A Friday Reflection: Deliverance

Deliverance has been on my mind for several months now. I suppose my reflection started from a pastoral posture while thinking of the people I know and the people I support who are experiencing or have been through severe violence, turmoil, challenges, grief, illness, pain and suffering. I groan for their rescue, removal and escape from these things. My reflection also has focused on my own life and circumstances. I too need deliverance from troubles, disappointments, fears, dangers and sins. Moreover, I look out into society and see the unfathomable chaos, the rampant evil, the seething anger and the extreme division, and I am wobbled saying: “We need deliverance!”  “How will we escape this?” “Who will rescue us from our condition?” 

There are many voices trying to address, protest, change and solve personal and societal challenges. Deliverance is offered through various means. There is the overprescribing of and the overdependence on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications in place of real deliverance and profound transformation. There is the overindulgence in distractions and the shirking of the issues. There is the notion that a political party or a social justice group will lead us out of bondage and into the utopian plains. There is the riotous protesting that demands justice and reparations. There is the increase in gun sales for self-protection against violence. There is the prideful self-reliance by humans that they can lift themselves out of the slimy pit. 

These responses cannot deliver true deliverance because only God is the deliverer of true deliverance. Only through God and through the means of God does true deliverance happen. This was the experience of the Israelites when God delivered them out of Egypt and when God delivered them throughout history from danger, illness, trouble, fear, sin and death. God directly delivered and used people as deliverers (i.e. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, the judges, Samuel, Saul, Jonathan and David). 

God’s deliverance was the song of David when he sang,

Arise, Lord! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people (Ps 3:7-8)

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold (Ps 18:2)

God’s deliverance was the prophetic promise by Jeremiah and by Daniel when they declared,

The Lord said, “Surely I will deliver you for a good purpose; surely I will make your enemies plead with you in times of disaster and times of distress (Jer 15:11).

“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book (Dan 12:1).

God’s ultimate deliverance is through the salvation deliverer, Jesus, the anointed one who came and preached good news to the poor, release for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind and freedom for the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19). God-the Son became incarnate in order to suffer and die so that those who are in bondage to sin, evil and death would be set free and rescued from ‘the Devil,’ ‘the present evil age,’ ‘the domain of darkness’ (Heb 2:14-15, Gal 1:4, Col 1:13). After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, his deliverance ministry continues by God-the Holy Spirit and through the ministry of the Church being guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Triune God is still delivering people from all kinds of circumstances, conditions and perils. As 2 Peter 2:9 states, “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment.” God has been delivering people for a long time.

God will deliver people spiritually, emotionally and physically in this life and in the life to come. Thus, we should pray for deliverance as Jesus taught us to pray (…lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. Matt 6:13). We should cry for help and trust in him and wait patiently for him to lift us up out of the mud and the mire (Ps 40:1-3). We should rely upon him to heal our suffering, to calm our fears, to transform our lives. We should be careful not to look to other gods (means) for deliverance. Rather, we should delight in God’s deliverance and give thanks and praise to him (1 Sam 2:1, Ps 30:11-12, Acts 3:8). 

May we look to God for deliverance. Open our hearts to him. Receive him and receive from him. Come to Jesus. Be delivered. No matter how much suffering. No matter how much guilt. No matter how much anger. No matter how much rioting.  

A Tribute to My Parents (50th Anniversary)

This is a theological essay on marriage as a tribute to my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary.

Christians believe in one God in three persons. A Trinity in unity. God is a being. God is personal. God is loving. Thus, God is a relational being and from this nature, God created human beings in his own image. The image of God in humans includes various aspects while primarily corresponding to the loving, relational life of God-the Father, God-the son and God-the Holy Spirit. Humans were created to participate in this divine relationship. They were created to lean into the Trinity’s loving embrace, to experience the magnificent glory of the Godhead and to enjoy and to be completely satisfied in the Triune goodness. 

In the Genesis creation narrative, Adam begins his life journey without a suitable relational companion and helper. Then, God declares the relational truth about humanity, that it is not good for the human to be alone. God recognized Adam’s capacity for relationship as an image bearer and his detrimental isolation among the animals. Adam needed companionship with a distinct-yet-corresponding other. He needed belonging and togetherness within a peer community. God responds to Adam’s situation by creating another human (Eve) to relate with and to experience life’s journeys with. When Adam encounters another human, he responds with joy and relief uttering, “Finally! Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh! Name her Woman, for she was made from Man” (Gen 2:23). Eve fulfilled Adam’s capacity for human relationship and vice versa Adam for Eve.

God created humans, male and female. He blessed them and commissioned them to “[b]e fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28). Within the blessing and the commissioning of humans, God instituted marriage between a man and a woman for future generations. The aside statement of Genesis 2:24, “[t]herefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh,” describes the man’s new primary loyalty to and loving embrace of his wife and the profound ‘one-flesh-ness’ unity of marriage. The ‘one flesh’ meaning of marriage involves one man and one woman in one fully shared life whereby the two become a new God-designed, God-purposed, God-supported and God-guided ‘one life.’ It is a committed, exclusive and lifelong partnership. This ‘one flesh’ union becomes the most profound bond that exists between two human beings.

The marriage relationship reflects the image of the triune God. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are intimately relating equal and distinct persons of the same nature and essence with different roles in the pursuit of a glorious common purpose. The Father loves and leads; the Son submits and redeems; the Holy Spirit proceeds and sanctifies. Likewise, husbands and wives are of the same nature and essence while being equal and distinct with unique roles for a common purpose. The husband loves and leads, the wife yields to and supports her husband’s leadership and together they go out into the world as a sanctifying presence.

Throughout the Old Testament, marriage is used to describe the relationship between God and Israel. God is described as a husband declaring his marriage vows to his wife Israel. God speaking through the prophet Ezekiel states, “I came by again and saw you, saw that you were ready for love and a lover. I took care of you, dressed you and protected you. I promised you my love and entered the covenant of marriage with you. I, God, the Master, gave my word. You became mine” (Eze 16:8 MSG). The prophet Isaiah states, “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name” (Isa 54:5). Jeremiah 2:2 describes Israel’s early faithfulness by using the marriage metaphor, “Thus says the Lord: I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.” While celebrating the intimacy between a married couple, the Song of Solomon is also a marriage metaphor about God and his people. The people of God are the beloved of God, and God’s desire is for them. 

