Thursday, August 23, 2018


by Anthony F. Buzzard

The word “gospel” bombards the American church going public from every quarter. Yet how many have sat down with a Bible to examine what Jesus has to say about the Gospel? There is no more important and urgent matter demanding our attention than this: to discover what Jesus and the apostles taught as the Gospel. Believing the Gospel is everywhere in the New Testament connected to salvation itself.

There are cosmic forces at work attempting to prevent us from understanding the vital message of salvation. In Luke 8:12 Jesus brilliantly describes what happens when some hear the biblical Gospel. The Messiah’s intelligence report lifts the lid on Satan’s counter-gospel activity:

“Then the Devil comes and snatches away the message [the Gospel] which was sown in their hearts so that they may not believe it [the Gospel] and be saved.”

Salvation, we learn, is gained by believing and obeying the Gospel message. Satan aims to obstruct belief in that Gospel. One strategy open to him is to remove the Gospel from the heart of the potential believer. Another clever way of achieving his goal is by distorting the message. Paul warned his Corinthian converts that it is all too easy to believe in a pseudo-Jesus, a counterfeit spirit, and a fake Gospel:

“If he who comes preaches another Jesus, whom we have not preached or if you receive another spirit, which you have not received, or a different gospel, which you did not receive, you bear this beautifully!” (2 Corinthians 11:4).

“Another Jesus, another spirit, a different gospel.” Paul here “blows the whistle” on the Satanic methods. He unmasks the Devil’s subtle tactics. Satan’s seductive plan is to “preach Jesus, the Spirit, and the Gospel,” using these New Testament terms as a camouflage for his own twisted message. Satan’s Gospel will sound biblical enough. The name “Jesus” will be prominent in the message. Yet in a subtle way, this pseudo-gospel will divert its well-meaning recipients from the real message of the real Jesus.

According to another translation of 2 Corinthians 11:4, Satan offers “another way to be saved.” Observe that Satan’s business is “salvation.” But it is “salvation” on his terms. The reason why the yet inexperienced Corinthian’s were, as Paul said, “putting up with the pseudo-gospel beautifully” was that they could not see the difference between the true and the false versions of the Gospel.

In these immensely instructive verses, Paul exposed Satan’s deceptive techniques. He went on to say that Satan “dresses himself up” as an angel of light (implying that he is actually an angel of darkness) and that he works through his ministers, who also appear to be ministers of light, to mislead the unwary:

“And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness...” (2 Corinthians 11:14, 15).

Nothing alarmed or angered Paul more than the preaching of a distorted Gospel — and with good reason. For a message of salvation which is untrue to the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles inevitably lulls its recipients into a false sense of security. They will think they have “received Jesus,” but the Jesus presented to them will be a cunningly devised misrepresentation of the real Jesus who alone can save. When Paul found Satan at work among young believers whom he had reached with the true message, he rushed to their rescue:

“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, to a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the Gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven [suggestive of ‘the angel of light’ of 2 Corinthians 11:14] should preach to you a gospel other than the one which we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:7, 8).

Beware of a Distorted Gospel

The reason for Paul’s strong words is clear. Acceptance of “another gospel” and “another Jesus” (the pseudo-Jesus would, of course, be offered as Savior and Lord) could not possibly lead to the desired salvation. But the victims of such preaching would be convinced that they had come to believe God’s message. They would think that they were being saved, when in fact the genuine message of salvation had been hidden from them. They would have fallen prey to Satan’s policy of opposition by imitation.

A shrewd observer of the history of religion has observed that the fact “that any religion works does not mean that it is right. It is in the nature of all religions that they should work for those who are persuaded that they represent the determined vehicle of communication between the seen and the unseen.”1
 A faith which seems to work and a Jesus who seems to produce results do not necessarily correspond with the Jesus proclaimed by Paul and his colleague Apostles. It is essential to understand the subtlety of Satan’s strategy of deception; and to realize that he shelters under religious, biblical terminology.
By a subtle shift in the meaning of words, we suggest, the biblical Gospel has been, in many quarters, deprived of its principle and fundamental ingredient: the Kingdom of God.

This has come about in two ways. Firstly, the content of the popular Gospel has been derived almost exclusively from isolated verses in Paul’s epistles (usually Romans, cp. “The Roman Road”) and the gospel of John. In these writings, because writer and audience already understood the meaning of “Gospel,” the precise terminology of the Gospel appears less often or appears under different terms, and there is thus more room for us to misunderstand. Paul was not writing (in Romans) to people who had never heard the Gospel. He was not writing to make converts out of non-Christians. Paul could assume that his audience knew what the Gospel was. This allowed him to concentrate on certain elements of the Gospel and treat other parts of it with less detail and clarity.

The loss of a clear perception of the Gospel message has come about because Jesus’ original words describing and defining the Gospel, recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke have been ignored or rejected. Jesus has been presented to the public only as one who died and rose, but not as the original and definitive preacher and teacher of the saving Gospel — the Gospel about the Kingdom of God. Almost all “Gospel-talk” has centered, around the person of Jesus, to the exclusion of the saving message He taught. Churches speak of the messenger, Jesus, but usually, fail to tell us about the Gospel-message which He proclaimed. This practice is devastating. The abundance of 3 talk about “Jesus” gives the impression that the Jesus of the New Testament is being presented. What many do not notice is that Jesus’ saving message about the Kingdom is quietly omitted!

Matthew, Mark, and Luke unanimously record that Jesus and the disciples always proclaimed the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 4:23, 9:35, Luke 4:43, Mark 1:14, 15; Luke 16:16). Mark calls this Gospel the “Gospel of God” (Mark 1:14). It is a message sent by God Himself through His spokesman Jesus, the promised Messiah. Once this critically important definition of the Gospel; the Gospel of the Kingdom; has been established, Matthew, Mark, and Luke refer to it by a kind of “shorthand” as “the Word” or “the Message.” Luke makes this crucial equation in his first volume:

“He said to them, ‘I must preach the Gospel of the Kingdom to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.’ And He kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea. Now it came about that while the multitude was pressing around and listening to the “Word of God...” (Luke 4:43, 44, 5:1).
Matthew and Mark also use the term “Word (message) of the Kingdom” and “the Word” respectively when they record the parable of the sower. This parable, of course, is the prototype of all good evangelism, though it is seldom referred to by contemporary evangelists. The Gospel of the Kingdom in the three versions of the same parable appears as follows: “Whenever anyone hears the word of the Kingdom...” (Matthew 13:19).

“And they hear the word...” (Mark 4:16)

“The seed is the word of God...” (Luke 8:11).

