Who Led the Exodus? – A Text Critical Study in Jude 5

18 So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle.
19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.”
20 After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert 21 By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. [Exodus 13:18-22, NIV]

In reading the Scripture above, it is clear that it was God / the LORD (YHWH) who led the nation Israel out of Egypt “in a pillar of a cloud” by day and “in a pillar of fire” by night. The New Testament book of Jude makes reference to this same event, with the author using it to make his own theological point in his short epistle:

5 Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe. [NIV]

5 But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. [NKJV]

5 Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe. [NASB]

These translations all vary a bit but are consistent in their use of “the Lord.” Here “the Lord” is (seemingly) used just like it is in Exodus 13:21 above as another designation for God / YHWH. But let’s look at this same verse in Jude in the English Standard Version (ESV):

5 Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.

How can it be that Jesus led the Exodus? He wasn’t even to be incarnated/born until many years later! The ESV (as well as NLT and NET) must be wrong, right? Not necessarily. This is where the discipline of NT textual criticism (TC) comes into play.

Noted in a few other articles on this site is the fact that there are upwards of 6000 extant NT manuscripts (hereafter mss for plural; ms for singular), from scraps to complete New Testaments. Yet there are some variations due to scribal error or well-meaning “corrections.” We must keep in mind that up until the advent of the printing press in the mid-15th century the only way to copy any document was by hand, and this is where variations have occurred (not that even modern day printing processes are immune from errors, of course).

Following is a brief investigation of this variant in Jude 5. First we’ll assess the external evidence, the task of comparing extant mss with each other, with a focus on date, character and text-type. Then we’ll proceed to the internal evidence – (1) looking at transcriptional probabilities related to scribes, endeavoring to determine the reading most likely original, and (2) assessing the feasibility of the chosen variant’s originality in view of its suitability with the author of Jude’s style, the context, etc.

External Evidence

While there are other textual variations within this same verse (as one can see from the four different translations cited above which vary at points), of more importance theologically is the focus of this current article, namely the main subject of this verse. Following is a brief rundown of the known variants:1

ὁ κύριος (ho kyrios), the Lord (two mss delete the article ὁ)

Ἰησοῦς (Iēsous), Jesus (two mss include ὁ)

ὁ θεός (ho Theos), {the} God

θεὸς Χριστός (Theos Christos), God Christ/Messiah, or Christ/Messiah God (which may have been intended as θεοῦ χριστός (Theou Christos), God’s anointed one)

How does the text critic choose? We’ll perform an abbreviated investigation by looking at some of the more important mss. In general, earlier mss are to be preferred over later ones within a given text-type, though their are many other factors too numerous to enumerate for our limited purposes here.

The mss reflecting ὁ κύριος (the Lord) are the most numerous. The large majority of mss evidencing this reading is from what is known as the Byzantine (Byz) text-type, dated 5th century and later, though here none are earlier than the 9th century.2 The relative consistency in this particular text-type, especially later mss, however, may well be attributed to copyists being more careful in their transcriptional habits during the Byzantine era, replicating more faithfully both presumably correct readings and earlier errors. Another characteristic of the Byz is a smoother text grammatically (presumed purposefully amended by scribes, according to some text critics). There are two mss omitting the article (the) in front of κύριος, both of which are of the Alexandrian text-type, the one typically asserted to be superior to the other texts by NT textual critics (rightly or wrongly). One of these is the ms designated (Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet), aka Sinaiticus (01), dated to the 4th century (perhaps approx. 325 – 375). The other is Ψ (044) from the 9th c. A reading including ℵ (01) is generally considered to be reliable by many text critics. In addition, there is one extant Syriac version (translation from the Greek) with this reading (7th c.). Overall, this is good, or very good evidence.

The mss with the reading of Ἰησοῦς (Jesus) include A (02), aka Alexandrinus (5th c.), B (03), aka Vaticanus (4th c., perhaps 325 – 375), 33 (9th c.), 1739 (10th c.), 1881 (14th c.). These five are Alexandrian, with B considered by many to be superior to all or most other extant mss.3 Two readings in the Western text-type are extant, though both include the article (88, 12th c.; 915, undated). Importantly, Ἰησοῦς is also included in Coptic versions dated to the 4th – 5th and 9th centuries, and this reading is included in the Latin Vulgate as well. There are also a few early church figures whose works include this reading: Origen, Cyril, Jerome, and Bede.4 This is very good evidence, and arguably stronger than the evidence for κύριος by most standards of TC, in view of its multiple Alexandrian mss support, particularly B (02) and A (01), early versional evidence, and its more diverse geographical distribution.

The other two readings are not well attested and will not be specifically delineated. The θεὸς Χριστός (God Christ) variant is an anomaly, an obvious blunder, extant solely in one ms, while ὁ θεός (God) is found only in a relative few mss, most of which are late.

As stated, on the whole, the mss evidence slightly favors Ἰησοῦς as original. However, it needs to be mentioned that many would find an agreement of the Alexandrian B (03) with (01) by itself fully persuasive (rightly or wrongly), and obviously the two have contradictory readings here. Moreover, there’s a very small minority of NT text critics who place a greater value on the Byz mss than the generally more highly lauded Alexandrine, and with the split readings of Ἰησοῦς and κύριος within the Alexandrian mss, one with this view may well favor ὁ κύριος instead.5

This concludes our brief survey of the external evidence, now we’ll turn to the internal evidence, first investigating how nomina sacra, Latin for sacred names (singular nomen sacrum), may have influenced copyists in our chosen passage.

Internal Evidence: Habits of Scribes

Nomina sacra were used for certain names or epithets such as God, Jesus, Christ, Lord, etc. A typical practice was to take the first letter of the word reflecting the sacred name, pair it with the last letter or the second letter of the word (and sometimes more than two characters were used), and add a straight line over the resulting contractions. This practice began in the early church, adopted when the Greek text was written in majuscule – essentially all capital letters. The text itself was handwritten in block letters with no breaks between words, sentences, or even paragraphs. This would provide a real challenge for the copyist (and the reader)!

However, though NT mss are in evidence with nomina sacra, we’ve no basis to assert with any certitude that the original NT text actually contained these designations. It could be that these iconic contractions were in fact original to the NT text, or it could be that the nomina sacra were introduced by later copyists, perhaps as a way of displaying reverence.

Following are the relevant nomina sacra for our chosen text in Jude 5:

Jesus: Ίησου̃ϛ, ΊΗCΟΥC = Ι͞C

Lord: κύριοϛ, ΚΥΡΙΟC = K͞C

God: θεός, ΘΕΟC = Θ͞C

As Metzger notes, F. J. A. Hort (of Westcott and Hort fame) hypothesized that “the original text had only ὁ (the article, the), and that OTIO was read as OTIΙ͞C and perhaps as OTIK͞C…”6 To explain, ὅτι (OTI) is the Greek word translated that (or because), which precedes the article ὁ (O) in this context, and Hort conjectured that the article was alone in the original text either as a substantive (with the verb σώσας, sosas, from sozo, as in “He who redeems”7), or with the subject assumed given the context (with the referent going back to Jude 4’s κύριοϛ / Ίησου̃ϛ Χριστός8).9 Let’s try to work out Hort’s hypothesis:

• OTIO {OTI | O } (that the) was misread as OTII̅C̅ {OTI | Ι͞C}, with the combination “IO” (the “I” being the last letter of “OTI” in combination with the following “O,” the article) read as “IIC” as a result of dittography – the error of reading an extra character through duplication – in which an extra “I” was placed between “I” and “O” and with the final “O” mistaken for a “C,” resulting in OTI + I + C = OTIIC, transcribed as OTIΙ͞C, thereby erroneously dropping the original O (article) by replacing it with Ι͞C.

• OTIO {OTI | O} was misread as OTIK͞C {OTI | K͞C}, perhaps with the following or similar scenario: the combination “IO” was read with an extra “I” in the middle through dittography (OTIIO) (or a previous copyist had already inadvertently added the “I”) while assuming, in addition, that this second “I” was the vertical portion of a split “K” and the following “O” read as the remainder of this split “K”10 plus a “C” was also added in a second mistake of dittography (OTI + K + C). In other words, OTI + O was read with an extra “I” in the middle resulting in OTI + I + O plus an extra C was added at the end resulting OTI + I + O + C, which was read as OTI + (I+C) + C = OTI + K + C, resulting in OTIKC, and then transcribed as OTIK͞C, thereby erroneously dropping the O (article) by replacing it with K͞C. [WHEW!]

Of the two, the first of these seems more plausible, for it requires a lesser amount of mistakes (the addition of one “I” through dittography while mistaking the article “O” for a “C”). The second appears to require quite a ‘comedy of errors’ in order achieve the result; however, this second scenario could more easily arise from the error of the first, with a subsequent copyist mistaking OTIΙ͞C for OTIK͞C (seeing “IC” as a “K”, then the “C” duplicated through dittography), resulting in a compounding of mistakes.

Of course, the much less complex, and more likely argument could be made that a copyist simply erroneously or purposely substituted the Ι͞C in his exemplar (the ms from which he was copying) for K͞C, or the reverse of K͞C for Ι͞C, whether or not the article (O) was preceding the nomen sacrum. (The O could have been inadvertently added or deleted, or purposely added in any of the variants above – scribes were less likely to purposely delete the article.) This then would more easily account for the variant readings of Ίησου̃ϛ and κύριοϛ. A similar error can account for the reading of θεὸς (Θ͞C), with Θ͞C substituted for either Ι͞C or K͞C (and Θ͞C could feasibly be factored into Hort’s conjecturing above).

As for determining which individual reading is likely original, there are a few tenets in TC such that the text critic should prefer:

(a) the more ‘difficult’ reading
(b) shorter readings over longer ones, except in the case of presumed or obvious intentional or unintentional omission (and, possibly, unless the longer is more difficult)
(c) a verbally dissident reading (one not harmonizing well with other associated text) as compared to a verbally consonant one
(d) the reading which most likely accounts for the arising of the others.

Clearly Ίησου̃ϛ (Ι͞C) is the more difficult reading, i.e., the harder reading from the scribe’s perspective, as the more natural reading would be either κύριοϛ (K͞C) or θεός (Θ͞C). With Ίησου̃ϛ in the text, we have Jesus leading the Exodus – a ‘difficult’ reading, most certainly.

One variant is not demonstrably longer or shorter than another (save the longer θεὸς Χριστός, which is an obvious anomaly), so this tenet does not come into play. We’ve covered some potential omissions and/or additions, but nothing seems to present itself as more obvious than another, including the presence or absence of the article, which is not an uncommon variant in general. Item (c) is much like (a) here, as Jude 5 is, as mentioned just above, an obvious paraphrasing of the Exodus, and Ίησου̃ϛ (Ι͞C) is clearly a verbally dissident reading.

If the difficult reading of Ίησου̃ϛ (Ι͞C) is original, it is easy to conceive of subsequent copyists amending the text to something more ‘probable,’ assuming their exemplar was in error, thereby accounting for κύριοϛ and θεός cropping into the text (and even θεὸς Χριστός). It is much less probable for a scribe to change either κύριοϛ (K͞C) or θεός (Θ͞C) to Ίησου̃ϛ (Ι͞C), because Ίησου̃ϛ (Ι͞C) would be perceived as too difficult, unless it was changed due to a very thoughtless transcriptional error. Therefore, Ίησου̃ϛ is most likely the reading from which the others arose (d).

However, the UBS (United Bible Society) committee – the committee which determines the text of the UBS, the Greek text underlying most modern Bible translations (though translation committees can and do override some selections) – largely felt that Ίησου̃ϛ, though well attested externally, was “difficult to the point of impossibility,” explaining that K͞C must have been misread as Ι͞C.11 But this begs the question: Wouldn’t a scribe most likely have been taken aback by the difficult reading of Ι͞C, and, hence, double-checked his exemplar before placing it into his copy? In fact, two (Bruce Metzger and Alan Wikgren) of the five members dissented from the majority opinion regarding this variant, stating in a bracketed note in the associated commentary:

Critical principles seem to require the adoption of Ίησου̃ϛ, which admittedly is the best attested reading among Greek and versional witnesses…Struck by the strange and unparalleled mention of Jesus in a statement about the redemption out of Egypt (yet compare Paul’s use of Χριστός in 1 Cor 10.4), copyists would have substituted (ὁ) κύριος or ὁ θεός12

This lack of agreement among the committee members resulted in a “D” rating given for the variant, meaning “that the Committee had great difficulty in arriving at a decision” over which reading should be placed into the text.13

On the other hand, one may argue that it is possible that a scribe had amended a reading to reflect his own theological view. For example, upon seeing K͞C in the text, the scribe could have changed it to Ι͞C in order to promote a higher Christology, perhaps, e.g., due to a then-current heresy denying Jesus Christ’s preexistence. However, it would seem that if a scribe were inclined to take this sort of liberty he may well place the complete Ι͞CΧ͞C (Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Jesus Christ) in the text instead, in order to increase the likelihood that his change would continue on, rather than leaving open the possibility of a future scribal error of confusing Ι͞C for K͞C, thus reverting back to the reading initially found in his exemplar.14 In any case, though this scenario is possible it is not likely, as most text critics have found that deliberate emendations were well-meaning “corrections,” not purposeful distortions to further individual agendas.15 Generally, as noted above, most agree that scribes were not likely to place more difficult readings into the text.

Considering all the mss evidence, particularly scribal transcriptional probabilities, Ἰησοῦς (Ι͞C) is most likely the original reading for Jude 5.

Internal Evidence: Style of Jude and Fittingness to the Context

Now, having concluded that Ίησου̃ϛ is the most probable original reading by analyzing both the external evidence and the internal evidence of the mss, we turn to whether the writer of Jude would have used this admittedly difficult text. We’ll look at the overall context and Jude’s style to make our determination, first looking at the immediate context, going back to verse 4 and its relation to verse 5. However, there’s an important variant in Jude 4 commanding our brief attention, though it is beyond the scope of this article to conduct a full investigation.

Immediate Context

A typical reading in the Byz text in translation in verse 4 is “who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (NKJV), with “God” just after the first “Lord.” This first “Lord” is δεσπότηϛ (despotēs) in the Greek, and usually refers to God in the NT, though, importantly, 2 Peter 2:1 applies this to Jesus Christ as Redeemer, and Luke (13:25) puts the very similar οἰκοδεσπότης16 on Jesus’ lips in a parable obviously referring to Himself in a similar fashion. The second “Lord” (kύριοϛ) is the one most usually associated with Jesus in the NT, though it is also used for “God.” There are many extant Alexandrian mss containing this passage, with none evidencing the second “God” (θεός) in the text; in fact, by current TC practices the reading is overwhelmingly decisive (mss include: P78 {3rd to 4th c.} A B C Ψ 33 81 1739 + cop {Coptic}) against the Byz (with the earliest ms from the 9th c.). Most textual critics are of the opinion that the Byz text added “God” to alleviate referring to Jesus by this particular term.

A representative Alexandrian reading is reflected in the ESV: “who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” Note that in place of two separate Members of the Trinity (or the Trinity and Jesus) in the latter part of this verse as in the NKJV, the ESV associates the two epithets “Master” (δεσπότηϛ) and “Lord” (κύριοϛ) with Jesus Christ instead. The difference, then, is of significance. For our purposes here we’ll adopt the NA28/UBS4 text, as reflected in the ESV and most modern translations.

To add credence to our position that Jude ascribed δεσπότηϛ to Jesus, the term is defined in the BDAG as one who has legal control and authority over persons, such as subjects or slaves.17 Of course, the NT is abounding with references to Christians as slaves, and Jude refers to himself as a slave/servant (δοῦλος, doulos) of Jesus Christ in his introduction, as was common. Bauckham notes that the term “is appropriate to the image of Jesus as the Master of his household of slaves,” citing the 2 Peter and Luke verses above, though also noting that κύριοϛ was more numerously applied to Jesus Christ, having “acquired much broader and more exalted connotations” including possessing the authority for divine judgment.18 Applying both terms to Jesus Christ would provide a powerful means of conveying His divine power and authority as Lord/Master, Redeemer, Keeper, and Judge – all functions the author of Jude applies to Jesus, as we shall see.

With this established as our base text for verse 4, it is plausible, if not probable, that the writer of Jude was carrying over the subject – Jesus Christ – from verse 4 into verse 5. However, in verse 5 the context demands an interpretation such that the subject was present during the Exodus, meaning that placing Ίησου̃ϛ into the text would explicitly assert that the pre-incarnate Jesus was the instrument of the nation Israel’s deliverance out of Egypt. This, of course, would necessarily include the claim of Jesus’ preexistence. Is this really probable in the immediate context and the whole of Jude’s epistle? Let’s investigate further.

Verse 5’s initial subordinate clause “though you already know all this” (NIV) may refer, not just to the Exodus passage, but to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 corresponding to the Exodus passage – or at least the theology behind that passage.19 More specifically, the writer of Jude may have verse 10:4 in mind, “…for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ” (NIV).

Taking this more broadly, 1 Corinthians 10:3-4 speaks of spiritual food (manna) and spiritual drink (the water from the rock), with this sustenance provided by Christ (cf. John 6 for Jesus Himself as the manna). As Blomberg expounds, “From a Christian perspective, Paul recognizes Christ as the pre-existent Son of God, active with God the Father in creation and redemption, and hence the agent of both physical and spiritual nourishment for his people in the desert (v. 4b).”20 If this is Jude’s referent, then this correlates quite nicely with his greeting to those who “are kept by Jesus Christ”21 (v 1), as well as his closing doxology (vv 24-25) “to him who is able to keep you…through Jesus Christ our Lord” – thus bookending his epistle with an emphasis on Jesus Christ’s power, as agent, to redeem and sustain His people.

Certainly we can see a correlation between Paul’s use of Christ as Sustainer and Jude’s use of Christ as Keeper; but, does Jude expressly proclaim Jesus’ preexistence elsewhere in his epistle? Yes he does. In the doxology, we find Jude explicitly calling God “our Savior” (σωτήρ, sotēr) (v 25) with Jesus Christ the mediator of that salvation (vv 24-25) before all time. Murray J. Harris translates verse 25 as: to the only God, our Savior, is glory, majesty, power, and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all time, and now, and for ever and ever.22 Harris then adds:

“Glory, majesty, power, and authority” belonged to God through Jesus Christ “before time began”…that is, in eternity past, and these attributes belong to God at present (νῦν) and will do so “to all eternity”…/”for evermore.” This unique eternal mediatorial work of Christ in ascribing all glory, majesty, power, and authority to God implies both his preexistence and his deity.23

We’ve now established how Jude proclaims Jesus’ preexistence elsewhere in his epistle, thereby removing this particular barrier for placing Ίησου̃ϛ into Jude 5; but, if Jesus was ‘merely’ the agent of the Father in the nation Israel’s redemption (as Blomberg asserts above) as well as our own, is Ίησου̃ϛ still too strong for the context of verse 5? In other words, given that Jesus is acting as agent of the Father, is it improper to state that it was Jesus who led the Exodus? No it is not. As an analogy, under US contract law an employee given the authority to sign contracts for the business owner is acting “as agent” for the owner. Any agreement entered into by this employee is legally binding on the owner and third parties to the contract, as long as the employee is acting within the scope of authority given by the owner. The owner’s power and authority has been conferred onto the employee in such instances. Under the eyes of the law, this signor is seen as having the same authority and power as the owner, which is then binding on all parties to the contract. In the same way, Jesus Christ, as agent of the Father, has the same authority and power as the Father and is, in effect, acting as the Father.

Having illustrated that the immediate context does not preclude the use Ίησου̃ϛ in verse 5, and, in fact, can be supported by Jude’s proclamation of Jesus’ preexistence in the doxology, along with a proper understanding of Jesus’ acting “as agent” of the Father, we turn to the larger context and overall style of this epistle.

Overall Context and Style of Jude

A particularly important theme of the book of Jude is judgment, both its positive aspect of redemption, and its negative aspect of destruction. That Jesus would be portrayed as both the Redeemer and the Judge dispensing eternal judgment is consistent with NT theology (cf. Mat 24:30-31; John 5:21-22, 24-25, 27-30; etc.). As noted above, in Jude Jesus Christ is both the Redeemer and the one who keeps the redeemed (vv 1, 24-25), though some are want to rebel against His authority (v 8), mixing in with those He is ‘keeping’ (v 4). Yet Jesus Christ allows, by His mercy, through the vessels of the redeemed (v 22-23), those of these who repent to become part of the fold. This brings us to a very important point in our analysis, which is found in verse 14, for it’s those who yet continue to rebel who will reap eschatological judgment by the eternal Judge.

Jude references the well-known (at that time) pseudepigraphical work known as 1 Enoch in Jude 14-15.24 In verse 14 the text is changed from θεὸς in its source (1 Enoch 1:9) to kύριοϛ, “…the Lord is coming…”25 This is significant, as Jude uses kύριοϛ exclusively for Jesus Christ in his epistle, as opposed to God, meaning that Jude has most likely changed 1 Enoch’s eschatological Judge from a Jewish monotheistic conception of God to Jesus Christ here.26 To see how Jude reserves kύριοϛ for Jesus Christ, observe how he uses this term in conjunction with the full designation of Jesus Christ in verses 4 (along with δεσπότηϛ), 17, 21, and 25, yet in these very same verses Jude references God, but not as kύριοϛ.27 Thus, while in verse 14 kύριοϛ stands alone, almost assuredly Jesus is the intended referent.28 Given the other evidence presented above, such as Jesus being portrayed as eternal Keeper, Redeemer, etc. we’ll adopt the position that Jude’s intention was, in fact, to make this distinction, as this appears the most probable understanding, given the full context of his epistle.

Looking at verses 5 through 19 as a whole, we will see how Jude has masterfully taken OT and extra-biblical references and (re)interpreted them Christologically, i.e., Jude has changed the referent in the original works from God to Jesus Christ.29 First, it’s important to understand that, by the full context of verses 5 through 19, the main subject is Jesus Christ (carried over from verse 4). That is, the subject of verse 5 runs through the intervening context, and that subject is Jesus Christ (see v 17), as confirmed through Jude’s alteration of θεὸς in 1 Enoch to kύριοϛ in Jude 14. And, of course, we’re arguing in the current article that Jude has changed the reference in Exodus from God / the Lord / YHWH to Ίησου̃ϛ in verse 5.30 In verse 9 there is a presumed reference to an apocryphal (non-canonical) book known as The Assumption of Moses, in the words regarding the dispute between Michael the archangel and the devil over the body of Moses;31 and it stands to reason that Jude refers to Jesus in verse 9 as well with “The Lord rebuke you!”32 That is, Jude here likely means for us to understand “the Lord” as referencing Jesus, since the overall context of this section strongly implies such an interpretation.33

Having found both the immediate context of Jude 5, and the larger context of Jude’s epistle as a whole, as well as the style of the writer (his altering of “God” in OT and an extra-Biblical text to kύριοϛ, coupled with his exclusive usage of kύριοϛ for Jesus Christ, for example) consistent with a reading of Ίησου̃ϛ for verse 5, there is good reason to accept Ίησου̃ϛ as the original text.

