Category Archives: God

Why doesn’t God heal everyone who is prayed for?

clip_image002

(Image courtesy Dr. Elroi)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Is it God’s responsibility to heal all people who are prayed for?

If was he who stated: ‘Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours’ (Mark 11:24 NIV). Isn’t it signed, sealed and delivered – right from the mouth of Jesus?

Then Mark further affirms: ‘And the people who believe … will lay their hands on sick people, and they will get well’ (Mark 16:17a, 18b ERV)

Surely that is what Jesus meant when he taught, ‘Continue to ask, and God will give to you. Continue to search, and you will find. Continue to knock, and the door will open for you’ (Matt 7:7 ERV)?

Since he doesn’t do this in the real world of the twenty-first century, who is to blame?

clip_image004 The person who prayed didn’t have enough faith?

clip_image004[1] The person prayed for had insufficient faith?

clip_image004[2] It is wrong-headed to demand that God must heal when we ask him;

clip_image004[3] Have God’s supernatural gifts ceased?

clip_image004[4] What about false or insufficient teaching on healing?

clip_image004[5] Where does the sovereignty of God and human responsibility fit into God’s will for healing?

This person started a topic:

Me personally, I really don’t think so and I think that it’s a load of manure. The reason why I ask this question is because I just found out about this today after Yoga class and it was being discussed. I only go to Yoga because of the fact that it relaxes my mind and has caused me to become more balanced and flexible. I wouldn’t do anything if I thought somebody believed that they had the power to “heal” me because that’s where I personally draw the line and find it very sacrilegious but that’s just imho. It might just be considered therapeutic but I just would never personally get involved with it.

The topic this person started was, ‘Can God Really Give The Power to Heal Somebody?’[1]

1. Does God heal supernaturally today?

This person doesn’t think so, but mixes her belief with attending Yoga classes that ‘relax her mind’. Really? What is Yoga?

My response was:[2]

Do you believe the Scriptures? They state:

clip_image006(body part name with pictures; image courtesy Body Parts Name)

27 All of you together are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of that body. 28 And in the church God has given a place first to apostles, second to prophets, and third to teachers. Then God has given a place to those who do miracles, those who have gifts of healing, those who can help others, those who are able to lead, and those who can speak in different kinds of languages. 29 Not all are apostles. Not all are prophets. Not all are teachers. Not all do miracles. 30 Not all have gifts of healing. Not all speak in different kinds of languages. Not all interpret those languages. 31 Continue to give your attention to the spiritual gifts you consider to be the greatest. But now I want to point out a way of life that is even greater (1 Cor 12:27-31 ERV, emphasis added).?[3]

Do you believe the Bible??

Are you not aware that Yoga is a practice of Buddhism??

Do you understand that Buddhism denies the existence of God??

2. God CAN and DOES heal

Another person responded to the information about and I replied:[4]

Thank you for your encouraging comment about my post. All people don’t have all the gifts because …

?A person has only one body, but it has many parts. Yes, there are many parts, but all those parts are still just one body. Christ is like that too. 13 Some of us are Jews and some of us are not; some of us are slaves and some of us are free. But we were all baptized to become one body through one Spirit. And we were all given the one Spirit. 14 And a person’s body has more than one part. It has many parts (1 Cor 12:12-14 ERV).

clip_image008Paul draws an analogy with the human body which has MANY parts. Then he states why there are many gifts in the body of Christ:

(image courtesy Faith – Grace – Jesus)

‘If each part of the body were the same part, there would be no body. But as it is, God put the parts in the body as he wanted them. He made a place for each one. 20 So there are many parts, but only one body’ (1 Cor 12:18-20 ERV).?

We need many gifts in the body of Christ for it to function properly. This person online wrote:

We read other things 1 Corinthians, like where Paul states boldly to desire the gifts, thereby indicating that we are to desire all the gifts, not just this one or that one. And in Mark it reads, Mk 16:18 “… they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” By saying “they will” it does not exclude any of His followers.[5]

You missed emphasising another guarantee, ‘They will recover’.

Is Mk 16:18 teaching that all those will be healed who have hands laid on them and the prayer of faith is prayed for them?

Jesus’ audience for this teaching was the ‘eleven followers (disciples)’ while they were eating (Mk 16:14 ERV). You have raised some good issues with ‘they will lay hands on the sick’ and ‘they will recover’.

  1. That’s not what I see happening in Christian churches in Australia. Most healing is left to the medical profession.
  2. Is God lying to us when he states ‘they will recover’? God is not a liar (Heb 6:18).
  3. So what is happening here? There is an apparent contradiction of God’s people laying hands on the sick and ‘they will’ recover and practically in the 21st century it doesn’t happen. We can blame lack of faith but there are reasons of more substance than that, based on the text.
  4. Firstly, in Mk 16:18 (SBLGNT) the three words are future tense in the Greek language: epithesousin (they will place) and kalws exousin (they will recover, or ‘they will have/get well’). So they are future statements of what will happen. But it doesn’t happen most of the time people have hands laid on them and there is prayer. How come?

3. The request to heal has a faulty foundation

clip_image010(image courtesy Pinterest)

There is a fundamental reason that is explained by one of the eminent Greek grammarians of the 20th century, Dr A T Robertson, who wrote of Mk 16:8:

At this point Aleph [Sinaiticus] and B [Vaticanus], the two oldest and best Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, stop with this verse. Three Armenian MSS. also end here. Some documents (cursive 274 and Old Latin k) have a shorter ending than the usual long one. The great mass of the documents have the long ending seen in the English versions. Some have both the long and the short endings, like L, Psi, 0112, 099, 579, two Bohairic MSS; the Harklean Syriac (long one in the text, short one in the Greek margin). One Armenian MS. (at Edschmiadzin) gives the long ending and attributes it to Ariston (possibly the Aristion of Papias). W (the Washington Codex) has an additional verse in the long ending. So the facts are very complicated, but argue strongly against the genuineness of verses Matthew 9-20 of Mark 16. There is little in these verses not in Matthew 28:1 ff. It is difficult to believe that Mark ended his Gospel with verse Matthew 8 unless he was interrupted. A leaf or column may have been torn off at the end of the papyrus roll. The loss of the ending was treated in various ways. Some documents left it alone. Some added one ending, some another, some added both (Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol 1, Mk 16:8).?

This is one piece of information that leads me to conclude that Mark 16:9-20 should not be in the canon of Scripture. That’s why many translations have this kind of statement after Mk 16:8,

Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20…. Some manuscripts end the book with 16:8; others include verses 9-20 immediately after verse 8. A few manuscripts insert additional material after verse 14; one Latin manuscript adds after verse 8 the following: But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this, Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. Other manuscripts include this same wording after verse 8, then continue with verses 9-20 (ESV)?

4. False doctrine in Mark 16:9-20

The false doctrines in these verses convince me it should not be in Scripture:

  • Baptismal regeneration (Mk 16:18);
  • Drinking deadly poison (Mk 16:20);
  • Handling snakes (Mk 16:20).

So why in one place does the Bible talk about elders laying hands on the sick and in another it reads “they will”? Isn’t it because we are growing in Christ, or at least should be?

The simple explanation is that Mk 16:9-20 is not in the Bible. It has been added by a later person, so we get false doctrine mixed with the truth. I would never use these verses as a foundation for any church doctrine or statement of faith. I wouldn’t preach from them either.

5. The Spirit of God gives you power to heal the sick.

clip_image012You stated online:

If you care to believe it; if you have the Spirit of God you have the power in you to heal the sick. That is obvious, but still it might be hard to believe. So we find a Christian confessing a doubt that God can “Really Give The Power to Heal Somebody”, like in the OP. At this point we have a testimony from a Christian who does not yet care to believe God can really give the power to heal somebody. Happily, our faith grows.

There is only the power to heal given as a gift of healing to SOME people. To those people, those they pray for will be healed. We’ll know them by their fruits. Further, you said:

So we have newer Christian’s (sic) that simply have trouble believing God can heal, even though they believe they have the Spirit of God in them and obviously the Spirit of God can heal people. And we also find pastors and elders, who also believe they have the Spirit of God in them and even believe prayer can get things done, but can’t believe God can use them to heal cancer.

Is it that simple? There are other factors influencing the ministry of healing.

5.1 Not enough teaching

My view is that this is because there is too little teaching on God’s view of healing and the gift of healing. More teaching is needed on:

clip_image014 God’s spiritual gift of healing (1 Cor 12:27-31 ERV)

clip_image014[1] The elders anointing the sick with oil (James 5:13-18 ERV)

clip_image014[2] God’s will and his sovereignty in the world and over people.

5.2 False healers

clip_image015(image courtesy dreamtime.com)

We have too many fake healers around us to influence people to become skeptical.

I have a friend who went to a local Pentecostal Church for 3 years. That church laid hands on, anointed with oil, a person with terminal cancer. One person announced and kept affirming he would be healed in an alleged word of knowledge.
The person died of cancer. My friend left that church because of this kind of fake teaching and manifestation.

You stated:

If we are saying that God can’t use people today to heal, how much do we believe in Jesus Christ, when that is exactly what was happening then? Let’s learn our lessons and get on with it.

I don’t think it relates to how much we believe in Jesus Christ but speaks to God’s sovereignty in the giving of gifts. I can assure you I don’t have the gift of healing but people say I demonstrate the gift of teaching. That’s how I understand it as well.

6. Conclusion

We are faced in the modern-day world with manifestations of the alleged gift of healing. It comes mixed with the genuine and the false.

God does not state that everyone who is prayed for will be healed. A wrong verse in the Bible teaches that (Mk 16:18-20).

God does give the gift of healing to some and they will demonstrate that with God healing people. However, that is only one gift of the Spirit.

I consider it is the height of arrogance to claim that God will heal a person when we should pray, ‘According to your will’. When Jesus taught his disciples and us how to pray, he said:

We pray that your kingdom will come—that what you want will be done here on earth, the same as in heaven (Matt 6:10 ERV).

clip_image017 See my article, Does Mark 16:9-20 belong in Scripture?

My conclusion is, ‘No’.

clip_image017[1] Dr. James White admits that 1 John 5 7, Mark 16 9-20 and John 7 53-8 11 ARE FORGERIES

The Last Page of Mark in Codex Vaticanus

This is a hand-made replica of the last page of Codex Vaticanus. The verse-numbers in the margins are not present in the manuscript; I added them for the sake of convenient reference. In Vaticanus the text ends in the middle column, and is followed by an ornamental line and, further down, the subscription “KATA MARKON” (“according to Mark”). The third column is blank….

clip_image019

clip_image020

7. Notes

[1] Christian Forums.net, 11 January 2019. HeIsRisen2018#1. Available at: https://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/can-god-really-give-the-power-to-heal-somebody.78572/ (Accessed 15 January 2019).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#21.

[3] The ERV is the Easy-to-Read Version, Copyright © 2006 by Bible League International. Available at: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+12&version=ERV (Accessed 15 January 2019).

[4] op. cit., Christian Forums.net, K2CHRIST#28. Unless otherwise stated, quotes from her post are indented.

[5] Ibid.

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 January 2019.

clip_image021

Should God heal all Christians who pray for healing?

 

Image result for picture God heals

By Spencer D Gear

Is it the will of God to always heal people when we pray for them?

A Christian friend wrote to me asking for recommendations concerning  a situation in which he was asked to pray for healing for a sick person. My friend was impressed in his heart that instead of praying for healing, that he should trust the Lord for what God was doing through the sickness. When this information was revealed to the person who asked for prayer for healing, my friend was accused of this giving an ‘almost heretical response’. Why? It was because my friend had an inner impression that God had a bigger issue in the sick person’s life than physical healing.

There are dangers with ‘impressions’ because they are subjective and I find it difficult to discern if my friend is hearing from God or if this is a personal view. We know that God gives the gifts of the Spirit that require ‘some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching’ (1 Cor. 14:6 ESV). The safety of the church gathering that enables discernment of the manifestation of gifts is much more suitable than to receive a private impression. However, we do read in passages such as First Chronicles 14:10, 14 where ‘David inquired of God’ (ESV) and received the answer that he should go against the Philistines and God would give them into his hands. On another occasion (1 Chron. 14:14), God’s answer from David’s inquiry was that he was not to attack the Philistines.

Does the Bible teach that during the ministry of Jesus there was no person who wasn’t healed by Jesus? Let’s examine the Scriptures with a few examples, but they are enough to cause us to question the ‘almost heretical’ statement that a person does not believe that God always heals.

A few fundamentals are happening with the ‘almost heretical’ statement that are very different from when Jesus walked this earth and contrary to what we should expect from God when we ask for physical healing.

  • The Scriptures do say on occasions that Jesus did heal all who came to him in verses such as Matt. 8:16; 12:15; and Luke 6:19. But there’s another dimension.
  • On other occasions Jesus healed, not all, but “many” who came to him. See Mark 1:34; 3:10; 6:13.
  • BUT, there were circumstances in which Jesus did not heal people. I’m thinking of Mark 6:4-6:

‘Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith’ (NIV).

  • What about the events like that at the Pool of Bethesda according to John 5:1-9? Verse 3 says that at that pool ‘lay a multitude of invalids-blind, lame and paralyzed’ (ESV) but only one invalid who had been at that Pool for 38 year was healed. The facts are that Jesus did not heal all who were sick in Israel at the time of his life and he didn’t even heal all invalids at the Pool of Bethesda. It is false information to say that Jesus healed all. He clearly didn’t.

People may ask why Jesus didn’t heal all. My understanding is that healings are pointers/signs to God’s greater healing of the human soul through salvation and God’s ultimate healing of the universe that will happen with a new heaven and a new earth at the end of time.

However, I do need to say that I accept the gifts of the Spirit are available for today’s Christians and one of the gifts is the gift of healing (1 Cor. 12:28-29).  We must not overlook the biblical fact that God’s gifts to Christians function according to the “measure of faith” that God has given to believers:

‘For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you’ (Rom. 12:3 NIV).

According to James 5:14-15, the ministry of healing is available through the local church (and it is sadly neglected in most churches) in the anointing of oil by the elders of the church:

‘Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven’ (NIV).

Again, the emphasis is on “the prayer offered in faith” will cause the sick person to be raised up by the Lord.

I do not find any indications that Jesus healed all people. Nor do I find examples in the New Testament where all people were healed whenever there was a prayer for healing. I do find this in James 4:2b-3:

‘You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures’ (NIV).

There are many reasons why we do not receive physical healing when we pray and when others pray for us. The major reason is that God is sovereign and we are puny, fallible human beings who can have the wrong motives.

There is also the further biblical truth that most Christians find hard to bear as stated in James 1:2-4:

‘Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing’ (NASB).

God has a greater plan for our lives than physical healing. The trials of our lives are meant to be considered with an attitude of ‘all joy’ by the Christian because God knows what trials are instrumental in achieving. Difficulties in our lives are are designed for the testing of faith to produce endurance of the faith so that we will be “perfect and complete, lacking nothing” when we face Jesus. This is a hard dose to take for many Christians.

May I say personally that I would not have reached this point of growth in my Christian life if it were not for the many trials of sickness that God has put me through. This has included 3 bouts of rheumatic fever when I was a child, aged 6, 10 and 12, that left me with a leaking mitral valve in the heart. This has resulted in 4 open heart surgeries in my adulthood to replace (3 times) the valve with 3 mechanical ones and one surgery was for a repair around the valve.

As an adult, I have prayed on all four occasions for healing so that I would avoid the surgeries, but God has not chosen to heal me. God has a greater purpose in my life and that is Christian maturity and endurance in my faith.

It is not biblical to demand that God heal others or oneself when you and others pray. Jesus did not do it and there is ample evidence for God’s greater plan of development in Christian maturity.

The demand for God to heal all people can come with a diminished view of what life in the presence of God is all about. For believers, to have a desire to continue to live in this present evil world has some irony about it. Why is not living in the presence of God at death, and living for Him through trials in this life, not the way God plans for all believers?

As I update this article on Saturday, 16 June 2018, I share that on Thursday night last week after I came home from a Bible study, in the semi-darkness I tripped and fell on my side on the concrete floor of the garage. I was so stunned I didn’t know what to do. My medialert did not trigger an SOS as it should do. I eventually pulled myself up and closed the garage door and then it was off to bed.

About 1.30am on Friday morning, I was woken by extreme pain in my left leg. It was so bad I couldn’t stand to walk to the mobile phone to contact our emergency services on 000. I cried out to the Lord for healing of the pain and that no damage was done to my leg.

The pain stopped immediately, for which I praised the Lord with jubilation.

When I visited my Dr this week for an assessment of my leg, all he could say was that it was all clear and I was ‘lucky’ I didn’t have a break or hairline fracture as I also have osteoporosis (brittle bones).

See these related articles:

snowflake-red-smallWere miracles meant to be temporary?” (Jack Deere)

snowflake-red-small St. Augustine: The man who dared to change his mind about divine healing (Spencer Gear)

snowflake-red-small Are there apostles in the 21st century? (Spencer Gear)

snowflake-red-small Are miracles valuable? (Spencer Gear)

’Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer’ (Romans 12:12 NIV).

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date:16 June 2018.

Flower25Flower25Flower25Flower25Flower25Flower25Flower25

Kill yourself if life is meaningless: Dr David Goodall’s dangerous precedent

Image result for photo Dr David Goodall euthanasia public domain

(Dr David Goodall, courtesy www.hit.com.au)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

This is a reply to Peter FitzSimons, ‘David Goodall leads the way with choice we should all get to have’ (Brisbane Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 May 2018).[1]

What a way to start an article! Where are the pro-lifers and fierce opponents of euthanasia?

Peter, we are in the cities, towns and streets across the nation. The mass media generally don’t seek us out to give the reasons why we oppose assisted suicide and euthanasia. Our views don’t get much air-play. They’re not accepted in an Australian culture where people do what is right in their own eyes.

FitzSimons promoted his pro-euthanasia view triumphantly, asking if Dr David Goodall got it right or wrong and whether we are on a slippery slope in our culture.‘David Goodall ended his life at 104 with a final powerful statement on euthanasia’.[2]

If I accept this reasoning, I should have quit counselling suicidal youth and others through 30 years of counselling. Many considered life was pointless and they could be aged 14, 44 or 84.

I should have forgotten about my suicide awareness training programmes. Disregard referring suicidal people to Lifeline (ph 13 11 14) and Beyond Blue (ph 1300 22 4636) for counselling.

Why bother with trying to show there are better alternatives and providing compassionate support in making those decisions? Getting assistance in killing oneself is better! Right?

If they wanted to kill themselves, my advice should have been, ‘Go ahead and do it ASAP. That’s your choice. Good luck!’

Dr Goodall and those who promote assisted suicide set dangerous precedents. They place life and death decisions on the level of everyday choices.

Think of the ramifications!

FitzSimons asked: Where is the problem in any of the Swiss procedures and the way Goodall died?

Many! I will address only four of them:

1.   World views make a world of difference

Worldviews have consequences.

FitzSimons promotes moral relativism. In his words, ‘It’s not your choice (opponents of the right-to-die). It’s our choice (euthanasia supporters)’.

What is a world view?

A world view is a way of viewing or interpreting all of reality…. A world view is really a world and life view. That is, it includes within it value indicators or principles by which one makes value judgments…. One set of world view “glasses” can be exchanged for a different world view. In science this kind of major change is called a “paradigm shift.” In religion it is called a “conversion” (Geisler & Watkins 1984:11-12).

Image result for clipart moral relativismFitzsimons’ reasons to support euthanasia provide an example of the world view of moral relativism in action. Ethical decisions and choices of right and wrong are determined by individuals or group choices in this world view.

2.   The logical consequences of moral relativism

What are the logical consequences of such a view?

Dr Goodall and Exit International consider that euthanasia ‘supports an individual of sound mind’s right to choose and implement a peaceful death at a time of their choosing’.[3]

The late Labor MLC of the NSW upper house, Paul O’Grady, maintained ‘voluntary euthanasia is a question of basic human rights. It is about the right of individuals to choose for themselves the quality of life they want and when they no longer enjoy that quality of life’.[4] Should such a view be applied to people of any age, including teenagers who claim life has no meaning?

The University of Southern Queensland (Toowoomba) published, ‘Business Ethics: boardroom pressures in an age of moral relativism’,[5] affirming this world view in Australia.

Outside of the life/death sphere, history and contemporary experiences tell us that moral relativism has had serious or deadly repercussions, such as paedophilia, terrorism, the Nazi holocaust, Port Arthur massacre, alleged bribery and fraud of the financial sector, mayors unfit for office, cricket ball-tampering, etc.

3.   There is a better way

Some will call this better way a choice because it is not forced on anybody. Australia was built on the moral ethics and government has its foundations in the absolutes of the Judeo-Christian world view.

