Part I – Genesis: Words

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Inigo Montoya
Princess Bride (1987)

“Believe”

            The word ‘believe’ is a very important word, and there are many uses for it. People use it in all sorts of ways: “I believe it will rain tomorrow,” or “I believe I’ll have anchovies on my pizza,” or  “I believe you.” Yet the word is heavy with meaning when used in the Bible, and we should ensure we have a clear understanding of what it means there, because it is central to what God requires of us.

            In Greek, the word is ‘πιστεύω ‘ or ‘pistévo. Simply, it means ‘to rely on, to trust in, to depend upon, to obey.” When God requires that we believe in Him (or, as you perhaps have sometimes seen or heard, ‘believe on Him’), it means that He requires us to rely on, trust in, depend upon, and obey Him. It does not mean that God requires of us just an intellectual assent as to His existence. Satan intellectually knows that God exists. When Jesus requires us to believe in Him, it means we are to rely on, trust in, depend upon, and obey Him.

“Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”

John 6:28,29

            The writer to the Hebrews makes the strong assertion that without faith—that is, the substance of things hoped for, but not yet seen—it is impossible to please God. In the Greek translation by Wuest, we read:

“Now, without faith it is impossible to please Him at all. For he who comes to God must of the necessity in the nature of the case believe that He exists, that He also becomes a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him out.”[1]

Hebrews 11:6

            The phrase in the scripture quoted above from Hebrews—“of the necessity in the nature of the case”—means essentially that a person who doesn’t believe in God would never bother to come to Him, to seek Him out, to truly understand Him. Yet again the ‘believe’ word does not connote simply an intellectual assent that there is a God. Consider this paraphrase, but this time with the word ‘believe’ amplified:

“For he who comes to God must of the necessity in the nature of the case rely on, trust in, and depend upon the fact that He exists, and that He also becomes a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him out.”

Hebrews 11:6, amplification added

            For what good would it do to conclude that there is a God—a supreme, omniscient, omnipotent, loving, living God—and then not obey Him when he speaks? Beyond foolishness, would not such be idolatry? Sadly, the way modern man derives benefit from God’s wisdom while not obeying Him is to imply (or baldly state) that such wisdom actually comes from man. And such is absolutely idolatry.

            The author of the 12RFL has said, when questioned about whether he ‘believes’ in God,[2] that he does not like that question; understandably so. People so misuse the word ‘believe’ that the question itself becomes so amorphous as to obviate an accurate answer. The question also, as Mr. Peterson readily acknowledges, can be an attempt to ‘box someone in’. As well, people are not clear about what they mean when they use the word ‘believe’, or the word ‘God’.  His reply is that “he acts as if God exists” and states that that is a good enough answer to the original question.

            Perhaps, perhaps not; of course, the first thing that might occur is the question, ‘Why worry about whether Mr. Peterson believes in God?’ And the obvious answer is that knowing whether Mr. Peterson believes in God (but again … which God?) helps explain the spirit that infuses the advice and counsel he proffers. So peoples’ curiosity about whether Mr. Peterson believes in God is understandable; it is why the question pops up so often.

            Mr. Peterson then proceeds to place this question about whether he believes in God in the same category as other religious questions, such that, for example, surround the divinity of Christ. Mr. Peterson’s response: “What do people mean by ‘divine’, and what do people mean by ‘Christ’?” Mr. Peterson defines ‘divine’ as that which is of ultimate transcendent value. Of course, the Christian will assert that only God can be of ultimate transcendent value.

            Mr. Peterson alleges that the one or two people who in history have managed to live their life in complete accord with the divine logos (Christ and Buddha are mentioned or implied) have transcended death itself. While the Christian can see the attempt at metaphysical symbology being offered (living life in complete accord with the Living Word will ensure one transcends death), this isn’t accurate, nor in accord with Christian theology. Jesus, as the firstborn of the dead, has transcended death; Buddha has not, because he did not acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God.

