Apologetics

Bad Hermeneutics Playing Fast and Loose with Essential Christian Doctrine

Q: I believe the Bible to be the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God. If God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33), why do you think there is so much confusion around hermeneutics*?

A: The answer is that we have so many different expressions within the Protestant tradition right now. I am not suggesting that Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy are singularly monolithic, but you look at the expressions within Protestantism today, they have some thirty thousand or more. Anyone today seems to be able to hang up a shingle whether or not they have any theological or hermeneutical acumen.

You have people today who are popular on radio and television in the Christian world. They are coming up with brand new ideas, and those ideas do not come out of the careful examination of Scripture, applying the art and science of biblical interpretation. Rather, they come out of a predilection in a particular direction.

So, someone hangs up their shingle and says, “Now, I got a brand new teaching, and this new teaching is going to undo everything you read in the Scripture because you have been reading the Scripture in the wrong way. Let us, by the way, get rid of all church history. No longer am I a pigmy standing on the shoulder of giants, but I am a giant and historical characters of the past are simply pigmies.”

This person now says (this is just one example), “You can never ever, as a believer, ever, ever confess your sins, because if you do, you are spitting in the face of God.” This is one of the most pernicious — I will even call it heresy, which I have seen arise in the modern-day church, and popular people are communicating this.

“So, let us dispense with the Lord’s prayer,” say false teachers, “because the Lord’s Prayer is an Old Covenant prayer, and it really does not apply to us today. It had some value at the time it was given but it really does not apply to us today. By the way, we have to dispense with it for any reason or every reason because if we do not, then our paradigm no longer will hold up under scrutiny. Get rid of that, and we will simply have this new paradigm.”

This is what happens to people that are unstable and unlearned. They are taking essentials of the Christian faith and playing fast and loose with it. I think that is at the bottom of the problem. There is so much confusion because hermeneutics is not playing a role, history is not playing a role, people are simply good with the gab. And if they are good with the gab, good enough, they can start a new expression, a new fissuring within Protestantism. This also can happen in many different constructs of Christianity where you come up with a brand new idea. This happens in Catholicism where the Pope speaks ex-cathedra, goes against everything the Catholic Church taught before, or what the Church historically has taught. I think these are problems that elevate the person over proper perception of Scripture.

— Hank Hanegraaff

For further related study, please see the following:

What is the Significance of Biblical Typology? (Hank Hanegraaff)

Practical Hermeneutics: How to Interpret Your Bible Correctly (Part 1) (Thomas Howe)

Practical Hermeneutics: How to Interpret Your Bible Correctly (Part 2) (Thomas Howe)

Discerning the Times: Why We Lost the Culture War and How to Make a Comeback (Donald T. Williams)

JAF7382 – Grace upon Grace: 1 John 1:8-9 and the Forgiveness of Sins (Steven Parks)

JAF5362 – Joseph Prince: Unmerited Favor (Warren Nozaki)

Check out our e-store resources:

Memorable Keys to Understanding What God Has Said: L-I-G-H-T-S On Your Path to Reading the Bible For All It’s Worth by Hank Hanegraaff

How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart

*Hermeneutics is the art and science of biblical interpretation.

Apologetics

Addressing a Christian Leader as Father

Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven (Matt. 23:9 NKJV).

Jesus said not to call any man “Father,” but in Paul’s writing, Timothy and Titus are called sons, and one can assume they would call Paul “Father.” Can you give me understanding on this?

You know what? The prologue to your question was brilliant, because that is exactly right. What you have done is instead of just taking a phrase of the Bible, you contextualized that phrase by testing Scripture in light of Scripture.

I think it would only be fair to our listeners to get an idea of what is going on in this context. Listen closely to what Jesus is saying. Jesus is talking to the multitudes as well as to His disciples, and He is saying,

The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore, whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, “Rabbi, Rabbi.” But you, do not be called “Rabbi,” for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted (Matt. 23:2–12 NKJV, emphasis added).

Now, what is interesting about reading the context — I flipped open my Bible to this very famous passage, Matthew 23, and I have not taken the time to memorize it — but I flipped this open, and I read it to you. I read it to you to give you context. The first thing you see in this context is false teachers, people who want the adulation of people. Don’t call them “Father.” Don’t even call them “Teacher,” because all they want to be is exalted in the eyes of men.