Why do we need absolute standards of right or wrong in the euthanasia debate? Imagine living in an Australia where murdering anyone either voluntarily or involuntarily was considered right for the country.

We need standards that are beyond fickle human decisions. This does not require us to toe the line of the Judeo-Christian world view. It invites us to participate in upholding the absolute standards of all human beings who are made in the image of God.

So to kill such a person is to take over the sovereign God’s authority in life and death decisions. It is an attack on God’s sovereignty, in the name of human freedom.

John Piper summarised God’s view of life and death and whose right it is to take human life. ‘It seemed to him that in the euthanasia discussion, ‘Human life, which is distinct from all other earthly life in being created in the image of God and designed to exist forever, is the gift of God. And he owns it and may do with it as he please, take it any time he please without wronging anyone, and this is his unique prerogative’.

These verses of Scripture (from the ESV) support that view:

  • 1 Tim 6:13, ‘[He] gives life to all things’.
  • Deut 32:39, ‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god besides me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand’.
  • 1 Sam 2:6, ‘The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up’.
  • James 4:15, ‘Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’.

He gained the understanding from these passages of Scripture ‘that giving and taking life is ultimately God’s right. Human life in its fullest sense is a miracle that only he can create and only he has the right to take, unless he has given the state the right to use the sword in various settings to take life. But as far as medical things are concerned, I think it is clear that God’s rights are at stake here and we dare not intrude on what he alone has the right to do’ (Piper 2016).

Why invoke the commands of the Deity, the Lord God? Put simply, it’s because He tells the truth about life and death decisions. The New Testament use of ‘truth’ not only means the difference between true and false facts, but also that which conforms to reality, as opposed to mere reality.

I recommend this interaction on the need for God and moral absolutes: Ravi Zacharias – Absolute Moral Law & the Existence of God (YouTube).

Read the Scriptures and see the diagnosis of truth (reality) for Australia. They fit like a hand in a glove. You will find the cause of the problems of sin, evil and disease (Genesis 3), the impact on creation and on human beings all around us. From where do crime and violence come? The solution to the moral madness is found through God’s absolute moral standards (10 commandments, Exodus 20; the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7).

TRelated imageThe solution to the human sin dilemma for individuals is found through Jesus Christ’s salvation (John 3:16; Acts 4:12) and the ultimate end of the wretched condition on earth will come at Jesus Christ’s second coming (Acts 1:9-11; Revelation 1:7).

What about the diseases inflicted on human beings, the deformity in vegetation, and animals who suffer?

Chantal Sébire is an example of a beautiful looking French woman who became a picture of gross facial deformity when a cancer from her left eye spread to engulf her face. This could be used as an emotional example to support assisted suicide. However by doing that, I would commit an ‘Argument by Emotive Language’ (see below) and it is false reasoning. Why? It does not provide evidence of the benefits and disadvantages of assisted suicide in any society. I do not provide this example as a reason to promote euthanasia, but it is the type of example used to persuade people and governments to legalise assisted suicide. I oppose such irrational thinking.

Related image(photo courtesy slideplayer.com)

‘Chantal Sébire was a French schoolteacher who developed a rare form of cancer which severely disfigured her eye-sockets and face. She also lost her senses of sight, taste and smell’. She died in 2008 from a drug overdose when the French government would not grant her the right to euthanasia’ (courtesy Ranker).

In the euthanasia debate, the Christian world view lays out the reality of life and death decisions, as opposed to mere appearances. It declares the truth of reality.

That’s not how euthanasia promoter, Philip Nitschke, sees it. He remonstrated with this insulting attack on religious freedom, ‘Just bugger off christian lobby’.[6]

Our nation was built on the Judeo-Christian foundation of the 10 commandments and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. But euthanasia takes life and death decisions and places them in autonomous hands.

Former medical practitioner and now Presbyterian minister, Neil Chambers’ Christian response to euthanasia got to the more foundational issue: ‘Who rules: God or [people]? Who has the right to determine who lives and who dies?’

His assessment rocks the foundations of human freedom: ‘The euthanasia proposals being discussed in Australia and other parts of the world today seek to give to one group of humans—doctors—the right to end human life. They do this without reference to God, or to the circumstances under which God has said human life may be taken’.

They justify the morality of euthanasia by giving human beings ultimate authority and freedom, ‘accountable only to themselves and thus free to do as they wish with their own lives’ (Neil Chambers).[7]

In a Quora forum, Ken Creten gave a typical objection to moral absolutes: ‘I agree with others here that there are no absolute moral values’.[8] What did he do? He created his own absolute in trying to deny absolutes. This new absolute is, ‘There are no absolute moral values’. That is a self-defeating argument.

Where would Australia be if we stuck to God’s sovereign and absolute standards of right and wrong in life and death decisions?

4.   Appeal to the use of emotive language is a fallacy

FitzSimons’ choice to promote euthanasia by an appeal to a 104-year-old scientist who considered life had no meaning, commits an ‘Argument by Emotive Language’.[9]

It is faulty reasoning when he used an emotive example of an aged man euthanised in Switzerland and emotional language such as, ‘So where are you now, you fierce opponents of euthanasia and the right-to-die? How many of you, honestly, can look at the triumphant -you heard me – passing of the 104-year-old … and say that he got it wrong, that society is on a slippery slope, et cetera?’ .

This argument provided no logical reasons to support or reject euthanasia. He replaced reason with emotion to try to win the argument. ‘It is a type of manipulation used in place of valid logic’ (Dr Bo Bennett).[10]

We know from countries with legal euthanasia, no matter the safeguards, they have moved from voluntary to involuntary euthanasia and many cases are not reported in the data.[11]

FitzSimons asked what my choice would be regarding death and my farewell hymn. This article should make that obvious. I have asked my children to sing these songs at my funeral service: ‘How Great Thou Art and ‘I’d Rather Have Jesus’ (Jim Reeves), and ‘What a Day That Will Be’ (Jim Hill, the song’s composer).

Legalising euthanasia in Australia would have ramifications way beyond the apparent ‘goodness’ of such decisions.

See also my articles:

5.   Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Geisler, N L & Watkins, W 1984. Perspectives: Understanding and Evaluating Today’s World Views. San Bernardino, California: Here’s Life, Publishers, Inc.

Piper, J 2016. ‘Ask Pastor John: May Christian Doctors Help Patients Die If the Law Permits? Desiring God’, 10 March. Available at: https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/may-christian-doctors-help-patients-die-if-the-law-permits (Accessed 28 May 2018).

6.   Notes


[1] Available at: https://www.smh.com.au/politics/nsw/david-goodall-leads-the-way-with-choice-we-should-all-get-to-have-20180511-p4zeu4.html (Accessed 25 May 2018).

[2] ABC News, Brisbane Qld, 11 May 2018. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-05-10/david-goodall-ends-life-in-a-powerful-statement-on-euthanasia/9742528 (Accessed 25 May 2018).

[3] Exit International. ‘Our philosophy’, available at: https://exitinternational.net/about-exit/our-philosophy/ (Accessed 25 May 2018).

[4] The Sydney Morning Herald 2015. Paul O’Grady, campaigning politician, dies at 54, 19 January. Available at: https://www.smh.com.au/national/paul-ogrady-campaigning-politician-dies–at-54-20150119-12t9p1.html (Accessed 25 May 2018).

[5] Presented in 2004. Available at: https://eprints.usq.edu.au/1401/1/Eddington_Searle_Temple-Smith_AWBMMD.pdf (Accessed 25 May 2018).

[6] Available at: https://twitter.com/philipnitschke?lang=en (Accessed 25 May 2018).

[7] Neil Chambers 1995. The Image Disaster: Euthanasia and God’s view of human life, The Briefing, 18 July. Available at: http://matthiasmedia.com/briefing/1995/07/the-image-disaster-euthanasia-and-gods-view-of-human-life/#f1 (Accessed 25 May 2018).

[8] Quora. What is an absolute moral standard, and how is it different from a non-absolute one? Available at: https://www.quora.com/What-is-an-absolute-moral-standard-and-how-is-it-different-from-a-non-absolute-one (Accessed 25 May 2018).

[9] Bo Bennett 2018. Argument by Emotive Language. Logically Fallacious. Available at: https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFallacies/45/Argument-by-Emotive-Language (Accessed 25 May 2018).

[10] Bo Bennett 2018. Appeal to Emotion. Logically Fallacious. Available at: https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFallacies/29/Appeal-to-Emotion (Accessed 25 May 2018).

[11] Pereira, J 2011. Legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide: the illusion of safeguards and controls. Current Oncology, April 18(2). Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3070710/ (Accessed 25 May 2018).

 

Copyright © 2018 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 31 May 2018.

Image result for clipart colored horizontal lines public domain

The Fear of God

Image result for clipart Fear of God

By Spencer D Gear PhD

 

‘Bertrand Arthur William Russell (1872–1970) was a British philosopher, logician, essayist and social critic’ (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Bertrand Russell).

Russell, in his lecture on ‘Why I am not a Christian (1927)’. stated:

Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown, and partly … the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing—fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion has (sic) gone hand-in-hand.

(image Bertrand Russell)

If Christianity is based on Russell’s kind of fear that leads to cruelty, it is a country mile from what the Scriptures declare. He’s the biblical evidence.

1.  THE STATE OF THE TRUE BELIEVER (Ps. 112:1)

Blessed are those who fear the LORD”. The truly godly person is one who fears the Lord. This is a radically different relationship than God being your daddy. your mate, or the one who causes cruelty. Some people have told me that when we pray to Abba Father, we are praying to one who is like a daddy or mate.

If you are ever going to be blessed, you must be one who fears the Lord. What does it mean to “fear the Lord.” This verse provides a window of understanding

1.1 Isaiah 8:13

“The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread” (NIV).

When we fear people it is very different from the fear of God.

When we fear people, we fear their power to hurt us:

  • hurt our reputation,
  • damage our property,
  • hurt those we love,
  • hurt us physically if they are more powerful,
  • we may fear the power of the government over us to tax us, punish us when we break the law, take away our freedom, etc.

On the human level, we may have sound reasons for a healthy fear of people and government

Jesus said to Pilate: “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:10).

Human beings are absolutely powerless against God. God can shatter any plans they have against you. God could strike them dead at any moment. How many people died in the 26 December 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean? ‘The tsunami killed at least 225,000 people across a dozen countries, with Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Maldives, and Thailand sustaining massive damage (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

Fear of human beings may cause us to do many things, even ungodly things.

The fear of human beings is condemned in Scripture. This is but one example, I Peter 3:13-16 (NIV): “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. `Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.’”

Returning to Isa. 8:13, “The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy.” In contrast to the fear of human beings, the fear of God, according to Isa. 8:13, is based on two convictions:

2. He is “the Lord Almighty.” We fear him because of his power.

Never forget this: Human beings can only injure you as far as temporal things are concerned. The most human beings can do to you is “kill your body.” God’s powers go beyond the grave.

As Jesus put it: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

We fear him because of his might.

2.1  Isa. 8:13 emphases

  • We fear God because of His absolute holiness.

“The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy.”

a. What does “holy” mean?

(based on Sproul 1992, chs. 16, 17)

We mostly think of the purity and righteousness of God, but that is not the primary meaning of holiness. It is more than a moral or ethical quality.

b. Holy has two distinct meanings:

(1) Its primary meaning is: “apartness” or “otherness.”

“Holy” comes from an old word that meant “to cut” or “to separate.” To put it into contemporary language, we could say He is “a cut above something.”

When we say that God is holy we are saying, by nature, there is a profound difference between God and all creatures. We understand . . .

(a) God’s transcendent majesty;

(b) His absolute superiority;

(c) Therefore, He is worthy of our:

  • Honour
  • reverence or fear
  • adoration
  • worship

He is completely “other.” He is different from us in his glory–radically different. R. C. Sproul put it succinctly:

“When the Bible calls God holy it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be `other,’ to be different in a special way” (Sproul 1985, pp. 54-55).

When the angels were calling to one another in Isa. 6:3, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory,” they were not saying primarily “pure, pure, pure is the Lord Almighty,” but “wholly other, transcendent One, absolutely superior, is the Lord Almighty.”

(2) The secondary meaning of holy relates to God’s pure and righteous actions.

God does what is correct. He never does what is wrong. He doesn’t have a sinful nature to tempt him to evil. God always acts in a righteous way because his nature is holy. We find that difficult to comprehend–somebody who is absolutely just and correct in everything he does. But that’s our God.

Thanks to God revealing himself through the Bible, we know and can say that:

  • internally (by nature), God is righteous. Therefore,
  • externally, his actions are righteous.

Because God is holy, He is both great and good. There is no evil mixed with His goodness.

Why then, according to Isa. 8:13 are we to “fear” or “dread” this Lord?

This is the God of the universe who reveals Himself through the Bible and through creation. The Scriptures tell us this about God: “How awesome is the Lord Most High, the great King over all the earth” (Ps. 47:2).

2.2 How do some human beings respond to God?

Politicians may legislate the killing of human beings through voluntary, active euthanasia, through abortion, but it is the Lord Most High who is King over all the earth. He is the one who judges individuals and nations. Australians may think they can thumb their noses at almighty God, but God’s law is absolute. We are finally accountable to this awesome God. The superior, transcendent One.

This is what John Lennon thought of God versus his prominence as one of the Fab Four, the Beatles:

John Lennon quote adapted by BrianMc, myway2fortune.info

John Lennon (1940-1980) did say in 1966, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that. I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first – rock n’ roll or Christianity.” Fourteen years later, Lennon was shot dead by Mark David Chapman in New York City on December 8, 1980.

The American teen magazine “Datebook” reprinted the “We’re more popular than Jesus” interview which caused a stir of protests and a rash of Beatle record and memorabilia burnings on the streets in the US. Beatles manager, Brian Epstein released a statement saying that the words of John Lennon had been taken out of context and while in Chicago Lennon and the Beatles called a press conference and apologized to the world for his comment (Truth or Fiction 2015).

When the Israelites were driving out the Canaanites from the Promised Land, the Bible says:

  • “Do not be terrified by them, for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God” (Deut. 7:21);
  • Again in Deuteronomy: “The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow. . . Fear the Lord your God and serve Him” (Deut. 10:17-20).

When Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead in judgment because they lied to God (they trampled on the holy), Acts 5:11 says, “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.”

3. What does it mean to fear God?

Caleb Rosado summarises it pointedly:

“It means … to quake or tremble in the presence of a Being so holy, so morally superior, so removed from evil, that in his presence, human boasting, human pride, human arrogance vanish as we bow in speechless humility, reverence, and adoration of the One beyond understanding” (Rosado 1994, p. 24).

Works consulted

Rosado, C 1994, “America the Brutal,” Christianity Today, August 15. Available at: http://www.rosado.net/articles-brutal.html (Accessed 18 March 2018).

Sproul, R. C. 1985, The Holiness of God. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Sproul, R. C. 1992, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

 

[from my article, ‘Blessings through the fear of God’]

 

Copyright © 2018 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 24 May 2018.

Image result for clipart free horizontal lines

 

Dangerous church trend: Subjective spiritual knowledge

https://i0.wp.com/veritas.kr/files/fckeditor/image/kimhubyoung/africa_2013.jpg?w=625

(photo courtesy veritas.kr)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

The Pentecostal-Charismatic movement has brought many positive dimensions into the church, one of the chief being the teaching on every-member gifts to the church gathering or small groups. See my articles that deal with some of these issues:

clip_image001 Does the superiority of New Testament revelation exclude the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit? Is cessationism biblical?

clip_image001[1] Spiritual gifts sign of Christian maturity

clip_image001[2] Tongues and the Baptism with the Holy Spirit

clip_image001[3] Is the spiritual gift of tongues ‘gibberish’?

clip_image001[4] St. Augustine: The leading Church Father who dared to change his mind about divine healing

However, there is….

1. A BIG negative of Pentecostalism

One of the most devastating influences on the church from Pentecostal-charismatic theology has been the subjectivism and esoteric knowledge that has replaced sound interpretation of the biblical text and solid exposition of Scripture. I encounter it in a growth group led by a Pentecostal and in posts on the Internet. Let’s examine a few examples from Christian forums on the Internet.

I came across a group of Christians who wanted to use types and shadows from the OT to present their subjective opinions of the meaning of these types and shadows. I began this thread,

2. Old Testament types and shadows need New Testament support[1]

Trees With Late Afternoon Shadows(photo courtesy publicdomainpictures.net)

 

A person claimed that these OT words were direct references to Christ and not types or shadows? The words to which he referred were LORD (YHWH), LORD God (Yahweh Elohim), God (Elohim) and Almighty (El Shaddai).[2]

Is it true that we need to go beneath the surface of a word or statement to gain a true understanding of the meaning? Is Noah’s Ark a type of Christ? See 1 Peter 3:20-22 (NIV).

I raised some biblical examples of types from the OT that are affirmed as types in the NT:

clip_image003 John 5:45-46 (NIV), ‘But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me’.

clip_image003[1] Rom 5:14 (NIV), ‘Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern [tupos = type] of the one to come’.

clip_image003[2] In I Corinthians 10:11 (NIV) Paul spoke of the OT patriarchs, ‘These things happened to them as examples [tupikos = typically] and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come’.

clip_image003[3] Colossians 2:17 (NIV) ‘These [laws] are a shadow [skia] of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ’.

clip_image003[4] Heb 10:1 (NIV), ‘The law is only a shadow [skia] of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship’.

We are told in 1 Cor 10:4 (ESV) that ‘all drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, the Rock was Christ’. To which rock is Paul referring in the OT? We know that there are two Meribah incidents involving the rock (e.g. Ex 17:6-7 ESV; Num 20:10-13 ESV) that were about 40 years apart. The first one was at Horeb, Mt Sinai, which was near the start of their wandering in the wilderness. The last one happened at Kadesh which was as they were about to enter the Promised Land.

Matthew 16:16-18 (ESV) and 1 Pet 2:4-8 (ESV) confirm Jesus as the Rock and the 1 Peter 2:6-8 example cites various passages from the OT to lend support for the statements. In 1 Cor 10:1-7a (ESV), Paul tells us:

For I want you to know, brothers [and sisters] that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were….

The issue I am raising is: Do Christians have the right to create their own understanding of what is a type or shadow from the OT that is fulfilled in the NT or do we need the NT’s confirmation that it is a type or shadow? To me, the latter seems to be the biblical means of identification.

How can we confirm that YHWH, Yahweh Elohim, Elohim, and El Shaddai are references to Christ in reality and not in type or shadow? What’s the biblical evidence?

3. New Testament confirmation needed of types

What kinds of responses do you think the above statement would engender?

clip_image005’I agree there must be relevance to Jesus in the names used, but we read in 1 Cor 10:11, Now all these things (Judgments?) happened unto them for ensamples (analogies): and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
As a type or description of Jesus I read the word “Image,” and that being other than spirit we read of in Col 1:15.
Isa 43:3 For I am the LORD (Jehovah) thy God, the Holy One of Israel (Jesus?), thy Saviour (Jesus?).
Isa 43:11 I, even I, am the LORD (Jehovah); and beside me there is no savior (Jesus)?
In power Jesus is described as the almighty in Rev 1:8 during His reign.
He is the last Adam in 1 Cor 15:45.
Other OT references are in Isa 9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.[3]

My response was:[4] Apart from 1 Cor 10 (ESV), I don’t think you are giving examples of types or shadows in the OT that are fulfilled in the NT, as demonstrated by NT statements.

In that other thread, we had people using Adam and Eve as types and shadows. My question is: Is it legitimate for Christians to make up, create, decide their own opinion on what is a type or shadow of Christ or some other theology – without the NT confirming that such is a type or shadow?

I’m not discussing the fulfilment of OT prophecy as in the example you gave from Isa 9:6 (ESV), which is fulfilled according to Luke 2:11 (ESV). My discussion is about types and shadows that Christians want to push from the OT, but with no confirmation of such in the NT.

Eugene’s response was: ‘Can you give an example? I may also be guilty of that, although I don’t always attempt to prove the OT with proof from the NT’.[5]

3.1 Example of New Testament application

There are at least 4 different interpretations of 1 Cor 10:3,[6] ‘And did all eat the same spiritual meat’. This is not the place to discuss these. They are articulated by Charles Hodge in A Commentary on 1 & 2 Corinthians (Edinburgh/Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), pp. 172-174. See HERE.

We see Israel’s example in 1 Cor 10:1-5 (NIV) and that example applied by giving a warning against idolatry (1 Cor 10:6-13 NIV).

