Why did a Good God create a Bad Devil?

The Bible says that it was the devil (or Satan) in the form of a serpent who temped Adam and Eve to sin and brought about their fall.  But this raises an important question:  Why did God create a ‘bad’ devil (meaning ‘adversary’) to corrupt His good creation?

Lucifer – The Shining One

In fact, the Bible says that God created a powerful, intelligent, and beautiful spirit  who was chief among all angels. His name was Lucifer (meaning ‘Shining One’) – and he was very good.  But Lucifer also had a will with which he could freely choose.  A passage in Isaiah 14 records the choice he had:

How you have fallen from heaven,
morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
you who once laid low the nations!
You said in your heart,
I will ascend to the heavens;
I will raise my throne
above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
on the utmost heights of the North.
I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.” (Isaiah 14:12-14)

Lucifer, like Adam, faced a decision.  He could accept that God was God or he could choose to be his own ‘god’.  His repeated “I wills” show that he chose to defy God and declare himself to be ‘Most High’.  A passage in Ezekiel gives a parallel description of the fall of Lucifer:

You were in Eden, the garden of God.
…  I ordained and anointed you
as the mighty angelic guardian.
You had access to the holy mountain of God
and walked among the stones of fire.
“You were blameless in all you did
from the day you were created
until the day evil was found in you.
… and you sinned.
So I banished you in disgrace
from the mountain of God.
I expelled you, O mighty guardian,
from your place among the stones of fire.
Your heart was filled with pride
because of all your beauty.
Your wisdom was corrupted
by your love of splendor.
So I threw you to the ground.  (Ezekiel 28:13-17)

Lucifer’s beauty, wisdom and power – all the good things created in him by God – led to pride.  His pride led to his rebellion, but he never lost any of his power and abilities.  He is now leading a cosmic revolt against his Creator to see who will be God.  His strategy was to enlist mankind to join him – by tempting them to the same choice that he made – to love themselves, become independent from God, and defy Him.  The heart of the test of Adam’s will was the same as Lucifer’s; it was just presented differently.  They both chose to be ‘god’ to themselves.

Satan – working through others

The passage in Isaiah is directed to the ‘King of Babylon’ and the Ezekiel passage is addressed to the ‘King of Tyre’.  But from the descriptions given, it is clear that no human is addressed.  The “I wills” in Isaiah describe someone who was thrown to the earth in punishment for wanting to place his throne above the throne of God.  The passage in Ezekiel addresses an ‘angelic guardian’ who once moved in Eden and the ‘mountain of God’.  Satan (or Lucifer) often puts himself behind or through someone else.  In Genesis he speaks through the serpent.  In Isaiah he rules through the King of Babylon, and in Ezekiel he possesses the King of Tyre.

Why did Lucifer revolt against God?

But why did Lucifer want to challenge the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator?  Part of being ‘smart’ is to know whether or not you can defeat your opponent.  Lucifer may have power, but that would still be insufficient to defeat His Creator.  Why lose everything for something he could not win?  I would think that a ‘smart’ angel would have recognized his limitations against God – and hold back his revolt.  So why didn’t he?  This question puzzled me for many years.

Then I realized that Lucifer could only believe that God was His all-powerful Creator by faith – the same as for us.  The Bible suggests that angels were created in creation week.  For example, a passage in Job tells us:

Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said…
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand….
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy? (Job 38:1-7)

Imagine that Lucifer was created and became conscious in creation week, somewhere in the universe. All he knows is that now he exists and is self-aware, and also that there is another Being who claims that He has created Lucifer and the universe. But how does Lucifer know that this claim is true?  Perhaps, this so-called creator had popped into existence in the stars just before Lucifer popped into existence. And because this ‘creator’ arrived earlier on the scene, he was (perhaps) more powerful and (perhaps) more knowledgeable than Lucifer – but then again perhaps not.  Perhaps both he and the ‘creator’ just popped into existence simultaneously.  Lucifer could only accept God’s Word to him that He had created him, and that God himself was eternal and infinite. But in his pride he chose to believe his fantasy instead.

Maybe it seems doubtful that Lucifer would believe that both he and God (and the other angels) just ‘popped’ into existence.  But this is the same basic idea behind the latest thinking in modern cosmology.  There was a cosmic fluctuation of nothing, and then out of this fluctuation arose the universe – that is the essence of modern cosmology theories.  Fundamentally, everyone – from Lucifer to Richard Dawkins & Stephen Hawkings to you & me – must decide by faith whether the universe is self-contained or was created and sustained by a Creator God.

In other words, seeing is not believing.  Lucifer had seen and talked with God. But he still had to accept ‘by faith’ that God had created him.  Many people say that if God would just ‘appear’ to them, then they would believe.  But in the Bible many people saw and heard God – but still did not take Him at His word.  The issue was whether they would accept and trust His Word about Himself and themselves.  From Adam & Eve, to Cain & Abel, to Noah, to the Egyptians at the first Passover, to the Israelite crossing of the Red Sea and to those who saw the miracles of Jesus – ‘seeing’ never resulted in trust.  The fall of Lucifer is consistent with this.

