Did Jacob Wrestle with God?

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Of all the strange stories recorded in the Bible, this one certainly ranks near the top of the list. Jacob—the son of Isaac, and grandson of Abraham—abruptly encounters a mysterious visitor while preparing to meet his estranged brother, Esau. Left alone for the night, a “man” appears from nowhere and proceeds to do something rather unexpected.

Genesis 32:24-32 describes the entire ordeal in dramatic fashion:

“Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.’ But he said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.’ Then Jacob asked him and said, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And he blessed him there. So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, ‘I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.’ Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh. Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip.”

In this passage, Jacob encountered what Genesis calls a “man” (enosh), whom he proceeded to physically quarrel with all night until daybreak (32:24). Famously, Jacob refused to let the man go until he had received a blessing, even though he had been badly wounded. If we know one thing about Jacob, it’s that he was all about receiving a blessing. It seems that he would take one anywhere, anytime, and from anyone! As a result of his persistence, the visitor blessed Jacob and changed his name to “Israel” (32:28). This name would have everlasting significance, as it stood for God’s chosen people within the Old Testament narrative.

This is indeed a strange series of events, and there is literally no indication beforehand that such a thing would take place. However, two things really stand out after the altercation. The first is the man’s rationale behind changing Jacob’s name: “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed” (32:28). Jacob had “striven with God?” Can that be right? Second, Jacob then institutes a name of his own, this time to the location where all this had transpired: “So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, ‘I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved’ ” (32:30). Peniel (or Penuel, probably) means something close to “face of God.”

Not surprisingly, there has always been debate about who Jacob actually faced off against. Despite what was previously said, the Bible itself does not offer full clarity on the matter. If we look at the book attributed to the prophet Hosea, there is an allusion to Jacob’s battle with Genesis’ “man.” There, however, the being is not referred to as a man, but as an angel (malak): “Yes, he wrestled with the angel and prevailed . . .” (Hos. 12:4). While it is difficult to imagine, the Bible refers to Jacob’s adversary (and benefactor) as a man, an angel, and even as God! Whether directly stated or just implied, all three descriptions are present.

But there is a crucial, and often overlooked, detail in this story. After having his name changed, Jacob in turn asked the man what his name was. Humorously, the man responded in an almost rhetorical way: “Why is it that you ask my name?” (32:29). The only rational interpretation of this response is that Jacob was already expected to know the answer. This seems to be the man’s way of saying, “you know full-well who I am. I AM who I AM!”

In case Jacob still had his doubts, God later erased them while meeting with him at Bethel.

“God said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob; You shall no longer be called Jacob, But Israel shall be your name.’ Thus He called him Israel. God also said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; Be fruitful and multiply; A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, And kings shall come forth from you. The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you, And I will give the land to your descendants after you” (Gen. 35:10-12).

This event very clearly echoes what had transpired after Jacob’s primitive wrestling match. Jacob’s name is changed to Israel for a second time, solidifying the transfer. But something more interesting happens this time. Here, God outright declares, “I am God Almighty.” Whereas the “man” was unwilling to directly reveal his true identity the first time around, it seems as though he may have been more direct on this occasion. Was this God’s way of ensuring that Jacob knew just who he had been dealing with all along? Personally, I believe so.

All this meshes with the idea that Jacob’s wrestling partner may have been God Himself, and some translations even label the passage with titles like “Jacob Wrestles with God.”

Still, we should admit that we do not have certainty on what to make of this character. There is no doubt a remaining air of mystery to the whole ordeal. The best explanation is probably that God really did wrestle with Jacob. However—and this is the most important part—we can be sure about what this being was not; this was not just a normal man. Whoever it was, the figure had a heavenly origin.

Of course, some very important questions remain. Why did Genesis refer to this being as a man in the first place? If this was indeed God, how could He have physically wrestled with Jacob? Wouldn’t that mean that God has a body?  Is there something even deeper being revealed to us in this exchange?

I think there is definitely a bigger picture to be seen here. However, in order to do the topic justice, I will have to address that in a separate offering.

Until then, thanks for reading.

 

For more on these issues, and a host of other interesting phenomena, see my latest book God Made the Aliens.

 

Are We Saved by Faith or Works?

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Last time, I discussed an issue that I believe is frequently misunderstood within the church. As part of a larger collection I am working on, I want to stay with that theme in this blog. This material is a bit more in-depth than my normal writings, but it is necessary given the breadth of the topic.

This time, I am interested in the claim that salvation comes through faith alone, without respect to our works. While it would be wrong to lump everyone into the same group—as views certainly vary—I firmly believe that a great many people within the Protestant church affirm this perspective; they do believe and teach that works play no role in our salvation.

There are a variety of historical issues involved, but one is probably central to this movement. The Protestant Reformation brought about a rejection of many things that were considered to be essential within the Roman Catholic Church, its emphases on ritual and procedure being among them. The Protestant mantra of “salvation by faith alone” fit the bill, though the claim would be that this view was derived by a rediscovery of Scripture: something that was not especially allowed prior to that time. This is of course a vague explanation of the situation, but it hits at the heart of the issue. A close look into the writings of the Reformation leaders reveals that the intention was not to eliminate works from the discussion. However, the impression was strong enough to last. Whether intended or not, subsequent generations of Christians came to believe that we are saved apart from anything we do: no works necessary!

But first things first: what are “works”? Works take on several connotations throughout Scripture. One prominent type of works is the 613 commands—or laws and ordinances—God gave to the Israelites through Moses. Anything involving the sacrificial system, food laws, temple requirements, feast days (special Sabbaths), and many others, have been rendered obsolete because of Christ’s atonement (Col. 2:13-17). If this set of commands were what most of us meant by “works”—like the “works of the law” that Paul often referred to (Rom. 3:20, Gal. 2:16)—there would be no issue, since we are clearly not obliged to keep them.

