Archive for April, 2016

Who can be reconciled to God?

Saturday, April 30th, 2016


(image courtesy

By Spencer D Gear PhD

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

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

Let’s check out some evidence.

1. Some examples from church history

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

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

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

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


(copy of icon of Athanasius, courtesy Wikipedia)

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

1.2 Augustine (354-430)

clip_image004(image of Augustine, courtesy Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.3 John Calvin (1509-1564)

clip_image006(painting, John Calvin by Hans Holbein,, image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

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

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

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

1.4 The Remonstrance

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

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

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

1.5 The Synod of Dort[6]

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

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

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

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

1.6 John Wesley (1703-1791)[7]

clip_image008(John Wesley image courtesy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

clip_image010(C H Spurgeon painting courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Spurgeon is adamant about his view of the atonement:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

clip_image013(photo R C Sproul, courtesy Wikipedia)

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

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

Elsewhere Sproul did articulate his theology of limited atonement:

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

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

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

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

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

2. What did the early church fathers teach?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Mosaic of Ambrose, courtesy Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

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

3. What’s the biblical evidence?

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

clip_image020Is this verse forced into limited atonement theology?

clip_image020[1]Unlimited atonement by Jesus

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

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

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

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

clip_image020[6]Can world not mean world?

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

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

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

4. Salvation offered to all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you think he would react?

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

My comeback was:[36]

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would the response be? He wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

5. Who are under God’s wrath?

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

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

Also, regarding what is necessary to receive salvation:

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

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

The come back was:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Logical fallacy in action

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

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

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

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

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

7. Conclusion

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

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


(image courtesy

8. Works consulted

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

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

Lindstrom, H n d. Wesley and sanctification. On Craig L Adams website. Available at: (Accessed 29 April 2016).

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

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

Rhodes, R n d. The extent of the atonement: Limited atonement versus unlimited atonement. Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries (online). Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2016).

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

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

Wiley, H O 1952. Christian theology, vol 2 (online). Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City. Chapter 24 on ‘The atonement: Its nature and extent’, is available from Nampa, Idaho: Northwestern Nazarene University, Wesley Center Online, at: (Accessed 29 April 2016).

Wood, D C 2007. John Wesley’s use of the atonement. The Asbury Journal 62(2), 55-70. Available at: (Accessed 28 April 2016).


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

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

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

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

[4] From Calvin’s commentary, Titus chapter 2. Available at: (Accessed 29 April 2016).

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

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

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

[8] See CCEL, John Wesley, available at: (Accessed 28 April 2016).

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

[10] Rev C H Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, The Spurgeon Archive, ‘Particular Redemption’. Available at: (Accessed 29 April 2016).

[11] Rev C H Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, The Spurgeon Archive, The Death of Christ, Sermon No 173. Available at: (Accessed 29 April 2016).

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

[13] Birth date from Curriculum Vitae, Baylor University. Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2016).

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

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

[16] Birth date from ‘Introducing Dr. R. C. Sproul’, Ligonier Ministries 2016. Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[17] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Clement of Alexandria). Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2016).

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

[19] Lifespan dates, The Catholic Encyclopedia (2012. s v Eusebius of Caesarea). Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[20] Lifespan dates, The Catholic Encyclopedia (2012. s v St.. Athanasius). Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[21] See Ron Rhodes (n d).

[22] Lifespan dates, The Catholic Encyclopedia (2012. s v St. Cyril of Jerusalem). Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[23] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Cyril of Alexandria). Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[24] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Gregory of Nazianzen). Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[25] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Basil the Great). Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2016).

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

[27] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Ambrose). Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2016).

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

[29] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Augustine). Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[30] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Prosper of Aquitaine). Available at: (Accessed 20 April 2016).

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

[32] Christian, Apologetics & Theology, ‘No conditions to be reconciled’, Jim Parker#78. Available at: (Accessed 22 April 2016).

[33] Ibid., beloved57#80.

[34] Ibid., OzSpen#102.

[35] Ibid., beloved57#103.

[36] Ibid., OzSpen#107.

[37] Ibid., beloved57#115.

[38] Ibid., OzSpen#117.

[39] Ibid., beloved57#105.

[40] Ibid., OzSpen#109.

[41] Ibid., beloved57#114.

[42] Ibid., OzSpen#118.

[43] Ibid., beloved57#113.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid., OzSpen#119.


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

God is timeless but acts in time

Saturday, April 16th, 2016


(image courtesy

By Spencer D Gear

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

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

I met one person online who wrote:

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

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

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

No time in God’s being

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

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

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

Systematic theologian, Henry Thiessen, wrote that

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

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

Then came this opposition:

Hundreds of verses oppose such a view

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

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

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

My three points are untrue

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

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

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

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

Brilliant, basic Christian theology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wrong philosophical thinking!

