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080106550X
Trade Paperback
368 pages
Mar 2005
Baker Books

Correcting The Cults: Expert Responses To Their Scripture Twisting

by Norman L. Geisler & Ron Rhodes

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt

Excerpt:

genesis

 

GENESIS 1:1–2—Is the Holy Spirit a person, or is the Holy Spirit “God’s active force”?

MISINTERPRETATION: Jehovah’s Witnesses think this verse implies that the Holy Spirit is not a person but, rather, God’s active force. God allegedly used this “force” in creating the universe. They believe that, since the Hebrew word for “spirit” also can be translated “wind,” they are justified in translating the term as “active force” in Genesis 1:2 (Should You Believe in the Trinity? 1989, 20).

CORRECTING THE MISINTERPRETATION: The Hebrew word ruach can have a variety of meanings—including “breath,” “wind,” and “Spirit (i.e., the Holy Spirit).” However, since references to the Holy Spirit, both here and elsewhere throughout Scripture, consistently provide evidences for the personality of the Holy Spirit, the translation “active force” should be ruled out.

First of all, even here the Holy Spirit is engaged in the act of creation, which involves intelligent action in forming the world. The very act of “hovering” over the waters implies an intelligent purpose.

Else wherein the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit manifests the attributes of personality. He can anoint for a preaching ministry (Isa. 61:1) and even be grieved by our sin (Isa. 63:10;cf. Eph. 4:30).In fact, all the essential characteristics of personality are attributed to the Holy Spirit in Scripture—he has a mind (Rom. 8:27; 1-Cor. 2:10; Eph. 1:17), emotions (Eph. 4:30), and will (1-Cor. 12:11). A mere “force” does not have these attributes.

Furthermore, the Holy Spirit does things only a person could do. For example, he teaches (John 14:26), guides (Rom. 8:14), issues commands (Acts 8:29), prays (Rom. 8:26), and speaks to people (John 15:26; 2-Peter 1:21).

Finally, the Holy Spirit is consistently treated as a person. For example, he can be lied to (Acts 5:3). One cannot lie to a force (say, electricity) or to any impersonal thing. Only a person can be lied to. In view of such factors, one cannot translate ruach as “active force” when used of the Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit is quite clearly a person. See comments on Acts 2:4.

GENESIS 1:26—Does this verse indicate that there is more than one god?

MISINTERPRETATION: If there is only one God, why does this verse in Genesis use the word us in reference to God? Mormons often note that the Hebrew word usually translated God, Elohim, is in the plural, and the plural pronoun us is used. To them this indicates that there is more than one God: “In the very beginning the Bible shows there is a plurality of Gods beyond the power of refutation. .-.-. The word Elohim ought to be in the plural all the way through—Gods”(Smith, 1976, 372).

CORRECTING THE MISINTERPRETATION: Several explanations for the use of the pronoun us have been offered throughout history. Some commentators have claimed that God is addressing the angels. But this is unlikely since in verse 26 God says, “Let us make man in our image,” while verse 27 makes it clear that “God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him,” and not in the image of the angels.

Others have claimed that the plural pronoun refers to the Trinity. It is true that the New Testament (e.g., John 1:1) teaches that the Son was involved in the creation of the heavens and the earth. Also, Genesis 1:2 indicates that the Holy Spirit was involved in the creation process. However, students of Hebrew grammar point out that the plural pronoun us is simply required by the plural Hebrew noun Elohim, which is translated “God” (“Then God [Elohim, plural] said, ‘Let us [plural] make man in our [plural] image’”). Consequently, they claim that this statement should not be used to prove the doctrine of the Trinity.

