#STRask: March 14, 2016

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Published on 03/14/2016

Greg talks about how God decides the elect, the exodus instructions for sacrifices, multiverse theory, Jesus drinking, praying for miracles, pursuing prophecy, and Adam and Eve having their children multiply without incest.


  • How does God decide the elect? Can a person influence God’s decision?
  • The exodus instructions for sacrifices don’t make sense given necessity for daily manna and the one time quail feeding! Explain?
  • Doesn’t the multiverse theory suffer from infinite regress? Infinite universes = infinite universes where life is possible.
  • What is the good argument you referred to in the show for Jesus having drunk alcoholic beverages?
  • Is there a point during a tragic event in life where you should stop praying for a miracle and pray for peace. Biblical examples?
  • What kind of prophecy does Paul want believers to pursue in 1 Corinthians 14?
  • How did Adam and Eve and their children multiply without incurring incest?


Melinda: Did that wake you up?

Greg: Man, did it. Wow.

Melinda: Right before Brooke hit the music. I’m tired. Wake up.

Greg: Bang, that music came on.

Melinda: This is #STRAsk. I’m Melinda, the Enforcer, with Greg Koukl.

Greg: With the ringing in my ears.

Melinda: I’m not hearing anything in my headphones. Am I plugged in.

Greg: Oh, I don’t know about that.

Melinda: I don’t know. Can you hear me Brooke? Okay, we’ll go along. I know I’m talking, so it’s okay. That’s enough. Stop fuzzing. This is #STRAsk podcast. I’m Melinda, the Enforcer, with Greg Koukl. This show is #STRAsk because that’s how you send us your questions on Twitter. Just go there, write your question in under 140 characters. It’s probably going to be more like 142 because then you have to add #STRAsk and that’s how we find your questions. We do this program once a week.

Greg: Actually, that will be 138. You have to subtract.

Melinda: Oh, that’s right. Yeah, thank you.

Greg: Got you.

Melinda: Yes, you did. I’m sure you’re very happy. It doesn’t happen often.

Greg: Well after they stop fuzzing with that, I’ve got to find something else to fuzz with you about.

Melinda: Very true. We post a new show every Monday. It’s a short podcast, short answers. Greg on the timer. He has four minutes or less. He doesn’t see the questions ahead of time, right?

Greg: Yes.

Melinda: Okay, so let’s get going. Here’s the first one. It comes on Twitter from TacoTerrence. How does God decide the elect and can a person influence God’s decision.

Greg: Well nobody knows how God decides the elect. There’s no evidence of that. The closest reference we have is that God acts according to the kind intention of His will. That’s in Ephesians 1. Now as to the influence, this is another mystery. Paul says in Romans 10 that his prayer for the Jews is for their salvation. I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, he says, but not in accordance with knowledge for not knowing of what God’s sense of righteousness in seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God, which is Christ.

He does say just before that, the beginning of that chapter, that his earnest prayer for them, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation or testify that they have a zeal for God, etcetera. There you have Paul, who on my take, teaches sovereign grace. In fact, that’s Romans 10 and Romans 9. He has just been talking about… I think it’s 9 – talking about the sovereign grace of God. Then says that he prays for the salvation of Jews.

I am reformed but I also pray. I pray for people’s salvation because I am convinced from the biblical record that you cannot cleave apart the means from the ends. They’re all built in there together and just as God ordains the ends, He ordains the means. The means that He determines for a particular end may entail prayer. Certainly Paul is praying for the salvation of Jews there. I see no contradiction although it does seem odd, and I understand that. I don’t know how to resolve that. If not odd, simply because I believe in prayer for people’s salvation and I believe that God elects because this oddity is right there in scripture.

For example, my wife and I were just going over Luke 4, because we had her sermon on it recently, and Luke 4 is where Jesus is preaching at Capernaum, and He says, “Today this prophecy has been fulfilled.” This prophecy He reads from Isaiah and then He talks God’s love for the gentiles essentially, which infuriates them and they take Him above the cliff and they’re going to drop Him over, they’re going to stone Him. It just simply says, somewhat cryptically, “He passed through their midst.” In other times, “He fled.”

