#STRask: January 4, 2016

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Published on 01/04/2016

Greg responds to questions about John 15:22, the moral principle of seeking to fulfill unchosen sexual desires, Genesis 30, and how to define Christian orthodoxy.


  • A friend used John 15:22 (and surrounding texts) to justify universal salvation. Can you clarify this passage? I know to “never read a Bible verse,” but I’m still not quite I can answer satisfactorily.
  • If one ought to seek to fulfill any unchosen sexual desires, would this moral principle make monogamy immoral for most people?
  • Atheist objection: Remind me what kind of rod I should put in front of my goats while they mate to breed the type I want? Genesis 30
  • A Christian claims orthodoxy but has redefines it and doesn’t affirm essentials, how would you define Christian orthodoxy to them?


Melinda: Happy New Year, Greg.

Greg: Happy New Year, Auntie Mindy.

Melinda: This is STR Asks. This is Melinda, The Enforcer, with Greg Koukl. On the #strask Podcast. Named that way because that’s where you submit your questions. Go to Twitter and use #strask.

So, how was your New Year?

Greg: It’s still too new for me to say. 

Melinda: It’s stuffy in here. Greg does the two hour podcast in here first. And then, we come in here and do this. It’s a little room, granted, but it’s like you sucked up all the oxygen already. It’s just carbon dioxide left in here.

Greg: Sorry about that.

Melinda: Well this program is...

Greg: Carbon dioxide is plant food, always remember that. 

Melinda: Well, I’m not a plant.

So, the STRAsk Podcast is a short podcast, with short answers. With Greg on a timer. He’s got four minutes or under to answer the questions. So, are you ready?

Greg: I’m ready. 

Melinda: Alrighty. First up, comes from Mike Biliter on Twitter:

“A friend used John 15:22 and surrounding texts to justify universal salvation. Can you clarify this passage? I know, never read a bible verse, but I am still not quite sure how to answer this satisfactorily.”

Greg: Well, there are two things going on here. I did read the verse beforehand. Let me read verse 22, just so everyone is on board. This is the upper room discourse, by the way. John 15, Jesus’ last night with the disciples, just before his crucifixion. He says, “If I had not come and spoken to them...” That is, the Jews that he bore witness to in his earthly ministry. “They would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.” He next says, “He who hates me, hates my Father also.” And then, there’s a little discourse about those who have rejected him and the guilt that they share. 

There are actually two questions here. One is the question that’s asked by our questioner. He’s challenged on this verse, regarding universal salvation. That is, the idea that all people end up going to heaven. And, the second one is: what’s really going on here? What does Jesus mean here? And it does raise some questions about guilt when there’s no testimony regarding Jesus. As there was in this case.

The first is easier to answer than the second. That is, it is easy to answer his objector, because Jesus is issuing a condemnation of people that have not responded to his message. So, this cannot be construed as Universal Salvation, because Jesus is saying specifically, “If I had not come and spoken to them, but they have now no excuse for their sin. If I had not done among them, the works which no one else did they would not have sin. But they have now both seen and hated me and my Father, as well.” Okay, fulfilling the verse, “They hated me without cause.” 

His whole point is these people are guilty and they’re going to get it. There is nothing in this passage that in the least wise supports the notion of universal salvation because Jesus is clearly identifying the state of damnation for those who have seen Him, heard Him, watched Him work miracles, and still have rejected that witness. They neither loved him, nor the Father who sent Him. That’s all right there. So, I think that dispatches the question, proper. 

But it does raise a question, a different question. And that is, what about those who never heard? This seems to indicate that those who never heard from Jesus, or about Jesus, more broadly, are not held guilty for their sin. That’s not a question raised by the person’s challenger. But it is something that comes to mind here, to me. And, I don’t believe that if a person does not hear the message they are not held responsible for their sin – they clearly are – because other passages seem to indicate that. 

