworthy” (cf. 4:1–2).
Lord, we are grateful to you for all things. We are especially thankful for our salvation through Jesus. Help us to grow in Christ, we pray. May we be regarded “as servants of Christ” and “stewards” of the gospel. As stewards, we ask that you empower and help us by your Spirit to be found “trustworthy” (cf. 1 Cor 4:1–2).
When Kristen Wanamaker started at the Baptist College of Florida, she promised her pastor and herself one thing: She would never become Baptist.
Growing up in the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America (PCUSA), Wanamaker was baptized as a baby and became a believer at 14, but it wasn’t the custom in her church to make a public profession, so she never did.
In high school, she felt a call to ministry, and she’d heard that even if she attended the Baptist college, she wouldn’t be pressured into joining the denomination. She knew there were some differences in theology between Baptists and Presbyterians, but she hadn’t taken time to think through their significance.
But during her freshman year, she came to see that not everyone thought the same thing she did.
“I realized people have really strong opinions on baptism, on women in ministry, even on church structure,” she said. Wanamaker had never thought through why she was baptized as a baby. She’d never questioned the validity of the ordination of the woman who filled her pastor’s pulpit each time he was out of town. She didn’t give thought to the fact that her denomination was called Presbyterian because it had presbyteries. In short, she was a Presbyterian, but didn’t really know why.
For her, a new world was about to open. “I was thinking, ‘Nobody is going to change me. I’m not going to be that person who went away to a Baptist college and got sucked in,’” she said.
But, during that first year, she was enrolled in what she describes as the “trifecta” of classes: English, Spiritual Formation, and Baptist Heritage. In Spiritual Formation and Baptist Heritage, the topic of baptism was discussed at length. And she was genuinely confused.
“Through the course of the semester, I realized very quickly that my opinion on baptism was very misinformed,” she said. She sat down with her pastor, hoping he could explain why she was baptized as a baby. “And I was not satisfied with his answer.”
From the explanations in class, studying the Baptist Faith and Message, and reading Scripture for herself, she grew convinced that she was wrong. Yet, she pushed those thoughts aside, confident that her salvation wasn’t dependent on baptism. It wasn’t worth leaving the church she’d grown up in and breaking off theologically from her family.
However, when she sat down to write a position paper for her English class, things changed. The topic she’d chosen for her position paper was women in ministry; she set out to argue in favor of the ordination of women.
“I started working on an English paper, and it was hard to do. The more I researched, from my perspective, I started thinking, ‘I don’t know about this,’” she said. “I went into this thinking all of these Baptists just don’t like women. They don’t want us to be in ministry at all.”
But one resource, Two Views on Women in Ministry, was particularly troublesome. Specifically, Southern Seminary Thomas R. Schreiner’s contribution made Wanamaker uncomfortable.
“My attitude toward it was very bitter at first, but the more I wrote that paper, and the more I tried to argue for the position of the ordination of women, I realized I can’t justify this with Scripture. All of my arguments were based off feelings, not facts,” she said. Still, she continued to write her paper from the perspective that women could fill a lead pastoral role, on an as-needed basis.
“I went back and reread all of Dr. Schreiner’s arguments. I read pretty much everything that he wrote on the topic,” she recounted. And I realized, ‘This guy knows what he’s talking about.’”
She was thankful that one thing that was taught from the pulpit of her home church and within her home was that the Bible was always right. It had the ultimate authority.
Before she turned in the paper, she rewrote the entire thing.
“Women are a little hesitant to being told we can’t do certain things,” Wanamaker said. “But just because we’re hesitant doesn’t mean it’s not what Scripture says. Either I’m wrong or scripture is wrong, and Scripture is not wrong.”
Wanamaker decided she needed to follow what the Bible said, but before long she was not only convinced by the truthfulness of the Bible’s teaching, but began to take joy in it, she said.
By the end of that semester, she also became convinced that, although not part of her salvation, if she were being obedient to Christ’s commands, she must be biblically baptized. She worried how her family would react to her new convictions.
But God was gracious, she said, and as she made these decisions, her family was right beside her.
“On June 1, 2014, I’d finished my first year at the Baptist college I attended — where I said they wouldn’t make me a Baptist. My parents and my sister and I were all baptized together at First Baptist Church,” she shared. “It was hard to leave the church I grew up in, but it was the right decision.”
A couple years later, on a mission trip to Los Angeles, she became burdened with the lostness in North America. Not knowing exactly what that would look like, her heart surrendered to North American missions.
When she finally decided to look into seminary, she realized that there was one of the six Southern Baptist seminaries that offered a program dedicated to that very thing: Southern Seminary — the school where Schreiner teaches.
She stepped out of her car on Preview Day, and her heart was set. “It felt like home,” she recounts. Wanamaker is now in her fourth semester of her masters of divinity at Southern.
“It’s been everything I can imagine.”
I slumped in an unpadded pew, half-listening to the morning Bible study. I wasn’t particularly interested in what the Bible teacher in this tiny Christian high school had to say. But, when the teacher commented that the New Testament Gospels always reported word-for-word what Jesus said, I perked up and lifted my hand. This statement brought up a question that had perplexed me for a few weeks.
“But, sometimes,” I mused, “the words of Jesus in one Gospel don’t match the words of the same story in the other Gospels — not exactly, anyway. So, how can you say that the Gospel-writers always wrote what Jesus said word-for-word?”
The teacher stared at me for a moment, stone-silent.
I thought maybe he hadn’t understood my question; so, I pointed out an example that I’d noticed — the healing of a “man sick of the palsy” in Simon Peter’s house, if I recall correctly (Matt 9:4-6; Mark 2:8-11; Luke 5:22-24, KJV).
Finally, the flustered teacher reprimanded me for thinking too much about the Bible. In retrospect, this statement was more than a little ironic: A Bible teacher in a Bible class at a Bible Baptist school accused me of thinking too much about the Bible! What I was doing, he claimed, was similar to what happened in the Garden of Eden, when the serpent asked Eve if God had actually commanded them not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge.
I didn’t quite catch the connection between my question and the Tree of Knowledge, but I never listened to what that teacher said about the Bible again. I knew that something was wrong with what he was telling me. Still, it took me several years to figure out the truth about this dilemma — a truth which, just as I suspected, had everything to do with the teacher’s faulty assumptions about the Bible and nothing to do with Eve or the serpent. What I learned later was that the idea of word-for-word citations and quotations is a modern notion that would have been foreign to the authors of Scripture.
Here’s what my Bible teacher assumed: If the Bible is divinely inspired, the Bible must always state what was said word-for-word, with no variations. To question this understanding of the Bible was, from this teacher’s perspective, to doubt the divine inspiration of Scripture.
Oddly enough, when it comes to differences between biblical manuscripts, some skeptics seem to pursue a similar line of reasoning to the one my teacher followed when I asked the differences between the Gospels. “How does it help us to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God if in fact we don’t have the words that God inerrantly inspired,” one such skeptic claims, “but only the words copied by the scribes — sometimes correctly but sometimes (many times) incorrectly?” In other words, if there are variations among the many thousands of copies of Scripture, how can anyone reasonably claim that the Scriptures are inerrant?
So how can Christians respond to such suppositions? Let’s look together at three crucial facts that can equip you to counter these skeptical claims.‘Inerrant’ describes the original manuscripts, not the copies
First off, inerrancy has never meant that every copy of Scripture throughout history has been identical. The word “inerrancy” refers to the original autographs of Scripture, not to every manuscript and printed copy made afterward. Inerrancy does not mean that every copied manuscript is free of errors — only the original texts. That’s what we affirm in the Chicago Statement on biblical inerrancy:
“Inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. … Copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.”
This means the original manuscripts of the Bible were fully God-breathed and therefore without errors. God inspired the authors of Scripture and safeguarded their words from any mistakes. God did not, however, prevent the thousands of copyists across the ages from making mistakes as they copied the manuscripts. As a result, the surviving copies of Scripture are sufficiently accurate for us to recover the inerrant truth that God intended and inspired, but they have not always been copied with perfect accuracy.The differences between the manuscripts are real
Is it true, then, that the biblical manuscripts differ from one another? Of course they do! The copyists were human beings, and being human means making mistakes. God did not choose to override the copyists’ humanity as they copied the New Testament; as a result, these human beings were every bit as prone to short attention spans, poor eyesight, and fatigue as you or I.