Still others have asserted that the plural is used as a figure of speech called a majestic plural. Indeed, the Qur’an, which denies that there is more than one person in God, uses us of God. In this use, God is speaking to himself in such a manner as to indicate that all of his majestic power and wisdom were involved in the creation of humanity. As has been noted, the plural pronoun us corresponds to the plural Hebrew word Elohim, which is translated God. The fact that the name God is plural in Hebrew does not indicate that there is more than one God. (Queen Victoria used a plural of majesty when referring only to herself. She once commented, “We are not amused.”) A number of passages in the New Testament refer to God with the singular Greek noun theos, which is also translated “God” (for example John 1:1; Mark 13:19; Eph. 3:9). The plural nature of the Hebrew word is designed to give a fuller, more majestic sense to God’s name.

It should be noted, however, that the New Testament clearly teaches that God is a Trinity (Matt. 3:16–17;2-Cor. 13:14;1-Peter 1:2), and, although the doctrine of the Trinity is not fully developed in the Old Testament, it is foreshadowed (cf. Ps. 110:1; Prov. 30:4; Isa. 63:7, 9–10).

GENESIS 1:26—Does the fact that we are created in God’s image mean that we are “little gods,” as Word-Faith leaders say?

MISINTERPRETATION: Word-Faith teachers suggest that the Hebrew word for “likeness” in this verse literally means “an exact duplication in kind” (Savelle, 1990, 141). Indeed, humanity “was created on terms of equality with God, and he could stand in God’s presence without any consciousness of inferiority. .-.-. God has made us as much like Himself as possible. .-.-. He made us the same class of being that He is Himself” (Hagin, 1989, 35–36, 41).

CORRECTING THE MISINTERPRETATION: All Genesis 1:26–27 is teaching is that humanity was created in God’s image or likeness in the sense that a human being is a finite reflection of God in rational nature (Col. 3:10), in moral nature (Eph. 4:24), and in dominion over creation (Gen. 1:27–28). In the same way that the moon reflects the brilliant light of the sun, so finite humanity(as created in God’s image)is a limited reflection of God in these aspects. This verse has nothing to do with human beings becoming God or being in God’s “class.”

If it were true that human beings are “little gods,” then one would expect them to display qualities similar to those known to be true of God. However, when one compares the attributes of humankind with those of God, we find ample testimony for the truth of Paul’s statement in Romans 3:23 that human beings “fall short of the glory of God.” Consider:

1. God is all-knowing (Isa. 40:13–14), but a human being is limited in knowledge (Job 38:4);

2. God is all-powerful (Rev. 19:6), but a human being is weak (Heb. 4:15);

3. God is everywhere-present (Ps. 139:7–12), but a human being is confined to a single space at a time (John 1:50);

4. God is holy (1 John 1:5), but even human “righteous” deeds are as filthy garments before God (Isa. 64:6);

5. God is eternal (Ps. 90:2), but humanity was created at a point in time (Gen. 1:1, 26–27);

6. God is truth (John 14:6), but a human heart (since the Fall) is deceitful above all else (Jer. 17:9);

7. God is characterized by justice (Acts 17:31), but humankind is lawless (1-John 3:4; see also Rom. 3:23);

8. God is love (Eph. 2:4–5), but human relationships are plagued with numerous vices like jealousy and strife (1-Cor. 3:3).

 

GENESIS 1:26–27—Does this passage support the idea that God has a physical body?

MISINTERPRETATION: Mormons argue that, because humans were created with a body of flesh and bones, God the Father must have a physical body, since humanity was created in God’s image (Smith, 1975, 1:3).

CORRECTING THE MISINTERPRETATION: A fundamental interpretive principle is that Scripture interprets Scripture. When other Scriptures about God’s nature are consulted, the Mormon understanding of Genesis 1:26– 27 becomes impossible. John 4:24 indicates that God is spirit. Luke 24:39 tells us that a spirit does not have flesh and bones. Conclusion: Since God is spirit, he does not have flesh and bones. Moreover, contrary to Mormonism, God is not (and never has been) a man (Num. 23:19; Isa. 45:12; Hosea 11:9; Rom. 1:22–23).