So, let me do my best to answer that aspect of this. At least, my question about the passage, and maybe the questioner’s as well. Jesus said, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin.” Or, guilt is what he’s getting at here. And there’s the marginal rendering to that fact. “But now they have no excuse for their sin.” I don’t know what to make of the phrase, “they would not have guilt.” Maybe He means they would not have guilt for the rejecting of Him. It doesn’t mean they have no guilt at all. Because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, Paul makes it clear in Romans. And, even those who haven’t received the message, because we see in Romans 1, those who just have general revelation that there is a God and they ought to honor Him as God, they still suppress the truth and unrighteousness, so they still have sin. 

But, what they don’t have is the sin of rejecting Jesus. And this may be what Jesus is referring to. That particular sin done in his presence. That’s what I suspect. There it’s clear no one has any excuse. There was Jesus there, preaching, teaching, working miracles. There is no excuse for those people, so Jesus has the harshest condemnation for them. As he does in other passages in the gospels.

Melinda: So, good opportunity to talk about your methodology of how you answer Bible questions. Because sometimes people think you must have your computer open, and commentaries and all kinds of stuff. When somebody calls you on the radio and has a question about a Bible passage, what do you use to answer it?

Greg: Well, I knew this was going to be one coming from the text. You had alerted me to that. So, I went and opened my Bible before the show started, I had read the larger passage. That was the concept of “Never Read a Bible Verse” that the questioner was raising. He understands that. But even for him, having read the larger context, it did not satisfy his question. 

What I’ve found is just by reading it, seeing the flow. Okay, well, this doesn’t help the challenger, his challenger. I dispatch that. But then I have to ask the question, what is he getting at here. It’s hard to tell just from the context. Is he saying people have no guilt whatsoever, if they haven’t heard from Jesus directly? And, that can’t be the case because this is why other passages weigh in to the broader question. So I have to try to understand the John 15 passage in light of other revelation that’s given.

And that’s why I say, “well, it couldn’t be no guilt whatsoever, so what kind of guilt might Jesus have in mind that a person does not have if they haven’t heard Jesus?” And, that would be the guilt of rejecting Jesus directly. But one who has heard Jesus and seen the miracles, et cetera, it will be better for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah than for them, Jesus says that elsewhere. 

Melinda: For over twenty years you’ve been doing the radio show, I just want to mention this to people. Because people can answer a lot of their own Bible questions by simply reading the context.

Greg: Yes.

Melinda: You’ve never had a computer in front of you. You’ve never had commentaries. Literally, you just open to the passage and probably more than nine times out of ten, when you read in the context, the question, if it’s not fully answered, at least becomes clearer.

Greg: Right. Yeah, I don’t know the percentages, but really a lot, you’re absolutely right. In a certain sense, I’d be out of a job if Christians were reading more in context, but I just want to model that to them. Then there is another element of kind of trafficking a lot over the years in the passage, of being aware of doctrinal issues and being tutored and being trained. And being a student of the craft of theology, if you will. All Christians ought to be, by the way, at some level. Then I’m able to bring some of these other details in and help form an answer.

Melinda: Sure you bring a lot of your own knowledge to bare. But a lot of times clues, or the answer, are in the passage if you read the broader passage. And, like you were saying, if not in the particular passage, at least, letting scripture interpret scripture. And interpreting the unclear in light of the clear. But we’re in such a habit because of the verse notations, of looking at discreet verses that sometimes – I mean, I even do it – you forget to read the passage. 

Greg: Yeah. The verses that... The Scripture wasn’t given with numbered verses and headings and chapters or anything. This came up much later.

Melinda: Or chapters because sometimes a thought is actually continuing from chapter to another. When you see a chapter starting with “therefore” you know this was cut in half.

Greg: Yeah. And sometimes those chapter breaks can be at very inconvenient places. This is why it’s good to ignore those and see whether the flow of thought continues into what – those who divided up the text – turns out to be another chapter. It may be part of the same discourse, the same flow of thought, and there should be no break there at all. 

Melinda: Crossway recently published the Reader’s Bible that doesn’t have any verses in it. And actually now, in their app, the ESV Bible app, you can turn that on, also. It will still show chapters, but it will not show you the verses. So, you read it like it was originally written. 

Greg: I have run into people who have isolated a passage, misapplied it. Then, when I say, “that’s not a promise for them, the way they’re using it.” Then their complaint is, “well then you’re telling me this verse has no application in my life. How many other verses have no application and therefore useless for me as a Christian.” 