The Gospel Fully Defined

The “word” in question is fully defined in Luke 4:43 and Matthew 4:23, 9:35 as the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. (Note that in our KJV the expression “preaching the Kingdom” means in the original “preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom,” as modern translations and commentators make clear.)
After the resurrection of Jesus, the Apostles, in obedience to Jesus, went out to proclaim exactly the same message of the Kingdom. They added to the message, under the guidance of the spirit of Christ, the new facts about Jesus’ death and resurrection, of which Jesus had said very little (and when he did he was not understood — Luke 18:33-36) when He preached the Gospel. In Acts 8:12, therefore, we have a perfect formula which covers the whole ground of the Gospel message. There are two components in the Gospel--the Kingdom of God and "the name of Jesus”:

“When they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news [Gospel] about the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus, they were being baptized...” (Acts 8:12).

This comprehensive definition of the Gospel is the one which should have been constantly instilled in the minds of those who go out to preach. The facts are, however, that this model text in Acts (repeated in Acts 19:8; 20:24, 25; 28:23, 31) is seldom if ever, quoted. What is often quoted is another verse from Acts: “Philip... preached Christ to them” (Acts 8:5).

This is another of Luke’s “shorthand” summaries of the Gospel. He intends to remind us of Jesus’ own preaching of the Kingdom of God and the Apostles’ preaching about the Kingdom and the name of Jesus (Acts 8:12). By itself, however, the expression “preaching Christ” is unclear. Explained by Acts 8:12 — “the Gospel about the Kingdom and the name of Jesus” — it is 4 easily understood. By forgetting Acts 8:12 evangelists almost always omit the principal subject matter of Jesus’ own preaching; the Kingdom of God! Thus they subtract from the message one of its two major components.

An illustration will make the matter clearer. In Acts 15:21 James stated that “Moses has in every city those who preach him.” We have no difficulty in seeing that “preaching Moses” means, that the law of Moses and his teaching were being proclaimed. In the same way “preaching Christ” involves not only telling the facts about the person of Jesus but also giving an accurate account of His message — what He taught.

Now it would be very strange to say that “Moses is the law,” unless we explained that we were using language in a special way. Yet this sort of “Jesus is the Gospel” or “Jesus is the Kingdom” language has been introduced and with disastrous consequences. It may sound good to say that “Jesus is the Gospel” but the objective reality of the Kingdom as the future reign of Christ on earth has been lost from the Gospel message. Jesus’ version of the Gospel is thus eclipsed.

It is commonly said that Paul did not preach the Kingdom of God, through Jesus did. Imagine the chaos into which New Testament Christianity would be thrown if these assertions were both true. If Paul did not relay the same Gospel of the Kingdom as Jesus had preached he would be in violation of the Great Commission binding obviously on all who preach. Jesus final words were these: “Go and make disciples and baptize them and teach them everything I taught you.” It could not be clearer. Apostolic Christianity is exactly the same as the preaching of the historical Jesus. If Jesus preached the Kingdom as the foundation of the Gospel (and no one could argue with this fact) then the Apostles also taught that same Kingdom Gospel, with the addition of the new facts about the death and resurrection of Jesus. To suggest that Paul did not concentrate of the Gospel of the Kingdom is to say that Jesus was in direct disobedience to the Great Commission. Paul was intent on Christ living in him, and the Christ who lived in him was the risen historical Jesus who continued to preach the same Gospel of the Kingdom everywhere. Paul says this quite expressly. “I went about preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom” (Acts 20:25). He makes no difference at all between the Gospel of grace and the Gospel of the Kingdom (Acts 20:24, 25). It would be completely fase to assert therefore that the Gospel of Jesus did not continue in Acts. Luke intended that we never forget this. Acts 28:23, 31 describes the evangelistic ministry of Paul as the preaching of the Kingdom of God, both the Jews and the Gentiles. There is no preaching of Christ without the preaching of the Message of Christ, the Kingdom of God.

The Blurring of the Message

It was Origen, a philosophically minded “church father” of the third century, who began to say that “the good things the apostles announce in the Gospel are simply Jesus. “Jesus Himself preaches good tidings of good things which are none other than Himself” (emphasis added).2 With this kind of poetic, allegorizing language the Kingdom was turned into “good things” and the message about the Kingdom of God was swallowed up in the term “Jesus.” The Kingdom disappeared behind the word “Jesus.” This trend has continued to the present day.

Origen set a fashion of speaking of the “Gospel” yet saying nothing about the Messianic Kingdom of the future which was the heart of Jesus’ saving message. Jesus’ use of the term “Kingdom” in its Hebrew, Old Testament sense as a “concrete” reality of the future was frittered away, dissolved into thin air. The spell which was thus cast over the churches resulted in what one contemporary writer has called “the hopeless confusion of evangelicals over eschatology” — the teaching about the future and the future Kingdom.3 Another theologian warned of the catastrophe 5 which occurred when the Greek incomprehension of the Messianic Kingdom caused it to be dropped from the Gospel message. The loss was not a legitimate transformation of the message, as some would have us believe, it was a suppression of the apostolic Gospel of the Kingdom:

“When the Greek mind and the Roman mind, instead of the Hebrew mind, came to dominate the church, there occurred a disaster from which the church has never recovered, either in doctrine or practice.”4

Propositions about Jesus being the Kingdom or the Gospel sound plausible or “spiritual,” but they are misleading. Jesus did not come into Galilee saying, “Repent and believe the Gospel about Me.” He commanded belief first and foremost in the Gospel of the Kingdom, God's Gospel (Mark 1:14,15). Jesus did not say that the sower went forth to sow himself! He went out to sow “the Message of the Kingdom” (Matt. 13:19). Jesus spoke also of giving up everything for Him and the Gospel (Mark 8:35, 10:29). Origen — and the evangelical world has often followed him — confused the biblical message by practically equating Jesus with the Gospel Message, the Messenger with the Message. The result was the loss of the Message about the Kingdom, of which Jesus will become the ruler as Messiah, and into which Jesus invites His followers as co-rulers (Matthew 19:28, Luke 22:28-30, Revelation 2:26, 3:21; 5:10; 20:4-6).

Our point is well made by a commentator who challenges the traditional idea that Jesus proclaimed Himself rather than the Kingdom of God.
“Attempting to read the Gospels unshackled by the conventional wisdom or dogma of the past leads to some startling conclusions. Nowhere is this more obvious than when we ask the central question, What was Jesus’ message? The various churches still operate on the axiom that His message concerned Himself. Here, they say, is God-in-the-flesh, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, walking about the Holy Land with a group of former fishermen, proclaiming Himself as the only way of salvation. He is the content of the message; or rather, he is message itself.