            Another question is raised: ‘What does it mean to transcend death?’ Mr. Peterson states that there is sufficient evidence (for him) to conclude that Christ was an historical figure, by which, we must assume, he means that he intellectually agrees with the assertion that there was a real person named Jesus, termed ‘the Messiah’—that is, in Greek, ‘Cristos’ or ‘the Christ’, which is the same as the Anointed One—who lived and walked on the earth. He then poses the question, “Is his resurrection real?” Mr. Peterson admits that His (that is, Jesus’) spirit lives on. Clarifying, he explains that the ‘Spirit of Jesus’ simply refers to the patterns of behaviors and moral rules Jesus advocated. But when he himself refines the question down to the clear query (in so many words, saying), ‘Did his body itself come to life again?’ he is honest enough to give a direct, clear answer: “I don’t know.” He alleges that the accounts aren’t clear. He adds that ‘what the accounts mean isn’t clear.’[3] He then moves on to say that we don’t understand what it would look like if a person mastered life; what it would look like if a person managed to do that; we don’t know what transformations such mastery might make possible. He speaks of a friend who tells him that ‘it all falls apart’ (which the viewer suspects refers to one’s Christian faith) if one doesn’t believe in the divinity of Christ and His resurrection.’ Mr. Peterson admits that he doesn’t know what that means yet. Sad, but honest.

            We can know what the life of a person who mastered life looks like. It is recounted in the four gospels; it is predicted and described throughout the Old Testament. God gives us a profusion of information about what life is like in a relationship with Him. And the very real, very tangible, very distinct Spirit of Jesus will, when He comes to live in a person, provide clear guidance as to what such a life should be. Will any human being ever ‘master’ life? Of course not; we are in bodies of flesh, with fleshly, human, (i.e. corrupted) natures. No one is or will be perfect except the God Who became Man. Romans 10:5-10 addresses this dilemma.

            For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”

Romans 10:5-10, emphasis added

            Notice how prevalent that word ‘believe’ is in the scripture given above. It asserts that it is with the heart (that is, with a person’s complete and innermost essence) one believes. One must, with everything one has in oneself, trust in, rely upon, depend upon, and obey God. Such conduct would then result in righteousness, and produce also a clear verbal acknowledgement (when asked) that God did raise Jesus from the dead.

            Interestingly, as the video progresses, Mr. Peterson admits that he believes in hell—again, qualifying it with an aside that his belief is ‘subject to the interpretation’ of what ‘hell’ means. Yet throughout the video, as he mentions how the world is more like a musical composition than anything else, and when he says that there are so many connections in the world across so many different areas, he is quite honest, stressing that all these things are only at the ‘speculative’ stage in his mind, and he is desirous of coming to a better understanding of what they might mean. He has not at all dismissed ‘the mysterious’—he’s experienced the mysterious and therefore cannot and will not dismiss it. He has experiential knowledge of the numinous. He admits that man is bounded by ignorance. He says that speculation is simply a projection of our imagination. This truth is powerful, for it explains why there have been and now are so many gods in the world, all of which reflect some particular quality or character of man. It also explains why today very few people worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as revealed in the Bible. Instead they worship a god of their own making, which is usually a projection of their imagination. And this is because they have refused to submit to the truth in the Word, but rather ‘their foolish hearts are darkened’ and they then dismiss it because they cannot understand it—again, because they refuse to love the truth … the truth that calls them to put their human natures to death by the cross of Christ.

            A man who states that he is as yet not sure if God actually raised Jesus from the dead is to be respected for his honesty. Those who allege to be Christians and say that they are not sure God actually raised Jesus from the dead—such as the ‘sophisticated’ Deists Mr. Peterson makes mention of in the video—are to be avoided (and pitied). Mr. Peterson is honest enough to make clear that he is not quite sure (at least, at the time the video was recorded, published in May of 2017) if God raised Jesus from the dead. Fair enough; but we should not continue under the impression that the advice and counsel in the 12RFL is from a Christian perspective. And mark this, to Mr. Peterson’s credit: nowhere has this author been able to find one instance in which Mr. Peterson alleges that his wisdom is a representation of Christianity. He may here and there draw similarities in theory or concept, identifying similar ‘substrates of meaning’, but there is no direct assertion that the substance of the 12RFL is pointedly Christian. One can safely say that the wisdom in the 12RFL originates from a sincere man who is searching for truth and trying to understand the world around him—importantly, from man’s perspective, with man’s wisdom, with man’s filters and limitations—but it is not from someone who believes in a personal, living, transcendent God possessing a unique personality and character. The substance in the 12RFL does not come from someone who believes in (who trusts in, relies on, depends upon, and obeys) a transcendent, personal, living God Who is sovereign over all creation—a God Who is there. As Mr. Peterson himself would perhaps admit, the advice and counsel proffered in the 12RFL is from someone still working with (admittedly the best of) man’s toolkit. Christians, however, would put it another way; the advice and counsel proffered in the 12RFL is from someone not (yet) rescued from the power, sovereignty, and dominion of the world’s system of behavior and thought. As such, Christians beware.