What is the Devil doing today?

So according to the Bible, God did not make a ‘bad devil’, but created a powerful and intelligent angelic being.   Through pride he has led a revolt against God – and in doing so was corrupted, while still keeping his original splendor.  You, I and all of mankind have become part of the battleground in this contest between God and his ‘adversary’ (devil).  The strategy of the devil is not to wear sinister black cloaks like ‘Black Riders’ in the Lord of the Rings and put evil curses on us.  Instead he seeks to deceive us from the redemption that God had promised at the beginning of time through Abraham, through Moses, and then accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  As the Bible says:

Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)

Because Satan and his servants can masquerade as ‘light’ we are more easily tricked.  Perhaps this is why the Gospel always seems to run against our instincts and against all cultures.

What is the History of the Jewish People?

Jews are one of the most ancient peoples in the world. Their history is recorded in the Bible, by historians outside of the Bible, and through archeology. We have more facts about their history than that of any other nation. We will use this information to summarize their history.  To make the history of the Israelites (an Old Testament word for the Jewish people) easier to follow, we will use timelines.

Abraham: The Jewish Family Tree Begins

The timeline starts with Abraham. He was given a promise of nations coming from him and had encounters with God ending in the symbolic sacrifice of his son Isaac.  This sacrifice was a sign pointing to Jesus by marking the future location where Jesus would be sacrificed. The timeline continues in green when Isaac’s descendants were slaves in Egypt. This period of time started when Joseph, grandson of Isaac, led the Israelites to Egypt, where later on they became slaves.

bible timeline with abraham and moses in history
Living in Egypt as slaves of Pharoah

Moses: The Israelites become a Nation under God

Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt by the Passover Plague, which destroyed Egypt and allowed the Israelite Exodus from Egypt to the land of Israel. Before he died, Moses announced Blessings and Curses on the Israelites (when the timeline goes from green to yellow).  They would be Blessed if they obeyed God, but experience a Curse if they did not.  These Blessings & Curses were to follow the Jewish people ever after.

bible historical timeline from Abraham to david

For several hundred years the Israelites lived in their land but they did not have a King, nor did they have the capital city of Jerusalem – it belonged to other people in this time. However, with King David around 1000 BC this changed.

historical timeline Living with Davidic Kings ruling from Jerusalem
Living with Davidic Kings ruling from Jerusalem

David establishes a Royal Dynasty at Jerusalem

David conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital city. He received the promise of a coming ‘Christ’ and from that time on the Jewish people waited for the ‘Christ’ to come.  His son Solomon succeeded him and Solomon built the First Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. The descendants of King David continued to rule for about 400 years and this period is shown in aqua-blue (1000 – 600 BC).  This was the period of Israelite glory – they had the promised Blessings.  They were a powerful nation, had an advanced society, culture, and their Temple. But the Old Testament also describes their growing corruption and idol worship during this time.  Many prophets in this period warned the Israelites that the Curses of Moses would come on them if they did not change. But these warnings were ignored.

The First Jewish Exile to Babylon

Finally around 600 BC the Curses happened. Nebuchadnezzar, a powerful Babylonian King came – just like Moses had predicted 900 years before when he wrote in his Curse:

The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away … a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. … They will besiege all the cities throughout the land. (Deuteronomy 28: 49-52)

Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem, burned it, and destroyed the Temple that Solomon had built. He then exiled the Israelites to Babylon. Only the poor Israelites remained behind. This fulfilled the predictions of Moses that

You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. (Deuteronomy 28:63-64)

jewish historical timeline Conquered and exiled to Babylon
Conquered and exiled to Babylon

So for 70 years, the period shown in red, the Israelites lived as exiles outside the land promised to Abraham and his descendants.

Return from Exile under the Persians

After that, the Persian Emperor Cyrus conquered Babylon and Cyrus became the most powerful person in the world. He permitted the Israelites to return to their land.

jewish historial timeline Living in the Land as a part of Persian Empire
Living in the Land as a part of Persian Empire

However they were no longer an independent country, they were now a province in the Persian Empire.  This continued for 200 years and is in pink in the timeline. During this time the Jewish Temple (known as the 2nd Temple) and the city of Jerusalem were rebuilt.

The period of the Greeks

Then Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire and made the Israelites a province in the Greek Empires for another 200 years. This is shown in dark blue.

jewish historical timeline Living in the Land as part of Greek Empires
Living in the Land as part of Greek Empires

The Period of the Romans

Then the Romans defeated the Greek Empires and they became the dominant world power. The Israelites again became a province in this Empire and it is shown in light yellow. This is the time when Jesus lived.  This explains why there are Roman soldiers in the gospels – because the Romans ruled the Jews in the Land of Israel during the life of Jesus.

jewish historical timeline Living in the Land as part of Roman Empire
Living in the Land as part of Roman Empire

The Second Jewish exile under the Romans

From the time of the Babylonians (600 BC) the Israelites (or Jews as they were called now) had not been independent as they had been under the Kings of David. They were ruled by other Empires.  The Jews resented this and they revolted against Roman rule. The Romans came and destroyed Jerusalem (70 AD), burned down the 2nd Temple, and deported the Jews as slaves across the Roman Empire. This was the second Jewish exile. Since Rome was so big the Jews were scattered across the whole world.

