Archive for October, 2015

Crossan’s buddies are his scholarly support

Saturday, October 31st, 2015

11 08 6972 John Dominic Crossan.jpg

(John Dominic Crossan, courtesy commons.wikimedia.org)

By Spencer D Gear

John Dominic Crossan, eminent historical Jesus scholar, has a one-eyed view of calling on those who principally are his ‘intellectual debt’.

Crossan is clear (at least to me) about his view of which scholars he should call on for support and critique of his views. It is important to note Crossan’s perspective regarding those who offer a contrary opinion: In quoting ‘secondary literature, I spend no time citing other scholars to show how wrong they are’. Instead, he only quotes those who ‘represent my intellectual debts’ (Crossan 1991:xxxiv; emphasis in original). Why would he want to preserve his opinion and scholarship and retain it in-house? Is there a possible presuppositional bias coming through??[1]

However, he breaks with his scholarly ideal by citing the ‘secondary literature’ of people such as N T Wright (Crossan 1998:44, 49, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 104, 258), Luke Johnson (Crossan 1998:30-31, 103, 114) and Dorothy Sayers (Crossan 1998:91, 92, 93, 98, 99). He doesn’t practise what he preaches on this principle he advocates in his writing.

Is this being unfair to Crossan?

One responded:

I think this is unfair. He’s explaining why he includes the references he does. There are several approaches to references. The ones I see in scholarly work are (1) acknowledging the source of information and arguments that appear in the text, and (2) citing everyone relevant. The second tends to lead to extensive footnotes, because if citations go beyond the views shown in the text, many authors feel the need to talk about what’s in those sources. After all, a long list of references isn’t that useful unless you give the reader an idea of what the position of each is.
I don’t think it’s showing bias to use the shorter approach, where you show only the sources actually used in the text. If a viewpoint is important enough that you really have to engage with it, presumably it will be discussed in the text, in which case there will be appropriate footnotes.[2]

My reply[3] was that that was a false assertion and one of my PhD examiners agreed with my assessment of Crossan’s bias towards his own ilk. In fact, this examiner considered that I was somewhat gentle in exposing Crossan’s biased approach to sources. My examiner is one with an international reputation in historical Jesus’ studies.
When one favours only those of his own persuasion and does not want to get into discussion of secondary sources that disagree with him, one can see he is going uphill with scholarship. This is especially so when he cannot consistently maintain his position. N T Wright gave him a fair run for his money and he dared to violate his own persuasion of referring only to those who are his intellectual debt.
I asked: Are you a supporter of J D Crossan’s postmodern interpretation of Jesus?

Is this being semi-popular?

This fellow’s comeback was:

No. I’m closer to Wright.[4] But my problem with him isn’t his footnoting policy, with which I’m sympathetic. I’d rather see people engage with other scholars in the text, rather than putting half the book in footnotes. So for me, the issue is what appears in the text. Partly because he doesn’t really review a very full range of scholarship, I think of “The Historical Jesus” (the work you’re citing) as a semi-popular synthesis of his position, not a real scholarly work like Wright’s Christian Origins series. A similar work, Wright’s “How God Became King,” has virtually no footnotes, with a very selective bibliography. I haven’t read much of Crossan, so I don’t know whether he has written something more scholarly or not.[5]

[6]I would not regard Crossan’s, The Historical Jesus (1991), as ‘a semi-popular synthesis of his position’. This is what Crossan states in the book:

I knew, therefore, before starting this book that it could not be another set of conclusions jostling for place among the numerous scholarly images of the historical Jesus currently available. Such could, no matter how good it was, but add to the impression of acute scholarly subjectivity in historical Jesus research. This book had to raise most seriously the problem of methodology and then follow most stringently whatever theoretical method was chosen (Crossan 1991:xxviii).?

That is hardly a ‘semi-popular’ approach to the historical Jesus. I’ve spent 5 years analysing Crossan in my PhD dissertation-only research (503pp, 1.15 spacing) and his 1991 publication is not meant for the popular level. For the general populace, you’ll need to go to Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (Crossan 1994), which is a popularised, abridged edition of Crossan (1991).

After this kind of challenge to him, at least he acknowledged that he had not fully re-read Crossan (1991) ‘to see where I might have gotten the impression that it was a summary presentation’. Then he adds: ‘When Crossan begin to build his picture of Jesus, he uses lots of historical background, but I don’t see him seriously considering alternative pictures and showing how his methodology leads to his conclusion. (This is close to your own objection, except that my concern is with the text, not the footnotes.) In some cases his arguments are obviously missing necessary detail.’ Then he spun off on a tangent of Crossan’s view of the ‘kingdom of God. [7]

Crossan is ‘almost entirely wrong’

NTWright071220.jpg(N T Wright, courtesy Wikipedia)

 

How would another eminent historical Jesus’ scholar evaluate Crossan’s contribution to historical Jesus’ studies? N T Wright’s assessment of Crossan (1991) was:

John Dominic Crossan is one of the most brilliant, engaging, learned and quick-witted New Testament scholars alive today. He has been described by one recent friendly critic as a “rather skeptical New Testament professor with the soul of a leprechaun”. He seems incapable, in his recent work at least, of thinking a boring thought or writing a dull paragraph….

It is all the more frustrating, therefore, to have to conclude that the book [Crossan 1991] is almost entirely wrong (Wright 1996:44, emphasis added).?

‘Almost entirely wrong’ is a stunning assessment by an eminent historical Jesus’ scholar (Wright), with which I have to agree, as Crossan’s presuppositional postmodernism causes him to engage in question begging fallacies where his conclusion agrees with his starting premises.

Since you [Hedrick] admit you haven’t read much of Crossan, I suggest that you take a read of larger chunks of Crossan (1991; 1998) to realise that these two publications are meant to be serious scholarly works. I consider that Wright (1992; 1996; 2003) has annihilated Crossan’s postmodern interpretation of the historical Jesus.
Crossan’s, The Birth of Christianity (1998), is a 651 page examination of ‘what happened in the years immediately after the execution of Jesus’ (sub-title of book) but it lacks substantive historical precision when his postmodern presuppositions so dominate his premises and conclusions.

Crossan’s definition of history fails

This is Crossan’s definition of history and he repeats it in several of his publications: ‘This, then, is my working definition of history: History is the past reconstructed interactively by the present through argued evidence in public discourse’ (Crossan 1998:20; 1999:3 emphasis in original). However, he doesn’t consistently apply this definition throughout his publications. He mixes it with a traditional approach to history like that described by Wright: ‘History, I shall argue, is neither “bare facts” nor “subjective interpretations”, but is rather the meaningful narrative of events and intentions‘ (Wright 1992:82, emphasis in original). Wright admits that this involves a point of view by historians (they cannot be ahistorical observers), ‘a massive programme of selection’, and ‘such a process inevitably involves a major element of interpretation. We are trying to make sense of the world in which we live‘ (Wright 1992:82-83, emphasis in original).

1. Crossan’s use of a logical fallacy

How does one respond to a person who claims that Crossan uses ‘lots of historical background’ and ‘in some cases his arguments are obviously missing necessary detail’?[8]

This writer’s lack of exposure to Crossan, in my view, has led to this selective and imbalanced perspective.[9]

When Crossan starts with this definition of history: ‘This is my working definition of history: History is the past reconstructed interactively by the present through argued evidence in public discourse…. History as argued public reconstruction is necessary to reconstruct our past in order to project our future’ (Crossan 1998:20; emphasis in original), and then concludes with his reader-response, interactive content of history, this is a begging the question logical fallacy in its historiography, especially in light of the consensus of historians that I examined in my PhD dissertation. Crossan’s statement points to a worldview of postmodern deconstruction that imposes another perspective on the historical data that so skews the data to accommodate Crossan’s reader-response philosophy.

Crossan wrote that ‘by historical study I mean an analysis whose theories and methods, evidence and arguments, results and conclusions are open, in principle and practice, to any human observer, any disciplined investigator, any self-conscious and self-critical student…. The historical Jesus is always an interpretive construct of its own time and place but open to all of that time and place’ (Crossan 1994:199, emphasis in original). He was pointed in his challenge that historians should say, ‘This, in my best professional reconstruction, is what happened; that did not’ (Crossan 1995:37).

So, his postmodern interpretation of history as the past recreated interactively has these ramifications. How this works for Crossan is that the description of the historical Jesus will vary with each generation as ‘an interpretive construct’. The view of Jesus is open to all that that time and place provides. In other words, we create our view of the historical Jesus, based on what is happening in our time, city, country and world. This is nonsense historically.

Could you imagine the history of George Washington, the pilgrim fathers, Captain James Cook and Captain Arthur Phillip being based on Hedrick or my ‘interpretive construct’ in the USA or Australia in the 21st century? Did George Washington and James Cook say and do what is recorded or is that open to your or my interactive, deconstruction? That’s what we are dealing with in examining Crossan’s approach to history. Imagine doing that with the ‘facts’ contained in Crossan’s autobiography (Crossan 2000)? Did he grow up in Ireland or is that only a metaphor to be deconstructed by me in the 21st century – deconstructed with inventions I want to make?
Imagine reading Crossan’s other books with that view. Surely he wants me to read his books so that I understand the content of what he means with English grammar and syntax, rather than imposing 21st century Brisbane environment and my reader-response on his texts. If I read the Brisbane Times (BT) like that and passed on my postmodern, reader-response, interactive, contemporary interpretation of today’s BT stories to the people in my church on Sunday, they would think I was going over the edge mentally.

Since Hedrick provided no references to which parts of Crossan’s works he referred, regarding the “Kingdom of God”, I have no way of checking if what you are saying is correct or not.

However, he did admit he had not read much of Crossan.

2. Crossan teams up with an archaeologist

To overcome some of this historical imbalance (in my view), Crossan teamed up with archaeologist, Jonathan L Reed, in writing (1) Excavating Jesus (Crossan & Reed 2001), and (2) In Search of Paul (Crossan & Reed 2004). However, both authors have a presuppositional bias towards postmodernism in their interpretations.

This proves nothing more than a postmodern deconstructionist can be found also among a historical Jesus scholar and an archaeologist. This is how this postmodern philosophy overwhelms their interpretations with these kinds of explanations:

  • Resurrection is not equivalent to resuscitation, apparition or exaltation.
  • Rather, ‘to say that God raised Jesus from the dead was to assert that the general resurrection had thereby begun. Only for such an assertion was “resurrection” or “raised from the dead” the proper terminology. That is very clear from a reading of 1 Corinthians 15, a commentary by Paul on an earlier and presumably second or traditional layer of text’ (Crossan & Reed 2001:259-260, emphasis in original).

Crossan & Reed push the lack of uniqueness about Jesus’ resurrection with emphasising two directions in 1 Corinthians 15, ‘If there is no Jesus resurrection, there is no general resurrection; if there is no general resurrection, there is no Jesus resurrection’ (Crossan & Reed 2001:260). There authors are correct in showing the connection between Jesus’ resurrection and the general resurrection, but this is where the damage enters with this kind of assumption, ‘The resurrection of Jesus is the start of the general resurrection, that is to say, with Jesus’ resurrection the general resurrection has begun’ (Crossan & Reed 2001:260, emphasis in original). They claim that this ‘proclamation is stunningly creative and profoundly original’ on at least four counts which involve a choice among alternatives. One of those differences is that ‘it is profoundly original in its distinction between the general resurrection as instantive moment or durative process in apocalyptic consummation’ (Crossan & Reed 2001:161).

a. Let’s check the evidence from 1 Corinthians 15

Does 1 Corinthians 15 teach that Jesus’ resurrection is the start of the general resurrection and there is a distinction between instant moment versus durative process (the Crossan & Reed view)? Paul was dealing with a particular objection in Corinth: ‘Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?’ (1 Cor 15:12 ESV). To that question his response was: ‘But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain’ (1 Cor 15:13-14 ESV).

Note that 1 Cor 15:12-14 does not teach what Crossan & Reed state that the resurrection of Jesus is the start of the general resurrection. What these verses do teach is that there will be a resurrection of dead people because Christ has been raised from the dead. Yes, ‘Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep’ (1 Cor 15:20). When will this resurrection of the dead take please? It is in the future as indicated by this language: ‘So also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end….’ (1 Cor 15:22-23).

The evidence is convincing from 1 Cor 15 and it is not in agreement with Crossan & Reed. There will be a general resurrection of the dead at ‘the end’, at the Parousia when ‘the last enemy to be destroyed is death’ (1 Cor 15:26). So, Crossan & Reed have imposed their own postmodern interpretation on 1 Cor 15 to make it fit with their agenda.

b. Postmodern performance by Crossan & Reed

The essence of resurrection, according to N T Wright, is: ‘What the creator god did for Jesus is both the model and the means of what he will do for all Jesus’ people’ (Wright 2003:216; emphasis in original). Crossan & Reed’s emphasis on I Corinthians 15:12-13, 15b-16 is that ‘the argument is very clear: no Jesus resurrection, no general resurrection; no general resurrection, no Jesus resurrection’. They continue with interpretation of I Corinthians 15:20, ‘Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died’ (NRSV) as meaning, ‘Jesus’s resurrection is to the general resurrection as first fruits are to the rest of the harvest. There is no possibility of Christ’s resurrection as a special, unique, peculiar privilege accorded to him alone’ (Crossan & Reed 2004:342-343).

It is true that this passage teaches that Jesus’ resurrection and the general resurrection are connected, ‘If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised…. If the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised’ (1 Cor 15:13, 16). However, Crossan & Reed’s statement that ‘there is no possibility of Christ’s resurrection as a special, unique, peculiar privilege accorded to him alone’ needs challenging because of these facts:

(1) Preaching is vain and faith is futile ‘if Christ has not been raised’ (1 Cor 15:14). This verse does not say, ‘If Christ has not been raised and there is no general resurrection, your preaching is without content and ineffective and your faith is pointless’.[10] Christ’s resurrection is unique in order to provide content and foundation to preaching and faith. This is related to another unique necessity of Jesus’ resurrection,

(2) ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins’ (1 Cor 15:17). This is explained further in Romans 4:25, ‘He was delivered up for our sins, and rose again for our justification’. The unique, peculiar, and special mission of Jesus’ resurrection was to provide justification for sins so that people are no longer in their sins. They are declared righteous (justified) before God. Of this verse, Thomas Aquinas wrote: ‘In order to complete the work of our salvation: because, just as for this reason did He endure evil things in dying that He might deliver us from evil, so was He glorified in rising again in order to advance us towards good things’ according to Romans 4:25 (Aquinas 1947:3.53.1). The death of Jesus ‘for us’, as articulated in Romans 4:25 and 5:10 includes both justification and sanctification and ‘they are inextricably bound together with his resurrection’ (Fee 1987:743-744). For Crossan to denigrate this unique role of the resurrected Son in salvation is to deny an essential Christian doctrine. The uniqueness of Jesus’ resurrection cannot be detached from eternal salvation itself. Crossan’s reconstruction of Jesus’ resurrection to exclude its uniqueness is tantamount to a denial of Christian existence for the sake of a postmodern view of human beings and reconstruction of the meaning of the resurrection.

Crossan & Reed continue with their metaphorical imposition on the text in pursuit of a postmodern agenda:

Recall the discussion of Jewish and of Christian-Jewish “resurrection…. Those who claimed Jesus had begun the terminal moment of apocalyptic climax would have to present some public evidence of a world transformed from injustice and evil to justice and peace. It would not and could not suffice to claim one or many empty tombs and one or many risen apparitions. That might all be well and good, but where was the evidence, any evidence, of a transformed world? For that they had only their own communal lives as evidence. This is how we live with God and on this basis we seek to persuade others to do likewise. This is our new creation, our transformed world. We in God, God in us, and both together here below upon this earth.

Paul claimed in 1 Corinthians that, “if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain” 15:14). As stated, that comment is true for Christianity, but so also is its reverse. If Christian faith has been in vain, that is, has not acted to transform itself and this world toward the justice of God, and if Christian proclamation has been in vain, that is, has not insisted that such is the church’s vocation, then Christ was not raised. Christianity could certainly still claim that Jesus was exalted and had ascended to the right hand of God. But resurrection [the argument of this chapter] presumes the start of cosmic transformation, not just the promise of it, not just the hope of it, not just talk about it, and not just theology about it. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher can be easily seen in all its marbled past and disputed present within today’s Jerusalem. But the Church of the Blessed Resurrection can only be seen in a world under transformation by Christian cooperation with divine justice and by Christian participation in divine justice (Crossan & Reed 2001:270).

This is a Crossan & Reed metaphorical deconstruction of Christ’s resurrection to make it mean what they want in the 20th century – resurrection meaning a world transformed from injustice and evil to justice and peace, a Christian participation in divine justice.

