Christian Mass Movements in India (1933)

Below, you can download a PDF of J. Waksom Pickett, Christian Mass Movements in India: A Study with Recommendations. New York: The Abingdon Press, 1933.

Photo by NAUSHIL ANSARI on Pexels.com

In December 1928, the National Christian Council of India, Burma, and Ceylon met in Chennai. During this Council, there was significant disagreement about mass movements to Christ in South Asia. Mass movements had been occurring in South Asia for hundreds of years through which thousands or tens of thousands of people were rapidly coming to Christ from a particular caste or tribe. Donald McGavran later called these “people movements.”

Dr. John R. Mott called the council to be cautious about rejecting these movements. Instead, he called for a study of these movements so that proper recommendations could be made. Therefore, in December 1928, the following resolution was unanimously adopted,

The Council considers that as soon as possible a secretary should be appointed to initiate, in close consultation with Provincial Christian Councils, a study of the work in mass-movement areas and asks the executive to prepare proposals regarding the choice of such a secretary and the raising of funds, outside the regular budget of the Council, for his support.” (11)

Based on this resolution, J. Waksom Pickett was selected to study these mass movements and write up his findings. Pickett studied of five of these mass movements and wrote up recommendations. He concluded that these movements were not only from God but that missionaries should learn from these movements and actively seek God to start more similar mass movements. One of the five movements that Pickett studied was the Presbyterian movement in Sialkot, Punjab. This movement was the beginning of where most of the Pakistani Christian community began to come to Christ.

Download this important study here. Since this book is past its copyright and out of print, the PDF can be freely distributed.

Systematic Theology 4: The Authority of Scripture

This blog post is part of a series on Systematic Theology . The method of this series is to follow Wayne Grudem’s well-known Systematic Theology. This series also interacts explicitly with Systematic Theology with a view towards ministry to South Asian Muslims. These blog posts start with Grudem but are modified. I agree with Grudem’s two presuppositions, “(1) that the Bible is true and that it is, in fact, our only standard of truth; (2) that the God who is spoken of in the Bible exists, and that He is who the Bible says he is: the Creator of heaven and earth and all things in them” (Grudem, 26). Each week, one interaction with South Asian Islam will also be noted. Click here for the audio teaching of this lesson .

This lesson begins a study on the four characteristics of Scripture: (1) Authority, (2) Clarity, (3) Necessity, and (4) Sufficiency. This post is the third of seven about the Word of God. God’s Word, the Bible, is foundational for the development of theology. Therefore, an understanding of the doctrine of the Word of God is our beginning place for theology.

  1. The Word of God. Discussion of five ways that the phrase “Word of God” is used in Scripture. This lesson also discusses three reasons that the Bible as the Word of God is the focus for theological study
  2. The Canon of Scripture: What belongs in the Bible, and what does not belong? “The canon of Scripture is the list of all the books that belong in the Bible” (Grudem, 54)
  3. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (1) Authority. “The authority of Scripture means that all the words of [the Bible][1] are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of [the Bible] is to disbelieve or disobey God” (Grudem, 73). 
  4. The Inerrancy of Scripture: Are there any errors in the Bible? “The inerrancy of Scripture means that [the Bible] in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact” (Grudem, 91). 
  5. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (2) Clarity. Can only Bible scholars understand the Bible rightly? “The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it” (Grudem, 108). 
  6. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (3) Necessity. For what purposes is the Bible necessary? How much can people know about God without the Bible? “The necessity of Scripture means that the Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God’s will, but is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about God’s character and moral law” (Grudem, 116). 
  7. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (4) Sufficiency. Is the Bible enough for knowing what God wants us to think or do? “The sufficiency of Scripture means that [the Bible] contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly” (Grudem, 127). 

Grudem defines the authority of Scripture as, “The authority of Scripture means that all the words of the Bible are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of the Bible is to disbelieve or disobey God” (Grudem, 73). It is helpful to break down this statement for examination.

All the words of the Bible are God’s Words.” While this statement sounds simple, there are several aspects of this statement deserving examination.

  • The Bible claims to be the Word of God. For a detailed discussion, click here to go to the lesson on the Word of God.  Here are a few examples. 
    • Jesus affirmed the Old Testament as Scripture. “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished” (Matt 5:17-18).
    • Paul quoted Luke’s Gospel as Scripture. “For the Scripture says: Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain and the worker is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim 5:18). In this verse, Paul quoted Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7 as Scripture. Therefore, Paul affirmed Luke’s Gospel as Scripture.
    • Peter affirmed Paul’s letters as Scripture. “Also, regard the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our dear brother Paul has written to you according to the wisdom given to him. He speaks about these things in all his letters. There are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable will twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16).
    • The book of Revelation concludes with a solemn warning about adding or removing anything from that book. “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book. And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share of the tree of life and the holy city, which are written about in this book” (Rev 22:18-19). This solemn warning clearly indicates that Revelation is the Word of God. 
  • The Four Tests of Canonicity provide four proofs that the Bible is the Word of GodClick here to go to the lesson on the Canon of Scripture.
    • (1) The books of the Bible come from authoritative sources, such as prophets and apostles.
    • (2) The books of the Bible all agree with one another. Sixty-six books by dozens of authors over 1,500 years in two languages that all agree with one another testify that God has given these books.
    • (3) The Bible is powerful. The life-changing power of the Bible shows that it is the Word of God. Many people have become convinced that the Bible is the Word of God as they read it and experience its power.
    • (4) The Bible has been received by the Word of God by billions of people throughout history. No other book in human history has been read by so many people in so many languages. 
  • All the words of the Bible are God’s Words.”  It is essential to realize that all the words in the Bible are God’s words. Some people have made a mistake by saying that the Bible “contains” God’s word but is not God’s word. By this, they mean that parts of the Bible are the words of God, and other parts of the Bible are not the words of God.
    • “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16a)
    • “Above all, you know this: No prophecy of Scripture comes from the prophet’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21). 
  • The Qur’an claims that the Bible is the Word of GodClick here for another article on this topic. We do not hold that the Qur’an is the Word of God. However, for the sake of Muslim ministry, it can be helpful to study the verses of the Qur’an that say that the books of the Bible are the Word of God. Here are two of the most beneficial.
    • And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Torah that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light. And confirmation of the Torah that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah.” Qur’an 5:46
    • If thou wert in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee: the Truth hath indeed come to thee from thy Lord: so be in no wise off those in doubt.” Qur’an 10:94

To disbelieve or disobey any word of the Bible is to disbelieve or disobey God.” Perhaps the best section of Scripture for this point is Hebrews 3:7-4:13. 

  • Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Hebrews 3:7-8a). 
    • Hebrews 3:7b-11 is a quotation from Psalm 95:7-11. This passage in Psalm 95 is about the rebellion during the forty years in the wilderness in Numbers.  
    • The phrase “Today, if you hear his voice” is repeated throughout this section (Heb 3:13, 15; 4:7). In the book of Hebrews, “his voice” means the voice of God in the person of Jesus (see Heb 1:2; 2:1-3). “Today” gives an immediacy to hearing the voice of God. The primary way that we hear the Word of God today is by reading the Bible. Therefore, this command is that as we read the Bible today, we must be careful not to harden our hearts!
  • Hebrews 3:17-18 describes a failure to hear and obey God’s word as disbelief and disobedience to God. “And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.” This passage shows the parallel between disbelief and disobedience. Because of their disbelief and disobedience, the people of God faced the judgment of God.
  • So I swore in my anger, ‘They will not enter my rest’” (Heb 3:11). The result of the disobedience/disbelief of God’s people was that God would not permit them to enter into His rest. The rest of God is mentioned throughout this passage (Heb 3:11, 18; 4:1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11). There are two meanings of “rest” in Hebrews 3:7-4:13
    • Rest as entry into the Promised Land (Heb 3:7). 
    • Rest as entry into heaven. Hebrews 3:8-9 clarifies that there is a “rest” better than the one given through Joshua. The rest given through Joshua is a reference to the Promised Land.
  • Therefore, this passage means that if anyone hears God’s Word through Jesus that they have a choice to hear and obey or hear and disbelieve/disobey. If someone hears and obeys, then they will enter into God’s promised rest of heaven. If someone hears and disbelieves/disobeys, then they will fall short of entering into heaven.
  • The final two verses bring this passage back to a focus on Scripture. “For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. No creature is hidden from him, but all things are naked and exposed the eyes of him to whom we must give an account” (Heb 4:12-13). 