Jerusalem and Temple destroyed by Romans in 70 AD. Jews sent into world-wide exile
Jerusalem and Temple destroyed by Romans in 70 AD. Jews sent into world-wide exile

And this is how the Jewish people lived for almost 2000 years: dispersed in foreign lands and never accepted in these lands. In these different nations they regularly suffered great persecutions.  This persecution of the Jews was particularly true in Christian Europe.  From Spain, in Western Europe, to Russia the Jews lived often in a dangerous situations in these Christian kingdoms. The Curses of Moses back in 1500 BC were accurate descriptions of how they lived.

… Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. (Deuteronomy 28:65)

The Curses against the Israelites were given to make peoples ask:

All the nations will ask: “Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”

And the answer was:

“ … the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land…” (Deuteronomy 29:24-25)

The timeline below shows this 1900 year period. This period is shown in a long red bar.

Historical Timeline of the Jews - featuring their two periods of exile
Historical Timeline of the Jews – featuring their two periods of exile

You can see that in their history the Jewish people went through two periods of exile but the second exile was much longer than the first exile.

The 20th Century Holocaust

Then the persecutions against the Jews reached their peak when Hitler, through Nazi Germany, tried to exterminate all the Jews living in Europe. He almost succeeded but he was defeated and a remnant of Jews survived.

Modern Re-birth of Israel

Just the fact that there were people who identified themselves as ‘Jews’ after many hundreds of years without a homeland was remarkable. But this allowed the final words of Moses, written down 3500 years ago, to come true.  In 1948 the Jews, through the United Nations, saw the remarkable re-birth of the modern state of Israel, as Moses had written centuries before:

…then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. (Deuteronomy 30:3-4)

It was also remarkable since this state was built in spite of great opposition. Most of the surrounding nations waged war against Israel in 1948 … in 1956 … in 1967 and again in 1973. Israel, a very small nation, often was at war with five nations at the same time. Yet not only did Israel survive, but the territories increased. In the war of 1967 the Jews regained Jerusalem, their historic capital city David had founded 3000 years ago.  The result of the creation of the state of Israel, and the consequences from these wars has created one of the most difficult political problems of our world today.

Was Jesus the son of a virgin from the line of David?

We have seen that ‘Christ’ is an Old Testament title.  Let us now look at this question: was Jesus of Nazareth that ‘Christ’ predicted in the Old Testament?

From the Line of David

Psalm 132 in the Old Testament, written 1000 years before Jesus lived, contained a specific prophecy.  It said:

10 For the sake of your servant David,
do not reject your anointed one. ( = ‘Christ’)

11 The Lord swore an oath to David,
a sure oath he will not revoke:
One of your own descendants
I will place on your throne….
13 For the Lord has chosen Zion…,
17 “Here I will make a horn grow for David
and set up a lamp for my anointed one.  (Psalm 132:10-17)

You can see that long before Jesus, the Jewish Psalms predicted that God’s anointed one (i.e. ‘Christ’) would come from David.  This is why the gospels show Jesus to be from David – they want us to see that Jesus fulfills this prophecy.

Was Jesus really from the line of David?

But how do we know that they did not just make up the genealogies to get a ‘fulfillment’?  They were sympathetic to Jesus and so perhaps wanted to exaggerate the truth.

When trying to find out what really happened, it helps to have the testimony of hostile witnesses.  A hostile witness was on-hand to see the facts but does not agree with the overall belief, and so has motive for refuting testimony that might be false.  Suppose there was a car accident between persons A and B.  Both blame each other for the accident – so they are hostile witnesses.  If person A says that he saw person B texting just before the accident, and person B admits this, then we could assume that this part of the dispute is true since person B has nothing to gain agreeing to this point.

In the same way, looking at hostile historical witnesses can help us determine what really happened with Jesus.  New Testament scholar Dr. FF Bruce studied Jewish Rabbi references to Jesus in the Talmud and Mishnah.  He noted the following comment about Jesus:

Ulla said: Would you believe that any defence would have been so zealously sought for him (i.e. Jesus)?  He was a deceiver and the All-merciful says: ‘You shall not spare him neither shall you conceal him’[Deut 13:9]  It was different with Jesus for he was near to the kingship”  p. 56

FF Bruce makes this remark about that rabbinical statement:

The portrayal is that they were trying to find a defence for him (an apologetic note against Christians is detected here).  Why would they try to defend one with such crimes?  Because he was ‘near to the kingship’ i.e. of David.  p. 57

In other words, hostile Jewish rabbis did not dispute the Gospel writers’ claim that Jesus was from David.  They did not accept Jesus’ claim to ‘Christ’ and were opposed to the Gospel claims about him, but they still admitted that Jesus was in the royal family of David.  So we know that the Gospel writers did not simply make that up to get a ‘fulfillment’.  Even the hostile witnesses agree on this point.