Conclusion

The mss evidence indicates that either Ίησου̃ϛ or kύριοϛ is original to the text of Jude 5, with Ίησου̃ϛ slightly favored. However, by our analysis, employing common principles of TC, the internal evidence of the mss points rather decisively to Ίησου̃ϛ as the original reading. Taking the immediate and larger context of Jude’s epistle, it’s clear that Jesus is the subject of verse 5; hence, we could conclude that Ίησου̃ϛ is most likely the original reading.

On the other hand, Jude also uses kύριοϛ exclusively for Jesus; in fact, as noted above, in four separate contexts the terms kύριοϛ and Ἰησοῦς Χριστός are used together (vv 4, 17, 21, 25), underscoring this. This means that either Ίησου̃ϛ or kύριοϛ would be appropriate in the context. Moreover, kύριοϛ is employed in two other instances as a stand-alone term for Jesus (v 14 assuredly and v 9 presumably). If we accept our conclusion above that Ίησου̃ϛ is original, this would leave only one instance of Jude’s usage of Ίησου̃ϛ as a stand-alone. While this is certainly possible, as one cannot dogmatically assert that Jude could not have done so, the aforementioned can cast a bit of doubt over just which term Jude placed in the text originally.34 Thus, while we’ve argued here for the originality of Ίησου̃ϛ for Jude 5, it seems that others could argue for kύριοϛ, based on different TC practices,35 and on the presumed difficulty of placing Ίησου̃ϛ in the text,36 as evidenced by the split in the UBS committee above.

However, F. F. Bruce puts everything in proper perspective, so we’ll quote him at some length:

…[S]ome authorities read “the Lord”, others “God” and yet others, giving us no name at all, read “he who saved….”…But the principle that the more difficult reading is to be preferred points to “Jesus” as the original, and indeed the variety of other readings can best be explained as substitutions for “Jesus”…It was Moses who led his people out of Egypt, but Moses did so under superior leadership. It was the Lord who “brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their host”, it was the Lord who “went before them”, and it was by the decree of the Lord that the “evil generation” that came out of Egypt died in the wilderness. While Yahweh stands in the Hebrew text, the Greek version used by Jude, as by other New Testament writers, had Kyrios in its place, and for Greek-speaking Christians to whom Jesus was the kyrios or Lord par excellence it was an easy matter to understand Kyrios in the Greek Old Testament to refer to Him…37

Ίησου̃ϛ IS the Kύριοϛ and the Kύριοϛ IS Ίησου̃ϛ! Also, in the relevant Exodus passages, the original Hebrew alternated between Elohim and YHWH, with the LXX (Septuagint, Greek translation of the OT) alternating between Kύριοϛ and θεὸς θεὸς and Kύριοϛ; therefore, it could well be that Jude used Ίησου̃ϛ in order to alleviate any ambiguity that kύριοϛ may have caused, especially among his Jewish readers and congregants.

In conclusion, had the UBS committee been consistent in employing its own tenets of TC, their “great difficulty in arriving at a decision” would have been alleviated, and Ίησου̃ϛ would have been firmly placed into the text.38

- “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4 / Mark 12:29)

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1 The information here is, as is most of the technical information contained in this article, culled from Philip W. Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2008); Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: United Bible Societies, 1994); B. Aland, K. Aland, J. Karavidopoulos, et. al. eds. The Greek New Testament, 4th rev. ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft (German Bible Society), 2004), hereafter UBS4; and Eberhard and Erwin Nestle Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th rev. ed., B. Aland, K. Aland, J. Karavidopoulos, et. al. eds. (Münster: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft (German Bible Society), 2012), hereafter NA28.
Information of a more general nature relies in part on J. Harold Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, rev. ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995) and idem. The Text of the New Testament: From Manuscript to Modern Edition (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008).
2 This includes the uncials (majuscules) K (018) and L (020), both dated 9th c., mss identified specifically in the UBS4 but not listed in the NA28. Majuscules were eventually superseded by miniscules – scripted, lower-case writing. Majuscules (uncials) are weighted more heavily than miniscules in TC due to their earlier provenance. It’s important to note that about 80% of the Byz text mss are miniscules dated later than the 11th century, of course, well after – over 1000 years after – the initial transmission of the NT documents. This 80% figure is found in Maurice A. Robinson, “Rule 9, Isolated Variants, and the ‘Test Tube’ Nature of NA27/UBS4 Text: A Byzantine-Priority Perspective,” in Translating the New Testament: Text, Translation, Theology, Stanley E. Porter and Mark J. Boda, eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), p 57 n 102.
3 An example of this preference may be found in what seems to be a general rather than specific statement, at least with respect to the Gospels, by Barbara Aland (“The Text of Luke 16” in Translating the New Testament): “…the Byzantine text is…a good old text, but it has a number of bad readings and we have to eliminate them and then the text is a good old text. That means that if the Byzantine text agrees with P75 and Vaticanus, then it’s a trustworthy witness. That’s my position” (p 93). Of course, P75 does not include our selection in Jude, or anything in this epistle, as it contains solely portions of the Gospels.
4 Though one must be careful not to put too much weight on patristic sources, since all extant mss are themselves copies of copies. In addition, we do not know if the patristic writer had an actual NT Greek mss in front of him, or if he was quoting from memory (correctly or not), loosely translating, paraphrasing, etc. Moreover, it’s more probable (as compared to NT scribes) that copyists of patristic exemplars made changes to the documents in Scriptural passages, conforming them to the individual copyist’s perspective of what the NT text should be. In short, until the patristic sources themselves have been submitted to the tenets of TC, they should only be used for NT TC with an appropriate amount of caution. See Greenlee Introduction, pp 46-47; cf. idem. Text of the New Testament, pp 34-35. However, the UBS4 claims to have been careful in this area, including only those fulfilling qualifying criteria: “…The citation must be capable of verification…” and it “must relate clearly to a specific passage in the New Testament…” (p 30*). Cf. pp 30* – 38*.
5 The most notable text critic adhering to this position is Maurice A. Robinson, who would certainly assert that the evidence for ὁ κύριοϛ is stronger. Robinson goes so far as to argue for Byzantine priority, i.e., that the Byz is superior to the Alexandrine, with the Byz more likely closer to the original text. See Robinson, “The Case for Byzantine Priority” in Rethinking New Testament Textual Criticism, David Alan Black, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002), pp 125-139; idem. “Rule 9, Isolated Variants, and the ‘Test Tube’ Nature of NA27/UBS4 Text,” pp 27-61.
6 Metzger, TCGNT, p 657. Parenthetical remark added for clarity. For one example of a position against such conjecturing, specifically addressing Matthew but which can be applied more broadly, see David Alan Black, “Conjectural Emendations in the Gospel of Matthew,” Novum Testamentum XXXI (1989), pp 1-15.
7 Here the article takes on a pronoun function. See Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), pp 231, 233-234. Cf. David Alan Black, It’s Still Greek To Me (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), pp 76-79, esp. 79, item 8; Wallace, GGBTB, pp 211-213.
8 One such example of NT usage of an article with the subject assumed anaphorically (from a previous reference) is in Matthew 24, verses 17 and 18, in which the referent is verse 16’s οἱ ἐν τῇ Ἰουδαίᾳ (those who are in Judea, more literally, the ones in (the) Judea). In addition, all three (vv 16, 17, & 18) are examples of nominalizing prepositional phrases; see Wallace, GGBTB, p 236. Many thanks are due to Jacob Cerone, Dr. David Alan Black’s assistant, for finding this.
9 Ironically, Hort’s conjecture here militates against his own assertion (with Westcott) that the Alexandrian text is the “Neutral text” (a position that is claimed to have been abandoned by modern text critics), given that the article is missing in all the Alexandrian witnesses above.
10 See the following for an example of a ‘split K’ (ms X, aka 033, 10th c.) – this will take a long time (10± minutes) to download, as the file is very large: http://images.csntm.org/Manuscripts/GA_033/GA_033.pdf
Scroll to page 7, to find the English cursive handwriting “Joh. Cp. 1″. To the left of that English is John 1:1 written in majuscule (uncial) – though most of the accompanying text is in miniscule. In this first line (and also the second) of John 1 is “KAI” (and, in this context) with a disconnected “K” (there is a dot just before this split “K”), appearing like “IC” instead. The line reads:
ΕΝΑΡΧΗΗΝΟΛΟΓΟCΚΑΙΟΛΟΓΟCHN
which, separated into words is:
ΕΝ ΑΡΧΗ ΗΝ Ο ΛΟΓΟC ΚΑΙ Ο ΛΟΓΟC HN
Transliterated:
en archē ēn ho logos kai ho logos ēn
Translated:
In (the) beginning was the Word and the Word was
In addition, the second line illustrates examples of nomina sacra for θεὸς: Θ͞N (θεόν, the accusative / direct object case) and Θ͞C (the nominative / subject case).
11 Metzger, TCGNT, p 657
12 Ibid.
13 Ibid, p 14*. It should be noted that in the first edition of TCGNT (London/New York: United Bible Societies, 1971 (corrected ed. 1975)) the D rating is the stronger: “that there is a very high degree of doubt concerning the reading selected for the text” (p xxviii). While this rating system had changed from the first to the second edition, the commentary itself regarding Jude 5 (and others) is identical.
14 Note the θεὸς Χριστός variant above, plus there is one ms which reads κύριος Ἰησοῦς, though this is likely an amalgamation of the two prominent readings.
15 Bauckham (Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter: Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 1983), p 43) opines that a 2nd century scribe could have changed κύριοϛ to Ίησου̃ϛ because of a then-present prevalent Jesus/Joshua typology, with the scribe presumably assuming his exemplar contained a mistake.
16 The term δεσπότηϛ is prefixed by οἰκοϛ (“house”/”dwelling”) here. Early 3rd c. ms p75 reads δεσπότηϛ instead in the Luke passage. See Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, p 39. This variant is not annotated in the UBS4 or the Comfort, but only in the NA28. Matthew 10:25 uses οἰκοδεσπότης similarly, with Jesus applying the term somewhat obliquely to Himself.
17 A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, (rev. and ed. F. W. Danker; Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2000), (3rd ed.), based on W. Bauer’s Griechisch-deutsches Wörterbuch (6th ed.) and on previous English editions by W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. W. Danker, p 220. Commonly known as “BDAG.”
18 Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, p 39.
19 Though Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthian church was specific to the church at Corinth, it seems possible that the letter was circulated; but, even if not, it’s entirely plausible that Paul’s teaching on this matter was known to Jude and his audience. Part of this may hinge on how one views the relationship of Jude to 2 Peter, as Peter makes specific mention of Paul’s letters in 2 Peter 3:15-16, though it’s unclear to which letters (all?) Peter refers. However, accepting that all Scripture is “God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16 – though the specific context here may strictly be OT, certainly this can be applied more broadly to the NT), we cannot discount the Holy Spirit’s role in Jude’s epistle.
F. F. Bruce (The New Testament Development of Old Testament Themes (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2004, © 1968 Paternoster; formerly This Is That), pp 34-36) recognizes Ίησου̃ϛ as being original to Jude 5; yet, while understanding the importance of these verses in 1 Corinthians 10 as applying to Jesus Christ’s preexistence, he does not explicitly relate Jude 5 to the Corinthian passage directly, though this can be inferred from the context.  However, in another work of Bruce (1 and 2 Corinthians: The New Century Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990, © 1971 Marshall, Morgan & Scott), p 91), he comes closer yet, explaining that the Hebrew (not LXX) has YHWH as ‘The Rock,’ with Christ identified as such in 1 Cor 10:4, and “if not indeed with ‘the Lord’ (LXX kyrios) who went before his people, rescued them from their enemies and healed them in the wilderness…” (p 91).
20 Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians: The NIV Application Commentary, Terry Muck, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), pp 191-92. Cf. Gordon D. Fee (The First Epistle to the Corinthians: NICNT, Ned. B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, & idem., gen. eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), pp 443-451.
21 The perfect participle τετηρημένοις (kept) indicates a continuous keeping, being kept. The NIV 1984 interprets this as a dative of agency (by Jesus Christ); however, the NIV 2011 changes it to a dative of advantage (for Jesus Christ, i.e., for the advantage of “those who have been called”), with the dative of agency interpretation relegated to a footnote (along with the possible interpretation as a dative of instrumentality (in)), thereby corresponding to the general consensus among translators/translations; cf. Daniel B. Wallace, GGBTB, pp 144, 165; Peter H. Davids, II Peter and Jude: A Handbook on the Greek Text, (Waco, TX: Baylor Univ. Pr., 2011), pp 1, 2. However, the interpretation as a dative of agency (which is closely related to instrumentality) in v 1 (Wallace recognizes this possibility) seems to correspond better with διὰ (through) in v 25: “to him who is able to keep you…through Jesus Christ our Lord…”
22 Murray J. Harris, Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament: An Essential Reference Resource for Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), p 96. Emphasis added.
23 Ibid, p 97. Bauckham (Jude, 2 Peter, pp 123-124) is more tentative, viewing the context, as with doxologies in general, as possibly, if not likely, “deliberately ambiguous” in this regard.
24 The Pseudepigrapha is a collection of individual works circa 2nd century BC to 2nd century AD, with each falsely attributed to various important Biblical figures. The work 1 Enoch is also known as “the Book of Enoch,” but there are two other pseudepigraphical works attributed to Enoch, hence, they are differentiated thusly: 1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, and 3 Enoch. 1 Enoch is the one with which most are familiar, and the one Jude is referencing here.
25 See Bauckham (Jude, 2 Peter), p 94. Verification of the Greek text (θεὸς as opposed to κύριος) for 1 Enoch sourced from Accordance software (Version 5.2), Pseudepigrapha Tagged: The Greek Pseudepigrapha (PSEUD-T), © 2013 by OakTree Software, Inc. (Electronic text entered by Craig A. Evans, Acadia Divinity College, Wolfville, Nova Scotia CANADA; Morphologically tagged by Rex A. Koivisto, Multnomah University, Portland, Oregon USA with the assistance of Marco V. Fabbri, Pontificia Università della S. Croce, Rome, Italy (Sibyllines tagged by Marco V. Fabbri; 3 and 4 Maccabees entered and tagged by Rex A. Koivisto).
26 Bauckham (Jude, 2 Peter) notes that this is “probably…a Christological interpretation” (p 94).
27 Credit for this insight must be given to Risto Saarinen, The Pastoral Epistles with Philemon & Jude (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos/Baker, 2008), p 218. Bauckham (Jude, 2 Peter) is more tentative here noting that the evidence “may not be sufficient” (p 49).
28 See Bauckham (Jude, 2 Peter), pp 94, 96-97.
29 Cf. ibid, pp 3-8.
30 Bauckham (Jude, 2 Peter) agrees that the reference is to Jesus Christ, but only in a typological sense, as in the Lord Jesus will be the future Judge of the apostates (p 49). Therefore, his opinion is that the text should be κύριος instead because “it is not likely that Jude would have used Ίησου̃ϛ of the preexistent Christ” because “…other NT examples…have the Incarnation directly in view” (p 43); yet Bauckham cites only strictly incarnational Scriptures which specify Ίησου̃ϛ (2 Cor 8:9; Philippians 2:5-6) as opposed to Χριστός, thereby omitting 1 Cor 10:4. Reading between the lines, it seems Bauckham may be less reluctant if the choices were between Χριστός and kύριοϛ instead. However, see F. F. Bruce, New Testament Development, pp 35-36. Also see Murray J. Harris’ exegesis and exposition of the doxology above for an understanding of Jesus Christ as preexistent, as well as our mediator during the entire temporal realm. Though see also note 23 above.
31 Michael Green (2 Peter & Jude (Tyndale New Testament Commentary, gen. ed. Leon Morris: Downers Grove, IL: IVP Press, 1987), pp 57, 183-184) is sure of the reference, noting it is “openly asserted by Origen, Clement and Didymus” (p 57). However, there are no extant mss of the text, though parts may exist as fragments. Some think this text was conflated or made into a recension with the pseudepigraphical Testament of Moses (see Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, pp 7, 59-64). Cf. J. Priest “Testament of Moses,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature & Testaments (ed. James H. Charlesworth, New York: Anchor Bible/Doubleday, 1983), pp 924-925. Also, of great assistance is Steve Delamarter A Scripture Index to Charlesworth’s The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (New York: Sheffield, 2002), p 47. Delamarter’s work is a cross-reference for all quotes and allusions from the works contained in Charlesworth’s two-volume set to Biblical texts.
32 It is reasonable to assume that the original author of the extra-biblical work The Assumption of Moses had Elohim or YHWH in mind, just as in I Enoch. The words “The Lord rebuke you!” are then apparently appropriated from Zechariah 3:2 in The Assumption of Moses, with Jude, in turn, re-appropriating them in yet another way. However, it must be understood that Jude’s other purpose here, which could well be his main purpose (vv 8-9), is to illustrate that even Michael appealed to the higher authority of the Lord, as opposed to the apostates who “slander celestial beings” on their own authority.
33 Saarinen (Pastoral Epistles, p 215) seems to affirm this, but the context is ambiguous; Bauckham (Jude, 2 Peter) is clearer, stating “it is probable that Jude interpreted the term as a reference to Jesus…” (pp 62, cf. 49).
34 There is also the matter of Hort’s conjecture that the original text merely contained the article, ὁ, with neither Ίησου̃ϛ nor kύριοϛ following, with the subject either substantivized (“He who redeemed”), or assumed from earlier usage (see notes 7 and 8 above). However, this is doubtful, as this would allow too much ambiguity (was it YHWH from Exodus, or is the referent from verse 4?). This is especially so given that Jude purposely changed the OT and an extra-Biblical reference of God to kύριοϛ or Ίησου̃ϛ instead. However, that aside, my personal position is that such conjecturing as Hort’s, being arguments from silence, should never be undertaken, for it can lead to a lack of confidence in any and all Scripture. In TC we must always take the extant evidence and work from there.
35 See H. A. G. Houghton, preprint version of “Recent Developments in New Testament Textual Criticism” (Early Christianity 2.2 (2011)), pp 1-10. There are a number of different methods mentioned including the “Coherence Based Genealogical Method (CBGM).” Tommy Wasserman’s monograph on Jude is noted (The Epistle of Jude: Its Text and Transmission (ConBNT 43: Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 2006) which is a continuous text of all the known variants in Jude’s epistle, providing an “interesting comparison with the ECM (Editio Critica Maior),” with the ECM purporting to contain a “fuller critical apparatus than any previous editions” (p 7).
36 However, see notes 21, 22, and 29 above and the associated texts.
37 F. F. Bruce, New Testament Development, pp 35-36. Italics in original, bold added for emphasis.
38 While the NA27 had text identical with the UBS4 (together known as “NU” for shorthand), the NA28 includes the reading of Ίησου̃ϛ, while the UBS4 contains kύριοϛ. It seems likely that the forthcoming UBS5 will conform to the NA28, to include amending this particular variant.

Creating Straw Men from Cognitive Dissonance

This article will address two separate yet sometimes related phenomena witnessed in various online exchanges (and elsewhere), namely the straw man fallacy and cognitive dissonance.  I’ll explain them one at a time, and then I shall illustrate how the two are at times combined.

Straw Man Fallacy

A straw man fallacy arises out of a presupposition, a misunderstanding, and/or an intentional mischaracterization, leading to a distortion of another person’s actual viewpoint or proposition.  There are four parts, though sometimes 2, 3 and/or 4 may be grouped together in the conversational exchange:

1)  Person A holds to or voices position or proposition X

2)  Person B distorts A’s stance (intentional or not) as Y instead

3)  Person B argues against distorted position Y

4)  Therefore, B concludes that A’s position X must be flawed – a fallacy

Person B’s argument is fallacious because person B is attacking the wrong position (Y instead of X).  Person B never really engaged with person A’s actual position.  This would be akin to burning a competitor’s mascot in effigy thinking that you actually destroyed the competition in reality.

Here’s an example:

Weather permitting, George golfs with his buddies about two to four times a month.  Jane, his wife, suggests George cut his golf outings down to one or two a month as a cost-cutting measure.  In response, George says angrily, “You just don’t like me going out with the guys!”

Jane is person A with proposition X, exemplifying part 1 above.  George is person B, with his response illustrating position Y, a distorted version of X (Jane’s proposition), and exemplifying parts 2 – 4 in his one-sentence reply (Y is Jane’s supposed ‘real’ position, therefore X=Y).  Observe that Jane has said nothing about whether she likes or dislikes George going out with the guys.  Jane’s suggestion is merely about reducing George’s golf outings in order to cut expenses.  For George to claim that Jane is opposed to him going out with the guys is presumptuous, resulting in his new, distorted position Y.

The words “never”, “none”, “always”, “forever”, “every”, and “all” are many times indicative of a straw man.  Here’s one from this site:

Bill and Jill are arguing about cleaning out their closets:

Jill (A): “We should clean out the closets. They are getting a bit messy.” (X1)

Bill (B): “We just went through those closets last year. Do we have to clean them out every day?” (Y1, also B’s X2)

Jill: “I never said anything about cleaning them out every day. You just want to keep all your junk forever, which is just ridiculous.” (Y2)

Bill’s response to Jill is an obvious mischaracterization (“every day”) of Jill’s initial suggestion; and Jill’s response to Bill is just as distorted (“You just want to keep your junk forever…”).  Jill’s calling Bill’s stuff “junk” is an overt exaggeration.  This exchange illustrates how a straw man can degenerate into even more distortions, and is an impediment to effective discourse.

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance, which could be called “thought disharmony”, is that uncomfortable feeling when holding two contradictory thoughts simultaneously.  This comes about when something you’ve known to be true is contradicted, or seemingly contradicted.  Or, when something you thought to be true is contradicted.  As rational humans we instinctively seek to reduce such dissonance to re-achieve consonance; that is, we find a way to alleviate the contradiction.

It could occur in something like the following:

Fred, a man you’ve known for a long time and had been a friend of the family for the past dozen years or so is one of the most honest persons you’ve ever encountered.  He has demonstrated both his love for others and his integrity on many occasions.  Yet Fred has very recently been arrested for a bank robbery, with seemingly irrefutably strong corroborating evidence – to include eyewitness testimony from Ricky and Lucy, who, though a bit eccentric, you know and trust.  It’s also discovered that Fred has racked up large gambling debts and the robbery was apparently done in an attempt to pay these off.

You are now encountering cognitive dissonance.  You may think to yourself, “I knew there was something about Fred, but I couldn’t put my finger on it”, thus giving yourself an ‘out’ for not feeling totally betrayed and/or for thinking of yourself as a bad judge of character.  You ARE a good judge of character, aren’t you?  You may ask yourself, “Why did I not see this sooner?”  You tentatively conclude, “Fred was just really good about hiding this, he’s sociopathic!”

