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and Verse on Alpha’s Jesus
a radio interview recently, we were asked what Alpha taught about the nature
of the Lord Jesus. (The
interviewer had heard that Alpha’s view was significantly out of line
with Scripture.) We were aware
of a few problems, but the question prompted us to look in detail at this
matter. Firstly, though, we
should establish whether or not accuracy on this topic is a serious issue.
people today believe that, provided “Christ” is preached, it doesn’t
matter what is preached about
Him. This notion is based on
the references to preaching ‘insincerely’ or ‘in love’
demonstrate, and as a check of the Greek proves, the phrases “in
pretence” and “in truth” in the above passage relate to the motive
behind the preaching, not to the accuracy
of it. Both groups were
preaching the same things but
for different reasons.
Paul elsewhere warns very gravely against listening to anyone who
preaches different things about the Lord than those he himself preached
(see 2 Cor. 11:3-4 or Gal. 1:6-9).
scriptures need to be held in tension with all other scriptures, else we
lose our balance – and will fall. Since
the Lord warned of “false
Christs” (Matt. 24:24; Mark
), we obviously need to be
careful that we are always preaching the true
Christ. For example, Acts
states that ‘preaching
Christ’ must entail preaching
“that He is the Son of
God”. Getting the nature of
Jesus Christ correct is foundational to the gospel and is indeed therefore
something about which we have to be precise.
Bible tells us that Messiah Jesus has always existed.
Micah 5:2 teaches that His “goings forth” have been from “everlasting”.
Just like the Father and the Spirit, the Lord Jesus lives outside
of time - hence He said, in John 8:58, “before Abraham was, I Am”, rather than “before Abraham was, I already existed”. He
has always existed, thus time is irrelevant on this matter.
In contrast, the New Age movement believes that the Messiah was a
created being – albeit the very first thing to be created.
Plainly this issue has a bearing on the trustworthiness of
Scripture as well as on the true nature of our Lord.
So how does Alpha fare over this important question?
Gumbel does not actually call Jesus ‘pre-existent’ or
‘everlasting’ or ‘eternal’ in the talks, and when he discusses
Jesus’ love for us he says it is only now and future, rather than in the past too
– yet, from a spiritual perspective, the Lord sacrificed Himself for us
before the foundation of the world (2 Tim. 1:8-10; Rev. 13:8).
Regarding the Lord’s pre-existence, it would also be valuable if
Alpha mentioned at least one of His Old Testament appearances (e.g. as in
-15) but Nicky currently chooses
have to go to the final chapter of his book Searching
Issues to locate his best comments regarding the pre-existence of the
Lord. Here Gumbel usefully
says, “God the Son … [was] there at
the very beginning”.
Provided his readers are confident that the Lord Jesus is indeed
God the Son (see later) then this statement is very significant.
The only fly in the ointment is that Gumbel never explains that God
the Son was there before the
very beginning. As we have
seen, New Agers believe that the Son was the first created thing and they
would therefore readily agree that He was there “at
the very beginning”. Gumbel
needs to teach that Jesus Christ was not created at
all. It would surely not
take long to do?
Gumbel’s second best statement about the Lord’s pre-existence is this:
“The three Persons of the Trinity existed before the creation of the
Universe … The Three Persons of the Trinity loved each other … before
the Universe was made”.
Again, however, this would not actually preclude the Son having
been created before the creation
of the Universe.
New Agers draw a distinction between Jesus and the ‘second Person of the
Trinity’, let us now turn to Alpha’s specific references to
In one of his books, Gumbel usefully writes that “Jesus is the
only man who has ever chosen to be born”,
although of course this is still quite a long way from teaching that He
has always existed.
(Some of the more demanding observers might also insist that this
statement does not necessarily mean Jesus existed as a separate
person before His First Coming.)
Alpha materials get progressively more worrisome on this issue, and we
need to consider what is the total
impression being given to participants – especially as increasing
numbers of them today have been taught little or no truth about Jesus (and
probably some error) beforehand. For
example, a sentence on page 213 of Questions
of Life begins: “Under the Old Covenant (before
Jesus)…”, but if the
Lord Jesus has always existed then the concept of “before
Jesus” is meaningless. Note
that Nicky does not write “before Jesus’ Incarnation”
or some other unequivocal phrase.
