Elon, North Carolina
Last week, we looked at the first scandal in the early church and the first argument in the first church. The scandal involved two members of the church who dropped dead. The first argument had to do with race and a charge of discrimination.
There were two groups of Jews in the first church. One group of Jews complained to the apostles that some of their people were being discriminated against. It was not intention but the solution was for the church to pick out seven men to solve the problem.
Two of the men on the list were Stephen and Philip. The next three chapters in Acts are devoted to them. Up to this time, the focus has been mainly on Peter. Peter was the one who gave a speech and said that the church needed to replace Judas. Peter was the one in chapter two who preached the first Christian sermon which converted three thousand people.
Peter was the one who healed the crippled beggar in Acts 3. The man was forty years old and had never walked a day in his life. He said to him, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk”.
Peter was the one in Acts 5 who confronts Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the church about their donation and they drop dead. When we come to Acts 6, the focus is not on Peter. It is on Stephen and Philip. The focus moves from the apostles to the deacons.
What I want to do tonight is to take a close look at these two men who were very important to the early church. They were men that God used greatly in very different ways. Both of these men were filled with the Spirit but they had very different gifts. God called them to do different things. We do not all have the same gifts.
Stephen was primarily an APOLOGIST. He was very good at defending the faith, as we will see. Philip was primarily an EVANGELIST and he was good at it.
Stephen preached to Jews in Jerusalem. Philip preached to people outside Jerusalem (Samaritans, Ethiopian Eunuch). He would go anywhere to preach the gospel to someone, even in the middle of the desert. He was a gospel preaching machine.
These two men had some differences but that had many similarities. They had a lot in common.
- Both men were about the same age
They were not only both men, they were about the same age. We are not told how old they were but they both appear to be young guys.
- Both men spoke the same language
Both spoke Greek. They were both Hellenists. They both have Greek names (Στέφανος and Φίλιππος). They both read out of the Greek Bible and may have had a similar culture.
- Both men had the same religion
They worshiped the same Lord. Both of these men were not only Christians, they were both Jewish Christians.
- Both men attended the same church
They had both been baptized and were both members of the church in Jerusalem. There was only one church to go to at this time.
- Both men were involved in the same ministry
They not only attended the same church but both served in the same ministry at that church. They both as deacons and ministered to widows. They were probably good friends because there were only seven men in the church that did this.
- Both men had the same miraculous power
They both performed stupendous miracles (signs and wonders). The same ones that the apostles were doing, they were doing.
- Both men had unusual supernatural experiences
They both had some supernatural experiences. They both had some experiences that we have never had. Not only did they perform miracles and wonders, they had other unusual things happen to them. At the beginning of his trial, Stephen’s face started to glow like an angel (6:15). Furthermore, at the end of the trial he had a revelation of Jesus. Stephen looks up in the sky and sees heaven open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God (7:56).
Philip started a revival in Samaria and then an angel tells him to leave the revival and go far away to talk to one man in the desert in the middle of nowhere. Philip received supernatural guidance through an angel (8:26). I have not had too many angels talk to me. This angel told him to talk to and told him exactly where this man was located and he had to go about 60 miles out of his way to find him.
As soon as the man was baptized and came out of the water, Philip mysteriously vanished and appeared somewhere else (8:39-40). He was supernaturally transported. The text says, he was “taken away” (άρπάζω). It is the same Greek word used for the rapture of the church.
Let’s begin by looking at Stephen. I want to look at the kind of ministry he had and the kind of person he was. Stephen had many gifts.
The Ministry of Stephen
1. He was a deacon
He is not called a deacon in Acts 6. None of the seven men are given the title of deacon in Acts 6 but most scholars believe that this was where the office of deacon began. Stephen was the first one they chose, the number one draft pick. He was the first one the church thought was qualified for this position.
He was also the most prominent member of the group. He was the head of the deacon board at this church. His job was to take care of widows (get money, buy food, take it to them). Stephen was full of HUMILITY (waiting on tables). The role of deacons was the role of a servant (Mark 10:45). He was also full of COMPASSION. He ministered to old people and widows.
