Archive for the 'Salvation' Category

Was Jesus’ Resurrection a Bodily Resurrection?

Sunday, February 5th, 2017

Garden Tomb

Todd Bolen, “Garden Tomb

By Spencer D Gear

The apostle Paul was awaiting execution in a Roman prison when he wrote his final letter to Timothy in about AD 64-68 (intro in ESV).   What do you think would be the last words from one of the greatest church leaders of all time – just before he was killed as a martyr for the faith?  Listen carefully to 2 Tim. 4:1-4:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when [people] [1a] will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths (NIV).

A.    What happened in the years immediately after the death of the apostles?

Was Paul’s warning to Timothy fulfilled?   Was sound doctrine compromised?  Were there listeners with “itching ears” who “turn[ed] their ears away from the truth and turn[ed] aside to myths”?  Yes, there were and here we will describe some of the teachings.

We need to understand that these church leaders were defending the faith against one of the most destructive heresies concerning Christ that developed towards the end of the first century.  A similar kind of heresy is with us today.  Back in the first and second centuries, this false teaching was called Docetism (a form of Gnosticism).

Docetism is based on the Greek verb, dokew, which means, “I seem.”  This heresy taught that:

designQuilt Jesus only seemed to be human; he was not really human;
designQuiltHis human body was a ghost;
designQuiltChrist’s suffering and death were only appearances of suffering & death;
designQuiltThey denied his humanity, so there was no bodily resurrection of Christ.  But they affirmed Christ’s deity.
designQuiltWe see possibly an early stage of  Docetism being addressed in I John 4:2, when John wrote, “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.”  In 2 John 7, we read, “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.”

This is why early church theologians and writers after the death of the apostles had to preach against this heresy.  I’ll mention a few examples of this correction, particularly as it applies to the resurrection of Christ.

1. Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 35-107) [2]

He taught: “For I know and believe that [Jesus] was in the flesh even after the resurrection. And when He came to Peter and those who were with him, He said to them, ‘Take, handle me and see that I am not a spirit without body’” (written about the year AD 110) [Ignatius n.d., 6.3].

2.    Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165)

Justin wrote:

“Why did He rise in the flesh in which He suffered, unless to show the resurrection of the flesh? And wishing to confirm this, when His disciples did not know whether to believe He had truly risen in the body, and were looking upon Him and doubting, He said to them, ‘Ye have not yet faith, see that it is I;’ and He let them handle Him, and showed them the prints of the nails in His hands. And when they were by every kind of proof persuaded that it was Himself, and in the body, they asked Him to eat with them, that they might thus still more accurately ascertain that He had in verity risen bodily” (Martyr, J., n.d., ch. 9).

This letter was written about AD 110.  Why did he have to teach that Jesus rose from the dead in a body of flesh?  Because there was false doctrine around in the early second century.  He went straight to the Bible to get the proof.  We have to do the same with new challenges to Christ’s bodily resurrection.

3.    Tertullian (ca. 160-225)

Tertullian wrote a book titled, “On the Resurrection of the Flesh,” in which he asked and responded:

How then did Christ rise again? In the flesh, or not? No doubt, since you are told that He ‘died according to the Scriptures,’ and ‘that He was buried according to the Scriptures,’ no otherwise than in the flesh, you will also allow that it was in the flesh that He was raised from the dead.

For the very same body which fell in death, and which lay in the sepulchre, did also rise again (Tertullian n.d., ch. 48).

4.    Irenaeus (ca. 130-200)

Saint Irenaeus.jpg

(This image courtesy of Wikipedia)

This church father wrote a book titled, Against Heresies, in which he stated:

“In the same manner, therefore, as Christ did rise in the substance of flesh, and pointed out to His disciples the mark of the nails and the opening in His side (now these are the tokens of that flesh which rose from the dead)” (Irenaeus n.d., 5.7.1).

5.  Origen (ca. 185-254)

In Contra Celsus, Origen refuted Celsus’s charge that the resurrection appearances of Jesus were those of a ghost.  He asked:

“How is it possible that a phantom which, as he describes it, flew past to deceive the beholders, could produce such effects after it had passed away, and could so turn the hearts of men as to lead them to regulate their actions according to the will of God” (Origen n.d., 7.35).

Docetism was one of the major destructive heresies of the church in the first-to-third centuries and these defenders and teachers of the faith had to teach against the false doctrine of a spiritual or phantom resurrection of Christ.  Paul warned that “destructive heresies” would come and that people would have “itching ears” to receive and promote such false teaching.

B. What do we have today?

I hope you don’t get angry with me for mentioning names of people who teach false doctrine.  I am following the example of the apostle Paul who, in Galatians 2:11ff, condemned the apostle Peter — and named him.  Peter had been eating with the Gentiles, but when certain Jews came from James, Peter drew back and separated from the Gentiles.  Paul named Peter as a hypocrite and we have had it in writing for 2000 years.  

Paul said in 2 Tim. 4:14, “Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done.”  We have had this also on record for 2,000 years.

When people are preaching false doctrine in the church or anywhere, when people are harming the church and God’s people, we need to name them, correct them, and proclaim the accurate biblical message.

In regard to the bodily resurrection of Christ, what false teaching do we have today?

1.    New Zealand Presbyterian minister, Lloyd Geering

Lloyd Geering, 2011.jpg

(Sir Lloyd Geering, image courtesy Wikipedia)

 

He defended what “Gregor Smith had said in [a book called] Secular Christianity . . . that the Christian is free to say that the bones of Jesus lie somewhere in Palestine, and until the Christian feels free to say that, he hasn’t understood what the Resurrection is about” (in Kohn 2001).

Geering continues, “The Resurrection was not a resuscitation, it was not a return to this life of a physical body. It was in fact something quite different. It was in fact the rise of Easter faith in the disciples, more or less as Bultmann had been explaining for some time” (in Kohn 2001).

In other words, the resurrection of Jesus was not a risen body in the flesh, but it was a spiritual experience for Christ’s disciples.

You possibly won’t read Lloyd Geering and some of these other false teachers today, but do you know the people who do read them?  Those in the mass media who want to create doubt or a controversial perspective, readily seek comments from these doubters.  When it comes to Easter and Christmas times, they won’t call on you and me, but these false teachings and their heretical teachers will hit the headlines.

2.    Edward Schillebeeckx

A Dutch Roman Catholic, he wrote, “Jesus’ resurrection is not a return to life as in the story of Lazarus… it is certainly not a miracle of intervention in natural laws to raise a corpse to heavenly life” (from Schillebeeckx, God Among Us, p. 134, cited in Mann 1993).

3.    The German Protestant Lutheran, Rudolph Bultmann

Bultmann wrote that “the resurrection itself is not an event of past history” (from Kerygma and Myth, p.39, cited in Mann 1993).

4.    Protestant theologian Karl Barth

“Christians do not believe in the empty tomb but in the living Christ. Is the empty tomb just a legend? What matter? It cannot but demand assent, even as legend.” (from Church Dogmatics III, 2, p.454).

5.   Former Episcopalian bishop of Newark, NJ, John Shelby Spong:

“The probable fate of the crucified Jesus was to be thrown with other victims into a common, unmarked grave. The general consensus of New Testament scholars is that whatever the Easter experience was, it dawned first in the minds of the disciples who had fled to Galilee for safety, driving us to the conclusion that the burial story in the gospels is both legendary and was developed directly from the words of II Isaiah” (Spong 2004).

6. John Dominic Crossan, a Roman Catholic, of the Jesus Seminar

Crossan speaks of “the apparitions of the risen Jesus.”  What’s an apparition?  A phantom, a ghost.  Jesus’ resurrected body was not real flesh.   He says that “the resurrection is a matter of Christian faith” (1995, p. 189).  So, for him, the resurrection of Christ is really a spiritual resurrection among believers – whatever that means.

So, what happened to the body of Jesus?  Crossan wrote: “Jesus’ burial by his friends was totally fictional and unhistorical.  He was buried, if buried at all, by his enemies, and the necessarily shallow grave would have been easy prey for scavenging animals” (Crossan 1994, p. 160).

Let’s come closer to my home in Queensland – in my hometown of Bundaberg, Qld., Australia.

7.    Rev. David Kidd, Bundaberg Uniting Church

At Easter time 1999, David Kidd wrote an article in The Bugle, a local freebie newspaper that was titled, “The Resurrection of Jesus” (Kidd 1999, p. 19). I lived in Bundaberg at the time.  In it, he stated: “The resurrection of Jesus.[3] It’s impossible.  Even our brain dies after a few minutes of death.  It’s just not possible.’”[4]

 

C. What does the Bible say?

It is very easy to show from the Scriptures that Christ rose from the dead in a physical body.  Let’s look at the evidence (based on Geisler 1999, pp. 667-668):

1. People touched him with their hands.

Jesus’ challenge to Thomas in John 20:27 was: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”  How did Thomas respond, “My Lord and My God” (20:28).

Jesus said to Mary as she grasped him, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.”  Matthew 28:9 tells us that the women “clasped his feet and worshiped him.”

When Jesus appeared to his disciples, what did Jesus say?  Luke 24:39, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a [spirit ] {5} does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

Do we need any further evidence that Jesus had real human flesh after his resurrection?

2. Jesus’ resurrection body had real flesh and bones.

The verse that we have just looked at gives some of the most powerful evidence of his bodily resurrection: “Touch me and see; a [spirit] does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Lk. 24:39) and to prove that he really did have a real body of flesh and bones, what did he do?  According to Luke 24:41-42, Jesus “asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’  They gave him a piece of broiled fish.”  Folks, spirits or spiritual bodies do not eat fish.

Third piece of evidence in support of the bodily resurrection of Christ:

3. Jesus ate real tucker (Aussie for “food”).

As we’ve just seen, they gave him “broiled fish” to eat.  He ate real food on at least 3 occasions, eating both bread and fish, (Luke 24:30, 41-43; John 21:12-13).  Acts 10:41 states that Jesus met with witnesses “who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

That sounds clear to me.  Jesus ate food after his resurrection.  People in real bodies eat real food.

A fourth proof that Jesus was raised in his physical body:

4. Take a look at the wounds in his body.

This is proof beyond reasonable doubt.  He still had the wounds in his body from when he was killed.  John 20:27, “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’”

When Jesus ascended, after his resurrection, the Bible records, “This same Jesus [ie this divine-human Jesus], who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
There’s a fifth confirmation of his bodily resurrection:

5. Jesus could be seen and heard.

Yes, Jesus’ body could be touched and handled.  But there is more! 

Matthew 28:17 says that “when they saw [horaw] him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” On the road to Emmaus, of the disciples who were eating together, Luke 24:31 states, “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.”  The Greek term “to recognize” [epiginoskw] means “to know, to understand, or to recognize”  These are the normal Greek words “for ‘seeing’ (horaw, theorew) and ‘recognizing’ (epiginoskw) physical objects” (Geisler 1999, pp 667-668).

Because Jesus could be seen and heard as one sees and recognises physical objects, we have further proof that Jesus rose bodily.

6. The Greek word, soma, always means physical body.

When used of an individual human being, the word body (soma) always means a physical body in the New Testament.  There are no exceptions to this usage in the New Testament.  Paul uses soma of the resurrection body of Christ [and of the resurrected bodies of people – yet to come] (I Cor. 15:42-44), thus indicating his belief that it was a physical body” (Geisler 1999, p. 668).

In that magnificent passage in I Cor. 15 about the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of people in the last days, why is Paul insisting that the soma must be a physical body?  It is because the physical body is central in Paul’s teaching on salvation (Gundry in Geisler 1999, p. 668).  We’ll get to that in a moment.

There’s a 7th piece of evidence in support of bodily resurrection:

7. Jesus’ body came out from among the dead

There’s a prepositional phrase that is used in the NT to describe resurrection “from (ek) the dead” (cf. Mark 9:9; Luke 24:46; John 2:22; Acts 3:15; Rom. 4:24; I Cor. 15:12).  That sounds like a ho-hum kind of phrase in English, “from the dead.” Not so in the Greek.

This Greek preposition, ek, means Jesus was resurrected ‘out from among’ the dead bodies, that is, from the grave where corpses are buried (Acts 13:29-30).  These same words are used to describe Lazarus’s being raised ‘from the dead’ (John 12:1).  In this case there is no doubt that he came out of the grave in the same body in which he was buried.  Thus, resurrection was of a physical corpse out of a tomb or graveyard (Geisler 1999, p. 668). 

This confirms the physical nature of the resurrection body.

8. He appeared to over 500 people at the one time.

Paul to the Corinthians wrote that Christ

appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me [Paul]also, as to one abnormally born (I Cor. 15:5-8).

You could not believe the discussion and controversy one little verb has caused among Bible teachers.  Christ “appeared” to whom?  Here, Paul says, Peter, the twelve disciples, over 500 other Christians, James, all the apostles, and to Paul “as to one abnormally born.”

The main controversy has been over whether this was some supernatural revelation called an “appearance” or was it actually “seeing” his physical being?  These are the objective facts: Christ became flesh, he died in the flesh, he was raised in the flesh and he appeared to these hundreds of people in the flesh.

The resurrection of  Jesus from the dead was not a form of “spiritual” existence.  Just as he was truly dead and buried, so he was truly raised from the dead bodily and seen by a large number of witnesses on a variety of occasions (Fee 1987, p. 728).

