Chan’s Theological Monkey Paintings: God Swears

Chan’s Theological Monkey Paintings: God Swears

Chan’s Theological Monkey Paintings: God Swears

Pierre Brassau is a famous painter.  A famous monkey painter, that is.   One unsuspecting art critic wrote about the paintings, “Brassau paints with powerful strokes, but also with clear determination. His brush strokes twist with furious fastidiousness. Pierre is an artist who performs with the delicacy of a ballet dancer.”

Sometimes people see what they are told to see.

When Chan examines Philippians 2:9-11, he sees what the doctrine of eternal torment tells him to see “that there will come a day when Christ returns to reclaim His creation, and everyone will acknowledge this […] none will be able to deny it.”  Although Chan’s assessment is accurate, it is inadequate.  It sucks the worship right out of Paul’s words.  Paul is actually providing commentary on a quote from the prophet Isaiah in this passage.  Isaiah writes, “By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear (swear = an oath, an act of allegiance).”  Paul directly applies this to Jesus, the Savior of the world.  The message is loud and clear, that everyone will not only worship (bow = an act of worship) Jesus, but everyone will swear their allegiance to Him.  This is the strongest language possible in the Hebrew and Greek.

People might swear to on their mother’s eyes or to God (even though they shouldn’t) when they are trying to convince someone else that something is true, because they can think of no one better or nothing higher by which to swear.  Here, God swears by Himself.  Essentially, God says, “I swear to Me…”  Anything that God swears obviously can’t be revoked, because God is the One Who swore it, He does not lie, and no one can undo what He does.  Nevertheless, the statement “…will not be revoked”, is there for the benefit of the reader who, for whatever reason, might try to weasel his (ah-hem, Chan) or her way out of the obvious meaning of this passage.

Chan appeals to the ending of the book of Isaiah, a contextual difference of twenty-one chapters, where dead bodies are scattered everywhere, to justify his less than stellar reading of God’s promise, that everyone will merely “acknowledge” and/or “not deny” that Jesus is Lord.  This interpretation leaves room for the doctrine of eternal torment in that the unbelievers grudgingly admit to what is already obvious to everyone.  I encourage readers to go through Isaiah, chapter by chapter, and notice all of the ups and downs there.  I concede that it doesn’t seem to end well for all those dead people.  And since all of us die, then it appears as though things don’t end well for us, either.  Thankfully, death is not the end.  That’s what the Good News is all about.

Do you remember the Good News, Chan?  The angels announced it, “Fear not, for lo, I bring you good news of great joy, that shall be to all the people – because there was born to you to-day a Saviour — who is Christ the Lord […] upon earth peace, among men – good will.”  And what is this Savior’s mission?  In Jesus’ own words, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

So, does the end of the book of Isaiah nullify the sworn oath of God written earlier in the book?

If eternal torment in hell is the doctrine in question, and the end of Isaiah supposedly supports this doctrine, how is it that God’s enemies are portrayed as dead carcasses?  Shouldn’t they be writhing in agony or something?

The truth is that most of Isaiah was written to people other than us, during a time of political upheaval.  If you read it from beginning to end, the tone swings from hope to destruction back to hope, over and over again.  Isaiah addresses Israel’s current situation, but he also has these moments of supernatural clarity, in which he attempts to address ideas that most likely blow his mind.  You have to consider the day and age in which Isaiah was living, the cultural environment, and what was considered “orthodoxy” during this time.  There’s this tension in Isaiah’s writing between what he knows by his own experience and upbringing, and what God is revealing to him.  The book of Isaiah is an unnecessary game of tug-o-war between Israel’s exclusivity as God’s “chosen” people and Israel’s redemptive role in the Plan of the Ages, between Israel’s passivity or participation in this plan in contrast with the other nations, and between the idea that all other nations will ultimately be subject to Isreal or the idea that all other nations are ultimately equals with Israel and Israel just happens to be first to find out what God is doing.  Amidst all of this, God SWEARS something THAT CANNOT BE REVOKED.