Was he born of a virgin?

There is always a possibility that this prophesy was fulfilled ‘by chance’.  There were also others from the Royal family.  But being born of a virgin!  There is no possibility that this could happen ‘by chance’.  It is either: 1) a misunderstanding, 2) a fraud, or 3) a miracle – no other option is open.

A virgin birth had been hinted in the beginning with Adam.  In the New Testament, Luke and Matthew clearly state that Mary conceived Jesus while she was a virgin.  Matthew also claimed that this was a fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah (ca 750 BC) which said:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (i.e. ‘God with us’) Isaiah 7:14 (and quoted in Matthew 1:23 as a fulfillment)

Perhaps this was just a misunderstanding.  The original Hebrew הָעַלְמָ֗ה (pronounced haalmah) which is translated ‘virgin’ can also mean ‘young maiden’, i.e. a young unmarried woman.  Perhaps that is all that Isaiah meant to say, long ago in 750 BC.  But with a religious need on the part of Matthew and Luke to venerate Jesus they misunderstood Isaiah to mean ‘virgin’ when he really meant ‘young woman’.  Add the unfortunate pregnancy of Mary before her marriage, it developed into ‘divine fulfillment’ in the birth of Jesus.

Many people have given me an explanation like this, and one cannot refute this because it is impossible to make proofs about whether someone is a virgin or not.  But the explanation is not that simple.  The Septuagint was a Jewish translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek done in 250 BC – two hundred fifty years before Jesus was born.  How did these Jewish rabbis translate Isaiah 7:14 from the Hebrew into Greek?  Did they translate it as ‘young woman’ or ‘virgin’? Though many people seem to know that the original Hebrew הָעַלְמָ֗ה can mean either ‘young woman’ or ‘virgin’, no one brings up the witness of the Septuagint which translates it as παρθένος  (pronounced parthenos), which specifically means ‘virgin’.  In other words, the leading Jewish rabbis in 250 BC understood the Hebrew Isaiah prophecy to mean ‘virgin’, not ‘young woman’ – over two hundred years before Jesus was born.  The ‘virgin birth’ was not invented by the Gospel writers or by early Christians.  It was Jewish long before Jesus came.

Why would leading Jewish scholars in 250 BC make such a fantastic translation that a virgin had a son? If you think it is because they were superstitious and unscientific, let’s think again. People in that time were farmers.  They knew how breeding worked.  Hundreds of years before the Septuagint Abraham and Sarah knew that after a certain age came menopause and then childbearing was impossible. No, scholars in 250 BC did not know modern chemistry and physics, but they understood how animals and people reproduced. They would have known it was impossible to have a virgin birth.  But they did not shrink back and translate it as ‘young woman’ in the Septuagint. No, they stated it in black and white that a virgin would have a son.

Mary’s Context

Now consider the fulfillment part of this story.  Though it cannot be proven that Mary was a virgin, she was remarkably in the only and very brief stage of life where it could remain an open question.  This was an age of large families.  Families with ten children were common.  Given that, what was the chance that Jesus would be the oldest child?  Because if he had had an older brother or sister then we would know for certain that Mary was not a virgin.  In our day when families have about 2 children it is a 50-50 chance, but back then it was closer to a 1 in 10 chance.  The chance was 9 out of 10 that the virgin ‘fulfillment’ should just be dismissed by the simple fact that Jesus had an older sibling – but (against the odds) he didn’t.

Now think about the remarkable timing of Mary’s engagement onto this.  If she had been married even for a few days, the virgin ‘fulfillment’ could again simply be dismissed.  On the other hand, if she had not yet been engaged and was found to be pregnant she would not have had a fiance to care for her.  In that culture, as a pregnant but single woman she would have had to remain alone – if she had been allowed to live.

It is these remarkable and unlikely ‘coincidences’ that make the virgin birth impossible to disprove that strikes me.  These coincidences are not expected, but rather they show a sense of balance and timing as if a Mind were arranging events to show plan and intent.

If Mary had been married before Jesus was born or if Jesus had older siblings, then hostile Jewish witnesses would surely have pointed that out.  Instead it seems that, once again, they agree with the gospel writers on this point.  FF Bruce notes this as he explains how Jesus is mentioned in the rabbis’ writings:

Jesus is referred to in rabbinical literature as Jesus ben Pantera or Ben Pandira.  This might mean ‘the son of the panther’.  The most probable explanation is that it is a corruption of parthenos, the Greek word for ‘virgin’ and arose from Christian references to him as a son of a virgin   (p57-58)

Today, as Jesus’ time, there is hostility to Jesus and the claims of the gospel.  Then, as now, there was significant opposition to him.  But the difference is that back then there were also witnesses, and as hostile witnesses they did not refute some basic points that they could definitely  refute, if these points had been made up or been in error.