But I am not talking about this definition of works. Rather, I am referring to our moral actions and conduct. You might even prefer to call these “deeds,” in the modern sense of the term. Do we follow the Ten Commandments? Do we give of our time and money to charitable causes? Do we care for others the way the Bible instructs us to? Do we follow the guidance of the Spirit? These things, and many more, are the “works” I am discussing here. Often, these works are seen as completely separable from salvation. You can have the latter without the former.

Now that we have established exactly what is at stake, we are prepared to see what the Bible reveals on the matter. Let’s begin with Paul’s instruction to the believers in Ephesus, since it is one of the most referenced verses on this issue. There, he tells them: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (2:8). Indeed, we are all saved by grace. That is, no one warrants salvation by their own deeds or actions alone.

This is easily one of the most important things to understand within this entire discussion. Jesus aside, there has never been a human being who deserved to know God and to live with Him for the rest of eternity solely because of the quality of the life they lived. God will not look at any mortal and declare, “Now that person is so virtuous that I have no choice but to save him/her!” The Bible is emphatic: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Apart from God extending grace—or unmerited favor—to us, we would all be unworthy of salvation. Further, no amount of good works could ever outweigh our sins. Salvation is not a scale where our works must balance out our sinful deeds. As God sees things (and has revealed in Scripture), good conduct does not eliminate bad conduct. It simply doesn’t operate that way.

Regardless of how kind, decent, charitable, etc., we are, we would still need to be forgiven. This is entirely the point of the Atonement, and it is why neither atheism nor any false religion can offer salvation. No one can be saved apart from the work of Christ; his blood, and nothing else, is the agent of salvation. Sin requires a sacrifice. I have stated this point as clearly as I possibly can, so I sincerely hope it has hit its mark.

However, that is not the end of the matter. The fact that no one warrants salvation by their own works does not mean that works play no role in salvation. Let that sink in for a moment . . .

The reason why is simple but strangely complex: we are saved by faith, but faith cannot be detached from works. Put another way, true faith in Christ is accompanied by works. Perhaps the most famous passage of Scripture that deals specifically with this issue is James 2:14-26. There, James—the half-brother of Jesus—details several important facts: 1) The debate about faith and works is as old as the church itself 2) There is no faith without works (vv. 17, 20, and 26) and 3) Works actually prove faith (v. 18). James explicitly referenced Abraham—who is perhaps the greatest OT example of this teaching—because he was willing to offer his only son as a sacrifice when God commanded him to (Gen. 22). His action proved his faith: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected . . . You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (Jas. 2:21-24, my emphasis).

Imagine if Abraham had responded to God’s directive like this: “You know I believe in you Lord, but I see no need to prove it.” If Abraham had not been willing to follow through with his faith in God—no matter how difficult that would have been—it could not have been said that “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). Faith is proven by action.

Sometimes, our works even include the things we choose not to do. Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan is a perfect example of this (Lk. 10:30-37). In this teaching tale, the two recognized men of faith (the Levite and the priest) failed to act, whereas the despised Samaritan man came to the victim’s aid. This shows us that a failure to put faith into action either renders it useless or proves that it wasn’t authentic to begin with. Whatever the case, the lesson is the same: faith and follow through (actions, deeds, works) are inseparable. Both are necessary for salvation. James summarized this well also: “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (1:22).

The last point worth mentioning is that Jesus was consistent in teaching that works matter, and matter greatly. In addition to the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus presented the same general message—that those who do are declared to be faithful—in many other parables (Talents, the Sheep and Goats, etc.). As if this were not enough, he directly stated that we will be judged based on our actions. “Behold, I am coming quickly, and my reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done (Rev. 22:1, my emphasis). He made a nearly identical statement in Matthew 16:27, as did Paul in Romans 2:5-6. Notice that Jesus did not say the reward will be rendered according to our inward thoughts, or what we consider doing. Rather, he said it will be based on the actions we carry out.

This statement of Jesus comes to mind: “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house” (Mt. 5:14-15).

As it turns out, the question— “Are we saved by faith or works?”—is fundamentally flawed. The answer is neither faith nor works, but simply yes. Salvation comes by our faith in Jesus Christ’s work on the cross and our subsequent works based on this faith. If we take “salvation by faith” to mean “we are saved without respect to our actions,” we have terribly misunderstood the gospel message. Further, ask yourself if that belief is logical. We will either be saved or condemned without respect to how we live our lives . . . does that really make sense? Alternatively, if our theology places our works as the saving agent or that which absolves our sins, then we have made a mockery of Jesus’ atoning work at Calvary.

In the end, I believe this entire misunderstanding comes down to two major problems. The first is a failure to recognize that the “works of the law” (that Paul described) are not the same as the “works” of faith (that James described). The former no longer apply to Christians, but the latter certainly do. The second problem is one involving personal responsibility: it is simply easier to believe that salvation occurs wholly apart from our actions than it is to accept that we have a part to play. If Jesus “did it all,” then nothing is left for us to do.

Every ounce of responsibility would be lifted from our shoulders. There is no doubt a warmth in that thought, but as Sister Aloysius said in the movie Doubt, that “warm feeling” is “not the sensation of virtue.”

The view that works play no part in salvation is both pervasive and dangerous. In fact, I can think of nothing that would more naturally lead to spiritual lethargy and an utter lack of motivation to do good works. And that is why this issue matters, and matters greatly.