Alternatively, you could choose to disbelieve the evidence, including the eyewitnesses.  “There’s some sort of conspiracy against Fred”, you think.  “I’ve never been too sure about Ricky and Lucy, ya know, maybe they’re in on it; that Lucy especially is rather odd at times.”  Or, you could seek to minimize Fred’s actions, “He probably gambled to help someone else out of financial trouble and was somehow forced into the robbery by thugs trying to collect his gambling debts.”

The key thing to understand is that we all encounter cognitive dissonance at times in our lives, and that we all will use some sort of measure, or measures, to come to consonance again.  We want thought harmony, not disharmony.  We will also avoid situations, events, or information that could increase the dissonance.

From this link: There are three key strategies to reduce or minimize cognitive dissonance:

  • Focus on more supportive beliefs that outweigh the dissonant belief or behavior
  • Reduce the importance of the conflicting belief
  • Change the conflicting belief so that it is consistent with other beliefs or behaviors

Here’s another example from the above link:

The person who continues to smoke, knowing that it is bad for his health, may also feel (a) he enjoys smoking so much it is worth it; (b) the chances of his health suffering are not as serious as some would make out; (c) he can’t always avoid every possible dangerous contingency and still live; and (d) perhaps even if he stopped smoking he would put on weight which is equally bad for his health. So, continuing to smoke is, after all, consistent with his ideas about smoking. (Leon Festinger A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson, 1957)

Creating Straw Men Fallacies from Cognitive Dissonance

Now we’ll illustrate how these two phenomena can appear together.  If a person encounters cognitive dissonance centering on a statement about a person or subject important to them (X), they may distort, intentionally or not, the statement put forth about this person or subject, thus creating a straw man (Y).  Then, the straw man (Y) is attacked, resulting in the straw man fallacy (X=Y, therefore X is false).  Thus, this straw man fallacy is actually the result of an attempt to alleviate initial cognitive dissonance.  In such a case, the straw man fallacy is the means by which the individual achieves consonance, or thought harmony, once again.

Using the quote above about the smoker, with X = smoking is bad for your health: The smoker reduces his dissonance by minimizing the effects of smoking (Y) and/or making cigarette smoking the equal of other ‘evils’ he’ll likely encounter (Y), so he might as well just continue smoking (X=Y).  Rather than quitting smoking he’s altered his thinking, making the habit of smoking “consistent with his ideas of smoking”.  Thus he’s achieved consonance.

Here’s another example:

N. U. Cantu (any resemblance to an individual about whom I’ve previously written on CrossWise is purely intentional) is a very charismatic individual – charismatic in the sense of friendly, likeable.  Cantu teaches that the earthly Jesus was a mere man devoid of divinity, performing all his miraculous wonders after receiving the “Christ anointing” immediately following His baptism by John.  In addition, this “Christ anointing” is what provided Jesus the “title” of Christ, for without this “Christ anointing” there could be no title.  Moreover, Jesus is our model in this regard, according to N. U. Cantu; so, Jesus did it, and you can too!  All you need is this same “Christ anointing”.  In fact, with this “Christ anointing” you’ll do even greater miracles than Jesus!

This is position X, put forth by person A.

An N. U. Cantu admirer, person B, reads position X, experiencing cognitive dissonance.  Cantu really seems like a nice, sincere guy, and B is absolutely ‘SURE’ the case (X) is considerably overstated.  Yet B never actually investigates the content of X to alleviate his dissonance. Instead, B emotionally attacks person A, stating, “You obviously hate Cantu” (position Y, a distortion of X), thus creating a straw man.  B continues, “You obviously have an axe to grind” (position Y, a distortion of X).  The implied conclusion of B is that because of presumed prejudice (Y) on the part of A, the entire statement (X) is false (because X=Y), thus illustrating a straw man fallacy.  Person B has achieved consonance, by eliminating his dissonance through erecting a straw man fallacy.  Person B now has thought harmony once again.

To alleviate any further dissonance, B may stop reading any other material put forth by A.  This accounts for those “hit and run” comments on blogs.

Panentheism and the Trinity

Panentheism is an English word derived from Greek roots: pan = “all”, en = “in”, the, from theos = “God”.  This is in distinction from pantheism, meaning “all God”, or “all is God”.  Before more fully defining panentheism, we’ll briefly review the Christian Trinity in order to compare and contrast.

The Trinity from an Historically Orthodox Christian Perspective

The Christian God, known as the Trinity, is a tri-unity consisting of God the Father, God the Son (Christ, the Word), and God the Holy Spirit. Each Member of the Trinity is co-essential (united in essence/being) and co-equal with the others.  God is spirit, i.e., incorporeal, having no physical body.  There are a number of divine attributes associated with the Godhead, including omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence.  Christian philosopher Thomas V. Morris explains the interrelationship between these three attributes with respect to His creation:

Perhaps the best understanding of the attribute of omnipresence is that of its being the property of being present everywhere in virtue of knowledge of [omniscience] and power over [omnipotence] any and every spatially located object [creation].1

God is immanent, i.e., present in/among His creation (as opposed to within, immersed inside its substance, though indwelling true Christians, of course), by virtue of His omnipresence.  He is infinitely aware of even the tiniest details concerning the universe – which the Godhead created out of nothing (ex nihilo) – and, due to the Word’s continuous sustaining activity holding it together (Col 1:17; Heb 1:3), “He keeps the cosmos from becoming a chaos,”2 to borrow H.C.G. Moule’s memorable phrase.

The ultimate display of God’s immanence is when the Son humbled Himself by taking on human form in the Person of Jesus Christ (Immanuel – God with us), retaining full divinity in becoming fully human, and then dying in our place, in His plan of redemption.  What a God we serve!

Yet, God is also transcendent, wholly outside His creation, as the Trinity is not affected in any way by the cosmos (creation).  In no way does it act upon Him.  God is self-existent, self-sufficient, immutable (unchanging), and eternal, existing outside time, yet acting within it (immanence).  An inherent aspect of creation, time is His own construct.  As such, the Godhead Lord’s over it, thereby fulfilling time, according to His purposes.  God has been present and active throughout the entire history of humanity, is currently active in human affairs, and will continue to be actively governing humanity, though allowing free will.

While imprisoned by the Nazis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer proposed a different understanding of transcendence. He contended that Jesus’ “being for others” is the true meaning of transcendence, suggesting that we not think of immanence and transcendence as opposites.3  Thus, in Jesus’ dying on the Cross for the sins of mankind – because God “so loved the world”, thereby providing eternal life for those who believe in Him – the ultimate display of God’s immanence climaxes in the supreme act of ‘transcendence’.

Recognizing the beautiful, poetic force of Bonhoeffer’s words, yet still we understand that God truly is transcendent – so wholly other than His creation – yet God is also immanent, fully active in/among His creation. He is the Potter; we are the clay.

The Christian Trinity is a divine mystery.  Attempts to fully explain the mystery of God’s three-in-one-ness can lead to heretical conclusions such as tritheism (three Gods), modalism (one God in three different modes, one at a time), or other distortions.4

Panentheism Defined in ‘Christian Esotericism’

While there are a number of different views of panentheism in the various and varying religious systems in the world, there are some consistencies in the doctrine with respect to how it relates to the Christian Trinity and Jesus Christ in esoteric literature.  In Richard Smoley’s book Inner Christianity: A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition is a general view of the doctrine of panentheism as it pertains to ‘Christian esotericism’:

…The Father is the ineffable, transcendent aspect of God; the Son is God’s immanent aspect. This divine spark or Logos is the first sounding-forth of existence from the depths of infinity: “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:3-4). [Jesus] Christ is the embodiment of this immanent aspect of God.

So are we. “Without him was not any thing made that was made.” Nothing comes into existence unless this divine spark of consciousness, no matter how faint or dim, lies at its center. This was true of Jesus, it is true of me, and it is true of you…We may not be as exalted as Christ…But at the core we are the same.5

This is obviously a purposeful distortion of the true Christian Trinity, with its use of similar terminology.  Note the two separate aspects of ‘God’: the transcendent, which is the ineffable (inexpressible) “Father”, and the immanent (within all creation) aspect, which is the “Son”.  While the way in which this immanence is described is not at all congruent with the Christian Trinity, importantly, transcendence is described in such a manner that it more closely approximates the true Trinity (though see below), marking this as one of the keys in making the doctrine appear ‘Christian’.  This “immanence” is alternatively called divine seed, divine spark, divine (spark of) light, logos, or Christ.  So, the Son/Christ is a divine entity, and this divine entity is diffused throughout creation as a seed / spark / light.

This view of panentheism is such that all is in God (the transcendent Father is wholly outside, enveloping all of creation), and God is in all (the Son/Christ is immersed within all of creation), yet God is not present among creation.6 

In the quote above, observe that, by implication, the two separate aspects are indeed separate.  The Father is not immanent, and the Son is not transcendent.  This indicates that the Father is not omnipresent, as he is not present at all in creation.  On the other hand, the Son is divided up within creation, with each spark, seed, etc. separated from all other sparks or seeds by its outer matter (body, sheath), making omnipresence a bit murky at best, as the seeds / sparks seem individually disunified, though all parts of a whole; however, without an explicit claim of the Son being also among creation, omnipresence is implicitly denied.

It appears as if the Father has absolutely no access to and no power over creation, while the Son is confined within creation, with neither Father nor Son seemingly possessing the ability to interact with the other.  But not to worry, the “Holy Spirit”, a “divine principle”, acts as an intermediary between the two:

How do these two, the Father and the Son, interact with each other?  What enables them to have any connection at all, while still in some way remaining distinct?  There is…a principle that makes this interaction possible.  It is called the Comforter, or the Holy Spirit.

Here, in essence, is the Christian Trinity…Between them [Father and Son] is the Holy Spirit, the divine principle of relatedness, which accomplishes perhaps the most astonishing of all miracles: uniting two separate entities while still allowing them to be separate.7

This implies that the “Holy Spirit” is omnipresent.  However, besides the problems with this doctrine already noted above, from an historically orthodox Christian perspective, this devolves into tritheism (three gods) as opposed to a Trinity, despite its claim of Trinitarianism – that is, assuming that one can even term a “divine principle” a god. 

In addition, notice in the first Smoley quote above that Jesus Himself is called Christ (“Christ is the embodiment of this immanent aspect of God”), rather than merely, for example, Jesus of Nazareth, as some cults claim.  Smoley quotes from A Course in Miracles to describe Him:

The name of Jesus is the name of the one who was a man but saw the face of Christ in all his brothers and remembered God.  So he became identified with Christ, a man no longer, but at one with God.8

This statement identifies this doctrine as explicitly antichrist per the Apostle John’s words in his first epistle (1 John 2:22, 4:1-3), as it separates Christ from Jesus.  Smoley  then goes on to quote the “Jesus” of the Course as saying all can do what He did, describing Him as an exemplar, making the impossible (the distance is too great between us and the Father) into possibility.9  By this he means that the man Jesus became “at one” with God, thereby bridging the gap and becoming an example for others, claiming that all are Christs, at least potentially.10

Of course, according to Christian orthodoxy, Jesus Christ, as the God-man (fully God and fully man), is the intermediary between mankind and God through His redemptive work on the Cross.  One’s acceptance of Jesus Christ as our sin substitute, thereby reconciling the individual back to God through His remission of our sins, is the only way to salvation.  However, Smoley depicts Jesus as merely a man who subsequently attained divine status, becoming a model for others to follow to actualize their own ‘latent divinity’, becoming gods.

Far too many (laypersons and theologians alike) make statements to the effect that Jesus was reliant upon God during His earthly ministry, stressing His humanity at the expense of His Deity.  We must always recognize that Jesus Christ was/is God Himself, the second ‘Person’ of the Trinity, as God in the flesh.  Of course, there are times in Scripture in which Jesus’ humanity is emphasized (growing tired, hungry, etc.), perhaps the most striking example of which is when He is on the Cross crying out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  Yet these must be balanced out by those occasions Jesus declares His own Deity (“I am” – John 8:58; “I and the Father are one” – John 10:30, John 14:9, etc.). To be clear, as the Incarnate God-man, Immanuel (God with us), Jesus Christ submitted, in obedience, to the Father; however, as the second Member of the Trinity, Jesus Christ was/is co-equal with the Father (and the Holy Spirit), and in no way subordinate.  Such is the mystery of the Incarnation!

Now that we have a general view of panentheism in ‘Christian esotericism’ (though also looking at one particular part of A Course in Miracles in the process), we’ll take a look at one specific view.  The false trinity in Theosophy will be discussed – the school of esotericism founded by Madame Blavatsky in 1875 and perhaps better known as associated with Alice A. Bailey in the twentieth century, forming the basis of much of the New Age / New Spirituality of today.

The Panentheistic Trinity in Theosophy

Before proceeding, the goal of this section is not to educate the reader on a specific occult teaching as an end in itself.  The intent is to make the reader aware of how the Christian Trinity is perverted such that a Christian could be fooled into thinking another individual is a true Christian when similar terminology and concepts are used, or worse, the Christian could be duped into following this dangerous doctrine.

Without getting bogged down into too much detail regarding the rather complicated Theosophical schema, illustrated graphically in one of Bailey’s books,11 an attempt at explaining and simplifying it will be made, though the following may not be absolutely accurate due to the convoluted nature of it.

There are two separate “trinities”: the “Solar Logos” (The Solar Trinity or Logoi [plural of Logos]) and “Sanat Kumara”.  The Solar Logos is made up of “the Father”, “the Son”, and “the Holy Spirit”.  The Father constitutes the transcendent aspect, the “Absolute Reality”, also referred to as the ONE ABOUT WHOM NAUGHT MAY BE SAID – the all is in ‘God’ aspect.12  The Son is “Life, the Spirit of the Universe”, constituting the immanent aspect, the ‘god’ immersed within creation – the ‘God’ is in all aspect.  The Holy Spirit is “Cosmic Ideation, the Universal World-Soul”,13 and “Creative Wisdom”,14 which makes the Holy Spirit the communicator, the one bringing revelation, and, in effect, seemingly omnipresent, though this is not explicit.

The “Planetary Hierarchy” is headed by Sanat Kumara, the Lord of the World, aka Ancient of Days, the One Initiator,15 the Hierophant16 – clearly all names for Satan (taking into account their respective contexts in Theosophic literature), though some were reappropriated from Scripture.  Sanat Kumara (the name is taken from ancient Hindu philosophy) fashions himself as a trinity, with three separate “Kumaras” emanating from him (the “Buddhas of Activity”), one of which is the Bodhisattva, aka the Christ (not Jesus), the World Teacher.17  But, there are also lesser ‘deities’ in the Planetary Hierarchy, many of whom were, according to this doctrine, former humans who evolved into godhood (“Ascended Masters”), which thereby reduces Theosophy to polytheism (many gods).

Yet in analyzing this schema it becomes obvious that Satan is cleverly presenting himself as both Sanat Kumara and the Solar Logos, with the Solar Trinity/Logos merely a ruse in order to purposely approximate, yet distort the Christian Trinity.18  Evidence of this is found in that the “Lord of the World” is also called, “the God in whom we live and move and have our being.”19  Further support of this collapsing of the two trinities into one is found in a work by H. P. Blavatsky in which the “Serpent” in the Garden of Eden is equated to the “Lord God”,20 and later in this same book, Logos is termed “WISDOM”, which is then equated to both Satan and Lucifer.21

By their functions in portions of the texts, both the transcendent and immanent aspects overlap somewhat, such that when taken together these resemble the Christian Trinity in certain ways, though clearly the graphic indicates something entirely different.  In other words, though the illustration pictures a totally different ‘god’ (or ‘gods’), when described elsewhere in sections of the texts apart from the graphic, one could understand it as not inconsistent with the Christian Trinity with the overlapping functions and the similar terminology.  Though no Christian would likely be fooled into thinking any of the Theosophic texts were remotely Christian when read in complete context (if one doesn’t get lost in the confusing nature of it), the stated goal is to subvert Christianity from the inside by readapting this material into Christian contexts,22 as Bailey remarked in another work, “Christianity will not be superseded.  It will be transcended, its work of preparation being triumphantly accomplished….”23  This demonic threat should not be taken lightly.

Like second century Gnosticism, there is a Dualism, a dichotomy between spirit and matter (creation).  Matter is the “not-self”, as opposed to the soul/spirit, which is the “self”.  However, this does not mean that matter has no function.  It’s not quite the ‘evil’ of second century Gnosticism, for “matter, being inspired by spirit, conforms”,24 providing the means (the vehicle) by which spirit can evolve:

…The development of spirit can be only expressed as yet in terms of the evolution of matter, and only through the adequacy of the vehicle, and through the suitability of the sheath, the body or form, can the point of spiritual development reached in any way be appraised…25

In other words, the outer body will improve concurrent with spiritual progression, or so it’s claimed.  The human is made up of soul/spirit, mind and body.  However, once “perfected consciousness”26 is attained, the body is destroyed, annihilated27 marking the “escape of Spirit, plus mind, to its cosmic centre”28 – the cosmic center being the transcendent aspect of this version of panentheism.  So the formerly ‘trapped’ (inside the “not self”) essence of the particular individual (the “self”), as part of the immanent aspect, is now united to the ONE ABOUT WHOM NAUGHT MAY BE SAID, the transcendent aspect.29

Spiritual progression is  accomplished through meditation,30 in other words, contemplative or centering prayer.31  The method is described as emptying one’s mind, yet controlling thought, requiring full concentration:

The true meditation is something that requires the most intense application of the mind, the utmost control of thought, and an attitude which is neither negative nor positive, but an equal balance between the two.  In the Eastern Scriptures the man who is attempting meditation and achieving results, is described as follows… ‘The Maha Yogi, the great ascetic, in whom is centred the highest perfection of austere penance and abstract meditation, by which the most unlimited powers are attained, marvels and miracles are worked, the highest spiritual knowledge is acquired, and union with the great Spirit of the universe is eventually attained.32

When one reaches “perfected consciousness” through meditation, one has achieved “union with the great Spirit of the universe”.  Along the way, as one ‘grows spiritually’, one will receive supernatural powers to include the ability to work miracles, or so goes the claim.  The exact method of approach to meditation is left to the individual:

True meditation (of which the preliminary stages are concentration upon and application to any particular line of thought) will differ for different people and different types.  The religious man, the mystic, will centre his attention upon the life within the form, upon God, upon Christ, or upon that which embodies for him the idealWe need to find our own method of approach to that which lies within, and to study for ourselves this question of meditation.33

Ultimately, the panentheistic god (Satan) of Theosophy is dependent upon mankind, for “humanity itself is the key to all evolutionary processes and to all understanding of the divine Plan, expressing in time and space the divine Purpose.”34  This “divine Plan”, aka “divine Purpose” is anything but divine!  “The Plan” includes receiving extra-biblical revelation from “Masters”, former humans (or so it’s claimed) who have attained godhood.  And this extra-biblical revelation resulting from meditation (centering prayer, contemplative prayer, “soaking”), in turn, brings one into union with the divine, meaning the attainment of self-divinity.  In reality, this leads to bondage or outright possession.35

And last, but certainly not least, as earlier hinted, Jesus is depicted as merely a man, though a very good man.  Because Jesus was deemed worthy, He had the Christ spirit (part of the “trinity” of Sanat Kumara) descend upon Him, thereby manifesting the Theosophical Christ, eventually attaining His own divinity (becoming “Master Jesus”), and providing a model for the rest of humanity to follow.  Of course, as noted earlier, this is antichrist doctrine.

Is Your Teacher or Church Promoting Panentheism?

Armed with the above information, we can determine if our favorite teachers, including those at the church we attend, are promoting panentheism, rather than a Christian orthodox understanding of the Trinity.  Answering any of the following questions (not an exhaustive list) in the affirmative is not absolute proof the doctrine is being taught, but at the least should provide food for thought, and, hopefully, a desire to seek more information:

1)      Is there an emphasis on “going inside yourself”, centering prayer (aka contemplative prayer), “soaking”, seeking the “manifest presence of God”, etc.?

2)      Is Jesus Christ diminished in some way, i.e., is Jesus described as being somehow less than fully God.  Is he humanized at the expense of His Deity?  Is it claimed that He was totally reliant upon the Spirit (or God) for all supernatural workings?

3)      Is Jesus described in an overly personal manner, such that He’s discussed as one would a family  member rather than One Who is so far above us, worthy of our worship, our Savior and Lord?

4)      Is there a focus on receiving extra-biblical revelation for human direction?  Is this revelation superior to Scripture?  Is this revelation integral to ‘spiritual growth’?

5)      Is God presented as One who is dependent upon humanity, as practically helpless in creation without our assistance?  Is mankind depicted as integral to God’s plans, such that our importance is overemphasized?  Is humanity spoken of in equivalent, or near-equivalent terms as the Godhead?

The panentheistic trinity in ‘Christian esotericism’ is certainly quite different from the Christian Trinity; however, there are enough similarities that the unsuspecting seeker or Christian may not notice a difference at first, or even at all.  This potential is especially possible with the increasing Biblical illiteracy rampant in, and quite frankly, promoted by some churches.  Without at least somewhat of an understanding of the Christian Trinity, the possibility of individuals falling for a false view of the Trinity – and potentially led astray – is a real threat indeed.

