Archive for August, 2014

Is this a true statement: ‘Nothing is impossible with God’?

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

impossible triangle by jarda - impossible triangle

(impossible triangle, openclipart)

By Spencer D Gear

In my church a couple of weeks ago, a man in his 70s was telling the children’s story when he made the statement to these children under 10 years of age who were sitting in the front rows: ‘Nothing is impossible with God’. One boy, aged about 7, shouted out, ‘God cannot sin’. When the congregation heard his reply, there was applause across the audience. But this child had hit on something that refutes this statement, ‘Nothing is impossible with God’ as a general principle.

Impossible to restore to repentance

I met another person promoting this line on a Christian forum. We were discussing a passage of Scripture that gives Calvinists the heebie geebies of denial (that lets my Reformed Arminian theological cat out of the bag):

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt (Heb 6:4-6 ESV).

Calvinists don’t like the idea that it is impossible to restore to repentance those who have fallen away from the faith (i.e. those who have committed apostasy). So they try all kinds of twists and turns to make it say what it doesn’t say. This fellow wrote in extra large font:

clip_image002 THE SCRIPTURE WE WERE TALKING ABOUT DID NOT MAKE ANY REFERENCE TO WHAT IS AND IS NOT POSSIBLE FOR GOD.[1]

Another fellow added:

clip_image002[1] THAT’S RIGHT.  YOU HAVE TO LEARN TO USE ALL OF THE BIBLE TO UNDERSTAND IT. Then he added these verses of support:

clip_image002[2] ‘Mt 19:26 – and looking at them Jesus said, “WITH PEOPLE this is impossible, but with God ALL things are possible”’, and

clip_image002[3] ‘Lk 1:37 says NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD.  That means God can renew someone if He chooses’.[2]

What’s wrong with using these two verses? They are specific to an occasion and do not express a general biblical principle concerning the nature of God. See my further explanation of Luke 1:37 below.

It is impossible for God to sin

How should I reply? My response was:[3]

Is it possible for God to sin? Of course not! Therefore, it is impossible for God to do some things. Sin is one of them.

Heb 6:4-6 tells us another one that it is ‘impossible’ for God to do and that is ‘to restore again to repentance’ those who ‘fall away’.

There’s another thing God cannot do: ‘Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one’ (James 1:13). So it is IMPOSSIBLE for God to be tempted with evil.

But there’s more: God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18; Titus 1:2).  God is eternal by nature so it is IMPOSSIBLE for God to stop being God (Psalm 90:2), In addition, it is IMPOSSIBLE for God to deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13).

Why don’t you take a read of this article in Christianity Today, ‘10 things God cannot do‘?

You make this claim: ‘That is why you need to use ALL of God’s word to understand it.’

In what I have provided above, when we read the entire Bible – which is what you requested – we find that there are a number of things that God CANNOT DO. It is IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOD TO DO.

Your claim is: ‘Lk 1:37 says NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD.  That means God can renew someone if He chooses.

That’s not what the Scriptures state, brother. Heb 6:4-6 is crystal clear. When people fall away from the faith, God has told us that ‘it is impossible to restore [them] again to repentance’ (v. 4). When will you come to accept what the Bible says about what it is IMPOSSIBLE for God to do?

But … but!

Another replied to my emphasis about this impossibility of restoring to repentance after apostasy:

I’ve seen many stories, though, of people who have fallen away and repented and come back to a full Christianity. Hebrews does seem to imply that is impossible. Does that mean that those people, even though they have repented and gone on to lead a full Christian life, are damned anyway?

I realize there are several seeming contradictions appearing in Scripture but this one seems to be particularly disturbing. Matthew, after all, is relating what Jesus Himself said. Wouldn’t what Jesus said take precedence over what anybody else says?[4]

This is a valid point. I am one such person who went very lukewarm towards the Lord when I was about aged 20 and then renewed my commitment about 8 years later. Therefore, I replied:[5]

I’ve provided a detailed exposition of the Hebrews 6:4-6 passage inOnce Saved, Always Saved, or Once Saved, Lost Again‘. This section of Scripture is referring to those who commit apostasy (repudiate the faith) and not to those who back-slide – in my understanding. There is no place for repentance for those who commit apostasy.

One of the saddest of such cases is seen in the apostasy of Charles Templeton who in the 1940s was an evangelistic colleague of Billy Graham in Youth for Christ and then departed from the faith [see ‘Charles Templeton (1915-2001)’]. His story is told in his book Farewell to God (1996. Toronto, Ontario: McClelland & Stewart).

clip_image003

(Courtesy Worldcat)

Or, was it apostasy? Michael Patton has written this sad but challenging article, ‘Billy Graham and Charles Templeton: A Sad Tale of Two Evangelists’.

One comment by another person at the end of this Michael Patton article was to point to

the interview former atheist, Lee Strobel … conducted with Templeton. When Strobel asked him about Jesus, he said, ‘he’s the most important thing in my life.’ He stammered: ‘I . . . I . . . I adore him . . . Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus.’ Strobel was stunned. He listened in shock. He says that Templeton’s voice began to crack. He then said, ‘I . . . miss . . . him!’ With that the old man burst into tears; with shaking frame, he wept bitterly (see Strobel 2000:21-22).

For us, from the human side, we seem to see ‘seeming contradictions’, but I regard all of Scripture as theopneustos (breathed-out by God, 2 Tim 3:16-17) so that it doesn’t matter whether it is OT, NT or the words of Jesus, all are from God. We need to go to 2 Peter 3:16 to discern that Peter regarded Paul’s writings as Scripture. This would have application, by inference, to the entire NT.

A Calvinist objects

I had asked: Is it possible for God to sin? Of course not! Therefore, it is impossible for God to do some things. Sin is one of them. His reply was, ‘Is it impossible for Him to renew someone?’[6] He didn’t like the ‘impossible to restore again to repentance’ in Heb 6:4-6, stating, ‘That is ridiculous.  You[r] God is to (sic) small’. I had stated, ‘So it is IMPOSSIBLE for God to be tempted with evil’ and his retort was, ‘Irrelevant – with MEN it is impossible but for God ALL things are possible’. He mentioned, ‘All of the things you have mention (sic) that God cannot do concern moral issues. It is amusing and sad that you think in human events God is no longer omnipotent. If God can make anyone new to begin with, it is foolish to think He can’t renew them’.

I had asked him: Why don’t you take a read of this article in Christianity Today, ‘10 things God cannot do‘. Again the response: ‘Your God is too small and too weak’. ‘That is not new.  I read them years ago, probably before you were aware of them.  You don’t see the truth because you are mixing apples and oranges’.
His anger continued: ‘So if I don’t agree with you I can’t possibly be right.  How self-serving. I said you need to use the whole Bible and that is what you are failing to do’.

He complained:

It seems to me none  of you legalists understand the analogy between our natural birth and our spiritual birth. Why do you think God uses “born again?” So  we can connect the dots that everything that  is true in our natural birth is just as true in our spiritual birth. The main  thing we should learn  is that once the RELATIONSHIP is established in each birth, it can NEVER change.  Good, bad or indifferent you will ALWAYS be your parents child in both births.

Since legalist (sic) do not have the assurance of their eternal security then I Jn 5:13 is wrong or there is something wrong with their theology and I think we know it  is IMPOSSIBLE for there to be an error in God’s inspired word.

Resorting to logical fallacies

The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

(logical fallacies)

It is sad to see the way some, while in discussion, will resort to the use of logical fallacies. To the response above, I noted:[7]

So you are engaging in your ad hominem logical fallacy against me with the accusation, ‘You legalists’. We cannot have a logical discussion when you resort to the use of a logical fallacy.

Scripture has told us in Heb 6:4-6 that it is ‘impossible’ for God to do and that is ‘to restore again to repentance’ those who ‘fall away’. His reply was, ‘That is ridiculous.  Your God is too small’. No, I said, you are the one being ridiculous. My God is not too small. My God is so BIG that I believe what he says in Heb 6:4-6. I don’t throw out or redefine who he is and what he can do, when it doesn’t fit in with my predetermined theology. Admit it. It’s your Calvinistic theology that prevents your accepting Heb 6:4-6 with its plain interpretation.

To my statement that it was impossible for God to be tempted by evil and his ‘Irrelevant’ reply, I wrote: It’s spot on, mate. But you don’t like it when I expose your ridiculous statement that there is nothing that God cannot do. The facts are that Scripture affirms that there are a good number of things that it is impossible for God to do.

But he did admit:

All of the things you have mention (sic) that God cannot do concern moral issues.  It is amusing and sad that you think in human events God is no longer omnipotent.  If God can make anyone new to begin with, it is foolish to think He can’t  renew them.[8]

I countered: It doesn’t matter whether the things relate to moral issues or not. They still are things for which IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOD TO DO. But you can’t accept what the plain teaching of Scripture is in this regard.

As for the accusation that my God is too small and too weak, I replied: No mate! My God is the creator and sustainer of the world and the one who offers salvation to the world. He’s the one who is coming again and will judge you and me as believers at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

He accused me of ‘misrepresentation’, which was wrong again. The fact is that he could not handle it when I exposed the inaccuracies of his interpretations of biblical statements.

The hole in his interpretation[9]

I asked again, ‘Can God sin?’ to which his response was: ‘Of course not but it is not impossible for Him to renew someone. Otherwise He is not omnipotent. Is God omnipotent?’

I asked: How is it that you can’t see the rabid contradiction in what you write? It is you who has been promoting this:

  • ‘I am sticking with “NOTHING is impossible with God” rather than ozspen’s limiting God’s power’.

Notice your emphasis on ‘NOTHING’. With your capital letters you screamed it out at us.

What method of biblical interpretation are you using? You are cherry-picking a verse to try to prove your Calvinistic theological point, but you have been caught out big time.