 

For more on these issues, and a host of other interesting phenomena, see my new book God Made the Aliens.

Are all Sins Equal?

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I am writing this blog due to a series of issues that have arisen in recent discussions, which I feel would be very relevant to others. While I plan on discussing several of these throughout the course of time, one feels especially pressing at the moment.

It is often thought, embraced, and even taught that all sins are equal before God. Put in its typical vernacular, “a sin is a sin!” The thought here is pretty straightforward: whatever issues any of us may have with disobedient behavior, we can rest assured that we are all equally guilty before God.

No individual’s sin is any worse than another’s.

At first blush, this no doubt sounds very good: convincing, even. But we are always charged to ask the same question on every issue—is this belief true?

A good place to start in answering this question is in the Old Testament of the Bible. There are two major covenants in the Bible: the covenant made with Israel through Moses, and the covenant made with all believers through Jesus. While the first (or “old”) covenant does not directly apply to Christians in many ways, it certainly does tell us a lot about God’s character and how His laws work.

Including the Ten Commandments, the Israelites were given literally hundreds (about 613 in all) of laws to keep. Attempting to keep all these laws was quite the burden, as the first church council concluded in Acts 15:10. But if we begin to look at the punishments that corresponded with these laws, we begin to see a very interesting pattern emerge.

Consider the following offenses recorded in the book of Exodus, and the punishment they warranted. If someone intentionally plotted and murdered another, he was to be put to death (21:12). However, if someone was unintentionally killed, then the person responsible would not be put to death but would be required to flee to a place appointed by God (21:13). That is a curious difference.

If someone assaulted their parents, kidnapped someone without releasing them, or caused serious injury to a pregnant woman (or her unborn child), the offender would be put to death (21:15-18). If one defends themselves from a break-in and kills the intruder, there is no punishment for this act. However, if they were to kill an intruder after the fact or in broad daylight, the defender would be “guilty of bloodshed” (22:2-3). Similarly, a thief would be forced to make restitution for their crime. If they had no money to pay back, they would have to sell themselves as servants to pay for the offense (22:3).

In the New Testament (under the “new covenant”), Jesus mentions several things that are clearly higher crimes than others. He mentions that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit—which, in context, is really about comparing God to Satan or calling Him evil—as being completely unforgivable (Mt. 12:31). Jesus specifically mentions that misconduct towards children carries a heightened degree of punishment:

“If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea” (Mk. 9:42)

Concerning his own betrayal, Jesus said: “But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born” (Mt. 26:24). Further, the book of Hebrews reveals that those who commit apostasy—the act of fully renouncing one’s faith and falling away—cannot be restored to faith (6:4-6). 2 Peter 2:20 goes so far as to suggest that apostates find themselves in store for a greater judgment than if they had never become believers in the first place.

There are many, many other examples that could be mentioned from both the Old and New Testaments. Here, it is clear that the common belief that all sins are equal (that “a sin is a sin”) simply doesn’t pass the biblical test. If we look to our own societal laws, we typically see the same general concept: the punishment fits the crime.

This makes sense to all of us, if we really think about it.

If the view that all sins are the same is not a biblical (or rational) perspective, why is it so often taught and accepted? At the end of the day, I believe the answer to this question is fairly easy to pinpoint: self-justification. It is in our fallen human nature to try and rationalize or explain away our own misconduct. Making all sins equal provides a perfect vehicle to get us to this destination. It allows us to tell ourselves, “See, what I am doing is really no worse than what he or she is doing.” This is the primary reason this false belief has seen such widespread acceptance.

In fairness, there is one other contributing factor worth mentioning. Some are persuaded by a couple sections in Scripture that all sins are equal. 1 John 3:4 is one area: “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” Along the same lines, we have James 2:10: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” James’ statement is quite similar to Jesus’ in Matthew 5:19.

On the surface, it could appear that committing one sin is just the same as committing any other. This is a misunderstanding. These verses are telling us that breaking any of the commandments makes one guilty of sin before God, therefore placing us in need of forgiveness. I would have equally broken God’s law of I stole something, committed adultery, or even murdered someone. All of these sins would make me a lawbreaker who is in need of repentance and forgiveness. However, that says nothing about the severity of these acts or the punishment that each would entail. As we saw in the myriad examples I discussed, sins vary both in degree and in retribution.

In the end, the belief that all sins are equal is both true and false. It is true in the sense that all sins must be absolved, so that they will not count against us at the Great Judgment. However, it is false in the sense that all sinful acts are equally egregious or carry the same weight of judgment. This is why Jesus consistently told us that judgment is not a one-size-fits-all ordeal: “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done (Rev. 22:12, my emphasis).

This is an absolutely crucial thing to understand. A man who steals his neighbor’s lawn ornament does not commit an equal crime or require an equal punishment to a man who rapes his neighbor’s wife. This is true in most every human justice system, and most certainly in God’s.

 

For more on these issues, and a host of other interesting phenomena, see my new book God Made the Aliens.

 

Jesus’ Resurrection Body

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While this sacred event impacts virtually every aspect of the Christian life, once a year the church specifically recognizes its most holy day: Resurrection Day, or Easter Sunday. At this time (and leading up to it), we recall many events in the life of Christ. From his sufferings, to his crucifixion, to the empty tomb, and everything in between, it is truly a sacred memorial. The Resurrection was the culmination of Jesus’ ministry, and it announced that both sin and death had truly been conquered.

While most believers would agree on this point, there is much confusion about another part of the Resurrection: the way in which Jesus returned from the dead. Did he come back as an immaterial spirit? Did he come back with the same body he had, or was this perhaps a different body altogether? More than that, we might wonder how he presently exists in heaven.

