4-5 God’s Use Of Language
For many readers, the arguments presented so far will be adequate. Others
will require more proof. And still others may be fascinated by the wider
issues our discussion has opened up. We have given many examples of how
the Bible is written from a human perspective; but it is also from God’s
perspective. This apparent paradox is surely a powerful proof of the Bible’s
total inspiration. A father speaks to a child from his perspective, and
yet also from that of the child; and it is this masterful mixture which
we see in the way the Bible is written. The way God’s word mixes
the Divine and the human perspective is what makes it hard to understand
for the superficial reader, and yet at the same time open up wonderfully
to the truly child-like reader.
Sometimes God indicates from what perspective the record is written;
at other times He doesn’t. Thus Matthew 3:16 makes it clear that
Christ saw Heaven opened at his baptism, and the Spirit descending like
a dove. But Luke 3:21-22 just says that “the heaven was opened,
and the Holy Spirit descended”. Luke doesn’t say that this
is only what happened from Christ’s perspective. This problem of
perspective is at the root of the misunderstanding of the demon language
in the Gospels.
As the perfect Father and Teacher, God uses language in a manner which
will intellectually stretch His children; stretch us to rise up
to His way of perceiving things. Thus sometimes God appears to use
language with no regard as to whether the people who first heard
it could understand it. God spoke to Job about snow (Job 37:6),
to Abraham about sand on the sea shore (Gen. 22:17), to Noah about
rain (Gen. 7:4) – things which they had never seen. And the
New Testament concepts of grace, agape love, humility etc. were
outside the ability of first century Greek to properly express;
new words had to enter the language in order to express these ideas
. Yet God is also capable of speaking in the
language of the day, bringing Himself right down to our human level
of language use. It is vital to appreciate that God uses language
in different ways in different parts of the Bible – otherwise
our interpretation of it will be inconsistent and contradictory.
The wonder of inspiration is that God both accommodates Himself to the
understanding of His readership and yet also uses language in His own
way. The issue of demons is a classic example of this. We can clearly
demonstrate that demons refer to idols and do not exist. Yet the New Testament
describes Christ’s miracles using the language of demon possession.
It is careless Bible study that seizes upon these New Testament verses
and makes them prove the existence of demons. Rather must we analyze the
way in which God uses language and reconcile these verses with the ‘mega-principles’
of the Bible concerning the supremacy of God and the true origin of trials
God And Language
Language is an expression of the mind; our words express our thoughts
(Matt. 12:34). In this sense, God is His word (Jn. 1:1). We know that
God’s mind works on an entirely different level to our own (Isa.
55:9). Therefore the expression of His mind in the form of words is going
to use language in a very different way to how we do. If this fact is
firmly recognized by us, we should not be surprised that we face some
apparent paradoxes when we examine the Bible text.
It is for this reason that the Bible is not written as we would write
a book designed to reveal God to men. It is therefore not a straightforward
statement of beliefs with a series of clear commands to obey. To understand
a doctrine we must search the entire Scriptures, learning to appreciate
God’s way of thinking and speaking. This means that a degree of
thought and reflection is necessary before the system of truth which comprises
the Gospel becomes clear. Faith in God comes from hearing or reading His
words (Rom. 10:17).
It is evident that God does not passively ignore this faithless world;
He is actively angry with them, and He actively seeks to confuse all who
do not have a truly humble attitude to His word (Matt. 13:10-12; 2 Thess.
2:11; Isa. 66:4; Ez. 20:25). His word is therefore written in a manner
which confuses some and yet clearly teaches others, no matter how intellectually
limited they may be. It has often been objected that if in fact demons
don’t exist, then the language of demons in the New Testament is
confusing people. But seeing that God does confuse people, this is not
really an objection. God holds back many people from knowing His truth;
e.g. they may die as babies, or live in a time and place where there is
no knowledge of the Bible. He may also hold others back from seeing His
true message through the way in which He has written His word. It is God’s
prerogative to call or not call people to the true Gospel, and we should
not find anything objectionable about the ways in which He chooses to
The following are all examples of how the language of the Bible is confusing:
- Revelation 12:7-9 if read alone and out of context would teach the
superficial reader that the devil is a dragon with rebellious Angels
following him in heaven.