Where in the Bible does it say that ‘nothing is impossible with God’? Luke 1:34-38 states it:

34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. 36“And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her (ESV).

So the message that ‘nothing will be impossible with God’ has a very specific context. It was dealing with the aged Elizabeth who was pregnant with a son, John the Baptist. God had done the impossible thing for Elizabeth ‘in her old age’.

It is not an absolute statement that NOTHING ABSOLUTELY WILL BE ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD. Why? Because that would make massive contradictions between the nature of God and his purpose in our world – and that is not the case.

The facts are that there are many things for which it is impossible for God to do. You have already admitted one of the contradictions in your statement, by admitting that God cannot sin.

This discussion has exposed a massive hole in your ability to interpret Scripture with your quoting a verse out of context (Luke 1:37) and making it apply across the board – when it does not.

And have a guess what? God has stated another one of his impossibilities. it is ‘impossible to restore again to repentance’ those who ‘fall away’ by committing apostasy. That’s Bible (Heb. 6:4-6).

Please learn to become a better interpreter of God’s Word rather than giving us your false understanding here of: ‘I am sticking with “NOTHING is impossible with God” rather than ozspen’s limiting God’s power’.

A predictable response

How would you expect this poster to respond to the above information?[10] In my reply I have incorporated pieces of his response.[11]

I asked a basic question: What method of biblical interpretation are you using?’

His reply was: ‘It is called using the whole Bible to determine the truth.   Try it, you’ll like it.’ [I will be using the first personal pronoun, ‘you’, in my reply directly to him online.]

You don’t know the difference between method of biblical interpretation and content of biblical interpretation. I asked about the method. You gave me the content. We can’t have a rational conversation when you confuse these matters.

I asked: ‘How is it that you can’t see the rabid contradiction in what you write? It is you who has been promoting this’.

Again, you don’t know how to answer, so you gave me this red herring fallacy: ‘You can’t seem to understand thee (sic) is a difference between moral conduct and non-moral conduct. ALL of the things you mentioned concerned moral conduct.  You are mixing apples and oranges. Now answer the question—Is God omnipotent?’
My question had to do with your contradiction in what you wrote. Your reply had to deal with ‘moral conduct’. You did not respond to my question about your contradiction. This is using a technique of avoidance.

I showed how you cherry-picked a verse in Luke 1:37 with Elizabeth’s pregnancy in her old age and nothing being impossible to God. Now you come back with this irrelevance:

‘I am not cherry picking any more than you are and let me remind you for the umteenth time, I am not a Calvinist.  I have not been caught by anything I have said and especially not by you.’

Of course you cherry-picked. And you did it with ‘Mt 19:26 – and looking at them Jesus said, “WITH PEOPLE this is impossible but with God ALL things are possible’.
Those are your words. What is Matt 19:26 talking about? It’s the story of the rich young man and Jesus teaching of Mt 19:26 was dealing with how difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God (Mt 19:24). Then he made the statement: ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’. Jesus was referring specifically to the rich and how difficult it is to enter the kingdom. Jesus was not expressing an absolute principle that with God all things are absolutely possible. We know this is so because we know that God cannot absolutely make a square circle, or commit sin.

Oz: ‘Please learn to become a better interpreter of God’s Word rather than giving us your false understanding here of’

Kermit: ‘Right, agree with oz or you can’t be right.  Take your own advise (sic) and try using all of God (sic) word, not just a snipit (sic).’

So you can’t tolerate it when your cherry-picking of verses is exposed. It has to do with hermeneutics, brother, and you’ve shown us how your view on ‘there is nothing that God cannot do’ is exposed on the anvil of verses you choose to use. These verses are specific to the occasion and are not designed to be general promotion of God’s absolute ability to do anything at any time, i.e. your view that there is nothing that God cannot do.

Conclusion

‘Nothing is impossible with God’ applied to two specific circumstances in the Gospels in Luke 1:37 and Matthew 19:26. God addressed those circumstances with his omnipotent power. However, in doing that God did not set in place an absolute principle that ‘nothing is impossible with God’.

We have seen that it is impossible for God to sin, be tempted with evil, and to make a square circle. There are some things that God cannot do. He cannot lie or act with injustice.
This fellow on the Christian forum refused to deal with the content of a significant amount of what I wrote. It’s impossible to have a rational conversation when a person does this.

I believe in the omnipotence of God. But this fellow’s teaching that there is absolutely nothing that God cannot do is unbiblical.

Works consulted


Strobel, L 2000. The case for faith: A journalist investigates the toughest objections to Christianity. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Notes


[1] Jim Parker#116, August 1, 2014, Christian Fellowship Forum, The Fellowship Hall, ‘Predestination’, available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=110&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship&tid=123314 (Accessed 6 August 2014).

[2] Ibid., kcdavis222#117.

[3] Ibid., ozspen#118.

[4] Ibid, charma#119.

[5] Ibid, ozspen#120.

[6] Ibid., kcdavis222#121.

[7] Ibid., ozspen#124.

[8] Ibid., kcdavis222#124.

[9] Ibid, ozspen#131.

[10] You can read his reply at ibid., kcdavis222#135.

[11] Ibid., ozspen#136.

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 18 December 2015.

Is the rapture of the church hogwash?

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

Flying Feet

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

It was 1973 and I stood at my father’s grave. A couple years before, my parents had sold their sugar cane farm in Bundaberg, Qld, Australia[1] and moved into town, where Dad had obtained employment. We three children were off their hands and they were happily living in semi-retirement, planning to serve the Lord in short-term missionary activity.

In the morning, Dad kissed Mum good-bye, which was his daily custom when going to work. However, he never returned home. At 57 years of age, while carrying some goods at a local hardware store where he worked, he dropped dead of a heart attack.

As I stood at that grave, I was in deep grief. But it was not a sorrow of desperation, because 14 years prior to that, at a Billy Graham crusade rally at the local Show Grounds,[2] my parents committed their lives to Christ (Billy Graham was in Brisbane and they were hearing his voice proclaim the Gospel through the loud speakers at the show grounds). Christ had changed them. My Dad was a vibrant witness for Christ. Witnessing was his way of life. I’m here today because Christ invaded our family back in 1959 and I eventually responded to Christ’s invitation to be saved.

While I was shocked at the sudden home-call of my father, I was confident I would meet Dad again because of my own faith in Christ alone for salvation.

I know there is hope beyond the grave because God had revealed—in Scripture—what happens to Christians who die. In the words of Paul to the Corinthians, it is ‘away from the body and at home with the Lord’ (2 Cor 5:8). Paul to the Philippians said, ‘I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far’ (Phil 1:23). I knew Dad was in a better place. At that grave side, I had the wonderful assurance of the passage we are studying (1 Thessalonians): those who are believers, whether they are alive physically or have died in Christ, will join the Lord in the air one day and be with the Lord forever at his second coming.

But I’m jumping ahead of myself.

A. Explanations of terms

1. The Millennium: ‘The term millennium comes from the Latin mille and annus, and means a thousand years. It is not found in Scripture, but the term “a thousand years” occurs six times in Rev. 20:2-7. The Greek term chiliasm, frequently occurring in theological literature, denotes the doctrine that Christ will come [at his second coming] and set up an earthly kingdom for a thousand years’ (Thiessen 1949:469).

2. Pre-millennialism: Those who believe that Jesus Christ will return prior to the Millennium are known as pre-millennialists or pre-millenniarians.

3. Post-millennialism: This is the teaching that Christ’s second coming will involve a visible and personal return, but it will not be until after the Millennium.

4. A-millennialism: Matt Slick explains,

Amillennialism is the teaching that there is no literal 1000-year reign of Christ as referenced in Revelation 20.  It sees the 1000-year period spoken of in Revelation 20 as figurative.  Instead, it teaches that we are in the millennium now, and that at the return of Christ (1 Thess. 4:16 – 5:2) there will be the final judgment and the heavens and the earth will then be destroyed and remade (2 Pet. 3:10) (Slick 2014).

5.  The great tribulation

This teaching comes from Matthew 24:21, ‘For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be’ (ESV). This is referring to the period around the time of Christ’s second coming. But that introduces two more terms associated with the great tribulation:

Pre-tribulation rapture refers to ‘the taking up of believers into heaven when (according to this view) Christ returns secretly, prior to the great tribulation’ (Grudem 1999:491).

Post-tribulation rapture indicates ‘the taking up of believers after the great tribulation to meet with Christ in the air just a few moments prior to his coming to earth with them to reign during the millennial kingdom (or, on the amillennial view, during the eternal state’ (Grudem 1999:491).

What is the Christian understanding of the rapture?

B. The rapture

‘Rapture’ in the English language has the meaning of exhilaration or excitement, in my contemporary understanding. The Oxford dictionaries give the meaning as, ‘A feeling of intense pleasure or joy’. The plural, raptures, means ‘Expressions of intense pleasure or enthusiasm about something’. However, this dictionary also gives this understanding, ‘North American (according to some millenarian teaching) the transporting of believers to heaven at the Second Coming of Christ’ (Oxford dictionaries 2014, s v rapture).