I recall a meeting with fellow Christian educators I had several years back. When we were sharing some of the things our students were studying, I told them how fascinated my classes had been about Jesus’ resurrection body. I said, “the students are blown away that Jesus came back from the dead with a  transformed body; they had never been taught about this!” Apparently, the dozen or so adults in the room with me had not been taught about it either. My excitement was immediately dampened by blank stares and awkward silence.

The plain truth is that many within the church have either been given bad information on these issues or have not investigated them at all.

Tragic as this is, there is nothing surprising about it. As I continue to find, the plain teachings of Scripture often take a back seat to the perspectives coming from all manner of “religious professionals.” In other words, what many pastors, professors, and theologians teach about certain topics often differs from what is obvious within the Bible. Jesus’ resurrection body is another one of those places. Some teach that Jesus rose with the identical body that he went to the grave with, and that is incorrect. Some teach that he rose without a body at all and was some type of incorporeal “spirit,” and that is unimaginably incorrect. Still, there are others who go part of the way but fall short of the truth.

For example, take one of the most powerful voices in modern Christian apologetics. When asked about how Jesus returned from the dead, William Lane Craig accurately assured his questioner that he came back with a body. As opposed to those who claim that Jesus came back without physical form (as will we, they contend), Craig astutely responded as follows: “The present body must be freed of its corruptibility, not its materiality, in order for it to be fit for God’s eternal dominion.” Yes, absolutely right!

Unfortunately, he does not stop there. Inexplicably—and as so many thinkers tend to do—Craig goes on to trample over his previous view in high style. While he was so adamant that Jesus’ resurrection body was thoroughly tangible in nature, he changes his tune when describing what it is like at the present time. To do his response justice, I have included the entire paragraph:

“So how should we conceive of Christ’s resurrection body today? Christ in his exalted state still has a human nature; he did not ‘enter back into God’s own existence.’ But Christ has exited this four-dimensional space-time continuum. Therefore, perhaps we might say that his human nature does not now manifest itself corporeally. Compare a tuning fork which is plucked and begins to hum. If the vibrating fork is placed in a vacuum jar, though it continues to vibrate, it does not manifest itself by a humming noise because there is no medium to carry its vibrations. Similarly, Christ’s human nature, no longer immersed in spacetime, does not manifest itself as a body. But someday Christ will return and re-enter our four-dimensional space-time continuum, and then his body will become manifest. In the new heavens and the new earth Christ will be corporeally present to his people. Christ, then, has a human nature which is manifested as his physical resurrection body when he exists in a spatio-temporal universe.”

Four-dimensional space-time continuum . . . spatio-temporal universe . . . vacuum jars and tuning forks? Here I thought we were talking about Jesus’ resurrection body! You might be wondering why Craig goes through such intellectual gymnastics on this issue. I mean, why invoke the deep matters of physics and cosmology in order create a spin on what is so obvious in the Scriptures?

As I frequently point out within my writings (because it is really important), all of this comes down to the fascination that church theologians have had throughout history with Greek philosophy, particularly the Platonic variety. In almost every imaginable way, this results in a depreciation of the physical world and an elevation of the “immaterial” or “spiritual” realities. To Craig, a permanently embodied Jesus (or angels, God, etc.) would throw a giant wrench into the whole machine. As in Plato’s theory of Forms, immaterial realities are the highest and most perfect states of being; they most accurately reflect reality. Things like physical worlds, tangible embodiment, and the like, are necessarily inferior to those things lacking physicality. God—being the perfect and ideal being—cannot possibly be eternally connected to any type of material concepts.

Naturally, this must apply to Jesus as well, since he is both one with the Father (Jn. 10:30) and fully divine. Sure, we can believe that Jesus had a body during his extremely brief time on earth, but certainly not before or after. He must have existed in the “ideal form” (meaning, as an immaterial entity) both before the Incarnation and after the Ascension. It must be this way, for Craig’s (and many other people’s) worldview dictates that it is so.

But let’s get back to the matter at hand. If you can get through his response, these are the key takeaways from this awkward bowl of word salad.

  1. Jesus has a human nature but does not truly possess a tangible body.
  2. Jesus only temporarily manifests a body (i.e. appears to have one) when he enters our realm, time, universe, etc.

In short, the whole “Jesus has a body” thing is an epic show: an illusion used to make us think something that doesn’t match reality. It is not just we who are fooled, of course, but the biblical writers were as well. According to every single biblical text, Jesus not only rose with a transformed, tangible body, but he retained that body after the Ascension.

Speaking of the risen Lord, the apostle Paul clearly recorded that he returned with a transformed body (1 Cor. 15:35-49). We also know this to be the case because none of Jesus’ followers recognized him based on his appearance alone. Not Mary Magdalene (Jn. 20:15), or the apostles (Jn. 21:4, 11), or other disciples (Lk. 24:13-35), or anyone else who met him after the Resurrection. His identity was always determined chiefly by his actions and/or miracles, not by his appearance.

Further, we know that Jesus was able to eat (Lk. 24:41-43) after the Resurrection, and he was touched on numerous occasions (Mt. 28:9, Lk. 24:39). While some have also attempted to explain away these events as well, there can be little doubt of what they are telling us: Jesus had a real, honest to goodness body.

It is also clearly implied that Jesus left our world with this “spiritual body,” and that he would return with it as well. The two angels that appeared (physically, I might add) directly following the Ascension told those who were present: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). So, if Jesus drifted out of our “four-dimensional space-time continuum” and now lives as an unembodied being in heaven (as Craig mentioned), then the biblical authors and those observing Jesus after the Resurrection had it dead wrong.