The biblical evidence is that Jesus’ death and resurrection make justification by faith possible for all who believe in Jesus for salvation. This is affirmed by Romans 4:25, ‘He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification’ (NIV). For a further explanation, see R C Sproul on ‘Resurrection and justification’.

This unique resurrection was the firstfruits, guaranteeing that there will be a resurrection of the dead at Christ’s second coming. There is no postmodern deconstructionist agenda in that view. It is based on the plain meaning of the biblical text.

If history does not involve postmodern deconstruction by deconstructionists like J D Crossan and Jonathan Reed, what then is it?

3. What is history?

By contrast, eminent Yale University professor of missions and oriental history, Kenneth Scott Latorette, defined Christian history this way:

The distinctively Christian understanding of history centers upon historical occurrences. It has at its heart not a set of ideas but a person. By a widespread convention historians reckon history as b.c. and a.d. They are aware of many other methods of recording dates and know that this particular chronology has acquired extensive currency because of the growing dominance during the past few centuries of a civilization in which Christian influences have been potent. To the Christian, however, this reckoning of time is much more than a convention. It is inherent in history. In Jesus of Nazareth, so the Christian holds, God once for all disclosed Himself and acted decisively. The vast majority of Christians believe that Jesus was God incarnate (Latourette 1948).

(Kenneth Scott Latourette, courtesy Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity)

 

This definition is parallel with that of N T Wright, a scholar of the historical Jesus and early Christian origins in the 20th and 21st centuries, whose understanding was that ‘history is neither “bare facts” nor “subjective interpretation”, but is rather the meaningful narrative of events and intentions’. Wright stresses that ‘for statements to be made about the past, human beings have to engage in a massive programme of selection’ along with ‘a major element of interpretation’ (Wright 1992:82-83 emphasis in original).

By way of methodology, Wright is of the view that the ‘historical method is just like all other methods of inquiry. It proceeds by means of “hypotheses”, which stand in need of “verification”. A good hypothesis in any field must,

(a) ‘Include the data’;

(b) ‘Construct a basically simple and coherent overall picture’, and

(c) Mean that the proposed explanatory story proves to be fruitful in other related areas (Wright 1992:98-100).

Crossan adopts Wright’s view of history in his autobiography, A long way from Tipperary (Crossan 2000), in which Crossan adopts Wright’s definition of history – the meaningful narrative of events in the life of J D Crossan in Ireland, along with interpretations and his intentions. One example can be seen in Crossan’s own words, ‘“I am curious,” the doctor said. “How can you as a Catholic theologian undergo a vasectomy?” “Because,” I replied, “I am a bad Catholic, but a good theologian, and that makes a vast difference”’ (Crossan 2000:79). What about this evaluation, ‘I maintain that the mode of authority, the style of leadership, the primacy of obedience demanded by the Roman Catholic hierarchy is a crime, if not against humanity, then at least against divinity’ (Crossan 2000 199)?

Is that meant to be a literal or metaphorical statement? Does it contain facts that Crossan considers to be true and his intentions to expose his theological understanding of Roman Catholicism? It sure doesn’t sound like his definition of history: ‘This, then, is my working definition of history: History is the past reconstructed interactively by the present through argued evidence in public discourse’ (Crossan 1998:20; 1999:3 emphasis in original).

Conclusion

A scholar who only wishes to include the views of his intellectual buddies (mates is the Aussie language) is engaging in a biased view of history – but all in the name of scholarship.

This investigation has found that it doesn’t matter whether Crossan is writing alone or in conjunction with an archaeologist, Jonathan Reed, he imposes a postmodern understanding on the text. This is in harmony with his presuppositional bias of a postmodern approach to history. When he concludes with his premise – a postmodern explanation of history – he is using a question begging logical fallacy.

History that doesn’t deal with the facts of the past is not history. However, these facts need interpretation, not with a presuppositional, postmodern imposition on the text, but with consideration of the cultural and other issues taking place in that society. That’s exactly what Crossan did in his autobiography. It was not a postmodern exposition of his life but an account the involved facts, intentions and interpretations from his earlier life.

So Wright’s view that history involves ‘the meaningful narrative of events and intentions’ of the past is realistic and does not come with Crossan’s presuppositional understanding of imposing a postmodern interpretation on the facts.

Works consulted

Aquinas, T 1947. Summa theologica (online). Tr by the fathers of the English Dominican Province. Available at Sacred Texts: http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/index.htm (Accessed 1 February 2013).

Brown, C 1975. kenos, in Brown, C (ed) The new international dictionary of New Testament theology, vol 3, 546-549. Exeter: The Paternoster Press.

Crossan, J D 1991. The historical Jesus: The life of a Mediterranean Jewish peasant. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D 1994. Jesus: A revolutionary biography. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D 1998. The birth of Christianity: Discovering what happened in the years immediately after the execution of Jesus. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D 1999. Historical Jesus as risen Lord, in Crossan, J D, Johnson, L T & Kelber, W H, The Jesus controversy : Perspectives in conflict, 1-47. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International.

Crossan, J D 2000. A long way from Tipperary: A memoir. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D & Reed, J L 2001. Excavating Jesus: Beneath the stones, behind the texts. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D & Reed, J L 2004. In search of Paul: How Jesus’s apostle opposed Rome’s empire with God’s kingdom. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Fee, G D 1987. The first epistle to the Corinthians (The new international commentary on the New Testament, F F Bruce gen ed). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Latourette, K S 1948. The Christian understanding of history. American Historical Association (online). Available at: https://www.historians.org/about-aha-and-membership/aha-history-and-archives/presidential-addresses/kenneth-scott-latourette (Accessed 23 October 2015).

Oepke, A 1965. kenos, in Kittel, G (ed) Theological dictionary of the New Testament, vol 3, 659-660. Tr and ed by G W Bromiley. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Wright, N T 1992. The New Testament and the people of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. (Series in Christian origins and the question of God, vol 1).

Wright, N T 1996. Jesus and the victory of God. London: SPCK / Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press. (Series in Christian origins and the question of God, vol 2).

Wright, N T 2003. The resurrection of the son of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. (Series in Christian origins and the question of God, vol 3).

Notes


[1] I included this in Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, Do I have a ‘Flawed’ library of study material? September 20, 2015. OzSpen#6, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/threads/do-i-have-a-flawed-library-of-study-matierial.7910228/ (Accessed 23 October 2015).

[2] Ibid., Hedrick#24.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#25.

[4] He’s speaking of N T Wright, the British historical Jesus’ scholar.

[5] Christian Forums, Hedrick#26.

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

[7] Ibid., Hedrick#28.

[8] Ibid., Hedrick#28.

[9] The following is my response to him in ibid., OzSpen#29.

[10] The Greek is kenos, for which Arndt & Gingrich provide the meaning, ‘without content, without any basis, without truth, without power’ of preaching and faith for 1 Cor 15:14a (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:429). Albrecht Oepke’s study concluded that it meant ‘”empty”, “futile”’, that is, ‘without content and also ineffective’ (Oepke 1965:659-660). Colin Brown’s understanding was that ‘under certain circumstances certain things would be pointless, fruitless, or in vain’ and that applies to preaching and faith in I Corinthians 15:14 (Brown 1975:547).

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 31 October 2015.

Only read authors who agree with you?

Saturday, October 31st, 2015

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(image courtesy polyvore.com)

By Spencer D Gear

Could you imagine understanding Bart Ehrman’s theology to the point of agreeing with him or refuting him without reading what led to this kind of statement, ‘In early Christianity, the views of Christ got “higher and higher” with the passing of time, as he became increasingly identified as divine’ (Ehrman 2014a:353)?

However, that’s not what one fellow thought as he started a thread on a Christian forum on the Internet. He asked: Does this sound like a reasonable approach for Christians to deal with opposition?

  • Know both sides of an argument, but my library is almost all from Christians. Is that illogical? He didn’t think so because:
  • He’s a doubting Thomas who weighs arguments and liberal opposition to Christians comes across as ‘No Duh I could have come up with that one!’ He considers that he could have invented that objection and he doesn’t need the arguments of liberals as he can come up with a good enough response without reading them.
  • The arguments most often boil down to supernaturalism vs naturalism and the liberal considers the case closed, but the Christian has lots more evidence to prove and they need lots of technical skills. It is much harder to defend the Bible than to attack it, so why allow the liberals the time of day to defend their view? Why pay money to buy liberal material when they have a ‘home field advantage’ over Christians? The liberal plays reckless offense while the Christian is constantly on the defence.
  • I seek conservative scholars who cause some anger for conservatives as they seem to be critically analysing the data but they still try to defend supernaturalism.
  • He feels like he’s facing an average 10-year-old who is bashing the supernatural and finding ‘holes’ in the Bible. He considers the real skill is in knowing Greek, Hebrew, context of Scripture, and knowing how to put the pieces together. Then he makes the audacious statement: ‘. I seriously think there’s no skill at all in attacking the Bible!! Bart Ehrman[1] in all honesty sounds like a 10 year old to me, yes he makes good objections but ANY context/language ignorant person can make good objections!’
  • So, why should he pay money to read ‘experts’ attack the Bible when the skill is in defending it.
  • He asked if he made sense or was he delusional? Should he get more balance into his library?
  • Fair and honest conservative scholars properly represent the arguments of skeptics anyway.[2]

Defenders know the enemy

I take a different perspective for these reasons:[3]
1.    When Paul was in the midst of the Areopagus (Mars Hill), he had done his research on alternate religions in the area: ‘I perceive that in every way you are very religious … observed the objects of your worship …found also an altar with this inscription “To the unknown God.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you…’ (Acts 17:22-23 ESV). He ‘read’ the enemy before he proclaimed the truth.

2.    Especially when it comes to Easter and Christmas seasons in Australia, the people who will be called upon by secular media for articles or to comment on these two celebrations will be radical liberals such as John Shelby Spong, the Jesus Seminar fellows, Bart Ehrman, liberal Uniting Church or Anglican clergy/scholars, etc. The evangelicals are not the ones given priority for comment and articles. To be able to respond to these liberals, whether by articles or in letters to the editor, I need to know what the enemy teaches. When Spong was in our capital city of Canberra in 1991, an article about him was published in the Canberra Times by Robert Macklin, ‘The Gospel truth?’ (Aug 4, 1991) which focussed on Spong’s attack on fundamentalism. I was pastor of an evangelical church in the ACT at the time and I asked for a right of reply which the CT published as, ‘The Gospel Distortion: A reply to John Shelby Spong‘ (Aug 11, 1991).  I would not have known the details of Spong’s heresy without reading him. I have a few of his books in my library. I have since reviewed his book, A New Christianity for a New World (2001) in Spong’s swan song — at last!  Exposure to Spong’s false teaching has led to these further articles: Spong’s deadly Christianity and John Shelby Spong & the Churches of Christ (Victoria, Australia).
I find it always helpful when critiquing a liberal scholar or teacher of a false gospel to quote from his or her material. It affirms our own credibility.

3.    I compled a 5-year research project in my PhD dissertation (thesis-only in the British system) which examined the presuppositions of John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar concerning his views of Jesus’ resurrection. I would not have understood his perspective as comprehensively so that I could assess it unless I read extensively in his material. I discovered that he has a particular leaning to scholars who support his view. Here’s a grab from my thesis:

If historical scholarship is not used to discover absolutes or certitudes, but only by its best reconstruction to arrive at a decision ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ (Crossan 1995:x), how does a scholar decide between divergent conclusions concerning aspects of the historical Jesus by various scholars? It is important to note Crossan’s perspective regarding those who offer a contrary opinion: In quoting ‘secondary literature, I spend no time citing other scholars to show how wrong they are’. Instead, he only quotes those who ‘represent my intellectual debts’ (Crossan 1991:xxxiv; emphasis in original). Why would he want to preserve his opinion and scholarship and retain it in-house? Is there a possible presuppositional bias coming through?

So Crossan only wants to quote from fellow liberals who represent his ‘intellectual debts’. I do not want to be among evangelicals who only quote each other. There is a substantial amount of good scholarship among evangelicals, but I do not choose to read them only. That would not be good research nor enable me to give a penetrating, but balanced, response.

This person on the Christian forum stated that ‘Bart Ehrman in all honesty sounds like a 10 year old to me’. But that’s not how he sounds to the general populace or the Christian laity when he shows up in the mass media. The media doubters love his kind of objections to the Bible.

That’s why I consider that if I’m going to refute Ehrman, I need to know his material and the arguments he uses so that I can refute them or agree with them in the media and among friends or enemies. When Ehrman is in the media, do you take advantage of the ‘comments’ or ‘letters’ sections to challenge and refute him?

Ehrman’s heresy about Jesus

clip_image003(photo of Professor Bart D. Ehrman, courtesy Wikipedia)

 

What does Bart Ehrman believe about the divine Jesus? He stated:

In early Christianity, the views of Christ got “higher and higher” with the passing of time, as he became increasingly identified as divine. Jesus went from being a potential (human) messiah to being the son of God exalted to a divine status at his resurrection; to being a preeminent angelic human being who came to earth incarnate as a man; to being the incarnation of the Word of God who existed before all time and through whom the world was created; to being God himself, equal with God the Father and always existent with him. My own personal beliefs about Jesus moved in precisely the opposite direction. I started out thinking of Jesus as God the Son, equal with the Father, a member of the Trinity; but over time, I began seeing him in “lower and lower” terms, until finally I came to think of him as a human being who was not different in nature from any other human being. The Christians exalted him to the divine realm in their theology, but, in my opinion, he was, and always has been, human.

As an agnostic, I now think of Jesus as a true religious genius with brilliant insights. But he was also very much a man of his time. And his time was an age of full-throated apocalyptic fervor (Ehrman 2014a:353-354).

These are hardly the words of a 10-year-old skeptic who doubts the nature of the God-man Jesus. It is a view of Jesus that needs a full-blown and thoughtful rebuttal. What is happening in the research and thinking of this eminent scholar who is debunking the core of Christianity – the divinity of Jesus? This is not child stuff. This is serious business that requires a full-blown apologetic for a response.

Thankfully, one evangelical lecturer in theology, Dr Michael Bird, at the Anglican Ridley College, Melbourne was prepared to expose Bart Ehrman’s errors in, ‘How God became Jesus: Bart Ehrman gets it wrong, again’ (ABC Religion and Ethics, 16 April 2014).

clip_image005Mike Bird (courtesy Ridley College)

 

Bart Ehrman wrote, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, Mike Bird and some colleagues wrote a critique with this response, How God Became Jesus: The Real Origin of Belief in Jesus’s Divine Nature. In Bird’s response on ABC’s Religion and Ethics he stated:

Whereas Ehrman likes to point out the ad hoc and adversarial context in which beliefs about Jesus evolved in the course of the first four centuries of the Christian era, Charles Hill demonstrates the remarkable coherence of “orthodox” views of Jesus and their rootedness in the New Testament. Hill shows that what became Christian “dogma” about Jesus was not merely a knee-jerk reaction to various debates going on inside the church.

So despite the fact that Ehrman’s book is genuinely informative in places, my co-authors and I think he gets many things wrong – seriously wrong. Yet there is no doubt that many people will lap up the book because of its putative “insider” perspective. Ehrman describes how he once believed that Jesus was God and later came to have a very human and even low view of Jesus. He gives readers the inside scoop on the historical problems and theological paradoxes that traditionalist Christians hope you never discover.

Although Ehrman claims that he is simply not interested in whether Jesus really is God, preferring to limit himself to the matter of history, I suspect otherwise. Ehrman, implicitly at least, is an evangelist for unbelief, enabling sceptics to keep their disgust with Christianity fresh, while trying to persuade believers that their cherished beliefs about Jesus are a house of historical straw.

For all of his failings, Ehrman has at least done Christians one favour. He has challenged us to ask afresh, “Who is Jesus?” While some will say “legend,” some will say “prophet,” some will say “rabbi.” There will be still others who, like Thomas leaving his doubt behind when he encountered the resurrected Jesus, and could not but exclaim, “My Lord and my God!” (Michael Bird, How God became Jesus, 16 April 2014).

Conclusion

Those who are building defences know the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy who is attacking, the adversary who is on the offensive. They know the enemy. Surely this is what the Bible teaches!

Hosea said it in Hosea 4:6: ‘My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me’ (ESV).

Paul, the apostle, warned believers about the opposition and the equipment needed to fight challengers:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints (Eph 6:10-18 ESV).

John warned:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already (1 John 4:1-3 ESV).

There is wisdom in applying this message from the Book of Proverbs: ‘The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice’ (Prov 12:15 ESV).