What’s more, they had no eyeglasses or contact lenses to sharpen their vision, and they relied on the flickering light of lamps to see. Since God did not “re-inspire” the text each time it was reproduced, the copyists occasionally miscopied their sources. Once in a while, copyists even tried to fix things that weren’t broken by changing words that they thought might be misconstrued. The result is hundreds of thousands of copying variants scattered among the New Testament manuscripts — but these variations in the manuscripts are only one part of the story.The New Testament text is highly reliable, and none of the variants affects any essential truth Christians believe
One popular skeptic’s much-repeated soundbite is that “there are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.” This statement is technically true but, unless his listeners are aware of the vast number and the overwhelming stability of New Testament manuscripts that survive today, it’s also a bit misleading. There are around 138,000 words in the Greek New Testament, and more than a half-million variants can be found scattered among the Greek manuscripts — but that number of variants comes from estimating every difference, not including spelling variations, in every surviving manuscript from the Greek New Testament. Well over 5,000 Greek New Testament manuscripts have been preserved as a whole or in part — more than any other text from the ancient world. With millions of words in these fragments and manuscripts, it doesn’t take long for the number of variants to exceed the number of words in the Greek New Testament.
If only one manuscript of the New Testament had survived, there would have been zero variants (and this single manuscript would probably have become some sort of idol!). But early Christians believed that all of God’s Word should be accessible to as many of God’s people as possible. That’s why more than 5,000 whole or partial manuscripts survive today. Of course, scholars seeking to reconstruct the earliest form of the New Testament text don’t utilize all of these fragments and manuscripts. In almost every instance, the text can be reliably reconstructed using a handful of the earliest manuscripts. That’s because, despite the variants that do exist, the surviving texts of the New Testament are incredibly stable. Spread across millions of words in more than 5,000 manuscripts, the variations represent a minute percentage of the total text. According to scholars’ best estimates and analyses, the New Testament text is more than 92 percent stable. In other words, all the variants affect less than 8 percent of the New Testament text.
But there’s another fact that’s even more significant than the number of manuscripts or the overall stability of the text: No variant in these many manuscripts changes any essential belief that Christians hold about God or about his work in the world. The overwhelming majority of the differences have to do with words that have been rearranged or spelled in alternative ways — differences that have no impact on the translation or meaning of the text. The remainder of the differences may be noticeable at times in translations, but they do not alter any tenet of the Christian faith. What this means practically is that the text of the New Testament has been sufficiently preserved for us to be confident that we can recover the meaning that God intended and inspired in the original text.Inerrancy in practice
By Timothy K. Beougher, Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth
Knowing that the Bible is true and reliable in all it teaches means we can read it, study it, and then apply it with confidence. As someone has noted, “If you want to hear God speak, read your Bible aloud.” What Scripture says is what God says.
When we base our worship on God’s trustworthy revelation, we know that we are worshiping the true God in the proper way. When the center of our worship is the proclamation of God’s inerrant Word, we experience content which is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16).
God inspired the Scriptures to reveal Himself to sinful humankind. When we share the Gospel message from the pages of Scripture, we know we are presenting the true Savior, the one and only hope for the world. The Scriptures are “living and active” (Heb 4:12) and are able to make us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15).
Timothy Paul Jones is the C. Edwin Gheens Professor of Christian Family Ministry at Southern Seminary.
The argument has been made, in both academic and popular venues, that Christians holding to biblical inerrancy are something of a novelty. Prior to the rise of the Enlightenment in the 18th century, so the argument goes, this particular doctrine was unheard of. Well, was this doctrinal conviction held prior to the long 18th century? In a word, yes.Inerrancy and inspiration in the ancient church
Scholar Bruce Vawter, himself not an advocate of biblical inerrancy, noted in his 1972 book, Biblical Inspiration: “It would be pointless to call into question that biblical inerrancy in a rather absolute form was a common persuasion from the beginning of Christian times, and from Jewish times before that. For both the Fathers and the rabbis generally, the ascription of any error to the Bible was unthinkable; … if the word was God’s it must be true, regardless of whether it made known a mystery of divine revelation or commented on a datum of natural science, whether it derived from human observation or chronicled an event of history.” Thus, Clement of Rome, writing right after the end of the Apostolic era, urged his readers to “study the sacred Scriptures, which are true and given by the Holy Spirit. Bear in mind that nothing wrong or falsified is written in them.”
At the other end of the Patristic era, Augustine (354–430), stated similarly in a letter written to the Bible translator Jerome (died 420) in 405:
“I confess … that … I believe most firmly that only the authors [of the canonical books of Scripture] were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me contrary to the truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it. But, when I read other authors, however eminent they may be in sanctity and learning, I do not necessarily believe a thing is true because they think so, but because they have been able to convince me, either on the authority of the canonical writers or by a probable reasons which is not inconsistent with the truth.”
As Hans Küng, certainly no friend to biblical infallibility, has commented: for Augustine, “the whole Bible was free of contradictions, mistakes and errors.”
As for inspiration, lapidary summary of the ancient church’s thought about the inspiration of Scripture is found in the final phrase of the third article of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed: “We believe … in the Holy Spirit … who spoke through the prophets.” The Fathers uniformly regarded the divine inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of the Scriptures as a given. As H. B. Swete noted: “No work of the Holy Spirit was more constantly present to the mind of the early post-apostolic Church than his inspiration of the Old Testament.” The only possible exception might be the Syrian exegete Theodore of Mopsuestia (c.350–428) — or “Teddy the Mop,” as my Doktorvater John Egan was wont to call him! Theodore’s rejection of the allegorization of the Song of Songs as a love song between Christ and his people appears to have involved also serious questions about this text’s canonical status and inspiration.
On the other hand, typical of the Fathers’ view of the Scriptures is this statement by the fourth-century theologian Hilary of Poitiers (died c.368):
“The Apostle, who instructs us on many things, also teaches us that the Word of God must be treated with the greatest reverence, saying “whoever speaks, [let him speak] as uttering the oracles of God” [1 Peter 4:11]. For we ought not to treat Scripture with a vulgar familiarity, as we do in our ordinary speech; rather, when we speak of what we have learned and read we should give honor to the author by our care for the way we express ourselves… Preachers, then, must think that they are not speaking to a human audience, and hearers must know that it is not human words that are being offered to them, but that they are God’s words, God’s decrees, God’s laws. For both roles, the utmost reverence is fitting.”
Similarly, Hilary’s contemporary Basil of Caesarea (c.329–379), whose thought deeply informed the pneumatology of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, frequently mentioned the Spirit’s authorship of the Bible. For example, in his refutation of the radical Arian Eunomius of Cyzicus (died c.393), penned in the early 360s, Basil referred over and again to the Spirit’s inspiration of Scripture. He cites John 1:1 and Psalm 109:3 at one point and called these texts “the very words of the Holy Spirit.” About fifteen years later, when Basil was defending the full deity of the Holy Spirit against the Pneumatomachian Eustathius of Sebaste (c.300–c.377), he expressed amazement that Eustathius, who believed that the Bible was “God-breathed [2 Timothy 3:16] since it was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,” was reticent to confess the divine honor due to the Spirit. Scripture was worthy of our total respect because it came from the divine source of the Spirit.
Again, in a pastoral letter that Basil wrote to a widow, who had a deeply troubling dream, the bishop of Caesarea reminded her that she had the “consolation of the divine Scriptures” and thus would “not need us or anyone else to help you see your duty; sufficient is the counsel and good guidance you already have in the Holy Spirit.” To heed the teaching of the Scriptures is to be instructed and counseled by the Spirit.A Reformer’s view of the Bible
The ancient church’s view of the Scriptures as inspired and inerrant was shared by the Reformers a millennium later. Consider the French Reformer John Calvin (1509–1564). When Calvin speaks about the nature of Scripture, his position is unambiguous. The Scriptures, he says, are “the pure Word of God,” “free from every stain or defect,” “the certain and unerring rule.” Unlike all other texts, these alone are a sure and certain guide for the believer’s life and thinking, according to Calvin. He thus was faithful to the Reformation rediscovery of that central biblical principle: sola scriptura. He assumed that Scripture, rightly interpreted, will not be found to make false assertions. This was the basic presupposition of all his exegesis and preaching.
