Archive for the 'Grace' Category

Prevenient grace – kinda clumsy!

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

(image courtesy Dave Barnhart)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

I have not heard the term, ‘prevenient grace’, preached from many pulpits today in my part of Australia. In fact, in my many years as an evangelical believer, I can’t recall ever hearing it expounded, even though I have attended Wesleyan churches. The problem is probably associated with the fact that not much evangelical theology is expounded from the pulpit.

However, I dared to use it as a passing example in a post I made on a Christian Forum online. I was responding to a person who wrote about….

A. Grace

She said, ‘We hear the word a lot, but are we quite sure we know what it really means?’ Then she gave a down-home example with an emphasis on freedom.[1]

1. Does grace mean freedom?

thumbnailMy response was:[2] In the story you have given, you have indicated the grace of one person to another. What does that ‘grace’ mean in a Christian context? Are you saying that this grace means freedom?

Or, are you considering this grace to be like that of God towards the undeserving? In fact, the sinful undeserving attitude and behaviour towards God deserved something worse. An example could be that of Australia’s mass media mogul, the late Kerry Packer, who had this said about him at the beginning of his obituary in The Age newspaper, ‘The last time Kerry Packer died, 15 years ago, he quickly took the opportunity to denounce the existence of an afterlife. “I’ve been on the other side and let me tell you son, there’s f—ing nothing there,” he was fond of saying’.[3] Dorothy Rowe reported of Packer:

When the Australian media mogul Kerry Packer had recovered from a massive heart attack during which he virtually died, he told his friend Phillip Adams, “I’ve been to the other side, and let me tell you, son, there’s f—ing nothing there. There’s no one waiting for you. There’s no one to judge you, so you can do what you bloody well like (in Rowe 2009:205).

What seems to be missing in that Packer example is that the near-death experience 15 years before his actual death, where he stopped breathing for 8 minutes (other reports say 6 minutes),[4] was just that – a near-death experience. When he was air-lifted from the Warwick Farm racecourse, Sydney, where he was playing polo after a massive heart attack, it was not permanent death but a near-death experience.[5] If it were permanent death, Packer would not have been alive to make that kind of blasphemous statement about what happens at death.[6] A much more reliable indicator is that provided by almighty God who stated that ‘each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment’ (Heb 9:27 NLT). Kerry Packer knows about it now. ‘Kerry Packer died of kidney failure on Boxing Day [26 December], 2005, aged 68’ (Phillips 2013).

However, God, in knowing that all human beings are sinful and guilty before Him, extended his goodness to them, those who did not deserve it. This is His grace in action. Thanks to God’s revelation in Scripture, we know that the grace of God manifested to sinful human beings, is what God does:[7]

(1) He is patient (forbearance) and delays punishment for sin (Ex 34:6; Rom 2:4-5; 3:25; 9:22; 1 Pet 3:20; 2 Pet 3:9, 15);

(2) In regard to salvation, God provides the proclamation of the Word of God, conviction of the Holy Spirit and prevenient grace (1 Jn 2:2; Hos 8:12; Jn 16:8-11; Matt 5:13-14; Tit 2:11). This is most often called the ‘common grace of God’.

But God’s special grace is seen in election and predestination (Eph 1:4-6); redemption (Eph 1:7-8); salvation (Acts 18:27); sanctification (Rom 5:21); continuing in the faith (2 Cor 12:9); receiving an unshakable kingdom (Heb 12:28); and continuing until the final revelation of Jesus Christ at his second coming (1 Pet 1:13).

2. Clumsy and not elegant

How would a person respond to the above?

She came back with, ‘The term “prevenient grace” always seemed kinda clumsy to me. The idea seems to be that God was ready with His grace before I ever thought about sinning. I’m grateful to Him for that, of course…but there should be a more elegant way to express it.  Ahh, well.  Who am I to try to rewrite the language?’[8]

While the word ‘prevenient grace’ does not appear in Scripture, to my knowledge, the teaching does. Let’s investigate the evidence.