Worse, believing that Jesus exists in such a way is another case of special pleading. Even though Jesus always appeared with his transformed body, and it was directly stated that he would return with it, we are supposed to believe that he otherwise exists as a disembodied person. This same reasoning is applied by those who want to turn the angels into immaterial beings, so why not do it to Jesus as well? Hey, at least these thinkers are consistent!

This is not to say that there are not theologians who accurately depict Jesus’ bodily existence. I have learned a great deal about these matters from scholars like Gordon Fee, Ben Witherington III, and though I differ with him on certain related things, N.T. Wright is very good on the nature of the resurrection body in general. There certainly are other thinkers (particularly in antiquity) who adhere to the biblical information we have about Jesus’ resurrection body and refuse to compromise it because of their sketchy philosophical or scientific perspectives. However, there are too few of these people instructing us, and there are too many on the other side who are.

Based on the biblical teachings about Jesus’ post-resurrection body, we can deduce the following things:

  1. Jesus indeed had a real, tangible body that was a glorious and transformed version of his earthly body.
  2. Though he still appeared in similar manner to human beings, he had been changed to the extent that he was not immediately recognizable.
  3. Jesus still exists with this “spiritual body,” and he will return in just the way he left.
  4. Notions that Jesus returned as an immaterial spirit, or with the identical body that was laid in the tomb, are demonstrably false and are the product of either simple misunderstanding or purposeful deceit.

If it is indeed true that Jesus conquered the grave through the reception of a glorified body, we are left to wonder: what can this tell us about both the angelic beings and the future of humankind?

Once again, that will have to wait until next time.

 

For more on these issues, and a host of other interesting phenomena, see my new book God Made the Aliens.

 

 

References

Craig, William Lane. “Jesus’ Body.” Reasonable Faith. Mar. 09, 2009. https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/jesus-body

Rossiter, Brian M. God Made the Aliens: Making Sense of Extraterrestrial Contact. Amazon, 2018.  https://www.amazon.com/God-Made-Aliens-Extraterrestrial-Contact-ebook/dp/B07JVCRV8D/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

 

The Sons of God: Giant Makers

 

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In my previous blog, I discussed the very strange reality that groups of giant people—or, the “Nephilim”—once existed in our history. We have found skeletal remains of these individuals, and they were almost deified within the artwork of many ancient cultures. More than that, I also exposed that giants are unarguably described in the Old Testament of the Bible.

They are there; take them or leave them.

However, I left off just short of discussing something equally important—where the Nephilim came from. If giants really did exist, how on earth could we account for them? In short, the biblical explanation for the origin of the Nephilim is even stranger than the Nephilim themselves. Trust me.

So, what is the biblical explanation? Answer: the “sons of God.” (not to be confused with the Son of God, Christ) These are the entities who are responsible for the giants, and there is no shortage of hypotheses about who the “sons of God” are. Two of the better-known views propose that these were actually mighty kings who took for themselves a harem of women, or that they might simply be men from the line of Seth (the “Sethite View”). When evaluating the issue, it will become apparent that neither of these views make sense of things.

What, then, do we know about these entities? For starters, we know that the sons of God had an incredible impact in our world. It could be argued that they still do. For one thing, we know that they are strongly linked to the issue of the Nephilim—the giant people of ancient history. You might actually say they served as parents to these beings. This could not be more apparent when we consider the account of the Great Flood in Genesis. Just prior to God’s annihilation of humanity (except Noah’s family), the sons of God show up:

“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown” (Gen. 6:4).

Clearly, the sons of God joined themselves with human women and produced the Nephilim.

It appears that we have our culprits, but do we know anything about who they really are? Are they simply powerful human beings, perhaps connected to great kings or the line of Seth (Adam and Eve’s third son)? Are they something else entirely? First, notice the clear difference in terminology in 6:4: sons of God vs. daughters of men. This immediately suggests that one group has more of a heavenly origin, and the other has the typical earthly origin.

When we look closely at their titles, the mystery lifts considerably more. The phrase “sons of God” (bə·nê hā·’ĕ·lō·hîm) is exclusively used to discuss the angels. This is true in all ancient Semitic writings, not just Hebrew. This comes up clearly in Job 1:6, where Satan—who is unquestionably an angelic being—presents himself to God, along with other angels. They too were referred to as “sons of God.” This exact terminology also appears in Job 2:1 and 38:7, and Psalms 89:6 is almost assuredly a reference to the same beings (the angels).

This means that if Genesis 6:4 is talking about some normal tribe of human beings, it would be the only known time that humans were called “sons of God” in all of the ancient Semitic writings, the Old Testament certainly included.

So, the sons of God (the angels) “came upon” human women, which somehow brought about the existence of the Nephilim (giants). How did this transpire? There are really only two plausible options here: 1) This was procreation through some variety of sexual encounter, or 2) This was some type of advanced form of biological engineering or artificial insemination. While it would stun many of us to think this way, the former may make the most sense. As I will later discuss, Genesis 6 certainly describes their unions in sexual ways; the sons of God found the daughters of men to be beautiful, and took them as wives. That speaks volumes.

Furthermore, it has long been thought, by some, that the apostle Paul referenced this awkward relationship when writing to the church at Corinth. While instructing the women there to wear their hair long—which was almost certainly in part to separate them from the pagan temple prostitutes, whom often shaved their heads (see 1 Cor. 11:5)—Paul offered a rather obscure reason for doing so: “Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels” (1 Cor. 11:10). Because of the angels? Really?