If I say, “I talked to Father Steve,” or “Father Steve said this,” or “Father John said this,” well, people immediately say, “But, does not the Bible say you are not supposed to call anyone Father? This is one of the problems with Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. You have brought yourself into this web of deceit in which people are calling other people ‘Father’; this is just wrong. The Bible is very clear about this.”

The minute someone says that, you know they simply have something in their head. They have not ever gone to the Bible to examine this in context. When you do, you come up with exactly what you said in the prologue to your question. You find out that if this is really true, then the Bible must be wrong somewhere else. What is the idea here in Matthew 23:9? Context concerns the hypocrisy of false teachers puffing themselves up to be glorified by men rather than God.

Many people also like to cite this passage to say that you are in error in using this term (father), yet the passage also speaks again about teachers. That is why I put the emphasis there. If we are not supposed to call anybody “Father,” why is it that the same people complaining about those that are calling people “Teacher,” they have no problem with it whatsoever. I cannot count the number of times people have told me, “You should not call anybody Father.” But, they do not ever say, “You should not call anybody Teacher.” Well, the context here tells us both. So, you have to read Scripture in light of Scripture.

The reality is that “father” and “teacher” are applied to men many times within the New Testament, but you can never do that with people who are false teachers, or you cannot do this simply to puff people up and make them as exalted as your notion of God.

Let me give you a couple examples of the proper use of “father.” The apostle Paul refers to himself as a “father” to the Corinthian believers (1 Cor. 4:14–15). If this is taken at face value without considering context, then Paul would be doing something that he should not be doing. In the gospel of Luke — one of my favorite passages, I have referred to it a few times on this show — Abraham is approvingly referred to as “father Abraham” (Luke 16:19–31). In the epistle to the Colossians, you have the approval of the term “father” as we normally use the word to refer to our own biological fathers (Col. 3:21). If you take this in a wooden literalistic sense rather than the sense in which it was intended, you would not even call your own biological father “Father” because that would be in conflict with Matthew 23:9. Obviously, it is not.

That is what I love about what you just did. When you asked the question, you also contextualized the answer to the question by reading Scripture in light of Scripture. That was a brilliant move on your part.

Blog adapted from the May 16, 2017, Bible Answer Man broadcast.

Apologetics

The Literal and Metaphorical Use of Fire in the Bible

CRI-Blog-Hanegraaff, Hank-Fire MetaphorI begin today’s broadcast with just a word about metaphors. A good example is fire. You know fire can be very, very real, or it can be used, as it is many times in the Bible, in a metaphorical sense. When the Bible speaks of God’s throne as flaming with fire (Dan. 7:9), we intuitively recognize that an implied comparison is in view.

When we read of the lamps of fire before God’s throne, we apprehend that there is more going on than mere physical fire, because John actually tells us that what he is describing when he says the lamps of fire are the seven Spirits of God (Rev. 4:5).

Consider James; he described the human tongue as being set on fire by hell. Remember when he said, “The tongue is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body”? He goes on to say “it corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6 NIV). Now, James obviously does not intend for us to think that the tongue, which in itself is a metaphor for human language, is a literal fire that literally sets on fire the course of one’s life. Nor are human tongues or languages literally set on fire by hell. James is using the language of fire as a metaphor for the destructive power of words and, in the same way, uses the language of fire as a metaphor for the destructive nature of hell.

The Bible over and over again uses the metaphor of fire in different ways to describe jealousy (Deut. 29:20; Ps. 79:5), sexual lust (1 Cor. 7:9), unbridled passion (Rom. 1:27), and the like.

I think it is safe to say that figurative language is the principle means by which God communicates spiritual realities to His children. Why do I mention this at the beginning of the broadcast? Simply to reinforce in your mind that when you read the Bible literally, it means you take what the Bible says in the sense in which it is intended. Golden bowls full of incense. What are they? They are the prayers of the saints (Rev. 5:8).

—Hank Hanegraaff

“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6 NIV).

For further related study, please access the following:

What Does it Mean to Interpret the Bible Literally? (Hank Hanegraaff)

When Literal Interpretations Don’t Hold Water (John Makujina)

This blog adapted from the March 15, 2017, Bible Answer Man broadcast.

