Archive for the 'Bible' Category

Christians do not sin!

Saturday, March 25th, 2017


By Spencer D Gear PhD

Do Christians sin after they become believers in Christ? Of course they do! They commit some sinful actions. However, occasionally I meet a person – generally online – who uses the KJV to try to prove that Christians don’t sin.

I met another one of these and I tried to respond biblically to him/her.[1]

a. Christ made us sinless?

Let’s try somebody else on another Christian forum. He made the comment: ‘all theology is flawed’,[2] to which I responded, ‘That’s because you and I are flawed, imperfect, ineffective and sinful’.[3] His comeback was to cite 1 John 3:9 in the KJV and added:

We are joint heirs in the body of Christ by his Blood.

God cannot look upon sin ,therefore we through Christ have been redeemed from the flawed sin nature into the perfection of the body of Christ.
All men have sinned, but Christ has made us sinless by his Blood.[4]

This is false theology that ‘Christ has made us sinless by his Blood’, so I responded: ‘Christ has not made us sinless by his blood sacrifice. This sacrifice means I am justified by faith – declared righteous. It’s a legal position before God’.[5] Then I proceeded to provide the following exegesis for him.

1 John 3:9 in the King James Version of the Bible states: ‘Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God’.

Some have interpreted this to mean that Christians do not sin. I was responding to this statement:

I believe the issue is now, a matter of the fear that if/when we do presently sin, then how can we claim to have Christ? Or to rephrase, the problem is how is it that we could sin if Christ is in us? Wouldn’t we then never sin? If so, then none of us would need confess our sins and be cleansed. 1 John 1:9. James 5:16.[6]

b. Christians don’t sin continuously

Image result for clipart sinThe translators of the NIV have tried to convey the meaning of the Greek tenses in this verse, 1 John 3:9 (NIV): ‘No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God’.

The issues from 1 John 3:9 (NIV) are:

  1. We are talking about those who are born again (favourite language of John), those who are ‘born of God’. We are talking about Christians who have been changed from the inside by God.
  2. These Christians will not continue to sin as a lifestyle. They cannot go on sinning in that way. The Greek present tense verb indicates continuous action, so the NIV presents a good  translation. The thought in this verse is NOT that Christians will never commit acts of sin. It is not saying that born again believers will not sin but that they will not persist in sin.
  3. So, the born again believer cannot live in habitual sin.
  4. BUT, there is the possibility of committing occasional acts of sin – as I can testify in my own life. If we commit those acts of sin, 1 John 1:9 (NIV) tells us what we are to do: ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness’.

That’s my understanding of 1 John 3:9 and the Greek verb used. Also, it makes practical sense. We know from the preceding verse, 1 John 3:8 (ESV) that ‘whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil’. In other words, they have not been born of God.

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil (1 John 3:8).


[1] This was my reply on Christian 2015. 1 John 3:9 What does it mean? OzSpen#201, August 30. Available at: (Accessed 31 August 2015).

[2] Christian 2017. Bible translations (online), now faith#146, 23 March. Available at: (Accessed 25 March 2017).

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#149.

[4] Ibid., now faith#152.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen#154.

[6] Christian 2015. 1 John 3:9: What does it mean? childeye#200.


Copyright © 2017 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 January 2018.

No need to list Old Testament books in New Testament

Friday, October 28th, 2016


{\mathfrak {P}}46 is the earliest (nearly) complete manuscript of the epistles written by Paul in the new Testament (courtesy ‘biblical manuscript’, Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

This was an audacious request on a Christian forum that did not seem to indicate too much thought about the question: ‘Where in scripture does it tell us which books of the bible are to be included in the bible? (table of contents)’[1]

How should I respond?

1. No need to inform first century Christians

There was no need to tell the Christians of the first century.[2] They knew which books were included in the OT canon. That’s why Paul could say to the Berean Christians in Acts 17:11 (ESV): ‘Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so’. Which Scriptures?

Isn’t that amazing that the Book of Acts does not need to articulate a list of the Books of the OT so that the Berean Christians would know which books were in the OT and which were out of it? Paul did not have to list them and say, ‘Here is a list of the books contained in Scripture that you should use to check the authenticity and validity of my teaching’. They knew which books were in the OT canon.

And they did not include the Apocrypha in the Hebrew OT (Wayne Grudem).

In the four NT Gospels, I do not read that there was any dispute between Jesus and the Jewish leaders over the extent of the OT canon.

2. Persistence: No list of books in the canon

The forum fellow persisted in another thread: ‘Scripture does not give us a list of books that are to be in the Bible. How do we know we have the right books in the Bible? Scripture is silent about it’.[3]

My response was:[4]

Because the OT and NT do not give a list of books that are inspired of God to be included in the Bible does not mean that what we have is illegitimate. In fact, the word, Bible, appears nowhere in the Bible (that I’m aware of), so why are you supporting the use of the term, Bible?

However, God gave teachers to the church (1 Cor 12:28 ESV; Eph 4:11 ESV) who guide us through that process. These teachers themselves are not perfect in their understanding as Paul told the Bereans (Acts 17:11 ESV) that they were to check his teaching against the Scripture. Which Scripture? The OT. Paul didn’t say in Acts 17, here’s a list of the OT books that you need to use to check my teaching. They knew what they were as affirmed by the Jews.

3. Pseudo-gospels readily available

In the first century and beyond, there were plenty of fake gospels available. Do you want the pseudo-gospel of Peter (GPet) to be in the NT? It was rejected by the early church fathers because of its heretical teachings. It was found with the Qumran documents. It was mentioned by early church historian, Eusebius in his Church History (3.3.1-4; 3.25.6; and 6.12.3-6).

Why not also the Gospel of Thomas (written about mid to late second century)?[5]  If you read the Gospel of Thomas and compare it with each of the 4 Gospels in the NT, you will notice the marked difference in content.  I’d suggest a read of Nicholas Perrin’s, Thomas, the Other Gospel (Perrin 2007).  Perrin concludes his book with this comment:

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

If the Gospel of Thomas is good news for anybody, it is good news to those who are either intent on escaping the world or are already quite content with the way things are (Perrin 2007:139).

This Gospel of Thomas is a different Gospel, “a Christianized self-help philosophy” (Perrin 2007:139). See my article of assessment: Is the Gospel of Thomas genuine or heretical?

4. The walking, talking cross of Gospel of Peter

(walking, talking cross: image courtesy NT Blog, Mark Goodacre)


As for the Gospel of Peter [GPet], please read this assessment by C L Quarles (2006).  Here are a few grabs from Quarles’ critique of GPet:


Such compositional projection and retrojection [of GPet] are absent from the canonical Gospels. This suggests that the authors of the canonical Gospels were constrained to preserve faithfully the traditions about Christ, but that the author of GP felt free to exercise his imagination in creative historiography. The compositional strategy of projection suggests that the GP shares a common milieu with second-century pseudepigraphical works and casts doubt on [John Dominic] Crossan’s claim that the GP antedates the canonical Gospels….

Compositional strategies that were popular in the second century can readily explain how the author of the GP produced his narrative from the canonical Gospels….

The GP is more a product of the author’s creative literary imagination than a reflection of eyewitness accounts of actual events (Quarles 2006:116, 119).

Charles Quarles has an online assessment of GPet HERE.

Of the Gospel of Judas, the National Geographic reported:

Stephen Emmel, professor of Coptic studies at Germany’s University of Munster, analyzed the Gospel of Judas and submitted the following assessment.

“The kind of writing reminds me very much of the Nag Hammadi codices,” he wrote, referring to a famed collection of ancient manuscripts.

“It’s not identical script with any of them. But it’s a similar type of script, and since we date the Nag ‘Hammadi codices to roughly the second half of the fourth century or the first part of the fifth century, my immediate inclination would be to say that the Gospel of Judas was written by a scribe in that same period, let’s say around the year 400.”

Here is another assessment of the ‘other gospels’ in an article on ‘the historical reliability of the Gospels’ by James Arlandson. He wrote:

The Gnostic authors often borrowed the names of Jesus’ disciples to attach to their texts, such as the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Mary. The Gospel of Judas has been discovered, restored, and published most recently. Using the disciples’ names or other Biblical names gives the appearance of authority, but it is deceptive. The original disciples or Bible characters had nothing to do with these writings. The teaching of Jesus, the names of his disciples, and the four Gospels traveled well. Gnostics capitalized on this fame.

All of these (late) Gnostic documents would not be a concern to anyone but a few specialists. Yet some scholars, who have access to the national media and who write their books for the general public, imply that Gnostic texts should be accepted as equally valid and authoritative as the four canonical Gospels, or stand a step or two behind the Biblical Gospels. At least the Gnostic scriptures, so these scholars say today, could have potentially been elevated to the canon, but were instead suppressed by orthodox church leaders. (Orthodox literally means “correct or straight thinking,” and here it means the early church of Irenaeus and Athanasius, to cite only these examples).

This series challenges the claim that the Gnostic texts should be canonical or even a step or two behind the four Biblical Gospels. The Gnostic texts were considered heretical for good reason.

5. Reasons to reject ‘other gospels’

There are scholarly and practical reasons why the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter (GPet), the Gospel of the Ebionites, Gospel of Marcion, the Gospel of Judas, the Gospel of Mary and other pseudo-gospels were not chosen over the four NT Gospels.

I examined why some of the content of these pseudo-gospels are not included in the NT in my doctoral dissertation. Take a read of the Gospel of Peter (online) and it should become evident why such fanciful imagination is not included in the NT. This section of GPet states:

35 Now in the night whereon the Lord’s day dawned, as the soldiers were keeping guard two by two in every watch, 36 there came a great sound in the heaven, and they saw the heavens opened and two men descend thence, shining with (lit. having) a great light, and drawing near unto the sepulchre. 37 And that stone which had been set on the door rolled away of itself and went back to the side, and the sepulchre was

X. 38 opened and both of the young men entered in. When therefore those soldiers saw that, they waked up the centurion and the elders (for they also were there keeping 39 watch); and while they were yet telling them the things which they had seen, they saw again three men come out of the sepulchre, and two of them sustaining the other (lit. the 40 one), and a cross following, after them. And of the two they saw that their heads reached unto heaven, but of him that 41 was led by them that it overpassed the heavens. And they 42 heard a voice out of the heavens saying: Hast thou (or Thou hast) preached unto them that sleep? And an answer was heard from the cross, saying: Yea.

Here we have a walking and talking cross that came out of the sepulchre – fanciful nonsense! One does not have to be very astute to reject this kind of extra ‘gospel’, yet John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar believes GPet is the original Cross Gospel from which the other Gospels derived this information (Crossan 1994:154-155).

6. Questions about formation of the NT canon

I still have some questions about the formation of the NT canon that remain unanswered at this time. Historically, there was a partial list available, known as the Muratorian Canon (ca. AD 170-200).[6] My questions surround the process of formation of the canon that included the procedure used to determine if a book was theopneustos (breathed out by God – 2 Tim 3:16-17 ESV). I had questions about two church councils in the late third century that finally affirmed the NT canon.

Historical details include the following:

The first historical reference listing the exact 27 writings in the orthodox New Testament is in the Easter Letter of Athanasius in 367 AD. His reference states that these are the only recognized writings to be read in a church service. The first time a church council ruled on the list of “inspired” writings allowed to be read in church was at the Synod of Hippo in 393 AD. No document survived from this council – we only know of this decision because it was referenced at the third Synod of Carthage in 397 AD. Even this historical reference from Carthage, Canon 24, does not “list” every single document. For example, it reads, “the gospels, four books…” The only reason for this list is to confirm which writings are “sacred” and should be read in a church service. There is no comment as to why and how this list was agreed upon (Baker 2008).

Church historian, Earle Cairns, answers some of these issues with this assessment of the development of the list of books that became known as the NT:

People often err by thinking that the canon was set by church councils. Such was not the case, for the various church councils that pronounced upon the subject of the canon of the New Testament were merely stating publicly … what had been widely accepted by the consciousness of the church for some time. The development of the canon was a slow process substantially completed by A.D. 175 except for a few books whose authorship was disputed (Cairns 1981:118).

Cairns explained further why there was a delay in accepting certain NT books as canonical:

Apparently the Epistles of Paul were first collected by leaders in the church of Ephesus. This collection was followed by the collection of the Gospels sometime after the beginning of the second century. The so-called Muratorian Canon, discovered by Lodovico A. Muratori (1672-1750) in the Ambrosian Library at Milan, was dated about 180. Twenty-two books of the New Testament were looked upon as canonical. Eusebius about 324 thought that at least twenty books of the New Testament were acceptable on the same level as the books of the Old Testament. James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation were among the books whose place in the canon was still under consideration.[7] The delay in placing these was caused primarily by an uncertainty concerning questions of authorship. Athanasius, however, in his Easter letter of 367 to the churches under his jurisdiction as the bishop of Alexandria, listed as canonical the same twenty-seven books that we now have in the New Testament. Later councils, such as that at Carthage in 397, merely approved and gave uniform expression to what was already an accomplished fact generally accepted by the church over a long period of time. The slowness with which the church accepted Hebrews and Revelation as canonical is indicative of the care and devotion with which it dealt with this question (Cairns 1981:118-119).

Eusebius (ca. AD 265-330)[8] wrote this of the disputed and rejected NT writings:

3. Among the disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter, and those that are called the whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name.

4. Among the rejected writings must be reckoned also the Acts of Paul, and the so-called Shepherd, and the Apocalypse of Peter, and in addition to these the extant epistle of Barnabas, and the so-called Teachings of the Apostles; and besides, as I said, the Apocalypse of John, if it seem proper, which some, as I said, reject, but which others class with the accepted books (Eusebius 1890, 3.25.3-4).

7. An eminent church historian’s assessment

Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church is considered one of the most comprehensive expositions of church history by a near-contemporary scholar. He wrote:

The Jewish canon, or the Hebrew Bible, was universally received, while the Apocrypha added to the Greek version of the Septuagint were only in a general way accounted as books suitable for church reading, and thus as a middle class between canonical and strictly apocryphal (pseudonymous) writings. And justly; for those books, while they have great historical value, and fill the gap between the Old Testament and the New, all originated after the cessation of prophecy, and they cannot therefore be regarded as inspired, nor are they ever cited by Christ or the apostles.[9] (Schaff n.d., vol 3, § 118. Sources of Theology. Scripture and Tradition).

8. Which books were confirmed in the Hebrew OT?

Image result for picture Hebrew Bible public domain

Page from an 11th-century Aramaic Targum manuscript of the Hebrew Bible (Wikipedia)


Which books were included by the Jews in the Hebrew Bible?

I reject the inclusion of the Apocrypha (Deutero-Canonical books) in the OT. This is the position adopted by Roman Catholic authority, Jerome (ca. 347-420),[10] who, in his preface to the Vulgate version of the Apocrypha’s Book of Solomon stated that the church reads the apocryphal books ‘for example and instruction of manners’ but not to ‘apply them to establish any doctrine’. In fact, Jerome rejected Augustine’s unjustified acceptance of the Apocrypha.[11]

The Jewish scholars who met at Jamnia, ca. AD 90, did not accept the Apocrypha in the inspired Jewish canon of Scripture. The Apocrypha was not contained in the Hebrew Bible and Jerome knew it. In his preface to the Book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible, he rejected the apocryphal additions to Daniel, i.e. Bel and the Dragon, and Susanna.[12] Jerome wrote:

The stories of Susanna and of Bel and the Dragon are not contained in the Hebrew…. For this same reason when I was translating Daniel many years ago, I noted these visions with a critical symbol, showing that they were not included in the Hebrew…. After all, both Origen, Eusebius and Appolinarius, and other outstanding churchmen and teachers of Greece acknowledge that … these visions are not found amongst the Hebrews, and therefore they are not obliged to answer to Porphyry for these portions which exhibit no authority as Holy Scripture ” (in Geisler 2002:527, emphasis added).

The Protestant canon of 39 OT books, excluding the Apocrypha, coincides with the Hebrew 22 books of the OT.

There are many other reasons for rejecting the Apocrypha. Any reasonable person, who reads Tobit, and Bel and the Dragon, knows how fanciful they become when compared with the God-breathed Scripture.

Here are “Some reasons why the Deutero-Canonical material does not belong in the Bible“. Here are examples of theological and historical “Errors in the Deutero-Canonical” books. It was Jerome who introduced the change from calling these books the Apocrypha to Deutero-Canonical.

See my article, Should the Apocrypha be in the Bible?, that gives reasons why the Apocrypha should not be included in the Bible as Scripture.

