Archive for the 'Faith' Category

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.

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(courtesy www.custardapples.com.au)

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

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(photo courtesy toptropicals.com)

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: http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/years-later-the-life-and-death-of-daniel-morcombe/story-fnihsrf2-1226776823830 (Accessed 28 August 2016).

[2] ABC News, 2014. Daniel Morcombe’s killer sentenced to life in prison (online), 15 March. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-14/daniel-morcombe-killer-brett-peter-cowan-sentenced/5320538 (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: http://www.bible-history.com/court-of-women/women.html (Accessed 10 May 2016).

[7] What is a midrash? (online), Got Questions? Available at: http://www.gotquestions.org/Mishnah-midrash.html (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

(source: mapsofworld.com)

Where are these poorest of poor countries?

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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.

Or,

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: http://d3pi8hptl0qhh4.cloudfront.net/documents/sbjt/sbjt_2000fall3.pdf (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: http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php/2007/04/03/six-points-on-luthers-epistle-of-straw/ (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, http://matt1618.freeyellow.com/preface.html (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: http://spindleworks.com/library/wcf/ward.htm (Accessed 12 April 2016).

[8] Available at: http://benhoyt.com/writings/pew/#chapter16 (Accessed 11 April 2016).

[9] Christian Forums.net 2016. The Lounge, ‘Missionary needs help in India’, 9 April 2016, Natha#4. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/missionary-needs-help-in-india.62588/ (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: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/early-church-history.64075/ (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.

Eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus (John 6:53-54, 60, 66)

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

clip_image002

(image of Eucharist courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

It is not unusual to meet someone with an Anglo-Catholic understanding of the Eucharist who makes extreme claims like this:

If you are WRONG then you are divisive. When Jesus says this is my flesh/blood and you then say it isn’t….you are being divisive. One of us is right and the other is wrong.

No pointing fingers. He is flat out wrong and so are you if you don’t believe what Jesus said. I believe what Jesus said.[1]

I had made the comment to another person online:[2]

The Roman Catholic New Advent exposition of ‘The real presence as a fact’ states: ‘The whole structure of the discourse [John 6] of promise demands a literal interpretation of the words: “eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood”‘ (The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist).

Interpreting it literally sure sounds to be closer to being a vampire.

A. You are non-believers if you don’t accept what I believe about the teaching on Jesus’ body and blood.

This fellow became even more dogmatic:

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day” [John 6:52-54]. Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him [John 6:66].

The Jews questioned Him and you can see what he told them. Now you are questioning Him. I think he has the same message for you. They walked away and so are you. How sad.

clip_image004So I Tom55 say to you non-believers what Jesus told the Jews….VERY TRULY I TELL YOU IT IS HIS FLESH AND BLOOD. Walk away if you want. It won’t effect (sic) my salvation

As we know “This is a hard saying so who can listen to it?”  Apparently those of you who don’t believe what Jesus said (blue font emphasis added)[4].

So those who don’t accept his sacramental view of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his flesh are non-believers who don’t believe what Jesus said.

Really? Or is this tom55, the interpreter, imposing his view on the biblical text? Could Tom be engaging in eisegesis instead of exegesis of John 6:53-54?

See the article, ‘What is the difference between exegesis and eisegesis?[5]

Now let’s do some checking, using contextual interpretation of Scripture.

B. Which is the correct interpretation?

Let’s check who is really right or wrong. Could this be a classic example of misinterpretation because of failure to observe the context?

John 6:47-58 (ESV) states:

47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread[a] the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live for ever.”

C. Meaning of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood

1. Let us deal with the meaning of vv 53-54,[6] which states,

53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day’.

Here, Jesus repeats a truth he stated as the second part of v. 51, ‘If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever’. Note the emphasis in v. 53, ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man … you have no life in you.’ Now v 54, ‘Whoever feeds on my flesh … has eternal life’.

2. What will be the result of this? ‘I will raise him up on the last day’ (v 54).

3. Who is the one whose flesh is eaten? He has the title of ‘the Son of Man’ (v. 53). Yes, he is a fleshly human being – a man – but God has placed his seal of approval on him (Jn 6:27).

4. So the meaning is that the Son of Man is a title given to Jesus, but it does not overlook the fact that he is a flesh and blood human being. The supreme revelation of God is through Jesus, the Son of Man. Unlike any other fleshly human being, he has the amazing ability to grant a person eternal life if that one ‘eats’ of him.

5. ‘Drink his/my blood’ is added in vv 53 & 54. The Jews objected strongly to this statement (see v 51). Why? The Law of Moses forbade the drinking of blood (see Gen 9:2-4 ESV). So to drink the blood of the Son of Man was offensive to them.

6. John 6:54 & 40 have a close connection:

(a) v. 54, ‘Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day’, and

(b) v. 40, ‘For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day’.

clip_image006The only major difference between these two verses is eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood vs. looking to the Son and believing in Him. We come to an obvious conclusion of interpretation: The eating the flesh and drinking the flood is a metaphorical way of referring to looking to the Son and believing in the Son. How come? The result of both activities is the same – receiving eternal life and being raised on the last day.

7. This caused the eminent church father, St. Augustine of Hippo, to state: ‘Believe, and you have eaten’ [Tractate 25.12 (John 6:15-44)]. This is a concise summary of the teaching of John 6:53-54.

8. There are no indications in John 6:53-54 that this refers to the Lord’s Supper. If we make it refer to the Eucharist, it means that one of the things necessary to receive eternal life is to participate in the Lord’s Supper to eat the body and drink the blood. This would amount to works religion which is antithetical to New Testament Christianity (Eph 2:8-9 ESV).

9. There are cannibalistic overtones if one accepts the literal body and blood instead of the metaphorical meaning that points to looking to Jesus and believing in Him to receive eternal life.

10. When John stated, ‘And I will raise him up at the last day’ (John 6:40, 54), it demonstrates that eating the flesh and drinking the blood literally does not confer immortality/resurrection at the last day. The Lord’s Supper/Eucharist is not designed for immortality. However looking to the Son and believing in Him are for that purpose.

D. How to add confusion: Tom’s responses

This fellow added bewilderment with his deliberate distortion of what I wrote. This is his answer to the 10 points above. [7] I’ll reply as Oz[8] between each point to determine if he had understood what I wrote and responded accurately:

1. Thank you for making my point. I agree with you. “Jesus repeats a truth” which means it was important which is why he repeated it.

Oz: He has not known the truth to which I referred. I’ll repeat what I stated: Jesus repeats a truth he stated as the second part of v. 51, ‘If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever’. Note the emphasis in v. 53, ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man … you have no life in you.’ Now v 54, ‘Whoever feeds on my flesh … has eternal life’.