- Matthew 25:41 speaks of the devil and his Angels being thrown into
eternal fire in hell. Only a careful consideration of what the words
‘hell’ (Gehenna) and ‘Angels’ mean can lead
to a correct understanding of this passage.
- The parable of Luke 16:19-28 quickly leads the superficial reader
to find support for the pagan ideas of ‘immortal souls’
and going to heaven on death; neither of which find Biblical support.
- The account of the thief on the cross needs careful pondering or
else the reader will get the wrong impression that the believer goes
to heaven on death.
- Christ is spoken of in language which can easily be misunderstood
to teach that he was the creator of the world; only once we understand
the concepts of the new creation and God manifestation can we make sense
of these passages.
- The well known words of John 14:1-3 superficially appear to teach
something about going to Heaven; until the reader analyses what
the Bible means by the house of God, and then takes those verses
apart clause by clause .
It is clear from this that true interpretation of the Bible takes some
thoughtful pondering of it. Have you ever considered the fact that most
of Christ’s words were totally misunderstood by those who heard
him? Nicodemus thinks he must re-enter the womb of his mother in order
to be born again (Jn. 3:4); when Jesus said “Where I am going, you
cannot come”, people thought he was going to commit suicide (Jn.
8:21-22); when he spoke of his flesh as “bread for the life of the
world”, they honestly thought he was suggesting some kind of cannibalism.
And his disciples were no better. They totally missed the point about
his death and resurrection; when he warned them of the leaven of the Pharisees,
they thought he meant they shouldn’t buy yeast from them (Mk. 8:14-21
cp. Matt. 16:5); when he says Lazarus has fallen asleep in death, they
think he means that Lazarus is having a good nap (Jn. 11:12); and when
he speaks about having food to eat which they don’t know about,
they think someone has been sneaking him a packed lunch (Jn. 4:33). The
difference between the disciples and the Jews generally was that they
thought on his words, they remembered them afterwards, they stayed around
after his confusing parables and asked what on earth he was talking about,
whilst the rest of the listeners went away confused (Matt. 13:10-12),
although no doubt they thought they’d understood everything. So
the fact that people today misunderstand the language of the Bible, especially
of the Lord Jesus concerning demons, should not come as much of a surprise.
God’s doctrines are described as a secret, a mystery; the Hebrew
word used in this connection means ‘A confidential plan revealed
to intimate friends’; and yet they are revealed to the true believers
(Am. 3:7-8; Jer. 23: 18,22 AV mg.; Ps. 25:14; Eph. 3:3-6). Therefore the
congregation of true believers is called “the secret assembly of
the saints”(Ps. 89:7 Heb.). There are many Bibles around, but God’s
doctrines are to some extent a secret, and not understood by many of those
who possess and read the Bible. It therefore follows that the Bible must
be written in such a way as to conceal Truth from the majority of readers.
Much vital doctrine is taught by typology, which is hardly employing
the means of straightforward statements to teach us. God intensely values
typology; it is what Scripture is largely comprised of. It is therefore
intended as a teaching medium, to be taken seriously as explicit commandments.
God uses typology so much in order to indicate to us that He does not
just see the lives of His servants at face value; He is working out a
master-plan with them (perhaps on several levels) in the circumstances
of their lives. The extensive use of typology is an indication that God
wants men to love His word and search it out, to think deeply about it;
and it is such people that He will reveal His Truth in its glorious simplicity.
A number of vital principles are taught to us by typology:
The place of women in the church
and in married life (Eph. 5)
Gehenna as a place of destruction
(rather than orthodox hell fire)
many of the Kingdom passages
speak of situations which were typical of the future Kingdom
(e.g. the time of restoration, Solomon’s kingdom, or Hezekiah’s
Indeed, the Messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth is hard to explicitly prove
from the Old Testament, without recourse to typology. Even Isaiah 53 describes
the sufferings of Hezekiah, who was typical of Jesus. Thus Stephen’s
defence of his belief in the Messiahship of Jesus rests largely on typology
– e.g. the fact that Joseph/Jesus was rejected by his brethren at
first (Acts 7:13).