No wonder the Book of Acts can begin with: “After his suffering, he 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).

D. We need to look briefly at a few objections to bodily resurrection

One of the objections sometimes raised is that Christ’s body after the resurrection had some unusual supernatural features and that this means it was not a real physical body.  One objection is that

1. Christ would just appear and disappear

Take a verse like Luke 24:34, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.”  Then go to Acts 9:17, “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’”

In these two examples the word “appeared” is used.  One of Jesus and the other of Jesus appearing to Paul, many years after Christ’s ascension.  Both of these are in the passive voice (Greek) , so it means that Christ “let himself be seen. . .  Jesus took the initiative to make himself visible at his resurrection appearances” (Geisler 1999, p. 659).  “Appeared” means that “he could be seen by human eyes, the appearances were not just visions” (Rienecker in Geisler 1999, p. 659).

The NT speaks of sudden appearances by Jesus, like to the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus.  It is stated: “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight” (Luke 24:31).  This could have been a miraculous act of power, a sign that he was both human and divine.  We must get this one correct, as Norman Geisler puts it:

The text nowhere states that Jesus became nonphysical when the disciples could no longer see him.  Just because he was out of their sight does not mean he was out of his physical body.  God has the power to miraculously transport persons in their pre-resurrection physical bodies from one place to another (1999, p. 659).

Remember when Philip the evangelist was with the Ethiopian eunuch, “the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39).    Here was Philip, a real human being, whisked away by the Spirit of God.

So for both Jesus and Philip, the text does not say that either one became non-physical beings.

A second objection:

2.    Jesus didn’t die but swooned in the grave

H. J. Schonfield made this popular in his book, The Passover Plot (1965).  But this view is as old as Celsus in the 2nd century.  The view was that Mary Magdalene nursed Jesus back to health.  “Forty days later his wounds bot the better of him, and he died and was buried secretly” (Green 1990, p. 186).

This is fairy story stuff.  There is not one bit of evidence to support it and it doesn’t understand “the brutal Roman method of execution” (Green 1990, p. 186).  I found Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” terribly brutal but it did give a realistic picture of how final Roman execution really was.

3.    The disciples stole the body

If the Jews and Romans wanted to silence the facts about the bodily resurrection of Jesus, all they would have had to do was to produce the body of Jesus.  They didn’t.

Get this.  It does not make sense to claim that the disciples stole the body of Jesus, went forth proclaiming the death and resurrection of Jesus, and then

They were willing to be imprisoned for this faith, torn limb from limb, thrown to the lions, or turned into human torches in the Emperor Nero’s gardens for this conviction that Jesus was alive.  Would they have endured all that for a claim they knew was [a fake] (Green 1990, p. 190)

Why did some of the Bible teachers after the death of the apostles teach Docetism,  that Jesus did not have a physical body and could not have risen with a physical body?  They could be the same reasons for such teaching today:

6pointColored-small  They don’t believe the authoritative Bible is the infallible Word of God.  OR

6pointColored-smallThey don’t believe in the supernatural.  They are naturalists who believe that “the ‘natural’ universe, the universe of matter and energy, is all that there really is.  This rules out God, so naturalism is atheistic” (MacDonald 1984, p. 750).  This is like David Kidd, formerly of the Bundaberg Uniting Church, who said that the resurrection of Christ is “impossible.  Even our brain dies after a few minutes of death.  It’s just not possible” (Kidd 1999, p. 19).  That’s naturalism.

Naturalism is the belief that everything in nature originates from natural causes. There cannot be any supernatural or spiritual explanations. They are either excluded for relegated to some discounted position.
6pointColored-smallEven though deniers of Christ’s bodily resurrection may be in the church, according to Rom. 1:18, they still “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”  They are rebels against God and don’t want to understand the resurrection of Jesus as God told us.  They are engaged in ungodly activities and can’t see the light of the Gospel.  In reality, they are atheistic concerning the supernatural God of the Bible.

6pointColored-smallPaul warned that these false teachers would attract people “to suit their own passions” (2 Tim. 4:4 ESV). 

6pointColored-smallSatan, the enemy of our souls, loves to dress up false doctrine to make it look like the real thing.

E. Why is the bodily resurrection of Jesus important?

We must understand how serious it is to deny the resurrection. Paul told the Corinthians: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (I Cor. 15:13-14).

The updated World Christian Encyclopedia … by Oxford University Press, says that by midcentury there will be 3 billion Christians, constituting 34.3% of the world’s population, up from the current 33%.

Christians now number 2 billion and are divided into 33,820 denominations and churches, in 238 countries, and use 7,100 languages, the encyclopedia says (Zenit 2001).

If there is no bodily resurrection, we might as well announce it to the world and tell all Christians they are living a lie and ought to go practise some other religion.

British evangelist, Michael Green, summarises the main issues about the bodily resurrection of Christ:

The supreme miracle of Christianity is the resurrection. . . [In the New Testament] assurance of the resurrection shines out from every page.  It is the crux of Christianity, the heart of the matter.  If it is true, then there is a future for mankind; and death and suffering have to be viewed in a totally new light.  If it is not true, Christianity collapses into mythology.  In that case we are, as Saul of Tarsus conceded, of all men most to be pitied (Green 1990, p. 184).

The bodily resurrection is absolutely essential for these reasons:

1. Belief in the resurrection of Christ is necessary for salvation

Rom. 10:9 states: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Salvation means that you are saved from God’s wrath because of the resurrection of Christ.  You are saved from hell.

Your new birth (regeneration) is guaranteed by the resurrection.  First Peter 1:3 states that “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

The spiritual power within every Christian happens because of the resurrection.  Paul assured the Ephesians of Christ’s “incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 1:19-20).  You can’t have spiritual power in your life without the resurrected Christ.

In one passage, Paul links your justification through faith to the resurrection – he associates directly your being declared righteous, your being not guilty before God, with Christ’s resurrection.  Rom. 4:25 states that Jesus “was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”

Your salvation, your being born again, your justification, your having spiritual power in the Christian life depends on your faith in the raising of Jesus from the dead.  Not any old resurrection will do.  Jesus’ body after the resurrection was not a spirit or phantom.  It was a real, physical body.  If  you don’t believe in the resurrection of Christ, on the basis of this verse, you can’t be saved.
Second:

2. Christ’s resurrection proves that Jesus is God

From very early in his ministry, Jesus’ predicted his resurrection.  The Jews asked him for a sign.  According to John 2:19-21, “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days’ . . . But the temple he had spoken of was his body.”  Did you get that?  Jesus predicted that he, being God, would have his body destroyed and three days later, He would raise this body.

Jesus continued to predict his resurrection: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40).  See also Mark 8:31; 14:59; Matt. 27:63.

The third reason Christ’s bodily resurrection is core Christianity is:

3. Life after death is guaranteed!

Remember what Jesus taught his disciples in John 14:19, “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.”  If you truly have saving faith in Christ, his resurrection makes life after death a certainty.

There a fourth reason:

 

4. Christ’s bodily resurrection guarantees that believers will receive perfect resurrection bodies as well.

After you die and Christ comes again, the New Testament connects Christ’s resurrection with our final bodily resurrection.  I Cor. 6:14, “By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.”

In the most extensive discussion on the connection between Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection, Paul states that Christ is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Cor. 15:20).  What are “firstfruits”?  It’s an agricultural metaphor indicating the first taste of the ripening crop, showing that the full harvest is coming.  This shows what believers’ resurrection bodies, the full harvest, will be like.

Do you see how critically important it is to have a biblical understanding of the nature of Christ’s resurrection – his bodily resurrection.

In spite of so many in the liberal church establishment denying the bodily resurrection of Christ or dismissing it totally, there are those who stand firm on the bodily resurrection.

F. Those supporting the bodily resurrection

Eminent British New Testament Scholar and former Anglican Bishop of Durham, Dr. N. T. Wright, said:

I simply cannot explain why Christianity began without it [i.e. without the resurrection of Christ]…. If Jesus had died and stayed dead, [his disciples] would either have given up the movement or they would have found another messiah.  Something extraordinary happened which convinced them that Jesus was the Messiah (Jennings 2000, p. 51).

N. T. Wright has since written these 817 pages to support the bodily resurrection and refute those throughout church history, including current scholars who deny the literal resurrection of Jesus.  Wright concludes: “The proposal that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead possesses unrivalled power to explain the historical data at the heart of early Christianity” (Wright 2003, p. 718).

G. What’s the remedy for this church and every church today when the bodily resurrection of Christ is denied?

It is the same for us as Paul’s last words to Timothy: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2). I have great concern that the churches in Australia today are becoming suckers to rampant false teaching.  Why?

6pointColored-small We don’t take seriously Paul’s command to “preach the Word.”  Preaching about the Word, preaching my own ideas, is NOT preaching the Word.  I do not know how to preach the Word other than to systematically preach through the Bible, or to focus on certain biblical topics as I am doing today.
6pointColored-small   When should we do this?  When it’s appropriate and when it seems inappropriate.  Paul’s words were: “Be prepared in season and out of season.”

6pointColored-small  This preaching of the Word must include correction, rebuking and encouragement.  My task today has been to correct false doctrine, based on the Scriptures.  I don’t believe we take seriously the command: “Preach the Word.”
6pointColored-small  It is not too late to make a change.  False doctrine will increase and the need for correction, rebuking and encouragement will be urgently needed.  Paul says that we must do this “with great patience and careful instruction.”  But I’m not sure that we care about false teaching.

6pointColored-small  Will this church take seriously this command from Paul, so that we will not become a victim of false teachings?  All of us must be vigilant.  We cannot know what is false without knowing the truth of the Word.  We must preach the Word.

Appendix:

1.    Theologian and apologist, Norman Geisler, wrote: “Those who try to get around the resurrection walk against the gale-force winds of the full evidence.  The facts are that Jesus of Nazareth really died . . . and actually came back from the dead in the same physical body” (1999, p. 656).
2.    Wayne Grudem wrote, concerning Jesus’ resurrection body, that “the texts . . . show that Jesus clearly had a physical body with ‘flesh and bones’ (Luke 24:39), which could eat and drink, break bread, prepare breakfast and be touched. . .  These texts are not capable of an alternative explanation that denies Jesus’ physical body. . . Jesus was clearly teaching  them that his resurrection body was a physical body” (1994, p. 612).

See my other articles on the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

Notes:

1a. The original read, “Men,” but the ESV translates as “people.”
2.  Earle E. Cairns considers that his “seven letters must have been written about 110” (1981, p. 74).
3. “The Resurrection of Jesus” was the title of the article and the first sentence began with, “It’s impossible.  Even our brain dies . .
. ,” so I am left to conclude that the article’s title was the introduction to the first sentence.
4. The original article had closing inverted commas here, but there were no introductory inverted commas.
5. The NIV reads, “ghost,” but the ESV translates as “spirit.”  The Greek is pneuma = spirit.

References:

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

Crossan, J. D. 1994, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco.

Crossan, J. D. 1995, Who Killed Jesus? HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco.

Fee, G. D. 1987, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (gen. ed. F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament), William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Geisler, N. L. 1999, ‘Resurrection, Evidence for’, in Norman L. Geisler 1999, Baker Encyclopedia of  Christian Apologetics, Baker Books, Grand Rapid, Michigan.

Green, M. 1990, Evangelism through the local Church, Hodder & Stoughton, London.

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

Ignatius n.d., ‘The Epistle to the Smyrnaeans’, Early Church Writings, available from:
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/srawley/smyrnaeans.html [Accessed 19 July 2005].

Irenaeus n.d., ‘Against Heresies’, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, available from:
http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-01/anf01-63.htm#P8967_2580595 [Accessed 19 July 2005].

Jennings P. 2000, ‘Peter Jennings Reporting’, ABC television (USA), aired on Monday, June 26 2000. This quote is from Christian Research Institute 2000, “Point-by-point Response to ‘Peter Jennings Reporting: The Search for Jesus,’ available from: http://www.equip.org/free/DJ036.pdf [Accessed 31 May 2005].

Kidd, D. 1999, Bundaberg Uniting Church, “The Resurrection of Jesus,” The Bugle (Bundaberg), March 19, 1999, p. 19.

Kohn, R. 2001, The Spirit of Things (radio program), ‘Tomorrow’s God, with Lloyd Geering’,  Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 4 March 2001, available from: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/relig/spirit/stories/s253975.htm [Accessed 19 July 2005].

Mann, J. 1993, ‘Justification’, available from: http://www.fountain.btinternet.co.uk/theology/justific.html [Accessed 19 July 2005].

MacDonald, M. H. 1984, ‘Naturalism’, in W. A. Elwell (ed.), Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, pp. 750-751.

Martyr, J. n.d., ‘Fragments of the Lost Work of Justin on the Resurrection’, Early Church Writings, available from:
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/justinmartyr-resurrection.html [Accessed 19 July 2005].

Origen n.d., ‘Contra Celsus’, Early Christian Writings, available from: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/origen167.html [19 July 2005].

Schonfield, H. J. 1965, The Passover Plot, Bantam Books, New York.

Spong, J. S. 2004, Review, ‘The Passion of the Christ’ — Mel Gibson’s Film and Biblical Scholarship – Part 4, available from Arianna Online Forum at: http://www.ariannaonline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1025 [Accessed19 July 2005].