Now wait a minute. God had already ordained that Christ would die in a cross some three years later for the sins of mankind. We know that was part of the preordained plan of God. Why didn’t Jesus just simply say, “Hey you want to push me off the cliff, I’m going to float away.”

Melinda: Early on.

Greg: Drop as many stones that you want, shoot all the arrows you want, you can’t hurt me. He doesn’t say that. He acts in a responsible way in light of the circumstances so there is not this dichotomy between the human action and the divine plan. They fit hand in glove.

Melinda: Early on, He very often told His disciples not to talk about some of these things. He didn’t want to go public too soon. You’re right.

Greg: People He heals, “Don’t tell other people,” etcetera, etcetera.

Melinda: Right, it was already ordained when and how He would die.

Greg: Right, so you see both things happening side by side.

Melinda: That’s a good point.

Greg: There is no hint of a contradiction, but there’s no hint of a solution either. You also see Abraham with God at the Oaks of Mamre there in Genesis 18 where God repeats the promise that Abraham would have a son. Sarah hears it, she laughs. “Shall I have pleasure,” referring to sex apparently just guaranteeing…

Melinda: I have to stop right there.

Greg: Abraham wasn’t going to say, “Sorry Sarah, God’s going to do this. I don’t have to mess with you.” That bed had to rock, just like the regular way. These things are blended together in scripture.

Melinda: Next question comes from Maria B. Conquering. The Exodus instructions for sacrifices don’t make sense given the necessity for daily manna and the one-time quail feeding. I think she’s pointing out that all the instructions about cattle and lambs and all kinds of things and yet, they didn’t have anything to eat, so God had to provide them the manna and the quail. What are all these sheep and cattle and livestock that’s God talking about in the Levitical instructions?

Greg: Yeah, that’s a good instruction.

Melinda: I never thought about that before. He knew they’d have them one day.

Greg: This is an anomaly. This isn’t a contradiction. This is an anomaly.

Melinda: It’s a question.

Greg: Yeah, how do you figure that out? To be honest with you, I don’t know. Maybe somebody who knows more about it will say, “Oh you’re not figuring this, that or the other thing.” The first speculation that comes to mind is there’s no authority to this at all. It’s just what comes to mind. It might’ve been the case that they had enough animals that were set aside for the sacrificial purposes but not enough to feed all the people. That’s a possibility.

Melinda: There’s so many instructions because I’ve just been reading through the Levitical law and there’s all the detail about, “You sacrifice these and this you can eat but those kinds of sacrifices you can eat, and these people can eat those.” There’s even detail in there about what parts of the sacrifices they can eat. Obviously, they weren’t eating them then.

Greg: If the firstborn is to be devoted to the Lord and all those 40 years of wandering, there were many firstborns, they needed to be devoted with a sacrifice. That means the ordinary people had to have access to something adequate for that devotion. I think the poorest people gave turtledoves. I don’t know.

Melinda: That’s a good question.

Greg: Yeah, it’s a fair question.

Melinda: Maria, you stumped Greg. Good for you. I’m sure somebody knows the answer.

Greg: She’s probably not saying, “Yeah great for me.”

Melinda: No, I know. She wants the answer. The goal is not to stump him. It’s very rare that we do. Next question then from MJ58. Doesn’t the multiverse theory suffer from infinite regress? Infinite universes equal infinite universes where life is possible.

Greg: I don’t think that’s strictly infinite regress as it’s usually characterized but there is a point here and it’s a point that I’ve made. If one is going to claim that the reason our universe looks the way it does completely by chance is because there is some universe generator which is generating an infinite number of universes and it’s doing so randomly. Then not only will it be a certainty according to this view that there will be a universe by chance that looks just the way ours does but there will be an infinite number of those universes.

This is one of the quirks of dealing with infinity or infinities. Even to say an infinite number is to misspeak because infinity is not a number. It’s not even a quantity.

Melinda: There’s no set of infinite numbers.

Greg: Well there is in theory but not an actuality and these would have to be in actuality in order for this whole explanation to be useful. I do think that there are problems with that but that isn’t the biggest problem with that. The biggest problem is that there is no evidence for this ensemble of universes. There is no evidence for a universe generator and there is no evidence that the universes that are generated are in infinite number and are random in their characterizations.