The Old Testament prophets also describe Israel’s unfaithfulness as a broken marriage covenant, which led to a form of divorce between God and his people. Jeremiah 3:20 states, “But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,” declares the Lord.” Hosea 2:2 states, “But now bring charges against Israel—your mother—for she is no longer my wife, and I am no longer her husband. Let her remove the adulterous look from her face and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts.” However, speaking through the prophets, God calls Israel to return as his bride (Jer 3:12-14) and promises to restore the marriage relationship (Isa 62:4-5).

The metaphor of the marriage relationship between God and his people extends to the New Testament. In John 3:29, John the Baptist describes himself as the best man who eagerly waits and listens for the arrival of the bridegroom, knowing that upon hearing the voice of the bridegroom there is great joy. John the Baptist explains that he experiences such joy because Jesus has arrived as the bridegroom. Jesus also refers to himself as the bridegroom throughout his ministry (Matt 9:15 pp Mark 2:19-20 pp Luke 5:34-35; Matt 22:2; 25:1-13).

While teaching on marriage, the Apostle Paul identifies marriage as a ‘profound mystery’ revealing Christ’s marriage relationship with the church. Paul points to parallels between the marriage of a man and a woman and the ultimate marriage of Christ and his church. As a husband and a wife are ‘one flesh’ in marriage, Christians are members of Christ’s body. According to Paul, Human marriage is the earthly type, pointing towards the spiritual reality. Earthly marriages should reflect the heavenly marriage with Christ. Thus, husbands should love their wives with the sacrificial love that Christ has for the church, and wives should submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ. Together a husband and wife have the sacred privilege of declaring through their union the greater profound union with Christ (Eph 5:22-33).

Human marriage is a good thing, but all human allegiance ultimately belongs to Christ. There is no human marriage in heaven. The heavenly kingdom with Christ is the marriage. The Apostle John writes, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband”(Rev 21:2). The heavenly multitude shouts, “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear”(Rev 19:6-8). 

In view of the theological aspects of marriage, here are some practical points about marriage. First, marriage cultivates spiritual formation. Marriage is one way in which the Holy Spirit transforms people into the image of Christ. Through marriage, the Holy Spirit sanctifies, heals, challenges and blesses people. Second, because of sin entering the world and its effect on the human condition, no marriage is perfect. Every marriage involves work and the giving and receiving of grace and mercy. Couples must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen and grow their marriages. Third, marriage is the intended context for raising children. Marriage is the nucleus of the family. Children need a mother and a father in the home. They need the commitment, exclusivity and stability that a marriage relationship provides. Fourth, marriage is the most basic and instrumental social relationship for the welfare of society. Without marriages, society will collapse. Thus, marriage as God has designed and purposed must be upheld. 

For 50 years, my parents have emulated many of the theological and practical aspects of marriage. They are a testimony of God’s intention for marriage and of God’s faithfulness to married couples who set their gaze upon and follow Christ.

Modern Eschatology (1800-Present)

During the early nineteenth century, a group of conservative and non-conformist Christians gathered in Dublin, Ireland and later formed a church congregation in Plymouth, England. Thus, they became known as the Plymouth Brethren and were a reactionary movement against the established Church of England. They emphasized the authority of Scripture, preaching of the gospel to unbelievers, sacrificial devotion, simple and unstructured worship, and non-ordained clergy.[1] John Nelson Darby was the founder and the most influential teacher of the movement, and his views regarding dispensationalism and dispensational premillennialism challenged the historical premillennialism view.

According to Darby, God interacts with humanity through a series of dispensations (or well-defined time periods), and he reveals a specific purpose to be achieved during each period.[2] With this view of dispensations, Darby made a strong distinction between the Church and Israel. Each are located in their distinct dispensation with their own history and future, and so he posited that the Church has not replaced Israel and that God interacts separately with the Church and Israel.[3]

When his dispensational views were applied to the end of the age, Darby believed that the Old Testament prophesied that a Jewish remnant will go through a time of great tribulation before experiencing the blessings of the promised land, but since the Church was not present in the Old Testament and since the Church is separate from Israel, the Church will experience the rapture or removal from the world before the great tribulation. Also, Darby referred to Revelation 3:10 and 12:10-12 to support his view of the Church’s exemption from the great tribulation.[4] Revelation 3:10 states, “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.” Revelation 12:10-12 describes the devil being hurled down to earth to cause fury on the earth, and then it states, “Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you!”

Therefore, Darby believed that the Church will only experience heavenly blessings which will come through the rapture, and for rapture support, he referred to 1 Thessalonians 4:17 which states, “we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” From this perspective, Christ’s second return will come in two stages. The first stage consists of his pretribulation return to meet raptured believers in the air, and the second stage consists of his full return to the earth, after the seven-year tribulation, where he will begin his literal thousand year reign. This pretribulation premillennialism (or dispensational premillennialism) view is different than the historic premillennialism view which posits only one final premillennial return of Christ.

The dispensational movement and its implications on eschatology became popular in the United States through the works of Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921 CE). His creation of the Scofield Reference Bible includesseveral study notes from a dispensational perspective, and his book entitled, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth, expounds on the seven dispensations of history. These seven dispensations (or time periods) include: 1) Innocence-from the time of creation to the fall of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from Eden. 2) Conscience-from the expulsion from Eden to the flood. 3) Human government-from the flood to Abraham and his call. 4) Promise-from the promises to Abraham to the bondage in Egypt. 5) Law-from Moses and the law to the coming of Christ and his death. 6) The Church-from the resurrection of Christ to the present. 7) The millennium-consisting of the last battle, final judgment and the new heaven and new earth.[5]

The Scofield Reference Bible was very influential in forming the dispensational theology and eschatology in the United States because it taught many American Evangelicals to read the Scriptures with a dispensational mindset which informed their dispensational premillennialism eschatology. Thus, throughout the twentieth century, dispensational theology and eschatology was commonplace among many American Evangelical scholars and church laity.

Furthermore, dispensationalism was advanced through the founding of Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) by dispensationalist Lewis Sperry Chafer in 1924, and his multi-volume Systematic Theology became the standard theological text at DTS. Also, beginning in the 1970s, dispensationalism and pretribulation premillennialism was promoted through popular literature specifically in the book entitled The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey and the Left Behind series of novels by Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins.[6] These writings set out to present eschatological prophecies in relation to current events from a pretribulation premillennialism perspective. The Late Great Planet Earth gives a thorough systematic account of perceived eschatological current events and then predicts that the rapture would occur during the 1980s. The Left Behind series tells a contemporary fictional story based on end times prophecies. The story tells of the pretribulation rapture of Christians which leaves the rest of the world seeking answers and stability. Both works were developed into movies which introduced dispensational premillennialism to an even larger American audience.