If God decides to bless everyone, then do the chosen lose their “better-than” status?  We see the same tensions in Christianity today, between those who believe God only chooses some, period, and those who believe God only chooses some now.  It’s like Israel all over again.

Let’s suppose that Chan is correct in his interpretation.  What are the implications?  We must throw out 1 Corinthians 12:3, “no one is able to say Jesus is Lord, except in the Holy Spirit,” otherwise, people are becoming believers without the Spirit of God (an impossibility), furthermore, God is damning these new believers to eternal torment in hell.  Theologian Albert Barnes, who believes in eternal torment in hell, says:

It cannot occur, or even happen, that anyone will acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah who is not influenced by the Holy Spirit. The meaning is, not that no one has physical ability to say that Jesus is Lord unless aided by the Holy Spirit, since all people can say this; but that no one will be disposed heartily to say it; no one will acknowledge him as their Lord; it can never happen that anyone will confess him as the true Messiah who has not been brought to this state by the agency of the Holy Spirit.

How does Chan address this and the numerous other problems that arise when “every knee will bow, every tongue will confess” is minimized and deemphasized?  Chan could write a whole book on this topic alone.  Or he could just be aware that there are experts out there who rave about theological monkey paintings.


Next blog in this series: If God Swears, Then What About…

  • Mary Vanderplas October 6, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    I agree that the Philippians 2 text is a universalist text, picturing not merely a grudging acknowledgement of the lordship of Jesus Christ on the part of some, but a willing and wholehearted submission to Jesus as Lord on the part of all people. To reduce the response of all to less than this, as Chan does, is, I agree, a distortion of the text. And you are right about the echo of Isaiah 45:23, though I don’t think that Paul was intentionally offering commentary on the Isaiah text here. More likely, he was quoting a Christological hymn, of which verses 9-11 are a part, for the purpose of showing his readers what the “in Christ Jesus” mind that he was calling them to have (v. 5) is: a mind that puts others first without expectation of reward. Still, though, that the hymn echoes the text from Isaiah can’t be disputed, revealing that the early church interpreted the events of Jesus in terms of this prophetic oracle concerning the universal sovereignty of Yahweh and universal submission to his redemptive rule.

    I don’t dislike what you say about the promise in the Isaiah text being irrevocable, by virtue of the fact that God is pictured as swearing “by himself,” though, given that the literary style of this section is largely poetic, I have to question whether the words are meant to be taken literally. At any rate, I agree that the scope of Yahweh’s sovereignty is clearly universal as pictured here and that the response is more than grudging or halfhearted acknowledgement.

    I like your comments about considering the historical context of the book and your observation of the themes of judgment and hope. I would add that I think it’s important to note that Isaiah, like other prophetic books, is a collection of materials developed over time, not a single writing by a single author. In particular, Isaiah is composed of three major parts, each part having a distinct historical situation and a distinct message. The text you cite is part of the second distinct part of the book (chapters 40-55). The historical situation of this section is the destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation of its citizens to Babylon. The message is the anticipated intervention of Yahweh to restore Israel and bring peace to Jerusalem. In the midst of this section are strong assertions of Yahweh’s sovereignty over all peoples of the earth – of which the text in Isaiah 45 is one – along with assertions of God’s saving purpose extending beyond Israel (and Israel being an agent thereof).

    I like your comment about the tension between Israel’s exclusivity and the mandate to be a servant of God’s purpose for the nations. And I think you’re right on that the same tension is present in the church today – though I would say that it exists wherever God’s people see their election as principally a status rather than a task and wherever God’s people decide that certain others are not the objects of his electing and saving love.

    Regarding the text at the end of Isaiah 66, it includes both a picture of judgment and a picture of universal salvation (v. 23). The context is the return of the exiles to the holy mountain and the coming of the nations to worship Yahweh. Thus, the thrust of the passage is the inclusiveness and universal reach of God’s rule. That the death of the rebels is to be understood as a reference to final judgment is, in my view, doubtful. I agree that death – even awful death – is not the same as damnation.