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

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

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

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

It doesn’t belong in a Baptist forum

What kind of response would you expect from him?

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

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

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

All Scripture is from God – including the Psalms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His assessment is:

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

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

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

William Lane Craig, therefore, concluded:

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


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

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

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

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

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


Works consulted

Craig, W L 1996. A Critique of Grudem’s Formulation and Defense of the Doctrine of Divine Eternity. Philosophia Christi, 19, 33-38. Available at Reasonable Faith,[14] (Accessed 11 July 2015).

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

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

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

Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan).

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


[1] Job8#28, Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Baptists?’, June 27, 2015, available at: (Accessed 11 July 2015).

[2] Ibid., classicalhero#47.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#52.

[4] Ibid., PrincetonGuy#53.

[5] Ibid., PrincetonGuy#64.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#55.

[7] Ibid., nonaeroterraqueous#56.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen#57.

[9] Ibid., PrincetonGuy#58.

[10] Ibid., OzSpen#59.

[11] Ibid., PrincetonGuy#60.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen#65.

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

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


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

Should Christians love their enemies by using guns?

Monday, April 11th, 2016

By Spencer D Gear PhD

[The shooters’ Ford Expedition SUV, involved in the shootout. Released by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, photo courtesy Wikipedia]

How do you think the USA or any other country can prevent or stop mass shootings? Is it possible to live peacefully with others, without having guns for defence?

What provoked this kind of discussion was the horrible massacre of people at San Bernardino CA, USA. Fourteen people were shot dead and 21 were wounded on December 2, 2015, according to the Los Angeles Times article, ‘San Bernardino shooting victims: Who they were’ (17 December 2015). Those who shot the victims were a Sunni Muslim couple who lost their lives in the massacre, shot by police. See ‘They met online, built a life in San Bernardino — and silently planned a massacre’ (Los Angeles Times, 5 December 2015).

It should not be surprising that someone would start a thread on a Christian forum with this title, ‘How Can The U.S.A. Reduce Mass Shootings?’[1]

Standard pro-guns responses

Related imageSince my family and I have lived in USA and Canada for 7 years, we learned how much some Americans love their guns. Some of our Christian friends had guns and would not live without them.

Here are some of the pro-gun responses on that Christian forum:

clip_image002 ‘Gun control will take guns from those who abide by the law. Do you really think bad guys, felons, creeps will say “o i cant (sic) have a gun it is against the law” do you really?’[2]

clip_image002[1] ‘Well I see it like this; If there are 20 people in a place and 10 have a concealed weapon on them and three or four terrorist come in the terrorist are going to lose. if one wont stand and fight they do not deserve liberty and freedom’.[3]

clip_image002[2] ‘While I do agree that we should “fight” it, in some ways, spiritually – we can’t win this without fighting back, in a few ways, that are not spiritual but physical’.[4]

clip_image002[3] ‘Remove legally owned guns from law-abiding citizens, and the criminals still have the guns, with access to more. The same goes for ammo’.[5]

clip_image002[4] ‘It’s all about power. The powerful prey upon the weak. If you have a gun then one type of predator will avoid you but another one will seek to destroy you.
In America 4.5 out of 10 (at a minimum) have a firearm. (There are some that do but refuse to admit that they have one.)
So about half the citizens are armed’.[6]

Massacre at San Bernardino

What happened at San Bernardino CA in the late morning of 2 December 2015? The Los Angeles Times reported on 2 December that a male and a female who were dressed in black masks and tactical gear – armed with long guns and pistols – ‘entered a holiday party for county health workers in San Bernardino as it was in full swing. Before they fled, they had killed 14 people and wounded 17[7] others’.

Four hours later, as fearful residents were ordered to stay home and scores of officers swarmed the streets, authorities chased a black SUV carrying two suspects from a home in the nearby city of Redlands. As TV news stations broadcast live overhead, the chase spilled back onto San Bernardino’s streets, where authorities and the suspects traded gunfire.

When it was over, a man and woman connected to the assault were dead. One body lay in the street, blood pooling. Another was recovered from the vehicle. A police officer also was wounded in the firefight but is expected to survive (Serrano 2015).

The New York Times reported that the perpetrators of the terrorist act, ‘Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik met online and married two years ago, after he presented himself on a Muslim dating site as a devout young man who liked to fix cars and memorize the Quran’ (Nagourney et al 2015).