Without doubt God frames the Biblical record in order to highlight certain
facts. Thus there is a marked lack of information concerning the father
and mother of Melchizedek in Genesis. The Spirit in Hebrews comments that
he was “Without father, without mother…having neither beginning
of days, nor end of life” (Heb. 7:3). Now this is not literally
true. God is providing us with an interpretation of how He worded the
account in Genesis, making the point that Melchizedek typified Christ.
But although we are not to read Hebrews 7:3 at face value, there is no
explicit indication to this effect. The objection that the New Testament
does not warn us against reading the ‘casting out of demons’
language literally is therefore not valid. Hebrews 7:3 is one of many
examples of where it is imperative to understand the way in which God
is using language if we are to correctly understand His word, but there
is no explicit warning about this in Hebrews 7:3!
If we may speak in human terms, the speed and power of God’s intellect
is such that He does not need words as we do in order to reason and reach
conclusions. This begins to be reflected by the way in which the Bible
is full (fuller than many realize) of the device of metonymy, whereby
the cause is put for the effect. The piercing analysis of God is reflected
by the way in which He uses this linguistic device so frequently. Much
misunderstanding of the atonement has arisen through failing to appreciate
God’s use of metonymy. Other examples include James 3:6, where “the
tongue” means the words the tongue speaks; and 1 John 5:15, where
God hearing our prayers means (see context) that He answers them. Unless
we appreciate metonymy, we will come to the conclusion that God’s
word is making incorrect statements; for example, that mere possession
of a tongue means that our whole body is defiled (James 3:6).
God’s Language: Shockingly Different
It should be apparent from the above that God does not use language in
a straightforward, literal way. Those who have been reading the Bible
all their lives may be so used to God’s language that they do not
appreciate the extent to which this is true. There are times, however,
when God uses language in a very different way to how we normally do.
Perhaps we need to drive this home with the following perhaps ‘shocking’
God sometimes uses language in a way which we may find embarrassing or
inappropriate. Thus when creating a mini-parable to explain the gathering
of the responsible to him at the second coming, Jesus likens himself to
a rotting carcass which will instinctively attract the eagles, representing
the responsible (Lk. 17:37). Within the human use of language, it seems
inappropriate to liken the Lord Jesus Christ to a decaying carcass. It
seems similarly inappropriate to liken God’s response to our prayers
to an unjust judge who grudgingly answers requests (Lk. 18:1-7), or to
repeatedly compare Jesus to a thief (Mt. 24:43; Lk. 12:39,33; 1 Thess.
5:2-4; Rev. 3:3; 16:15). It seems out of place to liken believers struggling
to enter the Kingdom to violent people trying to storm a city by force
(Matt. 11:12). The absentee landlords of Galilee were despised by all;
and yet the Lord uses one of them as a figure for Himself (Lk. 20:9).
Most stunning of all is Psalm 78:36,65,66: “They (Israel) did flatter
Him (God) with their mouth….then the Lord awaked…like a mighty
man that shouteth by reason of wine. And he smote his enemies in the hinder
parts”. Now hold on, this just isn’t what we expect; to read
about God being flattered by foolish men, and for Him to be likened to
a drunken soldier who goes on the rampage kicking others in their private
parts (this is alluding back to 1 Sam. 5:9). And the Lord likens His final
appeal to Israel to casting dung around them (Lk. 13:8).
Likewise, Galatians 5:12 contains a play on words which again seems quite
inappropriate to us; so much so that many a Bible translator and expositor
has had problems with it. The idea is that Paul wishes that the circumcision
party would go further and fully emasculate themselves. This just isn’t
the way men would use language if they wrote the Bible uninspired by God.
Neither would Bible forgers attribute sarcastic language to God, but
there are a number of examples of God using sarcasm (Ps. 2:4; 37:13; Isa.