“As I realized, however, the moment I could read the New Testament with any seriousness..., this is not what the Gospels say at all. If you begin with the Gospel of St. Mark..., you will find that Jesus came preaching the “good news of God” and saying: “The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent [have a change of heart] and put your trust in this good news” (1:14-15).... If you take the combined witness of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, it is obvious that Jesus came to proclaim what is translated as the Kingdom of God or Heaven--the two are synonymous.”5

Misleading Terminology

“Preaching Christ,” “proclaiming Jesus,” “receiving the Lord” and “giving your heart to the Lord” may have a religious ring about them. But they may also be a “front” for a message which tells you nothing about Jesus’ Gospel about the Kingdom of God. Remember that throughout the book of Acts where the indispensable information about the apostolic presentation of the Gospel is given, the Kingdom of God was still the first item on the agenda (Acts 8:12; Acts 28:23, 31). This is true of preaching from the beginning of Acts to the end. It is true also of the message which was given to Jew and Gentile alike:

“So they [the Jews] fixed a day and came to him [Paul] at his quarters in large numbers. From morning to evening he expounded and testified the Kingdom of God and persuaded them concerning Jesus from the law of Moses and the prophets.... And he [Paul] stayed 6 two whole years in his own rented home and welcomed all who came to see him [Jews and Gentiles], preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, with all boldness, none forbidding him” (Acts 28:23,31).

A Word from the Scholars

A New Testament Professor from Harvard has subjected the writings of Luke in Acts to a minute analysis. He reports that what Luke says about the future Kingdom is “natural and spontaneous” and therefore most revealing as a guide to the apostolic Gospel. Professor Cadbury notes that Acts includes “many of the familiar elements” in New Testament preaching. “The preachers preach the Kingdom of God or the things about it” (Acts 1:3; 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31 — these texts should be examined carefully).

The term “Kingdom of God appears from almost the first verse to the last verse in the book.” “Kingdom of God” “constitutes a formula apparently parallel to the writer’s more characteristic single verb ‘evangelize.’” “Nothing obviously distinguishes the term Kingdom of God in Acts from such apocalyptic use as it has in the synoptic gospels. For example, one enters into it [in the future] through much tribulation (Acts 14:22).”6

Simplifying the technical language of this scholar we find him in complete agreement that the Kingdom of God is everywhere in Acts the heart and center of the Gospel. And by the Kingdom of God the Apostles do not mean a present reign of Christ “in the heart” but the world-wide Kingdom of God to be inaugurated by the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of the age and introducing the new society on earth — “the inhabited earth of the future about which we speak” (Hebrews 2:5). This point is most essential for anyone who sets out to make converts through the Gospel message. The Kingdom of God, as the future Kingdom, is the core of the message. It was when potential converts expressed an understanding of and a belief in the Kingdom of God and the things concerning the name of Jesus that they were ready to undergo baptism (Acts 8:12). Quite clearly any preaching which does not have the Kingdom of God as a major component of its content has little relation to the New Testament Gospel.

No Kingdom, No Gospel When in the book of Acts Luke refers to “preaching Jesus” or “evangelizing,” both phrases must be amplified and illuminated by the fuller description of what the apostles were saying. They were proclaiming the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus (Acts 8:12, 28:23, 31). The loss of the facts about the Kingdom of God would amount to a loss of a major part of the Gospel itself. A gospel without the Kingdom of God would appear to be even “another gospel.” Even though the name “Jesus” might still be heard His message about the Kingdom would have disappeared. A Gospel deprived of essential information will not have the powerful converting energy necessary to make healthy, well-instructed Christians.

When Paul preached in Ephesus he “reasoned and persuaded them about the Kingdom of God” for three months (Acts 19:8). He later described his whole ministry at Ephesus as a “solemn testimony about repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). What then is Paul’s definition (not ours!) of “faith in the Lord Jesus”? Paul immediately gives us two further clarifying descriptions of the Gospel. He equates “faith in Jesus” with “the Gospel of the grace of God” (v.24) or a “declaration of the whole purpose of God” (v.27). But none of these phrases must be divorced from v.25. There Paul sums up this ministry as the “preaching of the Kingdom.” Could contemporary evangelists so describe their own ministries when they speak of 7 “heaven”? Where did any New Testament preacher offer his audience that they would “go to heaven”?

Paul’s preaching in Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch followed the same pattern. After preaching the Gospel, he exhorted the converts to endure trial patiently before they “enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22) i.e., at the Second Coming. Our final glimpse of Paul is in Rome where once again we find him “solemnly testifying about the Kingdom of God and trying to persuade them about Jesus” from dawn till dusk (Acts 28:23). Luke ends where he began in Acts with Jesus discussing the affairs of the Kingdom of God for six weeks with the disciples (Acts 1:3). Indeed Luke concludes his second volume where he began his first, the Gospel of Luke: Jesus is destined to receive the Kingdom of His Father, David (Luke 1:32,33) and rule in it forever. Luke’s last word is that Paul was “preaching the Kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:31).

The message is clear beyond any doubt. It is the Good News about the Kingdom and about Jesus Christ which must be proclaimed (Acts 8:12), these are distinct but closely related topics. The great mistake is to merge them so that the Kingdom is lost!

When Paul wrote to his converts he most often simply refers to the “Gospel” without further definition. Both writer and reader knew what was meant. We must be careful to go back to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts to find out exactly what that Gospel is. It is interesting to note that Paul avoids in his epistles the full phrase “Gospel of the Kingdom.” Talk of the “Kingdom” in opposition to Caesar could very well create unnecessary trouble in the Roman Empire. In Thessalonica, Paul was mobbed for having dared to say that “there is another King, Jesus” (Acts 17:5-7). When Paul wrote from prison he used terms to describe the Kingdom which was less provocative — ”glory,” “age to come,” “light,” “life,” “inheritance.” But he still mentions the Kingdom in contexts where he has just mentioned the Gospel:

“We proclaimed to you the Gospel of God.... God calls you into His own Kingdom and glory” (I Thessalonians 2:9, 12. Cp. Mark 1:14, 15, Gospel of God = Gospel of the Kingdom).

“ may be considered worthy of the Kingdom of God.... Those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:5,8)

“I became your father through the Gospel.... The Kingdom of God does not consist in words, but in power” (I Corinthians 4:15, 20).

“The word of truth, the Gospel.... He transferred us into the Kingdom” (Colossians 1:5, 6, 13. Note that we have not yet “inherited the Kingdom,” (Colossians 3:24, I Corinthians 15:50).

A Bible Dictionary Documents the Loss of the Kingdom from the Message

Despite the very clear evidence that the New Testament Christians always proclaimed the Kingdom of God, both before and after the resurrection of Jesus, the Unger's Bible Dictionary attempts to divide the Gospel into two different messages. it speaks of “forms of the Gospel to be differentiated” (p. 420). Contrary to the plain teaching of Scripture, this article maintains that the Gospel of the Kingdom ceased to be preached when the Jews rejected their Messiah and that a different form of the Gospel — the Gospel of grace — then came into force. The proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom, we are told, will be resumed during the tribulation just prior to the return of Jesus.