9. Conclusion

There was no need for the apostles to provide the people of the first century with a list of the OT Books contained in Scripture. It was a given as Paul, the redeemed Pharisee, made evident with his comment to the Berean Christians in Acts 17:11 (ESV). In addition, the Jewish OT canon did not include the Deuterocanonical Books (the Apocrypha).

The Hebrew scholars who met at Jamnia about AD 90 confirmed the 22 OT books in the Hebrew canon of Scripture (which are 39 books in the Protestant canon).

There are good reasons why Gnostic and other gospels were not included by the teachers of the early Christian church in establishing the NT canon. A reading of the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Peter, Gospel of Judas, and other pseudo-gospels makes evident that fanciful, speculative, creative content was evidence that these ‘other gospels’ were not the genuine product to include in the NT.

At least 22-23 of the 27 NT books had been affirmed as authoritative for the canon by the late second century. The remainder were questioned because of uncertainty of authorship. However, by the end of the third century, all of the NT canonical books had been gathered and affirmed by church use.

10. Works consulted

Baker, R A 2008. How the New Testament canon was formed. Early Church History – CH101. Available at: (Accessed 25 October 2016).

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

Eusebius 1890. Church history. Tr by A C McGiffert. Ed by P Schaff & H Wace, from Nicene and Post-Nicene fathers, 2nd series, vol 1. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co. Rev & ed for New Advent by K Knight at: (Accessed 28 October 2016).

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

Kirby, P 2016. The Muratorian canon. Early Christian Writings (online), 28 October. Available at:

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

Quarles, C. L. 2006, The Gospel of Peter: Does it contain a precanonical resurrection narrative? in R B Stewart (ed), The resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N. T. Wright in dialogue, 106-120. Minneapolis: Fortress Press,

Schaff, P n.d. History of the Christian Church: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity, A.D. 311-600, vol 3. Available at: Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), (Accessed 25 October 2016).

11.  Notes

[1] Christianity Board 2016. When did the universal Church first mentioned in 110AD stop being universal? (online), tom55#231. Available at: (Accessed 10 October 2016).

[2] Ibid. This was my response as OzSpen#232.

[3] Christianity Board 2016. What Do You Think Would Have Happened If… (online), tom55#16. Available at: (Accessed 10 October 2016).

[4] Ibid., OzSpen#20.

[5] Perrin (2007:viii).

[6] Kirby (2016).

[7] Eusebius (1890, 3.25).

[8] Lifespan dates are from Cairns (1981:143).

[9] Heb. xi. 35 ff. probably alludes, indeed, to 2 Macc. vi. ff.; but between a historical allusion and a corroborative citation with the solemn he graphe legei there is a wide difference.

[10] Lifespan dates are from Cairns (1981:144).

[11] This information is from Geisler (2002:526).

[12] From Geisler (2002:527).


Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 October 2016.

Choose does not mean choice! Joshua 24:15

Saturday, October 8th, 2016

Image result for clipart Choice public domain

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Does this verse mean choice for or against God or gods?

‘And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord’ (Joshua 24:15 ESV).

A. When choose does not mean choice

I was sitting in the congregation of North Pine Presbyterian Church on Sunday, 11 September 2016, when the minister, Rev Paul Cornford, preached on Joshua 24. The title of his message was ‘The Covenant at Shechem’. When he got to Joshua 24:15, he stated, ‘“Choose this day” is a choice between false gods…. It is not a case of coming to the best God’.[1]

So ‘choose this day whom you will serve’ does not mean a choice as to which god/God you will choose to worship. It only applies to choosing among false gods, according to Rev Cornford. Below we will check to examine whether this preacher accurately engaged in correct exegesis of this Scripture in context.

After the service, I challenged the preacher over his failure to exegete the verse in context. He engaged in eisegesis, imposing his Calvinistic meaning on the text.

What is exegesis?  ”Exegesis is the process of interpreting a text of Scripture” (Grudem 1994:109).  The problem any interpreter of the Bible faces is that “everyone who interprets a passage of the Bible stands in a present time while he examines a document that comes from a past time.  He must discover what each statement meant to the original speaker or writer and to the original hearers or readers, in their own present time” (Mickelsen 1963:55).  This is the process of exegesis.  It is critical for the understanding of any text written in the past.

What is eisegesis? See Exegesis v. Eisegesis. Here is a quote from Dr. James White’s forth-coming book “Pulpit Crimes” on eisegesis, which indicates that it means:

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

James White is a Calvinist and among the chief proponents of eisegesis are Calvinists who impose their Reformed Calvinistic meaning on a text with doctrinaire repetition.

If one wants to convey this message to a contemporary audience, the speaker engages in the discipline of exposition, but exegesis precedes exposition: “He must see what meaning these statements had in the past, but he must also show what is their meaning for himself and for those to whom he conveys these ideas” (Mickelsen 1963:55).

B. Calvinism and no choice in choosing God

Image result for Calvinism public domainTo understand why Rev. Cornford takes this line, it is consistent with his 5-point Calvinist theology. You can listen to his sermons on TULIP Calvinism on the church’s website [Note: The sermons are no longer available on the website. Rev Cornford committed adultery and has been defrocked from the Presbyterian ministry in Australia.]

However, this article is not designed to respond to the following teaching of Calvinism, but to examine Joshua 24:15 in context. What does it teach regarding a person’s ability or inability to choose to serve God?

What does Calvinism believe about choice in salvation and/or serving God? These are only a few examples from leading Calvinists:

clip_image002 ‘In order for one who is dead to the things of God to come alive to God, something must be done to him and for him. Dead men cannot make themselves come alive’ (Sproul 1986:114). Norman Geisler describes this comment as an example of ‘the extreme Calvinists’ view’ (Geisler 1999:57).

I have responded to the extreme Calvinistic position in:

clip_image004 Who can be reconciled to God?

clip_image002[1] Loraine Boettner, a leading Calvinist of the past, could not state the Calvinistic position clearer:

Man is a free agent but he cannot originate the love of God in his heart. His will is free in the sense that it is not controlled by any force outside of himself. As the bird with a broken wing is “free” to fly but not able, so the natural man is free to come to God but not able. How can he repent of his sin when he loves it? How can he come to God when he hates Him?…

We read that that “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned,” I Cor. 2:14. We are at a loss to understand how any one can take a plain common sense view of this passage of Scripture and yet contend for the doctrine of human ability’ (Boettner 1932:62, 63).

These articles of mine cover some of this opposition to ‘whosoever will may come’ (John 3:16).

clip_image004[1] Do Arminians believe in election and total depravity?

clip_image004[2] Does regeneration precede faith?

clip_image002[2] In this one paragraph, John Calvin emphasised double-predestination twice:

‘The predestination by which God adopts some to the hope of life, and adjudges others to eternal death’….

‘Each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death’ (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.21.5, emphasis added).

My replies to this view are in,

clip_image004[3] Did John Calvin believe in double predestination?

clip_image004[4] God’s foreknowledge and predestination/election to salvation

Based on this kind of Calvinistic theology, there could be no way that any human being would be able to choose to follow God. That’s because of Calvinism’s bias against it with its unusual understandings of,

  • The meaning of ‘dead in trespasses and sin’;
  • Regeneration precedes faith;
  • Total depravity;
  • Unbelievers are all predestined to damnation (not all Calvinists accept this view that is endorsed by John Calvin himself).

C. What does Joshua 24:15 teach?

Let’s develop a textual outline of Joshua 24:14-28 so that we obtain some context. The heading for this section in the English Standard Version is ‘Choose Whom You Will Serve’. When I prepare to preach an expository sermon (which is my normal approach to preaching from any biblical section), I begin by preparing a textual outline,

1. Textual outline: Joshua 24:14-28

This is based on the ESV text:

1. (A command to the Israelites) fear the Lord and serve him (v. 14);

2. (Command to) put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River (v. 14);

3. (Command to) serve the Lord (v. 14);

4. If it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve (v 15)

5. Choose the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites (v 15);

6. But as for me [i.e. Joshua] and my house, we will serve the Lord (v 15).

7. The people’s answer was: ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods’ (v 16);

8. The Lord our God brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of slavery, and who performed the great signs in our sight and preserved us (v 17);

9. The Lord drove out all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God (v. 18);

10. Joshua said: You are not able to serve the Lord for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God. He will not forgive your transgressions or your sins (v. 19).

11. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good (v. 20);

12. The people said to Joshua, ‘No, we will serve the Lord’ (v. 21).

13. Joshua said: ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him’. The Israelites agreed: ‘We are witnesses’ (v. 22).

14. Joshua said: ‘Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel’ (v. 23);

15. The people said to Joshua: ‘The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey’ (v. 24);

16. Joshua made a covenant with the Israelite people that day at Shechem to put in place statutes and rules (v. 25);

17. Joshua wrote words in the Book of the Law of God and set it up with a stone (v. 26);

18. Joshua said to all the people that the stone would be a witness against us/you lest you deal falsely with your God (v. 27).

19. Joshua sent the people away to their own inheritance (v.28).

2. Homiletical outline: Joshua 24:14-28

This is designed to summarise what the text is saying and grab the attention of the congregation or readers with relevant information that comes directly out of the text. This is the outline for a sermon that I will preach (not prepared yet) on this text. It may take 2 sermons of 30 minutes each to cover this material.

a. God does not deceive you: A command means you can do it (v. 14)

  • Fear the Lord
  • Serve him
  • Put away the other gods.

God would not be commanding you to do it if you were incapable of acting on the instruction.

b. Honest! You can choose today which God or gods you will serve (v. 15)

  • The choice is yours: Choose gods or THE GOD

c. They chose the Lord (vv. 15-18)

d. You are not able to serve the Lord (v 19)

  • Is this a contradiction? (You can choose the Lord, v. 15; you can’t serve the Lord, v. 19? You have chosen the Lord, v. 22)
  • Why this inability? (v. 19)
  • Why it happens – when you forsake the Lord (v. 20)

e. We will serve the Lord (v. 21)

f. KEY VERSE FOR INTERPRETATION: You have chosen the Lord (v. 22)

g. You can put away the foreign gods and serve the Lord (vv. 23-24)

h. Signing the covenant to serve the Lord (vv. 25-28)

D. Choosing God or gods

Image result for picture of Canaanite gods public domain(El, the Canaanite creator god, courtesy wikimedia.commons)


What does this outline demonstrate regarding the ability to choose God or other gods?

1.   The command to fear the Lord, serve Him and put away the other gods infers that people are able to choose to do it (v. 14).

2.   You can choose to serve other gods or the Lord (v. 15).

John Calvin’s commentary on Joshua 24:15 is:

By giving them the option to serve God or not, just as they choose, he loosens the reins, and gives them license to rush audaciously into sin. What follows is still more absurd, when he tells them that they cannot serve the Lord, as if he were actually desirous of set purpose to impel them to shake off the yoke. But there is no doubt that his tongue was guided by the inspiration of the Spirit, in stirring up and disclosing their feelings. For when the Lord brings men under his authority, they are usually willing enough to profess zeal for piety, though they instantly fall away from it. Thus they build without a foundation (Calvin’s Commentaries: Joshua 24, Bible Hub).

Calvin gives them the ‘option’ to serve God or not – as they choose – but he considers this one where Joshua ‘loosens the reins’, giving them the opportunity to rush into sin.

3.   They chose the Lord (vv. 15-18).

4.   After the previous and following verses, verse 19 seems like a contradiction, ‘You are not able to serve the Lord’. This is especially a paradox in light of verse 22, ‘You have chosen the Lord’. Verse 19 is an irony with Joshua 24:31 (ESV) in view, ‘Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel’. Keil & Delitzsch (n d, vol 2:231) consider that ‘“ye cannot serve Jehovah” … in the state of mind in which ye are at present, or “by your own resolution only, and without the assistance of divine grace, without solid and serious conversion from all idols, and without true repentance and faith” (J. H. Michaelis)’. What also is puzzling is the statement, ‘He will not forgive your transgressions’, because there are many affirmations in the OT that God is a forgiving God. See Exodus 34:6-7a where the Lord revealed to Moses, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty….’ Surely this is meant to be hyperbole to demonstrate that God will not deal lightly with sin.[2]

5.   Verse 22 gets to the crux of interpretation for this passage. It leaves no doubt as to what the meaning is in context: ‘You have chosen the Lord’. No matter what the opposition from the Calvinistic camp, anybody anywhere can choose to serve pagan gods or the Lord God.


  • since Christ’s death on Golgotha for the sins of the world (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2), people need to be drawn by God the Father:
  • ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day’ (John 6:44 ESV).
  • How many will be drawn and how many will be forsaken? Jesus was clear about that: ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself’ (John 12:32 ESV).

So, since Christ’s death and resurrection, all people are drawn to Jesus but many reject his offer of salvation. Why?

  • ‘So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak?’ (Heb 2:3 NLT).
  • Romans 1:18 (NLT) gives us further insight into why people reject God’s evidence: ‘But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness’.

How did John Calvin understand Joshua 24:22. In his commentary on this verse he stated:

We now understand what the object was at which Joshua had hitherto aimed. It was not to terrify the people and make them fall away from their religion, but to make the obligation more sacred by their having of their own accord chosen his government, and betaken themselves to his guidance, that they might live under his protection. They acknowledge, therefore, that their own conscience will accuse them, and hold them guilty of perfidy [i.e. deceitfulness], if they prove unfaithful…. But although they were not insincere in declaring that they would be witnesses to their own condemnation, still how easily the remembrance of this promise faded away, is obvious from the Book of Judges. For when the more aged among them had died, they quickly turned aside to various superstitions. By this example we are taught how multifarious are the fallacies which occupy the senses of men, and how tortuous the recesses in which they hide their hypocrisy and folly, while they deceive themselves by vain confidence (Calvin’s Commentaries: Joshua 24:22, Bible Hub).

He did not deny that the Israelites were in a situation of ‘having of their own accord chosen his [God’s] government’.

6.   The Israelites could choose to put away the foreign gods in their midst and serve the Lord. This they did and signed a covenant of commitment (Josh 24:23-28).

D. Conclusion

A doctrinaire, Calvinistic, presuppositional view of no choice in salvation is what drove Rev Paul Cornford, an evangelical Presbyterian, to reject the clear teaching of Joshua 24:15 in context. ‘Choose this day whom you will serve’ means that the Israelites could choose to serve other gods or the Lord God.

Joshua 24:22 drives the interpretation home, ‘You have chosen the Lord, to serve him’ (ESV). Other translations are as affirmative:

clip_image006 ‘You have chosen to serve the Lord’ (NLT);

clip_image006[1] ‘Ye have chosen you the Lord, to serve him’ (KJV);

clip_image006[2] ‘You have chosen for yourselves the Lord, to serve Him’ (NASB);

clip_image006[3]’You have chosen the Lord, to serve him’ (NRSV);

clip_image006[4]’You have chosen to serve the Lord’ (NIV);

clip_image006[5]’You have chosen the Lord for yourselves’ (NKJV);

clip_image006[6]’You have chosen to serve the Lord’ (ISV).

Image result for clipart salvationExegesis and exposition are clear for Joshua 24:15 and its context. Norman Geisler reached a consistent position on this verse and related verses:

God desires that all unsaved people will change their mind (i.e., repent), for “he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Like the alternatives of life and death that Moses gave to Israel, God says, ‘Choose life’ (cf. Deut. 30:19). Joshua said to his people: “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Josh. 24:15). God sets morally and spiritually responsible alternatives before human beings, leaving the choice and responsibility to them. Jesus said to the unbelievers of His day: “If you do not believe that I am … you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:24), which implies they could have and should have believed.

Over and over, “belief” is declared to be something we are accountable to embrace: “We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69); “Who is he sir? … Tell me so that I may believe in him” (John 9:36); “Then the man said, ‘Lord, I believe, ‘ and he worshiped him” (John 9:38); “Jesus answered, ‘I did tell you but you do not believe’” (John 10:25). This is why Jesus said, ‘Whoever believes in [me] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18) [Geisler 2004:130, emphasis in original].

E.   Works consulted

Boettner, L 1932. The reformed doctrine of predestination. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company.

Delitzsch, F. n.d., Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon in C. F. Keil & F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes (vol. 6). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William E. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

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

Geisler, N 2004. Systematic theology: Sin, salvation, vol 3. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

Grudem, W. 1994. Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Keil, C F & Delitzsch, F n d. Commentary on the Old Testament: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I & II Samuel, two vols in 1, vol 2. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Madvig, D H 1992. Joshua, in F E Gaebelein (gen ed), The expositor’s Bible commentary, vol 3, 239-371. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

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

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

F.   Notes

[1] I take notes in an exercise book for sermons I hear and these comments are based on the notes I took for the sermon on 11 September 2016, 9.00am service, North Pine Presbyterian Church, 55 Old Dayboro Rd., Petrie Qld. 4502, Australia. My wife and I have attended this church for 5 years at the time of writing this article (8 October 2016).

