Christocentric Priority in Biblical Interpretation


Andreas Köstenberger and Richard Patterson note that at the heart of the Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments stands “the message about the Christ.”[1] They are saying, in essence, what Jesus said about the Law and the Prophets, that they portray Jesus.[2] Or, as Ken Boa puts it, “Everywhere we read, we find hints, glimpses, foreshadowings [sic], veiled references, graphic pictures, whispered allusions, and prophetic mentions of Jesus. He moves through all the pages of the Bible, not just in the Gospels or in the apostles’ epistles.”[3] This view, then, takes for its core that the identity and work of Jesus the Messiah fills the Scriptures.

What are the implications of this statement for biblical hermeneutics? 

This view of the Christocentric nature of Scripture greatly impacts the work of biblical hermeneutics.[4] As Köstenberger and Patterson remind the biblical interpreter, this view provides cohesiveness to the canon of Scripture.[5] In addition to contributing to “this overall purpose of showing the fulfillment of the Old Testament hope and message in Christ,” it also gives an interpretive tool in the hermeneutic work chest.[6]

The first implication is that Christ must remain at the forefront of the mind of the biblical interpreter.

As Old Testament passages are studied, the person and work of Jesus Christ should be considered. For example, the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 has a present and future application.[7] While there was a present fulfillment of this prophecy, the biblical interpreter, utilizing Scripture, is also to interpret this verse Christo-centrically.[8] Thus, the entirety of Scripture points to Jesus. Sam Renihan remarks, “God has only ever had one plan, and history played out according to God’s design….The full and final plan of God was to bless the whole world through the Jewish Christ.”[9] While not every verse in the sacred Scripture points directly to Jesus, as a whole they speak of His person and His work, and this must ever-remain in the mind of the biblical interpreter.[10]

The second implication is that the person and work of Jesus provides an interpretive tool in the various aspects of the Old Testament in particular.

Noting this, Peppier writes, “…it is a way of interpreting Scripture primarily from the perspective of what Jesus taught and modeled, and from what he revealed concerning the nature, character, values, principles, and priorities of the Godhead.”[11] When interpreting Scripture, the student must not ignore the historical, literature, or theological issues involved. Nevertheless, “Christ is the focal point of the entire Bible—from beginning to end. He’s the one to whom the whole Old Testament points, the one on whom the Gospels focus, the one at whom the rest of the New Testament looks back.”[12]

What misunderstandings of this statement could occur?

This question is important because biblical interpreters must always be on guard of faulty interpretive measures and unethical approaches to Scripture.[13] Though the Scriptures must be interpreted Christo-centrically, it must be interpreted rightly. Concerning the possibility of this imbalance, Kevin Smith writes, “The proposed solution is that, to some extent, and in some instances, the rest of the canon needs to inform the Christocentric principle, just as the Christocentric principle often guides our interpretation of the rest of the canon.”[14] This balance is repeated by many hermeneutic guides.[15]

Along the same lines, Köstenberger and Patterson warn, “…the fact that, properly conceived, Christ is the center of all Scripture does not mean that every chapter and every verse in Scripture are narrowly focused on Christ as if every verse of the Bible needed to be read messianically in a strict sense.”[16] That is to say, Christ cannot be forced upon everything in the Old Testament.

Though biblical interpretation must consider the Christo-centricity of Scripture, it is not a tool wielding unlimited or imbalanced power.

The triad of hermeneutics provides that helpful balance.

An Example of the Possible Imbalanced Approach of the Christocentric Principle 

A popular example can be found in Job 19:25-27. In this account, Job says, “But I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the end he will stand on the dust.”[17] Concerning this Boa remarks, “Although Jesus is not named in the Book of Job, He is the only one Job could have been referring to. No one else can be called our Redeemer.”[18]

Boa makes two mistakes in forcing this Christo-centric hermeneutic. First, there is considerable debate on the identification of the redeemer mentioned by Job.[19] One study Bible describes the word redeemer, “The word is well-known in the OT because of its identification as the kinsman-redeemer (see the book of Ruth). This is the near kinsman who will pay off one’s debts, defend the family, avenge a hilling, marry the widow of the ceased. The word ‘redeemer’ evokes the wrong connotation for people familiar with the NT along; a translation of ‘Vindicator’ would capture the idea more.”[20] To conclude that “He is the only one Job could have been referring to” fails to consider the remainder of canonical literature on the topic of the redeemer. Boa handles this verse irresponsibly because he allows his Christo-centric focus to override the historical setting and literary context.