However, this is to create a distinction which is not in the New Testament. The Gospel of the Kingdom definitely did not cease to be preached when Jesus was rejected. The Kingdom of God 8 remained the central theme of Apostolic teaching after the resurrection (Acts 1:3, 8:12, 19:8, 20:25, 28:23, 31). What’s more, the Gospel of grace is exactly the same Gospel as the Gospel of the Kingdom. Paul reminds the Christians at Ephesus that he had gone amongst them “proclaiming the Kingdom” (Acts 20:25). One verse earlier he defines that preaching as the “Gospel of grace” (Acts 20:24).”

That many do try to create a distinction between two forms of the Gospel is not disputed. The distinction, however, is based on a man-made “dispensationalist” theory, which denies that the Gospel of the Kingdom has always been and always will be the Christian message.

The Indispensable Word of the Kingdom

Throughout the New Testament, the “shorthand” expression “word” (message) stands for the Gospel of the Kingdom and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12). Sometimes the message is simply “the truth” (Colossians 1:6). All these abbreviated descriptions of the Gospel must be referred back to Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom (Luke 4:43; Matthew 4:23).

If these simple principles are kept in mind, Christians will not run the risk of losing or distorting the Gospel, which is the greatest tragedy that could befall them (Galatians 1:7, 8). They must insist that Jesus’ own message about the Kingdom is always at the heart of evangelism. This can be done best by maintaining a “sound pattern of words” (2 Timothy 1:13). This does not mean that preaching should be wooden or unimaginative, controlled by a mere formula. It will mean, however, that we will not be misled into thinking that Christ has been preached when nothing has been said about His Good News of the Kingdom, Jesus’ own Gospel, the Gospel of salvation.

The Good News of the Kingdom has to do with God’s purpose to bring peace and international harmony to our war-torn earth by sending Jesus to rule the world at His Second Coming. The earth is going to be filled with the knowledge of God and the nations are going to beat their awful weapons of mass destruction into farm implements (Is. 2:1-4). In preparation for that great day, believers are to repent and believe the message (Mark 1:14,15), be baptized and receive the Spirit of God (Acts 2:38). Some will say: “What good is that knowledge of the future for me now?” The answer is that God is intensely interested in the future of the world and the great reversal in world-politics which is going to come when Jesus returns with his Kingdom. If the spirit of God and Christ is in us, that spirit will convey the same intense interest in the Kingdom as motivated the entire ministries of Jesus and the Apostles. God speaks to the present from the future. Hope is a powerful energy. But hope is no hope unless it is given content. That content is the Kingdom of God coming on earth and our inheritance of the new land/earth (Matthew 5:5)

We conclude by reflecting on the strange phenomenon that a leading writer of Bible notes quotes Matt 24:14 and twice on the same page (his only references) omits the words “of the Kingdom” from Matthew’s (and Jesus’) prediction that the Gospel of the Kingdom is going to be preached worldwide. Readers are permitted to see only that “this gospel...will be preached.”7 The Kingdom, which describes the content of the Gospel, has been dropped from the text!

Another evangelical writer refers to “preaching Christ” and “preaching the word,” but omits altogether Luke’s illuminating explanation of these phrases as “the Gospel of the Kingdom and the name of Jesus” (Acts 8:12). Recently a leading spokesman for evangelicalism delivered a lecture on the topic “What is the Gospel?” During the course of an hour, he managed not to mention the word “kingdom” once! Discussing, Acts 20:24ff, he referred to the “gospel of the grace of God” (v.24) and equated it correctly with “declaring the whole purpose of God” (v.27). Can anyone explain why he skipped verse 25 which tells us that it was the Gospel of the Kingdom 9 which Paul called the Gospel of Grace and the whole purpose of God? Clearly, no one is going to understand the Gospel fully until he is instructed in the meaning of the term Kingdom of God and invited to believe the Good News connected with that Kingdom (Mark 1:14, 15)

To cap it all, at an international meeting of evangelists in Lausanne in 1974 a spokesman asked:

“How much have you heard here about the Kingdom of God? Not much. It is not our language But it was Jesus’ prime concern.”8

The next time you hear an evangelist, in spoken word or tract, summon the public to believe in the Kingdom of God and the things concerning the name of Jesus (Acts 8:12), take careful note. You will be hearing the language of Jesus and the Apostles. If offers of salvation contain no word about the Kingdom of God, remain suspicious — and reread II Cor. 11:4 and Luke 8:12!

1. Hugh J. Schonfield, Those Incredible Christians, pp. 217, 218.
2. Commentaries on Matthew and John.
3. Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, p. 244.
 4. H.L. Goudge, The Calling of the Jews.
5. Tom Harpur, For Christ's Sake, p. 21.
6. H.J. Cadbury, “Acts and Eschatology,” in The Background of the New Testament and its Eschatology, ed. Davies and Daube, p. 311.
7. Selwyn Hughes, Every day with Jesus, comments on Matthew 24:14.
8. Tom Sine, The Mustard Seed Controversy, pp. 102-103. emphasis added.