 

1 Thomas V. Morris The Logic of God Incarnate, 1986, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY & London, UK, p 91.  Bracketed comments added.
2 H.C.G. Moule Colossians Studies, 1898, Doran, London, p 78, as cited in David E. Garland (Terry Muck, Gen. Ed.) Colossians and Philemon: The NIV Application Commentary, 1998, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, p 89.
3 Bonhoeffer quote and ideology from Widerstand und Ergebung: Briefe und Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft, new ed., Ed. Eberhard Bethge, 1977, Chr. Kaiser, Munich, translated by John F. Hoffmeyer “Christology and Diakonia” in Andreas Schuele and Gunter Thomas, Eds., Who is Jesus Christ for us Today?, 2009, Westminster John Knox, Louisville, KY, p 161
4 See Alister McGrath Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth. © 2009, HarperOne, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY, pp 30-31.
5 Richard Smoley Inner Christianity: A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition, 2002, Shambhala, Boston, MA, pp 134-135; all emphasis added.   Cf. p 103: “…the immanent aspect of God [is] the part of the divine nature that is active and present in the world…But there is something beyond the Word.  It is the silent vastness out of which everything, even the Word arises.  It neither exists nor does not exist…It is the transcendent aspect of God.  Meister Eckhart spoke of it as the ‘Godhead’; the Kabbalists call it the Ain Sof (which is Hebrew for the ‘infinite’) or the ‘Ancient of Days.’  In esoteric Christianity it is the Father.”  This seems to imply that “the Father” is superior to all else (see note 25 below).
6 Some panentheistic systems seem to imply that the immanent aspect and the matter surrounding it (body, shell) are ontologically equivalent (or almost equivalent), which would amount to pantheism (all is god); however, this immanent aspect is also usually viewed as inferior to the transcendent (see note 5 above), resulting in the conclusion that the immanent ‘god’ has lower status than the transcendent ‘god’, thus devolving into ditheism (two gods), or even polytheism (many gods), depending on the specifics.
7 Smoley Inner Christianity, pp 103-104; emphasis added.
8 Quoted in Smoley Inner Christianity, p 135; from  Helen Schucman A Course in Miracles: Combined Volume, 1992 (2nd ed), Foundation for Inner Peace, Glen Ellen, CA, Teachers Manual, p 87; italics in original, other emphasis added.
9 Smoley Inner Christianity, p 135
10 Smoley Inner Christianity, pp 135-136
11 Alice A. Bailey Initiation, Human and Solar, © 1951 Lucis, NY, (4th paperback ed, 1980), Fort Orange Press, Albany, NY, pp 48-49
12There is one Boundless Immutable Principle; one Absolute Reality which antecedes all manifested conditioned Being.  It is beyond the range and reach of any human thought or expression. The manifested Universe is contained within this Absolute Reality and is a conditioned symbol of it” [Alice A. Bailey A Treatise on Cosmic Fire, © 1951 Lucis Trust (1925, 4th ed 1951), Lucis Publishing Company, George S. Ferguson, Philadelphia, PA, p 3; italics in original, other emphasis added].  The Son and Holy Spirit also appear to be a part of the “Absolute Reality”, thus overlapping roles, as described below.  Cf. Bailey Initiation, pp 19, 150, 162; Bailey Cosmic Fire, pp  148-149, 292, 511, 1161, 1230, 1242.
13 Bailey Cosmic Fire, p 3
14 Bailey Cosmic Fire, p 94
15 Bailey Initiation, pp 28-29, 48-49
16 Bailey Initiation, p 161.  Here “the Hierophant” is equated with “the Lord of the World”.
17 Bailey Initiation, pp 48-49.  In ancient Hindu philosophy, in the Chandogya Upanishad, is one “Sanatkumara”. Much of Theosophy is appropriated from Hinduism.
18 The way in which the graph depicts “Sanat Kumara”, it is clear that these “Three Kumaras” correspond to the same identical three separate “Aspects” of each member of the “Solar Trinity”, thus amounting to the two “trinities” collapsing into one, though the intent is seemingly to make it appear as though one is subordinate to the other.  We must not be unaware of Satan’s schemes.
19 Alice A. Bailey The Externalisation of the Hierarchy, © 1957 Lucis, NY, 6th printing 1981, Fort Orange Press, Albany, NY, p 551
20 Helena P. Blavatsky The Secret Doctrine, Vol II: Anthropogenesis, 1888 (1977 Facsimile edition), Theosophical Publishing/University Press, Pasadena, CA, p 215
21 Blavatsky Secret Doctrine II, p 230; cf. pp 231, 233-237
22 “ …[T]he church movement, like all else, is but a temporary expedient and serves but as a transient resting place for the evolving lifeEventually, there will appear the Church Universal, and its definite outlines will appear towards the close of this [20th] century…This Church will be nurtured into activity by the Christ [ED: the false Christ] and His disciples when the outpouring of the Christ principle [ED: in a “mass incarnation”], the true second Coming, has been accomplished…
“The Christian church in its many branches can serve as a St. John the Baptist, as a voice crying in the wilderness, and as a nucleus through which world illumination may be accomplishedThe church must show a wide tolerance…The church as a teaching factor should take the great basic doctrines and (shattering the old forms in which they are expressed and held) show their true and inner spiritual significance [ED: occult/esoteric meaning]The prime work of the church is to teach, and teach ceaselessly, preserving the outer appearance in order to reach the many who are accustomed to church usages.  Teachers must be trained; Bible knowledge must be spread; the sacraments must be mystically interpreted, and the power of the church to heal must be demonstrated [Bailey Externalisation, pp 510-511; emphasis added].
23 Alice A. Bailey From Bethlehem to Calvary: The Initiations of Jesus, © 1937 by Alice A. Bailey, renewed 1957 by Foster Bailey; Lucis Trust, 4th paperback ed., 1989; Fort Orange Press, Albany, NY, p 20.  Emphasis added.
24 Bailey Cosmic Fire, p 148
25 Bailey Cosmic Fire, pp 49-50.  Here is where one can construe a quasi-pantheistic element in the “immanent” aspect; though, as noted below (note 27), matter is eventually destroyed.  Moreover, as noted earlier, it’s also implied that “the Father” is superior to “the Son”, thus reducing the immanent aspect to inferior in status as compared to the transcendent.
26 Bailey Cosmic Fire, p 51
27 Bailey Cosmic Fire, pp 51-52.  “…[T]he first Logos [ED: "the Father"] is called Destroyer, because He is abstraction, if viewed from below upwards [ED: from the point of view of creation / the immanent aspect].  His work is the synthesis of Spirit with Spirit, their eventual abstraction from matter, and their unification with their cosmic source.  Hence also He is the one who brings about pralaya [ED: death; cf. p 128] or the disintegration of form, – the form from which the Spirit has been abstracted” [Cosmic Fire, pp 148-149].
28 Bailey Cosmic Fire, p 52.  UK spelling, e.g., “centre” rather than center, is used throughout the Bailey material.
29 Bailey Cosmic Fire, p 148; Bailey Initiation, p 19, 150, 162
30 Bailey Initiation, pp 150-162
31 Alice A. Bailey The Consciousness of the Atom, © 1961 Lucis Trust (1st prtng 1922, this issue 9th prtng 1974 {2nd paperback ed.}), Fort Orange Press, Albany, NY, pp 110-116
32 Bailey Atom, pp 110-111; italics in original, other emphasis added.
33 Bailey Atom, pp 111-112; emphasis added.
34 Alice A. Bailey Telepathy and the Etheric Vehicle, © 1950 Lucis, NY, (2nd printing, 1957), George S. Ferguson, Philadelphia, PA, p 126
35 Actual possession is the stated goal: “Emphasis should be laid on the evolution of humanity with peculiar attention to its goal, perfection…man in incarnation, by the indwelling and over-shadowing soul…The relation of the individual soul to all souls should be taught, and with it the long-awaited kingdom of God is simply the appearance of soul-controlled men on earth in everyday life and at all stages of that control…” [Bailey Externalisation, p 588; emphasis added].

Answer to Open Challenge to Fans and Critics of Bill Johnson/Bethel Church

Since the original Open Challenge to Fans and Critics of Bill Johnson/Bethel Church has not received much interaction apart from regular readers here on CrossWise, it seems best to fully explain the selected text comprising that challenge in this separate post, as I deem this information critical to understanding the basis not just of Johnson’s Christology, but of his entire theology.

In the following message, taken from Bill Johnson’s 12/20/09 sermon Jesus is our Model (2nd service), all CAPS indicates Johnson’s emphasis, other emphasis is added, indicating portions important in understanding the overall message: 

…Look at verse 3, “And, the devil said to Him, ‘IF you are the Son of God command this stone to become bread.’”  Jesus answered Him saying, “It is written: Man shall not live by bread alone but by every WORD of God.”  What was the first temptation?  It wasn’t to turn stone into bread, it was to question who He was.  Verse 3, “the devil said to Him, IF you are the Son of God’.”  What did it say in verse 22, chapter 3?  “YOU are My beloved Son.”  “In YOU I am well pleased”.  What was his first temptation?  “IF you are the Son of God”.

We find Johnson here making the claim that Jesus’ first temptation from Satan was to question His identity, who He was.  By this he means that “IF you are the Son of God” is the focal point of this temptation, rather than trying to persuade Him to turn the stone to bread.  Johnson reaches this conclusion by going back to the Father’s words to Jesus in Luke 3:22.  This is why he stresses “WORD of God” in Luke 4:4.

However, quite simply, the word if should be taken as since: “Since you are the Son of God command this stone to become bread.”  The IF in the initial clause is not conditional; it’s descriptive.  Satan knows full well Jesus is the Son of God (James 2:19); and, Jesus had been well aware of His identity as evidenced by His words to his mother Mary as a 12 year old, “Didn’t you know I had to be in My Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49, NIV). Therefore, from a Biblically orthodox perspective, this temptation was to persuade Jesus to use His own intrinsic power to satisfy His human need, rather than to fulfill the work He came to do by relying on the Father for His sustenance while in the wilderness.

Here’s the main problem with Johnson’s words above: His teaching posits that Satan was tempting Jesus not to believe the spoken words of the Father (from Luke 3:22).  In effect, this turns Jesus into one who is dependent upon the so-called ‘present truth’, or ‘new revelation’ (“what God is saying and doing” below) that hyper-charismatics claim are greater than Scripture in terms of authority.  This is made clear in the very next section of his message (“Do I honor what God has declared over my life or not?”).  But, more importantly, note how Johnson is making the claim that Matthew 13 applies to Jesus, not just mankind:

Jesus explains this later to the disciples in Matthew 13; I’ll just read the one phrase to you that’ll help that concept to make sense.  He was talking about people who had no root in themselves; they hear the Word but there’s no depth in their person.  They’ve not been prepared for what God is saying and doing.  And, then it says “for when tribulation or persecution arises because of the WORD [ED: 3 second pause for emphasis] immediately they stumble.  Persecution, difficulty, conflict arises because of the Word.  The WORD of the Lord attracts CONFLICT.  It’s not punishment.  It’s not to humiliate.  It’s for two basic reasons: it’s because the Lord wants to give reward and He wants to honor character.  Character is not formed in the absence of options.  There has to be two trees in the Garden where I am honored for a decision.  Do I honor what God has declared over my life or not?  Do I consider other options, other possibilities?

According to Christian orthodoxy, the Parable of the Sower/Soils (Matthew 13:1-23) pertains to humankind, not to Jesus.  The “Word” (seed) in this parable refers to the Gospel message that Jesus Himself, as the “farmer” (Matthew 13:3), was proclaiming, contrary to Johnson’s explanation.  Moreover, this parable has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus’ temptation in the desert (Luke 4:1-13).

Given the potentially confusing nature of the above, we’ll recap.  In making the claim that Jesus’ first temptation from Satan was to question His identity as the Son of God and then using the Parable of the Sower/Soils to explain his meaning, Johnson has reduced Jesus to one who is dependent upon the so-called ‘present truths’ for His identity and guidance, just like the rest of humankind.  Consequently, as per Johnson, Jesus is potentially subject to stumbling when “persecution, difficulty, conflict arises because of the Word”, because Jesus Himself could have chosen to listen to Satan rather than God if He didn’t have enough ‘depth in His Person’. 

Obviously, Johnson is way off base Biblically here, but to what ends?  Why has he conflated and reinterpreted Scripture so?

Interestingly, Johnson’s interpretation of the first temptation as Satan questioning His identity, with Jesus’ replying that He/we are to rely on “present truths” is found in New Age / New Spirituality teaching.  In the following note how “Satan” is equated with “Ego”, which, in occult terminology, is the so-called “lower self”, the human nature.  This is as opposed to the “higher self”, the divine seed/spark, or “Christ” within. This particular author is using the parallel passage in Matthew of Luke 4:3-4:

“And when the tempter (Satan / Ego) came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he (Jesus) answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:3-4).

Our ego always compromises the truth by masking true reality for the grand illusion; in essence, the ego is the anchor to the physical perspective. But Jesus overcomes this perspective. He tells Satan that man does not live by bread alone (physical existence), but by every word from the mouth of God (spirit). In fact since Jesus denies the bread completely, we understand that ultimate truth lies beyond the veil of the physical realm and instead resides in the spiritual realm, or the realm of consciousness that operates beyond this 3D physical experience [bold in original; other emphasis added].

Bill Johnson has used (as have others in hyper-charismaticism) this very same physical realm vs. spiritual realm false dichotomy more than once.  Here’s one example:

The focus of repentance is to change our way of thinking until the presence of His Kingdom fills our consciousness.  The enemy’s attempt to anchor our affections to the things that are visible is easily resisted when our hearts are aware of the presence of His world

If the Kingdom is here and now, then we must acknowledge it’s in the invisible realm.  Yet being at hand reminds us that it’s also within reach…That which is unseen can be realized only through repentance [ED: aka, “intimacy with the Father”, “ascended lifestyle”, etc.].  It was as though He said, ‘If you don’t change the way you perceive things, you’ll live your whole life thinking what you see in the natural is the superior reality… [WHIE p 38.  Italics in original; emphasis added.  Cf. SPTM p 41]

Keep in mind that in Johnson’s dictionary repentance comes from having “intimacy with the Father” (which leads to the “ascended lifestyle” or “renewed mind”), performing “Biblical meditation” (which, as Johnson describes it, is not Biblical, but just like contemplative prayer, or centering prayer in method), aka “soaking”, etc. [see here for more explanation].  Contrary to Scripture, Johnson teaches that to repent is to perceive the spiritual realm, with increasing “repentance” providing more and more access to the “invisible” realm.  As he states, “Repentance is not complete until it envisions His Kingdom” [WHIE p 38; cf. SPTM pp 42-45].

Going back to Johnson’s sermon, it’s the rest of this particular section in Johnson’s monologue that puts all the pieces together in this specific teaching:

The Scripture, this story in Matthew 13, the parable of the seed and the sower, actually gives this picture of soil; and the seed of God’s Word, the sperma of God, is released into the seed, through His Word, into the soil.  And, then it says, but other things grow and they choke out the life of that seed of God.  Think about it: the Word of God, the most powerful thing in the universe, is put into an environment that if we give attention to other IDEALS, other VOICES, other WORDS, we actually give them a place in our heart to take root and they choke out the Word of God, the most powerful thing in the universe.  For a season, the Lord has allowed our choices to affect the power, the effect of the most powerful thing in the universe.  It’s stunning.

Note that there are two seeds – one external and one internal.  To differentiate, the internal seed here is in green colored font.  The above underscored “seed of God” is ambiguous in the context; it could refer to the external seed or the internal seed.

This section of Johnson’s message above will be explained in-depth, as it’s very confusingly worded.

The external seed is “the seed of God’s Word, the sperma of God”.  This could be construed one of two ways.  The first is that God’s Word has a seed which is called “sperma of God”.  That is, the “seed” / “sperma” (of God) is a subunit of God’s Word.  The second possible understanding is that God’s Word = the “sperma of God”.  In other words, this could be rephrased as ‘God’s Word, which is a seed, also known as the sperma of God…’  The first view seems to make the most sense in this context.

More important is the internal seed called “the seed” (and possibly “seed of God”).   The internal seed is the one which “the seed of God’s Word, the sperma of God” is released into.  To state another way, the external seed, “the seed of God’s Word, the sperma of God”, is released into the internal seed, which is in the individual’s “soil”.  To put yet another way, through the Word (of new revelation) the external “seed of God’s Word (“sperma of God”) is released into the internal “seed” in the soil of the hearer:

the [external] seed of God’s Word, the sperma of God, is released into the [internal] seed, through His Word [new revelation], into the [internal] soil.

So then, “His Word”, the so-called “present truth”, aka “new revelation”, is the vehicle by which the external seed, the “sperma of God” is released into the internal “seed” in the soil of the individual.  Bear in mind Johnson’s claim above that Matthew 13 also pertains to Jesus.  This means that Jesus Himself had a seed in his soil, and that “through His Word” (present truth, new revelation), the “sperma of God”, aka “the seed of God’s Word” was released into His internal “seed”, which is in His internal “soil”.

Tying it all Together by Going Back to the Roots

Putting all this together, Johnson is teaching that Jesus, like all men, has a seed within Him, which can either grow by paying heed to so-called present truth, aka new revelation (“the most powerful thing in the universe”) such as “YOU are My beloved Son”, or the seed can be choked out by other “IDEALS”, “VOICES”, “WORDS”.  Jesus’ first temptation in the wilderness is an example of these other ideals, voices, words, yet Jesus withstood this temptation, providing an example for the rest of mankind.

A form of this teaching, known as Gnosticism, goes all the way back to the second century (and perhaps the first century).  Early church leaders (some term them “fathers”), perhaps most notably in the writings of Irenaeus, battled against the Gnostics, using the pen as their sword.  The basic worldview of the Gnostics was dualistic, such that all matter is evil, while spirit is good.  Humankind, while inwardly spirit and hence good, was enfleshed by evil matter, the outward body.  The goal was to escape the flesh, thus attaining self-redemption.  This was accomplished through secret knowledge, or gnosis (new revelation) that came by way of mystical experiences from mystical practices.

This doctrine is reprised or repackaged in varying forms in the New Age / New Spirituality teachings of today.  In Levi Dowling’s popular book titled The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, originally published in 1907 and still in print today, is an introduction that recounts these teachings.  The following two quotes describe the basic doctrine, comparing remarkably well with Johnson’s “sperma of God” concept.  First, there is a “Christ” within (internal divine seed, spark of divine light), which was deposited in all of creation at the very beginning:

Christ, the universal Love, pervades all spaces of infinity…

Perfection is the ultimate of life.  A seed is perfect in its embryonic form, but it is destined to unfold, to grow.  Into the soil of every plane these seeds, which were the Thoughts of God, were cast…and they who sowed the seeds, through Christ, ordained that they should grow…and to each be a perfection of its kind. [AGJC, p 6; capitalization from original, emphasis added]

These seeds then are the “Thoughts of God” lying dormant in each and every thing or being.  The key is to awaken, or “sow” the seed through Christ:

Christ is the Logos [Word] of Infinities and through the Word alone are Thought and Force made manifest.[AGJC, p 6; CAPS from original, emphasis added]

 Let’s compare this directly to Johnson’s teaching above:

the[external] seed of God’s Word, the sperma of God, is released into the [internal] seed, through His Word [new revelation], into the [internal] soil.

In each case, the vehicle is “through the/His Word”.  Levi states that “Thought and Force” are “made manifest only “through the Word”, while Johnson’s doctrine above is such that new revelation/present truths are made manifest “through His Word”.  These are striking similarities.  The only difference is that Levi is explicit that the seed inside all things is divine; Johnson is ambiguous with his seed.

Levi’s doctrine is explicitly panentheistic, i.e., God is IN all [pan = all; en = in; the, from theos = God].  Bill Johnson’s is not incongruent with panentheism, though, as noted, he’s ambiguous.  Is Johnson’s internal seed divine like Levi’s, which would mean he’s teaching panentheism?

While there are a number of different views of panentheism in the varying religious systems in the world, there are some consistencies in the doctrine with respect to how it relates to Jesus Christ and Christianity in esotericism.  For perhaps a clearer understanding, here’s Richard Smoley from his book Inner Christianity: A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition: with a general view of “Christian” esotericism and the doctrine of panentheism:

…The Father is the ineffable, transcendent aspect of God; the Son [ED: Christ] is God’s immanent aspect. This divine spark or Logos is the first sounding-forth of existence from the depths of infinity: “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:3-4). Christ is the embodiment of this immanent aspect of God.

So are we. “Without him was not any thing made that was made.” Nothing comes into existence unless this divine spark of consciousness, no matter how faint or dim, lies at its center. This was true of Jesus, it is true of me, and it is true of you…We may not be as exalted as Christ…But at the core we are the same [IC, pp 134-135; all emphasis added].

Note the two separate aspects of God: the transcendent, which is the ineffable (inexpressible) Father, and the immanent (within all of creation) aspect, which is the Son (Christ).  This immanence is alternatively called divine seed, divine spark, divine (spark of) light, logos, or Christ.  So, the Son/Christ is a divine entity, and this divine entity was diffused throughout creation as a seed / spark / light.  This view of panentheism is such that all is in God (the transcendent Father is wholly outside, surrounding all of creation) and God is in all (the Son/Christ is within all of creation).

Yet, observe that Jesus Himself is called Christ (“Christ is the embodiment of this immanent aspect of God”), rather than merely, for example, Jesus of Nazareth.  Smoley quotes from A Course in Miracles to describe Him:

The name of Jesus is the name of the one who was a man but saw the face of Christ in all his brothers and remembered God.  So he became identified with Christ, a man no longer, but at one with God [ACIM, Teachers Manual, p 87; emphasis in original].

Smoley  then quotes the “Jesus” of the Course as saying all can do what He did, describing Him as an intermediary, making the impossible (the distance is too great between us and the Father) into possibility [IC, p 135].  The author goes on to affirm that all are Christs, at least potentially [IC, pp 135-136].

But what of the Holy Spirit?  Smoley describes this false trinity, to include the integral role of the Spirit:

How do these two, the Father and the Son, interact with each other?  What enables them to have any connection at all, while still in some way remaining distinct?  There is…a principle that makes this interaction possible.  It is called the Comforter, or the Holy Spirit.

Here, in essence, is the Christian Trinity…Between them [Father and Son] is the Holy Spirit, the divine principle of relatedness, which accomplishes perhaps the most astonishing of all miracles: uniting two separate entities while still allowing them to be separate [IC, pp 103-104].

Levi Dowling either conflates and/or confuses the Holy Spirit (“Holy Breath”) with the ‘external Christ’, or he’s trying to convey the same thing as Smoley above [AGJC, pp 8-9].  That is, it may be that “Holy Breath” activates the Christ/Word within and/or communicates the Word from the Father to the inner Christ.  Either interpretation brings forth the same basic idea as Smoley’s description.  What has Bill Johnson said about the relationship between the Father and the Son?  Keeping in mind the foregoing, look for the similarities in Johnson’s words below with so-called “Esoteric Christianity”:

The Father, by the Holy Spirit, directed all that Jesus said and did [F2F, p 108].

It was the Holy Spirit upon Jesus that enabled Him to know what the Father was doing and saying [DWG, p 136].

If we were to assume that Johnson’s internal seed is indeed the divine seed (spark, Christ, etc.) concept, his theology would fit right into the above.  Even his “eternally God” statements would have no trouble being synthesized, as certainly if everything has a seed/spark of the divine within, then it’s not a stretch to claim all are, in essence, God, to include the human Jesus Johnson portrays.  This is precisely why New Agers can call themselves “Christs” or “gods” with a straight face.

This “seed”/”sperma of God” concept is equivalent to “the anointing”, that is, Johnson’s teaching that Christ = “the anointing” or “anointed one” (of many) [see The Christ Anointing section here for in-depth look], with “the anointing” itself coming from the Spirit which brings the Word of new revelation.  Johnson’s view more closely aligns with Levi’s; the first quote below comes from Dowling’s book, the others are from Johnson’s Face to Face with God:

The word Christ is derived from the Greek word Kristos [ED: actually Christos] and means anointed…The word Christ, in itself, does not refer to any particular person; every anointed person is christed [sic]… [AGJC, p 6; italics in original; bold added.] 

The outpouring of the Spirit also needed to happen to Jesus for Him to be fully qualified.  This was His quest.  Receiving this anointing qualified Him to be called the Christ, which means “anointed one.” Without the experience [ED: the anointing] there could be no title [F2F, p 109; italics in original, bold added]. 

…The outpouring of the Spirit comes to anoint the church with the same Christ anointing that rested upon Jesus in His ministry so that we might be imitators of Him… [F2F, p 77; emphasis added].