In summary, when we read the Bible, we hear the voice of God. Every word of the Bible is the word of God spoken to us. When we hear God’s voice in Scripture, we have a choice to hear and believe/obey or to hear and disbelieve/disobey. “Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience” (Heb 4:11).

To get updates when new Systematic Theology lessons are posted, please subscribe to this blog below.

[1] In the definitions for the Authority of Scripture, the Inerrancy of Scripture, and the Sufficiency of Scripture, the term “Scripture” has been replaced by “the Bible” as seen in brackets. The reason is that the definitions could have been confusing from a perspective of Muslim-Christian conversation. 


The Qur’an Testifies that the Bible is the Word of God

Today, many Muslim leaders argue that the Bible is not the Word of God. However, this argument is not from the Qur’an or the Hadith. The idea that the Bible is not the Word of God is a later innovation (Arabic bid’ah) of Muslim leaders.[1] Since many Muslim leaders have passed down this “innovation,” many ordinary Muslims have come to believe this idea. 

Before moving forward, we need to become slightly more technical in our language. The Qur’an never mentions the “Bible,” instead the Taurat, Zabur, and Injeel are written about in the Qur’an. 

  1. The Taurat is the Law of Moses, which is a reference to Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
  2. The Zabur is the Psalms of David.
  3. The Injeel is the Gospel of Jesus. The Qur’an is not clear about what books are in the Injeel.

There is not a single verse in the Qur’an or the Hadith that states that the Taurat, Zabur,  or Injeel changed. In contrast, dozens and dozens of verses affirm these books as being true books from God. 

Below are a few passages from the Qur’an that testify that the Taurat, Zabur, and Injeel are the Word of God. Before looking at these passages, please allow me to provide a word of wisdom. Followers of Jesus find truth in the Bible rather than the Qur’an. In this article, I will show that the Qur’an also shows that the Bible is true. However, the fact that the Qur’an testifies that the Bible is true has no meaning for me, since I do not believe that the Qur’an is a reliable witness. Moreover, I try not to use the Qur’an when sharing the gospel with Muslims. Instead, I use the Bible! Therefore, what is the value of this post? Truthfully, very little. The only way that I use these passages in the Qur’an is when I need to try to shake a Muslim friend to show them that they should read the Bible for themselves. When I do so, I try to be honest that I do not personally believe the Qur’an and do not personally give any weight to these verses.

But why do they come to thee for decision, when they have (their own) Torah before them? – Therein is the (plain) Command of Allah; yet even after that, they would turn away. For they are not (really) People of Faith. It was We who revealed the Torah (to Moses): therein was guidance and light. By its standard have been judged the Jews, by the Prophets who bowed (as in Islam) to Allah’s Will, by the Rabbis and the Doctors of Law: for to them was entrusted the protection of Allah’s Book, and there were witnesses thereto: therefore fear not me, but fear Me, and sell not My Signs for a miserable price. If any do fail to judge by what Allah hath revealed, they are Unbelievers.” Qur’an 5:43-44[2]

These two verses share several things about the Torah/Taurat:

  • The Torah is the command of God.  “Therein is the (plain) Command of Allah.”
  • God revealed the Torah to Moses. “It was We who revealed the Torah (to Moses).
  • The Torah contains guidance and light for our spiritual lives. “therein was guidance and light.
  • God judged the Jewish people based on the Torah. “By its standard have been judged the Jews.
  • If someone fails to adhere to God’s truth as revealed in the Torah, they are an unbeliever. “If any do fail to judge by what Allah hath revealed, they are Unbelievers.

And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Torah that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light. And confirmation of the Torah that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah. Let the People of the Gospel judge by what Allah hath revealed therein. If any do fail to judge by what Allah hath revealed, they are those who rebel.” Qur’an 5:46-47

Here are a few things that these two verses say about the Gospel/Injeel:

  • God sent Jesus, the son of Mary. “We sent Jesus the son of Mary.
  • Jesus came in the footsteps of Moses and the Prophets. “And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary.
  • The Injeel confirms the Taurat, meaning that these two books agree with one another. “confirming the Torah that had come before him… And confirmation of the Torah that had come before him.” Today, both the Taurat and Injeel are in the Bible together since these books agree with one another. 
  • God gave the Injeel. “We sent him the Gospel.
  • The Injeel contains guidance and light for our spiritual lives. “therein was guidance and light.
  • The Injeel admonishes us how to follow God. “a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah.
  • Followers of Jesus are commanded to judge right and wrong based on the Injeel. “Let the People of the Gospel judge by what Allah hath revealed therein.” The Qur’an tells Christians to judge truth and error based on their study of the Injeel! 
  • If anyone fails to judge by the Injeel (i.e., live by the Injeel), they are in rebellion against God. “If any do fail to judge by what Allah hath revealed, they are those who rebel.”

If thou wert in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee: the Truth hath indeed come to thee from thy Lord: so be in no wise off those in doubt.” Qur’an 10:94

Qur’an 5:43-47 clearly stated that the Taurat and Injeel are books from God that contain guidance and light for our spiritual lives. The Qur’an claims that the Taurat and the Injeel agree with one another. The Injeel confirms the Taurat.

Qur’an 10:94 makes a similar claim, stating that if hearers of the Qur’an have any doubt that they should consult those “who have been reading the Book from before thee.” The Book in reference is clearly the Taurat, Zabur, and Injeel (i.e., the Bible). In other words, the Qur’an says that if anyone has questions about whether the Qur’an is valid, they should check the Qur’an against the Bible to make sure that the Qur’an is true. Therefore, Qur’an 10:94 bases the truth of the Qur’an on the validity of the Bible.

The great irony of Qur’an 10:94 is that the Qur’an and the Bible are widely understood not to be in unity. Therefore, the Qur’an fails its own test. Simply put, the Qur’an is self-defeating by tests of logic. Here are the logical syllogisms based on Qur’anic statements. 

The Taurat and Injeel are true books from God (Qur’an 5:43-47).

If the Qur’an is true, then the Taurat and Injeel prove that it is true (Qur’an 10:94).

Therefore (logically), if the Qur’an is true, then it must agree with the Taurat and Injeel.

The Qur’an does not agree with the Taurat and the Injeel.

Therefore, the Qur’an is not true.


[1] In most schools of Islam, bid’ah (i.e., innovation) is considered wrong. Instead, Muslims are expected to understand and obey the Qur’an and Hadith.

[2] All Qur’anic references are from the English Translation of Abdullah Yusuf Ali.

When does a Muslim Become an MBB?

Recently, a missionary colleague and I were discussing the question of when a Muslim becomes a Muslim-background believer (MBB). Before addressing this question directly, let me take a few minutes to describe two paradigms for approaching discipleship.

In 1973, Paul Hiebert wrote an article called “The Category ‘Christian’ in the Missionary Task.” In that article, Hiebert described two ways that people often define what it means to be a follower of Jesus in missions.