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Friday, August 17, 2018


-originally posted at
"Within the Christian tradition, the New Testament has long been read through the prism of the later conciliar creeds . . . Speaking of Jesus as the Son of God had a very different connotation in the first century from that which it has had ever since the Council of Nicea (325 AD).  Talk of his preexistence ought probably in most, perhaps in all, cases to be understood on the analogy of the pre-existence of the Torah, to indicate the eternal divine purpose being achieved through him, rather than pre-existence of a fully personal kind."1
"The mainstream churches are committed to a certain doctrine about Jesus, but specialists in early Christian thought are questioning the arguments by which that doctrine was reached. New Testament scholars ask if the New Testament teaches it at all, and historians wonder at the gulf between Jesus himself and fully-developed Christianity. These questions are very unsettling, for they imply that Christianity may be in worse condition than was thought. It is perhaps not a basically sound structure that needs only to be modernized, but may be in need of radical reconstruction . . . The New Testament never suggests that the phrase ‘Son of God’ just means ‘God.’"2 [Yet evangelicalism insists on that equation if one is to be considered a Christian!]
"When the Jew wished to designate something as predestined, he spoke of it as already ‘existing’ in heaven."3 [Thus "preexistence" statements in the NT really have to do with foreordination and predestination. It was the Greeks who misunderstood Jewish ways of thinking and turned Jesus into a cosmic figure who entered the earth from outer space. But is such a Jesus a human being? Is he the true Messiah of Israel?]
Many dedicated Christians are currently exercised about the Gnostic and mystical tendencies affecting the church. But many are unaware that philosophical, mystical ideas invaded the church from the second century onwards via the "Church Fathers," who were steeped in pagan philosophy and laid the foundation of the creeds now called "orthodox." The seed of Trinitarian doctrine was planted in the thinking of Justin Martyr, the second century Christian apologist who "found in Platonism the nearest approach to Christianity and felt that no break was required with its spirit and principles to pass into the greater light of Christian revelation." "The forces which operated to change apostolic doctrine were derived from paganism …. The habits of thought which the Gentiles brought into the church are sufficient to explain the corruptions of apostolic doctrine which began in the post-apostolic age."4
Intelligent Christians need to be informed of these corruptions and how they are currently "canonized" as Scripture by many. Discernment means learning the difference between revealed truth and pagan, philosophical teachings which originated outside the Bible yet affected what is now called "orthodoxy."
I would ask the reader to consider the disastrous effects of not paying attention to the Jewish ways of thinking found in the Bible, which was written (with the exception of Luke) by Jews. Clearly if Jews do not mean what we mean by "preexistence" we are liable to misunderstand them on basic issues about who Jesus is. There is a huge difference between being predestined or foreordained and actually preexisting. Greek philosophy believed in a "second God," a non-human intermediary between the creator and the world. The true Jesus, however, is the "man Messiah," the one Mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5). "To us Christians there is one God, the Father, and one Lord Messiah" (1 Cor. 8:4-6). Note carefully Paul’s definition of the One God.
The New Testament is a thoroughly Jewish book. Its writers were all Jews except probably Luke (who, however, is as Jewish as any of the writers in terms of his obvious delight in the Jewish salvation [John 4:22] offered in Jesus to both Jew and Gentile). Modern Bible readers approach basic biblical issues with an entrenched Greek outlook on life. This they have inherited from the churches and early post-biblical creeds which overlooked the fact that Jesus was a Jew who thought and taught in Jewish categories.
There is an anti-semitic tendency in traditional, creedal Christianity which must be recognized and forsaken. It has dramatically affected Christian doctrine. It has affected the way we define the person of Jesus, the Messiah.
The idea that the soul separates from the body and survives consciously apart from the body is a thoroughly unJewish idea (this is well established in the Old Testament perspective — and the NT teaching about the nature of man is based on the Old). Modern readers of the Bible are shocked to discover that in the Bible the whole man dies and goes into unconsciousness ("sleep") and is returned to life only by the future resurrection of the whole person. Traditional Christianity persists with the mistaken notion that man has an "immortal soul" which survives death. Many Bible readers have not paid attention to the statement of the Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible:
"No biblical text authorizes the statement that the soul is separated from the body at the moment of death."5
The notion that Jesus was really alive and conscious before his birth in Bethlehem is also a very unJewish idea. Human beings in Hebrew thought do not exist consciously before they are born. The preexistence of souls belongs to the world of Greek philosophy and was held by some church fathers (notably the philosophically- and mystically-minded Origen). But they did not derive this idea from the Bible.
Part of repentance is the willingness to admit we have been deceived, that we have not had sufficient information to make good decisions on Bible issues.
One most important fact we need to know before we attempt to understand who Jesus was is this:
"When the Jew said something was ‘predestined,’ he thought of it as already ‘existing’ in a higher sphere of life. The world’s history is thus predestined because it is already, in a sense, preexisting and consequently fixed. This typically Jewish conception of predestination may be distinguished from the Greek idea of preexistence by the predominance of the thought of ‘preexistence’ in the Divine purpose."6
Our scholar goes on to tell us that this typical mode of Jewish thought is clearly illustrated in 1 Peter. This reminds us immediately that Peter did not abandon his Jewish ways of thinking (based on the Hebrew Bible) when he became a Christian. Peter’s letter is addressed to "the elect according to the foreknowledge (prognosis) of God the Father" (1 Pet. 1:12). Peter believed that all Christians were foreknown, but that did not mean that we all preexisted!
Peter’s doctrine of future things is permeated by the same thought that all is foreordained in God’s great Plan. God sees everything laid out before Him. Those who have the gift of the spirit will share God’s outlook and in faith recognize that the realities of God’s plan will in the future become realities on earth. According to Peter the Messiah himself was foreknown, not just his death for our sins but the person Messiah himself (1 Pet. 1:20).  Peter uses the same word to describe the "existence" of the Son of God in God’s plan as he did to describe the "existence" of the Christian church (v. 2).
Though the Messiah was foreknown (not known, but foreknown, as was Jeremiah before his birth, Jer. 1:5), he was manifested by being brought into actual existence at his birth (Luke 1:35). This is a typically Jewish way of understanding God’s purpose for mankind. He executes the Plan at the appropriate time.
The sort of "preexistence" Peter has in mind is the sort that fits the Jewish environment, not the Greek atmosphere of later, post-biblical Christianity.
"We are not entitled to say that Peter was familiar with the idea of Christ’s preexistence with the Father before the incarnation [we are therefore not entitled to claim that Peter was a Trinitarian!]. For this idea is not necessarily implied in his description of Christ as ‘foreknown before the foundation of the world,’ since Christians are also the objects of God’s foreknowledge. All that we can say is that the phrase pro kataboles kosmou [before the foundation of the world] affirms for Christ’s office and work a supramundane range and importance . . . . Peter has not extended his belief in Christ’s divinity to an affirmation of his pre-existence: his Christology is more like that of the early chapters of Acts than of John and Paul."7
Peter, as the leading Apostle (Matt. 10:1), would have had no sympathy with either a Trinitarian or Arian (cp. modern Jehovah’s Witnesses) view of Jesus.