After the shooting, the couple escaped in a rented vehicle but four hours later police located them and they were killed in a shootout. ‘They died in a crush of bullets in a brutal face-off with the police’ The husband (Farook) was born in Illinois and raised in Southern California. His wife (Malik) was born in Pakistan and recently was living in Saudi Arabia’ (Nagourney et al 2015).

This slaughter and injuries have reignited the USA debate over guns.

Enter an Aussie with the Port Arthur solution

Tasmanian town locator PortArthur.gif(location of Port Arthur where majority of killings occurred, map courtesy Wikipedia)


It was on 28-29 April 1996 that there was a massacre of 35 people at Port Arthur, a former prison colony, and now centre for tourism on the south-eastern coast of Tasmania, Australia. Also, 23 other people were wounded. A 28-year-old, Martin Bryant from the Hobart suburb of New Town, was found guilty and received 35 life sentences. There is no possibility that he will be paroled (Hester 1996; CNN 1996).




Image result for photo of gun buyback Australia public domain

(photo of guns bought back, courtesy

As a result of this massacre, the Australian government led by Prime Minister John Howard at that time implemented a buyback of guns. ‘A  national firearm buyback scheme was progressively implemented from September 1996 and ran for 12 months. This was supported by a national firearm amnesty in which people in possession of illegal firearms could hand them in without penalty’ (Ozanne-Smith et al 2004). This buyback took in 660,959 firearms (Hope 2014).

As many USA folks on the forum were discussing the need to obtain and use guns, I dared to raise another perspective that was not much appreciated.[8]

Why don’t you take a read of this article in The New York Times from 4 December 2015, ‘How a Conservative-Led Australia Ended Mass Killings‘.

There is a way to fix most of it, but the sinful human heart will constantly challenge it.

A biblical answer is found in Romans 13:1-7 (ESV):

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed.?

If the USA government had the will like the Australian government has, it could implement anti-gun laws like we have. But the gun lobby will resist like they did in Australia. But we’ve had no massacres since we implemented these laws.

Nevertheless, ISIL could change that with its suicide bombs.

Predictably, someone came back with a view that

1. Gun control is a flawed policy

He linked to the article, ‘Australia: More violent crime despite gun ban’ (Nemerov 2009). This article claims:

It is a common fantasy that gun bans make society safer…. In 2002–five years after enacting its gun ban–the Australian Bureau of Criminology acknowledged there is no correlation between gun control and the use of firearms in violent crime: “The percentage of homicides committed with a firearm continued its declining trend since 1969.”

Even the head of Australia’s Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Don Weatherburn, acknowledged that the gun ban had no significant impact on the amount of gun-involved crime: There has been a drop in firearm-related crime, particularly in homicide, but it began long before the new laws and has continued on afterwards. I don’t think anyone really understands why…. gun control is a flawed policy.

Will Oremus (2012) has responded to this kind of reaction:

What happened next has been the subject of several academic studies. Violent crime and gun-related deaths did not come to an end in Australia, of course. But as the Washington Post’s Wonkblog pointed out in August [2012?], homicides by firearm plunged 59 percent between 1995 and 2006, with no corresponding increase in non-firearm-related homicides. The drop in suicides by gun was even steeper: 65 percent. Studies found a close correlation between the sharp declines and the gun buybacks. Robberies involving a firearm also dropped significantly. Meanwhile, home invasions did not increase, contrary to fears that firearm ownership is needed to deter such crimes. But here’s the most stunning statistic. In the decade before the Port Arthur massacre, there had been 11 mass shootings in the country. There hasn’t been a single one in Australia since.

There have been some contrarian studies about the decrease in gun violence in Australia, including a 2006 paper that argued the decline in gun-related homicides after Port Arthur was simply a continuation of trends already under way. But that paper’s methodology has been discredited, which is not surprising when you consider that its authors were affiliated with pro-gun groups.

Live peacefully with everyone

Let’s examine Rom 12:18 (ESV) in context: ‘If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all’.[9]

In Rom 12 we are dealing with living life in presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1-2), how to demonstrate gifts of grace (Rom 12:3-7) and how to live out the Christian life (Rom 12:8-21). Rom 12:18 is in this latter section that includes ‘bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse’ (Rom 12:14) and ‘repay no one evil for evil’ (Rom 12:17). Romans 12:18 (ESV) states, ‘If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all’.

The close connection of Rom 12:17, Rom 12:18 and Rom 12:19 should be self evident. These verses exhort believers not to engage in behaviour that has a negative impact on them. From v. 17 we learn that ‘no one’ should be paid evil by us for evil done by them. In v. 18, we are to live peaceably ‘with all’. What did Jesus urge upon us according to Matt 5:9, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God’?