Tertullian n.d., ‘On the Resurrection of the Flesh’, Early Church Writings, available from:
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/tertullian16.html [Accessed 19 July 2005].

Wright, N. T. 2003, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Fortress Press, Minneapolis.

Zenit 2001. World Christianity on the rise in 21st century (online. Available at: https://zenit.org/articles/christianity-on-the-rise-in-21st-century/ Accessed 29 March 2016.)

 

Copyright © 2007 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date:20 February 2017.

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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.

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

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

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(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.

Jesus as the one way, except ….

Monday, August 8th, 2016

Jesus Is The Way

By Spencer D Gear PhD

A skeptic about Jesus as the only way to salvation showed up on Christian Forums.net. He wrote:

I was born again in 1970, worked with Campus Crusade for Christ, attended Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, and have been waist-deep in theology for many, many years. So, yeah, I’ll match “Christian credentials” with other posters, if that’s important to you.
Do I believe my statement, “Pretty soon the category of people ….”?

Yes, I do. The exceptions pretty much reduce the doctrine to “the only way, except when …,” which is quite different from “the only way.” It strikes me as slightly bizarre that the hardline “only way” folks are willing to consign all Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims, not to mention Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, to Hell, while carving out exceptions for those who have not reached the fictional age of accountability or are mentally disabled. (True hardliners, of course, permit no exceptions – so at least their theology is consistent, albeit repulsive).??[1]

My reply was:[2]

Key with Jesus name on itGod does not talk of exceptions; that is human language to try to explain what seems unreasonable to us when we deal with God’s kingdom and who should enter. God’s language is that he has made provision for the salvation of certain people in His ways. I have addressed this as it relates to children in, Children and heaven.
Now to your view that Jesus as the ‘only way’ consigns Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Mormons & JWs to hell. So did God mean it when he said,

‘You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them’ (Ex 20:3-5 ESV)?

Yes, he did mean it and if the nation violated God’s laws they suffered the consequences. This is because God is a jealous and holy God who will not tolerate other gods of worship. He’s the same God in OT and NT – in spite of what some higher critics want to say about the alleged differences.
Those who do not submit to the Trinitarian Lord God are serving ‘other gods’ and such worship is forbidden if one wants to get into God’s kingdom. You’ll probably label me as a hardliner. The fact is that I want to remain faithful to Scripture and the one who said his people are to have no other gods, is the same one who said that Jesus is the only way to the Father (John 14:6 ESV) and that there is salvation in no other person than through Jesus (Acts 4:12 ESV).

A.  The ‘only way’ is a fabrication

He stated:

Do I consider that Jesus as the only way to salvation to be “hollow” and/or a fabrication?

No, I suspect that the conventional doctrine is probably fundamentally misguided, meaning that we are not fully grasping what Jesus meant. (I am admittedly troubled by how many of the really puzzling and divisive doctrines have their roots in John and Revelation, but I realize that concerns about inerrancy are not permitted at this site.) I will not be surprised at all to meet hordes of people in Heaven whom the hardline “only way” folks would not now recognize as Christians at all. On the other hand, I will not be shocked if the most hardline “only way” folks are entirely correct and even infants are consigned to Hell – nothing requires God to be the sort of God we might like Him to be. On all of these potentially repulsive doctrines, my position is simply that we will eventually see that the end result is worthy of the Creator of the Universe.?[3]

Knock KnockThe fundamental doctrine of Jesus as the only way to salvation is not misguided, as you suggest, but is based on God’s holiness and perfection in determining who should be saved and how they should be saved and enter His presence.

Seems to me that your Jesus is one of syncretism who allows anyone into his kingdom because the hardline ‘only way’ Jesus is too narrow minded for a syncretistic view.
You claim that you are ‘troubled by how many of the really puzzling and divisive doctrines have their roots in John and Revelation”. Acts 4:12 (ESV) is not in John’s writings. Neither is Acts 13:26 (NIV), which provides this insight, ‘Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent’. God-fearing people have received the message of salvation.

Acts 10:43 (NIV) confirms: ‘All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name’. They believe in Jesus for salvation. Then they become Christians and are no longer Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Shintoists, pagans, New Agers, JWs, Mormons, secularists, atheists, agnostics, etc. They become born-again Christians who have received Jesus as the only way to salvation.

B.  An area of agreement

However, there is one area in which I would agree with you: ‘Nothing requires God to be the sort of God we might like Him to be’. There will be God-fearers who make it into God’s kingdom whom we would never know how they came to fear God. However, I dare not make ‘one way’ Christians into hardliners who are unreasonable. Those who believe Jesus is the ‘only way’ to salvation are following what Scripture teaches.
God doesn’t dance to your or my tune. He sets the boundaries for who is in and who is out of the kingdom. From the teaching available to us, salvation through Jesus Christ alone is the only way to become a Christian (John 14:6 ESV; Acts 4:12 ESV).

C.  One way in other religions

It is a fallacy to think that evangelical Christianity is for hardliners who require Jesus as the one and only way to salvation.

Have you checked out these other religions and what they consider as the way to enlightenment and Paradise? See my articles:

bronze-arrow-small  Is Islam a religion of peace at its core?

bronze-arrow-small  Visualization and Affirmation

bronze-arrow-small The dangers of Eastern meditation

Take a read of these other articles that demonstrate that Christianity is not the only faith that promotes a narrow way:

designRed-small  Why Hinduism is the “Eternal way”, the true religion (Western Hindu);

designRed-small Buddhism, The ‘only’ way to enlightenment.

designRed-small Islam, ‘This is Islam – The Only Way for This Life and The Hereafter’ (The Islamic Bulletin).

DirectiondesignRed-small What about atheism? Its one way must exclude belief in God. See Atheist Foundation of Australia where it states that membership is open to ‘any natural person, who subscribes to the Objects of the Foundation and agrees to be bound by its Rules, may be admitted to membership by the Committee’. What are the objects of the foundation?

    i. To encourage and to provide a means of expression for informed free-thought on philosophical and social issues.

ii. To safeguard the rights of all non-religious people.

iii. To serve as a focal point for the community of non-religious people.

iv. To offer verifiable information in place of superstition and to promote logic and reason.

v. To promote atheism.

So even atheism has a one-way to membership through your acceptance of its 5 objects.

I wish you good fortune in trying to find the secret to the Google, Bing or Yahoo one-way formulas they use to search the Internet for your words.

D.  The Jesus’ one-way difference

What makes Jesus as the only way different to other world religions and philosophies? Briefly, these are fundamentals you will not find in other religions:

clip_image002 Forgiveness of all your sins (Matthew 6:14-15; 1 John 1:9).

clip_image002[1] Freedom from the guilt of sin (Psalm 103:8-12; Romans 8:1);

clip_image002[2] Eternal life that begins now and extends into eternity (Matthew 7:13-14; John 3:16; 1 John 5:13-14);

clip_image002[3] Ultimately this eternal life means life after death and ultimate Paradise in the presence of God (Luke 23:43; John 11:25; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; Revelation 21:1-27).

E.  Conclusion

Because other ways state they are the only way to various ultimate realities, which ones forgive sins and guarantee eternal life? This is the one that means changed lives in the present as well? It changes drunkard abusers into loving husbands whose life focuses on serving others.

Only one! That’s the Christ of Christianity who saves people from sin, cleanses the guilt, offers peace within and peace eternally, and an eternal relationship with God.

F.  Notes


[1] Christian Forums.net 2016. Apologetics & Theology, 24 June. ‘It’s so simple’, Runner#17. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/its-so-simple.65197/ (Accessed 25 June 2016).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#19.

[3] Ibid., Runner#17.

 

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

Salvation by grace but not by force: A person chooses to believe

Monday, May 9th, 2016

(tulip image public domain)

Image result for photo rose public domain

(rose image public domain)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

In the argy bargy that goes on between Calvinists and Arminians over the nature of salvation, some important elements are minimised or rejected. If TULIP is promoted by Calvinists, what is excluded? If semi-Pelagians are identified as Arminians, what is added to Arminianism? What about the FACTS of Arminianism?

I write as a convinced Reformed/Classical Arminian who is not a semi-Pelagian in my doctrine of theology.

1. Why do some people reject salvation?

I was engaged in a discussion online about why some accept Christ while others reject him.

I confirm that I believe in salvation by grace,[1] but NOT salvation by irresistible grace and unconditional election. Why? The Bible tells me so! This is what the Bible teaches about salvation by grace:

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” (Acts 16:29-31 NIV)

What did Paul & Silas say to the Philippian jailer? It’s a command, ‘[You] believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved’. So Paul and Silas confirm that there will be no salvation unless ‘you believe’ [aorist imperative]. It does not command, ‘God will believe in the Lord Jesus for you and you will be saved’. It does not say, ‘You will be irresistibly drawn by grace to Christ for salvation and be unconditionally elected’.

So I believe in salvation by grace where the person believes. Acts 16:31 (NIV) does not teach irresistible grace. There would be no command to ‘believe’ that would have meaning to the Philippian jailer if it were not possible for him to believe or refuse to believe. Yes, ‘believe’ is an imperative in the Greek language – a command – but that does not state or imply that he must obey the command. It is not ‘you must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you have no choice in the matter because God has decreed and guaranteed your election to salvation. You have no choice in the matter; you are forced to come to Christ’. That would be a gross interpolation of the command, ‘Believe’.

Ribbon Salvation ButtonEphesians 2:8-9 (NIV) provides the critical dimension from God’s perspective: ‘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’.

However one understands the reason for people accepting or rejecting salvation, these are the core elements of salvation:

  • It is by God’s grace.
  • It is by faith.
  • This salvation of grace through faith comes as a gift from God.
  • It cannot be obtained by good works, thus eliminating any personal bragging about the works done to earn salvation.

Salvation as a gift from God does not eliminate a person’s saying, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to salvation. The ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ provides the means while the substance, salvation, is a gift from God himself. There is a human mystery of how this takes place that salvation is a gift from God but human beings need to respond positively to the Gospel to receive it. The most obvious solution, to me, is to state that God’s gift is mediated through human receipt of that gift.

We see this on the human level. I have known of situations where a wife purchased an expensive gift to give to her husband for his birthday but when she presented it to him it was rejected. He had a number of reasons for not receiving it, some related to unresolved conflict in the marriage. So it is possible for an expensive gift to be purchased and rejected. A similar situation develops when the supreme sacrificial gift of salvation is offered to people and for various reasons they reject the offer.

2. God frees the will to believe

Image result for two ways clipart public domainI was following up a comment online that stated: ‘Those Christ died for are reconciled to God while they are enemies/unbelievers Rom 5:10! You are denying what Christ’s death done’.[2]

My response was:[3]

I know you don’t like the theology of Christ dying for ALL sinners, but as has already been pointed, that’s exactly what 1 John 2:2 (ESV) teaches: ‘He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world’. So, the sins of the whole world come in the embrace of God’s propitiation. What is propitiation? Romans 3:24-25 (ESV) states believers

are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

‘Propitiation’ here refers to ‘a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing changes God’s wrath toward us into favor’ (Grudem 1999:254). So, instead of being opposed to sinners, God is now favourable towards them, because of Christ’s propitious sacrifice.

There are other emphases that point to God freeing the will so that it is open to receiving Christ.
That God has freed the will is inferred from the number of exhortations in Scripture to:

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 beforehand. Titus 2:11 (ESV) teaches this, ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’.

The only way I’ve seen Calvinists squirm out of verses such as 1 John 2:2 (ESV) and Titus 2:11 (ESV) is to redefine ‘world’ to mean some people groups of the world or the world of the elect. However, we can’t do that in either of these 2 verses that make it clear that they refer to the ‘sins of the whole world’ (1 John 2:2 ESV) and the grace of God has appeared ‘bring salvation to all people’ (Titus 2:11). This latter verse makes it clear it is ‘to all people’ and NOT ‘to all elect people’.

There is no problem with the grace of God bringing salvation to all people and not all people being saved (universalism) when one understands that God has freed the human will to respond. How do we know? I’ve demonstrated that above with the exhortations:

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

None of these exhortations would have meaning if they meant,

  • turn to God and by that God means, I decree you to turn to God and you are forced to make that decision.
  • repent, but God predestines that repentance and it is irresistible;
  • believe, and you have no choice in the matter. You are unconditionally drawn to Christ.

What kind of God would coerce people to turn to Him, force them to repent, and compel them to believe? That would be an example of God, the bully, who is a monster of partiality. He decrees salvation for the elect and damnation for the unbelievers – but the unbelievers cannot choose to believe because of God’s will that they be damned forever. That is not an example of the God of grace and mercy towards the undeserving.

Another chimed in:

Why would someone not accept reconciliation? That makes no sense.