[2] This was the interpretation by Madvig (1992:369).


Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 March 2018.

James 2:21-26 (ESV): It’s true you can be justified by works.

Sunday, August 28th, 2016

 By Spencer D Gear PhD [1]

It’s true clip_image002

You can be justified by works clip_image004

Is James a preacher of falsehood?clip_image006

1. Introduction

It was early May 2015 and our backyard was flooding with water pouring onto it from the neighbour’s property. I needed sandbags to stop the water from coming into our house. To go to the Council’s works’ depot, I drove down Boundary Rd., North Lakes towards Deception Bay Rd. I came to the creek and the water was flooded over the causeway. Instead of trying to cross, not knowing the depth of the water, I turned around. Was I justified in not crossing the flooded causeway? Of course!

In my writing of this paragraph of my sermon, I have used the ‘justify’ format so that my writing is carefully aligned on the right and left margins. I have used the “justify” format function of MS Word for this paragraph.


Daniel morcombe.jpg(Daniel Morcombe photograph, courtesy Wikipedia)


DANIEL Morcombe, 13, went missing while waiting for a bus in 2003 [on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast]. It was almost eight years before his remains were found’. In 2014, Brett Peter Cowan faced trial charged with his murder’.[1a]

ABC News (Australia) reported on 15 March 2014 that

Brett Peter Cowan has been sentenced to life in jail with a minimum non-parole period of 20 years for the murder of Sunshine Coast teenager Daniel Morcombe.

Cowan was … found guilty of murder, indecent treatment of a child and interfering with a corpse.[2]

He was sentenced in Brisbane’s Supreme Court by Justice Roslyn Atkinson. Was the Justice justified in sentencing Cowan to life in prison?

Here I have used the English word, ‘justified’, to mean 3 different things:

Flower24 Justified in not crossing a flooded road;

Flower24 A paragraph of my typed sermon justified as part of its written format;

Flower24 A justice in court justified in inflicting punishment on a criminal, based on Australian law.

Please keep these examples in mind as we examine the language of this passage from James 2:21-26.

(a) Abraham justified by works (v. 21);

(b) Rahab, the prostitute, justified by works (v. 25);

(c) ‘You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone’ (v. 24);

(d) Then Paul has the audacity to state this of believers: ‘Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rom 5:1 ESV).

1.1 A quick review (James 2:14-20)

Since I preached on James 2:14-20 a month ago, you may have forgotten some of the content. James 2:17 gives a quick summary of this passage: ‘So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead’

1.1.1 Faith by itself isn’t enough.

1.1.2 Unless faith produces good deeds, it is not the real thing.

1.1.3 Faith without good deeds is dead or useless.

True faith is demonstrated by the good works that follow faith. James is not teaching that good works are need for you to obtain genuine faith. But if you have fair dinkum faith, we will see that unseen faith by the seen good works that you do. That’s the fundamental teaching in James 2:14-20.

Now to understand what James is saying that caused Luther so much heartache. It is not that difficult to understand if we keep this in mind the negative aspect in vv 14-20 – faith without works is useless. Now James turns to what a genuine, saving faith will look like.

He gives one example that we could expect – Abraham. But the other seems out in left field – Rahab, a prostitute. These 2 OT characters are as different as chalk and cheese by outward appearances. But when we get to the heart of the matter they are on the same page. You might say: What? Abraham the man of faith and Rahab the harlot. Those 2 examples seem such an unlikely couple to demonstrate justification by works.

To understand James 2:21, we must know the meaning of James 2:20. It reads, ‘Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?’ (ESV).

Now James sets out to demonstrate that genuine faith that is not followed by good works is useless. Look who he uses as his first example.

2. Abraham justified by works?

Faith & WorksNote the entire verse 21 (ESV): ‘Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?’ The NIV translates as: ‘Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?’

This verse refers to Abraham’s offering up Isaac, recorded in Genesis 22. When Abraham was obedient to God’s test and bound Isaac to the wood on the altar, took the knife to slaughter his son (Gen 22:10) but the angel of the Lord intervened to stop this sacrifice of Isaac. These are the works that James is speaking about.

2.1 Didn’t this happen when he offered Isaac on the altar? (v. 21)

What we are not told in verse 21 is about Abraham believing God and being justified by faith, or being counted as righteousness. We have to wait until James 2:23 to read about that.

However, it is critical for our understanding that we know that Abraham’s being justified by works in James 2:21 follows Abraham’s being justified by faith.

We are told about this justification by faith in Genesis 15 in God’s Covenant with Abram. God’s promise was his very own son to be Abram’s heir (Gen 15:4) and Abram’s descendants would be as many as the stars in the heaven (Gen 15:5). Then in Gen 15:6 we have these words from Abram, ‘And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness’. This is where Abram was justified by faith in God alone.

This is the verse to which Paul refers when he wrote to the Romans 4:3, ‘For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”’. To the Galatians 3:6, Paul wrote, ‘Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”’. In these 2 verses in Romans and Galatians, Paul is referring to Gen 15:6 when Abram was justified by faith.

However James 2:21 is referring to another incident in the life of Abraham when he offered up Isaac as a sacrifice, a demonstration of Abraham’s faith in God.

Commentator C. E. B. Cranfield summarised this very well:

For James, no less than for Paul, the words of Gen. 15.6 quoted in [James 2] verse 23 (“And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness”) are decisive. It was by his faith that Abraham was justified. His works (his readiness to offer up Isaac related to Gen. 22) did not earn his justification (about which we hear already in Gen. 15): they were simply the fruit and the outward evidence of his faith (Cranfield 1965:340).[3]

That’s an excellent statement and summary. Even though these verses got Luther tangled up, they are not all that difficult to understand if we consider the context in James 2 and the references to Genesis 15 and Gen 22. In James 2:21, Abraham is stated as being justified by works. This is an illustration of the true faith that Abraham already had. Abraham’s good works and his faith are inseparable, but the works DO NOT lead to Abraham’s faith and righteousness before God. Abraham’s work of offering up Isaac is a proof of genuine faith.

Again, Cranfield said it well, ‘Had there been no works, Abraham would not have been justified; but that would have been because the absence of works would have meant that he had no real faith’ (Cranfield 1965:340).[4]

So to answer the question, ‘Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac?’ We say, ‘Yes, Abraham the father of the Jews, including Jewish Christians, ‘was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar’ (that’s the NLT translation). However, this demonstration of works was based on Abraham’s being declared to be righteous by faith.

The same applies to all believers. Our good works demonstrate that we are already believers who have been justified by faith. This leads to the summary in James 2:22,

2.2 Faith active with works (v. 22)

This is what I’ve just explained and James 2:22 states, ‘You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works’. Or as the NLT puts it, ‘You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete’.

What could it possibly mean that Abraham’s

3. Faith completed by works (v.  22)

arrow-small NASB, ‘as a result of the works, faith was perfected’.

arrow-small CEV, ‘He proved that his faith was real by what he did’.

arrow-small NRSV, ‘faith was brought to completion by the works’.

‘Was completed or perfected’ is the aorist tense (point action) of the verb, teleiow, meaning ‘to carry to the end, to complete like love in 1 John 4:18’,[5] which reads, ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love’. The same verb is in James 1:4 with ergon teleion, ‘And let steadfastness have its full effect (or ‘must finish its work’ NIV), that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing’ (ESV).

Faith is ‘brought to its intended goal’ by good works. Abraham was justified by faith (Gen 15) but his faith was made complete by his offering of Isaac as a sacrifice (Gen 22). Your works will demonstrate whether your faith is the real thing.

My wife, Desley, and I really enjoy custard apples. They are grown in different parts of the Queensland east coast and into northern NSW. A custard apple tree is made perfect, brought to its intended goal, by producing custard apple fruit. If you have faith that is genuine, you will have that faith perfected by your doing good works (Hiebert 1979:194).

Let’s use a down to earth analogy: This photo is an example of justification by works for the custard apple tree.



This is the justification by faith for the custard apple tree – flowers:


(photo courtesy

Wherever you have a genuine custard apple tree and flowers, it must blossom into the good works of custard apple fruit.

So, wherever people have genuine faith, it must blossom into good works – feeding the hungry, clothing those needing clothes, and meeting human need. It will also blossom into Christians proclaiming the Gospel. Timothy was a pastor who cared for people. However, what did Paul say to Timothy? ‘But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry’ (2 Tim 4:5 NIV). Primarily, he was not an evangelist, but God’s instruction still was, ‘Do the work of an evangelist’.

No matter what the gifts of people, we need to engage in practical good works among needy people. We may choose to do it locally or through international humanitarian groups such as Compassion, Voice of the Martyrs, Open Doors, Mercy Ships, or many other ministries.

Notice the emphasis of James 2:23:

3.1 Scripture was fulfilled (v. 23)

‘and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God’.

This refers back to Gen 15:6, which I’ve already covered, when Abraham was justified by faith.

3.1.1 Abraham believed God (v. 23)

3.1.2 It was counted to him as righteousness (v. 23)

a. Abraham was called a friend of God (v. 23)

Where is Abraham called ‘a friend of God’? These words do not come from Gen 15 or Gen 22. So to what is James referring? Here are a few possibilities:

clip_image012A close relationship between God and Abraham is implied in Gen 18:17-18 (ESV): ‘7 The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?’

clip_image012[1]We know from 2 Chron 20:7 that King Jehoshaphat while addressing God, spoke of Abraham as ‘Abraham your friend’ (ESV).

clip_image012[2]In Isa 41:8, God spoke of ‘Abraham, my friend’.

So there you have a few examples of Abraham’s intimate relationship with God so that Abraham could be called a ‘friend of God’.

Now James 2:24 gives a summary:

4. This means: A person is justified by works (v. 24)

‘You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone’. How is that possible? As I’ve attempted to show in my last message and this one that being justified by works and not faith alone means that genuine faith, fair dinkum faith in Christ alone for salvation, is not the real thing unless it is shown by its good works. Good deeds follow salvation but they are a package. If there is no good works, there is no genuine faith. So it is biblically sound to say that a Christian is justified by works and not faith alone, as long as one remembers that faith and works are used interchangeably as a demonstration of genuine faith in Christ alone for salvation.

4.1 Not justified by faith alone (v. 24)

Miss Placed FaithNow, you won’t accuse me of preaching a false doctrine when I say that we are not justified by faith alone, will you? That’s exactly what James taught because of the compulsory combination of genuine faith expressed through good works. If you don’t have the good works, you don’t have real, saving faith. But the good works come after saving faith. They demonstrate that you already have faith.

Then we come to an unexpected example of justification by works. We can understand Abraham demonstrating his faith by moving to sacrifice Isaac on the altar. Abraham was a hero of the faith.

But then we have this provocative example in a Jewish culture that treated women as sub-standard. Bible History online has an article, ‘Jewish women and the Temple’, in which it says this about Jewish women in the first century AD:

Rabbinic literature was filled with contempt for women. The rabbis taught that women were not to be saluted, or spoken to in the street, and they were not to be instructed in the law or receive an inheritance. A woman walked six paces behind her husband and if she uncovered her hair in a public place she was considered a harlot.

In ancient Israel the Jewish culture was one of the most male dominant cultures in the whole world…. The Mishnah taught that a woman was like a gentile slave who could be obtained by intercourse, money or writ (m. Qidd 1:1).[6]

The Mishnah dealt with the debates on the Jewish oral law that were composed by the Jews between AD 70 and 200 and forms part of the Talmud. If you want to investigate any teaching (such as that on women) within the Mishnah, that is called a Midrash.[7]

Now to …

5. Rahab, the prostitute, justified by works (v. 25)

She is a very unexpected example. Not only was she a woman, but also she had been a prostitute. We read about Rahab in Joshua chs 2-6. Remember the story? Paul Cornford has been preaching about her in recent weeks. Just a few incidents from her life are mentioned here in James:

5.1 She was justified by works (v 25)

This verse from James 2:25 (ESV) states, ‘And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?’

Don’t miss the introductory words, ‘And in the same way’ (homoi?s). And in the same way as Abraham, but what a prominent contrast. James has taken 2 people of very different characters and demonstrated how their faith was followed by works, thus proving their justification by faith.

Remember the story?

5.1.1 When? Receiving messengers & sending out by another way (v. 25)

What were the works that justified her? We know from Joshua 2:1 and 6:17, 22 that Rahab received the spies (here in James they are called messengers). Joshua had sent 2 spies to check the land of Canaan, but especially Jericho. Rahab hid these spies in her house. The King of Jericho went to Rahab saying, ‘Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house for they have come to search out all the land’ (Josh 2:3).

To protect the spies, what did Rahab do? ‘She let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall’ (Josh 2:15). The spies departed by another way and Rahab ‘tied the scarlet cord in the window’ (Josh 2:21).

That’s all we have reference to here in James 2:25, but that’s enough to demonstrate she was justified by works. HOWEVER, where is Rahab’s faith that preceded her good works?

This we know:

clip_image014 Rahab has her name in Christ’s family tree, his genealogy, according to Matt 1:5 (ESV): ‘and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse….’

clip_image016 Here’s the BIG one regarding Rahab’s faith: ‘By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies’ (Heb 11:31 ESV).

In the great faith chapter of the Bible we have proof of Rahab’s faith and this meant she did not perish with the disobedient ones because of what she did for the spies.

When James asks, ‘Was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works?’ He is asking: What works did Rahab do to demonstrate she had faith in the living God? Her good works entailed what she did for the spies, the messengers.

Now James concluded his discussion:

6. Faith without works is dead (v 26)

James 2:26, ‘For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead’ (ESV).

6.1 Just as the body apart from the spirit is dead (v. 26)

What happens when your spirit leaves your body when you breathe your last breath? We have information about this in Eccl 12:6-7 (NLT):

‘Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. 7 For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it’.

The analogy is:

6.2 In a similar way, faith without works is dead (v. 26)

I hope you have gained the message in my expositions on James 2 that if you don’t have works that follow faith, then your faith is not genuine.

So to say that you are justified by your works is using justify to mean demonstrate to be righteous. Just as custard apples justify the existence of a living custard apple tree that blossoms and produces fruit, so a Christian’s works justify that he or she has genuine faith. Unless you have works accompanying faith, you do not have fair dinkum faith that saves.

7. Conclusion

Wayne Grudem, a Reformed Baptist theologian, summarised his interpretation of James 2, stating that

“show to be righteous” is an acceptable sense for the word justified, but also on the consideration that this sense fits well with the primary purpose of James in [James 2].[8] James is concerned to show that mere intellectual agreement with the gospel is a “faith” that is really no faith at all. He is concerned to argue against those who say they have faith but show no change in their lives. He says, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith” (James 2:18) [Grudem 1999:322].

Now to some,

7.1 Applications of James 2:21-26 to your life and this church

Let me suggest a couple before I ask for your contributions:

  1. What does it mean to be justified by works? It means that you will SHOW you are righteous before God by your good deeds. What good works should we be doing as individuals and as a church?
  2. No matter how bad your past, Rahab is an example that demonstrates that justification by faith leads to justification by works – the practice of good works.
  3. Is the title of this sermon accurate? ‘It’s true! You can be justified by works!’ Dare I add, true Christians MUST be justified by works!
  4. Now it’s over to you. How can you apply this message to your life and this church’s ministry?

8. Works consulted

Cranfield, C E B 1965. The message of James. Scottish Journal of Theology 18 (3), September, 338-345.

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

Hiebert, D E 1979. The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith. Chicago: Moody Press.

Robertson, A T 1933. Word Pictures in the New Testament: The General Epistles and The Revelation of John, vol 6. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

James 2:21-26 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

9.  Notes

[1] Preached at North Pine Presbyterian Church, Petrie Qld., Australia, Sunday 17 June 2016, PM Service..

[1a] The Courier-Mail 2013. 10 years later, the life and death of Daniel Morcombe (online), December 06. Available at: (Accessed 28 August 2016).

[2] ABC News, 2014. Daniel Morcombe’s killer sentenced to life in prison (online), 15 March. Available at: (Accessed 7 May 2016).

[3] This Cranfield citation is from Hiebert (1979:192).

[4] This citation is taken from Hiebert (1979:193).

[5] Robertson (1933:37).

