Archive for September, 2011

Christian cafe owner threatened with arrest for playing DVD of Bible verses

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

video-police-ban-bible-from-christian-cafe

Jamie Murray runs Salt & Light Cafe, Blackpool, Lancashire, UK  (courtesy The Christian Institute)

By Spencer D Gear

Do we understand the seriousness of the times in which we live? This story that I read from the UK caused me to reflect on how much longer it will be before Christians in our countries could face similar threats when we evangelise in public.

You might like to take a read of several takes on this story:

Police tell cafe owner: Stop showing Bible DVDs, or we will have to arrest you;

Christian cafe warned over homophobic Bible verses:

Christian cafe owner warned by police over Bible verse display;

Police to British cafe: Don’t show Bible DVD;

More appalling Christophobia (I was alerted to this issue by Bill Muehlenberg who wrote this article).

The Christian Institute has provided an early assessment of the case, ‘Video: Police ban Bible from Christian cafe’.

The Baptist Press link above concludes the article with this challenge:

“England, the U.S. and other Western nations share the same legal, political and religious traditions,” Mike Judge, a spokesman for the Christian Institute in the U.K., told Baptist Press last year. “If this can happen in England, it can happen where you live. Christians need to be aware that small changes in the law can lead to big changes in the culture. If you want to be free to share the Gospel, you must defend that liberty in the public square. Don’t hide in your churches; get out there and engage in the culture. Do it wisely, graciously, with excellence and with courage.”

Will we evangelicals continue to remain silent while our Christian liberties are being eroded? What will be your response if there is a complaint against you when you share the Gospel with unbelievers in your country?

I urge you to seriously consider the Christian challenges in our culture and become an active person in standing for the faith and challenging those (including government) who may want to silence us.

Is this religious discrimination or not? What is happening to our Western world when a person who plays a silent edition of the Bible in his own business is threatened with arrest?

There is a follow-up report from the Christian Institute in the UK, ‘Police say ‘sorry’ over Christian café Bible case’. However the case is not ending there as the Christian Institute states in this news release.

 

Copyright © 2011 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at date: 8 October 2015.

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My response to Pat Robertson’s advice to divorce for dementia

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

Pat Robertson Paparazzo Photography.jpg

Pat Robertson (courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

Controversy has erupted in the Christian community over Pat Robertson’s advice on his national Christian Broadcasting Network TV programme in the USA, ‘if he’s (the Christian husband) going to do something he should divorce her and start all over again’. He said that it was OK for a husband to divorce his wife who has Alzheimer’s disease (dementia). Robertson did this on the 700 Club, 13 September 2011. This is some of how it was reported in an article in Christianity Today of Pat Robertson’s advice to a viewer on[1]

yesterday’s 700 Club to avoid putting a “guilt trip” on those who want to divorce a spouse with Alzheimer’s. During the show’s advice segment, a viewer asked Robertson how she should address a friend who was dating another woman “because his wife as he knows her is gone.” Robertson said he would not fault anyone for doing this. He then went further by saying it would be understandable to divorce a spouse with the disease.

“That is a terribly hard thing,” Robertson said. “I hate Alzheimer’s. It is one of the most awful things because here is a loved one—this is the woman or man that you have loved for 20, 30, 40 years. And suddenly that person is gone. They’re gone. They are gone. So, what he says basically is correct. But I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something he should divorce her and start all over again. But to make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her.”

Co-host Terry Meeuwsen asked Pat, “But isn’t that the vow that we take when we marry someone? That it’s For better or for worse. For richer or poorer?”

Robertson said that the viewer’s friend could obey this vow of “death till you part” because the disease was a “kind of death.” Robertson said he would understand if someone started another relationship out of a need for companionship.

Robertson gave the example of a friend who faithfully visited his wife every day even though she could not remember his visits to illustrate the difficulty of caring for someone with the disease.

“It’s really hurtful because they say crazy things,” Robertson said. “Nevertheless, it is a terribly difficult thing for somebody. I can’t fault him for wanting some kind of companionship. And if he says in a sense she is gone, he’s right. It’s like a walking death. Get some ethicist besides me to give you an answer because I recognize the dilemma and the last thing I’d do is condemn you for taking that kind of action.”

Robertson’s advice stands in stark contrast with most theologians and ethicists who would advise fidelity. The decision would not be easy.

What the mass media are saying

The New York Times of 16 September 2011 reported this news in, ‘Robertson Stirs Passions With Suggestion to Divorce an Alzheimer’s Patient’. In the article was this comment:

Dr. James E. Galvin, a neurologist who runs a dementia clinic at New York University Langone Medical Center, said it was wrong to say that people with Alzheimer’s were “gone,” or to call its late stages “a kind of death.”

“While it’s true that in terminal phases, patients may not be fully aware of what’s going on, they tend to recognize the people who are closest to them,” Dr. Galvin said.

With good care, people may live 15 to 20 years with the disease, most of that time at home, Dr. Galvin said. If they eventually move to a nursing home and seem unaware of what is going on around them, he said, then spouses face “an individualized decision” about when and how to develop new relationships, ones based on religion and ethics, not science.[2]

Other mass media headlines included:

The After-Wife;

Pat Robertson Says Alzheimer’s Makes Divorce OK;

Is Alzheimer’s grounds for divorce?

Pat Robertson’s Alzheimer’s Divorce Comments Demean Marriage;

Pat Robertson Says Divorcing Spouse With Alzheimer’s is OK;

Pat Robertson says Alzheimer’s justifies divorce;

Pat Robertson: Alzheimer’s Justifies Divorce;

Pat Robertson: Divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer’s is justifiable;

Pat Robertson infuriates Christian faithful with Alzheimer’s comments;

OK to divorce Alzheimer’s wife: TV evangelist (an Australian newspaper).

How are Christian leaders responding?

The Christian press and voices have been devastating in their critique of Robertson’s advice:

Pat Robertson Says Divorce Okay if Spouse has Alzheimer’s;

Pat Robertson Alzheimer’s Comments ‘Carnal and Selfish,’ Say Christian Leaders;

‘700 Club’ Addresses Pat Robertson Alzheimer’s Quotes as Debate Continues;

Rick Warren Reacts to Pat Robertson Alzheimer’s Comments by Highlighting Marriage Vows;

Joni Eareckson Tada Dismayed by Robertson’s Alzheimer’s Remarks;

Follow McQuilkin not Robertson on Alzheimer’s and divorce;

On Marriage and Alzheimer’s Disease: Listen to Robertson McQuilkin and not Pat Robertson;

Pat Robertson: Divorce OK in Case of Alzheimer’s;

Pat Robertson: Alzheimer’s is a “Kind of Death”, So Divorce is Permissible.

How should a Christian respond?

On a Christian Forum, a Christian wrote:

After reading his [Robertson’s] own words on this I find they are even more mature and better than I had thought. He recognizes the difficulty and is not saying one way is right, so much as in real life sometimes we live with hard choices. He accepts the fact of what is called ‘cold logic’ can apply, and so works to mitigate the damages instead of insist on an idealistic absolutism of behavior that in the end leads to law breaking.

Note that he insists that the person get good care, not be just abandoned. Note also he does not say such a move is ‘right’ but that if it is done we should not lay a ‘guilt trip’ on the one doing it. That is, no compromise in the moral law, but in the acceptance of imperfect persons in an imperfect world.[3]

My response is:

You are rationalising Pat Robertson’s ungodly advice. There are at least two issues here that a godly person should pursue and Robertson should be advising:

1.  Your faithfulness to your wife is critical to truth in marriage. Never, ever break your vow to be faithful to her in sickness and in health.

2.  God’s advice to you if you have a husband or a wife with dementia is, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4 NIV). God’s desire is for your faith to mature through the trials you face. This is one of the many trials God is sending your way, to test what kind of stuff your faith is made of.

I consider that we are advocating soft Christianity instead of what God wants according to passages such James 1:2-5 and 1 Peter 1:6-7.[4]

I find Pat Robertson’s advice reprehensible. Since I have counselled a number of men and women down through the years whose spouses have had Alzheimer’s, in my professional counselling role, I understand the struggles they have. My wife and I recently visited our former neighbour. His second wife (he was a widower when he married this widow) has deteriorated so badly with dementia over the last 4 years that he is at the point of despair, not knowing what to do with her, except to be there for her. He is not a Christian believer.

Compared with Pat Robertson’s advice, there is a much more mature, wiser and godly approach to a spouse who contracts dementia by Robertson McQuilkin. He was president of Columbia Bible College & Seminary when his wife of 40 years contracted Alzheimer’s disease. He wrote this about his personal journey back in 2004,Living by vows“. I re-read it and tears came to my eyes to listen to this godly man and his response to his loving wife who could no longer communicate with him. There is an interview with McQuilkin in Christianity Today regarding his wife Muriel’s Alzheimer’s, ‘The Gradual Grief of Alzheimer’s‘. Muriel died on 20 September 2003 after suffering from Alzheimer’s for 25 years.[5] Robertson McQuilkin wrote after Muriel’s death, ‘Grieving with gratitude’, in which he reflected, ‘In the week after my wife’s death, I struggled with whether I should be grieving my loss or celebrating Muriel’s gain’. He resigned as president of Columbia Bible College and Seminary[6] in 1990 so that he could care for Muriel.

J Robertson McQuilkin (courtesy Columbia International University)

Columbia International University where J Robertson McQuilkin was president, 1968-1990, has stated of President Emeritus McQuilkin that ‘in 2005 McQuilkin married Deborah Jones, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Nursing. Deborah also has a teaching ministry in conferences and women’s groups. Between them, Robertson and Deborah have nine children: four in Christian ministry, five in the marketplace’ (accessed 22 February 2015).

‘For better or for worse’ is the vow I made in 1968 to my wife, Desley, and I will maintain that to my dying day, even if she is stricken with Alzheimer’s. Desley has assured me that she will apply the same standards even if I should contract dementia.

However, for a prominent person like Pat Robertson to make these kinds of statements on national television was a shocker for me to hear. However, it may be used by the Lord to help people evaluate their relationship before the really tough times of dementia could arrive.

I could not make a defence of Pat Robertson’s advice to divorce a spouse with dementia from a biblical mandate.

When a Christian supports Pat Robertson by saying that Robertson insisted on the person receiving good care, not being abandoned, the decision not being ‘right’ but to avoid laying the ‘guilt trip’, then this person in the forum is not complying with Scripture in my view. This person said that there was no compromise in the moral law with this decision to divorce a spouse with Alzheimer’s, but was on the basis of accepting that we are imperfect persons who live in an imperfect world.[7]

This is rationalising Pat Robertson’s ungodly advice. There are at least two issues here that a godly person should pursue and Robertson should be advising:

  • Faithfulness to one’s wife is critical to truth in marriage. We should never, ever break our vow to be faithful to a spouse in sickness and in health. When I married my wife, Desley, in 1968, I made this vow, ‘I, Spencer, take you, Desley, to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part’.[8]
  • God’s advise to you if you have a husband or a wife with dementia is, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4 NIV). God’s desire is for your faith to mature through the trials you face. This is one of the many trials God is sending your way, to test what kind of stuff your faith is made of.

This person on the forum was advocating soft Christianity instead of what God wants according to passages such James 1:2-5 and 1 Peter 1:6-7.

Russell Moore[9] has written a follow-up article for Christianity Today, ‘Pat Robertson repudiates the Gospel’.[10] Moore began his response….