Keep in mind that Jesus’ “anointing”, as per Johnson in the above, is referring to the Spirit descending as a dove upon Him, which is subsequent to His baptism in water by John, and that this is how He received the title of Christ.  In the Apocryphal/Gnostic Gospel of Philip from the 2nd century is the same idea.  In the following, there is a specific distinguishing between water baptism and ‘anointing’ [chrisma (not chrism as in the text) is the Greek transliterated word meaning anointing].  The “anointing” here is identified as the mark of a Christian, rather than true Christian conversion upon which one receives the Holy Spirit indwelling – just like Bill Johnson’s teachings:

The chrism is superior to baptism.  For from the chrism we were called ‘Christians’, not from baptismChrist also was (so) called because of the anointing.  For the Father anointed the Son.  But the Son anointed the apostles.  And the apostles anointed us.  He who is anointed possesses all things.  He has the resurrection, the light, the cross [GoP, p 200; emphasis added].

Integral to the Gospel of Philip is the divine seed / spark ideology.  Bill Johnson’s overall Christology would fit nicely into this same Gnostic framework, with his seed as the divine seed / spark.  Assuming Johnson’s seed is divine, with each subsequent “anointing” by the external “seed”/”sperma of God” (which is the “word” of new revelation, or “what God is saying and doing” as per Johnson above), the internal “seed” grows towards maturity (perfection).

Again, assuming Johnson’s seed is divine, then the “spiritual DNA” teaching, which is becoming more prevalent, would be yet another way of stating this concept. That is, when the “seed”/”sperma of God” [anointing] is “released into the seed [inside the individual], through His Word, into the soil [ED: which contains the individual's 'seed']” initially, then this is the point in which the individual’s divine spark/seed is activated, which is equivalent to one’s latent “spiritual DNA” activated. [See Getting Down to the DNA of Spiritual DNA section here.]

It seems that the interpretation of this internal seed as being the divine seed concept (divine spark, Christ within, etc.), as used in “esoteric Christianity”, makes the most sense of Bill Johnson’s usage in the context above when viewed in the light of some his other teachings (“the anointing”, “spiritual DNA”). 

 

Cf. (cf.) = compare, or see also

ACIM = Helen Schucman A Course in Miracles: Combined Volume, 1992 (2nd ed), Foundation for Inner Peace, Glen Ellen, CA

AGJC = Levi Dowling The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ: The Philosophic and Practical Basis of the Religion of the Aquarian Age of the World, © 1907 Eva S. Dowling and Leo W. Dowling, © 1935 and © 1964 Leo W. Dowling, (11th printing, 1987), DeVorss, Marina del Rey, CA

DWG = Bill Johnson Dreaming with God: Secrets to Redesigning Your World Through God’s Creative Flow. 2006, Destiny Image, Shippensburg, PA

F2F = Bill Johnson Face to Face with God: The Ultimate Quest to Experience His Presence, 2007, Charisma House, Lake Mary, FL

GoP = “The Gospel of Philip” in Wilhelm Schneemelcher; transl. R. McL. Wilson New Testament Apocrypha: Volume One: Gospels and Related Writings. © J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), Tubingen, 1990; English Translation © James Clarke & Co. Ltd, 1991 (Rev. ed.), Westminster John Knox, Louisville, KY

IC = Richard Smoley Inner Christianity: A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition,2002, Shambhala, Boston, MA.  In the Acknowledgements section is “Reverend” Cynthia Bourgeault (author of The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind – a New Perspective on Christ and His Message. 2008, Shambhala, Boston, MA, which has been quoted from on CrossWise), Jacob Needleman, among others.  Endorsements include Jean Houston and David Spangler.

SPTM = Bill Johnson, The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind: Access to a Life of Miracles, 2005, Destiny Image: “Speaking to the Purposes of God for This Generation and for the Generations to Come”, Shippensburg, PA

WHIE = Bill Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth: A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles, 2003, Treasure House/Destiny Image, Shippensburg, PA

Kris Vallotton on Becoming an Incarnation through Holy Communion

Kris Vallotton, Senior Associate Pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, CA (Bill Johnson is Senior Pastor), recently stated the following on his website:

When Jesus said we must eat His flesh and drink his blood, he wasn’t talking about cannibalism, but he was referring to ingestion that leads to incarnation. Christ is the Word that became flesh. It is important that we ingest the Word of God in a way that causes us to digest His life until Christ is literally formed in us. Ingestion without digestion will lead to feeling full but not being transformed. Digestion is more than just a taste test, it is the full meal of His presence that conforms us to His image. There is an old saying that is true in this case, “You are what you eat!

Many people ingest the Bible but they don’t digest the living, active Word of God. Religion fills their souls but never satisfies their longing for real life. Digestion requires assimilation, not just consumption. Truth was never meant to just be recounted, it was intended to be experienced. When we exchange the communion meal for a dinner commentary or a cookbook, we deprive ourselves of the privilege of abundant life, and relegate ourselves to a meager existence in the Kingdom. [Tuesday, July 16, 2013; emphasis added]

How do we interpret Kris Vallotton’s message?  The key is in the word incarnation.  Of course, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ occurred when the Word, the second ‘Person’ of the Trinity “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).  This took place at the moment of the Virginal Conception (Luke 1:35).  But, do Christians become an incarnation?

While there are a few different meanings for the term incarnation, as it applies to Jesus Christ it implies preexistence, as in the preexistent, eternal Word, the second ‘Person’ of the Trinity took on a new mode of existence as the one, unique God in the flesh.  The fully God and yet fully man Jesus Christ IS the Incarnation.  And since, according to orthodox Christianity, humans are not preexistent, then humans cannot become an incarnation in that sense of the term.  (However, those who believe in the preexistence of souls affirm reincarnation – not a Christian doctrine, specifically deemed anathema at the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople, or Constantinople II of 553 AD.)

So what does Kris Vallotton mean?  Certainly, he’s adhering to the typical Word of Faith (WoF) doctrine of ‘new revelation’ (what Vallotton terms “living, active Word of God” above), or as Kenneth E. Hagin termed it, the “rhema” word.  According to WoF, these ‘new revelations’ are superior to Scripture, the written Word (Hagin called this the “logos” word).  But what does that have to do with becoming an incarnation?

The other modern day definitions for the term incarnation are used in a figurative sense, yet it’s clear Vallotton is speaking literally, as he states, “until Christ is literally formed in us”.  Taking the context of Vallotton’s message above, this seems similar to an old and oft-repeated quote by Hagin:

Every man who has been ‘born again’ is an Incarnation, and Christianity is a miracle.  The believer is as much an Incarnation as was Jesus of Nazareth.1

Hagin equates the Incarnate Word of God to the ‘born again’ believer.  Others have stated something similar, and here are two examples from Earl Paulk – one who taught explicit Latter Rain doctrine as well as WoF:

It was the quickening and bringing alive of the Word which was incarnate in Jesus ChristThat Word became incarnate in the Church. 

Jesus was the firstfruit of God’s incarnation, a man living out God’s perfect will.  Now He says, “…My people will bring forth life as they become the ‘incarnate Word’ on planet Earth”…the Church is the ‘ongoing expression’ of God.2

All things have been given to us, even to the point of allowing us to share the divine nature of Jesus.  Sharing His nature is a definition of the ongoing incarnation of God on the earth.  ‘Christ in us, the hope of glory.’  His inheritance is already ours3

While Vallotton has not gone so far as to declare the Church body “the ongoing incarnation of God on the earth”, he’s not very far off.  More important though is that if one reads the Vallotton quote carefully, one sees that the ‘believer’ becomes the ‘new revelation’ word made flesh.  Does this mean that, in the Vallotton quote, Jesus Christ was also the ‘new revelation’ word made flesh rather than the Word, the second ‘Person’ of the Trinity made flesh at the Virginal Conception as the unique fully God and fully man, as the Hagin and Paulk selections above seem to imply? 

To see that this interpretation of ‘believer’ as ‘new revelation’ word made flesh is indeed the correct understanding, we’ll go through the above Vallotton quote sentence by sentence.

When Jesus said we must eat His flesh and drink his blood, he wasn’t talking about cannibalism, but he was referring to ingestion that leads to incarnation

This means simply that partaking of Communion leads to “incarnation”.

Christ is the Word that became flesh. It is important that we ingest the Word of God in a way that causes us to digest His life until Christ is literally formed in us 

These two sentences are the most crucial as far as interpretation.   Here, we’ll have to make an initial hypothesis which will prove itself as we continue.  First, note the two uses of “the Word” above.  From a strictly orthodox perspective, the first sentence would be speaking of Jesus Christ as the eternal Word made flesh at the Virginal Conception.  But is this what Vallotton means?  We’ll return to this later.

Regarding the second, this could refer to either Scripture, or the ‘new revelation’ word.  However, in the second paragraph of the complete quote, Vallotton is clear that he’s referring to the ‘new revelation’ word, since he’s made a direct comparison between this and Scripture, with the ‘new revelation’ word the one to be “experienced”.  Therefore, for now we’ll tentatively conclude that this is the intended meaning here, as this Word “causes us to digest His life until Christ is literally formed in us”.

Ingestion without digestion will lead to feeling full but not being transformed. Digestion is more than just a taste test, it is the full meal of His presence that conforms us to His image. There is an old saying that is true in this case, You are what you eat!”  

Here “the Word” is personified as “His presence”.  Also, this implies that Holy Communion consists of the real presence, just as it does in the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox, Lutheranism, and only a few others within Protestantism.  The majority of Protestant churches deny the real presence in Holy Communion, seeing it as symbolic instead.  For Vallotton, “His presence”, that is, the ‘real presence’ in Communion, literally makes the ‘believer’ become that which was ingested: “the Word”.

Many people ingest the Bible but they don’t digest the living, active Word of God. Religion fills their souls but never satisfies their longing for real life.

The message in these two sentences is that reading (“ingesting”) the Bible results in “religion”, the term used pejoratively; whereas,  the “living, active Word of God” (“His life” and “His presence” in the first paragraph), i.e., the ‘new revelation’ word brings “real life”.  By positing this false dichotomy between the Bible and ‘new revelation’, this confirms the earlier working hypothesis that the ‘new revelation’ word was the intended meaning in the first paragraph.

Digestion requires assimilation, not just consumption. Truth was never meant to just be recounted, it was intended to be experienced.

Studying and memorizing Scripture is not the real goal.  The “truth” of these ‘new revelations’ is to be digested, experienced, assimilated.  This is the goal.

When we exchange the communion meal for a dinner commentary or a cookbook, we deprive ourselves of the privilege of abundant life, and relegate ourselves to a meager existence in the Kingdom.

If Holy Communion is viewed as symbolic, rather than the ‘real presence’ of “the Word”, i.e. ‘new revelation’, then we become a spiritual ‘have-not’ instead of a spiritual ‘have’.  Why?  Because it’s “important that we ingest the Word of God in a way that causes us to digest His life until Christ is literally formed in us.”  If we don’t “ingest the Word of God” in this way, then “Christ” will not be formed in us, literally. 

But, what does all this really mean?  The mystery and confusion evaporate when this is viewed from a Gnostic, or, more specifically, a Neo-Gnostic (New Age / New Spirituality) perspective.  First, we’ll need to provide a brief sketch of a basic Neo-Gnostic conception, keeping in mind that this is a perversion of Christianity.

In the Neo-Gnostic (New Age / New Spirituality) conception of deity, there is an eternal trinity consisting of the Father, the Holy Breath (sometimes Mother), and Christ (the logos, usually the offspring of the first two).  Christ is “the Word of God”, the “word” of Thought, Force and Love.  This “word” formed the entire cosmos, leaving a part of himself in all of creation, alternatively known as a seed, spark, Christ.  Therefore, the eternal word (third person of this false trinity, as opposed to second in orthodox Christianity) is the ‘Christ without’, while the internal seed/spark in everything is the “Christ within”.This is the doctrine of panentheism, that is, God is within all, yet simultaneously transcendent.

In the Gnostic understanding, mankind has two natures, one human and one divine spark/seed, or ‘Christ within’.  In order for humans to progress spiritually, the goal is to awaken the ‘Christ within’ (Christ in you, the hope of glory – a perversion of Colossians 1:27) via the “Christ without”, i.e., the “word” which provides “Thought and Force”,5 or ‘new revelation’.  As one increases in ‘new revelation’ knowledge, one progresses spiritually.6  This progression occurs over multiple lifetimes, as the spark/seed is then reincarnated into a succession of human forms.

Though “Christ” (divine seed/spark) was yet still latent in humanity, due to ‘selfishness’, most of the human race did not recognize this and, thus, was not progressing as it should.  This necessitated that the eternal Christ (of this false trinity), the “Word of God”, be made manifest in human form “by taking his abode in some pure person”.7  That “pure person” was Jesus of Nazareth.  This “Word of God”, ‘new revelation’ of “Thought and Force”, became flesh in the man Jesus at baptism, specifically when the dove (Holy Breath) landed upon him.  This is when the incarnation of the “Word of God” began.8

Once ‘the Word’ was “made flesh” in Jesus of Nazareth at baptism, Jesus became the model for all towards their own spiritual progression, for their own self-redemption.  The goal then for mankind is for each one to become his own ‘word made flesh’, to become his own incarnation, by recognizing the divine seed/spark within, and then begin its path towards actualization.9  This false Jesus instructs others: “Look to the Christ within who shall be formed in every one of you, as he is formed in me.”10  What was it that Vallotton wrote above?  “It is important that we ingest the Word of God in a way that causes us to digest His life until Christ is literally formed in us.”

Viewing Vallotton’s complete statement from a New-Gnostic perspective works well indeed.  Using Neo-Gnosticism as our lens with which to view this statement, we can see how to interpret “Christ is the Word that became flesh”, and this adds clarity to the entire Vallotton quote.

As regards Vallotton’s references to Holy Communion, we’ll compare to material on a Gnostic website.  Please note that there are many different flavors of Gnosticism, with each one borrowing from other religions and occult traditions.  This particular one incorporates Hinduism, Jewish mysticism to include the Kabbalah, Tantric Yoga, and others into its own mix of Gnosticism.  Also, as a side note, the reader may have recognized that Hagin referred to the ‘new revelation’ word as the “rhema”, while above (and below) it was used as the “logos” instead.  This is not unusual, as terms are not necessarily consistent, though concepts usually are.

Jesus says that man cannot live upon this bread alone, this bread of Moses.  In other words, the teaching that Moses gives is vital, it is important, but it is not enough; there is something else.  And that something else is the Word of God, as Jesus says.  But here we have to look deeper than the literal meaningSome interpret this passage as meaning that we need the scripture or the Bible in order to have life, but this is only a literal, superficial meaning of the phrase. The document from which the quote is taken was written in Greek, and in Greek, ‘word’ is ‘logos’…11

Just like Vallotton, we have to look beyond the literal meaning of Jesus’ words in John 6, we must “look deeper” for the mystical meaning, as per the Gnostic quote above, for if we don’t, then this will result in “not being transformed”, per Vallotton.  The Bible is not enough.

…In other words, man cannot live by bread alone…but by the Word of God, by the Logos, by the Christ.  So he is pointing out a very important mystery that we need to comprehend…. 

receive the blessed elements so they can take those atoms [of the Christ] into their bodies as assistance for their work.

…these elements which will house the forces of Christ (the Logos) so that the congregation can receive those forces.12

As Vallotton concluded his first paragraph, “You are what you eat!”  This is what he means by “His life” and “His presence” in the first paragraph.  But, whose life and presence is this really?  All this reminds me once again of the following Alice Bailey quote, only this time I’ll place other emphasis:

…[T]he church movement, like all else, is but a temporary expedient and serves but as a transient resting place for the evolving lifeEventually, there will appear the Church Universal, and its definite outlines will appear towards the close of this [20th] century…This Church will be nurtured into activity by the Christ [ED: the false Christ above, actually Satan/antichrist] and His disciples when the outpouring of the Christ principle [ED: spirit of the ‘new revelation’ word], the true second Coming, has been accomplished…

The Christian church in its many branches can serve as a St. John the Baptist, as a voice crying in the wilderness, and as a nucleus through which world illumination may be accomplishedThe church must show a wide tolerance…The church as a teaching factor should take the great basic doctrines and (shattering the old forms in which they are expressed and held) show their true and inner spiritual significance [ED: occult/esoteric meaning]The prime work of the church is to teach, and teach ceaselessly, preserving the outer appearance in order to reach the many who are accustomed to church usages.  Teachers must be trained; Bible knowledge must be spread; the sacraments must be mystically interpreted, and the power of the church to heal must be demonstrated.13

  

   1 Kenneth E. Hagin “The Incarnation” in The Word of Faith, (1980, December; #13) Kenneth Hagin Ministries, Tulsa, OK, p 14, as quoted in Russell Sharrock Covenant Theology: A Critical Analysis of Current Pentecostal Covenant Theology, 2006, Lulu Enterprises, Morrisville, NC, p 109.  Emphasis added.
   2 Paulk, Earl. Held in the Heavens Until…God’s Strategy for Planet Earth, 1985; K Dimension, Atlanta, GA, p 163.  Emphasis added.
   3 Paulk, Held in the Heavens, p 197.  Emphasis added.
   4 Levi Dowling The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ: The Philosophic and Practical Basis of the Religion of the Aquarian Age of the World, © 1907 Eva S. Dowling and Leo W. Dowling, © 1935 and © 1964 Leo W. Dowling, (11th printing, 1987), DeVorss, Marina del Rey, CA, p 6.  Dowling is cited as merely one Neo-Gnostic text, but there are many others, with subtle differences in basic doctrine.  However, Dowling’s very closely matches the Vallotton quote, and hence, serves our purposes here.
   5 Dowling Aquarian Gospel, p 6
   6 Dowling Aquarian Gospel, pp 6-7
   7 Dowling Aquarian Gospel, p 7
   8 Dowling Aquarian Gospel, p 8.  The point at which this false incarnation begins is detailed: …Jesus was man; Christ was Divine Love – the Love of God; and after thirty years of strenuous life the man had made his body fit to be the temple of the holy breath and Love took full possession, and John well said when he declared: “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
   9 Dowling Aquarian Gospel, p 8
   10 Dowling Aquarian Gospel, p 8
   11 “Gnostic Instructor” “Sacrament of Communion” gnosticteachings.org website <http://gnosticteachings.org/courses/sacraments-of-the-gnostic-church/666-sacrament-of-communion.html>, as accessed 07/20/13, © Glorian Publishing, Brooklyn, NY; emphasis added.
   12 “Gnostic Instructor” “Sacrament of Communion”
   13 Alice A. Bailey The Externalisation of the Hierarchy, © 1957 Lucis, NY, 6th printing 1981; Fort Orange Press, Albany, NY, pp 510-511.  Underscore from italics in original; other emphasis added.  While the book was not published until 1957, most sections within the book have corresponding dates of initial writing, or, more accurately, transmission.  The portion quoted here is from 1919, some of the earliest writings of Bailey/The Tibetan.

Bill Johnson Claims You Can Think and Live from the Right Hand of God

In the SAME measure that the Father put Jesus at His right hand, in the same measure He has put YOU at His right hand, because YOU are IN Christ…. 

-         Bill Johnson, “Thinking from the Throne” podcast, June 9, 20131

It could not have been planned this way.  In the previous CrossWise article, the attempt was made to synthesize Bill Johnson’s “eternally God” statements with his other teachings that indicate a temporally non-divine Jesus, conjecturing that Johnson may have in mind John 3:13, Ephesians 2:6 / Colossians 3:1-3 as a way to account for Jesus living in two realms simultaneously, with the idea that Christians can do the same, as in the manifest sons of God (MSoG) doctrine.  Amazingly, the very day the finishing touches were put on the article and it was published (June 9, 2013), Bill Johnson preached a sermon using these very Scriptures towards that very end!  With this podcast as evidence, it is apparent that Johnson DOES, in fact, share essentially the same MSoG view as Bill Britton, as illustrated in the quote used in the last article.

Throughout this current article this podcast/sermon titled “Thinking from the Throne” will be referenced, but instead of assigning footnotes next to each quote, time markers will be placed just before and after the quotes from the transcript.  ALL CAPS indicates Johnson stressing particular words, all other emphasis added: 

[0:24]…I want to pick up where we kind of left off here a few weeks ago…the series that I started about the Throne life, the ascended lifestyle

Jesus stood before His disciples, before Nicodemus in John chapter 3, and He made this statement, He said, “No one has ASCENDED into heaven except He that descended” [John 3:13].  Now this is before His death, before His Resurrection; so He was describing here a lifestyle of intimacy with the Father where even though He was standing on earth He had ascended into heavenly realms in His relationship with God.  The point being, that is an invitation for every believer…[1:52] 

Did you catch that?  Johnson is claiming that John 3:13 means that Jesus “ascended” while He was yet still on earth during the Incarnation, before His literal, physical ascension (Acts 1:9-11) – this “lifestyle of intimacy with the Father” providing the means by which He “had ascended into heavenly realms with God”.  Moreover, this is also “an invitation for every believer” to do the same – that is, to attain the “ascended lifestyle”, or “Throne life” while yet here on earth.

While John 3:13 is a somewhat difficult Scripture to interpret, not one credible exegesis is such that Jesus had mystically “ascended” while still on the earth, before His literal Ascension.  But Johnson’s view is not inconsistent with Gnostic redeemer myths of the 2nd century (and perhaps late 1st century), in which Jesus ascends and descends as a pattern for others to follow towards self-salvation (sometimes with Christ distinct from Jesus as the means by which to “ascend”).2  However, as I’ve stated elsewhere, my opinion is that the Gospel of John was actually written in part as a polemic against this sort of proto-Gnosticism of the late 1st century (see introduction here), though some 2nd century Gnostics interpreted John’s Gospel as a Gnostic text.  Wayne Meeks interacts with the very liberal Rudolf Bultmann’s work in this regard [“Johannine” = writings attributed to the Apostle John]:

…To be sure, [Bultmann’s] observation that the closest extant analogies to the Johannine myth [ED: descending/ascending motif] are to be found in the literature of the gnostic movements stands firm and had been reinforced by more recent discoveries.  The problem comes in assessing the very important differences between the typical gnostic myths and that of John, and therefore the direction of the relationship between the two patterns.  Perhaps the most important difference, which Bultmann did not fail to notice, is the fact that in gnostic myths most comparable with the Johannine pattern the redeemer’s descent and ascent parallel the fate and hope of the human essence (soul, pneuma [ED: spirit], seed, or the like), while in the Fourth Gospel there is no such analogia entis [ED: analogy of being/imitation] between redeemer and redeemed3

In other words, in these Gnostic writings the Redeemer Himself first needed redeeming, and the pattern He set for self-redemption was a model for all (or a select few).  Is this what Bill Johnson means? 

As per Johnson, it seems that the ultimate goal of ‘experiencing God’s presence’, “intimacy with the Father”, “Biblical meditation”, or ‘soaking in His presence’ is to “ascend”, thereby having a fully “renewed mind”, as in the sense of attaining full manifest sons of God (MSoG) status.  MSoG doctrine is not inconsistent with the “Ascended Master” teaching in New Age / New Spirituality.