In context, Paul was discussing the associations between men and women, both within the order of the church and in physical relationships. His point seems to be that women should be concealing their faces, as to not garner unwanted attention from the sons of God (the angels). The thinking may have been that certain individuals from among the sons of God would become attracted to these women, unless they somehow masked their beauty. This had occurred in the past, so it might be reasonable to suspect that it could happen to the women in Corinth as well. Paul’s talk of women being made for sake of men (1 Cor. 11:8-9) provides further reason to believe this, since it probably implied that women were not made for the angels. Hence, they were asked to make efforts to avoid attracting them.

Then again, perhaps this was just another one of those places the apostle Peter spoke about. Concerning Paul, Peter once remarked: “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:16). True indeed. This may be one of those places. Regardless of our preferred interpretation of Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 11:10, it is no doubt a very strange situation.

Also irrespective of our preferred interpretations is the simple fact that the sons of God are responsible for the entrance of the Nephilim into the world. From the point of view of the Bible, this was decisively a very bad thing. The context of Genesis 6 makes it clear that the Great Flood was at least in part necessary because of the existence of the Nephilim. As soon as they appeared on the scene—thanks to the sons of God, mind you—God pledged to flood the earth. The very next thing Genesis records after introducing the Nephilim reads as follows:

“Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. The LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them’” (6:5-7).

This is not coincidental. The arrival of the Nephilim (through the sons of God) contributed to an increase of the corruption on the earth, so much so that God had to destroy it. Another curious thing is recorded in Genesis 6:2-3, and it directly affects humanity to the present-day. There, it is recorded that “. . . the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.” This doesn’t exactly sound like the women had much of a say in the matter! As a result, God capped the human lifespan at “one hundred and twenty years.” First of all, it strikes me as fascinating that this age cap appears to hold true in reality; this seems to be about the absolute maximum number of years that any human being can live. Second, the link between the sons of God claiming human women and the subsequent result of a diminished life span for human beings is incontrovertible. The sons of God entered the picture, and everything fell completely apart.

Equally telling is the fact that Israel was always commanded to completely destroy those groups whom were associated with the Nephilim. Prior to Israel’s siege on the land of Canaan, God gave them these instructions: “Only in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them . . .” (Dt. 20:16-17). The Israelites were instructed to offer terms of peace to the other groups they encountered, sparing (to take as booty) the women, children, and animals, even if they refused the peace offering (Dt. 20:10-15). But what about all of those who were associated with the Nephilim? No such luck; all were condemned to death. It is abundantly obvious that God had a serious problem with these half man/half angel hybrids.

When you combine this information with the previous blog, we come to some pretty shocking conclusions.

  1. The Nephilim were indeed real. Groups of giant people actually existed.
  2. They came about through the union of the sons of God and human women.
  3. The sons of God and the angels are one in the same, as is apparent in both the language and the usages of the phrase throughout the Bible. However, there are clearly good and evil angels within that broader group.
  4. Both the Nephilim and the particular group of angels that produced them are tainted beings at best, and completely corrupt at worst.
  5. While the Nephilim are no longer with us—for reasons that are not altogether clear—the sons of God certainly are. Both the holy and unholy angels live, and continue to impact our world in myriad ways. (Check this blog, for an immediate example)

As is so often the case within the world of the Bible, the truth can be stranger than any fiction we could conjure up. The Nephilim and their supernatural entrance into our world certainly illustrates this fact.

 

 

For more on these issues, and a host of other interesting phenomena, see my new book God Made the Aliens.

 

 

References

Hodge, Bodie. “Who Were the Nephilim: Genesis 6 and Numbers 13—a Fresh Look.”AnswersinGenesis.Jul9,2008. https://answersingenesis.org/bible-characters/who-were-the-nephilim/

Rossiter, Brian M. God Made the Aliens: Making Sense of Extraterrestrial Contact. Amazon, 2018.  https://www.amazon.com/God-Made-Aliens-Extraterrestrial-Contact-ebook/dp/B07JVCRV8D/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

 

 

Nephilim: Giants of the Ancient World

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In the year 1890, the French magazine La Nature ran an enormous story. Literally. The article was about an abnormally large human skeleton that had been unearthed at the Castelnau-le-Lez cemetery, in France.

This discovery, dubbed the “Giant of Castelnau,” was made by anthropologist Georges Vacher de Lapouge. His findings were nothing short of remarkable. Based on comparing the recovered humerus, tibia, and femoral mid-shaft with average-sized human bones, de Lapouge concluded two major things: the remains were definitely human, and they probably indicated a person who would have been about 11.5 feet in height.

As is so often the case, the whereabouts of these remains are unknown almost 130 years later, and the story has been largely lost to time. We do, however, know some crucial aspects of this case. The first is that de Lapouge, and three well-respected scientists at the University of Montpellier, examined the bones and felt as though they represented an incredibly tall race of people. Further, we know that the story appeared in La Nature, The London Globe, and The New York Times. The findings also appeared in other places from time to time, and all the reports seem to correlate with de Lapouge’s initial findings.

In the ancient world, giant people were commonplace within the many cultures. For a couple of quick examples, this can be seen on the Abydos King List—found on a wall at the Temple of Seti I at Abydos, Egypt—and through drawings near Saqqura, one of which unquestionably displays a giant being who is attended by much smaller individuals. There is also the Victory Stele of Naram-Sin, a Mesopotamian artwork that clearly displays this theme.

But we can rest assured that there is naturalistic explanation—i.e. one devoid of higher-level, intelligent causation or divine influence—for these phenomena. Mainstream science is never in short supply of those.