44:14-20; Ex. 10:2 RV mg. “I have mocked the Egyptians”).
In our use of language, “sarcasm is the lowest form of wit”;
but not in God’s. His utter omnipotence means He can use language
in a different way to us. Even the briefest comparison of the Bible with
an uninspired religious book will indicate that the very way the Bible
uses language is itself a proof that God is the author. The artless way
in which God describes the death and resurrection of His own Son is one
of the clearest examples. The way Mary meets the risen Lord and thinks
He is the gardener is a supreme example of how artless and wondrous is
God’s use of language.
John begins his first letter with an elaborate prologue. Raymond Brown
comments: "Many commentators observe that a Prologue is an extraordinary
beginning for an epistle since it violates all the standards of letter
format". This 'violation' appears typical of how Scripture so often
appears to 'violate' contemporary usages of language. [Raymond Brown,
The Epistles of John (Garden City: Doubleday, 1982) p. 176].
And just one more. We’d sooner skip over the words of Deuteronomy
23:12-13 than analyze them closely: “Thou shalt have a place also
without the camp, whither thou shalt go forth abroad: and thou shalt have
a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself
abroad, thou shalt dig therewith”. Yet there can be no doubt that
this is one of the source passages for the words of Hebrews 13:13: “Let
us go forth therefore unto him (Jesus) without the camp, bearing his reproach”.
When the Israelite soldier had a call of nature, he went forth “without
the camp”, doubtless with a sense of sheepishness as he carried
his spear-cum-spade with him. Everyone knew what he was doing. This commonplace
incident is picked up by the Spirit and made relevant to the Jewish Christians
going forth from the camp of Israel, carrying with them the obvious reproach
of the cross of Christ. Again, we labour the point: this just isn’t
the way we use language.
Why Is God’s Language Different?
So, we return to the question of why God uses language in a different
way to how we normally do:
- Because God is not limited by time, He speaks of things which do
not now exist as if they do, because He knows that ultimately they will
exist (Rom. 4:17). This explains why the Bible speaks as if Abraham
is still alive although he is now dead; as if the believers are now
saved in God’s kingdom, although “he that endureth to the
end shall be saved” (Matt. 10:22); as if Israel were obedient
to God’s word (Psalm 132:4 cp. Ex. 19:5-6), when they will only
be so in the future; as if Christ existed before His birth, although
he evidently only existed physically after his birth of Mary. The majority
of so-called ‘Christian’ churches go wrong in these major
doctrinal areas because they fail to appreciate that the Bible is written
from God’s perspective, not man’s. The more we appreciate
God’s way of using language, the more difficulties disappear.
- When God wishes to emphasize something, He speaks as if nothing else
needs to be taken into account in the language He uses. This is why
salvation is often spoken of without mentioning the fact that it is
conditional on certain things. The critic might respond: ‘So the
Bible says things that aren’t correct!’. In a sense, yes
it does, if that’s how you want to put it. Remember the examples
we gave about the sun ‘rising’, Abraham being alive when
he was dead etc. You can make anyone’s words contradict themselves
until you appreciate how they use language.
- God has inspired His word in order to interpret certain facts to
us. This is further proof that we are not intended to insist on a strictly
literal meaning to everything we read (for example, that the sun literally
rises). Thus Matthew records that the people cried ‘Hosanna’
at Christ’s entry into Jerusalem (Matt. 21:9). Seeing that first
century Israel spoke Aramaic, this is doubtless what did actually come
out of their lips. But Luke says that the same group of people shouted
“Glory” (Lk. 19:38). Luke’s Gospel seems to be designed
for the Greek speaking world, and so he uses the Greek equivalent of
‘Hosanna’, even though they did not actually say that word.
The way the New Testament quotes the Old with slight changes without
pointing this out is another example of how God’s word mixes interpretation
with direct transmission of facts (e.g. Ps. 32:1-2 cp. Rom. 4:6-7).
This fact is not irrelevant to the issue of demons. We have seen that
the accounts of demons being cast out are framed in such a way as to
show the supremacy of God’s power over the vain traditions of
the first century world.
