At church we are in the middle of a sermon series on “What We Believe.” This morning our pastor talked about how important it is to hold onto Jesus and what we believe about Him based on the teaching of the Bible. In the children’s chat he used an illustration that has always been one of my favorites. He pulled out his wallet and offered a $1 bill to each of the kids up front, and then pointed out that when people work for financial institutions they learn how to spot counterfeit money not by studying various counterfeits, but by studying the real thing. In the same way, we need to study what the Bible says about God so that we can recognize teachings that are counterfeit or false. (Another word for false religious teaching is heresy.)
In the early church, there were three heresies about Jesus that were taught by some. It was to combat these false teachings that the various creeds of the church were written based on the Bible. The three most common creeds are the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Three heresies about Jesus that these creeds were written to refute were that:
- Jesus did not exist in the beginning but was created by God.
- Jesus was not God.
- Jesus did not rise in bodily form after His crucifixion.
Each of these heresies are still taught in some churches that claim to be Christian but that do not adhere to the truth of the Bible and the creeds written by the early church. Without a firm foundation in Scripture and knowledge of where the truth can be found in God’s Word, people can be easily fooled by these counterfeit claims. In his sermon, our pastor pointed out Bible passages that support the truth and refute these heretical teachings. He showed us how to use our greatest heresy detector, the Word of Almighty God. He suggested we underline some of the passages, and I was happy to find that I already had several of them underlined in my Bible.
Here are some of the verses that refute the teaching that Jesus did not exist in the beginning but was created by God:
- In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. John 1:1-3 (NIV).
- “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” John 8:58 (NIV). [This passage is important because "I am" is how God identified Himself to Moses from the burning bush.]
- The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:15-17 (NIV).
- [Jesus prayed,] “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” John 17:24 (NIV).
Here are some of the verses that refute the teaching that Jesus is not God:
- John 8:58 is also appropriate here. There are actually a number of other “I am” statements by Jesus in the book of John that taken together attest to His divinity. (John 6:35, 8:12, 8:23, 10:7, 10:11, 11:25, 14:6, 15:1).
- For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. Colossians 2:9-10 (NIV).
- [Jesus said,] “I and the Father are one.”
Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
“We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
John 10:30-33 (NIV).
Here are some of the verses that refute the teaching that Jesus did not rise in bodily form:
- A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” John 20:26-27 (NIV).
- Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”
So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.
Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.
This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. John 21:10-14 (NIV).
- While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. Luke 24:36-43 (NIV).
Until Jesus returns as He has promised, there will always be false teachers offering a counterfeit Gospel. But as long as we study the truth as revealed in God’s Word and understand who God is, we will be able to detect these heresies and hold fast to Jesus.
One final note: In studying scripture to discern the truth it is important to be sure that the translation one is using is an accurate representation of the original. I am not one who believes that there is only one correct translation. I use several translations that I trust based on the quality of the translating committees. I even have a Greek-Hebrew Study Bible that I find very helpful.
The importance of knowing the quality of the translation you are using has become quite apparent to me lately as I have looked at The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures that is used by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many of the scriptures that I have quoted above from the New International Version are rendered differently in this specialized translation. The Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the Trinity as well as the eternal existence of, the divinity of, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. The problem with their “translation” of the Bible is that it is not actually translated from the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. The four of the five men who “translated” it did not speak or read either Hebrew or Greek and had only a high school education. Only one of the five had any training in Bible languages – two years of Greek and self-taught Hebrew – but he was not able to translate either language.