  1. Bounded Sets. Bounded sets are “either/or” sets. Either someone is a follower of Jesus or is not a follower of Jesus. There are only two options. There is no “gray zone” on this issue according to the bounded set view. As way of analogy, Hiebert talks about apples. Either a piece of fruit is an apple or is not an apple. A banana or orange is not 50% apple. Instead, an orange is 0% apple!
  2. Centered Sets. Bounded sets focus on process and see a great amount of gray zone. In the centered set view, following Jesus is at least a little fuzzy. Besides Jesus, no one has ever been the ideal disciple. Everyone is in process of becoming more and more like Jesus. In this view, if someone is 25% a follower of Jesus, the goal is to move them to 30 or 35% as they move towards the ideal.

There are strengths and weaknesses of both the bounded and centered set views. Here are a few of them.

  • Strength of Bounded Set Approach. On the day of judgement, people will be either in the kingdom or outside the kingdom. In Jesus’ words, they will either been sheep or goats (Matt 25:31ff). Therefore, it is important to define some sets of boundaries into which we are seeking to bring disciples.
  • Weakness of Bounded Set Approach #1. On the other hand, bounded sets often become difficult in missions. Consider an illiterate Muslim farmer who hears the gospel for the first time in South Asia. He repents and believes, saying that he wants to learn how to follow Jesus. But he does not have everything figured out in his faith, either in belief or practice. If we have a strict bounded set view, we would certainly saw that this man is outside. A bounded-set practitioner would see this man an evangelistic target and continue sharing the gospel with him. A centered-set practitioner would see this as a discipleship opportunity and would begin moving him towards Christ.
  • Weakness of Bounded Set Approach #2. A problem with bounded sets is that we need to define what is in and outside the bounded set. Through discussion and study, these restrictions become tighter and tighter. For example, consider the following questions:
    • What beliefs are necessary for a person to be a true MBB?
    • What practices are necessary for a person to be a true MBB?
    • What sins automatically put someone outside of being a true MBB?
    • Which biblical doctrines does a Muslim need to be able to understand and believe to enter the kingdom of God? The hypostatic union of Christ? The Trinity? The penal substitutionary atonement of Christ? These are core doctrines, yet often require time and discipleship to fully understand.
    • The weakness of this approach is that we can make the boundaries so high and detailed that it is virtually impossible for anyone to come to faith!
  • Strength of Centered Set Approach. In this paradigm, everyone is seen as being in process. The goal of this process is to continue to move them towards the center, which is the Lord Jesus. Everyone has a next step to take rather than the question merely being of whether someone is “in” or “out.” In fact, one major issue in modern evangelicalism is the bounded set view that anyone who has prayed the sinner’s prayer is “in.” The centered set does not get caught up in that debate but instead focuses on helping each believer to progress in Christ. As a result, most that use centered set approaches focus on developing processes to help individuals move from one place to the next.
  • Weakness of Centered Set Approach. One failure of centered set approaches is a tendency to overemphasize the fuzziness of discipleship. Some in centered sets are fine with people remaining in gray area in their faith since discipleship is seen as fuzzy. For example, a Muslim may follow Jesus while also perpetually following Muhammad.

In the centered set approach, movement towards the center naturally creates the desired boundaries. Hiebert wrote, “While the centred set does not place the primary focus on the boundary, there is a clear division between things moving in and those moving out. There is an excluded middle. An object either belongs to the set or it does not. However, the set focuses upon the centre and the boundary emerges when the centre and the relationships or movements of the objects have been defined. When the centre and relationships to the centre are stressed the boundary automatically falls into place.”

With this description of bounded versus centered sets, let us return to the question, “When does a Muslim become an MBB?” I personally lean towards a modified centered set practice. Our goal is to share the gospel with Muslims. When a Muslim chooses to repent and believe, declaring a desire to follow Jesus, then I call them an MBB, even if their theology and practice is not fully worked out. This perspective has been very helpful for us since many Muslims are ready to begin on the journey to follow Jesus but are in process. In an upcoming blog post, I will share a paradigm about the process I usually use to help Muslims and MBBs move towards Christ.

From a bounded-set perspective, we tend to give baptism when an MBB takes the more concrete steps of separating from the mosque, Qur’an, and Muhammad. At this point, we expect them to confess that Jesus is fully God.

In this way, we begin discipleship where a new believer is but we have a “bounded set” that we expect as they follow Jesus in baptism.

For additional reading.

  • Phil Parshall, Beyond the Mosque: Christians within Muslim Community. Grand Rapids: Baker House, 1985.
  • David Greenlee, ed., Longing for Community: Church, Ummah, or Somewhere in Between? Hyderabad: Authentic Media, 2013.

Systematic Theology 3: The Canon of Scripture

This blog post is part of a series on Systematic Theology. The method of this series is to follow Wayne Grudem’s well-known Systematic Theology. This series also interacts explicitly with Systematic Theology with a view towards ministry to South Asian Muslims. These blog posts start with Grudem but are modified. I agree with Grudem’s two presuppositions, “(1) that the Bible is true and that it is, in fact, our only standard of truth; (2) that the God who is spoken of in the Bible exists, and that He is who the Bible says he is: the Creator of heaven and earth and all things in them” (Grudem, 26). Each week, one interaction with South Asian Islam will also be noted. Click here for the audio teaching of this lesson.

“The canon of Scripture is the list of all the books that belong in the Bible” (Grudem, 54). The term canon means “rule” or “authority.” Therefore, the canon of Scripture describes the books of the Bible as the final rule for our lives. The question of canonicity is “What belongs in the Bible and what does not belong?” (Grudem, 54)

In ministry to South Asian Muslims, the term canon sounds similar to the Urdu word kanun. This word is commonly used to describe the law (Urdu kanun) of Moses. Both the English term canon and the Urdu kanunderived initially from the Semitic term kanun

  • Urdu. The term kanun came from Arabic to Urdu. 
  • English. The term kanun is a Greek word that occurs in the New Testament (Gal 6:16). It is most likely that this word came to Greek from a Semitic language from before Arabic. Latin derived the word canonfrom the Greek kanun. English then took the word canon from Latin. 

This lesson will discuss five historical tests of canonicity. These are five tests that help us to logically and clearly determine what should and should not be in the Bible. These five tests will then be applied to The Old Testament, The New Testament, the Apocrypha, and the Qur’an. 

Four Tests of Canonicity

  1. Is it from an Authoritative Source? The origin of Scripture is God. Therefore, the source of any book of Scripture must be an apostle or prophet or some authoritative source. 
    1. “Above all, you know this: No prophecy of Scripture comes from the prophet’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:20-21
    1. “All Scripture is inspired by God…” 2 Timothy 3:16a
  2. Does it agree with Other Scripture? God does not change. Therefore, any new book from God must agree or coalesce with previous books from God. If a new book claiming to be Scripture disagrees with previously received Scripture, then the new book must be rejected as Scripture.
    1. “Because I, the LORD have not changed, you descendants of Jacob have not been destroyed.” Malachi 3:6
    1. “God is not a man, that He might lie, or a son of man, that He might change His mind. Does He speak and not act, or promise and not fulfill?” Numbers 23:19
  3. Is it Powerful? When we read Scripture, it produces a change in our lives. The Word of God is powerful! If a book lacks spiritual power, then it is not Scripture. The power test is very subjective and cannot be used to overrule the other tests.
    1. “Blessed is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the LORD’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams that bears its fruit in its season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” Psalm 1:1-3
  4. Was it Received as Scripture? Regarding books from the Old Testament, was it received by the Jewish people and early followers of Jesus? Regarding books from the New Testament, was it received by early followers of Jesus? Regarding any other books, have they been received by followers of Jesus as Scripture? Why or why not?

