“If you can do anything else, do it.”

October has been Pastor Appreciation Month. I am thankful for those who have reached out to me this month, and I want to express my appreciation for those who have pastorally poured time, love and energy into me.

A question that people sometimes ask is, “How do you know if you’re called into pastoral ministry?”

“The Prince of Preachers”, Charles Haddon Spurgeon addressed this question to the students in his pastoral training school, recorded for us in the book, Lectures to My Students

Spurgeon’s advice to his students was: “If you can do anything else, do it. If you can stay out of the ministry, stay out of the ministry.”

He continued, “If any student in this room could be content to be a newspaper editor or a grocer or a farmer or a doctor or a lawyer or a senator or a king, in the name of heaven and earth, let him go his way.”

In other words, only those who believe they are chosen by God for the pulpit should proceed in undertaking this sacred, yet difficult, and sometimes wearisome calling.

Why You Should Do Anything Else if You Can

Earlier this year, I shared the tragic story of Andrew Stoecklein — see: Pastors, Depression and Suicide

Pastoral ministry is taxing on the pastor’s family. The church is not only the pastor’s “workplace” or place of ministry, it is also their family’s own faith community. There is a social element to it as well. When people leave the church, your kids suffer because they lose friends.

I came across these posts from pastors on social media recently, reflecting some of why people in pastoral ministry struggle:

https://www.facebook.com/cnieuwhof/posts/951599645028464

Why There’s Nothing Else I’d Rather Do

My point here is not to complain but to acknowledge that pastoral ministry can be difficult. There is something cathartic about hearing someone else say these things out loud.

However, there’s nothing else I’d rather do.

This is the genius of Spurgeon’s statement: If you can do anything else, do it. There are plenty of other ways to serve God. The role of pastor is only one of many roles in the body of Christ. And yet, there are those who find themselves convinced that there is, in fact, nothing else they can rightly do but answer God’s call to serve His people through pastoral ministry.

These are those who say along with the Apostle Paul: For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if it is not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. (1 Corinthians 9:16-18)

They say along with Jeremiah: “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, indeed I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:9)

It isn’t only a duty, it is also a joy. It is an honor and a joy to be able to lead a group of God’s people and regularly get to be an instrument through which God helps people grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. It is an honor and a privilege to get to be involved in the most meaningful moments of people’s lives as a representative of God’s Kingdom.

There are very few things in life that are truly meaningful, which are not also difficult.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. (1 Timothy 3:1)
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.  (1 Timothy 5:17)

So, to all you pastors out there:

Take joy in being a pastor! Keep fighting that good fight, keep running that race, keep looking to Jesus. Seek your acknowledgement, affirmation and appreciation primarily from Him. Go to Him with your frustrations and hurts. Cast your cares on Him, for He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).

And may we say along with the Apostle Paul:

“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24)

Happy Pastor Appreciation Month!

“Heap Burning Coals on Their Head” – What Does That Mean?

Every week, Mike and I sit down in front of the camera to film a sermon-extra: a further discussion about the text we studied at White Fields on Sunday.

You can find those videos on the WhiteFields YouTube channel and Facebook page, or you can get the audio on SoundCloud. Check those out and subscribe so you can get keep up with those discussions and content.

Here’s this week’s video in which we discuss the somewhat confusing phrase in Romans 12:20 – “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head”:

Christian Truth is in the Service of Christian Love

In the introduction to his book First Theology: God, Scripture and Hermeneutics, Kevin Vanhoozer writes this, which is worthy of a devotional thought for today:

Christian truth is in the service of Christian love. If I speak in the tongues of Reformers and of professional theologians, and I have not personal faith in Christ, my theology is nothing but the noisy beating of a snare drum. And if I have analytic powers and the gift of creating coherent conceptual systems of theology, so as to remove liberal objections, and have not personal hope in God, I am nothing. And if I give myself to resolving the debate between supra and infralapsarianism, and to defending inerrancy, and to learning the Westminster Catechism, yea, even the larger one, so as to recite it by heart backwards and forwards, and have not love, I have gained nothing.