This week on his television show Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson said a man would be morally justified to divorce his wife with Alzheimer’s disease in order to marry another woman. The dementia-riddled wife is, Robertson said, “not there” anymore. This is more than an embarrassment. This is more than cruelty. This is a repudiation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Few Christians take Robertson all that seriously anymore. Most roll their eyes, and shake their heads when he makes another outlandish comment (for instance, defending China’s brutal one-child abortion policy to identifying God’s judgment on specific actions in the September 11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, or the Haiti earthquake). This is serious, though, because it points to an issue that is much bigger than Robertson.

Marriage, the Scripture tells us, is an icon of something deeper, more ancient, more mysterious. The marriage union is a sign, the Apostle Paul announces, of the mystery of Christ and his church (Eph. 5). The husband, then, is to love his wife “as Christ loved the church” (Eph. 5:25). This love is defined not as the hormonal surge of romance but as a self-sacrificial crucifixion of self. The husband pictures Christ when he loves his wife by giving himself up for her.

At the arrest of Christ, his Bride, the church, forgot who she was, and denied who he was. He didn’t divorce her. He didn’t leave.

The Bride of Christ fled his side, and went back to their old ways of life. When Jesus came to them after the resurrection, the church was about the very thing they were doing when Jesus found them in the first place: out on the boats with their nets. Jesus didn’t leave. He stood by his words, stood by his Bride, even to the Place of the Skull, and beyond.

A woman or a man with Alzheimer’s can’t do anything for you. There’s no romance, no sex, no partnership, not even companionship. That’s just the point. Because marriage is a Christ/church icon, a man loves his wife as his own flesh. He cannot sever her off from him simply because she isn’t “useful” anymore.

Pat Robertson’s cruel marriage statement is no anomaly. He and his cohorts have given us for years a prosperity gospel with more in common with an Asherah pole than a cross. They have given us a politicized Christianity that uses churches to “mobilize” voters rather than to stand prophetically outside the power structures as a witness for the gospel.

But Jesus didn’t die for a Christian Coalition; he died for a church. And the church, across the ages, isn’t significant because of her size or influence. She is weak, helpless, and spattered in blood. He is faithful to us anyway.[11]

To be faithful to the Gospel means to be faithful to what Jesus said about marriage and faithfulness to one’s spouse. What are the reasons Jesus gave for divorce (Matthew 19:9)? Only one – for adultery. There is not a mention of anything like dementia (Alzheimer’s) being one of Jesus’ reasons to divorce a spouse.

We are not being faithful to the Gospel if we follow Pat Robertson’s advice to divorce a wife if she has Alzheimer’s. To think that Robertson’s advice is acceptable for an evangelical Christian is an example of Scripture twisting.[12]

I find Robertson’s statements to be as ungodly as they are unscriptural. The Scripture only give us one possibility of divorce and that is if the spouse is unfaithful in the sexual relationship. Therefore, Pat Robertson is recommending an anti-biblical action when he affirms that it is acceptable to divorce a spouse with dementia because she has ‘gone’ and has experienced ‘a kind of death’ with Alzheimer’s.

Notes:


[1] Tobin Grant, Christianity Today, ‘Pat Robertson says divorce Okay if spouse has Alzheimer’s’, 14 September 2011, available at: http://blog.christianitytoday.com/ctliveblog/archives/2011/09/pat_robertson_s.html (Accessed 24 September 2011).

[2] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/17/us/pat-robertson-remarks-on-alzheimers-stir-passions.html (Accessed 24 September 2011).

[3] Christian Fellowship Forum, Christian Morals, ‘Whither Pat Robinson (sic)’, #6, available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=1&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship&tid=120817 (Accessed 24 September 2011).

[4] Ibid., #13.

[5] See the article, ‘Remembering Muriel McQuilkin: A life of love and ‘looking up’, Wife of former CIU president dies after suffering from Alzheimer’s for 25 years’, The Columbia World, available at: http://www.worldnewspaperpublishing.com/news/FullStory.asp?loc=TCOLW&id=1007 (Accessed 24 September 2011). On 22 February 2015 when I updated my article, the ‘Remembering Muriel McQuilkin’ article was no longer online.

[6] It is now called Columbia International University.

[7] Christian Fellowship Forum #6, loc. cit.

[8] For a sample of wedding vows, see ‘Your wedding vows’, available at: http://weddings.about.com/cs/bridesandgrooms/a/vowwording.htm (Accessed 24 September 2011).

[9] Christianity Today stated that Moore is the Dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice-President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “Speaking Out” is Christianity Today’s guest opinion column and (unlike an editorial) does not necessarily represent the opinion of the publication.

[10] Christianity Today, 15 September 2011, available at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/septemberweb-only/robertson-alzheimers-divorce.html (Accessed 24 September 2011).

[11] This article originally appeared on Russell Moore’s blog, Moore to the Point, in the article, ‘Christ, the Church, and Pat Robertson’, 15 September 2011, available at: http://www.russellmoore.com/2011/09/15/christ-the-church-and-pat-robertson/ (Accessed 24 September 2011).

[12] I am referring to the comments made by the Christian in Christian Fellowship Forum #6, as above.

 

Copyright © 2011 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 1 March 2017.
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Where will unbelievers go at death?

Monday, September 19th, 2011

(image public domain)

By Spencer D Gear

Among evangelical Christians there is a tendency to move away from the orthodox teaching of the eternal punishment / torment of unbelievers in hell. Dr. S. Lewis Johnson Jr. stated that “we have vast numbers of people, even evangelicals, who deny eternal punishment”.

The late Clark Pinnock[1] wrote:

We are asked to believe that God endlessly tortures sinners by the million, sinners who perish because the Father has decided not to elect them to salvation [while they were alive on earth], though he could have done so, and whose torments are supposed to gladden the hearts of believers in heaven. The problems with this doctrine are both extensive and profound.

Not surprisingly, the traditional view of the nature of hell has been a stumbling block for believers and an effective weapon in the hands of skeptics for use against the faith (1992:136).

On the popular level, the questioning of the orthodox doctrine of hell is seen in threads posted to Christian forums on the www.[2] If there is no heaven or hell, would you serve the Lord? That was the question pursued in that www thread.

The New York Times made this comment about Rob Bell’s new book:

In a book to be published this month[3], the pastor, Rob Bell, known for his provocative views and appeal among the young, describes as “misguided and toxic” the dogma that “a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better”.[4]

This report in The New York Times claimed that

the furor was touched off last Saturday by a widely read Christian blogger, Justin Taylor, based on promotional summaries of the book and a video produced by Mr. Bell. In his blog, Between Two Worlds, Mr. Taylor said that the pastor “is moving farther and farther away from anything resembling biblical Christianity.”

It is unspeakably sad when those called to be ministers of the Word distort the gospel and deceive the people of God with false doctrine,” wrote Mr. Taylor, who is vice president of Crossway, a Christian publisher in Wheaton, Ill.[5]

What were the responses of other evangelical leaders to Rob Bell’s[6] comments?

One leading evangelical, John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, wrote, “Farewell Rob Bell.” R. Albert Mohler Jr.[7], president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in a blog post that by suggesting that people who do not embrace Jesus may still be saved, Mr. Bell was at best toying with heresy. He called the promotional video, in which Mr. Bell pointedly asks whether it can be true that Gandhi, a non-Christian, is burning in hell, “the sad equivalent of a theological striptease”.[8]

Who is Rob Bell anyway? The website of his church, Mars Hill Bible Church, Grandville, Michigan, says that “Rob Bell is the Founding Pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church. He graduated from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, and Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California”.

How do we respond to this rejection of the orthodox doctrine of eternal torment, even among those who claim to be evangelical?

What is the orthodox doctrine of hell?

While explaining the differences among the OT word for hell (sheol), the NT words for hell (hades, gehenna & tartarus), Geisler (2005:337-338) explains that

the nature of hell is a horrifying reality [for unbelievers]. Hell is like being left outside in the dark forever. Hell is like a wandering star, a waterless cloud, a perpetually burning dump, a bottomless pit, and everlasting prison. Hell is a place of anguish and regret.

Tartarus is used in 2 Peter 2:4 to refer to angels and where they were cast. He was using a word that in Greek literature meant a place of conscious torment in the netherworld. It did not mean non-existence, but referred to their being reserved in the place of mental anguish and terror until the day of judgment (Morey 1984:135).

Wayne Grudem (1994:1148) explains the orthodox doctrine: ‘Hell is a place of eternal conscious punishment for the wicked’.

We know this from the Scriptures of the New Testament that after death, unbelievers are:

  • Conscious and in torment (Luke 16:23);
  • “Under punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:9);
  • Matt. 25:41, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels'”.
  • Mark 9:43-44, “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell [gehenna], to the unquenchable fire”.
  • Rev. 20:15, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire”.

A common argument to reject the teaching of Luke 16:23 is that it forms part of a parable and is not meant to teach a literal experience of torment in hell for unbelievers. Is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus a parable or something else? Geldenhuys assumes it is a parable with the heading, ‘Parable of the rich man and Lazarus” (1979:424). I. Howard Marshall (1978:632) also accepted that it is a parable. Norman Geisler rejects the label of parable, saying Luke 16:19-31 is ‘a stunningly vivid story that speaks for itself and, unlike parables, uses a person’s actual name (Lazarus)’ and ‘Jesus tells of a man in hell’ (2005:331).

I agree that this is a parable and has ONE main point and that is what happens after death for the righteous and the unrighteous. For the unbeliever there are anguish and torment. For the believers there is comfort. There is a great gulf between the final destiny of believer and unbeliever.

As an exegete and expositor of God’s word, I make every attempt to read a verse in context. In addition to the actual Greek word that Peter used in 2 Peter 2:9 for the punishment of the unrighteous, the tense of the participle used is the present tense, meaning continuous action. The ESV enforces this understanding with its translation, “to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment”. “To keep … under punishment” is better understood in a present continuing action than a future connotation (as with the KJV). J. N. D. Kelly rightly states regarding the present participle of punishment that “we cannot easily attribute a future tense”.[9]

This continuing punishment of the unbelievers in the intermediate state[10], after death and before the resurrection, is supported in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) by the fact that Jesus teaches that for the ungodly there is suffering after death while they await the day of final judgment.

Let’s look at some facts about the final location of the ungodly at judgment before God himself: Gehenna[11] (see also Matt. 5:22, 29, 20; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6) is derived from Ge-Hinnom (John. 15:8; 18:6) which is abbreviated as Geben-Hinnom (Josh. 15:8), and means the valley of the son or of Hinnom sons (2 Kings 23:10). It was situated south of Jerusalem and was known as a place of fire because it was there, in the time of Ahaz and Manasseh, that children were roasted to death as sacrifices to Moloch (2 Kings 16:3; 21:6; 2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6). The godly King Josiah declared this place unclean (2 Kings 23:10) and Jeremiah pronounced terrible threats over it (Jer. 7:32; 19:6). It also was a place where the garbage of the city burned. These are the reasons why Ge-Hinnom or Gehenna became a designation for the final hell.

In Mark 9:43, Gehenna is designated as the place of “unquenchable fire”[12], meaning that the punishment for unbelievers who enter it will never end; it is everlasting, eternal, as is confirmed in Matt. 25:46, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (ESV).

Gehenna always means hell in the NT.  Commentator William Hendriksen (1975:366) states that “Gehenna receives both body and soul of the wicked after the final judgment”. When the NT speaks of Gehenna as a place of “unquenchable fire”, the point is not that there is a fire burning in the Gehenna rubbish dump, but that unbelievers, the wicked, will have to endure torment forever. There they will experience the wrath of God.