B. Biblical evidence for prevenient grace[9]

Prevenient grace (or common grace) is not that difficult to explain. Titus 2:11 (ESV) does it very well, ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’. The issue relates to the fact that human beings can’t initiate salvation. If we are to be saved to inherit eternal life, God must take the initiative. Titus 2:11 makes it clear that when God takes this initiative, through his grace (common or prevenient), it frees the human will in relation to salvation. To further explain the meaning of ‘appeared’ in this verse, see my article:

clip_image004 How to interpret ‘appeared’ in Titus 2:11

That God has freed the will is inferred from the number of exhortations in Scripture to turn to God (see Prov 1:23; Isa 31:6; Ezek 14:6; 18:32; Joel 2:13-14; Matt 18:3; Acts 3:19). We also see it in the exhortations to repent (1 Kings 8:47; Matt 3:2; Mk 1:15; Lk 13:3, 5; Acts 2:38; 17:30. Then there are verses that exhort people to believe (2 Chron 20:20; Isa 43:10; Jn 6:29; 14:1; Acts 16:31; Phil 1:29; 1 Jn 3:23). It would be impossible to turn to God, repent or believe if God had not in some way made it possible for such to happen for rebel sinners. He does this by sending grace before. Prevenient is based on the Latin verb, praevenio, i.e. prae = before; venio = come.
This does not mean that this prevenient/common grace enables a person to change the permanent bent of his/her will towards God (that would be Pelagianism). It does mean that a person can make that initial response to God so that God can then give repentance and faith. It is like what the author wrote in Lamentations 5:21 (NIV), ‘Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return’. The KJV translated it as, ‘Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned’. We can see this message also affirmed in Jer 31:18-19; Ps 80:3; 85:4).

Since Scripture tells us this much, then God’s prevenient grace has given human beings a measure of freedom to be restored to him. We can see some of this expressed in a verse such as Rom 1:20 (ESV), ‘For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse‘ (emphasis added).

A simple definition of prevenient or common grace is: It is the grace of God that restores to the sinner the opportunity to make a favourable response to God. My view is that it is God’s grace that makes it possible for all people to be saved. God must take the initiative if human beings are to be saved. Titus 2:11 summarises prevenient grace.

Be warned! This discussion has caused theological heartache between Calvinists and Arminians, the latter supporting prevenient grace and the former opposing it. I’m a Reformed Arminian supporter of prevenient grace.

See these other articles,

clip_image006 Is prevenient grace still amazing grace?

clip_image006[1] Does God only draw certain people to salvation?

1. Prevenient cookies for the kids

Image result for clipart cookies public domainHow do you think the person would reply to the above evidence? Here goes: ‘There really ought to be a more elegant term for it.  But I can’t think of one, either. On the other hand, I can’t think of any other use for the term “prevenient”. She had gone to the store to provide prevenient cookies for the kids?  Nope…doesn’t work’.[10]

How do I respond to the concept of ‘prevenient cookies’?[11] I did give another term for prevenient grace, i.e. common grace. Or could we say that prevenient grace is synonymous with grace that God extends to all people that enables them to come to Christ. That’s enabling grace.

A little while back I wrote an article that attempts to address some of these issues: Is prevenient grace still amazing grace?

Perhaps it would be better to call it enabling, amazing grace before salvation (Titus 2:11 ESV).

In the Statement of Faith of the Society of Evangelical Arminians, part of it reads (in relation to prevenient grace):

We believe that humanity was created in the image of God but fell from its original sinless state through willful disobedience and Satan’s deception, resulting in eternal condemnation and separation from God. In and of themselves and apart from the grace of God human beings can neither think, will, nor do anything good, including believe. But the prevenient grace of God prepares and enables sinners to receive the free gift of salvation offered in Christ and his gospel. Only through the grace of God can sinners believe and so be regenerated by the Holy Spirit unto salvation and spiritual life. It is also the grace of God that enables believers to continue in faith as well as good in thought, will, and deed, so that all good deeds or movements that can be conceived must be ascribed to the grace of God.