            Say what you will given his doubts and his speculations, Mr. Peterson is honest. Would that those who traipse through life willy-nilly, blithely calling themselves Christian without giving a thought to their belief systems—or worse, the behaviors which reflect their true beliefs—were as honest as this man.

š›           The concept of belief as explained in this section also applies to how man views the Bible. What kind of a God would craft a series of stories that were not factual—but then expect His people to consider them to be so? One might reply, ‘See, you make my point; they are simply stories of men.” Ah, but such a reply presumes that the stories in the Bible are fiction, crafted from the collective minds of men over millennia. But consider … how can 66 books written over the course of hundreds of years by men from very different walks of life (kings, shepherds, farmers, prophets, priests), in many different places and epochs, combine to present a perfect, complete, marvelous, beautiful, heartfelt, powerful revelation about Who God is and what He requires of man that has no contradictions? This is a book where men have tried (and so far failed) to find imperfections, a book—no, a coherent, productive, beneficial, and ultimately effective ‘systematic philosophy of Being’—that has endured across spans of centuries, cultures, nations, peoples, tribes, and tongues. One must have a seriously elevated sense of man to believe that man—regardless of how long he has lived or whatever latent power exists in his ‘collective unconscious’—could produce such a miraculous testimony; talk about a leap of faith!

            Why would God record historical events and expect man to receive them as fiction, or worse, man’s own imaginations? The Bible has fictional stories within its entirety—they are called parables, and where they occur in the Word, they are clearly and easily understood to be fiction intended to communicate important truths. But to believe that the Bible in its entirety is fiction is in effect to disbelieve in an actual, personal, living God—a person with a distinct personality Who created the world and everything in it. To pass off the history recorded in the Bible as simply fictional stories designed to teach lessons is to miss the power of example contained in man’s historical past, and to miss the amazing fact that the God of the Universe structured past events, past kingdoms and empires, and the very threads of men’s lives—mind you, each of whom had their own free will—and wove them all into an inconceivably complex but understandable (if one takes the time to look) historical tapestry that today sits as the supreme example of what men are, Who God is, and what God expects of man. It is as if a person named Sam (or John, or Jill, or Mycroft, or Jamal, or Bolin) stood upon a ledge on a high tower and looked down at the pavement, many thousands of feet below, whereupon billions of ants all moved according to each individual ant’s volition, but as that person on the ledge watched, he saw very clearly words spelled out by the ants as they moved—‘Hey Sam, (or John, or Jill, or Mycroft, or Jamal, or Bolin), pay attention! God Loves You’—and then attributed such a miracle to the collective imagination of ants, or to coincidence, even as the words scroll repeatedly, formed by the shapes of moving ants as they lived and died, as they make their little lives in their little homes in their little ant world.

            In the second rule of the 12RFL, the narrative alleges that Genesis was written by a variety of authors. Again we come to the “Believe” rock in the river of life. The opinion that Genesis was authored by some group of people (other than Moses) was developed by a number of academicians and theologians, and is usually referred to as ‘higher’ criticism. Yet one finds that the traditional opinion that Moses authored the first five books in the Bible withstands such critique.[4]

            There is something about ‘higher criticism’ that should awaken the Christian’s sense of discernment (and irritation). How many plumbers do you know who don’t believe in the physical principles of fluid dynamics? How many electricians do you know who don’t believe in the physical principles of electricity? How many aircraft designers, ship designers, geologists, physicians, or other tradesmen or professionals work in their fields without a full and complete trust in, reliance and dependence upon, and obedience to, the physical principals and dynamics of their field? Well then, it is strange, is it not, but it seems that one can be a theologian today (and even a Pastor or Minister) and not trust in, rely and depend upon, and obey God and His principles of living. And yet we have entire schools, seminaries, denominations, and theologies that expressly disbelieve in the existence of a personal, living God and in His miracles. They deny that He lives and works in the lives of men today (boy, will they be surprised). That such people exist should not, I suppose, be surprising. That Christians should give them credence, however … that is not only surprising but deeply grievous.