The phrase “lake of fire” only occurs in the Book of Revelation – 6 times [19:20; 20:10, 14 (twice), 15: 21:8]. John tells us that this is the “second death” (20:14). This is the place for everyone whose name is not written in the book of life – it is the place for ALL unbelievers in Christ. They are separated from the living God and suffer torment eternally.

How are we to understand “Death and Hades” in Rev. 20:14?[13] Death is a state and Hades is a place. Of course death and Hades are connected. In Rev. 6:8, we have the fourth seal opened where the rider on the pale horse is Death, and Hades follows closely behind. Hades is the place where the souls of unbelievers are kept in the intermediate state. It is not to be identified with the grave. Rather, Hades is the place where both believers and unbelievers repose until Christ’s second coming.

By contrast, Gehenna (hell) is the final place of endless suffering/punishment for unbelievers. According to Rev. 20:14-15, when Death and Hades are cast into the lake of fire, the authority of the state of Death and the place of Hades is ended. The temporary power of Death and Hades becomes permanent in the lake of fire for unbelievers who are suffering permanently and continuously in hell. (See my article, Eternal torment for unbelievers when they die‘).

John 3:16 provides us with the motivation that we should be proclaiming the Gospel so that believers can come to eternal life in Christ and unbelievers warned of what happens at death (perishing, eternal torment): “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (ESV).

Some want to teach the annihilation of unbelievers at death. CARM[14] states that:

Annihilationism is the teaching that the unbeliever, after death, will eventually be annihilated. Annihilation is the teaching that the non-Christian ceases to exist after death. Within this view are two main categories.  First, that the unredeemed will automatically be annihilated.  Second, that the unredeemed, after an appropriate amount of time of suffering, will be annihilated.

I highly recommend the CARM article, ‘Is annihilation true?‘ For a brief refutation of the annihilation doctrine as taught by the SDAs, see my article, “Refutation of the Seventh Day Adventist doctrine of what happens at death“.

Annihilation of the wicked at death is false teaching for the reasons given above.

What should be our understanding of death?

  1. God told the man in Genesis 2:17, “For in the day that you eat of it [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you shall surely die” and “he ate” (Gen. 3:6). But he did not die physically. He and his wife continued to live on. So death, from God’s perspective, does not mean extinction. Death by annihilation / extinction is not how God understands the end of human life on earth.
  2. The length of time of punishment at the final judgement given to those on Christ’s left (the damned) will be “eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46). The length of time for those on His right (the righteous) will be “eternal life”. The duration of time for each is exactly the same –aiwnios – eternal. It goes on forever and ever and ever. There is no extinction, conditional immortality or annihilation here.
  3. Some want to labour Rom. 6:23, “the wages of sin is death”. It is good that we consider this Scripture, but what does this say in the Greek? It does not say, “The wages of our sins is death”. It states, “the wages of the sin (singular with definite article) is death”.[15] So, it is referring to the power of sin, which entered the entire human race when Adam committed that one act of sin and brought the slavery of sin to all. The redeemed have had this slavery to sin broken at the cross of Christ. So the wages of sin is death does not mean that an unbeliever receives the wages of extinction, annihilation, conditional immortality. The death which the sin brought and which will be the final destination for the unbeliever is eternal, permanent separation from God and enduring God’s punishment. That’s how I understand the Bible!

No matter how hard people try to squeeze the texts, we can’t change the meaning of death for Adam, Eve and the entire, unredeemed human race. We can’t change the length of time for the punishing of the damned – eternal.

In the above information, I have tried to be faithful to the biblical texts.

On the orthodox doctrine of hell, I’m in good company with…

J. I. Packer

Albert Mohler

N. T. Wright

C. H. Spurgeon

John Piper

R. C. Sproul

The Westminster Confession of Faith

and

JESUS.

Conclusion

No matter how much we want to get rid of eternal torment of the ungodly in eternal hell (Gehenna) after Christ’s second coming and the judgment of all people, the Scriptures teach that all people go to Sheol (OT) and Hades (NT) in the intermediate state. At the final judgment, unbelievers will be sent to Gehenna where they will be tormented forever, experiencing the wrath of God.

So, is leading evangelical pastor, Rob Bell, promoting truth or falsehood in his view that Christians are “misguided and toxic” in their belief that a few Christians will spend forever in the peaceful, joyous place of heaven, while the rest of humanity spends eternity in the punishing torment of hell with no second chance? From the exposition above, it is Rob Bell who is promoting what is “misguided and toxic” by denying the eternal damnation of hell when unbelievers will experience the wrath of God – forever and ever.

This is why all Christians should be actively engaged in evangelism to take the Gospel to the lost and to warn unbelievers of their eternal damnation. See, “The content of the Gospel” for an overview of what should be included in Gospel presentations.

References:

Geisler, N. 2005. Systematic Theology (vol. 4). Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

Geldenhuys, N. 1979. Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (The New International Commentary on the New Testament series). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Grudem, W. 1994. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Hendriksen, W. 1975. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Kistemaker, S. J. 1986, 1987. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of James, Epistles of John, Peter, and Jude. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Kistemaker, S. J. 2001. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Lenski, R. C. H. 1936. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers.

Lenski, R. C. H. 1946. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers.

Marshall, I. H. 1978. The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text (The New International Greek Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Morey, R. A. 1984. Death and the Afterlife. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.

Pinnock 1992. ‘The conditional view’, in William Crockett (ed), Four Views on Hell, pp. 135-166. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Notes:

[1] Christianity Today reported that Pinnock died of a heart attack at the age of 73 on 15 August 2010, “Clark Pinnock dies at 73” (Accessed 18 September 2011).

[2] One example is in two Christian Forums threads. In “Imagine there is no heaven or hell. Now tell me why you are a Christian”. In this thread, one seeker said, “There is no hell” (post #25). In another thread, “Hell doesn’t seem fair to me”, a Pentecostal wrote that hell-fire preachers “make wisdom foolishness, turn eternal love into exasperated hate, make omnipotence helplessness, and make the justice of God the grossest injustice in the universe” (post #212). Is this the biblical truth or not? Read on!

[3] Rob Bell’s book is titled, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (New York: HarperOne 2011).

[4] Erik Eckholm, “Pastor stirs wrath with his views on old questions”, The New York Times, 4 March 2011, available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/05/us/05bell.html (Accessed 23 August 2011).

[5] Ibid.

[6] The New York Times reported that “Rob Bell addressed the issue of heaven and hell in a video about his book, “A Book About Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived”, ibid.

[7] Albert Mohler Jr’s brief critique of Rob Bell’s theology is titled, “Universalism as a lure. The emerging case of Rob Bell“.

[8] The New York Times, loc. cit.

[9] J. N. D. Kelly 1969/1981. A Commentary on the Epistles of Peter and John (Thornapple Commentaries series). Grand Rapids: Baker, p. 335, from Kistemaker (1975:294).

[10] There are passages of Scripture that indicate an intermediate state following death and before the resurrection. It is a state in which the soul of the individual continues to live in conscious existence. For an indication of what happens to believers, see Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 5:1-9, esp. v8; Phil. 1:23 and Heb. 12:23. For unbelievers, see Luke 16:24-26 and Heb. 9:27. Bible.org has an article by Greg Herrick which states that ‘the intermediate state for unbelievers, i.e., what happens to them after death, seems to involve conscious punishment in Hades where they await a future, bodily resurrection to eternal punishment in Hell, the final place of the Devil, his angels, and the wicked (Matthew 25:41; Luke 16:19-31; 2 Thess 1:8-9)’.

[11] The following information is from Hendriksen (1975:365-366).

[12] The New International Version 1984 translates “unquenchable fire” as “where the fire never goes out”. Lenski (1946:407) makes a wise comment: ‘A fire that is “unquenchable” is by that very fact eternal. It is fruitless to dispute about the kind of fire that this is: all that we can say is what Jesus here says of it. We have no eternal or unquenchable fire here on earth, and when Jesus tells us of such a fire in the other world, we must remember that everything in that world is really beyond our comprehension. Let no man quibble about the kind of fire, let him make sure that he will escape that fire’.

[13] The information in this paragraph is from Kistemaker (2001: 548-549).

[14] CARM is the acronym for the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, PO BOX 995, Meridian, ID 83680, USA. Email: carmstuff@yahoo.com.

[15] This was drawn to my attention by R. C. H. Lenski (1936:435).

 

Copyright (c) 2012 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date: 9 June 2016.

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Is the God of Islam the same God as Elohim of the Christian Scriptures?

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Medallion showing “Allah” (God) in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

A Roman Catholic bishop in the Netherlands, Tiny Muskens, has proposed that Dutch Catholics should pray to Allah, as ‘ God doesn’t mind what he is called’. The Catholic News reported:

Breda Bishop Tiny Muskens, who once worked as missionary in Indonesia, has proposed that Dutch Catholics should pray to Allah just as Christians already do in other countries with significant Muslim populations.
Radio Netherlands reports that Bishop Muskens says his country should look to Indonesia, where the Christian churches already pray to Allah. It is also common in the Arab world: Christian and Muslim Arabs use the words God and Allah interchangeably.

Speaking on the Dutch TV programme Network on Monday evening, Bishop Muskens says it could take another 100 years but eventually the name Allah will be used by Dutch churches. And that will promote rapprochement between the two religions.

Muskens doesn’t expect his idea to be greeted with much enthusiasm. The 71-year-old bishop, who will soon be retiring due to ill health, says God doesn’t mind what he is called. God is above such “discussion and bickering”.[1]

This view is alive and well on Christian forums on the www in the 21st century. Some claim that the Allah of Islam is the same God as the Almighty in Christianity.[2] Albert Mohler Jr. (2007), to the contrary, stated, ‘From its very starting point Islam denies what Christianity takes as its central truth claim — the fact that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of the Father’.

Who is correct?

The promotion of idolatry

J. C. Ryle, an evangelical and the first Anglican bishop of Liverpool, wrote in the 19th century:

‘I believe that we have come to a time when the subject of idolatry demands a thorough and searching investigation. I believe that idolatry is near us, all around us, and in the midst of us, to a very fearful extent. The second commandment, in one word, is in danger. “The plague is begun”‘.[3]

Ryle’s definition was that ‘idolatry is a worship, in which the honor due to the Triune God, and to God only, is given to some of His creatures, or to some invention of His creatures’.[4]

A lawyer once came to test Jesus with the question, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” What was Jesus’ response? “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the great and first commandment” (Matt 22:35-38).

Since the worship of God is of first importance to us, engaging in false worship is one of the greatest calamities Christians can practice. Worshipping a false god is a serious problem as it is worshipping an idol, something the Israelites fell into on a number of occasions according to the OT.

I’m reminded of the warning against idolatry in 1 John 5:21: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols”. Therefore, it is of vital importance that we know who God is. So the differentiation between Allah and Elohim-God is of top priority.

Knowing what is idolatry is important as it is a dangerous practice. It can involve the worship of demons (see 1 Cor. 10:20 and compare it with Deut. 32:17). From the OT, we know that people can worship another god or demons and think they are worshipping Elohim God (see Ex. 32:1-6; 1 Kings 12:28-20)

That’s why it is of decisive importance to know that Elohim, the Almighty God, is not the same god as Allah. There is only one God and He is not Allah, according to the Scriptures. Nowhere in the OT and NT is God identified as Allah in the original languages (Hebrew-Aramaic OT and Greek NT).

One writer on Christian Forums stated: “If Abraham worshiped God and Abraham is recognized as the ‘father’ of believers then Judaism, Islam and Christianity worship the same God”.[5]

My response[6] was that this person was trying to argue for the ideology of old – old-fashioned religious syncretism.