The obvious inference is that the Lord did not properly
exist before Mary gave birth to Him as
Alpha’s books are important, but we should pay particular attention to the Alpha talks because these are what every participant is supposed to be presented with. We can find no hint in the talks that the Lord was pre-existent. In contrast, HTB wants everyone on Alpha to be told:
God the Father is likened here to an architect, and the Lord Jesus is likened to a building. But every piece of architecture has an originator and hence an origin. A building is a created entity. The most natural and reasonable assumption for hearers is that the Lord Jesus Christ was not pre-existent at all but was designed and “built”.
HE THE WORD MADE FLESH?
19:11-15 makes clear that Christ Jesus is the Word.
This is directly related to the matter of His pre-existence, for
the famous clause in John 1:1 says “In
the beginning was the Word”,
rather than “At the beginning
was created the Word”.
Likewise verse 3 of this chapter says “All
things were made by Him [i.e.
by a Person called ‘the Word’]”.
Since He cannot have created His own self He cannot logically be a
created being. Verse 14 then
tells us “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us”,
thus confirming that Jesus is
the Word and therefore that He was the Creator of “all things” - and
hence was a real Person before His Incarnation.
But is this what an Alpha attendee will pick up?
Lord Jesus is simply never
called “the Word” in the Alpha talks.
(We possess a copy of the video transcripts in electronic form, as
released by HTB, which enables us to perform word-pattern checks with
great accuracy.) Although the
word ‘reincarnated’ is used
at one point, there is no mention of terms like ‘incarnation’
regarding Jesus in the Alpha talks, nor of Him coming “in the flesh”,
nor of any of the three crucial verses from John 1 cited above.
These omissions can easily serve to make people question whether
the Lord properly existed before His birth as a man.
Indeed, on this pivotal issue we find clarification missing time
and again in Alpha publications. HTB
refers to things like:
it be so difficult to add the three little words “in the flesh” or
“as a man” onto the end of one or two such statements?
In Talk 8, Gumbel manages four
references to the Lord’s “birth”, yet in none of them is it
explained that He pre-existed His birth.
In the plethora of ‘Alpha Resources’, we can only find one
reference to the phrase “the word made flesh”,
and even here Alpha:
Doesn’t explain that
“the word” is a reference to Jesus’ nature,
“Word” – which would at least have helped indicate that it signifies
Doesn’t quote Scripture
– the phrase appears as part of a quote by William Temple (a man who was
happy to endorse churches almost regardless of what they taught about our
Doesn’t provide the
relevant Bible reference, or indeed ANY Bible reference that would help
explain what “the Word” truly means.
Indeed, the context of the quote would lead most unbelievers to
suppose that the phrase merely means Jesus ‘fleshed out’ the
Father’s instructions, or ‘put flesh on’ the Father’s ideas.
although the phrases “the Word of God” or “God’s Word” appear
fourteen times in the Alpha talks, and are rightly applied to the Bible on
some of those occasions, they are never applied to the Person of
the Lord Jesus. This is
extremely unfortunate. Just as
the Lord Jesus is God the Father’s revelation of His Word as a man,
so the Bible is the Father’s revelation of His Word as a book.
With this profound relationship between the “written Word” and
the “Word made flesh” broken, Alpha participants are likely to take a
significantly lower view of Scripture than they ought to.
People would respect the written Word far more if they
understood that it is as perfect as Jesus and represents Him in His
entirety. For more on
Alpha’s treatment of holy writ, see our book Alpha
– the Unofficial Guide: Overview.)
HE HAVE THE HOLY SPIRIT BEFORE HIS
(in His Incarnation) was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18-20) and,
as a “child … [He] waxed strong in
spirit…” (Luke 2:40).
This is another important doctrine about the Lord Jesus, as we
shall see shortly. So where
does Alpha stand?
Talk 8 Gumbel offers a very hopeful statement when he says “[A]lmost everybody
connected with the birth of Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit”.
He proceeds to list Mary, John the Baptist, Elizabeth, and
Zacharias – but not Jesus! Many
people will be sure that this is just an unfortunate oversight, but it
recurs in the book Questions of Life
[pp122-3]. And the Alpha Manual exhibits the same problem.