The truth repeated is this: When Jesus said anyone was to eat his flesh, it meant that it was the means of receiving eternal life, living forever. It was not referring to eating Jesus’ literal flesh but to living forever through faith in Jesus Christ. To eat his literal flesh then or now was impossible. He was not dead when he said this. After his death, there was no literal flesh to consume (and so to avoid the charge of cannibalism).

This demonstrates that Tom is so entrenched in his Roman Catholicism of interpreting the eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood as literal that he cannot understand the context is referring to a metaphor for receiving eternal life.

What’s a metaphor? A metaphor is ‘a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money); broadly: figurative language’ (Merriam-Webster Dictionary. s v metaphor).

2. And the result of this truth is ‘I will raise him up on the last day’

Oz: The result of eternal life is that the believer will be raised up at the last day. The result of eating the flesh and drinking the blood literally is not being raised up. The resurrection at the last day is dependent on a person receiving eternal life before that person’s physical death.

3-4-6 is double speak, confusing and rubbish

Oz: This is an offensive way of addressing me and does not deal with the content of what I wrote. Therefore it is a red herring fallacy of a reply.

What did I say in #3? I referred to the one whose flesh was eaten had the title of ‘the Son of Man’ (v. 53). While on earth, he was a man of flesh and God approved him (Jn 6:27). What’s double speak, confusing and rubbish about that? I know I needed to explain further the meaning of the Son of Man. To explain the meaning of this title for Jesus, see What does it mean that Jesus is the Son of Man? (gotquestions.org).

In #4 I continued with the emphasis that the Son of Man title for Jesus does not overlook his being a flesh and blood human being. This amazing, fleshly Son of Man has the ability to grant anyone eternal life if he/she ‘eats’ of him, i.e. eats = has faith in him.

My point at #6 of the close connection between John 6:40 and 54 was not explained well enough by me. The close connection is that those who look to the Son and believe in Him have eternal life (John 6:40) and that’s the message of John 6:54 except that Jesus uses the metaphor of eating his flesh and drinking his blood to have eternal life.

5. You are right about the Jews and it being abominable to them. They walked away and then Jesus doubled down on what he said. He didn’t clarify and say it was a metaphor or a symbol. He let them walk away and asked his Apostles if they were going to walk. IT WAS A HARD SAYING!! They didn’t believe him….. Just like you don’t.

Of course the Jews would object to the eating of flesh and drinking of blood that Jesus used (see my comment in #5) because they didn’t understand the metaphor Jesus was using. This is not a rubbish of an explanation but a fact. If anyone reads John 6:53-54 in a literal fashion, they would find it abhorrent. It was a hard saying because it would require the Jews to believe in the Son of Man to receive eternal life. They were not near ready to do that.

7. I am glad you brought up Augustine. Like a good protestant you only quoted what fit your belief. Here is more of what he said:

“I promised you, who have now been baptized, a sermon in which I would explain the sacrament of the Lord’s table. . . . That bread that you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ” (Sermons 227).

“What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ. This has been said very briefly, which may perhaps be sufficient for faith; yet faith does not desire instruction” (ibid., 272).

“Nobody eats this flesh without previously adoring it” (Explanation of the Psalms 99).

“He took flesh from the flesh of Mary . . . and gave us the same flesh to be eaten unto salvation. . . . We do sin by not adoring

Oz: Like a good Roman Catholic you did two things:

(1) You ignored the quote I gave from Augustine, ‘Believe, and you have eaten’ [Tractate 25.12 (John 6:15-44)]. Augustine knew exactly what John 6 was referring to with the eating and drinking. It dealt with believing in Jesus.

(2) You quote some other examples from Augustine and then don’t understand that Augustine used further metaphors to explain his position. These metaphors are the ones you have highlighted:

  •  That bread … is the body of Christ’.
  •  That chalice … is the blood of Christ’.
  •  The bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ’.
  •  gave us the same flesh to be eaten unto salvation’.

Every one of those examples is a metaphor, just like when Jesus said,

  • ‘I am the door’ (John 10:9 ESV). He was not a literal door.
  • ‘I am the light of the world’ (John 8:12 ESV). He was not a literal, physical light.
  • ‘You are the salt of the earth’ (Matt 5:13 ESV). Christians are not literal salt.

clip_image008The problem Tom runs into is that his RCC fixation on literal flesh and blood will not allow him to see that the context is using these metaphors as believing, in order to receive eternal life and to be resurrected at the last day.

8. During the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said “this is my body/blood do this in remembrance of me” and your theory there are no indications John 6:53-54 it refers to the Lords Supper?? You TWISTED that so much it broke!!!

Oz: No, Tom, I have ‘twisted’ nothing. I have read the verses in context and there is not a word in John 6 to indicate a thing about the Lord’s Supper. There is not a word that Jesus was here referring to the Eucharist – not a single word.

9. Look up the definition of the word cannibalism.

Oz: Why didn’t you provide me with that definition, Tom?

Look again at what I wrote at #9: ‘There are cannibalistic overtones if one accepts the literal body and blood instead of the metaphorical meaning that points to looking to Jesus and believing in Him to receive eternal life’.

What’s the definition of cannibalism? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s first definition is that cannibalism means ‘the usually ritualistic eating of human flesh by a human being’ (s v cannibalism).

What I wrote was true to the definition. It is Tom’s position that plays into the overtones of cannibalism in the ‘ritualistic’ eating of the flesh and blood of a human being – Jesus.

10. Makes no sense.

Oz: Perhaps my explanation was not as clear as it ought to have been. I wrote at this point: When John stated, ‘And I will raise him up at the last day’ (John 6:40, 54), it demonstrates that eating the flesh and drinking the blood literally does not confer immortality/resurrection at the last day. The Lord’s Supper/Eucharist is not designed for immortality. However looking to the Son and believing in Him are for that purpose.

clip_image010This is what I meant: To be able to speak of resurrection at the last day (John 6:40, 54), one has to have received eternal life. Therefore, what John is stating in using the metaphor of eating flesh and drinking blood is to give a picture of how to receive eternal life. To engage in physical eating of human flesh and drinking human blood does not bring eternal life that leads to last day resurrection. What does do this? Looking to the Son and believing in him.

That’s exactly what John was teaching in John 6:40, 54. He was not dealing with a literal eating of flesh and blood but referred to a metaphor of eating flesh and blood that was designed to represent the faith in Jesus to receive eternal life.

E. John 6:60, 66: Why did many of Jesus’ disciples desert him?

Let’s deal with two verses that Roman Catholics sometimes use to support their claim that John 6:53-54 refers to the bread and the wine literally becoming the flesh and blood of Jesus when the Eucharist is celebrated. Tom indicated in his statement about John 6:66 that those who don’t believe this refers to literal flesh and blood are regarded by him, a Roman Catholic, as non-believers (see above).