Apologetics

Making Sense of the Tormenting Locust in Revelation 9

cri-blog-hanegraaff-hank-rev-9-6-locust“During those days men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them (Rev. 9:6)”1

After the fifth trumpet blows there is five months were these locust creatures are tormenting people and the people cannot die (Rev. 9:1-12). Can these people die like if somebody shot them? Is it just because of the locusts? What happens to believers can they die? 

What’s really important when you get to apocalyptic language is that you learn to read apocalyptic language in the sense in which it is intended; otherwise you end up with all kinds of nonsense. This is a way of speaking and it’s very familiar to people who read through the Old Testament. It’s a familiar way of talking about how horrible judgment is going to be when apostate Israel is judged. This judgment is going to be horrendous.

The way of talking about how horrible is to say that death would be preferable to life in this kind of condition. Again, you have this kind of language used by Jeremiah, who prophesied, “Wherever I banish them, all the survivors of this evil nation will prefer death to life, declares the Lord Almighty” (Jer. 8:3). So it’s familiar language

What is so important when you get to the Book of Revelation is this: Once you go down the path of trying to take apocalyptic judgment language and read literal meanings into it you are going to end up like Tim LaHaye or Hal Lindsey. For example, Lindsey thinks Revelation14:20 tells us that “so many people will be slaughtered in the conflict that blood will stand to the horses’ bridles for a total distance of 200 miles northward and southward of Jerusalem.”2 There isn’t that much blood on the face of the earth. Now a lot people realize the force of that but they want to take this literally. LaHaye’s solution is to say, “Hailstones weighing ‘a talent [ca. 100 pounds]’ will fall from heaven (Rev. 16:21) which, with the blood of this massive army, will create a river of blood that reaches up to the horses’ bridles.”3 You know this again is failing to recognize that this is a judgment metaphor.

Interestingly enough, by the way, if you read first century extrabiblical literature, you will find it is a common judgment metaphor, such that when we say, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” that is just as common today as the judgment metaphor as the blood to the horses’ bridle was in the first century. For example, 1 Enoch 100:3 states, “The horse shall walk through the blood of sinners up to his chest; and the chariot shall sink down up to its top.”

Here is the point: This is going to be horrible time of judgment when people will want death but death will elude them. In other words, life is so traumatically painful, and judgment so severe that the idea of death seems more palatable than continuing in this existence.

—Hank Hanegraaff

For further related study, please see the following:

Was Revelation Written Before or After the Destruction of the Temple in AD 70? (Hank Hanegraaff)

What Does it Mean to Interpret the Bible Literally? (Hank Hanegraaff)

Who are the 144,000 of Revelation? (Hank Hanegraaff)

Who are the two witnesses of Revelation? (Hank Hanegraaff)

Who is the Antichrist? (Hank Hanegraaff)

What is the Meaning of 666? (Hank Hanegraaff)

Is the Mark of the Beast a Microchip? (Hank Hanegraaff)

Who or What is the Great Prostitute of Revelation 17? (Hank Hanegraaff)

Who Wrote Revelation? (Hank Hanegraaff)

Apocalypse When? Why Most End-time Teaching Is Dead Wrong. (Hank Hanegraaff)

The Perils of Newspaper Eschatology (Elliot Miller)

Notes:

  1. All Scripture cited from The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), unless noted.
  2. Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970), 165-166.
  3. Tim LaHaye, ed. Time LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000), 1040.

* Blog adapted from “What are the locusts in Revelation and why can’t those who are bitten by them die?

Apologetics

Making Sense of Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream of the Statue in Daniel 2

Hanegraaff, Hank-Making Sense of Daniel 2

31 “You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statue—an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. 32 The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. 34 While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth (Dan. 2:31-35).*

Q: What are your thoughts on Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a statue divided into different sections and materials in Daniel 2.

Hank Hanegraaff: The interpretation of that dream by Nebuchadnezzar is given by Daniel while in Babylonian exile. Daniel is able to do what the diviners and enchanters cannot do. He is able to give the interpretation to that dream.

The interpretation of that dream to Nebuchadnezzar is that this great statue represents a succession of nations. That succession of nations is articulated in different visions throughout the Book of Daniel.