2. He was a miracle worker
Stephen was not like your ordinary Baptist deacon. He was a charismatic deacon. He not only performed signs and wonders, he performed “GREAT signs and wonders” (6:8) and he was not even an apostle. Some say the reason that he did this was because the apostles laid their hands on him. We do not have any apostles laying hands on people today, so we do not have any more signs and wonders.
The problem with this view is that the apostles did not lay their hands on the seven to give them miraculous powers. They laid hands on them, not to start a healing ministry, but to start a food ministry for widows.
There is no evidence that the other five had these powers as well. They laid their hands on them to identify with the selection of the church, officially install them as deacons and to consecrate them, to pray over them. He was not just a man full of humility and compassion. He was full of POWER (6:8).
3. He was an apologist
Some people are really good at preaching the gospel to the lost. Other people are really good at defending the Bible against the critics. There are whole ministries devoted to apologetics. It is biblical. Jude 1:3 says, “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people”.
That is interesting. How many times have you heard some preacher say, “We do not need to defend the Bible. The Bible defends itself. We just need to preach the Bible?” That is not what Jude says we are to do. Jude says that we are not to just believe the truth, we are to CONTEND for the truth. We are to defend it. That is a command. Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
That is what Stephen was good at. He could answer skeptics. He could debate his opponents in the synagogue. In fact, he was so good at this that no one could out-debate him. Luke says that people came to argue with him but “they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke” (6:10). His enemies decided that since they could not out-argue him, the only way to silence him would be to kill him.
Stephen not only had a ministry inside the church with poor widows, he had a ministry outside the church to unbelievers. This man was not only full of power. He was full of WISDOM (6:3, 10). Stephen knew his bible very well.
His only recorded sermon is full of Scripture. If you read his sermon in Acts 7, you will see that it mentions Abraham (7:2-8), Joseph (7:9-16). Moses (7:17-44), Joshua (Acts 7:45), David and Solomon (Acts 7:46–50). It was a survey of the Old Testament, a bible history lesson for dummies.
4. He was a preacher
Stephen was not just a deacon, he was a preacher. Most Baptist deacons are not preachers but Stephen was both. He was a deacon and a preacher and he was a powerful preacher. We have one of his sermons recorded in Acts. It is found in Acts 7. It is a rather strange sermon. Stephen’s sermon is the longest sermon in the book of Acts. It is twice as long as Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost.
Like a typical preacher today, this sermon is a little wordy. It goes on and on. It is worth think about that the longest sermon preached in Acts was NOT preached by some mighty apostle. It was preached by a deacon. It is the sermon got him killed. That is the sermon that got Stephen stoned (and that had nothing to do with marijuana). After he preached, the rocks started to fly.
The Accusation Against Stephen
Why was he preaching? Stephen was on trial before the Sanhedrin. He was on trial because he was accused of two things (cf. 6:12-14). There are two charges against him. What were the formal charges? Stephen was accused of being against the Law and against the Temple (anti-Moses and anti-Temple). The charges came from false witnesses.
“So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”
Stephen was accused of blasphemy. At the very beginning of the trial, the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these charges true? (7:1). How do you plead? Guilty or not guilty? Peter does not make a plea.
He gives a speech instead. As you read the speech, it is very clear that Stephen is not against the Temple or the Law. In fact, he does not say anything in the first fifty verses that the Sanhedrin would disagree with but they stone him anyway. Why? Let’s read Acts 7:51-53.
“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.” When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.”
The sermon was fine until it got to the application part. In the application, Stephen stops talking about his ancestors and starts talking about his contemporaries. He goes on offense, rather than defense. This is incredibly bold.
He is on trial for his life but instead of defending himself against some ridiculously false charges, he turns around and accused the Sanhedrin of some crimes. The accused becomes the accuser. He turns the tables on them. The tone of the sermon changes dramatically. What did he charge them with?