In vv 1-5, it is a powerful type with the language of ‘our fathers’ and their form of ‘baptism’ and the ‘Eucharist’. It prefigured our baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
What was the purpose of the type given from the OT and articulated in 1 Cor 10:1-5 (NIV)? It continues with some of the events in Exodus to warn the Corinthians (vv 6, 11-12). These Corinthians enjoyed blessings like those of Israel but the Corinthians were in danger of losing those blessings because of their idolatry: ‘Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters….’ (1 Cor 10:6-7a NIV).

These things in Exodus happened to be ‘examples’ to the Corinthians ‘so, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall’ (1 Cor 10:12 NIV).

That’s my understanding of this type. But it is important to realise that it is only a type or shadow because it is specifically mentioned as such in the NT. We are not left to speculate that types and shadows are on nearly every page of the OT. That isn’t true.

Yes, there are types and shadows that are mentioned in the NT that draw attention to examples from the OT, but the NT has to mention them as examples to make them types.

3.2 You limit us too much. Be free to encounter Jesus in other ways

clip_image005[1]This one came out of left field, but it demonstrates the spiritual subjectivism of some people. I don’t know if this person has any Pentecostal leanings. She wrote:

I don’t think we should use only those types and foreshadows that are permitted to us because they’re mentioned in the N.T. as such. Doesn’t this limit us too much? Am I not free to encounter Jesus wherever I might find Him?
The entire bible was written to show God’s relationship to Man. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of that relationship. I see Him all over the O.T., as one poster said from the other thread. Can I not discern the bible spiritually also? Must it always be using intellectual knowledge? Most people don’t know as much as you do and so this question never even arises.
So is the prophetic scripture and the fulfillment scripture not valid unless one of the N.T. writers speaks of it as such? I am trying to understand you better. When I open up my bible, am I entering into a classroom?
Could it be that ALL must be said or it is not valid? Was EVERYTHING written down? John 21:25
1 Corinthians 10:3
All ate the same manna. Jesus is the new manna which does not rot after one day but lasts forever. We must, even today, all eat the same manna.
Manna = Spiritual food.
Jesus is the new manna.
Jesus is our spiritual food.
Now very learned persons will have 3 other meanings for this scripture.
But most of us are not learned and will be satisfied with the above.
I mean, how much do you want us to know??[7]

That one did press my theological buttons, so I came back with,[8]

3.3 Individualistic interpretations

If there is no NT confirmation, then the alleged OT types become no more than individualistic interpretations with no more weight than a person’s assertions or experiences.

Now to some points (not comprehensive) from this person’s post:

  1. ‘I don’t think we should use only those types and foreshadows that are permitted to us because they’re mentioned in the N.T. as such. Doesn’t this limit us too much? Am I not free to encounter Jesus wherever I might find Him?‘ If you invent the types and shadows, that amounts to postmodernism in action. There is no hermeneutical way of countering anyone who comes to this forum and says, ‘Jesus told me X, Y, Z’ and it is not endorsed by Scripture. There are droves of people in my region who have existential experiences of ‘mystery’ that are a country mile from biblical fidelity. I have no way of knowing whether the postmodern, existential interpretation is for real unless I have my thoughts firmly planted in the revealed Scripture. In fact, I have no Gospel to proclaim unless it is biblically based. If I am free to encounter Jesus wherever I have a new revelation of him, are you going to extend that same ‘Jesus encounter’ privilege to the Mormon in the Temple or the New Age practitioner in an occult group?
  2. ‘Can I not discern the bible spiritually also? Must it always be using intellectual knowledge? Most people don’t know as much as you do and so this question never even arises’. That kind of demeaning put down is totally unnecessary on an evangelical Christian forum. If it were not for people with knowledge of the original languages, you wouldn’t even have a Bible you can read in English.
  3. One more, ‘The entire bible was written to show God’s relationship to Man’, you say. Try telling that to the Amalekites who were slaughtered by Saul, ‘Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys’ (1 Sam 15:3 NIV).

There are many other red herrings that this person raised in her post that are unrelated to the topic of my original post.

3.4 Postmodern reader-response

clip_image005[2] An earlier poster came again with input:[9]

Stating that many Christians today create their own understanding of shadows and types I think is the product of precept upon precept, and line upon line as we grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord. Over the years I’ve changed certain views; some due to experience, and at other times maturing in the word of God.
I’ll just give one example how I’ve use (sic) the striking the Rock instead of speaking to it. At first Moses was instructed to strike the Rock, and that to me was a type of the crucifixion of our Lord in Exodus 17: 5-6.

Next I read in Num 20:8 that Moses was to speak to the Rock, but he struck the Rock twice, and God said to him in Num 20:12, And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.
Here there was evident consequence, and we read in Deut 32:50, And die in the mount whither thou goest up, and be gathered unto thy people; as Aaron thy brother died in mount Hor, and was gathered unto his people:
Deut 32:51 Because ye trespassed against me among the children of Israel at the waters of Meribah-Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin; because ye sanctified me not in the midst of the children of Israel.

Now how could or would I use this as a type pertaining to Christendom? We read of a sin that is unto death in Rom 6:16, Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? Did Moses die as the result of his unbelief? Of course, but do any think he went to hell; we see Jesus with Elias and Moses on what has become known as the mount of transfiguration in Mt 17:4. As an example of things, 1 Cor 10:11 Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition (or warnings), upon whom the ends of the world are come. Could lying [to] the Holy Spirit be justification for such judgment such as that of Ananias & Sapphira of Acts 5:1? I think so.

Image result for clipart reader-response public domain(image courtesy clker.com)

 

My reply was:[10] Have you ever heard of postmodern reader-response criticism? Do you know what it means?

For a brief mention of its meaning, see D A Carson & Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, pp 61, 62, 66 (online). How do you think your comments here fit with reader-response criticism?

His reply was interesting and revealed some lack of knowledge of the content of the link I gave:

I had no idea that my discussion to a question was a criticism rather than tossing some ideas around concerning types and shadows portrayed in scripture.
Having read the excerpt of Post Modern Reader-Response Error Theology, it seems to suggest there is no right or wrong leading me to wonder at God’s purpose in having the Bible written.[11]

How should I reply? Here goes:[12]

It seems that you are misunderstanding the theory and practice of postmodern reader-response criticism in your own writing. What you did in #10 was give us a string of verses that were interpreted as Eugene’s postmodern reader-response theology.

So, prior to my giving you the link to reader-response theory, it seems that you did not have an understanding of what you have done with these verses at #10.

Reader-response errors happen when a reader accepts that the writer of any document does not determine its meaning but that the reader’s understanding and response are what matters, i.e. the reader’s meaning is the meaning of the text. That seems to be what you have done with the verses you gave in #10.

This is such a serious error infiltrating the Christian church that Kevin Vanhoozer has addressed it in an entire book, Is There a Meaning in This Text? (Zondervan 2009)

Do you think you would read the local newspaper like you did the verses you gave in #10?

9780310324690(image courtesy Zondervan)

 

Now the discussion progresses to:

3.5 The Holy Spirit fills in the blanks

Could you imagine that spiritual individualism and Holy Spirit magic would deteriorate to this point. A fellow wrote,

clip_image005[3]‘We don’t need everything written when we have the Holy Spirit to fill in the blanks’.[13]

That’s like a red rag to me as a theologian and apologist, so I responded:

Subjectivism, whether by the Spirit or any other measure, is very difficult to discern because of the variation from person to person. ‘The Spirit filled in the blanks for me’ is in competition with ‘The Spirit filled in the blanks for you’, the Mormon, the occult practitioner, and the information provided may be very different for the same topic. Subjectivism, whether spiritual or humanistic, is a poor measure of competent content of revelation.[14]

3.6 Multi-faceted wisdom

clip_image005[4]Another said, ‘That’s why it’s called “multi faceted” wisdom, because the truth that is found in wisdom, is like a diamond or precious stone and is relevant as God sees each circumstance’.[15]

The rag for the apologist’s bull is getting redder and more worn from over-use:[16]

That’s why it is called subjectivism and/or Gnosticism as it is impossible to obtain objective information from that ‘revelation’. Your subjective revelation has no more impact than another believer’s or a Gnostic’s insight of esoteric knowledge. I understand this person is using ‘multi faceted wisdom’ as esoteric knowledge, which means:

“Esoteric” refers to insight or understanding of inner (Greek: eso-) or spiritual or metaphysical realities, or a specific teaching or spiritual practice or path or “wisdom tradition” that is based on a mystical interpretation of spirituality, rather than a religious or slavish following of the outer words of scriptures, or pertains to transpersonal or transcendent states of existence. In contrast exoteric knowledge is knowledge that is well-known or public, and does not require any such transformation of consciousness (Kazlev 2016).

This definition of ‘esoteric’ comes from Kazlev who is involved in analysing the philosophy of Ken Wilber and his ‘psychology and spirituality (though many have disapproved of his endorsement of controversial gurus, such as Adi Da[17] and Andrew Cohen[18])’ (Kazlev 2016).

It seems to me that these Christians on Christian forums who are advocating ‘multi faceted’ wisdom and deeper meaning revelation, are following a parallel path with these mystical gurus or postmodern, reader-response advocates. It is a dangerous, subjective and mystical experience that is outside of Scripture and runs the risk of contradicting Scripture.

3.7 Do we need NT confirmation for a type or shadow?

That’s the question I asked for this forum thread? This was one retort:

clip_image005[5]‘Only if you want to impress it upon someone as undeniable fact. Otherwise you can only share it using your best efforts of honest debate you can muster and leave the rest to God’.[19]

How should I counter?[20] Here goes!

That makes you a supporter of subjective interpretation and reader-response ideology. It also makes you a sitting duck for any kind of hermeneutic that comes along and wants to dethrone your reader-response. It makes no fixed interpretation possible.

Try that approach with your next electricity bill, a letter from a lawyer, or reading a local newspaper. Creating your own reality in reader-response theology or esoteric revelation amounts to Gnosticism in action in the 21st century.

That approach makes Jesus a moving target of any kind of interpretation. If you don’t believe me, take a read of John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity (1998).

What is reader-response theory?

Reader response is a school of literary criticism that ignores both the author and the text’s contents, confining analysis to the reader’s experience when reading a particular work. Reader response theorists are particularly concerned with the traditional teaching approaches that imply that a work of literature has a particular interpretation. According to Louise Rosenblatt, one of the primary figures in reader response, all reading is a transaction between the reader and writer (as represented by an immutable text). She further posits that the “stance” of the reader, either “aesthetic” (reading by choice or for pleasure) or “efferent”(reading by assignment or because one has to), has a major influence on the textual experience (source Chegg).

In Christian scholar, Kevin Vanhoozer’s, words, ‘Reader response criticism stresses the incompleteness of the text until it is constructed (or deconstructed) by the reader…. Meaning is the product of the interaction between text and reader (e.g. the “two horizons”)’. The more radical reader-response practitioners such as Stanley Fish and Jacques Derrida agree that ‘there is no such thing as “disinterested,” that is, innocent or objective reading. All reading is ideological and guided by certain interests’ (Vanhoozer 1998:27-28).

This fellow came back with this response:[21]

3.8 No fixed interpretation with plain words of the Bible

clip_image005[5]It makes no fixed interpretation possible in regard to hard and fast and plain words of the Bible. That’s all. That hardly means it can’t possibly be true.

That’s not a good argument to make [about the example of the electricity bill].

No one is suggesting that personal interpretation – meaning that interpretation isn’t spelled out in the Bible word for word – can somehow be inconsistent with what is written in the Bible. Perhaps that is the big mistake you are making about this. This isn’t about saying your electric bill is $30.00 when it plainly says it’s $150.00 on the written bill.

What is being defended in this thread fails to meet the criteria for this being a matter of ‘Reader Response’:

1. Personal interpretation does not ignore the author of the Bible and the context, nor content, of the Bible. One of the rules of personal spiritual revelation not spelled out in scripture is that it can not contradict what the Bible already says.

2. Personal interpretation is not about ‘confining analysis to the reader’s experience’ because it does not consist of analysis confined only to the reader, and is not based on an experience other than the experience of spiritual revelation itself. It’s not about having experiences, and an analysis of spiritual matters that contradict what the Bible does say about a particular subject.

3. The spiritual interpretation that is being defended here is exactly the opposite of being “concerned with the traditional teaching approaches that imply a work…has a particular interpretation”. Because it is open to a greater spiritual depth and insight and understanding of scripture it sometimes grates against the traditional interpretation of scripture (i.e. 1 Corinthians 3:8-15 NASB. Not a terribly good example because so much of the non-traditional interpretation of that passage is directly supported by the Bible).

This promotion of reader-response, subjectivism became more obvious in that post, so I responded:[22]

And that’s the problem. If there are no hard and fast rules for the plain words of John 3:16 (ESV), then you have postmodern reader-response Gnosticism in action. It leads to hermeneutical shipwrecks. If there were not hard, fast and plain meanings to words of the Bible (and to any other writing), what you and I write on CFnet would not be understood. I think you are whistling in the wind of subjective vagueness.

It is a good argument to make [analogy with an electricity bill] because personal, subjective interpretation, is a bummer when it comes to understanding the meaning of your electricity bill. You must read it literally to obtain its plain meaning. There is no other means of interpretation of your electricity bill and it is a fixed interpretation. Esoteric, deeper knowledge ideology will not work.

He also asked if Joseph (OT) was a shadow and type of Christ. My reply was that, as I’ve stated a few times in this thread, an OT person or incident is not a type or shadow unless it is confirmed in the NT as such. Some see the OT story of Joseph (Gen 37-45) as a type of Christ because of Joseph’s humiliation and glorification that could be compared with Jesus’ passion and resurrection. However, the NT does NOT confirm that the OT Joseph is a type of Christ. Joseph’s story is an illustration with a parallel with Jesus – but it is NOT a type or shadow because the NT does not confirm it as such.

As to personal interpretation not ignoring the author, context, etc., I wrote: That might be what you see, but in this thread I’ve seen too many personal interpretations that were subjective impositions on the biblical data. So you say that a rule of personal spiritual revelation (not revealed in the Bible) must not contradict the Bible. That’s your own personal opinion and it is open to contradiction by another personal interpretation. You are building your interpretation on the slippery sands of personal revelation.

As to his point #3, I wrote: That’s subjective Gnosticism in action and it is what the church apologists had to battle in the first few centuries of the church’s existence. Seems like it is alive and well in your posts.

He didn’t seem to like this labelling of subjective Gnosticism, so gave his deconstruction:[23]

I think what you really mean to say is the idea of esoteric knowledge upon which Gnosticism relied seems alive and well in my posts.
If being able to discern things by the Spirit of God that others can’t, or aren’t yet able to discern, is considered esoteric knowledge, then yes, that broad definition and application of esoteric knowledge is alive and well in my posts. That is the very foundation of teaching. I guess your problem is that you feel that is not allowed.
“we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood…” (1 Corinthians 2:6-8 NASB)
By pure definition, if that isn’t esoteric knowledge, then nothing is.
All I’m saying is, it is allowed as long as it does not contradict, or can not be reconciled with what we already know to be true in the Bible. In Paul’s case, his esoteric knowledge did not contradict, or not reconcile with the scriptures of his day, what we call the OT.
The use of Paul’s esoteric knowledge to teach spiritual truth shows us it’s okay to say that Joseph, for example, is a type and shadow of Christ. Does Christianity and the truth of God come crashing down in a worthless heap if, technically, God did not say it’s a type and shadow of Christ? Of course not. You’re tossing out all privilege of personal interpretation and suggestion and it’s value in spiritual education just because there certainly are those who would abuse it. Yours is a misguided, contentious argument. What you should be arguing against is not esoteric knowledge, but esoteric knowledge that has no basis or support in scripture.

Esoteric knowledge in 1 Cor 2:6-8 when it speaks of ‘God’s wisdom in a mystery’?? I replied[24] Where does the Bible provide an exposition of the need for and the meaning of ‘esoteric knowledge’?

Another definition of esotericism is: ‘Esoteric: known or knowable only to initiates; secret or mysterious knowledge; cryptic; hidden; concealed; clandestine, cover’ (source).

1 Corinthians 2:6-8 NASB is hardly an explanation to cover this meaning of esoteric knowledge in the secular world or in a biblical worldview.

3.9 The shifting sands of ‘biblical discernment’

clip_image005[6]Another person entered the discussion:

This is supported [Adam & Eve as types] by the NT (see Ephesians 5 and other passages). Ideally, we should have NT corroboration, but that may not always be found, yet the interpretation will not be in violation of Scripture. There are things which can be spiritually discerned.[25]

I do not find a word in Ephesians 5 that supports what I asked: ‘In that other thread, we had people using Adam and Eve as types and shadows’.[26]

4. The plot thickens: ‘Esoteric knowledge’ enters

I’ve already mentioned this promotion by one person of 1 Cor 2:6-8 in support of esoteric knowledge endorsed by Scripture – so he said. It is necessary to respond.

4.1 What ‘secret wisdom’ is not[27]

Image result for esoteric public domain (image courtesy esotericonline.net, public domain)

 

This person seemed to have missed the meaning of the Greek musterion (mystery) used in 1 Cor 2:7. Paul confronts his Corinthian opponents with the message of the cross (1 Cor 1:26ff) as he is dealing with ‘the mystery cults and gnosticism [that] are directly dealt with’. Wherever musterion appears in the NT it is found in association with verbs that denote revelation or proclamation. ‘It is a present-day secret, not some isolated fact from the past which merely needs to be noted, but something dynamic and compelling. This is vividly expressed in Col. By his office the apostle “fulfills” (Col. 1:26) “the mystery of Christ” (4:3), i.e. by bearing in his own body that which is still lacking in the afflictions of Christ (1:24), he gives practical expression to the “mystery” and carries it on towards its final consummation’ (Brown 1978:504).

It is not esoteric knowledge (he needs to note the difference in meaning between knowledge and wisdom). It is wisdom that was previously hidden that God has revealed – in 1 Cor what is revealed is ‘the message/word of the cross’ (1 Cor 1:18).

Leading evangelical Greek scholar, Dr Gordon D Fee, does not agree with this person in his exegesis of 1 Cor 2:6-8 (he uses the NIV). In his exegetical commentary on 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (partially available online pp 102-106). He states this about the wisdom of God in 1 Cor 2:7-8:

Vv 7-8  In these verses Paul elaborates the two sides of v. 6. V. 7 explains the nature of God’s wisdom that made it impossible for the wise of this age to grasp it; v. 8 repeats the failure of the “rulers” in terms of their responsibility for the crucifixion.

He begins with a sharp contrast to the negative side of v. 6. “No,” he says, “we speak God’s wisdom,” which he immediately qualifies in four ways. The first three describe its nature, so as to distinguish it from the wisdom of this age. First, it is wisdom “in mystery” (NIV, “secret wisdom”).[28] One cannot be certain whether this phrase modifies “wisdom” as an adjective (hence the NIV’s “secret wisdom”) or the verb “we speak” as an adverb. The former seems preferable. God’s wisdom is not some inaccessible teaching, spoken in secret. As Paul will develop more fully in Colossians and Ephesians [see Col. 1:26-27; 2:2: 4:3; Eph. 1:9; 3:3, 4, 9: 6:19], in the singular the term “mystery” ordinarily refers to something formerly hidden in God from all human eyes but how revealed in history through Christ and made understandable to his people through the Spirit. The seeds of this idea are sown here for the first time in Paul; in particular it embraces the paradox of the crucifixion of “the Lord of glory” (v. 8).

Second, and to clarify the phrase “in mystery,” God’s wisdom – salvation through a crucified Messiah – “has been hidden.” The perfect tense, plus the phrase that follows (“before time began”), indicates that such wisdom has been hidden in God from eternity until such a time (“now”) as he was ready to reveal it. What follows in v. 8 suggests further that God’s “secret” remains hidden from the “rulers, ” the representatives of the “wise” of this age.

Third, God’s secret wisdom, long hidden – and still hidden to some – was “destined” by God himself “for our glory before time began.” This is the clause that begins to clarify both the content of “wisdom” and the identity of the “mature” in v. 6. The verb “destined” is an intensified form of the ordinary verb for “determining.” The emphasis lies on “deciding upon beforehand” (BAGD);[29] therefore, to “predestine.” As in [1 Cor] 1:1, God’s call is the expression of his prior will, which in this case is further intensified by the phrase “before time began” (lit. “before the ages”). What God determined “before the ages” has been worked out in the present age, which is being brought to its conclusion as the final glorious age has dawned and is awaiting its consummation – “for our glory.” What has been predestined technically is God’s wisdom; the larger context indicates that Paul has in view God’s gracious activity in Christ, whereby through the crucifixion he determined eternal salvation for his people – including especially the Corinthian believers. Just as God chose the foolish and weak for salvation and thereby “shamed” the wise and powerful, who are being brought to nothing (1:26-28), so now Paul repeats that God “destined” his people for glory (not shame), and has done so in contrast to the rulers of this age who are “coming to nothing.” “For our glory” is eschatological language, referring to the final goal of salvation, namely that God’s people should share in his own glory. Hence the crucified one is in this context also called “the Lord of glory” (v. 8).