Those verses are:

  • John 6:60 (ESV), ‘When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”’ and
  • John 6:66 (ESV), ‘After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him’.

1. Who were these disciples?

You will note from John 6:67 (ESV), the context of John 6:66, ‘So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”’ So the ‘disciples’ of John 6:66 are separate from the Twelve.

Who were these disciples who were not among the Twelve? The larger context from John 6:59 infers that they were Galileans (from Capernaum) and were from a larger group of disciples who followed Jesus. A sifting of the larger group of disciples began to take place here (John 6:60, 66). Verse 66 says ‘many of his disciples turned back’. It does not say that all of his extra disciples deserted him; however, many did. We do know that of the number who remained true to Jesus, there were more than 500 brothers and sisters who assembled to meet the risen Jesus after his resurrection, according to 1 Cor 15:6 (ESV).

2. How did the disciples respond to Jesus?

According to John 6:60, the disciples (not the Twelve) reacted with skleros to Jesus’ message. They, figuratively, reacted in words that were ‘hard, harsh, unpleasant’ (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:763.1.b). Lenski describes the skleros reaction as ‘“stiff,” dried out and hard, like a twig that has become brittle. The word does not here mean dark and difficult to understand but objectionable, offensive, impossible to accept and to believe’ (Lenski 1943:504-505).

In John 6:60, where it states, ‘This is a hard saying’, the Greek, ho logos houtos (Lit. the saying this), we need to comprehend that this refers to the entire Bread of Life discourse (John 6:22-59). What offended them and caused the stiff, unbending, harsh reaction? In this discourse there seems to be four main issues about which they reacted (stated by Carson 1991:300):

(a) They were more interested in food (6:26), Jesus’ becoming a political king (6:14-15), and manipulating the miraculous (6:30-31), than in dealing with the spiritual realities of eternal life.

(b) They were unprepared to give up their personal, sovereign authority, even in Christian matters. So they did not take the first steps of genuine faith (see 6:41-46).

(c) What particularly got up their noses was Jesus’ claim that he was greater than Moses and was sent by God and uniquely qualified to give life (John 6:32ff., 58), and

(d) The stark metaphor of eating the flesh and drinking the blood (John 6:53-54) was offensive to them.

Those who consider that in John 6:60, 66, John is speaking in terms of the human body or humanity, have a general objection that this is referring to the ‘the idea of eating and drinking the human nature of the one whom these disciples saw standing before their eyes like any other man’ (Lenski 1943:505). This is how the Roman Catholics interpret it – as literal body and blood. Tim Staples gives his RC explanation:

When we examine the surrounding context of John 6:53, Jesus’ words could hardly have been clearer. In verse 51, he plainly claims to be “the living bread” that his followers must eat. And he says in no uncertain terms that “the bread which I shall give . . . is my flesh.” Then, when the Jews were found “disput[ing] among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” in verse 52, he reiterates even more emphatically, “Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you”….

Moreover, when we consider the language used by John, a literal interpretation—however disturbing—becomes even more obvious. In John 6:50-53 we encounter various forms of the Greek verb phago, “eating.” However, after the Jews begin to express incredulity at the idea of eating Christ’s flesh, the language begins to intensify. In verse 54, John begins to use trogo instead of phago. Trogo is a decidedly more graphic term, meaning “to chew on” or to “gnaw on”—as when an animal is ripping apart its prey (Staples 2010).

However, the wider context (as I have tried to show in this article) demonstrates that the eating of the flesh and drinking the blood is used as a metaphor to demonstrate the nature of belief in Jesus that leads to eternal life and the resurrection at the end of the world, i.e. ‘I will raise them up at the last day’ (John 6:54 NIV).

3. Alleged disciples do not make Christian believers

Since many of Jesus’ disciples here found his teaching to be harsh, the question needs to be asked: Were these ‘disciples’ true believers who became hardened by his message and stiffly resisted it, or were they really unbelievers who gave up pursuing Jesus? Carson explained:

“Disciples” must be distinguished from “the Twelve” (cf. vv. 66-67). More importantly, just as there is faith and faith (2:23-25), so are there disciples and disciples. At the most elementary level, a disciple is someone who is at that point following Jesus, either literally by joining the group that pursued him from place to place, or metaphorically in regarding him as the authoritative teacher. Such a “disciple” is not necessarily a “Christian”, someone who has savingly trusted Jesus and sworn allegiance to him, given by the Father to the Son, drawn by the Father and born again by the Spirit. Jesus will make it clear in due course that only those who continue in his word are truly his ‘disciples’ (8:31). The ‘disciples’ described here do not remain in his word; they find it to be hard teaching…. These “disciples” will not long remain disciples, because they find Jesus word intolerable (Carson 1991:300).

The conclusion is that John 6:60 and 66 refer to a bunch of disciples (not the Twelve) whose faith was so frail or non-existent that they found it easy to drift away when they couldn’t tolerate the stiff, hard, harsh or unpleasant teachings of Jesus in his whole Bread of Life discourse. Therefore, they did not continue in his teachings and can be written off as his disciples.

F. When will the supply run out?

One fellow asked these two brilliant questions:

Regarding the eating and drinking of “Jesus’ flesh and blood” being ‘literal’, how long will it be before it has all been consumed and none remains?

Or is it not that ‘literal’?[9]

G. Conclusion

In context, the meaning of John 6:53-54 is easy to discern. It has to do with obtaining eternal life and being raised at the last day. Therefore, it could not refer to the literal eating of Jesus’ body or drinking of Jesus’ blood. It is a metaphor for believing in Jesus.

Image result for clipart believeIt does not refer to a sacramental view of the Eucharist. Therefore, those who disbelieve in the literal meaning of the body and blood of Jesus are not non-believers but are Christians who correctly interpret these two verses in context. This is a classic example of how eisegesis can overcome a passage and cause it to become void of sound exegesis.

It is important to believe what Jesus stated but the meaning of some of his statements are sometimes misconstrued because of lack of knowledge of the culture from 2,000 years ago or failure to engage in careful hermeneutics in context. That’s the issue with tom55. He has failed to interpret contextually and then has labelled people who don’t believe as he believes, as non-believers. He thus has become a dogmatic extremist in his approach to other believers.

Augustine summarised the biblical content well: ‘Believe, and you have eaten’.

It was expected that a Roman Catholic would distort this metaphorical meaning of eating the flesh and drinking the blood to indicate believing in Jesus to receive eternal life. He could not get out of his fixation with a literal eating and drinking, which makes no sense in context or throughout Scripture.