Was there an Adam? The Testimony of the ancient Chinese

The Bible is a remarkable book.  It claims to be inspired by God and to accurately record history.  I used to doubt the historical accuracy for the beginning chapters of the first book in the Bible – Genesis.  This was the account of Adam & Eve, paradise, the forbidden fruit, a tempter, followed by the account of Noah surviving a worldwide flood.  I, like most people today, thought these stories were really poetic metaphors.

As I researched this question, I made some fascinating discoveries that made me re-think my beliefs.  One discovery lay embedded in Chinese writing.  To see this you need to know some background about the Chinese.

Written Chinese arose from the beginning of Chinese civilization,  about 4200 years ago, some 700 years before Moses wrote the book of Genesis (1500 BC).  We all recognize Chinese calligraphy when we see it.  What many of us don’t know is that ideograms or Chinese ‘words’ are constructed from simpler pictures called radicals.  It is similar to how English takes simple words (like ‘fire’ and ‘truck’) and combines them into compound words (‘firetruck’).  Chinese calligraphy has changed very little in the thousands of years.  We know this from writing that is found on ancient pottery and bone artifacts.  Only in the 20th century with the rule of the Chinese communist party has the script been simplified.

For example, consider the Chinese ideogram for the abstract word ‘first’. It is shown here.

First = alive + dust + man
First = alive + dust + man

‘First’ is a compound of simpler radicals as shown.  You can see how these radicals are all found combined in ‘first’.   The meaning of each of the radicals is also shown.  What this means is that around 4200 years ago, when the first Chinese scribes were forming the Chinese writing they joined radicals with the meaning of ‘alive’+’dust’+’man’ => ‘first’.  But why?  What natural connection is there between ‘dust’ and ‘first’?  There is none.  But notice the creation of the first man in Genesis.

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  (Genesis 2:17).

The ‘first’ man (Adam) was made alive from dust.  But where did the ancient Chinese get this connection 700 years before Moses wrote Genesis?  Think about this:

Dust + breath of mouth + alive = to talk
Dust + breath of mouth + alive = to talk

The radicals for ‘dust’ + ‘breath of mouth’ + ‘alive’ are combined to make the ideogram ‘to talk’.  But then ‘to talk’ is itself combined with ‘walking’ to form ‘create’.

To talk + walking = to create
To talk + walking = to create

But what is the natural connection between ‘dust’, ‘breath of mouth’, ‘alive’, ‘walking’ and ‘create’ that would cause the ancient Chinese to make this relationship?  But this also bears a striking similarity with Genesis 2:17 above.

This similarity continues.  Notice how ‘devil’ is formed from “man moving secretly in the garden”. What is the natural relationship between gardens and devils?  They have none at all.

Secret + man + garden + alive = devil
Secret + man + garden + alive = devil

Yet the ancient Chinese then built on this by then combining ‘devil’ with ‘two trees’ for ‘tempter’!

Devil + 2 trees + cover = tempter
Devil + 2 trees + cover = tempter

So the ‘devil’ under the cover of ‘two trees’ is the ‘tempter’.  If I was going to make a natural connection to temptation I might show a sexy woman at a bar, or a tempting sin.  But why two trees?  What does ‘gardens’ and ‘trees’ have to do with ‘devils’ and ‘tempters’?  Compare now with the Genesis account:

The LORD God had planted a garden in the east… in the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:8-9)

Now the serpent was more crafty… he said to the woman, “Did God really say …” (Genesis 3:1)

To ‘desire’ or ‘covet’ is again connected with a ‘woman’ and ‘two trees’.  Why not relate ‘desire’ in a sexual sense with ‘woman’?  That would be a natural relation.  But the Chinese did not do so.

2 trees + woman = desire
2 trees + woman = desire

The Genesis account does show a relation between ‘covet’, ‘two trees’ and ‘woman’.

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom she took some and ate it.  She also gave some to her husband (Genesis 3:6)

Consider another remarkable parallel.  The Chinese ideogram for ‘big boat’ is shown below and the radicals that construct this are also shown:

boat
Big Boat = Eight + mouths + vessel

They are ‘eight’ ‘people’ in a ‘vessel’.  If I was going to represent a big boat why not have 3000 people in a vessel.  Why eight?  Interesting, in the Genesis account of the flood there are eight people in Noah’s Ark (Noah, his three sons and their four wives).

The parallels between the early Genesis and Chinese writing are remarkable.  One might even think the Chinese read Genesis and borrowed from it, but the origin of their language is 700 years before Moses.   Is it coincidence?  But why so many ‘coincidences’?   Why are there no such parallels with the Chinese for the later Genesis stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?

But suppose Genesis is recording real historical events.  Then the Chinese – as a race and language group – originate at Babel (Genesis 11) as all other ancient language/racial groups.  The Babel account tells how the children of Noah had their languages confused by God so that they could not understand each other.  This resulted in their migration out from Mesopotamia, and it restricted inter-marriage to within their language.  The Chinese were one of these peoples dispersing from Babel.  At that time the Genesis Creation/Flood accounts were their recent history.  So when they developed writing for abstract concepts like ‘covet’, ‘tempter’ etc. they took from accounts that were well understood in their history.  Similarly for the development of nouns – like ‘big boat’ they would take from the extraordinary accounts that they remembered.