What is the Christian theological understanding of rapture? Is it a biblical reality or false teaching? Is it truth or bunk? It is this latter dictionary definition to which the evangelical Christian understanding of rapture refers. Simply stated, it is what happens at Christ’s second coming when believers are caught up to meet the Lord in the air, particularly with a reference to 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, which states:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord (ESV)

The origin of the biblical use of, ‘rapture’, in the English language is explained this way:

The word “rapture” does not occur in our English Bibles. We get the word by way of St. Jerome (c. 347-420 A.D.). In his work of revising the Latin New Testament from the Greek New Testament, he translated the Greek word [arpazw] into the Latin “rapiemur.” The Latin verb form is “rapio” and means to be “caught up” or “taken away.” From these Latin words come our English word “rapture.” While Paul used the word [arpazw] only once (1 Thessalonians 4.17), he taught the doctrine of the Rapture in other places using other expressions. The Greek word [arpazw] means to “seize” or “snatch away.” It is used 13 times in the following verses: Matthew 11.12, 13.19; John 6.15, 10.12, 28-29; Acts 8.39, 23.10; 2 Corinthians 12.2, 12.4; 1 Thessalonians 4.17; Jude 1.23; Revelation 12.5. (doctrine.org, ‘The Rapture’)

Henry Thiessen, a pre-millennial theologian, explained Jesus’ second coming in the air:

The clearest statement of this is 1 Thess. 4:16, 17, where we are told that Christ will descend from heaven and that the believers will be caught up to meet Him in the air. 2 Thess. 2:1 speaks of our gathering together unto Him. This same idea is expressed in John 14:3: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” Hints of the same thing may be found in several other places. In Matt. 25:6 the virgins “go forth to meet him.” And in Luke 19:15 the Nobleman first called for His servants when He returned, and then dealt with His adversaries, and only after that he set up His kingdom. Some would also refer Luke 17:34-36 to this aspect of His coming. We see, then, that the first aspect of His coming is with a view to His own (Thiessen 1949:449).

C. The public arena: The rapture is hogwash!

It is not unusual to hear comments like this from an a-millennialist on a Christian forum on the Internet:

The idea of the rapture portrayed in hollywood (ie, Left Behind, etc)[3] is nowhere to be found in Christian history until about 200 years ago. It’s a modern invention.[4]

My response was that I wouldn’t be so sure that there are no hints of a rapture of the church in relation to end times in the early church fathers. The statement, ‘nowhere to be found in Christian history’, is absolutistic. I asked this person, ‘Have you read every word of the church fathers and early Christian documents’ to be so confident about your statement?’[5]

What is the meaning of ‘rapture’ as applied to New Testament eschatology? See the definition above.

D. Examples from the Church Fathers

Here are a few of examples from the Church Fathers. I’ve incorporated the rapture, tribulation and Millennium references.

1. Papias (ca 60-130)[6].

Eusebius reported that Papias wrote that

there will be a period of some thousand years after the resurrection of the dead, and that the kingdom of Christ will be set up in material form on this very earth’. Eusebius’s comment on this view was, ‘I suppose he got these ideas through a misunderstanding of the apostolic accounts, not perceiving that the things said by them were spoken mystically in figures. For he appears to have been of very limited understanding, as one can see from his discourses. But it was due to him that so many of the Church Fathers after him adopted a like opinion, urging in their own support the antiquity of the man; as for instance Irenaeus and any one else that may have proclaimed similar views (in Eusebius 1890:3.39.12-13, emphasis added).

2. Irenaeus of Lyon (ca 120/140-200/203).[7]

His most famous publication was, Against Heresies (written about AD 185). In it he wrote:

Those nations however, who did not of themselves raise up their eyes unto heaven, nor returned thanks to their Maker, nor wished to behold the light of truth, but who were like blind mice concealed in the depths of ignorance, the word justly reckons “as waste water from a sink, and as the turning-weight of a balance-in fact, as nothing; ” so far useful and serviceable to the just, as stubble conduces towards the growth of the wheat, and its straw, by means of combustion, serves for working gold. And therefore, when in the end the Church shall be suddenly caught up from this, it is said, “There shall be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning, neither shall be.” For this is the last contest of the righteous, in which, when they overcome they are crowned with incorruption (Against heresies, 5.29.1, emphasis added).

3. Cyprian of Carthage (AD 200-258)[8]

In one of his Treatises he described the last times of tribulation. He predicted and said that wars, and famines, and earthquakes, and pestilences would arise in each place; and lest an unexpected and new dread of mischiefs should shake us, He previously warned us that adversity would increase more and more in the last times….

And this, as it ought always to be done by God’s servants, much more ought to be done now — now that the world is collapsing and is oppressed with the tempests of mischievous ills; in order that we who see that terrible things have begun, and know that still more terrible things are imminent, may regard it as the greatest advantage to depart from it as quickly as possible. If in your dwelling the walls were shaking with age, the roofs above you were trembling, and the house, now worn out and wearied, were threatening an immediate destruction to its structure crumbling with age, would you not with all speed depart? If, when you were on a voyage, an angry and raging tempest, by the waves violently aroused, foretold the coming shipwreck, would you not quickly seek the harbour? Lo, the world is changing and passing away, and witnesses to its ruin not now by its age, but by the end of things. And do you not give God thanks, do you not congratulate yourself, that by an earlier departure you are taken away, and delivered from the shipwrecks and disasters that are imminent? (On the mortality, Treatise 7.2, 25, emphasis added)

4. Chrysostom (ca 347-407).[9] In his exposition of 1 Thess 5:1-2, he wrote,

‘If Antichrist comes … how is it “when they say Peace and safety,” that then a sudden destruction comes upon them? For these things do not permit the day to come upon them unawares, being signs of its coming’. But ‘the time of Antichrist … will be a sign of the coming of Christ, but Himself will not have a sign, but will come suddenly and unexpectedly’ (Homily on I Thessalonians 5:1-2).

While not especially referring to the rapture by name (the catching away of believers), there is a statement that the coming of the Antichrist with signs of destruction will precede the sudden and unexpected coming of the Lord. This is a post-tribulation view of the second advent.

5. Augustine of Hippo (ca 354-430),[10]

‘he who reads this passage [Daniel 12:1-3], even half asleep, cannot fail to see that the kingdom of Antichrist shall fiercely, though for a short time, assail the Church before the last judgment of God shall introduce the eternal reign of the saints’ (The City of God, 20.23).[11]

Augustine is definite about how the church will be assailed (trashed, maltreated, persecuted, abused) by the kingdom of Antichrist before the last judgment by God and the eternal reign of believers.

Examples from the Church Fathers and the statement of humbug from a member of the public are not enough to convince me of the genuineness of the Rapture and of Jesus’ second coming. I turn to the authoritative Scripture for that. Here’s what I find:

(theheavensdeclare.net, public domain)

E. THE CATASTROPHIC CLIMAX OF WORLD HISTORY (I Thessalonians 4:16-18)

16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. (NIV)

That great drama will be the coming of the Lord and the rapture of the saints will be involved. What will be the sequence of events?

1. First, ‘The Lord Himself Will Come Down from Heaven’ (v. 16).

Remember when Jesus ascended into heaven? Those who were looking intently into the sky as he was going up were told by ‘two men dressed in white’ (angels), ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’ (Acts 1:11).

While I was in high school, I only ever remember one school teacher who actively opposed my Christian faith – I met more in university. My science teacher’s only objection was: ‘I cannot believe that your Jesus went into the sky and will return the same way. That’s impossible, scientifically’. Impossible or not from the human perspective, that’s exactly what will happen. The God of Scripture and the God whom I serve is the supernatural Lord of the universe who created this universe, raised Lazarus from the dead, and was himself supernaturally raised from the dead in his resurrection from the tomb after his death.

The Lord who went to heaven will return ‘in the clouds’. It will be a personal return. Jesus, who died for us and ascended to heaven, will personally come back. It will not be a phantom or some substitute, but Jesus Christ Himself.

2. Second, This Descent Will be Accompanied by Some Awe-Inspiring Events (v. 16).

The Lord Himself will come down from heaven, according to v. 16,

(a) ‘With a loud command’.

Bible commentator, William Hendriksen, states that originally, this was ‘the order which an officer shouts to his troops, a hunter to his dogs, a charioteer to his horses, or a ship-master to his rowers’. Although it is not stated whose command it is, it sounds pretty much like the command of the Lord as he leaves heaven, for the dead in Christ to rise. Jesus is returning as the Mighty Conqueror. Christ has conquered, is conquering, is going to return as Conqueror—that is the thread running through the Book of Revelation (Hendriksen 1955:117).

Also, v. 16 says there will be

(b) ‘The voice of the archangel’

Literally, there will be ’a voice of an archangel’. We do not know who the chief angel is, and it is futile to speculate.

Third, there will be

(c) ‘The trumpet call of God’

The Salvation Army believers with their brass bands will be really at home here, in more ways than one – especially the trumpeters of Salvation Army bands. It is very fitting that there should be a trumpet blast here.

In the O.T., when God ‘came down’ to meet with his people, this meeting was announced with a trumpet-blast (see Ex. 19:16-19).

When the marriage of the Lamb and his bride reaches its culmination (cf. Rev. 19:7), this trumpet-blast is most appropriate.

Also, the trumpet was used as a signal of Jehovah’s coming to rescue his people from hostile oppression (Zeph. 1:16; Zech. 9:14). It was a signal for their deliverance.

So also, this is most appropriate—the final trumpet-blast, the signal for the dead to arise, for the living to be changed, and for all the Christians to be gathered from the four winds (Mt. 24:31).

‘From all this, it becomes abundantly clear that the Lord’s second coming will be open, public, not only visible but also audible’. Nobody will miss him. What forces of nature will be used to produce this sound? We are not told. ‘One fact has now become evident: for believers this sound will be full of cheer. This is God’s trumpet! It is his signal. It is sounded to proclaim his deliverance for his people…. It announces the coming of his Son’ (Hendriksen 1955:117).

J.B. Phillips translates it: ‘One word of command, one shout from the Archangel, one blast from the trumpet of God and God in Person will come down from heaven’. This catches something of the vividness of the sequence of events. This is the fullest description of the actual Coming in the N.T. When we reflect on the little that is said here, we are warned against being too dogmatic about what will happen.

THE MAIN POINT IS THAT IT IS NONE OTHER THAN THE LORD HIMSELF WHO WILL COME. THE END OF THE AGE WILL BE USHERED IN BY GOD HIMSELF. THIS IS GOD’S GRAND CLIMAX TO WORLD HISTORY.