Image result for peace public domainFrom the context of Rom 12:18, we don’t know the specifics of whether there was a situation in the church of Rome that caused the kind of teaching of Rom 12:18, but Rom 12:14 is clear enough that we should be blessing those who persecute us. Could these Roman believers have been experiencing persecution and needed this instruction? Could be!

Jesus made it clear that ‘I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33). Paul in Rom 12:18 is acknowledging that for the Christian, conflict is not possible to avoid, but he adds this double qualification, ‘If possible, so far as it depends on you’ – leave peaceably. I, as a believer, have a responsibility to live at peace with those who oppose me.

The application is that Paul is saying that persecution is inevitable but he doesn’t want Christians to use this certainty of opposition to them and their faith to be an opportunity for them to engage in behaviour that needlessly inflames the conflict. He doesn’t want us to see the unavoidable persecution and opposition as a reason for giving up on a positive witness to those who are opposing us.

It may be impossible for the Christian to live peacefully with all people. Christians may be attacked by evil people for their proclamation of the Gospel, truth and the good. In those circumstances, ‘if possible’ the Christian is to be a pacifist while he or she may be an activist for Christ and the truth. The Christian is to start no strife or hostility. It is the sinful flesh that initiates discord. Yes, the Christian will become involved when another initiates a brawl.

I cannot see Rom 12:18 being used as justification for opposing a gun wielding person by using your own gun. The context in Rom 12:14 indicates that the Christian is to ‘bless those who persecute you’.

Surely the next verse is a stunning answer to the issues some raise with regard to v. 18, ‘ Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”’ (Rom 12:19).

Using guns amounts to avenging ourselves. God’s instruction to us (my paraphrase) is: Don’t do it with a gun. Leave vengeance to the Lord. The Lord will repay with his own retribution.

Works consulted

CNN World News 1996. Australian gunman laughs as he admits killing 35 (online), November 7. Available at: (Accessed 12 April 2016).

Hester, J 1996. Aftermath of horror death toll climbs to 35; Tasmaniac is charged. New York Daily News (online), 30 April. Available at: (Accessed 12 April 2016).

Hope, E 2014. Kaechele tunes in to help old home with massive gun buyback. The Mercury (online), October 12. Available at: (Accessed 12 April 2016).

Lenski, R C H 1936. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (this was originally published by Lutheran Book Concern, assigned in 1961 to Augsburg Publishing House. This is a limited edition assigned to Hendrickson Publishers, Inc, second printing 2001).

Moo, D J 1996. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans. N B Stonehouse, F F Bruce & G D Fee (gen eds, each over various years). Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Nagourney, A; Lovett, I; Turkewitz, J; and Muellerdec, B 2015. Couple Kept Tight Lid on Plans for San Bernardino Shooting. The New York Times, December 3. Available at: (Accessed 19 December 2015).

Nemerov, H 2009. Australia experiencing more violent crime despite gun ban. Free Republic (online), 8 April. Available at: (Accessed 19 December 2015).

Oremus, W 2012. After a 1996 Mass Shooting, Australia Enacted Strict Gun Laws. It Hasn’t Had a Similar Massacre Since. Florida Sportsman (online), December 16. Available at: (Accessed 19 December 2015).

Ozanne-Smith, J; Ashby, K; Newstead, S; Stathakis, V Z & Clapperton, A 2004. Firearm related deaths: the impact of regulatory reform. Injury Prevention 10(5), 280-286 (online). Available at: (Accessed 12 April 2016).

Serrano, R A 2015. Authorities identify couple who they believe killed 14 at San Bernardino holiday party. Los Angeles Times (online), December 2. Available at: (Accessed 19 December 2015).


[1] Christian, December 6, 2015. iLOVE#1. Available at: (Accessed 19 December 2015).

[2] Ibid., reba#5.

[3] Ibid., Roro1972#9.

[4] Ibid., Pizza#18.

[5] Ibid., AirDancer#25.

[6] Ibid., JohnDB#55.

[7] This has been updated to 21 others (Nagourney et al 2015).

[8] This content is at Christian, OzSpen#43.

[9] I posted this to Christian, OzSpen#238. I gained some assistance from Moo (1996) and Lenski (1936).


Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 11 April 2016.


Authorship of the Book of Hebrews

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

By Spencer D Gear PhD

(image courtesy Eerdmans)

One of the most controversial books of the New Testament to determine authorship is the Book of Hebrews. Statements about who wrote it have included:[1]

coil-gold-sm ‘neither do we know by whom it was sent’;

coil-gold-sm The author was Clement of Rome;

coil-gold-sm ‘an Epistle to the Hebrews under the name of Barnabas’;

coil-gold-sm ‘who wrote the epistle, in truth, God knows’;

coil-gold-sm ‘Luke, who was an excellent advocate, translated it from Hebrew into that elegant Greek’;

coil-gold-sm One made a brilliant guess that Apollos was the author.