Another aspect of eschatology that was emphasized during the late nineteenth and twentieth century was the apocalyptic character of Jesus’ teaching especially in his proclamation of the “imminent coming of the eschatological kingdom of God.”[7] This was the view of Johannes Weiss who argued that Jesus was a “wild apocalyptic visionary proclaiming the end of the world.”[8] Albert Schweitzer argued that Jesus “was a deluded fanatic who futilely threw his life away in blind devotion to a mad apocalyptic dream which was never realized and…never could be realized.”[9] Thus, according to Schweitzer, Jesus sacrificed his life due to a misunderstanding that God would deliver him from the cross while ushering in the new age of the divine kingdom.[10] 

In response to Weiss and Schweitzer, Charles H. Dodd posited a “realized” eschatological view of Jesus’ preaching meaning that the kingdom of God had already been realized or happened through the coming of Jesus. Dodd argued that the future last days events prophesied by the Old Testament prophets have been fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus. Dodd submits that Jesus declared that the “kingdom of God was at hand” (Mark 1:15) and that it had already come upon the people (Matthew 12:28), and so it was not something that was to come in the future.

Dodd’s ‘realized eschatology’ was challenged by several New Testament scholars including W.G. Kümmel, Oscar Cullmann and George Eldon Ladd. They argued that the eschatology of Jesus and the New Testament was paradoxical meaning that “[i]n one sense the kingdom of God had already arrived with the presence of Jesus, but in another sense it had not yet come.”[11] This paradoxical view has been called ‘inaugurated eschatology’ which emphasizes that the “kingdom of God has begun to exercise its influence within human history, although its full realization and fulfillment lie in the future.”[12] Inaugurated eschatology became the most widely accepted view by New Testament scholars during the second half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century.


[1] H.H. Rowdon, “Darby, John Nelson (1800-82)” in New Dictionary of Theology (NDT): Historical and Systematic, edited by Martin Davie et al. 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2016), EPUB edition. [2] H.H. Rowdon, “Dispensational Theology,” in New Dictionary of Theology (NDT): Historical and Systematic, edited by Martin Davie et al. 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2016), EPUB edition. [3] Gregg R. Allison, Historical Theology : An Introduction to Christian Doctrine : A Companion to Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011) EPUB edition, pt. 7, ch.31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Modern Period Period.” [4] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt. 7, ch.31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Modern Period Period.” [5] This paragraph is indebted to both Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt. 7, ch.31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Modern Period Period” and Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th ed. (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011),EPUB edition, pt.3, ch. 18, “Dispensationalism: The Structures of Eschatology.” [6] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt. 7, ch.31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Modern Period Period” [7] McGrath, Christian Theology, EPUB edition, pt.3, ch. 18, “The Twentieth Century: The Rediscovery of Eschatology.” [8] Noble, “Eschatology” in NDT, EPUB edition.[9] George Eldon Ladd, The Presence of the Future: The Eschatology of Biblical Realism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub., 1974), 5. [10] Noble, “Eschatology” in NDT, EPUB edition. [11] Noble, “Eschatology” in NDT, EPUB edition. [12] McGrath, Christian Theology, EPUB edition, pt.3, ch. 18, “The Twentieth Century: The Rediscovery of Eschatology.”

Anabaptist and Post-Reformation Eschatology

During the Protestant Reformation period, the Anabaptists believed that at Christ’s second coming, he would destroy evil and establish his literal millennial kingdom. This view led some Anabaptist leaders to stir up apocalyptic rebellions and wars with the goal of ushering in the millennial golden age. Eventually, the Anabaptist settled on the idea that the New Jerusalem would be established in the city of Münster, and so they took over the city. They expelled Catholics and Moderate Protestants from the city and destroyed everything connected with traditional belief and worship. When some inhabitants of the city became tired of the excesses of the leaders, they opened the gate to the bishop and his joint Catholic-Protestant army which resulted in the end of revolution at Münster.[1] The Anabaptist revolutionary movement in Münster led to a strong negative view of premillennialism. In fact, Luther and Calvin emphatically rejected and were critical of Anabaptist premillennialism.[2] Concerning the Anabaptists’ view of the thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth, Calvin wrote that this was “a fiction too puerile to need or to deserve refutation.”[3]     

Post-Reformation Eschatology (C.E. 1600-1800)

The post-reformers followed the traditional eschatological views of Christ’s return, a general bodily resurrection, the last judgment, eternal punishment and the new heavens and the new earth with a few differences from that of the reformers. During the post-reformation era, there was a move away from the amillennialism posited during the medieval period and by Luther and Calvin. There was a renewed interest in premillennialism because of theologian Johann Heinrich Alsted’s defense of  premillennialism in his book entitled, The Beloved City. Also, the Puritan scholar and writer named Joseph Mede followed Alsted’s premillennialism views and popularized them in his book entitled, The Key of the Revelation. Thus, the thought and works of Alsted and Mede sparked a return to the premillennial position of the early church.[4]

Moreover, the idea of millennialism was prevalent during the English Civil War (1638-49) particularly among the “Fifth Monarchy Men,” which was a group in London who declared that the millennium was near when Christ would return as king to rule over the earth. With the recent Thirty Years War and the present English Civil War, they believed that they were involved in the wars of the last days, and so it was incumbent upon them to usher in this new and fifth[5] monarchy in order to change the social order by promoting justice and equality.[6] They believed that “the immediate duty of the saints was to prepare for the kingdom, by making the existing government accord as closely as possible with the rule of Christ. To this end none but godly men should sit in the seats of the mighty, tithes should be abolished, and the existing laws replaced by the law of God.”[7]

Puritans Thomas Bright-man, John Cotton and John Owen posited a doctrine of the “latter-glory” which was a preface to what has been described as a postmillennialism view. They believed at the end of history there will be a time marked by the power of the Kingdom of God when many people will convert to Christianity and the church will be pure in all aspects while experiencing support from governments worldwide. After this period of expansion, peace and prosperity, Christ will return. This view became unsustainable during the political turmoil in England during the seventeenth and eighteenth century; however, it was adopted and developed in New England by Daniel Whitby and Jonathan Edwards.[8]

Whitby and Edwards believed that Christ will return after the millennium, which was characterized by the radical spread of the gospel and the conversion of scores of people throughout the world. During this time, the Jews will be restored to the Holy Land and there will be universal peace and blessing. According to Whitby and Edwards, the reformation had set in motion many events that would lead to the demise of the papacy, which was identified as the Antichrist, and the ushering in of the millennium. They believed that the outpouring of revival during their time was a sign of the approaching thousand-year golden age.[9]