Fourth (v. 8a), God’s wisdom is something that “none of the rulers of this age understood.” With this clause Paul elaborates the negative side of v. 6, but now in light of the preceding description of God’s wisdom. The reason for their failure is that it was “hidden in God” and could only be grasped by revelation of the Spirit (v. 10). The reason for repeating the idea seems twofold: first, to reestablish the contrast between “us” and “them” that is crucial to his argument; and second, to confirm their part in the historical event itself, which both demonstrated their “ignorance” of God’s ways and implicated them in the carrying out of his plan. What they did not understand was the nature of true wisdom – God’s wisdom, as spelled out in 1:18-2:5 – which stands in contradiction to human understanding; and because they were thus “ignorant” they did what human “wisdom” demanded – they crucified the one who for them was one more messianic pretender. Thus the divine irony: The very ones who were trying to do away with Jesus by crucifying him were in fact carrying out God’s prior will – “destined for our glory before time began.” Instead of crucifying a messianic pretender, they killed “the Lord of glory” himself, the one who, as Lord of all the ages, is therefore Lord of the final glory that is both his and his people’s ultimate destiny. The Pauline irony, of course, is that the Corinthians in pursuing sophia [i.e. wisdom] are pursuing what belongs to this age, which is passing away and whose rulers were implicated in the divine irony (Fee 1987:104-107, italics emphasis in original; bold emphasis added).

4.2 How to interpret Scripture

To assist with the interpretation of Scripture and any other piece of literature, see my articles:

clip_image007 What is literal interpretation?

clip_image007[1] What is the meaning of the literal interpretation of the Bible?

clip_image007[2] Isn’t it obvious what a literal interpretation of Scripture means?

clip_image007[3] Does God have a physical body?

5. Conclusion

The Pentecostal-charismatic movement, in its emphasis on the Holy Spirit, has rightly pursued the biblical mandate to ‘follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy’ (1 Cor 14:1 NIV). However this movement has introduced a down side.

That negativity is related to the subjective, Gnostic type of knowledge that entered Christian circles through existential experiences of the Holy Spirit. This article has attempted to show through posts on a Christian forum how Holy Spirit encounters, even to the point of thinking this is receipt of esoteric knowledge, has derailed the Holy Spirit’s ministry. The result can lead to Gnostic error.

Image result for Gnosticism image public domain(image courtesy gnosticteachings.org)

 

I suggest that the New Gnosticism is alive and well on this Christian forum. Part of Michael Horton’s assessment is:

Both liberals and evangelicals disdain doctrine for personal experience, and objective truth for personal transformation, and in this sense, each is, in its own way, Gnostic. The anti-intellectualism is understandable, according to Lee. “If God is immanent, present within our psyche, if we already have the truth within, then why go through all the hassle of studying theology?” [Lee 1987:111]. Isn’t this precisely the point of the division many of us grew up with between head knowledge and heart knowledge? The former is intellectual, the latter spiritual – that is, gnosis….

Pentecostalism represents an even greater dependence on Gnostic tendencies…. The outer edges of Pentecostalism are especially blatant in Gnostic emphases, as a number of works have shown, including The Agony of Deceit.[30] Salvation is knowledge – “Revelation Knowledge” (Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, Paul Crouch and other “faith teachers” use the upper case to distinguish this from mere written revelation). The Word that truly saves is not the written text of Scripture, proclaiming Christ the Redeemer, but is rather the “Rhema” Word that is spoken directly to the spirit by God’s Spirit (Horton 2016).

If spiritual insight is used as an interpretive measure and esoteric knowledge is permitted as a means of gaining a biblical understanding of the text, then expect pooled ignorance to infiltrate the church. My series of interactions on this topic have demonstrated that ‘no fixed meaning’, ‘esoteric knowledge’, and ‘my understanding’ can derail biblical interpretation.

The New Gnosticism is with us and the landscape does not look pretty. There is a heightened need for apologists and theologians to be involved in addressing this heresy that is invading the church.

6.  Works consulted

Brown, C (gen ed) 1978. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol 3. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Crossan, J D 1998. The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately after the Execution of Jesus. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Fee, G D 1987. The First Epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament, F F Bruce gen ed). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Horton, M S 2016. The New Gnosticism: Is it the age of the Spirit or the spirit of the age? Modern Reformation (online). Available at: http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var2=695#footnote13 (Accessed 17 May 2016). The article originally appeared in Modern Reformation, “Gnosticism”, July/August 1995 Vol. 4 No. 4 Page number(s): 4-12.

Kazlev, A 2016. Integral esotericism: A new integral paradigm in theory and practice. Integral World (online), June 04.[31] Available at: http://www.integralworld.net/kazlev5.html (Accessed 4 June 2016).

Lee, P J 1987. Against The Protestant Gnostics. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press. Also available at: https://arcaneknowledgeofthedeep.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/againstprotestantgnostics.pdf (Accessed 17 May 2016).

Vanhoozer, K J 1998. Is There a Meaning in This Text? Leicester, England: Apollos (an imprint of Inter-Varsity Press).

7.  Notes


[1] Christian Forums.net, 13 May 2016, ‘Types & shadows needing NT support’, Apologetics & Theology, OzSpen#1. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/types-shadows-needing-nt-support.64532/ (Accessed 17 May 2016).

[2] They were raised by Malachi#33 at Christian Forums.net, ‘Underlying types & shadows’, The Lounge. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/understanding-types-shadows.64517/page-2 (Accessed 17 May 2016).

[3] ‘Types & shadows needing NT support’, Eugene#2.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen#3.

[5] Ibid., Eugene#5.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#6.

[7] Ibid., Wondering#8.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen#9.

[9] Ibid., Eugene#10.

[10] Ibid., OzSpen#11.

[11] Ibid., Eugene#12.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen#13.

[13] Ibid., Sinthesis#15.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen#16.

[15] Ibid., JLB#17.

[16] Ibid., OzSpen#19.

[17] Adi Da was the Hindu god-man cultist who was head of an abusive personality cult. See: Timothy Conway (2007). Available at: http://www.enlightened-spirituality.org/Da_and_his_cult.html (Accessed 4 June 2016).

[18] On his homepage, Andrew Cohen describes himself as, a ‘modern mystic, cultural critic, and award-winning spiritual journalist’. Available at: http://www.andrewcohen.org/ (Accessed 4 June 2016).

[19] Ibid., Jethro Bodine#18.

[20] Ibid., OzSpen#20.

[21] ‘Types & shadows needing NT support’, op cit., Jethro Bodine#22.

[22] Ibid., OzSpen#24.

[23] Ibid., Jethro Bodine#27.

[24] Ibid., OzSpen#28, #29.

[25] Ibid., Malachi#34.

[26] Ibid., OzSpen#40/

[27] This is my response, ibid., OzSpen#44.

[28] Fee’s footnote is, ‘This is another phrase that has caused some to see Paul as reflecting the mystery cults or Gnosticism. But again that not only misses Paul’s own Jewish background, but the whole point of the argument as well’ (Fee 1987:104, n. 27).

[29] BAGD = Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich & Danker Greek lexicon (dictionary).

[30] See The Agony of Deceit, ed. Michael Horton (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991).

[31] It seems that this date is a roving date that will change daily.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2016.

Who can be reconciled to God?

clip_image001

(image courtesy cliparts.co)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

This has been a perennial question throughout church history, but it has become especially debated in the Arminian-Calvinistic controversy: Is it possible for all people to be reconciled to God? Or, is that only for a select, elect group? Is it only a charade for Jesus to say, ‘For God so loved the world’ (John 3:16) and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is the propitiation ‘for the whole world’?

This relates to a person’s doctrines of predestination/election and atonement. With predestination, has God predestined only the Christian elect to salvation or is his mercy so wide that the Gospel is offered to all and their election is determined by their response? As for the atonement, is it limited to the elect for whom Christ died (limited atonement) or did Christ die for all people (unlimited atonement)?

Let’s check out some evidence.

1. Some examples from church history

We will now examine some leading Christian theologians or leaders from early church history to the present, to check their views.

1.1 Athanasius (ca. 295-373)[1]

This distinguished early church father was a promoter of the orthodox, Trinitarian Christian view at the Council of Nicea in AD 325.

At the council this young man, slightly over thirty, insisted that Christ had existed from all eternity with the Father and was of the same essence (homoousios) as the Father, although He was a distinct personality. He insisted on these things because he believed that if Christ were less than he had stated Him to be, He could not be the Savior of men…. He held that Christ was coequal, coeternal, and consubstantial with the Father; and for these views he suffered exile five times (Cairns 1981:134).

clip_image003

(copy of icon of Athanasius, courtesy Wikipedia)

In his writing ‘On the Incarnation of the Word(§9), Athanasius spoke of the Son, the Word, ‘To this end He takes to Himself a body capable of death, that it, by partaking of the Word Who is above all, might be worthy to die in the stead of all’ (emphasis added). In this same paragraph, Athanasius wrote, ‘For being over all, the Word of God naturally by offering His own temple and corporeal instrument for the life of all satisfied the debt by His death’ (emphasis added).

1.2 Augustine (354-430)

clip_image004(image of Augustine, courtesy Wikipedia)

St Augustine is a mixed bag. There are examples in his writings of his support for limited atonement, but on other occasions he was unambiguous in support of unlimited atonement.

Here is his support for unlimited atonement in his exposition of 1 John 2:2:

For he that has said, We have Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the propitiation for our sins: having an eye to those who would divide themselves, and would say, Lo, here is Christ, lo, there; [Matthew 24:23] and would show Him in a part who bought the whole and possesses the whole, he immediately goes on to say, Not our sins only, but also the sins of the whole world. What is this, brethren? Certainly we have found it in the fields of the woods, we have found the Church in all nations. Behold, Christ is the propitiation for our sins; not ours only, but also the sins of the whole world. Behold, you have the Church throughout the whole world; do not follow false justifiers who in truth are cutters off. Be in that mountain which has filled the whole earth: because Christ is the propitiation for our sins; not only ours, but also the sins of the whole world, which He has bought with His blood. (Homily 1 on the First Epistle of John, 1:1-2:11, emphasis added).

It is not inconsequential in this paragraph on 1 John 1 & 2, Augustine affirms three times that Christ propitiated for the ‘sins of the whole world’. This is not indicating a limited atonement but an unlimited atonement. Another example is:

For men were held captive under the devil, and served devils; but they were redeemed from captivity. They could sell, but they could not redeem themselves. The Redeemer came, and gave a price; He poured forth His Blood, and bought the whole world. You ask what He bought? You see what He has given; find out then what He bought. The Blood of Christ was the price. What is equal to this? What, but the whole world? What, but all nations? (Expositions on the Psalms, Chapter 96.5, emphasis added).

In Tractate 92 on John’s Gospel, Augustine wrote, ‘The blood of Christ was shed for the remission of all sins’ (Tractate 92.1, emphasis added).

In later writings, Augustine clarified or redefined his understanding of the ‘whole world’ with his explanation of 1 Tim 2:4, ‘Who will have all men to be saved’:

It is said, Who will have all men to be saved; not that there is no man whose salvation He does not will (for how, then, explain the fact that He was unwilling to work miracles in the presence of some who, He said, would have repented if He had worked them?), but that we are to understand by all men, the human race in all its varieties of rank and circumstances—kings, subjects; noble, plebeian, high, low, learned, and unlearned; the sound in body, the feeble, the clever, the dull, the foolish, the rich, the poor, and those of middling circumstances; males, females, infants, boys, youths; young, middle-aged, and old men; of every tongue, of every fashion, of all arts, of all professions, with all the innumerable differences of will and conscience, and whatever else there is that makes a distinction among men. For which of all these classes is there out of which God does not will that men should be saved in all nations through His only-begotten Son, our Lord, and therefore does save them; for the Omnipotent cannot will in vain, whatsoever He may will? (Augustine, The Enchiridrion,[2] ch 103, emphasis added).

So here ‘all men’ for Augustine means from all groups of people and not for everyone in the world in its totality. This theology has been adopted by John Calvin himself in his interpretation of Titus 2:11, where he stated of this phrase:

Bringing salvation to all men,[3] That it is common to all is expressly testified by him on account of the slaves of whom he had spoken. Yet he does not mean individual men, but rather describes individual classes, or various ranks of life. And this is not a little emphatic, that the grace of God hath let itself down even to the race of slaves; for, since God does not despise men of the lowest and most degraded condition, it would be highly unreasonable that we should be negligent and slothful to embrace his goodness.[4]

John 3:17 states, ‘For God sent not His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world through Him may be saved’. Augustine’s comment, in rather obtuse[5] reasoning, is:

So far, then, as it lies in the physician, He has come to heal the sick. He that will not observe the orders of the physician destroys himself. He has come a Saviour to the world: why is he called the Saviour of the world, but that He has come to save the world, not to judge the world? You will not be saved by Him; you shall be judged of yourself. And why do I say, shall be judged? See what He says: He that believes in Him is not judged, but he that believes not. What do you expect He is going to say, but is judged? Already, says He, has been judged. The judgment has not yet appeared, but already it has taken place. For the Lord knows them that are His: He knows who are persevering for the crown, and who for the flame; knows the wheat on His threshing-floor, and knows the chaff; knows the good grain, and knows the tares. He that believes not is already judged. Why judged? Because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God (Augustine, Tractate 12 (John 3:6-21), §12).

I find this exposition to be difficult to understand because Augustine does not come out and clearly state it like this: ‘Jesus is the Saviour of the world but unbelievers are judged already, thus making salvation only for the elect believers’. That seems to be his intent but it is stated in a round-about fashion with language such as, ‘Already, says He, has been judged. The judgment has not yet appeared, but already it has taken place’. If the judgment of all has already taken place, then God has judged the damned to be in that condemned state already. ‘There is some agreement that tractates 1-16 were preached by Augustine in the winter of 406-407’ (Augnet, On the Gospel of John, 2010). Eminent church historian, Philip Schaff, was not of that view, concluding that Augustine ‘delivered them to his flock at Hippo about A.D. 416 or later’ (CCEL, Homilies on the Gospel of John, Preface).

1.3 John Calvin (1509-1564)

clip_image006(painting, John Calvin by Hans Holbein, blog.oup.com, image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

What did Calvin say of John 3:16 in regard to those for whom Christ died? He wrote:

That whosoever believeth on him may not perish. It is a remarkable commendation of faith, that it frees us from everlasting destruction. For he intended expressly to state that, though we appear to have been born to death, undoubted deliverance is offered to us by the faith of Christ; and, therefore, that we ought not to fear death, which otherwise hangs over us. And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life (John Calvin, Commentary on John 3:13-18, vol 1, emphasis added).

Calvin could not be clearer that ‘whoever’ believes makes the offer of salvation available ‘indiscriminately’ to all ‘unbelievers’ and the term ‘world’ in John 3:16 refers to ‘the whole world … all men without exception’. ‘Men’ here is generic for all people.

1.4 The Remonstrance

The five Arminian articles of the Remonstrance (to remonstrant meant to oppose) were composed by the followers of Arminius in 1610 after his death in 1609. These five points stated their main opposition to Dutch Reformed theology and were presented to the State in the Netherlands as Remonstrance.

The Arminian Remonstrance believed, according to Article 2, that ‘Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer’ (The Remonstrance, The Five Arminian Articles, A.D. 1610, Philip Schaff, emphasis added).The verses they gave in support were John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2.

So who have the possibility of being reconciled to God? Jesus, the Saviour, died for all people according to the Remonstrance, meaning every human being, but those who believe receive this forgiveness.

1.5 The Synod of Dort[6]

There were five main points (headings) regarding a dispute in the Netherlands, known as the Canons of Dort, that were a response to the Remonstrance, promoted by Arminius (University of Leiden) and his followers. Dort considered Arminianism was a departure from the Reformed faith in a number of important matters. It met in Dordrecht, the Netherlands, 1618-1619, with 2 Dutch delegates and 27 foreign delegates representing 8 countries (The Canons of Dort, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary).

In its explanation of the death of Christ and the redemption of human beings, the Synod of Dort, concluded:

For this was the sovereign counsel, and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation: that is, it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father; that He should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, He purchased for them by His death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot and blemish to the enjoyment of glory in His own presence forever (Head 2, Art 8, emphasis added).

Thus, redemption only extends to the elect who receive the gift of justifying faith while the remainder of humanity who ‘perish in unbelief’ are in that situation because it is wholly imputed to them by God (Head 2, Art 6). This is a confirmation of double predestination to salvation for the believer and to damnation for the unbeliever.

1.6 John Wesley (1703-1791)[7]

clip_image008(John Wesley image courtesy commons.wikimedia.org)

John Wesley (1703-1791) was a Church of England (Anglican) minister,[8] so his view of the atonement would have been shaped by the Anglican Articles of Religion, commonly known as the Thirty-nine Articles. The first portion of Article 17 states,

Predestination to life is the eternal purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he has consistently decreed by his counsel which is hidden from us to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he has chosen in Christ out of mankind and to bring them through Christ to eternal salvation as vessels made for honour. Hence those granted such an excellent benefit by God are called according to God’s purpose by his Spirit working at the appropriate time. By grace they obey the calling; they are freely justified, and made sons of God by adoption, are made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, they walk faithfully in good works and at the last by God’s mercy attain eternal happiness (Thirty-nine Articles, Article 17, emphasis added).

What was Wesley’s view? Darren Wood maintained that ‘even though John Wesley claimed that the atonement was crucial to his theology, he never articulated a systematic theory of the atonement’ (Wood 2007:2.55). Harald Lindstrom concluded in a similar way, ‘Wesley never took up the Atonement for special consideration in any of his treatises or tracts. Nor is it the main theme in any of his sermons’ (Lindstrom n d).

Wesley in writing to his opponent, the Anglican Rev William Law, stated that Jesus Christ ‘is our propitiation through faith in His blood’ (Wesley, letter from London, May 20, 1738, The Letters of John Wesley 1738). As to causation of our salvation, the Wesleys were clear: ‘The sole cause of our acceptance with God (or, that for the sake of which, on the account of which, we are accepted) is the righteousness and the death of Christ, who fulfilled God’s law, and died in our stead’ (Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley, Preface).

In this edition of ‘The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, A.M., Vol VI’, it stated: ‘It is true, repentance and faith are privileges and free gifts. But this does not hinder their being conditions too. And neither Mr. Calvin himself, nor any of our Reformers, made any scruple of calling them so’ (p. 98).

Wesley maintained that Jesus’ atonement ‘is the propitiation – The atoning sacrifice by which the wrath of God is appeased. For our sins – Who believe. And not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world – Just as wide as sin extends, the propitiation extends also’ (John Wesley, Notes on the First Epistle of John, 1 John 2:2, emphasis added).

Thus, John Wesley believed in universal atonement, propitiation that extends as far as sin goes – to all human beings.

1.7 C H Spurgeon (1834-1892)[9]

clip_image010(C H Spurgeon painting courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Spurgeon is adamant about his view of the atonement:

We hold—we are not afraid to say that we believe—that Christ came into this world with the intention of saving “a multitude which no man can number;” and we believe that as the result of this, every person for whom He died must, beyond the shadow of a doubt, be cleansed from sin, and stand, washed in blood, before the Father’s throne. We do not believe that Christ made any effectual atonement for those who are for ever damned; we dare not think that the blood of Christ was ever shed with the intention of saving those whom God foreknew never could be saved, and some of whom were even in Hell when Christ, according to some men’s account, died to save them (emphasis added).[10]

In another sermon on the death of Christ, he preached, ‘Understand, then, the sense in which Christ was made a sacrifice for sin. But here lies the glory of this matter. It was as a substitute for sin that he did actually and literally suffer punishment for the sin of all his elect’ (emphasis added).[11]

So, the eminent British Baptist preacher and revivalist of the nineteenth century, C H Spurgeon, was an inflexible promoter of limited atonement. Jesus did not die for the sins of the whole world. There is no effectual atonement, i.e. atonement through Christ’s shed blood that is effective for those damned forever. I’m using effectual atonement as meaning effective atonement.[12]

 

1.8 Roger E. Olson (b. 1952)[13]

clip_image011(photo Roger E Olson, courtesy InterVarsity Press)[14]

Professor Roger E Olson teaches at a Southern Baptist Seminary,[15] is a promoter of classical Arminianism, and his view of the atonement is that salvation is only for those

who are predestined by God to eternal salvation. They are elect. Who is included in the elect? All who God foresees will accept his offer of salvation through Christ by not resisting the grace that extends to them through the cross and the gospel. Thus, predestination is conditional rather than unconditional: God’s electing foreknowledge is caused by the faith of the elect (Olson 2006:35, emphasis added).