Moreover, for Calvin, in the Scriptures, God speaks clearly. As he said: “the office of preaching is committed to pastors for no other purpose than that God alone may be heard there.” Consequently, the whole message of the Bible had to be brought before God’s people and this could be done only through expository preaching. Little wonder then that, for Calvin, as well as the Reformers in general, preaching the inspired and inerrant Scriptures was the central means of grace in ecclesial renewal and revival. For these men, along with the other Reformers, hearing was the key sense of the Christian man and woman. Medieval Roman Catholicism had majored on symbols and images as the central means of teaching. The Reformation, coming hard on the heels of the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century, turned back to the biblical emphasis on words, both spoken and written, as the primary vehicle for cultivating faith and spirituality. As Calvin aptly put it in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, “the Word is the instrument by which the Lord dispenses the illumination of his Spirit to believers.” In the minds of the Reformers, there could be neither true Reformation nor genuine spirituality apart from the Holy Scriptures, inspired and inerrant.Andrew Fuller and the Bible
Our third witness to the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible is the Baptist theologian Andrew Fuller (1754–1815), whose theology undergirded the missionary movement in which his friend William Carey (1761–1834) played such a large role. For Fuller, the Bible is nothing less than “the book by way of eminence, the book of books.” It occupies such a place of pre-eminence because it is “unerring” and is characterized by “divine inspiration and infallibility.” In the Scriptures, God speaks and conveys knowledge about himself that can be obtained from nowhere else. Fuller is thus emphatic that the search for truth about God must begin at and be rooted in the Scriptures:
“Many religious people appear to be contented with seeing truth in the light in which some great and good man has placed it; but if ever we enter into the gospel to purpose, it must be by reading the word of God for ourselves, and by praying and meditating upon its sacred contents. … If we adopt the principles of fallible men, without searching the Scriptures for ourselves, and inquiring whether or not these things be so, they will not, even allowing them to be on the side of truth, avail us, as if we had learned them from a higher authority. Our faith, in this case, will stand in the wisdom of man, and not in the power of God. … Truth learned only at second-hand will be to us what Saul’s armour was to David; we shall be at a loss how to use it in the day of trial.”
Fuller here differentiated between the books of fallible men, albeit good thinkers, and the truth of God in Scripture. The writings of fallible men are, at best, unable to sustain a lifetime of genuine spiritual growth. Since they stem from fallible minds, they are inevitably partial perspectives on the truth and inadequate to support the believer in a time of trial. By contrast, Scripture is a sure guide for believers. It brings godly balance and perspective to our lives, and provides us with a wholly adequate support in the face of life’s challenges.
The importance Fuller placed on these convictions is evident from the fact that he made essentially the same point in an ordination sermon based on Ezra 7:10. “Learn your religion from the Bible,” Fuller told the prospective minister:
“Let that be your decisive rule. Adopt not a body of sentiments, or even a single sentiment, solely on the authority of any man—however great, however respected. Dare to think for yourself. Human compositions are fallible. But the Scriptures were written by men who wrote as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit.”
There is therefore a line of uniformity and continuity between the ancient Christians like Hilary and Basil and more modern believers like Andrew Fuller. Only with the rise of 18th- and 19th-century biblical criticism would this line be broken for far too many professing believers. But Fuller was right: If we are to flourish spiritually as Christians, we cannot be anything other than a Bible-grounded and Bible-centered people — men and women who love the Bible, love to hear it preached, love to read it and memorize it, and love to apply it to our lives. If this is God’s Word written, inspired and inerrant, we can do no less.
Michael A.G. Haykin is professor of church history and biblical spirituality at Southern Seminary.
I am encouraged. I am really hopeful.
I see more signs of healthy church leaders today than I have seen at any point in my 30 years of ministry. This trend portends well for the future health of our congregations. Healthy church leaders will lead churches to greater health.
The seven traits presume foundational issues such as an affirmation of the truthfulness of the Bible, the exclusivity of the gospel, and the work of the Holy Spirit. Emanating from these foundational issues are key leadership traits. If a leader has all of the following seven traits, it is likely that leader will lead the congregation to greater health.
They embrace change. Healthy leaders do not fear change. To the contrary, they embrace it. They understand the constant power and hope of the gospel only presents opportunities. They don’t complain about change; they get excited about it.
They have a healthy grasp of history. Healthy church leaders are grateful for the past, but they do not dwell there. They take the lessons and the leaders of the past as steps to move forward in the future. Their attitude toward the past is not nostalgia. Rather, they respect the past without revering the past.
They constantly evaluate methodologies. These leaders are not program-driven, building-driven, or procedure-driven. They are constantly asking how they and their churches can do better. They don’t do things the way they’ve always done them. They constantly and persistently evaluate everything.
They intentionally interact with non-Christians. They get out of their offices and into the community. They attend community functions and make friends with non-believers. They believe the Great Commission is a mandate for them personally.
They accept responsibility. These leaders don’t play the blame game. They know God has called them to lead their churches, and they must accept the mantle of responsibility. It’s not the members’ fault. It’s not the denomination’s fault. It’s not the fault of other staff. And it’s not the community’s fault.
They see reality. Healthy church leaders have a clear and firm grasp of reality. They know how their churches are doing, for better or worse. They don’t try to rationalize away difficult news. Yet they readily celebrate good news. They want to know the unvarnished truth because they know a clear vision of reality is critical to moving forward.
They invest in one (and only one) major outwardly-focused effort at a time. This trait is a characteristic we have been seeing for the past few years. It is one of focused simplicity. The leader is always doing one more thing to move the church and himself to a greater outward focus. But it only one thing at a time. This discovery has been a major insight we have gleaned specifically with revitalized churches. We will unpack this trait with more detail in the future.
I remain an obnoxious optimist about the future health of churches. And one key reason is that I am seeing more and more church leaders with these seven traits.
Outrage. Fear. Confusion. Anger. Nostalgia. Withdrawal. Many of the ways we Christians respond to opposition are far from ideal.
Peter knew what it was like to face opposition — to lash out in anger or draw back in fear; to be restored in love, and then to step out boldly with gospel courage. It took him years to learn, but with Christ beside him and the Spirit within him, he did. Later in life, he wrote a letter to fellow sufferers and taught them how to respond Christianly to opposition. His lessons can help you, too.Don’t be surprised.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet 4:12).
This isn’t new. It isn’t strange. It’s normal. Paul promises that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). “In the same way,” Jesus reminds us, “they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt 5:12). Don’t be surprised. God certainly isn’t.Calm your outrage.
“Have no fear of them, nor be troubled” (1 Pet 3:14).
The constantly outraged Christian is a sad sight. Don’t respond to opposition with that toxic blend of fear and anger. Respond with grace and truth. The words “outrage” and “courage” both have the word “rage” in them. But they’re totally different attitudes. We need less reactionary outrage and more courageous love.Repent when needed.
“But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler” (1 Pet 4:15).
Sometimes, Christians aren’t respected because we’re not respectable. Sometimes the world says “Christians are hypocrites” and the world is right. Sometimes our opponents see our failures far more clearly than we do. If you’re a racist, you need to repent. If you hate gay people, you need to repent. If you’re rude or gossipy or arrogant at work, don’t get all blustery and claim “persecution” when a coworker calls you on it. Let’s own our sins, and repent when needed. Jesus will forgive us and change us — he’ll even save us if that’s what we need — and the world will appreciate the rare example of humility.Keep loving each other.
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly” (1 Pet 4:8–10).
When a community faces challenges, we’re tempted to turn against each other. Like Euodia and Syntyche, we who’ve labored side by side in the gospel sometimes end up toe to toe in some intramural battle (Phil 4:2–3). We need to guard against this temptation, especially when opposition heats up. If our battle isn’t against flesh and blood (Eph 6:12), our battle certainly should never be against each other.Always love your enemies.
“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called” (1 Pet 3:9).