GENESIS 1:26–27—Does the fact that a human being is made in the image of God support the Christian Science claim that humanity is co-eternal with God?

MISINTERPRETATION: These verses assert that God created humanity in his own image. Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy urges that this means that “man and woman—as coexistent and eternal with God— forever reflect, in glorified quality, the infinite Father-Mother God” (Eddy, 516).

CORRECTING THE MISINTERPRETATION: Eddy completely misunderstands this passage of Scripture. Several mistakes will be briefly noted.

It is contrary to the meaning of the words “image” and “likeness” to insist that humankind is like God in all respects. Even an “image” in this context is not the same as the original, as is clear from the use of this same Hebrew word (tzehlem) of an idol (e.g., Num. 33:52; 2-Chron. 23:17; Ezek. 7:20) as only a representation of the god, not the god itself.

The word create reveals that the text is not speaking of something that is eternal but of something that came to be. This word (bara)is never used in the Old Testament of something that is eternal. Indeed, in this context it means something that is brought into being. The same is true of the New Testament use of the word for “create” (cf. Col. 1:15–16; Rev. 4:11).

Also, it is a fallacy to assume, as Eddy does, that because we are like God, God must be like us. For example, she speaks of God as male and female (“Father-Mother God”). This is known in logic as an illicit conversion. Just because all horses have four legs does not mean that all four-legged things are horses. And just because God made male and female does not mean he is male and female. “God is spirit” (John 4:24), yet he made people with bodies(Gen. 2:7). Just because we have a physical body does not mean that God has one too.

The Old Testament was first written as a Jewish book, and Judaism is uncompromisingly a monotheistic religion. But Christian Science is pantheistic, and Eddy is reading her pantheistic view into this Jewish document. A human being is neither eternal with God nor identical with God. Each person is a finite creature who was brought into existence by an infinite God and who resembles God morally and personally, but is not the same metaphysically.

GENESIS 2:7—Does this verse prove that human beings do not have a soul that survives death?

MISINTERPRETATION: Jehovah’s Witnesses cite this verse to prove that man does not have a soul that is distinct from the body. “Bible usage shows the soul to be a person or an animal or the life that a person or an animal enjoys”(Mankind’s Search for God, 1990, 125). Hence, people are souls in the sense that they are living beings, not in the sense that they have an immaterial nature that survives death.

CORRECTING THE MISINTERPRETATION: In Genesis 2:7 the Hebrew word for “soul” (nephesh) means “living being.” However, this Hebrew word is a rich one, carrying various nuances of meaning in different contexts. A fundamental mistake beginning Hebrew and Greek students sometimes make is to assume that, if a Hebrew or Greek word is used in a particular way in one verse, it must mean the same thing in all its other uses. But this is simply wrong. The fact is, Hebrew and Greek words can have different nuances of meaning in different contexts. The word nephesh is an example. While the word means “living being” in Genesis 2:7, the word refers to a soul or spirit as distinct from the body in Genesis 35:18.

Moreover, when we examine what the whole of Scripture teaches about the soul, it is clear that the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) position is wrong. For example, Revelation 6:9–10 refers to disembodied souls under God’s altar (it would be nonsense to interpret the reference to “soul” in this verse as “living being”—“I saw underneath the altar the living beings of those who had been slain”). First Thessalonians 4:13–17 says Christ will bring with him the souls and spirits of those who are now with him in heaven and will reunite their spirits to resurrection bodies. In Philippians 1:21–23 Paul says it’s better to depart and be with Christ. In 2-Corinthians 5:6–8 Paul says that to be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord. Clearly, the whole of Scripture teaches that each person has a soul that survives death.

GENESIS 2:7—Is Christian Science correct in claiming that God did not create matter?

MISINTERPRETATION: Christian Science teaches that God did not create any matter, and that matter is not a real thing that was ever created by anyone. Though Genesis 2:7 says God“formed the man from the dust of the ground,” Christian Scientists conclude “it must be a lie, for God presently curses the ground,” according to Genesis 3:17 (Eddy, 524).