‘Prevenient cookies for the kids’ could be ‘getting cookies so that the kids can gorge’ at the appropriate time – New Year’s Eve. Imagine having a theology of ‘grace in preparation for the gorge’. I’m not being sacrilegious. I’m using that analogy – with an extension. ‘Assisting grace’ that comes before salvation is the idea. It is contrary to irresistible grace.

See my article, How a Calvinist can distort the meaning of 2 Peter 3:9.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary online gives the meaning of ‘prevenient’ as antecedent, anticipatory (source). Dictionary.com provides the meaning as, ‘coming before, antecedent, anticipatory’.

How about antecedent grace or grace that comes before salvation?

C. The counter of irresistible grace

The most common resistance to the biblical view of prevenient grace comes from the Calvinistic exponents of irresistible grace.

This is the kind of argument from a Calvinist in support of irresistible grace and against prevenient grace:

The Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace should be rejected on biblical grounds. First and foremost, it turns Paul’s words “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:6) on their head. The Greek term used here means to “accomplish” or “perfect,” similar to how the writer of Hebrews says Jesus is the “author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). The doctrine of prevenient grace affirms that a work is done in the sinner but it denies that the efficacy of the grace is guaranteed. This makes no sense if we are assured that God will perfect what He starts in a person. Second, there is no reason to believe that the two “him’s” in John 6:44 are different groups of people. Two Greek words separate the first “him” who is drawn by the Father from the second “him” who is raised up on the last day. Grammatically and contextually, there is nothing that would begin to support the idea that the verse means not all who are drawn will be raised up on the last day. We find a similar idea in Romans 8:30, where we read that all whom God calls, referring to the inward calling, will be justified and later glorified (‘What is prevenient grace?’ Got Questions Ministries).

The counter to this is from James Arminius himself:

Concerning grace and free will, this is what I teach according to the Scriptures and orthodox consent: Free will is unable to begin or to perfect any true and spiritual good, without grace. That I may not be said, like Pelagius, to practice delusion with regard to the word “grace,” I mean by it that which is the grace of Christ and which belongs to regeneration. I affirm, therefore, that this grace is simply and absolutely necessary for the illumination of the mind, the due ordering of the affections, and the inclination of the will to that which is good. It is this grace which operates on the mind, the affections, and the will; which infuses good thoughts into the mind, inspires good desires into the actions, and bends the will to carry into execution good thoughts and good desires. This grace goes before, accompanies, and follows; it excites, assists, operates that we will, and co-operates lest we will in vain. It averts temptations, assists and grants succour in the midst of temptations, sustains man against the flesh, the world and Satan, and in this great contest grants to man the enjoyment of the victory. It raises up again those who are conquered and have fallen, establishes and supplies them with new strength, and renders them more cautious. This grace commences salvation, promotes it, and perfects and consummates it.

I confess that the mind of a natural and carnal man is obscure and dark, that his affections are corrupt and inordinate, that his will is stubborn and disobedient, and that the man himself is dead in sins. And I add to this — that teacher obtains my highest approbation who ascribes as much as possible to divine grace, provided he so pleads the cause of grace, as not to inflict an injury on the justice of God, and not to take away the free will to that which is evil (Works of James Arminius, vol 2. ‘Grace and Free will’)

The teaching of Arminius was that the will was so bound with sin that it is ‘dead in sins’ and that it needed God’s grace through Christ for regeneration. That grace is needed to illuminate the mind towards God. ‘This grace goes before, accompanies and follows’ regeneration.

1. What is irresistible grace?

clip_image008

(image courtesy ChristArt)

R. C. Sproul, a Calvinist, describes irresistible grace as ‘effectual calling’. For Sproul,

the effectual call of God is an inward call. It is the secret work of quickening or regeneration accomplished in the souls of the elect by the immediate supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit…. Effectual calling is irresistible in the sense that God sovereignly brings about its desired result…. irresistible in the sense that God’s grace prevails over our natural resistance to it (Sproul 1992:169-170).