Olson (2006:63) cites Arminian theologian H Orton Wiley in support of unlimited atonement. Wiley wrote that ‘the atonement is universal’, which does not mean that all human beings will be unconditionally saved ‘but that the sacrificial offering of Christ so far satisfied the claims of the divine law as to make salvation a possibility for all’. Thus, redemption is ‘universal or general’ in a potential sense in its application to the individual person, i.e. it must be applied by the person to be received (Wiley 1952:295).

1.9 R C Sproul (b. 1939)[16]

clip_image013(photo R C Sproul, courtesy Wikipedia)

An ardent Calvinistic advocate, Sproul addressed this topic of who can be reconciled to God in terms of his understanding of predestination and election, writing that ‘the Reformed doctrine of predestination teaches that all the elect are indeed brought to faith. God insures that the conditions necessary for salvation are met’. Election is unconditional because God’s original decree to choose some for salvation ‘is not dependent upon some future condition in us that God foresees. There is nothing in us that God could foresee that would induce him to choose us…. God chooses us simply according to the good pleasure of his will’ (Sproul 1986:155-156).

Does Sproul support double-predestination, i.e. to salvation and damnation? He wrote, ‘If there is such a thing as predestination at all, and if that predestination does not include all people, then we must not shrink from the necessary inference that there are two sides to predestination’ (Sproul 1986:141). Yes, he does believe in double-predestination but he goes further with God’s sovereignty in stating that ‘God is sovereign because we know that God is God’ and that ‘God foreordained sin’. This means that ‘God’s decision to allow sin to enter the world was a good decision. This is not to say that our sin is really a good thing, but merely that God’s allowing us to do sin, which is evil, is a good thing. God’s allowing evil is good, but the evil he allows is still evil’ (Sproul 1986:31-32).

Elsewhere Sproul did articulate his theology of limited atonement:

I prefer the term definite atonement to the term limited atonement (though it turns tulip into tudip). The doctrine of definite atonement focuses on the question of the design of Christ’s atonement. It is concerned with God’s intent in sending Jesus to the cross….

Anyone who is not a universalist is willing to agree that the effect of Christ’s work on the cross is limited to those who believe. That is, Christ’s atonement does not avail for unbelievers. Not everyone is saved through His death. Everyone also agrees that the merit of Christ’s death is sufficient to pay for the sins of all human beings. Some put it this way: Christ’s atonement is sufficient for all, but efficient only for some.

This, however, does not really get at the heart of the question of definite atonement. Those who deny definite atonement insist that Christ’s work of atonement was designed by God to atone for the sins of everyone in the world. It made possible the salvation of everyone, but made certain the salvation of no one. Its design is therefore both unlimited and indefinite.

The Reformed view holds that Christ’s atonement was designed and intended only for the elect. Christ laid down His life for His sheep and only for His sheep. Furthermore, the Atonement insured salvation for all the elect. The Atonement was an actual, not merely potential, work of redemption. In this view there is no possibility that God’s design and intent for the Atonement could be frustrated. God’s purpose in salvation is sure (Sproul 1992:175-176, emphasis added).

In simple language, Sproul believes that in allowing evil to enter the world, that was God’s good decision. I ask: How can it be other than that since God’s actions are always perfect, right and just? ‘Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?’ (Gen 18:25 ESV) As for the atonement, it was only designed for the elect, so Jesus died only for these people, in the view of Sproul.

2. What did the early church fathers teach?

clip_image015Church Fathers, 11th century Kievan minature (image courtesy Wikipedia)

 

Let’s check out the primary sources online to see if some of the early church fathers (the ones mentioned by Ron Rhodes, n d) supported unlimited atonement!

clip_image016Clement of Alexandria (ca 150-211/215):[17] ‘He bestows salvation on all humanity abundantly’ (Paedagogus 1.11). ‘For instruction leads to faith, and faith with baptism is trained by the Holy Spirit. For that faith is the one universal salvation of humanity’ (Paedagogus 1.6). Elsewhere it has been stated by Ron Rhodes that Clement of Alexandria taught, ‘Christ freely brings… salvation to the whole human race’.[18] However, I’ve been unable to find these exact quotes in the writings of Clement of Alexandria.

clip_image016[1]Eusebius of Caesarea (260-341):[19] ‘the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, and of His human body…. This Sacrifice was the Christ of God, from far distant times foretold as coming to men, to be sacrificed like a sheep for the whole human race (Demonstratio Evangelica, Bk 1, Introduction, ch. 10). ‘His Strong One forsook Him then, because He wished Him to go unto death, even “the death of the cross,” and to be set forth as the ransom and sacrifice for the whole world…. to ransom the whole human race, buying them with His precious Blood from their former slavery to their invisible tyrants, the unclean daemons, and the rulers and spirits of evil’ (Demonstratio Evangelica, Bk 10, ch 8).

clip_image016[2]Athanasius (ca 296-373),[20] in The Incarnation of the Word, wrote: None could renew but He Who had created. He alone could (1) recreate all, (2) suffer for all, (3) represent all to the Father’ (7, heading). ‘all creation was confessing that He that was made manifest and suffered in the body was not man merely, but the Son of God and Saviour of all’ (19.3); ‘or who among those recorded in Scripture was pierced in the hands and feet, or hung at all upon a tree, and was sacrificed on a cross for the salvation of all?’ (37.1)

It has been quoted frequently across the Internet that Athanasius stated, ‘Christ the Son of God, having assumed a body like ours, because we were all exposed to death [which takes in more than the elect], gave Himself up to death for us all as a sacrifice to His Father’.[21] However, I have been unable to find this exact quote in Athanasius’s works online.

Athanasius wrote that Christ ‘offered up His sacrifice also on behalf of all, yielding His Temple to death in the stead of all, in order firstly to make men quit and free of their old trespass, and further to show Himself more powerful even than death, displaying His own body incorruptible, as first-fruits of the resurrection of all (Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word, section 20)

clip_image016[3]Cyril of Jerusalem (ca 315-386):[22] ‘And wonder not that the whole world was ransomed; for it was no mere man, but the only-begotten Son of God, who died on its behalf’ (Catacheses – or Catehetical Lectures 13.2).

clip_image016[4]Cyril of Alexandria (ca 375-444)[23] taught that we confess that he is the Son, begotten of God the Father, and Only-begotten God; and although according to his own nature he was not subject to suffering, yet he suffered for us in the flesh according to the Scriptures, and although impassible, yet in his Crucified Body he made his own the sufferings of his own flesh; and by the grace of God he tasted death for all…. he tasted death for every man, and after three days rose again, having despoiled hell.’ (Third epistle to Nestorius). ‘Giving His own Blood a ransom for the life of all’ (That Christ is one).

On the Internet, I have seen many examples of this quote, “The death of one flesh is sufficient for the ransom of the whole human race, for it belonged to the Logos, begotten of God the Father.” (Oratorio de Recta Fide, no. 2, sec. 7). I have not yet been able to locate it in Internet primary sources for Cyril of Alexandria’s works.

clip_image016[5]Gregory of Nazianzen (ca 330-389):[24] ‘He is sold, and very cheap, for it is only for thirty pieces of silver; but He redeems the world, and that at a great price, for the Price was His own blood.  As a sheep He is led to the slaughter, but He is the Shepherd of Israel, and now of the whole world also’ (Oration XXIX, The third theological oration on the Son, XX).

I was unable to locate the quote, ‘the sacrifice of Christ is an imperishable expiation of the whole world’, allegedly from Oratoria 2 in Pasch., i.e., Passover.

clip_image016[6]Basil of Caesarea, Basil the Great (329-379):[25] “But one thing was found that was equivalent to all men….the holy and precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He poured out for us all” (On Ps. 49:7, 8, sec. 4 or Psalm 48, n.4). I have been unable to track down this quote on the Internet.[26]

clip_image016[7]Ambrose of Milan (339-397):[27] ‘Christ suffered for all, rose again for all.

clip_image018 But if anyone does not believe in Christ, he deprives himself of that general benefit.” He also wrote, “Christ came for the salvation of all, and undertook the redemption of all, inasmuch as He brought a remedy by which all might escape, although there are many who…are unwilling to be healed’ (Ps. 118, Sermon 8, in Douty 1978:137).[28] I have not yet located the primary source online.

(Mosaic of Ambrose, courtesy Wikipedia)

clip_image016[8]St Augustine of Hippo (354-430).[29] See his evidence above in this article.

clip_image016[9]Prosper of Aquitaine (a friend and disciple of Augustine, ca. AD 390-463):[30] “As far as relates to the magnitude and virtue of the price, and to the one cause of the human race, the blood of Christ is the redemption of the whole world: but those who pass through this life without the faith of Christ, and the sacrament of regeneration, do not partake of the redemption” (Responses on Behalf of Augustine to the Articles of Objections Raised by the Vincentianists, 1, part of this quote is available at, Classical Christianity). Unfortunately, I have not been able to source this online from a site for Prosper of Aquitaine.

He also wrote: ‘Wherefore, the whole of mankind, whether circumcised or not, was under the sway of sin, in fetters because of the very same guilt. No one of the ungodly, who differed only in their degree of unbelief, could be saved without Christ’s Redemption. This Redemption spread throughout the world to become the good news for all men without any distinction’ (Prosper of Aquitaine, The Call of All Nations, p. 119).

The following are citations from secondary sources for Prosper of Aquitaine, but I have been unable to locate primary sources on the www: He also said, “The Savior is most rightly said to have been crucified for the redemption of the whole world.” He then said, “Although the blood of Christ be the ransom of the whole world, yet they are excluded from its benefit, who, being delighted with their captivity, are unwilling to be redeemed by it.”

For an assessment of the biblical material, see my article, ‘Does the Bible teach limited atonement or unlimited atonement?

3. What’s the biblical evidence?

I have addressed the biblical material in support of limited atonement in my articles,

clip_image020Is this verse forced into limited atonement theology?

clip_image020[1]Unlimited atonement by Jesus

clip_image020[2]Limited atonement conflicts with God’s goodness

clip_image020[3]Did John Calvin believe in limited atonement?

clip_image020[4]Does the Bible teach limited atonement or unlimited atonement by Christ?

clip_image020[5]If Jesus’ atonement is for all, should all be saved?

clip_image020[6]Can world not mean world?

Ron Rhodes (n d), a supporter of unlimited atonement, in his article, ‘The Extent of the Atonement: Limited Atonement Versus Unlimited Atonement’ (Rhodes n d) provides further evidence from the early church fathers until today of leading Christians who supported or now support unlimited atonement.

Theologian Walter Elwell,[31] has concluded concerning unlimited atonement (or, general redemption) that it has been

the historic view of the church, being held by the vast majority of theologians, reformers, evangelists, and fathers from the beginning of the church until the present day, including virtually all the writers before the Reformation, with the possible exception of Augustine. Among the Reformers the doctrine is found in Luther, Melanchthon, Bullinger, Latimer, Cranmer, Coverdale, and even Calvin in some of his commentaries. For example Calvin says regarding Col. 1:14, “This redemption was procured through the blood of Christ, for by the sacrifice of his death, all the sins of the world have been expiated…. Is it likely that the overwhelming majority of Christians could have so misread the leading of the Holy Spirit on such an important point? (Elwell 1984:99)

4. Salvation offered to all

A person on a Christian forum listed these Scriptures to support the view that salvation is offered to everyone:[32]

Jhn 3:16 (NKJV) For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

1Pe 3:18 (RSV) For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous,

Rom 6:10 (NKJV) For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all;

2Co 5:14-15 (NKJV) For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.

1Ti 2:5-6a (NKJV) For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all,

Heb 7:26-27 (NKJV) For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.

Heb 9:11-12 (NKJV) But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.

2 Peter 3:9 (NKJV) The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

A response from the Calvinistic poster was that ‘not one of those scriptures says that God offers salvation to all mankind’.[33] I could not let him get away with this one, so I replied:[34]

Titus 2:11 (NIV) does: ‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people’. The ESV translates as, ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’ (Titus 2:11 ESV).
So the grace of God has appeared (in Christ) to offer salvation or bring salvation to ALL people. It does not say ‘all of the elect’.
There’s no room to run and hide now.

How do you think he would react?

Thats (sic) a poor translation. The word offer is not in the text. The word is bringeth salvation, not offer! The emphasis is on the grace of God bringing a application of salvation.
Besides that, you still have Rom 5:10 to deal with which states clearly that believers were reconciled to God by the death of Christ while they were enemies. Thats not the case with all men without exception since many as enemies are under Gods Wrath and Condemnation Jn 3:18, 36![35]

My comeback was:[36]

That’s an excellent translation. The Greek of Titus 2:11 (SBLGreek NT), reads:

??????? ???  ?   ?????   ??? ????  ???????? ????? ?????????
epephane gar he charis tou theou soterios   pasin anthropois (transliteration), with this literal translation:
‘appeared for the grace of the God salvation for all men’.

Now take that literal, word-for-word translation and make sense for the English reader.

  • The NIV has done that with an excellent dynamic equivalence translation (meaning for meaning), ‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people’ (Tit 2:11 NIV);
  • The ESV in formal equivalence translation (approx. word for word), ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’ (Tit 2:11 ESV), which is a superb translation, although interpretive because of the lack of ‘has appeared’ in the text;
  • The NASB formal equivalence translation, ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men’ (Tit 2:11 NASB) – an excellent translation, but with the added word, ‘bringing’.
  • The KJV formal equivalence translation: ‘For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men’ (Tit 2:11 KJV). Excellent translation but with old fashioned language and the added word, ‘bringeth’.
  • The ISV (International Standard Version) dynamic equivalence is: ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people’ (Tit 2:11 ISV) – again, an excellent translation, with ‘has appeared’ added to make sense of the sentence.
  • The HCSB, a formal equivalence translation, ‘For the grace of God has appeared with salvation for all people’ (Tit 2:11 HCSB) – a great translation with ‘has appeared’ added for interpretive sense.
  • The NRSV, a formal equivalence translation, ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all’ (Tit 2:11 NRSV) is another excellent translation, again adding ‘has appeared’ for clarification of the meaning.

Anyone who has had to translate large chunks of the Greek NT into English – as I have done through many years of formal study and theological teaching – knows that a literal word-for-word translation is impossible in many examples. This is one case in point.

So that I can become better informed, I asked this fellow to please provide a more accurate translation of the Greek text of Titus 2:11 (Greek) than those from the Bible translation examples I provided.

What would the response be? He wrote:

Yes it’s a poor translation. There’s no scripture that says God offers salvation. Titus 2:11 says that the Grace of God brings Salvation to all men, not offers. You misquote scripture.[37]

This is typical of what poster’s do when they don’t have an answer to the challenge. He did not provide a better translation and he also inserted a word, ‘brings’, that is not in the Greek text, so I answered: [38]

I asked for a more accurate translation to be provided, but I see that it is missing. How come?

Please note that ‘brings’ also is not in the Greek text. So ‘brings salvation’ is a poor translation as it inserts a word. Why would you be adding ‘brings’? I’m waiting for a better translation and the reasons for it being a superior translation.

No translation has been forthcoming from this fellow to challenge the translations of the major Bible versions quoted above.

5. Who are under God’s wrath?

It was stated on this Christian forum: ‘Unbelievers and enemies are both the same. Those unbelievers in Jn 3:18, 36 are under Gods (sic) Wrath and condemnation. Do you deny that?’[39]

My response was[40] that of course I believe that unbelievers are under God’s wrath, but what I know is that Jesus’ death appeased the wrath of God for all, as 1 John 2:2 (ESV) affirms, ‘He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world’.

Also, regarding what is necessary to receive salvation:

But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved (Rom 10:8-10 NIV).

Rebel sinners who are under God’s wrath and have that wrath appeased by Jesus are free to receive Jesus by faith, to believe in their hearts that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead. They are then justified by faith in professing their faith to be saved.
That’s Bible!

The come back was:

Those under Gods (sic) Wrath and Condemnation, Jesus death did not appease Gods (sic) Wrath for them. If it did they could not be under Gods (sic) Wrath. So you have made a false statement and inconsistent with scripture.[41]

This is far from what the Bible says so I answered:[42]

That is not what 1 John 2:1-2 (ESV) teaches:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

So Jesus is the propitiation (appeasing the wrath of God) for ‘our’ sins. Who are the people referred to as ‘our’? Verse 1 tells us they are ‘little children’ for whom there is ‘an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous’. So, John is referring to believers for whom Jesus propitiated the wrath of God.

But John goes further than propitiation for believers. He adds, ‘but also for the sins of the whole world’. Ah, everybody in the world is included. Yes, ‘the whole world’. This is not referring to the world of elect believers. He has already mentioned these. They are the ones covered by the language of ‘our sins’. But he goes further to include everyone in the big, wide, wonderful world – sinners all.

The problem seems to be the inability to grasp how Jesus could be the propitiation for all people and that all people are not saved (universalism). That’s because of a failure to grasp what Jesus taught according to John 5:40 (ESV), ‘yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life’.

People are freed to come or refuse to come to Jesus for eternal life. That’s consistent with biblical teaching and does not match the accuser’s taunt, ‘So you have made a false statement and inconsistent with scripture’. Who has made the false statement? The accuser of me and my theology!

6. Logical fallacy in action

The fellow online who began this thread continues with his push:

None of you can explain the proposition. The fact remains that those Christ died for are reconciled to God while they are enemies and unbelievers Rom 5:10, but all enemies and unbelievers are not reconciled to God by Christ death but are under Gods condemnation and wrath John 3:18, 36. So it is obvious that Christ (sic) death was not for all without exception.[43]

However, what is his slogan that appears as the byword in the footer of every one of his posts, ‘SAVED BY SOVEREIGN GRACE’.[44]

Therefore, it was pointed and appropriate for me to respond: ‘The begging the question fallacy, i.e. circular reasoning, continues’.[45] With a begging the question fallacy, this person commences with the premise, ‘Saved by sovereign grace’. How does he conclude? ‘The fact remains that those Christ died for are reconciled to God…. It is obvious that Christ (sic) death was not for all without exception’. So he begins with Calvinistic sovereign grace of limited atonement and concludes with the same doctrine.

That’s circular reasoning and gets us nowhere in discussion because it doesn’t deal with the issues at stake, but it sounds to be on track with issues that relate. In fact it is a deliberate strategy to avoid dealing with opposition to the theology.

7. Conclusion

From the early church fathers up to Augustine of Hippo there was a consensus of support for unlimited atonement. However, since the time of Augustine there has been evidence from theologians and other church writers who promote both limited and unlimited atonement. There has been no agreement since the time of Calvin and Arminius.

My own understanding of Scripture is that it supports unlimited atonement, as I have articulated in my article, Does the Bible teach limited atonement or unlimited atonement by Christ? I don’t expect there will be agreement on this topic until it is fully revealed at Jesus’ second coming.

clip_image022

(image courtesy cliparts.co)

8. Works consulted

Douty, N F 1978. Did Christ Die Only for the Elect? A Treatise on the Extent of Christ’s Atonement. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Elwell, W A 1984. Atonement, Extent of, in W A Elwell (ed), Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Lindstrom, H n d. Wesley and sanctification. On Craig L Adams website. Available at: http://www.craigladams.com/Books/page289/page293/ (Accessed 29 April 2016).

Miethe, T L 1989. The universal power of the atonement, in C Pinnock (gen ed). The Grace of God, The Will of Man: A Case for Arminianism, 71-96. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Academie Books (Zondervan Publishing House).

Olson, R E 2006, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Rhodes, R n d. The extent of the atonement: Limited atonement versus unlimited atonement. Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries (online). Available at: http://home.earthlink.net/~ronrhodes/Atonement.html (Accessed 30 April 2016).

Sproul, R C 1986. Chosen by God. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Sproul, R C 1992. Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Wiley, H O 1952. Christian theology, vol 2 (online). Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City. Chapter 24 on ‘The atonement: Its nature and extent’, is available from Nampa, Idaho: Northwestern Nazarene University, Wesley Center Online, at: http://wesley.nnu.edu/other-theologians/henry-orton-wiley/h-orton-wiley-christian-theology-chapter-24/ (Accessed 29 April 2016).

Wood, D C 2007. John Wesley’s use of the atonement. The Asbury Journal 62(2), 55-70. Available at: http://place.asburyseminary.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1053&context=asburyjournal (Accessed 28 April 2016).

Notes

[1] Lifespan dates are from Cairns (1981:134).