This leads to his second mistake. Because he allows his overarching purpose to see Christ in every book of the Bible, he misses the historical context of the redeemer in ancient Israel. Concerning the kinsman-redeemer, an important focus in Israel, one work notes that he was, “The relative who restores or preserves the full community rights of disadvantaged family members. The concept arises from God’s covenant relationship with Israel and points to the redemption of humanity in Jesus Christ.”[21] Boa’s mistake of overlooking the historical context of the kinsman-redeemer, and of a redeemer in general, causes him to place Christ where he is not. Köstenberger and Patterson state it best, “We must beware of an overly simplistic theology that finds Christ, somewhat anachronistically, in places in the Old Testament where finding him there would involve some major hermeneutical twisting and maneuvering.”[22]


[1] Andreas J. Köstenberger and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2011), 210.

[2] See Luke 24:27.

[3] Kenneth Boa, Jesus In the Bible: Seeing Jesus In Every Book of the Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2002), ix.

[4] See: Christopher C. Peppier, “The Christocentric Principle: A Jesus-Centered Hermeneutic,” Conspectus, vol. 13, no. 1 (March 2012), 117-135; for a counterview of Peppier, see: Kevin G. Smith, “The Christocentric Principle: Promise, Pitfalls and Proposal,” Conspectus, vol. 13, no. 1 (March 2012), 157-170.

[5] Köstenberger and Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 210; for an example of how this applies to the diversity of the New Testament, see: Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2009), 874-886.

[6] Köstenberger and Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 210; see also Peppier, “Similarly, by acknowledging that Jesus Christ is the central figure of all of Scripture, we are compelled to interpret texts from an essentially Christ-centered perspective.” Peppier, “The Christocentric Principle,” 132.

[7] See Gary V. Smith,  Isaiah 1–39, Edited by E. Ray Clendenen, The New American Commentary.( Nashville: TN, B & H Publishing Group, 2007), 201-205.

[8] J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 84-86.

[9] Samuel Renihan, The Mystery of Christ: His Covenant & His Kingdom (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2019), 180; for the development of this history, see: Gerrhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments Reprint (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2017), 5-8.

[10] For example, see: Köstenberger and Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 188-195.

[11] Peppier, “The Christocentric Principle,” 120; see also Renihan, The Mystery of Christ, 11-19; and Ephesians 3:1-13.

[12] Boa, Jesus In the Bible, viii-ix. The only point that Boa is mistaken upon is his remark that the “rest of the New Testament looks back.” Revelation points to the coming of Christ which is yet future. See: Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown, 825-831; though the present author does not agree with all of his conclusions, see: John F. Walvoord, “The Future Work of Christ Part III: Christ’s Coming to Reign,” Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 123, no. 491 (July 1966), 195-203.

[13] Köstenberger and Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 58; Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Publishers, 1991), 59-61.

[14] Smith, “The Christocentric Principle,” 169.

[15] Köstenberger and Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation; Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation; J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012); and Gordon D. Fee and Doulas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003).

[16] Köstenberger and Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 210.

[17] Job 19:25, CSB.

[18] Boa, Jesus In the Bible, 36.

[19] Notice the translational effect of capitalizing Redeemer. It implies that this redeemer is different. For a brief treatment of the debate, see: David C. Deuel, “Job 19:25 and Job 23:10 Revisted An Exegetical Note,” The Master’s Seminary Journal, vol. 5, no. 1 (Spring 1994), 97-99; Brian P. Gault, “Job’s Hope: Redeemer Or Retribution?,” Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 173, no. 690 (April 2016), 147-165; and Greg W. Parsons, “Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Book of Job,” Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 151, no. 604 (October 1994), 393-413.

[20] James Davis, managing editor, NET Bible, Full Notes Edition (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2019), 857.

[21] Martin H. Manser, Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies (London: ENG: Martin Manser, 2009).

[22] Köstenberger and Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 210.