[6] Bible History online n d. ‘Women in Jewish history’. Available at: (Accessed 10 May 2016).

[7] What is a midrash? (online), Got Questions? Available at: (Accessed 10 May 2016).

[8] The original said, ‘this section’.


Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 August 2016.

James 2:14-20, Faith and works, a compulsory combination

Sunday, August 28th, 2016

Faith Train

(image courtesy ChristArt)

 By Spencer D Gear PhD [1]

James 2:14-20 (NIV):

Faith and deeds

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder. 20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?

A. Introduction

If you want to prepare people for a potentially controversial piece of theology, what is a recommended approach? James is setting us up to understand his most divisive statement in James 2:24 (NIV) which reads, ‘So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone’. The ESV translates it as, ‘You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone’.

Now, that is not how we learned the doctrine of salvation (Soteriology) from the Reformers. How is James going to prepare us for understanding this doctrine that seems contradictory to what Paul taught in,

3d-red-star Romans 3:28 (ESV), ‘For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law’.

3d-red-star Romans 5:1 (ESV), ‘Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’.

3d-red-star Titus 3:5 (ESV), ‘He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit’.

Lucas Cranach d.Ä. - Martin Luther, 1528 (Veste Coburg) (cropped).jpg(image of Martin Luther, courtesy Wikipedia)


This emphasis in James caused Martin Luther to have theological convulsions to the point where he called James ‘a right strawy epistle’.[1a] He questioned whether James should be in the canon of Scripture. It’s important to remember that Luther’s comment about ‘an epistle of straw’ only appeared in Luther’s original Preface to the New Testament in 1522. In all future editions it was dropped.[2]

This is what he stated in his Preface to James and Jude. Luther wrote in German and this is an English translation. He had these objections about James:[3]

1. It was ‘rejected by the ancients’ but he praised it as ‘a good book’. However, he did not ‘regard it as the writing of an apostle’ and these are his reasons:

2. Firstly, ‘it is flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture in ascribing justification to works [in] 2:24’;

3. Secondly, its purpose was to teach Christians but in its teaching ‘it does not once mention the Passion, the resurrection, or the Spirit of Christ’.

4. James ‘wanted to guard against those who relied on faith without works, but he wasn’t up ‘to the task in spirit, thought, and words’. Luther accused James: ‘He mangles the Scriptures and thereby opposes Paul and all Scripture’. Luther said, ‘Therefore I will not have him in my Bible to be numbered among the true chief books, though I would not thereby prevent anyone from including or extolling him as he pleases’.

Luther had a contextual issue with James and he saw Paul and James at loggerheads, contradicting each other on faith and works. He could not harmonise them. In fact, one of Luther’s famous biographers, Roland Bainton, wrote in Here I stand, ‘Once Luther remarked that he would give his doctor’s beret to anyone who could reconcile James and Paul…. “Faith,” he wrote, “is a living, restless thing. It cannot be inoperative. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith”’.[4]

Now to our passage:

B. Two questions we must answer and act on (v. 14)

Question 1: What good is it, brothers and sisters, if anyone says he/she claims to have faith but has no deeds? The KJV asked, ‘What doth it profit?’ NIV: ‘What good is it’? NASB, ‘What use is it’? What benefit is it if you have

1. Faith but no deeds

This is a question almost of impatience: What good is it? What on earth is the benefit if you have faith but don’t demonstrate that faith with deeds? This section of Scripture, vv. 14-26, is an example of how one word can be used in Scripture and mean different things. Here in v. 14 we have faith used in this context in the language, ‘claims to have faith but has no deeds’. What kind of faith is that? What is the meaning of faith in v. 14? Verse 17 has the same understanding of faith with language such as, ‘faith by itself … is dead. So does v. 18 have this interpretation of faith, with the statement, ‘Show me your faith without deeds’.

But we have a different understanding of faith also at the end of v. 18, ‘I will show you my faith by my deeds’ (NIV). We’ll get to that verse soon.

In James 2:14-26, ‘faith and works are mentioned together ten times in the thirteen verses of this paragraph, but the stress throughout is on their interrelationship’ (Hiebert 1979:173).

2. Can that faith save him or her?

That’s Question 2. The answer, according to the Greek construction, is: ‘No it can’t’.

That kind of faith is fake, spurious, a sham, invalid. So genuine faith, the fair-dinkum faith of salvation, will be demonstrated by the works you do as a result of salvation. Please note what I did not say. I did not say that you need these good works to earn salvation. It is quite the opposite.

Ephesians 2:8-9 is clear about no works can earn salvation:

‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast’ (NIV)

James is giving the flip side of the coin: Genuine faith that saves must be followed by good works. Works come AFTER salvation and not BEFORE.

Now to an

C. Example of faulty faith (v 15):

James is specific: ‘Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food’.

What kinds of works are we talking about? Ministering to the homeless in the Brisbane CBD, drug addicts in Fortitude Valley, next door neighbours who struggle with paying electricity bills? Which works could James be addressing?

James is dealing with good works for the Christians who are,

1. People without clothes and food

6pointblue-small ‘Without clothes’ (NIV). The KJV translates as, ‘naked’; the ESV as ‘poorly clothed’; and the NASB as, ‘without clothing’. The term need not be taken as absolutely naked and without clothes on, but is used of people who were ‘wearing only an undergarment (1 Sam. 19:24; John 21:7)’, or ‘those who were poorly clad (Job 22:6; 31:19; Isa 58:7; Matt 25:36)’. That’s why the ESV translation as ‘poorly clothed’, the RSV’s ‘is ill-clad’ and the NEB, ‘is in rags’ are probably closer to the meaning.[5]

6pointblue-small The other Christians who need good works performed for them are those needing ‘daily food’ (v. 15). This is the only time this statement appears in the NT and it probably suggests those who do not have ‘the day’s supply of food’, who didn’t have a supply of food even for a single day.[6]

starving children photo: starving children starvingchildren487tu57th85.jpg

(photo courtesy photobucket)

We in the Western world find it difficult to understand that there could be such poverty in the local church because of our elaborate welfare system. But that was very real and practical for first century believers. Try meeting up with Christians in

Top 10 Poorest Countries of the World (2015)

Rank Country Currency GDP Per Capita (2015)
1 Democratic Republic of the Congo Congolese Franc $348.00
2 Zimbabwe Zimbabwean dollar $456.00
3 Liberia Liberian Dollar $487.00
4 Nigeria Nigerian naira $600.00
5 Burundi Burundian franc $615.00
6 Central African Republic Central African CFA franc $768.00
7 Eritrea Eritrean nakfa $777.00
8 Sierra Leone Sierra Leonean Leone $849.00
9 Malawi Kwacha $860.00
10 Togo West African CFA franc $826.00


Where are these poorest of poor countries?


Are these the only believers who need help? Pastor Paul mentioned the breadth of good deeds that is encouraged by Westminster Confession of Faith last Sunday (WCF, ch 16, para 1). Ben Hoyt was teaching the catechism to 14-year-olds who didn’t understand the old language and some of the expressions of the WCF from the 17th century,[7] so he has prepared The Plain English Westminster (PEW) by Ben Hoyt. Here is his translation of the first two points of the WCF chapter on ‘Good Works’ (ch 16, para 1-2):

1. Works are only “good works” if they’re things God commands us to do in His word. They’re not works people make up without grounding in Scripture, even if they do so out of blind zeal or with outwardly good intentions.

2. Good works are the fruit of a lively and true faith. We do them to obey God’s commands, and by them we show our thankfulness to God. Our good works assure us that we’re saved, build up our brothers, make our profession of the gospel beautiful, shut the mouths of our enemies, and glorify God.

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” These works bear fruit that lead to holiness, so that in the end we may have eternal life.[8]

There is a precise example of the good works for Christians to do. These are the works that we will face at God’s final judgment, Matt 25:31-46. The sheep vs the goats will be chosen by what the sheep did with good works that were associated with their genuine faith. The Son of Man, the judge, will say to those on his right – Christian believers –

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ (Matt 25:34-40 NIV).

That is a specific list of good works for Christians to do for other Christians. We will be judged on our good works done after salvation, as a result of genuine salvation.

We need to realise that this was the first century and in an under-developed part of the world. J C Moyer in his article on ‘Poverty’ stated that ‘By modern western standards, most [people] who lived in Biblical times would be classified as poor’ (Moyer 1976:830).

An Indian pastor is ministering in India. I read his statement on a Christian forum online on Saturday, 9 April 2016:

Every day i am unable to bare the matters:
1. ministers in fields are with minimum food.
2. villages are without single church to worship Lord
3. Many many villages are not with single minister for them
4. Many poor christians suffering.
5. Every day millions going to die (each 5 seconds 9 people going to die, six of them are not hear the gospel)[9]

I hope you can hear the Indian accent in the English used.

So are Christians only to do good to other believers and not perform good works for the unbelieving world? Not at all! We have an explicit command about this in

cubed-iron-sm Gal 6:10 (NIV), ‘Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers’, AND

cubed-iron-sm Rom 12:20 (NIV), ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head’ (quoting Prov 25:21-22). The Proverbs passage adds that if you do this, ‘the Lord will reward you’.

For James, what were the responses given by these supposed Christians?

D. Christian old chestnut of responses (v. 16):

1. Cliches:

a. Go in peace: Bye, bye & have a good day

That was a warm and kind farewell among Jews (see it in 1 Sam 1:17; 20:42; 2 Sam 15:9; Mark 5:34; Acts 16:26). What’s the implication? That person in need is being given the front door treatment – dismissed with an alleged feeling of peace. These Jews were not mocking others – Jesus used the expression himself to dismiss those who came for help (see Luke 7:50; 8:48). Remember the sinful woman of the city with the alabaster flask of ointment who went to Jesus, wet his feet with her tears and washed his feet with her hair? Jesus forgave her and said, ‘Go in peace’ (Luke 7:50). That’s the phrase used here.

Then, what is done for these needy people?

b. Keep warm and be well fed

It could be the middle voice, ‘Keep yourself warm and get a good meal for yourself’, or it could be the passive voice, ‘Let somebody else get warm clothes for you and feed you’.[10]

But the issue is this:

2. Christians who refuse to meet physical needs: it is useless Christianity.

If you and I have that kind of faith, it is futile faith. It is not genuine faith and, thus, it is not saving faith because it is not demonstrated by works done for believers.

Now to fair dinkum, genuine faith:

E. Faith that is the real thing (v. 17)

1. Faith by itself isn’t enough.

Jesus Fish Chromatic by GDJThis must not be interpreted in opposition to Paul’s statement that we are justified by faith alone (Rom 5:1; Gal 3:24). Rom 5:1 reads, ‘Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’.

James is not downgrading the importance of faith – never. The supreme principle of the Christian life is faith. A person cannot be a Christian without it. What James is doing is showing that if the faith you profess is not accompanied by works after salvation, then your faith is not the real thing. It is dead, useless, ineffective and worthless. Edmond Hiebert calls it ‘inoperative faith’,[11] ‘Inoperative’ means it is out of action, unworkable, faulty. It is not genuine Christian salvation.

Hiebert explains James’ teaching in v. 17 well:

It is assumed that faith can be rightly expected to have works, but each case must be tested on that point. But the illustration pictures a case where that which calls itself faith is indeed without works. This is the fatal defect in the “faith” that James is condemning. The illustration demanded that faith must produce acts of social beneficence. [i.e. social charity or gracious gifts] (Hiebert 1979:181).

James is not teaching that works is needed to bring you to the faith that provides salvation. James is teaching that really genuine faith, must lead to good works. The International Standard Version translates it as, ‘In the same way, faith by itself, if it does not prove itself with actions, is dead’.

If faith is not accompanied by good works, what is it according to v 17?

2. Unless faith produces good deeds, it is not the real thing.

Genuine faith is like a mango tree that is alive and well. It produces fruit. The fruit are the good works to be demonstrated by every genuine Christian with true faith in Christ alone for salvation.

3. Faith without good deeds is dead or useless.

Then comes

F. The contrast (v 18):

‘But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds”. Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds’.

Most commentators are in agreement that verse 18 provides the words of an objector, ‘You have faith; I have deeds’, but there is no agreement on where the objector’s statement ends. Some think it is carried through until v. 26. I’m going with Hiebert as he seems to have built a solid case for it. Here’s the interaction:

1. A hypothetical argument:

James is giving us a proposal by someone. From an objector:

Verse 18a….

a. ‘You have faith: I have deeds’

Then comes James answer, his challenge to the objector, in v. 18b: ‘Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds’.

Question to you: Can anybody see your faith in Jesus? No, it’s invisible. But that invisible faith you have needs to be manifested in some way. According to James, how is it manifested? By good works that follow genuine salvation. If faith is not able to be demonstrated by good works, it is not true faith. We can say that ‘faith and works are inseparable’, not works that lead to faith, but good works that follow and demonstrate genuine faith.[12]

b. Faith without deeds vs showing faith by deeds

James has no disagreement with those who insist that faith is central to the Christian life. With whom does James have a dispute? It is with those who contradict him on faith that produces the outward results of conduct – good works.

Remember what Eph 2:10 states? We were ‘created in Christ Jesus to do good works’, so we should be doing them and we will be judged by our works (Matt 25:31-46, John 5:28-29 , and Rom 6:2-10). Our good works are the evidence that will identify us as members of the Body of Christ with authentic faith.[13]

What is the nature of fake faith?

G. You believe in one God (v. 19)

This seems a rather strange explanation. I thought that one of the demonstrations of being an orthodox, Bible-believing Christian is that you believe in one God. Notice how v. 19 begins: ‘You believe that there is one God. Good!’ (NIV) or as the ESV puts it, ‘You believe that God is one; you do well’. There are several variations in the MSS: (1) ‘There is one God’ and (2) ‘God is one’.

1. Some MSS say, ‘You believe that there is one God’. This agrees with the Jewish confession of faith, the Shema, in Deut 6:4-5: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength’ (NIV).

This is Jewish and Christian orthodoxy. There is only one God. Our faith is monotheistic.


2. ‘God is one’. This stresses that even though God is Trinity (three persons), he is one God; this emphasis is on the unity of God.

Then comes this strange statement, ‘Even the demons believe that – and shudder’. So the demons, evil spirits, have orthodox beliefs about the nature of God. The very same verb is used for ‘believe’ (pisteuw) in,

coil-gold-sm ‘You believe that there is one God’, and

coil-gold-sm ‘The demons believe that – and shudder’.

A. T. Robertson said, ‘Orthodoxy is better than heresy’,[14] but James is stressing that an orthodox, intellectual belief is tragically foolish, useless and not genuine faith. The demons can have it and it’s not genuine. Human beings can have it and it is inoperative faith.

Demon's Face by GDJRemember the story of Jesus and the Gerasene demoniac and his casting out the unclean spirit (Mark 5:1-10; Luke 8:26-33)? Here we have an excellent example of the demons who had faith. These supernatural evil spirits recognised Jesus’ existence and his omnipotence but their ‘faith’ did not change their character. They had orthodox belief but still had evil natures and actions.

H. What good is faith without actions? (v. 20)

v. 20: ‘You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?’

That’s for next month when we will deal with the example of Abraham who was ‘justified by works’ (That’s what v. 21 states). I’ll unpack that then.

Then we’ll deal with the verse that caused Luther to experience the theological shudders in 2:24, ‘You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone’. Judged by what I’ve preached tonight, that verse cannot mean what it sounds like on the surface. That’s for next month.

I. Conclusion

Let’s find some applications for James 2:14-20.

1. We know that faith is unseen by others. How will you know that you or a friend has genuine faith? Good works.

2. According to James 2, for whom do we need to perform these good works? Fellow believers.

3. What kinds of good works will they be?

design-gold-small Clothing, food (James 2:15) and those that show up at the last judgment (Matt 25:36-46).

design-gold-small Thirsty and drink;

design-gold-small Stanger and welcomed;

design-gold-small Sick;

design-gold-small In prison & visited;

4. Acts 20:25: Help the weak; Jesus’ words that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

5. Rom 15:1-2 (NIV): ‘We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up’.

6. 2 Thess 3:10-12 (NIV), ‘For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” 11 We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat’.

7. 1 Tim 5:4, 9-10 (NIV), ‘But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God…. No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, 10 and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

8. Prov 28:27 (NIV), ‘Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses’.

9. What other lessons have you learned tonight?

(a) What is the place of faith?

(b) What is the place of good works?