CORRECTING THE MISINTERPRETATION: The Bible clearly affirms that God

created human beings with a physical body. To draw any inference to the

contrary from any text is to contradict the plain teaching of the Word of

God.

The Bible declares that “the lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7). The “dust of the ground” is an obvious reference to physical, material stuff.

Further, God said to Adam and Eve, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:19). Here, too, the reference is to the physical “ground” and “dust.” Further, it says we will return to dust, which implies that we came from it to begin with, which is what the Bible says elsewhere (cf. Eccl. 12:7).

GENESIS 3:7—Does this verse mark the beginning of Freemasonry, as masons sometimes argue?

MISINTERPRETATION: In Genesis 3:7 we read of Adam and Eve following their sin, “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” Freemasons sometimes try to argue that freemasonry dates back to the time of Adam and Eve, since the fig leaves were actually the first masonic “aprons” (Mather and Nichols, 1993, 7). In freemasonry such aprons are used in various initiatory rituals. Is this interpretation correct?

CORRECTING THE MISINTERPRETATION: The Freemasons are here practicing eisoges is (reading a meaning into the text)instead of exegesis(drawing the meaning out of the text). This is evident from the context.

Masonic rituals are nowhere to be found in the context of Genesis 3, not to mention in the rest of the Bible. The fig leaves in Genesis 3 had the sole purpose of covering Adam and Eve’s nakedness; they were not utilized in any rituals or initiatory ceremonies.

It should be noted that freemasonry is a religion that is incompatible with Christianity. Among other things, freemasonry teaches that the Bible is one among many “symbols” of God’s will. (Other “symbols” of God’s will include the Hindu Vedas and the Muslim Qur’an.) Further, Jesus is said to be one among many holy men who set forth a way to God. Also, the various world religions are said to worship the same God with different names (Jehovah, Allah, etc.). Salvation is not based on faith in Christ but is works-oriented. Moreover, freemasons are made to swear oaths that Christians should never even think of uttering—for example, that one is in spiritual darkness and has thus come to freemasonry to find the light.

GENESIS 3:15a—Does this verse teach that the Virgin Mary was sinless?

MISINTERPRETATION: Many Catholic scholars claim that “the seed of the woman was understood as referring to the Redeemer, .-.-. and thus the Mother of the Redeemer came to be seen in the woman” (Ott, 1960, 200). Even the infallible pronouncement of the immaculate conception “approves of this messianic-marian interpretation” (Ibid.).

CORRECTING THE MISINTERPRETATION: This verse contains no reference to Mary or her alleged immaculate conception. One of the best evidences of this outside the text itself is the fact that even Catholic authorities such as Ott acknowledge that the “literal sense” of this text means that “between Satan and his followers on the one hand, and Eve and her posterity on the other hand, there is to be constant moral warfare. .-.-. The posterity of Eve includes the Messiah, in whose power humanity will win a victory over Satan” (Ibid.).

Even if by extension Mary could be connected in some indirect way to this text, it is still a gigantic leap to her immaculate conception, which is nowhere stated or implied in this passage. The literal sense is that Eve (not Mary) and her posterity are in moral warfare against Satan and his offspring, culminating in the crushing victory of the Messiah over Satan and his hosts. The “woman” is obviously Eve, and the “seed of the woman” is clearly the literal offspring of Eve (see Gen. 4:1, 25), leading up to and culminating in the victory of Christ over Satan (cf. Rom. 16:20).

Catholics argue that, just as the Messiah is found by extension in the phrase “seed of the woman,” Mary, the mother of the Messiah, is implied too. But even if this were so, there is no necessary orlogical connection between Mary being mother of the Messiah and her being conceived without sin.

GENESIS 9:4—Does this verse prohibit blood transfusions?