Works consulted

Crossan, J D 1991. The historical Jesus: The life of a Mediterranean Jewish peasant. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D 1995. Who killed Jesus? Exposing the roots of anti-Semitism in the gospel story of the death of Jesus. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Ehrman, B D 2015. After the New Testament: A Reader in Early Christianity, rev. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ehrman, J D 2014a. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. New York: HarperOne.

Ehrman, B D 2014b. The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis, 2nd rev ed. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill.

Ehrman, B D 2013. The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ehrman, B D 2012a. Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. New York: HarperOne.

Ehrman, B D 2012b. Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ehrman, B D 2011a. The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ehrman, B D 2011b. Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. New York: HarperOne.

Ehrman, B D 2009a. Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them). New York: HarperOne.

Ehrman, B D 2009b. God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer. New York: HarperOne.

Ehrman, B D 2006. Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ehrman, B D 2005a. Lost Christianities : The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths we Never Knew. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ehrman, B D 2005b. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. New York: HarperOne.

Ehrman, B D 2003. Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament. New York: Oxford University Press.

Notes


[1] Some of Bart Ehrman’s publications include Ehrman (2015; 2014a; 2014b; 2013; 2012a; 2012b; 2011a; 2011b; 2009a; 2009b; 2006; 2005; 2003).

[2] Christian Forums.com, Theology, Christian Apologetics, ‘Do I have a “flawed” library of study material?’ Dirk1540, 30 September 2015. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/threads/do-i-have-a-flawed-library-of-study-matierial.7910228/ (Accessed 1 October 2015).

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#6.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 May 2016.

Is any flavor of Arminianism promoting error?

Friday, October 30th, 2015

Image result for Arminius public domain

Jacobus Arminius (commons.wikimedia.com)


John Calvin (commons.wikimedia.com)

By Spencer D Gear

Some Calvinists believe Arminians are in error (see below for an example). Others go much further to accuse the Arminian of promoting heresy.

Arminian heresy?

(heresy in the middle ages, public domain)

There is a blog called, ‘Arminian heresy’, and another sermon audio series, ‘Arminianism is heresy, Calvinism is the Gospel’. Another states this of Arminianism: ‘Is Arminianism a damnable heresy? Yes. The false doctrines of conditional election, universal atonement, partial depravity, resistible grace, and the possibility of a lapse from grace originate in the pit of hell with the father of lies (Jn. 8:44). They are contrary to Scripture and worthy of condemnation. This is a serious matter’.[1]

John MacArthur’s organisation, Grace to You, has an article online titled, ‘Why I am a Calvinist, Part 1’. The subheading is, ‘Part 1: Is Arminianism damnable heresy?’ It includes this statement:

But let me be plain here: Simple Arminianism doesn’t fall in that category. It’s not fair to pin the label of rank heresy on Arminianism, the way some of my more zealous Calvinist brethren seem prone to do. I’m talking about historic, evangelical Arminianism, of the classic and Wesleyan varieties — Arminianism, not Pelagianism, or open theism, or whatever heresy Clark Pinnock has invented this week — but true evangelical Arminianism. Arminianism is certainly wrong; and I would argue that it’s inconsistent with itself. But in my judgment, standard, garden variety Arminianism is not so fatally wrong that we need to consign our Arminian brethren to the eternal flames or even automatically refuse them fellowship in our pastors’ fraternals.

If you think I’m beginning to sound like an apologist for Arminianism, I’m definitely not that. I do think Arminianism is a profound error. Its tendencies can be truly sinister, and when it is allowed to go to seed, it does lead people into rank heresy. But what I’m saying here is that mere Arminianism itself isn’t damnable heresy. It’s just grossly inconsistent with the core gospel doctrines that Arminians themselves believe and affirm.[2]

Calvinistic heresy

I recommend the article by Roger Olson, ‘What’s wrong with Calvinism?(Society of Evangelical Arminians).

Robin Phillips wrote the article, ‘The Heresy of Monergism’, in which it was stated that ‘Monergism arises out of the fact that Calvinists are deeply uncomfortable acknowledging any synergy between the divine will and the human will. Indeed, a Calvinist will say that when a man or woman appears to co-operate with God, this is only because the Lord first predetermined that he or she should do so, thus preserving the sense in which only one agent is operative’. Monergism ‘describes the notion that salvation is affected by only one agent, namely God. As R.C. Sproul explains it, “A monergistic work is a work produced singly, by one person… A synergistic work is one that involves cooperation between two or more persons or things”’. In 2012, Christianity Today reported, ‘As Baptists Prepare to Meet, Calvinism Debate Shifts to Heresy Accusation’ (Weston Gentry, June 18). Part of this article read:

The May 30 [2012] document, “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation,”[3] aims “to more carefully express what is generally believed by Southern Baptists about salvation.” But both Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler and George W. Truett Theological Seminary professor Roger Olson, in separate blog posts, said that parts of the document sound like semi-Pelagianism, a traditionally heretical understanding of Christian salvation.

Therefore, there are theological sling shots being flung by both Calvinists and Arminians at each other with the rock of ‘heresy’ or ‘error’ included. This is an unfortunate overstatement, in my view.

Summary of these differing doctrines

Here’s a summary comparison of the Arminian vs Calvinist core doctrines: ‘An Outline of the FACTS of Arminianism vs. The TULIP of Calvinism’.

For Arminianism, the acronym FACTS refers to:

Freed by Grace (to Believe)
Atonement for All
Conditional Election
Total Depravity
Security in Christ[4]

For Calvinism, the TULIP acronym indicates:

Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints[5]

Where the rubber meets the theological road

On an Internet Christian forum, I was engaged in a discussion of Arminianism and Calvinism. My views are closest to what is known as Reformed or Classical Arminianism.

Here are some grabs from that online conversation:

Arminian: ‘If it’s not a promotion of Calvinism, I don’t get a passing grade’.[6]

Calvinist: ‘In other words, we don’t tolerate error’.[7]

Arminian: ‘That seems to be your a priori bias. So are Reformed Arminians promoting false doctrine, in your view?’[8]

Calvinist: ‘Any flavor of Arminianism is error’.[9]

Arminian: ‘A priori speaking. So should Arminian theology on this forum only be discussed under Unorthodox Theology? If so, why are the moderators [on Christian Forums] not moving Arminian interpretations to Unorthodox Theology?[10] Perhaps they don’t see it as you see it’.[11]

Arminian: ‘Arminian theology has a long history in orthodox theology. Even some of the church fathers promoted such views. Should they also be written off as promoting error also?’[12]

Calvinist: ‘It’s orthodox and faulty’.[13]

Calvinist: ‘It falls within the pale of orthodoxy.[14]
Arminian: ‘How can it be faulty and in error but orthodox. Those kinds of statements, in my understanding, create an oxymoron’.[15]

Arminian: ‘So why is griff tolerated in this thread as stating, ‘Any flavor of Arminianism is error’. How can error be affirmed as orthodox. Don’t you as moderators think you should examine this kind of statement from griff?’[16]

Calvinist: ‘Do you not think Calvinism is error? It’s orthodox because it isn’t an issue of heresy. People can be Arminians and still be Christians. Most Arminians would say the same of Calvinists. Same with other doctrines like baptism. Pedobaptists are in error in my opinion, yet fall in the realm of orthodoxy. Are we so PC here that we can’t say something is wrong? Geez…’[17]

Calvinist: ‘Life is so unfair’.[18]

Calvinist: ‘Odd how the Arminians/non-Calvinists can express their opinions regarding Calvinism, and that’s just fine, but if a Calvinist expresses his opinion, then suddenly the mods must be summoned… Really??? Is Arminianism that fragile?’[19]

Arminian: ‘Please don’t distort what I said. It was griff who stated: ”Any flavor of Arminianism is error’ and I challenged the moderators on this statement. Isn’t that OK on CF [www.christianforums.com]?

This is more than expressing an opinion. It is directly stating that ”Any flavor of Arminianism is error‘.

Will the moderators of CF continue to allow me, a Reformed Arminian, to post on this site when it has been labelled that Arminianism ‘is error’? Does this evangelical site authorise the promotion of ‘error’?’[20]

Calvinist: ‘No more than we should examine you. You think Calvinism is in error, and it falls within the pale of orthodoxy’.[21]

Arminian: ‘What’s the pale of orthodoxy? Is Arminianism orthodox Christianity or not?’[22]

Calvinist: ‘No more than we should examine you. You think Calvinism is in error, and it falls within the pale of orthodoxy’.[23]

Calvinist: ‘Yes, it is’. (This was in answer to the question, ‘Is Arminianism orthodox Christianity or not?)[24]

Arminian: ‘Back at #469 you stated, ‘Any flavor of Arminianism is error‘ (emphasis added). You did not say that, ‘In my opinion any flavor of Arminianism is error’.

On this forum I would not say ‘Calvinism is error’. I do not support some of its teaching but I would never say (my emphasis) on this forum that any flavour of Calvinism is error’.

It is interesting that you now say ‘Pedobaptists are in error in my opinion‘. That is not how you said it with regard to Arminianism. I urge you to please be consistent’.[25]

Arminian: ‘I have never stated that ‘I think Calvinism is in error’, so why are you stating, “You think Calvinism is in error”?’[26]

Calvinist: ‘So if you don’t believe Calvinism is erroneous, why are you committing so much time of your life arguing against it? Isn’t it implied in any debate that you believe your opponent’s view is erroneous? It’s amazing how PC we have become’.[27]

Arminian: ‘It’s how you state this position. I would never say of Calvinism what you stated of Arminianism: “Any flavor of Arminianism is error”’.[28]

What’s going on here?

Some keys to understand this kind of interaction include:

  1. His stated position that ‘any flavor of Arminianism is error’, commits a logical fallacy of hasty generalization without providing the evidence to refute such a view. Besides, it’s like a sound bite when a person just gives this one bite without exposition and doesn’t deal with the issues I raised. This fellow who labels Arminianism as error is among those described by Jack Zavada in his ‘Biography of Jacobus Arminius’ as:

Today, nearly 500 years after Arminius’ death, many Calvinists consider him a heretic. They equate his doctrines with those of Pelagius, a fifth century Roman Catholic monk who taught that humans are born without original sin and can choose God through their free will. Pelagianism was condemned as heresy by several church councils, both Roman Catholic and Protestant.

  1. I cannot see any reconciliation between Arminians and Calvinists unless the free will response of human beings to the common grace of God is understood in responding to Christ’s offer of salvation. God’s drawing people to salvation is not under discussion. I, an Arminian, am convinced of the truth of what Jesus said in John 6:65, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father’ (ESV).
  2. Based on the evidence available to me so far in my Christian journey, I support the major premises of Reformed or classical Arminianism. See the article, ‘What’s the difference between Reformed Arminianism and Wesleyan Arminianism? Three scholars answer’ (February 25, 2015). Reformed or Classical Arminians are those who espouse many of the teachings of Jacob Arminius. In fact, they were the Arminians who issued the Remonstrance to which the Synod of Dordt responded with its formulation of TULIP Calvinism. To his dying day, Jacob Arminius maintained he was Reformed and a promoter of Reformation theology. He was a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church until death.

Conclusion

The accusations fly back and forth between Calvinists and Arminians with one blaming the other of error or heresy. Therefore, there is heat on both sides of this debate. I can’t see it being resolved soon – if ever – during our sojourn on this earth.

The issues seem to boil down to interpretation of the biblical texts. Roger Olson, an evangelical Arminian, has summed it up concisely:

There is no middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism with regard to the three crucial doctrines about which they differ: election (conditional or unconditional), atonement (limited or universal) and grace (resistible or irresistible).

I wish Lemke[29] and others like him would read Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities[30] where I argue that, whereas Calvinists and Arminians have much in common, there is no hybrid of them or middle ground between them.  In fact, Arminianism IS the middle ground between Calvinism and Semi-Pelagianism![31]

Notes


[1] This statement is by Stephen Pribble in ‘Is Arminianism a damnable heresy?

[2] The statement at the foot of this article was, ‘This post is adapted from a transcript of a seminar from the 2007 Shepherds’ Conference, titled “Closet Calvinists”’. Available at: https://www.gty.org/resources/articles/10194 (Accessed 30 October 2015).

[3] The link to this article provided by Christianity Today was not available on 30 October 2015, but I have sourced it elsewhere online and have included it in this CT quote.

[4] This is from the link above, the Society of Evangelical Arminians, available at: http://evangelicalarminians.org/an-outline-of-the-facts-of-arminianism-vs-the-tulip-of-calvinism/ (Accessed 30 October 2015).

[5] For an explanation, see Rev Barry Gritters 2000, Reformed Churches of America (online), ‘T.U.L.I.P or The Five Points of Calvinism’, available at: http://www.prca.org/pamphlets/pamphlet_41.html (Accessed 30 October 2015).

[6] I’m OzSpen #453, Christian Forums, Soteriology, ‘Is rejecting Christ a sin?’ Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7755517-46/ (Accessed 9 July 2013).

[7] Ibid., griff #458.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen #461.

[9] Ibid., griff #469.

[10] All unorthodox theology, on Christian Forums rules, can only be discussed in the directory, Unorthodox Theology.

[11] Christian Forums op cit, OzSpen #417.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen #471.

[13] Ibid., griff #472.

[14] Ibid., but this is another Calvinist poster who is a moderator, Hammster #474. Since I’m not an IT whiz, I do not know if Hammster and griff are the same person. A person has investigated this on the forum and has stated that people have multiple identities on this forum.

[15] Ibid., OzSpen #475. This was a response to griff.

[16] Ibid., OzSpen #476. This was a response to Hammster.

[17] Ibid., griff #478.

[18] Ibid., griff #479.

[19] Ibid., another Calvinist’s response, nobdysfool #480.

[20] Ibid., OzSpen #484.

[21] Ibid., Hammster #487. This is in response to my questions as OzSpen #484.

[22] Ibid., OzSpen #486. This was a response to Hammster.

[23] Ibid., Hammster #487.

[24] Ibid., Hammster #491.

[25] Ibid., OzSpen #492.

[26] Ibid., OzSpen #493.

[27] Ibid., griff #499.

[28] Ibid., OzSpen #501.

[29] Steve W. Lemke is one of the editors of Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, David L. Allen & Steve W. Lemke eds. Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic, 2010. Lemke is Provost and Professor of Philosophy and Ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. See HERE.

[30] This is Roger E Olson’s 2006 publication by Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic.

[31] Roger E Olson 2011. ‘Is there a middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism?’ Patheos, June 4. Available at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2011/06/is-there-a-middle-ground-between-calvinism-and-arminianism/ (Accessed 30 October 2015).

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 30 October 2015.

How do you find a suitable church?

Friday, October 30th, 2015

https://i1.wp.com/www.creationism.org/images/DoreBibleIllus/tLuk2334Dore_TheCrucifixion.jpg?resize=485%2C657

 By Spencer D Gear

When somebody moves to a new community and seeks to find a church, what qualities should one seek? This will be based on a person’s view of God and the Scriptures. If the Scriptures are taken seriously, what features will be in the church one seeks. My wife and I experienced this issue/problem in mid 2011 when we moved to a northern Brisbane (Australia) suburb. What do we seek since we have a high view of the Bible and are not interested in singing unmemorable choruses driven by a contemporary rock beat?

This is a brief, but practical, example of what two mature Christians encountered in search for a group of evangelical believers who affirmed the Scriptures and worshipped God in the songs they sang, the Word preached from the pulpit, and in their fellowship with one another.

I was participating in a Christian Forum discussion online when I came across this request:

1. One person’s view

I have been attending a local Baptist church for almost a month now and thought the people in there are extremely friendly and welcoming.

I was so excited that i started telling my friends about my discovery and one of them said that she hasn’t been going to church since she moved out of her mom’s! Her reason was that she found that most of the churchgoers at her church were nice only during Sundays…and then from Mon-Sat they were “a**holes” she was very put off by this and generally stopped going every week and eventually stopped altogether.

My question to you guys is if you are noticing similar things? Are church goers judgmental? Are they just actors/actress on Sundays?[1]

2. Some qualities essential for any church[2]

Our worldviews ought to deal with what is happening not only in churches but also our approach to the world in which we live. We need to be people of discernment:

a. Discernment

All Christian are called to exercise discernment about what is happening in a church (and the world).

  • Romans 12:2, ‘ Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect’ (ESV).
  • Ephesians 5:10, ‘and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord’ (ESV).
  • Hebrews 5:14, ‘But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil’.

b. Christians who care for one another

All Christians are to care for one another, pray for one another and minister to one another. This is what the Scriptures state:

  • James 5:16, ‘Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working’ (ESV);
  • Ephesians 6:18, ‘Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints’ (ESV).
  • 1 Corinthians 12:26, ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.’ (ESV).

We need to be a functioning body of Christ, a Community of the King of Kings. Are these things happening in your church? We are the body of Christ and we need to be caring for one another when we meet as well as other times (as able and as time permits).