This last publication even adds Simeon
to the list, but omits the Lord Jesus Himself.
(We are not criticizing what Gumbel says here, but merely observing
that this would have been a great opportunity for him to confirm that
Jesus was already full of the Holy Spirit.
We feel the absence of any mention might lead certain participants
to assume otherwise.)
first reference to Christ Jesus having the Spirit of God is in Talk 8, but
not in relation to the Lord’s conception.
Gumbel says: “John the Baptist
is the first person who makes the link between the Spirit and Jesus”.
Surely Simeon and Anna both recognized, or ‘made the link’,
between the Spirit and Jesus (Luke
Surely the angel that spoke to Mary before she conceived ‘made
the link’ too (Luke
Surely John the Baptist’s Father Zacharias ‘made the link’
while his son was still a baby (Luke 1:67-79)?
Surely Isaiah ‘made the link’ between “the Spirit and
Jesus” hundreds of years previously (Isaiah 61:1-3)?
Unless of course Gumbel means something else
by the word “link”…
uses this term again when he writes “John the Baptist links
him [i.e. the Holy Spirit] with
But both of his statements are ambiguous and could easily be taken
to mean that John created the
‘link’ between the Lord Jesus and the Spirit.
It is important for participants to believe that Jesus was always
filled with the Spirit rather than being filled at His baptism, otherwise
they will demote Him. (They
will also be encouraged to promote
the idea that people are indwelt by the Spirit (i.e. saved) through baptism
rather than through faith alone.)
“the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon
Him [Jesus], and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art My beloved
Son; in Thee I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22), but we have already seen
that Jesus was indwelt by the Holy Ghost even
as a child. This episode
publicly signified the beginning of His full ministry, but the passage
nowhere says the Spirit was poured into
Him at His baptism (which would have meant He was not full of the Spirit
Consider the following text from Gumbel and see whether, taken as a whole, it suggests that Jesus Christ was filled by the Holy Spirit as a result of His baptism.
that Gumbel moves very swiftly from the Lord’s baptism to the word “Today”, giving the distinct impression that His baptism occurred
earlier that same day, and
therefore implying that the Spirit was on Jesus because He had been
baptized. But it was not that same day. The
small matter of the forty days
the Lord spent in the wilderness in between these two events has been
swept under the carpet! Elsewhere
we are told by Alpha that “Jesus received power through the anointing of
the Holy Spirit at his baptism”,
as if He did not have the power of the Holy Spirit before this (and as if
the forty days of prayer and fasting were irrelevant to His ministry).
HE “CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD”?
is the Greek word for “Messiah”. The
Bible makes plain that the Lord Jesus is
certainly refers to “Jesus Christ” a good number of times, although
the word ‘Messiah’, or ‘Christ’, is not actually explained in the
talks. A modest concern for
some, however, is the number of times “Jesus” is separated
from “Christ” on Alpha.
These words are separated a total of 571
times in the talks.
phrase “Christ Jesus” makes particularly clear that Jesus is not just
someone with “the Christ” operating in Him – which is presumably why
it appears 58 times in the New Testament.
Strangely, this valuable phrase appears only eight times in all the
Alpha talks – only about one fifth as often as it should do in order to
be in balance with Scripture.
greater concern is the fact that Gumbel teaches we are Christ: “[A]ctually, the Church is Christ”.
Such a statement diminishes the nature of Jesus and enhances the
nature of believing men. The
disciples of Jesus belong to Him, so we are His body (the Body of Christ)
in the same sense that a husband owns the body of his wife, but we are not
Him! The title of ‘Christ’
or ‘Messiah’ belongs exclusively to Jesus.
also teaches that “The church completes
Christ in the same way as a
body completes the head”,
but this is simply wrong. Jesus
Christ is already complete; He has His own head AND His own body.
He is our ‘head’ in the sense of being our Master, but the Body
of Christ is complete, with its own eyes and ears – and hence its own
‘head’ parts, as described in 1 Corinthians 12:12-21.