New Agers call this process leading up to ascension “expanding your (Christ) consciousness”, which is done by “experiencing God” through centering prayer, or contemplative prayer – the same term used by many within Christendom.  This is not incongruent with the 2nd century Gnostic idea of receiving ‘special knowledge’ (gnosis), or mystical insight as a means of self-salvation; in fact, this is an updating of this Gnostic doctrine.  Here’s one New Ager describing such an approach to this “higher consciousness”:

What would it feel like to be embraced by God? What would it feel like to become aware of how deeply you are loved by your Divine Source? It is possible to experience this! You can have a direct personal experience to feel the love your Creator has for you and to grow into the body experience of feeling the love you crave. 

Spirit has the capacity to relate to us in any way we need and want. Relating to God as an energy force or love is certainly one approach to higher consciousness. Love, however, is best experienced in personal relationships–for example you cannot get love from a thing, only another person. We can know God through our hearts simply by wanting a personal relationship. This opens the portal for Spirit to fill us with the love and acceptance we need that we did not get as children or in our adult relationships.4

Once one reaches the full manifestation of a son of God, aka Master, through “higher consciousness” (by a “lifestyle of intimacy with the Father”?), one can, like the title of this podcast, ‘think from the Throne of God’.  Or, as New Age / New Spirituality teacher Alice Bailey states, comparing the manifested son (Master) to the yet-to-ascend disciple, the Master will “‘function from the above to the below’ and not (as is the case today with all disciples, though naturally not with the Masters) on ‘the below towards the above’….”5  Much like Johnson has stated on Facebook:

The most consistent way to display the kingdom of God is through the renewed mind [ascended lifestyle, aka resurrection life]. It is much more than thinking right thoughts. It is how we think – from what perspective. Done correctly, we “reason” from heaven toward earth. [Bill Johnson, Facebook, May 12, 2012; emphasis added]

Or, as Bailey states elsewhere of the goal of the disciple: 

…We are also preparing for expansions of consciousness which will enable us to live in two realms at oncethe life which must be lived on earth and the life which we can live in the kingdom of God6

Am I jumping to conclusions?  Please read on.

The Resurrected, Ascended, and Glorified Jesus as Model for Earthly ‘Believer’

Continuing where we left off above in the podcast:

[1:52]…The Apostle Paul coined a phrase, found language for this later, when he talked about every believer is seated in heavenly places, in Christ [ED: Ephesians 2:6].  So, picture this: Jesus was raised from the dead by the Spirit of Resurrection.  When He was Resurrected, He Ascended to heaven, and He was seated at the right hand of the Father, and then was glorified.  Alright?  So, we have resurrected, ascended, and glorified….[2:22]

Here Johnson elaborates on his point about the believer’s goal of appropriating the very thing he claims Jesus did in John 3:13 – by faith, “ascending” via a “lifestyle of intimacy with the Father”, with Johnson using Ephesians 2:6 as his proof-text (see previous article for a proper interpretation of this verse).  Does he mean that the ‘believer’ can be “resurrected, ascended, and glorified” and yet be here on the earth? 

In another audio from 2010, Johnson stated the following.   Note his claim of Jesus “re-inheriting everything” as a man, not God, yet Johnson also makes the usual “eternally God” assertion with it.  One must wonder what it is Jesus “forfeited” in order to “re-inherit” it, in the selection below.  But more important for now, notice the stammering in the middle, in which he makes the disclaimer that Jesus “is not an ascended being” as He “didn’t work His way up into divinity”:

The Father so honored Him for His perfect obedience that He now re-inherited everything; but, now not as GodDon’t misunderstand me, Jesus is not an ascended being; He’s not, uh, He didn’t work His way up into divinity.  He is eternally God, eternally God.  But, when He re-inherited everything, He inherited it as a man without sin.  Why?  Because He became our elder brother.  He became the one who inherited everything.  Why?  So, that you and I could be positioned to inherit everything with Him.  He forfeited all so that He could re-inherit in a way that would include us.7

Contrary to Johnson’s disclaimer (again, what was included in the “all” that was “forfeited” and subsequently “re-inherited”?),8 it appears he may be readapting Bailey’s Theosophic teaching that Jesus’ five major events – Birth, Baptism, Transfiguration, Crucifixion, and Resurrection / Ascension (the latter two grouped as one) – were both actually and symbolically achieved by Jesus in order to provide a symbolic pattern for others.  In other words, according to this esoteric doctrine, Jesus provided an actual concrete pattern, both literal and symbolic, for the ‘believer’ to symbolically do the same.  As further evidence to support that Johnson may be readapting Bailey’s model, he has elsewhere made the explicit claim that “[m]ost all of the experiences of Jesus recorded in Scripture were prophetic examples of the realms in God that are made available to the believer”, with the context specifically referring to the Mount of Transfiguration as one example.9 

Bailey’s fivefold pattern is explained in her 1937 book From Bethlehem to Calvary: The Initiations of Jesus, and it would be instructive to quote a somewhat lengthy section to illustrate (note that “myth” is defined earlier here as “a fact which can be proven”):

…Through self-initiated experiment we can prove their validity; through experience we can establish them as governing forces in our lives; and through their expression we can demonstrate their truth to others.  This is the theme of this book, dealing as it does with the facts of the Gospel story, that fivefold sequential myth which teaches us the revelation of divinity in the Person of Jesus Christ, and which remains eternally truth, in the cosmic sense, in the historical sense, and in its practical application to the individual.  This myth divides itself into five great episodes: 

  1.       The Birth at Bethlehem.
  2.       The Baptism in Jordan.
  3.       The Transfiguration on Mount Carmel.
  4.       The Crucifixion on Mount Golgotha.
  5.       The Resurrection and Ascension.

 Their significance for us and their reinterpretation in modern terms is our task.10

The “Gospel” here is reinterpreted as self-salvation through self-deification by following the five steps above symbolically rather than actually.  Understand that the “revelation of divinity in the Person of Jesus Christ” is referring to a gradual deification, not that the earthly Jesus was divine per se.  In occult teachings such as Theosophy, and some of the Gnostic teachings of the 2nd century (and today), the man Jesus of Nazareth had a divine spark/seed of ‘Christ’ within Him, like all of mankind (occultists pervert Colossians 1:27, “Christ in you, the hope of Glory” to this end), which was awakened at “the Virgin Birth” and continued to grow until He fully ‘died to his lower, material self’ at the “Crucifixion”, ridding Himself of the outer material body, after which He ascended.  It took the “Christ spirit” – which was separate and distinct from the man Jesus – at Baptism for Jesus to actualize the 2nd through 5th initiations (sound familiar?).

So, is this what Johnson has in mind with his teachings?  Keep reading.

In a follow-up sermon to the June 9th podcast, titled “Waiting Patiently in Hope” (June 23, 2013),11 Bill Johnson expounds a bit on the basic themes in his “Thinking from the Throne”.  More importantly, he states the following which fits well into the Alice Bailey model above:

…The death of Christ is also the death of your old nature.  The resurrection of Christ is actually your resurrection.  His ascension is actually your legal access to heavenly realms.  And His glorification is the position of the New Testament believer coming into the glory of the Lord.  We LIVE in this atmosphere of presence…[3:15 – 3:39]

As we well know, the sin nature never leaves us in this life [Romans 7:14-25], but we must live by the Spirit rather than the sinful nature [Romans 8:4] by submitting to the Spirit instead of our sin nature [Galatians 5:16-26].   It is not until the resurrection of the saints that the sin nature leaves the saint – a yet future, one-time event for all Christians collectively, including those who’ve perished in centuries past, at the “last trumpet”, at which point we receive our non-flesh-and-blood bodies [1 Corinthians 15:50-54].

However, in the Alice Bailey Theosophic teachings, and other occult/esoteric doctrines, mankind has two natures – one human (lower self,  ego) and one inherent divine nature (divine spark/seed or “Christ within”, higher self).  According to Bailey’s five steps above, “the Crucifixion” (aka “The Great Renunciation”) is the point at which the “lower self” (“old nature” in Johnson’s quote above?) in the disciple has been completely overcome, overtaken by the now fully actualized divine nature, the culmination of the process of “dying to self”.  Following this death of the lower self (“old nature”?), which renders the disciple a spirit being, having shed the outer material body (known as the “not self”), is the resurrection/ascension.  This is the final stage, and the disciple is now a fully manifested son of God, usually known as “Ascended Master”. 

These steps do not have to be fulfilled in one lifetime, for at death the spirit re-ascends to the heavenlies to await reincarnation into another body, in order to continue the process.  The spirit continues reincarnating ad infinitum until completion of the five steps, i.e. the attainment of Ascended Master, or fully manifested son of God.   The individual is now on par with the occult/Theosophic “Master Jesus” who had provided the pattern for this “Age of Pisces”.

Those who know anything about the manifest sons of God (MSoG) teaching know that “coming into the glory of the Lord”, as Johnson uses it above, is overt MSoG language, referring to a fully glorified ‘believer’ on earth.  And MSoG is not incongruent with Bailey’s teaching on becoming a “Master”, as laid out in the five steps above.

So, in the immediately preceding quote is Johnson claiming that Jesus’ death was the death of His “old nature”, i.e., His lower, human nature?  Did Jesus (re)actualize His divinity at this point because He had previously “emptied Himself of divinity and became man”12 at the Incarnation – perhaps itself a  “reinterpretation in modern terms” of Alice Bailey’s five step process above?  Was Jesus’ divinity a part of, or the entirety of what was “forfeited” and subsequently “re-inherited” in the quote from 2010 above? Note also that Bill Johnson has claimed that Jesus was ‘born again’, specifying that this occurred at His Resurrection, which, again, is not inconsistent with the Theosophic model above.  This statement was made on Facebook in mid-February, 2011 in response to a question from Kevin Moore:

Jesus was sinless for sure. The spotless lamb. BUT He BECAME SIN. He needed to be raised from the dead. Acts 13 calls Him “the first born from the dead.” He did not raise Himself. The Father through the Spirit raised Him. He was born… of Mary. That’s one. He was raised from the dead. That’s two. “Again.” It’s not a statement creating a new doctrine. It’s to make people think, which gets scary for some. Primarily it’s to help us appreciate the fact that Jesus had become sin and was in need of the resurrection as much as we are in need of being born again.    

No credible Christian pastor would even joke about such a thing as Jesus being ‘born again’.  And Jesus did not literally ‘become sin’.  He was our sin-offering, providing Atonement as the Redeemer of mankind (only to those who accept His atoning sacrifice, of course).  However, I do agree on one thing: it’s “not…a new doctrine”, as the basic thrust of this teaching goes all the way back to 2nd century Gnostic redeemer myths, as noted earlier.  But, again, is this part of a reinterpretation of Bailey’s five step process?  (Note also that, contrary to Johnson, the entire Trinity raised Jesus from the dead: Jesus Himself – John 2:19-22/10:17-18; the Holy Spirit – Romans 1:4/8:11; the Father – Acts 5:29-31/Galatians 1:1/Ephesians 1:17-20; God – Acts 2:24/Romans 4:24.) 

Going back to Johnson’s “Thinking from the Throne”, we observe him continuing in his claim that ‘believers’ need to understand that they are now resurrected/ascended – at least potentially – as per his distortion of the Apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:6, thereby placing the not yet into already (see previous article for explanation of already but not yet).  ‘Believers’ just have to recognize this ‘fact’ and then apprehend it:

[2:23]…Jesus accomplished that on your behalf and mine, so much so that the Bible says WE were raised WITH Him.  So, His Resurrection is actually our resurrection.  To put it in a little more potential [sic] offensive way: WE – because of your faith in Christ – WE are as raised from the dead as is Jesus, because it is actually HIS resurrection.  It’s not like HE was raised and then He shared some of that with us – that’s not it.  The Bible says WE were raised together with Christ.  His Resurrection IS my resurrection. 

…[W]hat is possible is that through Biblical meditations, which is filling your mind with truth, through consideration of a truth that seems to be too big, too good to be true…The Lord actually invites us into encounter where we start thinking and seeing according to the Biblical reality.[3:51]

Note that “Biblical Meditations” refers to seeking “intimacy with the Father” and filling one’s mind with ‘new truths/revelations’, i.e., new ways of understanding Scripture (John 3:13; Eph 2:6) in this case.

Johnson proof-texts Colossians 3:1-3, using it in much the same manner as above, with the understanding that ‘believers’ are now resurrected/ascended (the 5th step?), because they have already died (the 4th step?):

[18:04]…If you then were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God; set your MIND on things above not on things on earth.  Why?  Because you died.  Your life is HIDDEN in Christ…Because you’re dead, set your mind on where your life is hidden, which is above, it’s in Christ.  Everything about your life is hidden in this realm…Everywhere else is a field trip…That’s where you live.  That’s where you dwell; that is home…[19:06]

Johnson reiterates his distorted interpretation of Colossians 3:1-3 later in the podcast:

[22:23]…It’s a lifestyle, it is a place from which to LIVE…FROM the abiding presence of the resurrected Christ.  I’m not talking about the theology of the resurrected presence, I mean the encounter…with the almighty God – living from that place changes everything…The THRONE life, the ASCENDED life is the invitation for every believer…[22:58]

As Bill Fawcett, over on the Facebook page Bethel Church and Christianity (on June 21, 2013), so astutely observed of Johnson’s podcast, “the main doctrinal thrust of the message is that we live in a spiritual universe, and the present world is just an illusion.”  This particular theme is an important point made in a previous CrossWise article (see Johnson’s Word of Faith Roots Showing section here).   According to some occult doctrine, the physical world in which we live is all illusory (a “field trip”, to use Johnson’s words), while the spiritual world is reality.

This idea comes originally from the Dualism of second century Gnosticism (derived in part from Platonism), though this is also prevalent in the Eastern religions – a false dichotomy in which all matter is evil, while all spirit is good.  New Age / New Spirituality doctrine is largely taken from Theosophy and other metaphysical cults (all of which adopt doctrines from Eastern religions). The following quotes are from Madame H. P. Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophy (1875), in which she borrows the term maya from Buddhism, meaning “illusion”, in her description of this same teaching:

…The reader must bear in mind that, according to our teaching which regards this phenomenal Universe as a great Illusion, the nearer a body is to the UNKNOWN SUBSTANCE, the more it approaches reality, as being removed the farther from this world of Maya13 [All capitalization and italics in original; bold added for emphasis.]

…When the spiritual entity breaks loose for ever from every particle of matter, then only it enters upon the eternal and unchangeable Nirvana. He exists in spirit, in nothing; as a form, a shape, a semblance, he is completely annihilated, and thus will die no more, for spirit alone is no Maya, but the only REALITY in an illusionary universe of ever-passing forms.14 [All spelling, capitalization, and italics in original; bold added for emphasis.]

But if the goal for the “spiritual entity” is to rid itself of matter (as a means of self-salvation towards self-deification) and die no more, then how would this apply to what Johnson is teaching above?  Bailey provides the answer:

He [Christ] thereby liberated us from the form side of life, of religion and matter, and demonstrated to us the possibility of being in the world and yet not of the world, living as souls, released from the trammels and limitations of the flesh, while yet walking on earth.15 

If he chooses to take a physical vehicle [ED: body]… the Master will ‘function from the above to the below’ and not (as is the case today with all disciples, though naturally not with the Masters) on ‘the below towards the above’.16

A Master, or manifest son of God, can choose to come back to earth, without or with an ‘earth body’, thereby living in “two realms at once”.17  This is not inconsistent with Johnson who claims that this “ascended lifestyle” provides the ability to live “at the right hand of the Father”, while simultaneously living on earth:

[32:48]…In the SAME measure that the Father put Jesus at His right hand, in the same measure He has put YOU at His right hand, because YOU are IN Christ…The renewed mind considers reality from what the Lamb has accomplished…This is the normal life for the believer. [33:59]

While we will one day be raised with Christ, it’s blasphemy to claim we’ll actually be on the Throne, thinking and living “FROM the abiding presence of the resurrected Christ”, at the Father’s right hand, the place where Jesus Christ now sits.

In Johnson’s message here, and his other works, much is made of the “renewed mind”, but this is effected by “intimacy with the Father”, ‘soaking in God’s presence’, “Biblical meditation”, etc.  These ‘encounters with God’ allow the ‘believer’ to advance in his/her spiritual walk – just like the gnosis of the 2nd century:

[34:00]…And I feel like the Lord, even right now, is inviting us…is drawing us into encounters that adjust our perspective…the person who has encountered God sees from His perspective, sees through His eyes – the invitation every believer has to come up higher…[34:43]

Bill Johnson claims that each ‘believer’ can come up so high as to obtain the FULLNESS of God.  He does this by first quoting Colossians 2:9 noting that “In Him [Jesus] dwells all the fullness of God bodily” [07:28 – 09:13].  Then Johnson makes the illogical leap that in the ‘believer’, as part of the Church body, dwells the fullness of God (since Jesus is the “Head” and we are the “body”):

[09:15]…I want you to take note that it says that the FULLNESS dwells in Him BODILY – not just in His head…[09:32] 

[10:45]…the FULLNESS of God that dwelleth in JESUS in bodily form, now dwells in the CHURCH in bodily form…[10:55]

Johnson asserts that the Lord’s Prayer is an apostolic prayer in the sense that since the ‘believer’s’ home is in heaven, then earth is “another territory” as compared to heaven.  That is, heaven is “home base”.  This illustrates that the ‘believer’ needs to understand, if they don’t already, that s/he really IS living in heaven, with the goal to bring him/herself here to “‘reason’ from heaven to earth”, or to think “FROM the abiding presence of the resurrected Christ” as a fully manifested son of God “at His right hand”, with the ability to function in both the heavenly (spiritual, eternal) realm and the earthly realm:

[23:16]…because the basic definition of the word “apostle” is to go to another territory and recreate the culture there that you lived in at your home base…so it’s a prayer to recreate on earth a culture that exists in heaven…[23:34]

Prior to this, Johnson was explaining how the ‘believer’ should work towards living in and from heaven, not being deterred by naysayers: 

[19:22]…This is another way of saying “seek first the Kingdom of God and these things will be added to you.”  It’s amazing – we celebrate the person who seeks first the Kingdom, but often criticize the one to whom all things have been added…it becomes offensive…“Submit yourself under the mighty hand of God that He might exalt you at the proper time.”  So we celebrate the person who humbles himself under the mighty hand of God, but criticize the one He exalts.  What it does is it hurts our own future promotion, because if I cannot celebrate the breakthrough of another, I cannot be trusted with my own…[20:31] 

The message here is that the ‘believer’ must not “criticize”, but instead recognize as special those who’ve already reached their “breakthrough” (a common occult term for spiritual advancement), their “ascension”, so that the ‘believer’ can be positioned to attain his/her own “ascension” (“the one He exalts”, “the one to whom all things have been added”).  The subtle implication is that Johnson himself is in this esteemed category as one so exalted, i.e. “ascended”, an “apostle” who is ‘bringing heaven to earth’.  This point is made clearer near the very end of this sermon, as he reiterates this point using Ephesians 4:11 about apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers [35:27], until he gets to this climax, using false humility: 

[38:09]…I’ll not do this one for me, I will do this to protect others and to empower so that a CLEAR manifestation of this resurrected Christ is seen worldwide…[38:19]

Obviously, this means that there will be individuals who are exhibiting all the traits of the glorified Christ on a worldwide scale (such as Bill Johnson currently?).  In fact, in his popular book When Heaven Invades Earth Johnson makes the explicit claim that the glorified Jesus Christ of Revelation 1:14-15 IS the model for the earthly ‘believer’!18  In addition, as Alice Bailey has done (and other occultists), Johnson proof-texts “As He is, so are we in the world” from 1 John 4:17 to back up his assertion.19

[28:16]…The Lord is longing to live on earth again THROUGH yielded people…[28:29]              

[13:49]… So what is He looking for?  He is looking for a people that will cooperate with the FULLNESS of God’s presence, operating and manifesting THROUGH them so that this world actually gets a FULL and ACCURATE taste of who Jesus is.  It’s not us; it’s Him.  But He dwells IN us in FULLNESS in bodily form…[14:12]

Let’s be clear, Jesus Christ is not coming to “live on earth again THROUGH yielded people”.  Jesus will be returning bodily in the same manner in which He left (Acts 1:9-11).  But Johnson goes even further than this, expounding on the above.  In typical Latter Rain fashion, he is looking for full unity, by proof-texting Ephesians 4:13:

[36:30]…until we all come to unity of faith and the KNOWLEDGE of the SON of God.  Too many people think they know that don’t know.  So the knowledge of the Son of God, to A perfect man.  Look at the description.  Millions and millions of body members come to A – singular – perfect mana full-on revelation of the Person of Jesus, what He is like, how He is.  To A perfect man, to the measure and stature – equal measure to the fullness of Christ…[37:34]

Equivalent to Christ Himself, these fully manifested sons of God, as collectively ONE perfect man, in which Christ is “on earth again THROUGH [these] yielded people”.  This sounds eerily close to the New Age / New Spirituality doctrine that “the Christ” – in actuality the antichrist (or antichrist spirit) – will manifest himself through many different people at one time:

Eventually, there will appear the Church Universal, and its definite outlines will appear towards the close of this [20th] century…This Church will be nurtured into activity by the Christ [ED: Satan/antichrist] and His disciples when the outpouring of the Christ principle, the true second Coming, has been accomplished.20 

The Christ, when He comes into incarnation, will most likely project himself into many parts and be where he wants to be. This is called the Law of Divisibility, a term used in Agni Yoga that means a highly developed spirit—one who is able to contact, simultaneously, various people in various locations. For example, a Master can be seen in various groups at the same time. He can even be in different planes serving and teaching on different levels to meet various needs of the people. He can do different jobs in different places at one time.21

Hyper-charismatic Bob Jones was recently at a conference hosted by Bill Johnson’s Bethel Church in Redding, CA, and stated something not unlike the above: “Recently, the Lord spoke to me and said, ‘I’m coming IN my people. Christ in you, the hope of glory. I’m comin’ IN my people.’”22  As already noted earlier, occultists pervert the “Christ in you, the hope of glory” of Colossians 1:27, and MSoG adherents pervert it in a very similar manner.

Conclusion

Bill Johnson is clearly teaching the manifest sons of God doctrine (MSoG).  Individuals attain this MSoG status of “ascended lifestyle” (aka “Throne life”) through “intimacy with the Father”, using methods akin to the centering prayer and contemplative prayer of Eastern religions and the New Age / New Spirituality (as well as 2nd century Gnosticism).  This will ultimately result in the ability to both live and think from the Throne of God, while yet remaining on earth (with a “renewed mind”).  Such a ‘believer’ can ‘think from the Throne’ as they are literally – in a statement of utmost blasphemy – at the right hand of God, as per Johnson.  This version of MSoG has a parallel with occult doctrine, with the fully manifested son / Ascended Master possessing the ability to live in both the heavenly and earthly realms simultaneously.

It seems quite possible that the Neo-Gnosticism of Bill Johnson (and others of his ilk) is a slight variation of the five-fold Bailey model illustrated above.  In this revised model Jesus is portrayed as God pre-incarnate (instead of a reincarnated man), yet “He emptied Himself of divinity and became man” so that He could gradually re-actualize His divinity and thus become the pattern for others towards their own self-deification – similar to the Gnostic redeemer myths of the 2nd century.