Thus the accounts of Creation and the Flood were embedded into their language from the beginning of their civilization.  As the centuries passed they forgot the original reason, as so often happens.  If this is the case, then the Genesis account recorded real historical events, not just poetic metaphors.

Chinese Sacrifices

The Chinese also had one of the longest lasting ceremonial traditions that have ever been conducted on earth.  From the start of the Chinese civilization (about 2200 BC), the Chinese emperor on the winter solstice always sacrificed a bull to Shang-Ti (‘Emperor in Heaven’, i.e. God).  This ceremony continued through all the Chinese dynasties.  In fact it was only stopped in 1911 when general Sun Yat-sen overthrew the Qing dynasty.  This bull sacrifice was conducted annually in the ‘Temple of Heaven’, which is now a tourist attraction in Beijing.  So for over 4000 years a bull was sacrificed every year by the Chinese emperor to the Heavenly Emperor   Why?  Long ago, Confucius (551-479 BC) asked this very question.  He said:

“He who understands the ceremonies of the sacrifices to Heaven and Earth… would find the government of a kingdom as easy as to look into his palm!”

What Confucius said was that anyone who could unlock that mystery of the sacrifice would be wise enough to rule the kingdom.  So between 2200 BC when the Border Sacrifice began, to the time of Confucius (500 BC) the meaning of the sacrifice had been lost to the Chinese – even though they continued the annual sacrifice another 2400 years to 1911 AD.

Perhaps, if the meaning of their calligraphy had not been lost Confucius could have found an answer to his question.  Consider the radicals used to construct the word for ‘righteous’.

Hand + lance/dagger = me; + sheep = righteousness
Hand + lance/dagger = me; + sheep = righteousness

Righteousness is a compound of ‘sheep’ on top of ‘me’.  And ‘me’ is a compound of ‘hand’ and ‘lance’ or ‘dagger’.  It gives the idea that my hand will kill the lamb and result in righteousness.  The sacrifice or death of the lamb in my place gives me righteousness.

Genesis has many animal sacrifices long before Moses started the Jewish sacrifice system.  For example, Abel (Adam’s son) and Noah offer sacrifices (Genesis 4:4 & 8:20).  It seems that the earliest people understood that animal sacrifices were symbols of a substitute death that was needed for righteousness.  One of Jesus’ titles was ‘lamb of God’ (John 1:29).  His death was the real sacrifice that gives righteousness.  All animal sacrifices – including the ancient Chinese Border Sacrifices – were only a pictures of his sacrifice.  This is what Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac pointed to, as well as Moses’ Passover sacrifice.  The ancient Chinese seemed to have started with this understanding long before Abraham or Moses lived, though they had forgotten it by Confucius’ day.

This means that the sacrifice and death of Jesus for righteousness was understood from the dawn of human history.  Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was a Divine plan reinforced with signs so people could know it from the beginning of time.

This goes against our instincts.  We think that righteousness is based either on mercy of God or on our merits.  In other words, many think no payment is required for sin since God is solely merciful and not Holy.  Others think that some payment is required, but that we can make the payment by the good things we do.  So we try to be good or religious and we hope it will all work out.  This is contrasted by the Gospel that says:

But now a righteousness from God, apart from Law, has been made known… This righteousness comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Romans 3:21-22)

Perhaps the ancients were aware of something that we are in danger of forgetting.

Bibliography

  • The Discovery of Genesis.  C.H. Kang & Ethel Nelson.  1979
  • Genesis and the Mystery Confucius Couldn’t Solve.  Ethel Nelson & Richard Broadberry. 1994

Simple but Powerful: What is the meaning of Jesus’ sacrifice?

Jesus came to give himself as a sacrifice for all peoples so that we could escape our corruption and reconnect with God.  This plan was announced at the beginning of human history.  It was signed by God in the sacrifice of Abraham by pointing to Mount Moriah where Jesus’ sacrifice would be provided.  Then the Jewish Passover sacrifice was a sign pointing to the day of the year when Jesus would be sacrificed.

Why is his sacrifice so important?  This is a question worth asking. The Bible declares a Law when it states:

For the wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23)

“Death” literally means ‘separation’.  When our soul separates from our body we die physically.  Similarly we are even now separated from God spiritually.  This is true because God is Holy (sinless) while we have become corrupted from our original creation and so we sin.

This can be pictured using cliffs with God on the opposite side from us separated by a bottomless pit.  Just like a branch that has been cut from a tree is dead, so we have cut ourselves off from God and become spiritually dead.

We are separated from God by our sins like a chasm between two cliffs
We are separated from God by our sins like a chasm separating two cliffs

This separation causes guilt and fear.  So what we naturally try to do is build bridges to take us from our side (of death) to God’s side.  We do this in many different ways: going to church, temple or mosque, being religious, being good, helping the poor, meditation, trying to be more helpful, praying more, etc. These deeds to gain merit can be very difficult – and living them out can be very complicated.  This is illustrated in the next figure.