Ultimately, it’s never us vs. them. It’s Jesus for all. It’s the gospel for all. It’s grace and truth for all. The best way to imitate Christ is to treat people well when they wrong us. Loving our enemies, whether individual or collective, means treating others like Jesus has treated us.Trust God and do good.
“Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good (1 Pet 4:19). For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (1 Pet 2:15).
Keep doing kingdom work. Keep serving each person you meet. Keep loving everyone who crosses your path. Don’t try to silence the critics and skeptics by yelling louder. Trust God and do what’s right. Remember that example is the loudest voice in every room. God will take care of us, so keep calm and carry on.Share your hope.
“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15).
In a world like ours, if your life is marked by grace and truth and love and integrity and hospitality and Christian warmth, people will eventually ask what’s wrong with you. So develop “gospel fluency,” and stay ready to answer people’s questions and challenges. If you’re a Christian, you have a mesmerizing hope. Act like it, and be prepared to share it.Always be respectful.
“Yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15).
A rude evangelist isn’t. As you share Christ with people, always be respectful. Evangelism sometimes means difficult conversations, but we should never be difficult people. Avoid verbal fights, be gentle, and “show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2).Remember your Christian family.
“. . . firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Pet 5:9).
We’re not the first ones, the last ones, the only ones, or the main ones who are suffering. In the West, most of our micro-suffering would barely register among so many brothers and sisters abroad. We should remember, with prayer and sympathy and great respect, the many others who endure so much more opposition than we do. Even when we do face legitimate challenges to our faith, we’re in good and noble company.Look to the east.
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Pet 5:10). “Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:13).
Darkness has never stopped the dawn. So we have every reason to fix our eyes on the far horizon. We have every reason to hope that God “will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish” us. We have every reason to anticipate our “eternal glory in Christ.” Jesus is coming back. So when the night deepens, stay on the trail and look to the east.
Churches have practiced a ministry model for years that moves people of similar age, life experience, or grade into groups together, leaving them devoid of significant intergenerational relationships. Some intentional and strategic ministry and teaching among such groups can be and is warranted. However, the practice of too many churches makes hyper-age stratification the norm and intergenerational connectivity the exception, resulting in a lack of meaningful, discipleship-focused relationships between generations.
Student ministries, along with other next-generation ministries, often resemble this structure as teenagers gather with peers during planned meeting times with a few adult volunteers. Sunday morning worship services can be the only time the generations of the church are together. Even then, these services are often not conducive or focused on fostering intergenerational relationships.
Hyper-age stratification ministry has left the church and younger generations worse, not better. This practice has been responsible, in part, for harming the faith of the next generations. Chap Clark claims, “The loss of meaningful relationships with adults has been the most devastating to developing adolescents.”
David Kinnaman reveals that 18- to 29-year-olds with a Protestant or Catholic background “do not recall having a meaningful friendship with an adult through their church, and more than four out of five never had an adult mentor.” The impact of these missing relationships was revealed by the Barna Research Group, who indicated that only 31 percent of millennials who dropped out of church stated they had a significant adult friendship in the church, while 59 percent of millennials who did not drop out of church said they did have a meaningful relationship or mentorship with an adult in the local church.
We cannot say that the singular cause of young people dropping out of church is the lack of significant relationships with adults. Yet, we cannot deny for those who remained in the church that these relationships were crucial in their continued engagement in the faith community of the local church. Therefore, Kinnaman asserts, “This is true of enough young Christians that we must ask ourselves whether our churches and parishes are providing the rich environments that a relationally oriented generation needs to develop deep faith.” Of all people, places and organizations in this world, the church ought to be a family of people who live in reconciled communion with God that makes possible the intergenerational relationships with one another forged by the cross of Jesus Christ. The following are a few reasons we must embrace these relationships.
1. Intergenerational relationships are biblical.
Scripture must be the rule of our faith and practice. From the beginning, we observe that all people were made to live in relationship to God and one another. Parents were blessed to be fruitful and multiply, thus bringing into existence an intergenerational relationship between parent and child. Though sin has fractured our relationship to God and one another, Jesus Christ came to restore what sin destroyed. John Stott writes, “[God’s] plan, therefore, is not to call independent, unconnected individuals to return to Himself in isolation from one another, but to redeem a people for His own possession.” The picture of the New Testament church is a people joined “together,” living life in intergenerational relationship one to another.
2. Intergenerational relationships image God.
Living in community is one way we fulfill being image-bearers of God. God is one God in three distinct persons, with each member having a distinct role, though each Person is equally God. Bill Clem notes, “The God of the Bible is an eternal, triune community, loving each other and living in worshipful, belonging relationships.” The church is to be reflective of God’s own relationship with Himself through living in community, including intergenerational community. When the church, in spite of differences and diversity even of age, lives in loving relationship and unity to one another by the Gospel, we more faithfully reflect God’s own nature.
3. Intergenerational relationships are necessary for the Great Commission.
Parents have been called to make disciples of their children beginning in Genesis. This first and primary intergenerational relationship was a Great Commission relationship for the purpose of leading children to follow God in worship and obedience as image-bearers of God. Even more, Paul’s letter to Titus called the church to intergenerational relationships, with older men and women teaching the younger men and women. Younger generations need older generations who are seeking to make disciples of younger generations. Kara Powell reports, “Specifically, churches with close intergenerational relationships show higher faith maturity and vibrancy.”
4. Intergenerational relationships push back against rising loneliness.
Forty-six percent of Americans expressed a feeling of loneliness either sometimes or always, while 43 percent said they feel isolated and that their relationships are not meaningful. Sixteen- to 24-year-olds indicated feeling alone more than three times that of people age 65 and older. Though connected by various technologies of the digital age, young people are missing relationships with parents and other adults. Tragically, only 10 percent of individuals seek community in a local church, perhaps because they do not expect to find it there.
All Christians, especially the next generations, need intergenerational relationships among believers in the church. What can we do to push back against the hyper-age stratification and foster these relationships?
 Chap Clark, Hurt 2.0 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 35.
 David Kinnaman, You Lost Me (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 121.
 “5 Reasons Millennials Stay Connected to Church,” n.p. Retrieved online 18 October 2018: https://www.barna.com/research/5-reasons-millennials-stay-connected-to-church/#.UlQIwRBjMSS.
 Brad House, Community (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 201), 32.
 John Stott, Basic Christianity (Chicago, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1964), 105.
 Bill Clem, Disciple (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 130.
 Kara Powell, Jake Mudder, and Brad Griffin. Growing Young (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016), 130.
 Jayne O’Donnell and Shari Rudavsky, “Young Americans are the loneliest, surprising study from Cigna shows,” n.p. Retrieved online 18 October 2018: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/ 2018/05/01/loneliness-poor-health-reported-far-more-among-young-people-than-even-those-over-72/559961002/.
 Sean Coughlan, “Loneliness more likely to affect young people,” n.p. Retrieved online 18 October 2018: https://www.bbc.com/news/education-43711606.
 “Americans Divided on the Importance of Church,” n.p. Retrieved online 18 October 2018: https://www.barna.com/research/americans-divided-on-the-importance-of-church/#.UzwMlq1dW7o.
This year we mourned the passing of Billy Graham and, had he lived until November 7, he would have reached 100 years of age. Without a doubt, Billy Graham had a preaching ministry that impacted the world perhaps more than any other in modern history. There are those who debate the effectiveness of Billy Graham’s ministry and methodology in evangelism. Others doubt the effectiveness of crusade evangelism in general in reaching and making disciples for the Lord Jesus Christ.
It can be demonstrated that even Billy Graham had his concerns about the depth of commitment made by those coming forward at his crusades to receive Christ. However, perhaps he could have responded as D. L. Moody did to one of his detractors who said, “I don’t like the way you reach people with the gospel.” Moody replied to her, “I agree with you. I don’t like the way I do it either. Tell me, how do you do it?” She replied, “I don’t do it,” to which Moody responded, “Well, I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”
The purpose of this article is not to debate Billy Graham’s evangelistic methodology, but to mention a few of the contributions he made to the world missions endeavor within his lifetime.
When Billy Graham, Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea, and Grady Wilson were in a crusade in Modesto, California, they met in a hotel room and wrote down some rules for the ministry designed to keep them from falling into some of the sinful traps which had taken out so many before them. These traps included perceived temptations in the areas of financial, promotional, and sexual purity.