The problem is that no verse, let me back up and put it this way, verses were not verses. There are not verses in the Bible. They’re just narrative. There is discourse. So, they were not written with the intention that people take discreet sentences, necessarily, and isolate them and find individualized meaning. Occasionally that can happen, but we always need to be aware of the flow of thought. That is the most critical issue, in any assessment of a passages meaning.

Melinda: Next question comes from DR84: “If one ought to seek to fulfill any unchosen sexual desires, would this moral principle make monogamy immoral for most people?”

So, I think they’re trying to turn this on its head a little bit. And taking the rule that our society seems to be teaching. We should fulfill our sexual desires, whatever they are. He says, “Would that become a rule, would this then make monogamy immoral, because monogamy doesn’t seem to feel natural for a lot of people.”

Greg: Right. Especially men.

Yeah. I think this is an example...

Melinda: Taking the roof off.

Greg: Right, exactly, the taking the roof off tactic. Where you take a person’s point of view, seriously for the sake of discussion, then you give it a test drive and see where it actually leads. If it leads to somewhere that seems to be counterintuitive, morally, or ethically, or theologically, then there must be something wrong with the place you started. I think this is a very good point here. 

If we’re looking at a society that’s saying, “Whatever your sexual impulse, you ought to follow it completely.” Well, then even the most time worn principles are under question, like monogamy. Which protects children, by the way. And protects the family, which is the foundational building block of culture. These things all go by the wayside if we’re just following our impulses.

Here’s another way of looking at it. Though I understand the “just doing what comes naturally” ethic seems natural to people, this is what animals do. Animals always do what comes naturally. There are no morals that constrain their behaviors. The difference between just doing what comes naturally and principled self-restraint is called civilization. 

So, it’s always struck me as a little bit odd that people would parade this ethic in front of others as if this is such a great ethic to follow. Because we’re just doing what comes naturally. Well, this is what leads to chaos and all kinds of disorder and mischief. Not a good principle. We want to take our natural impulses and restrain them according to good morality. Not give vent to them, without restraint. That’s nonsense. That’s what children do.

Melinda: Yeah.

Greg: The foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child. 

Melinda: Well a lot of our culture is not growing up anymore. 

Greg: That’s true. 

Melinda: Okay. This is an objection I saw from an atheist on Twitter. And, he’s mocking, of course. 

“Remind me, what kind of rod I should put in front of my goats while they mate to breed the type I’d want?”

He’s referring to Genesis 30. 

Greg: This is a very... Well, at first I was going to say sophisticated, but it’s not sophisticated at all. It’s a very ham-handed example of a straw man. He is presuming that those poor beleaguered, benighted Christians believe all of these stupid things in the Bible and accept everything unquestionably. 

If that’s your case, dumb, stupid Christian, here, help me out. Then he uses this illustration that comes from the book of Genesis, where Jacob followed some superstition. I don’t even know what to make of the circumstance. But in any event, where he put rods that had stripes in front of mating animals...

Melinda: I can’t remember, did God tell him to do that?

Greg: No. But God still prospered.

Melinda: But this is when he’s trying affect the goat population because his father-in-law had told him...

Greg: Had cheated him. 

Melinda: Yeah. And told him he could take a certain color of goat or whatever. 

Greg: Now, he’s trying to get them all to reproduce according to this color, so he can keep the bulk of them. This would be a payoff for that in which he’d been chiseled out of by his father-in-law. In any event, nobody... Nobody. I can’t even imagine anybody, believes that this is some kind of instruction for us about animal husbandry. 

Yet, this atheist is offering it as kind of some foolish practice. But it’s not our view. Therefore, he is making fun of something that we don’t believe and that’s precisely what a straw man is. Either making fun, or refuting a view we don’t have. If the view that we have is misrepresented in some fashion, and the rejection, whatever it happens to be, however it happens to be delivered, is at the thing we don’t actually believe. Well, then they’ve missed the point. And that’s the case here.