Stephen’s Charge against the Sanhedrin
1) They are stiff-necked (7:51)
What does that mean? It means they were stubborn and prone to rebel against God. The prophet Jeremiah said the same thing. He called the Jews stiff-necked (Jeremiah 7:26). In fact, God called the Jews stiff-necked many times. He called them stiff-necked after they built the golden calf and started worshiping it (Exodus 32:9; 33:3, 5).
2) They are uncircumcised at heart (7:51)
What does that mean? It means that they are unsaved. The one that really struck them was uncircumcised at heart. All of them members of the Sanhedrin were circumcised and were proud of their circumcision. They looked down on pagan gentiles for being uncircumcised. Stephen says that they have never really been circumcised in the first place. That would be like telling a dyed-in-the-wool Baptist that they have never really been baptized.
3) They resisted the Holy Spirit (7:51)
They resisted the Holy Spirit just like their ancestors. How did their ancestors resist the Holy Spirit? Their ancestors rejected Joseph and rejected Moses. They rejected those that God sent to deliver them. They rejected the prophets. They rejected those that God sent to speak to them.
How did the Sanhedrin resist the Spirit? They killed their Messiah who was approved by God with miracles and signs of the Holy Spirit and they rejected Him. How they responded to Stephen shows that they were still resisting the Spirit. Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit (6:3; 7:55) and they rejected his message and killed him.
4) They killed their Messiah (7:52).
God sent the Messiah to the Jews. There was no doubt that He was the Messiah. God approved him with signs and wonders and the Sanhedrin rejected them. They not only rejected them, they killed them.
5) They broke the Law of Moses (7:53)
They said that Stephen said things against the Law of Moses. He says that they have BROKEN the Law of Moses. When they all pick up stones immediately after this to kill an innocent man, they only confirm what Peter said. They all break the Sixth Commandment. In fact, they not only commit murder but murdered their own Jewish Messiah.
The Tipping Point
That made the Sanhedrin angry. They gnashed their teeth. They were furious but it was what Stephen said next that caused them to step over the line and grab some rocks. “’Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’” (7:56).
Stephen had a vision of the risen Lord. He was standing before the earthly high priest while he has a vision of the heavenly high priest, right next to the Father and surrounded by angels and he said it was Jesus. That was too much. That was too much for them to take. That started to cover their ears and said, “We can’t hear this anymore”.
What’s interesting is that Jesus stood before this same group of people four or five years before. History was repeating itself. Jesus stood before the Sanhedrin. In fact, he stood before the same high priest. Caiaphas was in office until 36 AD. Jesus said something similar and they had the exact same response then. Matthew 26:63-66 reads as follows in the ESV.
“And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.”
5. He was a martyr
Stephen was the first Christian martyr. Peter was thrown into prison but Stephen was the first believer to be killed for his faith. Stephen was killed by the Jews. Jesus was killed by Roman soldiers. Jesus was crucified. Stephen was stoned. Think of all of the millions of believers who have been martyred over the last two thousand years all over the world. It is still happening today in other countries.
Statistically, a Christian is martyred somewhere in the world every five minutes. Stephen was the first one to die for his faith in Christ. That is interesting. The first Christian martyr wasn’t an apostle. It was a deacon. This man was bolder than the apostles. He said some things to the Sanhedrin that the apostles never said.
He was not only full of humility, compassion, wisdom and power, he was also full of COURAGE. Stephen was bold. He was fearless. He did not fear the Sanhedrin. He did not fear death. Most of us have enough faith to live for Christ but do we have enough faith to die for him, if we were asked to. God doesn’t call us all to be martyrs, but he does call us all to be living sacrifices, as Warren Wiersbe points out.
Romans 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” In some ways, in is much harder to live for Christ (every day of your life) than to die for Christ.
He was also full of FORGIVENESS. He died with a prayer of forgiveness on his lips, as Jesus did. Jesus prayed on the cross, ‘“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Stephen prayed while he was dying “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (7:60).