If we imagine that we “complete Christ” in the way Gumbel says,
then we are well on the road to believing that we are also divine, instead
of being a group of sinning, “unprofitable servants” who are only
saved by God’s grace through faith in His only Son.
then, to Jesus’ Sonship. After
almost all of His followers had left Him (in John 6:66), the Lord asked
the remnant if they were going to depart as well: “Then Simon Peter
answered Him, Lord, to whom shall we go? … [W]e believe and are sure
that Thou art that Christ, the Son
of the living God”. The Lord
is indeed “the only begotten
Son” of God, i.e. the only natural
,18; 1 John 4:9).
But is this the way Alpha sees it?
does indicate several times in the talks that Jesus is the Son of God,
although detractors might complain that this is almost always done indirectly – e.g. by noting that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God,
or by pointing out that His followers believed
or by observing that Satan questioned
However, Gumbel never calls Jesus “the only begotten
Son” in the talks. Readers
may feel that ‘begotten’ is an uncommon word, even though many modern
dictionaries include it. But
Gumbel is happy to use other uncommon words like ‘immanent’,
and he could easily explain the meaning of ‘begotten’ if he chose to
– but he never does.
It is helpful that Gumbel (albeit very occasionally) calls Christ Jesus the “unique Son of God”, but this is unlikely to impress many hearers because everyone is “unique” - and Gumbel tells Alpha participants that every Christian is a son of God too (without ever clarifying that Jesus’ Sonship did not come through adoption - like ours does). There are a tiny number of occasions when Gumbel calls Jesus “the one and only son of God”, but the phrase “one-and-only” is also a euphemism for ‘unique’ - and anyway Gumbel undermines the fact that the Lord Jesus is the only Son of God with statements like the one below:
for this section, we need to return briefly to our Saviour’s conception
as a man. As we saw in the
first article, Nicky doesn’t mention the virgin birth in any talk, and
he teaches things like “Scripture … is 100
per cent the work of human beings
… just as Jesus is fully human…”.
This will tell many on Alpha that, while the Lord may have been adopted
as a son by God, nevertheless He had a human
father. Gumbel reinforces this
belief when he quotes
close this section with some more surprising facts on this topic:
There are more concerns we could mention, but this article is already long enough and the pattern is already obvious. On each of these questions Gumbel seems not just unwilling to state the whole truth in a categoric way, but repeatedly damages these truths about our wonderful Saviour who gave His life as a ransom for us. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is to testify accurately of Jesus (John ) and to glorify Him (John ), so what does this tell us about Alpha? Is the same pattern evident when we examine the Divinity of Alpha’s Jesus? The next article will seek to find out.
May God bless you.
Any honest translation of the Masoretic Hebrew, such as the KJV, will
say this. Gumbel does refer
to ‘Micah 5:2’ on page 35 of Questions
of Life, but only in relation to “the place
of his [i.e. the Lord’s] birth”.
If his readers look up this verse in Gumbel’s unfortunate
choice of Bible version, they will see that it teaches the Lord Jesus
had an “origin”.
“The love of Christ … It’s so long: all the way through our lives
… from the moment we accept
Christ to the moment we die, and then
beyond that into eternity”
[Talk 10]. (See the first
article in this series for version details (e.g. for Alpha talks and
books) and for other administrative points regarding this second
Searching Issues, p101.
Searching Issues, p110.
(Few people doubt that the Father and the Holy Spirit were not
created, so it would have been ideal if Gumbel had unambiguously
mentioned the ‘Lord Jesus’ here.
Note also that the relevant paragraph in Gumbel’s book never
denies the idea that the Father and the Spirit could have been in
communion with each other
before creating Jesus.)
Using indirect phrases like “God the Son”, rather than “Jesus”,
when referring to doctrines about Him, is fine on occasion but obviously
introduces an extra layer of complication and can lead to
misinterpretation if done often.
30 Days, p9.
It is interesting, for instance, that Gumbel chooses “born” instead
of “conceived” here.
The word ‘incarnate’ can be defined as “to come in the flesh”.
Alpha News, #20, p9.
Why Christmas?, (HTB
Publications, 1997), p3. See
Talk 2. See also 30
Talk 3. Likewise, Gumbel
refers to “Mary the mother of Jesus” (e.g. in Talks 7 & 8)
without mentioning that she was only His mother in terms of His incarnation.