 
   1 Bill Johnson “Thinking from the Throne” podcast, June 9, 2013. <http://podcasts.ibethel.org/en/podcasts/thinking-from-the-throne>
   2 See Kurt Rudolph, trans. R McLachlan Wilson Gnosis: The Nature & History of Gnosticism, © 1977 Koehler & Amelang; translation (from German) of second, revised and expanded version © 1984 T&T Clark Ltd, Edinburgh; 1987 (1st paperback), HarperCollins, New York, NY, pp 121-134, 338-340.  Also “The Gospel of Philip” in Wilhelm Schneemelcher, transl. R. McL. Wilson New Testament Apocrypha: Volume One: Gospels and Related Writings. © J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), Tubingen, 1990; English Translation © James Clarke & Co. Ltd, 1991 (Rev. ed.), Westminster John Knox, Louisville, KY: The chrism [anointing] is superior to baptism.  For from the chrism we were called ‘Christians’, not from the baptism.  Christ also was (so) called because of the anointing… [p 200].  Cf. G. L. Borchert “Gnosticism” in Walter A. Elwel, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1984 (10th pr. 1994), Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, p 446.
   3 Wayne A. Meeks “The Man from Heaven in Johannine Sectarianism” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 91, No. 1 (Mar, 1972), p 44.  Italics in original; emphasis added.
   4 Donna D’Ingillo, “Experiencing God” Center for Christ Consciousness: Open your Heart, Expand your Mind, Unite with God website, par 1, 2 <http://www.ctrforchristcon.org/experiencinggod.asp>, as accessed 07/08/13
   5 Alice A. Bailey The Rays and the Initiations. 1960 Lucis, NY, 2nd paperback ed, 1976, Fort Orange Press, Inc., Albany, New York; p 699. Emphasis added.
   6 Alice A. Bailey From Bethlehem to Calvary: The Initiations of Jesus, © 1937 by Alice A. Bailey, renewed 1957 by Foster Bailey, Lucis Trust, 4th paperback ed., 1989, Fort Orange Press, Albany, NY, p 51.  Emphasis added.
   7 Bill Johnson. Audio clip taken from 2010 Australian “When Heaven Invades Earth” Tour as accessed from Plantagenet Family Church, Mount Barker, Western Australia, 03/21/11 from the following url: <http://pfchurch.org.au/?p=357>, which now is redirected to a different page altogether.  Link recovered on Internet Archive / The Wayback Machine; however, audio clip is unavailable: <http://web.archive.org/web/20101106155256/http://pfchurch.org.au/?p=357>.  Originally transcribed by CrossWise on 3/21/11 or shortly thereafter; last access date to original web link unknown but likely Fall, 2011.  All emphasis added.
   A similar quote is available on YouTube by “whizzpopping” Bill Johnson – Bringing Heaven to Earth (Part 2 of 2). Aug 20, 2010 <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CxVdxzJ0vN4> 3:10 – 4:30: “He forfeited everything because He owned everything; literally all that exists was His. And, He gave it all up to become a man; and, then He re-inherited everything as a man so that you and I would have an inheritance – the absolute mercy of God.  So, now He stands after His triumphant Resurrection. The defeat of the power of death, hell and the grave – all that stuff was defeated, the power of sin. And, He stands before humanity and He says, ‘I got the keys back.  That which was lost in the Garden, I’ve got it back. Now, let’s get back to plan A.’  And, he makes this profound statement; he says, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.”  Jesus did not make that declaration as God.  Now, na – He’s eternally God; he’s not a created being, He didn’t ascend, ya know, to some position. He’s eternally God; but, He did not make that statement as God.  How do we know? Because He said, ‘All authority’s been GIVEN to me.’  There’s no one higher than God to give God authority.    When Jesus made that statement, He made the statement as OUR elder brother.”  CAPS from emphasis in original; bold added.  As accessed 07/12/13.  Once again, note the stammering in his disclaimer.
   8 In his book A Different Gospel: A Historical and Biblical Analysis of the Modern Faith Movement [1988 (4th pr. 1991), Hendrickson, Peabody, MA] D.R. McConnell notes how E.W. Kenyon, the ‘grandfather’ of the Word of Faith movement, of which Johnson is a part, had made specific disclaimers yet proceeded to teach the very doctrine disclaimed!  McConnell states: The typical pattern in such instances is to disclaim any similarities with cultic teaching on a particular topic and then proceed to teach exactly that [p 45].  It appears Bill Johnson may be doing something similar.
   9 Bill Johnson Face to Face with God: The Ultimate Quest to Experience His Presence, 2007, Charisma House, Lake Mary, FL, p 200.  Emphasis added.  Here’s a bit more of the context: Most all of the experiences of Jesus recorded in Scripture were prophetic examples of the realms in God that are made available to the believer.  The Mount of Transfiguration raised the bar significantly on potential human experience. While Johnson is not clear on just what constitutes the “new birth”, he does have a teaching which appears to promote the divine spark/seed concept, which is subsequently enlivened and grows by an external ‘word’.  This is detailed in the following CrossWise post: http://notunlikelee.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/open-challenge-to-fans-and-critics-of-bill-johnsonbethel-church/.  In addition, his teaching on “the anointing”, aka the “Christ anointing” (see previous article) matches quite closely Bailey’s “Baptism in Jordan”.  Taken together, this accounts for steps 1 through 5 of the Bailey model, when we consider the totality of Johnson’s words in “Thinking from the Throne” and the remaining material referenced in this article, which include the Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, and even glorification.
   10 Bailey Bethlehem to Calvary, p 9.   Emphasis added
   11 Bill Johnson “Waiting Patiently in Hope” podcast, June 23, 2013 <http://podcasts.ibethel.org/en/podcasts/waiting-patiently-in-hope>
   12 Bill Johnson “Healing and the Kingdom” in Bill Johnson, Randy Clark. The Essential Guide to Healing: Equipping All Christians to Pray for the Sick, © 2011 by Bill Johnson and Randy Clark, Chosen Books (a division of Baker Publishing Group), Bloomington, MN; p 125.  Emphasis added.  Each chapter is authored by either Bill Johnson or Randy Clark.
   13 Helena P. Blavatsky The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy, Vol. 1 – Cosmogenesis, 1999 (facsimile edition of 1888 original), Theosophical University Press, Pasadena, CA, pp 145-146
   14 Helena P. Blavatsky Isis Unveiled: A Master-Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology: Vol 1 – Science. 1988 (unabridged from original 1877 first edition), Theosophical University Press, Pasadena, CA, p 290.  Noteworthy is the fact that Reality was the name of a newsletter written by E.W. Kenyon, and a term used in a similar manner as compared to Blavatsky above.  From a footnote in D.R. McConnell’s A Different Gospel is the following (although the author did not trace the doctrine to Theosophy, he does compare to both New Thought and Christian Science, which were contemporaneous with the roots of Theosophy): …It should be pointed out that ‘Reality’ as Kenyon uses it is a term used in New Thought and Christian Science to refer to the spiritual realm and truths that were hidden by the sensations of the physical realm, which were not reality at all, but was considered ‘error,’ the opposite of metaphysical reality.  Reality was also the name of Kenyon’s first newsletter [p 55, n 53].  As noted above, Bill Johnson is considered a Word of Faith teacher, having inherited some doctrine from Kenyon.  Johnson uses reality in a similar way, as indicated in this very article and in the Johnson’s Word of Faith Roots Showing section here: < http://notunlikelee.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/learning-etymology-with-bill-johnson-a-new-age-repentance/ >.
   15 Bailey Bethlehem to Calvary, p 187.  Emphasis added.
   16 Bailey, Rays and Initiations, p 699.  Emphasis added.
   17 Bailey Bethlehem to Calvary, p 51.   Emphasis added.
   18 Bill Johnson When Heaven Invades Earth: A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles. 2003, Destiny Image, Shippensburg, PA, p 145
   19 Bill Johnson Heaven Invades, p 145; Alice A. Bailey The Reappearance of the Christ, 1948, Lucis Trust, 9th printing 1979 (4th Paperback ed.); Fort Orange Press, Inc., Albany, NY, p 145; Bailey Bethlehem to Calvary, p 110.
   20 Alice Bailey The Externalisation of the Hierarchy, © 1957 Lucis, NY, 6th printing 1981; Fort Orange Press, Albany, NY, p 510.  Emphasis added.
   21 World Service Intergroup website. J.D. Dubois “The Christ, His Reappearance, and the Avatar of Synthesis” <http://www.worldserviceintergroup.net/?#/christ-reappearance/4543145171>  World Service Intergroup; Dubois; par 5; as accessed 07/12/13
   22 Bob Jones “The Coming Kingdom” Piercing the Darkness Prophetic Conference, February 2011. Hosted by Bethel Church, Redding, CA, Feb 23-25, 2011, Session 4, Feb 24, 2011, 7:00pm, 38:53 – 39:05. Emphasis in original. Available for sale at Bill Johnson’s Bethel Church website:  <http://store.ibethel.org/p4810/piercing-the-darkness-february-2011-complete-set-bethel-campus>; as accessed 07/12/13.

Assessing Bill Johnson’s “Eternally God” Declarations Amidst His Other Christological Statements

[UPDATE: In a new post it is shown that Johnson actually affirmed some of the speculations in this particular article in a sermon at Bethel on the very same day this article was posted, using some of the very same Scriptures cited as possible proof-texts for such an approach!]

A hallmark of any true Christian is charity (this is not to say non-Christians cannot be charitable, of course).  Christians will give their money and time with no expectation of return.  Rightly, this generosity should extend to giving another the benefit of the doubt if a given statement or statements are not exactly clear.  Everyone makes a ‘slip of the tongue’ or a ‘slip of the pen’, right? 

But, on the other hand, when a teacher consistently makes statements that run counter to Christian orthodoxy, there is a need to address this issue forthrightly.  When these statements are in the public realm via books, online sermons, video/audio, et cetera, these should be addressed publicly. 

There are those who – while understanding that Bill Johnson’s Christological teachings are problematic, if not at least seemingly self-contradictory at times – do not fully agree with the views put forth on CrossWise regarding Johnson’s Christology.  Specifically, there are those who are of the opinion that Bill Johnson teaches that the Word retained all His divine attributes when He became flesh, yet chose not to exercise those attributes for the entirety of His earthly ministry, instead relying on the Holy Spirit for all miracle workings.  Whether they do this out of charity or out of a firm belief that this is Johnson’s teaching given the evidence of Johnson’s own words (as they read them), or both, I cannot be certain.  The following tweet from April 7, 2013 by Bill Johnson in answer to a direct question, seems to have strengthened this view:

Bill Johnson tweet April 7, 2013

Bill Johnson tweet April 7, 2013

Does this statement render false the CrossWise articles asserting Johnson teaches that Jesus Christ did not possess any divine attributes during the Incarnation?  Some may think so.  But, on the other hand, what are we to make of the above tweet in conjunction with the following selection from the recent book co-written by Randy Clark and Bill Johnson titled The Essential Guide to Healing? 

…Jesus emptied Himself of divinity and became man (see Philippians 2:7).  While He is eternally God, He chose to live within the restrictions of a man who had no sin and was empowered by the Holy Spirit.  In doing this, He provided a compelling model to follow.1

 By the clear words in the first sentence, Johnson is claiming that the Word (Jesus) divested Himself of divinity in becoming incarnate.  But, then again, in the second sentence we have the “eternally God” declaration like the tweet above.  Is this a contradiction?  Or should we be charitable and assume Johnson meant to state that Jesus ‘emptied Himself’ of all divine prerogatives, i.e., that Jesus voluntarily did not use the divine attributes He yet retained?  (Though this view is not Biblical.)  But please note, to assume the latter requires reading into this statement beyond what is clearly written in the first sentence. 

To be certain we are not misunderstanding Bill Johnson, here is another passage from this same book:

…While Jesus is eternally God, He emptied Himself of His divinity and became a man (see Philippians 2:7).  It is vital to note that He did all His miracles as a man, not as God.  If He did them as God, I would still be impressed.  But because He did them as a man yielded to God, I am now unsatisfied with my life, being compelled to follow the example He has given us.  Jesus is the only model for us to follow.2

Once again, we have the same “eternally God” statement in conjunction with a claim of divested deity while incarnate.  Yet, we also have the assertion that Jesus did all His miracles “as a man yielded to God”.  Does this indicate we should, as noted above, assume Johnson really means that Jesus retained His divine attributes yet purposefully chose not to exercise them, instead relying upon the Holy Spirit for all miracle workings, despite the claim that “He emptied Himself of His divinity and became a man”?

I submit that there’s a different solution to this seeming conundrum, this apparent contradiction, without the need to read into any of the above.  But, it will require a bit of explanation first.

The Christ Anointing

One cannot effectively analyze Bill Johnson’s Christological statements apart from his teaching on “the anointing”, which is central to his theology.   In Johnson’s Christology, like some other teachers in hyper-charismaticism, both Christ, and then logically, antichrist are redefined.

Christ = the anointing
antichrist = against the anointing 

It is of utmost importance to keep this in mind.  “The anointing” is also called the “Christ anointing”,3 “Baptism in the Holy Spirit”,4 “Holy Spirit’s presence/rest upon” an individual,5 “the presence of God”,6 and “the outpouring of the Spirit”7 in Bill Johnson’s theology.  This is not speaking of the Holy Spirit indwelling; this is in addition to the indwelling:

…Certainly this is not talking about the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit that was already in Jesus’s life.  This was the inauguration of Jesus’s ministry, and the Holy Spirit came to rest upon Him as a mantle of power and authority for that specific purpose8

Bill Johnson’s duplicity is plainly evident in the way he first correctly defines Christ, and then redefines the term in the same paragraph in his book When Heaven Invades Earth:

Christ is not Jesus’ last name.  The word Christ means “Anointed One” or “Messiah…”9

So far, so good.  This is absolutely correct.  Yet, observe how he redefines “Christ” to “the anointing”:

…It [Christ] is a title that points to an experience.  It was not sufficient that Jesus be sent from heaven to earth with a title.  He had to receive the anointing in an experience to accomplish what the Father desired.10

 Contrary to Johnson, Scripture states that it was sufficient for Jesus to be the Christ, the Messiah at His birth (Luke 2:11).  And, importantly, the term “Christ” is understood in Christian orthodoxy as indicating deity/divinity.11  Continuing on to the very next paragraph in Johnson’s book: 

The word anointing means “to smear.”  The Holy Spirit is the oil of God that was smeared all over Jesus at His water baptism.  The name Jesus Christ implies that Jesus is the One smeared with the Holy Spirit.12

 This completes Johnson’s redefinition.  If Jesus is “the One smeared with the Holy Spirit” at His baptism, and this ‘smearing’ is the anointing, and this is the “experience” that brings forth the title of “Christ”, then it logically follows that Jesus was NOT the Christ prior to baptism.

To be sure the above is correct – that Jesus did not attain the “title” of Christ until He received the anointing in the river Jordan following John’s baptism when the Holy Spirit came upon Him as a dove (aka Baptism in the Holy Spirit, etc.) – the following quote from another work makes it clear: 

The outpouring of the Spirit also needed to happen to Jesus for Him to be fully qualified.  This was His quest.  Receiving this anointing qualified Him to be called the Christ, which means “anointed one.” Without the experience [the anointing] there could be no title.13

 Had Jesus not received the anointing, He could not have received the “title” of Christ, for this was the “experience” that “qualified Him to be called the Christ”.  But note how Johnson claims this “anointing” means “anointed one”.  Is Jesus then the unique “Anointed One”, although He did not receive the title of Christ until the anointing?  Does Johnson ‘merely’ have the timing wrong on when Jesus becomes the Christ?  Note that in the first quote in this section he neglects to use the definite article (the) in front of “Anointed One”, and he does the same in the immediately preceding quote for “anointed one” (lower case).  This is because, in another example of duplicity, ALL can receive this same “Christ anointing”:

…The outpouring of the Spirit comes to anoint the church with the same Christ anointing that rested upon Jesus in His ministry so that we might be imitators of Him14

Be aware that this is consistent with Gnostic and New Age teaching as exemplified by Levi Dowling’s book The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ:

The word Christ is derived from the Greek word Kristos [ED: actually Christos] and means anointed.  It is identical with the Hebrew word Messiah.  The word Christ, in itself, does not refer to any particular person; every anointed person is christed15

 In Johnson’s theology, when ‘believers’ receive this “Christ anointing” do they become divine?  Not exactly.  Note below that it’s the anointing itself that’s divine, not Jesus.  The anointing links the man Jesus to the divine, thus providing the supernatural power that the non-divine Jesus lacked:

The anointing Jesus received was the equipment necessary, given by the Father to make it possible for Him to live beyond human limitations…That would include doing supernatural things.  The anointing is what linked Jesus, the man, to the divine, enabling Him to destroy the works of the devil…16

It follows logically then that those who receive the Christ anointing will be linked to the divine in the same way.  To reiterate, just like mankind is non-divine and subsequently linked to the divine via the anointing, Jesus was merely a non-divine man who was linked to the divine via the anointing.  Also, given that Jesus receives the “title” of Christ only by virtue of the Christ anointing, then  it follows that anyone else who receives this same Christ anointing should receive this same “title” of Christ.  This puts us back to the teaching of Levi Dowling above: “every anointed person is christed”.

Having adequately determined how Bill Johnson defines Christ, we’ll briefly illustrate how he defines antichrist.  As he does with the term Christ, Johnson initially correctly defines antichrist (mostly, since anti can also mean “instead of”) as “anti, ‘against’; Christ, ‘Anointed One’.”17  Observe that he dispenses with the definite article (the) in front of “Anointed One” yet again.  And once again, he subtly redefines the term: “The spirits of hell are at war against the anointing, for without the anointing mankind is no threat to their dominion.18

In the following, he makes a clear distinction between believers – who would, by Christian orthodoxy, necessarily have the Holy Spirit indwelling upon conversion – and “the anointing”, though here he calls it “the Holy Spirit’s anointing” instead of the “Christ anointing”, or “Baptism in the Holy Spirit”, et cetera:

The spirit of antichrist is at work today, attempting to influence believers to reject everything that has to do with the Holy Spirit’s anointing….19

 There you have it.  By Johnson’s redefinition of antichrist, I myself have the “spirit of antichrist” since I am “attempting to influence ‘believers’ to reject” the anointing.

This teaching on the anointing corresponds with Johnson’s statements such as “He [Jesus] had NO supernatural capabilities whatsoever!”20 and “Jesus had no ability to heal the sick.  He couldn’t cast out devils, and He had no ability to raise the dead.”21  Given His total lack of inherent supernatural capabilities, this clearly indicates a temporally non-divine Jesus.

Eternally God Yet Temporally Man?

In Bill Johnson’s Christology, like all men, Jesus lacks divinity while in the temporal realm – except by virtue of the anointing.  But how does that theology mesh with Jesus as “eternally God”?  To answer this, first we’ll look at eternity in Scripture.

According to Ephesians 2:6 all Christians are currently seated in the heavenly realms; that is, though we are currently in our earthly bodies, we are in heaven (cf. Col 3:1-3).  Believers have a sort of “dual citizenship”.  Eternal life is a future that we already possess.  This means, in a sense, we are already in the eternal realm, while we are yet still on this earth in the temporal realm.   However, the tension between these two realities must be kept in check, as we are not bi-located; we are not simultaneously living in heaven as we walk on earth.

This is usually referred to as the already but not yet.   True believers have eternal security already, but we are not yet seated in the heavenlies.  The last days have already begun at Jesus’ first coming, but the final consummation is not yet.  This understanding that we have been in the last days since Christ’s earthly ministry is also known as inaugurated eschatology (sometimes realized eschatology, but not in the absolute sense by some liberal theologians that there is no future eschatology), with the understanding that Jesus Christ’s Second Coming brings in the eschaton (end of all things).

To explain further, Revelation 13:8 indicates one of two things (the syntax of the Greek allows one of two interpretations): 1) Jesus was slain from the creation of the world, or 2) the writing of the names into the Book of Life occurred from the foundations of the world.  To accept number 2 would seem to necessitate number 1, as it appears difficult to have a Book of Life unless there first had been a Life Giver.  In any case, the point is that some events from our temporal perspective are depicted in Scripture as already past and/or already present in the eternal realm.  Therefore, we cannot conceive of the temporal realm, with its chronological developments, as if it were a subset of the eternal.  In other words, time as we know it does not run parallel with eternity, as though eternity has a past, present, and future.  Lewis Sperry Chafer aptly describes the relationship between the temporal and the eternal:

…Whatever time may be and whatever its relation to eternity, it must be maintained that no cessation of eternity has occurred or will.  God’s mode of existence remains unchanged.  Time might be thought of as something superimposed upon eternity were it not that there is ground for question whether eternity consists of a succession of events, as is true of time.  The consciousness of God is best conceived as being an all-inclusive comprehension at once, covering all that has been or will be.  The attempt to bring time with its successions into a parallel with eternity is to misconceive the most essential characteristic of eternal things.22

With the foregoing in mind, we can return to Bill Johnson.

It appears possible Johnson may be condensing the concept of already but not yet, with some of the not yet into the already.  This would not be surprising as some hyper-charismatics are known as having an over-realized eschatology; i.e., some of the things reserved for the eschaton (the end of all things; when Christ returns) are claimed to be for now.  The Manifest Sons of God (MSoG) doctrine is one example of over-realized eschatology.

It is conceivable then that, in the Johnson Christology, Jesus is “eternally God” because Jesus is God only in eternity, but not divine in the temporal, earthly realm.  Stated another way, we can read Johnson’s tweet in conjunction with the question posed such that Jesus Christ is “eternally God”, i.e., Jesus is God in the eternal realm – and, of course eternity never ceases, as it has no beginning and no end – while He was simultaneously non-divine temporally in His earthly mission, as He had “emptied Himself of His divinity and became a man”.

Note that this adequately answers the question posed in the above tweet: Johnson affirms Jesus’ full deity while on earth, but only in virtue of the assertion that “Jesus Christ is eternally God” (again, eternity never ceases).  This is somewhat similar to the believer claiming to already have eternal life.  In other words, in its context, Johnson is not necessarily affirming temporal divinity in the earthly Jesus in and of itself in the above tweet; but, in asserting eternal deity it can be comprehended as somewhat analogous to the believer’s dual status in Ephesians 2:6 and Colossians 3:1-3.  Understood this way, Johnson’s tweet and the two quotations from the book referenced at the very beginning are adequately synthesized.