That is incredible to me. He was far more forgiving that I would probably be in that situation. It is hard enough some times to forgive someone after they come to you and repent and say that they are sorry. Stephen prayed for his enemies while they were killing him.
When Stephen was killed, many people thought that he could not be replaced. He was brilliant. He preached the longest sermon in Acts. He may have written a few books of Scripture if his life had not been cut short. He was one-of-a kind and now he is gone but he was not irreplaceable. In Acts 9, a man comes to faith in Christ who is just like him. His name was Saul of Tarsus. Saul became another Stephen. He was Stephen on steroids.
The Ministry of Philip
We come now to the second of the seven deacons selected – Philip. He is fascinating. If you liked Stephen, you will also like Phillip. Let’s read Acts 8. What do we know about Philip? He is later called in the book “Philip the Evangelist” (21:8). He was a world class evangelist. He traveled all over the place.
He was not just an evangelist; he was also a miracle worker, like Stephen. Philip also was a charismatic deacon (8:6). He cast out some demons (8:7). People who could not walk stood up and started walking. He later got married and had four daughters. Luke says that his four daughters were preachers (21:9).
After all of his missionary journey’s Philip ends up in Caesarea. When Paul traveled to Caesarea, he stayed in Philip’s house (21:8). Philip was the first Christian missionary. Stephen was the first martyr and Phillip becomes the first missionary who went and started a revival in another city. What kind of missionary was he?
1. Phillip was a lay missionary.
He was not seminary trained. He had not read any Christian books. None were written yet. He was not an Apostle. There was an Apostle Phillip but that was a different person. The Apostle Philip stayed behind in Jerusalem (8:1).
The Philip in Acts 8 left Jerusalem and went to Samaria. He was not an apostle or a pastor. He was just a deacon. This wasn’t the Apostle Philip. It was the evangelistic and deacon Philip. He could not be a deacon anymore. He was scattered. There was no one to deacon, so he became a missionary.
2. Philip was a charismatic missionary
Philip did not just preach to people, he performed miracles (8:6-7), like the deacon Stephen before him. John Wimber wrote a book called Power Evangelism. I have not read the book but that is the type of evangelism that Philip did. He did power evangelism. The miracles went hand in hand with the message. They authenticated him and confirmed it with supernatural signs and wonders.
Philip did not just rely on great arguments and logic to reach the Samaritans. He performed miracles as witnessing tools. Jesus did the same thing. He did not just preach and teach. He healed people. He cast out demons. He raised the dead and performed signs which validated his message. He evangelized by word and by deed.
3. Phillip was a traveling missionary.
Stephen ministered in Jerusalem. He stayed in Jerusalem. He did Jewish evangelism but Philip preached the gospel OUTSIDE of Jerusalem for the first time. Why did Philip do this? He was forced to. In Acts 8 the church goes through “a GREAT persecution” (8:1).
Before this time, a few apostles were thrown into prison for a night and one deacon was stoned but now EVERYONE in the church is persecuted. Acts 8:3 says, “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.”
This was not planned but God brought good out of it. The church is scattered. Instead of one big church in Jerusalem, believers are scattered and there are churches all over the place. Believers start reaching out to people.
Missionaries are going to preaching to people outside of Jerusalem. “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (8:4). Satan used persecution to try to destroy the church. God used it to spread the gospel. He brought good out of evil. He turned something really bad into something really good.
4. Phillip was a cross-cultural missionary
Stephen just ministered in Jerusalem to Jews only. Philip branches out and starts ministering to people other than Jews. Before Acts 8, the church is completely Jewish. It is one hundred percent Jewish. Every member of the church was a Jew.
There were different kinds of Jews (Greek Jews and Hebrew Jews) but they were all Jews. At the end of this chapter, in addition to Jewish Christians, there are Samaritan Christians and a black Ethiopian Christian.
Philip preaches to Samaritans
Jesus said this would happen. He said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The apostles preached in Jerusalem and now a deacon is taking the gospel to Samaria. The Samaritans were half Jews racially.