The Canonicity of the Old Testament. “The collection of absolutely authoritative words from God grew in size throughout the time of Israel’s history” (Grudem, 55). In general, the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament relate to our four tests as follows:

  1. Authoritative Source? Genesis to Deuteronomy are from Moses (Deut 31:24-26). Joshua is from Joshua (Josh 24:26). Jeremiah wrote his own book (Jer 30:2). While there are some books that we do not know the authorship of in the Old Testament, most were written by prophets.
  2. Agree with Other Scripture? Yes, the thirty-nine Old Testament books agree with one another despite being written by dozens of authors over a thousand years! 
  3. Powerful? Psalm 19:7-8 is a testimony to the power of the Old Testament:
    1. The instruction of the LORD is perfect, renewing one’s life; the testimony of the LORD is trustworthy, making the inexperienced wise. The precepts of the LORD are right, making the heart glad; the command of the LORD is radiant, making the eyes light up.” Psalm 19:7-8
  4. Received? The Jewish people accepted the Old Testament as Scripture during the time of Jesus. Even more important, Jesus received the Old Testament as Scripture in Matthew 5:17-18. Since Jesus received the Old Testament as Scripture, followers of Jesus have not doubted the Old Testament. Followers of Jesus can confidently say that the Old Testament is true since Jesus said it was. 
    1. “Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished.” Matthew 5:17-18

The Canonicity of the Apocrypha. In contrast, the Apocrypha do not pass the four tests of canonicity. The Apocrypha are books from between 400 BC and the birth of Jesus. These books contain useful historical information but are not Scripture. They are not considered Scripture because they fail the first and fourth tests of canonicity.

  • Authoritative Source? Books in the Apocrypha clearly state that a prophet did not produce them. For example, 1 Maccabees 1:46 clearly states that there was no prophet alive at the time of the book’s writing. In fact, none of the Apocrypha claim an authoritative source. Therefore, the Apocrypha is not Scripture.
  • Received? The Catholic church did not officially adopt the Apocrypha as Scripture until 1546 at the Council of Trent. Before that time, no one believed that these books were Scripture. Since they were not received as Scripture until 1,500 years later, they should not be accepted as Scripture today.[1]

The Canonicity of the Gospels

  • Authoritative Source? Each of the four Gospels is attached to an Apostle. Matthew and John were from the Twelve. Mark wrote his Gospel in cooperation with Peter. Luke wrote his Gospel with Paul.
  • Agree with Other Scripture? One of the great strengths of the four Gospels is their agreement with one another. These four Gospels stand as four witnesses that point to Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. The way we should think about these four Gospels is as four witnesses in a court that all agree with one another. In court, the more witnesses that agree on a point, the stronger the case. So it is with the four Gospels.
  • Powerful? When we read the Gospels, we experience Jesus’ life in a powerful and transforming way.
  • Received? From the beginning of the church, all have agreed that all four Gospels are Scripture.

The Canonicity of Acts

  • Authoritative Source? Acts is a companion book of the Gospel of Luke. The same authority that was on the Gospel of Luke is in Acts. 
  • Agree with Other Scripture? Acts continues the story of Luke after Christ’s ascension and shows how He continued to work through His people. There is a great agreement with the Gospels.
  • Powerful? Acts is a strong challenge to followers of Jesus about how to follow Him! It is a picture of Jesus acting in and through His people.
  • Received? From the beginning of the church, there has been agreement about the inclusion of Acts in the canon.

The Canonicity of the Pauline Epistles

  • Authoritative Source? Paul, the apostle, wrote these books. Thus, they are from an authoritative source.
  • Agree with Other Scripture? Yes, Paul’s letters agree with the other books of Scripture.
  • Powerful? Paul’s letters are especially powerful in providing doctrine and meaning to the life and work of Christ. Throughout history, a study of Paul’s letters have led to many transformed lives.
  • Received? Almost all of Paull’s letters were accepted from the beginning without any question. Some early church fathers questioned 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. But early, all of Paul’s letters were received. 2 Peter 3:15-16 calls Paul’s Letters Scripture. Therefore, even the apostle Peter received his letters as Scripture.
    • “Also, regard the patience of the Lord as salvation, just as our dear brother Paul has written to you according to the wisdom given to him. He speaks about these things in all his letters. There are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable will twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures.” 2 Peter 3:15-16

The same four tests can be applied to the rest of the New Testament as well. It is clear that all of the New Testament books have passed these tests and are, therefore, received as Scripture. The twenty-seven books of the New Testament are Scripture. 

 Now, let us consider the same questions regarding the canonicity of the Qur’an.

The Canonicity of the Qur’an?

  • Authoritative Source? The Qur’an claims a divine source. The Qur’an claims to have given by the angel Gabriel to Muhammad. However, followers of Jesus have never received Muhammad as a legitimate prophet.
  • Agree with Other Scripture? The Qur’an claims to have an agreement with the former books while having different teaching. Several verses of the Qur’an say that the Taurat, Zabur, and Injeel[2] are from God (Qur’an 5:46; 5:71; 7:156-157; 10:94). However, the Qur’an has certain verses that disagree with the Bible (Qur’an 4:157; 5:116). Therefore, the Qur’an not only disagrees with other Scripture, but it is also self-defeating.[3]
  • Powerful? Many Muslims claim that the Qur’an is a powerful book. In my personal reading of the Qur’an, I have never experienced it as a powerful book.
  • Received? Followers of Jesus have never accepted the Qur’an as Scripture.

The Qur’an, therefore, fails the tests of canonicity. Thus, the Qur’an has not and should not be received as Scripture. The reason is that no book should be accepted as Scripture that disagrees with other Scripture. God does not change.

This post is the second of seven about the Word of God. God’s Word, the Bible, is foundational for the development of theology. Therefore, an understanding of the doctrine of the Word of God is our beginning place for theology.

  1. The Word of God: Five ways that the phrase “Word of God” is used in Scripture. Also, this lesson discusses three reasons that the Bible as the Word of God is the focus of theological study.
  2. The Canon of Scripture: What belongs in the Bible, and what does not belong? “The canon of Scripture is the list of all the books that belong in the Bible” (Grudem, 54). 
  3. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (1) Authority. How do we know that the Bible is God’s Word? “The authority of Scripture means that all the words of Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God” (Grudem, 73). To be posted on 28-September-2020.
  4. The Inerrancy of Scripture: Are there any errors in the Bible? “The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact” (Grudem, 91). To be posted on 5-October-2020.
  5. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (2) Clarity. Can only Bible scholars understand the Bible rightly? “The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it” (Grudem, 108). To be posted on 12-October-2020.
  6. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (3) Necessity. For what purposes is the Bible necessary? How much can people know about God without the Bible? “The necessity of Scripture means that the Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God’s will, but is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about God’s character and moral law” (Grudem, 116). To be posted on 19-October-2020.
  7. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (4) Sufficiency. Is the Bible enough for knowing what God wants us to think or do? “The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly” (Grudem, 127). To be posted on 26-October-2020.

[1] See Grudem 56-59 for significantly more historical information on the lack of reception of these books.

[2] Taurat, Zabur, and Injeel are Arabic terms that are used in the Qur’an to refer to biblical books. Most Muslims understand these terms. The Taurat is the Torah of Moses, meaning Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Zabur is the Psalms of David. The Injeel is the Gospel of Jesus, which probably was a reference to the New Testament. There is some confusion between Muslims and followers of Jesus regarding these terms because whoever wrote the Qur’an did not have significant knowledge about the Bible. 