They also discussed the need to work with local churches in every location they held evangelistic crusades. What was dubbed the “Modesto Manifesto” had a tremendous impact on the “above reproach” nature of Billy Graham’s ministry and has been copied by other organizations and agencies since. Part of the legacy of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was to become the founder and a charter member of the “Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability” or ECFA.
Today a large number of evangelical associations, ministries, denominations, and agencies are members of the ECFA and have their financial structure scrutinized on a routine basis to assure their donors, board members, and constituents of their financial integrity. This has been of great benefit in distinguishing organizations that maintain financial integrity from those that do not.
As mentioned above, Billy Graham and his ministry sought to involve themselves heavily with the local church in every location where he preached. He recognized that it was impossible for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to follow up with those who were coming to Christ, much less have any impact on the discipleship of these new believers.
He recognized that this was work that must be done by Bible preaching local churches. This emphasis on the local church has been incorporated into the mindset of a number of parachurch ministries and missions agencies since then. It has been recognized, as it must, that the work of fulfilling the Great Commission is a mandate to the church and not to missions agencies.
The work of any missions endeavor must be done in conjunction with and as assistant to the local church with the aim of planting, training, strengthening, and mobilizing new churches for the glory of God and for the further fulfillment of the Great Commission.
Majority world partnership
Billy Graham’s involvement in establishing the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization demonstrated his confidence in the brothers and sisters in the church in the Majority World to be full partners in the work of Global Evangelism. When we refer to “Majority World,” we are speaking of those believers who make up the majority of the population of the church in the world living outside of the nations traditionally referred to as “the West” or the “Western World.”
Graham’s attitude was not paternalistic, but collaborative and empowering with and toward the Majority World church. At numerous meetings of the Lausanne Congress, Graham would look out on the crowd of evangelists and church planters from all over the world and declare, “You are my successors.” This attitude of involving brothers from all over the world as equals in the task of preaching the gospel is a legacy that Graham has left us all.
Today, many missiologists see the Majority World as the primary force in world evangelization. Billy Graham perhaps saw that first.
Billy Graham put a priority on the preaching of the gospel. It is true that he often commented in his sermons on the social ills and political problems of the day, but these comments were always to emphasize the need for the life-transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He remained steadfast in his commitment to the preaching of personal repentance and faith in Christ as the means of salvation. Missions agencies and denominations abandon the preaching of the gospel in their work to the peril of their ministries and of those to whom they minister. If we lose the gospel, we have no mission.
These are only a few of the areas where Billy Graham’s legacy continues to live in the world missions endeavor. As we celebrate his life this year and mark the hundredth anniversary of his birth, we can thank God for a man like Billy Graham and for what God has taught us through him.
We will probably never see another Billy Graham. We may never even see another ministry like his was. God is moving through other persons and methods to accomplish the Great Commission in our day, but always using the gospel as the means of calling people to salvation in Jesus Christ. However, Billy Graham has left behind some lessons that we dare not forget.
Satan does not mind expository preaching — as long as it misses the main point of God’s Word. In fact, Satan himself engages in a form of expository preaching and encourages that form of biblical exposition to be practiced as a means of his deception. Russell Moore writes:
Throughout the Old Testament, he preaches peace — just like the angels of Bethlehem do — except he does so when there is no peace. He points people to the particulars of worship commanded by God — sacrifices and offerings and feast days — just without the preeminent mandates of love, justice, and mercy. Satan even preaches to God — about the proper motives needed for godly discipleship on the part of God’s servants. In the New Testament, the satanic deception leads the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees to pore endlessly over biblical texts, just missing the point of Jesus Christ therein. They come to conclusions that have partially biblical foundations — the devil’s messages are always expository; they just intentionally avoid Jesus.
Consider some of the dangers of non-Christocentric expository sermons.True, but misleading assertions
Contemporary evangelical preachers who affirm expository preaching do not intentionally avoid Jesus in preaching, but some accepted approaches to expository preaching methodologically eclipse him in the name of honoring the text. For instance, Walter C. Kaiser rejects the possibility of a text’s possessing a canonical sensus plenior (fuller meaning) and argues that interpreting the meaning of every text in light of the fullness of New Testament revelation is “wrongheaded historically, logically, and biblically.” The implications of this position for preaching are monumental. Thomas R. Schreiner asserts, “If we only preach antecedent theology, we will not accurately divide the word of truth, nor will we bring the Lord’s message to the people of our day.”
The consequences are compounded in light of the fact that, at least in some evangelical circles, “the Kaiser method” has taken on the status of gatekeeper of conservative orthodoxy in biblical interpretation, as Richard Schultz argues in his review of Toward an Exegetical Theology. Many preachers cannot articulate the theoretical basis of Kaiser’s analogy of antecedent Scripture or his commitment to the single intention of the human author. Nevertheless, they enact this pattern each week. One may plausibly attribute this phenomenon to a mimesis of the theory and techniques presented during their academic training. Millard J. Erickson writes:
Evangelical hermeneutics of the past quarter-century has placed a great deal of emphasis on the concept of authorial intent. This has been displayed in a number of ways, but one of the clearest and most direct has been the extensive utilization of the thought and writings of E.D. Hirsch, Jr. in evangelical hermeneutics courses. It is also evident in the writings of evangelical teachers of hermeneutics, who insist that a given passage of Scripture has only one meaning, and that this meaning is the meaning intended by the human author. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., has been the most consistent and insistent in advocating this idea, but others have also sought to make this case persuasively.
It is possible to preach only true assertions from the Scripture and yet mislead hearers regarding the truth of the faith because none of the truths of Scripture are meant to be understood in isolation. When ethical and moral imperatives are proclaimed as sufficient, even abstracted from Jesus, the result is a crossless Christianity in which the central message becomes an exhortation to live according to God’s rules. Hearers who possess a seared conscience may develop an attitude of self-righteousness: according to their judgment, they are adequately living by God’s rules. Faithful believers with tender consciences may despair because they know that they constantly fall short of God’s standard.
In other words, preaching bare moral truths (moralisms) often drives people away from fellowship with Christ. Bryan Chapell does not overstate the case when he argues that a “message that merely advocates morality and compassion remains sub-Christian even if the preacher can prove that the Bible demands such behaviors.” Perhaps we must go even further and say that such sermons, though well-intentioned, are anti-Christian and a tool of satanic deception.
Moore explains the cosmic danger of non-Christocentric preaching in light of the temptation narrative (Matt 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13):
Why is this so important? Why can’t I simply say true things from the Scripture without showing how it fits together in Christ? It is because, apart from Christ, there are no promises of God. In his temptation of Jesus, Satan quotes Scripture and he doesn’t misquote the promises: God wants His children to eat bread, not starve before stones; God will protect His anointed One with the angels of heaven; God will give His Messiah all the kingdoms of the earth. All this is true. What is satanic about all of this, though, is that Satan wanted our Lord to grasp these things apart from the cross and the empty tomb. These promises could not be abstracted from the Gospel.Missing the entry point
D.A. Carson’s concern that conservative evangelicals may displace the gospel without disowning it is particularly applicable to expository preaching. If a preacher exposits, verse-by-verse, through books of the Bible, pressing moral, ethical, behavioral, and attitudinal change upon the hearers without mediating the meaning and application of the text through Jesus, he teaches a dangerous lesson, even if he slaps a gospel presentation on the end. The message is that, while the gospel is necessary as the entry point, it is not at the center of daily Christian living. Such preaching communicates that, after the believer walks through the gospel door, his or her focus should be keeping God’s rules, learning timeless principles, and noting which biblical characters to emulate and which to spurn. None of these concerns are the center of the biblical message.
Graeme Goldsworthy correctly suggests that the reason this approach to preaching is prevalent and popular is because “we are all legalists at heart.” He adds,
Moreover, We would love to be able to say that we have fulfilled all kinds of conditions, be they tarrying, surrendering fully, or getting rid of every known sin, so that God might truly bless us. . . . The preacher can aid and abet this legalistic tendency that is at the heart of the sin within us all. All we have to do is emphasize our humanity: our obedience, our faithfulness, our surrender to God and so on. The trouble is that these things are all valid biblical truths, but if we get them out of perspective and ignore their relationship to the gospel of grace, they replace grace with law.