Testing the Spirits (Part 2)

In 1 John 4:1, John writes “Beloved, do not believe every spirit” (NASB). It is a prohibition. Just as individuals are called to believe in the name of the Lord (Rom. 10:9-10), believers are equally called to not believe every spirit. Believers, in other words, must exercise a form of caution when dealing with “every spirit.”

Now, questions may arise in your mind, “What is a spirit? Is it referring to demons? Are these angelic spirits?” John is not discussing those spirits, however. Colin Kruse calls these spirits “secessionists.”[1] These individuals were with the apostle at first (2:19), but because of the separation of doctrine and practice (2:3-6, 19-23), they separated.

These individuals preached false doctrine, denying the physical body of Jesus (4:2). It is important to keep this in the back of your mind as you work through 4:1-6 in particular. While this section limits the testing to the incarnation of Jesus, the Scriptures teach that other doctrines can be and are denied by antichrists. John uses this term to describe anyone who denies Christ (2:22; cf. 4:3).

This helps explain why we are not to believe every spirit. We are to be cautious. Adding to this command is the explicit declaration of John that “many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

We must be aware that there are false prophets in the world. They are attempting to deceive believers. They want to lure them away from the truth. Just as a fisherman uses flashy and often realistic lures to catch fish, false prophets provide a wide array of alluring beliefs and practices.

There are appealing views all throughout the world. The believer is to be on guard against such false teaching. The believer must learn to be able to identify such falsity. They must ever be watchful against enemies of the truth.

The church has not been unfamiliar with false teachings. Consider a recent study by Ligonier which found that “3 out of 4 US evangelicals are ‘Arians.”[2] For a brief examination of Arianism, please check out Gervase N. Charmley’s article on it.[3] Other heresies have beset the church with false doctrine. And while the term heresy is used frequently, it has a narrow meaning. Mike Leake of offers a helpful description of heresy, as well as a discussion on four present-day heresies.[4] This is why we must not believe every spirit.

So, are you believing every spirit? Do you blindly accept the latest book published under the title “Christian”? Do you see materials put out by publishers as truth itself?

As John writes, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit,” the command stands true today. We must become individuals with discernment. We receive discernment by the Word of God. The basis for the test, a topic which we explore more in the future, is on the incarnation of Christ. We learn this, however, from the Word of God. As believers, we must spend time in God’s Word, not merely reading it, but studying it, applying it, checking Scripture against Scripture.

“Do not believe every spirit.”—John


[1] Colin G. Kruse, “1-3 John,” in D. A. Caron, gen. ed., The NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018), 2255.

[2] Caleb Lindgren and Moran Lee, “Our Favorite Heresies of 2018: Experts Weigh In,” Christianity Today, 26 October 2018,, accessed 14 July 2020.

[3] Gervase N. Charmley, “Arianism,” Banner of Truth, 1 December 2016,, accessed 14 July 2020.

[4] Mike Leake, “What is Heresy? Bible Meaning and 4 Examples Alive Today,”, 18 June 2020,, accessed 14 July 2020.

Testing the Spirits (Part 1)

I recently finished preaching through 1 John 4:1-6. In this portion of Scripture, John commands believers to test the spirits. Why is this important?

In our present day, we see that believers are gullible. We are easily deceived. Like the kid who, when told that the word gullible is not in the dictionary, replies “It’s not?” believers today are prone to deception, just like the believers of John’s day. This is evidenced by the confusion recently discussed in the joint efforts of Ligonier and LifeWay Research, published in the report, “The State of Theology: What Do People Really Believe in 2018?

The depressing results demonstrated a severe lack of knowledge regarding the crucial doctrines of the faith. It also demonstrated the gullibleness of the Church. In response to the third statement, “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Isalm,” 51% were in agreement. There is no doubt that this confusion and susceptibility to gullibility has only increased.

Screen Shot 2020-07-07 at 2.21.37 PM
Statement No. 3, The State of Theology

In John’s day, people were questioning the physical body of Jesus (1:1-3). People were causing believers to doubt how to interact with one another (2:7-11). The first-century believers are not much different than we are today. What was the remedy? John gives several points that we must consider today:

  • Do not believe every spirit (4:1a)
  • Test the spirits (4:1b)
  • Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God (4:2a)
  • Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God (4:2b)
    • This is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that is coming, and now it is already in the world (4:2c)

These will form the topics for this series. In this introductory post, I think it is important to provide some helpful resources to educate and edify the believer. These resources are not perfect, nor are they infallible. God’s Word holds that honor. However, these should be placed into your toolbox for growth.

flat lay shot of tools
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on

Founders Ministry provides excellent articles and books to help provide discernment to the believer.