[3] The Qur’an is self-defeating in this way. The Qur’an makes two contradictory claims: (1) the Injeel is true and (2) the Qur’an disagrees with the Injeel. The second statement means that Muslims must believe that either the Qur’an or Injeel is true. However, the Qur’an testifies that the Qur’an is true. Since the Qur’an testifies that the Injeel is both true and false, the Qur’an is self-defeating. Instead of accepting this evident fact, Muslims instead choose a third path. They claim that the Injeel was true but has become corrupted. Therefore, Muslims argue that the verses of the Qur’an that disagree with the Injeel are true and that the corresponding verses in the Injeel have been corrupted. In the study on the Inerrancy of Scripture, it will become clear from the manuscript evidence that it is impossible that the New Testament (Injeel) has changed in the way that Muslims claim. Therefore, the Qur’an is self-defeating.


 [ED1]Link to a table of contents

 [ED2]YouTube.

 [ED3]link

Rituals of Folk Muslims in South Asia: Na’at

Our Engaging South Asian Muslims E-Course recently went live. This course is a great opportunity to learn about the worldview of the Muslims of South Asia and how to bring the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to them. This reading is an example of one of the readings from this E-Course. Each the twelve lessons has one short reading, like this, about a particular ritual or practice of South Asian folk Muslims. Click here for more information about the Engaging South Asian Muslims E-Course. To join the course, email us at noccousinsleft@protonmail.com.

Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan Shareef, Sindh, Pakistan. Used by permission by Fassifarooq. See https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shrine_Lal_Shahbaz_Qalandar,_Sehwan_Shareef,_Sindh,_Pakistan.jpg

These readings describe the worldview of South Asian folk Muslims by looking at their rituals. Understanding folk Muslim’s worldview aids in making disciples of folk Muslims. Therefore, each reading concludes with tips on how these worldview issues relate to ministry among folk Muslims.

 There is great diversity in the belief and practices of folk Muslims in South Asia. Therefore, do not make the mistake that every South Asian Muslim that you meet will do all the practices described in these lessons! Instead, use these lessons as a launching point to explore the worldview and practices of South Asian Muslims that you meet. 

When my wife and I first moved to South Asia, we lived by a mosque where women began singing every morning at 4 am over the mosque loudspeaker. As I began to understand a little Urdu, we were surprised to hear that they were singing songs to Muhammad. This practice is called na’at. Na’at derives from the Barelvi doctrine of hazir-o-nazir that “the Prophet continues to have a spiritual presence of his own manifest as pure light (nur-I muhammadi) and is capable of mediating between Muslims and God.”[1] Many Muslims believe that Muhammad’s spiritual presence, as pure light, is present with Muslims everywhere, much like Christians believe about the Holy Spirit.

The singing of na’at “establish[es] a special relationship to the prophet and invoke[s] his mediatory presence.”[2] At the root of devotional singing is a folk perspective of Allah, Muhammad, and Sufis. Perry Pennington shared a helpful anecdote about how folk Muslims view their devotion to mediators (Urdu vasila). This anecdote was a conversation with his friend, Dervesh.

According to [Dervesh], for every work there is an accompanying vasila (means). For instance, the vasila for reading is eyeglasses; for writing, a pencil, for drinking, a glass. Prayer, he made clear, also requires a vasila. “Which vasila do you use when you pray?” I asked him. Dervesh explained that he prayed in the name (with the vasila of) all the prophets and holy books. Vasilas are required in prayer, Dervesh said, because prayer is talking to God, who is mighty and powerful. He is full of blessing, but his power is so great that direct contact with him is fraught with danger. God, he continued, is like an electricity-generating power plant. It produces such a powerful form of electricity that it is useless for ordinary household items like radios, for its power would destroy them if connected directly to them. Instead, the electricity is taken from the generating plant to an electrical grid… In prayer, Dervesh concluded, God is like the generating station, the prophets like the grid station, and Sufis, like the transformer. They are a conduit for the blessing and power of God that flows from them into their followers in a manageable form.[3]

Some Muslims also sing to Sufi saints. Qawwali is a more popularized and often syncretized form of Islamic musical expression sung by skilled musicians. The Mughal king, Akbar the Great, became a devotee of Kwaja Mu’inuddin Chishti and his dargah in Ajmer after hearing a Qawwali in honor of that Sufi saint.[4] In some contexts, especially related to some Sufi shrines, ecstatic dancing and the use of marijuana[5] to achieve a spiritual state. The goal of devotional singing and dancing is to enter into a deeper relationship with Allah and gain barkat (Urdu for “blessing”).

Proclaiming Jesus as the greatest mediator between God and man is compelling to folk Muslims (1 Tim 2:5-6). Portraying the mediatorial role of Christ is significant to folk Muslims who are seeking mediators between them and God. The book of Hebrews highlights the mediatorial role of Christ as the new high priest. One particularly powerful verse in evangelism to folk Muslims on this theme is John 14:6, which uses the term vasila in Urdu. “Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (Urdu mere vasile ke bagher).’” There is one caution in using this verse with South Asian folk Muslims. Many Muslims misunderstand the term “Father” in this verse since this is not a term used in Islam for God. This misunderstanding is addressed in a future lesson on presenting Jesus as the Son of God.


[1], Patrick Eisenlohr, “Na’at: Media Contexts and Transnational Dimensions of a Devotional Practice,” in Islam in South Asia in Practice, ed. by Barbara D. Metcalf. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009, 102.

[2] Ibid., 102.

[3] Perry Pennington, “From Prophethood to the Gospel: Talking to Folk Muslims about Jesus,” IJFM 31.4 (2014): 197.

[4] Catherine B. Asher, “Pilgrimage to the Shrines of Ajmer,” in Islam in South Asia in Practice, ed. by Barbara D. Metcalf (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), 77.

[5] Green tea should be imbibed with great caution in South Asia. A missionary colleague in India was once given “green tea” by his Muslim friend. Unaware it was marijuana; he drank two glasses. It was quite potent since it took more than twenty-four hours for my friend to come down from his high. 

The Cross through the Eyes of a Secret Believer: A Message on John 19

This post is a message I recently shared at a local church in South Asia. Subscribe to this blog to receive updates in your e-mail about No Cousins Left!

Secret believers are a common phenomenon in Muslim ministry. A few years ago, a friend and I were going village by village in a rural area looking for Muslims whose hearts were open to the gospel. Most people were resting in the heat of the day, but one man saw and invited us into his shop. Naseem was the village doctor and was curious about why we were there. My friend and I shared the gospel with Dr. Naseem, but he was not convinced. I left him with an Injeel (Urdu for the New Testament) and challenged him to read it. I did not expect ever to see Naseem again.

When I woke up the next morning, I saw that I had more than ten missed calls. All of them were from Dr. Naseem. He had been calling me from about 1-5 am, but my phone was on silent mode. When I called him, Dr. Naseem told me that he had not stopped reading the Injeel from the time I had left his shop. He had not eaten nor slept. I could tell that he was troubled on the phone. He told me that he knew that the Injeel was true and asked me, “What do I need to do?”

Unfortunately, Naseem was not willing to count the cost to follow Jesus fully. Naseem regularly goes to the mosque for prayer and has never worshipped with a group of Christians. He keeps his Bible secretly hidden and studies it when he has the chance. He has been unwilling to meet with Christians in his village. He has told me that he has not even told his wife that he believes the Bible is true. When I visit Dr. Naseem, we meet outside of his village, where his friends and relatives cannot see him studying the Bible. 

The Story of Nicodemus

In the Gospel of John, we encounter a secret believer named Nicodemus. Nicodemus was part of the religious leadership of Jerusalem (John 7:50). He was a Pharisee (John 3:1), meaning that he was a religious teacher with significant knowledge about the Law of Moses (John 3:10). Being in the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus was in the room when Pharisees and chief priests met during Jesus’ life and ministry. 