Here Philip reaches across racial and religious boundaries for the first time but something unusual happened when Philip preached to the Samaritans. They believed and were baptized but they did not get the Holy Spirit. In fact, they did not get the Holy Spirit until Peter and John came down prayed for them (8:15) and put their hands on them (8:17) and then they received the Holy Spirit.
Why didn’t they get the Holy Spirit right away? That is what happened to the Jews in Acts 2. Peter told the Jews if they would repent and be baptized, they would receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (2:38).
In Acts 8, the Samaritans did that and they did NOT get the gift of the Holy Spirit. Why did they have to wait until the big guns came down from Jerusalem before it took place? Why couldn’t they have received the Spirit when Philip was there?
At Pentecost, the church began. Believers for the first time were indwelt, baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit. What we learn here is that Pentecost took place in stages. It did not take place all at once.
It happened in Acts 2 for the Jews (stage one). It happened in Acts 8 for the Samaritans, half Jews (stage two) and it happened in Acts 10 with full blooded Gentiles (stage three). Each time an apostle had to be present.
There is a really good reason they had to wait for the apostles in Acts 8. Jews and Samaritans did not get along. They could not stand each other. They hated each other. Because there was so much animosity between the two groups, if a Samaritan church started, no one would accepted it unless the apostles (who were also Jewish) came down and put their stamp of approval on it and verified it.
Philip preaches to an Ethiopian
Philip did not just preach to the Samaritans. He preached to an African. Salvation does not just go to Samaritans. It goes to Ethiopians (ends of the earth). Here he reaches, not just across racial barriers but across the color barrier as well. The gospel reaches to a new ethnic group.
As far as we know, this was the first time in history that Africa was reached with the gospel. People always say that Christianity is the white man’s religion. Actually, the gospel goes to Africa before it goes to Europe. This man was very interesting. What do we know about him?
Characteristics of the Ethiopian Eunuch
1. He was an African
The Bible says he was from Ethiopia (8:27). The man was from Africa but he was not from modern-day Ethiopia. The Greeks called anything south of Egypt “Ethiopia”.
There were lots of countries south of Egypt but we happen to know what specific country in Africa where he came from. Luke says this man was charge of all the treasury of the Candace.
We know from secular history (Pliny, Strabo) that there was only one country was ruled by a woman at this time called Candace. Candace was not her name but her title (like Pharaoh or Caesar). Candace was a dynastic title. In Greek, it is not Candace (that sounds like a movie star), it is Κανδάκης. The country that had these queens was called Meroe.
Meroe was a wealthy kingdom in southern Egypt. It is modern day Sudan.
2. He was a eunuch
A eunuch is a man who has been castrated. To be castrated means to have your testicles removed. Why would anyone in the ancient world become a eunuch? People became castrated for a number of reasons. One reason it was done was to move someone into a social class. They often obtained prominent positions in government.
This man did have a prominent position in government. He was the minister of finance. Eunuchs were used as servants and guards. They could be trusted. They have been emasculated. You had to be trusted to work for the queen. You had to be trusted to handle money.
3. He was wealthy
This man worked for the Queen. One way we know he was wealthy is that he happened to own a copy of the Bible or at least part of the Bible (a scroll of the Book of Isaiah) and few people had that. They were expensive. Books had to be copied by hand. The printing press had not been invented yet. This must have cost a fortune.
4. He was spiritually sensitive
This man was unsaved but he was religious. He was a seeker of God. Many wealthy people are not spiritually sensitive but this man serious about the things of God and we see that in a couple of ways. Not only did stop worshiping his idols and begin worshiping, he was willing to travel over 1200 miles on a chariot to worship that the Jewish God and this man wasn’t born Jewish (8:27).
We also see that he is spiritually sensitive in the way he reads the Bible. He does not just read the Bible (8:28), he asks critical questions (8:34). He has a hunger for God’s Word. He wants to know what it means and asks someone to explain it to him.