As for the disciples who deserted Jesus, these were not the Twelve but part of a larger group of followers who may not have been believers. However, there was a separation of the wheat from the weeds in discerning true believers from the false.

H. Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature [10]. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

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

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).

Staples, T 2010. What Catholics believe about John 6. This Rock 21(6), November. Available from Catholic Answers (1996-2016) at: http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/what-catholics-believe-about-john-6 (Accessed 1 September 2016).

I.  Notes


[1] Christianity Board 2012. In Reference To CyBs Statement of Faith – Christian Forum (online), tom55#251. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/17009-in-reference-to-cybs-statement-of-faith-christian-forum/page-9 (Accessed 20 August 2016).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#250.

[4] Ibid., tom55#252.

[5] Got Questions Ministries 2002-2016. What is the difference between exegesis and eisegesis? (online) Available at: http://www.gotquestions.org/exegesis-eisegesis.html (Accessed 20 August 2016).

[6] Many of the following points are based on Carson (1991:296-297).

[7] Ibid., tom55#254.

[8] My response is at ibid., OzSpen#257.

[9] Ibid., Oneoff#256.

[10] 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: 1 September 2016.

Continue in the faith to guarantee eternal life

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

Great advice. I'm a master at second guessing and ruminating. Just need to let go and trust my intuition.

Image result for "Perseverance of the saints" clipartBy Spencer D Gear

There is often interaction (banter) on Christian forums among those who believe in unconditional eternal security and those who don’t. I engage in some of this as a convinced Reformed Arminian. I had stated that these verses support the view that salvation can be lost:[1]

Hebrews 6:4-6 (ESV) is clear enough for me:

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

We also have 1 Timothy 1:18-20,

18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme (ESV).

So by rejecting faith and a good conscience, some have shipwrecked their faith. Is that too difficult to understand?

Then we have John 3:36,

Whoever believes [continues believing] in the Son has [continues having] eternal life; whoever does not obey [continues not obeying] the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains [continues remaining] on him.

What I have inserted in square brackets [ ] indicates the meaning of the Greek present tense. There is only eternal life for those who continue believing in the Son, Jesus, and continue to remain in him. There is no eternal life for those who continue not to obey the Son.

Meaning of ‘in the faith’

There was this reply to another person:

Yes, continuing in the faith is the overriding necessity to finally receive eternal life.

For salvation is a life-long process, not an instantaneous one.
Now, it is necessary to ascertain really what “in the faith” really entails.
I still continue to think it means the same as “in Christ”, but I could be wrong.
Still tryin’ to recover … the Extra.[2]

[3]I agree that continuing in the faith is the necessity for receiving final eternal life. That’s why I prefer the language of ‘perseverance of the saints’ rather than ‘eternal security’.
The ESV translates 1 Tim 1:19 as ‘holding faith’ and John 3:36 as continuing to believe. Second Corinthians 13:5 uses the language this person mentioned of being ‘in the faith’:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (ESV).

I find R C H Lenski’s commentary on this verse to be helpful:

The Corinthians are to apply the right tests to themselves as to ‘whether they are in the faith.’ We do not see how ‘the faith’ can be anything but objective faith: the Christian doctrine and the confession which all believers have. The subjective feature is found in the copula and in the preposition ‘whether you are in.’ One is ‘in’ the objective faith when he has personal, subjective faith and with his whole heart believes the objective faith. The assertion that ‘the faith’ is never used objectively must be challenged as being incorrect.
To try and test oneself is simple enough. A few honest questions honestly answered soon reveal where one stands. There is ‘the faith’ itself, the gospel with its contents. Does my heart receive that, receive it in toto, receive it without change of any kind? Do I reject that or any part of it? Does my heart truly believe this gospel of Christ? Do I trust it? Is my confidence full and strong? (Lenski 1937/1963:1338).

Lenski’s translation of 2 Cor 13:5 is, ‘Start trying your own selves whether you are in the faith, start putting your own selves to the proof! Or do you not fully know your own selves (namely this about yourselves), that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless you, indeed, are disproved! Moreover, I hope that you will know that we on our part are not disproved’ (Lenski 1937/1963:1331-1332).

Conclusion

In spite of the emphasis of Calvinists to support eternal security or once saved, always saved, the biblical stress is on perseverance of the saints. Christians are those who continue to believe and persevere in the faith. Those who don’t continue to believe are lost.

Hebrews 6:4-6 presents very sobering theology: It is impossible for those who have once been saved (the language is ‘enlightened’, ‘tasted’, ‘shared’) and then have fallen away, to repent again. They have committed apostasy by crucifying the Son of God again and holding him up to contempt.

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

clip_image002

(Courtesy Worldcat)

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

Could it be that Templeton may never have been a true believer in Jesus Christ and was preaching a superficial Gospel that sounded like the real thing, but it wasn’t? One comment by another person at the end of this Michael Patton article was to point to

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

Recommended

These are some brief articles on the topic that I have written:

Works consulted

Lenski, R C H 1937/1963. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of St. Paul’s first and second epistles to the Corinthians. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers  (limited edition by special permission of Augsburg Fortress).

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

Notes


[1] OzSpen#46, Christian Forums, ‘What Christians must do to keep their salvation’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7828815-5/#post66025716 (Accessed 21 July 2014).

[2] extraordinary#47, ibid.

[3] OzSpen#49, ibid.

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 18 October 2016.

Turning trash into treasure (James 1:2-4)

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

Litter Disposal Clip Art

(image courtesy clker.com)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Pollster George Barna in the USA ‘was commissioned to inquire of people what one question they would ask of God if they had the opportunity. By an overwhelming margin, the most urgent question was: Why is there so much suffering in the world?’[1]

Amongst some Christians I’ve heard comments like: If you are an obedient, growing and sanctified Christian who seeks to do the will of God, you will not experience horrible suffering. But I ask: What happened to Job, John the Baptist, and the apostle Paul? If bad things happened to them, why can’t they happen to you and me? Ron Rhodes tells the story of a Christian leader who was sledding and ran into a barbed wire fence he didn’t see. He was decapitated. A pastor got into his car and backed over his infant son on the driveway, killing him instantly. A Christian woman saw her husband and child killed when hit by a car. Surely these examples tell us that Christians are experience some of the tragedies of the world around us.[2]

As I was finishing preparation of this message, I received an email from a friend in the UK. He didn’t know I was preparing a sermon on this topic and he said that he had had a disagreement with his wife a few days ago and asked, ‘Why are relationships so difficult?’[3]

Have you ever asked?

clip_image002

(image courtesy lookseekblog.com)

Now let’s read for some answers.

James 1:1-4 (NASB)
Testing Your Faith

James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.