Furthermore, many post-reformers addressed the eschatological doctrines of final judgement and eternal punishment. While acknowledging the “two results of judgment—the blessings of eternal life and the torment of eternal punishment,” John Andrew Quenstedt expounded on both by using the terms “privative” and “positive.” As for the blessings of eternal life, “privative” blessings involve the removal of weakness and evil from the Christian experience, and “positive” blessings involve internal and external enrichment of the Christian experience. Turning to the torment of eternal punishment, “privative” torments involve the forfeiture of the beatific vision of God and separation and exclusion from all that is good, joyous and heavenly, and “positive” torments involve internal anguish and torture of the soul and external punishment that is “most painful and burning without being consumed.”[10]

Jonathan Edwards addressed the eschatological doctrines of final judgement and eternal punishment often through his sermons. Referring to the final judgment, Edwards states, “When that day comes, all mankind that have died from off the face of the earth shall arise; not only the righteous, but also the wicked.”[11] Then he describes the final judgement of the wicked by stating,

When Christ comes in the clouds of heaven to judgment, the news of it will fill both earth and hell with mourning and bitter crying. We read that all the kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him, and so shall all the inhabitants of hell; and then must the souls of the wicked come up to be united to their bodies, and stand before the Judge.[12]

At this point the wicked, “with all its guilt, and in all its filthiness, a vile, loathsome, abominable creature, an enemy to God, a rebel against him, with the guilt of all its rebellion and disregard of God’s commands, and contempt of his authority, and slight of the glorious gospel,”[13] will enter into eternal punishment.

Edwards affirmed the traditional eschatological doctrine of eternal punishment in his most famous sermon entitled, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. He writes,

There will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery. When you look forward, you shall see a long forever, a boundless duration before you, which will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all… your punishment will indeed be infinite.[14]

Thus, according to Edwards, there is no hope for the wicked in hell because they will be unable to defeat or appease God that they might break free or be delivered. They will have no friends or advocates who will help them or pity them, and there is nothing that will ever relieve them of their extreme torment.[15]

As for the righteous, Edwards explains that they will be in heavenly glory with the triune God forever, where they will experience him without hindrance or obstacle. In heaven, the righteous will bask in God’s fountain of love. Edwards writes,

There this glorious God is manifested, and shines forth, in full glory, in beams of love. And there this glorious fountain forever flows forth in streams, yea, in rivers of love and delight, and these rivers swell, as it were, to an ocean of love, in which the souls of the ransomed may bathe with the sweetest enjoyment, and their hearts, as it were, be deluged with love![16]

Moreover, Edwards explains that the saints will be perfected in love, holiness and peace. The heavenly community will be in harmony with God and with one another. Edwards writes,

Every saint in heaven is as a flower in that garden of God, and holy love is the fragrance and sweet odor that they all send forth, and with which they fill the bowers of that paradise above. Every soul there, is as a note in some concert of delightful music, that sweetly harmonizes with every other note, and all together blend in the most rapturous strains in praising God and the Lamb forever. And so all help each other, to their utmost, to express the love of the whole society to its glorious Father and Head, and to pour back love into the great fountain of love whence they are supplied and filled with love, and blessedness, and glory.[17]

The Post-Reformers affirmed the eschatological doctrines of the new heavens and the new earth, but like previous eras there was some disagreement regarding the process. Theologians David Hollaz, Quenstedt, and Edwards held an annihilation perspective arguing that the entire fabric of the heavens and the earth will be conflagrated to nothing, and at this point, God will create and establish the new heavens and the new earth. In opposition, theologians William Ames and Francis Turretin opted for a transformative perspective arguing that the present heavens and earth undergo alteration or change orchestrated by God into the new heavens and new earth.[18]


[1] Justo L.González, The Story of Christianity: Vol.2 Reformation to the Present Day, Rev. and Updated, 2nd ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2010), EPUB edition, pt.1, ch. 6, “The Revolutionary Anabaptists.” [2]Allison, Historical Theology : An Introduction to Christian Doctrine : A Companion to Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Reformation and Post Reformation.” [3] Calvin, Institutes, bk 3, ch.25, section 5, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.v.xxvi.html.[4] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt. 7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Reformation and Post Reformation.”[5] “Fifth” because it came after the great four monarchies of history, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans.[6] González, The Story, EPUB edition, pt.2, ch. 18, “Civil War.” [7] Louise Fargo Brown, The Political Activities of the Baptists and the Fifth Monarchy Men in England During the Interregnum (London: Oxford University Press, 1912), 25. [8] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt. 7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Modern Period.” [9] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt. 7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Modern Period.” [10] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt. 7, ch. 32, “Judgment and Punishment in the Reformation and Post-Reformation.” [11] Jonathan Edwards, “The Portion of the Wicked” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 2:885, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/works2.xv.vii.html. [12] Edwards, “The Portion of the Wicked,” 2:885.[13] Edwards,“The Portion of the Wicked,” 2:880.[14] Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 2:11, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/works2.ii.iii.html.[15] Jonathan Edwards, “The Future Punishment of the Wicked: Unavoidable and Intolerable,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 2:80, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/works2.iv.x.html.[16] Jonathan Edwards, Heaven a World of Love, http://www.chapellibrary.org/files/4113/9930/ 8433/hawo.pdf [17] Edwards, Heaven, http://www.chapellibrary.org/files/4113/9930/ 8433/hawo.pdf [18] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt. 7, ch. 33, “The Idea of the Eternal State in the Reformation and Post-Reformation.”

Reformation Eschatology: Martin Luther and John Calvin

During the reformation period, there was an emphasis on the historical perspective of biblical eschatology which views the last days as already coming upon humanity and the church. There was an anticipation of the new heavens and the new earth, “an ultimate end in which the fulness of the creation is maintained unimpaired in union with a heavenly consummation.”[1]

For Martin Luther, eschatology involved the tension between having and not- having which was formed from his thoughts on simul justus et peccator meaning “both righteous and a sinner.”[2] Luther believed that Christians “have begun to be justified through faith” while receiving “the first-fruits of the Spirit” and experiencing the beginning of the “mortification of the flesh,” but they are “not perfectly righteous.”[3] Thus, Luther states, “We possess Christ by faith and in the midst of our afflictions through hope we wait for the that righteousness which we possess already by faith.”[4]

John Calvin emphasized the resurrection, renewal and union with Christ “which raises [Christians] upwards, and casts its anchor in heaven, so that instead of subjecting Christ to the interventions of our reason, we seek Him above in his glory.”[5] This is where Calvin’s eschatological mood of hope and joy becomes central in the Christian life. When Christians understand that they participate in the victory won by Christ through his death, resurrection and ascension, they can live with a glorious eschatological vision and mission in the world.