Good Efforts – useful as they may be - cannot bridge the separation between us and God
Good Efforts – useful as they may be – cannot bridge the separation between us and God

The problem is that our hard efforts, merits, and deeds, though not wrong, are insufficient because the payment required (the ‘wages’) for our sins is ‘death’.  Our efforts are like a ‘bridge’ that tries to cross the gap separating us from God – but in the end cannot do it.  This is because good merit will not solve our root problem. It is like trying to heal cancer (which results in death) by eating vegetarian.  Eating vegetarian is not bad, it may even be good – but it will not cure cancer.  For cancer you need a totally different treatment.

This Law is Bad News – it is so bad we often do not even want to hear it and we fill our lives with activities and things hoping this Law will go away.  But the Bible stresses this Law of sin and death to get our attention to focus on the cure that is simple and powerful.

For the wages of sin is death but… (Romans 6:23)

The small word ‘but’ shows that the direction of the message is about to change directions, to the Good News of the Gospel – the cure.  It shows both the goodness and love of God.

For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23)

The good news of the gospel is that the sacrifice of Jesus’ death is sufficient to bridge this separation between us and God.  We know this because three days after his death Jesus rose bodily, coming alive again in a physical resurrection.   Most of us do not know about the evidence for his resurrection.  A very strong case can be made for it as shown in this public lecture I did at a university (video link here).  Jesus’ sacrifice was prophetically acted out in Abraham’s sacrifice and the Passover sacrifice.  These signs pointing to Jesus were put there to help us find the cure.

Jesus was a human who lived a sinless life.  Therefore he can ‘touch’ both the human and the God sides and span the gap separating God and people.  He is a Bridge to Life which can be pictured like this:

Jesus is the Bridge that spans the chasm between God and man
Jesus is the Bridge that spans the chasm between God and man

Notice how this sacrifice of Jesus is given to us.  It is offered as a … ‘gift’.  Think about gifts.  No matter what the gift is, if it is really a gift it is something that you do not work for and that you do not earn by merit.  If you earned it the gift would no longer be a gift – it would be a wage!  In the same way you cannot merit or earn the sacrifice of Jesus.  It is given to you as a gift.  It is that simple.

And what is the gift?  It is ‘eternal life’.  That means that the sin which brought you and me death is now cancelled.  Jesus’ bridge of life enables us to re-connect with God and receive life – which lasts forever.  God loves you and me that much.  It is that powerful.

So how do you and I ‘cross’ this Bridge of Life?  Again, think of gifts.  If someone wants to give you a gift you must ‘receive’ it.  Anytime a gift is offered there are two alternatives.  Either the gift is refused (“No thank you”) or it is received (“Thank you for your gift.  I will take it”).  So also this gift offered must be received.  It cannot just be mentally believed in, studied or understood.  This is illustrated in the next figure where we ‘walk’ on the Bridge by turning to God and receiving his gift he offers to us.

Slide4
Jesus sacrifice is a gift that each of us must choose to receive

So how do we receive this gift?  The Bible says that

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:12)

Notice that this promise is for ‘everyone’.  Since he rose from the dead Jesus is alive even now and he is ‘Lord’.  So if you call on him he will hear and give his gift to you.  You call out to him and ask him – by having a conversation with him.  Perhaps you have never done this.  Below is a prayer that can guide you. It is not a magic chant.  It is not the specific words that give power.  It is the trust like Abraham had that we place in him to give us this gift.  As we trust him He will hear us and answer.  The Gospel is powerful, and yet also so simple.  Feel free to follow this guide if you find it helpful.

Dear Lord Jesus.  I understand that with my sins I am separated from God.  Though I can try hard, no effort and sacrifice on my part will bridge this separation.  But I understand that your death was a sacrifice to wash away all my sins.  I believe that you rose from the dead after your sacrifice so I know that your sacrifice was sufficient.  I ask you to please cleanse me from my sins and bridge me to God so I can have eternal life.  I do not want to live a life enslaved to sin so please free me from sin.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for doing all this for me and would you even now continue to guide me in my life so I can follow you as my Lord.

Amen

Where does ‘Christ’ of Jesus Christ come from?

I sometimes ask people what Jesus’ last name was. Usually they reply, “I guess his last name was ‘Christ’ but I am not sure”. Then I ask, “If so, when Jesus was a little boy did Joseph Christ and Mary Christ take little Jesus Christ to the market?” Hearing it that way, they realize that ‘Christ’ is not Jesus’ last name. So, what is ‘Christ’? Where does it come from? What does it mean? That is what we will explore in this article.

Translation vs. Transliteration

First we need to know some basics of translation. Translators sometimes choose to translate by similar sound rather than by meaning, especially for names or titles. This is known as transliteration. For the Bible, translators had to decide whether its words (especially names and titles) would be better in the translated language through translation (by meaning) or through transliteration (by sound). There is no specific rule.

The Septuagint

The Bible was first translated in 250 BC when the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek.  This translation is the Septuagint (or LXX) and it is still used today.  Since the New Testament was written 300 years later in Greek, its writers quoted the Greek Septuagint rather than the Hebrew Old Testament.