Desiring God is another helpful resource. Predominately the ministry of John Piper, this website gives sermons, articles, books, and videos to educate and edify the believers.

The Gospel Coalition offers a wealth of resources. One that separates TGC from the rest is their courses. Many courses are available, for free, that help believers understand theology, ethics, and many other issues.

Grace to You, the ministry of John MacArthur provides a verse-by-verse exposition of all of the New Testament. In addition to this, there are blog posts, devotionals, and books available.


Book Review: “We Love You, But You’re Going to Hell”

Dr. Kim O’Reilly, We Love You, But You’re Going to Hell: Christians and Homosexuality Agree, Disagree, Take a Look (Nashville, TN: Elm Hill, 2018), 199 pages.


An Overview of the Book

In her prologue, Dr. O’Reilly writes,

There is a growing divide between individuals and groups who hold different and contrasting beliefs about homosexuality. Dialogue is too often rare, and getting more so. People have little contact with those who hold differing opinions. Real progress can be made if we sit across the table, in the Church, or public meeting places to talk through our differences—in safety and respect. This book is an attempt to launch that dialogue.[1]

I appreciated the demeanor Dr. O’Reilly takes in her work. Her goal is to open a dialogue in which individuals can discuss their views of homosexuality, hoping to create dialogue and, at the least, to remove the judgmental attitude many Christians take against homosexuals.


Dr. O’Reilly sets out her goals in Chapter One. She begins by writing, “I have written this book out of love and compassion.”[2] I found this attitude throughout the entire book. Though as a lesbian, she does not agree with conservative Christianity’s approach to homosexuality, she never expresses any hateful speech. Her approach is one of question. She seeks to ensure a proper understanding of the passages of Scripture that concern homosexual behavior is understood within a modern-day context. She also discusses the reason she wrote the book. In response to Phil Robertson’s comments and book Happy, Happy, Happy, Dr. O’Reilly sought to provide a compassionate rebuttal to the negative views towards homosexuals. She ends the chapter with an outline and purpose of the remainder of the book

Chapter Two provides a glimpse into Dr. O’Reilly’s conservative upbringing, her coming out, and the struggles she had with friends and family, particularly her father. She describes her coming out experience concerning the Ninth Commandment, writing, “I chose to focus that on myself, asking whether I was bearing false witness against myself AND others if I wasn’t honest about who I was.”[3] This experience took place over seven years. Her experiences with coming out to her family varied from acceptance to rejection.

Chapter Three details how Christians used the Bible to promote and condone slavery and segregation. It seems odd to find this chapter in a discussion on homosexuality, but Dr. O’Reilly points out several passages of Scripture that Christians used. She writes, “It is obvious to most now that the Bible was misused and misinterpreted to promote the interests of slave owners. Over time, enough people began to criticize the Scriptures and question the interpretations in the face of such an ugly and abusive practice as owning fellow human beings.”[4] Dr. O’Reilly provides quotes from leaders supporting slavery/segregation, as well as court cases in which segregation was supported, not only by Scripture but also by American Law.

In Chapter Four, Dr. O’Reilly shifts gears to examine the seven passages of Scripture used to condemn homosexual lifestyles. She acknowledges two important points at the beginning of the chapter. First, she writes, “At the surface of this observation, there can be little debate. The Bible nowhere condones same-sex relations and, in a few places, explicitly censures them.”[5] And, secondly, “Biblical scribes, or anyone else writing in those centuries, had no idea or concept of homosexual orientation—a lifelong attraction, fixed early, toward people of the same sex.”[6] Dr. O’Reilly walks through the seven passages, offering counter interpretations, cultural contexts, and word studies to demonstrate that individuals today have incorrectly interpreted these Scriptures.

Chapter Five brings about the discussion of sexual orientation, writing that “New information about sexual orientation, emotional and physical attraction, and identity emerged after over a century of research.”[7] She distinguishes the sex act from sexual orientation, admitting that researchers have no idea how sexual orientation develops, nor when.[8] She also notes that no one can choose their sexual orientation and that sexual orientation is not “inherently moral or immoral.”[9] Dr. O’Reilly then works through the supposed Reparative Therapy. She finishes the chapter with individual stories of homosexuals or reparative proponents, detailing the damages and pain that accompanied each one.