The answer is … you don’t accept reconciliation because you can’t. You’re dead in your sins and trespasses…you are not a sheep who hears Gods call … you are not chosen by God. God has decided not to have mercy and compassion on you.[4]

3. Salvation by grace, but not irresistible grace

This is a response that is typical of arrogant Calvinists I meet on Christian forums or in some Calvinistic churches:

Reconciled while being enemies!
False religionists, who reject Salvation by Grace, do also reject the Truth of God’s Grace, that those Christ has died for, had been reconciled to God, by that Death, while they were enemies Rom 5:10,
10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
This reconciliation to God was without them meeting any conditions, not any requirements, in fact it occurred while they were in a state of hostility and hatred and enmity against God;
And it was while they were being so, that they were actually reconciled, that is brought into harmony and agreement with God, received into His Favor and Friendship ! Don’t be deceived by false teachers, they were reconciled to God, not potentially reconciled to God, it was not just possibly and not actually, they were reconciled to God on the bases of the Death of Christ. If it was only made possible, Christ’s Death fell far short of the Glory of God. They were all reconciled to God and put in harmony with Him, as they had been when they were in harmony with God in Adam before the fall!
The fleshly carnal mind ruled by pride cannot receive this Grace Truth, it rejects it every time![5]

That kind of comment is like pouring petrol on the fire of this Reformed Arminian, so I replied:[6]

I most certainly believe in salvation by grace, but NOT your salvation by irresistible grace. Why? The Bible tells me so!clip_image001 This is what the Bible teaches about salvation by grace:

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” (Acts 16:29-31 NIV)

What did Paul & Silas say to the Philippian jailer? It’s a command, ‘[You] Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved’. So Paul and Silas confirm that there will be no salvation unless ‘you believe’ [aorist tense imperative]. It does not command, ‘God will believe in the Lord Jesus for you and you will be saved’. It does not say, ‘You will be irresistibly drawn by grace to Christ for salvation and be unconditionally elected’.

So I believe in salvation by grace where the person chooses to believe. Acts 16:31 (NIV) does not teach irresistible grace.

4. Objection to God who frees the will to believe

The examples I gave above of turn to God, repent, and believe, brought this response:

The contradiction is still there. Those enemies Christ died for are reconciled to God by His Death while they are enemies, which is not true for all, since some who are enemies are under Gods Wrath and Condemnation John 3:18, 36.[7]

He added:

All the scripture you quoted [for turn to God, repent, and believe] I have no problem with. Yet you can not explain why some as enemies and unbelievers are reconciled to God by Christ death, and others are not, and are under Gods Wrath and Condemnation John 3:18, 36.[8]

These last two quotes by this poster are conveying the same message with almost identical words. Calvinists with a fixation on TULIP cannot get past what God has done in freeing the human will of all human beings to believe or reject the Gospel. This is my attempt to explain further. It is not comprehensive and a person may pick holes in some of the points:

Do you want me to conclude that the God of Calvinism has the answer to why some receive Christ and others reject, because of unconditional election and irresistible grace – married to limited atonement?

There are simple steps to the solution to why some accept and others reject salvation. These steps are not comprehensive and some may take exception to some. I don’t expect Calvinists to endorse any action of free will in salvation:[9]

  1. Salvation is by grace through faith, without good works (Eph 2:8-9 NIV).
  2. ‘Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ’ (Rom 10:17 NIV). There is no salvation through exposure to natural revelation (e.g. Rom 1:18ff), but a person must hear or read the Gospel message.
  3. ‘You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life’ (John 5:39-40 ESV). Individual choice is involved. People refuse to come – for various reasons. Jesus’ words are profound, ‘Yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life’. They refuse to come. They have the free will to receive or reject. This is Jesus telling us part of his theology of salvation.
  4. ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day’ (John 6:44 NIV). The Father draws; he does not drag people into the kingdom through unconditional election or irresistible grace. The drawing is not forceful, to the point of giving no other alternative.
  5. We know from Titus 2:11 (ESV) that ‘the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’. This grace of God appeared with the passion-resurrection of Jesus, making salvation available to all. Yes, ALL!
  6. The fact is that people who hear the Gospel are drawn by the Father, but they have a choice to make – accept or reject the Gospel. The human will has been freed to enable human beings to make a decision for or against Christ. Human beings who are dead in sin are freed to believe by God himself.
  7. There is a godly mystery (1 Cor 2:7 NIV) involved in how God, by his Spirit, takes the message of salvation, exposes human beings to it, they are drawn (not forced) by the Father, and they have the choice to reject or ‘believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household’ (Acts 16:31 NIV).
  8. In this process, Satan’s influence cannot be under-estimated in influencing people to reject salvation. We are reminded in 1 Peter 5:8 (NIV), ‘Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour’. Satan the deceiver and devourer of all things good, including the Gospel, should not be ignored.

Leave out the free will choice – as Calvinists do – and it excludes a core element in the reception of the Gospel by people. Exclude free will and you eliminate what Jesus included: ‘You refuse to come to me that you may have life’ (John 5:40 ESV).

Salvation is all of God. He has provided it through Christ’s sacrifice, which was a propitiation, but in God’s grace He has made salvation available to people to receive or reject – with eternal consequences.

5. Begging the question fallacy

The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Fallacies

If a person starts an Internet discussion with a post that supports the premise of limited atonement and reaches the same conclusion, what has he done? This is what a fellow did on a Christian forum. He began,

Not all men are reconciled to God by Christ’s death while being enemies, and that’s simply because Christ’s death was not for everyone without exception. That’s why some are reconciled to God while being enemies and unbelievers Rom 5:10 and why some are under Gods wrath and condemnation while being enemies and unbelievers Jn 3:18, 36!

There is simply only one explanation for this, Christ died for some who are enemies and unbelievers and did not die for others who are enemies and unbelievers!

The enemies and unbelievers that Christ died for are reconciled to God by it, did not perform any conditions whatsoever, because they were actively enemies and unbelievers, So Christ fulfilled all the conditions necessary for them to be reconciled to God while being enemies and unbelievers![10]

There was a back and forth with a number of different posters, including myself, until he came to this conclusion:

The contradiction is still there. Those enemies Christ died for are reconciled to God by His Death while they are enemies, which is not true for all, since some who are enemies are under Gods Wrath and Condemnation John 3:18,36.[11]

Notice what he did. He cited the same verses (John 3:18, 36) in this second post as with his first one. My response was:[12]

I can be the super, computer geek fixer for all the IT problems of the world – through my international agencies in every country – but not one person with a PC or laptop or IPad breakdown will receive any help from the super geek fixers until they pick up the phone, go to the Internet, or email with details of the issue.

This analogy demonstrates the truth of 1 John 2:2 (ESV), ‘He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world’. Jesus has propitiated the wrath of God for the sins of the whole world, but not one person will receive the benefits of that propitiation until he or she bows the knee in submission to Jesus Christ and accepts his offer by faith and repentance.

There is no contradiction. The issue is with your failure to see that God has ordained it that human beings must ‘pick up the phone’ and accept Jesus’ propitiation for their sins. Your problem is with the human side of accepting God’s forgiveness and responding in faith to the offer of salvation.

That’s because of your fixation on limited atonement and refusal to admit to what 1 John 2:2 (ESV) teaches in relation to propitiation for the sins of the whole world and that requires human response for redemption to happen.

This fellow’s claim is that

No one has been able to appropriately answer the points made in the op. Those Christ died for are reconciled to God while they are enemies and unbelievers Rom 5:10, yet that is not the case with all men without exception John 3:18, 36.[13]

My retort was:

That’s because you engage in a begging the question logical fallacy. In this instance, you begin with this premise:[14]

Not all men are reconciled to God by Christ’s death while being enemies, and that’s simply because Christ’s death was not for everyone without exception. That’s why some are reconciled to God while being enemies and unbelievers Rom 5:10 and why some are under Gods wrath and condemnation while being enemies and unbelievers Jn 3:18, 36!

There is simply only one explanation for this, Christ died for some who are enemies and unbelievers and did not die for others who are enemies and unbelievers![15]

What’s your conclusion? ‘No one has been able to appropriately answer the points made in the op’.[16] So you conclude where you began with Calvinism’s answer, which is your premise, thus demonstrating you use a begging the question logical fallacy. This is also called circular reasoning.
You will never ever receive an answer to the questions of the original post because your premise is embedded in your conclusion. Nobody will be able to convince you that your premise is wrong when you don’t seem to be open to such a challenge. You refuse to conclude with anything other than a Calvinistic conclusion – limited atonement – which was your premise.

6. Conclusion

Calvinists promote salvation by grace through faith that is irresistible because God has unconditionally elected a person to salvation. Add to this the fact for them that Jesus did not die for all people, but only for the elect. Therefore, it is logical for them to say that human beings have no need to receive Jesus into their hearts as God has already saved them by his eternal decree.

Reformed or Classical Arminians believe salvation is by grace through faith but any person can resist this grace that God has extended to them when salvation is proclaimed. For Arminians, God has freed the will of all people so that they can respond with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the offer of salvation. However, salvation is always that which is provided by God himself through Christ’s sacrifice.

I conclude in favour of the Reformed Arminian theology because I understand it as providing the consistent biblical view. For a further explanation, see my articles:

clip_image003 Salvation is a work of God and human beings: More misinformation about Arminianism

clip_image003[1] Calvinist misrepresents the Reformed

clip_image003[2] Blatant misrepresentation of Arminians by Calvinists

clip_image003[3] Some Calvinistic antagonism towards Arminians

clip_image003[4] Stutters on the stairway: Arminianism vs Calvinism (eternal security)

clip_image003[5] Prevenient grace – kinda clumsy!

clip_image003[6] It’s amazing what some Calvinists will do

clip_image003[6] Is any flavor of Arminianism promoting error?

7. Works consulted

Grudem, W 1999. Bible Doctrine: Essential teachings of the Christian faith. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press (published by arrangement with Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan).

8.  Notes

[1] This is my post at Christian Forums.net, Apologetics & Theology, ‘No conditions to be reconciled’, OzSpen#36, 18 April 2016. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/no-conditions-to-be-reconciled.64255/page-2 (Accessed 19 April 2016). This was a reply to beloved57#12.

[2] Ibid., beloved57#19.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#37.

[4] Ibid., Cygnus#23.

[5] Ibid., beloved57#12.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#36.

[7] Ibid., beloved57#40.

[8] Ibid., beloved57#42.

[9] Ibid., OzSpen#51.

[10] Ibid., beloved57#1.

[11] Ibid., beloved57#40.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen#70.

[13] Ibid., beloved57#66.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen#68.

[15] Ibid., beloved57#1.

[16] ‘op’ means original post,Beloved57#1.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 May 2016.

Why is eternal security such a touchy subject?

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

Hanging Cat

(image courtesy ChristArt.com)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

If you want to stir up some controversy, go to a Presbyterian church and question the eternal security of the Christian believer. To suggest that a Christian can fall away and even commit apostasy from the faith (1 Tim 1:18-20; Heb 6:4-6) is almost to have the anathema pronounced over you. I had a TULIP Presbyterian member tell me on 1 May 2016 that he would not attend a Wesleyan Methodist church in his rural community because those people ‘believe people can lose their salvation’.

1. Samples of OSAS

Try opposing once-saved-always-saved (OSAS) in some Baptist churches and you could be vigorously opposed. I’ve experienced similar animosity in opposing OSAS on Christian forums where Calvinists and Arminians hover and engage in sometimes antagonistic interaction. Some examples of this included:

bronze-arrow-small ‘Surely Satan does not want us to know that faith is the security of our salvation: “who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:5 NASB)
He wants every one of us who believes to stop believing, so we will no longer have access to God’s protection for our salvation through that faith’.[1]

bronze-arrow-small ‘Some teachers and preachers of the Word teach OSNAS [once saved not always saved] so that they can keep their congregation under their thumb—fearful, insecure and dependent on their leaders to know what to do to maintain or keep their salvation. (Many cults function this way.) The more sincere ones are just afraid that teaching OSAS will cause their congregations members to leave church and sin like there’s no tomorrow. This opposite is true, though’.[2]

bronze-arrow-small ‘This statement — “faith is the security of our salvation” — is also one of the reasons why there is resistance to the doctrine of eternal security. There are many Christians who believe that it is their faith and/or their good works which keeps them saved’.[3]

You can encounter similar antagonism by promoting TULIP in Wesleyan, Assemblies of God, or Free Will Baptist churches. Then if you promote Arminianism in Reformed, Presbyterian, or Reformed Baptist churches, you’ll find similar resistance.

That’s a sampling from an online Christian forum, but it could happen anywhere that there are Christians from both sides of the theological fence in a congregation – promoting Arminianism or Calvinism.

2. Eternal security: A touchy topic

Why is eternal security such a contentious subject among Christians? I encountered it again with the topic, ‘Why is there so much resistance to the eternal security of the believer?[4]

2.1 He fired away

The opening post got the discussion underway with this perspective:

The eternal security of the believer is a fundamental Bible truth (1 Jn 5:13). Yet there is considerable resistance to this doctrine in many quarters, and at the same time many believers who really don’t know the Scriptures are uncertain about something which should be absolutely certain. So why is there so much resistance? I believe there are at least two reasons, and perhaps you might find that there are several others.

The first reason in my esitmation (sic) is the opposition of the archenemy of God and of the Christian. Satan does not want anyone to know – without the shadow of a doubt – that their salvation is eternally secure.

The second reason is that Gospel Truth is not being preached and taught as it ought to be (in all its fulness), babes in Christ are not being discipled as they ought to be, and too many believers do not really understand their position in Christ. The point of this thread is to determine whether we clearly understand our position in Christ.[5]

How should I, a Christian believer who accepts perseverance of the saints but not OSAS, answer such a person’s unfortunate misinterpretation of 1 John 5:13 (ESV)? I responded:[6]

2.2 The meaning of 1 John 5:13

What does 1 John 5:13 (ESV) teach? The verse states, ‘I write [Gk aorist tense] these things to you who believe [Gk present tense] in the name of the Son of God that you may know [Gk perfect tense] that you have [Gk present tense] eternal life.