[2] Enchiridrion means handbook and its full title was The Enchiridrion on Faith, Hope and Love, New Advent. Available at: http://newadvent.org/fathers/1302.htm (Accessed 28 April 2016).

[3] Calvin’s footnote at this point was:

‘“We now see why Paul speaks of all men, and thus we may judge of the folly of some who pretend to expound the Holy Scriptures, and do not understand their style, when they say, ‘And God wishes that every person should be saved; the grace of God hath appeared for the salvation of every person; it follows, then, that there is free-will, that there is no election, that none have been predestinated to salvation.’ If those men spoke it ought to be with a little more caution. Paul did not mean in this passage, or in 1Ti 2:6 anything else than that the great are called by God, though they are unworthy of it; that men of low condition, though they are despised, are nevertheless adopted by God, who stretches out his hand to receive them. At that time, because kings and magistrates were mortal enemies of the gospel, it might be thought that God had rejected them, and that they cannot obtain salvation. But Paul says that the door must not be shut against them, and that, eventually, God may choose some of this company, though their case appear to be desperate. Thus, in this passage, after speaking of the poor slaves who were not reckoned to belong to the rank of men, he says that God did not fail, on that account, to show himself compassionate towards them, and that he wishes that the gospel should be preached to those to whom men do not deign to utter a word. Here is a poor man, who shall be rejected by us, we shall hardly say, God bless him! and God addresses him in an especial manner, and declares that he is his Father, and does not merely say a passing word, but stops him to say, ‘Thou art of my flock, let my word be thy pasture, let it be the spiritual food of thy soul.’ Thus we see that this word is highly significant, when it is said that the grace of God hath appeared fully to all men.” — Fr. Ser.

[4] From Calvin’s commentary, Titus chapter 2. Available at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/calvin/cc43/cc43021.htm (Accessed 29 April 2016).

[5] I used ‘obtuse’ as meaning ‘difficult to understand’ (Oxford dictionaries online 2016. s v obtuse).

[6] Dort is the English spelling of Dordt, which is an abbreviation of Dordrecht.

[7] Lifespan details are from Cairns (1981:382).

[8] See CCEL, John Wesley, available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/wesley (Accessed 28 April 2016).

[9] Lifespan details are from Cairns (1981:400).

[10] Rev C H Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, The Spurgeon Archive, ‘Particular Redemption’. Available at: http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0181.php (Accessed 29 April 2016).

[11] Rev C H Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, The Spurgeon Archive, The Death of Christ, Sermon No 173. Available at: http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0173.php (Accessed 29 April 2016).

[12] This is based on a synonym for ‘effectual’ as ‘effective’ in Oxford Dictionaries online (2016. s v effectual).

[13] Birth date from Curriculum Vitae, Baylor University. Available at: http://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/26382.pdf (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[14] InterVarsity Press is the publisher of Olson (2006).

[15] He is professor of theology at George W Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University, Waco, Texas (back flap, Olson 2006).

[16] Birth date from ‘Introducing Dr. R. C. Sproul’, Ligonier Ministries 2016. Available at: http://www.ligonier.org/about/rc-sproul/ (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[17] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Clement of Alexandria). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Clement-of-Alexandria (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[18] Ron Rhodes 1996. The extent of the atonement: Limited atonement versus unlimited atonement (Part 2), available at: http://chafer.nextmeta.com/files/v2n3_rhodes.pdf (Accessed 28 August 2012). Rhodes gives the reference as Paedagogus, ch. 11. However, there is no such reference as there are three books (online) each with a ch. 11, but the quote is not to be found in any of these chapters.

[19] Lifespan dates, The Catholic Encyclopedia (2012. s v Eusebius of Caesarea). Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05617b.htm (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[20] Lifespan dates, The Catholic Encyclopedia (2012. s v St.. Athanasius). Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02035a.htm (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[21] See Ron Rhodes (n d).

[22] Lifespan dates, The Catholic Encyclopedia (2012. s v St. Cyril of Jerusalem). Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04595b.htm (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[23] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Cyril of Alexandria). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Cyril-of-Alexandria (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[24] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Gregory of Nazianzen). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Gregory-of-Nazianzus (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[25] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Basil the Great). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Basil-the-Great (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[26] It is cited in Rhodes (n d) but without any primary source.

[27] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Ambrose). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Ambrose (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[28] However, this is Psalm 119 in the English Bible.

[29] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Augustine). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Augustine (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[30] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Prosper of Aquitaine). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Prosper-of-Aquitaine (Accessed 20 April 2016).

[31] Terry Miethe stated that Elwell was a Presbyterian (Miethe 1989:79).

[32] Christian Forums.net, Apologetics & Theology, ‘No conditions to be reconciled’, Jim Parker#78. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/no-conditions-to-be-reconciled.64255/page-4 (Accessed 22 April 2016).

[33] Ibid., beloved57#80.

[34] Ibid., OzSpen#102.

[35] Ibid., beloved57#103.

[36] Ibid., OzSpen#107.

[37] Ibid., beloved57#115.

[38] Ibid., OzSpen#117.

[39] Ibid., beloved57#105.

[40] Ibid., OzSpen#109.

[41] Ibid., beloved57#114.

[42] Ibid., OzSpen#118.

[43] Ibid., beloved57#113.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid., OzSpen#119.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 2 May 2016.

God is timeless but acts in time

clip_image002

(image courtesy clipartlogo.com)

By Spencer D Gear

When there are discussions about Arminians and Calvinists and their disparate views of predestination and election, some interesting theories sometimes emerge on Internet Christian forums regarding the nature of God’s attributes.

Attributes are ‘the qualities of God which constitute what he is. They are the very characteristics of his nature’ and they relate to the qualities of the entire Godhead. They ‘are permanent qualities. They cannot be gained or lost. They are intrinsic…. God’s attributes are essential and inherent dimensions of his very nature’ (Erickson 1985:265).

I met one person online who wrote:

As to God loving Jacob and hating Esau, it is certainly not illustrative of some being predestined for Heaven and others for Hell. God — in His Divine foreknowledge — saw that Esau would never be a true believer (Heb 12:16,17), and the nation that sprang from Esau (Edom) would be the bitterest enemy of Israel (and of God) throughout their history. Hence God hated Esau (Edom) and loved Jacob (Israel). As Scripture says of Christ "Thou hast loved righteousness, AND HATED INIQUITY" (Heb 1:9).[1]

Another responded: ‘Don’t forget that when God spoke those words it was centuries after the fact and how the two Brothers and their offspring had acted. Based on that it is quite natural for God to say what he said based on their actions’.[2]

That comment seemed to indicate that God knew after the fact rather than before the fact.

No time in God’s being

My response was:[3] I’m not convinced that this is an adequate understanding of God’s eternity/infinity. We know that:

  1. There is no time in God’s being. He is timeless. See Psalm 90:2, ‘Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God’ (ESV). Also refer to Rev 1:8.
  2. God sees all of time simultaneously or vividly. See Psalm 90:4, ‘For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night’ (ESV).
  3. Yet, God takes action in time. Jesus came ‘when the time had fully come’, born of a woman, under the law, to redeem those under the law (Gal 4:4-5) [with help from Grudem 1999:76-78].

Therefore, I find Wayne Grudem’s definition of God’s eternity to be affirmed by Scripture: ‘God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time’ (Grudem 1999:76).
So, the information about God loving Jacob and hating Esau does not have a ‘centuries after the fact’ dynamic when we understand God’s attribute of eternity or infinity because God is timeless in his being. This kind of understanding is seen in verses such as Eph 1:4 where God states of Christians that he chose us in Christ ‘BEFORE the foundation of the world’.

Systematic theologian, Henry Thiessen, wrote that

by the eternity of God we mean His infinity in relation to time; we mean that He is without beginning or end; that He is free from all succession of time; and that He is the cause of time.… That God is eternal is abundantly taught in Scripture…. Eternity for God is one Now’ (Thiessen 1949:122, emphasis in original).

Thiessen refers to Gen 21:33 (‘the Everlasting God’); Ps 90:2 (‘from everlasting to everlasting you are God’); Ps 102:27 (‘You are the same, and your years have no end’); Isa 57:15 where God is ‘high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity’, and 1 Tim 6:16 where the Sovereign, King of kings and Lord of Lords is the one ‘who alone has immortality’ (all citations are from the ESV).

Then came this opposition:

Hundreds of verses oppose such a view

This fellow, who often tries to make others and me seem inferior with his alleged superior knowledge, responded:

None of these verses support your belief. Moreover, there are hundreds upon hundreds of verses in the Bible which explicitly describe man actively, both mentally and physically, opposing the will of God. When God created man, He created him with the ability to successfully oppose His sovereignty – and he has been doing so from the very beginning of his creation![4]

God’s sovereignty does not mean that people cannot and do not commit evil. However, that is all in the sovereign plan of God. How do we know? It is God who has stated the boundaries of his sovereignty. John the Baptist stated, ‘And do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father,” for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham’ (Matt 3:9 ESV). The psalmist was adamant: ‘Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases’ (Ps 115:3). In saying that God does as God pleases, we know that God cannot do that which violates his own character such as lying (Titus 1:2; Heb 6:18; James 1:13). In 2 Tim 2:13, it states that ‘if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself’.

My three points are untrue

This fellow’s rejection of my three-point claim regarding God’s eternity was what we could call the fourth point: The three points I made above were false. He wrote: ‘Point #3 proves that points #2 and #3 are not true. I find Wayne Grudem’s definition of God’s eternity to be based upon his overactive imagination rather than affirmed by Scripture’.[5]

Notice what he did? He provided not one piece of evidence to demonstrate the falsehood of what I wrote. Thus, his response was a red herring logical fallacy. Red herring fallacies involve the use of a tactic to avoid dealing with the issues raised and pursuit of the person’s own agenda with information that looks as though it is related but is not. It’s a tactic that some debaters often use to get people off specific topics. They need to be exposed for what they do by naming the fallacies they commit.

My reply was[6] that I disagree. Points 1-3 are all valid (which I’ll demonstrate again below). He provided no evidence to counter the view Grudem espoused, based on the scriptural evidence he provided.

Therefore, Grudem’s definition of God’s eternity/infinity is consistent with the biblical revelation he articulated: ‘God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time’ (Grudem 1999:76).

Brilliant, basic Christian theology

A fellow chimed in with a beautiful response to PrincetonGuy and me with his analogy:

Image result for photo clock public domainI can show that point number four (yours) [PrincetonGuy] is not true. Let’s take a look at this by way of analogy. Specifically, let’s go with Acts 3:15 and pretend that God is in some way like an author. I know you don’t like that idea, because it sounds a little too Calvinistic, but lets (sic) go with it, anyway:

1. The author is not subject to the time line of his own narrative. He may have his own time, but it is not the time line of his novel. This is similar to him not being physically contained within the confines of the universe that he created in the novel. Don’t be shocked by this. God is not fully encapsulated within the universe that he created, neither by space nor by time. Otherwise, he could not have existed before the universe in order to create it.

2. The author can hold the entire novel in his hand at once. Without even reading it, he knows what happens at every point in the story. He can either consider the story line as a whole, or he can read through it one page at a time, reliving the events. This is similar to God (2 Peter 3:8), and it is by definition a component of his omniscience.

3. Now, here’s the part that you think contradicts the first two: the author can write himself into his own novel as a character. He can interact with the characters as one of the characters, and he can do it on terms with their own time line. Hence, Jesus was God in the flesh, living among us as one of us, though God be eternal, immortal and self-existent. He lived according to our timeline, though God exists outside of time.

Space and time are both considered similarly. If we believe that God exists outside of the physical universe, which he must if he had to create it, then we believe that he exists outside of the universe’s time as well as the universe’s space. Nowhere, ever, has there been any demonstration of a divorce between space and time. Where one goes, so goes the other.

If God stands outside of the universe’s time, then he is not subject to it. For example, I stand outside of the timeline containing the events of World War II (thankfully). Therefore, I am not forced to move through that time at a set pace. I am able to consider individual events, in sequence or as a strategic whole, from that time period, so long as I am properly informed, because I am not contained by it.

Jesus was present within our space, and he was, therefore, contained within our time. He is also Emmanuel, which is to say that he is God with us. Therefore, God with us was present within our space and time. Therefore, God can be both outside of and independent of time, and he can be inside of and working with our time. The reverse is not also true: he can reach down to us, but we can not reach up to him.

This is not fanciful thinking. It’s just basic Christian theology. You can’t deny point number one without denying God’s self-existence, which then means he cannot be the creator of the universe. You can’t deny point two without denying point one, because the second point definitively follows from the first point. If you deny the third point, then you deny the deity of Christ. The first two make you a monotheist. The third makes you a Christian.[7]

This is a dynamic example, so I responded: ‘What a splendid summary statement! You have explained it so well by analogy. In addition, it harmonises (if I understand you correctly) with the 3 points I made’ with their biblical backing.[8]

Wrong philosophical thinking!

My opponent was not at all pleased by the above analogy. He wrote:

No, it is philosophical thinking that is dependent upon unprovable assumptions. Moreover, it conflicts with the historic understanding of God in the Scriptures as described in the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made; Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man.[9]

Philosophical thinking is far removed from the analogy. It was used to explain biblical thinking, so I responded to this person: ‘It is biblical thinking as I demonstrated with the Scriptures given in points #1-3 above. Quoting the Nicene Creed does not deal with the specifics of God’s attribute of eternity/infinity and how he acts in time’.[10]

It doesn’t belong in a Baptist forum

What kind of response would you expect from him?

Where is the scriptural evidence that Grudem cited to support his absurd notion that is refuted by the hundreds of passages in the Bible that teach a sequence of events and the cause and effect of each of those events? Does Grudem not know enough about biblical hermeneutics to realize that the book of Psalms is NOT a reliable source upon which to base a theological opinion?…

The Nicene Creed, which Grudem seems to ignore, affirms that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is “of the essence of the Father,” and is “of one substance with the Father.” God, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega (and therefore not “timeless”), most certainly did not see “all of time simultaneously.” Theology that expressly and explicitly contradicts the Nicene Creed (as well as the Bible!) is NOT orthodox theology and does NOT belong in the Baptist forum.[11]

Note the emphasis: ‘The book of Psalms is NOT a reliable source upon which to base a theological opinion’. Predictably my response was:

All Scripture is from God – including the Psalms

bible5I wrote[12] that that is his view of the lack of authority and reliability of the Psalms. In fact, it’s affirming your low view of Scripture – the Psalms.

This is the biblical view that I, a Baptist, take with regard to Scripture – all of Scripture – (and so does Wayne Grudem, professor of theology & biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary): ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work’ (2 Tim 3:16-17 ESV).

The Scriptures do not affirm the authority of creeds. The Nicene Creed is a useful summary of theology, but it is not authoritative as are the Scriptures.

The Scriptures affirm that God’s attribute of eternity/infinity is not shared by us. According to Job 36:26, Elihu said of God, ‘Behold, God is great, and we know him not; the number of his years is unsearchable’ (ESV).

God’s eternity is suggested by NT passages such as Rev 1:8, ‘I am the Alpha and Omega, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty’ (ESV). So, God’s eternity is affirmed in both OT and NT, the reliable Scriptures that are ‘breathed out by God’ and have a guess what? They are ‘profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness’ to equip us for God’s good work in our lives. That applies to you and me and all Christians on this forum.
Thus, God is timeless in his being. God was never created so he did not begin to exist. See Gen 1:1; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16; and Heb 1:2.

Second Peter 3:8 confirms that God sees all of time equally: ‘But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day’ (ESV). Isaiah 46:9-10 affirms similar teaching:

remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose (ESV).

This attribute of God’s eternity/infinity is demonstrated in time, where all human beings exist: Acts 17:30-31 provides but one example:

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (ESV).

You can denigrate the Psalms, but that view is not supported by the doctrine of Scripture I’ve cited above, but the Scriptures affirm God’s eternity where:

  • God is timeless in his being;
  • He sees all time equally; and
  • God acts in time – the time we experience.

That’s Bible, and denigrating the Psalms is an avoidance mechanism in dealing with the authority and teaching of Scripture on God’s eternity/infinity.
If you don’t believe the Psalms are a reliable source for theology, why don’t you start a new thread with a title such as, ‘The Psalms are unreliable teaching on biblical Christianity’. I look forward to the response when and if you bring Psalm 23 into that view.

William Craig doubts Grudem’s view of God’s eternity

William Lane Craig.jpg(William Lane Craig photo courtesy Wikipedia)

Influential evangelical apologist and philosopher, Dr William Lane Craig, does not agree with Grudem’s exposition of God’s eternity. Although Craig uses some challenging philosophical concepts for me, he does raise some issues with Grudem’s view that are substantial. Take a read of Craig’s issues in: ‘A Critique of Grudem’s Formulation and Defense of the Doctrine of Divine Eternity‘ (Craig 1996).

His assessment is:

It is shown how the attempt of one theologian to explicate the doctrine of divine eternity is logically inconsistent and his attempts to defend an atemporal understanding of eternity mistaken (Craig 1996).

Craig explains one of his issues with Grudem’s formulation of God’s eternity:

Grudem is oblivious to the fact that his claim "God always existed before there was any time" is patently self-contradictory, indeed, doubly so. First, to speak of God’s existing "before" time is contradictory because "before" is a temporal relation. So if God existed before time, He existed at some time prior to time, which is obviously a contradiction. Secondly, to say God always existed timelessly is self-contradictory, since "always" is a temporal adverb meaning "at all times." But to say God prior to creation existed both timelessly and at all times is clearly contradictory. Grudem protests that such objections are "just quibbling" and perhaps this complaint would be justified were such contradictions due merely to a popular style of writing used to explain a doctrine which can be more rigorously formulated with consistency. But Grudem asserts that "I simply do not think it is possible to express any more clearly in English the ideas (1) that time began at Genesis 1:1 and (2) that ‘prior to’ Genesis 1:1 time did not exist (and therefore there was no succession of moments or events in this ‘prior to’ or ‘before’), but (3) that in that timeless reality God still existed, and he existed not just for a brief second or any kind of finite amount of (non!)-time but that he ‘always’ existed timelessly" ("Comments").[13] Now this strikes me as an extremely serious and troublesome assertion on Grudem’s part. If it is really impossible to express such ideas in a logically coherent way, without speaking of such as (non-) time or God’s always existing prior to time, then how is that any different than saying that the Christian doctrine of God is simply logically incoherent? Since logical consistency is a necessary condition for truth, the sentences formulating the Christian doctrine of divine eternity are necessarily false. To believe that the Christian doctrine of God, despite its logical incoherence, is nonetheless true thus involves a sacrificum intellectum on the part of every believer (Craig 1996).

William Lane Craig, therefore, concluded:

Grudem’s treatment of divine eternity is multiply flawed both in its formulation and defense. This does not imply that the doctrine of divine timelessness is either incoherent or indefensible. The same sort of weaknesses in formulation and defense could have been shown to characterize, for example, Clark Pinnock’s defense of divine temporality. I hope only to have shown that Grudem’s own attempt to formulate and defend his view of God’s eternity is in need of major revision (Craig 1996).

Conclusion

Therefore, I conclude that my formulation of the theology of God’s eternity depended too much on Wayne Grudem’s understanding and my exposition of God’s eternity needs to consider the elements of William Craig’s critique. Some of these include:

Grudem defines divine eternity as follows: "God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time" (p. 168). This definition makes it evident that Grudem construes divine eternity to be a state of timelessness, not infinite temporal duration.

Now it is immediately evident that this affirmation outstrips the biblical passages quoted by Grudem as attestation. From passages like Ps. 90.2, Grudem has no difficulty showing that God has no beginning or end: "Before the mountains were brought forth or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God" (cf. Ps. 90.4; 2 Pet. 3.8). But do such passages support Grudem’s affirmation that "God is timeless in his own being" rather than God’s beginningless and endless duration? Surely not. Grudem cites Gen. 1.1; Jn. 1.3 which indicate that God created all things "in the beginning," a phrase which Grudem takes to mean "in the beginning of all events, or in the beginning of time" ("Comments"). This line is more promising; but Grudem fails to give any argument why such passages should be taken to refer to the beginning of time rather than to the beginning of the world. Grudem is on less sure ground when he appeals to Ex. 3.14; Jn. 8.58 to prove God or Jesus’s eternal presentness (Craig 1996).

Thus it is evident that my own understanding of God’s eternity needs to get rid of statements such as, ‘God always existed before or after’ where ‘before’ and ‘after’ are language for issues in time.

Craig, as a Christian philosopher, has given some profound insight into Grudem’s shortcomings in his view of God’s eternity. Craig’s preferred language is, ‘God’s beginningless and endless duration’.