This one thing I know: there is no more vital task facing Christians today than responding faithfully to Scripture as God’s authoritative speech acts — not because the book is holy but because the Lord is, and because the Bible is his Word, the chief means we have of coming to know Jesus Christ.

Those who interpret the Bible rightly — those who look and live along the text, following the written words to the living Word — will have rightly ordered loves and rightly ordered lives. The apostle Paul leaves us in no doubt as to either his first theology or his first love: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).

Kevin Vanhoozer, First Theology: God, Scripture, & Hermeneutics (IVP Academic, 2002), 40-41

What is Expository Preaching? – Some Thoughts from Martyn Lloyd-Jones

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The approach to preaching that we champion at White Fields is called “expository preaching.” I’m also involved with a movement called the Expositors Collective – which will have its next event in Bradenton, Florida on Nov 30-Dec 1, and which has a great podcast you should check out!

What is Expository Preaching?

The root word of “expository” is “expose” – and expository preaching is all about exposing the meaning of the text, as opposed to imposing a meaning upon the text. 

The goal of expository preaching is to let the Bible speak for itself, rather than using it as a “prooftext” to validate what we already think or what we really want to say. As opposed to coming to the Scriptures with a pre-conceived notion or goal and then looking for verses which back that up, expository preaching/teaching is focused on coming to the Bible and understanding what it has to say to us.

For this reason, we usually teach and preach through the Bible in a verse-by-verse fashion, but expository preaching can be done when addressing topics as well.

However, just teaching verse-by verse does not necessarily equal expository preaching. An expository sermon aims to expose as clearly as possible the meaning of the text, which means that it will have an effective structure for doing so, and will bring in other biblical texts to reach that goal.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Expository Sermons vs. Running Commentary

Consider these words from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ classic: Preaching and Preachers

A sermon should always be expository. But, immediately, that leads me to say something which I regard as very important indeed in this whole matter. A sermon is not a running commentary on, or a mere exposition of, the meaning of a verse or a passage or a paragraph.

I emphasise this because there are many today who have become interested in what they regard as expository preaching but who show very clearly that they do not know what is meant by expository preaching. They think that it just means making a series of comments, or a running commentary on a paragraph or a passage or a statement. They take a passage verse by verse; and they make their comments on the first, then they go on to the next verse, and do the same with that, then the next, and so on. When they have gone through the passage in this way they imagine they have preached a sermon. But they have not; all they have done is to make a series of comments on a passage.

I would suggest that far from having preached a sermon such preachers have only preached the introduction to a sermon! This, in other words, raises the whole question of the relationship of exposition to the sermon. My basic contention is that the essential characteristic of a sermon is that it has a definite form, and that it is this form that makes it a sermon. It is based upon exposition, but it is this exposition turned or moulded into a message which has this characteristic form.

A phrase that helps to bring out this point is one which is to be found in the Old Testament in the Prophets where we read about ‘the burden of the Lord’. The message has come to the prophet as a burden, it has come to him as an entire message, and he delivers this. That is something, I argue, which is not true of a mere series of comments upon a number of verses.

I maintain that a sermon should have form in the sense that a musical symphony has form. A symphony always has form, it has its parts and its portions. The divisions are clear, and are recognised, and can be described; and yet a symphony is a whole. You can divide it into parts, and yet you always realise that they are parts of a whole, and that the whole is more than the mere summation or aggregate of the parts.

One should always think of a sermon as a construction, a work which is in that way comparable to a symphony. In other words a sermon is not a mere meandering through a number of verses; it is not a mere collection or series of excellent and true statements and remarks. All those should be found in the sermon, but they do not constitute a sermon. What makes a sermon a sermon is that it has this particular ‘form’ which differentiates it from everything else.

Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Preaching and Preachers (pp. 82-84). Zondervan

He then goes on to make the point that “Spirit-led” does not mean structureless. We must not assume that structure and organization is at odds with being open to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The ultimate goal of expository preaching is to let God’s Word speak and be understood as clearly, and with appropriate force upon the life of the hearers, that they might know God’s Word to them.

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What is Dual-Covenant Theology and What Does it Mean that “All Israel will be saved”?

Romans 11:26 makes an interesting statement, which has led to much confusion and debate:

“And in this way all Israel will be saved.” (Romans 11:26a)

Context

As we’ve been studying through Romans at White Fields on Sunday mornings, we have come to chapters 9-11, which deal with questions concerning Israel, such as: Has God forsaken Israel? Since the Old Testament contains many promises to the nation of Israel, are those promises no longer valid? How do we make sense of the fact that many Jews have  rejected Jesus as Messiah – and that most Christians are not ethnically Jewish?

In answering these questions, Paul is quick to assert that, No, God’s word has not failed in regard to Israel (Romans 9:6), nor has God forsaken Israel (Romans 11:1).

Paul explains Jewish unbelief in two important ways:

  1. The remnant argument: “Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel,” (Romans 9:4), & “And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved'” (Romans 9:27).
    Additionally, it is understood that many who are not ethnically Jewish will be added to the “chosen people of God” – As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’” “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called sons of the living God.’” (Romans 9:25-26)
  2. The responsibility argument: “But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” (Romans 10:21)

Dual-Covenant Theology?

In an attempt to explain this idea that “all Israel will be saved”, some have adopted a dual-covenant theology, which basically says that the Jews are going to be saved under the old covenant (law), but Gentiles are saved under the new covenant (Jesus, grace).

The problem with dual-covenant theology is that it goes against everything Paul has been teaching in Romans, and what the rest of the Bible teaches: that Jesus is the only way of salvation for all people, both for Jews and Gentiles (i.e. everyone in the world).

John Stott writes this:

There is no hint of a special way of salvation for the Jews which dispenses with faith in Christ. It is understandable that since the holocaust Jews have demanded an end to Christian missionary activity among them, and that many Christians have felt embarrassed about continuing it. It is even mooted that Jewish evangelism is an unacceptable form of anti-Semitism. So some Christians have attempted to develop a theological basis for leaving Jews alone in their Judaism. Reminding us that God’s covenant with Abraham was an ‘everlasting covenant’, they maintain that it is still in force, and that therefore God saves Jewish people through their own covenant, without any necessity for them to believe in Jesus. This proposal is usually called a ‘two-covenant theology’.

Bishop Krister Stendahl was one of the first scholars to argue for it,47 namely that there are two different salvation ‘tracks’—the Christian track for the believing remnant and believing Gentiles, and the track for historical Israel which relies on God’s covenant with them. Professor Dunn is surely right to reject this as ‘a false and quite unnecessary antithesis’.

Romans 11 stands in clear opposition to this trend because of its insistence on the fact that there is only one olive tree, to which Jewish and Gentile believers both belong. Jewish people ‘will be grafted in’ again ‘if they do not persist in unbelief’. So faith in Jesus is essential for them. Whether or not Dr Tom Wright is correct in the notion of ‘a large-scale, last-minute salvation of ethnic Jews’, his emphasis on present evangelism (‘now’, three times in verses 30 and 31) is healthy: ‘Paul is envisaging a steady flow of Jews into the church, by grace through faith.’

The two-covenant theology also has the disastrous effect of perpetuating the distinction between Jews and Gentiles which Jesus Christ has abolished. ‘The irony of this’, writes Tom Wright, ‘is that the late twentieth century, in order to avoid anti-Semitism, has advocated a position (the non-evangelization of the Jews) which Paul regards precisely as anti-Semitic.’ ‘It would be quite intolerable to imagine a church at any period which was simply a Gentile phenomenon’ or ‘consisted only of Jews’.

Stott, John. The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (The Bible Speaks Today Series) (pp. 304-305). InterVarsity Press.

If not dual-covenant theology, then how will “all Israel” be saved?