            To pass off the Bible as just a collection of stories is a theory that comes from men who want nothing to do with a sovereign, holy God. To be fair, such an opinion might also be shared by those who cannot conceive of the possibility of a living, personal God, but the root of that inability to believe (and obey) comes, deep down, from a desire to maintain one’s sovereign authority over one’s own life—or over the world in which one lives. As Schaeffer noted, man will not give up his autonomy. There is just too much evidence that proves beyond reasonable doubt that God exists.[5] Seriously—if a sincere, open-minded, honest person, one who truly wanted to know if God was there, stood outside in their yard (or in their closet, or in the dark night of their soul) and cried out and asked, “God, if you are there, show yourself,” He would—as long as the cry was sincere, and as long as the crier, in their heart, would be ready to submit sovereignty of their life when He replied. Such is at the heart of the question Nabeel Qureshi poses: “If Christianity were true, and it meant that you had to give up everything to follow God, would you want to know the truth?”[6] If you can answer yes to that question, He will come to you.

            To allege that the Bible bubbled up out of man’s unconsciousness and resulted in a distillation of the wisdom of the ages puts man at the center of all existence—all ‘Being’—and is akin to believing an explosion in a printing factory could produce the complete works of Shakespeare—because we choose not to believe there was a real Shakespeare. Such belief—such opinions, such hope, such blind faith, completely ignores—no, despises—the massive amount of evidence accumulated over the centuries that God is real, that His Son did come, and it ignores and disdains the fact that God exists outside of, beyond, and in all ways above man. It is natural man’s greatest fear that there is something else besides man in the universe; something better, higher, greater than man; something—no, Someone—to whom every man must bow. And so—the Word of God becomes the Word of Man.

            If the Bible is just a collection of stories, it’s content is simply advisory. If, however, it is the true Word of God, man must therefore believe and submit himself to its authority and commands.


[1] Hebrews 11:6, from Wuest, Kenneth S., The New Testament: An Expanded Translation. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1961, reprinted 2004.

[2] See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0O8Jw6grro.

[3] He who has eyes to see, let him see.

[4] Over the past three hundred years, a number of scholars have asserted that the Pentateuch was written not by Moses but by four different authors. These documents upon which they base their assertions allegedly date from between the tenth to the fifth centuries B.C. are titled respectively, the ‘J’ documents (for Jahweh/Yahweh—the personal name of God in the Old Testament), the ‘E’ documents (for Elohim, a generic name for God in the plural), the ‘D’ documents (for Deuteronomic), and the ‘P’ documents (for Priestly). Each of these various documents is alleged to possess specific characteristics and theology, which many times contradicts the characteristics and theology in the others (a sure sign this theory isn’t accurate). In asserting this theory of varied authorship, the first five books are presented as sort of a piecemeal collection of stories, poetic work, laws, and doctrines. Yet the theory is not supported by evidence. Archeological and literary research undercuts many of the arguments put forth to challenge Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. There is a reason Jew and Christians have for centuries believed that Moses wrote these first five books.

[5] When Art Katz was a cynical, bitter atheist and budding Marxist, looking for truth, he was hitch-hiking through Europe and encountered a young woman—blond, intelligent, settled—the very essence of western civilization and society—all the things the emerging young Marxist hated. She talked to him about developing a relationship with God, and he spat back at her, “How do you know there’s a God! You can’t know!”  “Oh, but Art,” she replied, “I can know … because He lives in me.” The answer stopped Mr. Katz in his headlong flight toward lunacy and set him on the path to eventually discover Truth.

[6] See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGCsx2cdCo0, or read Mr. Qureshi’s book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.

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