J. Works consulted

Adamson, J B 1976. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle of James. F F Bruce gen ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[15] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Bainton, R L 1978. Here I stand: A life of Martin Luther. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

George, T 1986. “A Right Strawy Epistle”: Reformation Perspectives on James’. This article first appeared in Review and Expositor 83 (Summer 1986) 369-382. Used by permission. Available at: (Accessed 11 April 2016).[16]

Hiebert, D E 1979. The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith. Chicago: Moody Press.

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

Lenski, R C H 1966. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and of the Epistle of James. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (1966 Augsburg Publishing House).

Moyer, J C 1976. Poverty, in M C Tenney & S Barabas (eds), The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol 4, 830. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Robertson, A T 1933. Word Pictures in the New Testament: The General Epistles and The Revelation of John, vol 6. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Swan, J 2007. ‘Six points on Luther’s “Epistle of Straw”’, Alpha & Omega Ministries (online), 3 April. Available at: (Accessed 7 April 2016).

K.  Notes

[1] Preached at North Pine Presbyterian Church, Petrie Qld., Australia, 10 June 2016, Sunday PM service.

[1a] Luther’s language was, ‘St. James’s epistle is really a right strawy epistle, compared to

these others [St John’s Gospel; Paul’s writings; 1 Peter], for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it’ (in George 1986:23).

[2] Swan (2007).

[3] These comments are from the translation of Luther’s Works, vol. 35. pages 395-398, available at Matt1618, (Accessed 7 April 2016).

[4] (Bainton1978:342).

[5] Suggested by Hiebert 1979:179)

[6] Ibid.

[7] It was written over the period, 1643-1647. See: (Accessed 12 April 2016).

[8] Available at: (Accessed 11 April 2016).

[9] Christian 2016. The Lounge, ‘Missionary needs help in India’, 9 April 2016, Natha#4. Available at: (Accessed 11 April 2016).

[10] Hiebert (1979:180).

[11] Hiebert (1979:179).

[12] Ideas from Hiebert (1979:185-186).

[13] Suggested by Jim Parker#8. Available at: (Accessed 8 April 2016).

[14] In Hiebert (1979:187).

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

[16] The name of this journal for online availability is unknown as it is nowhere stated in the document.


Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 August 2016.

James 2:10-13 (NIV): Break one law and you’ve broken the lot[1]

Saturday, August 27th, 2016

Image result for clipart James 2 public domain

By Spencer D Gear PhD

James 2:10-13 (NIV),

10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

A. Introduction

How do we play favourites in church? So far in James 2 we have learned that some churches do it by being partial to the rich and snubbing the poor.

In my last message, you responded to my question: How do we play favourites in this church? Two of you from the floor of the congregation said:

6pointMetal-small Some do it by not talking to one another, and

6pointMetal-small Not being involved in evangelism

I gave you an example of how some churches in Australia, like Corrie ten Boom, have offered sanctuary to asylum seekers. Should we be doing this? Do you think the ten Boom family was wrong in hiding people from the Nazis in Holland during World War 2? Do you think it would be wrong to offer sanctuary in our churches to asylum seekers who are fleeing persecution and are now on Manus Is., Nauru, and in Cambodia?

1. What was James’ first argument against favouritism?

Let’s review it briefly from James 2:5-7:

a. You have demonstrated disgusting favouritism or discrimination towards the poor and the rich (2:5).

You favour the rich and reject the poor.

2. The core reason why we shouldn’t play favourites (2:8)

a. The crux: Love your neighbour as yourself

‘If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right’.

This is God’s law of love of the unlovely, loving your neighbour with God’s kind of sacrificial love.

Now we examine the new verses (vv 10-13):

B. Commit one sin & you break all of the law (v 10).

The NIV reads, ‘For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it’. Simon Kistemaker explains James’ hypothetical, conditional sentence like this: ‘If anyone of you tries to keep the entire law of God, but stumbles in regard to one of the commandments, he is guilty because the whole law condemns him’ (Kistemaker1986:81).

Surely that’s unfair! How can the God of truth, love and compassion be so biased? I’m not making a statement, but asking a question.

Let’s pause a moment to consider which law we are talking about.

1. To which law could James be referring?

Done in Love

(image courtesy ChristArt)

I preached on this in the last sermon on James 2:1-7. It is the ‘royal law’ (v. 8), but there is another dimension to this law in v. 12, ‘the law of liberty’ (ESV, NASB), or ‘the law that gives freedom’ (NIV), ‘the law that sets you free’ (NLT).

We’ll get to the meaning of ‘the law of liberty’ soon. The royal law is ‘the law of love as sovereign over all others (cf. Mt. 22:36-40; Rom. 13:8-9; Gal. 5:14)’. Gal 5:14 states it simply: ‘For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself”’ (NIV).

If this were the law against drink-driving in Qld, it would not make sense to say that if we break that one law then we are guilty of breaking all of Qld laws, including stealing, murder, lying in court, etc.

Is that how it happens with Australian law? What makes a Queenslander a criminal? Does breaking one criminal law mean a person breaks the whole of the criminal law? That doesn’t make sense for me as a Queenslander.

Remember that this is a hypothetical example in James 2:10, ‘whoever keeps … and yet stumbles’.

Notice the first two verbs in this verse, ‘For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point….’

‘Keeps’ and ‘stumbles’ are Greek aorist tenses, which means they happened at a point in time, but that person ‘has become’ (perfect tense) ‘guilty of breaking all of it’ (NIV), ‘accountable for all of it’ (ESV). The perfect tense refers to something that has happened but the person continues to experience the result of what that person has done. So, here the person who stumbles at one point of the law continues to be guilty or accountable for all points of the law. The continuing, abiding result is that that person continues to be guilty.

Remember that James is writing to a Jewish Christian audience and he has already exposed how they favoured the rich and were against the poor. However, he is pointing to this Jewish law that Jesus exposed in Matt 23:23 (NIV),

‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin [i.e. small, flavouring herbs].[2] But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former’.

2. Let’s look at some background information

In the time of James, the Jews distinguished between the more important and the less important laws. They considered that the law of the Sabbath was more important to observe than the one against swearing.

Some Jewish rabbis (not all of them) took the view that ‘in many matters a sin was not a sin, or, in small matters, that a law was not a law, and that even when it was a sin or a law a [person] could run a sort of credit and debit account with God, of good deeds and bad, and so need not try to do more than keep the balance right’ (Adamson 1976:117).

Two leading rabbis were Akiba and Hillel and they believed that ‘to wear phylacteries was to observe the whole Torah’. The Torah consists of the first 5 books of the Bible. That meant for these rabbis that sometimes a law of God was not a law (in Adamson 1976:117).

‘Phylacteries, sometimes called tefillin, are small, square leather boxes containing portions of Scripture worn by Conservative and Orthodox Jews during prayer services. Phylacteries are worn in pairs—one phylactery is strapped on the left arm, and one is strapped to the forehead of Jewish men during weekday morning prayers. The word phylactery comes from a Greek word meaning “safeguard, protection, or amulet”’.[3]


[A set of tefillin (phylacteries) includes the arm-tefillin (left) and the head-tefillin, courtesy Wikipedia]


James is looking at an extreme case where a person claims to keep the whole law of God but stumbles on one point. James is not putting up the case that this actually occurs because if we read James 3:2 (ESV), it states, ‘For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body’.

If a person were ever able to keep the whole law and yet stumble at one point, this one case of stumbling (of sinning) makes this person guilty of transgressing the law in all of its points.

If a stone strikes your car windscreen or house window at one point, the window is shattered. God’s royal law, the law of liberty, is a unit. We’ve discussed this previously; it’s the law of loving your neighbour as yourself. If you violate this law of love at one point, you violate love, the whole of it (Lenski 1966:572).

Yes, there are many commandments in God’s law, but if we transgress one of them, we have sinned against God’s law. The law of God is a unity.

On the human level, we know how this works. Penny has broken her ankle. Has it only affected her ankle? Of course not! She will experience pain and discomfort in other parts of her body because every part of the body is related to the whole. I know this from 5 open heart surgeries and what that means to my inability to walk far without getting out of breath. Running is off my agenda. I have to keep my blood at a certain level of thinness through the use of that horrible drug, warfarin. But it helps to keep me alive.

This also applies to the body of Christ, ‘If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it’ (1 Cor 12:26 NIV).

God created the law; he enforces it; through his law God’s will is put into effect.

James reminds us of the seriousness of sin. We tend to minimise it. James shows us the condemnation of the whole law, the depth to which we need God’s repentance. If we break one of God’s commandments, we sin against the whole law of God.

James explains further, with two examples:

C. Examples (v 11)

In James 2:11, James gives 2 examples from the 10 commandments,

Law for the Lawless

(image courtesy ChristArt)

1. ‘Do not commit adultery’, and

2. ‘Do not murder’.

These are straight from the 10 commandments in Exodus 20:13-14 and Deut 5:17-18, although here they are the opposite way around to the Hebrew. Here James probably follows the LXX.

We can tend to look on the 10 commandments as negative, ‘Thou shalt not….’, but there is a positive aspect to them: When we live within the boundaries of the rules God has set for healthy Christian living, we experience God’s freedom, the law of liberty. We learn this from Psalm 19:7-8 (NIV):

The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes

Do you get it? To submit to God’s law, the royal law, the law of liberty, we are submitting to this set of laws:

3d-shinnyblue-star-small The law of the Lord is perfect

3d-shinnyblue-star-small The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy

3d-shinnyblue-star-small The precepts of the Lord are right

3d-shinnyblue-star-small The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes


So, are you an ill-informed evangelical Christian who submits blindly to the myths your parents told you?

Or, are you submitting to the royal law of perfection that is trustworthy, right, radiant and giving light to your eyes and worldview.

The secular world will not understand this light until their eyes are opened by the living God.

Why has James selected the commandments about adultery and murder? They are the first two of the 10 commandments that deal with how to treat one’s neighbour – the very topic James is addressing.

The logic is pretty simple: If a person keeps one commandment but breaks the other, he or she has …

3. Become a lawbreaker.

And God declares that person guilty.

In James 2:11-12, James presents an excellent summary of what he has been trying to say. It is like what he said in James 1:26-27 (NIV):

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

D. How to speak and act (v 12)

How should Christians speak and act? The Greek is ‘so speak and so act’. But, both ‘speak’ and ‘act’ are verbs that are both in the present tense. What does that mean? Continuous or continual action! This is speaking and action as a lifestyle. Keep speaking and keep doing!

We are to do this as people who will be….

1. Judged by the law that gives freedom (law of liberty)

I’m reminded of Heb 4:13 (NIV), ‘Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account’.

We are going to be judged according to ‘the law of liberty’ (ESV), ‘the law that gives freedom’ (NIV), ‘the law that sets you free’ (NLT).

We have already encountered this law in James 1:25 (NIV), ‘But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it–not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it–they will be blessed in what they do’.

Our conclusion there is the same as here. The law of liberty, or the law that gives freedom, is:

snowflake-light-green-small It promotes the paradox of the law of liberty. How can a horrible thing called law be a promoter of liberty or freedom? The law of the boundaries of a football field surely does not promote freedom when you have to stay inside those boundaries.

I love the way Alfred Plummer, an expositor from over a century ago, put this:

It is when the law is seen to be perfect that it is found to be the law of liberty. So long as the law is not seen in the beauty of its perfection, it is not loved, and men [and women] either disobey it or obey it by constraint and unwillingly. It is then a law of bondage. But when its perfection is recognized men [and women] long to conform to it; and they obey, not because they must, but because they choose. To do what one likes is freedom, and they like to obey. It is in this way that the moral law of the Gospel becomes “the law of liberty,” not by imposing fewer obligations than the moral law of the Jew or of the Gentile, but by infusing into the hearts of those who welcome it a disposition and a desire to obey.[4]

So, it’s the law of liberty because you want to obey God’s word. You have been set free by redemption in Christ so you desire to obey God’s law. The Scriptures are not burdensome. You love to obey God’s perfect law. Is it easy? Never! Try writing a letter-to-the-editor of your local newspaper in support of traditional marriage and family and you watch the tirade of negativity, even abuse. But I urge you to continue to do it.

2. I thought laws are meant to bring restrictions and not liberty.

A high view of the perfect law is at risk in March 2016. Only this week I read these comments in an article in the Brisbane Times (online), Religious Instruction in Queensland schools is discriminatory (14 March 2016). This article was written by Hugh Harris. His points against religious instruction included:

golden foward button ‘Religious instruction [in public schools] is inherently discriminatory’.

golden foward button ‘I was reassured by the state government Religious Instruction policy statement pledging to “respect the background and beliefs of all students” and not to promote “any particular set of beliefs in preference to another”’.

golden foward button ‘My son came home singing songs about Jesus, and exclaimed how “amazing” it was that “God created the whole world”’.

golden foward button ‘Colouring-in books with pictures of Jesus. Fill in the gaps – “Jesus ___ you”. So much for not promoting “any particular set of beliefs” in “preference to others”.

golden foward button ‘So we opted-out of the program. As a result I joined the Rationalist Society of Australia so I could campaign against religion’s pernicious influence’.

golden foward button ‘The Queensland RI program fails to “respect background and beliefs of all students” because it fails to offer non-belief. This is discriminatory’.

golden foward button ‘Bible-thumpers not only proselytise kids, they organise outreach camps so our children can “meet God” and have “faith in Jesus”. It’s creepy.

golden foward button We need to put an end to the intolerable incursion of preaching in Queensland schools.

So, the Brisbane Times gave Hugh Harris, a member of the Rationalist Society of Australia, the opportunity to promote his Rationalist views. What does this society believe? Its website listed these beliefs:

It has a ‘10 Point Plan for a Secular Australia’ (The Rationalist Society of Australia):[5]

  1. A secular, pluralistic and democratic Australia
  2. Clear separation between religion and the State
  3. ‘One law for all’, with no recognition of parallel legal systems
  4. Religious organisations subject to the same laws as other organisations
  5. Children not to suffer because of the religious views of their parents
  6. Education to be strictly secular, not promoting any particular religion
  7. No discrimination on the basis of a person’s sex, sexuality or gender identity
  8. Freedom of reproductive choice, with no religious interference
  9. Healthcare available to all regardless of the religious views of the provider
  10. Guaranteed control over one’s own body, free from religious interference, when facing the end of life.

I ask you: Why is the 10 point plan of the Rationalist Society of Australia not a prescription of the law of liberty, the law that brings freedom? The answer is hinted at in the first line. This society requires that Australia be,

snowflake-rosewood-small Secular (‘Not connected with religious or spiritual matters’. Oxford dictionaries 2016. s v secular). So God and Jesus are automatically excluded.

snowflake-rosewood-small Pluralistic (two or more sources of authority);

snowflake-rosewood-small Democratic (Democracy: ‘A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives’ – Oxford dictionaries 2016. s v democracy).

The biggest issue is that the Christian law of liberty comes through a heart change where a person is redeemed and accepts that ‘The law of the Lord is perfect’. That is not the law of the Rationalist Society of Australia that alleges it can bring liberation through a secular, pluralistic, democratic society.

James makes one final emphasis in this passage:

E. Judgement with or without mercy (v 13)

‘Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment’ (James 1:13 NIV). There will be

1. Judgement without mercy if you have not treated others with mercy

The last judgment will be horrific for those who have not shown mercy. Jesus could not have been more specific. This is what he said according to Matt 25:41-45 (NET Bible):

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels! 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. 43 I was a stranger and you did not receive me as a guest, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not give you whatever you needed?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did not do it for one of the least of these, you did not do it for me.’

This commentary on the James 2:10-13 passage is so obvious. We can’t miss it. This is especially so when we compare this treating others with mercy an the other alternative which Jesus also will state, according to Matt 7:22-23,

22 On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’ (NET Bible).

What is mercy? It is ‘pity for those in distress’. This is what Hosea 6:6 (NIV) taught, ‘For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings’ (also quoted by Jesus in Matt 9:13; Matt 12:7).

How does James 2:13 conclude?


2. Mercy triumphs over judgement

Where does that leave you and me? Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy’ (Matt 5:17 NIV). In the OT, God spoke through Zechariah, the prophet (Zech 7:9 NIV): ‘This is what the LORD Almighty said: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another”’. The Jews didn’t listen and hardened their hearts.

Let’s tease out a few applications of mercy. Remember the definition of mercy is to ‘show pity to those in distress.’ Since Jesus said we are blessed if we show mercy and then we will be shown mercy by God, how can we in Brisbane in 2016 show mercy to those in distress? Let me get you started:

snowflake-greenglass-small How many of you are visiting with those from our church who can no longer come to church?

snowflake-greenglass-small I used to work for Teen Challenge, a drug rehabilitation ministry. Here in Qld, the TC website has plenty of opportunity for volunteers.[6] Could you show mercy by becoming involved? Australian Senator Jacqui Lambi’s son, Dylan, who was addicted to the illicit drug ice, has been to this Qld Teen Challenge drug rehab near Toowoomba.[7]

snowflake-greenglass-small How many of us could become involved in showing mercy to those in prison?

snowflake-greenglass-small What about churches providing sanctuary for asylum seekers?

snowflake-greenglass-small How could you show mercy to those in distress? Any further suggestions?