Let’s examine some of the evidence from church history. This is not meant to be an extensive examination, but an overview of some of the most prominent people suggested since the time of the early church fathers.

Some of the evidence

To accept Clement as the author of Book of Hebrews,[2] supposed author of First Clement (ca 80-140 AD), would place the dating of Hebrews in the late first century (Clement was martyred in ca. 100 AD). No author’s name is officially attached to First Clement. F F Bruce in his commentary on the Book of Hebrews has a sound discussion of the authorship options (Bruce 1964:xxxv-xlii).

Clement of Rome (ca. 30-100)[3]

Pope Clement I.jpg(image courtesy Wikipedia)


Of the authorship of Hebrews, Bruce wrote,

‘If we do not know for certain to whom the epistle was sent, neither do we know by whom it was sent. If Clement of Rome had any inkling of the author’s identity, he gives us no indication of it. But we can be quite sure that he himself was not the author, although it has been suggested at various times that he was. In spite of Clement’s familiarity with the epistle, he “turns his back on its central argument in order to buttress his own arguments about the Church’s Ministry by an appeal to the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament’ (Bruce 1964:xxxv-xxxvi).

Bruce cites T W Manson’s statement that describes Clement’s procedure in regard to the Church’s Ministry as ‘a retrogression of the worst kind’ (in Bruce 1964:xxxvi, n 57).



Barnabas.jpgTertullian (ca. 155/160-220)[4] appealed to the Epistle to the Hebrews as having greater authority than the Shepherd of Hermas, a second century writing, because of the eminence of the author of Hebrews. He wrote, ‘For there is extant withal an Epistle to the Hebrews under the name of Barnabas— a man sufficiently accredited by God, as being one whom Paul has stationed next to himself in the uninterrupted observance of abstinence’ (On Modesty ch 20).

(icon of St Barnabas, courtesy Wikipedia)





 Only God knows

The church father, Origen (ca. 185-254),[5] stated,

Origen3.jpg(image of Origen, courtesy Wikipedia)


‘If I gave my opinion, I should say that the thoughts are those of the apostle, but the diction and phraseology are those of some one who remembered the apostolic teachings, and wrote down at his leisure what had been said by his teacher. Therefore if any church holds that this epistle is by Paul, let it be commended for this. For not without reason have the ancients handed it down as Paul’s.

But who wrote the epistle, in truth, God knows. The statement of some who have gone before us is that Clement, bishop of the Romans, wrote the epistle, and of others that Luke, the author of the Gospel and the Acts, wrote it. But let this suffice on these matters’ (cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6.25.13-14).

Paul or Luke

Bruce further notes that from the Festal Letter of AD 367 [by Athanasius, Letter XXXIX],

from then on the Pauline ascription became traditional in the west as in the east, although commentators of critical judgment continued to speak of Clement of Rome or Luke as translator or editor of the epistle. Thus Thomas Aquinas says that “Luke, who was an excellent advocate, translated it from Hebrew into that elegant Greek…. Calvin thought of Luke or Clement of Rome as the author, not merely translator or editor; while Luther was apparently the first to make the brilliant guess that the author was Apollos – a guess which has commended itself to many since his day (Bruce 1964:xxxix).


Therefore, after 2,000 years no definitive answer has been found to the question: Who wrote the Book of Hebrews? I am happy to conclude that Hebrews was firmly established in the NT canon when the NT was affirmed in the late fourth century. F F Bruce rightly stated the issue:

The first ecclesiastical councils to classify the canonical books were both held in North Africa — at Hippo Regius in 393 and at Carthage in 397 — but what these councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities but to codify what was already the general practice of those communities (Bruce 1959:ch 3).

designRed-small See ‘The Canon of the New Testament’ by F F Bruce.

Works consulted

Bruce, F F 1959. ‘The canon of the New Testament’, Chapter 3 in The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (5th ed, Leicester: Intervarsity Press). Available at: (Accessed 5 April 2016).

Bruce, F F 1964. The Epistle to the Hebrews (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Cairns, E E 1981. Christianity through the Centuries, rev ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.


[1] These citations are identified below.

[2] I posted this information at Christianity Board, ‘Common Ground’, 5 April 2016, OzSpen#117. Available at: (Accessed 5 April 2016).

[3] Lifespan dates are from Cairns (1981:73).

[4] Lifespan dates from Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Tertullian).

[5] Lifespan dates from Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Origen).


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