What is syncretism?

W. A. V. Hooft (1963:11) stated that

‘the syncretic approach may be defined as ‘the view which holds that there is no unique revelation in history, that there are many different ways to reach the divine reality, that all formulations of religious truth or experience are by their very nature inadequate expressions of that truth and that it is necessary to harmonise as much as possible all religious ideas and experiences so as to create one universal religion for mankind’ (in Anderson 1984:17).

Sir Norman Anderson (1984:17) observed that syncretism was not a new phenomenon but was practised in ancient Israel and was denounced by the prophets. It also was a characteristic of Hellenism, Gnosticism and had wide practice in the Roman Empire. Emperor Alexander Severus

‘had in his private chapel not only the statues of the deified emperors, but also those of the miracle worker Apollonius of Tyana, of Christ, of Abraham and of Orpheus’ (Hooft 1963:15, cited in Anderson 1984:17).

The essence of syncretism is that all paths lead to the same God. In a paper on Hinduism given to the world’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago 1893, it was stated:

‘May He who is the Brahma of the Hindus, the Ahura-Mazda of the Zoroastrians, the Buddha of the Buddhists, the Jehovah of the Jews, the Father in Heaven of the Christians, give strength to you to carry out your noble idea!’[7]

This was an example of the promotion of syncretism in the 19th century. The person on Christian Forums in the 21st century was attempting to make out that just because a religion (Islam) claims to go back to Abraham, that it represents the same religion as that of Judaism and Christianity. That is the promotion of a very old religious ideology. That is an example of support for religious syncretism, which is an old-fashioned way of encouraging theological falsehood, worship of an idol instead of the true God Almighty.

He wanted to syncretise Christianity and Islam because they go back to the one Abraham. A religion that supposedly goes back to Abraham (Islam) and tries to identify this with the Abraham of Israel and Christianity, is just pulling our theological ‘legs’. There is no way that the doctrines of Christianity can be harmonised with those of Islam, which is what syncretism tries to do.

On the Internet, this person’s theologically liberal promotion of world religions was an attempt to make the God of Judeo-Christianity look like the Allah of Islam. It sounds like and looks like religious syncretism and it is a false amalgamation – thus, idolatry.

This is one of the major areas where this attempt to syncretise Christianity and Islam fails with its effort to make Allah = Elohim. For the Muslim, one of the unforgivable sins is what is called shirk[8], which is the association of anyone or anything with the Almighty. Therefore, the very idea of the incarnation of the Deity is anathema. It is blasphemy, especially for the orthodox Sunni Muslims that make up about 90% of the world’s Muslims.[9]

The Qur’an demonstrates this theology of ‘ruin’ and ‘tremendous sin’ of those who promote Allah as being the God of Jesus’ incarnation:

‘Had there been within the heavens and earth gods besides Allah , they both would have been ruined. So exalted is Allah , Lord of the Throne, above what they describe’ (Al-Anbiya 21:22).

‘Indeed, Allah does not forgive association with Him, but He forgives what is less than that for whom He wills. And he who associates others with Allah has certainly fabricated a tremendous sin’ (Al-Nisa 4:48).

The Unitarian god of Islam

Abul A’La Mawdudi has stated:

The most fundamental and the most important teaching of Prophet Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) is faith in the unity of God. This is expressed in the primary Kalimah of Islam as “There is no deity but Allah” (La ilaha illallah). This beautiful phrase is the bedrock of Islam, its foundation and its essence. It is the expression of this belief which differentiates a true Muslim from a kafir (unbeliever), mushrik (one who associates others with God in His Divinity) or dahriyah (an atheist).

The acceptance or denial of this phrase produces a world of difference between man and man. The believers in it become one single community and those who do not believe in it form an opposing group. For the believers there is unhampered progress and success in this world and in the hereafter, while failure and ignominy are the ultimate lot of those who refuse to believe in it.[10]

So, the incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, in the Trinitarian God of Scripture is anathema to the Muslims. This is one clear indication that Allah does not equal Elohim. The Trinity of Christianity is incompatible with the Unitarianism[11] of Islam.

Of Jesus, the NT Scriptures state,

And the Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14 ESV).

Who is this Jesus, the Word?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men (John 1:1-4 ESV).

It could be not clearer, from biblical revelation, that Jesus was and is God and never ceased to be God during his incarnation on earth.

For the Christian, the unity of God has a very different understanding to that of Islam. The unity of God can be defined as follows:

‘God is not divided into parts, yet we see different attributes of God emphasized at different times. This attribute of God has also been called God’s simplicity, using simple in the less common sense of “not complex” or “not composed of parts” (Grudem 1994:177).

When we understand both Christianity and Islam, it is impossible for Islam’s Allah to be one and the same with the Lord God Almighty of reality and as revealed in the Christian Scriptures.

Dr. Albert Mohler Jr. (2007), in his reply to Tiny Muskens’ syncretism, has rightly stated the issues when people try to identify the Trinitarian God of Christianity with that of the Unitarian god of Islam:

Those making the case for a Christian appropriation of Allah must take their argument in one of two trajectories.  The first trajectory is to argue that Allah can be used in a generic way to refer to any (presumably monotheistic) deity.  This case will be very difficult to make.  Language, theology, and worship are so closely intertwined that it is difficult, if not impossible, to argue for a generic use of Allah.  Further evidence against this trajectory is the fact that non-Arabic speaking Muslims also use Allah when referring to their god.

The second trajectory presents even more of a problem.  Those following this line of argument must make the case that Allah and God refer to the same deity.  This represents a huge problem for both Muslims and Christians.  Allah is not a personal deity in the sense that the God of the Bible is.  Furthermore, the Qur’an explicitly denies that Allah has a son, and Islam considers the notion of a triune God to be blasphemy.

Thus, from its very starting point Islam denies what Christianity takes as its central truth claim — the fact that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of the Father.  If Allah has no Son by definition, Allah is not the God who revealed himself in the Son.  How then can the use of Allah by Christians lead to anything but confusion . . . and worse?

To be faithful Christians, we must obey John’s exhortation: ‘Keep yourselves from idols’ (1 John 5:21). To worship Allah (as defined by Islam) is to worship another god and that is idolatry.

Appendix A: Schaff & Muir on Islam

Eminent church historian Philip Schaff noted that

Goethe and Carlyle swung from the orthodox abuse to the opposite extreme of a pantheistic hero-worshiping over-estimate of Mohammed and the Koran by extending the sphere of revelation and inspiration, and obliterating the line which separates Christianity from all other religions….

But the enthusiasm kindled by Carlyle for the prophet of Mecca has been considerably checked by fuller information from the original sources as brought out in the learned biographies of Weil, Nöldeke, Sprenger and Muir…. Sir William Muir concedes his original honesty and zeal as a reformer and warner, but assumes a gradual deterioration to the judicial blindness of a self-deceived heart, and even a kind of Satanic inspiration in his later revelations (Schaff n d: 4:92).

Schaff used the research of Muir who stated of Mahomet (Muir’s spelling)[1]:

He was delivered over to the judicial blindness of a self deceived heart; that, having voluntarily shut his eyes against the light, he was left miserably to grope in the darkness of his own choosing….

I would warn the reader against seeking to portray in his mind a character in all of Mahomet, its parts consistent with itself as the character of Mahomet. The truth is that the strangest inconsistencies blended together according to the wont of human nature) throughout the life of the Prophet. The student of the history will trace for himself how the pure and lofty aspirations of Mahomet were first tinged, and then gradually debased by a half unconscious self-deception; and how in this process truth merged into falsehood, sincerity into guile, – these opposite principles often co-existing even as active agencies in his conduct. The reader will observe that simultaneously with the anxious desire to extinguish idolatry, and to promote religion and virtue in the world, there was nurtured by the Prophet in his own heart, a licentious self-indulgence; till in the end, assuming to be the favourite of Heaven, he justified himself by “revelations” from God in the most flagrant breaches of morality. He will remark that while Mahomet cherished a kind and tender disposition, “weeping with them that wept,” and binding to his person the hearts of his followers by the ready and self-denying offices of love and friendship, he could yet take pleasure in cruel and perfidious assassination, could gloat over the massacre of an entire tribe, and savagely consign the innocent babe to the fires of hell. Inconsistencies such as these continually present themselves from the period of Mahomet’s arrival at Medina; and it is by the study of these inconsistencies that his character must be rightly comprehended. The key to many difficulties of this description may be found, I believe, in the chapter “on the belief of Mahomet in his own inspiration.” when once he had dared to forge the name of the Most High God as the seal and authority of his own words and actions, the germ was laid from which the errors of his after life freely and fatally developed themselves (Muir 4:320, 322-323).


References:

Al-Bab 2009. Arabic words and the Roman alphabet. Available at: http://www.al-bab.com/arab/language/roman1.htm (Accessed 13 February 2012).

Anderson, N 1984. Christianity and World Religions. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

Grudem w 1994. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Hooft, W A V 1963. No Other Name: The Choice between Syncretism and Christian Universalism. London: SCM.

Krusch, D 2011. ‘Sunni Islam’, Jewish Virtual Library, available at: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/sunni.html (Accessed 15 September 2011).

Mohler Jr., A 2007. ‘What does God care what we call Him?’, August 22, available at: http://www.albertmohler.com/2007/08/22/what-does-god-care-what-we-call-him/ (Accessed 15 September 2011).

Muir, W 1861. The biography of Mahomet, and the rise of Islam, in W Muir, The life of Mahomet (e-book), 4 vols, 4:302-324. London: Smith, Elder, & Co. Answering Islam, available at: http://www.answering-islam.org/Books/Muir/Life4/chap37.htm (Accessed 13 February 2012).

Endnotes:


[1] ‘Pray to Allah, Dutch bishop proposes’, Catholic News, 13-17 August 2007. Available at: http://www.cathnews.com/article.aspx?aeid=5904 (Accessed 15 September 2011).

[2] For a lively discussion of this topic, see Christian Forums, “Is Allah God?”.

[3] J C Ryle, ‘Idolatry’, available at: http://www.biblebb.com/files/ryle/warn8.htm (Accessed 15 September 2011).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Christian Forums, “Is Allah God?”.#53.

[6] I’m OzSpen on Christian Forums.

[7] ‘Paper on Hinduism’ given at the world’s Parliament of Religions, Chicago, September 19, 1893. Available at: http://www.mathfundamentals.org/geocities/Religion/Vivekananda/Paper.htm (Accessed 15 September 2011).

[8] For an explanation of shirk, see ‘Shirk (Polytheism)’, available at: http://www.missionislam.com/knowledge/Shirk.htm (accessed 15 September 2011).

[9] This paragraph was based on information from Anderson (1984:17). David Krusch (2011) stated that ‘Some estimates say that Muslims constitute 20 percent of the world’s population. Although the exact demographics of the branches of Islam are disputed, most scholars believe that Sunni Muslims comprise 87-90 percent of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims’.

[10] Abul A’La Mawdudi, Towards Understanding Islam, ‘Tawhid: Faith in the unity of God’, islamworld.net. Available at: http://islamworld.net/docs/mautaw1.html (Accessed 15 September 2011).

[11] Muslims use the term, ‘the unity of God’ in a different sense to that of Christianity and by ‘the unity of God’, Muslims mean Unitarianism. For them, God is one, but not Trinity.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 18 December 2015.
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Does 2 Peter 3:9 teach universalism?