We need to understand that the language of ‘effectual calling’ is a way to soften the language of ‘irresistible grace’, with the latter coming with overtones of God forcing a person to receive salvation. Lemke (2010:112) considers that ‘some contemporary Calvinists seem to be a little embarrassed by the term “irresistible grace” and have sought to soften it or to replace it with a term like “effectual calling”‘.

While Sproul (1992), Spurgeon (1856) and J. I. Packer (1993:152-153) use the language of ‘effectual calling’, other Calvinists are more up front in emphasising that grace that brings about salvation cannot be refused – people are unable to resist. Packer’s language is that ‘in effectual calling God quickens the dead’, people understand the gospel through the Holy Spirit enlightening and renewing the hearts of elect sinners. They embrace this ‘truth from God, and God in Christ becomes to them an object of desire and affection’ as they are now regenerate and have been enabled ‘by the use of their freed will to choose God and the good’ and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour (Packer 1993:153). Spurgeon (1856) said, ‘If he shall but say, “To-day I must abide at thy house,” there will be no resistance in you…. If God says “I must,” there is no standing against it. Let him say “must,” and it must be’.

Steele, Thomas and Quinn (2004:52-54), as Calvinists, are more to the point, using the language that ‘the special inward call of the Spirit never fails to result in the conversion of those to whom it is made’. It is issued ‘only to the elect’ and the Spirit does not depend on ‘their help or cooperation’. In fact, ‘for the grace which the Holy Spirit extends to the elect cannot be thwarted or refused, it never fails to bring them to true faith in Christ’. That sounds awfully like God forcing the elect to come to Christ and by implication, leaving the non-elect to damnation, or God’s choice to irresistibly damn the non-elect.

John Piper and the staff at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, MN, do not use the softly, softly language. They state that irresistible grace

does not mean that every influence of the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted. It means that the Holy Spirit can overcome all resistance and make his influence irresistible…. The doctrine of irresistible grace means that God is sovereign and can overcome all resistance when he wills.[12]

However, there is a paradoxical statement in the Bethlehem Baptist statement in that only a few paragraphs after making the above declaration, it stated:

Irresistible grace never implies that God forces us to believe against our will. That would even be a contradiction in terms. On the contrary, irresistible grace is compatible with preaching and witnessing that tries to persuade people to do what is reasonable and what will accord with their best interests.[13]

It sure is a contradiction in terms and the Bethlehem Baptist Church has given that contradiction by affirming that ‘the Holy Spirit can overcome all resistance’, yet God never ‘forces us to believe against our will’.[14] They state that irresistible grace has been described this way:

When God calls his elect into salvation, they cannot resist. God offers to all people the gospel message. This is called the external call. But to the elect, God extends an internal call and it cannot be resisted. This call is by the Holy Spirit who works in the hearts and minds of the elect to bring them to repentance and regeneration whereby they willingly and freely come to God. Some of the verses used in support of this teaching are Romans 9:16 where it says that “it is not of him who wills nor of him who runs, but of God who has mercy“; Philippians 2:12-13 where God is said to be the one working salvation in the individual; John 6:28-29 where faith is declared to be the work of God; Acts 13:48 where God appoints people to believe; and John 1:12-13 where being born again is not by man’s will, but by God’s.[15]

A Calvinist continued his opposition to prevenient grace: ‘Why don’t you consider prevenient grace a violation of free will?’[16]

This was my response:[17] It is not a violation of free will. It is common grace. It is no more a violation of free will than a person receiving a soul/spirit is a violation of free will.

God takes the initiative in all salvation. We know that prevenient grace is not a violation of free will because God has stated it clearly. This is what He has done: ‘For the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation for all people’ (Titus 2:11 ESV).

This means that the human will is freed in relation to salvation. It is not a violation of free will. We know that the will has been freed in relation to salvation because it is implied in the exhortations given above:

  • to turn to God.
  • to repent, and
  • to believe.

Prevenient or common grace is no more a violation of a person’s will than their receiving a beating heart before birth and breath after birth. See, ‘How your baby begins to breathe’ (Dr Amy).