Luther and Calvin affirmed the historic eschatological views of Christ’s return, a general bodily resurrection, the last judgment, eternal punishment and the new heavens and the new earth with each event following the other with no interval of time between.[6]In connection to Christ’s return, Luther and Calvin believed that there would first be an end times antichrist, and they identified the Pope or the papacy as the end times antichrist. Martin Luther, in a letter to Staupitz and others, wrote that the “Papacy is the seat of the real and true antichrist.”[7] Calvin called the Roman Pontiff antichrist and explained by writing, “Seeing then it is certain that the Roman Pontiff has impudently transferred to himself the most peculiar properties of God and Christ, there cannot be a doubt that he is the leader and standard-bearer of an impious and abominable kingdom.”[8] With this view of the antichrist, many reformers believed that the second coming of Christ would happen within their lifetime. They upheld the amillennialism view of Augustine and of the Medieval Church and rejected the premillennialism view that was being posited by the Anabaptists.                                                                                                

In his 95 Theses, Martin Luther rejected the medieval church’s teaching on the purchasing of indulgences to release souls from purgatory. He wrote, “Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for purgatory. This changing of the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory is quite evidently one of the tares that were sown while the bishops slept.”[9]  Moreover, he writes, “those preachers of indulgences are in error, who say that by the pope’s indulgences a man is freed from every penalty, and saved.”[10] A few years later, Luther rejected the doctrine of purgatory all together. Thus, instead of three final states for humans, as believed by the Medieval Church, Luther posited two final states—heaven and hell.

With the rejection of purgatory and the belief in heaven and hell as the two final states for humans, Luther and Calvin affirmed the eschatological doctrines of final judgement and eternal punishment. Luther wrote:

The fiery oven is ignited merely by the unbearable appearance of God and endures eternally. For the Day of Judgment will not last for a moment only but will stand throughout eternity and will thereafter never come to an end. Constantly the damned will be judged, constantly they will suffer pain, and constantly they will be a fiery oven—that is, they will be tortured within by supreme distress and tribulation.[11]

While maintaining the central aspects of a final judgement and literal physical eternal punishment, Luther appears to be adding his own vision of the fiery oven based on Psalms 21:9, Malachi 4:1 and Revelation 9:2.

Calvin described the last judgement by writing:

He will separate the sheep from the goats and the elect from the reprobate, and when not one individual either of the living or the dead shall escape his judgment. From the extremities of the universe shall be heard the clang of the trumpet summoning all to his tribunal; both those whom that day shall find alive, and those whom death shall previously have removed from the society of the living.[12]

With this statement, Calvin is echoing Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25:31-33 and Paul’s teaching in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.  

When referring to the eternal punishment of unbelievers, Calvin commented:

Unhappy consciences find no rest, but are vexed and driven about by a dire whirlwind, feeling as if torn by an angry God, pierced through with deadly darts, terrified by his thunderbolts and crushed by the weight of his hand; so that it were easier to plunge into abysses and whirlpools than endure these terrors for a moment. How fearful, then, must it be to be thus beset throughout eternity![13]

Much like the Scriptures’ use of metaphors when describing eternal punishment, Calvin also uses metaphors in this statement to describe the anguish that unbelievers will feel from being separated from the Almighty God.

Luther and Calvin did not add much to the historic doctrines of the new heavens and the new earth other than giving commentary on certain passages of scripture (i.e. Isa 65:17; Rom 8:21; 2 Peter 3:6-17). Calvin summarizes, “For though we are truly told that the kingdom of God will be full of light, and gladness, and felicity, and glory, yet the things meant by these words remain most remote from sense, and as it were involved in enigma, until the day arrive on which he will manifest his glory to us face to face.”[14]


[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Kingdom and Church (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1956), 3. [2] Torrance, Kingdom, 15. [3] Torrance, Kingdom, 15. [4] Martin Luther in Weimarer Ausgabe of Luther’s Work, Wein ar, 1883-, 40/2, p.30 quoted in Torrance, Kingdom, 15. [5] Torrance, Kingdom, 103 [6] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Reformation and Post Reformation.” [7]Martin Luther, quoted by Le Roy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers: the Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation, v. 2 (Washington: Review and Herald, 1950), 56 cited by  Earle E. Cairns, “Eschatology and Church History (Part II).” Bibliotheca Sacra 115, no. 459 (1958), 230. [8]John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, trans.Henry Beveridge, bk 4, ch.7, section 25, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.v.xxvi.html. [9] Martin Luther, “Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” in  Works of Martin Luther, trans. & eds. Adolph Spaeth, L.D. Reed, Henry Eyster Jacobs, et Al., (Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1915), Vol. 1, pp. 29-38, ar. 10-11. http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/ epub/274/pg274.html. [10]Luther, “Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” in Works of Martin Luther, ar. 21. http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/ epub/274/pg274.html. [11] Martin Luther, What Luther Says, ed. Ewald M. Plass, 3 vols. in 1 (St. Louis: Concordia, 1959), 3:1154 [12] Calvin, Institutes, bk 2, ch.16, section 17, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.iv.xvii.html. [13] Calvin, Institutes, bk 3, ch.25, section 12, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.v.xxvi.html.[14] Calvin, Institutes, bk 3, ch.25, section 10, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.v.xxvi.html.

Medieval Eschatology

During the Medieval Period, eschatology began to take on a new emphasis from that of the earlier church ages. Islam was expanding and had conquered Jerusalem which led the church to believe that Islam was the antichrist of the end times. Moreover, natural disasters, famines and the bubonic plague throughout Europe were viewed as precursors to the end of the world.[1]

One of the ways that the church responded to these circumstances is by organizing military crusades. An example of the eschatological thought behind the crusades is seen in the views of Bernard of Clairvaux who led and inspired the Second Crusade.