We note also that for Peter the future salvation of the Christians, the Kingdom they are to inherit at the return of Christ, is likewise waiting in heaven "ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Pet. 1:1011). The Second Coming is thus to be an "apocalypse" or unveiling of what is now "existing" but hidden from our sight. So it is said of Jesus that he was "foreknown," and waiting to be revealed in God’s good time (1 Pet. 1:20). Neither the Kingdom nor Jesus actually existed in advance. They were planned from before the foundation of the world.
Paul uses the same concept and language about the future resurrection and immortality of the saints. He says that we already "have" "a building from God, a house fit for the coming age."8 Our future resurrection body already "exists" in God’s intention and may be thought of as real because it is certain to be manifested in the future. In that sense we "have" it, though we obviously do not yet have it literally. The same is true of the treasure we have in heaven. It is promised for our future. We will receive the reward of the inheritance (Col. 3:24) when Christ brings it from heaven to the earth at his future coming.
Foreordination Rather than Literal Preexistence
Having grasped this elementary fact of Jewish (and biblical) theology and thinking, it will not be difficult to adjust our understanding of other passages where the same principle of "existence" followed by actual manifestation is found. Thus Jesus says in John 17:5: "Glorify me [now] with the glory which I had with you before the foundation of the world." On the basis of 2 Cor. 5:1 a Christian in the future, after the resurrection at Christ’s return, will be able to say that he has now received what he already "had," i.e. laid up for him in God’s plan. Christians are said to have treasure in heaven (Mark 10:21), that is, a reward stored up with God now and destined to be conferred in the future. This is only to say that they will one day in the future "inherit the Kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world" (Matt. 25:34).
When Jesus says that he "had" the glory for which he now prays (John 17:5), he is merely asking for the glory which he knew was prepared for him by God from the beginning.9 That glory existed in God’s plan, and in that sense Jesus already "had" it. We note that Jesus did not say "Give me back the glory which I had when I was alive with you before my birth." This notion would have been completely foreign to Judaism. It is quite unnecessary and indeed wrong to read Gentile ideas into the text of Scripture when we can make good sense of them as they stand in their Jewish environment. The onus is on those who believe in literal preexistence to demonstrate that the texts cannot be explained within their own Jewish context.
The so-called "preexistence" of Jesus in John refers to his "existence" in the Plan of God. The church has been plagued by the introduction of non-biblical language. There is a perfectly good word for "real" preexistence in the Greek language (pro-uparchon). It is very significant that it is nowhere used of Jesus in Scripture, but it is in the writings of Greek church fathers of the second century. These Greek commentators on Scripture failed to understand the Hebrew categories of thought in which the New Testament is written.
The so-called "pre-human existence" of Christ in the Bible refers to the prior existence of Jesus in God’s Plan and vision. Preexistence in the Bible does not mean what it meant in later creeds: the actual conscious existence of the Son of God before his birth at which time he entered the earth and the human condition by passing through the womb of his mother.
A Jewish and biblical conception of preexistence is most significant for Jesus’ understanding of himself as the Son of Man. The Son of Man is found in the book of Daniel. He "preexists" only in the sense that God grants us a vision of him in His Plan for the future. The Son of Man is a human being — that is what the words mean. Thus what John wants us to understand is that the human Messiah was in heaven before his birth (in God’s Plan) and was seen in Daniel’s vision of the future (Dan. 7John 6:62). Jesus at his ascension went up to the position which had been previously prepared for him in God’s Plan. No text says that Jesus went back (upostrepho) to God, though this idea has been wrongly imported into some modern English translations to support "orthodoxy." Such mistranslation of the Greek "go to the Father" as "go back to the Father" tells its own story.10 The translation of the Bible has been corrupted to mirror traditional, post-biblical ideas of who Jesus is.
The Son of Man is not an angel. No angel was ever called a "Son of Man" (= member of the human race — with good reason Jesus’ favorite self-title). To call the Messiah an angel would be a muddling of categories. Hence scholars rightly report that the idea of preexistence for the Messiah "antecedent to his birth in Bethlehem is unknown in Judaism." The Messiah, according to all that is predicted of him in the Old Testament belongs in his origin to the human race:
"‘Judaism has never known anything of a preexistence peculiar to the Messiah antecedent to his birth as a human being’ (Dalman, Words of Jesus, pp. 128-32, 248, 252). The dominance of the idea in any Jewish circle whatever cannot seriously be upheld. Judaism knew nothing of the [literally] preexistent ideal man."11
To claim to "be before Abraham" (John 8:58) does not mean that you remember being alive before your birth. That is to think like a Greek who believes in the preexistence of souls. In the Hebrew thought of the New Testament one can "exist" as part of God’s Plan as did also the tabernacle, the temple, repentance and other major elements of the Divine purpose. Even Moses pre-existed in that sense, according to a quotation we introduce later. John the Apostle could also say that Christ was "crucified before the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). This gives us an enormously valuable clue as to the way the New Testament writers understood "preexistence."
There are multiple examples of past tenses in the Hebrew Bible which actually refer to future events. They are "past" because they describe events fixed in God’s counsels and therefore certain to be realized. Bible readers disregard this very Jewish way of thinking when they leap to the conclusion that when Jesus said he "had" glory with the Father from the foundation of the world (John 17:5), he meant that he was alive at that time. Certainly in a western frame of reference the traditional understanding is reasonable. But can we not do the Messiah the honor of trying to understand his words in their own Hebrew environment? Should not the Bible be interpreted in the light of its own context and not our later creeds?
No Preexistence for Jesus in Matthew, Mark and Luke
There is a deafening silence about any real preexistence of Christ in Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts and Peter, and the whole of the Old Testament. Not only do they not hint at a pre-human Son of God, they contradict the idea by talking of the origin (genesis) of Jesus (Matt. 1:18) and his begetting as Son (Matt. 1:20in Mary’s womb.12 Note that for Arians and Trinitarians, who think that Jesus was begotten in eternity long before his conception/begetting in Mary, this would be a second begetting.13 Luke knows nothing of such an idea. Unprejudiced readers will see (as acknowledged by a host of biblical experts) that the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke Acts and Peter is a human being originating at his "begettal" and birth as do all other human persons. He has not preexisted. Matthew even speaks of the "genesis" of Jesus in Matt. 1:18.
It is a serious imposition on the Gospel of John to understand him to teach a different sort of Jesus than Matthew, Mark and Luke — one who is really an angel or God appearing as a man. Such a non-human Messiah is foreign not only to the rest of the New Testament, but to the whole revelation of God in the Old Testament in regard to his definition of the coming Messiah. Deuteronomy 18:15-18 expressly says that the Messiah is to arise from a family in Israel. The Messiah is expressly said in this important Christological text not to be God but God’s agent born to the family of Israel. All Jews who looked forward to the Messiah expected a human person, not an angel, much less God Himself! Though the Jews had not understood that the Messiah was to be born supernaturally, even this miraculous begetting was in fact predicted (Isa. 7:14Matt. 1:23). A "pre-human" Messiah, however, is nowhere suggested.
According to Isaiah 44:24 God was unaccompanied at the original creation. Jesus in the Gospels attributes the creation to the Father (Mark 10:6Matt. 6:30Luke 12:28) and has no memory of being the agent in the Genesis creation. If Jesus had really been the creator of the Genesis heaven and earth, why does he have no memory of this? Why does he expressly say that God was the creator? The answer is that Jesus worked within the Jewish and biblical framework of the scriptural heritage he had received and which he "came not to destroy."