F. Conclusion

Mercy and Truth(image courtesy ChristArt)


What’s the conclusion we reach? Any person who refuses to show mercy to people will experience God’s justice – but without mercy. That’s what Scripture says.

You and I know that no human being can ever claim to receive God’s mercy by doing any kinds of acts of mercy. That would be works. We can’t earn God’s mercy, but it is granted by God when we seek it. Commentator on Edmond Hiebert, put it this way,

‘Mercy does not triumph at the expense of justice; the triumph of mercy is based on the atonement wrought at Calvary…. The practice of mercy toward others is the evidence that God’s grace has produced a transformation in a person. Having himself received God’s mercy, he will be able to stand in the judgment that otherwise would overwhelm him’ (Hiebert 1979:172).

To show favouritism violates God’s royal law, the law that gives freedom, the law of liberty. What ungodly favouritism are we showing in this church?

G.  Works consulted

Adamson, J B 1976. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle of James. F F Bruce gen ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

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

Getz, G 1984. Doing Your Part: When You’d Rather Let God Do It All (based on James 2-5). Ventura, California: Regal Books.

Hiebert, D E 1979. The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith. Chicago: Moody Press.

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

Lenski, R C H 1943. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (1943 The Wartburg Press; assigned 1961 to Augsburg Publishing House).

Lenski, R C H 1966. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and of the Epistle of James. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (1966 Augsburg Publishing House).

May, B 1979. Under His Wing. Portland, OR: Multnomah Press.

Robertson, A T 1933. Word Pictures in the New Testament: The General Epistles and The Revelation of John, vol 6. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Thayer, J H 1885/1962. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti, tr, rev, enl. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

H.  Notes

[1] This sermon was preached at North Pine Presbyterian Church, Petrie Qld, Australia, on Sunday PM service, 20 March 2016

[2] These 3 were ‘small flavouring herbs of which a family might grow a few…, the latter being like anise seed but larger and used to a greater extent’ (Lenski 1943:908). What is ‘anise seed’? ‘The humble anise plant is native to Middle-East and Mediterranean region; probably originated on the fertile plains of Nile delta in the Egypt.… Anise is a perennial herbal plant; generally, grows up to a height of about 2 feet. It bears white colored umbelliform flowers by July, and harvested by bringing down the whole plant once its seed-heads matured enough on the plant itself. Its seeds then separated from the flower heads by threshing. Anise seeds feature oblong or curved, comma shape, about 3-4 mm long, light brown color and fine stripes over its outer surface. The seeds feature delicately sweet and aromatic bouquet with a distinctive liquorice flavor. Their special fragrance is due to essential oil, anethole in them’. Available at: (Accessed 14 March 2016).

[3] ‘What are phylacteries?’ GotQuestions?org. Available at: (Accessed 16 March 2016).

[4] Plummer (1907:108).

[5] Available at: (Accessed 14 March 2016).

[6] See: (Accessed 16 March 2016).

[7] See, ‘Magistrate sends Jacqui Lambie’s son to rehabilitation program’. The Sydney Morning Herald (online), October 26, 2015. Available at: (Accessed 16 March 2016). A more lengthy article is in the Courier-Mail of October 27, 2015 at: (Accessed 16 March 2016).

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


Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 27 August 2016.

James 2:8-9 (NIV): Faith and playing favourites in church, Part 2[1]

Saturday, August 27th, 2016

By Spencer D Gear PhD

James 2:8-13 (NIV):

8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

A.  Introduction

When I was attending Seminary in Ashland, Ohio, USA, in the early 1980s, one of my fellow students, Glen, told of how he visited this church in southern California a few times.

(Crystal Cathedral 2007, image courtesy Wikipedia)


When he attended that church, there were ushers at the front door who escorted all people to their seats in various parts of the cathedral. You couldn’t sit where-ever you wanted. People were led to certain areas. When he inquired after the service, he was told that if men came in suits and ties, they went to a place wherever they could be caught on the TV cameras. That’s also where the women went who were nicely dressed with hair styled, all for the benefit of the TV cameras.

However, if you were a commoner, without a tie and not as swishy in dress as the others, you were ushered to a place elsewhere in the cathedral where you were out of site of the TV.

Why was this? Glen was told that those who were captured on the TV cameras that were telecast in Robert Schuller’s ‘Hour of Power’ TV programme were the well dressed. This is a picture of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, southern California. What happened there was an example of favouritism, partiality shown towards a certain class of people by that church – those who were visual to the TV cameras. Schuller wanted his TV show to convey a message to the well-dressed middle to upper class. There was discrimination against others.

Sadly, the Crystal Cathedral went into voluntary administration (it was broke) in 2010 with the court settlement with creditors in 2012.[2] It has now been purchased by the Roman Catholic diocese of Orange County and is known as Christ Cathedral.[3] Schuller, a minister in the Reformed Church in America, died in April 2015 at the age of 88.[4]

My point is that here we had an example of partiality, favouritism, discrimination that was alive and well in the 20th century. I ask you to consider how the church in the 21st century could also show favouritism, partiality and discrimination which James condemns.

Could it be happening in this church? What would it look like here?

In my last message on James, I gave the

B. First argument against favouritism (vv 1-7)

1. What was that first argument?

Let’s review it briefly from James 2:5-7:

a. You have demonstrated disgusting favouritism or discrimination towards the poor and the rich (2:5).

3d-gold-star-small God has chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith, but you have dishonoured the poor (2:6)

3d-gold-star-small Instead, you have paid special attention to those who are rich, but they are the ones who oppress you and drag you into court.

3d-gold-star-small So, you Christians, says James, have played favourites in church by judging by outward appearances.

That’s the first argument against favouritism: Do not discriminate, based on external circumstances.

Now we get to the second argument against partiality in the church.

C. Crux of the problem (v. 8)

Here’s the core reason why we should not play favourites or discriminate in the church (v. 8).

Look at a few translations of the beginning of v. 8:

designRed-small ‘If you really keep (NIV)

designRed-small ‘Yes indeed, it is good when you’ (NLT)

designRed-small ‘If you really fulfill’ (ESV)

designRed-small ‘If, however, you are fulfilling’ (NASB)

designRed-small ‘If ye fulfil’ (KJV)

designRed-small ‘If you really fulfill’ (NKJV)

designRed-smallNevertheless, you are doing the right thing’ (ISV)

designRed-smallIndeed, if you keep’ (HCSB)

designRed-small ‘If you really fulfil’ (RSV)

designRed-small ‘You do well if you really fulfil’ (NRSV)

The KJV, even though the word is in the Textus Receptus, doesn’t translate it, possibly following Tyndale’s translation[5] which also left it out, but the earlier Wycliffe translation included it as, ‘Nevertheless if ye perform….’

What we have here at the beginning of verse 8 is the construction ei mentoi. Ei is a conjunction, meaning ‘if’, and it assumed that this statement in v. 8 is true,[6] ‘if you really keep the royal law found in Scripture’, which you will do.

Do that which is right by keeping the royal law in Scripture (v 8). The words I’ve underlined in those verses are probably the translation of the connective particle, mentoi. It’s called a connective because it is meant to connect back to the verses that have immediately preceded it. An old fashioned translation would be ‘howbeit’, which is an archaic word that means, ‘nevertheless, however’.[7]

The connection is with the first argument against favouritism by outward appearances. Mentoi appears 8 times in the NT (John 4:27; 7:13; 12:42; 20:5; 21:4; 2 Tim 2:19; James 2:8; Jude 8).[8] Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon gives the meaning in James 2:8 as ‘really, actually’ and in the NT is mostly adversative, i.e. in opposition to something.[9]

So if you really, actually do the right thing by dealing properly with the poor and rich, you are

D. Obeying the royal law (v. 8)

Verse 8 reads, ‘If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right’ (NIV).

1. What is the ‘royal law’?

Notice what it does not say. Even though James is written to Christian Jews, it does not say, ‘If you really keep the Mosaic law found in Scripture’ The word ‘royal’ is an old adjective for royal or regal. It is based on the Greek word for king, basileus, like addressing an officer. The word is used in John 4:46, ‘Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum’ (NIV).

Commentators have had theological heartburn over why James would use the term ‘royal law’ as this is the only time the term appears in the NT. The reasons for using this term seem to boil down to three meanings that have been suggested by commentator Desmond Hiebert:

(a) Firstly, It describes ‘the law of love as sovereign over all others (cf. Mt. 22:36-40; Rom. 13:8-9; Gal. 5:14)’.[10] Gal 5:14 states it simply: ‘For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself’ (NIV).

(b) Secondly, it is ‘fitted for kings and not slaves (cf. vv. 5, 12)’;

(c) Thirdly, ‘as given by the King’.[11]

The most common suggestion is the first one: The ‘royal law’ refers to the law of love that is sovereign over all other laws of God. I’m supportive of that view as other Scriptures confirm it.

Now James gives a specific example of this ‘royal law’ and it points towards a prominent application:

a. ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’

We hear this so often in the church that it is easy to gloss over its practical application. It comes from Lev 19:18 in the Mosaic Law but it has now been endorsed by James for NT Christianity.

Do you remember what Jesus said in Matt 22:36-40 (NIV)?

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Let’s pause for a moment to consider its application. This is where I think that many evangelicals waver on how to be relevant for today. I’m going to raise a controversial example.

On 4 February 2016, The Sydney Morning Herald reported:

clip_image004 Sanctuary: The Anglican Dean of Brisbane, Dr Peter Catt. Photo: Glenn Hunt. Courtesy, The Sydney Morning Herald.


Churches have taken the extraordinary step of offering sanctuary to asylum seekers facing deportation in the wake of a High Court verdict, raising the prospect of police raids on places of worship and possible charges for clergy.

This is a hugely significant action for any Australian church to take.

Ten Anglican churches and cathedrals have invoked the ancient Christian tradition to offer protection to the 267 people – including 37 babies – facing imminent transfer to Nauru after the court on Wednesday [3 Feb 16] upheld the legality of the government’s offshore processing regime.

The movement is being led by the Anglican Dean of Brisbane, Dr Peter Catt, who has declared his St John’s Anglican Cathedral a place of sanctuary.

Dr Catt said if any asylum seekers sought sanctuary in his church he would do his best to keep the authorities out. He said he fully accepts that he and other clergy could be charged with obstruction and potentially even face possible jail time.

“We are aware it’s a high-risk strategy,” he told the ABC.

Dr Catt called it an extraordinary step that would attract the attention of church communities around the world.

The sanctuary principle has its roots in the Old Testament and was once enshrined in English common law but its legality has never been tested in Australia (Adam Gartrell, SMH, ‘Churches become potential flashpoint after offering sanctuary to asylum seekers in wake of High Court verdict’, Feb 4, 2016).

Is this an example of how the church can demonstrate the royal law in action, by showing impartiality, love in action through sanctuary, loving asylum seekers as themselves – especially when we know some of them are escaping persecution and end up on Manus Island and Nauru, which have been described as having conditions that are a ‘weeping sore’ of detention.[12]

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, September 25, 2015,

Liberal MP, Russell Broadbent has implored Mr Turnbull to act, in the first instance by removing children from Nauru. Mr Broadbent is the last MP from the group of Liberals who forced John Howard to soften his border protection policies in 2006.

“You know what happens to a weeping sore if you don’t deal with it. It becomes a raging ulcer,” he told Fairfax Media.

In The Brisbane Times, 7 February 2016, there is an article with the headline, ‘Queensland to join call for asylum seeker children to stay in Australia’. It states:

Queensland will join Victoria and New South Wales in calling for the federal government to stop asylum seeker children and their families being sent back to immigration detention centres (Cooper 2016).

What will we do to address this crying current need?

Where are the genuine Christians who are demonstrating the royal law of ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ in this very contemporary situation? Should it be hands off? Or, is it: How dare you mention this example in an evangelical church? I’m raising this issue that has practical consequences for those of us who want to obey the royal law.

Do you remember this lady?


(image courtesy Wikipedia)

What did Corrie ten Boom and her family do during World War 2?

The Ten Boom family were devoted Christians [in Holland] who dedicated their lives in service to their fellow man. Their home was always an “open house” for anyone in need. Through the decades the Ten Booms were very active in social work in Haarlem, and their faith inspired them to serve the religious community and society at large.

During the Second World War, the Ten Boom home became a refuge, a hiding place, for fugitives and those hunted by the Nazis. By protecting these people, Casper and his daughters, Corrie and Betsie, risked their lives. This non-violent resistance against the Nazi-oppressors was the Ten Booms’ way of living out their Christian faith. This faith led them to hide Jews, students who refused to cooperate with the Nazis, and members of the Dutch underground resistance movement.

During 1943 and into 1944, there were usually 6-7 people illegally living in this home: 4 Jews and 2 or 3 members of the Dutch underground.  Additional refugees would stay with the Ten Booms for a few hours or a few days until another “safe house” could be located for them. Corrie became a ringleader within the network of the Haarlem underground. Corrie and “the Beje [pron. bay-yay] group” would search for courageous Dutch families who would take in refugees, and much of Corrie’s time was spent caring for these people once they were in hiding. Through these activities, the Ten Boom family and their many friends saved the lives of an estimated 800 Jews, and protected many Dutch underground workers (Corrie ten Boon House Foundation: History).


(This is a drawing of the Ten Boom family home, Barteljorisstraat 19, Haarlem, Holland)

Would you do that today? Should we be doing it for the asylum seekers? I raise it as a point for discussion.

However, there is a restriction on the meaning of ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ in v. 8. What’s that restriction? It’s found in the parsing of ‘love’ in ‘love your neighbour’. ‘Love’ is future tense but used like a command, ‘You shall love’. In this verse, the verb love is in the singular (one person) future tense. It is referring to a single person and not to a plural group of people. So, love your neighbour as yourself is not referring to a group of Christians or churches doing it, but to a single believer loving his or her neighbour as himself or herself.

This kind of love is intelligent, sacrificial love with a purpose where you will voluntarily seek the welfare of your neighbour, just as you would look after yourself. This standard is impossible to achieve without the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling you. Remember what Jesus said?

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV)

Here ‘Love one another’ has ‘love’ as a plural verb. It’s obvious: Christian brothers and sisters, love one another in this group with a sacrificial love. How is that possible when we don’t like some people? The command is still to sacrificially love them (plural).

One warning before I move on: Too often it has been the liberal church that has lost the Gospel, denigrates the authority of Scripture, that takes this royal law and claims that this is Christianity in action. Yes, it is Christianity in action, but it must not be separated from the Gospel of grace through Christ alone that the evangelical church proclaims. We must not fall for the Gospel-less liberal Christianity that only wants to see the love of God in action – but without the wrath of God associated with Gospel proclamation.

Now to verse 9:

E. If you show favouritism (v 9)

Verse 9, ‘ But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers’. That little particle, de, translated as, ‘but’, shows the sharp contrast James has just given. He has said, ‘Love your neighbour’, but now the contrast: If you don’t love your neighbour but show favouritism – you discriminate – what is the outcome?

The NIV translates the verb as ‘show favoritism’; ‘show partiality’ (ESV, NASB, NKJV); ‘you favor some people over others’ (NLT). The NLT is an excellent translation for everyday language. It’s a compound verb[13] that is found only this one time in the NT. This is what I love about the Greek NT. The verbs give much more precise information than English. It’s second person plural, so there is a group of these people favouring some people over others, but the verb is in the present tense. So it refers to continuous or continual action. This is not something that happened as a once off or occasional; it continued to happen.[14]

It means if you as a group deliberately have respect of persons. It is not an unfortunate action that you occasionally do. It is something that you deliberately practice – partiality, favouritism, and discrimination.[15]

The ‘if’ clause[16] recognises that there is a definite possibility of Christians violating the law of love. James said that if we are demonstrating acts of partiality which are not only incompatible with the royal law of love, then something terrible happens in the Christian community. This is very straight forward. If you do this,

1. You sin

That’s the NIV translation. The ESV translates as ‘you are committing sin’. The literal translation would be ‘you (plural) are working sin’. Again it’s the present tense, so this group of people who are continuing to deliberately disrespect people are continuing to sin.