Bernard developed a four-age theory for Christian eschatology which was linked to the four trials in Psalms 91:5-6, “You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.” These four trials described the four time periods of the age of martyrs, the age of heretics, the age of corruption, and the age of the antichrist.[2] With Bernard’s theory many believed that they were either in the latter stages of the age of corruption or in the beginning stages of the age of the antichrist. Regardless of which age people viewed as the present, they believed that participating in the crusades would contribute to the fulfillment of eschatological prophecies and the second coming of Christ. This anticipation of the last days caused Bernard to lead the Second Crusade which was going against everything he had stood for as a Cistercian monk.[3]

Another popular eschatological view during the Medieval Period was developed by Joachim of Fiore. According to Joachim, history was based on three ages in connection with the doctrine of the Trinity. Thus, the age of the Father, corresponding with the period of the Old Testament; the age of the Son, corresponding with the Jesus movement and the church; the age of Spirit, corresponding to a renewal of the church and the final state of unity and peace on earth.[4] Joachim argued that each age “consisted of 42 generations of 30 years each. As a result, the age of the Son was due to end in 1260 to be followed immediately by the radical new ‘age of the spirit’.”[5] According to Joachim, the end of second age was drawing near resulting in an antichrist led tribulation against the church. In order to guide the church through this time, Joachim believed that God would establish two new orders of monks[6] corresponding to the two witnesses of Revelation 11:3-12. One order was described as the preachers and another as the hermits and despite the witness of the preachers and the prayers of the hermits, the antichrist would prevail over the church and turn it towards evil. However, the return of Christ would end this dreadful state ushering in the third age defined by spiritual renewal, peace and blessing.[7] Joachim’s views challenged the amillennial views of the medieval church, but his views were condemned by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.[8]

The eschatological views of Thomas Aquinas were the most influential during the Medieval Period . Aquinas upheld Augustine’s amillennialism and the historic doctrines of the return of Christ, the last judgment, eternal punishment and the new heaven and new earth.[9] A significant amount of Aquinas’ writings concerning eschatology was focused on responding to those who denied eternal punishment of the wicked. Aquinas pointed to Jesus’ teaching about eternal punishment in Matthew 25:46 which states, “And these [the unrighteous] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”[10] Aquinas expounded on eternal punishment by referring to the “pain of loss” and the “pain of sense.”[11] In the “pain of loss”, those who are against God lose the “beatific vision of God”[12] and are “punished by their exclusion from perpetual happiness.”[13] In the “pain of sense,” the wicked experience the sense of painful torment of body and the soul.[14]

As far as his views on the doctrine of the new heavens and new earth, Aquinas emphasised the renewal of the heavens and earth rather than annihilation before the creation of the new. He cited Isaiah 65:17 which states, “Behold I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be in remembrance” and Revelation 21:1 which states, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth was gone.”[15] Moreover, he reasoned that “the dwelling should befit the dweller. But the world was made to be man’s dwelling. Therefore, it should befit man. Now man will be renewed. Therefore, the world will be likewise.”[16]

Lastly, a discussion on medieval eschatology would be incomplete without a mention of the idea of purgatory, which was an ancient idea that was further developed with new emphasis during the Medieval Period.[17] Thus, the medieval idea posited that “the ‘eternal punishment’ due to sin is waived, but there remains a ‘temporal punishment’ to pay.”[18] When people die without having paid off the temporal punishment debt, they enter purgatory where the debt is paid off by “penal and expiatory suffering.”[19] This suffering was believed to be lessened through the offering of mass for the departed, and the offering of indulgences was viewed as releasing people from purgatory.[20]

The medieval period was a time of shifting eschatological thought for the church due to external political, military and natural challenges. The church responded to these challenges with an apocalyptic zeal or with a scholastic biblical outlook. During this period, purgatory became the central eschatological focus which was one of the many factors leading to the Protestant Reformation.    


[1] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Middle Ages.” [2] Maria L. Ruby Wagner, “The Impact of the Second Crusade on the Angelology and Eschatology of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux,” Journal of Religious History 37, no. 3 (2013), 326. [3] Wagner, “The Impact of the Second Crusade on the Angelology and Eschatology of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux,” 328. [4] McGrath, Christian Theology, EPUB edition, pt.3, ch. 18, “Joachim of Fiore: three ages.” [5] McGrath, Christian Theology, EPUB edition, pt.3, ch. 18, “Joachim of Fiore: three ages.” [6] These two new orders of monks were identified as the Franciscan order and the Dominican order. For an example of how Joachim’s views influenced these orders of monks, see Ray C. Petry “Medieval Eschatology and St. Francis of Assisi.” Church History 9, no. 1 (1940): 54-69.  [7] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Middle Ages.” [8] McGrath, Christian Theology, EPUB edition, pt.3, ch. 18, “Joachim of Fiore: three ages.” [9] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7,  ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Middle Ages.” [10] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, pt. 3, sup., q. 99, art. 1 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/ aquinas/summa.XP_Q99_A1.html. [11] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 32, “Judgment and Punishment in the Middle Ages.” [12] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 32, “Judgment and Punishment in the Middle Ages.” [13] Thomas Aquinas, On the Truth of the Catholic Faith, 218, quoted in Robert A. Peterson, Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment (Phillipsburg, N.J. : P&R, 1995), 109, cited by Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7,  ch. 32, “Judgment and Punishment in the Middle Ages.” [14] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 32, “Judgment and Punishment in the Middle Ages.” [15] Aquinas, Summa, pt. 3, sup., q. 91, art. 1  http://www.ccel.org/ccel/aquinas/summa.XP_Q91 _A1.html. [16] Aquinas, Summa, pt. 3, sup., q. 91, art. 1 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/aquinas/summa.XP_Q91 _A1.html. [17] A.N.S Lane, “Purgatory” in New Dictionary of Theology (NDT) : Historical and Systematic edited by Martin Davie et al. 2nd ed, (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2016), EPUB edition. [18] Lane, “Purgatory” in NDT, EPUB edition.[19] Lane, “Purgatory,” in NDT, EPUB edition. [20] Lane, “Purgatory,” in NDT, EPUB edition.

Eschatology of the Imperial Church Period (c. 306-500 C.E.)

During the time of the Imperial Church, changes in eschatological views began to shift, specifically on the millennium. The Alexandrian allegorical interpretation espoused by Origen and others had a lasting impact in the area of eschatology. Tyconius wrote Book of Rules where he presented his interpretive method for the scriptures. He taught that the prophecies of scripture will be fulfilled spiritually, not literally as the Early Church had imagined. According to his interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6, the one thousand years is a spiritual reign with Christ and corresponds to the current church age. Thus, due to the rejection of a literal millennium, Tyconius’ view has been called “amillennialism.”[1]   

Tyconius influenced Augustine who further explained the amillennial view by linking the bondage of Satan for a thousand years in Revelation 20:2-3 with Jesus’ casting out demons as a result Satan being bound (Mark 3:27) and by referring to Luke 10:18 where Jesus states, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” According to Augustine, when the church began to extend throughout the nations, this revealed that Satan’s power had been restrained and crippled. It is only when Satan is subdued that people experience the “first resurrection” spiritually, and then reign with Christ spiritually until he comes a second time at the end of the world.[2] While Augustine taught that there was no literal future millennium, he did posit that there was a future eternal millennium that symbolically rounded out “the seven millenniums from Adam which he held comprised the history of man.”[3]