Since Paul has made it clear that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel,” i.e. not every ethnically Jewish person is part of Israel, i.e. the remnant of God’s chosen people who will be saved – and that additionally, many non-ethnically Jewish people will be grafted into the “olive tree” (Israel) as “wild branches”, from which many “natural branches” have been cut off (Romans 11:17-24), it is in this way that we understand that “all Israel” (the remnant of believing Israel) will be saved, along with the “fullness of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:25) who will be “grafted in”.

Here’s a short video discussion we had about this topic this week:

Adoption, the Gospel and Michael Ketterer

As we’ve been studying through the book of Romans at White Fields, one of the topics we recently looked at was how the Bible says that adoption is a one of the most profound Earthly pictures that we have of what God has done for us in the gospel.

Adoption is a picture of the gospel

We who were not children of God – destitute, orphans – God reached out to us, and not only did he pardon us and forgive us, not only does he give us his Spirit to help us in our weakness, but he has reached out to us and adopted us. At great cost to himself, doing something for us that we could never have done for ourselves, he has given us a new identity, paid our debts, given us a new belonging, a new future, a new family and a great inheritance.

For more on this topic, check out the sermon: Adopted by God from Romans 8:12-17.

Adoption is close to my heart for personal reasons

Adoption is something close to my heart. In 2008 we began foster parenting an 8th grader from the church I pastored at the time, and in 2011 we adopted him.

When you adopt a child, you are making the decision to love someone and care for someone, not because you have to, but because you choose to. While all adoption is beautiful, I am particularly moved by people who adopt not because they cannot have biological children, but because they understand adoption as a ministry and a way that they can live out the gospel – a way that they can live out what God has done for them in Christ, and bless someone else in a way which will absolutely change their life.

Michael and Ivey Ketterer

It’s been a while since I’ve watched America’s Got Talent, but I recently heard about Michael Ketterer, who appeared on the show and performed so well that he was fast-tracked from the audition process straight to the live show round of the competition.

Michael Ketterer is a musician who is part of United Pursuit, a Los Angeles based collective of Christian artists and musicians. He describes himself as a part-time worship leader, part-time nurse, and full-time dad.

Michael and his wife Ivey have 6 children, 5 of whom were adopted through foster care, and one of whom suffers from cerebral palsy – the neurological disorder which we were initially told that our daughter would have (Read: I Believe in Miracles; Here’s Why).

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The Ketterer Family

Michael and Ivey share their story of foster parenting and adoption in this video. With the exception of the part where he talks about demons (3:20), (we aren’t to resist evil on the basis of who we are, our own name and authority, but only in the name of Jesus and on the basis of his authority – see Jude 1:9) this is a great and moving testimony of love and being moved by the love of God to love others. I encourage you to watch the whole clip:

Here is the video of Michael’s first appearance on AGT:

Also check out Michael’s album, The Wild Inside, which he recorded with United Pursuit here:

You can help White Fields in our efforts to make a difference in the lives of children and care-takers in the foster system here in Colorado. Click on these links to learn more about our two annual outreaches to foster families on the Front Range:

Project Greatest Gift – A Longmont Initiative to Help Children in Foster Care

Project Back to School

Finally, maybe there are some of you whom God would lead to get involved with foster parenting or adoption through the foster system. Here is a link with information about foster parenting and adoption in Colorado: Co4Kids.org For those of you outside of Colorado, information can be easily found for every local area with a quick internet search.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For…. you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:14-15)

Does the Bible Ever Actually Prohibit Sex Before Marriage? What about Polygamy?

In the latest episode of the Longmont Pastor Video Series, Mike and I sat down to discuss the often-asked question of what the Bible says about sex between two consenting adults who are not married.

While the Bible clearly prohibits adultery, does it ever actually prohibit sex before marriage? Or what about polygamy? It seems that many of the Bible’s “heroes” practiced it, so why do Christians believe it is wrong?