 

Works consulted

Craig, W L 1996. A Critique of Grudem’s Formulation and Defense of the Doctrine of Divine Eternity. Philosophia Christi, 19, 33-38. Available at Reasonable Faith, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/a-critique-of-grudems-formulation-and-defense-of-the-doctrine[14] (Accessed 11 July 2015).

Erickson, M J 1985. Christian theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Grudem, W 1994. Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Grudem, W 1999. Bible Doctrine: Essential teachings of the Christian faith. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press (published by arrangement with

Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan).

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Notes


[1] Job8#28, Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Baptists?’, June 27, 2015, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/threads/baptists.7893826/page-2 (Accessed 11 July 2015).

[2] Ibid., classicalhero#47.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#52.

[4] Ibid., PrincetonGuy#53.

[5] Ibid., PrincetonGuy#64.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#55.

[7] Ibid., nonaeroterraqueous#56.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen#57.

[9] Ibid., PrincetonGuy#58.

[10] Ibid., OzSpen#59.

[11] Ibid., PrincetonGuy#60.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen#65.

[13] In Craig (1996, n. 1), Craig stated: ‘I am indebted to Dr. Grudem for his critical comments on a first draft of this paper (Wayne Grudem to William Craig, October 1, 1996). Citations of these comments will appear as "Comments”’.

[14] There is no pagination in this online edition.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 April 2016.

Prevenient grace – kinda clumsy!

(image courtesy Dave Barnhart)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

I have not heard the term, ‘prevenient grace’, preached from many pulpits today in my part of Australia. In fact, in my many years as an evangelical believer, I can’t recall ever hearing it expounded, even though I have attended Wesleyan churches. The problem is probably associated with the fact that not much evangelical theology is expounded from the pulpit.

However, I dared to use it as a passing example in a post I made on a Christian Forum online. I was responding to a person who wrote about….

A. Grace

She said, ‘We hear the word a lot, but are we quite sure we know what it really means?’ Then she gave a down-home example with an emphasis on freedom.[1]

1. Does grace mean freedom?

thumbnailMy response was:[2] In the story you have given, you have indicated the grace of one person to another. What does that ‘grace’ mean in a Christian context? Are you saying that this grace means freedom?

Or, are you considering this grace to be like that of God towards the undeserving? In fact, the sinful undeserving attitude and behaviour towards God deserved something worse. An example could be that of Australia’s mass media mogul, the late Kerry Packer, who had this said about him at the beginning of his obituary in The Age newspaper, ‘The last time Kerry Packer died, 15 years ago, he quickly took the opportunity to denounce the existence of an afterlife. “I’ve been on the other side and let me tell you son, there’s f—ing nothing there,” he was fond of saying’.[3] Dorothy Rowe reported of Packer:

When the Australian media mogul Kerry Packer had recovered from a massive heart attack during which he virtually died, he told his friend Phillip Adams, “I’ve been to the other side, and let me tell you, son, there’s f—ing nothing there. There’s no one waiting for you. There’s no one to judge you, so you can do what you bloody well like (in Rowe 2009:205).

What seems to be missing in that Packer example is that the near-death experience 15 years before his actual death, where he stopped breathing for 8 minutes (other reports say 6 minutes),[4] was just that – a near-death experience. When he was air-lifted from the Warwick Farm racecourse, Sydney, where he was playing polo after a massive heart attack, it was not permanent death but a near-death experience.[5] If it were permanent death, Packer would not have been alive to make that kind of blasphemous statement about what happens at death.[6] A much more reliable indicator is that provided by almighty God who stated that ‘each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment’ (Heb 9:27 NLT). Kerry Packer knows about it now. ‘Kerry Packer died of kidney failure on Boxing Day [26 December], 2005, aged 68’ (Phillips 2013).

However, God, in knowing that all human beings are sinful and guilty before Him, extended his goodness to them, those who did not deserve it. This is His grace in action. Thanks to God’s revelation in Scripture, we know that the grace of God manifested to sinful human beings, is what God does:[7]

(1) He is patient (forbearance) and delays punishment for sin (Ex 34:6; Rom 2:4-5; 3:25; 9:22; 1 Pet 3:20; 2 Pet 3:9, 15);

(2) In regard to salvation, God provides the proclamation of the Word of God, conviction of the Holy Spirit and prevenient grace (1 Jn 2:2; Hos 8:12; Jn 16:8-11; Matt 5:13-14; Tit 2:11). This is most often called the ‘common grace of God’.

But God’s special grace is seen in election and predestination (Eph 1:4-6); redemption (Eph 1:7-8); salvation (Acts 18:27); sanctification (Rom 5:21); continuing in the faith (2 Cor 12:9); receiving an unshakable kingdom (Heb 12:28); and continuing until the final revelation of Jesus Christ at his second coming (1 Pet 1:13).

2. Clumsy and not elegant

How would a person respond to the above?

She came back with, ‘The term “prevenient grace” always seemed kinda clumsy to me. The idea seems to be that God was ready with His grace before I ever thought about sinning. I’m grateful to Him for that, of course…but there should be a more elegant way to express it.  Ahh, well.  Who am I to try to rewrite the language?’[8]

While the word ‘prevenient grace’ does not appear in Scripture, to my knowledge, the teaching does. Let’s investigate the evidence.

B. Biblical evidence for prevenient grace[9]

Prevenient grace (or common grace) is not that difficult to explain. Titus 2:11 (ESV) does it very well, ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’. The issue relates to the fact that human beings can’t initiate salvation. If we are to be saved to inherit eternal life, God must take the initiative. Titus 2:11 makes it clear that when God takes this initiative, through his grace (common or prevenient), it frees the human will in relation to salvation. To further explain the meaning of ‘appeared’ in this verse, see my article:

clip_image004 How to interpret ‘appeared’ in Titus 2:11

That God has freed the will is inferred from the number of exhortations in Scripture to turn to God (see Prov 1:23; Isa 31:6; Ezek 14:6; 18:32; Joel 2:13-14; Matt 18:3; Acts 3:19). We also see it in the exhortations to repent (1 Kings 8:47; Matt 3:2; Mk 1:15; Lk 13:3, 5; Acts 2:38; 17:30. Then there are verses that exhort people to believe (2 Chron 20:20; Isa 43:10; Jn 6:29; 14:1; Acts 16:31; Phil 1:29; 1 Jn 3:23). It would be impossible to turn to God, repent or believe if God had not in some way made it possible for such to happen for rebel sinners. He does this by sending grace before. Prevenient is based on the Latin verb, praevenio, i.e. prae = before; venio = come.
This does not mean that this prevenient/common grace enables a person to change the permanent bent of his/her will towards God (that would be Pelagianism). It does mean that a person can make that initial response to God so that God can then give repentance and faith. It is like what the author wrote in Lamentations 5:21 (NIV), ‘Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return’. The KJV translated it as, ‘Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned’. We can see this message also affirmed in Jer 31:18-19; Ps 80:3; 85:4).

Since Scripture tells us this much, then God’s prevenient grace has given human beings a measure of freedom to be restored to him. We can see some of this expressed in a verse such as Rom 1:20 (ESV), ‘For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse‘ (emphasis added).

A simple definition of prevenient or common grace is: It is the grace of God that restores to the sinner the opportunity to make a favourable response to God. My view is that it is God’s grace that makes it possible for all people to be saved. God must take the initiative if human beings are to be saved. Titus 2:11 summarises prevenient grace.

Be warned! This discussion has caused theological heartache between Calvinists and Arminians, the latter supporting prevenient grace and the former opposing it. I’m a Reformed Arminian supporter of prevenient grace.

See these other articles,

clip_image006 Is prevenient grace still amazing grace?

clip_image006[1] Does God only draw certain people to salvation?

1. Prevenient cookies for the kids

Image result for clipart cookies public domainHow do you think the person would reply to the above evidence? Here goes: ‘There really ought to be a more elegant term for it.  But I can’t think of one, either. On the other hand, I can’t think of any other use for the term “prevenient”. She had gone to the store to provide prevenient cookies for the kids?  Nope…doesn’t work’.[10]

How do I respond to the concept of ‘prevenient cookies’?[11] I did give another term for prevenient grace, i.e. common grace. Or could we say that prevenient grace is synonymous with grace that God extends to all people that enables them to come to Christ. That’s enabling grace.

A little while back I wrote an article that attempts to address some of these issues: Is prevenient grace still amazing grace?

Perhaps it would be better to call it enabling, amazing grace before salvation (Titus 2:11 ESV).

In the Statement of Faith of the Society of Evangelical Arminians, part of it reads (in relation to prevenient grace):

We believe that humanity was created in the image of God but fell from its original sinless state through willful disobedience and Satan’s deception, resulting in eternal condemnation and separation from God. In and of themselves and apart from the grace of God human beings can neither think, will, nor do anything good, including believe. But the prevenient grace of God prepares and enables sinners to receive the free gift of salvation offered in Christ and his gospel. Only through the grace of God can sinners believe and so be regenerated by the Holy Spirit unto salvation and spiritual life. It is also the grace of God that enables believers to continue in faith as well as good in thought, will, and deed, so that all good deeds or movements that can be conceived must be ascribed to the grace of God.

‘Prevenient cookies for the kids’ could be ‘getting cookies so that the kids can gorge’ at the appropriate time – New Year’s Eve. Imagine having a theology of ‘grace in preparation for the gorge’. I’m not being sacrilegious. I’m using that analogy – with an extension. ‘Assisting grace’ that comes before salvation is the idea. It is contrary to irresistible grace.

See my article, How a Calvinist can distort the meaning of 2 Peter 3:9.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary online gives the meaning of ‘prevenient’ as antecedent, anticipatory (source). Dictionary.com provides the meaning as, ‘coming before, antecedent, anticipatory’.

How about antecedent grace or grace that comes before salvation?

C. The counter of irresistible grace

The most common resistance to the biblical view of prevenient grace comes from the Calvinistic exponents of irresistible grace.

This is the kind of argument from a Calvinist in support of irresistible grace and against prevenient grace:

The Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace should be rejected on biblical grounds. First and foremost, it turns Paul’s words “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:6) on their head. The Greek term used here means to “accomplish” or “perfect,” similar to how the writer of Hebrews says Jesus is the “author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). The doctrine of prevenient grace affirms that a work is done in the sinner but it denies that the efficacy of the grace is guaranteed. This makes no sense if we are assured that God will perfect what He starts in a person. Second, there is no reason to believe that the two “him’s” in John 6:44 are different groups of people. Two Greek words separate the first “him” who is drawn by the Father from the second “him” who is raised up on the last day. Grammatically and contextually, there is nothing that would begin to support the idea that the verse means not all who are drawn will be raised up on the last day. We find a similar idea in Romans 8:30, where we read that all whom God calls, referring to the inward calling, will be justified and later glorified (‘What is prevenient grace?’ Got Questions Ministries).

The counter to this is from James Arminius himself:

Concerning grace and free will, this is what I teach according to the Scriptures and orthodox consent: Free will is unable to begin or to perfect any true and spiritual good, without grace. That I may not be said, like Pelagius, to practice delusion with regard to the word “grace,” I mean by it that which is the grace of Christ and which belongs to regeneration. I affirm, therefore, that this grace is simply and absolutely necessary for the illumination of the mind, the due ordering of the affections, and the inclination of the will to that which is good. It is this grace which operates on the mind, the affections, and the will; which infuses good thoughts into the mind, inspires good desires into the actions, and bends the will to carry into execution good thoughts and good desires. This grace goes before, accompanies, and follows; it excites, assists, operates that we will, and co-operates lest we will in vain. It averts temptations, assists and grants succour in the midst of temptations, sustains man against the flesh, the world and Satan, and in this great contest grants to man the enjoyment of the victory. It raises up again those who are conquered and have fallen, establishes and supplies them with new strength, and renders them more cautious. This grace commences salvation, promotes it, and perfects and consummates it.

I confess that the mind of a natural and carnal man is obscure and dark, that his affections are corrupt and inordinate, that his will is stubborn and disobedient, and that the man himself is dead in sins. And I add to this — that teacher obtains my highest approbation who ascribes as much as possible to divine grace, provided he so pleads the cause of grace, as not to inflict an injury on the justice of God, and not to take away the free will to that which is evil (Works of James Arminius, vol 2. ‘Grace and Free will’)

The teaching of Arminius was that the will was so bound with sin that it is ‘dead in sins’ and that it needed God’s grace through Christ for regeneration. That grace is needed to illuminate the mind towards God. ‘This grace goes before, accompanies and follows’ regeneration.

1. What is irresistible grace?

clip_image008

(image courtesy ChristArt)

R. C. Sproul, a Calvinist, describes irresistible grace as ‘effectual calling’. For Sproul,

the effectual call of God is an inward call. It is the secret work of quickening or regeneration accomplished in the souls of the elect by the immediate supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit…. Effectual calling is irresistible in the sense that God sovereignly brings about its desired result…. irresistible in the sense that God’s grace prevails over our natural resistance to it (Sproul 1992:169-170).

We need to understand that the language of ‘effectual calling’ is a way to soften the language of ‘irresistible grace’, with the latter coming with overtones of God forcing a person to receive salvation. Lemke (2010:112) considers that ‘some contemporary Calvinists seem to be a little embarrassed by the term “irresistible grace” and have sought to soften it or to replace it with a term like “effectual calling”‘.

While Sproul (1992), Spurgeon (1856) and J. I. Packer (1993:152-153) use the language of ‘effectual calling’, other Calvinists are more up front in emphasising that grace that brings about salvation cannot be refused – people are unable to resist. Packer’s language is that ‘in effectual calling God quickens the dead’, people understand the gospel through the Holy Spirit enlightening and renewing the hearts of elect sinners. They embrace this ‘truth from God, and God in Christ becomes to them an object of desire and affection’ as they are now regenerate and have been enabled ‘by the use of their freed will to choose God and the good’ and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour (Packer 1993:153). Spurgeon (1856) said, ‘If he shall but say, “To-day I must abide at thy house,” there will be no resistance in you…. If God says “I must,” there is no standing against it. Let him say “must,” and it must be’.

Steele, Thomas and Quinn (2004:52-54), as Calvinists, are more to the point, using the language that ‘the special inward call of the Spirit never fails to result in the conversion of those to whom it is made’. It is issued ‘only to the elect’ and the Spirit does not depend on ‘their help or cooperation’. In fact, ‘for the grace which the Holy Spirit extends to the elect cannot be thwarted or refused, it never fails to bring them to true faith in Christ’. That sounds awfully like God forcing the elect to come to Christ and by implication, leaving the non-elect to damnation, or God’s choice to irresistibly damn the non-elect.

John Piper and the staff at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, MN, do not use the softly, softly language. They state that irresistible grace

does not mean that every influence of the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted. It means that the Holy Spirit can overcome all resistance and make his influence irresistible…. The doctrine of irresistible grace means that God is sovereign and can overcome all resistance when he wills.[12]

However, there is a paradoxical statement in the Bethlehem Baptist statement in that only a few paragraphs after making the above declaration, it stated:

Irresistible grace never implies that God forces us to believe against our will. That would even be a contradiction in terms. On the contrary, irresistible grace is compatible with preaching and witnessing that tries to persuade people to do what is reasonable and what will accord with their best interests.[13]

It sure is a contradiction in terms and the Bethlehem Baptist Church has given that contradiction by affirming that ‘the Holy Spirit can overcome all resistance’, yet God never ‘forces us to believe against our will’.[14] They state that irresistible grace has been described this way:

When God calls his elect into salvation, they cannot resist. God offers to all people the gospel message. This is called the external call. But to the elect, God extends an internal call and it cannot be resisted. This call is by the Holy Spirit who works in the hearts and minds of the elect to bring them to repentance and regeneration whereby they willingly and freely come to God. Some of the verses used in support of this teaching are Romans 9:16 where it says that “it is not of him who wills nor of him who runs, but of God who has mercy“; Philippians 2:12-13 where God is said to be the one working salvation in the individual; John 6:28-29 where faith is declared to be the work of God; Acts 13:48 where God appoints people to believe; and John 1:12-13 where being born again is not by man’s will, but by God’s.[15]

A Calvinist continued his opposition to prevenient grace: ‘Why don’t you consider prevenient grace a violation of free will?’[16]

This was my response:[17] It is not a violation of free will. It is common grace. It is no more a violation of free will than a person receiving a soul/spirit is a violation of free will.

God takes the initiative in all salvation. We know that prevenient grace is not a violation of free will because God has stated it clearly. This is what He has done: ‘For the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation for all people’ (Titus 2:11 ESV).

This means that the human will is freed in relation to salvation. It is not a violation of free will. We know that the will has been freed in relation to salvation because it is implied in the exhortations given above:

  • to turn to God.
  • to repent, and
  • to believe.

Prevenient or common grace is no more a violation of a person’s will than their receiving a beating heart before birth and breath after birth. See, ‘How your baby begins to breathe’ (Dr Amy).

2. Why irresistible grace is unbiblical

Love and justice

(image courtesy ChristArt)

See the William Birch article, on the Society of Evangelical Arminians’ website, ‘Arminius vs Calvin on Irresistible Grace’.[18] Some of the chief theological issues, as I understand them, with irresistible grace, are:

clip_image010 It violates the fundamental principle that God gave to our first parents (Adam & Eve) in the Garden at the beginning of the human race, ‘ And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die”’ (Gen 2:16-17 ESV). The man, Adam was given the freedom to choose to eat or not to eat from the tree. What did Adam do? He and his wife exercised their God-given free wills and they ate, thus bringing sin to the entire human race (Gen 3:1-7).

When it comes to salvation, this principle of free will choice is violated by Calvinistic irresistible grace. The Calvinistic view is God forcing the salvation of grace on human beings. The obvious response is that that is for the eternal benefit of the saved. My response is that this is for the eternal damnation of the lost as well. Double predestination (i.e. both the lost and saved are predestined eternally by God) makes God into a monster, in my view, who demands that a large section of humanity will be eternally perishing – according to His irresistible grace. It is demanded by God that it should be that way. What kind of God would do that when he has declared he is a God of love for the whole world (John 3:16)?

Is this a libertine view of free will? Not at all! See my article,

blue-coil-sm What is the nature of human free will?

This leads to some further, but related, problems with irresistible grace:

clip_image010[1] It reveals God as an unfair supernatural being. See my articles,

blue-coil-sm The injustice of the God of Calvinism;

blue-coil-sm Sent to hell by God: Calvinism in action?

clip_image011 It contravenes a fundamental of New Testament Christianity of God

loving the world and Jesus’ dying for the whole world of sinners. This is explained in my articles,

blue-coil-sm Does God’s grace make salvation available to all people?

blue-coil-sm Calvinists squirming over the world;

blue-coil-sm Does God love the world or only the elect?

blue-coil-sm Did Jesus die for the sins of the whole world?

clip_image011[1] It makes God into a Being of partiality who plays the favourites. This especially violates the biblical teaching, ‘for God does not show favoritism’ (Rom 2:11 NIV). In Romans 2, the context is no favouritism between Jews and Greeks (Gentiles). Then in Acts 10:34-35 (NIV), Peter preached the good news to the Gentiles, ‘Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right’.

Caleb Colley explained:

Exactly what does it mean that God is impartial? God offers salvation to every man, no matter what external circumstances, such as socioeconomic status or nationality, might apply to him. God does not offer salvation only to the Jew, just because he is a Jew, or only to the Gentile because he is a Gentile. The Greek word translated “respecter of persons” in the King James Version of Acts 10:34 (“God is no respecter of persons”) is prosopolemptes, a word that refers to a judge who looks at a man’s face instead of at the facts of the case, and makes a decision based on whether or not he likes the man (Lenski, 1961, p. 418). Under Roman law, for example, a defendant’s societal status was weighed heavily along with evidence. Any human judge might show undue favor to a plaintiff or a defendant because of private friendship, bribery, rank, power, or political affiliation, but God, the perfect Judge, cannot be tempted by any of the things that might tempt a human judge to show unfair partiality.[19]

D. Conclusion

This is not an article where I provide a refutation of every verse the Calvinists use to try to counter prevenient grace. It is an overview of some of the issues. I write as a Reformed, classical Arminian who is convinced from Scripture of the doctrine of prevenient grace as taught in Titus 2:11 (ESV).

For a refutation of one of the primary Calvinistic verses against prevenient grace, see Craig L. Adams, “Calvinism and John 6:44?. John 6:44 (ESV) reads, ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day’.

I am convinced that the biblical evidence points to prevenient grace that is an antecedent to salvation, but it is grace that is available to all but can be resisted.

Works consulted

Lemke, S W 2010. A biblical and theological critique of irresistible grace. David L. Allen & Steve W. Lemke (eds). Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, 109-162. Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic.