Remember what God said about partiality in the OT, according to Lev 19:15, ‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly’ (NIV).

What’s the solution for sin, deliberate sin that is continuing in the congregation where there is favouritism by way of discrimination? The one and only solution is repentance and forgiveness. But don’t gloss over this as though it doesn’t mean much. When this kind of continuing sin is in the camp of Christians, what happens?

2. You are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.

These Jewish Christians were treating this favouritism as something that was ‘a trifling fault’.[17] No! No! says James. Present tense again. You (plural) are being convicted continually as transgressors (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:248).

Which law were they breaking? Not once or now and then, but continually. Which law have they transgressed?

It’s the royal law, the law of love that is sovereign over all other laws of action for the believer. This is ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. If you have continually broken this law, you are continually convicted as lawbreakers.

What’s the solution? Repentance and seeking forgiveness of the ones violated.

Let’s pause for some applications: How could continually breaking the royal law be taking place in this congregation? What could be some examples? I’ll wait for your responses:

Only 2 answers were given from the congregation:

coil-gold-sm Not sharing the Gospel;

coil-gold-sm Ignoring people, not including them in conversation.

coil-gold-sm I don’t think we have any problem with the way people dress; the Crystal Cathedral’s partiality is not happening here as I see it. There’s no discrimination in how you dress. What would happen if a bikie arrived dressed in his club’s gear?



‘Pastor Wurmbrand resisted the communists’ control of the church [in Romania] and went underground’. He founded Voice of the Martyrs.

flamin-arrow-small What about joining with other churches around the nation for churches to become sanctuaries for asylum seekers? Or do we think too highly of the Aust. Government law to step outside of that protection? Remember the example of Corrie ten Boom and Richard Wurmbrand.

flamin-arrow-small What about people in churches who are not talking with others; conversation with them is avoided?

flamin-arrow-small Do we show partiality to some people who have certain beliefs? [e.g. Eschatology, aspects of salvation, creation]

flamin-arrow-small I’m raising some possibilities. It may not be happening here, but it could be.

Next sermon, I’ll continue this series in James, ‘Faith & Playing Favourites, Part 3’, in verses 10-13:

pink-arow-small How can we stumble at one point of the royal law and be guilty of breaking all of the law? Sounds strange by Aussie standards.

pink-arow-small Christians are going to be judged by the ‘law of liberty’ or the ‘law that gives freedom’. How is it possible to have a law; law means having boundaries, yet this law is one of liberty. Sounds like strange logic for the natural person. We’ll unpack that next time.

F. Conclusion

This example deeply moved me when I read it. It’s a practical illustration of ‘faith and playing favourites’. It was told by

HomeBernie May, who served with Wycliffe Bible Translators and was formerly executive director of Wycliffe’s Jungle Aviation and Radio Services (called JAARS). He had been a missionary pilot for over twenty-five years. On one occasion a large church invited him to be a special guest so they could present an airplane as a gift to JAARS. “It was a Bible-believing church,” Bernie relates, “filled with scrubbed-faced fundamentalists – the kind I like to be around. I was the main speaker for the Sunday morning service – a real VIP.”

His story continues. “During Sunday School a friend introduced me to a beautiful black woman, who was visiting the church for the first time, because she learned I was to speak. I immediately recognized her, although we had never met. She was Josephine Makil, a Wycliffe translator home on furlough from Vietnam.

“Some months before, she and her family had been ambushed on a lonely Vietnam road. She and three of her children had watched in horror as her husband and the fourth child he was holding in his arms were murdered in cold blood. She is one of God’s special people.

“That morning, before I spoke, I introduced Josephine asking her and the children to stand. She gave a brief but powerful testimony, closing by saying, ‘I can testify that God’s ways are perfect and His grace is sufficient.’

“The words burned deep in my heart,” Bernie stated. “I wanted to remove my shoes, so hallowed was the ground as I stood beside her. It took me long moments before I could speak. I couldn’t get the lump out of my throat.

“After the service the people flocked around me shaking my hand and patting my back. During the adulation I happened to look to one side. There stood Josephine and the children. Alone. In fact, the people were deliberately avoiding her. She was black.

“I could hardly restrain my anger,” Bernie states. “I wanted to rush through that magnificent building, overturning the pews and shouting, ‘Keep you money. Keep your handshakes. Keep your airplane. It goes up as a stench before God.’

“But,” said Bernie, “I didn’t. Perhaps I was too much the coward. I did break from the group and go to Josephine. We chatted, but she said nothing about her rejection. She reacted to those church people the same way she reacted to those who murdered her husband – with love and forgiveness.

“These people found it strange that God could use a black person like Josephine. I, in turn, found it strange that God would use people like those in that church; yet their gift has been a blessing to the kingdom.

“But then, I’m sure some folks find it strange that God would use a fellow like me.

“Josephine is right. Love is the only way to react. For all our sakes, we must leave judgment to God”.[18]

Josephine’s obituary began:

MAKIL, JOSEPHINE YVONNE JOHNSON went home to be with the Lord on Friday, April 25, 2003. Born May 7, 1932, to Orville and Alberta Johnson of La Junta, Colorado, Josephine had a wonderful childhood-enjoyed her parents and five brothers, attending La Junta public schools, playing the piano, and her church family-the Mt. Zion Baptist Church  (Josephine Yvonne Johnson Makil, the Dallas Morning News, Obituaries, April 30 2003).

G.  Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[19] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Cooper, N 2016. Queensland to join call for asylum seeker children to stay in Australia. Brisbane Times, 7 February. Available at: (Accessed 7 February 2016).

Getz, G 1984. Doing Your Part: When You’d Rather Let God Do It All (based on James 2-5). Ventura, California: Regal Books.

Hiebert, D E 1979. The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith. Chicago: Moody Press.

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

May, B 1979. Under His Wing. Portland, OR: Multnomah Press.

Robertson, A T 1933. Word Pictures in the New Testament: The General Epistles and The Revelation of John, vol 6. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Thayer, J H 1885/1962.Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti, tr, rev, enl. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

H.  Notes

[1] Preached at North Pine Presbyterian Church, Petrie Qld, Australia, Sunday PM service, 21 February 2016.

[2] See ‘Crystal Cathedral: Schullers lose in court’, Orange County Register, August 21, 2012. Available at: (Accessed 4 February 2016). The Roman Catholic ‘Diocese of Orange escrow closed on the $57.5 million court-ordered sale during the Protestant ministry’s bankruptcy proceedings’ and it will now be known as Christ Cathedral (see: ‘Catholics: Crystal Cathedral to become Christ Cathedral’, Orange County Register, August 21, 2013. Available at:, accessed 7 February 2016).

[3] See ‘Catholics: Crystal Cathedral to become Christ Cathedral’, Orange County Register, August 21, 2013. Available at: (Accessed 4 February 2016).

[4] Reformed Church in America 2015. ‘Robert H. Schuller dies’ (online), April 2. Available at: (Accessed 4 February 2016).

[5] Hiebert (1979:162, n 55) wrote: ‘The King James Version, following the lead of Tyndale, left the particle untranslated, apparently regarding it simply as the equivalent of men to balance the de in verse 9’.

[6] It’s a first class condition with the present, active, indicative of the verb (Robertson 1933:31).

[7] Oxford dictionaries (2016. S v Howbeit).

[8] Hiebert (1979:162).

[9] Arndt & Gingrich (1957:504).

[10] Hiebert (1979:163).

[11] These 3 suggestions are in Hiebert (1979:163).

[12] ‘Malcolm Turnbull urged to fix “weeping sore” of Manus, Nauru asylum seeker detention’ (Michael Gordon, SMH, September 25, 2015. Available at: Accessed 5 January 2016).

[13] Pros?pol?mpteite .

[14] Hiebert (1979:165) alerted me to this.

[15] Hiebert (1979:165).

[16] It’s a ‘condition of first class by contrast with that in verse 8’ (Robertson 1933:31). In James 2:8, ‘the particle ?? introduces a simple fact condition that depicts reality’ (Kistemaker 1986:83).

[17] ‘Trifling fault’ was the language of Robertson (1933:31).

[18] Bernie May (1979:41-42). I was alerted to this quote in Getz (1984:15-16).

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


Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 27 August 2016.

‘World’ does not mean ‘world’ in John 3:16 to some Calvinists

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

By Spencer D Gear PhD

‘For God so loved the world’ (John 3:16) should be a straightforward statement but it is not so when I get into discussions with some Calvinists. Let’s see how it worked out on a Christian Forum.

A. Changing the meaning of ‘world’

I encountered this Calvinist who wrote:[1] ‘Your accusation was that I changed the definition of the word, which I did not do’.[2]

I responded:[3] There is no other language to use than to call this a lie. You have changed the definition of the word ‘world’ in relation to John 3:16 and who God loves. How do I know? Here’s your evidence in this directory:
clip_image002 Please go back to #418[4] where you stated: ‘It’s not unjust for God to not love everyone. It would only be unjust if He was obligated to do so’.
clip_image002[1] Now go to #425[5] where you stated: ‘Yes, God loves His CHOSEN people. That’s the reformed view’.
clip_image002[2] In #430[6] you wrote: ‘I have a biblical view that says God actually saves those He loves, not that He sends some that He loves to hell for disagreeing with Him’.
So you have misinterpreted ‘world’ in John 3:16 and made

  1. world = not everyone (#418);
  2. world = his CHOSEN people (#425);
  3. world = those God actually saves and loves (#430).

Please don’t kid us into believing that you haven’t changed the meaning of ‘world’ and who God loves in John 3:16. I’m not falling for your tactics when you have provided the evidence to refute yourself.

B. ‘No’ does not mean ‘yes’

Hammster continued: ‘I have not misrepresented “world” in John 3:16. I just disagree with your use of it. That’s not the same thing as changing the definition. If I had said “world means Calvinists”, or something similar, then you’d be correct’.[7]

I continued:[8] No amount of calling it ‘yes’ when your posts have documented ‘no’ to God’s loving the whole world, will convince me that you have not misinterpret Scripture by adding to what is stated.

And have a guess what?

Another Calvinistic Reformed commentator, Don (D A) Carson, in his commentary on John’s Gospel refutes your perspective on the meaning of ‘world’ with your applying it to God’s chosen people in John 3:16. Of this verse, Carson wrote:

More than any New Testament writer, John develops a theology of the love relations between the Father and the Son, and makes it clear that, as applied to human beings, the love of God is not the consequence of their loveliness but of the sublime truth that ‘God is love’ (1 Jn. 4:16).
From this survey it is clear that it is atypical for John to speak of God’s love for the world, but this truth is therefore made to stand out as all the more wonderful. Jews were familiar with the truth that God loved the children of Israel; here God’s love is not restricted by race. Even so, God’s love is to be admired not because the world is so big and includes so many people, but because the world is so bad: that is the customary connotation of kosmos (‘world’; cf. notes on 1:9). The world is so wicked that John elsewhere forbids Christians to love it or anything in it (1 Jn. 2:15-17). There is no contradiction between this prohibition and the fact that God does love it. Christians are not to love the world with the selfish love of participation; God loves the world with the self-less, costly love of redemption (Carson 1991:205, emphasis added).

I continued:[9]

FreeGrace2 wrote, “No, the heart is that God created the human race antagonistic to Him” (#441).
You (Hammster) responded:

This is not the heart of Calvinism. That you think so shows that, despite all your time here on CF, you still only know your straw man view of Calvinism. I honestly cannot see how trying to correct you further will be of any benefit. You may continue to call this a dodge. I frankly do not care.[10]

I could not let him get away with this one.[11] That is factually untrue for some Calvinists. It is the heart of Calvinism for some like John Piper, the double-predestinarian, when he stated this?

It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.

God is taking life every day. He will take 50,000 lives today. Life is in God’s hand. God decides when your last heartbeat will be, and whether it ends through cancer or a bullet wound. God governs.

So God is God! He rules and governs everything. And everything he does is just and right and good. God owes us nothing.

If I were to drop dead right now, or a suicide bomber downstairs were to blow this building up and I were blown into smithereens, God would have done me no wrong. He does no wrong to anybody when he takes their life, whether at 2 weeks or at age 92′ (‘What Made It OK for God to Kill Women, Children in Old Testament?‘, The Christian Post, February 6, 2012, emphasis added).

By application, is it right for God to slaughter 3,000 people and leave 3,000 victims on September 11, 2001 in the USA? What about the cause of all rapes of children around the world? How about the suicide bombers and the deaths caused by Muslims? Who is the cause of these ‘calamities’? Is it right for God to do this ‘anytime he pleases’ (Piper’s words)?

So did God slaughter all those people on September 11, 2001? What about the carnage that is going on today in Syria and the South Sudan? What about the children who are being raped by paedophiles in your country and mine? Is it right for God to do these things ‘anytime he pleases’ (to use John Piper’s words)?

C. Conclusion

A Calvinist such as Hammster is an example of how the Calvinistic Reformed deliberately change the meaning of ‘world’ in John 3:16 to make it mean ‘not everyone’, ‘his chosen people’ or ‘he saves those he loves and that is not the whole world of all people’.

This is a classic example of distortion or lying about the truth of ‘world’ in John 3:16.

We know that God’s love for all of the people throughout the world was manifest when Jesus died on the cross, not for the elect but for the whole world. This is stated clearly in 1 John 2:2 (ESV): ‘He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world’.

D. Works consulted

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

E. Notes

[1] Christian Forums 2014. In Arminianism, God excludes some people from salvation. OzSpen#459. Available at: (Accessed 209 April 2014). I, Spencer Gear, am OzSpen.

[2] Ibid., Hammster#458.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#459.

[4] Hammster #418, Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology DEBATE, ‘In Arminianism, God excludes some people from salvation’, available at: (Accessed 29 April 2014).

[5] Ibid., Hammster#425.

[6] Ibid., Hammster#430.

[7] Ibid., Hammster#461.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen#462.

[9] Ibid., OzSpen#468.

[10] Ibid., Hammster#460.

[11] Ibid., OzSpen#468.


Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 7 August 2016.

Heresy or not: First-born of creation

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

File:People burned as heretics.jpg

(people burned as heretics, image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Colossians 1:15-20 (ESV)

15 He [God the Father’s beloved Son[1] – Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16For by[2] him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

1. The Controversy

There’s a highly contentious and controversial phrase in this passage about the Son, Jesus Christ. He is:

3d-red-star‘the firstborn of all creation’ (v 15).

For us as English speakers, what immediately comes to your mind when you hear the word, ‘firstborn’?

3d-red-star I think of the first child born in my family. He was conceived in a sexual union between mother and father and he was then born as the first child of the family

We must get rid of that idea when we are dealing with this phrase that Jesus is ‘the firstborn of all creation’.

There was a heresy that emerged in the Christian church in the fourth century that devastated the church and part of its teaching was a wrong view of the meaning of Jesus being ‘the firstborn of all creation’.

This false teaching is known as …

2. The heresy of Arianism

Arius portré.jpg(image of Arius, courtesy Wikipedia)

What is a heresy?

In NT Greek, the term from which we get the English, ‘heresy’ is hairesis. Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek Lexicon (1957:23) states that hairesis means ‘sect, party, school’. It was used of the Sadducees in Acts 5:17; of the Pharisees in Acts 15:5; of the Christians in Acts 24:5. It is used of a heretical sect or those with destructive opinions in 2 Peter 2:1 (‘destructive heresies’ ESV, NIV). This latter verse uses ‘haireseis (plural) of destruction’.

The Oxford dictionary gives these meanings of heresy:

(a) ‘Belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious (especially Christian) doctrine’;

(b) ‘Opinion profoundly at odds with what is generally accepted’ (Oxford dictionaries 2016. s v heresy).[3]

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

For much of this analysis on Arianism, I’m indebted to systematic theologian, Wayne Grudem (1994:243-245).

Arianism is a heresy that was taught by Arius, a presbyter (church elder) of Alexandria in northern Africa, on the Mediterranean coast of what is Egypt today. Today it’s a bustling sea port on the left bank of the Nile River. Founded in 331 BC by Alexander the Great, it is understood that Christianity was brought to this city by the evangelist, Mark. In 2006, it had a population of 4.1 million people and about 80% of Egypt’s exports and imports come through it. It’s the 2nd largest city in Egypt. In the first century (based on a papyrus from AD 32), it had a population of between 500,000 and 1 million.[4]

But that’s not what made it famous in the 4th century. Church historian, Earle Cairns, stated that it unfolded like this: In about 318 or 319, the bishop of Alexandria, Alexander by name, preached to his presbyters on the topic of ‘The Great Mystery of the Trinity in Unity’. One of his presbyters and an ascetic scholar and popular preacher, Arius, attacked that sermon because he thought it failed to support a distinction between the persons in the Godhead. Arius wanted to avoid polytheism and its understanding of many gods, but in opposing Bishop Alexander, he ‘took a position that did injustice to the true deity of Christ’. The issue related to the nature of salvation. ‘Could Christ save [human beings] if He were a demigod, less than true God, and of a similar or different essence from the Father as Eusebius of Nicomedia and Arius respectively asserted? [I use ‘essence’ in the sense of the substance or being of God.] Eusebius of Nicomedia is not to be confused with the distinguished early church historian, Eusebius of Caesarea. Just what was Jesus’ relationship to the Father? (Cairns 1981:133-134).