MISINTERPRETATION: The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe this verse forbids blood transfusions. They argue that a blood transfusion is the same as eating blood because it is so similar to intravenous feeding (Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1989, 73).

CORRECTING THE MISINTERPRETATION: While it is true that Genesis 9:4 prohibits the “eating” of blood, a transfusion does not constitute “eating” blood. Though a doctor might give food to a patient intravenously and call this “feeding,” it is simply not the case that giving blood intravenously is “feeding.” The blood is not received into the body as “food.” Eating is the literal taking in of food in the normal manner through the mouth and into the digestive system. Intravenous injections are referred to as “feeding” because the ultimate result is that, through intravenous injection, the body receives the nutrients that it would normally receive by eating. In view of this, Genesis 9:4 and other passages dealing with this prohibition against eating blood cannot be used to support a prohibition of blood transfusions. A transfusion simply replenishes essential, life-sustaining fluid in the body. See also comments on Leviticus 7:26–27; 17:11–12.

GENESIS 14:18—Does this verse give support for the Mormon “Melchizedek priesthood” today?

MISINTERPRETATION: Genesis 14:18 says, “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High.” Mormons believe the Melchizedek priesthood is an eternal priesthood. Though it was lost from the earth in the early centuries of Christianity, it was restored through Joseph Smith (Smith, 1835, 107:2–4).

CORRECTING THE MISINTERPRETATION: Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18 is a historical person who was a type of Christ. A type is a figure pointing forward to something or someone to come. By divine design it foreshadows something or someone yet to be revealed. How did Melchizedek foreshadow Christ? Melchizedek’s name gives us the answer. The word Melchizedek is made up of two Hebrew words meaning “king” and “righteous.” Melchizedek was also a priest. Thus, Melchizedek foreshadowed Christ as a righteous king-priest. These things were true of Melchizedek only in a finite sense, whereas in Christ they are true in an infinite sense.

Can Mormons participate in the Melchizedek priesthood? Hebrews 7:23–24 tells us, “And the former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers, because they were prevented by death from continuing, but He [Jesus], on the other hand, because He abides forever, holds His priesthood permanently”(nasb, emphasis added). Christ’s priesthood is eternal because he is an eternal being. Unlike humans who perish and die, Christ exists eternally, and therefore his priesthood, by its very nature, is different than anything humans could offer. He is our eternal High Priest who lives forever.

The Greek word for “permanently” in Hebrews 7:24, according to Joseph Thayer, means “priesthood unchangeable and therefore not liable to pass to a successor”(Thayer, 1985, 649). Gerhard Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament likewise tells us, “In the New Testament Hebrews 7:24 says that Christ has an eternal and imperishable priesthood, not just in the sense that it cannot be transferred to anyone else, but in the sense of ‘unchangeable’” (Kittel, 1985, 772). Hence, there is no biblical justification for Mormons to think they can participate in the Melchizedek priesthood. This priesthood belongs to Christ alone.

This is further emphasized in Hebrews 7:26: “For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens” (nasb). What Mormon (or any human) dare claim to be “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens”?

GENESIS 18:2—Does the Oriental custom of bowing before a person of position justify the Roman Catholic practice of bowing before images?

MISINTERPRETATION: Genesis 18:2b informs us that “Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.” Does this justify the Roman Catholic practice of bowing before images?

CORRECTING THE MISINTERPRETATION: The Catholic argument that religiously bowing down before an image is not wrong because there are many cases in the Bible where such bowing down is approved, as in Genesis 18:2, confuses two very different contexts. First, they were bowing out of respect, not out of reverence. Second, bowing was understood as a social practice, not a religious rite. Third, the Bible condemns even bowing before an angel in the worship of God (Rev. 22:8–9). Fourth, the Bible clearly condemns bowing before any image in religious veneration (see, for example, Exod. 20:4). Finally, God acted at one point to avoid this very practice. Knowing that devout Israelites might be tempted to venerate the remains of Moses, God buried him where no one knows (Deut. 34:6). His apparent aim was to prevent idolatry that the devil desires to encourage (Jude 9).