Dr. O’Reilly discusses Stereotypes and Myths about homosexuality in Chapter Six. These myths and stereotypes are:

  • Bad Marriages Lead to Lesbianism
  • Homosexuality Is A Sinful Lifestyle
  • Gays and Lesbians Are Promiscuous
  • Gay Men Are Child Molesters
  • Homosexuals Are Emotionally Unhealthy
  • Homosexuals Cannot Sustain Long-Term Relationships
  • Homosexuality Is Demonic and a Curse
  • Homosexuality Can Be Compared to Alcoholism
  • Homosexuality is Unnatural
  • Gays Recruit
  • There Is a Homosexual Agenda
  • Homosexuality Threatens Family Values

In Chapter Seven, Dr. O’Reilly offers a compilation of sorts. She begins with quotations of prominent leaders who oppose homosexuality. She then discusses “Lesser-Known Ministers” who are outspoken against homosexuality.[10] Interestingly, she also brings up billboards. Moving from individuals, she discusses Churches, Denominations, and other religions’ desire to see individuals leave homosexuality. These include the Southern Baptist Convention, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormon Church, and the Roman Catholic Church. She ends the chapter with individuals from various denominations and religions who support homosexuality.

Marriage is the topic of discussion for Chapter Eight. In this chapter, Dr. O’Reilly provides examples of the religious and civil views of marriage. She discusses court cases and definitions. She also provides a brief examination of the purpose of marriage. The remainder of the chapter provides arguments for and against gay marriage. [11]

In Chapter Nine, Dr. O’Reilly spends time discussing the importance of religious freedom, particularly “the right to refuse service to gays and lesbians when it runs contrary to beliefs about homosexuality and same-sex marriage.” The majority of this chapter focuses on that nationally recognized case Masterpiece Cakeshop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission.


Chapter Ten summarizes the main thrust of the entire book. In it, Dr. O’Reilly addresses the importance of one’s views regarding homosexuality and why it matters. She writes, “When individuals believe, and Churches preach, that homosexuality is an abomination, it matters.”[12] She discusses why from the perspectives of homosexual marriage, homosexuals generally speaking, and personal loss.

In Chapter Eleven, Dr. O’Reilly offers several steps that individuals can take in this ongoing discussion. They are:

  1. “Read the Seven Scriptures.”
  2. “Look at Sexual Orientation.”
  3. “Reevaluate Reparative Therapy.”
  4. “Challenge Stereotypes.”
  5. “Agree to Disagree on Gay Marriage.”
  6. “Recognize the Pain Inflicted.”
  7. “Contribute to the Healing.”[13]

After offering these steps, she also provides additional issues that should be addressed, whether from a leader’s perspective or the individual.

Strengths of the Book

I believe the most helpful contribution of this book is the openness to dialogue. It is unfortunate, but as Dr. O’Reilly remarks, people are unable to talk about divisive issues. Whether it is political, religious, or sexual, people are unable (or, unwilling) to engage in dialogue. Her book is written “out of love and compassion,” and that comes forward through her work.[14] In my own experience, I have engaged in dialogue with homosexuals and though we do not agree on issues, we can still experience a conversation.

Another strength of Dr. O’Reilly’s book is her focus on the stereotypes and myths. She mentions that the first stereotype, bad marriages lead to lesbianism, is “more lighthearted and not as damaging as other stereotypes and myths.”[15] Unfortunately, these stereotypes are all-too-common. Though I do not agree with all of her statements in this section, I think it is helpful to consider how viewing individuals through a collective, and often ill-informed, lens discourages thoughtful dialogue.

Weaknesses of the Book

Dr. Kim O’Reilly was open to the fact that she is a lesbian. I feel that it is only fair to state at the beginning of this section that I believe homosexuality is a sin. However, I want to offer a few critiques to her arguments and reasoning. I encourage anyone interested to read her book to find out if my concerns are fair.