- Another reason why God uses language differently to how we do is
because He can read motives. Thus Galatians 5:3 says that “I testify
to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole
law”. Paul and many other Jewish Christians were circumcised,
but Paul is reasoning in the letter to the Galatians that the true Jewish
believer was not under an obligation to keep the Law: “For in
Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision”
(Gal. 5:6). Therefore “every man that is circumcised” in
Galatians 5:3 must mean ‘every man who trusts in circumcision
or wants to undergo it’. Some modern paraphrases support this,
but the point is that what God actually said was that “every man
that is circumcised…is a debtor to do the whole law” (see
Greek text). Those words are just not true if taken out of context;
we need to appreciate that God is speaking from the perspective of knowing
It must also be born in mind that because of the extreme importance of
His people to Him, God uses language in a way which focuses very much
upon them to the relative exclusion of all others. Frequently, New Testament
references to “all men” really means “all true believers”
or those who have become responsible to God. Hebrews 2:14 states that
Christ killed the devil (the power of sin) on the cross; but this is only
true for those in Christ. Those who are ignorant of the saving power of
God’s Truth are under the active control of sin- the Biblical devil.
Revelation 20:5 speaks of “the dead” as those responsible
to judgment, whereas many other Bible passages show that not all the dead
will be raised. Only those who have heard the Gospel will be resurrected
to judgment. Thus “the dead” in God’s usage does not
refer to everyone who has ever died. 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 speaks of
“the dead” as those in Christ. Matthew 25:32 describes “all
nations” coming before Christ for judgment. This indicates that
to God, the world He sees is comprised of those who are responsible to
Him; not literally “all nations” will come before Christ,
only those people from them who are responsible to Him.
This was prefigured in the Old Testament by the way in which God saw
the world as just Israel, those responsible to Him. This is reflected
in His use of language; thus the Hebrew word eretz means both the whole
earth and also the land of Israel. To God, the whole planet was just His
people Israel. The Hebrew word for “South” is negev, which
is the name of the Southern region of Israel. ‘The South’
primarily refers to the South of Israel. Similarly, the Hebrew word for
‘West’ is the same word translated “Sea”, often
with the reference to the Mediterranean Sea which was the Western border
of Israel. So the Bible is written from a Jewish perspective; the Gentile
reader is ‘expected’ to understand that Gehenna and the concept
of “eternal fire” are Jewish idioms for total destruction
(Jer. 17:27; Jude 7). Again, the point has to be made that much misunderstanding
has arisen in ‘Christian’ circles on the issue of hell through
failing to appreciate that God is writing in Jewish terms. The New Testament
is literally packed with phrases and other language which depend on an
appreciation of Old Testament theology to make sense of (e.g. Christ calling
himself “the bread of life”). Nowhere, however, are we explicitly
told that we must understand the New Testament’s language by reference
to the Old. We need to keep all these points in mind when considering
the language of demons.
Another example of the Bible being written from a Jewish perspective
includes the way Daniel 2 prophesies a series of empires which would “bear
rule over all the earth”. Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome did this
from the perspective of the land of Israel. The prophecy is simply not
true unless we appreciate this. When Israel entered Canaan, the fear of
them fell on all the nations “under the whole heavens” (Deut.
2:25). Doubtless the Aborigines in Australia didn’t bat an eyelid;
and ‘Israel’ could have been a racehorse as far as the South
American peoples were concerned. But the world around Israel was the land
“under the whole heavens” from God’s perspective; that
was the area which He beheld from Heaven.
Some have presented good reason to think that the flood did not
cover the whole earth; yet the Genesis record
speaks as if it did. This must have been true from the stand-point
of an observer in the land of Israel. Robert Roberts has some very
observant comments concerning God’s use of language in this
case: “The language of the narrative is intended only to represent
things as they appeared to the Noachic survivors. The whole Bible
narrative was written for the inhabitants of the earth, and therefore
adopts their point of view throughout…when you describe a
matter to children, you instinctively adopt the form of your discourse
to their modes of looking at things…men are children: they
can only take in the aspects of these works as they appear to mortal
sense, and consequently, the Divine presentation of them in narrative
has to deal with aspects, not with the modus in esse. This is not
to present an error instead of a truth…”.