The aorist tense is point action. The present tense refers to continuing action in the present time. The perfect tense refers to an action in the past with continuing results. In Dana & Mantey’s advanced Greek text, they explain that there are ‘two fundamental ways of viewing action’ for Greek tenses. ‘It may be contemplated in single perspective, as a point, which we may call punctiliar action…; or it may be regarded as in progress, as a line, and this we may call linear action…. The perfect tense is a combination of these two ideas: it looks in perspective at the action, and regards the results of the action as continuing to exist; that is, in progress at a given point. Hence the perfect has both elements, linear and punctiliar. The aorist may be represented by a dot (clip_image001), the present by a line (————), and the perfect by the combination of the two (clip_image001[1]————-) [Dana & Mantey 1955:179].

Therefore, the meaning of 1 John 5:13 (ESV) is NOT that somebody believed in the past and thus is guaranteed eternal security for salvation, no matter what he or she does after saying ‘yes’ to Jesus. The meaning is that it is written to those ‘who continue to believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may continue to have the result of knowing that you are continuing to have eternal life’. So, perseverance of the saints is better language than eternal security OSAS, based on this verse, 1 John 5:13 (ESV). Christian believers are those who continue to believe to the end of their lives.
Why is that the case? It is because the original Greek language of the text affirms that the Christians who continue to believe in the name of the Son of God will know that they continue to have eternal life. Thus, eternal life is guaranteed to those who persevere in the faith – they continue to believe.

3. Resistance to teaching on eternal security

Another person made a perceptive observation:

What security EXACTLY is being resisted? Rom 8:38-39 (NIV) or some other issue?

1 John 5:13 (NIV), IN context, refers to EVERYTHING John wrote in this whole letter. It says nothing about ‘eternal security’.

That is a catch phrase for RT [Reformed Theology].[7]

He’s correct. First John 5:13 (NIV) reads, ‘I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life’.

What is being resisted is the spiritual condition of continuing to believe (Greek present tense). For those who continue to believe, the result is that the believers will know they have eternal life.

Why is there resistance to the eternal security teaching? From my point of view, it is related to these issues:

1. It is not a biblical teaching and when this is shown to the OSAS folks, they can get defensive and resistant to hear what the Scriptures state. I’ve found nothing in Scripture that supports the view that a person can believe in Christ once, live a life in continuing, deliberate sin, and be guaranteed eternal security of salvation. See my articles:

clip_image003 Once Saved, Always Saved or Once Saved, Lost Again?

clip_image003[1] Loss of salvation is nowhere taught in the Bible;

clip_image003[2] Where do Scriptures say Christians can be lost?

clip_image003[3] Controversies: Once saved, always saved.

clip_image003[4] What does it mean to shipwreck your faith?

clip_image003[5] Did Arminius refute eternal security?

2. They may resist the doctrine of eternal security or OSAS because the biblical view is perseverance of the saints. They have not been taught this.

This doctrine is taught in passages such as John 3:36 (ESV),

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.

Perseverance of the saints is the biblical teaching that believers who continue believing in Jesus to the end of life or the second coming of Jesus, are the ones guaranteed eternal life. They are the ones who enjoy eternal security.

3. This is a core issue: A person’s theological views are driven by presuppositions.

Concerning NT scholars, Graham Stanton wrote:

Why do the conclusions of New Testament scholars differ so widely? Anyone who begins to read books about the New Testament soon becomes aware that competent scholars defend with equal vigour and sincerity widely differing approaches to the New Testament. The variety of viewpoints often causes great perplexity both to theological students and to the church at large…. The presuppositions adopted either consciously or unconsciously by the interpreter are far more influential in New Testament scholarship than disagreements over method (Stanton 1977:60)

If it is not possible for a person to lay aside his or her presuppositions, Stanton recommends three safeguards:

(a) The interpreter who is aware of the danger of not laying aside the person’s assumptions is more likely to avoid this problem.

(b) Use the historical, critical method. This will help rule out fanciful, allegorical [and postmodern][8] interpretations.

(c) ‘The third safeguard is even more important. The interpreter must allow his own presuppositions and his own pre-understanding to be modified or even completely reshaped by the text itself. Unless this is allowed to happen, the interpreter will be unable to avoid projecting his own ideas on to the text’ (Stanton 1977:68).

While Stanton wrote for a scholarly audience, his ‘safeguards’ are just as important in Christian conversation, preaching and discussion about Calvinism and Arminianism.

Until those presuppositions change, the possibilities of changing from one view to the other is nigh impossible. The Calvinistic view of OSAS or perseverance of the saints is driven by the presuppositions of TULIP and if one accepts the content of TULI, then P is a normal and natural consequence. The Arminian theology is driven by FACTS. ‘Arminianism may be represented by the acronym FACTS’:

Freed by Grace (to Believe)
Atonement for All
Conditional Election
Total Depravity
Security in Christ (Abasciano & Glynn 2013).

See my articles in support of this latter view:

clip_image005 Continue in the faith to guarantee eternal life;

clip_image005[1] Loss of salvation is nowhere taught in the Bible;

clip_image005[2] Is it possible or impossible to fall away from the Christian faith?

Now let’s look at the teachings of some leading lights in this theological debate.

3.1 Arminius and eternal security

It is sometimes said by those who oppose Arminian theology that Arminius (1560-1609)[9] did not believe in eternal security. Let’s check out some evidence:

clip_image007

Jacobus Arminius (image courtesy Wikipedia)

It is worth quoting Arminius at some length in his teaching on ‘The Perseverance of the Saints’:

My sentiments respecting the perseverance of the saints are, that those persons who have been grafted into Christ by true faith, and have thus been made partakers of his life-giving Spirit, possess sufficient powers [or strength] to fight against Satan, sin, the world and their own flesh, and to gain the victory over these enemies—yet not without the assistance of the grace of the same Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ also by his Spirit assists them in all their temptations, and affords them the ready aid of his hand; and, provided they stand prepared for the battle, implore his help, and be not wanting to themselves, Christ preserves them from falling. So that it is not possible for them, by any of the cunning craftiness or power of Satan, to be either seduced or dragged out of the hands of Christ. But I think it is useful and will be quite necessary in our first convention, [or Synod] to institute a diligent inquiry from the Scriptures, whether it is not possible for some individuals through negligence to desert the commencement of their existence in Christ, to cleave again to the present evil world, to decline from the sound doctrine which was once delivered to them, to lose a good conscience, and to cause Divine grace to be ineffectual.

Though I here openly and ingenuously affirm, I never taught that a true believer can, either totally or finally fall away from the faith, and perish; yet I will not conceal, that there are passages of scripture which seem to me to wear this aspect; and those answers to them which I have been permitted to see, are not of such a kind as to approve themselves on all points to my understanding. On the other hand, certain passages are produced for the contrary doctrine [of unconditional perseverance] which are worthy of much consideration.

Thus, Arminius, whose views have been most often associated with loss of salvation and repudiation of eternal security, actually stated that the one who is ‘a true believer’ (presumably meaning that he/she continues as a true Christian), cannot either totally or finally commit apostasy and fall away from the faith. Here’s the key: Is that person continuing to trust in Jesus alone for salvation?

3.2 Calvinism and eternal security

clip_image009

John Calvin (image courtesy www.biography.com)

 

John Calvin (1509-1564)[10] was the one after whom the Calvinistic system of theology was named. He promoted the view of eternal security that the Lord’s promise declares that all who have been received by the Lord ‘in true faith have been given to him by the Father, no one of whom, since he is their guardian and shepherd, will perish [cf. I John 3:16; 6:39]’. Of Judas, Calvin claims that ‘the Lord’s assertion in another passage [John 6:70] that he was chosen by him with the apostles is made only with reference to the ministry…. That is, he had chosen him for the apostolic office. But when he speaks of election unto salvation, he banishes him far from the number of the elect’ [John 13:18] (Calvin, 1960:3.24.7 and 3.24.9, pp. 973, 975).

What was the Calvinistic view of perseverance of the saints by those after Calvin? The Synod of Dort[11] that met in Dordrecht, the Netherlands, in 1618-1619, in response to the Remonstrants’ challenge, concluded that

for God, who is rich in mercy,[12] according to the unchangeable purpose of His election,[13] does not completely withdraw His Holy Spirit from His own even in their deplorable fall.[14] Neither does He permit them to sink so deep that they fall away from the grace of adoption and the state of justification,[15] or commit the sin unto death[16] or the sin against the Holy Spirit[17] and, totally deserted by Him, plunge themselves into eternal ruin (Synod of Dordt, Head 5, Art 6).[18]

It is not surprising that Calvinism would adopt the position of eternal security since it believes that the only ones out of all humanity who are recipients of salvation to eternal life are those who have been unconditionally elected to salvation and drawn through irresistible grace. The natural corollary is that those who are predestined unconditionally to salvation will persevere to the end. If such a person, in the Calvinistic system, were to fall from grace, then it would be a demonstration that that person had not received the effectual call of salvation. See the explanation of TULIP (the five points of Calvinism).

The Westminster Confession of Faith,[19] an eminent Calvinistic confession, in its chapter, ‘Of the Perseverance of the Saints’, states:

1. They, whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.

2. This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.

3. Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; and, for a time, continue therein: whereby they incur God’s displeasure, and grieve his Holy Spirit, come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded; hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves (ch 17).[20]

Therefore, the Calvinistic position is that those who are unchangeably drawn to salvation by God through election, will not be permitted to fall away from the grace of adoption in Christ to return to eternal ruin. The perseverance of the saints depends, not on human free will, but on the immutable decree of election. However, they may be tempted by Satan, fall into severe sins and even continue committing such for a time and bring temporal judgments on themselves. However, their salvation will not be lost.

3.3 The church fathers and eternal security

What can we discern from the writings of the church fathers on this topic? It was Arminius’s view

that almost all antiquity [i.e. the teaching of the church fathers] is of the opinion, that believers can fall away and perish…. “Elect” and “believers” are not convertible terms according to the view of the fathers, unless perseverance be added to faith. Nor is it declared, by Christ, in Matt. xxiv,24, that the elect can not depart from Christ, but that they can not be deceived, by which is meant that though the power of deception is great, yet it is not so great as to seduce the elect (Arminius, 1977:493, emphasis in original).

 

Using Judas as an example, these church fathers reached different conclusions concerning his eternal destiny in the beginning and at the end of his life.

 

a. Concerning Judas

File:F463.highresBaiserJudas.jpg(Francais: Daiser de Judas, image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Irenaeus (ca AD 125-202),[21] bishop of Lyons in Gaul about the year AD 180, wrote in Against Heresies (about AD 185), of Judas[22]

‘who was expelled from the number of the twelve, and never restored to his place…. but Judas was deprived [of his office], and cast out, while Matthias was ordained in his place….’

‘But Judas having been once for all cast away, never returns into the number of the disciples; otherwise a different person would not have been chosen to fill his place. Besides, the Lord also declared regarding him, Woe to the man by whom the Son of man shall be betrayed [Matthew 26:24]; and, It were better for him if he had never been born [Mark 14:21]; and he was called the son of perdition [John 17:12] by Him’ (Against Heresies, 2.20.2, 5).

Chrysostom (ca AD 347-407),[23] was born and ministered in Antioch, Syria, and was the golden-mouthed expositor and orator. He wrote, ‘For Judas too was a child of the kingdom, and it was said to him with the disciples, you shall sit on twelve thrones [Matthew 19:28]; yet he became a child of hell’ (Homily 26 on Matthew).

Ambrose of Milan (ca AD 340-397),[24] administrator and preacher, said, ‘For both Saul and Judas were once good…. Sometimes they are at first good, who afterwards become and continue evil; and for this respect they are said to be written in the book of life, and blotted out of it’ (cited from The Works of John Fletcher, p. 137).

St Augustine of Hippo (ca AD 354-430),[25] philosopher and theologian, in his Tractate 62 (John 13:26-21) had quite a bit to say about Judas and his condition. This is but a sample:

It was after this bread, then, that Satan entered into the Lord’s betrayer, that, as now given over to his power, he might take full possession of one into whom before this he had only entered in order to lead him into error. For we are not to suppose that he was not in him when he went to the Jews and bargained about the price of betraying the Lord; for the evangelist Luke very plainly attests this when he says: Then entered Satan into Judas, who was surnamed Iscariot, being one of the twelve; and he went his way, and communed with the chief priests [Luke 22:3-4]. Here, you see, it is shown that Satan had already entered into Judas. His first entrance, therefore, was when he implanted in his heart the thought of betraying Christ; for in such a spirit had he already come to the supper. But now, after the bread, he entered into him, no longer to tempt one who belonged to another, but to take possession of him as his own.

But it was not then, as some thoughtless readers suppose, that Judas received the body of Christ. For we are to understand that the Lord had already dispensed to all of them the sacrament of His body and blood, when Judas also was present, as very clearly related by Saint Luke [Luke 22:19-21]; and it was after this that we come to the moment when, in accordance with John’s account, the Lord made a full disclosure of His betrayer by dipping and holding out to him the morsel of bread, and intimating perhaps by the dipping of the bread the false pretensions of the other. For the dipping of a thing does not always imply its washing; but some things are dipped in order to be dyed. But if a good meaning is to be here attached to the dipping, his ingratitude for that good was deservedly followed by damnation (Tractate 62.2-3).