Please note:

3. The Dead in Christ Will Rise First (v. 16)

Those Christians who have died, will rise before the believers who survive on earth at the time of Christ’s coming. Some Christians suppose that the reference here is to the first resurrection; that the dead in Christ, shall rise before the wicked who did not know Christ. That a thousand years—the Millennium—will intervene between the first and second resurrections (Rev. 20:4-5). This seems to be an unsubstantiated assumption because all that is stated here is that the dead in Christ will rise, before the living in Christ will be changed. Here, there is no contrast between the dead in Christ and the dead not in Christ. Nothing is said about the resurrection of unbelievers or the final judgment.

Then,

4. Those Christians Living on Earth Will be Caught Up (Raptured) in the Air to Meet the Lord (v.17).

It will be forceful, sudden. The irresistible power of God will be at work. The survivors on earth will be changed ‘in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye’ (1 Cor 15:52 NIV). The word, ‘rapture’ comes from the Latin language for ‘caught up’.

Then we will be

5. Together Forever (v. 17).

The living and dead in Christ will be in the presence of the Lord, and there will be no end to this relationship. What a meeting that will be! This will be a meeting without a parting. We will meet our loved ones who were believers.

Imagine what it will be like, joining saints like Moses, Joshua, King David, Daniel, Paul and Peter? I’m looking forward to meeting the great revivalists: Jonathan Edwards, John & Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, Charles Finney. Martin Luther, William Carey, William Booth.

What a day that will be when we meet together with the martyred saints throughout human history – Justin Martyr, Polycarp, Cyprian, Ridley, and Latimer. Those killed for their faith in the former Soviet Union, China, Jim Elliot, the Christians who were burned at the stake under the Roman Empire. The saints of faith in Heb. 11. Why don’t you take a read of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs to meet some of those you will meet if you love and serve Jesus (online)?

What a meeting that will be! And we will be together forever.

Someday God will bring my Dad and Mum ‘with Jesus’. Mum’s and Dad’s souls reunited with their bodies—new bodies. Once again, we’ll be able to converse together, but this time in the presence of the Lord. What a day that will be!!

All celebrations on earth will pale into insignificance. And it will be nothing like the celebration by the supporters of the rugby league team – the Canberra Raiders – who, according to The Canberra Times, ‘guzzled their way into the record books after demolishing a week’s supply of beer in one night’.[12]

All believers will be together forever, with the Lord.

F. COMFORT EACH ANOTHER (v. 18)

Paul calls on the Christians, in the midst of this good news, not just to take heart, but to actively comfort one another–to encourage each other. Whether we live, or whether we die, we do not get away from God’s power.

In the face of death, that antagonist that no person can master, we can remain calm and triumphant. For we know that those who sleep, sleep in Jesus, and that there is a place for them in the great events at the end of the age.

G. ETERNAL QUESTIONS

The Moravians were known for their missionary zeal. They influenced John Wesley. Count Zinzendorf, the leader of the Moravians, had a motto he lived by—‘I have one passion, and it is He—only He’.[13]

Martin Luther’s preaching aroused the church from a thousand years of sleep. It is easy to understand why, when we discover how Luther preached. He said, ‘I preach as though Christ was crucified yesterday; rose again from the dead today; and is coming back to earth tomorrow’.[14]

If I had to preach your funeral sermon this week, I want to be sure I’m telling the truth about your eternal destiny. These are eternal questions: What is your personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Do you know Him? Do you have the hope I’ve been teaching? Repent and believe – receive – Christ today and be ready. But remember, to serve Jesus is costly, it costs you everything—total commitment. Full-surrender of your life to Him. You have no assurance that you’ll live another moment on this earth. You could die before you finish reading this article. You have no assurance that Christ might not come this very moment. Whether you die or whether you remain alive, you can—you should—be ready for Christ’s second coming. You will be if you know Him personally.

H. CONCLUSION

My reading of the church fathers (and I have read only a sample) is that there is some sprinkling of a post-tribulation, pre-millennialism among them where there is a rapture of believers after severe tribulation and trouble on the earth.

However, my reading of 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 guarantees that Christian believers will be raptured at the Lord’s second coming. They will meet him in the air. What a day that will be! I’m looking forward to the reunion with my Dad and Mum.[15]

What A Day That Will Be [16]
Words and Music by Jim Hill

Mark 14:62
“And Jesus said, I AM:
and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power,
and coming in the clouds of heaven.”

v.1

There is coming a day when no heartaches shall come
No more clouds in the sky, no more tears to dim the eye.
All is peace forevermore on that happy golden shore,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

Chorus
What a day that will be when my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face,
The One who saved me by His grace;
When He takes me by the hand
And leads me through the Promised Land,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

v. 2

There’ll be no sorrow there, no more burdens to bear,
No more sickness, no pain, no more parting over there;
And forever I will be with the One who died for me,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

For a couple Gaither vocal versions of this very appropriate song for this message, I invite you to take a listen to:

For further details to challenge the pre-tribulation rapture teaching, see my articles,
flamin-arrow-small What is the origin of the pre-tribulation rapture of Christians?
flamin-arrow-smallA pre-millennial, post-tribulation end times understanding

The Resurrection of Life

(image courtesy SomeHelpfulInfo)

Works consulted

Cairns, E E 1981. Christianity through the centuries: A history of the Christian church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Eusebius Pamphilus of Caesarea 1890. Church history (online). Tr by A C McGiffert, in P Schaff & H Wace (eds), rev & ed by K Knight for New Advent, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series, Bks I-X. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co. Available at New Advent http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2501.htm (Accessed 24 March 2014).

Grudem, W 1999. J Purswell (ed), Bible doctrine: Essential teachings of the Christian faith. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

Hendriksen, W 1955. New Testament commentary: Exposition of Thessalonians. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Justin Martyr 1885. Dialogue with Trypho. Tr by M Dods & G Reith. In P Schaff (ed), Ante-Nicene fathers (online), vol 1, ed by A Roberts, J Donaldson, and A C Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., rev & ed for New Advent by K Knight, available at New Advent http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/01284.htm (Accessed 26 March 2014).

Naismith, A 1963. 1200 Notes, quotes and anecdotes. London (U.K.): Marshall Pickering.

Oxford dictionaries 2014. Rapture (online). Available at: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/rapture (Accessed 30 August 2014).

Slick, M 2014. Amillennialism and premillennialism. CARM (Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry) (online). Available at: http://carm.org/amillennialism-and-premillennialism (Accessed 29 August 2014).

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

Wingren, G 2013. Saint Irenaeus. Encyclopaedia Britannica (online). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/293911/Saint-Irenaeus (Accessed 30 August 2014).

Notes


[1] For information on Bundaberg, visit, ‘Welcome to Bundaberg North Burnett’.

[2] In the USA, they are called fairgrounds (Merriam-Webster).

[3] This refers to a Left Behind series of books by Tim LaHaye & Jerry B Jenkins. See HERE for a list. For details of the Left Behind apocalyptic film, see HERE.

[4] Skala#15, Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Do you have a feeling that the Rapture is just around the corner???’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7814754-2/ (Accessed 24 April 2014).

[5] Ibid., OzSpen#20.

[6] Lifespan dates are from Cairns (1981:76).

[7] Lifespan dates for Irenaeus are from Wingren (2013). Irenaeus became a bishop in Gaul about AD 180 (Cairns 1981:110).

[8] Cairns wrote that ‘Cyprian was born of well-to-do pagan parents shortly after 200 in the same city as Tertullian and was given a good education in rhetoric and the law…. He became a Christian about 246. About 248 he became the bishop of Carthage, a position that he held for nine years until his martyrdom about 258’ (Cairns 1981:113).

[9] Lifespan dates are from Cairns (1981:141).

[10] Lifespan dates are from Cairns (1981:146).

[11] The title of this chapter 23 in Book 20 of The City of God, is, ‘What Daniel Predicted Regarding the Persecution of Antichrist, the Judgment of God, and the Kingdom of the Saints’.

[12]The Canberra Times, 25 September, 1990, p.1.

[13] Cited at Congress, Canadian National Missionary. (2013). pp. 9-10. Canada‘s Missionary Congress. London: Forgotten Books. (Original work published 1909), available at:http://www.forgottenbooks.com/readbook_text/Canadas_Missionary_Congress_1000645147/33 (Accessed 30 August 2014).

[14] In A. Naismith (1963:158).

[15] Mum went to be with the Lord in 1997.

[16] Available at: http://www.jesus-is-savior.com/sounds/Hymns/what_a_day_that_will_be.htm (Accessed 30 August 2014).

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 1 November 2016.

Fairy floss[1] Bible inspiration

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

bible2

(image courtesy clipartlord)

By Spencer D Gear

What is the biblical view of its own inspiration? Is that important for Christians in their growth in understanding of the Bible?

I’ve written previously – although briefly – about this in:

‘Inspiration’ is not a good word as it has too many contemporary connotations with other meanings. I readily say, ‘She’s an inspiration to me. I wish her well in her next skating competition’. That’s what I say about my 9-year-old grand-daughter about her roller skating. ‘That was an inspiring performance in that rugby league performance by Billy Slater that gave the Storm such a commanding victory’.[2]

Oxford dictionaries give these nuances of meaning for the noun, ‘Inspiration’: ‘The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative; the quality of being inspired; a person or thing that inspires; divine influence, especially that supposed to have led to the writing of the Bible; a sudden brilliant or timely idea; the drawing in of breath; inhalation’.[3] This demonstrates the problems we have in using ‘inspiration’ to describe the Bible’s authority.