Melinda: Then there is still the question of where the universe generator came from.

Greg: Came from.

Melinda: You just push the whole question back one step.

Greg: Correct.

Melinda: Now this is science of the gaps because it’s beyond even investigation.

Greg: Exactly, exactly. It must be the case. People are invoking out of nowhere and with no evidence, no concrete evidence. Well there can’t be concrete evidence of other universes exactly so how can this be a viable option? Well it’s viable in some people’s mind because it’s an alternative to theism, but for theism, you have concrete evidence. For this, you have nothing. It just fills a hole.

This is not only science of the gaps or a materialism of the gaps because there’s no scientific evidence for this. Also, you do have that problem of regress that I don’t think the questioner had in mind but you just mentioned the generator needs a generator. Where did the universe generator come from? Well it had to come from something else that made it. Well, then what made it? Those are appropriate questions to ask because in each of these cases, we have some kind of contingent material thing on this view.

Now it is not appropriate to say who made God because God is not by definition a contingent material thing. God is the solution that ends the regress, that is a vicious regress. That’s one of the reasons that the solution, having God as the solution is so powerful because it’s adequate to the task without cheating. They have to keep cheating in a certain sense, “Well it’s this and then this and this.” Then you’ve got an infinite regress that we don’t fall into. Sooner or later to avoid the regress, you have to have something that is self-existent and non-contingent.

Nothing physical is like that. Nothing physical is self-existent or non-contingent. This shows I think one of the inadequacies of materialism.

Melinda: Next question comes from JKWood1. What is the good argument that you refer on the longer podcast for Jesus having drunk alcohol beverages?

Greg: What’s the good argument that I referred to that Jesus drank? Well drinking alcohol was a standard part of the Jewish last supper. Wine was a standard thing that they imbibed. I know what he’s referring to, that I shouldn’t be told that I can't do something that Jesus was allowed to do as a human. Jesus created and I’m thinking here. My evidence is indirect or as what I’m thinking right now. Jesus at the last supper imbibed in the different cups.

It wasn’t grape juice. That isn’t what they drank. Some people say, “No there’s a difference between new wine and old wine and the new wine was grape juice and that’s what he drank,” but if you look in Acts 2, when the disciples tumble out of the upper room filled with the Spirit, the accusation is that they’re drunk with new wine. Apparently, it did have alcoholic content.

Melinda: New wine, yeah. I think in Italy is like the first wine of the harvest and it’s usually drank. It’s the first released and you’re supposed to drink it very soon after it’s released. It’s alcoholic.

Greg: Also Jesus changed the water into wine and this was pretty obvious that’s what He did because the host says something like the, “The first wine is the best wine.” Then people get drunk then they serve the bad wine but you saved the best wine for the last. Well look it. It’s hard to me to believe that Jesus created all this wine which then became a sin for everyone to imbibe in. Even if I can’t cite that Jesus actually put wine in His mouth because He passed the cup at the last supper. Maybe He didn’t drink any. So what?

Melinda: He was encouraging the disciples too.

Greg: Yeah, there you go. He’s passing the cup.

Melinda: He commanded them.

Greg: Even if one wants to argue that’s new wine, tell me where the bible says that we can’t drink alcohol. This is in a way, this misses the whole point. If I can’t show you any place where Jesus drank wine or if I can’t show you any place where Jesus commanded the drinking of the wine or His actions implied it was okay to drink wine, it’s not even relevant. That is a sufficient condition to show that alcohol is okay but it is certainly not a necessary condition.

Melinda: New Testament always says, “Don’t get drunk.”

Greg: It says, “Don’t get drunk.” That’s right. The Old Testament clearly, in a number of places, commands alcohol to people for festivities and also to drown their woes.

Melinda: Isaiah 25 talks about the feast that God is going to set in Heaven and it says, “With fine wines in age,” Jesus.

Greg: Wine and grape juice.

Melinda: Yeah. Next question comes from BigDemerest. Is there a point during a tragic event in life where you should stop praying for a miracle and pray for peace? Do you have biblical examples?