    The issue remains for me that if the Philippians 2 and Isaiah 45 texts were the only texts in the Bible that speak of the final destiny of God’s human creatures, I would, without question, join the ranks of Christian Universalists. But alas, they are not. That these texts shouldn’t be dismissed or distorted to lose their universalist impact I agree with totally, though.

    Thanks for another insightful and challenging blog.

  • Lanny A. Eichert October 7, 2011 at 12:53 am

    I would add that I think it’s important to note that Isaiah, like other prophetic books, is a collection of materials developed over time, not a single writing by a single author, Mary writes; and I said she has a LOW view of Scripture.

    Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, and Romans testify by quotes that Isaiah by name wrote chapters 1 (9), 6 (9&10), 9 (1&2), 10 (22), 29 (13), 40 (3), 42 (1-4, 6&7), 53 (1&4), 61 (1&2), & 65(1&2).

    That evidence shows you to be a fraud as you put forth that you are a Bible believer. As I said you are an unregenerate blind leader of the blind. How many times do I have to prove it to you before you repent and seek faith from God or you will perish in hell fire?

  • Lanny A. Eichert October 7, 2011 at 2:27 am

    “Comparison with the King James Bible in English shows that there are differences in more than half of the 433 verses of Isaiah quoted in the Book of Mormon, while about 200 verses have the same wording as KJV.” is the note for 2 Nephi 12:2a

    Even the false religion of Mormonism wants you to know Isaiah is the sole author and the text stands 46% exactly as written in the King James Bible English language and you can consult the remaining 54% in the Book of Mormon for the correct English.

    The real meaning of their note to the discerning individual disproves the validity of their B of M which this part, 2 Nephi, was claimed written in “Reformed Egyptian” 600 BC or 2,200 years before the KJV and translated into English by Joseph Smith in 1830. What’s the chance of translating any form of an ancient (600BC) Egyptian Biblical Old Testament into 19th century English and having it exactly the same wording as the KJV’s 17th century English?

    All that aside, Mary, if Isaiah didn’t write all of it, how do you even know Luke wrote all of his Gospel account or the Acts account? Maybe it was also a collection of sayings and traditions by various editors he and they collected. After all, the Church is the custodian of such artifacts, isn’t it? What about John’s Revelation, you said it, too, was just traditions John used to comfort the first century churches under persecution; no revelations there I suppose.

    Why can’t you believe what the Scriptures claiim to be? Isn’t it because you have not been genuinely born again? You keep circumventing the claims of Scripture and running from God. Pray and beg God for faith to be saved from your unbelief. Or do you have too much invested in your sin that you cannot abandon for Christ? It is not just you, but there’s another person involved? Sin is never a private affair, you should know that.

    • Mary Vanderplas October 7, 2011 at 6:52 am

      To believe, as I do, that the book of Isaiah is the product of a traditioning process that involved “disciples” of the 8th century prophet as well as the prophet himself is not to say that the book as a whole is anything less than a vehicle of God’s self-revelation.

      • Lanny A. Eichert October 7, 2011 at 11:58 am

        Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, and Romans testify by quotes that Isaiah by name wrote chapters 1 (9), 6 (9&10), 9 (1&2), 10 (22), 29 (13), 40 (3), 42 (1-4, 6&7), 53 (1&4), 61 (1&2), & 65(1&2).

        You say it just isn’t true that Isaiah himself wrote all of it. That’s an deliberate contradition of the Word of God. That makes you the voice of the Devil straight from Genesis 3: 1 – 5 meaning you are a LIAR. All liars burn in the Lake of Fire according to Revelation 21: 8.

    • Mary Vanderplas October 7, 2011 at 9:31 pm

      Are you aware that slander is not only a sin, it’s also a civic wrong?

      • Lanny A. Eichert October 7, 2011 at 11:15 pm

        When God has Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul testify what Isaiah wrote and you testify that Isaiah didn’t write it, you are a proven LIAR. There is no slander in stating the absolute truth.