In John 3, we read Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus. Nicodemus went to Jesus at night, no doubt, out of fear. He knew that the Pharisees were angry with Jesus and could not be seen consorting with the enemy. Nicodemus said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could perform these signs you do unless God were with him” (John 3:2). Jesus famously responded, “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Nicodemus left his encounter with Jesus realizing a need to be born again. Although he was a religious leader, he knew that he did not know God after meeting Jesus. A little later, Jesus left Judea to go into Galilee because the Pharisees had heard he was baptizing so many people (John 4:1). No doubt, Nicodemus was in meetings of the religious leaders when they tried to decide what to do with Jesus. 

In John 7, Jesus returned to Jerusalem and began to teach during a major festival. In John 7:32, the chief priests and Pharisees sent men to arrest Jesus because the crowds started to wonder if He was the Messiah. However, these men did not stop Jesus. Instead, they returned to the Pharisees and said, “No man ever spoke like this!” (John 7:46). The Pharisees were angry and began to speak to one another against Jesus. In that meeting, Nicodemus stood up for Jesus, saying, “Our law doesn’t judge a man before it hears from him and know what he’s doing, does it?” (John 7:51) Nicodemus wanted to hear more from Jesus, while the rest of the Pharisees tried to silence Him. Nicodemus was probably thinking about his own spiritual need when he defended Jesus and his own desire for spiritual rebirth.

In John 9, the Pharisees attacked Jesus for healing a blind man on the Sabbath. A miracle like this caused a separation in the hearts and minds of the people in Jerusalem. Some used it as an opportunity to attack Jesus for breaking the Law of Moses. Others saw this miracle as a sign that Jesus had come from God. When Nicodemus first met Jesus, he said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could perform these signs you do unless God were with him” (John 3:2). While the Pharisees attacked Jesus for this miracle, it moved Nicodemus closer to faith. However, Nicodemus was still not ready to fully follow Christ. 

Now, before we condemn Nicodemus, we must realize that he was a broken man, a sinner, just like each of us. The Scriptures say that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Each of us has some hardness in our heart, like Nicodemus, and require repentance. What amazes me about the story of Nicodemus is God’s faithfulness towards this man. Jesus continued to perform signs and miracles for men like Nicodemus. Jesus taught publicly so that men like Nicodemus had many chances to hear the Word of God. He continued to provide opportunities for him to repent and believe. The story of Nicodemus reminds me of my friend, Dr. Naseem. I hope that Dr. Naseem’s story ends as well as Nicodemus’!

In John 11, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. “So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and were saying, ‘What are we going to do since this man is doing many signs?'” (John 11:47). Nicodemus was likely in that council. I am sure that Nicodemus’ heart was screaming, “We should repent and believe in Him” but his mouth remained silent. 

Instead, Nicodemus sat silently in fear as the Jewish council conspired to put Jesus to death (John 12:10). 

In John 18, the Pharisees found their opportunity to arrest Jesus. Judas Iscariot led a group of soldiers and religious leaders to Jesus at night. I wonder if Nicodemus joined that group to see what would happen or stayed home, awake all night knowing what was going on. After his arrest, Jesus was brought before the religious leaders of Jerusalem. Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, would have been in that meeting. Again, Nicodemus stood silent as Jesus was mocked and beaten. Likely, Nicodemus was there when they brought Jesus to Pontius Pilate to stand trial. However, his fear continued to silence him. He was afraid of what his friends and neighbors would say if he stood up for Jesus. He was scared of arrest or death or persecution. Perhaps he would share the same fate as Jesus.

However, by the end of that day, something would change in Nicodemus’ heart. In John 19:38-42, we read,

38 After this, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus — but secretly because of his fear of the Jews — asked Pilate that he might remove Jesus’s body. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and took his body away. 39 Nicodemus (who had previously come to him at night) also came, bringing a mixture of about seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloes. 40 They took Jesus’s body and wrapped it in linen cloths with the fragrant spices, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41 There was a garden in the place where he was crucified. A new tomb was in the garden; no one had yet been placed in it. 42 They placed Jesus there because of the Jewish day of preparation and since the tomb was nearby. (John 19:38-42)

Taking the body of Jesus and burying Him was not a secret event. Receiving the body of Jesus required standing before Pilate and requesting it. No doubt, all of the religious leaders were appalled that these two were honoring Jesus in this way. Who knows what persecution followed against these men! It was no secret that Nicodemus brought over 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes. 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes was a quantity fit for a king and a significant expense. Remember when Mary came and anointed Jesus with just a fraction of this amount that Jesus’ disciples were scandalized at the financial waste. Joseph and Nicodemus took great care of Jesus’ body. In this act of properly caring for Jesus’ body, these two men stood publicly in Christ for the first time. 

What changed? Just hours earlier, Nicodemus cowered in fear because of the Pharisees. Now, he was willing to risk everything for his crucified Lord! There is only one thing that changed. Nicodemus witnessed the death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross.

When Nicodemus saw Jesus on the cross, his life was changed. In Roman culture, many would have stood and watched Jesus slowly die a horrible death. The text does not tell us, but I imagine Nicodemus standing at a distance and watching Jesus die as the Spirit of God transformed his life. During that day, Nicodemus was born again. He realized that he was a sinner whose life was broken. He saw that He was far away from God. During that day, Nicodemus became a follower of Jesus. 

John 19 through the Eyes of Nicodemus

Having set the scene, let us walk through John 19 and see what Nicodemus experienced. As we can see in Nicodemus’s life, it is a life-changing experience to reflect upon the death of our Lord Jesus. When we look upon the cross, we need to remember that this work of Jesus was necessary because of our sin. When we choose to sin, we dishonor the death of our Lord. Today, as we hear the story of the death of Jesus, I want to challenge you to take this opportunity to repent. If there is any secret sin in your life, make today the day that you turn away from it. If there is anger or bitterness in your life, bring it to the cross today. If your mind is filled with anxiety and worry, cast it upon our crucified Lord. If you are like Nicodemus and have always stood at the edge of the faith without repenting and believing, make today your day to give your life fully to Christ.

In John 19, Nicodemus stood outside of the government headquarters. They had been there since morning while Jesus stood trial before Pilate. Nicodemus could feel the anger in the others. His heart was conflicted about what to do.

1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.

Pilate was the Roman governor over the Province of Judea. After arresting Jesus in the middle of the night, the Jewish religious leaders questioned Jesus at the high priest’s home. Early in the morning, they brought Jesus to stand trial before Pilate. They had already been there for hours while Pilate investigated what was happening and questioned Jesus. Pilate tried to release Jesus, but the Jewish religious leaders had chosen to free a revolutionary named Barabbas instead. 

So, Pilate took another step to appease the Jewish leaders by having Jesus flogged. A flogging means that Roman soldiers savagely beat Jesus with a whip. It is most likely that this flogging was public. I imagine that Nicodemus winced every time he saw the whip strike our Lord. A flogging would not have meant one or two blows from the whip. The Jewish people often gave thirty-nine lashes during a flogging. The Romans often did even more! By the end of this event, Jesus was bloody and bruised. 

2 The soldiers also twisted together a crown of thorns, put it on his head, and clothed him in a purple robe. 3 And they kept coming up to him and saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” and were slapping his face.

The mockery of Jesus continued. Imagine how Nicodemus’ heart broke as he watched the crown of thorns pierce our Lord’s head, causing even more blood to run down His face. Nicodemus knew that Jesus was innocent! How could an innocent man be treated this way! They mocked Jesus and called Him “king of the Jews,” which was exactly who He was. Jesus is referred to as the King of the Jews eight times in John 19. Jesus’ only “crime” was that He was the Messiah who had come to save His people from their sins.