The translation of ‘inspiration’ has been traditionally identified with a Scripture such as 2 Timothy 3:16 in the Authorised King James Version of the Bible:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

A couple recent translations have provided a more accurate translation of the first sentence in verse 16:

  • ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God’ (ESV);
  • ‘All Scripture is God-breathed’ (NIV);

Most of the other prominent translations continue to use a version of ‘inspiration’. However, the word used for ‘inspiration’ or ‘God-breathed’ in NT Greek is theopneustos = theos (God) + pneuma = breath or spirit. Colin Brown pointed to the literal meaning of ‘God-breathed, inspired by God’ (Brown 1978:708) and referred to Mayer’s study on ‘Scripture’. In exegeting the noun, graph?, Mayer explained that the adjective, theopneustos, means lit. ‘God breathed’. It does not imply any particular mode of inspiration, such as some form of divine dictation. Nor does it imply the suspension of the normal cognitive faculties of the human authors. On the other hand, it does imply something quite different from poetic inspiration. It is wrong to omit the divine element from the term implied by theo-, as the NEB [New English Bible][4] does in rendering the phrase ‘every inspired scripture’. The expression clearly does not imply that some Scriptures are inspired, whilst others are not. The sacred scriptures are all expressive of the mind of God; but they are so with a view to their practical outworking in life (Mayer 1978:491).

My view of the authority of the God-breathed Scripture is in agreement with that of A A Hodge & B B Warfield when they wrote:

The New Testament writers continually assert of the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and of the several books which constitute it, that they ARE THE WORD OF GOD. What their writers said God said….

Every element of Scripture, whether doctrine or history, of which God has guaranteed the infallibility, must be infallible in its verbal expression. No matter how in other respects generated, the Scriptures are a product of human thought, and every process of human thought involves language….[5]

The Scriptures are a record of divine revelations, and, as such, consist of words, and as far as the record is inspired at all, and as far as it is in any element infallible, its inspiration must reach to its words. Infallible thought must be definite thought, and definite thought implies words….

Whatever discrepancies or other human limitations may attach to the sacred record, the line (of inspired or not inspired, of infallible or fallible) can never rationally be drawn between the thoughts and the words of Scripture (Hodge & Warfield 1881, emphasis in original).

A similar position is affirmed in the ‘Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy’ (1978). The ‘Short Statement’ of this position is near the beginning of this article and is followed by a more lengthy exposition.

Contemporary objections

It’s not unusual to encounter some unusual doctrine on various aspects of theology in people in person, and especially on Internet forums where there are often individualistic understandings of the Bible and its authority. I encountered one such person on a forum who wrote:

I believe if a person dwells too deeply on one word [of Scripture] they may miss the concept behind the words.

That is what we are dealing with in the bible: God’s concepts.

This is my opinion of the bible message: God, through His spirit, revealed His concepts to the writers of the bible. When we read the bible the Holy Spirit reveals God’s concepts through the words.

Getting het up about individual words is a waste of time. Whatever translation we read will always have God’s concepts behind it and if we are genuinely seeking to know what God wants us to know, He will inspire us to understand His concepts behind the words.

That said, if we do happen to have a problem with words in a particular translation, we should read it in the original Greek.

That isn’t easy if we have not studied Koine Greek so the next best thing is to look in a concordance.[6]

How should one respond to such a view that is at variance with positions taken by evangelical theologians on the doctrine of the Scripture down through the centuries? Would it pay me to shut up and say nothing or pursue a biblical understanding? I chose the latter as there could be many people in Internet land who may be open to a biblical response and don’t know how to respond to this person who is promoting a ‘concepts’ version of inspiration of Scripture.

Orthodoxy: Words are critical to understanding

I responded as follows:[7]

I disagree profoundly with this view of inspiration of Scripture where one does not have to think deeply about words but deal with ‘concepts’ (whatever that means).
It was said by this person that in the Bible we are dealing with ‘God’s concepts’. Not so! We are dealing with words that make up sentences that become propositions, questions, imperatives, etc. That’s why the Scriptures in numerous places speak of the ‘word’ of the Lord or God, etc.

God didn’t reveal concepts to the authors of Scripture, but he revealed words that became sentences. This is the orthodox doctrine of verbal-propositional[8] revelation of Scripture.

You stated: ‘Getting het up about individual words is a waste of time’. Try telling that to someone who wants to know the difference in meaning among the words agape, philia, and eros, the three Greek words for love.

This person stated: ‘If we do happen to have a problem with words in a particular translation, we should read it in the original Greek. That isn’t easy if we have not studied Koine Greek so the next best thing is to look in a concordance’.

Is that so? My knowledge of the Greek tells me that the place to understand biblical words is not to go to a concordance, but to go to a biblical word study or a Greek dictionary. The most extensive word study that transliterates Greek words (i.e. puts Greek letters into English characters), is the three volume, Colin Brown (ed) 1975, 1976, 1978. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Exeter: The Paternoster Press. If one reads Greek, the most highly recommended is the 10 vol series by Kittel & Friedrich (eds), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1964ff).

In saying all that, the Holy Spirit takes these words and sentences (verbal-propositional revelation) and reveals himself to us with personal application. But the original documents are not ‘concepts’ but are made up of words and sentences where words are important and have meaning. If you don’t believe me, how are you going to deal with the understanding of what happens at death for unbelievers if you don’t understand the meaning of the Greek word for ‘destruction’ in a verse such as Matt 7:13,

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many (ESV).

For some further perspective on the view I have been espousing, see:
designRed-small  ‘Revelation was verbal;
designRed-small  ‘What the Bible is: Personal and propositional revelation;

designRed-small  ‘Verbal-plenary inspiration and translation.

A nod of rejection

How do you think this person would respond to the information I provided above? The person was quick to respond that I made ‘a good case’ but this person still thought ‘that what God imparts to us are His concepts. We must agree to differ’.[9]

This is simply a nod of acknowledgement but forget about the content of the information that I provided. Evidence means nothing to a person who is sold on a view that the Bible deals with ‘concepts’ and not verbal-plenary revelation where words make up sentences to give meaning. However, that person provided not one shred of biblical evidence to support the view about ‘concepts’ as a method of inspiration of Scripture.

My reply was:

There can be no concepts unless God communicates via words and sentences in Scripture. Words are important – every word in Scripture. Verbal-plenary inspiration has been the standard position advocated throughout Christian history. See, ‘In defense of … the Bible’s inspiration.[10]

The come back was that the agree to differ position continues because ‘I have had experience of God communicating with me in concepts’. This was not on a regular basis, but she did concede that God ‘also communicates in words’. She asked: ‘Would you confine God to only one method of communication?’ and said that she began to think on ‘God’s concepts when I delved into John 1. The whole of creation is God’s concept’.[11]

How should I respond?

Switching horses

(public domain)

Here goes:[12] Do you understand what you have done with this comment? You have switched horses and have moved from understanding the Bible to understanding how God speaks to you personally. This is dangerous when you meld the two.
In an earlier post you wrote: ‘I believe if a person dwells too deeply on one word they may miss the concept behind the words. That is what we are dealing with in the bible: God’s concepts’.[13]

So you were ‘dealing with in the Bible’ and now you want to apply that to ‘concepts’ in how you ‘have had experience of God communicating with me’. I find that to be dangerous because it is imposing on Scripture what is not there.

Some examples from the Old Testament

We know from Exodus 32:15-16 that God himself wrote the first “two tablets of the testimony” (the law). These tablets were the work of God, but in his anger, Moses destroyed these tablets (32:19). So what did God do?  God arranged for the rewriting of the original tablets (Ex. 34:1, 27-28) by whom?  “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel” (34:27). In Deut. 10:2, 4, the Scriptures emphasise that the copy of the law contained “the words that were on the first tablets that you broke” (10:2) and were “in the same writing as before” (10:4).

There are many other passages in the OT that give the same emphasis on words. See Deut 17:18; Jer 36:1-32; 2 Kings 22; and 2 Chron 34.

What about these warnings? The biblical writers knew how to distinguish between the original manuscripts and copies. Deut. 4:2 states: “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it”.  In Deut. 12:32 it is clear: “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it”.  From Proverbs 30:6 we have this command: “Do not add to his [God’s] word, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar”.

Some examples from the New Testament

We are dealing with the words and sentences revealed in Scripture and not concepts. How do we know this?

These verses from Revelation 22:18-19 counsel, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book”.

These verses particularly apply to the Book of Revelation (and in the originals). Notice that God does not say, “I warn everyone who hears the concepts of the prophecy of this book” and “if anyone takes away from the concepts of the book of this prophecy”.

There are various other NT emphases that deal with the normative standard of the original documents:

a.   In passages such as Matt. 15:6 and Col. 2:8, the original documents were the principal standard when there was a conflict between tradition and the doctrines taught by Christ and his apostles.

b.   In passages such as Matt. 5:21ff, the tradition of the OT text was not allowed to hide the genuine word of God (see Mark 7:1-13). Take Matt 5:21 where Jesus said, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment”. They are specific words dealing with a specific topic (murder) and not some broad “concept“. And those words are in Scripture.

c.   What did Jesus do when the Pharisees altered the OT text? They altered the words. They were condemned in their teaching on hatred (Matt. 5:43) and divorce (Matt. 19:7).

d.   Paul told the believers not to tamper with the God’s word (2 Cor. 4:2), where he wrote, “We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word“. There is no such statement of ‘tamper with God’s concepts’.

e.   Only accept teachings that do not contradict the original apostolic message or doctrine (see Rom. 16:17; Gal. 1:8; 1 John 4:1-6);

f.   2 Thess. 3:14 gives a warning to “anyone who does not obey what we say in this letter” (the apostolic message).

g.   Believers are warned not to be troubled (“quickly shaken”) by “a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter” that was purported to be from the apostles but was not (2 Thess. 2:2).