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Image result for clipart universalism public domain

(public domain)

By Spencer D Gear

Thanks to the availability of the Internet, the teaching on universalism, even ‘Christian universalism’ is being promoted on the Internet.[1]

Does 2 Peter 3:9 teach the doctrine that all human beings will eventually receive God’s salvation? ‘Christian universalism’, as promoted by Eric Stetson, believes

‘the Good News that ALL people are God’s children and NO ONE will be left behind!
There is NO burning hell of torture where billions of souls who “sinned too much” or “chose the wrong religion” will suffer forever. Contrary to what most Christians today believe, such a horrible idea was not taught by Jesus and is not found anywhere in the original Hebrew Old Testament or Greek New Testament’ (emphasis in original).

Is this biblical teaching or not? The promoter on Christian Forums claimed that 2 Peter 3:9 teaches that all human beings will be saved. Second Peter 3:9 (ESV) states:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

The context of 2 Peter clearly indicates that 2 Peter 3:9 does not teach the false doctrine of universalism. We know 2 Peter 3:9 is not teaching universalism for these reasons:

  • 2 Peter 3:9 includes the statement that the Lord (God) is “not wishing that any should perish” (ESV). What does this mean in the context of 2 Peter. Is it teaching the doctrine of Christian universalism or is it referring to something different?
  • We know that Peter is not teaching universalism because of 2 Peter 2:3 and 2 Peter 3:7. Verse 3 of chapter 2 says that the false prophets and false teachers (2 Pt 2:1) who teach and they “secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them” (2:1-2). What is this heretical teaching doing, “bringing upon them swift destruction” (2:1) and “their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep” (2:3). So for the false teachers and false teachers there is no universal salvation as some want to proclaim but their “swift destruction” will be brought upon them and it is destruction that is not asleep. So, universalism for the false teachers is false teaching. The larger context of 2 Peter 3:9 clearly refutes it.
  • Romans 9:22 teaches a similar message where “vessels of wrath are prepared for destruction”. This is not universalism. That is false teaching that goes contrary to the Scriptures.
  • Does God want the false teachers to be saved according to 2 Peter 3:9? Most certainly, but they disregard God’s patience toward them and choose to reject God’s salvation and thus will suffer “swift destruction”. It’s guaranteed by the Lord.
  • Second Peter 3:7 speaks of “the destruction of the ungodly”. The ungodly cannot experience the wrath of God and any kind of universal salvation. They will experience “the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly”. Universalism is not only a bad joke but absolutely false teaching in light of what 2 Peter states will happen to the ungodly, the false teachers and false prophets. We must be honest with the immediate context of 2 Peter 3:9 and with the entire book of 2 Peter. The ungodly person’s destiny is judgment and destruction from the Lord God.
  • God wants all to come to repentance and gives extra time for that to happen (2 Peter 3:9), but the false prophets and false teachers in Peter’s day and today, do not seek God’s salvation, God’s way. Their destiny, according to 2 Peter 2:1 is “swift destruction”. We cannot get universalism out of that verse.

This is orthodox Bible teaching – there is eternal punishment (destruction) coming to the ungodly with God’s judgment.

The CARM apologetics ministry has excellent material online to refute universalism.

Endnotes


[1] I met an example of this on Christian Forums, in the thread, “What is the point in free will?” with a person promoting the view that ‘God MORE than just “desires” none [to] perish. He INTENDS that none perish – 2 Pet 3:9.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 15 October 2015..

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Does the Gospel of Thomas contain heretical statements?

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Nag Hammadi Codex II, folio 32, the beginning of the Gospel of Thomas

Courtesy Wikipedia

By Spencer D Gear

Is the Gospel of Thomas (GThom) heretical and does it include Gnostic-type teachings?[1] Could there be anything that is heretical in this document found with Gnostic documents near Nag Hammadi[2], upper Egypt, in December 1945?

There are scholars of the Jesus Seminar who use the Gospel of Thomas as authoritative as the 4 canonical Gospels. John Dominic Crossan affirms Patterson’s view that GThom contains “rudimentary Gnosticism” and the extent of this Gnosticism “is not yet fully charted” as it “is not a full blown gnostic gospel”. Crossan’s view is that it is “a borderline text that could have been pulled either toward or away from gnosticism” (Crossan 1998:271).

Let’s check out some statements from a translation of the Gospel of Thomas that should raise issues of conflict with NT Gospels:

GThom 1-7 states:

These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded.

1 And he said, “Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death.”

2 Jesus said, “Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will reign over all. [And after they have reigned they will rest.]”

3 Jesus said, “If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the (Father’s) kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is within you and it is outside you.</FATHER’S>

When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty.”

4 Jesus said, “The person old in days won’t hesitate to ask a little child seven days old about the place of life, and that person will live.

For many of the first will be last, and will become a single one.”

5 Jesus said, “Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you.

For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed. [And there is nothing buried that will not be raised.”]

6 His disciples asked him and said to him, “Do you want us to fast? How should we pray? Should we give to charity? What diet should we observe?”

Jesus said, “Don’t lie, and don’t do what you hate, because all things are disclosed before heaven. After all, there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and there is nothing covered up that will remain undisclosed.”

7 Jesus said, “Lucky is the lion that the human will eat, so that the lion becomes human. And foul is the human that the lion will eat, and the lion still will become human” (emphasis added).

GThom 13 states,

Jesus said to his disciples, “Compare me to something and tell me what I am like.” Simon Peter said to him, “You are like a just messenger.” Matthew said to him, “You are like a wise philosopher.” Thomas said to him, “Teacher, my mouth is utterly unable to say what you are like.” Jesus said, “I am not your teacher. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring that I have tended.” And he took him, and withdrew, and spoke three sayings to him. When Thomas came back to his friends they asked him, “What did Jesus say to you?” Thomas said to them, “If I tell you one of the sayings he spoke to me, you will pick up rocks and stone me, and fire will come from the rocks and devour you” (emphasis added)

GThom 22 states:

Jesus saw some babies nursing. He said to his disciples, “These nursing babies are like those who enter the kingdom.”
They said to him, “Then shall we enter the kingdom as babies?”
Jesus said to them, “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom]” (emphasis added)

GThom 114:

Simon Peter said to them, “Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.” Jesus said, “Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven” (emphasis added).

The Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas is radically different from the Jesus revealed in the NT Gospels. GThom has a private, esoteric emphasis throughout and presupposes the teaching of Jesus in the NT but claims to record secret, hidden words that are radically different from the NT Gospels.

Recall what Jesus said about believers (his followers) having faith (e.g. John 3:16), but GThom 1 says that Jesus’ disciples should find “the interpretation of these sayings” and for these people, they will not taste death.

This is not biblical Christianity.

There are enough statements in GThom to indicate clearly that the source of these words is not Jesus. Like the quote I gave you from GThom 114, part of which stated,

Jesus said, “Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven” (emphasis added).

This is so contradictory to what Jesus stated in the four canonical gospels. Do you think that Jesus would say that a female must make herself a male to enter God’s kingdom?

This is heretical Gnostic teaching or Gnostic-like teaching. So, why are you wanting to accept GThom as a source of Jesus’ teaching? GThom has many places of foreign, heretical teaching when compared with the NT Gospels?

The Gnostic Society Library states:

The Gospel of Thomas, one of the Gnostic texts found preserved in the Nag Hammadi Library, gives these words of the living Jesus:

Jesus said, `I am not your master. Because you have drunk, you have become drunk from the bubbling stream which I have measured out…. 12
He who will drink from my mouth will become as I am: I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him.’ 13

Of GThom 13, the Gnostic Society Library makes this comment, ‘He who will drink from my mouth will become as I am: What a remarkably heretical image!’[3]

That’s about as good a summary as we will get of the heretical teaching in The Gospel of Thomas.

These are some quotes in the Gnostic Bible from the Gospel of Thomas? These are some examples:

  • The Gospel of Thomas (12) says that heaven and earth came into being for the sake of James (Yaakov). The Gnostic Bible, p. 47;
  • The Gospel of Thomas (31) says that a doctor does not heal those who know the doctor. Apparently those who know the Gnostic Jesus are not healed by him! The Gnostic Bible, p. 53;
  • In The Gospel of Thomas (57) Jesus mentions they have to bear the cross like he did. The Gnostic Bible, p. 57;
  • In the Gospel of Thomas (100) Jesus said to give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, give to God what is God’s, and “give me mine.” The Gnostic Bible, p. 67.

What about these sayings from GThom?

In GThom 108, Jesus says, “Whoever drinks from my mouth will become as I am; I myself shall become that person, and the hidden things will be revealed to him.”

In GThom 70, Jesus says, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not bring it forth, what you do not have within you will kill you.”

So the Gnostic Society and The Gnostic Bible both consider that the Gospel of Thomas has Gnostic content. This GThom radical content is far, far from biblical Christianity as revealed in the NT Gospels. It is regarded as containing heresy by the Gnostic Society Library.

Evangelical Christians should also regard The Gospel of Thomas as containing heresy.

Nicholas Perrin (2007) is a researcher on the nature of the Gospel of Thomas. He states that it ‘issued from a mid-to-late second-century Syriac milieu’ (2007:viii). Perrin’s assessment is that

the Gospel of Thomas invites us to imagine a Jesus who says, ‘I am not your saviour, but the one who can put you in touch with your true self. Free yourself from your gender, your body, and any concerns you might have for the outside world. Work for it and self-realization, salvation will be yours – in this life’. Imagine such a Jesus? One need hardly work very hard. This is precisely the Jesus we know too well, the existential Jesus that so many western evangelical and liberal churches already preach (Perrin 2007:139).

What is heresy?

In New Testament Greek, the term from which we get “heresy” is hairesis. Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek Lexicon states that hairesis means ‘sect, party, school’. It was used of the Sadduccees in Acts 5:17; of the Pharisees in Acts 15:5. Of the Christians in Acts 24:5. It is used of a heretical sect or those with destructive opinions in 2 Peter 2:1 (“destructive heresies” ESV).

The article on hairesis in Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Vol. 1, p. 182ff) states that its “usage in Acts corresponds exactly to that of Josephus and the earlier Rabbis” but the development of the Christian sense of heresy does not parallel this Rabbinic use. When the ekklesia came into being, there was no place for hairesis. They were opposed to each other. This author states that “the greater seriousness consists in the fact that hairesis affect the foundation of the church in doctrine (2 Pt. 2:1), and that they do so in such a fundamental way as to give rise to a new society alongside the ekklesia” (Kittel Vol I:183).

From the NT, we see the term, heresy, being used to mean what Paul called strange doctrines, different doctrine, doctrines of demons, every wind of doctrine (See 1 Timothy 1:3; 4:1;6:3; Ephesians 4:14), as contrasted with sound doctrine, our doctrine, the doctrine conforming to godliness, the doctrine of God (See 1 Timothy 4:6; 6:1,3;2 Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1, 10).

I recommend Nicholas Perrin (2007) and Craig Evans (2007:52-77) for excellent assessments of the Gospel of Thomas and how it contradicts the NT Gospels.

References:

Crossan, J D 1998. The birth of Christianity: Discovering what happened in the years immediately after the execution of Jesus. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco. Also available (online) HERE (Accessed 13 September 2011).

Evans, C A 2007. Fabricating Jesus: How modern scholars distort the gospels. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

Kittel, G (ed) 1964. Theological dictionary of the New Testament, trans. & ed. by G. W. Bromiley (vol 1). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Perrin, N 2007. Thomas, the other gospel. London: SPCK.