4 Pilate went outside again and said to them, “Look, I’m bringing him out to you to let you know I find no grounds for charging him.” 5 Then Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” 6 When the chief priests and the temple servants saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”

Pilate had no interest in killing Jesus. He seemed to hope that this savage beating would satisfy the anger of the Jewish religious leaders. I wonder if Nicodemus felt broken at this point. I wonder if he realized that Jesus was suffering as a payment for his sins and the sins of the whole world. This scene reminds me of a famous Urdu song.

Jo krus pe kurbaan hai, vo mera Masiha hai(The one who is upon the cross, this is my Messiah)

Har zakhm jo uska hai, vo mere gunaah ka hai. (every wound that is applied to Him is because of my sin)

6b [To the crowd’s demands to crucify Jesus], Pilate responded, “Take him and crucify him yourselves, since I find no grounds for charging him.” 7 “We have a law,” the Jews replied to him, “and according to that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.”

In Matthew 26:63-64, the high priest told Jesus, “Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Nicodemus would have been in that meeting and heard the high priest’s question of Jesus. Jesus answered the high priest, “You have said it. But I tell you, in the future you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” When he heard Jesus’ statement, the high priest tore his robes and declared Jesus a blasphemer. In that room, I wonder if Nicodemus wondered how a blasphemer could teach God’s word so powerfully. How could a blasphemer open the eyes of the blind? How could a blasphemer raise Lazarus from the dead?

8 When Pilate heard this statement, he was more afraid than ever. 9 He went back into the headquarters and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus did not give him an answer. 10 So Pilate said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Don’t you know that I have the authority to release you and the authority to crucify you?” 11 “You would have no authority over me at all,” Jesus answered him, “if it hadn’t been given you from above. This is why the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”

Did you know that Jesus could have stopped His crucifixion right here? When Jesus was arrested, He said, “do you think that I cannot call on my Father and He will provide me here and now with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt 26:53) Our Lord Jesus willingly gave His life on the cross. Jesus had the authority and the power to stop this all. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But Jesus knew that He needed to give His life for us. Hebrews 12:2 that for the joy before Him that Jesus endured the cross and despised the shame. This verse tells us that Jesus joyfully gave His life on the cross for us. His life was not taken! He gave Himself for our sins.

12 [After Pilate spoke to Jesus,] Pilate kept trying to release him. But the Jews shouted, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Anyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar!” 13 When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside. He sat down on the judge’s seat in a place called the Stone Pavement (but in Aramaic, ‘Gabbatha’). 14 It was the preparation day for the Passover, and it was about noon. Then he told the Jews, “Here is your king!”

This trial had begun at the break of dawn and was still going at noon. Jesus had not slept nor eaten. He had been mocked, beaten, and stood before them in His crown of thorns and purple robes. Pilate tried to release Him. But the Jewish leaders were crafty. They knew that anyone claiming to be king was considered a rebellion against the Roman Empire. If word got back to Caesar that Pilate gave leniency to a man leading a rebellion, he would also be executed. 

15 They shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

Imagine Nicodemus during this scene. The other Jewish religious leaders were his friends and relatives. He had known them for many years. He respected and loved them. But during this scene, he did not know what to do. He saw Jesus, His King, mocked and beaten, an innocent man whom Nicodemus knew was the Messiah. But the Pharisees, who were Nicodemus’ friends and family, wanted Jesus dead. All around Nicodemus, they cried out, “Take Him away! Crucify Him!” 

15b Pilate said to them, “Should I crucify your king?” “We have no king but Caesar!” the chief priests answered. 16 Then he handed him over to be crucified.

Each step along the way, Nicodemus’ heart broke more and more. A large crowd would have stayed and watched the crucifixion of our Lord. I imagine Nicodemus standing silently at a distance. I suspect that his heart was broken over his sin and hypocrisy. Despite being a religious leader, he was not close to God. He stood by silently, while the Messiah, God’s messenger, was being mocked and killed! Imagine Nicodemus watching the crucifixion at a distance while the Holy Spirit worked on transforming his life. 

Today, I hope that the Holy Spirit is doing the same thing in your life. “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor 15:3). The only reason that Jesus suffered in this way is that each of us has sinned. Sin is when we choose to disobey God. When we remember the cross of Christ, we recognize that this is the saving power of Christ for our lives. Remember today that Jesus loves each of us right where we are. “God demonstrates His own love towards us that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus did not wait until we put our lives together. He died for us to make us right with God.

16b Then they took Jesus away. 17 Carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called Place of the Skull, which in Aramaic is called ‘Golgotha’. 18 There they crucified him and two others with him, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle. 19 Pilate also had a sign made and put on the cross. It said: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Don’t write, ‘The king of the Jews,’ but that he said, ‘I am the king of the Jews.'” 22 Pilate replied, “What I have written, I have written.”

I wonder if Pilate wrote this on the sign merely to spite the Jewish religious leaders. However, I imagine Nicodemus starring at this sign all day long, knowing that Jesus was the king of the Jews. While this sign meant to mock our Lord Jesus, Nicodemus knew that it was true. During that day, Nicodemus repented. He turned away from his sins. He chose that day that Jesus was his Lord and King. 

Similarly, each of us needs to repent when we hear this story. We need to turn away from our sins and follow Jesus. Every time we look at the cross of Christ, we gain this opportunity again. Every time we choose to repent and believe, we grow closer to Christ. This is the power of the Lord’s Supper. Our Lord Jesus gave us this simple act so that we would remember His death on the cross every time we take it. As we come to the cross, again and again in the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Spirit transforms our lives.

We will finish today by reading just one last paragraph of this story. Please go forward with me to verses 28-30.

28 After this, when Jesus knew that everything was now finished that the Scripture might be fulfilled, he said, “I’m thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was sitting there; so they fixed a sponge full of sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it up to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.

It is finished. The wrath of God the Father was fully satisfied. It is finished. The sins of the world were paid for in full. It is finished. The suffering of Christ was now finished. It is finished. The work of man’s redemption and salvation is now completed. It is finished. Jesus “erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it away by nailing to the cross” (Col 2:14). It is finished. Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; he triumphed over them at the cross” (Col 2:15). It is finished. By His work on the cross, Jesus “rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom [of God]” (Col 1:13). It is finished. “now he has reconciled you by his physical body through his death to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before him” (Col 1:22). It is finished. “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:8-9). Jesus’ life was not taken from him. With joy, Jesus freely gave His life for us. 

All of human history changed at this moment when Jesus bowed His head and gave up His Spirit. Nicodemus’ life also changed. He and Joseph of Arimathea boldly requested Jesus’ body. They gave Him the burial of a rich man. Nicodemus’ secret life went public. He chose to stand with His crucified Lord. 

What about you? As you look to the cross today, what is Christ calling you to do? Are you standing on the edges, like Nicodemus? Today, commit yourself to the Lord. Look at what Jesus did for your salvation! Do you have a secret sin in your life? Look at what Jesus did for your sins! Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart! Cry out to God and ask Him to change your life. Go to a brother or sister today and ask for help in following Jesus. Is your heart filled with gratitude today as we remember what Christ has done? Go and proclaim Christ’s work on the cross! Like Dr. Naseem, there are multitudes who need to hear the good news of what Jesus did on the cross. Let us go and tell them. 

Systematic Theology 2: The Word of God

This blog post is part of a series on Systematic Theology. The method of this series is to follow Wayne Grudem’s well-known Systematic Theology. This series also interacts explicitly with Systematic Theology with a view towards ministry to South Asian Muslims. These blog posts start with Grudem but are modified. I agree with Grudem’s two presuppositions, “(1) that the Bible is true and that it is, in fact, our only standard of truth; (2) that the God who is spoken of in the Bible exists, and that He is who the Bible says he is: the Creator of heaven and earth and all things in them” (Grudem, 26). Each week, one interaction with South Asian Islam will also be noted.