Pursuing the meaning of every part of the biblical story in light of Christ is not dehistoricizing the biblical text. Rather, it is a matter taking biblical history seriously: it is purposive; it is going somewhere.Two clichés to avoid
Preachers must avoid the two most common sermonic clichés, both the predictable Jesus bit (every sermon is vague, generic Jesus talk) and the predictable morality bit (ethical imperatives abstracted from Jesus). The first is Christocentric but not expository; the second is expository but not Christocentric. Both flatten the Bible out and are in danger of displacing the biblical gospel message. Expository preachers must proclaim the Scripture with awareness of a given text’s historical place and genre, but keep in mind that the Bible considered, as a canonical whole possesses a Christocentric “metagenre” — gospel story.
The post The danger of preaching biblical truth, yet missing Christ appeared first on Southern Equip.
1. La Escritura no lo enseña. La Biblia habla de “declarar” en el sentido de “hacer claro,” explicar y proclamar un mensaje ya dado por Dios para que nosotros lo sigamos y obedezcamos en adoración (Salmo 19:1; 50:6; Daniel 10:21; Mateo 13:35; Juan 4:25). Pero, “declarar” en el sentido de forzar que ciertas cosas pasen no es significado que aparezca en la Escritura, es más bien una practica que emula la magia pagana tan detestada por los profetas bíblicos (ej. 2 Reyes 23:24; Isa. 8:19; Jer. 27:9).
2. La diferencia entre la fe bíblica y la pagana consiste en reconocer que mi vida está en las manos de Dios y no en las mías. Intentar asegurar mi futuro por medio de afirmaciones mías, aun usando el vocabulario bíblico, es falta de fe en Dios, y excesiva confianza en el hombre.
3. Creer a pesar del mundo. La fe bíblica tiene que ver principalmente con creer en lo que Dios ha prometido en su palabra–y por eso es necesario conocerla profundamente sin torcerla como algunos comerciantes lo hacen para amontonar dinero (2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2). La fe bíblica es confiar a pesar de que el mundo no cambie hoy. Es creer contra la realidad presente aun en medio del sufrimiento y aún cuando personalmente no vea su cumplimiento (1 Tes. 3:1-9; Job 19:25).
4. Creer solo en lo que Dios promete. La fe bíblica NO enseña que cualquier cosa que el creyente espere le será concedido si tan solo lo cree ciegamente y “lo declare.” La “convicción de lo que se espera” de Hebreos 11:1 no es lo que el creyente se proponga esperar. Es más bien lo que Dios dice que debemos esperar (Hebreos 10:36-38). Es decir, la segunda venida de Jesús y su juicio para el malvado.
5. Asalto directo contra la verdadera oración. “Declarar” al estilo de muchos predicadores y cantantes hoy en día es un asalto directo, y sustituto barato, a la oración cristiana (Lucas 11:2). En lugar de orar en confianza de que Dios tiene mis necesidades bajo control, y esperar en su voluntad, el “creyente” es motivado a cambiar su realidad vía el optimismo humanista. ¡No se trata de pedirle a Dios “que venga su reino,” según esta distorsión el creyente puede hacer que baje el reino solo mandarlo!
6. Copia de la filosofía secular. Este “declarar,” la llamada “palabra de fe,” es la versión religiosa de la filosofía deconstruccionista secular en la que el mundo es creación del lenguaje humano. La idea a fondo es que si cambias el lenguaje terminarás cambiando la realidad. El feminismo antibíblico que cuestiona la paternidad de Dios y propone una diosa amante del ser humano es el ejemplo más claro.
7. Antesala de la apostasía. El “declarar” de varios predicadores de la prosperidad es un atentado directo contra el esperar en Dios. Es una exhortación para tomar nuestra vida en nuestras manos y afirmar nuestro valor frente al mundo. Esta es una espada de dos filos porque, aunque sea enormemente atractiva para la baja autoestima humana y para los que necesitan provisión urgente, también es una fuente de desanimo, depresión y apostasía cuando lo declarado no llega.
8. El confesar bíblico. El “confesar” sinónimo del “declarar mágico,” en la Escritura se da en un contexto de expresar nuestro pecado (Salmo 32:5; 38:18), nuestra conversión (1 Reyes 8:33; 2 Cro. 6:24), nuestra limitación, y confianza en que Dios tendrá la última palabra. Lo central de la confesión cristiana no es reconocer mi capacidad para cambiar la realidad. Es reconocer que el que decide es “el Señor,” no el creyente (Rom. 10:9); confesar el nombre de Dios, hablar de su grandeza–y no de la nuestra– para que las naciones lo busquen y adoren (Nehe. 9:3), aunque los siervos del altísimo sufran el rechazo mientras tanto. No es mi palabra la que cambiará mi mundo, sino el Hijo del Hombre en su venida quien confesará los nombres de sus santos, haciendo pública así la razón y la dignidad que siempre han tenido (Lucas 12:8; Apoc. 3:5).
9. Buscar sólo el decreto de Dios. ¿Y qué digo de la estupidez del “decretar” del creyente? Sólo el Soberano tiene derecho a decretar, y así lo ha hecho eternamente. En la Escritura, la única vez en que los humanos decretan algo son los reyes paganos. Dios los ocupa porque forman parte de su decreto eterno (Daniel 4:17). Todas las otras veces tiene que ver con obedecer los mandamientos y estatutos escritos de Dios. El ha decretado que se deba obedecer su palabra solamente, y que se deje de estar buscando y oyendo otro tipo de “decretos.”
10. Evangeliza y no “arrebates.” “Arrebatar” o “atar” para ordenarle a Satanás es una infantil interpretación de los pasajes que ocupan esa terminología. Mateo 11:12, por ejemplo, como aparece en Reyna-Valera es ambiguo. La versión Dios Habla Hoy traduce mejor: “Desde que vino Juan el Bautista hasta ahora, el reino de los cielos sufre violencia, y los que usan la fuerza pretenden acabar con él.” Así también: NBV, NTV, PDT, etc. Este verso no enseña que los creyentes deben “arrebatar” nada, y menos a Satanás. Mateo 16:19 no es fácil de interpretar—según la mayoría de buenos comentarios bíblicos. Lo claro es que el pasaje no dice nada de ligar o atar a ningún humano o a Satanás. Más bien, prescribe la entrada al reino de los cielos. La iglesia es la encargada de abrir la puerta al reino de Dios. Todos los que entren por la puerta del mensaje del evangelio, serán acogidos en los cielos.
Por esto y por mucho más: No “declares,” No “decretes,” No “confieses,” no “arrebates” no “ates o desates”. ¡Es mejor conocer a fondo la Escritura, y honrar a Dios obedeciéndola!
1. It is not something taught by Scripture. The Bible speaks of “declaring” in the sense of “making clear,” explaining and proclaiming a message already given by God for us to obey in adoration (Psalm 19:1; 50:6; Daniel 10:21; John 4:25). But “declaring” in the sense of forcing certain things to happen does not appear in Scripture. It is rather a practice that emulates the pagan witchcraft so detested by biblical prophets (e.g., 2 Kings 23:24; Isaiah 8:19; Jeremiah 27:9).
2. The difference between biblical and pagan faith consists in recognizing that my life is in the hands of God and not in mine. Trying to secure my future through affirmations of mine, even using the biblical vocabulary, is evidence of a lack of faith in God and an excessive trust in man.
3. We should believe in spite of the world. Biblical faith has to do mainly with trusting in what God has promised in His Word—and that is why it is necessary to know it deeply without twisting it as some merchants do to accumulate money (2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:2). Biblical faith is to trust in God even though the world does not change today. It is to believe against real suffering and even when I do NOT get to see what God will bring at the end (1 Thessalonians 3:1-9; Job 19:25).
4. We should believe only in what God promises. Biblical faith does NOT teach that whatever the believer expects will be granted to him if he only believes it. The “conviction of things not seen” in Hebrews 11:1 is not what the believer wants. It is rather what God has promised (Hebrews 10:36-38), that is, the second coming of Jesus and His judgment for the wicked.