In the same way as God’s use of language tends to focus only upon
those responsible to Him, it also has the feature of concentrating on
a particular individual or perspective, to the exclusion of other things.
This may be in order to highlight something, or in order to reflect God’s
concentration on one individual rather than upon others. For example,
Daniel 5 describes how the Babylonian king Belshazzar was rebuked by God,
and his kingdom overthrown by the Persians. The record stresses his pride,
and how God was punishing him for this. We read of “Belshazzar the
king…thy kingdom is…given to the Medes and Persians…in
that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain” (Dan.
5:1,28,30). This appears to studiously avoid the fact that Belshazzar
was only co-regent with Nabonidus at this time; yet the record speaks
as if he was the king and the kingdom solely his. Robert Roberts says,
“This is not to present an error instead of a truth”; it is
emphasizing one aspect of truth, perhaps more intensely than human historians
would, in order to reflect God’s outlook on the rulership of Babylon
at that time.
Following on from this we come to the conclusion that in some cases God
uses language in a relative sense in order to emphasize something. Thus
we read of many being saved (Gen. 22:17), yet in another sense few will
be saved (Matt. 7:14; 20:16; Lk. 13:23). Relative to the wonder of salvation,
many will be saved; but numerically, the figure will be small, from the
perspective of this world. The way to the Kingdom is easy relative to
the wonder of what is in store for the faithful (Matt. 11:30; 2 Cor. 4:17);
and yet from our human perspective it is hard indeed, a life of self-crucifixion
(Acts 14:22; Rev.7:14). Our sufferings now are only for a moment compared
to the glorious eternity of the Kingdom (Ps. 37:10; 2 Cor. 4:17), and
yet the language of the Bible also expresses God’s appreciation
that from our perspective, our time of probation is “a long time”
(Matt. 25:19). “Many” – relatively- would be converted
to the true ways of God by the work of John the Baptist (Lk. 1:16), whilst
numerically the majority of those who heard John’s message eventually
turned away from it, culminating in their crucifixion of the Messiah.
Consider Hosea 1:6-7: “I will no more have mercy upon the house
of Israel…but I will have mercy upon the house of Judah”.
Yet we learn that Judah actually sinned more than Israel (Ez. 23:4-11;
Jer. 3:11); and only a few verses later we are assured that God
will ultimately have mercy upon Israel: “Yet (i.e. despite
this) the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand
of the sea…and it shall come to pass, that in the place where
it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said
unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God…and I will have
mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them
which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say,
Thou are my God” (Hos. 1:10; 2:23) .
This is proof enough that when God told Israel they would no longer
have mercy, He was speaking in relative terms. God’s angry
rejection of Israel as His people is spoken of in permanent terms,
and some have wrongly concluded from this that Israel will never
again be restored to Divine favour. Again, they failed to appreciate
how God uses language.
Orthodox Jews and some ‘Christian’ sects firmly believe that
they must keep the Sabbath, because the Sabbath is described as a perpetual,
eternal ordinance between God and His people (Ex. 31:17). Yet in the New
Testament we read that the Old Covenant has been done away; and the Old
Covenant clearly included the ten commandments (Deut. 4:13), one of which
was concerning the Sabbath. For this reason the New Testament is at pains
to explain that Sabbath keeping is not now required of God’s people
(Col. 2:14-17; Rom. 14:1-3). Indeed, the whole Law of Moses is described
as an everlasting covenant (Isa. 24:5; Deut. 29:29), but it has now been
done away (Heb. 8:13). The feasts of Passover and Atonement were to be
“an everlasting statute unto you” (Lev. 16:34; Ex. 12:14);
but now the Mosaic feasts have been done away in Christ (Col. 2:14-17;
1 Cor. 5:7). The Levitical priesthood was “the covenant of an everlasting
priesthood” (Ex. 40:15; Num. 25:13), but “the priesthood being
changed (by Christ’s work), there is made of necessity a change
also of the law” (Heb. 7:12). There was an “everlasting covenant”
between God and Israel to display the shewbread in the Holy Place (Lev.