Check out our discussion of these topics:

Are some parts of the Bible more inspired by God than others?

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Are some parts of the Bible more the “Word of God” than other parts of the Bible? For example: are the gospels (and within them the words of Jesus) more inspired by God than the Psalms or the historical books or the Apostolic epistles?

A related question is: Are some parts of the Bible more important than others?

A Canon Within the Canon

The word canon means the “measuring rod”, the “standard” by which other things are measured. This is the word the church has used to describe the collection of 66 books which are considered authoritative because they are uniquely inspired by God and are treated as “holy scripture.”

In 2 Timothy 3:16, we are told: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.
(For a discussion of which Scriptures Paul was referring to here, see: Did the New Testament Writers Know They Were Writing Scripture?)

Although the Christian church as a whole officially recognizes this written canon, every denomination, local church and individual Christian has their theology shaped by greater reliance on some parts of the canon than others. This creates, in practice, a “canon within the canon”; certain parts of the Bible which are considered more authoritative, or even more inspired by God, than other parts of the Bible.

While this is very common, we must challenge ourselves by asking whether this is appropriate, and whether it is congruent with our understanding of what it means that the Bible is “inspired” or “breathed out” by God.

How was the Bible “Inspired”?

When it comes to understanding what it means that Scripture is God-breathed, on the one end of the spectrum are those who believe that God dictated the Bible word for word in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, and the writers were simply secretaries who recorded those words. At the other end of spectrum are those who believe that God inspired the writers in the way that an artist, musician or author feels “inspired” by a sunset or something else which “inspires” them to create a masterpiece.

The problem with the “dictation” view of inspiration is that the writing styles of the various human authors are very apparent in what they wrote. Paul’s very long complicated sentences are very different than the short simple sentences of 1 John or the Gospel of Mark. The Gospel of John recounts the life of Jesus in a very different way and from a very different point of view than that of Matthew or Luke. Furthermore, many of the Psalms are cries of imperfect people who are voicing their complaints to God – or expressing sentiments which are not God’s heart.

The problem with the artistic view of inspiration is that the Bible clearly tells us that Scripture is not just a great human book, but the “Word of God”; a message which has been conveyed from God to us. 2 Peter 1:21 puts it this way: “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” and Romans 15:4 says that “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us.”

So, what is the correct understanding of Biblical “inspiration”?

Dynamic Verbal Plenary Inspiration

Dynamic

The biblical writers conveyed God’s message in terms of their own personalities and historical circumstances, and yet they transmitted the message fully and exactly as God desired.

Verbal

As opposed to the idea that God only inspired the thoughts of the writers, or gave them the “big ideas,” which they then wrote down in their own words, we know that God’s inspiration of Scripture extends even to the words that were used.

For example, in Galatians 3:16 Paul wrote, “the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.” By making this distinction about the significance of the particular word that was used in the Scriptures, he is making the point that God’s inspiration of Scripture is to be understood as “verbal,” i.e. that God inspired certain words to be used instead of other words in order to convey His particular message.

In Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Jesus is here affirming that the smallest details of the Scriptures are inspired by God. If the punctuation is inspired, how much more so the very words?

Plenary

Plenary means “complete or full,” and when used to describe the inspiration of the Scriptures, it means that all parts of the Bible are equally of divine origin and equally authoritative.

Dynamic Verbal Plenary Inspiration acknowledges that the Bible is both a human book and a divine book. To put it simply: The Holy Spirit so guided the writers of Scripture so that they gave us, in their own unique manner, exactly the message God intended.

This begs one final question: Just because all parts of the Bible are equally authoritative, does that mean that all parts of the Bible are equally important?

Are all parts of the Bible equally important?

While all parts of the Bible are divinely authoritative, there are some parts of Scripture which we can say are more important, or at least more relevant, than other parts.

The progressive nature of revelation

Hebrews 1:1-2 says: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”

God’s revelation has had a progressive nature throughout history, culminating in Jesus’ coming, his teachings and his life, death and resurrection, along with his explanations of the significance of these things (see Luke 24:13-49).