5. It is a direct assault against true prayer. “Declaring” for many preachers and singers today is a direct assault, and a cheap substitute, for Christian prayer (Luke 11:2). Instead of praying that God may provide for my needs, the “believer” is motivated to change his reality via humanistic optimism. It is not about asking God “thy kingdom come,” but “making” the kingdom come down by just commanding it!
6. It is a copy of the secular philosophy. This “declaring,” the so-called “word of faith,” is the religious version of secular deconstructionist philosophy in which the world is the creation of human language. The idea is that if you change the language, you end up changing reality. The anti-biblical feminism that questions the paternity of God and proposes a goddess who seduces the human heart is the clearest example.
7. It is a prelude to apostasy. The “declaring” teaching of several preachers of prosperity is a direct attack against waiting on God. It is an invitation to take our life in our hands, affirming our value in front of the world. This is a two-edged sword because, although it is attractive to those who suffer from low self-esteem and are in need of provision, it is also a source of discouragement, depression, and apostasy when the thing “declared” does not become reality.
8. It is contrary to biblical confession. Many preachers and singers use “confession” as a “magical spell” to change reality. However, in Scripture, the term occurs in contexts for expressing our sin (Psalm 32:5; 38:18), our conversion (1 Kings 8:33), our limitations, and our confidence that God has the last word for my problems. Confession is not about my ability to change reality. It is about recognizing that the one who decides is “the Lord,” not the believer (Romans 10:9). We are to speak of God’s greatness—and not of ours—among the nations so that they may worship Him too (Nehemiah 9:3), even if the servants of the Most High may suffer rejection in the meantime. Christian confidence does not change the world; rather, the Son of Man, at His second coming, will confess the names of His saints, thus making public the dignity they have always had (Luke 12:8; Revelation 3:5).
9. We should seek only the decree of God. And what do I say about the stupidity of the believer “decreeing”? God the Sovereign is the only one with the right to decree, and He has done so eternally. In Scripture, it is only pagan kings who decreed. God uses them because they are part of His eternal decree (Daniel 4:17). All other times in which “decree” is used in the Bible refer to obeying the written statutes God has given to His people. He has decreed that only His Word should be obeyed, and that we should stop looking for other kinds of “decrees.”
10. We should evangelize, not “snatch.” “Snatching from” or “binding” Satan is a childish interpretation of the biblical passages that occupy that terminology. Matthew 11:12, for example, in Reyna-Valera is ambiguous. Dios Habla Hoy translates better: “Since John the Baptist came until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and those who use force seek to destroy it” (compare NBV, NTV, PDT, etc.). We cannot say on this verse that believers are commanded to “snatch” anything from anyone, least of all from Satan. Matthew 16:19 is not easy to interpret—check major biblical commentaries—but what is clear is that the context says nothing about binding any human or satanic being. Rather, it is related to the entrance to the kingdom of heaven. The church is responsible for opening the door, presenting the entrance to the Kingdom of God. All who enter through the door of the Gospel message will be welcomed into heaven.
For this and much more: Do not “declare,” do not “decree,” do not “confess,” do not “snatch,” do not “bind or loose.” It is better to know the Scripture thoroughly and honor God by obeying it!
John sees a beast rising out of the sea, summoned by the dragon on the seashore (12:17). The sea was a place of chaos, danger, and evil for the Hebrews. The vision draws on Daniel 7:3, where Daniel sees “four great beasts . . . out of the sea.” The beasts in Daniel represent great empires, and a great empire — almost certainly Rome — is in John’s mind as well. The kingdom rising out of the sea is not humane, civil, or supportive of its citizens. Instead, it is like a ravaging and ferocious beast, preying on its citizens.
The beast described here is probably the fourth beast seen by Daniel (Dan. 7:7, 19, 23). The beast in Revelation has extraordinary power, for it has ten horns, with ten diadems (Rev. 17:12; cf. Dan. 7:20, 24) — symbols of ruling authority — on its horns. It has seven heads, also signifying its authority and power. The dragon had seven heads and ten horns (Rev. 12:3), and he clearly has given his authority to the beast. The beast with its horns and diadems parodies the Christ (cf. 5:6; 19:12), just as the dragon does. The seven heads bear blasphemous names, which are perhaps Roman claims to deity, such as “Lord,” “son of God,” and “Savior” (cf. also 17:3), revealing again the divine pretensions of the beast. The beast is not confined to the Roman Empire; it refers to Rome but applies also to every manifestation of evil in all governments throughout history, and also to the final conflict to come at the end.
We must be willing to suffer, to give our all for Christ, to persevere until the end in order to obtain the final reward.
Coming out of the sea
The beast coming out of the sea is like a leopard, with feet like a bear’s and a mouth like a lion’s. In Daniel’s vision of the four beasts, the first (Babylon) was like a lion with eagles’ wings (Dan. 7:4), the second (Medio-Persia) was like a bear (Dan. 7:5), and the third (probably Greece) was like a leopard (Dan. 7:6). John sees these beasts consummated in Daniel’s fourth beast, which is the beast he describes here (probably Rome; cf. Dan. 7:7, 19, 23). This beast is not autonomous but derives its totalitarian rule from the dragon, and thus its governing authority is demonic (cf. 2 Thess. 2:8–9).
One of the heads of the beast had a mortal wound, from which it recovered (cf. 17:8). Many understand this to refer to an individual, which is certainly possible. After Nero’s death in AD 68, a tradition arose that he would return (perhaps from Parthia) and rule again, and John might have had that tradition in mind. But if John wrote in the 90s, his most plausible date, it is quite unlikely this tradition would be in mind, since Nero was long gone. It is more probable, then, that the reference is to the empire as a whole. The deadly wound signifies the apparent demise of tyrannical rule. Rome’s dominion looks as if it has been dethroned and removed forever. And yet the empire is not destroyed; just when it seems that its tyranny has ended, its power is resumed. The so-called death-blow is ineffective. In response, the world is astonished with the beast and gives its allegiance to him, for the revival of a demonic empire is a kind of resurrection, and so once again the beast parodies the Christ.
The staying power of the beast and its empire leads to worship of the dragon and the beast. The dragon is worshiped for giving authority to the beast. The beast is worshiped because of his so-called resurrection. He is considered incomparable and omnipotent, like God (cf. Ex. 15:11; Ps. 89:7). People worship the beast, believing he cannot be resisted or overcome. As has often been observed in history, people support a winner.
Twice in this verse we are told what “was given” to the beast: a mouth to utter proud, blasphemous words, and authority for forty-two months. The clause “it was given” (edothē) appears four other times in this chapter (13:7 [2x], 14, 15). In the comment on 9:1, I defended the notion that God is the implied subject of this passive construction. Although the dragon actively gives (edōken; 13:2, 4) his authority to the beast, God reigns and rules over what the beast carries out, allowing or permitting the beast to exercise his authority. Even though God ordains what the beast does, he does not have the same motivations or intent as Satan. God’s judgment is his “strange” work (Isa. 28:21), and he calls on the wicked to repent and live (Ezek. 18:23, 32), while Satan rejoices when people are destroyed. The “secret things” belong to the Lord (Deut. 29:29), and hence we cannot fully chart or explicate the logical relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility.
The beast is full of himself, uttering “haughty and blasphemous words” against God, just as Antiochus IV Epiphanes did in his day, functioning as a type of the coming beast (cf. Dan. 7:8, 20; 11:36). Such activity fits also with the “man of lawlessness,” who exalts himself as divine (2 Thess. 2:3–4). The beast is allowed to exercise his authority for forty-two months. Some understand this to be a literal three and one-half years before Jesus returns. But John is more likely describing the entire period between Jesus’ first and second coming (cf. comment on Rev. 11:2); John wrote not of days far removed from his readers but of the impact of the Roman Empire on them. All totalitarian governments arrogating to themselves divine authority reveal that they too are the beast.