I have been reading, listening, and studying Daniel over and over and over again, and very clearly, what we have is an interpretation given by Daniel that Nebuchadnezzar is the head of gold. But, after Nebuchadnezzar there’ll be another king that is as inferior to Babylon as silver is inferior to gold. And what happens after Nebuchadnezzar’s death is, though Babylon continues to exist, it exists under inferior leadership and another nation rises up. It’s the Median nation that becomes the top nation, as it were, and it’s preeminent up until the time that Babylon is destroyed by a coalition of the Medes and the Persians—the Medo-Persian Empire. The Medo-Persian Empire is described here as a bronze empire that will rule over the whole earth. Now one thing we know is that was not true of Babylon nor was it true of the Median Empire, but it certainly was true of the Medo-Persian Empire with respect to the ancient world. After that you have the Grecian Empire and in many different ways throughout Daniel the Grecian Empire, Alexander the Great and Antiochus IV Epiphanes, are described in incredible detail, throughout the Book of Daniel.

“No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (Dan. 2:27-28).

For further study, please see the following:

Did Daniel Accurately Predict a Succession of Nations? (Hank Hanegraaff)

Did Daniel Prophesy a Seven-Year Great Tribulation? (Hank Hanegraaff)

Apocalypse When? Why Most End-time Teaching Is Dead Wrong. (Hank Hanegraaff)

This blog adapted from “Clarify Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2?

* All Scripture cited from The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984).

Apologetics

Is the Bible in error or inerrant?

Hanegraaff, Hank-Bible In Error or InerrantQ: Most Bible teachers believe in verbal plenary inspiration, which is the inspiration of the Scripture down to the very words, and the original manuscripts there’s no errors—scientifically, mathematically, anything like that. What about holding to a different position, like the view that has been held by theologians like Karl Barth, that Scripture is completely inspired but some of it, when it comes to history or certain scientific facts, can contain error in the original manuscripts?

Hank Hanegraaff: If you look at the words of Peter, he says: “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation.  For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20-21, NIV).

The one thing we can say about the Bible is that it’s fully divine and fully human yet without error in its autographs. This is to say, if God is God, and God is speaking through the personalities and proclivities of people, He is speaking truth through them. Therefore, if you read Peter and you read Moses, you’ll find two different writing styles. Now, why would the Holy Spirit in that process communicate error through people?

What we must do is learn to read the Bible for all its worth. In Genesis, for example, when you see a snake deceiving Eve, Moses writing long after the creation event is not intending to say “Satan looks like a snake,” or “Satan has physical characteristics,” or “a snake has vocal chords.” No. He is not telling us what Satan looks like he’s telling what Satan is like. Satan, of course, is non-corporeal—nonphysical.

We have to understand the art and science of biblical interpretation and then we’re not going to come off and say, “You know what, the Bible has some nice things to say, but overall it makes some pretty big errors.” Instead, we’ll say, “Whoa, my error was in that I didn’t know how to read the Bible for all its worth.”

For further related study, please see the following:

How Do We Know the Bible is Divine Rather than Human in Origin? (Hank Hanegraaff)

L-I-G-H-T-S to the Word of God (Hank Hanegraaff)

Practical Hermeneutics: How to Interpret Your Bible Correctly (Part 1) (Thomas Howe)

Practical Hermeneutics: How to Interpret Your Bible Correctly (Part 2) (Thomas Howe)

Taming Bible “Discrepancies” (Rachel Ramer)

Presumed Innocent Until Proven Guilty (H. Wayne House)

What Does it Mean to Interpret the Bible Literally? (Hank Hanegraaff)

When Literal Interpretations Don’t Hold Water (John Makujina)

Was Eve Deceived by a Talking Snake? (Hank Hanegraaff)

Please also consult the following books:

Has God Spoken (B1045) by Hank Hanegraaff

The Complete Bible Answer Book Collector’s Edition Revised and Updated (B2027) by Hank Hanegraaff

The Origin of the Bible (B1089) edited by Philip W. Comfort

New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (B106) by Gleason Archer

Blog adapted from “Do the original manuscripts of the Bible contain errors?

Apologetics, Journal Topics

Does John 3:3 Support Reincarnation?