There are all kinds of things in the Old Testament that we don’t adhere to, because it’s part of the Old Testament. That is, it’s part of a different system of people relating to God, the Jewish people, under a theocracy, and we are not under a theocracy anymore. So, we are not obliged by those particulars. This is not an example of one. But, in general, this kind of objection has been raised. We’re not obliged by the particulars of the Mosaic covenant establishing the theocracy. We are obliged by a different set of particulars because we are on the new covenant, not the old covenant. 

So this person has not taken any time at all to understand our view. To deal with the view we actually hold. Now, keep in mind, these skeptics, atheists, are the ones that are generally part of the (they consider themselves the reasonable) rational crowd. And, sometimes they are. But many times, we see things like this. We see ridicule, rather than argument. And, of course, ridicule is just an ad hominem. Which is attacking the person, rather than attacking the idea. And that’s an informal fallacy, it’s not good thinking. 

And straw man is an informal fallacy. It’s not good thinking. And so, consistently, we see the champions of reason, coming up with challenges that simply are not good thinking. They ought to know better, but apparently they don’t. This amazes me because my ten year old, almost eleven, knows these fallacies. She makes sport of it now because she learned these things, and so she’s listening for these fallacies. And points out, “Well, that’s just a straw man. That’s an ad hominem. Tu quoque.” I mean, this, that, and the other. She knows it, why can’t these grown up atheist people, who are champions of reason, see this same problems? But they don’t much of the time. 

Melinda: Well, and it seems like it’s become much more common among atheists to think that ridicule is sufficient because they think religion, in general, and Christianity, in particular, is just completely irrational. So they’re not obligated to give a rational or reasonable argument. They just can ridicule it. 

Greg: Yeah, well, these are the guys that believe in the multi verse, even though there isn’t a shred of evidence of the multi verse. Or they believe that the universe came from nothing. Or actually, they could believe in the multi verse, and that the universe, or the universes, the universe ensemble, came from nothing. And they have no difficulty with that at all. But that’s worse than magic. 

Melinda: You were talking about how much of the Old Testament is talking about Israel under the Mosaic covenant as a nation. So we have that context, but then we also... This isn’t that, but this is historical narrative. Large sections of the Old Testament is simply reporting to us what happened. It’s not telling us that this is something to follow, this wasn’t good.

I was thinking about this on the previous question about monogamy, where we read about polygamy in the Old Testament. Not once does it hold it up for praise or as an example. In fact, most of these families were horribly... I can’t think of the word.

Greg: Dysfunctional.

Melinda: Dysfunctional, right. 

Greg: It’s bad enough with one spouse. 

Melinda: Yeah.

Greg: Now you’ve got multiple spouses. 

Melinda: Yeah. Look at Abraham and Sarah, and her hand servant. It created all kinds of jealousy that continued on for generations. So, a lot of time we have historical narrative that’s just reporting to us. It’s not things that’s teaching us what to do.

Greg: Right. It’s descriptive, not prescriptive. And there’s nothing tricky about that, it’s calm, they...

Melinda: It’s all kinds of historical narrative. Not just the Bible. 

In this case, it’s simply telling us what he did. God didn’t tell him to do it. Like you said, it was probably superstition at the time. In this case God said honor. But that doesn’t mean God approved it, or is recommending it. 

Greg: Right. Keep in mind, he wants to prosper, I think this was Jacob. Abraham, Isaac... or, maybe it was Isaac. No it was Jacob. So, he wants to prosper Jacob based on the different promise.

Melinda: Yeah. Because it was the one that ran away. Because he stole his brother’s birthright.

Greg: The birthright. Right. So Jacob is being, he swindled his brother, then he gets swindled back. So, it comes back on his own head. Yet, God still has a promise to prosper the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So, this is prosperity at the time, to have the flocks. So, God makes it possible for all these goats to be born with the coloring that indicates that Jacob is the owner and not Laban, I guess is the father-in-law. 

It isn’t because his superstition is sound. It’s because God has made a decision to prosper, based on a prior commitment to Abraham to prosper the nation of Israel to make them fruitful and multiply. There are lots of things going on here. Sometimes it is a little bit hard in the descriptive narrative to figure out what is the kind of thing that we should take home from that as an application for us. I acknowledge that. 

But clearly, this is not an example of that. This is silliness. 

Melinda: Does your daughter ever catch you in informal fallacies?