Greg: Well, there is a point I think and in fact I don’t know that I have biblical examples except for to say that Jesus surrendered in Gethsemane. He knew the right thing but He was praying out of anguish and then He surrenders His will to the Father’s. I just read this the other day in 2 Corinthians, Paul having the thorn in his flesh and asking for that to be removed. The thorn I’m pretty convinced was a person, not a thing, not a sickness or something like that.

He wanted whatever was annoying him to be done with. God said no. Paul’s attitude at that point was okay. Well, if God’s strength is perfected in my weakness then I’m going to rejoice in my weakness so that his strength could be more manifest. I think that’s pretty much stopping to pray for the intervention and pursuing a different course that has to do with one’s attitude. The way the question is put suggests that the standard way of dealing with a problem is to try to pray the problem away. After a while, if you’re not able to pray the problem away, then you just surrender.

You say, “Okay. Well if I’m going to be stuck with it, then I pray that my attitude changes.” It seems to be the presumption of the question and I don’t know if that’s the right way to think about it, like try to pray all the problems away and if you can’t succeed then pray that your attitude be changed. I made an observation myself and I also heard Tim Keller made this comment, I think in his book on prayer. Though it’s not precisely accurate, there are exceptions to it but generally speaking I think, Paul didn’t try to pray his problems away and then ask for people to pray him out of tough situations.

He asked for prayer and how to sustain through those things, the persecution and everything. There’s nothing wrong with trying to pray a bad circumstance away. You have not because you ask not. That’s James. I’m not going to be guilty of that before God and there have been things I’ve prayed, difficult things I prayed for a long time to change and God has not chosen to change that. My statement to God and this is very candidly I’m saying my statement to God, I don’t understand why haven’t answered this prayer or that prayer, that prayer or that prayer.

It will not be said of me that I have not because I ask not. I am going to continue to ask, but I’m not just asking for God to change something. I’m asking God to change me in the midst of it. What am I missing? What do I need to do attend to? How do I need to work? That may not be have a piece about it. It isn’t like, “Okay I’m stuck with this really bad situation. Please let me be peaceful about being in a bad situation.” That may not at all be what God has in mind for this that we’re going to learn how to be peaceful in all circumstances. No, maybe He’s going to change us at circumstance and the point of all the pressure is to bring about change.

I think maybe that’s what the question is omitting here as part of the equation though maybe not consciously omitted that God allows these hardships and difficulty in our lives to accomplish a particular end. This we do have evidence for in scripture. The most obvious to me immediately is the one that’s in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 and this is the “way to glory” passage where it says that, “Momentary light afflictions are producing,” this is the verb, “Are producing an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.”

It is the afflictions which Paul characterizes that momentary in light that when you read through Chapter 4 and then the later Chapters the harsh circumstances he found himself in and the treatment he received. We wouldn’t characterize these as momentary or light but he does in virtue of eternity which is his point there at the end of Chapter 4. He says that the afflictions are producing for us this end. We find this all the time James, a little over my time, but James 1 the same thing, encountered all. Join my brother when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance, a lot of endurance, that’s its perfect result, et cetera, et cetera.

Those are just two obvious places where the scripture speaks directly to that issue and there are more.

Melinda: Jesus in Gethsemane asked God to take this cup away but that’s not all He prayed. He also then prayed for help in submitting to God’s help. I’m sure He’s praying for strength to endure this whole thing. Several years ago, I heard a sermon by Alistair Begg, and his recommendation was if this is not something that you know is within God’s will to ask God for it, but don’t spend the bulk of your time praying about that.

Pray about things that you know are in God’s will. We do know God’s will is for us to have our character improved and to submit to Him and to trust Him. I was thinking to the book, Praying the Bible, that you wrote about in February’s mentoring letter. I think that author would probably recommend maybe doing a topical study in the bible about difficulties and then using those of things to actually pray for in difficulties because it’s like when you talk about decision and the will of God, people will ask, “Well if I don’t ask God, just tell me what to do.”  What do I ask Him for?

Greg: What do I pray for, yeah.

Melinda: Then when you start looking in the bible, it’s rich with all kinds of things to ask Him for. I think we spend so much of our time and focus in prayer asking God to stop and to get us out of these difficulties when we haven’t learned how to pray all kinds of things that we can pray for in the midst of it.