There are plenty of NT emphases on the word or words in Scripture and not concepts in Scripture.
Words are absolutely essential to the formation of sentences to provide propositions, questions, imperatives, etc. in Scripture. The theory of ‘concepts’ is that of human invention where a person has transferred from what happens in God speaking to her personally to the nature of inspiration in Scripture

Resemblances of John Shelby Spong’s heresy

How different is this person’s views about ‘concepts’ in the Bible than that of the Episcopalian heretical teacher, John Shelby Spong, who stated:

Behind the narrative [of Scripture] is an unnarrated proclamation. Behind the proclamation is an intense life-giving experience. The task of Bible study is to lead believers into truth, a truth that is never captured in mere words but a truth that is real, a truth that when experienced erupts within us in expanding ways, calling us simultaneously deeper and deeper into life, and not coincidentally, deeper and deeper into God. Our Christ has come, said the Fourth Gospel, that we ‘may have life, and have it abundantly’ (John 10:10).

Human life alone could not produce that which we have experienced in Jesus Christ. He is of God, so the Christmas story points to truth, but the words used to describe or capture that truth are not themselves true in any literal sense (Spong 1991:225).

Parallels with Emil Brunner

(public domain)

 

The online Christian forum presenter wanting to see the Bible as ‘concepts’ has parallels with the theological neo-orthodoxy of Emil Brunner who wrote:

The doctrine of the verbal inspiration of Scripture … cannot be regarded as an adequate formulation of the authority of the Bible. It is a product of … late Judaism, not of Christianity. The Apostolic writings never claim for themselves a verbal inspiration of this kind, with the infallibility that it implies (Brunner 1946:127-128).

Domenic Marbaniang’s brief assessment of Brunner’s view of revelation was: ‘Emil Brunner sees revelation as not contained in some objective and controllable text or system. To him revelation is the event of divine-human encounter’ (Marbaniang 2011).

Brunner’s view of the Bible went even further:

Once the fatal step is taken of regarding Scripture as true in itself, it is obvious that this quality applies equally to every single part of Scripture down to the smallest detail…. The dogma of verbal inspiration is involved not as the cause but as the consequence of the new unspiritual conception. The identity of the word of Scripture with the word of God has now changed from indirect to direct (Brunner 1964:34).

Brunner was a Swiss, Reformed, neo-orthodox theologian who critiqued liberal theology. ‘The Christian faith, he maintained, arises from the encounter between individuals and God as He is revealed in the Bible. Brunner, in attempting later to leave a place for natural theology in his system, came into conflict with Barth over the question of natural revelation’ (The Columbia electronic encyclopedia 2012).

Roger Olson has two assessments of Brunner (in reviewing Alister McGrath’s book on Brunner) that you might like to consider:

Biblical support for verbal-plenary inspiration.

I was about to prepare a comprehensive overview of the biblical support for the nature of ‘inspiration’ of Scripture when I realised that other evangelical scholars have already done this. I refer you to this material.

Further support also is found in:

  • The summary by Prof Andrew Snider in his ‘TH605 Theology I’ class notes under the heading ‘The Biblical Theme of Inspiration’, pp. 22-26.
  • Edwin A Blum 1979, ‘The apostles’ view of Scripture’, in Geisler (1979:37-53). A fairly large portion of this article is available online HERE.
  • John W Wenham 1979, ‘Christ’s view of Scripture’, pp 1-36. Again, a largish section of this article is available free online HERE.
  • Greg L Bahnsen 1979, ‘The inerrancy of the autographa’, pp 149-193. You should get a fair understanding of this teaching in the large chunk available online HERE. This is the finest article I have read on this topic.
  • I highly recommend this entire book that includes the above three articles: Norman L Geisler (ed), Inerrancy (1979).

I suggest a careful reading of the information in these articles to equip you with information to be able to work through the important issues of God’s view of biblical authority – especially of inspiration or the God-breathed Scripture.

‘Concept’ is abstract

Another poster chimed in with a brief, but excellent, example of how the ‘concept’ principle leads to shipwreck in discussions. He wrote that concept is an abstract idea that means ‘existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence’. He explained that ‘if the creation was a concept then it would only exist in thought’.[14]

This is an excellent example of how there is need for revelation of concrete situations in Scripture and that can only be expressed in words and sentences, not in concepts.

How do you think this ‘concept’ thinking person would respond to this information about creation? She had her bit to say about my view, addressing me as Oz, but the fair floss view of the Bible continued:

That is true of man but not of God. I believe what it says in John 1. God’s thoughts became reality:

What I get from John 1 is, ‘In the beginning was the word’.

But the Greek word here is Logos and that carries a meaning beyond a single word. It also speaks of the Logic or Thought process of God and that ‘logos’ turns out to be the second person of the trinity: God the son.

God the son is the Logos of God and through this Logos everything came into being. God ‘thought’ creation into existence. Through the ‘thought/Logos/Son, everything was made.

That’s just how I see it – at this phase in my Christian walk, growth and understanding. If you consider it wrong, Oz,  that’s OK.

You have more book learning than I have and good for you.

As I have said before, if God wants me to understand it differently, If He feels that my understanding is wrong, He will enlighten me. He has done so before in many areas all through my life..

We are all learning all the time and I am open to His teaching – as I am sure are you OZ.[15]

My response did not take a lot of mulling over as it stood out like a sore thumb:[16]

From where did you get your understanding of the Greek word logos. You didn’t tell us.

You stated: ‘If you consider it wrong, Oz,  that’s OK’. To this point you have not refuted the biblical evidence I have provided to demonstrate that in both OT and NT God revealed ‘words’ that were in sentences and he did not reveal ‘concepts’. Why are you refusing to deal with the evidence I provided to refute your claim?

We are not dealing with whether it is OK or not OK, we are dealing with what God revealed in Scripture. They were words and not concepts. I provided evidence to counter your claim, but you came back with nothing other than ‘that’s OK’. That’s far from providing biblical evidence as a defense of the position you are advocating.
Yes, I also am on the learning curve, but we are dealing here with providing evidence or leaving me with no evidence for your position.

Verbal inspiration without the originals

I have used this illustration in a number of my articles because I have found it to be extremely helpful in explaining biblical teaching on the inerrancy of the original biblical documents, even though we don’t have the originals (the autographa). R. Laird wrote:

Reflection will show that the doctrine of verbal inspiration is worthwhile even though the originals have perished. An illustration may be helpful. Suppose we wish to measure the length of a certain pencil. With a tape measure we measure it as 6 1/2 inches. A more carefully made office ruler indicates 6 9/16 inches. Checking with an engineer’s scale, we find it to be slightly more than 6.58 inches. Careful measurement with a steel scale under laboratory conditions reveals it to be 6.577 inches. Not satisfied still, we send the pencil to Washington, where master gauges indicate a length of 6.5774 inches. The master gauges themselves are checked against the standard United States yard marked on platinum bar preserved in Washington. Now, suppose that we should read in the newspapers that a clever criminal had run off with the platinum bar and melted it down for the precious metal. As a matter of fact, this once happened to Britain’s standard yard! What difference would this make to us? Very little. None of us has ever seen the platinum bar. Many of us perhaps never realized it existed. Yet we blithely use tape measures, rulers, scales, and similar measuring devices. These approximate measures derive their value from their being dependent on more accurate gauges. But even the approximate has tremendous value—if it has had a true standard behind it (Harris 1969:88-89).

Conclusion

My discussions with people in evangelical churches that do not have a strong expository preaching and theological foundation (that seems to apply to many contemporary churches in my country) indicates that the people don’t have a basic understanding of the nature of Scripture. A well articulated position of biblical inspiration or infallibility is hard to find.

The quagmire is even more clearly exposed when you visit Internet Christian forums. If you don’t believe me, take a visit to these and see the various views on Scripture and other topics that are promoted.[17]

If people believe that God revealed concepts, words, or impressions, they could all be accepted by them as satisfactory theology of the nature of the biblical revelation. They could become suckers for this ‘concepts’ view of biblical authority by the person on the forum.

As we have seen, the Scriptures affirm their verbal, plenary, propositional inspiration or God-breathed nature. In his chapter on ‘the divine nature of the Bible’, Norm Geisler concludes:

The internal evidence that the Bible is of divine origin is very strong. Unlike any other book in the world, the Bible bears the fingerprints of God. It has sanctity, divine authority, infallibility, indestructibility, indefatigability, indefeasibility, and inerrancy…. The denial of the inerrancy of the Bible is an attack on the authenticity of God the Father, the authority of God the Son, and the ministry of God the Holy Spirit. The infallibility of the Bible is as firm as the character of God, who cannot lie (Geisler 2002:252).

But please remember that this applies to the original documents of the Bible (the autographa) and not to your favourite translation.

Works consulted

Brown, C (ed) 1978. The new international dictionary of New Testament theology, vol 3. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Brunner, E 1946. Revelation and reason. Philadelphia: Westminster.

Brunner, E 1964. The word of God and modern man. Tr by D Cairns. Richmond, Va: John Knox.

Geisler N 2002. Systematic theology: Introduction, Bible, vol 1. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

Geisler, N L (ed) 1979. Inerrancy. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Harris, R. L. 1957, 1969. Inspiration and canonicity of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Hodge, A A & Warfield, B B 1881. Inspiration. The Presbyterian review (online), April, 225-260. Available at: http://www.bible-researcher.com/warfield4.html (Accessed 8 August 2014).[18]

Marbaniang, D 2011. Emil Brunner (1889-1966): Theology of Revelation, January 31. Domenic Marbaniang (online). Available at: http://marbaniang.wordpress.com/2011/01/31/emil-brunner-1889-1966-theology-of-revelation/ (Accessed 8 August 2014).

Mayer, R 1978. Scripture, Writing, in Brown, C (ed), The new international dictionary of New Testament theology, vol 3, 482-497. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Spong, J S 1991. Rescuing the Bible from fundamentalism: A bishop rethinks the meaning of Scripture. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

The Columbia electronic encyclopedia 2012. Emil Brunner (online). Columbia University Press, 6th ed. Available at: http://www.factmonster.com/encyclopedia/people/brunner-emil.html (Accessed 8 August 2014).