The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” (8:34). It is a valid question to this day. Jews to this day do not know what Isaiah 53 is saying. Most of them think that Isaiah 53 is talking about Israel. Israel is the suffering servant. Phillip says it is not talking about Israel. It is talking about the Messiah.
Is the Suffering Servant Israel?
Some interpreters believe that Israel is the servant nation. Israel is called God’s servant (41:8-9; 44:1, 21; 45:4; 49:3) but the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 cannot refer to Israel for several reasons.
1. He is referred to in the singular.
“He was despised” (53:3). “He was rejected” (53:3). “He took up our pain” (53:4). “He bore our suffering” (53:4). “He was pierced for our transgressions” (53:5). “He was crushed for our iniquities” (53:5). “He was oppressed and afflicted” (53:7). “He was cut off from the land of the living” (53:8). He is clearly a person, not a nation. The nation is referred to with a plural pronoun.
2. He is clearly distinguished from the nation.
This person is punished for the transgression of HIS people (53:8). The suffering servant is not Israel. He died for the sins of the Jewish people. If he is suffering for Israel, he cannot be Israel.
“Surely HE took up OUR pain and bore OUR suffering, yet WE considered HIM punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.”
“But HE was pierced for OUR transgressions, HE was crushed for OUR iniquities; the punishment that brought US peace was on HIM, and by HIS wounds WE are healed.”
“WE all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of US has turned to OUR own way and the Lord has laid on HIM the iniquity of US all.”
3. The one who suffers in Isaiah 53 is innocent.
He had “done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth!” (53:9). The suffering servant in Isaiah 53 is said to be “righteous” (53:11), which did not describe the nation. Isaiah said that he lived among a people of UNCLEAN LIPS (6:5).
He also called the nation “a SINFUL NATION” (1:4). He characterizes Judah as SODOM and GOMORRAH (1:10). He described Jerusalem as A HARLOT (1:21), and the people as those whose hands are stained with blood (1:15). This was very different from the righteous sufferer of Isaiah 53.
Philip evangelizes the Ethiopian Eunuch. There are a lot of things we can learn from his example here.
- Are we open to the Spirit when he prompts us to talk to someone about Jesus?
- Do we know how to share the gospel to someone who asks us?
- Would we know how to interpret the Bible if an unbeliever opened it and asked us what it means or would we say, “I will have to ask the pastor”?
You say, “I am not a world class evangelist like Philip. I do not know how to evangelize”. Let’s see if we can learn anything from Philip. How did Philip preach the gospel? Notice what he did NOT do when he talked to this Ethiopian Eunuch.
- He was NOT condescending. He did not talk down to him.
- He was NOT confrontational. He did not immediately tell him that he was headed straight to hell. He used tact.
- He was NOT rude or obnoxious. Some people seem to think that that is a sign of spirituality. It is just a mark of the flesh.
Philip used the question method. Philip did not start preaching to this man when he first saw him. In the ancient world, people generally read out loud. Philip heard him reading (8:30). He asked him what he was reading. He asked him if he understood what he was reading. Greg Koukl calls it “the Columbo Tactic”.
Questions are often more effective than assertions. Questions are non-threatening. They are interactive. They draw the person out and they put the burden on proof back on the person. We can use this approach today when we are talking to people. Koukl gives several examples of this approach in his many apologetics seminars.
When someone says, “I think Christians are intolerant”, you can say, “Why do you think that? What do you mean by intolerant”? What is your definition of intolerant?” “They always think they are right?” Well, do you think you are right? The truth is that everyone who believes something thinks they are right. Why am I intolerant, if I think I am right but you are not intolerant if you think you are right?
“I don’t believe in the Bible.” Why don’t you believe in the Bible? It is full of contradictions? What are some examples of some? “I can’t think of any off the top of my head”. Then how do you know they exist?
“There is no God”. What do you mean by God? You reject God but what kind of God do you reject. We may not believe in the god they rejected either. Why do you think that? Are you absolutely sure that there is no God or do you just believe there is no God?
All religions are basically the same? Instead of saying, “No they are not”, say, “Really. In what way are they all the same?”