If there is an atmosphere like this in your church, then it will be fairly easy to pick the fake from the genuine through discernment and then counsel of these people should happen and this may even lead to discipline of them if they are not in line with your church’s statement of faith and practice.

There’s another factor to look for:

3. The church’s discipline of Christians

Yes, discipline! That’s what the Scripture says:

  • 2 Thessalonians 3:14 ESV, ‘If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed’;
  • Romans 16:17 ESV, ‘I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them’.
  • Matthew 18:15-20 ESV ‘If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven’.

4. Wheat and weeds will grow together in your church

Weeds In Field (PublicDomainPictures.net)

 

We can expect the wheat and the tares (weeds) to grow together until harvest. See Matthew 13:24-30.

Please don’t seek to find the perfect church with perfect people who always treat you perfectly. If they are anything like me, they will make mistakes and sin against one another and in other ways. Please don’t give up on them, but the areas I have mentioned above are important in Christian growth. Is the church you are attending also practising evangelism and discipleship?

5. Every church must be committed to evangelism and discipleship

Rejecting Help

(ChristArt)

 

This is self-evident from Matthew 28:18-20,

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Have you had opportunity to meet with the pastor and/or church leaders to address your concerns?

Most importantly, are you the genuine, loving, caring Christian that will make a Christ-like difference in your congregation?

 Notes


[1] Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Fake people in churches? What do y’all think?’, Fobulous#1, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7681751/#post61206165 (Accessed 22 August 2012).

[2] This is part of my post as OzSpen#2, in ibid.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 30 October 2015.

How to interpret ‘appeared’ in Titus 2:11

Friday, October 30th, 2015

Stars Universe

(image in public domain)

By Spencer D. Gear

Was Jesus’ death for the sins of all people or for only the elect – those who become Christians? Or, to put it in parallel language, was Jesus’ death for the whole world or only for some of them? You wouldn’t believe how these types of questions can get the theological juices going!

Titus 2:11 reads, ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’ (ESV). What is a plain reading of the text saying? When did God’s grace appear? What was it? How did it bring salvation to all people? Are all going to be saved? Is this a verse that promotes universalism (salvation for everyone)? Please read on.

When I raised this online, a Calvinist stated,

The Greek word behind ‘appeared’ is … epiphainw. Strong’s Concordance says the word literally means “to show forth, i.e., to appear” or “to shine upon” or “become visible”.[1]

This person didn’t know any more Greek than Strong’s Concordance (I have a BA in biblical literature & NT Greek and PhD in NT). I could not say this better than Gordon Fee, emeritus professor of New Testament at Regent College, Vancouver B C, Canada and editor of Eerdmans’ New International Commentary series on the New Testament. Fee, a extremely competent Greek exegete, wrote of Titus 2:11,

An explanatory for opens the paragraph and thus closely ties verses 11-14 to 2-10. It proceeds to explain why God’s people should live as exhorted in 2-10 (so that the message from God will not be maligned [v. 5] but instead will be attractive [v. 10]): because the grace of God that brings salvation to all people has appeared.

In the Greek text all of verses 11-14 form a single sentence, of which the grace of God stands as the grammatical subject. But contrary to the NIV (and KJV), Paul does not say that this grace appeared to all men; rather, as almost all other translations have it, and as both Paul’s word order and the usage in 1 Timothy 2:3-6 demand it, what has appeared (see disc. on 1 Tim. 6:14; epiphaneia) is grace from God that offers salvation to all people.

Paul does not indicate here the reference point for this revelation of God’s grace. Most likely he is thinking of the historical revelation effected in the saving event of Christ (v. 14; cf. 2 Tim. 1:9-10), but it could also refer existentially to the time in Crete when Paul and Titus preached the gospel and Cretans understood and accepted the message (cf. 1:3 and 3:3-4). That at least is when the educative dimension of grace, emphasized in verse 12, took place (Fee 1988:194, emphasis in original).

The Calvinist again:

So according to Titus 3:4, what happened when God “appeared”? Look at the next words… he saved us. How? By the washing of regeneration. We are saved by God’s grace appearing that washes us in regeneration. Why don’t you translate the verb as “offer” here?

So in Titus 2:11, same verb used….

So grace “appears” again and what does it do? The same exact thing it does in Titus 3:4! It “brings salvation for all people” just like the grace in Titus 3:4 “saved us”. The grace that appears in Titus 2:11 also trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives. Nothing about an “offer” anywhere in the text. The word can’t even mean “offer”. None of the definitions of the word even suggest such a thing. So either “all people” doesn’t mean 100% of humanity, or Universalism is true.[2]

My response [3] was that Titus 3:4 is in a single Greek sentence in the original that includes Titus 3:4-7.

The sentence in Titus 3:4 begins with ‘but when’ – a when-clause. The preceding verse (3:3) speaks the language that ‘we ourselves were once’. But then there came a time when God’s mercy took effect in their lives. We know from Titus 2:11 that God’s grace ‘appeared bringing  salvation’, which was ‘the doctrine of God our Savior’ (2:10). We know that this happened historically in Christ’s person and work and especially in his atoning sacrifice.

Back in Titus 2:11-14, the emphasis is as in Titus 3:5-7, that God’s mercy brought salvation through regeneration, renewal of the Holy Spirit, justification and their becoming heirs of hope. This was the readers’ own experience of salvation.

As for the verb, ‘appeared’, this word also is used in 1 Tim 6:14-15, ‘until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time’. Here ‘appear’ refers to the Parousia, the second coming of Christ. Do you want to import that meaning of ‘appear’ into Titus 2:11 and Titus 3:4?

The same word, ‘appear’, occurs in Acts 27:20, ‘When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us…’ (ESV). Do you want this meaning of ‘appear’ to be given to Titus 2:11 and 3:4?

It is not unusual for a Greek word to be used in different contexts to mean different things. However, from Titus 2:11; 3:4, we know that that context is talking about salvation through Christ in which the grace of God appeared to all people and have a guess what? This grace of God offers salvation to all men (people) [Titus 2:11].

So what appeared in this epephane, which refers to something becoming visible or making an appearance? All human beings could not have reached a satisfactory understanding of God’s grace without the manifestation of Jesus Christ through his incarnation and atonement. Titus 2:11 shows the effects of this grace, ‘bringing salvation for all people’ (ESV). Thus the universality of the salvation offer is made available thanks to Christ’s epiphany.

Its saving effect depends on God’s election and a personal response of faith. The human will is freed for all people in regard to salvation. This is implied by all of the verses in Scripture that exhort people to turn to God (see Prov 1:23; Isa 31:6; Ezek 14:6; 18:32; Joel 2:13-14; Matt 18:3; Acts 3:19); to repent (1 Kings 8:47; Matt 3:2; Mark 1:15; Luke 13:3, 5; Acts2:38; 17:30), and to believe (2 Chron 20:20; Isa 43:10; John 6:29; 14:1; Acts 16:31; Phil 1:29; 1 John 3:23).

Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon (1957:304) gives the meaning of the verb, epiphainw (I appear), as ‘show oneself, make an appearance’ in relation to Titus 2:11. So God’s grace ‘appeared’ to all people in the person and work (life, crucifixion and resurrection) of Jesus Christ. It was made manifest through Him.

Varieties of Calvinists

Ron Rhodes is a 4-point Calvinist (Amyraldian) who does not believe in limited atonement. See: The Case for Unlimited Atonement (by Ron Rhodes).

See how John Piper misused a quote from Millard J Erickson‘s book, Christian theology, to try to indicate that Erickson supported limited atonement – which he does not.

Different meanings of ‘appeared’

On The Cross(image in public domain)

There is a difference between ‘appeared’ as referring to the parousia (second coming), the sun and stars appearing, and the grace of God appeared, bringing salvation for all people? I find it strange that this person did not understand the differences among the meanings of ‘appeared’ in these three different circumstances. The difference is among Christ’s appearing at his second coming (Titus 2:13), the appearing of the sun and stars (Acts 27:20), and the appearing of God’s grace bringing salvation for all (Titus 2:11).

It is not unusual for a Greek word to be used in different contexts to mean different things. It did not mean the same in those three different places. The second coming appearing, the appearing of the sun and clouds, and the appearing of the grace that leads to salvation are THREE DIFFERENT meanings of ‘appeared’.

There is a great difference in what they did. Surely this person can’t be trying to convince me that the appearing of the sun and clouds is identical to the appearing of the person and works of Jesus and will be identical to the Parousia (second coming) appearance of Jesus. That he could even be pressing towards that understanding beggars my imagination.

Noah Webster’s 1828 edition of his dictionary (online) has 10 different meanings for the English noun, ‘appearance’. They are:

Appearance
n.
1. The act of coming into sight; the act of becoming visible to the eye; as, his sudden appearance surprised me.
2. The thing seen; a phenomenon; as an appearance in the sky.
3. Semblance; apparent likeness.
There was upon the tabernacle as it were the appearance of fire. Num. 9.
4. External show; semblance assumed, in opposition to reality or substance; as, we are often deceived by appearances;
he has the appearance of virtue.
For man looketh on the outward appearance. 1Sam. 16.
5. Personal presence; exhibition of the person; as, he made his first appearance at court or on the stage.
6. Exhibition of the character; introduction of a person to the public in a particular character, as a person makes his
appearance in the world, as a historian, an artist, or an orator.
7. Probability; likelihood. This sense is rather an inference from the third or fourth; as probability is inferred from
external semblance or show.
8. Presence; mien; figure; as presented by the person, dress or manners; as, the lady made a noble appearance.
9. A being present in court; a defendant’s filing common or special bail to a process.
10. An apparition.

My 1977 hardcopy of Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, unabridged, second edition, Jean L McKechnie general supervisor of editorial staff (William Collins-World Publishing Co., Inc.), provides seven meanings of the word, ‘appearance‘:

Appearance, n. 1. The act of coming into sight; the act of becoming visible to the eye; as, his sudden appearance surprised me.
2. the thing seen; an apparition; a phenomenon; as an appearance in the sky.
3. external semblance; outward aspect; hence, outward sign, indication, or evidence; as appearance of a place was altogether pleasing; the writing had every appearance of genuineness.
4. a pretense or show; as, the man gave the appearance of being busy.
5. a coming into notice; an appearing before the public; as the appearance of an actor, of a new book, etc.
6. probability; likelihood. [Oba.]
7. in law, a being present in court; a coming into court of either party; an appearing in person or by attorney.
to put in an appearance; to appear for a short time.
to save appearances; to maintain a good showing.
Syn. – air, aspect, look, manner, mien, semblance (Webster 1977:88).

My understanding of the various meanings of ‘appearance’ is based not only on NT Greek but also on Webster’s unabridged English dictionary.

One of the major difficulties with church folks in their understanding of Scripture is that they have little foundation in understanding exegesis vs. eisegesis of the text. They are not trained to discern. It is beneficial, but not compulsory, to have a knowledge of the original languages (Hebrew and Aramaic in the OT, Greek in the NT). If one does a comparison of, say, six different committee translations of the Bible (KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV, NRSV, NLT, NIV) one should be able to come up with an understanding of the nuances of the original languages.

It’s Greek to me [3a]

Titus 2:11 (Greek NT) uses the Greek, epephane, that is translated as, ‘has appeared’ (NIV, ESV). The Greek is aorist passive, indicative of the verb, epiphaino.

The Greek tenses represent the kind of action as prominent, rather than the time of action. The Present and Imperfect tenses are linear tenses that can be represented by a line or a line or dots:
____________________________________ or

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (Present is in the present time while Imperfect is in the past – but both represent continuous/continual action.)
However, the Aorist is a punctiliar (or point) tense which can be diagrammed as a single dot . The action of the aorist tense is that of something that simply happens. There is no thought of the continuing or frequency of action (Wenham 1965:96-97).

The passive voice indicates that the subject was acted upon. If the subject was doing the action, the active voice would be used.

Let’s apply that to Titus 2:11 and the aorist, passive, indicative, epephane.

  • Since epephane is the passive voice, something is acting on this and that something is ‘the grace of God’.
  • The mood of a verb indicates the mode or manner of the action of a verb. The indicative mood makes a statement or asks a question. Here, epephane is indicative mood, thus meaning it is making a statement.
  • Epephane is aorist tense, so it means that something appeared at a point in time. However, since it has no sigma (s) in its conjugation, that means it is the second aorist tense. That gets a bit technical with the conjugation (i.e. form) of the verb, but the meaning of the aorist is the same for the action of the second aorist.

In English, when we translate as ‘has appeared’ (NIV, ESV), it indicates it has appeared in the past but there is no indication of the kind of action. ‘Has appeared’ is meant to bring out the passive voice of action happening by someone/something, i.e. ‘the grace of God’. So the aorist could be translated as ‘did appear’ or ‘has appeared’, as long as one understands it is seen as a punctiliar action happening to someone/something, i.e. ‘to all people’.

What is the meaning of the verb, epiphaino? In the passive voice it means ‘show oneself, make an appearance’ and in Titus 2:11 refers to the grace of God that has appeared (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:304). Since the appearance of the grace of God happened (appeared), it seems that the interpretation is meant to refer to the Epiphany of Jesus, the Incarnation (Robertson 1931:604).

What is eisegesis?

Calvinist, Dr James White, provides this understanding:

Exegesis v. Eisegesis. A quote from Dr. James White’s forth-coming book “Pulpit Crimes” on eisegesis indicates that it means:

The reading into a text, in this case, an ancient text of the Bible, of a meaning that is not supported by the grammar, syntax, lexical meanings, and over-all context, of the original. It is the opposite of exegesis, where you read out of the text its original meaning by careful attention to the same things, grammar, syntax, the lexical meanings of the words used by the author (as they were used in his day and in his area), and the over-all context of the document. As common as it is, it should be something the Christian minister finds abhorrent, for when you stop and think about it, eisegesis muffles the voice of God. If the text of Scripture is in fact God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16) and if God speaks in the entirety of the Bible (Matt. 22:31) then eisegesis would involve silencing that divine voice and replacing it with the thoughts, intents, and most often, traditions, of the one doing the interpretation. In fact, in my experience, eisegetical mishandling of the inspired text is the single most common source of heresy, division, disunity, and a lack of clarity in the proclamation of the gospel. The man of God is commended when he handles God’s truth aright (2 Tim. 2:15), and it should be his highest honor to be privileged to do so. Exegesis, then, apart from being a skill honed over years of practice, is an absolutely necessary means of honoring the Lord a minister claims to serve. For some today, exegesis and all the attendant study that goes into it robs one of the Spirit. The fact is, there is no greater spiritual service the minister can render to the Lord and to the flock entrusted to his care than to allow Gods voice to speak with the clarity that only sound exegetical practice can provide (in Reformation Theology, emphasis added).

Could there be a way forward?

There is a way forward, but I can’t see it when a person’s theological presuppositions seem to intrude and prevent that person from seeing what I did write (see above) that the difference in definitions of ‘appearance’ is clear from a plain reading of the biblical text.
But he does not want to accept it that Christ’s appearance in his epiphany (his coming, works, death & resurrection) IS NOT the same meaning as appearance of sun and clouds, and IS NOT the same meaning of appearance of Jesus at the Parousia – his second coming. His posts didn’t acknowledge this. He seems to have a presuppositional bias against accepting the obvious.

It is false to accuse me: ‘You have failed to explain the differences in definitions. All you’ve done is provide examples’.[4] This is absolutely false. He doesn’t want to acknowledge that the three Greek examples that I gave him demand three different understandings of the meaning of ‘appearance’.

It is a waste of time going over this AGAIN and AGAIN. He did not want to receive it. I will not do it again.

However, I thanked him for acknowledging the truth that he did engage in the use of a false approach to hermeneutics – eisegesis – by imposing his will on the biblical text.[5]

In fact, my first seminary hermeneutics text used was that by A Berkeley Mickelsen, Interpreting the Bible (1963). Mickelsen gave this brief, but accurate, definition: ‘Eisegesis is the substitution of the authority of the interpreter for the authority of the original writer’ (Mickelsen 1963:158).

I thanked the person online for admitting that this is what he did in one of his posts to me when you inserted, ‘for a purpose’, that was not in the biblical text relating to the verses I cited regarding the appearance of Christ’s first coming with his epiphany, works, death and resurrection. This referred to the appearance of the sun and clouds and the appearance of Christ at his second coming.

I left it to this person to read Kittel & Friedrich’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament to discover the etymology and the various meanings of the Greek, epiphainw, epiphaneia, and epiphanes (vol 9, pp. 7-10, Eerdmans).

I recommend the article by Roger E Olson, ‘What’s wrong with Calvinism?‘ (Patheos, March 22, 2013).

Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[6] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

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

Mickelsen, A B 1963. Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Robertson, A T 1931. Word pictures in the New Testament: The epistles of Paul, vol 4. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Wenham, J W 1965. The elements of New Testament Greek (based on the earlier work by H P V Nunn). London / New York NY: Cambridge University Press.

Notes


[1] Christian Forums.com, General Theology, Soteriology, ‘Is rejecting Christ a sin’, griff #624, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7755517-63/ (Accessed 12 July 2013).

[2] Ibid (emphasis in original).

[3] Ibid., OzSpen #644, my emphases.

[3a] I provided this Greek explanation at Christian Forums.net, Apologetics & Theology, ‘Salvation belongs to the Lord’, OzSpen#116. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/salvation-belongs-to-the-lord.64623/page-6#post-1206560 (Accessed 31 May 2016). This explanation was at the request of one of the moderators, JohnDB.

[4] Christian Forums.com, General Theology, Soteriology…. Hammster #760, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7755517-76/ (Accessed 31 July 2013).

[5] My response is as OzSpen #778 at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7755517-78/ (Accessed 31 July 2013).

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

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 31 May 2016.

Calvin’s appalling interpretation of ‘all men’

Saturday, October 17th, 2015

(image public domain)

By Spencer D Gear

Does God zap people with unconditional election and they are INTO the kingdom, NEVER to be excluded?[1] Is God’s grace extended to all people or are many excluded?

What happened with the Philippian jailer? According to Acts 16:30-31 (ESV), it is stated: ‘Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household”’. They did not say, ‘Just leave it to God/Jesus; he decides if you are ever going to be saved. He by a sovereign act pulls you into his kingdom – he sovereignly elects you and you have no say in the matter’.

No, these evangelists said, ‘(You) believe in the Lord Jesus’ to be saved. As I understand Soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), there is no salvation without the human responsibility of believing. However, we always need to remember that

  •  Jesus said, according to John 6:65 (ESV), ‘No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father’.
  • Matthew 11:27 affirms the same message: ‘No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him’.
  • Paul’s message to the Ephesians was, ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast’ (Eph 2:8-9 ESV).
  • Titus 1:1 (NLT) confirms that Christian believers are ‘those God has chosen’.

clip_image001_thumb1

(image courtesy portagechurch.org)

A. God’s grace to all

I find a better biblical emphasis than unconditional election[2] to be that found in Titus 2:11 (ESV): ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’. This does not promote universalism, BUT it proves how God’s saving grace is universal – is available to all – and that grace brings salvation. This is in contrast to Calvin’s limiting grace to only a select number of people, made available through Calvinistic limited atonement.[3]

Here is John Calvin’s interpretation of this verse from Calvin’s commentary on Titus 2:11. He stated of this phrase:

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

B. Calvin’s shocking eisegesis

What is eisegesis? Berkeley Mickelsen states that ‘eisegesis is the substitution of the authority of the interpreter for the authority of the original writer’ (Mickelsen 1963:158). Lewis & Demarest describe it as the method of people ‘reading their own ideas into the Bible’ (1987:30). The World Council of Churches understood that

there is always the danger of eisegesis, reading into the Bible the ideas which we have received from elsewhere and then receiving them each with the authority with which we have come to surround the book (World Council of Churches Symposium on Biblical Authority for Today, Oxford, 1949).[5]

I find Calvin’s interpretation of Titus 2:11 to be an awful piece of eisegesis. Calvin, a very accomplished commentator, has made ‘all men’ refer NOT to all individual men – meaning all human beings – but to individual classes of people and those in various ranks of life, including the race of slaves.

This is as bad a piece of exegesis that I’ve read in quite a while as he makes ‘all men’ = some slaves and some from other classes and ranks in life. This is what happens when a commentator allows his predisposed presupposition (God’s grace cannot be extended to all, but only to the elect) to intrude into his interpretation. Thus exegesis of this phrase in Titus 2:11 has become eisegesis in the hands of a Reformed Calvinist, the founder of the movement.

Meyer’s commentary states: ‘[pasin anthropois, all men and women] does not depend on [epephane, appeared], but on [sotegios, salvation]…. The emphasis laid on the universality of the salvation, as in 1 Timothy 2:4 and other passages of the Pastoral Epistles, is purely Pauline’ (Titus 2:11 commentaries, Bible Hub).

First Timothy 2:3-4 (ESV) reads, ‘This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (emphasis added). This is in harmony with Paul’s statement in Titus 2:11 that God’s grace is made available to all people, thus making salvation available to all. These two passages ‘have specific reference to the redemption wrought by Christ, and all posit universality. They are supported by numerous correlative passages which assert God’s will that all men be saved’ (Shank 1970:83). These verses support unlimited atonement. Fairbairn’s assessment is accurate regarding Titus 2:11: The grace of God and its saving design is towards all people; it ‘presents and offers salvation to all, and in that sense brings it…. The salvation-bringing grace of God is without respect of persons; it is unfolded to men indiscriminately, or to sinners of every name’ (Fairbairn 2001:278).

William Hendriksen promotes an opposing view:

Does Titus 2:11 really teach that the saving grace of God has appeared to every member of the human race without exception? Of course not! It matters little whether one interprets “the appearance of the saving grace” as referring to the bestowal of salvation itself, or to the fact that the gospel of saving grace has been preached to every person on earth. In either case it is impossible to make “all men” mean “every individual on the globe without exception”…..

The context makes the meaning very clear. Male or female, old or young, rich or poor: all are guilty before God, and from them all God gathers his people. Aged men, aged women, young women, young(er) men, and even slaves (see verses 1-10) should live consecrated lives for the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to men of all these various groups or classes. “All men” here in verse 11 = “us” in verse 12 (The Pastorals, Hendriksen 1957:93, 371, emphasis in original).

So Hendriksen’s interpretation is essentially that of Calvin’s, as is Matthew Henry’s:

It hath appeared to all men; not to the Jews only, as the glory of God appeared at mount Sinai to that particular people, and out of the view of all others; but gospel grace is open to all, and all are invited to come and partake of the benefit of it, Gentiles as well as Jews…. The doctrine of grace and salvation by the gospel is for all ranks and conditions of men (slaves and servants, as well as masters) (Matthew Henry, Titus 2:11-14).

This cannot be accepted because of the various verses throughout Scripture that promote unlimited atonement (1 John 2:2) and God’s desire for all people to be saved (1 Tim 2:4).

The obvious question remains:

C. At what point is grace for salvation available to all?

Titus 2:11 makes it clear that God’s grace, his goodness to the ill-deserving, is made available (‘has appeared’ is the language) ‘to all people’. But when is that? Is it at the time of birth, at some time after birth, at the time of the Gospel being presented, or at some other time? Has the grace of God appeared bringing salvation to the drunk on the street, the Muslim in an anti-Christian country, the secular Aussie who doesn’t give a hoot about God, or at some other time?

Titus 2:11 seems to indicate that the grace of God has appeared to all people in some way that we could describe as prevenient grace, preparing the way for salvation when the Gospel is proclaimed to them. See my article, Is prevenient grace still amazing grace? Here I put the case that this means that the human will is freed in relation to salvation. It is not a violation of free will. We know that the will has been freed in relation to salvation because it is implied in these exhortations:

  • to turn to God. (Prov 1:23; Isa 31:6; Ezek 14:6; 18:32; Joel 2:13-14; Matt 18:3; and Acts 3:19);
  • to repent (1 Kings 8:47; Matt 3:2; Mark 1:15; Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 2:38; 17:30), and
  • to believe (2 Chron 20:20; Isa 43:10; John 6:29; 14:1; Acts 16:31; Phil 1:29; 1 John 3:23).

Prevenient or common grace is no more a violation of a person’s will than their receiving a beating heart before birth and breath after birth.

Exegete, Gordon Fee, explains Titus 2:11:

An explanatory for opens the paragraph and thus closely ties verses 11-14 to 2-10. It proceeds to explain why God’s people should live as exhorted in 2-10 (so that the message from God will not be maligned [v. 5] but instead will be attractive [v. 10]): because the grace of God that brings salvation to all people has appeared.

In the Greek text all of verses 11-14 form a single sentence, of which the grace of God stands as the grammatical subject. But contrary to the NIV (and KJV), Paul does not say that this grace appeared to all men; rather, as almost all other translations have it, and as both Paul’s word order and the usage in 1 Timothy 2:3-6 demand it, what has appeared (see disc. on 1 Tim. 6:14; epiphaneia) is grace from God that offers salvation to all people.

Paul does not indicate here the reference point for this revelation of God’s grace. Most likely he is thinking of the historical revelation effected in the saving event of Christ (v. 14; cf. 2 Tim. 1:9-10), but it could also refer existentially to the time in Crete when Paul and Titus preached the gospel and Cretans understood and accepted the message (cf. 1:3 and 3:3-4). That at least is when the educative dimension of grace, emphasized in verse 12, took place (Fee 1988:194, emphasis in original).

See my article for a further explanation: Does God’s grace make salvation available to all people? It is important to note that God’s grace is made available to all but Fee’s insight that ‘Paul does not indicate here the reference point for this revelation of God’s grace’ is important. We do not know the how and when this happens. Fee thinks it could have happened historically when the saving event of Christ was effected (cf Titus 2:14 and 2 Tim 1:9-10). However, I put it to you that this could happen at the time when the Gospel is proclaimed in any contemporary situation. The grace of God is extended to all people in the sound of the proclamation. But that is only a suggestion. We are not told the chronology of when it happens. But we do know that God’s grace bringing salvation has appeared to all people – not just a handful of God’s elect.

Related image

(image public domain)

D. Objections to label of eisegesis

It is expected that Calvinists would object to any attempt to interpret 1 Tim 2:4 (pantas anthropous) and Titus 2:11 (pasin anthropois) as referring to all people. I expect that they would not like my labelling Calvin’s interpretation as eisegesis. I hope the following explanation demonstrates that I do not have a beef over Calvin’s interpretations for no good reason.

Some standard Bible translations of these two verses are:

1 Timothy 2:4,

  • ‘who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (ESV);
  • ‘who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth’ (NIV);
  • ‘who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (NASB);
  • ‘who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (NRSV);
  • ‘who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth’ (NLT).

Titus 2:11,

  • ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’ (ESV);
  • ‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people’ (NIV);
  • ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men’ (NASB);
  • ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all’ (NRSV);
  • ‘For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people’ (NLT);

All of these translations take the two verses in which the Greek states ‘all men’ as referring to all people, all of mankind, or all of humanity. However, the NKJV still retains ‘all men’ in Titus 2:11, without explaining the meaning, ‘For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men’ (NKJV). It takes the same approach with 1 Tim 2:4, ‘who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (NKJV).

Does ‘all people’ refer to all human beings or does it refer to something else?

Image result for photo William Hendriksen public domain

(William Hendriksen, photo public domain)

William Hendriksen is a Calvinist.[6] In his commentary on Titus 2:11, he stated that ‘all men’ referred back to 1 Tim 2:4 and the explanation of ‘all men’ (Hendriksen 1957:370-371), where Hendriksen wrote at length. Some of my objections to his comments on 1 Tim 2:1 (Hendriksen 1957:93-94) are noted in [square brackets]:

Several expositors feel certain that this means every member of the whole human race; every man, woman, and child, without any exception whatever. And it must be readily admitted that taken by itself the expression all men is capable of this interpretation. Nevertheless, every calm and unbiased interpreter also admits that in certain contexts this simply cannot be the meaning.[7]

Does Titus 2:11 really teach that the saving grace of God has appeared to every member of the human race without any exception? Of course not! It matters little whether one interprets “the appearance of the saving grace” as referring to the bestowal of salvation itself, or to the fact that the gospel of saving grace has been preached to every person on earth. In either case it is impossible to make “all men” mean “every individual on the globe without exception. [N.B. What causes Hendriksen to be so sure that he certainly knows that God’s grace (even prevenient grace that prepares the human race for salvation) is NOT available to all people? There’s an air of Calvinistic firmness (Hendriksen’s theological persuasion) coming through with this kind of comment].

Again, does Rom. 5:18 really teach that “every member of the human race” is “justified”? [N.B. What Hendriksen fails to mention in this context is that Rom 5:18 includes two examples of ‘all men’. The first is, ‘Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men….’ So does ‘all men’ who are condemned refer to all people? Of course, as the following parallel verses confirm: Romans 3:23; 5:12. Hendriksen refers to one view of ‘all men’ but avoids the other use of ‘all men’ in the very same verse. Seems like selective exegesis to me.]

Does I Cor. 15:22 really intend to tell us that “every member of the human race” is “made alive in Christ“? [N.B. I find this quite a unreasonable statement because 1 Cor 15:23 gives the context, ‘Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ’ (ESV). So in 1 Cor 15:22-23, Paul is addressing ALL ‘who belong to Christ’ (v. 23); He is not speaking of all people, non-believers and Christians alike. So Hendriksen’s use of 1 Cor. 15:22 does not prove his point. It demonstrates he has not taken into account the meaning as context determines.]

But if that be true, then it follows that Christ did not only die for every member of the human race, but that he also actually saved every one without any exception whatever. Most conservatives would hesitate to go that far.[8]

Moreover, if, wherever it occurs, the expression “all men” or its equivalent has this absolutely universalistic connotation, then would not the following be true:

(a) Every member of the human race regarded John the Baptist as a prophet (Mark 11:32). [N.B. Part of Mk 11:32 in the Greek is literally, ‘they feared the crowd [the people], for all held….’ Even if one translated ‘the crowd for all men’, the ‘all men’ in context has to refer to ‘the crowd’ (the people of the context), not all people in the world. I find it disingenuous of Hendriksen to want to make ‘all men’ refer to the human race when he, a scholar with excellent knowledge of Greek knew that ‘all’ referred to ‘the crowd’ in context. I find this to be an example of the commentator playing his misleading Calvinistic games. It is a begging the question logical fallacy. That is, if he starts with the Calvinistic premise that ‘all men’ does not mean all men and then ends with ‘all men’ cannot mean the ‘human race’, he has engaged in circular reasoning, a question begging fallacy. So his use of Mark 11:32 is invalid to support his case.]

(b) Every member of the human race wondered whether John was, perhaps, the Christ (Luke 3:15). [N.B. This verse in the ESV states, ‘As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ’. Which people? Verses 7 & 10 call them ‘the crowds’ while v. 12 states that ‘tax collectors also came’ and there were soldiers who asked John the Baptist (v. 14). These are the ‘people’ who came to John the Baptist according to Luke 3:15 (Interlinear). It is obvious that ‘the people’ were not all the people in the world. They were the people in his era who had heard and seen him and were ‘questioning in their hearts concerning John’. Again, I find this to be an unfair way for Hendriksen to push his Calvinistic agenda.]

(c) Every member of the human race marveled about the Gadarene demoniac (Mark 5:20). [N.B. Hendriksen is again stretching the text to fit his agenda. The verse states: ‘everyone was amazed’ (Interlinear) but the context makes it clear who all of these were. They were in the Decapolis’ (Interlinear). We use the same kind of language today, say, when we are attending a fruit and vegetable market. We say things like, ‘Look at all the people buying lady finger bananas on special’. No person in his or her right mind would think that ‘all the people’ meant all the people in the entire world. So when ‘everyone was amazed according to Mark 5:20, it was referring to the amazed people in Decapolis who had seen evidence of the demon-possessed person set free by Jesus’ exorcism. Again, Hendriksen is stretching the imagination to arrive at a conclusion that is unrealistic in the context.]

(d) Every member of the human race was searching for Jesus (Mark 1:37). [N.B. Mark 1:37 (Interlinear) has the statement, ‘Everyone is looking for you’. There is not enough information in the immediate context to determine who the ‘everyone’ refers to, but the context in the Gospel of Mark 1:32-34 (Interlinear) indicates that the people were bringing the sick and demon-possessed to Jesus for healing and deliverance. The language is, ‘The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases’ (NIV). Therefore, there is a strong possibility that ‘everyone’ who was looking for Jesus could have referred to the sick or demon possessed because of Jesus’ reputation for healing and exorcism. To make this refer to the entire human race in this context is quite a nonsensical intent. Context in Scripture snuffs out that idea. So it is possible for ‘everyone’ to refer to everyone in a group that is seeking Jesus. But to make Mark 1:37 apply to ‘all men’ regarding the offer of salvation, is stretching my theological logical thinking.]

(e) It was reported to the Baptist that all members of the human race were flocking to Jesus (John 3:26). [N.B. The Interlinear gives the translation, ‘Everyone is coming to him’. What does the context tell us about the ‘everyone’? People were coming to John the Baptist to be baptised (John 3:22-24) and then there was a discussion between some of John the Baptist’s disciples and a Jew about John the Baptist’s baptism and the ‘all’ who were now coming to Jesus to be baptised. It is obvious in context that the ‘all’ are those wanting to be baptised. It is a very local understanding of ‘all’. Context demonstrates that].