Greg: That’s right. In fact, if you’re in the midst of a hardship, just pay attention to where you’re personally getting poked. That maybe the area that you need to pray regarding anger, impatience, frustration, feeling ill, abused unfairly. What do you think long-suffering is? It is patience and enduring under unjust…

Melinda: Suffering a long time.

Greg: Yeah, exactly. I’m looking at 1 Peter here and I spent a lot of time in 1 Peter in the last couple of years. “And for this finds favor for the sake of conscience toward God, a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.” We’re praying about the suffering, the unjust suffering that we may be experiencing and maybe try to pray that away. What God is saying is that if you want favor, then what you need to do is bear up under that, not pray it away. There it is, 1 Peter 2:19.

It also says Chapter 4:1, “Since Christ has suffered in the flesh. Arm yourselves with the same purpose.” That’s the beginning of Chapter 4. End of Chapter 4, “therefore those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” These are all examples where the bad thing that you’re confronting does not go away, but scripture is giving us antidote of what to do while it’s still there. There’s lots of examples of that. Thank you for granting me the extra time.

Melinda: Of course, good topic. Next question, what kind of prophesy does Paul want believers to pursue in 1 Corinthians 14?

Greg: There he is addressing the body of Christ in general. When he says to desire earnestly the spiritual gifts but especially that you may prophesy. Part of the answer is going to depend on your theology about gifts. I think it is safe to say that the broad teaching of 1 Corinthians 14, where this shows up, is that we are to exercise our gifts in a way that will be helpful to the body.

If we have verbal gifts, whether the prophecy is a word from God in the vernacular, the language of the people there or if the word is from in a tongue with an interpretation or if the word is a teaching of scripture, some people will read prophecy very generally in that sense. It’s the fourth telling of this word given, something of that order. Regardless, it is a substantive communication to the body of Christ for their building up and edification.

That’s the broadest point possible in 1 Corinthians 14. He is not arguing or encouraging everybody to seek individually the gift of prophecy because he’s already taught in 1 Corinthians 12 that everybody doesn’t have the same gifts. There’s a distribution of the gifts by the Holy Spirit. I think he is speaking, when he says, “You desire to prophesy,” it’s in the plural and that can be ambiguous as to its meaning but I think taken on balance there, he is talking to the local church and that in that local church, they should have an exercise of gifts that communicate substance to the body.

Not that each individual person will have a prophetic gift because he is already foreclosed on that particular point in 1 Corinthians 12.

Melinda: That was fast.

Greg: Two minutes and 19 seconds.

Melinda: Well you get another 2 minute on one then. How did Adam and Eve have their children multiply without incurring incest?

Greg: They didn’t. That’s pretty much... I know, it grossed me out. Too much information but there’s just no other choice.

Melinda: Why was that okay?

Greg: Well this is an interesting question. I don’t think that incest in itself is patently immoral. If it were then Adam and Eve’s children would’ve been forced into patently immoral behavior because there were not that many choices. Everybody is related there, this first couple of generations.

Melinda: It just seems like such a shocking thing to say that it’s not patently immoral.

Greg: Well it’s because there’s a very, very powerful taboo against it and I think there’s a very good reason for that taboo. I’m going to give credit to Dennis Prager for this insight.

Melinda: Or blame him. How are people going to respond?

Greg: Well, no. This is, I think, a very good insight. The law against incest is a Levitical law. There are a lot of laws in there when it tells you not to do certain things and because God said it, it’s right. Clearly, what else could I say? Clearly this was not prohibited by Adam and Eve’s children because there’s only one way for them to multiply.

Melinda: God gave them no options.

Greg: There was no option. Why is it then when the law comes around that this prohibition is placed on mankind, on the Jews? Here’s what Dennis says. He says, it isn’t for health reasons. This is what a lot of people have pointed out because if you look at the intermarrying of the kings and princesses of Europe, in the Roman or whatever, you have leaders that come out.

Melinda: Even the pharaohs of Egypt.