Consider it all joy, my brethren [brothers and sisters], when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

A. Sit up & take notice: This must sink in

We could miss this emphasis in the biblical text, because our English translations begin James 1:2 with something like this: ‘Consider it’ (NIV, NLT, NASB, NET); or ‘Count it’ (KJV, ESV).

This word is addressing these Christians as a group[4] (2nd person plural) with point action for themselves.[5] But what does it mean? Arndt and Gingrich’s Greek lexicon says that the verb[6] means to ‘think, consider, regard, deem it’.[7] Kittel’s Greek word study says it means ‘to regard as particularly important’.[8]

So, in down-to-earth Aussie lingo the Greek means: ‘Sit up & take notice. You must think about it to the point where it must sink in daily’. I ask you to sit up and take notice of what will bring you the greatest maturity in your Christian life now and in succeeding years.

What must we think about? The Greeks put the most important part of the sentence at the beginning.

The NASB starts, ‘Consider it all joy’. The Greek word order literally states, ‘All joy you consider (it)’.

B. Think on all the joy or the pure joy it brings

Is this saying you are to have all kinds of happiness when the Broncos beat the Bulldogs in footie or the Aussies beat the South Africans in cricket?

Is this happiness when the bank balance is comfortable and there are not too many bills to pay? Is James 1:2 talking about being happy when your health is good or manageable and the kids are behaving themselves?

What on earth is joy in a world of strife in Ukraine and Crimea? What about being a Christian in Syria or the South Sudan today? How can there be joy when a large aeroplane is lost on a flight and we don’t know its whereabouts?

What about being a Christian in the midst of the Holocaust, Soviet Gulag, the persecution of Nero? How about with a husband or wife who abuses you? Children who are rebels? Bullies on the job?

What does it mean to have ‘joy’ in the midst of those kinds of circumstance? This is chara in the Greek and related to the verb ‘to rejoice’.

Joy is more than a matter of mood because 1 Thess 3:9 asks: ‘How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?’ (NIV) We know that joy is one of the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22. It is fruit that the Spirit grows in believers.

It’s a paradox: The idea of joy in suffering came from Judaism. Take a read of the Book of Job. See also 1 Peter 2:20-24 and 4:12-14 where suffering is given a Christological perspective. These latter verses read:

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (1 Peter 4:12-14 NIV).

Paul regularly reminded his readers of the source of joy. Its source was beyond human happiness or human joy. It is ‘in the Lord, and therefore outside of ourselves’. That’s why Paul reminded his readers of the origin of joy and exhorted them to manifest it. In Phil 3:1 he said, ‘Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice [i.e. have joy] in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you’ (NIV).[9]

Happiness is based on good outward circumstances. Joy is based on your inner relationship with the Lord and He causes joy to grow in you in your contentment in your relationship with Jesus.

We need to make something clear before we proceed:

C. Ladies: You are not let off the hook

In many translations, James 1:2 in English is addressed to ‘brothers’ or ‘brethren’. Does this exempt the ladies? Is the Book of James sexist and only addressed to blokes and the women can tune out and nod off for the next half hour?

In the NT, ‘adelphos’ can refer to a male brother. But Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon gives examples of how the plural form ‘can also mean brothers and sisters’. In Matt 12:50, Jesus said, ‘For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’. We have examples of the plural term ‘adelphoi’ (brothers) being ‘used by Christians in their relations with each other’ – see Acts 6:3; 9:30; 10:23; Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 5:11; Eph 6:23; 1 Tim 6:2; Rev 1:9; and 12:10.[10]

So for the book of James, you ladies are not left off the hook. James is addressed to ‘brothers’ who are male and female. That doesn’t sound too good in English. But in the Greek we can say that all Christians, male and female, can be addressed as adelphoi.

What happens to the Christian? You are living the daily Christian life and

D. Trash – the horrible stuff – comes into your life

Scrap YardThe ESV translates as ‘meet trials’, NIV as ‘face trials’, NKJV ‘fall into various trials’, and NASB ‘when you encounter various trials’. So you can ‘encounter’ trials.

Is this like joining an ‘encounter group’ from the 1960s, 70s to deal with the trials and tribulations of life? These groups were gatherings of about 10-20 people where there was an opportunity to open up and share the emotional side of what was going on in your life as you experienced it with other group members. There was open sharing – and some had very emotionally charged encounters. It was hoped people would get in touch with their feelings, receive support from others and become more aware of the feelings of others.[11]

Is this what James is talking about? Those groups were a place where many secular and some Christian people went to encounter others and try to gain healing for their emotional ills. Is that what James is dealing with? I hardly think so.

‘Encounter’ or ‘meet’ or ‘face’ or ‘fall into’ is from the verb, peripipt?[12] which means to ‘become involved in’[13] or ‘to come on something accidentally … to be innocently involved in something … In James 1:2, … we have the figurative … emphasis on the swift and unexpected way in which [people] can be involved in temptation’.[14]

Because it is the subjunctive mood, in general, according to Greek guru, John Wenham, it ‘is the mood of doubtful assertion. In nearly all its uses there is some element of indefiniteness in the sentence’.[15] This means that it may happen or may not. This is accentuated by the use of ‘when’ or ‘whenever’ (hotan), which is a conjunction of uncertainty. And because it is the aorist tense it may happen suddenly – point action.

Has this happened to you? Difficulties in your life have come with no notice. It is doubtful and not certain when they come and they can come on you suddenly? That’s what James is communicating to us with that simple verb, ‘encounter’ or ‘fall into’.

Would you agree with Job’s friend, Eliphaz?

Job 5:7 states, ‘Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward’ (NIV)

Job said in Job 14:1, ‘Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble” (NIV)

We have lots of examples of evil and suffering in the Bible.

  • Job lost his family & all of his possessions;
  • David was pursued and persecuted by the jealous and angry Saul for a long time (1 Sam. 20:33; 21:10; 23:8);
  • The wife of Hosea was unfaithful to him (Hosea 1:2; 2:2, 4);
  • Joseph in the OT was badly treated by his brothers and sold into slavery (Gen. 37:27-28);
  • Herod’s step-daughter asked for and got the head of John the Baptist on a plate (Matt. 14:6-10);
  • Paul, the apostle, was jailed several times, was shipwrecked, beaten and left for dead (2 Cor. 11:25).[16] According to 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, Paul wrote: ‘We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed’ (ESV);

These examples show that those who obey God and seek to be faithful believers still may experience horrible suffering. This is suffering for God’s purpose in their lives!

But what are you encountering? The NASB calls them, ‘trials’.

1. Are you experiencing all kinds of life’s ‘garbage’?

I’ve heard Christians say to me, ‘I wish God wouldn’t send all of this junk into my life. It’s garbage and I want to get rid of it. I hate it’.