Notes:


[1] A person stated this on Christian Forums, the thread, ‘The Gospel of Thomas’: ‘What is so heretical about the gospel of Thomas, found in the Nag Hamadi (sic) scripture. Much of what is found in the text can be found in the bible. The gospel of Thomas should be viewed as a source of Truth.
‘Afterall, if much of it is the words of Jesus then why can’t the rest of it be the words of Jesus? It places a new perspective on the word of Christ if what can be found within it can be believed to be true’.

[2] See a discussion of the Nag Hammadi Library on Wikipedia at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nag_Hammadi_library (Accessed 13 September 2011).

[3] A person on Christian Forums, ‘The Gospel of Thomas’ thread, stated, ‘I wasn’t suggesting that the gospel of Thomas should be added to the canon. I was merely suggesting that it should not be viewed as such heresy when it clearly has value. When it clearly contains the spoken words of Jesus, it may be that the whole thing is in fact the gospel of his disciple, the one they called Thomas. It’s not so far out there and the words spoken within the text are very Christ-like’. This person does not want to view the Gospel of Thomas as heretical. Hopefully, the following quotes from GThom will help to show that there are heretical teachings in GThom when compared with the NT Scriptures.

 

Copyright (c) 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 7 October 2015.

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Incorrect translation of New International Version 2011 for John 11:25

Monday, September 12th, 2011


(Courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

In the church I attended on Sunday, 11 September 2011 (North Pine Presbyterian, Petrie, Brisbane, Qld.), John 11:25 was read publicly from the NIV 2011. This verse in the NIV 2011 edition has incorrect grammar when compared with the Greek (I read and have taught NT Greek) and in English. This is how the two versions of the NIV for this verse read.

John 11:25, NIV 2011: ‘Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die”‘;

John 11:25, NIV 1974, 1984: ‘Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies”‘;

John 11:25 in the English Standard Version reads: ‘Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live”‘.

The NIV 2011 rendering is incorrect grammar while the 1974 version is correct grammar. What is wrong with the grammar of “the one who believes in me will live even though they die” in NIV 2011?

(1) In English the antecedent to which the plural “they” refers is the singular, “the one”. Therefore, since “the one” is singular, “they” must be replaced with the singular. In English, these dynamic equivalent translations are possible: (a) “the one who believes in me will live even though he/she should die”, or (b) “the one who believes in me will live even though that one/person should die”.

(2) In Greek, the verb which is translated in NIV 2011 as “they die”, is an incorrect translation as the verb is apothanw, which is 3rd person singular, aorist 2, active, subjunctive of apothaneskw. Therefore, the verb needs to be translated with the singular, “that one should die”. If you want to translate with dynamic equivalence, the meaning could be, “those who believe in me will live even though they die”.

However, as it stands, the grammar in both Greek and English of the second half of John 11:25, NIV 2011, is incorrect with the words, “the one who believes in me will live, even though they die”. I urged the International Bible Society[1] (publishers of the NIV 2011) to change this for the sake of English speakers and to be consistent with the Greek language.

At the street level when I was living in theUSA, Canada and here in my home country of Australia, many people confuse the singular antecedent with a plural pronoun which follows. However it did surprise me that the NIV 2011 inserted this grammatical error. I wonder how many other times this happens in this new revision.

I consider the NIV to be an excellent translation, as long as we understand that it is a meaning-for-meaning translation (i.e. dynamic equivalence).

This is what is stated about the NIV translators on BibleGateway, “The New International Version (NIV) is a completely original translation of the Bible developed by more than one hundred scholars working from the best available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts”.

I look forward to hearing from the International Bible Society that this grammatical error is corrected in future printings of the NIV.

Here’s a list of the NIV translators. I know of many of these and they are fine Bible scholars in the evangelical Protestant tradition.

This Biblica (home of the NIV) article contains a section on “What Was Decided About Inclusive Language” for NIV 2011. In short, it means that inclusive language was used for “mankind” but definitely not for God.

Appendix A

This is the email response I received in Australia (received 13 September 2011) from the International Bible Society (Biblica) in response to my inquiry about the above information about John 11:25:

Thank you for your feedback regarding the NIV translation. We appreciate your opinion and welcome your prayers for us and the Committee on Bible Translation. We always seek to faithfully translate the meaning of the original biblical texts.

Though your grammatical explanation is correct as far as it goes, languages are inconsistent. As you know, the Greek word teknon (often “child”) is neuter, even though people of all ages have gender. What’s more, Mathew 9:2 Jesus uses it to address a seemingly a grown man. Furthermore, an inanimate plural subject in Greek often takes a singular verb (e.g., Mt. 10:2, which reads literally “the names is [sic] these”). The CBT’s response to the use of “they” as a singular referent in English is explained, along with other matters, on the following web page: http://www.niv-cbt.org/niv-2011-overview/ An excerpt is here added for easy reference:

The gender-neutral pronoun ?they” (?them” / ?their”) is by far the most common way that English-language speakers and writers today refer back to singular antecedents such as ?whoever,” ?anyone,” ?somebody,” ?a person,” ?no one,” and the like. Even in Evangelical sermons and books, where the generic ?he,” ?him” and ?his” are preserved more frequently than in other forms of communication, instances of what grammarians are increasingly calling the ?singular they” (?them” or ?their”) appear three times more frequently than generic masculine forms. In other words, most English speakers today express themselves in sentences like these: ?No one who rooted for the Chicago Cubs to be in a World Series in the last sixty years got their wish. They were disappointed time and time again,” or ?The person who eats too many hot dogs in too short a period of time is likely to become sick to their stomach.” It is interesting to observe that this development is a throwback to a usage of English that existed prior to the solidification of the generic ?he” as the only ?proper” usage during the nineteenth century in Victorian England. Even the KJV occasionally used expressions like ? . . . let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3). For that matter, so did the Greek New Testament! In James 2:15-16, the Greek for ?a brother or sister” (adelphos ? adelph?) is followed by plural verbs and predicate adjectives and referred back to with autois (?them”).

May the Lord bless you as you follow his Word.

Biblica, 1820 Jet Stream Dr., Colorado Springs, CO 80921, www.biblica.com

I do not find this a satisfactory explanation as it violates a fundamental of English grammar. Because other translations such as the KJV in Phil. 2:3 use this incorrect English grammar, does not justify the NIV 2011 translation of John 11:25. Because the use of they/their ‘is by far the most common way that English-language speakers and writers today refer back to singular antecedents’ is not an adequate explanation for violation of English grammar rules.

I’m not the only one with discomfort over an NIV 2011 translation. The Southern Baptist Convention in the USA resolved on June 14-15, 2011, as reported by Baptist Press:

The resolution states:

WHEREAS, Many Southern Baptist pastors and laypeople have trusted and used the 1984 New International Version (NIV) translation to the great benefit of the Kingdom; and

WHEREAS, Biblica and Zondervan Publishing House are publishing an updated version of the New International Version (NIV) which incorporates gender neutral methods of translation; and

WHEREAS, Southern Baptists repeatedly have affirmed our commitment to the full inspiration and authority of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:15-16) and, in 1997, urged every Bible publisher and translation group to resist “gender-neutral” translation of Scripture; and

WHEREAS, This translation alters the meaning of hundreds of verses, most significantly by erasing gender-specific details which appear in the original language; and

WHEREAS, Although it is possible for Bible scholars to disagree about translation methods or which English words best translate the original languages, the 2011 NIV has gone beyond acceptable translation standards; and

WHEREAS, Seventy-five percent of the inaccurate gender language found in the TNIV is retained in the 2011 NIV; and

WHEREAS, The Southern Baptist Convention has passed a similar resolution concerning the TNIV in 2002; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 14-15, 2011 express profound disappointment with Biblica and Zondervan Publishing House for this inaccurate translation of God’s inspired Scripture; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage pastors to make their congregations aware of the translation errors found in the 2011 NIV; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we respectfully request that LifeWay not make this inaccurate translation available for sale in their bookstores; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we cannot commend the 2011 NIV to Southern Baptists or the larger Christian community.

References:

[1] I sent this information to the International Bible Society, which translated the NIV, on Monday, 12 September 2011, at: http://www.biblica.com/contact-us/.

 

Copyright (c) 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 October 2015.

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Did Jesus give up his omniscience?

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

We see this debated on the www in places like the Christian Forums thread, “Was Jesus omniscient?” On writer in this thread stated, “I believe that considering the many things in the Bible that we can see that Jesus didn’t know. I believe that Jesus was not omniscient”.

It should not be surprising on a sceptical website to get this kind of comment,

“How could Jesus know that Judas would betray him, but yet not know when Jesus’ own return would be? Was Jesus omniscient, or not? The fact that the two verses cited above contradict each other is evidence that the New Testament is just a compilation of often conflicting traditional beliefs about Jesus and his attributes. It is not surprising, then, that some passages indicate that Jesus can see the future, while other passages indicate that he cannot see the future”.

On other forums, this question is asked and it seems to be confusing to some Christians. See, “Christians, was Jesus omniscient?” (Yahoo! Answers) and “Was Jesus omniscient?” (Reasonable Faith forum).

I have found evangelical theologian, Wayne Grudem’s, explanation of this in relation to a refutation of the Kenosis Theory of Philippians 2:7, to be the most satisfactory explanation of Jesus’ not exercising his all-knowledge (omniscience) on some occasions. Grudem’s explanation is in Systematic Theology.[1] His explanation is available online and it reads:

Did Jesus Give Up Some of His Divine Attributes While on Earth? (The Kenosis Theory).

Paul writes to the Philippians,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Phil. 2:5–7)

Beginning with this text, several theologians in Germany (from about 1860–1880) and in England (from about 1890–1910) advocated a view of the incarnation that had not been advocated before in the history of the church. This new view was called the “kenosis theory,” and the overall position it represented was called “kenotic theology.” The kenosis theory holds that Christ gave up some of his divine attributes while he was on earth as a man. (The word ??????? is taken from the Greek verb ?????, G3033, which generally means “to empty,” and is translated “emptied himself ” in Phil. 2:7.) According to the theory Christ “emptied himself “ of some of his divine attributes, such as omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence, while he was on earth as a man. This was viewed as a voluntary self-limitation on Christ’s part, which he carried out in order to fulfill his work of redemption.?27?

But does Philippians 2:7 teach that Christ emptied himself of some of his divine attributes, and does the rest of the New Testament confirm this? The evidence of Scripture points to a negative answer to both questions. We must first realize that no recognized teacher in the first 1,800 years of church history, including those who were native speakers of Greek, thought that “emptied himself “ in Philippians 2:7 meant that the Son of God gave up some of his divine attributes. Second, we must recognize that the text does not say that Christ “emptied himself of some powers” or “emptied himself of divine attributes” or anything like that. Third, the text does describe what Jesus did in this “emptying”: he did not do it by giving up any of his attributes but rather by “taking the form of a servant,” that is, by coming to live as a man, and “being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). Thus, the context itself interprets this “emptying” as equivalent to “humbling himself “ and taking on a lowly status and position. Thus, the NIV, instead of translating the phrase, “He emptied himself,” translates it, “but made himself nothing” (Phil. 2:7 NIV). The emptying includes change of role and status, not essential attributes or nature.

A fourth reason for this interpretation is seen in Paul’s purpose in this context. His purpose has been to persuade the Philippians that they should “do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3), and he continues by telling them, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4). To persuade them to be humble and to put the interests of others first, he then holds up the example of Christ: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant…” (Phil. 2:5–7).

Now in holding up Christ as an example, he wants the Philippians to imitate Christ. But certainly he is not asking the Philippian Christians to “give up” or “lay aside” any of their essential attributes or abilities! He is not asking them to “give up” their intelligence or strength or skill and become a diminished version of what they were. Rather, he is asking them to put the interests of others first: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4). And because that is his goal, it fits the context to understand that he is using Christ as the supreme example of one who did just that: he put the interests of others first and was willing to give up some of the privilege and status that was his as God.