24:8). This “everlasting covenant” evidently ended when the
Mosaic Law was dismantled. But the same phrase “everlasting covenant”
is used in 2 Samuel 23:5 concerning how Christ will reign on David’s
throne for literal eternity in the Kingdom.
In what sense, then, is God using the word olahm, which is translated
“eternal”, “perpetual”, “everlasting”
in the Old Testament? James Strong defines olahm as literally meaning
“the finishing point, time out of mind, i.e. practically eternity”.
It was God’s purpose that the Law of Moses and the associated Sabbath
law were to continue for many centuries. To the early Israelite, this
meant a finishing point so far ahead that he couldn’t grapple with
it; therefore he was told that the Law would last for ever in the sense
of “practically eternity”. For all of us, the spectre of ultimate
infinity is impossible to intellectually grapple with. We may glibly talk
about God’s eternity and timelessness, about the wonder of eternal
life. But when we pause to really come to terms with these things, we
lack the intellectual tools and linguistic paradigms to cope with it.
Therefore there is no Hebrew or Greek word used in the Bible text to speak
of absolute infinity. We know that death has been conquered for those
in Christ, therefore we have the hope of immortal life in his Kingdom.
But God speaks about eternity very much from a human viewpoint.
How God Wishes Us To Conceive Things
God is often portrayed as changing His mind in accordance with circumstances
which the record implies He did not expect. Thus the inspired words of
the New Testament apostles suggest they expected the second coming in
their lifetimes. But God knows the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10).
He does not make decisions as we do in our uncertain zig zagging through
life. His purpose was firmly established from the beginning of the world.
The only conclusion we can come to is that this is how God wishes us to
conceive of Him in His self-revelation to us. He wanted the first century
apostles to perceive the second coming of Christ as just around the corner.
He wants us to see Him as if He is a loving Father figure, as if He dwells
just above the clouds (Deut. 4:39; 5:8 and 4:36 cp. 5:22; and consider
the record of Christ’s ascension to the Father in Acts 1:9-11).
He is not our literal father, nor does He live in the atmosphere just
above the clouds; He dwells “far above all heavens” (Eph.
4:10), both literal and symbolic. David so often speaks of God dwelling
above the Heavens (Ps. 8:1; 50:4; 57:5; 108:5; 113:4). All we can say
is that God is willing for earth-bound mortals to conceive of Him as being
just above the clouds. It is evident from this that God is quite able
to use the ‘incorrect’ language of demons in the New Testament
without being inconsistent with the way in which He has used language
in the past.
God is also portrayed in His word as making decisions according to the
circumstance He ‘finds’ Himself in. Thus in the parable of
the marriage supper, God is represented by the King who invites guests
to the supper. According to the parable, God was surprised that Israel
rejected His offer, and therefore frantically called the Gentiles to the
supper (Lk. 14:21-24).
In the parable of the wicked husbandman, the owner of the vineyard (representing
God) appears to be in frustrated desperation: “What shall I do?
I will send my beloved son…They will reverence my son” (Lk.
20:13; Matt. 21:37). He was proved wrong; they killed him. Of course God
knew this right from the beginning of the world (Rev. 13:8); but He wishes
us to perceive His sending of Christ to Israel in this way.
The judgment seat is described as if literal books are written each day
we live, and these will be opened and considered by God at the last day,
in order to decide whether to give us the reward of the Kingdom or not.
When we survey the total of God’s revelation, it is evident that
this is not to be taken literally. There will be a judgment, the result
of which will be proportionate to the way we have lived our daily lives.