What can we conclude from these church fathers about Judas’s destiny? He was once a child of the kingdom (Chrysostom) and then was damned after Satan entered him and he betrayed Jesus. Movement from being chosen as a disciple of Jesus to being a ‘son of perdition’ is a demonstration that these church fathers saw a falling away from grace.

b. Church fathers and eternal security for believers

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Irenaeus (image courtesy Wikipedia)

clip_image012 Irenaeus (ca 125-202), bishop of Lyons, ‘was most influenced by St. Polycarp who had known the apostles or their immediate disciples’. It was he who wrote in one of his most celebrated publications:

Christ shall not die again in behalf of those who now commit sin, for death shall no more have dominion over Him…. We ought not, therefore, as that presbyter remarks, to be puffed up, nor be severe upon those of old time, but ought ourselves to fear, lest perchance, after [we have come to] the knowledge of Christ, if we do things displeasing to God, we obtain no further forgiveness of sins, but be shut out from His kingdom (Against Heresies 4.27.2).

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Tertullian (image courtesy Wikipedia)

clip_image012[1] Tertullian (ca 155/160-220)[26], the son of a centurion and a pagan until middle life, wrote,

But some think as if God were under a necessity of bestowing even on the unworthy, what He has engaged (to give); and they turn His liberality into slavery…. For do not many afterward fall out of (grace)? Is not this gift taken away from many? (Tertullian, On Repentance, ch. 6).

clip_image012[2] St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354-430)[27] wrote: ‘This grace He placed in Him in whom we have obtained a lot, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things.’ And thus as He worketh that we come to Him, so He worketh that we do not depart’ (Augustine 1887b).

Augustine also wrote: ‘He that made us without ourselves, will not save us without ourselves’ (cited in Wesley, 1872/1978:281).[28] We note Augustine’s struggle with human free will and divine sovereignty in the following teaching from, “A Treatise on Grace and Free Will” (Augustine, 1887a):

Lest, however, it should be thought that men themselves in this matter do nothing by free will, it is said in the Psalm, ‘Harden not your hearts;’ [Ps. 95:5] and in Ezekiel himself, ‘Cast away from you all your transgressions’ [Ezek. 18:31]…. We should remember that He says, ‘Make you a new heart and a new spirit,’ who also promises, ‘I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you.’[Ezek. 36:26] How is it, then, that He who says, ‘Make you,’ also says, ‘I will give you’? Why does He command, if He is to give? Why does He give if man is to make, except it be that He gives what He commands when He helps him to obey whom He commands?…” [Ch. 31 (XV)]

It is certain that it is we that will when we will, but it is He who makes us will what is good, of whom it is said (as he has just now expressed it), ‘The will is prepared by the Lord.’ [Prov. 8:35] Of the same Lord it is said, ‘The steps of a man are ordered by the Lord, and his way doth He will.’ [Ps. 37:23] Of the same Lord again it is said, ‘It is God who worketh in you, even to will!’ [Phil. 2:13] It is certain that it is we that act when we act; but it is He who makes us act, by applying efficacious powers to our will, who has said, ‘I will make you to walk in my statutes, and to observe my judgments, and to do them’ [Ezek. 36:27]…. [Ch. 32 (XVI), emphasis in original].

Forasmuch as in beginning He works in us that we may have the will, and in perfecting works with us when we have the will…. On which account the apostle says, “I am confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” [Phil. 1:6] He operates, therefore, without us, in order that we may will; but when we will, and so will that we may act, He co-operates with us. We can, however, ourselves do nothing to effect good works of piety without Him either working that we may will, or co-working when we will’ [Ch. 33 [XVII]).

These church fathers taught that a person who believed in Christ could be shut out of the kingdom, thus losing salvation. However, Augustine’s view was people ‘act when we act; but it is He [God] who makes us act, by applying efficacious powers to our will’.

4. Conclusion

There have been those throughout church history who have believed it is possible for a person to commit apostasy and fall away from the Christian faith. Others teach the opposite. This Arminian-Calvinistic divide will continue. Reasons were suggested why eternal security (OSAS) is a touchy subject and provokes such antagonism in the Christian community.

One of the dominant reasons suggested for such continuing conflict involved the presuppositions from both sides of the debate. If a person cannot lay aside his or her presuppositions, Graham Stanton suggested three safeguards: (1) Interpreters are to be aware of their own presuppositions; (2) Use the historical critical method to avoid fanciful allegorical interpretations; and (3) Most importantly, interpreters need to allow their own presuppositions to be modified by the content of the biblical text. Unless this happens, the interpreter will impose his or her own ideas onto the text (Stanton 1977:68).

5. Works consulted

Abasciano, B & Glynn, M 2013. An Outline of the FACTS of Arminianism vs. The TULIP of Calvinism. Society of Evangelical Arminians (online). Available at: http://evangelicalarminians.org/an-outline-of-the-facts-of-arminianism-vs-the-tulip-of-calvinism/ (Accessed 1 May 2016).

Arminius, J 1977, The writings of James Arminius, vol. 3 (Nichols, J & Bagnall, WR eds.), Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Also available at CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/arminius (Accessed 1 May 2016).

Augustine, A 1887a. ‘On grace and free will’, in Schaff, P (ed), Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1st series (online), vol 5. Tr by P Holmes & R E Wallis.  Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co. Rev & ed for New Advent by K Knight at: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1510.htm (Accessed 10 April 2015).

Augustine A 1887b. ‘On the predestination of the saints’, in Schaff, P (ed), Nicene and Post-Nicene fathers, first series (online), vol 5, rev by B B Warfield. Tr by P Holmes & R E Wallis. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co. Rev & ed for New Advent by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/15122.htm (Accessed 10 April 2015).

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

Calvin, J 1960, Institutes of the Christian religion, vols. 1-2 (McNeill, JT ed. & Battles, FL transl.), The Westminster Press, Philadelphia. Also available online at CRTA, http://www.reformed.org/master/index.html?mainframe=/books/institutes/ (Accessed 1 May 2016).

Dana, H E & Mantey, J R 1927/1955, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. Toronto, Canada: The Macmillan Company.

Harper, J S 2002, “A Wesleyan Arminian view,” in Four views on eternal security, gen. ed. J. M. Pinson, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Stanton, G N 1977, Presuppositions in New Testament criticism, in I H Marshall (ed), New Testament interpretation: Essays on principles and methods, 60-71. Milton Keyes, England: The Paternoster Press Ltd. This chapter is available also at: http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/nt-interpretation/nti_03.pdf (Accessed 1 May 2016).

Wesley, J 1872/1978, The works of John Wesley (vol. 6), Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Also available at Wesley Center Online, http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/ (Accessed 1 May 2016).


Notes

[1] This is located at Christian Forums.net, Apologetics & Theology, 29 May 2015, Jethro Bodine#3. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/why-is-there-so-much-resistance-to-the-eternal-security-of-the-believer.59729/ (Accessed 3 June 2015).

[2] Ibid., DWJL511#4.

[3] Ibid., Malachi#9.

[4] Ibid., Malachi#1.

[5] Ibid., Malachi#1.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#132.

[7] Ibid., StanJ#16.

[8] Postmodern is my insertion.

[9] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Jacobus Arminius). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Jacobus-Arminius (Accessed 2 May 2016)

[10] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v John Calvin). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Calvin (Accessed 2 May 2016).

[11] Dort is the English spelling for Dordrecht, the Netherlands.

[12] Eph 2:4-5 (NIV).

[13] Eph 1:11 (NIV).

[14] Ps 51:13 (NIV).

[15] Gal 4:5 (NIV).

[16] 1 John 5:16-18 (NIV).

[17] Matt 12:31-32 (NIV).

[18] Canadian & American Reformed Churches 2016. ‘God will not permit his elect to be lost’. Available at: http://www.canrc.org/?page=281 (Accessed 18 April 2016).

[19] This Confession was produced by the Westminster Assembly, completed in 1646 and approved by the British parliament in June 1648 (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2016. s v Westminster Confession). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/topic/Westminster-Confession (Accessed 2 May 2016).

[20] Available from The Orthodox Presbyterian Church at: http://www.opc.org/wcf.html#Chapter_17 (Accessed 18 April 2016). Scriptures to support this position are provided in Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 17, Center for Reformed Theology & Apologetics 1996-2016. Available at: http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/ (Accessed 18 April 2016).

[21] Lifespan dates are from ‘St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons: Biography’, Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/irenaeus (Accessed 29 December 2013).

[22] These details of Irenaeus are from Cairns (1981:110), who stated that he ‘was born in Smurna, had been influenced by Polycarp’s preaching while Polycarp was bishop of Smyrna’. Against Heresies is his ‘greatest work’ and ‘was done in the field of polemics writing against Gnosticism’ (Cairns 1981:10).

[23] Lifespan dates are from Cairns (1981:141).

[24] Lifespan dates are from Cairns (1981:145).

[25] Lifespan dates are from Cairns (1981:146).

[26] Lifespan details, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Tertullian). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Tertullian (Accessed 1 May 2016).

[27] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Augustine). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Augustine (Accessed 1 May 2016).

[28] This quote by Augustine is from John Wesley’s Sermon LXIII, “The General Spread of the Gospel”(in Wesley, 1872/1978b, p. 277ff). However, Wesley did not footnote his bibliographical details for Augustine and Augustine’s quote was repeated in Harper (2002:251), also without bibliographical information. I have not been able to locate Augustine’s exact quote in his works on the World Wide Web.

 

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

Who can be reconciled to God?

Saturday, April 30th, 2016

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(image courtesy cliparts.co)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

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

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

Let’s check out some evidence.

1. Some examples from church history

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

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

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

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

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(copy of icon of Athanasius, courtesy Wikipedia)

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

1.2 Augustine (354-430)

clip_image004(image of Augustine, courtesy Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.3 John Calvin (1509-1564)

clip_image006(painting, John Calvin by Hans Holbein, blog.oup.com, image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

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

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

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

1.4 The Remonstrance

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

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

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

1.5 The Synod of Dort[6]

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

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

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

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

1.6 John Wesley (1703-1791)[7]

clip_image008(John Wesley image courtesy commons.wikimedia.org)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

clip_image010(C H Spurgeon painting courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Spurgeon is adamant about his view of the atonement:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

clip_image013(photo R C Sproul, courtesy Wikipedia)

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

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

Elsewhere Sproul did articulate his theology of limited atonement:

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

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

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

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

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

2. What did the early church fathers teach?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Mosaic of Ambrose, courtesy Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

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

3. What’s the biblical evidence?

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

clip_image020Is this verse forced into limited atonement theology?

clip_image020[1]Unlimited atonement by Jesus

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

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

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

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

clip_image020[6]Can world not mean world?

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

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

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

4. Salvation offered to all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you think he would react?

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

My comeback was:[36]

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would the response be? He wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

5. Who are under God’s wrath?

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

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

Also, regarding what is necessary to receive salvation:

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

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

The come back was:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Logical fallacy in action

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

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

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

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

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

7. Conclusion

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

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

clip_image022

(image courtesy cliparts.co)

8. Works consulted

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

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

Lindstrom, H n d. Wesley and sanctification. On Craig L Adams website. Available at: http://www.craigladams.com/Books/page289/page293/ (Accessed 29 April 2016).

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

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

Rhodes, R n d. The extent of the atonement: Limited atonement versus unlimited atonement. Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries (online). Available at: http://home.earthlink.net/~ronrhodes/Atonement.html (Accessed 30 April 2016).

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

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

Wiley, H O 1952. Christian theology, vol 2 (online). Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City. Chapter 24 on ‘The atonement: Its nature and extent’, is available from Nampa, Idaho: Northwestern Nazarene University, Wesley Center Online, at: http://wesley.nnu.edu/other-theologians/henry-orton-wiley/h-orton-wiley-christian-theology-chapter-24/ (Accessed 29 April 2016).

Wood, D C 2007. John Wesley’s use of the atonement. The Asbury Journal 62(2), 55-70. Available at: http://place.asburyseminary.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1053&context=asburyjournal (Accessed 28 April 2016).

Notes

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

[2] Enchiridrion means handbook and its full title was The Enchiridrion on Faith, Hope and Love, New Advent. Available at: http://newadvent.org/fathers/1302.htm (Accessed 28 April 2016).

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

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

[4] From Calvin’s commentary, Titus chapter 2. Available at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/calvin/cc43/cc43021.htm (Accessed 29 April 2016).

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

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

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

[8] See CCEL, John Wesley, available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/wesley (Accessed 28 April 2016).

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

[10] Rev C H Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, The Spurgeon Archive, ‘Particular Redemption’. Available at: http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0181.php (Accessed 29 April 2016).

[11] Rev C H Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, The Spurgeon Archive, The Death of Christ, Sermon No 173. Available at: http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0173.php (Accessed 29 April 2016).

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

[13] Birth date from Curriculum Vitae, Baylor University. Available at: http://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/26382.pdf (Accessed 30 April 2016).