‘Trials of many kinds’ is the NIV translation. NKJV agrees with the NASB and calls them ‘various trials’. The ESV reads, ‘trials of various kinds’. Would you agree that the trials you experience in your life are just like that – many and varied? And they can come on you suddenly?

I was in the midst of preparing this message in November 2013 when I had another job to do and climbed a ladder in an attempt to clean the leaves from my house gutters, leaves from my neighbour’s trees. But the ladder collapsed and the back of my head slammed onto the concrete at our front door. I became concussed and ended up in Redcliffe hospital. Two weeks later I collapsed with a heart issue when taking a walk and landed head first into the gravel and into hospital and had an ICD implanted in my chest to regulate my heart rhythm. Two weeks later in the early morning while sleeping, I had a grand mal seizure and then into hospital. Talk about trials of various kinds happening suddenly.

J I Packer wrote a wonderful book, A Quest for Godliness, in it he stated: ‘Ease and luxury, such as our affluence brings today, do not make for maturity; hardship and struggle however do’.[17]

Many of you know what I’m talking about. God allows these various trials into our lives, but what’s the purpose of them?

Before we get to the purpose or reason for trials for the believer, we need to talk about what they are. Are they …

2. Trash, garbage or something else?

Many English translations call them ‘trials’ (NIV, NASB, ESV, NET, RSV, NRSV), ‘troubles’ (NLT, CEV), or ‘temptations’ (KJV, Douay-Rheims, ASV, RV).

But what are these trials, troubles or temptations? Peirasmos can mean a ‘test, trial’ or a ‘temptation, enticement to sin’.[18] All of them can be involved. I know that you and I can give examples of what seems like trash through trials and temptations coming into our lives.

In this passage from James 1, God has something special to teach us about the trials of trash in our lives. They are:

E. Horrible stuff with a BIG purpose

(image courtesy vector.me)

James 1:3 tells us exactly why God allows the trials and temptations into our lives. It is for the ‘testing of your faith’. Of what kind of stuff is your faith in God made?

How are diamonds formed? I read an article online from geology.com which stated,

The formation of natural diamonds requires very high temperatures and pressures. These conditions occur in limited zones of Earth’s mantle about 90 miles (150 kilometers) below the surface where temperatures are at least 2000 degrees Fahrenheit (1050 degrees Celsius).[19]

Remember that precious diamonds are made through pressure and very high temperatures.

What about expensive pearls? Science from ‘How stuff works’ tells us that

the formation of a natural pearl begins when a foreign substance slips into the oyster between the mantle and the shell, which irritate­s the mantle. It’s kind of like the oyster getting a splinter. The oyster’s natural reaction is to cover up that irritant to protect itself. The man­tle covers the irritant with layers of the same nacre substance that is used to create the shell. This eventually forms a pearl.[20]

Precious and expensive pearls are caused by an irritant.

God uses a similar process in helping Christians grow to maturity in Christ. Let’s

F. Get in step with God’s plan for you & me

https://i1.wp.com/2.bp.blogspot.com/_YjcJAeRzX-4/TUR2Orsk0ZI/AAAAAAAAAZA/NhxnPY-5WOg/s1600/Image11.jpg?resize=143%2C162

(image courtesy Google, public domain)

How will the diamonds and pearls of sanctification come in our lives? Let’s follow these steps carefully to see how God brings you and me to maturity in the Christian life:

1. You need to know it (1:3)

Verse 3 begins, ‘for you know’ (ESV) or ‘knowing that’ (NASB). This is present continuing action of experiential knowledge.[21] You need to have this knowledge as a continuing experience in your Christian life. Knowledge of what? You will not be able to count it all joy when trials come into our lives unless you continually know by experience what God is up to with your life.

What is God up to? Stay tuned because the reasons are about to unfold.

This is what God is up to in every Christian’s life by allowing trials and temptations to come into your life at ANY time. God is engaged in the task of

2. Refining rubbish (1:3)

It is trash with a purpose in every Christian’s life.

The language in the English translations is that God uses trials in ‘the testing of your faith’ (ESV, NIV, NASB, NET, NKJV, RSV, NRSV), ‘trying of your faith’ (KJV), ‘proving of your faith’ (ASV).

We know from an examination of the papyri that this word, to dikimion, is a noun that means ‘testing’ or ‘means of testing’.[22]

How does that apply to trials as a ‘means of testing’ our faith? It is the …

3. Refining your faith (1:3)

How do you refine gold? Put it in a furnace. It is purified by the use of the fire of refining. To get purer gold, you put it through the fire of testing. This is the analogy James is using with this word. Your faith is like gold that stands the test of fire to examine its genuineness.

How genuine is your faith? You will know through the testing of the fire of trials.

Note God’s purpose for trials:

4. Trash that produces staying power (1:3)

The word ‘produces’[23] or ‘works’ is again continuing action in your life. It’s the middle voice, so it is referring to what happens for you. So trash is continuing to produce what?

Hupomon? is an old Greek noun that means ‘staying power’.[24] Our English translations will use language such as ‘steadfastness’ (ESV), ‘perseverance’ (NIV), ‘endurance’ (NLT, NASB), ‘patience’ (KJV). But the meaning is stickability, staying power. Oh for people in the church who have staying power, even through the most difficult times? Are trials going to make you or devastate you? Do you know God’s purpose in trials is to refine your faith and produce staying power in your Christian life?

Alister Begg wrote a book, Made for His pleasure. In it he stated something that resonates with James 1, ‘The truth is that more spiritual progress is made through failure and tears than success and laughter’.[25]

This staying power means, according to James 1:4, that

5. Trash brings the perfect result (1:4)

Notice how v. 4 puts it, ‘And let endurance [staying power] have its perfect result’. ‘Let’ is a present tense imperative – ‘let it keep on having’[26] what? It’s a ‘perfect result’ or ‘perfect work’. The thought is that trials, the trash in our lives, are to ‘carry on the work to the end or completion’, just like John 17:4, where Jesus lifted up his eyes to heaven and said that he had ‘accomplished the work that you gave me to do’ (ESV).

Here’s the issue that we have to keep on knowing in experience and acknowledging: To get to the end of life and accomplish God’s perfect result or work for us, we need trials to refine our faith.

For what purpose?

6. Trash brings the ultimate result: Maturity & completeness (1:4)

Here we have a purpose clause in the Greek, which is the goal of trials in your life. Trials are for the ultimate purpose of refining us, through staying power, and bringing us to being ‘perfect [or mature] and complete’ (ESV). Greek exegete A T Robertson put it so well: we will be ‘perfected at the end of the task (telos) and complete in all parts…. “perfected all over”’.[27]

This will lead to …

7. Imagine it? Lacking in nothing (1:4)

What could this possibly mean that you are ‘lacking in nothing’ (1:4)? This is really a ‘negative statement of the preceding positive’ one.[28] James uses this kind of technique where he’s make a positive statement and then gives the negative side of it. You can see it in 1:6. To lack nothing is another way of saying we are mature and complete.