Rogers, Gregory-Reincartionist Eisegesis

Article: JAR133 | By Gregory Rogers

This article first appeared in the Practical Hermeneutics column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 30, number 4 (2007). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org

New Agers and proponents of Eastern mystical thought frequently cite John 3:3 to prove that the Bible teaches reincarnation. Here Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”1

According to premiere cults authority Walter Martin, New Agers interpret this verse to mean that “Jesus was referring to cyclic rebirth when He said that one must be born again.”2 “Born again,” then, is said to refer to the soul’s reincarnation in other bodies in order ultimately to reach nirvana. One may raise the question, however, as to whether such New Age interpretations do full justice to the cultural and theological context of this passage.

Rebirth and the Rabbis. First, there is the matter of the Jewish context of that time. Scholars long have noted parallels between New Testament teaching on “new birth” and rabbinic proverbs of the day; for example, Jews often said, “The proselyte” or Gentile who wished to convert to Jewish faith “is like a new‐ born child.”3

William Barclay describes the transformation of one who experiences this “rebirth” as follows: “So radical was the change that the sins he had committed before his reception were all done away with, for now he was a different person. It was even theoretically argued that such a man could marry his own mother or his own sister, because he was a completely new man, and all the old connections were broken and destroyed. The Jew knew the idea of rebirth.”4

In this instance the said new birth had nothing to do with reincarnation, but with conversion to a belief system, namely the conversion of the Gentile proselyte to Jewish faith. This would imply that Jesus’ “new birth” ought rather to be interpreted to mean entry into Jesus’ new covenant of grace and appropriation of its necessary benefits.

“Rebirth” in Jesus’ economy extended beyond the mere affirmation and acceptance that the rabbis preached, of course, and included a tangible transformation from within through the agency of the Holy Spirit. This will be demonstrated in greater detail below.

Rebirth in John. Any interpretation worthy of academic respect must take note not only of the author’s cultural context, but of his theological context and intentions. An honest application of the principle of interpreting Scripture with Scripture reveals that for John “new birth” has nothing to do with reincarnation, but rather refers to vital, immediate transformation from within at a crucial point of choice in this life.

A worthy interpretation must note further that John makes a clear distinction between two classes of people: those who have and those who have not experienced this “new birth,” where the former are commended and the latter are condemned. John does this in parallel passages such as John 1:11–13: “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (emphasis added). The “new birth” is experienced by those who choose to receive Jesus as Lord in this life, and such born‐again believers are sharply contrasted with those who reject Him. Note also that John contrasts, rather than equates, this “new birth” with physical birth.

This distinction is again found in the immediate context of the John 3:3 passage, where Jesus emphasizes the difference between these two births in that “flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (v. 6). Once again John contrasts the “new birth” with physical birth, and views it as a spiritual phenomenon wrought by the Holy Spirit.

Notably too, Nicodemus (like many New Age apologists) appears to be under the impression that “born again” refers to physical birth, remarking, “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” (v. 4). Interestingly, Jesus rebukes him for this assumption, pointing out instead that being “born again” refers to spiritual transformation (v. 5).

John makes the element of choice between life and death, salvation and judgment, clear in the remainder of the section (John 3:14–21, 36). He refers to the famous incident of Numbers 21:1–9, where God instructs rebellious Israelites who are bitten by poisonous snakes to look upon a bronze image of a serpent on a pole in order to be healed, and makes the following comparison: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14–15).

By implication, being “born again” (vv. 3 and 7) refers to one’s transformation in this life as a result of choosing Christ’s work of redemption, rather than to one’s transmigration after death as a result of choosing one’s own works in reincarnation. The choice regarding salvation is clear; thus the immediacy of Jesus’ challenge to Nicodemus.

The distinction between the “two births” is also apparent in John 20:22. Here, following His resurrection, Jesus breathes on the disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Commentator Raymond Brown points out that the language of John 20:22 “echoes” and forms a deliberate parallel with that of the Septuagint5 in Genesis 2:7, “the creation scene.”6 In Genesis 2:7, God breathes the breath of life into the first man, Adam, and he lives, as God’s creation. In John 20:22, by comparison, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on the disciples as a symbol of “new birth,” and they live anew, as God’s new creation. The first birth is physical; the second birth is spiritual, and transformative from within.

The gospel of John thus ends as it starts, by making a distinction between believers who have received Christ and the Holy Spirit and have experienced the new birth, and unbelievers who have not (cf. John 1:12–13). This granting of the Holy Spirit as the means of salvation and transformation is an ongoing theme in the gospel of John (see John 1:33; 3:34; 7:39; 14:26; 15:26).