Therefore, the best understanding of this passage is that it talks about Jesus giving up the status and privilege that was his in heaven: he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (or “clung to for his own advantage”), but “emptied himself “ or “humbled himself “ for our sake, and came to live as a man. Jesus speaks elsewhere of the “glory” he had with the Father “before the world was made” (John 17:5), a glory that he had given up and was going to receive again when he returned to heaven. And Paul could speak of Christ who, “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor” (2 Cor. 8:9), once again speaking of the privilege and honor that he deserved but temporarily gave up for us.

The fifth and final reason why the “kenosis” view of Philippians 2:7 must be rejected is the larger context of the teaching of the New Testament and the doctrinal teaching of the entire Bible. If it were true that such a momentous event as this happened, that the eternal Son of God ceased for a time to have all the attributes of God—ceased, for a time, to be omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, for example—then we would expect that such an incredible event would be taught clearly and repeatedly in the New Testament, not found in the very doubtful interpretation of one word in one epistle. But we find the opposite of that: we do not find it stated anywhere else that the Son of God ceased to have some of the attributes of God that he had possessed from eternity. In fact, if the kenosis theory were true (and this is a foundational objection against it), then we could no longer affirm Jesus was fully God while he was here on earth.?28? The kenosis theory ultimately denies the full deity of Jesus Christ and makes him something less than fully God. S.M. Smith admits, “All forms of classical orthodoxy either explicitly reject or reject in principle kenotic theology.”?29?

It is important to realize that the major force persuading people to accept kenotic theory was not that they had discovered a better understanding of Philippians 2:7 or any other passage of the New Testament, but rather the increasing discomfort people were feeling with the formulations of the doctrine of Christ in historic, classical orthodoxy. It just seemed too incredible for modern rational and “scientific” people to believe that Jesus Christ could be truly human and fully, absolutely God at the same time.?30? The kenosis theory began to sound more and more like an acceptable way to say that (in some sense) Jesus was God, but a kind of God who had for a time given up some of his Godlike qualities, those that were most difficult for people to accept in the modern world.

Conclusion: Christ Is Fully Divine. The New Testament, in hundreds of explicit verses that call Jesus “God” and “Lord” and use a number of other titles of deity to refer to him, and in many passages that attribute actions or words to him that could only be true of God himself, affirms again and again the full, absolute deity of Jesus Christ. “In him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col. 1:19), and “in him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9). In an earlier section we argued that Jesus is truly and fully man. Now we conclude that he is truly and fully God as well. His name is rightly called “Emmanuel,” that is, “God with us” (Matt. 1:23).

Here is another view: The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (eds. Gerhard Kittel & Gerhard Friedrich, vol. 5, Eerdmans, p. 895)  states of pas (all, everything) in the NT as it applies to Jesus, the Logos:

The incarnate Logos is invested with cosmic authority even here on earth, Jn. 3:35; 13:3: the Father has put all things in His hands; 17:2: He has given Him power over all flesh. The debated Mt. 11:27 par. Lk. 10:22 is probably to be understood along these lines: “All things are delivered unto me of my Father, and no man knoweth the Son …” Though the continuation speaks of knowledge, the “all things” obviously include more than knowledge. Hence the verse is to be construed, not along the lines of Jn. 21:17 or 1 C. 2:10, but along the lines of Jn. 3:35; 13:3; 17:2: “all power,” which includes knowledge as well. Elsewhere, however, it is said of the Redeemer during His earthly life that He has laid aside His power and appeared in lowliness and humility, Mt. 11:29; 12:18–21; 2 C. 8:9; Phil. 2:5–8, ? ????? III, 661, 13–28, cf. the temptation of Jesus, Mt. 4:8 f. par. Lk. 4:5 f. Thus, when the full power of Jesus is occasionally mentioned during the time of His humiliation, it is merely a proleptic fact. (Bo Reicke, TDNT, ???)

“[I am God] 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” (Isa. 46:10 ESV).

For a detailed examination that affirms the omniscience of God, see Norman Geisler 2003. Systematic Theology: God, Creation (vol. 2). Minneapolis, Minnesota, BethanyHouse, pp. 180-212. Geisler defines God’s omniscience: “God knows everything-past, present, and future; He knows the actual and the possible; only the impossible (the contradictory) is outside the knowledge of God” (p. 180). Geisler goes on to state that “the contemporary debate, however, has changed the theological landscape on this doctrine. God’s unlimited knowledge is now allegedly limited; His all-knowing is no longer the knowing of all. If we adhere to this, we are left with the oxymoronic view of limited omniscience. The attack on traditional omniscience has come from both outside and inside evangelicalism” (p. 180).

Geisler states, “Granted that God has knowledge, His omniscience can be derived from a number of His other attributes. These include His infinity, His causality, His necessity, His knowledge of reality, His eternality, and His absolute perfection” (p. 181).

Notes:


[1] 1994. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, pp. 549-552).
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Eternal torment for unbelievers when they die

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

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By Spencer D Gear

The doctrine of annihilation or conditional immortality is gaining an increasing number of followers in evangelical circles. Some of the Christian forums on the www include people who are promoting these doctrines.[1]

Some are saying that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), so that is what will happen at the end of life for unbelievers – death. There will be permanent death through annihilation of conditional immortality, with no torture in hell.[2]

God told Adam in Gen. 2:17, “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (ESV). But he did not physically die on that very day, but physical death came 930 years later. H. C. Leupold in his commentary on Genesis explains that “in the day” is taken literally, but not in the sense, “at the time”. The Hebrew meaning of “shall surely die” as an absolute infinitive has the thought that “the instantaneous occurrence of the penalty threatened” did happen.

Leupold asks,

“Why was this penalty not carried out as threatened?” The answer is that it was carried out “if the Biblical concept of dying is kept in mind, as it unfolds itself ever more clearly from age to age”. Since dying means separation from God, “that separation occurred the very moment when man by his disobedience broke the bond of love. If physical death ultimately closes the experience, that is not the most serious aspect of the whole affair. The more serious is the inner spiritual separation”. As Oehler accurately stated it, “For a fact, after the commission of sin man at once stepped upon the road of death”. Leupold observes “how definitely the account teaches that the first man was gifted with freedom of the will”.[3]

What do we say to those who say that “eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46) does not mean eternal torment? In the NT, we are told what that “punishment” means. In Luke 16:23, the rich man was in Hades after death and was “being in torment”. This is clearly in focus for the unbelievers in Rev. 14:10, when John’s vision of the fate of the ungodly is that they “will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb” (ESV). And please note that this torment is by the Lamb, the Son of God. God will be the one who is tormenting the ungodly.

What about the language of “destruction” in the NT?[4]

If we took some isolated Scriptures, it may be possible to take these passages to mean annihilation. I’m thinking of the word, “destroy”, in Matt. 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell [Greek: Gehenna]” (ESV). Even with passages such as Matt. 7:13-14 where the broad road leads to destruction and John 3:16, “Whoever believes in him shall not perish” could be pressed to try to get the meaning of annihilation. Even if we took the following passages alone without consideration of other passages, there is a possibility that extermination/extinction of the wicked could be an interpretation: John 10:28; 17:12; Romans 2:12; 9:22; Philippians 1:28; 3:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:3; Hebrews 10:39; James 4:12 and 2 Peter 3:7, 9. However, there’s a big barrier to this kind of interpretation….

There are verses that are impossible to square with destruction meaning annihilation. Second Thessalonians 1:9 is one of those barriers. It reads, “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (ESV). Who are “they”? They are “those who do not know God” and “do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thess. 1:8). This is referring to unbelievers. The words from 2 Thess. 1:9, “eternal destruction”, could hardly mean “eternal  annihilation”. This verse creates the added problem against annihilation that the ungodly will be “away from the presence of the Lord”, which indicates that their existence is continuing but they will be shut out from being in God’s presence. If one were to speak of being “destroyed” from the presence of the Lord, it would imply non-existence. Scot McKnight put it this way:

“Paul has in mind an irreversible verdict of eternal nonfellowship with God. A person exists but remains excluded from God’s good presence”.[5]

In Revelation 17:8, 11, “destruction” is prophesied of “the beast”, but in Revelation 19 the Beast and False Prophet “were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur” (19:20). We know that they are still alive when this is happening because they are there 1,000 years later (Rev. 20:7,10). It cannot mean what Fudge says it means, “The lake of fire stands for utter, absolute, irreversible annihilation”.[6]

Other emphases of the condition of the damned after death

Even if one were to show that certain passages teach annihilation, we would need to show that other passages that speak of hell (Sheol, Hades & Gehenna) can be interpreted consistently with the extinction of the wicked. This cannot be done. As Robert Peterson points out,

The Bible uses five main pictures to speak of hell: darkness and separation, fire, “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” punishment, and death and destruction. Only the last fits with annihilationism, and not every passage in that category fits.[7]

Jesus’ language is of those who are “thrown into eternal fire” (Matt 18:8). Paul’s was of being “punished with everlasting destruction” (2 Thess. 1:9). Jude warned of “the punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7) and of those “for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever” (Jude 13). Of the sinful, condemned humanity, John’s vision was that “the smoke from her goes up forever and ever” (Rev. 19:3).
As far back as 1744, Matthew Horbery wrote, “It is hard to say how any doctrine can be taught so plainly than the eternity of future punishment…. how could he have done it in plainer words or in a more emphatical manner”.[8]

In rejecting Gehenna as instantaneous annihilation and affirming that it means everlasting torment, commentator William Hendriksen stated,

The passages in which the doctrine of everlasting punishment for both body and soul is taught are so numerous that one actually stands aghast that in spite of all this there are people today who affirm that they accept Scripture and who, nevertheless, reject the idea of never-ending torment.[9]

I join with Hendriksen in my being aghast (my language would be flabbergasted) at Christians who refuse to confirm never ending torment for the ungodly in Gehenna.

Second Peter 2:9 indicates the conscious suffering of the ungodly in the intermediate state: “… the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment” (NIV 1984). R. C. H. Lenski translates the Greek tenses accurately in his translation, “The Lord knows how to rescue godly ones out of temptation but to keep unrighteous ones for judgment day while being punished“.[10] At death, the unrighteous are being kept where? Elsewhere, the Scriptures indicate that they are in Hades in the intermediate state (e.g. Matt. 11:23; 16:18ff; Luke 10:15; 1 Pet. 3:19; Rev. 20:13ff) . What is happening while they are in that state? Note two Greek words, terein (to keep, present tense, active voice, infinitive). The meaning is “to continue keeping” (present tense indicates continuous action). The second word to note is, kalozomenous (continuing punishment), a present passive participle, indicating continuous action in the present time. Since it is the passive voice, this continuing punishment is being received by these people. Robert Morey explains 2 Peter 2:9 this way:

First, Peter says that the wicked are “kept” unto the day of judgment. This word is the present, active, infinitive form, which means that the wicked are being held captive continuously. If the wicked merely pass into nonexistence at death, there would be nothing left to be “kept” unto the day of judgment. Obviously, Peter is grammatically picturing the wicked as being guarded like prisoners in a jail until the day of final judgment.

Second, Peter says that the wicked are “being tormented.” This word is in the present, passive, participle form and means that the wicked are continuously being tormented as an on-going activity.