And so one could easily continue. Even today, how often do we not use the expression “all men” or “everybody” without referring to every member of the human race? When we say, “If everybody is ready, the meeting can begin,” we do not refer to everybody on earth!

Thus also in the present passage (I Tim. 2:1), it is the context that must decide. In this case the context is clear. Paul definitely mentions groups or classes of men: kings (verse 2). those in high position (verse 2), the Gentiles (verse 7). He is thinking of rulers and (by implication) subjects, of Gentiles and (again by implication) Jews. and he is urging Timothy to see to it that in public worship not a single group be omitted. In other words, the expression “all men” as here used means “all men without distinction of race, nationality, or social position,” not “all men individually, one by one.”

Besides, how would it even be possible, except in a very vague and global manner (the very opposite of Paul’s constant emphasis!), to remember in prayer every person on earth? (Hendriksen & Kistemaker 1966:93-94).

What is Hendriksen trying to demonstrate? The verses he plucked from the New Testament are meant to try to prove his Calvinistic presupposition that when Scripture states God desires ‘all people to be saved’ (1 Tim 2:4), it does not mean all human beings but only some from all races, classes, tribes, etc., i.e. God does not really desire all people throughout the entire world through all ages to be saved. He also is trying to show that Titus 2:11 does not refer to God’s grace appearing and bringing/making salvation available to all people. I find his argumentation to contain some flaws that I’ve attempted to expose here. This is unfortunate because I have the Hendriksen-Kistemaker New Testament Commentary Series in my personal library and I find many helpful explanations in them.

However, it does demonstrate the need to be discerning when reading any material – commentary or other Christian literature (including all of my writings on this homepage) – according to what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: ‘Test everything; hold fast what is good’ (1 Thess 5:21 ESV).

E. Did Jesus die for all people?[9]

First John 2:2 would seem to be an excellent verse to establish Christ’s unlimited atonement – dying for the whole world of sinners: ‘He is the atoning sacrifice[10] for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world, (NIV).

How does R C Sproul, a Calvinist, interpret this verse? He admits that ‘this text, more than any other, is cited as scriptural proof against definite atonement’. His view is that if this verse is taken in this sense, ‘it becomes a proof text for universalism’. His way of viewing the text is

to see the contrast in it between our sins and those of the whole world. Who are the people included in the word our?…. In this text, John may merely be saying that Christ is not only a propitiation for our sins (Jewish believers) but for the elect found also throughout the whole world…. The purpose of God in Christ’s death was determined at the foundation of the world. The design was not guesswork but according to a specific plan and purpose, which God is sovereignly bringing to pass. All for whom Christ died are redeemed by His sacrificial act….

The Atonement in a broad sense is offered to all; in a narrow sense, it is only offered to the elect. John’s teaching that Christ died for the sins of the whole world means that the elect are not limited to Israel but are found throughout the world” (Sproul 1992:176-177, emphasis in original).

Talk about confusion. There is not a word in context of 1 John to speak of the elect as limited to Israel. What does the Bible teach?

By contrast, Lutheran commentator, R. C. H. Lenski (1966:399-400), while preferring the term expiation to propitiation, states that the Righteous One (Jesus, from 1 John 2:1) ‘suffered for unrighteous ones’ and this is ‘effective … regarding the sins of the whole world’. He goes further:

John advances the thought from sins to the whole world of sinners. Christ made expiation for our sins and thereby for all sinners. We understand [kosmos] in the light of John 3:16 and think that it includes all men [meaning people], us among them, and not only all unsaved men [i.e. people]…. [As in 2 Pet 2:1]: the Lord bought even those who go to hell. “The whole world” includes all men who ever lived or will live (Lenski 1966:400).

Lenski appropriately states that ‘Christ’s saving righteousness and expiation are the basis for his action as our Advocate’ and that we Christians have him as one who is called to our side, our Advocate. ‘John does not say that the whole world has him in this capacity’ (Lenski 1966:400-401).

1. Calvin on the atonement

Did John Calvin (AD 1509-1564) support limited atonement? In the early days of his writing when he was aged 26, he completed the first edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion. In the Institutes, he wrote:

I say with Augustine, that the Lord has created those who, as he certainly foreknew, were to go to destruction, and he did so because he so willed. Why he willed it is not ours to ask, as we cannot comprehend, nor can it become us even to raise a controversy as to the justice of the divine will. Whenever we speak of it, we are speaking of the supreme standard of justice (Institutes 3.23.5).

Here Calvin affirmed that God willed the destruction of unbelievers. Calvin continues:

Their perdition depends on the predestination of God, the cause and matter of it is in themselves. The first man fell because the Lord deemed it meet that he should: why he deemed it meet, we know not. It is certain, however, that it was just, because he saw that his own glory would thereby be displayed (Institutes 3.23.8).

While this description is tied up with Calvin’s view of double predestination, it is linked with the doctrine of limited atonement in that it would be impossible for God to predestine unbelievers to eternal damnation and yet provide unlimited atonement that was available to them, with the possibility of salvation. That is the logical connection, as I understand it.

Roger Nicole, another Calvinist, has written an article on “John Calvin’s view of the extent of the atonement”. This indicates that Calvin did not believe in limited atonement, but that it was a doctrine originated by Calvinists following Calvin.

Calvin’s first edition of The Institutes was in Latin in 1536 and this was published in a French edition in 1560.

John Calvin did progress in his thinking when he wrote his commentaries on the Bible later in life. His first commentary was on the Book of Romans in 1540 and his commentaries after 1557 were taken from stenographer’s notes taken from lectures to his students. He wrote in his commentary on John 3:16:

Faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish….

And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life (emphasis added).

Thus John Calvin himself is very clear. He believed in unlimited atonement.

Why

(image courtesy ChristArt)

The following verses also affirm unlimited atonement:

clip_image003_thumb John 1:29: “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (NIV).

clip_image0031_thumb John 4:42: “They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world’” (NIV).

clip_image0032_thumb Acts 2:21: “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (NIV).

clip_image0033_thumb Romans 5:6: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (NIV).

clip_image0034_thumb 2 Corinthians 5:14-15: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (NIV).

clip_image0035_thumb 1 Timothy 2:3-4: “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (NIV).

clip_image0036_thumb 1 Timothy 2:5-6: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time” (NIV).

clip_image0037_thumb 1 Timothy 4:10: “That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe” (NIV)

clip_image0038_thumb Titus 2:11: “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people” (NIV).

clip_image0039_thumb Hebrews 2:9: “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (NIV).

clip_image00310_thumb 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (NIV).

clip_image00311_thumb 1 John 4:14: “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.”

clip_image00312_thumb John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Arminian-leaning theologian, Henry C. Thiessen’s, summary of the sense in which Christ is the Saviour of the world is:

His death secured for all men a delay in the execution of the sentence against sin, space for repentance, and the common blessings of life which have been forfeited by transgression; it removed from the mind of God every obstacle to the pardon of the penitent and restoration of the sinner, except his wilful opposition to God and rejection of him; it procured for the unbeliever the powerful incentives to repentance presented in the Cross, by means of the preaching of God’s servants, and through the work of the Holy Spirit; it provided salvation for those who die in infancy, and assured its application to them; and it makes possible the final restoration of creation itself (Thiessen 1949:330).

Limited or definite atonement is clearly refuted by Scripture. See this external link, ‘A letter to a limited atonement brother’ (Timothy Ministry 2011).

Conclusion

Calvin’s shocking commentary on Titus 2:11 that makes ‘all people’ equal ‘all classes of people’ is an example of how a theologian’s Calvinistic presuppositions are imposed on a text to arrive at an interpretation consistent with his premises. This is an example of eisegesis – imposing Calvin’s predetermined view on the text. It also is a question begging logical fallacy.

An exegesis of the text discovers that God’s grace appears to all people with the view to salvation. We don’t know when that happens as it is not stated in the text. But we do know that all people who have ever lived have experienced this grace to make salvation available to them when the Gospel is preached.

We further uncovered the fact that Calvin engaged in eisegesis of the text of Titus 2:11 to impose his view on the text, rather than allowing the text to speak for itself in exegesis.

William Hendriksen also imposed his view which was challenged to demonstrate that ‘all people’ means exactly that – all of the human race and not all tribes or groups of people.

It was demonstrated from Scripture that Jesus died for all human beings and not only for the elect. This unlimited atonement is the view that Calvin also supported. A range of biblical verses was presented to demonstrate that unlimited atonement is clearly taught in Scripture.

In summary: The grace of God has appeared to all people everywhere and making salvation available to them. Jesus died for all people, not just the elect. We don’t know the time at which God’s grace and its availability for salvation comes to all people. The Scripture does not reveal the precise time of that grace being extended to all. This we know from Titus 2:11: That grace of God appears to all people without exception – unto salvation.

Second Corinthians 5:19 affirms that ‘in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation’ (ESV) and ‘the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people’ (Titus 2:11 NLT)

 Works consulted

Fairbairn, P 2001.[11] Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Publishers.

Fee, G D 1988. I and 2 Timothy, Titus. W Ward Gasque, New Testament (ed). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.

Hendriksen, W 1978. The Covenant of Grace. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

Hendriksen, W & Kistemaker, S J 1955. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Thessalonians, the Pastorals, and Hebrews. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Lenski, R C H 1966. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of the epistles of St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers (© 1966 Augsburg Publishing House).

Lewis, G R & Demarest, B A 1987. Integrative theology, vol 1. Grand Rapids, Michigan : Academie Books (Zondervan Publishing House).

Mickelsen, A B 1963. Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

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

Shank, R 1970. Elect in the Son: A Study of the Doctrine of Election. Springfield, Missouri: Westcott Publishers.

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

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

Notes:


[1] I included some of the following explanation as OzSpen#959 in Christianity Board, Christian Theology Forum, ‘The doctrine of OSAS’, available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/18216-the-doctrine-of-osas/page-32#entry261296 (Accessed 17 September 2015).

[2] For contrasting views, see: Arminianism: Roger Olson, ‘Election is for everyone‘; Calvinism: J I Packer, ‘Election: God chooses his own’.

[3] See R C Sproul’s Calvinistic explanation of limited atonement in ‘TULIP and Reformed Theology: Limited Atonement’ (Accessed 18 September 2015).

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

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

[5] Cited in Bob Utley’s 2010 article, ‘The contextual method of biblical interpretation’, available at: https://bible.org/seriespage/6-contextual-method-biblical-interpretation (Accessed 17 September 2015).

[6] Hendriksen’s Calvinistic emphases are explained in, The Covenant of Grace (Hendriksen 1978).

[7] This, in my view, is a reasonable point, but does that follow through with 1 Tim 2:4 and Titus 2:11?

[8] That is not what these passages teach. It is Hendriksen’s Calvinism that is intruding into his interpretation.

[9] This section is taken from my article, Does the Bible teach limited atonement or unlimited atonement by Christ?

[10] A better translation for ‘atoning sacrifice’ would be ‘propitiation’, but many everyday readers do not understand the meaning of propitiation as appeasing the wrath of God. The ESV and NASB translate the word as ‘propitiation’ while the NRSV, ISV and NET follow the NIV with ‘atoning sacrifice’ and the RSV uses ‘expiation’.

[11] This was previously published in 1956 by Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 17 October 2015.

Augustine’s last illness: A divine healing encounter

Friday, October 16th, 2015

(Augustine, image courtesy Wikiart)
clip_image001

(Saint Possidius, image courtesy Province of St Augustine)

By Spencer D Gear

The ministry of St Augustine of Hippo demonstrates the failure of cessationism in relation to the gifts of the Spirit. The gift of healing was alive and well through Augustine’s ministry. He lived ca. AD 354-430 [1]

Bishop Possidius (fifth century, died ca. 437), Bishop of Calama (in the Roman province of Numidia),[2] was a friend of Augustine of Hippo and wrote in the first biography about Augustine, Life of Augustine (Possidius 1919, ch XXIX), about ‘Augustine’s last illness’:

And it chanced at one time while we were seated with him at the table and were conversing together that he said to us: “I would have you know that in this time of our misfortune I ask this of God: either that He may be pleased to free this city which is surrounded by the foe, or if something else seems good in His sight, that He make His servants brave for enduring His will, or at least that He may take me from this world unto Himself.” And when he had taught us these words, together with him we all joined in a like petition to God Most High, for ourselves and for all our fellow bishops and for the others who were in this city. And lo, in the third month of the siege he succumbed to fever and began to suffer in his last illness. In truth the Lord did not deprive His servant of the reward of his prayer. For what he asked with tears and prayers for himself and the city he obtained in due time. I know also that both while he was presbyter and bishop, when asked to pray for certain demoniacs, he entreated God in prayer with many tears and the demons departed from the men. In like manner when he was sick and confined to his bed there came a certain man with a sick relative and asked him to lay his hand upon him that he might be healed. But Augustine answered that if he had any power in such things he would surely have applied it to himself first of all; to which the stranger replied that he had had a vision and that in his dream these words had been addressed to him: “Go to the bishop Augustine that he may lay his hand upon him, and he shall be whole.” Now when Augustine heard this he did not delay to do it and immediately God caused the sick man to depart from him healed (emphasis added).

This demonstration of the gift of the Spirit of healing is a further acknowledgment that a gift of the Spirit – the gift of healing – had not ceased in the 4th-5th centuries. Augustine was a leader of the Christian church and not some occult practitioner. Augustine, philosopher and theologian, ‘is looked upon by Protestants as one who was a forerunner of the Reformation ideas’ [3].

In the above citation, Augustine’s belief in the continuing gift of healing is demonstrated. For another example of this emphasis in the life and ministry of Augustine, see my article: St. Augustine: The leading Church Father who dared to change his mind about divine healing. In this article, I have shown Augustine’s change of theology in relation to divine healing.

Notes


[1] Donald X Burt 1996. Reflections on Augustine’s spirituality: Saint Augustine – His Life and Times. Villanova University. Available at: http://www41.homepage.villanova.edu/donald.burt/augustine.htm (Accessed 16 October 2015).

[2] Midwest Augustinians 2015. Saint Possidius, May 16 (online). Available at: http://midwestaugustinians.org/st-possidius/ (Accessed 8 September 2015). This article states that ‘he died in exile around the year 437’.

[3] Earl E Cairns 1981. Christianity through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, p. 149.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 5 May 2016.

Did God create evil?

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015


Indonesian tsunami (image, public domain)

By Spencer D Gear

If God created everything, does that mean that He created all the evil in the world, including the 2004 Indonesian tsunami that killed about 230,000 people in a number of countries? What about the Joplin, Missouri, twister that killed over 120 people? Can God be seen as the cause of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on New York City and Washington DC? If God created everything, where do these disasters fit in God’s agenda?

Down through the centuries, people have blamed God for creating evil, supposing that because God allows evil to continue, that God is responsible for all of the evil in the world. If God created evil, then it is He who is responsible for the murders, world wars, adultery, rape of children, abortion, etc, etc.

This is a blasphemous statement to blame God for all of the evil in the world.

How do we respond, biblically? Perhaps it will be helpful to examine Isa. 45:7 to try to gain some light on this challenging topic.

The KJV translates as, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things”.

The ESV reads, “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things”.

According to the KJV, God creates good (light, peace) and evil (see also Jer. 18:11; Lam. 3:38; Amos 3:6). But there are other Scriptures that state that there is no darkness in God (e.g. 1 John 1:5). Hab. 1:13 states that “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil” (ESV). James 1:13 confirms that “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one”. So where does this leave us?

We know that God is morally perfect (see Deut. 32:4; Matt. 5:48). God cannot sin (Heb. 6:18). But there is more to the attributes of God, including his absolute justice that requires that sin be punished by Him. So, there will be judgment by God in this life and eternally (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:11-15). So, in this life, when God executes justice we sometimes call this “evil” because from our human perspective, God seems to be committing evil against these people and nations. Were the Indonesian tsunami and the Joplin MO twister examples of God’s “evil” actions?

However, the Hebrew ra, evil/calamity in Isa 45:7, does not always mean moral evil. In the Isa 45 context, the ESV demonstrates that it should be translated as “calamity”, which is how the NKJV also translates it. The context supports this translation. So God is seen as the creator of “evil”, not in the moral sense directly, but as the one who brings judgment/calamity. [1]

God can be seen indirectly as the author of moral evil, but only in the sense that he created moral human beings who had the power of free choice and it is this free choice by us that brought moral evil into the universe. We see the beginning of this in Genesis 3. God created moral beings who had the ability to perform moral evil – and they did. God created free human beings and it is they who made evil real.