Therefore, books like Romans and Hebrews contain a later and fuller revelation of the gospel, the core message of the Bible, than do books like Ecclesiastes, for example. Ecclesiastes, I would argue, can only be fully understood in light of Jesus and the significance of his life, death and resurrection.

Thus, while all parts of the Bible are to be understood as authoritative and of divine origin (this, by the way, was the criteria for the solidifying of the canon at the early church councils), we understand that the progressive nature of revelation means that some books will be more relevant than others, or that some earlier books must be understood in light of what is revealed in later books.

Conclusion

The Bible is God’s gift to humanity; our guide for life and eternity. It is the only book that is “God-breathed,” and it is important that we be careful to avoid creating a “canon within the canon.”

Further Reading:

Did the New Testament Writers Know They Were Writing Scripture?

2 Timothy 3:16 says: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness

What Scriptures are being referred to here?

Obviously it is referring to the Old Testament scriptures, but interestingly, this comes from 2 Timothy, the last letter which Paul wrote, at the end of his life. By this time — almost all of the books that we have in our New Testaments had already been written, and were being distributed amongst the Christians, to be read and studied in their churches.

So, when Paul says, “All Scripture” — he’s not just talking about the Old Testament, he’s also talking about the New Testament!

In the New Testament, what you find is that the Apostles understood that God was using them in their time to bring about a New Testament of Holy Scriptures, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Here are a few examples:

  • In 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter refers to the writings of Paul as “Scriptures”
  • In 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul referred to his own message as “the word of God”
  • In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul takes a quotation from the Gospel of Luke – and he calls it “Scripture” (Luke 10:7)
  • In some of his letters, Paul instructs the recipients to distribute his letters and have them read in the churches. (Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27)

What Paul is telling Timothy in this text is to stick to the Scriptures, because they come from God, not from man.

The Bible is not only inspired in the sense that it is like a great work of art that we might say is “inspired” – but it is inspired in the greater sense, that the words it contains were breathed by God Himself!

What that means is that the Bible is no ordinary book — it is the very word of God to us, and therefore it alone is worthy to be the highest authority in our lives.

Is the Book of Esther Fictional? Does it Really Belong in the Bible?

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Did you know that the Book of Esther never mentions God?

Did you know that whereas almost every Old Testament book is quoted in the New Testament, the Book of Esther is not?

Did you know that the Dead Sea Scrolls contained copies of every Old Testament book except the Book of Esther? (for more on the Dead Sea Scrolls, see: Why the Dead Sea Scrolls Matter for Christians)

The Book of Esther tells the story of a Jewish girl in Persia who becomes a queen and uses her position to save the Jewish people from an attempted genocide. This story is the basis for the Jewish holiday of Purim, a holiday which is not prescribed in the Law of Moses.

These facts, along with the lack of corresponding historical records which corroborate the events talked about in the book have led many people to question not only whether Esther is historical, but whether it belongs in the Bible at all.

Martin Luther, for example, criticized the Book of Esther, accusing it of being too aggressively nationalistic and containing no gospel content.

It isn’t only Christians who are divided over the Book of Esther; Jewish congregations are also divided over whether Esther is a true story or a fable, and whether it belongs in the canon of Scripture (e.g. the Orthodox Union considers it historical and canonical, whereas the Assembly of True Israel considers it neither historical nor canonical).

Let’s consider the relevant questions:

Is Esther Historical?

The Book of Esther focuses on a ten year period (483-473 B.C.) in the Persian Empire during the reign of Ahasuerus, also known as Xerxes.

The book contains several historical, chronological and cultural details, which would lead us to believe that it is intended to be read as actual history, rather than as a parable. As in the case of Jonah (see: Is Jonah a Historical Account or an Allegory?), specific historical and geographical details are characteristic of historical narratives and not of allegorical stories (e.g. the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son).