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

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

[16] Birth date from ‘Introducing Dr. R. C. Sproul’, Ligonier Ministries 2016. Available at: http://www.ligonier.org/about/rc-sproul/ (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[17] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Clement of Alexandria). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Clement-of-Alexandria (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[18] Ron Rhodes 1996. The extent of the atonement: Limited atonement versus unlimited atonement (Part 2), available at: http://chafer.nextmeta.com/files/v2n3_rhodes.pdf (Accessed 28 August 2012). Rhodes gives the reference as Paedagogus, ch. 11. However, there is no such reference as there are three books (online) each with a ch. 11, but the quote is not to be found in any of these chapters.

[19] Lifespan dates, The Catholic Encyclopedia (2012. s v Eusebius of Caesarea). Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05617b.htm (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[20] Lifespan dates, The Catholic Encyclopedia (2012. s v St.. Athanasius). Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02035a.htm (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[21] See Ron Rhodes (n d).

[22] Lifespan dates, The Catholic Encyclopedia (2012. s v St. Cyril of Jerusalem). Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04595b.htm (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[23] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Cyril of Alexandria). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Cyril-of-Alexandria (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[24] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Gregory of Nazianzen). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Gregory-of-Nazianzus (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[25] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Basil the Great). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Basil-the-Great (Accessed 30 April 2016).

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

[27] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Ambrose). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Ambrose (Accessed 30 April 2016).

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

[29] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Augustine). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Augustine (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[30] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Prosper of Aquitaine). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Prosper-of-Aquitaine (Accessed 20 April 2016).

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

[32] Christian Forums.net, Apologetics & Theology, ‘No conditions to be reconciled’, Jim Parker#78. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/no-conditions-to-be-reconciled.64255/page-4 (Accessed 22 April 2016).

[33] Ibid., beloved57#80.

[34] Ibid., OzSpen#102.

[35] Ibid., beloved57#103.

[36] Ibid., OzSpen#107.

[37] Ibid., beloved57#115.

[38] Ibid., OzSpen#117.

[39] Ibid., beloved57#105.

[40] Ibid., OzSpen#109.

[41] Ibid., beloved57#114.

[42] Ibid., OzSpen#118.

[43] Ibid., beloved57#113.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid., OzSpen#119.

 

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

Loss of salvation is nowhere taught in the Bible

Thursday, December 24th, 2015

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By Spencer D Gear PhD

How would you respond to this assessment? ‘Where are the words “loss of salvation” or “loss of eternal life” found ANYWHERE in the Bible?????’[1]

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The exact word, ‘Trinity’, is not found in the Bible, but the teaching on the Trinity is there.[2] The exact words, ‘Jesus is God’, are not in Scripture, but the teaching on Jesus’ deity is there.

In the same way, ‘loss of salvation’ or ‘loss of eternal life’ is not the exact language used, but the teaching on loss of salvation is there. We find it in this kind of language:

A. Those who commit apostasy, cannot be restored to repentance

‘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’ (Heb 6:4-6 ESV, emphasis added).?

clip_image006(image courtesy twoedgegraphics.com)

‘Have fallen away’ is from the Greek verb, parapiptw, which Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon gives the meaning in Heb 6:6 as ‘fall away, commit apostasy’ (A&G 1957:626). Thayer’s Greek lexicon provides the meaning of parapiptw as ‘in Scriptures, to fall away (from the true faith): from the worship of Jehovah, Ezek. 14:13; 15:8…; from Christianity, Heb 6:6‘ (Thayer 1885/1962:485).

Leading Greek exegete from the 20th century, A T Robertson, in commenting on the seriousness of the consequences of this apostasy in Heb 6:6 stated, ‘It is a terrible picture and cannot be toned down…. This is why renewal for such apostates is impossible. They crucify Christ. And put him to an open shame….In a bad sense to expose to disgrace’ (Robertson 1932:375-376).

Thus, in the Greek, whether LXX or NT, parapiptw means that it is possible to commit apostasy and fall away from the true faith in Christ. In English, apostasy means ‘The abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief or principle’ (Oxford dictionaries 2015. S v apostasy). That’s what it meant in the LXX and NT as well.

B. It is possible to shipwreck one’s faith

For a more comprehensive response to what it means to shipwreck one’s faith, see my article, What does it mean to shipwreck your faith?

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(Willy Stöwer [Public domain], image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

That is a painting of the Titanic going down after it was shipwrecked off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. Was this boat of any use after its shipwreck? Of course not!

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(image courtesy titanicexpo.co.za)

‘The wreck of the RMS Titanic was located about 370 miles (600 km) south-southeast of the coast of Newfoundland, lying at a depth of about 12,500 feet (3,800 m)’. The liner hit an iceberg and sank on her maiden voyage in 1912 from Southampton UK to New York NY (Wikipedia 2015, Wreck of the RMS Titanic).

Take a look at the present condition of the wreck of the Titanic:

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(Titanic wreck 2003, image courtesy Wikipedia)

How does this analogy relate to shipwreck of a person’s faith?

We have this verse that speaks of ‘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.’ (1 Tim 1:19 ESV, emphasis added). So, in their shipwrecked faith they were blaspheming. Whom were they blaspheming? It seems obvious in context that the blasphemy is against God and so Paul hands them over to Satan for Satan’s consequences against them.

In this verse, the verb, ‘have made shipwreck’ is nauagew which means literally in ancient Greek ‘to suffer shipwreck’ and is the word used for Paul’s physical shipwreck in 2 Cor 11:25 (ESV). It is used metaphorically with respect to shipwreck of one’s faith (1 Tim 1:19 ESV) (Thayer 1885/1962:423). Arndt & Gingrich (1957:536) affirm the same meaning as Thayer, literally and metaphorically, ‘they have suffered shipwreck in their faith’ (1 Tim 1:19).

Note the emphasis that this has applied to ‘some’ Christians who were supposed to be ‘holding faith and a good conscience’ have rejected this faith and so have shipwrecked their faith (1 Tim 1:19 ESV). It is important to note that in the NT, the same word used for a literal shipwreck is used for a metaphorical shipwreck of one’s faith. Shipwrecks wreck ships, thus making them unusable for the purpose for which they were created. Shipwrecks of faith make faith unusable for the purpose for which faith is engendered – for salvation. So, to shipwreck one’s faith is parallel to committing apostasy.

C. Avoidance of issues

How do you think a person, who supports eternal security, would respond to the above exegesis? As happens so often in person and on Christian forums, people are known to engage in the use of logical fallacies when their favourite doctrines are refuted. I long for the day when someone says, ‘I have never considered that before. I’ll need to re-evaluate my support of eternal security’. However, I also need to be open to the possibility that I could be wrong in my support of perseverance of the saints (as opposed to once-saved-always-saved). Up to this point in my Christian journey, I’ve not found a consistent case for eternal security as a doctrine of Soteriology. There are too many warning passages to make an absolutely tight case for eternal security.

Back to the Christian forum! This is what he did when he stated:

My point is that there is no clear teaching on loss of salvation in the Bible. It’s all just assumption of verses that are not specifically clear about it. And there are clear verses on eternal security.

In fact, the verses on eternal security are as clear as the verses on unlimited atonement.[3]

What has he done with those kinds of statements?

1. Logical fallacies

(image courtesy chopcow.com)

Logical fallacies are errors in reasoning that can throw a discussion way off topic and may even get to the point where continuing a discussion is nigh impossible. It is important to recognise, name and explain how these fallacies are used in discussion.

In discussing with me, this fellow used a red herring logical fallacy. Here he has introduced an irrelevant topic ‘no clear teaching on loss of salvation’ to divert attention from the exegesis I provided on Heb 6:4-6 and 1 Tim 1:19 that do provide evidence on loss of salvation. When this tactic is used, the view is to try to win an argument by introducing another topic. It is deceptive because it is changing topic to what he wants to say and is not dealing with the arguments I presented. He is not refuting the claims I have made. The Nizkor Project illustrates this sort of illogical reasoning:

(1) Topic A is under discussion.

(2) Topic B is introduced under the guise of being relevant to topic A (when topic B is actually not relevant to topic A).

(3) Topic A is abandoned (1991-2012. S v Fallacy: Red Herring).

This sort of “reasoning” is erroneous because merely changing the topic of discussion, even though here it looks to be close to the original topic, does not present an argument against a claim. He has not challenged the content of what I stated.

As to what I stated about apostasy in Heb 6:4-6 (ESV), he continued his diversionary tactic:

But there is a very logical and reasonable explanation for this passage that doesn’t involve loss of salvation.
How does “restored to repentance” even relate to the status of loss of salvation. Repentance isn’t a one time thing. We need to turn from sin every time we do sin. This isn’t the basis of maintaining our salvation.?[4]

This is inserting his own opinion. Note the language from Heb 6:4-6, ‘It is impossible … to restore them again to repentance’. His argument was that repentance was needed every time we sin. I agree with that, but he used a detour tactic to take the discussion where he wants it to go – in support of his once-saved-always-saved position. These 3 verses from Hebrews demonstrate that there is no possibility of repentance from any sin for a person who has committed apostasy. But this fellow didn’t deal with that. He was off and running with his own emphasis – repentance is needed every time we sin. However, that is not related to the issue I raised from Heb 6:4-6. It can become very frustrating trying to interact with people who use logical fallacies. In fact, ‘

See my articles

coil-gold-sm Logical fallacies hijack debate and discussion.

coil-gold-sm Logical fallacies used to condemn Christianity

coil-gold-sm Christians and their use of logical fallacies

coil-gold-sm One writer’s illogical outburst

coil-gold-sm Bible bigotry from an arrogant skeptic

I urge you to watch for these digressions that are used in discussions to avoid dealing with the matters you and I raise. My experience is that Christians online and in person frequently use logical fallacies. I was speaking with a person recently about Australian cricket’s opening batsman, David Warner and his good looking wife, Candice. His response was, ‘My wife also is good looking’. That was a red herring fallacy. I was not talking about his wife, but about David Warner’s wife.

2. Inventing a definition

Notice how he does it: ‘Yes, apostasy is very serious, but does not lead to loss of salvation, no matter how much it may offend and disgust people’.[5]

I reminded him:[6] From where did you obtain that definition of apostasy? I do wish you would document your sources. Nothing was documented in your reply. If you are going to continue to do this, we have no grounds for a reasonable discussion. See the definitions above from the Greek NT and Oxford dictionaries of the definition of apostasy. They are far removed from this person’s agenda. He is pushing a theological barrow. No matter what biblical evidence is provided, he is so blinded by his theological ‘cataracts’ that he cannot see the evidence of what apostasy is and its dangers.

3. Distorting the biblical material

If one can’t use the Greek exegesis to refute parapiptw in Heb 6:6 in the Greek NT, what does one do? Here is his approach.

There is nothing in the word for “apostasy” that means loss of salvation.
Here is the word for “fall away” in Heb 6:6 – parapiptw
1) to fall beside a person or thing
2) to slip aside
2a) to deviate from the right path, turn aside, wander
2b) to error
2c) to fall away (from the true faith): from worship of Jehovah

Nothing here about loss of salvation.

Further, Paul described God’s gifts as justification (Rom 3:24 and 5:15,16,17) and eternal life (Rom 6:23) and then wrote that God’s gifts are irrevocable (Rom 11:29). That should end all debate on eternal life.

These gifts of God are “unrepented of” or irrevocable.

Further, when one believes they are sealed with the Holy Spirit, a promise and guarantee FOR the day of redemption.
Eph 1:13,14, 4:30, 2 Cor 1:22, 5:5.

Heb 10:14 – because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

Those “who are being made holy” is a reference to believers, and God “has made (them) perfect FOREVER”.

Having been made perfect forever precludes the loss of salvation.

These are not “cherry-picked” verses, but verses that clearly speak of eternal security.[7]

This is a detour into irrelevance. He’s going off at tangents, which indicates he does not deal with the specifics I raised. I chose to correct his erroneous statements.

So, ‘There is nothing in the word for “apostasy” that means loss of salvation’. Who said so? He has given us his opinion – a red herring. In section A above, I provided the definitions of ‘apostasy’ to refute this person’s statement. Evidence is better than personal assertions in any situation. When a person comes up with this kind of lack of evidence, I urge you to challenge him or her to provide the proof to confirm what he/she is avowing.

4. Correcting erroneous statements

I did obtain this person’s information online about the meaning of parapiptw from Strong’s Concordance (online) at:[8]  http://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Lexicon.show/ID/G3895/parapipto.htm. Here it stated that Thayer’s Greek lexicon gave the meaning of this word for ‘fall away/apostasy’ as:

Thayer
1) to fall beside a person or thing
2) to slip aside
2a) to deviate from the right path, turn aside, wander
2b) to error
2c) to fall away (from the true faith): from worship of Jehovah
Part of Speech: verb
Citing in TDNT: 6:170, 846?

I have Thayer’s lexicon in hard copy. What this abbreviated version at that website has failed to state was that 1), 2), 2a) used ‘to deviate from the right path, turn aside, wander’ and that related to the meaning of 2) ‘to slip aside’. Number 2b) should be the infinitive ‘to err’. All of these meanings are from classical Greek authors Polybius and Xenophon and were NOT from the Bible. They were the meanings in those ancient Classical Greek authors.