G. Practical responses for trials

(image courtesy sharefaith.com)

For Christians who are going through trials, there is a special ministry of the body of Christ that I want to emphasise as I draw to a close. It’s a dynamic that is missing from many churches in this country:

6pointLight-small Romans 12:14-15 (ESV) puts it very clearly, ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep’.

This ‘one another’ ministry is so critical for other believers who are experiencing trials of various kinds:

6pointLight-small ‘Bearing with one another in love’ (Eph. 4:2);

6pointLight-small Eph. 4:32 (ESV), ‘Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you’.

6pointLight-small Eph. 5:20-21 (ESV), ‘Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ’.

6pointLight-small Col. 3:13 (ESV), ‘bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive’.

6pointLight-small 1 Thess. 3:12 (ESV), ‘and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you’.

6pointLight-small 1 Thess. 5:11 (ESV),’Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing’.

6pointLight-small Heb. 3:13 (ESV), ‘But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin’.

There is much more to this ‘one another’ ministry but we must be there with it for those experiencing trials. Those who are going through trials desperately need this. That’s enough for now, but I do find it in short supply in today’s evangelical church in this country. But it’s also a challenge to me to be more vigilant in this ministry to others.

H. Conclusion

There are times when I’ve thought: Lord, why did you allow me to have three horrific bouts of rheumatic fever when I was aged 6, 10, and 12 that left me with lifelong leaking heart valves and now 5 open-heart surgeries. Why, oh why, Lord do you allow for such suffering?

How do Christians get to become mature and complete in the Christian life? These are the steps that James gives that we must know and practice daily. It is not a politically correct message. It is not a message that goes down well with the heal-wealth false theology. In fact, many evangelical Christians have lost this perspective on the Christian life. These are God’s steps to maturity and completeness in the Christian life.

Consider it pure joy

clip_image004

Trials with a BIG purpose

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Trials for refining faith

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Trials for staying power

clip_image004[2]

Trials for the perfect result

clip_image004[3]

Trials for maturity & completeness

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Trials clip_image007 lacking in nothing

 

That’s the message of James 1:1-4. Will you receive it now and for the futuer?

  • Material prosperity will not do it.
  • Obedient, well-behaved children will not cause it to happen.
  • Even good health is no guarantee more joy will be in your life.
  • What will it be for you?

I read a story by Amy Anderson in Forbes magazine online that was titled, ‘Trials should make us better, not bitter’.[29] It began with this story:

I heard a speech given by a 20-something young woman who had grown up without her sight or hearing. She underwent surgery in high school to have a cochlear implant, which partially restored her hearing and helped her to more effectively communicate her story.  She is still totally blind. As she shared her life story with us, she asked us to close our eyes and to imagine a world where all we saw was darkness, no color, no light. She asked us to imagine how depressing that would feel. With eyes still closed, she asked that this time we imagine our world with color and light and joy. She then stated, “The second picture you imagined is what I choose to see every day.” Then she asked us to open our eyes. She proceeded to share with us that she had a choice in life, “to be sad and depressed and see only darkness, or to be happy and joyful and see color and light.” She stated that she was able to make the choice.

She acknowledged that many times it is easy in life to focus on our trials by saying, “I often think that many of us count our blessings on our fingers and toes, but count our trials with a calculator.” That statement is all too true. She shared that many of us spend our lives thinking “Why me? Why is my life hard? Why do I have to struggle? Why do I have to suffer loss? Why, why, why?”

I was totally caught off guard by the words that came out of her mouth next. “I too, wake up each day and ask ‘Why me? Why am I so lucky to have ten fingers and ten toes? Why am I so lucky to have people that love me? Why am I so lucky to be able to walk? Why am I so blessed?’” WOW!  That was all I could think in that moment. Just wow! She closed her talk by reminding us that “all of us are given trials to make us better, not to make us bitter.”

Will you

Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Joy of the LORD

(image courtesy ChristArt)

Works consulted

Anderson, A R 2013. Trials should make us better, not bitter. Forbes, 10 April. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/amyanderson/2013/04/10/why-me/ (Accessed 11 March 2014).

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[30] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Begg, A 1998. What angels wish they knew. Chicago: Moody Publishers.
Begg, A 1996, 2005. Made for his pleasure: Ten benchmarks of a vital faith. Chicago: Moody Publishers.

Bennett, W H n.d. The general epistles, James, Peter, John, and Jude (The Century Bible: A modern commentary). H H Rowley & M Black (eds). London: Blackwood, Le Bas.

Beyreuther, E & Finkenrath, G 1976. ?????, in C Brown (ed), The new international dictionary of New Testament theology, vol 2, 356-361. Exeter: The Paternoster Press.

Brown, C (ed) 1976, The new international dictionary of New Testament theology,[31] vol 2. Exeter: The Paternoster Press.

Büchsel, O 1964. Egeomai, in Kittel, G (ed). Tr by G W Bromiley. Theological dictionary of the New Testament, vol 2, 907-908. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Hiebert, D E 1979. The epistle of James: Tests of a living faith. Chicago: Moody Press.

Michaelis, W 1968. Peripiptw, in Friedrich, G (ed). Tr G W Bromiley. Theological dictionary of the New Testament, vol 6, 173. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Packer, J I 1990. A quest for godliness: The puritan vision of the Christian life. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.

Rhodes, R. 2004. Why Do Bad Things Happen If God Is Good?  Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers.

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

Ropes, J H 1916/1973. A critical and exegetical commentary on the Epistle of St. James. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

Wenham, J W 1965. The elements of New Testament Greek. London/New York: Cambridge University Press.

Notes:


[1] In Rhodes (2004:8). The footnote indicated: ‘Cited by Lee Strobel, “Why does God allow suffering?” Message delivered at Saddleback Valley Community Church, El Toro, California, February 26, 2000’ (Rhodes 2004:265, n. 1).

[2] Based on Rhodes (2004:12).

[3] Email received on 16 March 2014.

[4] 2nd person plural.

[5] Aorist, middle, indicative.

[6] Hegeomai.

[7] Arndt & Gingrich (1957:344).

[8] Büchsel (1964:907)

[9] This paragraph is based on information from Beyreuther & Finkenrath (1976:361).

[10] Arndt &Gingrich (1957:15-16).

[11] Based on ‘Psychology glossary’, AlleyDog.com, 1998-2014, available at: http://www.alleydog.com/glossary/definition.php?term=Encounter+Groups (Accessed 9 March 2014).