First, the main premise of the book is that homosexuality, in its present-day form, has not existed until recently. Thus, the traditionally-held view that homosexuality is a sin is not up-to-date. She concludes that Christians today, while not necessarily abandoning their beliefs, would live and let live. She writes, “Leave the judgment to God. We won’t know for certain this side of Heaven. If you err, err on the side of compassion.”[16] I see a major problem with this line of thought.

As even Dr. O’Reilly admits, “At the surface of this observation, there can be little debate. The Bible nowhere condones same-sex relations and, in a few places, explicitly censures them.”[17] At the very outset of that chapter, Dr. O’Reilly acknowledges the Scriptures’ face value as condemning homosexual behavior. For millennia, the Church (in the widest description as possible) has stood against homosexuality. If the Scriptures condemn homosexuality, the faithful follower of Jesus Christ should as well. Now, this does not mean the believer should treat homosexuals with any form of judgmentalism or inhumanely. The call for the believer to live in love stands firm.[18] However, it would be unloving not to tell someone of their sin. It is the very essence of the Gospel, that Jesus Christ came to save sinners, that we should point out sin. It would be unloving not to do so.

Another issue I take with Dr. O’Reilly’s work is that she makes fallacious arguments. She makes the red herring fallacy when she compares the acceptance and defense of slavery and segregation to homosexuality. There is no connection to the two, logically or biblically. Unfortunately, she included it in her book, because, in my opinion, it weakens the strength of her argument. Another fallacious argument she makes is the appeal to pity. It is important to state, once again, that believers should never physically hurt, mentally, or emotionally abuse another human being. That being said, Dr. O’Reilly seems to suggest that you cannot condemn homosexuals because it hurts them. She writes, “It was a condemnation that was well-meaning and expressed in love, but nonetheless a condemnation.”[19] A third fallacious argument Dr. O’Reilly makes the equivocation of the word homosexual orientation with an acceptable form of sexual life. She writes, “Biblical scribes, or anyone else writing in those centuries, had no idea or concept of homosexual orientation—a life-long attraction, fixed early, toward people of the same sex.”[20] Later on in her book, though, she writes, “Many Christians who condemn homosexuality argue that there is no such thing as sexual orientation…. I have never understood the basis for that argument—biblically, historically, scientifically, or psychologically. There is evidence of human homosexuality across all cultures and across time.”[21] So, did they have a concept, or not? Furthermore, she goes on to say, “The widespread acceptance of “same-sex behavior” among the ancient Greeks has been cited as an example of increased numbers of homosexuals leading to the fall of an empire.”[22] Again I ask, did they have a concept, or not? It seems that this argument is used in two ways for Dr. O’Reilly.

The reason this is important lies in her reinterpretation of Scripture, which is the fourth weakness of the book. Concerning Sodom and Gomorrah, Dr. O’Reilly simply brushes by the fact that all the men of Sodom wanted to rape Lot’s visitors.[23] Because other Scripture mentions Sodom and Gomorrah’s other sins, she concludes with the silent argument that homosexuality, as we understand it today, was not meant. Of course, if the act of homosexuality is sinful, then it is only logical (and biblical) to conclude that the orientation is sinful as well. Dr. O’Reilly also dismisses the two passages from Leviticus because “Christian tradition has viewed the purity concerns and regulations in Leviticus as irrelevant.”[24] It appears that Dr. O’Reilly equivocates dietary restrictions with sexual issues related to Israel. I could argue that the marital union between one man and one woman existed before, during, and after the Law (see Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6; and Ephesians 5:22-32), but I would imagine this would be brushed aside with similar dismissal of normal interpretation.

Who Should Read This Book?

I think it would be helpful for anyone interested to read this book. I think Dr. O’Reilly’s demeanor throughout the book is helpful. I think one should keep in mind the logical fallacies she presents. Additionally, I am looking forward to seeing how this issue progresses.


[1] Dr. Kim O’Reilly, We Love You, But You’re Going to Hell: Christians and Homosexuality Agree, Disagree, Take a Look (Nashville, TN: Elm Hill, 2018), xi.

[2] O’Reilly, We Love You, 1.

[3] Ibid., 11, emphasis hers.

[4] Ibid., 22.

[5] Ibid., 30.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 44.

[8] Ibid., 45.

[9] Ibid., 48.

[10] Ibid., 83-84.

[11] Ibid., 129.

[12] Ibid., 149.