The secular “solution” to these findings is gigantism, a disease that causes abnormal growth in children—typically continuing into adulthood—because of an excess in the production of growth hormone in the pituitary gland. But this has never been an adequate explanation. Researcher, Dr. Greg Little, has summarized why this is the case:

“It is a weak attempt to explain away and dismiss the issue. Gigantism is exceedingly rare, so rare that there is no actual incidence statistic for it. America has less than 100 cases of gigantism recoded in its history. In fact, the overwhelmingly vast majority of tall people today, those reaching or approaching 7 feet, do not have the disorder of gigantism. The actual percentage of modern humans who reach 7 feet in height is 0.000007%.”

Given the fact that gigantism so uncommon, it is exceedingly improbable that all of these examples from history can be explained by it. Clearly, gigantism will not work as an explanation, particularly when we are dealing with entire groups of giant people. We might be able to chalk an occasional set of skeletal remains up to gigantism, but an entire community of people? No, not a chance.

Entire communities of people . . . This is where the Bible enters the picture.

The Old Testament speaks several times of the Nephilim, or the “giants.” We are all aware of the biblical Goliath, an elite Philistine warrior who is traditionally considered to have been “six cubits and a span” (1 Sam. 17:4), or 9 feet 9 inches tall. The much smaller David of course defeated the giant with a perfectly placed stone to the head (via a deadly sling), but that’s not what interests me at the moment. What interests me is that Goliath was not the anomaly. He was not a three-in-one-million example of gigantism. Rather, he was one giant person among many others. The Philistines were (or at least possessed) an army of huge people. The Jewish spies that had previously scouted the land said it clearly: “There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight” (Num. 13.33).

Maybe the miracle is not so much the stone that slew the giant, but the fact that the other giants threw in the towel afterwards.

The Bible also describes several other groups of giant people. Numbers 13:33 specified that the Nephilim were the “sons of Anak,” but these giants were connected to other surrounding tribes as well. The Canaanites, Ammonites, and Rephaites (or Rephaim) are included; all three of these groups were associated with giants, or the descendants of the Nephilim. Furthermore, the Bible references King Og (of Bashan), specifically because his bedstead was alleged to have been about 13.5 feet in length and 6 feet wide. It is believed that it was probably fashioned to accommodate his massive body (Dt. 3:11). In the same verse, he was also said to have been the only one remaining from the “remnant of the Rephaim.”

King Og was from a line of giants, and he had a giant bedstead. It all adds up.

In ancient times, giant people were often portrayed as kings, pharaohs, military leaders, and other prominent roles. While theories abound on what ultimately became of the Nephilim, the surety of their existence cannot be ignored or explained away. For those who believe in the Bible, the existence of these strange beings is completely unavoidable. Like UFOs and many other strange things, giants are right there in the text, plain as day and clear as crystal.

A truly important question remains though: where did these giants—these “Nephilim”—come from? Who, or what, made them? Good questions indeed . . . but they will have to wait until next time.

 

For more on these issues, and a host of other interesting phenomena, see my new book God Made the Aliens.

References

Ammi, Ken. “On the giant of Castelnau.” TrueFreeThinker. http://www.truefreethinker.com/articles/giant-castelnau

Little, Greg. “The truth about giant skeletons in American Indian mounds, and theSmithsoniancover-up.”APMagazine.Jun.2014.SecretHistory. https://www.sott.net/article/281093-The-truth-about-giant-skeletons-in-American-Indian-mounds-and-the-Smithsonian-cover-up

“The Giants of Ancient Egypt: Part II—Physical Evidence of the Giant Characters.” Ancient Origins. Sept. 2017. https://www.ancient-origins.net/unexplained-phenomena/giants-ancient-egypt-part-ii-physical-evidence-giant-characters-008745

“Victory Stele of Naram-Sin.” Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Mesopo-tamia. The Louvre. https://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/victory-stele-naram-sin

“What is Gigantism?” Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/gigantism

Do Angels Have Bodies?

 

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Throughout the biblical narrative, God often chose to reach out to human beings through His special messengers—the angels. Both the Hebrew and Greek words (malak and aggelos) we often translate as “angel” literally mean just that: “a messenger.”

While they so frequently appeared to the various biblical characters, in what way did they appear? Do angels have bodies of some type, or are they completely immaterial and unembodied?

Well, there seems to be two streams of thought on this: the biblical view, and an alternative perspective put forth by those who claim to follow the biblical view. There is what the Bible describes, and then there is what many people take from that. The Bible presents us with beings who have bodies and physically appear to human beings, while a sizeable number of interpreters present us with just the opposite.

Let’s begin by looking at just a few of the more notable times that angels appeared to people in the Bible.

Two angels appeared to Lot, prior to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:1-29). They even ate dinner with him. Strange . . . how would an unembodied being eat solid food?

An entire army of angels appeared to Elisha and his servant, with flying vehicles no less (2 Ki. 6:15-17)! Were immaterial beings piloting material vehicles? (And yes, this was essentially a UFO event, which I discussed in the last blog)

An angel appeared twice to the prophet Elijah, shaking him each time to wake him up (1 Ki. 19:5-7). Can an unembodied being physically touch others? It is worth noting that Elijah would later be carried off to heaven by a whirlwind, accompanied by yet another angelic vehicle (2 Ki. 2:11-12). (This was also a UFO event)

The angel Gabriel appeared to both Zechariah (Elizabeth’s husband) and Mary, prior to the births of their incredibly important sons (Lk. 1:5-38). As we know, Elizabeth would give birth to John (“the Baptist”) and Mary would give birth to Jesus (the Son of God). In both instances, Gabriel physically appeared and spoke to them as one person would to another.