Greg: Me?

Melinda: Yes.

Greg: Moi?

Melinda: Me?

Greg: Let me think. She has tried a number of times, but I told her, “You’re gonna have to get up pretty early in the morning to catch your Pop in this.”

No. Usually she is misunderstanding something she heard. In a sense, it’s the good old college try. I’m glad she’s working at it. 

Melinda: She’s listening and analyzing.

Greg: She’s paying attention. But this is the reason why you didn’t get your dad, honey. Why your dad is right, and you’re wrong. But it’s great working because it’s an educational opportunity. 

I don’t think I’ve ever been nailed. But I’m pretty careful about those things.

Melinda: She’ll get there one day.

Greg: Well I guess you might say, listen to appeal to authority, “Dad says...”

Wait a minute... It is an appeal to authority, but it’s not illicit. There is a commandment that goes along with this one that is another authority that...

Melinda: It may be well with you and live long on the earth.

Greg: Yes, that’s right. That reminds me of Bill Cosby’s comment, when he was a kid. He said, “I made you. I brought you into this world, I could take you out. I could make another one just like you.”

So that’s kind of a variation of that promise from the Old Testament. Obey your parents, so you live long on the earth.

Melinda: Okay. Next question comes from Feartobreak on Twitter:

“A Christian claims orthodoxy, but doesn’t affirm the essentials. How would you define Christian orthodoxy to them?”

So a Christian is claiming that they follow orthodoxy, but he’s actually redefined some of these essentials of the faith. So, how would you define Christian orthodoxy?

Greg: Well, Christianity is on record for two thousand years, with regard to orthodoxy. This is not a relativistic endeavor. It’s whatever people want to call orthodoxy at any given point. There is such a thing called Mere Christianity. To quote Lewis, who is actually quoting Chesterton, I think in this regard. And so, we look to the classical Christian characterization for what orthodoxy entails. 

And that is going to include the decisions of the major ecumenical counsels like Nicia, Ephasis, or Calcedone. These are characterizations of theology proper, the nature of God, Christology, the nature of Christ, and the like. These are the things that Christians have fought and died for and established as orthodoxy from the beginning. 

There also is a kind of common sense element to this. I’m working on this book Credo...

Melinda: Which is due any time now to the publisher.

Greg: Yes, we won’t mention that to the publisher and remind them because I am a little bit late, but still working on it.

Part of my goal was to try to identify, what are the essential doctrines, that if you don’t believe these things, that you’re not really a Christian. This is the Mere Christianity orthodoxy question.

Melinda: But then, also, how they fit together is a worldview.

Greg: Exactly. That’s what I was getting at. Then there is a common sense element here about their fittedness for necessary doctrines.

Melinda: Why they are orthodox.

Greg: Yes. Exactly. 

For example, if you don’t believe in God, well it’s kind of hard to say you’re a Christian. Or, if you don’t believe in Jesus. “Okay, then, well I believe in Jesus.”

Well, which Jesus? Because there are different characterizations of Jesus. “Well, the Jesus who is the God guy. And Jesus is the God Man. The one person, two natures.” That tells us to the Calcedonian formula. And other things like that. 

What about man? If you don’t believe you’re made in the image of God. And you don’t believe you’re fallen and broken, well Christianity doesn’t have a point, really. 

If this becomes by the nature of the coherence of the Christian worldview, a clear, necessary doctrine. It is just what church counsels have arbitrarily said over the years, but there is a web of beliefs that connect each other – it’s like a picture puzzle, I describe it in Credo – and form a coherent whole. And all of these things are part of that coherent whole. This would be in another, certain sense, orthodoxy. These are things that fit in a very particular, necessary way. They’re links in the chain, if you will, and if you remove any of those links, then the chain breaks. That might be another way of understanding orthodoxy.

Melinda: “Jesus, the God guy.” I don’t recall that one in any of the creeds.

Greg: Well, it would be a paraphrase. A backyard paraphrase.

Melinda: Well, that’s it for this week. The first week of the year. You can send your questions to us on Twitter. Use #strask, the name of the podcast. We post new episodes every Monday in all the usual places. I’m Melinda, with Greg Koukl, for Stand To Reason.