Westcott, B F n d. Introduction to study of the Gospels, 5th edition (in Hodge & Warfield 1881).

Notes


[1] The people of the USA call it cotton candy. ‘Fairy floss’ is an Australian term for the sweet. See ‘I love fairy floss’.

[2] Billy is a leading Australian rugby league player for the Melbourne Storm. See his profile at: http://www.melbournestorm.com.au/team/profiles/billy-slater.html (Accessed 8 August 2014).

[3] Oxford dictionaries (online). Inspiration. Available at: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/inspiration (Accessed 8 August 2014).

[4] Access to the NEB NT is available at: http://www.katapi.org.uk/NEB/IntroContents.php. its revised edition, the Revised English Bible.

[5] Here Hodge & Warfield cited Canon Westcott, ‘The slightest consideration will show that words are as essential to intellectual processes as they are to mutual intercourse … Thoughts are wedded to words as necessarily as soul to body. Without it the mysteries unveiled before the eyes of the seer would be confused shadows; with it they are made clear lessons for human life’ (Westcott n d:Introduction.14-15).

[6] Charis, reply #9, ‘NIV or NIP’, UK Christian Web, 7 August 2014, available at: http://www.christian-forum.co.uk/index.php?topic=12640.0 (Accessed 8 August 2014).

[7] Ibid., OzSpen, post #11.

[8] I should have used the language of ‘verbal-plenary revelation’.

[9] Ibid., Charis, reply #12.

[10] Ibid., OzSpen, reply #13.

[11] Ibid., Charis, reply #15.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen, reply #17.

[13] Ibid., Charis, reply #9.

[14] Ibid., Truster reply #20.

[15] Ibid., Charis reply #20.

[16] Ibid., OzSpen reply #23.

[17] These are some of the Christian forums to which I have contributed: Christian Fellowship Forum; Christian Forums.com; Christian Forums.net; and UK Christian Web.

[18] There is no pagination in this online edition of the article.

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 14 September 2016.

Women Anglican bishops – how to get the Christians up in arms!

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

JeffertsSchori.JPG

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori (Episcopal Church USA)

(Courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

If you want to see the fighting fundies in action and the opposition in battle lines, take a visit to an Internet Christian forum and raise the issue of women in ministry. The sparks are likely to fly as the controversy rages.

I picked up this one on a Christian forum. It started with:

Hey Everyone,
What do you think of the new decision [July 2014] from the Anglican Church regarding female Bishops?
More info: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-28300618[1]

How the BBC reported Anglican women bishops

This BBC news item reported that

The Church of England has voted to allow women to become bishops for the first time in its history.

Its ruling General Synod gave approval to legislation introducing the change by the required two-thirds majority.

A previous vote in 2012 was backed by the Houses of Bishops and Clergy but blocked by traditionalist lay members.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said he was “delighted” but some opponents said they were unconvinced by the concessions offered to them.

The crucial vote in the House of Laity went 152 in favour, 45 against, and there were five abstentions. In November 2012 the change was derailed by just six votes cast by the lay members.

In the house of Bishops, 37 were in favour, two against, and there was one abstention. The House of Clergy voted 162 in favour, 25 against and there were four abstentions….

It comes more than 20 years after women were first allowed to become priests. More than one-in-five of priests in the church are now female…. The first woman bishop could potentially be appointed by the end of the year.

Another lay member, Susie Leafe, director of the conservative evangelical group Reform, said she was “very disappointed” by the vote.

“There is still at least a quarter of the Church for whom this package does not provide for their theological convictions,” she said.

The motion had the backing of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Prime Minister David Cameron.[2]

Christian response to this radical news

How do you think Christians on a forum would respond to this information? There was mixed input. Here is a sample:

  • ‘1Tim 3:2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach’.[3]
  • ‘I found an interesting article that talks about women presbyteries in the early church and when that position was officially eliminated in AD344. We see them mentioned in Paul’s writings. But this article mentions historical writings including Polycarp and others.
    http://www.faithdefenders.com/church-life/WomenEldersintheEarlyChurch.html’.[4]
  • ‘Just to be clear, this isn’t the Anglican church worldwide. Anglican churches in my city (Sydney) are opposed to this.
    Regarding Anglicans in the UK, it doesn’t come as a surprise to me. This is the same church that in recent years allowed homosexual bishops. I actually thought women bishops were already allowed’.[5]
  • ‘A BISHOP must be a man of one wife. I didn’t know god changed his mind on lesbians and that type of marriage. my pastor and my demonation allows woman pastors but not bishops based on that verse’.[6]
  • ‘No big deal.
    The church has been dead for sometime’.
    Matthew 5:13 (NIV)
    “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses it’s saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot”.[7]
  • This was about as crass as it got with this comment, ‘About bloody time’.[8]

My personal response: In support of women in ministry

Initially, I wrote,[9]

How does this relate to what happened on the Day of Pentecost and in the NT age?

16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they
shall prophesy (Acts 2:16-18 ESV).?

How about the possibility that Junia (or Junias) was a female apostle according to Rom 16:7 (NIV): ‘Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was’?

I’m not as convinced as most that women are excluded from public ministry in the church. We’d be in a sad state on many a mission field if women were excluded from public ministry. But practicalities should not dictate theology. The Bible determines our stance on women or no-women in public ministry to a mixed gathering.

Then a woman wrote:

  • ‘If the Bible says that a woman should not be a pastor then being a Bishop is a slap in God’s face’.[10]

I replied:[11]

I find it too easy in the Western, traditional church to discard women in ministry and especially women bishops, based on verses such as 1 Tim 3:2 (ESV) . For an overview of some of the issues in 1 Timothy, I recommend a read of Gordon Fee’s article, ‘Reflections on church order in the pastoral epistles, with further reflection on the hermeneutics of ad hoc documents’ (Fee 1985). All is not as easy as it looks to modern readers to interpret these pastoral epistles and the false teachings being refuted.
In his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (1&2 Timothy, Titus), Gordon Fee provides this exposition of 1 Tim 3:2, ‘the husband of but one wife’ as a qualification for overseers/bishops. He wrote:

The husband of but one wife is one of the truly difficult phrases in the PE [Pastoral Epistles] (cf. 3:12; 5:9, of the ‘true’ widows, and Titus 1:6). There are at least four options: First, it could be requiring that the overseer be married. Support is found in the fact that the false teachers are forbidding marriage and that Paul urges marriage for the wayward widows (5:14; cf. 2:15). But against this is that it emphasizes must and wife, while the text emphasizes one, that Paul, and most likely Timothy, were not married, and that it stands in contradiction to 1 Corinthians 7:25-38. Besides, it was a cultural presupposition that most people would be married.

Second, it could be that it prohibits polygamy. This correctly emphasizes the one wife aspect; but polygamy was such a rare feature of pagan society that such a prohibition would function as a near irrelevancy. Moreover, it would not seem to fit the identical phrase used of the widows in 5:9.

Third, it could be prohibiting second marriages. Such an interpretation is supported by many of the data: It would fit the widows especially, and all kinds of inscriptional evidence praises women (especially, although sometimes men) who were ‘married only once’ and remained ‘faithful’ to that marriage after their partner died. This view would then prohibit second marriages after the death of a spouse, but it would also obviously – perhaps especially – prohibit divorce and remarriage. Some scholars (e.g., Hanson) would make it refer only to the latter.

Fourth, it could be that it requires marital fidelity to this one wife (cf. NEB: ‘faithful to his one wife’). In this view the overseer is required to live an exemplary married life (marriage is assumed), faithful to his one wife in a culture in which marital infidelity was common, and at time assumed. It would, of course, also rule out polygamy and divorce and remarriage, but it would not necessarily rule out the remarriage of a widower (although that would still not be the Pauline ideal; cf. 1 Cor. 7:8-9, 39-40). Although there is much to be said for either understanding of the third option, the concern that the church’s leaders live exemplary married lives seems to fit the context best – given the apparently low view of marriage and family held by the false teachers (4:3; cf. 3:4-5) (Fee 1988:80-81).

Because of these difficulties in exegesis and exposition of 1 Tim 3:2, I will not be too rigid to adhere to a view that excludes women from the ministry as an overseer/bishop. All is not as clear as it seems.

  • In addition, there is the very difficult verse to interpret associated with the role of women: ‘Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control’ (1 Tim 2:15 ESV). For an explanation of this verse, see my article: Must Women Never Teach Men in the Church?

Conclusion

I’m convinced the weight of biblical evidence favours women in ministry. See my articles:

Works consulted

Fee, G D 1985. Reflections on church order in the pastoral epistles, with further reflection on the hermeneutics of ad hoc documents. Journal of the evangelical theological society, 28(2), June, 141-151. Available at: http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/28/28-2/28-2-pp141-151_JETS.pdf (Accessed 27 July 2014).

Fee, G D 1988. New international biblical commentary: 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus. W W Gasque (ed). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.

Notes:


[1] Doulos Iesou#1, Christian Forums.net, ‘Church of England allows female bishops’, available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/church-of-england-allows-female-bishops.54712/ (Accessed 27 July 2014).

[2] BBC News UK, ‘Church of England General Synod backs women bishops’, 14 July 2014, available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-28300618 (Accessed 27 July 2014).

[3] Reba#1, Christianforums.net, op cit.

[4] Ibid., Deborah13#5.

[5] Ibid., Eora#6.

[6] Ibid., jasonc#9.

[7] Ibid., allenwynne#10.

[8] Ibid., Claudya#8.

[9] Ibid., OzSpen#7.

[10] Ibid., Kathi#16.

[11] Ibid., OzSpen#20.

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 19 November 2015.

Does God change his mind?