God’s making human beings with the possibility of free choice is a good thing. Surely we agree with the idea that human beings can choose one kind of clothing over another, one type of food over another, is a good action by God. Living in a world without choice would seem strange indeed. But the power of choice or free will comes with other consequences – the power for human beings to perform evil actions such as murder, rape, theft and many other evil things.

Thus, we can say that God created only good things and one of those good things was free choice. Moral, but free, human beings produced the evil in our world. Yes, God made the moral universe and indirectly created the possibility of evil in our universe. So, evil is permitted by God, but God does not produce or promote this evil. We know that ultimately a greater good is coming (see Gen. 50:20; Rev. 21-22).

Some want to promote the use of the Hebrew, ra, in Micah 2:3 as meaning God created evil against the family [clan, extended family or nation]. Yes, God allowed for the tempter, Satan, to enter the world, but the tempter does nothing that God hasn’t approved of as the Book of Job shows.

This is not congruent with that demonstrated by the Hebrew scholars involved in these translations:

1.  Therefore thus says the LORD:behold, against this family I am devising disaster, from which you cannot remove your necks, and you shall not walk haughtily, for it will be a time of disaster (ESV).

2.  Therefore the Lord says this: “Look, I am devising disaster for this nation! It will be like a yoke from which you cannot free your neck. You will no longer walk proudly, for it will be a time of catastrophe (NET).

3.  So Yahweh says this: Look, I am now plotting a disaster for this breed from which you will not extricate your necks; you will not hold your heads up then, for the times will be disastrous indeed (New Jerusalem Bible).

4.  Therefore, the LORD says:  “I am planning disaster against this people, from which you cannot save yourselves. You will no longer walk proudly, for it will be a time of calamity (NIV).

For what purpose did God create the world? This is a summary from www.bible.org:

The Bible teaches us God created both the angels and man with volition, or the freedom of choice. He created both as holy and without sin that they might not only serve Him as the Creator, but bring Him glory. In particular, man, being created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26f), was created to have fellowship with God through the exercise of that image. Man was created to glorify God through the exercise of his personality—mind, heart, and will. With his mind he was to know God, with his heart he was to love God, and with his will, in response to his understanding and love of God, he was to choose for God in obedience. But God did not create robots. That would have brought very little glory to God. Because His creatures were not robots, there was the risk of a negative choice. But God, by His sovereign will, purpose, and foreknowledge, determined to allow this, indeed, He ordained it by His own eternal wisdom without Himself being the cause.

Many struggle with this, but in the process of all that has occurred, God’s glory is supremely revealed in all His Holy attributes—His holiness, righteousness, justice, mercy, grace, and love, veracity, truth, etc. God did not cause the creature to sin. If the creature was to really have the freedom to know, love, and choose for God and respond in worship and obedience as a free and independent agent, he had to have true freedom of choice. Thus, compare the temptation of Eve by the devil. He attacked her knowledge and understanding of God to get her to doubt God’s love, etc. The race fell because of Adam and Eve’s negative response to the grace of God. But in the process, God’s character and glory is [sic] revealed in a more total or complete way. So, through the cross, man’s sin, like diamonds reflecting the light against the backdrop of black velvet, reflects God’s love, mercy, grace, holiness and justice in infinite ways.

It is an heretical doctrine of Gnosticism that claimed that God created evil. It was refuted over and over by the apologists in the early centuries of the Christian church.

I have been helped in providing the above information by Norman Geisler & Thomas Howe 1992. When Critics Ask. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, pp. 271-272 (the new title is, The Big Book of Bible Difficulties). Geisler & Howe summarised:

GOD IS NOT THE AUTHOR OF EVIL:

  • In the sense of sin
  • Moral evil
  • Perversity
  • Directly
  • Actuality of evil

GOD IS THE AUTHOR OF EVIL:

  • In the sense of calamity
  • Non-moral evil
  • Plagues
  • Indirectly
  • Possibility of evil (Geisler & Howe 1992:271)

Footnotes:

[1]  Micah 2:3 The same Hebrew word can mean evil or disaster, depending on the context

Evil Chases

(image courtesy ChristArt)

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 10 April 2017.

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Are Miracles Valuable?

Sunday, October 11th, 2015

 Jack Deere (photo courtesy Holy Spirit Activism)image

By Spencer D Gear

Please note: I preached on this topic at West Bundaberg Baptist Church (Bundaberg, Qld., Australia) on 3 July, 2005 as a topic assigned to me by the pastor.  I commend to you this article, ‘Were Miracles Meant to Be Temporary?’ by Jack Deere, as I am convinced that this chapter from his book, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit (1993), very adequately states and refutes most of the main points of cessationism. 

Who, do you think, could have said this? “When we declare the miracles which God has wrought, or will yet work, and which we cannot bring under the very eyes of men, sceptics keep demanding that we shall explain these marvels to reason. And because we cannot do so, inasmuch as they are above human comprehension, they suppose we are speaking falsely.”   Could that be Billy Graham, John MacArthur, Jr. or Benny Hinn?

It was written by St. Augustine who lived in the fourth & fifth centuries [ca. AD 354-430], and was one of the most prominent church leaders in his era (Augustine 2004, City of God, 21.5).
Have you seen a miracle lately?  Do we pray in this church for miracles to happen?  Is it the will of God for miracles to be happening around the world in answer to believing prayer?  What was the last miracle you saw happen to people in this church?

The subject of this article is: “Are miracles valuable?”  We will examine four themes:

1. Can we expect miracles among ordinary Christians today?  (I will contend that miracles are a available for all people of the New Covenant age after Pentecost.)
2. What’s the purpose of miracles?
3. How do we respond to counterfeit miracles?
4. What’s the key to more miracles happening in this church?

Before we expound our subject, we should define the term, “miracle.”

A.  What is a miracle?

Does this definition by J. D. Spiceland make sense?  “The biblical concept of a miracle is that of an event which runs counter to the observed processes of nature” (Spiceland 1984, p. 723).  Thomas Aquinas (AD 1225-1274) stated, “Things that are done occasionally by divine power outside of the usual established order of events are commonly called miracles (wonders)” (1905, 3.100). Sounds reasonable to me.

Evangelical theologian, Wayne Grudem, defines it this way: “A miracle is a less common kind of God’s activity in which he arouses people’s awe and wonder and bears witness to himself” (1994, p. 355).  I like this one even better and will adopt it here as a guiding definition: “A miracle is a less common kind of God’s activity in which he arouses people’s awe and wonder and bears witness to himself”.

“The biblical terminology for miracles frequently points to this idea of God’s power at work to arouse people’s wonder and amazement” (Grudem 1994, p. 356).

Three Greek words are used in the Bible relating to miracles:

1. “Sign” (Greek: semeion)

This “means something that points to or indicates something else, especially (with reference to miracles) God’s activity and power” (Grudem 1994, p. 356).

2. “Wonder” (Greek: teras)

This is “an event that  causes people to be amazed or astonished” (Grudem 1994, p. 356).

3. “Miracle” or “mighty work” (Greek: dunamis)

This is “an act displaying great power, especially (with reference to miracles) divine power” (Grudem 1994, p. 356).

a.  Signs & wonders

You will see the combination of “signs and wonders” used to refer to miracles in places like:

Ex. 7:3, But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt (NIV);
Deut. 6:22, Before our eyes the LORD sent miraculous signs and wonders—great and terrible—upon Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household (NIV)
Acts 4:30, Peter and John, after being released from prison, prayed,”Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (NIV)
Rom. 15:19, “by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God–so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ” (ESV).


There are many other verses that indicate “signs and wonders.”

b. Signs, wonders and mighty works

In other verses, the three words are used together: mighty works, signs & wonders.

  • Acts 2:22, “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.”
  • Second Cor. 12:12, “The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance.”
  • Heb. 2:3-4, “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”

But, these kinds of signs, wonders and miracles were performed by God and his prophets in the Old Testament, by Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament, but …

B. Can we expect miracles among ordinary Christians today?

Many people object to miracles for today.  Some are

1.  Secularists

British agnostic philosopher, Bertrand Russell, wrote:

Agnostics do not think that there is any evidence of ‘miracles’ in the sense of happenings contrary to natural law. . .  As for the records of other miracles, such as Joshua commanding the sun to stand still, the agnostic dismisses them as legends and points to the fact that all religions are plentifully supplied with such legends. There is just as much miraculous evidence for the Greek gods in Homer as for the Christian God in the Bible” (1953).

2.  Liberal theologians and some philosophers

David Strauss, famous German theologian and philosopher, in the 19th century, claimed that in the Bible, an event is unhistorical “when the narration is irreconcileable with the known and universal laws which govern the course of events.”  Miracles and prophecies are “considered as not historical” (1860, Introduction 16.I)

John Dominic Crossan, a current Roman Catholic liberal biblical scholar and member of the Jesus Seminar, states, “A miracle is a marvel that someone interprets as a transcendental action or manifestation.” (1998, p. 303).  Then he goes on to say that “Jesus was both healer and exorcist, and his followers considered those actions miracles.  But no single healing or exorcism is securely or fully historical in its present narrative form” (1998, p. 302).  He declares what he really means is: “To claim a miracle is to make an interpretation of faith, not just a statement of fact. . .  I cannot see how miracle status can ever be proved or disproved” (1998, p. 304).

But even among evangelical Christians there are doubters as to the need for miracles today.

3. Some Evangelical Christians

These are people who love the Lord but they have considerable opposition to the idea that God continues to perform miracle. These are only 2 examples

Wayne Jackson, writing in the Christian Courier, states that:

“According to the teaching of the Bible, miracles are not being utilized by God today. They formed a special function in the divine scheme of things, and when their purpose was realized, the Lord suspended his operations via these supernatural phenomena” (2000).

John MacArthur Jr., a leading evangelical Bible teacher today, states:

I am not going to say that God can’t do miracles. God can, and does, whatever He wants to do. If He wants to do something that is against the normal natural law, He will do it. . . Please don’t say that I don’t believe God does miracles — I believe He does. In fact, He does them hour by hour. And the greatest miracle of all is the miracle of the new birth — people created as new creatures in Christ. We are not denying God the power, the desire, or the will to do miracles (n.d.)

But he goes on to say,

People don’t need miracles today, they just need to understand the Word of God. If they won’t believe the Word of God, they won’t believe miracles either. . . miracles had a limited time, only for the early era; limited persons, only the Apostles and prophets and early New Testament preachers; and a limited purpose, only for the confirmation of revelation. They were signposts pointing to God’s revelation, first in the living Word and then in the written Word. Now that the reality is here, we don’t need the sign anymore (n.d.).

4.  I am not convinced by these views.

I do not consider this to be a biblical perspective because the Scriptures convince me that miracles are a characteristic of the entire New Covenant age after the Day of Pentecost.  That includes today.  These are my reasons, briefly:

a. In Mark 9:38-40 we read:

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”  “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.” 

Jesus is here affirming to John the apostle, that ordinary people can perform a miracle in the Name of Jesus because it is God who is performing the miracles.

b. Let’s go to Jesus again in John 14:12-14 (ESV).

He said:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

Who is it who will do “the works” that Jesus does and “even greater works than these”?  From the mouth of Jesus: “Anyone who has faith in me.”  He does not say, “Only the apostles and early church leaders until the canon of New Testament Scripture is established.”

But, you may ask, this does not say that “whoever believes in me will also do the miracles, and even greater miracles than I, Jesus, do.”  That is true.  We must understand that the Greek word for “works” (erga) has a broad meaning in John’s Gospel.  Australian New Testament scholar, Leon Morris, states:

Of the 27 times [John] uses the word 18 times he applies it to what Jesus has done.  He uses the term in a variety of ways.  Clearly it applies to the miracles on some occasions, e.g. ‘I did one work and [you] all marvel because thereof’ (John 7:21).  On other occasions it refers to the whole of Jesus’ earthly work, as when He refers in prayer to ‘having accomplished the work which [you have] given me to do’ (John 15:24) (Morris 1971, p. 689). 

Another New Testament expositor, D. A. Carson, confirms the fact that “works” refers to miracles in John 14:12.  He states, “Jesus’ ‘works’ may include more than his miracles; they never exclude them” (1991, p. 495).

What are the “greater works” that those who believe will be available to do?  It can mean greater in nature because what could be greater than resurrection from the dead, walking on water, feeding the 5,000.  The clue is found in John 14: 12, “Because I am going to the Father.”  Jesus was only one supernatural person in one place at a time in the Middle East.  After he died, was resurrected, and ascended to the Father, God’s people of the New Covenant are spread throughout the world.  Greater works of all kinds will be done among the Christian community because the Holy Spirit is now among us and we are spread throughout the world.  When God’s new day dawned at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was set loose among God’s people to do the comprehensive works that Jesus did while on earth – including miracles.

Leon Morris confirms this: “What Jesus means we may see in the narratives of the Acts.  There there are a few miracles of healing, but the emphasis is on the mighty works of conversion” (1971, p. 646).

Because of these direct words of Jesus, I am convinced that anybody who had faith in Jesus Christ is available to be used by Jesus in all his “works”, including signs, wonders, miracles and proclamation of the Gospel that leads to supernatural conversions to Christ.

c. Some of you might wonder why I don’t use Mark 16: 17-18 as the most obvious support for miracles today.

These verses read:

And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.

I don’t use these verses because Mark 16:9-20 is not in the oldest manuscripts of the NT.  You’ll find them in the KJV because it is based on Byzantine manuscripts that are much later than that for modern translations, which follow the Alexandrian text of the NT.  For example, my edition of the NIV states before Mark 16:9, “The two most reliable early manuscripts do not have Mark 16:9-20.”  I am convinced by the manuscript evidence that Mark 16:9-20 was not in the earliest and best manuscripts of Mark’s Gospel.

However, these verses of Mark 16 were a teaching of the early church after Mark’s Gospel was written and were somehow inserted by later copyists.  This suggests it was included in the teaching of the later church. This we do know: John 14:12-14 is most certainly in the earliest Alexandrian manuscripts and it teaches essentially the same as Mark 16:17-18.

Let’s go to other reasons for being convinced that God performs miracles today.

d. In John 3:2,

Nicodemus recognised this about Jesus that “no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

e. In Acts 2:22,

Peter proclaims that “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.”

f. Acts 2:43 states:

“Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.”  So are miracles only available to be performed by the apostles?  Not so, according to Jesus in John 14.

g. Gal. 3:5 reads,

“Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?”  Paul, the apostle, is here assuming that the church of Galatia, where there was no apostle, were seeing evidence of miracles among them.

h. I Cor. 12:7 teaches,

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”  Then go on to I Cor. 12:9-10 and we read that “to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers. . .”  Here we see the the manifestation of the Holy Spirit given to all churches since the Day of Pentecost has included “gifts of healing by that one Spirit” and the gift of “miraculous powers.”

i. I Cor. 12:28,

“in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles . . .”  Those who were gifts to the church included “workers of miracles.”   While these verses are directed to the Church at Corintha, we know from 12:7 that “the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” where?  In all churches throughout the ages, and miracles are included.

A characteristic of the New Testament church is that healings, miracles and other gifts of the Holy Spirit are available today.  Miracles are available for people of the New Covenant age after Pentecost.  That includes us today.

C. Is there any evidence of God performing miracles after the close of  the New Testament Scriptures?

Recently I have been reading on the www a book from which I have only read bits and pieces over the years.  I’m speaking of St. Augustine’s, The City of God.  He completed it in AD 426, towards the end of his life (Kelsey 1973, p. 185).  Augustine has been called, “not only the greatest theologian of the early Middle Ages but [also] one of the greatest of all time” (Geisler 2002, p. 290).  He was certainly the most prominent church leader of his era, based in Hippo Regius, Northern Africa on the Mediterranean Sea.  Today it is called, Annaba, in Algeria.

In one of his earlier writings, about AD 390, On the True Religion, he wrote that when the church had been “established through the whole world, these miracles [like those of Christ and the apostles] were no longer permitted to continue in our time, lest the mind should always seek visible things” (25.47, in 1918/1972, p. 41).

But he changed his mind later in life to become an enthusiastic believer in miracles in his day.

The City of God consists of 22 Books.  In books 21 and 22, he tells of the miracles that had been happening where he was ministering around Hippo and Carthage.

Augustine does speak of “all the miracles of the magicians, who he thinks are justly deserving of condemnation, are performed according to the teaching and by the power of demons” (2004, 8.19).

He then stated his change of mind that “even now miracles are wrought in the name of Christ, whether by His sacraments or by the prayers or relics of His saints; but they are not so brilliant and conspicuous as to cause them to be published with such glory as accompanied the former miracles” (2004, 22.8).

Here are a few examples of miracles, performed by the power of God, described in The City of God.