In Esther 1:1 we read an accurate description of the extent of Xerxes’ empire, in 1:2 we read about the location of the seat of the Persian government, and in 1:3-4, we read that in the third year of his reign, Xerxes gave a banquet for all his officials and servants, including the army of Persia and Media. The reason this is important is that it coincides with the accounts of the historian Herodotus which tell us that Xerxes’ second invasion of Greece took place from 480 to 479 B.C., which means that this great gathering mentioned in Esther 1:3-4, which verse 4 says lasted 180 days, is likely describing the preparation for that military invasion of Greece.

According to Herodotus, Xerxes began his return to Persia after his defeat by the Greek navy at Salamis at the end of 480 B.C. The dismissal of Queen Vashti, described in Esther chapter 1, would correspond to this timeline, having happened just before Xerxes departure to Greece, and his encounter with Esther would have happened just after his return. Herodotus claims that Xerxes “sought consolation in his harem after his defeat at Salamis,” which corresponds with what the Book of Esther describes and the time when Esther would have become queen.

Despite the clear historical setting, no outside sources exist which tell us about Esther becoming queen or about the killing of 75,000 Persians. However, it seems that the author’s intent is to relay historical events, and while corroborating sources do not exist, the same is also true of other historical accounts, including those of Herodotus.

Thus, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence which would lead us to believe that Esther is not a historical account, and where historical accounts from this period do exist, they line up with the historical, cultural and geographical details that Esther gives.

Why is Esther in the Bible if it doesn’t mention God?

Esther was recognized as scripture by the Jews before the time of Christ. Josephus, the Jewish historian, says that the Jewish Scriptures were written from the time of Moses “until Artaxerxes,” whom Josephus identifies as the “Ahasuerus” in the book of Esther (Against Apion 1.40-41 & Jewish Antiquities 11.184). Therefore, Josephus understood Esther to be the last book to be written in the Jewish canon.

In the Christian church, Esther was listed among the books of the Old Testament canon at the Council of Carthage in A.D. 397, but was widely accepted by Christians as canonical long before that because of its inclusion in the Jewish Old Testament canon.

Although God is not named in the book, God is not absent from the story. Like in the story of Joseph, Esther is a story which highlights the providence, or the “invisible hand of God” at work in the world, ordering and ordaining events to happen according to His divine plan.

Many scholars believe that the absence of the word “God” from Esther was not a mistake, but was an intentional literary device, aimed at focusing attention on the importance of human initiative and divine providence. The sheer number of “coincidences” in the Book of Esther beg the reader to take notice of the invisible hand of God at work to bring about salvation and justice.

Does Esther contain any gospel content?

Contrary to Martin Luther’s claim that Esther does not contain any gospel content, the story actually contains very many foreshadowings of the salvation which Jesus will bring. Consider, for example the basic elements of the story:

There is an enemy of the people who wants to kill and destroy them. God raises up a savior at just the right time, who uniquely has access to the throne of the great king, who alone can save the people from this impending doom. This savior, at risk to herself, enters into the throne-room of the king and intercedes on behalf of her people, thus securing their salvation. The evil-doers, who throughout the story seemed to act unencumbered, receive the pronouncement of judgment from the king.

Furthermore, we see how the evil Haman desired to be treated as royalty even though he was not. In this we have a contrast with the one who was indeed royalty, but set aside his privileges in order to become a servant so that He might save us (see Philippians 2:3-11 and Matthew 20:28).

Finally, we see in Esther an example of God’s faithfulness to His covenant people.

Conclusion

Because of the scarcity of historical accounts and the lack of thoroughness of those which exist, it would be unwise for us to assume that this story is not historical just because we have not yet found other accounts which corroborate certain aspects of this story. The fact that some parts of the story do have corroborating historical evidence and accounts should give us confidence that Esther is a historical story about actual events – which ultimately are part of the picture and foreshadowing of the Great Savior who has now come: Jesus Christ, who entered into the throne room of God to make intercession for us, that through Him we might be saved from the great enemies of our souls.