As a brief digression, it is very odd to consider that Satan
is almost presented as pre-existent on Alpha!
In talking about the Temptation in
30 Days, p15.
(Note that Gumbel is happy to employ the word ‘flesh’ in other
contexts, e.g. in Talks 13 & 15.)
William Temple was, among other things, a founder of the World Council
of Churches – and allowed all manner of groups with heretical notions
about Jesus to join. See
Cathy Burns, Billy Graham and his
Friends, (Sharing, 2001), p207.
Gumbel’s preferred Bible version hides this fact in its rendering - by
deleting the words “in spirit”.
We know the Messiah was always full of the Holy Spirit
from Messianic Psalm 22, verses 9-10.
Green Alpha Manual, p32.
Questions of Life, p132.
The identical wording is used in the Green
Alpha Manual, p32.
Luke 4:1 reads “from the
Questions of Life, pp123-4.
(The ellipsis is Gumbel’s.)
Green Alpha Manual, p32.
The Greek Scriptures do likewise, but they (unlike Alpha) are given in
the context of the Hebrew Scriptures, so there is little scope for
misinterpretation! (See the
last seven paragraphs of Searching
Issues for another vivid example of Alpha ‘separating’ Jesus
Gumbel, like the New Age movement, also shows an inordinate affection
for the tiny number of Bible verses that call Jesus “the
Christ”. Gumbel calls Him
this four times in Talk 2 alone. Sadly,
Gumbel’s Bible version reads “the Christ” numerous times when it
should not. It does this
twice in Acts 17:3, a fact which Gumbel takes advantage of in Talk 12.
It does so again in Acts 3:20 which Gumbel exploits on page 27 of
He doesn’t stop there though.
Even when his Bible version doesn’t
add “the” to “Christ”, Gumbel adds it all the same (see 30
Days, p45). The Jewish
historian Josephus said of Jesus “He was Christ”, as opposed to
“He was the Christ”, thus showing that the “the” was not Hebraically
necessary in this context. However,
when Gumbel quotes Josephus, he inserts “the” - as if to suggest
Josephus was wrong [Questions of
In other words, to have the same ratio of references to “Jesus” and
“Christ Jesus” as appears in the Greek Scriptures.
Talk 14. In the same talk
Gumbel says “If you ask the question where is God? The answer
is, ‘He is in the midst of his people’”.
Gumbel thus implies that this is the main
place God is! Gumbel writes
“God … has come to live
in us” [30 Days, p51], but he does nothing to avoid the confusion these
words could engender. What
makes Jesus different from a spirit-filled Christian in this case?
30 Days, p52.
Talk 2 uses phrases like “He claimed to be the Christ, the son of God”.
See the references to “Simon Peter”, “
Green Alpha Manual, p17.
Searching Issues, p59.
Talk 9. In the booklet Why
Christmas?, the fact that we are only adopted
is obscured altogether! We
simply “become children of God. He is our heavenly Father” [p21], we
“become his sons and daughters” [p14].
Note the ambiguity in this sentence.
Jesus is higher than all. Hearers
may well assume that they will be at the same height as Jesus!
Note that all of
Gumbel’s references to us being ‘sons of God’ through adoption occur in Talk 9, even though this is six talks on
from the gospel presentation!
Questions of Life, p171.
Talk 12. (See chapter 10 of
our book for other examples of how Nicky Gumbel’s Bible version
undermines the Christhood and Sonship of Jesus.)
The only place we can find a
proper reference to His “virgin birth” is in Gumbel’s book 30
Days, (p16), yet even here it is called “the
virgin birth” rather than “His
Indeed Gumbel goes on to recommend participants start by reading
John’s gospel – rather than one of the synoptic gospels that would
teach the Lord’s virgin birth etc.
Coaker, op. cit., p22.
Gumbel does say “The angel said [to Mary], ‘The Holy Spirit will
come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So
the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God’” [Talk 8],
but the context in which Gumbel quotes this is Mary
being filled with the Holy Spirit, not the Holy Spirit causing the
conception of Jesus. Plus,
on its own, this verse still
doesn’t tell unsaved hearers that Jesus’ conception did not involve