GENESIS 19:8—Was the sin of Sodom homosexuality or inhospitality?

MISINTERPRETATION: Some have argued that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was inhospitality, not homosexuality. They base this on the Canaanite custom that guarantees protection of those coming under one’s roof. Lot is alleged to have referred to it when he said, “Don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof”(Gen. 19:8b). So Lot offered his daughter to satisfy the angry crowd in order to protect the lives of the visitors who had come under his roof. And the request of the men of the city to “know” simply means “to get acquainted” (Gen. 19:7), since the Hebrew word know (yadha) generally has no sexual connotations whatsoever (cf. Ps. 139:1). It is important to understand what Scripture says on this because certain New Agers such as Matthew Fox believe homosexuality is just as acceptable to the “cosmic Christ” as heterosexuality (see his book, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ).

CORRECTING THE MISINTERPRETATION: (See comments on Ezekiel 16:49.) While it is true that the Hebrew word know (yadha) does not necessarily mean “to have sex with,” nonetheless in the context of the text on Sodom and Gomorrah it clearly has this meaning. This is evident for several reasons. First of all, ten of the twelve times this word is used in Genesis it refers to sexual intercourse (for example, Gen. 4:1, 25).

Second, it is used to refer to sexual intercourse in this very chapter. For Lot refers to his two virgin daughters as not having “known a man” (19:8) which is an obvious sexual use of the word.

Third, the meaning of a word is discovered by the context in which it is used. And the context here is definitely sexual, as is indicated by the reference to the wickedness of the city (18:20) and the virgins offered to appease their passions (19:8).

Fourth, “know” cannot mean simply “get acquainted with,” because it is equated with a “wicked thing” (19:7).

Fifth, why offer the virgin daughters to appease them if their intent was not sexual? If the men had asked to “know” the virgin daughters no one would have mistaken their sexual intentions.

GENESIS 32:30—Can God’s face be seen?

MISINTERPRETATION: Jacob said, “I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared” (Gen. 32:30). Mormons claim that God the Father has a physical body with a face that can be seen (Richards, 1978, 16).

CORRECTING THE MISINTERPRETATION: First, it is possible for a blind person to speak “face to face” with someone without seeing their face. The phrase face to face in Hebrew usage means personally, directly, or intimately. Moses had this kind of unmediated relationship with God. But he, like all other mortals, never saw the “face” (essence) of God directly.

The Bible is clear that “God is a spirit” (John 4:24). And “a spirit does not have flesh and bones”(Luke 24:39). So, God does not have a physical face.

GENESIS 40:20–22—Does this passage indicate that we should not celebrate birthdays?

MISINTERPRETATION: This passage indicates that on pharaoh’s birthday he had the chief baker killed. The Jehovah’s Witnesses say that since the Bible presents birthdays in an unfavorable light, Christians should avoid them (Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1989, 68–69).

CORRECTING THE MISINTERPRETATION: This is “guilt by association.” Genesis 40:20–22 proves only that the Pharaoh was evil, not that birthdays are evil.

Pharaoh also did something good on his birthday—he declared amnesty for the chief cupbearer (Gen. 40:21). But it would be just as foolish to argue that birthdays are good based on pharaoh’s good deed as it would be to argue that birthdays are bad because of pharaoh’s bad deed.

What is more, while there are no scriptural commands to celebrate birthdays, neither are there commandments against it. There is no reason it cannot be celebrated, like everything else, “to the glory of God” who created us (1-Cor. 10:31).

There is nothing wrong with giving proper honor to another human being. The Bible says: “Render to all what is due them: .-.-. honor to whom honor [is due]”(Rom. 13:7 nasb). Since a typical birthday does not worship another human being, there is no reason we cannot honor them on this occasion.