The spirit of God is available to believers. As they learn to think as God does, they will share the concept that "God speaks of things which do not exist as though they did" (Rom. 4:17). It is a mistake to confuse "existence" in the Plan of God with actual preexistence, thus creating a non-fully human Jesus. The Christ of biblical expectation is a human person, supernaturally conceived. The supreme glory of his achievement for us lies in the fact that he really was a human being. He was tempted. But God cannot be tempted (James 1:13).
The "Rock" Apostle whom Jesus appointed to "feed my sheep" has given us a marvelous lesson in how to understand the meaning of preexistence as foreknowledge and predestination. It was Peter whose recognition of Jesus as the Messiah was greeted by the excited approval of Jesus (Matt. 16:16-18). Peter and John understood that the glory which Jesus already "had" is the same glory believers subsequent to the time of Jesus (and therefore not yet born when Jesus spoke) also "had been given" (John 17:22). This means only that things which are fixed in God’s counsels "exist" in a sense other than actual existence. We must choose whether to understand the language of the New Testament as Americans or Europeans or as sympathetic to Jesus and his Jewish culture. A verse in Revelation speaks of things "being" before they were created. "They were and were created" (Rev. 4:11).14 Their creation followed from God’s original Plan to bring them into being.
A knowledge of the background to the New Testament reveals that Jews believed that even Moses "preexisted" in the counsels of God, but not actually as a conscious person:
"For this is what the Lord of the world has decreed: He created the world on behalf of his people, but he did not make this purpose of creation known from the beginning of the world so that the nations might be found guilty . . . But He did design and devise me [Moses], who was prepared from the beginning of the world to be the mediator of the covenant" (Testament of Moses, 1:13, 14).
If Moses was decreed in the Plan of God, it makes perfect sense that the Messiah himself was the purpose for which God created everything. All things may then be said to have been created on behalf of the Christ. Out of respect for God’s revealed Plan and in honor of the human Savior, we should seek to understand his identity in the context of his own Hebrew setting.
A fine statement of the Jewish understanding of "preexistence" is given by the Norwegian scholar, Mowinckel, in his famous He Who Cometh:
"That any expression or vehicle of God’s will for the world, His saving counsel and purpose, was present in His mind, or His ‘Word,’ from the beginning is a natural way of saying that it is not fortuitous, but the due unfolding and expression of God’s own being [cp. John: "the Word was with God and was God"]. This attribution of pre-existence indicates religious importance of the highest order. Rabbinic theology speaks of the Law, of God’s throne of glory, of Israel and of other important objects of faith, as things which had been created by God, and were already present with Him, before the creation of the world. The same is also true of the Messiah. It is said that his name was present with God in heaven beforehand, that it was created before the world, and that it is eternal.
"But the reference here is not to genuine pre-existence in the strict and literal sense. This is clear from the fact that Israel is included among these pre-existent entities. This does not mean that either the nation Israel or its ancestor existed long ago in heaven, but that the community Israel, the people of God, had been from all eternity in the mind of God, as a factor in His purpose …. This is true of references to the pre-existence of the Messiah. It is his ‘name,’ not the Messiah himself, that is said to have been present with God before creation. In Pesikta Rabbati 152b is said that ‘from the beginning of the creation of the world the King Messiah was born, for he came up in the thought of God before the world was created.’ This means that from all eternity it was the will of God that the Messiah should come into existence, and should do his work in the world to fulfill God’s eternal saving purpose" (p. 334).
The proposition introduced by Gentile, philosophically-minded "Church Fathers" that Jesus was either a second "member" of the Godhead (later orthodoxy) or a created angel (Arians and, in modern times, Jehovah’s Witnesses) launched the whole vexed problem of the nature of Christ in relation to the Godhead and put under a fog the true Messiahship of Jesus and his Messianic Gospel about the Kingdom. Jesus of Nazareth is what the Word (God’s Wisdom) of John 1:1 became.15 He is the unique expression, as a human being, of the Wisdom of God. It was the Wisdom of God which existed from the beginning, and that Wisdom became a person at the conception of Jesus. This explanation leaves intact the great cardinal doctrine that the One God is the Father and that Jesus is the Lord Messiah, not the Lord God.16 It was the early Greek Church Fathers who confused the issue of Jewish/Christian monotheism by introducing the idea of a "numerically second God."17
It is most significant that Paul often speaks of the gospel as having been hidden in the counsels of God from "ages past."18 He also says that the Son of God "came into existence" from a woman and from the seed of David (Rom. 1:4Gal. 4:4). It is unimaginable that Paul could have believed in the preexistence of the Son. It would be untrue to say that the Son came into existence at his birth, if in fact he had always existed. It is far more reasonable to suppose that Paul agreed with Peter that the Messiah was hidden in the divine counsels and then revealed in the fullness of time.19 Paul believed that "all things have been created in Jesus" (Col. 1:15). He did not say they had been created "by him."
Finally, it is most unreasonable to claim that "Wisdom" in Proverbs (i.e., "Lady Wisdom") was in fact Jesus, the Son, preexisting. It should not be difficult to discern that "Wisdom" here is a personification of a divine quality, not a person. The proof of this is found not only in all major commentaries but very clearly in the text itself. "I, Wisdom, dwell with Prudence...." (Prov. 8:12). If Wisdom is really a (male) Son of God, then who is Prudence?
Preexisting purposes and personifications are all part of the literature of Judaism. A preexistent, non-human Messiah is not. A Messiah who is not a human being approximates much more closely to the pagan idea of preexisting souls and Gnostic "aions." It was that early invasion of paganism which unfortunately began to corrupt the faith, just as Peter and Paul warned (2 Pet. 2Acts 20:29-31).
That intrusion of paganism resulted in some very strange language about Jesus. His "pre-human existence" signals the fact that he is really not a human being. He has existed as an angel before being born. This is close to the idea of "the gods coming down in the likeness of men." Such a Jesus sounds like a pagan savior figure. There were many such cosmic saviors in the Graeco-Roman world. But there was only one Messiah, whose identity was given long in advance of his birth. He was foreknown (1 Pet. 1:20) and would arise from the House of Israel as an Israelite of the tribe of Judah (Deut. 18:15-18Acts 3:227:37). That important text in Deuteronomy actually states that the promised agent of God would not be the Lord God, but His spokesman (Deut. 18:1617). Christians should be careful to claim allegiance to that Savior. To worship a Savior with wrong ideas about him runs the risk of worshipping another Savior. The creed of Jesus is the right creed for Christians (Mark 12:28ff.). As so many scholars know, that creed is not a Trinitarian creed. The One God of Israel and of Jesus was and is the Father (John 17:3John 5:441 Tim. 2:51 Cor. 8:4-6), "the One and only God" (John 5:44), "the only true God" (John 17:3).
Christology, the study of who Jesus is, has to do with a reasoned statement about the relation of Jesus to the One God of Israel. There is no doubt that for the early Christians Jesus "had the value and reality of God." This, however, does not mean that they thought Jesus "was God." It has been held by some that John presents Jesus in metaphysical terms which would appeal to people in the Greek world who thought in terms of abstract ideas familiar to Hellenistic thought. "Orthodoxy" claims John as its bridge to the world of Greek metaphysics — the metaphysics which helped to mold the Jesus of the Church Councils.