2. Why irresistible grace is unbiblical

Love and justice

(image courtesy ChristArt)

See the William Birch article, on the Society of Evangelical Arminians’ website, ‘Arminius vs Calvin on Irresistible Grace’.[18] Some of the chief theological issues, as I understand them, with irresistible grace, are:

clip_image010 It violates the fundamental principle that God gave to our first parents (Adam & Eve) in the Garden at the beginning of the human race, ‘ And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die”’ (Gen 2:16-17 ESV). The man, Adam was given the freedom to choose to eat or not to eat from the tree. What did Adam do? He and his wife exercised their God-given free wills and they ate, thus bringing sin to the entire human race (Gen 3:1-7).

When it comes to salvation, this principle of free will choice is violated by Calvinistic irresistible grace. The Calvinistic view is God forcing the salvation of grace on human beings. The obvious response is that that is for the eternal benefit of the saved. My response is that this is for the eternal damnation of the lost as well. Double predestination (i.e. both the lost and saved are predestined eternally by God) makes God into a monster, in my view, who demands that a large section of humanity will be eternally perishing – according to His irresistible grace. It is demanded by God that it should be that way. What kind of God would do that when he has declared he is a God of love for the whole world (John 3:16)?

Is this a libertine view of free will? Not at all! See my article,

blue-coil-sm What is the nature of human free will?

This leads to some further, but related, problems with irresistible grace:

clip_image010[1] It reveals God as an unfair supernatural being. See my articles,

blue-coil-sm The injustice of the God of Calvinism;

blue-coil-sm Sent to hell by God: Calvinism in action?

clip_image011 It contravenes a fundamental of New Testament Christianity of God

loving the world and Jesus’ dying for the whole world of sinners. This is explained in my articles,

blue-coil-sm Does God’s grace make salvation available to all people?

blue-coil-sm Calvinists squirming over the world;

blue-coil-sm Does God love the world or only the elect?

blue-coil-sm Did Jesus die for the sins of the whole world?

clip_image011[1] It makes God into a Being of partiality who plays the favourites. This especially violates the biblical teaching, ‘for God does not show favoritism’ (Rom 2:11 NIV). In Romans 2, the context is no favouritism between Jews and Greeks (Gentiles). Then in Acts 10:34-35 (NIV), Peter preached the good news to the Gentiles, ‘Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right’.

Caleb Colley explained:

Exactly what does it mean that God is impartial? God offers salvation to every man, no matter what external circumstances, such as socioeconomic status or nationality, might apply to him. God does not offer salvation only to the Jew, just because he is a Jew, or only to the Gentile because he is a Gentile. The Greek word translated “respecter of persons” in the King James Version of Acts 10:34 (“God is no respecter of persons”) is prosopolemptes, a word that refers to a judge who looks at a man’s face instead of at the facts of the case, and makes a decision based on whether or not he likes the man (Lenski, 1961, p. 418). Under Roman law, for example, a defendant’s societal status was weighed heavily along with evidence. Any human judge might show undue favor to a plaintiff or a defendant because of private friendship, bribery, rank, power, or political affiliation, but God, the perfect Judge, cannot be tempted by any of the things that might tempt a human judge to show unfair partiality.[19]

D. Conclusion

This is not an article where I provide a refutation of every verse the Calvinists use to try to counter prevenient grace. It is an overview of some of the issues. I write as a Reformed, classical Arminian who is convinced from Scripture of the doctrine of prevenient grace as taught in Titus 2:11 (ESV).

For a refutation of one of the primary Calvinistic verses against prevenient grace, see Craig L. Adams, “Calvinism and John 6:44?. John 6:44 (ESV) reads, ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day’.

I am convinced that the biblical evidence points to prevenient grace that is an antecedent to salvation, but it is grace that is available to all but can be resisted.

Works consulted

Lemke, S W 2010. A biblical and theological critique of irresistible grace. David L. Allen & Steve W. Lemke (eds). Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, 109-162. Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic.