Arius put Alexandria on the map with views that were condemned by the Council of Nicea that met in Nicea (near Istanbul, Turkey) in AD 325. Arius died in AD 336. Istanbul was formerly called Constantinople.

clip_image001(map courtesy YouTube)

Arius’s teachings included the following (based on Grudem 1994:243-244):

  • God the Son, Jesus, was at one point created by God the Father;
  • Before that creation, the Son did not exist; neither did the Holy Spirit. Only God the Father existed.
  • The Son was a created heavenly being who existed before the rest of creation and he is greater than all of the rest of creation.
  • BUT … he was not equal with God the Father in all of his attributes.
  • It could be said that he was ‘like the Father’ or even ‘similar to the Father’ in nature. But he most definitely could not be ‘of the same nature’ as the Father.
  • The Arians relied heavily on texts that stated that Christ was God’s ‘only begotten’ Son (e.g. John 1:14; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). What does ‘begotten’ mean? It’s an old-fashioned adjective that means something is generated by procreation – by being fathered. So it means to father or produce an offspring.[5] To ‘beget’, according to the Oxford dictionary means ‘(Especially of a man) bring (a child) into existence by the process of reproduction’ (2016. s v beget).[6]
  • That is what got them into theological trouble. They reasoned like this: If Christ is begotten by God the Father, he is conceived by God.
  • Then they turned to a verse like Col 1:15, ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation’. Therefore, ‘first-born’ implies that the Son was brought into existence by the Father. If that were true of the Son, it was also true for the Holy Spirit as well. Both were created beings.

Arius and the Arians met a formidable foe in Athanasius, who lived from about AD 295-373. He was only a young man when he became embroiled in refuting this heretical doctrine. His name is associated with the orthodox view.

His wealthy parents had provided for his theological education in the famous catechetical school of Alexandria. His work De Incarnatione[7] presented his idea of the doctrine of Christ. At the council [of Nicea] 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, though 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 [human beings] (Cairns 1981:134).

Athanasius contended that the question of people’s eternal salvation was dependent on the relationship between the Father and the Son. ‘He held that Christ was coequal, coeternal, and consubstantial [i.e. of the same substance] with the Father, and for these views he suffered exile five times’. However, Athanasius was promoting the orthodox biblical view (Cairns 1981:134).

2.1 Who are the modern day Arians?

They include:

gold-button Jehovah’s Witnesses;

gold-button Locally to where I live in an outer, northern Brisbane suburb, Qld., Australia, there is another active, but small, group of Arians known as the Christadelphians. The Maranatha retirement village on Anzac Ave, Kallangur, Qld 4503[8] is operated as an aged care facility by the Christadelphians.

2.1.1 Jehovah’s Witnesses

(photo of worship at a JW Kingdom Hall, courtesy Wikipedia)

This cult uses Rev. 3:14, where Jesus calls himself ‘the beginning of God’s creation’ to promote a heretical doctrine. According to their publication, Should You Believe in the Trinity?[10] they state that

the Bible plainly states that in his prehuman existence, Jesus was a created spirit being, just as angels were spirit beings created by God. Neither the angels nor Jesus had existed before their creation.

Jesus, in his prehuman existence, was ‘the first-born of all creation’. (Colossians 1:15 NJB). He was ‘the beginning of God’s creation’. (Revelation 3:14, RS Catholic edition)…. Jesus was created by God as the beginning of God’s invisible creations.[11]

But Rev 3:14 does not mean that Jesus was the first being created. Why? The same word for ‘beginning’ (Gk. arche) is used by Jesus when he says that he is ‘the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 22:13). In that verse, ‘beginning’ is a synonym for “Alpha” and ‘first’.

We also have God the Father saying of himself, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega” (Rev. 1:8). In both cases, to be ‘the Alpha’ or ‘the beginning’ means to be the one who was there before anything else existed.

The word does not state or imply that Jesus, the Son, was a created being who was begotten by God or that there was a time when he began to be. This is because both the Father and the Son have always been ‘the Alpha and the Omega’ and ‘the beginning and the end’, since they have existed eternally.

The NIV translates Rev. 3:14 with a different emphasis, ‘the ruler of God’s creation’. Remember that the NIV is a dynamic equivalence translation that gives meaning-for-meaning and not word-for-word translation. The NIV for Rev. 3:14 is an acceptable alternative for arche: see the same meaning in Luke 12:11 and Titus 3:1.

See the article by Ryan Turner, ‘Arianism and Its Influence Today’.[12]

2.2 These texts do not support the Arian position

Grudem puts it this way:

Colossians 1:15, which calls Christ “the first-born of all creation,” is better understood to mean that Christ has the rights or privileges of the “first-born”—that is, according to biblical usage and custom, the right of leadership or authority in the family for one’s generation. (Note Heb. 12:16 where Esau is said to have sold his “first-born status” or “birthright”—the Greek word protokia is cognate[13] to the term protokos, “first-born” in Col. 1:15.) So Colossians 1:15 means that Christ has the privileges of authority and rule, the privileges belonging to the “first-born,” but with respect to the whole creation. The NIV translates it helpfully, “the firstborn over all creation” (Grudem 1994:243-244).

2.2.1 Christ the ‘only begotten Son’

What about the texts that say that Christ was God’s ‘only begotten Son’? The early church was convinced that there were many texts that supported Christ as being fully and completely God so they concluded that ‘only begotten’ did not mean ‘created’ and that is how they put it in the Nicene Creed of 325. It affirmed that Christ was ‘begotten, not made’. This is what the first version of the Creed stated:

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 (homoousion) with the Father.[14]

This was reaffirmed at the Council of Constantinople in 381. But a phrase, ‘before all ages’ was added after ‘begotten of the Father’, so that people would understand that this ‘begetting’ was eternal. There was no point in time when Jesus’ begetting was happening. It was eternally true.

Grudem’s view was that ‘the nature of that ‘begetting’ has never been defined very clearly, other than to say that it has to do with the relationship between the Father and the Son, and that in some sense the Father has eternally had a primacy in that relationship’ (Grudem 1994:244).

3. Conclusion

The phrase ‘firstborn of all creation’ (Col 1:15 ESV) led to the heretical interpretation by the Arians that Jesus was a being created by God the Father who existed before the rest of creation, but he was not equal with God. They relied on texts which emphasised ‘firstborn’ and ‘only begotten’ to describe the origin of Jesus.

In this short exposition, it was shown that ‘firstborn of all creation’ means that Jesus has the rights or privileges of the family’s firstborn but it means that Christ has the privileges and authority of the firstborn in regard to all of creation. Thus he is ‘the firstborn over all of creation’ (NIV). However, he is not a created being but has existed eternally.

To speak of Christ as the ‘only begotten Son’ does not mean that he was begotten as a creation of the Father but that he was fully and completely God, of one substance with the Father. While ‘begetting’ has not been defined clearly from a biblical understanding of the text, it deals with the relationship of the Father and the Son, and the Father in some sense has eternally had a priority in the relationship with the Son (and the Holy Spirit).

Modern promoters of the heresy of Arianism include the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christadelphians.

Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (4th ed). London: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition to Zondervan Publishing House).

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

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


[1] The context is vv 13-14 which identifies the Father God (v. 13) and ‘his beloved Son’ (v. 14).

[2] Footnote, ‘That is, by means of; or ini.

[3] Available at: (Accessed 12 May 2016). Throughout this document I’ll use ‘s v’ as an acronym for the Latin ‘sub verba’, i.e. under the word. When I write ‘ s v heresy’, it means that you need to go to the reference in the resource to obtain the meaning (here it is Oxford dictionaries online) and check the word, ‘heresy’. S v is used primarily for dictionary and encyclopaedia entries.

[4] This is based on information from Catholic Encyclopedia (1907. s v Alexandria); Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Alexandria, Egypt); Wikipedia (2016. s v Alexandria).

[5] This definition is from ‘begotten’,, available at: (Accessed 18 March 2014).

[6] Available at: (Accessed 12 May 2016).

[7] An English translation of this document is available as, ‘On the Incarnation of the Word’ at New Advent (online). Available at: (Accessed 12 May 2016).

[8] It is at 1582 Anzac Ave., Kallangur, Qld 4503. Details at: (Accessed 12 May 2016).

[10] Brooklyn, N.Y.: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, 1989, p. 14. This booklet was previously available online by the Watch Tower, but it has been removed. Another source, The Snarky Apologist INFO blog, has provided this booklet online at: (Accessed 19 March 2014). I located an abbreviated edition of the JW article at: (Accessed 12 May 2016).

[11] Ibid., p. 14.

[12] CARM (online). Available at: (Accessed 12 May 2016).

[13] ‘Cognate’ is used in linguistics to mean, ‘(Of a word) having the same linguistic derivation as another (e.g. English father, German Vater, Latin pater)’ [Oxford dictionaries online 2016. s v cognate].

[14] In Grudem (1994:244). Grudem noted that ‘this is the original form of the Nicene Creed, but it was later modified by the Council of Constantinople in 381 and there took the form that is commonly called the “Nicene Creed” by churches today. This text is taken from Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 3 vols (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983 reprint of 1931 edition), 1:28-29’ (Grudem 1994:244, n. 25).


Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 8 June 2016.

Was the Gospel of Matthew written in Hebrew?

Sunday, May 8th, 2016

Hebrew Commandements Clip Art

(Hebrew commandments, courtesy

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Since the original documents of the New Testament (known as the autographa) are no longer available to us, what evidence do we have that the Gospel of Matthew was written in Aramaic or Hebrew? How soon after Jesus’ crucifixion was it written?

This has been an issue raised by both scholars and the laity. John Wenham, in his Redating Matthew, Mark & Luke (1992) claimed that the dating of Matthew was ‘more complicated’ than for Mark and Luke. ‘The universal tradition of the early church is that Matthew “in the Hebrew dialect” was the first gospel’. For Wenham, he argued ‘with some reserve that Matthew was indeed the first gospel, and that it may possibly have been written in Hebrew or Aramaic, and that it was known to Mark’. He left open the ‘question whether Mark knew Matthew in a Semitic or a Greek form’ (Wenham 1992:xxiii). Wenham’s ‘chronological table’ of the synoptic gospels dates Matthew about AD 40, Mark about AD 45, Luke about AD 54, and the Acts of the Apostles AD 62 (Wenham 1992:xxv -xxvi). With qualifications and alternatives not stated, J A T Robinson argued for a dating of the Gospel of Matthew to about 40-60+ (Robinson1976:352).

A couple of the laity online wanted to debate this, ‘I believe Matthew to be the oldest writing of the Synoptic Gospels. The original Script was written in Hebrew for the Jew’.[1] A retort was: ‘Our Matthew was pretty clearly composed in Greek; it is not a translation. In any case, most Jews of that time read Greek rather than Hebrew; that is why the OT had been translated into Greek long before’.[2]

1. What does early history indicate?

Let’s check out the information from early Christian writers.[3]

1.1 Papias

(image of Roman Calendar ca. 60 BC, courtesy Wikipedia)


Papias (ca 70-163), bishop of Hierapolis, Asia Minor was said to be ‘a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp’. There are five extant writings of Papias and Irenaeus claimed that these were the only writings from the pen of Papias (see ‘Writings of Papias’, Philip Schaff). Irenaeus’s words were, ‘For there were five books compiled (suntetagmena)[4] by him’ (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5:3.4).

In Papias’s writings, known as Expositions of the Oracles of the Lord, it is stated by Eusebius of Caesarea, that he wrote: ‘So then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able’ (in Eusebius, Church History, 3.39.16). Papias lived within 50 years after the death and resurrection of Christ.

Details of the life, ministry and writings of Papias are found in St. Papias (New Advent, Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911).

1.2 Origen

(Origen, image courtesy Wikipedia)


Eusebius also wrote that Origen (ca 185-232) stated: ‘Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew, who was once a publican, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism, and published in the Hebrew language’ (in Eusebius, Church History 6.25.4).

1.3  Irenaeus

About AD 180, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in Gaul, wrote:

Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome and laying the foundation of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon his breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia. (Against Heresies 3:1:1).

Information about Origen’s life and ministry are available at, Origen and Origenism (New Advent, Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911).

1.4  Eusebius of Caesarea

File:Eusebius of Caesarea.jpg(Eusebius of Caesarea, image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)


This early church historian (ca 260-341), wrote himself: ‘For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue’ (Eusebius, Church History, 3.24.6).

Details of the life, writings and ministry of Eusebius are found in Eusebius of Caesarea (New Advent, Catholic Encyclopedia, 1909).

2. What about the dating of Matthew?

How would you respond to this online post on a Christian forum concerning the dating of Matthew and Mark?

The date of the writing of Matthew is thought to be around 50 A.D. and Mark around 68 A.D. None of this is important to our Salvation of what book was written first, and if you are a born again believer, you should know that. Men waste more time on defending their knowledge or what they know about God instead being known by God. We all spend too much time on talking instead of listening to God. The Lord is weeping.[5]

I replied:[6] I wished he would document the sources from where he obtained the information that Matthew was written around AD 50 and Mark around AD 68. To say that it ‘is thought to be’ hardly presents convincing evidence.

Everett Harrison, in his Introduction to the New Testament (1971) gave reasons for contradicting your view and then draws this conclusion: ‘A date for Matthew sometime between 70 and 80 seems to fit the circumstances [which he has articulated] to best advantage. It may be of interest that Eusebius held that Matthew had been written after Mark and Luke’ (Harrison 1971:176). The reference that Harrison gave was to Eusebius stated:[7]

6. For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue, and thus compensated those whom he was obliged to leave for the loss of his presence.

7. And when Mark and Luke had already published their Gospels, they say that John, who had employed all his time in proclaiming the Gospel orally, finally proceeded to write for the following reason. The three Gospels already mentioned having come into the hands of all and into his own too, they say that he accepted them and bore witness to their truthfulness; but that there was lacking in them an account of the deeds done by Christ at the beginning of his ministry (Eusebius, Church History, 3:24.6-7).

The person online wanted to brush aside the importance of the date of composition of Matthew with this language, ‘None of this is important to our salvation of what book was written first, and if you are a born again believer, you should know that ‘.

I beg to differ. Knowledge of salvation is obtained from the Scripture. Does the book of Matthew contain reliable information or knowledge about the Gospel? One element in determining the reliability of Matthew’s Gospel includes external evidence. This evidence includes knowledge of authorship, date of writing, and the recipients of the letter.

It may not be important to this Christian, but for me as a Bible teacher it is one piece of information that I seek – to determine the authenticity and validity of the Gospel of Matthew.

3. Conclusion

The earliest evidence we have available to us through the secondary source of Eusebius is that Papias and Origen supported Matthew’s gospel originally written in the Jews own dialect, which would be Hebrew or Aramaic. Eusebius gives his own primary evidence that Matthew preached to his own people and wrote his Gospel in his native tongue. As a Jew, Matthew would have spoken Hebrew or Aramaic as his language.

Harrison’s investigation of the dating of Matthew concluded with a possible date was about AD 70-80. However, Robinson placed it between 40 and 60. Wenham’s calculation was about AD 40.

Works consulted

Harrison, E F 1971. Introduction to the New Testament, rev ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Robinson, J A T 1976. Redating the New Testament. London: SCM Press Ltd.

Wenham J 1992. Redating Matthew, Mark & Luke: A fresh assault on the Synoptic problem. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.


[1] Christian, The Lounge, Who checks the facts (online), Douglas Summers#52, 6 May 2016. Available at: (Accessed 7 May 2016).

[2] Ibid., Radagast#53.

[3] This was my reply at ibid., OzSpen#54.

[4] The original Greek used was in Irenaeus’s writings and it is here transliterated because of this website’s difficulty in uploading documents with Greek characters.

[5] Ibid., Douglas Summers#55.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#56.

[7] The reference was in Harrison (1971:176, n 18).


Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 8 May 2016.