[12] Peripes?te, 2nd person pl, aorist active subjunctive.

[13] Arndt & Gingrich 1957:655.

[14] Peripiptw (Michaelis 1968:173).

[15] Wenham (1965:160).

[16] These scriptural illustrations were suggested by Rhodes (2004:12).

[17] Packer (1990:22).

[18] Peirasmos (A&G 1957: 646).

[19] ‘How diamonds form’ 2005-2014, geology.com, available at: http://geology.com/articles/diamonds-from-coal/ (Accessed 10 March 2014).

[20] ‘How do oysters make pearls?’ 1998-2014. Science, How stuff works, available at: http://science.howstuffworks.com/zoology/question630.htm (Accessed 10 March 2014).

[21] ‘Knowing’ is ginwskontes, present active participle from ginwskw. For experiential knowledge, A T Robertson calls it ‘experimental knowledge’ (Robertson1933:12).

[22] Arndt & Gingrich (1957:202).

[23] Katergazetai, present middle indicative.

[24] Robertson (1933:12).

[25] Begg (1996:106).

[26] Robertson (1933:12).

[27] Robertson (1933:12).

[28] Ibid.

[29] Anderson (2013), emphasis added.

[30] 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 and aug edn. 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).

[31] This is translated with additions and revisions from the German, Theologisches Begriffenslexikon zum Neuen Testament, original German 1971 (Brown 1976:3-4).

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 27 August 2016.

Just accept it by faith — a No! No!

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

Take Flight

 

ChristArt

Spencer D Gear

Time Australia magazine, 10 January 2005, published this letter: As a “Sunday-School teacher, I tell my students what most of us here in the Bible Belt [USA] believe: the Scripture is the inerrant word of God, given by inspiration to the writers of the Bible. That Matthew and Luke record different details makes neither of them inaccurate. Nor does the fact that some of this cannot be corroborated by other sources. That’s why we call it faith.”[1a]

This was a response to a liberal theological view in Time that debunked the Christmas story.Is this teacher’s response the way to go with Aussies who don’t care about God and the Bible?This view seems to be a blind leap of Bible-Belt faith that accepts the inspired, infallible word of God.

When the apostle Paul was dealing with those in the synagogue, the marketplace and with the pagan philosophers at Mars Hill (the Areopagus), Athens, he took a different line (see Acts 17:16-34).

If they didn’t care about God, he started where they were with their issues.He got to know his audience: “He was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols” (v. 16). If God was not at the forefront of their views, he reasoned daily with them – even in the marketplace (v. 17).This was no one-way communication.It was a vigorous question and answer dialogue.

On Mars Hill, the apostle showed us how to do it:

Know people and their “idols” (vv. 16-22);

Nature of God and human beings (vv. 23-27);

Ordinary quotes from life (vv. 28-29);

Word of God (repent, judgement, resurrection, vv. 30-31).

This is hardly a politically correct method in these days of so-called tolerance toward many things – except tolerance toward born-again Christianity.

One contemporary apologist says that we need to unmask the “intellectual bluff” of people and “follow-through” with an exposé of their ways.[1b]What are some of these Aussie idols that need to be unmasked?

Following the events of Sept. 11, 2001 and the tsunami in Dec. 2004, I received comments such as: “What a monster of a God you have who would allow such slaughter!””Did your God cause this?He’s a cosmic Saddam Hussein.”We need solid answers to the problem of evil.

J. B. Phillips wrote: “Evil is inherent in the risky gift of free will. . .Exercise of free choice in the direction of evil is what we call the ‘fall’ of man, is the basic reason for evil and suffering in the world.It is man’s responsibility, not God’s.He could stop it, but in so doing would destroy us all.”[2] So, do you want God to wipe out all evil?Also take a read of Genesis ch. 3 to understand the origin of evil. Check out Ron Rhodes, Why Do Bad Things Happen If God Is Good?[3]

Around Christmas & Easter times, trusty old chestnuts are trotted out.

Recently, flack against the Bible has been fuelled by the mass media coverage given to the Jesus Seminar Fellows and others of their kind.These Fellows concluded that “eighty-two percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the gospels were not actually spoken by him.”[4]

Dr. John K. Williams, retired Uniting Church minister, wrote in The Age, January 19 2004: “An evangelist who preaches the ‘old time religion’ is asking hearers to stake the living of their lives upon beliefs for which there is no evidence whatsoever and that fly against humankind’s painfully acquired knowledge of the world and of themselves. That is not simply, as we today are taught to say, a ‘big ask’ but an outrageous ask.”[5]

In responding, we could examine: (a) What are a writer’s presuppositions about the nature of God and the supernatural?Has he/she reached conclusions before considering the evidence? (b) What is the evidence in support of the reliability of any document from history, including Julius Caesar, Captain James Cook, the Old & New Testaments?

F. F. Bruce, formerly of the University of Manchester, investigated the accuracy of the New Testament and concluded: “The earliest preachers of the gospel knew the value of this first-hand testimony, and appealed to it time and again.’We are witnesses of these things,’ was their constant and confident assertion.And it can have been by no means so easy as some writers seem to think to invent words and deeds of Jesus in those early years, when so many of His disciples were about, who could remember what had and had not happened… The disciples could not afford to risk inaccuracies.”[6]

All of us can be guilty of assuming the truth or otherwise before we deal with the evidence.Check out these resources: F. F. Bruce[7], Walter C. Kaiser Jr., The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable & Relevant?[8] and K. A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament.[9] Kitchen concludes: “In terms of general reliability . . . the Old Testament comes out remarkably well, so long as its writings and writers are treated fairly and evenhandedly.”[10]

Biblical Christianity does not say, “Just believe!”It provides evidence for faith: “After his suffering, [Jesus] showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Unthinking Christianity is sick Christianity.

To God Be the Glory!


[1a]  Available from: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1013262,00.html [cited 18 June 2009].

[1b] J. Budziszewski 2003, “Off to College: Can We Keep them?” in Ravi Zacharias & Norman Geisler (gen. eds.), Is Your Church Ready?  Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan, p. 121.

[2] Cited in Paul E. Little 1987, Know Why You Believe, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL., pp. 115-116.

[3] 2004, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon.

[4] Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover and the Jesus Seminar 1993, The Five Gospels, Macmillan Publishing Company (A Polebridge Press Book), New York, p. 5.

[5] Williams, J. K. 2004, ‘It’s not good enough for us’, The Age [Melbourne, Australia], January 19 2004.

[6] F. F. Bruce 1960, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, pp. 45-46 (a revised 2003 edition is available).

[7] Ibid.

[8] 2001, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.

[9] 2003, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI.

[10] Ibid., p. 500.