On a more superficial level, Augustine may have avoided the literal interpretation of the millennium due to a popular view that the millennium emphasized “luxurious material blessings”[4] or that it was “a time of carnal enjoyment.”[5] This view may have formed within the context of the new changes between church and state under Constantine’s prioritizing of Christianity.[6] Regardless of Augustine’s exact reasoning for his rejection of the literal millennium, his “amillennial interpretation of Revelation 20 superseded the premillennial understanding so prevalent in the early church. With this development, amillennialism became the dominant eschatological belief for well over the next millennium.”[7]

Beyond his amillennial views, Augustine developed his eschatology into a philosophy of history in his treatise entitled City of God. In this work, he describes two cities—the city of God and the city of the world. These two cities battle throughout the ages, but God and His city prevail in the end.[8] The story of these two cities presents a strong Christian eschatology where the church is exiled in the present secular world during the time between Christ’s incarnation and his glorious return. There is an eschatological tension experienced by those of the city of God as they live out the Christian faith surrounded by unbelief while at the same time looking to the future hope where they will finally be delivered and be with God in his glory for eternity.[9]       

In the City of God, Augustine presents his views on final judgement and eternal punishment. He followed the NT writers and the Early Church Fathers on these views in the face of several opponents. There was the continued influence of Origen’s allegorical theology that posited that God would ultimately restore and save every fallen being, and so punishment was viewed as rehabilitative and not eternal. Some argued that eternal punishment was impossible seeing that continued punishment would eventually destroy embodied human beings. Others suggested that there were no sins that one could commit which would warrant eternal punishment or that God, due to his compassionate character, would eventually cease punishment.[10] In response to these arguments, Augustine, referring to Matthew 25:46, wrote,

If both destinies are “eternal,” then we must either understand both as long continued but at last terminating, or both endless. For they are correlated: On the one hand, punishment eternal; on the other hand, life eternal. And to say in one and the same sense ”life eternal will be endless, punishment eternal will come to an end,” is the height of absurdity. Therefore, as the eternal life of the saints will be endless, so too the eternal punishment of those who are doomed to it will have no end.[11]


[1] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Early Church.” [2] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Early Church.” [3] John F. Walvoord, “Amillennialism From Augustine to Modern Times” Bibliotheca Sacra 106, no. 424 (1949), 423. [4] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Early Church.” [5] Walvoord, “Amillennialism From Augustine to Modern Times,” 423. [6] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Early Church.” [7] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Early Church.” [8] Noble, “Eschatology,” in NDT, EPUB edition. [9] McGrath, Christian Theology, EPUB edition, pt.3, ch. 18, “Augustine: the two cities.” [10] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Early Church.” [11] Augustine, City of God, 21.3, in NPNF, 2:453-54 quoted by Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Early Church.”

Sovereignty of God and Free Will of Humans

I want to preface this post by suggesting that the conundrum of the sovereignty of God and the free will of humans that has been debated for centuries is one of the inherent problems of systematic theology and of using a proof texting method. Trying to solve this conundrum by using systematic and proof texting methods often distracts from the theo-drama.

As dramatis personae in the drama of redemption, God and humans perform their parts in the unfolding aesthetic grandeur of the greatest possible love story. Being overly focused on resolving the sovereignty of God and the free will of humans is to dedramatize these performances and the Scriptures. Rather than trying to solve this conundrum we should focus on telling the grand ole drama. Nevertheless, I will briefly discuss the conundrum because as a theologian, I just can’t help from being pulled into the fray. Here goes.

God’s sovereignty is challenged by the problem of evil. Human free will is challenged by the view of the sovereignty of God. With that said, both have limitations. God is possibly limited in actualizing certain possible worlds, and a world with morally free creatures who always do good is one of those worlds.[1] Moreover, humans are limited in their free will because they do not have maximal autonomy.[2] So where do we go from here?

Part of the theo-drama is that God creates the best possible world which includes the best achievable good in any possible world—the incarnation and the atonement[3]—the pinnacle of the theo-drama. In order for the incarnation and the atonement to be the best possible drama in the best possible world, then humans, evil and sin would need to exist. Thus, God creating the best possible world involves creating humans who are significantly free to do what is morally right or what is morally wrong.[4]God determined that it was better to create a world with humans having free will, than a world with humans having no free will.[5]

Now the Bible presents the sovereignty of God, so how does that square with human free will? Because God is omniscient, he knows all propositional truth about the future and he knows all counterfactuals of freedom. He has middle knowledge. In other words, God knows what any free creature would do in any given set of circumstances. Thus, God determines what circumstances to acquiesce with or not to acquiesce with, what circumstances to actualize or not to actualize based on his divine purposes. Moreover, he knows how to involve himself while preserving human free will throughout the process.[6]

This is not a perfect solution, but it is a possible solution that harmonizes the sovereignty of God and the free will of humans.


[1] Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 30. [2] Alvin Plantinga, Bait and Switch: Sam Harris on Free Will. https://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2013/janfeb/bait-and-switch.html?start=2 [3] Michael W. Hickson, “A Brief History of Problems of Evil” in The Blackwell Companion to The Problem of Evil, ed. Justin P. McBrayer and Daniel Howard-Snyder (Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2013), 187-188. [4] Alvin Plantinga, The Nature of Necessity, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974. [5] Plantinga, God, 30. [6] W.J. Wood, “Molinism,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Daniel J. Treier and Walter A. Elwell. Third ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017).

Doctrinal Musing on Theological Anthropology: Part 4 of 4

Most Christians agree that humans have both a material and an immaterial nature; however, throughout history there has been much discussion about whether humans are threefold beings or twofold beings. The technical terms for these two views is trichotomy and dichotomy. These are the traditional views that Christians believe have biblical support.

The first view to examine is the trichotomist view. The word trichotomy is derived from two greek words: τρίχα (tricha) meaning, “in three parts” and τέμνειν (temnein) meaning, “to cut.”[1] Therefore, trichotomy signifies a division of three parts, and so from a trichotomy view, humans are composed of three elements: body, soul and spirit. The greek word often used for the material part of humans is σῶμα (sōma) meaning, “body.” This physical σῶμα (sōma) is similar to the makeup of animals and plants. Millard Erickson writes, there is no difference in kind between a human body and that of animals and plants; but there is a difference of degree, as humans have a more complex physical structure.”[2]  

As for the immaterial elements of humans, the greek words ψυχή (psuché) meaning, “soul” and πνεῦμα (pneuma) meaning “spirit” are used in distinguishing ways from the trichotomist perspective. The ψυχή (psuché) “soul” is viewed as the element that enables human consciousness with the faculties of “reason, emotion, social interrelatedness, and the like.”[3] The πνεῦμα (pneuma) “spirit” is viewed as the religious component of humans enabling them to experience spiritual things.[4] Proponents of the Trichotomy perspective point to biblical passages such as 1 Thess 5:23, Heb 4:12, 1 Cor 2:14 -3:4.