Click here for the audio teaching of this lesson on Youtube. Please subscribe to this blog or to my YouTube channel to receive updates!

John 1 in Urdu (UGV translation)

As discussed in the previous post, the question of the Word of God is a significant place where Muslims and Christians disagree. Muslims hold the presupposition that the Qur’an is their primary standard of truth. As a result, Christians must be familiar with Muslim perspectives on Scripture and the Word of God.

The Word of God

The phrase “Word of God” occurs throughout Scripture. However, this phrase is used in five different ways. This lesson will review the ways that “Word of God” is used in Scripture. Then we will have an overview of the next few weeks of lessons.

  1. God’s Decrees. “And God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light” (Gen 1:3). A decree is when God declares something and causes it to happen. God is almighty and can declare anything to happen and cause it to occur immediately. The decrees of God were most evident during the creation.“The heavens were made by the word of the LORD, and all stars by the breath of his mouth” (Psalm 33:6).
  2. God’s Words as Direct Speech. “Then God spoke all these words: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:1-2). Sometimes God communicates to people through direct speech, meaning that He speaks to them. Scripture is full of examples of God speaking directly to people (see a few examples below). When God spoke, He used human languages, such as Greek or Hebrew. However, these words were the Word of God, having divine authority. In Scripture, God usually spoke directly to men at critical points in history. God did not commonly use direct speech.
    1. “And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die” (Gen 2:16-17).
    1. “The LORD said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to a land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (Gen 12:1-2).
    1. “God replied to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14).
    1. “The LORD said to Samuel, ‘I am about to do something in Israel that everyone who hears about it will shudder” (1 Samuel 3:11).
    1. “Some time later, David inquired of the LORD: ‘Should I go to one of the towns of Judah?’ The LORD answered him, ‘Go.” Then David asked, ‘Where should I go?” ‘To Hebron,’ the LORD answered” (2 Sam 2:1).
    1. “At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said, ‘Ask. What should I give you?” (1 Kings 3:5).
    1. “And a voice from heaven said: ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased’” (Matt 3:17).
    1. “While [Peter] was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said: ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him!” (Matt 17:5)
    1. “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go and join that chariot’” (Acts 8:29).
    1. “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2).
  3. God’s Words as Speech through Human Lips. “Frequently in Scripture God raises up prophets through whom he speaks. Once again, it is evident that although these are human words, spoken in ordinary human language by ordinary human beings, the authority and truthfulness of these words is in no way diminished: they are still completely God’s words as well” (Grudem, 48). Clear examples of this are the prophetic books of Isaiah to Malachi. 
    1. “Then the LORD reached out his hand, touched my mouth, and told me: ‘I have now filled your mouth with my words” (Jer 1:9).
    1. “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him” (Deut 18:18).
    1. “The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me, his word was on my tongue” (2 Sam 23:2, spoken by David).
    1. “no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).
    1. “just as [God] spoke by the mouth of his prophets in ancient times” (Luke 1:70)
  4. The Word of God as a Person: Jesus Christ. In John 1, Jesus is called the Word. As the Word of God, Jesus communicated the character of God to us and expressed God’s will. The Qur’an also calls Jesus the Word of God (Arabic kalimatullah), although the Qur’an does not give meaning for this term (Qur’an 3:45; 4:171). John 1:1, 14 provides the most apparent purpose of this name of Christ.
    1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
    1. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
    1. “He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called the Word of God.” (Rev 19:13)
    1. As the Word of God, every word spoken by Jesus was direct speech by God. Because of this, Jesus’ coming into the world revealed God and His will far more clearly than had been known before Jesus came.
      1. “No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son, who is himself God and is at the Father’s side – he has revealed him” (John 1:18).
      1. “Long ago, God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:1-2).
  5. God’s Words in Written Form (the Bible). There are many instances in Scripture where the Bible was put into written form. For example, the ten commandments were “written by the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18) on the two stone tablets. Near the end of Deuteronomy, Moses commanded the priests to keep the whole Law and call an assembly of all the people of God every seven years and read the entire Law (Deut 31:9-13). The Law in this verse is a reference to the first five books of the Bible. 
    1. “When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book, to the very end, Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, ‘Take this book of the law, and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you” (Deut 31:24-26).
    1. “And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God” (Joshua 24:26).
    1. “And now, go, write it before them on a tablet, and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come as a witness forever” (Isaiah 30:8).
    1. “Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you” (Jer 30:2).
    1. “[Paul] speaks about these things in all his letters. There are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable will twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16).
    1. “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches” (Rev 1:11).
    1. “I testify to everyone hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book” (Rev 22:18).
  6. The Bible as the Word of God is the foundation for theology. There are several benefits from having the word of God available in written form.
    1. Having God’s words in written form preserves them for future generations.
    1. Having God’s words in written form provides an opportunity for repeated inspection. Repeated inspection and study allows for better understanding and obedience.
    1. Having God’s words in written form makes them available to many more people. 
    1. For all of these reasons, the Bible as God’s written word is the focus for theological study. We can study God’s Words in the Bible to understand them. The Bible is available to everyone, meaning that all can participate in biblical study to understand and develop theology.

This post is the first of seven about the Word of God. God’s Word, the Bible, is foundational for the development of theology. Therefore, an understanding of the doctrine of the Word of God is our beginning place for theology. The next six topics are:

  1. The Canon of Scripture: What belongs in the Bible, and what does not belong? “The canon of Scripture is the list of all the books that belong in the Bible” (Grudem, 54). To be posted on 21-September-2020.
  2. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (1) Authority. How do we know that the Bible is God’s Word? “The authority of Scripture means that all the words of Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God” (Grudem, 73). To be posted on 28-September-2020.
  3. The Inerrancy of Scripture: Are there any errors in the Bible? “The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact” (Grudem, 91). To be posted on 5-October-2020.
  4. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (2) Clarity. Can only Bible scholars understand the Bible rightly? “The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it” (Grudem, 108). To be posted on 12-October-2020.
  5. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (3) Necessity. For what purposes is the Bible necessary? How much can people know about God without the Bible? “The necessity of Scripture means that the Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God’s will, but is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about God’s character and moral law” (Grudem, 116). To be posted on 19-October-2020.
  6. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (4) Sufficiency. Is the Bible enough for knowing what God wants us to think or do? “The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly” (Grudem, 127). To be posted on 26-October-2020.

Our Engaging South Asian Muslims E-Course is Live!

I want to share an exciting announcement! No Cousins Left has launched its first E-Course to train others in how to make disciples and plant churches among the almost 600 million Muslims of South Asia.

This E-Course is self-paced, meaning that you can access each lesson at any time. This training consists of twelve lessons. It is recommended that you take no more than two lessons each week to allow time for the content to sink in. Each lesson will take about one hour to complete and includes a combination of videos, readings, and quizzes. There is no cost for taking this course.

Most lessons contain the following five topics:

  1. Philosophy of Ministry. Brief videos about developing a strong biblical-theological foundation for ministry to Muslims. Some videos also compare and contrast with other philosophies of ministry.
  2. Prayer for Pakistan. Learning about Pakistan and praying for Pakistan.
  3. History of South Asian Islam. Readings about a historical figure or movement in South Asian Islam and how these historical figures or movements related to Muslim ministry.
  4. Muslim Ministry Tools. Videos training basic ministry tools for ministry to South Asian Muslims.
  5. Folk Muslim Rituals. Most Muslims in South Asia are strongly influenced by folk Islam. These readings reveal the worldview of folk Muslims by studying their rituals. 

If you want to join this course, e-mail us at nocousinsleft@protonmail.com. We will send you a link to sign in to the course.