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Golden calf (image courtesyWikimedia.com)

By Spencer D Gear

The heretical doctrine of open theism that has been promoted in recent years has influenced these kinds of statements: There were 4 scriptural references cited on a Christian forum ‘as proof that God does not know everything: Genesis 6:6; 22:12; Exodus 32:14; and  Jonah 3:10. To me these prove that God tested people to prove to themselves that they can trust God’, is what this person stated.[1]

What is heresy? Gillian Evans in her examination of the history of heresy, based on the Greek word, heresies, stated that it had three main senses, but the latter is what applied to the early days of Christianity. It ‘began to be used for a “false teaching” which purported to be true faith for Christians. Therein lay its danger, for it could mislead the faithful’ (Evans 2003:66).

I had provided this earlier overview. Open theism questions these fundamentals of orthodox theology:
clip_image002    God’s omniscience (all knowledge);
clip_image002[1]    God’s immutability (unchanging);
clip_image002[2]   God’s eternity;
clip_image002[3]    God’s omnipresence;
clip_image002[4]    God’s unity;
clip_image002[5]    God’s omnipotence (all-powerful).
See the article, “An examination of open theism“. Also see, “The doctrine of open theism“.
In my understanding, this doctrine is a serious threat to an orthodox understanding of the attributes of God.[2]

A website promoting open theism provided this definition: ‘Open Theism is the Christian doctrine that the future is not closed but open because God is alive, eternally free, and inexhaustibly creative’.[3] For a critique of this perspective, see, ‘Michael Hanson responds – a critique of open theism’.

An example

Let’s take Exodus 32:14 as an example: ‘And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people’ (ESV). Does this indicate that God changed his mind in his anger towards the Israelites over their worship of the idol of the golden calf by ‘relenting’?

I find Norman Geisler & Thomas Howe’s explanation to be consistent with and supported by Scripture:

EXODUS 32:14 — Does God change His mind?

PROBLEM: While Moses was upon the mountain receiving the Law from God, the people were at the foot of the mountain worshiping the golden calf which they had constructed (32:4–6). When God instructed Moses to go down to them, He told Moses that He would “consume them” and make a great nation from Moses (32:10). When Moses heard this, he pleaded with God to turn from His anger. Verse 14 states, “So the Lord relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.” This implies that God changed His mind. However, in 1 Samuel 15:29 God says that “He is not a man, that He should relent,” and in Malachi 3:6 God says, “For I am the Lord, I do not change.” Also, in Hebrews, God demonstrated the “immutability of His counsel” (Heb. 6:17) by swearing an oath. Does God change His mind or doesn’t He?

SOLUTION: It must be emphatically maintained that God does not change (cf. Mal. 3:6; James 1:17). He neither changes His mind, His will, nor His nature. There are several arguments that demonstrate the immutability of God. We will consider three.

First, anything that changes does so in some chronological order. There must be a point before the change and a point after the change. Anything that experiences a before and an after exists in time, because the essence of time is seen in the chronological progress from before to after. However, God is eternal and outside time (John 17:5 ; 2 Tim. 1:9). Therefore, there cannot be in God a series of before’s and after’s. But, if God cannot be in a series of before’s and after’s, then God cannot change, because change necessarily involves before and after.

Second, anything that changes must change for better or for worse, for a change that makes no difference is not a change. Either something that is needed is gained that was previously absent, which is a change for the better, or something that is needed is lost that was previously possessed, which is a change for the worse. But, if God is perfect He does not need anything, therefore He cannot change for the better, and if God were to lose something He would not be perfect, therefore He cannot change for the worse. Therefore, God cannot change.

Third, if anyone were to change his mind, it must be because new information has come to light that was not previously known, or the circumstances have changed that require a different kind of attitude or action. Now, if God changed His mind, it cannot be because He has learned some bit of information that He did not previously know, or God is omniscient—He knows all (Ps. 147:5). Therefore, it must be because the circumstances have changed that require a different attitude or action. But, if the circumstances have changed, it is not necessarily the case that God has changed His mind. It may simply be the case that, since the circumstances have changed, God’s relationship to the new circumstances are different because they have changed, not God.

When Israel was at the foot of the mountain engaged in idol worship, God told Moses that His anger was burning against them and He was prepared to destroy them in judgment. However, when Moses interceded for them, the circumstances were changed. God’s attitude toward sin is always anger, and His attitude toward those who call to Him is always an attitude of mercy. Before Moses prayed for Israel, they were under God’s judgment. By Moses’ intercession for the people of Israel, he brought them under God’s mercy. God did not change. Rather, the circumstances changed. The language used in this passage is called anthropomorphic, or man-centered, language. It is similar to someone moving from one place to another and saying, “Now the house is on my right,” “Now the house is on my left.” Neither of these statements is meant to imply that the house has moved. Rather, it is language from a human perspective to describe that I have changed my position in relation to the house. When Moses said that God relented, it was a figurative way of describing that Moses’ intercession successfully changed the relationship of the people to God. He brought the nation under the mercy of God’s grace, and out from under the judgment of God. God does not change, neither His mind, His will, nor His nature (Geisler & Howe 1992:85-86).

Conclusion

God can never change and whenever he reveals that he has ‘repented’ of doing something, he is using language of the people (anthropomorphic lingo) to explain his actions. The eternal God stands outside of time. He has all knowledge of what has happened to humanity and what will happen from his eternal perspective.

Open theism has become a heretical attempt to explain God’s omniscience, but from a distinctly, sinful, human perspective. Matt Slick’s assessment is penetrating. Openness theology is

a dangerous teaching that undermines the sovereignty, majesty, infinitude, knowledge, existence, and glory of God and exalts the nature and condition of man’s own free will. Though the open theists will undoubtedly say it does no such thing, it goes without saying that the God of Open Theism is not as knowledgeable or as ever-present as the God of orthodoxy (Slick 2014).

For another brief overview, see my article: What is open theism and what are the dangers?

Works consulted

Evans, G R 2005. A brief history of heresy. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Geisler, N & Howe, T 1992. When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books. The book is available online HERE.

Slick, M 2014. What is open theism? (online) CARM (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry). Available at: http://carm.org/what-is-open-theism (Accessed 14 August 2014).

Notes:


[1] Charis #12, UK Christian Web, ‘Open theism might make sense’, available at: http://www.christian-forum.co.uk/index.php?topic=12533.0 (Accessed 14 August 2014).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen #6.

[3] ‘What is open theism?’ Available at: http://godisopen.com/what-is-open-theism/ (Accessed 14 August 2014).

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 19 November 2015.

Did John 8:58 refer to Jesus as God?

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Praise Jesus

ChristArt

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Did Jesus really say anything while he was on earth about his being God? Yes, he did, in John 8:58, which reads: ‘Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am”’ (ESV).

R C H Lenski, a Greek exegete, provides this explanation of this verse, that in my understanding of the original language, gives an accurate explanation of the NT Greek:

   58) Not only does Jesus affirm what the question of the Jews asks, with the solemn formula of verity and authority he affirms vastly more. Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I am. The aorist genesthai (prin with the infinitive after a positive verb, R. 977, 1091) marks the historical point of time when Abraham came into existence as against the time prior to that point when Abraham did not exist. this aorist is in contrast to eimi [I am]; which Jesus predicates of his own person (ego), here a finite verb not the mere copula (R. 394). As the aorist sets a point of beginning for the existence of Abraham, so the present tense “I am” predicates absolute existence for the person of Jesus, with no point of beginning at all. That is why Jesus does not use the imperfect emen, “I was”; for this would say only that the existence of the person antedates the time of Abraham and would leave open the question whether the person of Jesus also had a beginning like that of Abraham (only earlier) or not. What Jesus declares is that, although his earthly life covers less than fifty years, his existence as a person (ego) is constant and independent of any beginning in time as was that of Abraham. For what Jesus here says about himself in comparison with any other man, no matter how far back the beginning of that man’s existence lies. “I am”=I exist. Thus with the simplest words Jesus testifies to the divine, eternal pre-existence of his person.

To speak of an “ideal” existence before the days of Abraham is to turn the solemn assurance of Jesus into a statement that means nothing. Unacceptable are also all other efforts to empty out this divine “I am” and to substitute for the fact and reality of existence before Abraham something merely mental, whether this occurred in the mind of Jesus or in that of God. Yet this “I am” is nothing new: by means of two tiny words it states only what Jesus has testified and continues to testify of himself in many other words in other connections. Thus, too, it forms the parting of the ways for faith and unbelief.

Yes, Jesus has seen Abraham – the deduction of the Jews is right in every respect, only it should go much farther.

59) As Jesus had made his meaning clear to the Jews in the first place, so also he did in this final word. they understand its full import, namely that, if the existence of the person of Jesus antedates that of Abraham in absolute continuation, he declares himself to be God. To them this is rank blasphemy. They took up stones, therefore, in order to throw at him; but Jesus was hidden and went out of the Temple. (Lenski 1943:670-671).

Note the R in this quote from Lenski refers to A. T. Robertson’s, fourth edition of his massive Greek grammar (Robertson 1934).

This explanation of the Greek from Lenski is technical, but it demonstrates from the NT’s original language that Jesus was confirming that he is eternally God and he did not stop being God when on earth, according to John 8:58. To the Jews of Jesus’ day that was a statement of blasphemy for which He needed to receive capital punishment – so they wanted to stone him.

They knew what Jesus meant by these words. He was claiming to be God and they wanted him executed.

At no time before, during, or after Jesus’ coming to earth did Jesus ever cease being God. He is an eternal member of the Trinity. To say that Jesus was not God while on earth declares a fundamental denial of a core Christian teaching – the Trinity.

Works consulted

Lenski, R C H 1943. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of St. John’s Gospel. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (special limited edition from Augsburg Fortress).

Robertson, A T 1934. A grammar of the Greek New Testament in the light of historical research. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 26 August 2017.