Next, we examine the dichotomist view. The term dichotomy is derived from the greek words δίχα (dicha) meaning, “in two parts” and τέμνειν (temnein) meaning, “to cut.”[5] Thus, dichotomy signifies a twofold division of humans. From the dichotomy perspective, humans are composed of the two elements: σῶμα (sōma) “body” and ψυχή (psuché) “soul.” Similar to the trichotomy perspective, the dichotomy perspective posits that the σῶμα (sōma) is the physical part of humans that is in common with animals and plants. It is the part that dies and returns to the ground.[6] In the dichotomy perspective, the ψυχή (psuché) is the rational, immaterial and immortal part of humans, and this is the part that differentiates humans from other creatures. Proponents of the dichotomy perspective support their position by pointing to biblical passages such as Matt 6:25, 10:28, Ecc 12:7 and 1 Cor 5:3-5.

Moreover, proponents of the dichotomy perspective object to the trichotomy proponents who differentiate between “soul” and “spirit.” They argue that there are many examples in Scripture where “soul” and “spirit” are used interchangeably or as synonyms (ex. Luke 1:46-47; also, Gen 41:8, Psa 42:6, Matt 27:50,  Heb 12:23 and Rev 6:9).

An Alternative Model: Conditional Unity 

Some have argued that the full range of Scripture presents humans as an embodied unitary being or as a conditional unity. This is the idea that humans in their normal state are a material and immaterial oneness, but this unity is temporarily dissolvable at death. However, at the eschatological resurrection the immaterial will once again become inseparable with a new, perfected resurrected body. The implications of the conditional unity perspective are that humans are to be treated as unified and complex beings who can not be reduced to one aspect or principle. This means that all aspects of human nature must be attended to and respected. Moreover, God is at work in renewing the whole person, and so spiritually speaking one part of human nature should not be subjugate to another.[7]  


[1] W.E. Ward, “Trichotomy” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (EDT), edited by Daniel J. Treier and Walter A. Elwell, 3rd. ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017. [2] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 477. [3] Erickson, Christian, 477. [4] Erickson, Christian, 477. [5] W.E. Ward, “Dichotomy” in EDT, EPUB edition. [6] Erickson, Christian, 478. [7] Erickson, Christian, 491-493.

Doctrinal Musing on Theological Anthropology: Part 3 of 4

Contemporary culture has sought to answer the question about human identity through various disciplines, and this has resulted in numerous secular images of humanity. These images include: 1) Humanity as a machine, emphasizing utility and functionality. 2) Humanity as an animal among animals in the animal kingdom. 3) Humanity as a sexual being driven solely by sexual motivation and energy. 4) Humanity as an economic being focused on and striving after economic survival and gain. 5) Humanity as a pawn of the universe, meaning that humanity is at the mercy of universal forces and controlled by destiny. 6) Humanity as a free being with the responsibility of self-determination and decision-making. 7) Humanity as a social being, a cog in the wheel of community.[1]

In contrast to the ideas of contemporary culture, there are scriptural references in both the OT and NT that portray humans as created in the image and likeness of God which informs the Judeo-Christian concept of human identity. In Genesis, there are several mentions of the uniqueness and sanctity of humanity because they were created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26-27, 5:1, 9:6). The apostle Paul refers to the image and likeness of God in several of his letters. James mentions that humans were “made in God’s likeness” (James 3:9).

When considering the meaning of the image of God, there are three main views: the substantive view, the relational view and the functional view. The focus of the substantive view is the idea that the image of God is a physical or psychological quality or set of qualities in humans. A challenge to the substantive view is that it is often narrowed to one aspect of human nature, mostly the intellectual dimension which implies that the image of God may vary from person to person.[2]

The focus of the relational view is the claim that the image of God is not inherent in people, but is present when they are in relationships and community. A challenge to this view is that it does not account for how it is that humans are able to have relationships. In other words, the view does not delineate how humans are different from other creatures.[3]

The focus of the functional view is the idea that the image of God is something that humans do, specifically in their exercise of dominion over the creation. A challenge to this view is that in Genesis 1 the imagine of God and dominion are distinguishable.[4]

These views can be integrated, and so to that end, I offer some joining remarks. The image of God is universal within the human race, and it is not lost as a result of the fall or sin. Moreover, there is no degrees of the image of God, and it is not correlated with any other variables. The image of God includes aspects of the substantive view, the relational view and the functional view. Nevertheless, in the overall scheme of things, the image of God in human beings corresponds with the relational life of the Triune God and is fulfilled in human community and ultimately in God’s kingdom community.[5] In relationship with the Triune God, people will experience the πλήρωμα (pléróma) “fullness” of the image of God and the new humanity.[6] Stanley Grenz writes,

[B]eing-in-relationship with the triune God not only inherently includes, but is even comprised by being-in-relationship with those who participate together in the Jesus-narrative and thereby are the ecclesial new humanity. As the indwelling Spirit proleptically comprises the new humanity as the imago dei after the pattern of the perichoretic life of the triune God, the Spirit constitutes continually the “self” of the participants in Christ’s ecclesial community and, by extension, the “self” of the world.[7]

This is the joy and hope of the Jesus community and is the life and light to a world that is lost in their depraved humanity and confused about their human identity.

Therefore, the image of God implies that humans belong to God and experience full humanity when they are in a correct relationship with God. Humans created in the image of God means that they are valuable and sacred and must be treated as such with dignity and compassion. Since Jesus is the ultimate revelation of the image of God, humans should pattern their lives after him[8] and perform (live out), as image bearers, their part of the theo-drama of redemption.


[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 429-435. [2] Erickson, Christian, 460-463. [3] Erickson, Christian, 463-465. [4] Erickson, Christian, 465-466. [5] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Anthropology in Theological Perspective, Translated by Matthew J. O’Connell. 1st ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1985), 531. [6] Stanley J. Grenz, “The Social God and the Relational Self: Toward a Theology of the Imago Dei in the Postmodern Context,” Horizons in Biblical Theology 24, no. 1 (2002): 57. [7] Grenz, “The Social,” 57. [8] Erickson, Christian, 472-473.