Cementing this theological paradigm is the fact that Scripture often depicts the coming of the Spirit as an act of creation, whether of nature (Gen. 1:2; Ps. 104:30); of the humanity of the Messiah (Luke 1:35); or, in fulfillment of John 3:3, of the Church and its members (Acts 2:2–4).

John follows similar reasoning in his first epistle, where to be “born of God” likewise means to undergo inner transformation in this life. In 1 John 5:4, “Everyone born of God overcomes the world,” and in 1 John 4:7, “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” (emphasis added). Most notable is 1 John 3:9, where “no one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him” (emphasis added; see also 2:29; 5:1, 18). Here, “seed” underscores this notion of spiritual birth.

Rebirth as a Biblical Principle. This reading of “new birth” is uniform for the rest of the New Testament. According to Titus 3:5, for example, “he saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” “Rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” here strongly resembles the language of John.

According to Peter, God has “given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3). Like John, moreover, Peter tells Christians that “you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable” (1 Pet. 1:23, emphasis added; see also James 1:18).

Elsewhere, believers are compared to children (Matt. 18:11), who are either given “milk” or “solid food” (1 Cor. 3:1–2; Heb. 5:12–14); and who have become a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15). As many authorities point out, the roots of New Testament teaching on regeneration lie in passages such as Ezekiel 36:26–27, which speaks of transformation associated with reception of the Spirit.7

Religious Intolerance? It is clear from the natural flow of the biblical context that the Eastern doctrine of reincarnation or the transmigration of souls has no place at all in the broad gamut of Christian theology, yet many followers of Eastern religions try to force it on to the Bible despite the context. By contrast, if Christians were to attempt to explain away the relevant Hindu texts pertinent to reincarnation by divorcing them from their contexts, there would be no small outcry. It is an act of gross intolerance to make a religion say what it does not in its own context say simply to make it conform, ironically, to current pluralistic political trends.

It is clear that the Bible was written largely by Hebrews and reflects a thoroughgoing Hebrew mindset; furthermore, much of the time it was written by conservative Hebrews to counter aberrant doctrine or heresy. Many times those Hebrews were martyred for the conservative statements they were trying to make.

It is apparent that “rebirth” had similar connotations even in pagan Greco‐Roman culture. According to William Barclay, a new convert to the ancient Greek mystery religions was often referred to as “twice‐ born,” and “in the Phrygian [mystery cult] the initiate, after his initiation, was fed with milk as if he was a new‐born babe.”8 Barclay concludes that “the ancient world knew all about rebirth and regeneration. It longed for it and searched for it everywhere.”9

Walter Martin succinctly distinguished between the Eastern and Judeo‐Christian traditions in his interpretation of this passage. As he concluded, “The context of John 3:1–12 is clearly referring to spiritual rebirth, not physical rebirth10 (emphasis added).

Reincarnationist interpretations of biblical “rebirth” are clearly guilty of eisegesis, of reading Eastern religious sensitivities into a profoundly Judeo‐Christian religious expression. As this article has demonstrated, a scholarly approach to understanding context is imperative in this matter.

Gregory Rogers is an internationally published writer in theology. He is currently enrolled at the South African Theological Seminary (SATS) on the honors level.

NOTES

  1. All Bible quotations are from the New International Version.
  2. Walter Martin, The New Age Cult (Cape Town: Struik Christian Books, 1990), 93. See also Swami Nirmalananda Giri, “May a Christian Believe in Reincarnation?”Atma Jyoti, http://www.atmajyoti.org/sw_xtian_believe_reinc.asp.
  3. William Barclay, The Gospel of John, Volume I (Edinburgh, Scotland: The Saint Andrew Press, 1965), 115. See also A. Ringwald, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. I, ed. Colin Brown (Exeter, England: Paternoster Press, 1975), s.v. “gennaw.”
  4. Barclay, 115.
  5. The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament; often abbreviated LXX.
  6. Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to St. John XIII‐XXI (New York: Doubleday, 1970), 1037.
  7. L. Kynes, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel B. Green, Scott McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), s.v. “New Birth.”
  8. Barclay, 116.
  9. Martin, 93.