Packer, J I 1993. Concise Theology. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers Inc.

Phillips, N 2013. Packer’s last words to his son. The Sydney Morning Herald (online), February 11. Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/packers-last-words-to-his-son-20130210-2e6jw.html (Accessed 2 February 2016).

Rowe, D 2009. What Should I Believe? Why Our Beliefs about the Nature of Death and the Purpose of Life Dominate Our Lives. London and New York: Routledge.

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

Spurgeon, C H 1856. Effectual calling, sermon 73, 30 March. Available at: http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0073.htm (Accessed 5 October 2011).

Steele, D N, Thomas C C, & Quinn S L 2004. The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, Documented. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed.

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


Notes

[1] Christianity Board, Grace, The Barrd#1. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/22258-grace/#entry268559 (Accessed 31 December 2015).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#4.

[3] The Age, Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer 1937-2005: Obituary (online), 28 December 2005. Available at: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2005/12/27/1135445572500.html?page=fullpage (Accessed 1 January 2016).

[4] This report stated that Packer was ‘without a pulse for six minutes’, Emma Alberici, Kerry Packer dies, The 7.30 Report (online), 27 December 2005. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2005/s1538560.htm (Accessed 1 January 2016).

[5] See the photograph of Kerry Packer on his hospital bed, who had been ‘admitted to Saint Vincent’s Hospital after suffering a heart attack while playing polo at Warwick Farm, 7 October 1990’. Available from gettyimages at: http://www.gettyimages.com.au/detail/news-photo/kerry-packer-is-admitted-to-saint-vincents-hospital-after-news-photo/539703913 (Accessed 1 January 2016). See other details of this Packer experience in ‘Kerry Packer and a plea for privacy’ (Oxford University Press 2015), available at: http://www.oup.com.au/orc/extra_pages/higher_education/hirst__and__patching/kerry_packer (Accessed 1 January 2016).

[6] For an example of research into near-death experiences, see the interview with Dr Peter Fenwick, one of Britain’s leading neuropsychiatrists, on a year-old research project in the cardiac unit, Southampton General Hospital on Australia’s Lateline, 30 October 2000. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/stories/s206217.htm (Accessed 1 January 2016).

[7] With help from Thiessen (1949:155-156).

[8] Christianity Board, loc cit., The Barrd#5.

[9] With considerable help from Thiessen (1949:155-156).

[10] Christianity Board, loc cit., The Barrd#7.

[11] Ibid., OzSpen#8.

[12] Desiring God, ‘What we believe about the five points of Calvinism’ (rev. March 1998). Available at: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/what-we-believe-about-the-five-points-of-calvinism#Grace (Accessed 5 October 2011). I was alerted to this reference from Piper in Lemke (2010)..

[13] Ibid.

[14] This contradiction was pointed out in Lemke (2010:112).

[15] The Calvinist Corner, available at: http://calvinistcorner.com/tulip (Accessed 3 October 2011).

[16] Christian Forums.com, The ‘Free Will’ Dilemma, Hammster #517, June 23, 2013. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/threads/the-free-will-dilemma.7746203/page-26 (Accessed 31 December 2015).

[17] Ibid., OzSpen#519.

[18] This was posted, July 5, 2010.

[19] Apologetics Press 2004. God is no respecter of persons (online). Available at: http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=12&article=1440 (Accessed 31 December 2015).

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 4 June 2016.

How to interpret ‘appeared’ in Titus 2:11

Friday, October 30th, 2015

Stars Universe

(image in public domain)

By Spencer D. Gear

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

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

When I raised this online, a Calvinist stated,

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

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

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

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

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

The Calvinist again:

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

So in Titus 2:11, same verb used….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Varieties of Calvinists

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

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

Different meanings of ‘appeared’

On The Cross(image in public domain)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Greek to me [3a]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is eisegesis?

Calvinist, Dr James White, provides this understanding:

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

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

Could there be a way forward?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works consulted

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

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

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

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

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

Notes


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

[2] Ibid (emphasis in original).

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

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

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

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

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

 

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