On the evening of Jesus’ birth, the shepherds who were tending their flock received an incredible shock, as an angel appeared before them with a blinding light (Lk. 2:8-9). Afterwards, an entire group of angels appeared and proceeded to shout praises to God (2:13-14).

An angel appeared to Peter while he was imprisoned (Acts 12:6-11). The angel proceeded to loose Peter from his chains and sneak him out of his cell to safety.

Obviously, there are many other examples that could be mentioned. By my personal count, there are at least twenty unique events in the Bible where angels physically appeared to individuals. This does not count the numerous other examples that might qualify, but may also be visions of some sort. In all of these instances, the angel/s arrived in physical form. They spoke to, touched, and even sometimes ate with the human beings they were visiting.

While this is what the Bible presents us with, many Christian thinkers have taken this information in a much different direction. The complete opposite direction, actually.

Take William Lane Craig—perhaps the most influential Christian apologist of our time—for example. He had this to say concerning the angels and their role as God’s messengers:

“What is described here is this higher order of spiritual beings that dwell in the very presence of God and then serve his purposes . . . we are talking here about incorporeal beings (beings without physical bodies) or minds, as it were, without bodies (unembodied minds) who serve the Lord.”

You may be trying to figure out what an “unembodied mind” actually is. I have never figured it out myself. More than that, you are probably questioning how angels could be incorporeal and unembodied, when they always show up with bodies in the Bible. Not to worry—there is standard response for this too. The following explanation comes to us via the well-known apologist, J. Warner Wallace:

“Angels are immaterial, spiritual beings. But when they appear to humans, they typically take on our form. Why would they do this? Perhaps it is because they love us and want to connect with us as created beings.”

Well, it could be because they love us and want to connect with us. Or, it could be that angels appear to us with bodies because they, well . . . actually have bodies. But Wallace’s explanation is far from new, of course. The almost deified Christian thinker, Thomas Aquinas, made similar comments almost 800 years earlier:

“Consequently, since the angels are not bodies, nor have they bodies naturally united with them, as is clear from what has been said (Article 1; I:50:1), it follows that they sometimes assume bodies.”

According to these sources, the angels only take on physical form when they interact with us in our world. They do not really possess bodies or have physical appearance. This is all a good show for us humans. After they materialize to us, they leave and return to their good old immaterial, unembodied, incorporeal selves. But is that true? Is that even a conclusion one could rightfully reach from the biblical accounts?

If you ask me, all of this amounts to what philosophers call “special pleading.” This occurs when someone cites an example as an exception to an otherwise general rule, without providing sufficient reason why that is the case. In these instances, angels are considered to be unembodied beings, even though the Bible consistently describes them as having bodies.

The reason why a plain reading of the text is rejected in all of these instances is almost entirely a philosophical (rather than a biblical) matter, one which I do plan on discussing at another time. Essentially, it boils down to an obsession with immaterial things and a disdain for material ones. For now, suffice it to say that viewing heavenly beings as immaterial and unembodied has more to do with Plato than it does with Paul.

It’s good Greek philosophy, but crummy biblical theology.

It is important to note that if you were only considering the Bible, and allowing it to speak for itself, you would very naturally come to the belief that angels have bodies. I am thoroughly convinced that so many have come to believe differently not based on Scripture, but on the outside influences of certain philosophical and theological perspectives.

It is equally important to remember that the Bible was written by two categories of people: 1) Those who personally experienced the events described, and 2) Those who knew the people who personally experienced them. With that in mind, ask yourself a very important question: how would the biblical characters have understood their interactions with angels?

Perhaps Lot thought to himself, “It only seems like those two angels are eating with me.” Perhaps Elijah said, “It only felt like an angel touched me, and that whole ‘chariot of fire’ thing was just a good show.” Perhaps Jacob believed he was wrestling around with a hologram: one that happened to physically dislocate his hip. Perhaps they all believed that what they were seeing was a temporary illusion of some sort.

Perhaps . . . but it would really strain credibility.

But it could be that the simplest answer makes the most sense of these events. Maybe it really is just as the biblical writers understood things, and the angels appear to us in physical form because they actually have bodies. The apostle Paul very carefully described the types of bodies they have (and we will someday have) in 1 Corinthians 15:35-49, and they are most definitely not completely identical to our own. However, they are bodies of some form or fashion nonetheless.

Based on the biblical descriptions, it is fair to say that the angelic form is not so radically different than our own that they are unrecognizable. They are at least somewhat human in appearance. That is consistent throughout the entire Bible, and is even true of Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances. He didn’t look quite like the Jesus of old, but he also didn’t look like some other type of creature altogether. He was still human-like in certain respects.

As I have touched upon before, one day we will also have the type of body that both Jesus and the angels possess.

In the end, it seems much more logical to accept the multitude of biblical accounts about angels as they were written and as they would have been understood by the biblical characters, rather than turning each one of them into some type of heavenly mirage.

Angels are not immaterial beings; they have bodies.

 

 

For more on these issues, and a host of other interesting phenomena, see my new book God Made the Aliens.

 

 

References

Craig, William Lane. “Doctrine of Creation (Part 20)”. Reasonable Faith. https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-2/s2-doctrine-of-creation/doctrine-of-creation-part-20/

Thomas Aquinas. The Summa Theologica, 1:51:2. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. http://www.ccel.org/a/aquinas/summa/FP/FP051.html

Wallace, J. Warner. “Why Did God Create Angelic Beings?” Cold-Case Christianity. June 6, 2014. http://coldcasechristianity.com/2014/why-did-god-create-angelic-beings/