If Peter wanted to teach that the wicked receive their full punishment at death by passing into nonexistence, then he would have used the aorist tense. Instead, he uses those Greek tenses which were the only ones available to him in the Greek language to express conscious, continuous torment. The grammar of the text irrefutably establishes that the wicked are in torment while they await their final day of judgment.

When the day of judgment arrives, Hades will be emptied of its inhabitants, and the wicked will stand before God for their final sentence (Rev. 20:13-15). Thus, we conclude that Hades is the temporary intermediate state between death and the resurrection where the wicked are in conscious torment. Hades will be emptied at the resurrection, and then the wicked will be cast into “hell (Gehenna).[11]

I find it to be irrational, based on 2 Peter 2:9 and other NT verses, to want to state that “destruction of the wicked” means instantaneous annihilation, extinction or conditional immortality as there are Scriptures that affirm the torment in the after-life of unbelievers. Second Thessalonians 1:9 makes it clear, speaking of ‘everlasting destruction’, which cannot mean ‘everlasting annihilation’.

It is impossible to make destroy = annihilate in Romans 14:15: “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died” (ESV). To imply that one could annihilate a brother by eating meat is stretching my logic. To make the biblical word, “destruction”, for eternal punishment to be the equivalent of “annihilation” is an unbiblical invention. Even in the English language, if I were to run over my child’s toy with my motor vehicle, I would “destroy” the toy and it would “perish”, but it would not be annihilated.

What does Peter mean by “perish” in 2 Pet 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing any should perish” (ESV)? “Perish” is the aorist tense infinitive, indicating point action. The Lord does not want people to perish by any instant action.

Based on the above exposition, the eternal torment of unbelievers in Gehenna is the truth of God’s word. “Perish” and “destruction” do not mean annihilation as the Scriptures above demonstrate.

I am aghast, along with William Hendriksen, that Christians refuse to see what the Scriptures so clearly teach – eternal torment for the ungodly. And that’s what I will continue to do in association with my evangelism. I will warn people of the horrors of experiencing the wrath of God in Gehenna (hell) through eternal torment.

Matt. 25:46 does not speak of eternal annihilation, but eternal punishment – torment forever and ever.

Recommended:

Edward Fudge & Robert A. Peterson 2000. Two Views of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Dialogue. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

My article, “Are there degrees of punishment in hell?“.

Robert A. Peterson, “The Hermeneutics of Annihilationism“.

Notes:


[1] As an example, see the Christian Forums’ thread, “If there was no heaven or hell would you… (when my article was last revised on 14 October 2014, this thread was no longer available online). You may find parallel information at, Do you think you deserve eternal torment in hell?

[2] Ibid. One person in this thread stated, “The concept of God torturing anyone for all eternity is not biblical. The bible’s truth has been under fire since the idea of eternally roasting your enemies in hell-fire was dreamed up in the dark ages. Now is the time that we stand up for the bible’s truth and say that God does not torture people”. Later in the thread he acknowledged that his view was that of “conditional immortality” (no longer available online at Christian Forums.com, 14 October 2014).

[3] The above two paragraphs contain information from H. C. Leupold 1942. Exposition of Genesis. London: Evangelical Press, p. 128-129.

[4] Some of this section is based on Robert A. Peterson 1995. Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing.

[5] In ibid., p. 163.

[6] In ibid., p. 164.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Henry Horbery 1744. An Enquiry into the Scripture-Doctrine concerning the Duration of Future Punishment. London: James Fletcher, pp 61-62. Partly available  as a Google book online HERE (Accessed 31 August 2011).

[9] William Hendriksen 1959. The Bible on the Life Hereafter. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, pp. 197-198.

[10] R. C. H. Lenski 1966. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, p. 315.

[11] Robert A. Morey 1984. Death and the Afterlife. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, pp. 86-87.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 1 July 2016.

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An Arminian view of faith in Christ

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

(Arminius, public domain)

By Spencer D Gear

It is not unusual to hear Calvinists state that Arminians do not believe that faith is a gift of God.[1] Is this true or false?

Part of #5 of the “Statement of Faith” of the evangelical Arminians states this about the gift of faith and the ability to believe:

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.

The following is a good summary of grace and faith from an Arminian perspective:

Freed by Grace {to Believe} (Article 4)

  • Because of Total Depravity and Atonement for All … God calls all people everywhere to repent and believe the gospel, and graciously enables those who hear the gospel to respond to it positively in faith.
  • God regenerates those who believe in Christ (faith logically precedes regeneration).
  • God’s saving grace is resistible, which is to say that he dispenses his calling, drawing, and convicting grace (which would bring us to salvation if responded to with faith) in such a way that we may reject it. Those who hear the gospel may either accept it by grace or reject it to their own eternal destruction.
  • Apart from the realm of pleasing the Lord and doing spiritual good, people often have free will, which means that, with respect to an action, they can at least either do the action or refrain from doing it. People often have genuine choices and are therefore correspondingly able to make choices.
  • God has ultimate and absolute free will. His choice to supernaturally free the will of sinners by his grace to believe in Christ is a matter of the exercise of his own free will and sovereignty.

I cannot find any teaching in the Bible that confirms that saving faith is for a select few people. The Bible assumes that “whoever believes” is a statement to indicate that faith is available to all. Anyone who says “yes” to Jesus, repents and receives Him, and so exercises saving faith. This is what is taught in:

  • Luke 13:3;
  • John 3:16, 18; 6:29; 11:40; 12:36;
  • Acts 16:31; 17:30; 20:21;
  • Heb. 11:6, etc.

Note especially the words of Acts 17:30 where God “commands all people everywhere to repent”. Since God commands all to repent, those who choose to respond positively to God’s command when the Gospel is presented, are saved. Those who reject, are damned. Those who respond with faith have faith as a gift of God, graciously enable by God himself. But this offer of God’s gift of salvation is able to be resisted and rejected.

We get this understanding from the Scriptures:

  • Jesus said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matt. 23:37 NIV). The ESV translates as, “You would not”. The meaning is the same. They could reject Jesus’ offer.
  • Jesus made a similar kind of statement of a person’s ability to reject Him in John 5:39-40: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life (NIV).
  • John 1:12 is crystal clear of a person’s need to receive Christ to become children of God: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (NIV).
  • John affirms this meaning in 1 John 5:1, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God…” (NIV)
  • However, this salvation, is all of God, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this [salvation][2] is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV).

What is the meaning of Ephesians 2:8?

This verse has been one of the battlegrounds for Arminians and Calvinists. Is faith the gift of God and does regeneration precede faith, or does faith precede regeneration? R. C. Sproul, a Calvinist, maintains that

Regeneration is the theological term used to describe rebirth…. Regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit upon those who are spiritually dead (see Ephesians 2:1-10)…. Regeneration is not the fruit or result of faith, regeneration precedes faith as the necessary condition for faith…. We do not decide or choose to be regenerated. God chooses to regenerate us before we will ever choose to embrace Him.[3]

So, being born again (regeneration), comes as God acting sovereignly on the unbeliever before he/she can have faith in Christ. That’s the Calvinistic view.

By contrast, the Arminian theologian, John Miley, sees it quite differently:

There are prerequisites which cannot be met without our own free agency. There must be an earnest turning of the soul to God, deep repentance for sin, and a true faith in Christ. Such are the requirements of our own agency. There is no regeneration for us without them. Yet they are not possible in the unaided resources of our own nature. Hence there must be a helping work of the Spirit prior to his work of regeneration.[4]

At the lay level, this is battled out on Christian forums on the Internet.[5] Let’s look at the gender of some of the nouns and the demonstrative pronoun in this verse:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8 ESV).

  • The noun, grace – charis – is feminine gender;
  • The noun, faith – pistis – is feminine gender;
  • The demonstrative pronoun, this/that – touto – is neuter gender.

So it is very clear in Greek that touto, neuter, cannot refer back to the antecedent feminine nouns – charis and pistis. If the demonstrative this/that was meant to refer to grace or faith, there is a perfectly good Greek way of expressing this. The demonstrative would be the feminine, taute.

To what does “this/that” refer if it is not to grace or faith? Verse 8 tells us that “it is the gift of God’, thus referring to salvation by grace through faith.

What did John Calvin state about Ephesians 2:8?

On one side, we must look at God; and, on the other, at man. God declares, that he owes us nothing; so that salvation is not a reward or recompense, but unmixed grace. The next question is, in what way do men receive that salvation which is offered to them by the hand of God? The answer is, by faith; and hence he concludes that nothing connected with it is our own. If, on the part of God, it is grace alone, and if we bring nothing but faith, which strips us of all commendation, it follows that salvation does not come from us.

His meaning is, not that faith in this verse is the gift of God, but that salvation is given to us by God, or, that we obtain it by the gift of God.

One of the greatest NT Greek scholars of the 20th century, Dr. A. T. Robertson, noted this of Eph. 2:8,

“Grace” is God’s part, “faith” is ours. And that (kai touto). Neuter, not feminine taute, and so refers not to pistis (feminine) or to charis (feminine also), but to the act of being saved by grace conditioned on faith on our part.[6]

If Paul wanted “that/this” to refer to grace or faith, there was a regular Greek way of doing it. He would have used the same gender for “this/that” as for “faith” or “grace”. Paul would have written taute and not tauto for the demonstrative in this Scripture. But he did not use this grammar. Instead, by using the neuter, tauto, Paul refers to the whole process of salvation by grace through faith.

Even the Calvinist, F. F. Bruce, stated of Eph. 2:8,

But the fact that the demonstrative pronoun ‘that’ is neuter in Greek (tauto), whereas ‘faith’ is a feminine noun (pistis), combines with other considerations to suggest that it is the whole concept of salvation by grace through faith that is described as the gift of God.[7]

So Ephesians 2:8, based on the Greek grammar does not teach that faith is an irresistible gift straight from God that a person has no say about and cannot reject. This verse says that salvation is of God (and affirmed by Eph. 2:9). But Eph 2:8 does not demonstrate that salvation is a deterministic born again (regeneration) experience that is imposed on a person without his/her consent – which the Calvinists believe.

To use John Miley’s language, “Regeneration is a true sphere of the divine monergism.[8] [But] there is also a sphere of synergism”.[9]

Notes:


[1] For an example of the back-and-forth on this topic, see the thread, “On what basis does God elect?” in Christian Forums.com.

[2] See what follows for an exegetical understanding of why “this” refers to salvation and not to “grace” or “faith”.

[3] R C Sproul 1992. Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, pp. 171-172.

[4] John Miley 1893/1989. Systematic Theology, vol 2. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, pp. 336-337.

[5] One example is on Christian Forums.com, “What precedes what – faith regeneration” (Accessed 2 September 2011).

[6] A T Robertson 1931. Word Pictures in the New Testament: The Epistles of Paul, Vol IV. Nashville, Tennessee: Boardman Press, p. 525, emphasis in the original.

[7] F F Bruce 1961. The Epistle to the Ephesians. Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, p. 51.

[8] Monergism is based on the Greek, monos (meaning ‘single’), plus ergon (meaning work’). The Century Dictionary defines monergism ‘in theology as the doctrine that the Holy Spirit is the only efficient agent in regeneration – that the human will possesses no inclination to holiness until regenerated, and therefore cannot cooperate in regeneration (The Century Dictionary 1890, p. 287).

[9] Miley, vol. 2, p. 336. What is synergism? “Arminius proposed what we might call an evangelical synergism. Synergism is any belief in cooperation between the human will and agency on the one hand, and God’s will and agency on the other hand” (Roger E. Olson 2005. ‘Confessions of an Arminian Evangelical’, (Accessed 30 August 2011).

 

Copyright (c) 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 11 October 2015.
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