[13] Ibid., 169-179.

[14] Ibid., 1.

[15] Ibid., 60.

[16] Ibid., 3.

[17] Ibid., 30.

[18] John 11:34-35.

[19] Ibid., 185.

[20] Ibid., 30. It is ironic that she makes this statement, which is an argument from silence.

[21] Ibid., 47.

[22] Ibid., 77.

[23] See Genesis 19:4-5.

[24] O’Reilly, We Love You, 33; see Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Book Review: “On Satan, Demons, and Psychiatry”

Ragy R. Girgis, M.D., On Satan, Demons, and Psychiatry: Exploring Mental Illness in the Bible (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2020), 112 pages.

Overview and Purpose of the Book

On Satan, Demons, and Psychiatry by Ragy Girgis, MD

When I received a copy of Dr. Girgis’ book, I was eager to read it. I am fascinated by the connection of body and soul, and I was excited to see a Christian’s perspective on mental illness in the Bible.[1]

Dr. Girgis clearly states his goal on page 3, writing, “Therefore, the goal of this book is to help change misconceptions that have historically pervaded Christianity by educating both laity and clergy about serious mental illness.” In order to accomplish this goal, Dr. Girgis sets out to perform an “exegetic examination of Biblical accounts of what may have been untreated serious mental illness,” to see the biblical worldview of mental health as represented in a variety of passages of Scripture.[2]

After mentioning a few books that have sought to accomplish this goal, Dr. Girgis sets his work apart as reading the Scriptures through a “post-Enlightenment narrative,” changing the way the Scriptures are interpreted to reflect a modern understanding of the

The chapters of the book follow a primarily exegetically-driven focus.

mental illness.[3] Without denying the accounts recorded in Scripture, he desires to view them in light of modern, medical advancements. He writes that the reader will “gain an appreciation of the non-morality and non-spirituality-based, biological nature and timelessness of available treatments.”[4]

Finally, Dr. Girgis ends the Preface and Introduction with a reminder that his book is written: “to be a resource for any Christian, including both the lay believer as well as clergy and Christian academicians.”[5] He wants his readers to see that “mental illness” is not a spiritual issue but a physical one.

Chapter two provides a wonderfully succinct overview of mental illness. Chapters 3-9 are exegetical examinations of individuals who may have struggled with mental illness. These include Moses and the children of Israel (Ch. 3), King Saul (Ch. 4), King David (Ch. 5), Jonah (Ch. 6), Nebuchadnezzar (Ch. 7), the Gadarene Demoniac (Ch. 8), and the demon-possessed man (Ch. 9). In chapter 10, Dr. Girgis performs an overview of the various teachings regarding witchcraft and sorcery. Chapter 11 seeks to describe the power and limits Satan (and demons) have on the creation and human beings. He provides his own assessment of end-times views in connection with a demonic activity in Chapter 12. In Chapter 13, Dr. Girgis brings the book to an end with a message of hope and encouragement.

Strengths of the Book

This book is helpful for its contributions to the field. Dr. Girgis is an experienced psychiatrist. Additionally, he has published many articles in peer-reviewed journals and has contributed to several scientific books. His professional experience alone provides a wealth of wisdom. Added to this fact is his faith in God.

Another strength of Dr. Girgis’ book is his heart. Repeatedly you read phrases like “I find that many Christian believers, including both laity and clergy, have misconceptions about serious mental illness, such as that it is related to morals weakness, bad parenting, and/or volition.”[6] Dr. Girgis seeks to help believers understand that mental illnesses are biological in nature, not necessarily a result of sin on behalf of the individual.

A third strength of the book is its accessibility. I am about a month away from completing a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling, and in the coursework,  we are required to read many works in the fields of psychology and counseling. Thus, I was familiar with the terms and literature connected with Dr. Girgis’ field. However, the average layman (or, woman) would be able to pick up his book and read it with comprehension. He provides helpful definitions of a variety of terms and illnesses. For example, on page 17, he provides this definition of disorganized speech, as “is an abnormal thought process.” He then proceeds to provide several clarifying statements. He follows this method throughout his book.

A fourth strength is his inclusion of biblical references. In his 112-page book, Dr. Girgis devotes eight chapters to examining specific passages of Scripture. Then, two other chapters have many references to the Word of God.