But God (through the Lord Jesus) will not need to weigh up evidence. The
books were written before the world began in the sense that God knew then
who would be in His Kingdom. It is almost impossible to suggest that there
will be literal scrolls unrolled. The idea of scrolls was no doubt used
because it would have been understandable by those who were first inspired
with God’s word. Yet this is how God reveals the judgment to us;
in human terms which we are capable of understanding. We are not explicitly
told that there will not be literal scrolls, or that God will not need
to weigh up evidence to decide whether we will be in the Kingdom. Moses
(Ex. 32:32) and Nehemiah (Neh.13:14) perhaps saw the judgment in this
literal sense, but this does not mean that there will be actual scrolls
So it should be clear that God quite commonly speaks of things in a way
which may not be strictly true, because this is how He wants us to conceive
of things. The record of Christ’s miracles was therefore written
in the way in which God wanted men to conceive of them: as proofs that
demons do not exist. God’s other ‘options’ (if we too
may speak in human terms) would have been to explain medically that mental
illness is not caused by demons, or to explicitly decry the folly of believing
in pagan superstitions. It is doubtful whether this would have been successful
in allowing Christ’s miracles to show forth God’s glory. For
this was their purpose (Lk. 17:18; Jn. 11:4; 2:11 cp. 17:22). In any case,
the King of the universe does not need to argue with men about whether
He is omnipotent. The fact that the miracles are spoken of in terms of
demons is a far greater proof that God is so far greater than demons that
there is no room left for their existence.
- God is the source of all power; no negative experience can occur
without Him allowing it to.
- Demons as they are widely believed in cannot exist because God is
ultimately powerful, and is the ultimate creator of disaster.
- Demons are the same as idols.
- Therefore belief in demons is a denial of Yahweh’s supremacy.
- The Bible is full of language which alludes to contemporary religious
beliefs without explicitly correcting them.
- It does this in order to demonstrate Yahweh’s supremacy and
the non-existence of demons.
- Many Old Testament miracles were explicitly designed to allude to
surrounding beliefs, and demonstrated their fallacy.
- The Bible records events and beliefs as they appear to men without
explicitly correcting them. This sometimes makes the Bible hard to understand
for the superficial reader. Thus the speeches of Job’s friends
make false statements about Job which are not explicitly corrected.
Solomon in Ecclesiastes makes false statements about enjoying this life
rather than hoping for the coming of the Kingdom; yet these are not
explicitly corrected. That there is not explicit correction of the false
notion of demons is not surprising.
- Because first century Israel believed that mental illnesses were
caused by demons and that their cure was a result of demon exorcism,
this is how many of Christ’s miracles are recorded.
- The fact that there is no warning that only the language of the day
is being used is in perfect harmony with how God uses language in the
- As with many other major miracles, those of Christ demonstrated the
non-existence of demons and the irrelevance of demonology through their
allusion to the language of the day concerning them.
- The principles we must employ in order to understand the language
of demons in the New Testament are valid in other areas of basic doctrine.
Because ‘Christians’ fail to understand how God uses language
in His word, they have come to false conclusions regarding many other
doctrinal areas, e.g. the nature of death, the Holy Spirit, the nature
of God and the Lord Jesus, etc. We have pointed these out during the
course of this study. We are not, therefore, just using linguistic arguments
when it suits them, in order to show that the New Testament language
of demons does not mean what it appears to superficially. We believe
that the principles of understanding God’s word outlined in this
study are the key to coming to a true understanding of the whole system
of correct doctrine which comprises the true Gospel.
 See “Newness of life”,
Gospel News Vol. 7 No. 5, May 1994.
 All of these apparent ‘problem’
passages are clearly examined in harmony with the rest of Bible teaching
in Ron Abel, Wrested Scriptures (Northridge, Ca.: CMPA).
 See Robert Roberts, The Visible
Hand Of God p. 41-50 (London: The Dawn Book Supply, 1969 ed.); Alan Hayward,
God’s Truth p. 206-208 (London; Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1973).
 Robert Roberts, ibid p. 48. A similar
approach is adopted throughout P.J. Wiseman, Creation Revealed In Six
Days (London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1948).
 This will come about through Israel’s
acceptance of the New Covenant; through Gentiles doing so today, these
words become true of them too (Romans 9:25).