Greg: The pharaohs. There can be some physical problems but I don’t think that’s the reason. The main reason is because, I’m trying to think out how he would’ve put it… wait, that’s just two minutes.

Melinda: It was the left over time of the other one but just keep going.

Greg: Okay. I’m trying to think of his exact wording because it’s important. It’s because he’s trying to protect children in families from having family sexualized. If you think about this, if there is a prohibition and a strong taboo on incest, that means children who are vulnerable are not going to be inappropriately exposed to sexual behavior by family members if the taboo is in place and people are following it.

We should have a strong aversion to incestuous things. This is precisely what God wants, to protect families. When I think about my children, what I’m thinking of this principle written broadly, that means I’m not going to put my kids into a school system that wants to give age appropriate sex education to kindergartners because there is no such thing.

Melinda: There is no, yeah.

Greg: There is no such thing. I want my kids to be innocent for as long as possible and not have to carry the burden of those things. This is the reason he thinks – it’s an opinion, but he thinks that God built those laws in to protect sexual innocence of children. I think that is the best explanation that I’ve heard.

Melinda: I think that’s a reasonable explanation. Incest is specifically prohibited in Levitical law but we had incest with Lot and his daughter. Was it in Noah too?

Greg: No, it was Lot and his daughters.

Melinda: Lot and his daughters, and that was because it’s intimated that was inappropriate, and that was before the Levitical law.

Greg: Yeah, the Levitical law is where we have this explicit statement. I don’t mean to suggest that there wasn’t some kind of revelation or awareness or whatever in place prior to that because people still have basic moral intuitions that pertain to these things prior to the Levitical law. What I’m trying to do is trying to make sense of the fact that if one claims that incest is inherently immoral, that means under no circumstances can it be moral.

Here it seems that God engineered circumstances where incest was unavoidable and that was right at the beginning. It appears to me that it is permissible under those circumstances, under those original ones and then somehow, and I don’t know how this happened, God arranged for this strong social taboo to be assigned or associated with incest, and we see it explicitly later on in the law. It seems like the thing that it does do is it protects children one would suspect.

What is the point of this? Well it seems what it does is it protects the innocence of children. It does avoid a certain type of maybe genetic problems but that doesn’t seem to be the main reason. To a great degree, this is speculative but as to “why?”, that makes the most sense to me. As far as the unavoidable incest in the beginning, it’s unavoidable.

Melinda: If we just also consider incest from a pragmatic point of view with the genetics, I remember many, many years ago you talked about this and pointing that at the very beginning of humanity, our genes were really, really clean and so you didn’t end up with those practical problems either.

Greg: Yeah, that could be true. Now we’ve got a genetic overburden of mutations that have these small consequences. I’m thinking of that in a microevolution sense, not a macroevolution sense. What I don’t want anybody going away from here saying is that Koukl thinks incest is fine. That isn’t what I said. What I’m trying to do is make sense of the prohibition regarding incest, which I think really is obligatory for us.

I’m trying to think, “Well how could it be? What’s the point of having it now when it didn’t seem to apply at the beginning?” It couldn’t apply even practically. This is the best I can come up with. If somebody else wants to do a better job they’re welcome to take a shot. This insight from Dennis Prager, I think, I think it is a very fruitful insight.

Melinda: Yeah. Just the part of what I’m struggling with here listening to that is that it doesn’t become explicit to the Levitical law but it seems like we have a lot of period of time prior to that where it seems it had to have been wrong. It wasn’t explicit. Maybe God just wrote it on our hearts a little bit later.

Greg: Yeah, I don’t know. I just don’t…

Melinda: I never really thought about this much. It’s more troublesome than I thought. Well hanging on that really disturbing note...

Greg: Every doubt or anomaly is not a Christian problem, it’s a human problem.

Melinda: Well I was going to say, atheists would have an even bigger problem because they can’t say anything is wrong. So not just that.

Greg: Right.

Melinda: On that wonderful note, that’s it for this week. You can send us your questions, including the thorny ones, on Twitter. Use #STRAsk. That’s same with the podcast. We post a new episode every Monday. You can find it on iTunes and our website and our apps. Download our apps. I’m Melinda the Enforcer, with Greg Koukl, for Stand to Reason. Bye, bye.