Translation & Transliteration in the Septuagint

The figure below shows how this affects modern-day Bibles,

Old/New testament
This shows the translation flow from original to modern-day Bible

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew – quadrant #1.  The arrows from #1 to #2 shows its translation to Greek quadrant #2 in 250 BC.  The Old Testament was now in two languages – Hebrew and Greek.  The New Testament was written in Greek so it started in quadrant #2.  Both the Old and New Testament were available in Greek – the universal language – 2000 years ago.

In the bottom half (#3) is a modern language like English. Typically the Old Testament is translated from the original Hebrew (going from #1 to #3) and the New Testament from Greek (#2 -> #3)

The Origin of ‘Christ’

Now we follow this same sequence, but focusing on the word ‘Christ’ that appears in English New Testaments.

Christ in the Bible
Where does ‘Christ’ come from in the Bible

The original Hebrew Old Testament word was ‘mashiyach’ which the Hebrew dictionary defines as an ‘anointed or consecrated’ person. Hebrew kings were anointed (ceremonially rubbed with oil) before they became king, thus they were anointed ones or mashiyach. The Old Testament also prophesied of a specific mashiyach. For the Septuagint, its translators chose a word in Greek with a similar meaning – Χριστός (which sounds like Christos), which came from chrio, which means to rub ceremonially with oil.  So Christos was translated by meaning (and not transliterated by sound) from the original Hebrew ‘mashiyach’ in the Greek Septuagint. The New Testament writers continued to use the word Christos in their writings to identify Jesus as the mashiyach.

In the English Bible, the Hebrew Old Testament Mashiyach is often translated as ‘Anointed one’ and sometime transliterated as ‘Messiah’.  The New Testament Christos is transliterated as ‘Christ’.  The word ‘Christ’ is a very specific Old Testament title, derived by translation from Hebrew to Greek, and then transliteration from Greek to English.

Because we do not readily see the word ‘Christ’ in today’s Old Testament this connection to the Old Testament is harder to see. But from this analysis we know that the Biblical ‘Christ’=’Messiah’=’Anointed One’ and that it was a specific title.

The Christ anticipated in 1st Century

Below is the reaction of King Herod when the Wise Men from the East came looking for the ‘king of the Jews’, a well-known part of the Christmas story. Notice, ‘the’ precedes Christ, even though it is not referring specifically about Jesus.

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. (Matthew 2:3-4)

The idea of ‘the Christ’ was common knowledge between Herod and his religious advisors – even before Jesus was born – and it is used here without referring specifically to Jesus. This is because ‘Christ’ comes from the Greek Old Testament, which was commonly read by Jews of the 1st century. ‘Christ’ was (and still is) a title, not a name. It was in existence hundreds of years before Christianity.

Old Testment prophecies of ‘The Christ’

In fact, ‘Christ’ is a prophetic title already in the Psalms, written by David ca 1000 BC – long before the birth of Jesus.

The kings of the earth take their stand … against the LORD and against his Anointed One … The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them… saying, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will proclaim the decree of the LORD : He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. …Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:2-7)

Psalm 2 in the Septuagint would read in the following way (I am putting it in with a transliterated Christos so you can ‘see’ the Christ title like a reader of the Septuagint could)

The kings of the earth take their stand … against the LORD and against his Christ … The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them… saying …, (Psalm 2)

You can now ‘see’ Christ in this passage like a reader of the 1st century would have. But the Psalms continue with more references to this coming Christ. I put the standard passage side-by-side with a transliterated one with ‘Christ’ in it so you can see it.

Psalm 132- From Hebrew Psalm 132 – From Septuagint
O Lord, …10 For the sake of David your servant, do not reject your anointed one.11 The Lord swore an oath to David, a sure oath that he will not revoke: “One of your own descendants I will place on your throne— …17 “Here I will make a horn grow for David and set up a lamp for my anointed one. ” O Lord, …10 For the sake of David your servant, do not reject your Christ.11 The Lord swore an oath to David, a sure oath that he will not revoke: “One of your own descendants I will place on your throne— …17 “Here I will make a horn grow for David and set up a lamp for my Christ. ”

Psalm 132 speaks in the future tense (“…I will make a horn for David…”) like so many passages throughout the Old Testament.  It is not that the New Testament grabs some ideas from the Old Testament and ‘make’ them fit Jesus.  Jews have always been waiting for their Messiah (or Christ). The fact that they are waiting or looking for the coming of the Messiah has everything to do with the future-looking prophecies in the Old Testament.

The Old Testament prophecies: Specified like a lock-key system

That the Old Testament specifically predicts the future makes it unusual literature. It is like the lock of a door. A lock has a certain shape so that only a specific ‘key’ that matches the lock can unlock it. In the same way the Old Testament is like a lock. We saw some of this in the posts on Abraham’s sacrifice, Adam’s beginning, and Moses’ Passover.  Psalm 132 adds the requirement that ‘the Christ’ would come from the line of David.  Here is a question worth asking: Is Jesus the matching ‘key’ that unlocks the prophecies?