John focuses on the beast’s opposition to God, drawing especially on Daniel. As in verse 5, the beast’s self-exaltation expresses itself in his speech, which blasphemes God and his name. He follows the pattern of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, of whom Daniel 7:25 says, “He shall speak words against the Most High.” The prophecy of Daniel 11:36 is also fulfilled: “He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods.” The beast also reviles God’s dwelling, those who dwell in heaven (cf. Rev. 12:12). This is likely a reference to the people of God (21:3), showing that their true home is in heaven. The actions of the beast here accord with Daniel 7:25, where the beast opposes God and his people. The beast, harboring divine pretensions, hates anything and anyone devoted to the one true and living God.
Twice more we see what God has given (edothē) the beast. First, God has allowed him to make war on the saints and conquer them. This does not mean the saints surrender their faith (cf. comment on 11:7). It means God allows the beast to take their lives (cf. 2:13; 6:9–11; 16:6; 17:6; 18:24; 19:2; 20:4); this too follows the pattern found in Daniel, where Daniel says about Antiochus IV Epiphanes, “This horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them” (Dan. 7:21; cf. Dan. 7:25). God grants the desires of the beast for a period of time, so that the beast exercises authority over every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. We see here the reach of the imperial cult and the totalitarian nature of the beast’s rule.
The worship of the beast
The beast’s authority and rule spark fear and admiration in those dwelling on earth, and they worship the beast. The verse reads as if everyone without exception worships the beast, but the phrase “all who dwell on earth” (pantes hoi katoikountes epi tēs gēs) is a technical term in Revelation for unbelievers (cf. comment on 3:10). Such an understanding is confirmed by the next clause, for the earth dwellers are those with names not inscribed in the book of life. The book of life contains the names of those who will not perish in the lake of fire (cf. Dan. 12:1; Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27; 22:19). Those who give their allegiance to the beast thereby demonstrate that they do not belong to the one true God.
Most English translations refer to those “written before the foundation of the world in the book of life.” John makes a similar point in Revelation 17:8, where he refers to “the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.” The word order in 13:8 could suggest, alternatively, that John refers to “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (cf. KJV, NIV). Word order is not determinative, and, given the parallels, John probably speaks of those who were inscribed in the book of life before history began. After all, the death of Christ was predetermined before history began, but it is quite another thing to say he was actually slain before the world began, for the Lamb was slain in history, not before the world began. On the other hand, God decided before history began who would be inscribed in the book of life.
John reverts to the formula used in all seven letters (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). Those who have ears should open their ears and heed what is being said. People are told in advance about the authority of the beast and his persecution and slaying of Christians. They are informed that unbelievers will give to the beast their worship and their adoration. Hence, believers must ready themselves. Some are destined for captivity, and to captivity they will go. Others are destined to be killed by the sword, and so it will be (cf. Jer. 15:2; 43:11). Such events do not mean God has abandoned or forgotten about them; the power of the beast does not suggest God’s sovereign rule over the world has been surrendered, for the beast exercises authority only by God’s will. Hence, believers are called upon to persevere and remain faithful to their Lord. They must remain loyal despite the persecution and difficulties at hand.
The next paragraph (13:11–18) commences with John seeing another beast, coming up from the earth. This other beast is elsewhere identified as the “false prophet” (16:13; 19:20; 20:10). The second beast, then, claims to speak for God and thus represents religious authority contrary to God’s Word and ways. If the first beast is the Roman Empire, the second beast is probably the imperial priesthood. The deceitfulness of the second beast is apparent—he has two horns like a Lamb, thus presenting himself as being in accord with the Lamb, but he actually speaks like the dragon, revealing his message to be demonic. Jesus himself warned that false prophets would come “in sheep’s clothing” while in fact being “ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15).
The second beast is the third member of the unholy trinity, functioning like an unholy Spirit. He exercises the authority of the first beast in his presence, compelling the inhabitants of the earth (all unbelievers) to worship the beast. Unbelievers are happy to comply, for the beast appeared to have divine powers, recovering from a seemingly mortal wound. The beast, in other words, had its own version of the resurrection—just when totalitarian rule appeared to be squelched, it rose from the ashes to reign again.
The plausibility of the second beast is augmented by its miraculous power (cf. 16:14). In other words, false religion seems to be verified empirically. Just as Elijah could bring fire down from heaven (1 Kings 18:38), so false religion here is allegedly confirmed by signs and wonders. Both Jesus (Matt. 24:24) and Paul (2 Thess. 2:9) taught that miracles would be accomplished by false christs and prophets. Such miracles test believers, ascertaining their devotion to the Lord (Deut. 13:1–3).
The signs deceive the earth dwellers (unbelievers; cf. comment on 3:10), convincing them that the beast is worthy of worship and praise. Hence, the inhabitants of the earth make an image of the beast. Images were crafted for the sake of worship, and John reminds us again that the beast is worshiped because it seemed to be dead but sprung to life again. “Image” does not mean a literal image of the beast is made but is John’s apocalyptic and symbolic way of saying the beast is worshiped. “Lived” (ezēsen) is used elsewhere of the resurrection of Christ (Rom. 14:9; Rev. 2:8) and the plural “They came to life” (ezēsan) refers elsewhere to the spiritual or physical resurrection of believers (20:4–5). Unbelievers worship the beast because of its resurrection power, because the empire seems dead but keeps springing back to life. The beast, then, is a parody and counterfeit of Christ.
We see again that the second beast functions like the Holy Spirit. Just as the Spirit came to glorify Jesus (John 16:14) and anoint him with power (Luke 4:18–21), so the second beast honors and empowers the first. When John describes it granting life to the image of the beast, we should not envisage an image literally coming to life. Instead, the point is the second beast’s empowering and supporting the first beast in its endeavors. The speech of the first beast seems supernatural, inspired, authoritative, compelling; he speaks in oracles. But this is not a matter merely of persuasion. Coercion is a staple of the second beast’s “ministry,” and those who refuse to worship the first beast are put to death. Similarly, Pliny writes to the emperor Trajan (AD 98–117) about what to do with Christians: He ought not punish them if they sacrifice to the gods (Epistulae 10.96.5 LCL), but if they refuse, they are to be put to death. Such absolute allegiance was demanded also by Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 3:5–6). Those who bow before the beast reveal they do not belong to the one true God (cf. Rev. 14:9–11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4).
The Mark of the Beast
The second beast also enforces the power of the first through economic discrimination. No one, no matter his social class or influence, will be able to buy or sell unless he has a mark upon the forehead or hand to signify devotion to the beast. The number signifies the name of the beast (cf. 14:11; 15:2). Many interpreters take this literally, as if a literal mark will be imprinted in some fashion on foreheads and hands, but the language is likely symbolic. Just as the seal on the foreheads of the 144,000 (7:3) is not literal, neither should this mark be understood literally. In any case, the two beasts conspire to exclude believers from the marketplace.
John closes this section with a statement that has fascinated and puzzled interpreters throughout history. He summons the readers to be wise so that they can calculate the number of the beast. We are told the number is the number of a man: 666. Some manuscripts read 616, but the best reading is 666. If the number refers to a particular individual, the best guess is Nero. If “Nero Caesar” is transliterated from Greek to Hebrew, the letters calculate to 666, though it is doubtful the original audience would have understood this complex solution.
Many wild speculations about the identity of the person have been promoted throughout history, and every guess has so far been wrong. The advantage of seeing a reference to Nero is that he fits the time period in which John wrote, at which time there was speculation and fear that Nero would return from Parthia after his death. Still, seeing a reference to Nero isn’t easy or obvious, for one must transliterate from Greek to Hebrew to get the number 666, which seems like a stretch for the audience. Also, as noted earlier, if Revelation was written in the 90s, fear of Nero’s return would have lessened considerably by that time. Perhaps it is better to move in a different direction.
The number 777 represents perfection, but John says 666 is the number of a man. The number 666, then, represents what is anti-god and antichrist, all that is in opposition to the one true God. If 777 represents holiness and perfect goodness, then 666 signifies the enormity and totality of evil. Hence, John does not intend to point to any particular individual here. Rather, the kingdom of the beast is a human kingdom, an evil kingdom, instead of a divine one. The nature of humanity apart from God is demonic. The kingdom of the beast promises life and prosperity but brings death, misery, and devastation.
This article is adapted from ESV Expository Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation: Volume 12 edited by Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr, and Jay Sklar. This article was originally published on the Crossway blog.