To be clear, what I’m proposing above with regard to Johnson’s teaching is not orthodox; it’s merely an attempt at explaining the seeming contradictions in Johnson’s theology.  This same idea can be applied to the following Facebook quote:

Jesus is God, eternally God, and never stopped being God. But He was also man, completely man. In His earthly life He lived from His humanity to illustrate dependence on the Father in a way that could be emulated. Jesus said, “the Son of man can do nothing of Himself . . .” illustrating His dependence. His limitations were in His humanity, not His divinity. Understanding the difference can help us to successfully live the life He gave for us to live. [Bill Johnson, Facebook, August 11, 2012]

Setting aside the fact that Johnson totally distorts the meaning of John 5:19 (“the Son of man can do nothing of Himself…”) by taking only a portion of this verse, wresting it from its proper context, we can understand this such that Jesus is an earthly non-divine man concurrent with an eternally divine Jesus.  Some of the bolded portion will be discussed further below.

In another context altogether, there is evidence of Bill Johnson’s conflation of the not yet with the already:

When I first heard this phrase, the Kingdom now but not yet, over 20 years ago, it was used as a statement of promise.  It was helpful for me to realize that we have access to things right now that I had always thought inaccessibleThe phrase helped to bring into focus the reality that some things will be enjoyed in time, and some things only in eternity.  But that same phrase has also been used to define limitations and restrictions, and not instill hope.  It is used to ease people’s dissatisfaction with unrealized promises now…

It is true that a full manifestation of the Kingdom of God is more than our physical bodies can endure.  But it is also true that when we are in Heaven we will still be able to say, now, but not yet, about the Kingdom, because there is no end to the increase of His governmentThroughout eternity the Kingdom will be expanding, and we will always be advancing.  I teach our people that if now, but not yet is used to define promise and potential, accept it.  If it is spoken to build awareness of our limitations and restrictions, reject it.  We don’t need more people without authentic Kingdom experiences telling us what we can and cannot have in our lifetime.  Those who walk out their faith with an experiential paradigm understand that we will always live in the tension of what we have seen and what we have yet to see, and that we are always moving on to more in God.  This is an understanding by experience issue.23

I’m not exactly sure how to understand Johnson’s statement, “Throughout eternity the Kingdom will be expanding…”, but the phrases “we have access to things right now that I had always thought inaccessible” and “we are always moving on to more in God” indicate, in context, that some of the not yet is for now.

But, I concede, this does not unequivocally prove that Johnson intends to teach an eternally divine Jesus with a temporally non-divine Jesus simultaneously.  However, such a teaching is not without precedent within hyper-charismaticism.  

The Two Realms of the Manifested Son of God

The late Bill Britton, a Manifest Sons of God (MSoG) teacher, has implicitly taught this in his booklet Tent to Temple (and other works) in a subsection titled “A Man Living In Two Worlds”.  In the following, please note that Britton is referencing the KJV/NKJV of John 3:13 that includes a clause at the end not found in most modern Bible versions – No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven (NKJV):24

Jesus told Nicodemus a very strange thing in John 3:13.  He said that He was living in heaven at the same time he was living on earth.  It was too much for Nicodemus to comprehend, as well as for many of God’s people today.  But it was true.  Hebrews 10:20 tells us that the Veil that separated heaven and earth was His flesh.

One side of the Veil faced the sanctuary with its candlestick and the priests who ministered daily.  This was his earthly existence, living under a skin covering.  But the other side of the same veil faced the Holy of Holies and the Skekinah Presence of His Father.  So he could say “I do only those things I see my Father do – I say only those things that please Him”.  He lived on the earth where men could see him, in an earth body.  But in that body He also walked continually in a heavenly place on the other side of the veil.  And I see a people who live in “tent” bodies which have been redeemed from the sense realm, a people who walk victoriously because they walk in the spirit.  Jesus showed us the way.25

Ignoring the fact that Britton has taken Hebrews 10:20 way out of context and John 3:13 beyond proper exegesis, the above quote indicates the very thing I’m illustrating that Johnson may intend.  That is, Johnson’s quotes above are not incongruent with manifest sons of God (MSoG) doctrine.  I’m not stating definitively that Bill Johnson actually teaches or believes Britton’s exact statement; I’m just providing it as a possible explanation.

Yet, the Facebook quote above from August 11, 2012 fits the basic thrust of Britton’s statement quite nicely – as exemplified by the title of this subsection as “A Man Living In Two Words”.  Specifically, the Johnson statement “His limitations were in His humanity” [He was non-divine temporally on ‘this side of the veil’], “not His divinity” [He had full divinity in the eternal realm, on ‘the other side of the veil’] can align with Britton, especially when we add Johnson’s claims that Jesus is “eternally God” and “[b]ut He was also man”.

Johnson also alludes to something akin to Britton’s teaching above in his book The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind in a chapter titled “Becoming the Dwelling Place of God”:

…We are again becoming the dwelling place of God that was promised in the Bible.  [ED: Holy Spirit indwelt Christians throughout the years weren’t?]  We have hungered for more, prayed for more, and now we are receiving unprecedented insight into our privileges and responsibilities in the Kingdom of God.  These insights aren’t just being pondered; people are acting on them, and more and more, God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven.26

This chapter is describing the Christian in “tent” bodies (not that this idea by itself is unscriptural), with an allusion to the not yet in the already.  Johnson claims that Genesis 28:10-19, Jacob’s dream, with the ladder of angels ascending and descending, is the OT precursor to the above (Johnson takes this out of context to ‘prove’ his point, not surprisingly).  He continues in this vein for a while, then discusses Jesus, after first quoting John 1:14 – And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth:27

Dwelt in this verse means “to tabernacle.”  Jesus tabernacled among us – He was the House of God made flesh – the place where God lived.  He was the initial fulfillment of the prophetic picture in Genesis 28…28

There is a New Testament reference to Genesis 28:12 as Jesus being the one whom angels had ascended and descended upon in John 1:51, thus identifying Jesus as the one, unique Redeemer.

The fulfillment of the House of God began with Jesus.  He was the House of God on earth.  But this concept did not stop with Him – far from it…your conversion was not God’s ultimate intent for you.  It was His initial intent that set you up for the ultimate fulfillment, which is that you be filled with His fullness, living the normal Christian lifestyle as defined by what takes place in heaven29

For Johnson, “living the normal Christian life” means doing supernatural works in virtue of the anointing.  And, of course, this is what he means by Jesus being the “House of God made flesh”.30  Overlooking the fact that, from an orthodox Christian perspective, we cannot equate Christians as a “House of God” (via the indwelt Holy Spirit) to Jesus as the “House of God” (as He is the unique Word made flesh, with His divine nature in hypostatic union with His human), is this a veiled version of manifest sons of God (MSoG) doctrine?  I think so.

To assist in fully comprehending the unorthodox doctrine of MSoG, here’s occultist and New Ager Alice A. Bailey, as MSoG has a direct parallel with occult doctrine (the occult uses this very name).  The second quote provides the key to understanding Bill Johnson’s “eternally God” statements in conjunction with his temporally non-divine Jesus.  “Master” in the third selection is another name for a fully manifested son of God:

He [Christ] thereby liberated us from the form side of life, of religion and matter, and demonstrated to us the possibility of being in the world and yet not of the world, living as souls, released from the trammels and limitations of the flesh, while yet walking on earth.31 

…We are also preparing for expansions of consciousness which will enable us to live in two realms at once – the life which must be lived on earth and the life which we can live in the kingdom of God [ED: kingdom of God = eternal realm]…32 

If he chooses to take a physical vehicle [ED: body]… the Master will ‘function from the above to the below’ and not (as is the case today with all disciples, though naturally not with the Masters) on ‘the below towards the above’…33

The first Bailey quote is similar to the Britton passage (“redeemed from the sense realm”), while portions of this first quote align with the “eternally God” yet temporally non-divine Jesus in some of the above Johnson quotes (Bailey’s “being in the world and yet not of the world…while walking on earth”).  However, it’s the second one that quite adequately explains Bill Johnson’s “eternally God” with a non-divine earthly Jesus, while also being congruent with the Britton quote.  And here’s a Facebook comment of Bill Johnson from May 12, 2012, which sounds similar to the third Bailey quote, and two more quotes from other Johnson works, which read like a bit of all three:

The most consistent way to display the kingdom of God is through the renewed mind. It is much more than thinking right thoughts. It is how we think – from what perspective. Done correctly, we “reason” from heaven toward earth. [Bill Johnson, Facebook, May 12, 2012; emphasis added]               

…He wants you to see reality from God’s perspective, to learn to live from His world toward the visible world34 

…That which is unseen can be realized only through repentance [ED: contemplative prayer, aka “experiencing His presence”].  It was as though He said, ‘If you don’t change the way you perceive things, you’ll live your whole life thinking what you see in the natural is the superior reality35

However, for more explicit MSoG teaching we have the following, in which Johnson claims that the glorified Jesus Christ of Revelation 1:14-15 is the model for which the believer is to aim while here on earth.36  Note how he takes 1 John 4:17 out of context (as He is, so are we in the world) – just as Alice Bailey does in her works to promote MSoG:37

…[W]hy didn’t the Father send Him [Holy Spirit] until Jesus was glorified?  Because without Jesus in His glorified state there was no heavenly model of what we were to become! As a sculptor looks at a model and fashions the clay into its likeness, so the Holy Spirit looks to the glorified Son and shapes us into His image. As He is, so are we in the world.38

To summarize this section: Keeping in mind Johnson’s teaching on the anointing, which indicates a temporally, earthly non-divine Jesus, who is only ‘linked’ to the divine via the anointing, we can systematize this doctrine with Johnson’s other statements that Jesus Christ is “eternally God” by understanding Jesus living in two different realms, the temporal and the eternal, simultaneously.  That is, there is a temporally non-divine Jesus concurrent with an eternally divine Jesus.  This is not unlike Manifest Sons of God doctrine, and Johnson looks to be explicating a somewhat veiled MSoG at some times, while teaching it more explicitly at others.

Overcoming Some Objections

Before concluding, there other statements of Bill Johnson that are less strongly asserting divested divinity (notwithstanding Johnson’s prevalent teaching on the anointing), while seemingly more strongly implying that the Word retained His divine attributes, yet chose not to exercise them.  Following are two.  We will focus on the bolded portions:

Jesus was (and is) God.  Eternally God.  That never changed.  But he chose to live with self imposed [sic] restriction while living on earth in the flesh – as a man.  In doing so He defeated sin, temptation, the powers of darkness as a man.  We inherit His victory – it was for us.  He never sinned!” [Facebook 3/21/2011] 

…Everything He did in His life and ministry He did as man who, though He was fully God, had set aside the privileges of His divinity in order to show us a model of the kind of life He would make available to each of us through His death, resurrection, and ascension…39

The first of these is not too dissimilar from the quotes in the very first part of this article; however, the “self imposed [sic] restriction” [should be “self-imposed”] part can be read such that Jesus had continually restricted Himself from utilizing the divine attributes He retained, throughout His earthly ministry.   But, on the other hand, this can also be read that the Word’s limitation came just before the Incarnation in the form of a divestment, or partial divestment, of His divine attributes – or at least those divine attributes providing supernatural power – resulting in this “restriction”.

One unanswered question (at least explicitly unanswered) is just what the term divinity means.  From the above, it’s clear that possessing divinity entails an ability to perform the supernatural, since when it is “emptied” or “laid aside” the result is a complete inability to act supernaturally.  This implies no longer possessing the means by which to perform supernatural acts, rather than a continual, conscious self-limitation.  For, if Johnson means that the Word continued to possess supernatural powers, yet consciously chose not to use these powers, instead relying on the Holy Spirit, then words such as “no ability,” “couldn’t,” and “NO supernatural capabilities” would not be used.  Moreover, when “Jesus, the man” is ‘linked’ “to the divine40, i.e. the anointing, Jesus has supernatural capabilities via this linking “to the divine”.  Therefore, divine, is another form of divinity, both entailing the ability to perform the supernatural.

Also, we can construe that divinity and deity are interchangeable, as the term deity was part of the question posed to Johnson in the above tweet, and the term divinity is used in Johnson’s other quotes in a similar manner.  So, in Johnson’s dictionary, to empty of divinity does not result in ceasing to exist.  So, to recap, to empty or lay aside divinity/deity entails a continued existence but at the expense of any and all supernatural capabilities, in Johnson’s theology.

In the second quote above, if we take the bolded section just as it is (and the quote in isolation from all other Johnson material), we could understand this to be stating that the Word retained all divine attributes when He became flesh, yet refrained from using His divine “privileges”, i.e., supernatural powers.  But, on the other hand, this can be understood such that He was formerly God, that is, prior to becoming man, He was fully God; however, upon becoming a man He was no longer God having – to use one of the earlier quotes – “emptied Himself of divinity” when He entered the temporal realm.  Alternatively, we can interpret this statement such that “He was fully God” means He was “eternally God” (fully God) concurrent with the time He was temporally non-divine “as a man”.  The latter understanding is congruent with our analysis of the rest of Bill Johnson’s statements.

In each of the above quotes, it must be conceded that to apply the understanding that the Word retained possession of His divine attributes during the Incarnation is directly opposed to Johnson’s teaching on the anointing, which clearly reveals a non-divine earthly Jesus.  Therefore, to accept the interpretation that Johnson is stating that the Word retained all His divine attributes yet chose not to exercise them during His earthly ministry (while ignoring the “emptied Himself of divinity” statements) renders Johnson’s Christology totally incoherent, self-contradictory.

One other objection noted is based on a passage in When Heaven Invades Earth, which appears to affirm that Jesus was indeed Christ/Messiah at the virgin birth:

For hundreds of years the prophets spoke of the Messiah’s coming.  They gave over 300 specific details describing Him.  Jesus fulfilled them all!  The angels also gave witness to His divinity when they came with a message for the shepherds: ‘For there is born to you this day…a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  Nature itself testified to the arrival of the Messiah with the star that led the wise men…’41

Besides the fact that Johnson above, in His Christ = the anointing teaching, illustrates that anyone who receives the anointing is an “Anointed One” or “Messiah”, the above passage does not necessarily affirm that Jesus is the Messiah/Christ at the virgin birth.  The interpretive key is the remainder of the paragraph:

…Yet with this one statement, ‘Unless I do the works of the Father, do not believe me,’* Jesus put the credibility of all these messengers on the line.  Their ministries would have been in vain without one more ingredient to confirm who He really was.  That ingredient was miracles.42

Do we imagine that the archangel Gabriel was pacing the heavens hoping that Jesus would perform miracles to prove He really was the Messiah, the Christ, and thus prove Gabriel to be true?  Certainly not.  The asterisk (*) above refers to John 10:37 in a footnote in the original quoted passage.  In this Scripture Jesus Christ was not making some sort of all-inclusive statement putting “the credibility of all these messengers on the line;” He was addressing the unbelieving Jews.  Johnson is mixing Biblical contexts here.  However, note that in John 10:37 Jesus is pointing out that they should believe He is the Son of God by virtue of the works/miracles He performs.  Jesus’ point is that, though they do not believe He is Who He claims to be, they should believe by the miracles.  Johnson proof-texts this to remain consistent with the rest of his teachings that Jesus was not really the Christ/Messiah until His Baptism after which, of course, He performed the miraculous works having been ‘enabled’ by the anointing mentioned earlier in this same book.

So, it would seem the above paragraph can be perfectly harmonized with the rest of Johnson’s teachings.  To state another way: With Johnson’s assertion that “The name Jesus Christ implies that Jesus is the One smeared with the Holy Spirit”,43  in its original context (see above), he makes it apparent that baptism is the point at which Jesus receives the title/name of Christ (Messiah).  Consequently, according to this teaching, it follows that since Jesus did not have the name of Christ, and, hence was not yet Christ before baptism, the angels’ and the other messengers’ words were contingent upon Jesus ‘proving Himself’ by performing the miraculous, thereby showing Him to be an “Anointed One” – for anyone receiving the Christ anointing is an anointed one.  Moreover, Johnson’s quote is not necessarily proclaiming Jesus’ divinity (“the angels gave witness to His divinity”) since he asserted that it was the anointing that linked “Jesus, the man, to the divine.”44  Jesus’ divinity was only by virtue of the yet future anointing.

But what about the specific language in the first part of the paragraph above, especially the use of Luke 2:11, that states, in effect, that the Messiah had come at that time, at the virgin birth?  To answer this, I’ll quote New Ager/occultist Levi Dowling:

…When we say ‘Jesus, the Christ’ we refer to the man and to his office; just as we do when we say…Lincoln, the President…Lincoln was not always President, and Jesus was not always Christ45

If one has this in mind, one could use Luke 2:11 – “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” [NIV 1984] – to mean that Jesus is the future Christ and NOT that Jesus was born as the Christ.  This would be similar to stating, “President Lincoln was born On February 12, 1809.” Certainly, Lincoln wasn’t born President, for he was elected to the office of the President later.

Once again, if one does not accept the above explanation, then one is left with self-contradictory teaching.  However, I submit that Johnson’s penchant for redefining terms and concepts, as well as his overt duplicity in doing so at times (whether he borrowed any of this from someone else or not matters little), indicates he could be deceptive in other areas (as he has been in the account of the Roberts Liardon library acquisition); that is, Johnson could throw in the odd orthodox statement now and again in order to purposefully confuse those who see his main teachings as unorthodox.

Concluding Remarks

As this article illustrates, by using Bill Johnson’s own words, he does in fact deny the full deity/divinity of Jesus Christ while He was on earth in his teaching on the anointing.  This is not a “hurtful rumor”, as he states in his tweet; it’s an established fact as evidenced by Bill Johnson’s own clear (and sometimes unclear) teachings.  Is this being uncharitable towards Bill Johnson?  Scripture does not indicate we should be charitable toward false teachers:

17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. (Romans 16:17-18, NKJV)

It is Bill Johnson who is causing division with his teachings that run contrary to orthodox Christianity.  Having identified this, we are to avoid him.  The Apostle Paul states quite clearly, “such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ”.  Anyone who consistently denies the divinity of Jesus Christ in any form or fashion, as Johnson clearly does in his Christology, is an enemy of the Cross of Christ and an enemy of the Christian faith.

1 Bill Johnson “Healing and the Kingdom” in Bill Johnson, Randy Clark. The Essential Guide to Healing: Equipping All Christians to Pray for the Sick, © 2011 by Bill Johnson and Randy Clark, Chosen Books (a division of Baker Publishing Group), Bloomington, MN, p 125.  Emphasis added.  Each chapter is authored by either Bill Johnson or Randy Clark.
2 Bill Johnson “Healing and the Authority of the Believer” in Johnson, Clark Essential Guide to Healing, pp 132-133.  Emphasis added.
3 Bill Johnson Face to Face with God: The Ultimate Quest to Experience His Presence. 2007; Charisma House, Lake Mary, FL, p 77.  Underscore added.
4 Johnson Face to Face, pp 21-22, 58, 77-82, 100-102
5 Bill Johnson When Heaven Invades Earth: A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles. 2003, Destiny Image, Shippensburg, PA, p 80; Johnson Face to Face, p 22
6 Johnson, Face to Face, pp 21-22
7 Johnson, Face to Face, pp 79, 109
8 Johnson, Face to Face, pp 21-22. Bold added.
9 Johnson Heaven Invades, p 79
10 Johnson Heaven Invades, p 79.  Emphasis added.
11 Wayne Grudem Systematic Theology, 1994, Inter-Varsity, Grand Rapids, MI, pp 233-38, 543-554, 624-33; Louis Berkhof Systematic Theology, 1941, 4th revised and enlarged ed, 1991, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, pp 91-5, 312-13, 356-66
12 Johnson Heaven Invades, p 79.  Emphasis added.
13 Johnson, Face to Face, p 109. Italics in original; bold added.
14 Johnson, Face to Face, p 77.  Bold added.
15 Levi Dowling The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ: The Philosophic and Practical Basis of the Religion of the Aquarian Age of the World, © 1907 Eva S. Dowling and Leo W. Dowling, © 1935 and © 1964 Leo W. Dowling, (11th printing, 1987), DeVorss, Marina del Rey, CA, p 6. Italics in original; bold added.
16 Johnson Heaven Invades, p 79.  Emphasis added.
17 Johnson Heaven Invades, p 79.  Italics in original.
18 Johnson Heaven Invades, p 80.  Bold added.
19 Johnson Heaven Invades, p 81
20 Johnson Heaven Invades, p 29
21 Bill Johnson The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind: Access to a Life of Miracles, 2005, Destiny Image: “Speaking to the Purposes of God for This Generation and for the Generations to Come”, Shippensburg, PA, p 50. Bold added.
22 Lewis Sperry Chafer Systematic Theology, 1948, 1976 Dallas Theological Seminary (1993), Kregel, Grand Rapids, MI, Vol. VII, pp 141-42.  Emphasis added.
23 Bill Johnson Dreaming with God: Secrets to Redesigning Your World through God’s Creative Flow, 2006, Destiny Image: “Speaking to the Purposes of God for This Generation and for the Generations to Come”, Shippensburg, PA, pp 64-65.  Italics in original; bold added for emphasis.
24 This clause will be the subject of a future article here on CrossWise.
25 Bill Britton From Tent to Temple, nd, Bill Britton (no publisher listed), Springfield, MO, pp 15-16.  All as per original except bold, which is added for emphasis.
26 Johnson Supernatural Power, pp 53-54.  Bold added.
27 Johnson Supernatural Power, pp 54-57
28 Johnson Supernatural Power, p 57. Italics in original.
29 Johnson Supernatural Power, p 57.  Bold added.
30 I’ve argued elsewhere that Bill Johnson is teaching that Jesus is really the Word of Faith (WoF) “rhema” word ‘made flesh’, aka the “present truth” word made flesh, in the following: < http://notunlikelee.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/open-challenge-to-fans-and-critics-of-bill-johnsonbethel-church/ >.  This is also is consistent with the Gnostic/New Age doctrine of divine spark or divine seed within each person waiting to be awakened.
31 Alice A. Bailey From Bethlehem to Calvary: The Initiations of Jesus, © 1937 by Alice A. Bailey, renewed 1957 by Foster Bailey, Lucis Trust, 4th paperback ed., 1989, Fort Orange Press, Albany, NY, p 187.  Emphasis added.
32 Bailey Bethlehem to Calvary, p 51.   Emphasis added.
33 Alice A. Bailey The Rays and the Initiations. 1960 Lucis, NY, 2nd paperback ed, 1976, Fort Orange Press, Inc., Albany, New York; p 699. Emphasis added.
34 Johnson Supernatural Power, p 45.  Italics in original; bold added.
35 Johnson Heaven Invades, p 38.  Italics in original; bold added.
36 Johnson Heaven Invades, p 145
37  Alice A. Bailey The Reappearance of the Christ, 1948, Lucis Trust, 9th printing 1979 (4th Paperback ed.); Fort Orange Press, Inc., Albany, NY, p 145; Bailey Bethlehem to Calvary, p 110.
38 Johnson Heaven Invades, p 145.  Italics in original; bold added.
39 Johnson, Face to Face, p 23
40 Johnson, Heaven Invades, p 79
41 Johnson, Heaven Invades p 97
42 Johnson, Heaven Invades p 97.  Italics in original.
43 Johnson, Heaven Invades p 79
44 Johnson, Heaven Invades p 79
45 Dowling, Aquarian Gospel, p 8.  Emphasis added.

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