This work offers several examinations of the Biblical texts.

A fifth and final strength is his desire to help individuals understand that mental illnesses are not the result of sin but are biological phenomena. He writes, “These misconceptions often prevent Christian believers with serious mental illness and their families from seeking professional mental health treatment when it is most needed. In many cases, they do not accept psychiatric medications as they would medications for non-psychiatric conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.” Many Christians completely reject this thesis, and this ultimately harms many who have biological problems causing mental disorders.

Weaknesses of the Book

While I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Girgis’ book, and as a whole, found it helpful, there are a few issues I have. First, Dr. Girgis, in his effort to reexamine Scripture, ultimately questions it. To his credit, he frequently reminds his readers that his view does not deny the miracle, it merely enhances it. He writes, “I would suggest that this additional understanding [i.e., that mental illness was the problem afflicting individuals that are described as ‘demon-possessed’] actually enhances our understanding of these miracles and, more importantly, of how we would understand serious mental illness.”[7] He routinely returns to this idea.[8] Why is this a weakness?

I see it as a weakness because it denies the literal understanding of the Bible. The authors of Scripture know what mental illness is (which Dr. Girgis acknowledges in chapter 3).[9] Thus, the writers of the Bible were familiar with it, and if the individuals possessed by demons, or individuals afflicted with depression (such as Saul), our response should be to believe them, to take them at their word. By seeking to view the Scriptures through post-Enlightenment eyes, he inadvertently, regardless of claims otherwise, calls doubt to God’s Word.

A second weakness is a failure to acknowledge the effects of sin on the mind. I agree that Christians must change the way they view mental illness. In fact, this is a strength. However, it appears that he dismisses the potential that spiritual issues can cause mental illness. For example, in Saul’s case, he routinely rejected God’s Word. After a terrible verdict of judgment, he begins to experience the afflictions of “an evil spirit.”[10] Saul’s rebellion brought about this tormenting spirit. This, no doubt, increased his hatred for David as well as contributed to his psychotic behavior. Likewise, the curses pronounced in Deuteronomy 28:28, God uses these distresses as judgments against sin.

A third weakness is an inconsistent and honest exegesis of Scripture. I mentioned one part of this in the first weakness, but I want to address another aspect of that. Dr. Girgis sets out to perform an overview of angelic power and abilities in the Scripture. After examining or referencing five passages, he concludes, “Therefore, Satan, or any angel or other spiritual being, has no power over Creation, or humankind, who was actually given dominion over Creation by God…These statements indicate that angels, in general, do not have power over Creation and have barely more power than humans.”[11] This is simply not true. Angels are incredibly powerful beings. A look at most systematic theologies will provide ample references to prove this. The writer of Kings dismisses this by writing, “That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp.”[12] This does not sound like they “have barely more power than humans.” Along the same lines, Dr. Girgis completely dismisses the clarify of Scripture concerning the possession of Judas.[13]

A fourth weakness, though similar to weaknesses one and three, is that he fails to interpret Scripture in a cohesive manner. For example, the Bible clearly teaches mental illness exists (see Deuteronomy 28:27-28, 34). However, in the Gospels something changes. This is a weakness.

Who should read this book?

Pastors and church leaders should read this book. It is helpful because he brings awareness to the biological issues related to mental illnesses. I think it will help open their eyes to the fact that we live in fallen bodies, and many in our churches are afflicted, not with spiritual issues, but with the physical fallenness of life.

I think Christians, in general, should read this book. It is accessible and clear. Keep in mind the weaknesses, and you will enjoy this book and expand your view of mental illness.

[1] Dr. Girgis declares his faith on page 11.

[2] Girgis, On Satan, Demons, and Psychiatry, 3.

[3] Ibid., 5.

[4] Ibid., 7.

[5] Ibid., 13.

[6] Ibid., 13.

[7] Ibid., 8.

[8] See, for example, pages 30, 45, 46, 48-49, just to name a few.

[9] See Deuteronomy 28:27-28, 34.

[10] 1 Samuel 16:14, NIV.

[11] Exodus 17, Job, Genesis 3, Revelation 12:7-9, and Hebrews 2:5, 7-8; Girgis, On Satan, 81.

[12] 2 Kings 19:35, NIV.

[13] Girgis, On Satan, 86.



Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.