We suggest that we should first see if John can be readily understood in terms of his otherwise very Jewish approach. Why should we attempt to read John as though he were a student of the Jew Philo or of Gentile mystery religion? Why should John be claimed as a supporter of the dogmatic conclusions of the much later Church Councils? Should we not make sense of him from the Old Testament world of ideas? "What we do know," says a leading Bible scholar, "is that John was steeped in the Old Testament Scriptures. If we wish to understand the historical ancestry of John’s Logos [word] concept as he himself understood it, we have to go back to those Scriptures."20
It is a considerable mistake to read John 1:1 as though it means "In the beginning was the Son of God and the Son was with the Father and the Son was God."21 This is not what John wrote. The German poet Goethe wrestled with a correction in translation: "In the beginning was the Word, the Thought, the Power or the Deed." He decided on "deed." He comes very close to John’s intention. What the evangelist wanted to say was: "The Creative Thought of God has been operating from all eternity."
As a leading British Bible scholar wrote, "When John presents the eternal Word he was not thinking of a Being in any way separate from God, or some ‘Hypostasis.’ The later dogmatic Trinitarian distinctions should not be read into John’s mind  … in the light of a philosophy which was not his …. We must not read John in the light of the dogmatic history of the three centuries subsequent to the Evangelist’s writing."22
To understand John (and the rest of the New Testament) we must pay close attention to John’s cultural heritage which was not the world of Greek philosophy in which the dogmatic creeds were formed some three hundred years later. When John is read in the light of his Hebrew background he provides no support for the doctrine of a Jesus who is "God the Son," an eternal uncreated Person in a triune godhead:
"An author’s language will confuse us, unless we have some rapport with his mind …. The evangelist John takes a well-known term logos, does not define it, but unfolds what he himself means by it …. The idea belonged to the Old Testament, and is involved in the whole religious belief and experience of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is the most fitting term to express his message. For a man's 'word' is the expression of his 'mind'; and his mind is his essential personality. Every mind must express itself, for activity is the very nature of mind …. Thus John speaks of the 'Word' that was with God, and was Divine, to express his conviction that God has ever been Active and Revealing Mind. God, by His very nature, cannot sit in heaven and do nothing. When later in the Gospel Jesus says, 'My Father works up till now' he is saying what the Evangelist says in the first verse of the Prologue.
"John’s language is not the language of philosophical definition. John has a 'concrete' and 'pictorial' mind. The failure to understand John [in his prologue] has led many to the conclusion that he is 'father of metaphysical [i.e., Trinitarian] Christology,' and therefore responsible for the later ecclesiastical obscuration of the ethical and spiritual emphasis of Jesus …. The evangelist did not think in terms of the category of 'substance' — a category which was so congenial to the Greek mind."23
In an illuminating article in Biblical Review J. Harold Ellens points out that titles such as Son of God, as used at the time when the New Testament was written:
"were never meant to designate the figures to whom they were applied as divine beings. They meant rather that these figures were imbued with divine spirit, or the Logos. The titles referred to their function and character as men of God, not to their being God. Thinking of a human as being God was strictly a Greek or Hellenistic notion. Thus the early theological debates from the middle of the second century on were largely between Antioch, a center of Jewish Christianity, on the one hand, and Alexandrian Christianity, heavily colored by neo-Plationic speculation, on the other. For the most part, the Jewish Christians’ argument tended to be that they had known Jesus and his family and that he was a human being, a great teacher, one filled with the divine Logos … but that he was not divine in the ontological sense, as the Alexandrians insisted. The arguments persisted in one form or another until Cyril of Alexandria’s faction finally won the day for a highly mythologized Jesus of divine ontological being. Cyril was capable of murdering his fellow bishops to get his way.
"By the time of the Council of Nicea in 325 CE, this Alexandrian perspective of high Christology was dominant but not uncontested by the Antiochian perspective of low Christology. From Nicea to Chalcedon the speculative and neo-Platonist perspective gained increasing ground and became orthodox Christian dogma in 451 CE. Unfortunately, what the theologians of the great ecumenical councils meant by such creedal titles as Son of God was remote from what those same titles meant in the Gospels. The creeds were speaking in Greek philosophical terms: the gospels were speaking in Second Temple Judaism terms ….  The Bishops of the councils should have realized that they had shifted ground from Hebrew metaphor to Greek ontology and in effect betrayed the real Jesus Christ."24
It is not difficult to understand that the Bible is abandoned when fundamental terms like Son of God are given new and unbiblical meanings. The Church Councils under the influence of Greek speculative neo-Platonism replaced the New Testament Son of God with a God the Son fashioned by philosophy. When a different meaning for a title is substituted for the original a new faith is created. That new faith became "orthodoxy." It insisted on its dogmas, on pain of excommunication and damnation (the Athanasian Creed). Nicean dogmatic "orthodoxy" lifted Jesus out of his Hebrew environment, twisted John’s Gospel in an effort to make John fit into "orthodoxy’s" philosophical mold. And so it has remained to this day.
A revolution is needed to reverse this tragic process. It will come when Christians take personal responsibility for getting in touch with the Bible and investigating it with all the tools now at our disposal. A key to proper biblical understanding is to recognize that the Bible is a Jewish library of books and that Jesus was a Jew steeped in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament).
The hidden paganism in Christianity needs to be exposed. The history of orthodoxy shows signs of a spirit which is far removed from the spirit of Jesus. Those who have questioned "orthodoxy" have often been roughly handled.25 One commentator asks:
"How is it that the religion of love has been responsible for some of the worst cruelties and injustices that have ever disgraced humanity?…. The church has persecuted more cruelly than any other religion…. Our religious beliefs are propped up on the traditional scaffolding, and many of us are intensely annoyed if the stability of this scaffolding is called in question. The average Catholic [and the same applies to many Protestants] relies on the infallibility of his Church, which he has usually accepted without investigation. To own that his church has been wrong, and has sanctioned heinous crimes, is almost impossible for him.26
Neither Paul or any writer of the Bible ever stated that "there is One God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit." No example out of thousands of occurrences of Jahweh (OT) and God (NT) can be shown to mean "God in three Persons." The Triune God is foreign to the Bible. The words of Paul need careful consideration: "There is no God but one…. To us there is One God, the Father" (1 Cor. 8:46) There is also one Lord Messiah, Jesus (1 Cor. 8:6), but He is the Lord Christ (Luke 2:11Ps. 110:1), the Son of the One God, His Father.
The two major players in the Bible are described in a precious divine oracle quoted in the NT more than any other verse from the Hebrew Bible: Ps. 110:1. There the One God "Yahweh" speaks to David’s Lord, who is addressed as Adoni ("my Lord"). Adoni in its 195 occurrences never means the One God. It refers always to a human (or occasionally) angelic superior, other than God. Jesus is the Lord of David of whom Ps. 110:1speaks. He was appointed Lord and Messiah — appointed by God, his Father (Acts 2:34-36).
Out of respect and honor for Jesus the Messiah, Christians should adopt his Jewish creed in Mark 12:28ff.: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord." God is one Lord. Jesus is another Lord. That makes two Lords, but the creed knows of only one Lord who is God (Deut. 6:4Mark 12:28ff.). That is the creed of Jesus and therefore the original and authentic Christian creed. It is also the creed of Paul. May we all joyfully embrace that creed and align ourselves with the Jesus Messiah of history.