Packer, J I 1993. Concise Theology. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers Inc.

Phillips, N 2013. Packer’s last words to his son. The Sydney Morning Herald (online), February 11. Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/packers-last-words-to-his-son-20130210-2e6jw.html (Accessed 2 February 2016).

Rowe, D 2009. What Should I Believe? Why Our Beliefs about the Nature of Death and the Purpose of Life Dominate Our Lives. London and New York: Routledge.

Sproul, R C 1992. Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers Inc.

Spurgeon, C H 1856. Effectual calling, sermon 73, 30 March. Available at: http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0073.htm (Accessed 5 October 2011).

Steele, D N, Thomas C C, & Quinn S L 2004. The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, Documented. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed.

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.


Notes

[1] Christianity Board, Grace, The Barrd#1. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/22258-grace/#entry268559 (Accessed 31 December 2015).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#4.

[3] The Age, Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer 1937-2005: Obituary (online), 28 December 2005. Available at: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2005/12/27/1135445572500.html?page=fullpage (Accessed 1 January 2016).

[4] This report stated that Packer was ‘without a pulse for six minutes’, Emma Alberici, Kerry Packer dies, The 7.30 Report (online), 27 December 2005. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2005/s1538560.htm (Accessed 1 January 2016).

[5] See the photograph of Kerry Packer on his hospital bed, who had been ‘admitted to Saint Vincent’s Hospital after suffering a heart attack while playing polo at Warwick Farm, 7 October 1990’. Available from gettyimages at: http://www.gettyimages.com.au/detail/news-photo/kerry-packer-is-admitted-to-saint-vincents-hospital-after-news-photo/539703913 (Accessed 1 January 2016). See other details of this Packer experience in ‘Kerry Packer and a plea for privacy’ (Oxford University Press 2015), available at: http://www.oup.com.au/orc/extra_pages/higher_education/hirst__and__patching/kerry_packer (Accessed 1 January 2016).

[6] For an example of research into near-death experiences, see the interview with Dr Peter Fenwick, one of Britain’s leading neuropsychiatrists, on a year-old research project in the cardiac unit, Southampton General Hospital on Australia’s Lateline, 30 October 2000. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/stories/s206217.htm (Accessed 1 January 2016).

[7] With help from Thiessen (1949:155-156).

[8] Christianity Board, loc cit., The Barrd#5.

[9] With considerable help from Thiessen (1949:155-156).

[10] Christianity Board, loc cit., The Barrd#7.

[11] Ibid., OzSpen#8.

[12] Desiring God, ‘What we believe about the five points of Calvinism’ (rev. March 1998). Available at: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/what-we-believe-about-the-five-points-of-calvinism#Grace (Accessed 5 October 2011). I was alerted to this reference from Piper in Lemke (2010)..

[13] Ibid.

[14] This contradiction was pointed out in Lemke (2010:112).

[15] The Calvinist Corner, available at: http://calvinistcorner.com/tulip (Accessed 3 October 2011).

[16] Christian Forums.com, The ‘Free Will’ Dilemma, Hammster #517, June 23, 2013. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/threads/the-free-will-dilemma.7746203/page-26 (Accessed 31 December 2015).

[17] Ibid., OzSpen#519.

[18] This was posted, July 5, 2010.

[19] Apologetics Press 2004. God is no respecter of persons (online). Available at: http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=12&article=1440 (Accessed 31 December 2015).

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 4 June 2016.

Does God love the world or only the elect?

God is Love

(courtesy ChristArt)

 

By Spencer D Gear

This is a reasonable question:

When christians tell non-believers God loves them, before sharing the gospel. There are many verses I can refer to with regards to the Love shown by God to both believer and unbeliever. But when we say “God loves you”, is there scripture to show this?[1]

After a reply, he wrote this response:

The problem I run into is the context.

1. John 3:16 is the top verse I hear. Does it mean the WHOLE WORLD.
I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. (John 17:9 KJV)
*why not the world?
2. When verses are referring to believers (Israel/ church) and not unbelievers.
3. I know God sends the rain to both the wicked and the righteous.
A better question I should ask is…..
Would YOU tell Esau “God loves you”?[2]

My response was:[3]

John 17:9 states, ‘I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours’ (ESV).

With regard to John 17:9 and who it is that Jesus is praying for, we get the answer by reading the context. Please read the whole of John 17 to know who Jesus is praying for. Evangelical commentator, Leon Morris, wrote of John 17:9:

Very simply Jesus prays for them. He makes a distinction between the little band of disciples and the world. His prayer is not for “the world”. This does not mean that “the world” is beyond God’s love. Elsewhere we are specifically told that He loves it (3:16). And throughout this chapter it is plain that Jesus came with a mission to the world, and that the disciples were now to carry it on. A little later Jesus prays that the disciples may do certain things “that the world may believe…” (v. 21), and “that the world may know” (v. 23). The world is to be reached through the disciples and it is for His agents that Jesus prays. But He could scarcely pray for “the world” as such. As “the world” it was ranged in opposition to God. Its salvation lay precisely in its ceasing to be “the world”. Prayer for the world could only be that it be converted and no longer by the world. But that would be a different prayer. We see it for example in His prayer for those who crucified Him (Luke 23:34). Now He prays rather for the little group of His friends. Notice that they are again described in terms of their relationship to the Father. They have been “given” to Christ. They belong to the Father (Morris1971:725).

Another wrote:

There are passages in John that can reasonably be interpreted that way [God loved the world, John 3:16] , e.g. John 14:23. Personally I tend towards a more universal concept. Luke 6:35 suggests that our love for enemies is based on God’s own love for his enemies, but I think a reasonable case can be made that God only loves his people, and in John, only the elect.[4]

My response was:

If God only loved the elect, that makes “for God so loved the world” an oxymoron.

It makes God commit self-contradiction, which he does not do. Could it be that your doctrine of God only loving the elect is the one in error? “God so loved the world” cannot be dissected and deconstructed to mean “God so loved the elect”, unless one wants to get into eisegesis.

Luke 6:35 has no relation to God’s love for the world or the elect. It relates to what he told his disciples to do, ‘But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great…” It is talking about rewards for believers, not whether or not God loves the world or only the elect. In context, I think you are wanting Luke 6:35 to say something it does not say. Clutching at straws?[5]

Norman Geisler (1999:77) agreed: ‘Few teachings are more evident in the New Testament than that God loves all people, that Christ died for the sins of all human beings (cf. 1 Tim 2:4-6; 1 John 2:2), and that God desires all people to be saved (2 Peter 3:9)’.

 

References

Geisler, N 1999. Chosen but free. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.

Morris, Leon 1971. The Gospel according to John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

 

Notes:

[1] Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘The Love of God’, toolmanjantzi#1, Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7721033/ (Accessed 3 February 2013).

[2] Ibid, toolmanjantzi#3.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#13.

[4] Ibid., Hendrick#12.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen#14.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 2 February 2016.

Righteousness and justice for the Christian

(courtesy clipartbest.com)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

The Christian can be trapped into thinking that when ‘righteousness’ is used in Scripture it has an English flavour in its meaning. Oxford dictionaries give the meaning as ‘the quality of being morally right or justifiable’. It is the opposite of wickedness or sinfulness (2015. S v righteousness). Or, it has the meaning of being ‘morally good: following religious or moral laws’ (Merriam-Webster Dictionary 2015. S v righteousness).

Is that the meaning of the word in Bible verses such as Rom 3:21-26 (ESV)?

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Meaning of righteousness in Scripture

Richard Strauss has summarised the biblical material well, in my understanding of Scripture,[1]

While the most common Old Testament word for just means ‘straight,’ and the New Testament word means ‘equal,’ in a moral sense they both mean ‘right.’ When we say that God is just, we are saying that He always does what is right, what should be done, and that He does it consistently, without partiality or prejudice. The word just and the word righteous are identical in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Sometimes the translators render the original word ‘just’ and other times ‘righteous’ with no apparent reason (cf. Nehemiah 9:8 and 9:33 where the same word is used). But whichever word they use, it means essentially the same thing. It has to do with God’s actions. They are always right and fair.

God’s righteousness (or justice) is the natural expression of His holiness. If He is infinitely pure, then He must be opposed to all sin, and that opposition to sin must be demonstrated in His treatment of His creatures. When we read that God is righteous or just, we are being assured that His actions toward us are in perfect agreement with His holy nature (Strauss 1984:140).?

I was alerted to that quote in Bob Deffinbaugh’s article, ‘The Righteousness of God‘.

1. Justice and righteousness[2]

Image result for clipart justice public domainIn English, righteousness and justice are 2 different words but in the Hebrew OT and Greek NT that is not so as there is only one word root behind both ‘righteousness’ and ‘justice’.

The word for righteousness, dikaiosune,[3] means ‘uprightness, justice as of a judge’. Examples include ‘enforce justice’ (Heb 11:33), ‘judge justly’ (Acts 17:31; Rev 19:11); ‘righteousness, uprightness as the compelling motive for the conduct of one’s whole life: hunger and thirst for uprightness’ (Matt 5:6) [Arndt & Gingrich 1957:195, emphasis in original].

So the meaning of this word is that God always does what is correct/right and God determines the standard of what is right.
These verses teach us this meaning of righteous/justice (emphasis added):

  • Gen 18:25 (ESV), ‘Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?’
  • Deut 32:4 (ESV), ‘all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he’.
  • Isa 45:19 (ESV), ‘I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right‘.
  • Paul tells us that God’s sending Christ as a sacrifice for the punishment for sins in Rom 3:25-26 (ESV), it ‘was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus’.

This is reason for us to praise God that in everything he does; all his ways are righteous. They are just; there is no injustice in Him. Question: How does God’s justice harmonise with the killing of all the inhabitants of Ai (Joshua 8:24 ESV)?

When we examine a text such as Genesis 15:16, [4] we see what God warned Abraham what would happen: ‘And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete’ (ESV). The promise was that the time of the iniquity of the Amorites ‘was not yet complete’ after the Israelites left the nation of Egypt. The implication of that Scripture is that when the wickedness of the Canaanites had reached God’s limit of guilt or restraint, God would remove them from the land.

That is what he did to Jericho and Ai (Joshua 8:18-26). He did it with Makkedah (Josh 10:28), Lachish (Josh 10:32); Eglon (Josh 10:34-35); Debir (Josh 10:38-39), and the cities of the Negev and the Shepheliah (Josh 10:40). You can read about God’s punishment of Hazor, Madon, Shimron and Achspaph (Josh 11:10-14). It happened previously to Sodom & Gomorrah. You can read about what God did with his punishment of other cities according to Judges 19 and Judges 20.

When we engage in the plain reading of Scripture, we cannot get past the fact that when degenerate idolatry and brazen moral depravity developed in nations, God had to remove them so that the theocratic kingdom of Israel could settle in those regions.

I do not like the deplorable loss of life and atrocities that happened in these nations, but it would be much worse if these depraved activities were allowed to continue among God’s people.

How does God’s justice harmonise with this carnage? God warns about the consequences of sin. If people and nations continue to act against God’s instructions, he will so what is right and bring punishment. He warns before he does it. ‘Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?’ (Gen 18:25). The lesson is this: Anyone can live this life as he/she wishes, but there are consequences – God’s consequences – when we give God the shaft and follow Frank Sinatra’s dictum, ‘I did it my way‘.

See John MacArthur, ‘The lover of righteousness’ (in MacArthur 1993: December 15).

How does righteousness fit with ‘holiness’?

2. Holiness

Psalm 99:9 (ESV) states, ‘The Lord our God is holy‘. God is called the ‘Holy One of Israel’ (Ps Pss 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Isa 1:4; 5:19, 24; etc). When God says he is holy, it means he is separate from sin.

However, using his own holiness as an example, God commands, ‘Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy’ (Lev 19:2 ESV). We find a similar message in 1 Peter 1:16 (ESV), ‘since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy”’. Also, in the New Covenant, ‘Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord’ (Heb 12:14 NIV). Hebrews 12:10 (ESV) reminds us that God ‘disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness’.

Free photo of a red rose bud

What is the meaning of holiness to be experienced by the Christian believer? Heb 12:14 is a parallel verse to 1 Thess 4:7 (NIV), ‘For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life’. Hagiasmos (holiness) in Heb 12:14 (NIV) presupposes that a person is reconciled with Christ through justification. ‘The word denotes a process by which we become separated unto God in our entire life and conduct. We, who are already hagioi [holy] by faith, are ever to continue in pursuit of hagiasmos, a life that is more and more sanctified to God’ (Lenski 1966:443). The author of Hebrews was writing to people in a pagan culture who had recently become Christians. They knew what it was to be embroiled in a culture that was very unlike that of God’s requirements. Unless this changed life of growing to be more like the holy God was evident, these people would not see God. Why? It was because they were not Christians and were incapable of separating from worldly things.

So, God disciplines us so that we may share his separateness from sin. As we grow to be more like Jesus, we will more and more be separate from sin – not performing acts of sin. This is related to sanctification. That is how Lenski translates Heb 12:14, ‘Peace continue to pursue with all, and the sanctification without which no one shall see the Lord’ (Lenski 1966:442).

It does raise the question: How can any believer be separate from sin in a world that is contaminated by sin?

How does this sanctifying holiness relate to purity?

3. Purity

Do you remember the problems that Paul had with moral impurity in churches? See the church of Galatia (Gal 1:6-9; 3:1-5) and the church of Corinth (1 Cor 3:1-4; 4:18-21; 5:1-2, 6; 6:1-8; 11:17-22; 14:20-23; 15:2; 2 Cor 1:23-2:11; 11:3-5, 12-15; 12:19-21).

Second Cor 12:21 (ESV) states, ‘I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practised’.

Pure EvidenceLet’s look at the opposite word first. The word translated ‘impurity’ relates to ‘those who sinned’. It is the Greek, akatharsia, that is translated as ‘impurity’ (ESV, NIV, NLT, NASB, HCSB, ISV, NET, NRSV, NAB, NJB), ‘uncleanness’ (KJV, Douay-Rheims, NKJV). Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon (1957:28) gives the meaning as referring literally to ‘refuse’ (Matt 23:27) and in a moral sense of people who commit ‘immorality, viciousness, especially of sexual sins’ (2 Cor 12:21; Gal 5:19; Col 3:5; Eph 5:3) and is the opposite of hagiasmos (or hagismos) in 1 Thess 4:7 and Rom 6:19.

Thayer’s lexicon gives the meaning of hagiasmos as consecration and the effect of consecration (which is sanctification of heart and life) as in 1 Cor 1:30; 1 Thess 4:7; Rom 6:19, 22; 1 Tim 2:15; Heb 12:14. It is produced by the Holy Spirit (2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2), so it is opposed to lust (as in 1 Thess 4:7) (Thayer 1885/1962:6).

Impurity will separate the sinner from worship of God and involvement with God’s people. Paul could be referring to the libertines of Corinth who could state, ‘Food for the stomach and the stomach for food’ (1 Cor 6:13 NIV). A follow on to this philosophy could be that other physical satisfactions were also permitted – including impurity.

So, purity, being the opposite of impurity, can have this meaning: Wayne Grudem provides this definition, ‘The purity of the church is its degree of freedom from wrong doctrine and conduct, and its degree of conformity to God’s revealed will for the church‘ (Grudem 1999:371, emphasis in original).

Purity in Christian conduct thus deals with acceptance and practice of God’s standard of doctrine and behaviour. It is caused by the Holy Spirit’s ministry to us and clean-up of our lives.

How does this relate to God’s call for the Christian to be perfect? Or, is ‘perfect’ the wrong word in English translations.

4. Perfection

A person asked: I see a Christian is imperfect or incomplete and is without purity. She thinks perfection ‘describes only God’.[5] This cannot be correct because Matt 5:48 (ESV) states, ‘You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect’. So believers need to be perfect in some way that is parallel to that of the heavenly Father’s perfection.[6]

I need to dig deeper. Does ‘perfect’ here have the meaning in English, ‘Having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be’ or ‘free from any flaw or defect in condition or quality; faultless’? Does it mean ideal, flawless or exemplary? (Oxford dictionaries 2015. S v perfect).

So, what then is the meaning of ‘perfect’ in Matt 5:48 (ESV) if ‘you therefore must be perfect’?[7] How can you and I be or become perfect in the English sense of faultless?

Image result for clipart goal public domainThe word used in the Greek of Matt 5:48, teleioi, is from telos, which means end, goal or limit. So, the standard to which we are called – the goal – is the Heavenly Father’s standard. The word is also used for a relative perfection of adults when compared with children.

The parallel verse is with Deut 18:13 (ESV), ‘You shall be blameless [upright, sincere] before the Lord your God’. So God is perfect in the sense of being true and upright in how he deals with us. That is the model we have to follow. In the Hebrew of Deut 18:13 (ESV), the word sham is used for ‘blameless’ and has the sense of being complete like a whole number, the full time, an animal without blemish or deformity.

In Matt 5:48 (ESV), it is the English understanding of ‘perfect’ as sinless that causes us to miss the meaning. We know that sinlessness is not the meaning of ‘prefect’ because in Matt 5:6 (ESV), the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his disciples (and us) that ‘blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied’.

It is unfortunate that the English does not seem to have a single word that conveys the idea of the Greek of aiming for the goal. Yes, that goal should include loving our enemies and friends but this love will have blemishes in it as we reach for the goal.

So to become perfect is not referring to perfection – in the English sense of the word. That will never be possible in this life. It is referring to reaching for the goal of becoming like our Father. He is infinite in his attributes. We are finite. Becoming more like Jesus in our thinking and actions should be our aim. This is called progressive sanctification; becoming progressively more like Jesus is our goal.

This will include renewing of the mind. See my article: Are unthinking Christians normal for Christianity?

Conclusion

Four aspects of the Christian’s new life in Christ were investigated: righteousness, holiness, purity and being perfect.

It was found that righteousness and justice are synonymous terms, from God’s perspective. God’s expectation of believers is that they do what is right (practise justice) with God’s law as the standard.

Holiness is the call to be separate from the actions of sin in a sinful world. This involves progressive sanctification, a process by which we become separated to God in our entire life and conduct.

This is parallel with purity, which means acceptance and practice of God’s standard of doctrine and behaviour, through the enabling of the Holy Spirit’s ministry.

To be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect does not involve what the word for ‘perfect’ means in English. It refers to the call of all believers to reach for the goal of becoming more like the Father.

All of these words cover various areas of growth in sanctification for the believer. My observation is that this is not an area of emphasis in many evangelical churches in my part of the world.

(courtesy pinterest.com)

Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[8] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Grudem, W 1999. Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith. J Purswell (ed). Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press (by special arrangement with Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House).

Lenski, R C H 1966. Commentary on the New Testament: Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and of the Epistle of James. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (limited edition licensed by special permission of Augsburg Fortress).

MacArthur, Jr., J F 1993. Drawing Near. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.

Strauss, R L 1984. The Joy of Knowing God. Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers.

Thayer, J. H. 1885, 1962, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti). Tr, rev & enl by J H Thayer. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.  (Note: The first Zondervan printing of this edition was in 1962, but Thayer’s preface in the lexicon was first written in 1885.) A Cornell University edition is available online at: http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924021607704;view=1up;seq=13;size=125 (Accessed 18 December 2015).

Notes


[1] I posted this material in Christian Forums.net, ‘Righteousness, Holiness, Purity, etc’, OzSpen#2. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/righteousness-holiness-purity-etc.62455/ (Accessed 18 December 2015).

[2] I posted the following material in ibid., OzSpen#7.

[3] The last Greek letter in dikaiosune is eta, seventh letter of the Greek alphabet, which is transliterated into English as ‘e’ with an ellipse. However, the html of this website converts letters with an ellipse into question marks. Therefore, I have used ‘e’ as the transliteration, but that is also the transliteration of the fifth letter of the Greek alphabet, epsilon. That is confusing but I am left with no alternative. Since ‘o’ with an ellipse is the transliteration of omega, the last letter of the Greek alphabet, I have chosen to use a transliteration of ‘w’, which was used by some earlier Greek NT scholars. Wikibooks states, ‘Sometimes unofficially it is rendered as w (inspired by the shape of the small letter)’ (2014. S v Modern Greek / Lession 4x).

[4] This response is based on Christian Forums.com [as opposed to Christian Forums.net], Christian Apologetics, ‘Contradictions in the Bible’, December 10, 2015, OzSpen#165. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/threads/contradictions-in-the-bible.7918 (Accessed 18 December 2015).

[5] Christian Forums.net, ibid., Classik#10.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#12.

[7] Most of this information was shared in ibid., OzSpen#14.

[8] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev & augmented edn 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 19 December 2015.