        #1) Do you deny that the passages in ten chapters quoted by these five men as Isaiah’s words under the inspiration of God represent the whole sixty-six chapters of Isaiah as credited to Isaiah’s authorship by these five witnesses?
        #2) Do you deny that you wrote Isaiah is not a single writing by a single author but is the product of “disciples” of the 8th century prophet as well as the prophet himself?

        If you don’t deny either, you have just called God a liar; and since God cannot lie, the reality is that you are the LIAR.

        Mary, it is five against one.

        • Mary Vanderplas October 8, 2011 at 5:44 am

          I repeat: Are you aware that slander is not only a sin, but also a civic wrong?

          Try telling a court of law that the character-defaming things you have written about me and my personal life, about which you know not one thing, on this public forum are not slander, and see how far you would get. Not very, I’m guessing.

          • Lanny A. Eichert October 8, 2011 at 6:47 am

            So you will NOT deny either #1 or #2 as I gave you opportunity. You stand convicted of bearing false testimony against God. What does that make you, Mary? Doesn’t it make you a LIAR?

            Why is it so hard for you to face the testimony of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul? You’d rather be wrong than humble yourself and admit it? You’d rather be a proud blind leader of the blind?

            What is the purpose of Alice’s blog other than to challenge what we believe and the danger is a change of heart and mind. Here’s your opportunity, Mary, don’t loose it.

            Repent? What publically on this blog? You bet. Billy Graham always called for public repentance. You get witnesses this way and you are thoroughly discouraged from backsliding as a benefit. Do it, Mary. Take a step toward God. His arms are outstretched toward you. We’re cheering for you and praying.

            Liar and false teacher, please come to Christ.

  • Mary Vanderplas October 7, 2011 at 5:45 am

    Why don’t you stop judging the condition of my heart and life and start taking a hard look at your own? You sit back and wait for me to respond to a blog (why don’t you respond to the blog yourself?), licking your fundamentalist chops to see what you can use in your hate-driven mission to discredit and damn me. And you judge me to be unregenerate and apostate? Unfortunately for you, Lanny, I know that I belong to and am beloved by the God who is revealed and has acted definitively in Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world. If I didn’t already know this, and if you were the only representative of God I knew, I seriously doubt that I would come to believe.

  • Lanny A. Eichert October 7, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    You are a LIAR. All liars burn in the Lake of Fire according to Revelation 21: 8.

    You should be glad some one has the guts to tell you you are self-deceived and need Jesus and His salvation. Wake up before it is too late and you die and go to hell. Jesus’ arms are outstretched still. (A reference to Isaiah 65: 2 which Romans 11: 21 says are Isaiah’s words)

  • Mary Vanderplas October 8, 2011 at 5:50 am

    It’s worth noting, too, I think, in regard to Isaiah 45:23, that this is part of a passage in which the sovereignty and power of God, of Yahweh, are contrasted with the impotence of the gods of the nations (likely specifically the gods of the Babylonian empire). It is a challenge to these gods and an assertion that Yahweh, the creator, is sovereign: his rule extends over all things. As Walter Brueggemann points out, the poetry can be read as speaking to our experience of being enthralled with the gods of the empire – the gods of “hegemonic military power” and “commodity accumulation” – from whose grip we are invited to be delivered. Thus, the text is subversive of the political and economic status quo of the empire. Verse 25 culminates the passage. It is a doxology – praising this One who is sovereign over all that is and who ultimately will prevail.

    • Lanny A. Eichert October 8, 2011 at 6:54 am

      Dear convicted one, please cease from your wandering and going astray. Come to Jesus now.

    • admin October 8, 2011 at 10:37 am


  • […] it doesn’t feel “done” yet.  That’s what happened with the previous blog, Chan’s Theological Monkey Paintings: God Swears.  I went ahead and posted it, after letting it sit on the shelf, since it had been a week in […]

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