1. In Milan, when Augustine was there,

a blind man was restored to sight…  the emperor was there at the time, and the occurrence was witnessed by an immense concourse of people that had gathered to the bodies of the martyrs Protasius and Gervasius….  By virtue of these remains the darkness of that blind man was scattered, and he saw the light of day” (2004, 22.8).

This miracle involved the use of relics associated with the bodies of martyrs.  I will address this issue of relics shortly.

2. Innocentius at Carthage had a bowel condition, was “treated by medical men” with surgery but it was not successful.  Second surgery was threatened with the surgeons saying “he could onle be cured by the knife.  Agitated with excessive fear, he was terrified.”  There was such “wailing” in the house.  It seemed “like the mourning at a funeral” because of “the terror” the “pains had produced.”  He was exhorted “to put his trust in God.”  Then they “went to prayer ” with “earnestness and emotion, with what a flood of tears, with what groans and sobs.”  When it came time for the proposed surgery, the surgeon searched and searched but there was no disease found.  Augustine writes: “No words of mine can describe the joy, and praise, and thanksgiving to the merciful and almighty God which was poured from the lips of all, with tears of gladness. Let the scene be imagined rather than described!” (Augustine 2004, 22.8)

3.  A woman had breast cancer and her breast was to be removed because the “physicians” said it was “incurable.”  This godly woman went to “God alone by prayer.  [At] Easter, she was instructed in a dream to wait for the first woman that came out from the baptistery after being baptized, and to ask her to make the sign of Christ upon her sore. She did so, and was immediately cured.”  When the physician examined her and now found no cancer, he asked her what “remedy” she had used.  When she told him, he spoke “with a contemptuous tone” and she fearded that “he would utter some blasphemy against Christ.”

He said that he thought that she would tell him of “some great [medical] discovery.”  “She, shuddering at his indifference, quickly replied, ‘What great thing was it for Christ to heal a cancer, who raised one who had been four days dead’” (Augustine 2004, 22.8).

4.  A Spanish priest, Eucharius, died and “by the relics of the . . . martyr [Stephen]” was “raised to life” (Augustine 2004, 22.8).

A doctor with gout was cured when he was baptised.

blue-satin-arrow-small “An old comedian” was cured of paralysis and a hernia when he was baptised.

blue-satin-arrow-small Hesperius, his family, cattle and servants were “suffering from the malice of evil spirits.”  Through the prayers of the

elders this demon possession ceased “through God’s mercy” (Augustine 2004, 22.8).

blue-satin-arrow-smallA man with “his eye, falling out on his cheek, hung by a slender vein as by a root” was cured by the power of God.

blue-satin-arrow-smallA tax-collector, the son of a man named, Irenaeus, “his body was lying lifeless” and there was much “weeping and mourning of all.”   The body was “anointed with the oil of the same martyr [Stephen]. It was done, and he revived” (Augustine 2004, 22.8).

blue-satin-arrow-small Eleusinus’s infant son “had died” and he was placed “on the shrine fo the martyr [Stephen]” and “after prayer, which [the father poured out there with many tears, he took up his child alive” (Augustine 2004, 22.8).

Augustine wrote,

I cannot record all the miracles I know. . .  For were I to be silent of all others, and to record exclusively the miracles of healing which were wrought in the district of Calama and of Hippo by means of this martyr–I mean the most glorious Stephen–they would fill many volumes. . .  For when I saw, in our own times, frequent signs of the presence of divine powers similar to those which had been given of old, I desired that narratives might be written, judging that the multitude should not remain ignorant of these things (Augustine 2004, 22.8).

Read the last book of Augustine’s City of God and you’ll know that God still miraculously heals and delivers the demon possessed.

I must pause to make brief comments about . . .

Faith in the healer, relics, or in God?

I must say that I am not troubled by miraculous healings (I am a convinced supernaturalist who believes that God can perform miracles today).  However, the paraphernalia associated with the healings, relics, graves of the martyrs, during Augustine’s time did trouble me.  By the time of the 5th century, the church was moving towards a Roman Catholic view of relics, but then I checked the Scriptures.

Do you remember?  Are these miracles cited by St. Augustine in association with the relics of St. Stephen, later examples of the type that happened when Peter’s shadow fell on sick people and they were healed (Acts 5:15)? We know from Acts 19:12 that handkerchiefs or aprons were brought to the apostle Paul from people who were sick. We are told that when the handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul’s skin “were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.”

Go back to the Old Testament.  Remember . . .

blue-satin-arrow-smallThe serpent lifted up on the pole by Moses, Lev. 21:5-9 reads:

[The Israelites] spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.

But in 2 Kings 18:4 we read, “He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it.”  When people began to worship the relic, the bronze snake, that angered God and he smashed it.  It is not the relic that brings healing, but the Almighty God of whom the relic reminds us.

When we worship a physical object, a relic, instead of the living God, we violate the first of the 10 commandments, ”

blue-satin-arrow-smallRemember the bones of Elisha in 2 Kings 13:20-21,

Elisha died and was buried.
      Now Moabite raiders used to enter the country every spring. Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb. When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet.

blue-satin-arrow-smallIn 2 Kings 5:14, we read of Naaman’s dealing of leprosy,


“So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.”

cubed-iron-sm Also remember that Jesus used natural elements along with healing (saliva and washing).

cubed-iron-sm James 5:14-15 asks:

“Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.”

What do all of these verses point to?  There are clear examples of miracles associated with physical objects in the Bible.  It seems that sometimes the Lord knows that we need a physical point of contact and he provides it.  But we call upon the Lord Almighty for the healing.

Remember the first of the ten commandments (Ex. 20:3-5):

You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God . . .

The moment we seek the relic and not the Redeemer, we are doomed and committing idolatry.

D. What are the purposes of miracles?

1. One purpose of miracles is “to authenticate the message of the gospel” (Grudem 1994, p. 359). 

Remember the words of Nicodemus from John 3:2, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”  Heb. 2:4 confirms this: “God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”  “God testified to IT with signs, wonders and various miracles.  What is the IT?  Heb. 2:3 tells us that it is  this “great salvation.”

Miracles are given throughout the church age “to confirm the truthfulness of the gospel” wherever it is preached.  Not just by the original apostles, but by anyone who believes and is a Christian.

Concerning Jesus, Augustine wrote:

“He did many miracles that He might commend God in himself. . . the gospel of Christ was preached in the whole world, not only by those who had seen and heard Him both before His passion and after His resurrection, but also after their death by their successors, amid the horrible persecutions, diverse torments and deaths of the martyrs, God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost” (2004, 18.46, 50)

2.  It is to confirm “the fact that the kingdom of God has come and has begun to expand its beneficial results into people’s lives” (Grudem 1994, p. 360). 

Jesus said in Matt. 12:28, “But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.  According to Luke 9:1-2, Jesus gave his disciples “power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.”  When God performs miracles in our midst, it lets people know that God’s kingdom is alive and well among us with exceptional results.

3.  A third purpose of miracles is declared by Jesus when he healed the two blind men near Jericho. 

Matt. 20:30 and 34 state, “Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!’ . . .  Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.”  Miracles are to help those in need.

In Phil. 2:27, Paul says of Epaphroditus, “Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow.” God’s compassion and mercy towards the needy are demonstrated by signs, wonders and miracles.

4.  A fourth purpose of miracles is to bring glory to God. 

When Jesus healed a paralytic, Matt. 9:8 records, “When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.”  In Luke 7:16 after Jesus raised the widow of Nain’s son, it says, “They were all filled with awe and praised God. ‘A great prophet has appeared among us,’ they said. ‘God has come to help his people.’”
St. Augustine wrote in The City of God:

These miracles, and many others of the same nature, which it were tedious to mention, were wrought for the purpose of commending the worship of the one true God, and prohibiting the worship of a multitude of false gods. Moreover, they were wrought by simple faith and godly confidence, not by the incantations and charms. . . (2004, 10.9).

In the 21st Book of Augustine’s City of God, the 7th chapter is titled, “That the Ultimate Reason for Believing Miracles is the Omnipotence of the Creator” (2004, 21.7).  In the 22nd Book of City of God, ch. 8 is titled, “Of miracles which were wrought that the world might believe in Crhist, and which have not ceased since the world believed” (2004, 22.8).

Jesus’ miracles were meant to point to God Himself.  Any miracles that God allows to happen among us today are designed to point to the glory of God.

So many alleged miracles today are meant to point to the human healer, whether that person be Benny Hinn, Kathryn Kuhlman, Oral Roberts, or Reinhard Bonnke.  That was not Jesus’ emphasis and it must not be ours.  All signs, wonders and miracles are meant to point to the miracle worker, God Himself, and to give him praise and glory.

E. How do we respond to counterfeit miracles?

I am not dealing in any depth with this aspect, except to say that we must be very careful in making sure these miracles have taken place. For example, in an issue of my local newspaper, the Bundaberg News-Mail (June 29, 2005, p. 23) there was an advertisement: “A Church on the Move: Salvation – healing – miracles Spirit filled Worship.” [2] It is advertised that right here in Bundaberg, healing and miracles are taking place.  I don’t know whether that is true or not.  I’m wary because of this combination: salvation, healing and miracles.

blue-satin-arrow-small If I go along to that church can I receive salvation?  Yes, absolutely, if there is true repentance and faith in Christ;

blue-satin-arrow-small If I go along to that church, can I receive healing?  Only if the sovereign Lord chooses to give it.

blue-satin-arrow-small If I go along to that church, can I receive a miracle?  Only if the sovereign Lord chooses to give it.

Advertising that a church that is “on the move” offers salvation, healing and miracles in the same breath is sending a mixed message in my view.  Placing this kind of message in advertising sends the wrong message as I see it.  What would happen if our church advertised something like: “Come to our church and meet the living Christ.”  At our church where we proclaim and encounter the living Christ, we pray for the sick, earnestly seek God’s spiritual gifts, and we leave the results to Him.  We seek to bring God glory in all that we do.  If healing and miracles happen, God will be glorified.  But we will not be calling upon people to come to our church with the expectation that they will be healed or that definite miracles will happen in our church services. 

I’d want to check the evidence for healing and other miracles before the alleged healing or miracle and the evidence now.  Why?

Because of this:

blue-satin-arrow-small Down through the years, godly believers have exposed counterfeit miracles, as with this book by B. B. Warfield, Counterfeit Miracles (1918);

blue-satin-arrow-small Peter Masters, The Healing Epidemic (1988);

blue-satin-arrow-small John F. MacArthur Jr., Charismatic Chaos (1992).

There’s a report going around about the resurrection of Pastor Ekechukwu in Nigeria in November/December 2001.

I’m talking about the … sensational story coming from Reinhard Bonnke who was a guest on Benny Hinn’s program on Feb.28 2002 (and Kenneth Copeland’s program through the week of Aug.19, 2002). On Hinn’s program he showed a video produced by Cfan (Bonnke’s ministry- Christ for all nations) and gave testimony to a man being raised from the dead at a church he was preaching at in Nigeria, Africa. This video is now making the rounds . . . as a [supposed] fulfillment of many people’s prophecies of the great miracles that are supposed to occur in our time. Stories are supposedly pouring in from around the globe of thousands being saved. This is becoming a big story, but is it a fish story that keeps on growing as it’s told? (Come Let Us Reason 2002; for my assessment, see here)

We need to be discerning.  There are a number of conflicting elements in this story that I am not able to get to the bottom of.  However, we need to remember that one faulty Falcon doesn’t make every Ford a bomb.  If there are fake miracles, it doesn’t discount the real.  It just means that we need to be ever more vigilant and discerning. I agree with Wayne Grudem,

Christians should be very cautious and take extreme care to be accurate in their reporting of miracles if they do occur.  Much harm can be done to the gospel if Christians exaggerate or distort. . . The power of the Holy Spirit is great enough to work however he wills (1994, n31, p. 368).

I am not convinced that we should be advertising: “Come to West Bundaberg Baptist Church for salvation, healing and other miracles.”

F.  What’s the key to more miracles happening in this church?

Miracles were continuing in the 5th century when St. Augustine wrote, but what about today?  What about in this church?

We have seen some miracles in Christian conversions lately for which we praise the Lord.  Have the seriously ill been healed supernaturally?  Have the dead been raised?  Honest now!  If miracles are for today, and I am convinced they are, why are they not happening regularly in association with our church?

I want to make some suggestions and not accusations:

1.  First, should Christians ask God to perform miracles?  I Cor. 14:1 states, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.”  Note what it says: “Eagerly desire spiritual gifts.”  Can we honestly say that this church encourages all believers to “eagerly desire spiritual gifts.”  Are you desiring he supernatural abilities that the Holy Spirit gives, and especially the gift of prophecy?  Until we earnestly desire the Holy Spirit’s gifts, which include “the working of miracles” and “gifts of healings”, I don’t expect that many miracles will be demonstrated.

Please understand that we do not manufacture miracles or healings.  They only come as sovereign gifts of God, but we must “earnestly desire spiritual gifts.”  Don’t you think that would be a good starting point if we are to see miracles?  Are we open to the supernatural spiritual gifts in this church?  (I Cor. 12-14)

2.  Second, miracles are not for entertainment.  Miracles are not intended to give limelight to somebody’s ministry. As I mentioned about Luke 7:16 after Jesus raised the widow of Nain’s son, it says, “They were all filled with awe and praised God.”  If we don’t intend to give praise and glory to God and God alone through the miracles, forget about it.  God’s glory is primary.  Can God trust us with miracles?  Will we draw attention to ourselves, to this church, or to God?
3.  Third, James 5:14 says, “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.”

We need to make prayer for the sick and anointing with oil a regular part of our worship, calling for the elders and anointing with oil.  Calling for whom?  The elders.  But we don’t acknowledge elders by name in this church.  Could that be one reason why miracles are not happening?  I am not accusing, but simply making a suggestion.

Wayne Grudem has stated, “Miracles are God’s work, and he works them to bring glory to himself and to strengthen our faith (Grudem 1994, p. 371).

4.  Fourth, I John 5:14-15: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”  Are we are people who are asking, and even pleading earnestly, of our God to give us the best gifts?  It is His sovereign will whether he chooses to give us miracles.  Are we asking?

G. Conclusion

I conclude with Augustine’s thought: “Even now, therefore, many miracles are wrought, the same God who wrought those we read of [is] still performing them, by whom He will and as He will” (2004, 22.8).
So, are miracles valuable?  They most certainly are,

3d-gold-star-small if we are open to such Holy Spirit ministry;

3d-gold-star-small if we eagerly desire spiritual gifts,

3d-gold-star-smalland most especially, if we give glory to God, are filled with awe of God, and we praise the one and only true and living God.

Notes:

2.  This is Sims Road Churches of Christ, a charismatic church, in Bundaberg, Qld., Australia.

Works consulted:

Aquinas, T.  1905 (transl. Rickaby, J.), Summa Contra Gentiles [Online], Available from: http://www.nd.edu/Departments/Maritain/etext/gc.htm [26 June 2005].

Augustine, St. 2004, The City of God, New Advent, Church Fathers, by K. Knight, [Online], Available from: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/120122.htm [25 June 2005].

Carson, D. A. 1991, The Gospel According to John, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England/William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Come Let Us Reason 2002, ‘The Rich mans prayer  is answered!  Reinhard Bonnke raises the dead,’ available from: http://www.letusreason.org/popteac13.htm [28 June 2005].

Crossan, J. D. 1998, The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happen ed in the Years Immediately after the Execution of Jesus, HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco.

Deere, J. 1993, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit: A Former Dallas Seminary Professor Discovers That God Speaks and Heals Today, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Geisler, N. 2002, Systematic Theology (vol. 1), BethanyHouse, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Grudem, W. 1994, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England.

Jackson, W. 2000, ‘Science and Miracles’, Christian Courier: Penpoints [Online], January 24, 2000, Available from: http://www.christiancourier.com/penpoints/scienceMiracles.htm [26 June 2005].

MacArthur, J. n.d., ‘Spiritual Gifts: The Temporary Sign Gifts – Miracles’: 1 Corinthians 12:10, Tape GC1856 [Online], T. Capoccia,Bible Bulletin Board, Available from: http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/sg1856.htm [26 June 2005].

Morris, L. 1971, The Gospel According to John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament, F. F. Bruce, gen. ed.), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Russell, B. 1953, ‘What is an agnostic?’, Available from: http://humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/humftp/E-text/Russell/agnostic.htm [6 May 2007]

Spiceland, J. D. 1984, ‘Miracles’, in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. W. A. Elwell, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, pp. 723-724.

Strauss, D. F. 1860 (transl. Evans, M.), The Life of Jesus Critically Examined [Online], Calvin Blanchard, New York, Available from: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/strauss/ [26 June 2005].

Warfield, B. B. 1918, 1972, Counterfeit Miracles, The Banner of Truth Trust, London.

 

Copyright © 2007 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date: 9 October 2015.