What his abbreviated edition failed to mention was that 2c) was the only meaning that was from the Bible and it means ‘to fall away (from the true faith); from the worship of Jehovah’ (Ezek 14:13; 15:8 in the LXX) and ‘from Christianity’ (Heb 6:6) (Thayer 1885/1962:485). This is the meaning of apostasy as Arndt & Gingrich’s lexicon confirms (as I’ve already provided above).

I know that this kind of definition is outside of this persons theological philosophy of eternal security, but I want to be honest with the Greek exegesis of the text. It is possible to commit apostasy (fall away from the faith) in such a bad way that ‘it is impossible’ to restore their faith again through repentance. The language of Heb 6:6 (ESV) is accurate that it is impossible ‘to restore them again to repentance’, i.e. the apostasy has caused them to reach a stage where repentance to obtain true faith is needed, but it is impossible for that to happen.

That’s what Heb 6:6 (ESV) states. It’s a challenging thing before God to want to minimise this serious situation. I was in Bible College with two students who became Christian ministers and they have now committed apostasy. They have repudiated Christ and their Christian faith. They are now secular pagans in their thinking and actions.

See Carl Wieland’s, ‘Death of an apostate’ (i.e. Charles Templeton). Templeton in the 1940s was a colleague of Billy Graham in Youth for Christ.

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(Image courtesy Worldcat)?

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

5. Irrelevance again

Image result for clipart signs public domainIf you want to continue to divert a topic to your own agenda, throw in another red herring. That’s what this person did again: ‘My position is based on what the Bible says clearly. And the verses I provided are clear about eternal security’.[9]

Notice the tactic! It sounds so reasonable, but the ploy he used was contrary to the information I supplied. I provided verses that demonstrated that apostasy could be committed (I defined apostasy) and how one could shipwreck one’s faith. He didn’t want to deal with this information to refute it, so he goes off into a statement about his favourite topic, eternal security – based on the Bible. Why is he refusing to answer the issues I raise about eternal security? Could it have something to do with his fixation on his version of the doctrine and not wanting to deal with the problems I raise that oppose that position? Seems like it.

What he doesn’t know is that I support the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints and not once-saved-always-saved. See my other articles on this topic:

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

Do I have a fixation in support of Arminianism? I have searched my heart on this topic. I don’t think so. I have seen so much misrepresentation of the Arminian position in 54 years as a Christian, in this latter stage of my life, I’m attempting to bring correction of that misinformation. Roger Olson’s book, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Olson 2006) challenges some of these misconceptions regarding Arminianism.

6. A postmodern approach to Bible verses

What is postmodern interpretation? Ben Witherington explained:

[Stanley Fish, a postmodernist interpreter] does not really believe texts have meanings. He believes that active readers give texts their meaning.
I was always taught to call this eisegesis– the inappropriate reading into the text of something that is not there. He is not at all interested in arguments about “the intention of the author”. He thinks those intentions, whatever they were can’t be known and don’t matter. Meaning happens– its not encoded in texts, and the issue of authorial intent is a moot point. The funny thing about this is that when some people have misread his own work on John Milton, and totally misrepresented what he said— he objects “but that is not what I said or meant.” But he doesn’t have a leg to stand on. He gave up claims about objective meanings in texts and authorial intent. As for me, I would much rather listen to Kevin Van Hoozer on these subjects (see his “Is There a Meaning in This Text?“) or more remotely E.D. Hirsch’s classic study “Validity in Interpretation” (Witherington 2006).

Paul Noble described Fish’s hermeneutics as engaging in ‘radical reinterpration’. Noble maintained that ‘the text has an independent existence over against the interpreter, and offers very significant resistance to the reader’s interpretative strategies, in ways that contradict Fish’s central principles…. In spite of his denials, Fish’s theory entails a radical form of solipsism’. Oxford dictionaries defined solipsism as ‘the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist’ (Oxford dictionaries 2015. S v solipsism). It is Noble’s view that biblical studies should not move in a more Fishian direction (Noble 1995:1, emphasis in original).

In reply to another poster, this person on the Christian forum wrote:

One of the other of God’s gifts that is irrevocable is justification: Rom 3:24, 5:15,16,17.

Paul noted 2 of God’s gifts and then wrote that they are irrevocable.

Since he didn’t describe any other things as gifts of God, when he wrote Rom 11:29 we must go to where he DID describe gifts of God. And they are irrevocable.[10]

What are the difficulties with this post?[11]

Those verses from Rom 3 and Rom 5 teach justification but they do not teach justification that is irrevocable. You are imposing on these verses to get your ‘irrevocable’ emphasis.

Romans 11:29 (ESV) in the context of Rom 9-11 (ESV) is not talking about irrevocable or unrepented gifts in isolation. The Greek preposition gar (for) at the beginning of this verse (11:29) links it back to what has preceded it. The gifts of God, as the context makes clear, are not just for Jews but for Gentiles as well. See Rom 9:4-5 (ESV); Rom 11:1 (ESV); Rom 11:11-24 (ESV).

It is so important to interpret in context and not as a remote verse. The meaning of Rom 11:29 (ESV) is tied up with the Gospel going to the Jews (who often rejected it) and the Gentiles.

This person seems to want Rom 11:29 (ESV) to mean something that it doesn’t mean in context.

D. Make verses conform

Part of his response was: ‘The definition of the Greek word found in Heb 6:6 is from Strong’s…. Are you suggesting that the Bible re-defines some words?? Where would I find that teaching in the Bible?… But where in the Bible is the teaching that if one falls away, they lose their salvation?’[12] There were other parts to this response, but I found them to be meanderings that were not attempting to solve the differences between supporters and opponents of eternal security.

My reply to him was that when I wrote (above) that Thayer gave the meanings from classical Greek authors Polybius and Xenophon in his definitions of papapiptw, I was showing that authors outside of the Bible – and ancient authors – did use papapiptw in a different way to the LXX and NT.
Yes, the Bible does use words with a slightly or even considerably different meaning from ancient secular sources. Where do I find that in the Bible? I won’t, just as I won’t find the fact that Captain James Cook circumnavigated New Zealand in 1770 and then sailed up the east coast of Australia. I’m grateful for scholars who have compared the ancient sources with the LXX and NT in our Greek lexicons and publications such as Kittel & Friedrich’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. It is hard work reading and analysing the etymology of words in ancient writers in the original languages to arrive at meanings.

I’m grateful for scholars who have compared the ancient Greek, secular sources with the LXX and NT in our Greek lexicons and publications such as Kittel & Friedrich’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. It is hard work reading and analysing the etymology of words in ancient writers in the original languages to arrive at meanings.

Where in the Bible is the teaching of losing salvation? I’ve already provided the evidence from Heb 6:4-6 (ESV) and 1 Tim 1:19 (ESV) but you don’t want to receive that information. This latter verse talks of shipwreck of one’s faith.

Take a look at the present condition of the wreck of the Titanic:
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(Titanic wreck 2003, photo courtesy Wikipedia)

Apostasy speaks of repudiating salvation; a shipwrecked faith indicates a useless faith for what it was designed (salvation).
I don’t believe in eternal security or once-saved-always-salved but I do believe the Bible teaches perseverance of the saints, i.e. believers will persevere to the end of life. This is taught in 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’.?

The meaning of the Greek present tenses [that I have put in square brackets], confirms this biblical theology that the saints will persevere and not commit apostasy or have their faith shipwrecked.
Matt 24:13 (ESV) also verifies this: ‘The one who endures to the end will be saved’.

E. Conclusion

The challenge from a proponent of the eternal security of salvation was, where are the words or the message, ‘loss of salvation’, found in the Bible?

The answer is that the exact words, ‘loss of salvation’, are not found. However, having the identical words is not necessary. As demonstrated, it has been shown that the Scriptures do use language that it is possible for a Christian to,

clip_image015 commit apostasy, which means to renounce the Christian faith;

clip_image015[1] shipwreck the faith, so that the faith is useless in action. It has been demolished or shattered so that it is worthless for its purpose of achieving salvation.

clip_image015[2] some promoters of eternal security will avoid the biblical issues of apostasy. They seem blinded by their theological cataracts.

Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[13] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Noble, P R 1995. Hermeneutics and postmodernism: Can we have a radical reader-response theory? Part 2. Religious Studies, 31(1), 1-22, March.

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

Robertson, A T 1932. Word pictures in the New Testament: The fourth Gospel, the epistle to the Hebrews, vol 5. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

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

Witherington, B 2006. Thoroughly post-modern biblical interpretation. Ben Witherington Blogspot (online), October 3. Available at: http://benwitherington.blogspot.com.au/2006/10/thoroughly-post-modern-biblical.html (Accessed 23 December 2015).

Notes


[1] ChristianForums.net, Apologetics & Theology, ‘If I ask someone for a gift, did I earn it, or work for it when I got it handed to me?’ FreeGrace #703, 20 December 2015. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/if-i-ask-someone-for-a-gift-did-i-earn-it-or-work-for-it-when-i-got-it-handed-to-me.61200/page-36 (Accessed 21 December 2015).

[2] This is my response to FreeGrace at ibid., OzSpen#714.

[3] Ibid., FreeGrace#718.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#728.

[7] Ibid., FreeGrace#718.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen#728.

[9] Ibid., FreeGrace#726.

[10] Ibid., FreeGrace#735.

[11] This is my response in ibid., OzSpen#745.

[12] Ibid., FreeGrace#732.

[13] 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 © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 December 2015.

clip_image016

Contentious theology: Falling away from the faith

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

(courtesy pinterest.com

By Spencer D Gear PhD

If you want a warmed up or heated discussion in church or online in a Christian forum, raise a passage like this one, Hebrews 6:4-6 (ESV), and contend that a person can fall away from the faith – commit apostasy!

A person quoted this verse and then stated, ‘The writer of Hebrews seemed to think that it is possible for Christians to fall away’.[1]

They were never Christians

This kind of response was predictable. I’ve encountered it many times during my 50 years of Christian experience:

The scriptures you’ve quoted above are NOT speaking about a child of God or Christians , as you put it, rather the word “some” in Heb 6:4 must be qualified, and these are they who are the Tares that God allowed to grow together with the Wheat in the church environment. The Tares are the unsaved and the Wheat the saved. In every congregations of the world, without exceptions, there are saved and unsaved people who gather together in the local churches. The Tares are those that will fall away although they heard the true Gospel preached (enlightened), and have tasted of the heavenly gift (salvation), and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit (communion).

The key verse in understanding Heb 6:4-6 is found in Heb 6:9 which do not speak about a child of God or salvation, but of unbelief which is explained in Heb 3:17-19.

God is the Author of the Bible and I don’t believe He intended that it is possible for His child to fall away!

2 Pet 2:20-22 are companion scriptures to Heb 6: 4-6.[2]

The context refutes that view

I responded:[3] This is not what the verses say in context, we read Heb 5:11-6:8 (ESV):

11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

6 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits. 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. 7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

The context of Heb 6:4-6 (ESV) is very clear that these people are those:

  • Who have become ‘dull of hearing’ (5:11).
  • By this time, for those for whom Jesus ‘became the source of eternal salvation’ (5:9), ‘ought to be teachers’ (5:12), i.e. Christian teachers, but they needed ‘someone to teach you again’ (5:12).
  • Teach what? ‘The basic principles of the oracles of God’ (5:12).
  • These Christians needed to go back to ‘milk’ and not be fed ‘solid food’ (5:12).
  • ‘Everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness’ (5:13). So, the author is not talking about unbelievers but about those who are ‘unskilled’ in righteousness. He is not referring to those who do not know and experience righteousness.
  • He is addressing those who are children in righteousness (5:13). Nevertheless, they are Christians of righteousness, but still need milk as children of God when they should be more mature.
  • However, ‘solid food is for the mature’. These are those who have ‘powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil’ (5:14).
  • The author’s call is that these Christians ‘leave the elementary doctrine of Christ’ (6:1) – the milk – and ‘go on to maturity’ so that the foundation of Christ – repentance – will not be laid again. This problem they were encountering was a ‘foundation’ of ‘dead works and of faith toward God’ (6:1).
  • This elementary doctrine also included ‘instruction about washings’, ‘laying on of hands’, ‘resurrection of the dead’ and ‘eternal judgment’ (6:2). Obviously these kinds of doctrines were involved in these Christians’ belief in and teachings of the ‘milk’ of being ‘unskilled in the word of righteousness’ (5:13).
  • Then the author launches into the warnings of apostasy contained in Heb 6:4-6 (ESV), in which the teaching is that for those who apostatise from the faith by falling away, ‘they are crucifying once again the Son of God’ (6:6), thus making it ‘impossible to restore [them] again to repentance’ (6:4).
  • Then comes the analogy of  land that has absorbed the rain that falls, produces a crop for those who cultivate it and the blessing is thus received from God (6:7).
  • But if that crop ‘bears thorns and thistles’, ‘it is worthless’ and is ‘cursed’ and ‘burned’ (6:8).

So, it is possible for Christians to feed on the milk instead of the food and be immature in their faith and then become vulnerable to the temptations to apostatise and fall away from the faith.

That’s the context of Heb 6:4-6 (ESV) as I understand it. It is addressing Hebrew Christians who are warned that they could apostatise BUT ‘in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things – things that belong to salvation’ (6:9). Who are the ‘beloved‘? Christians, of course!

The writer of Hebrews had this longing for the believers to whom he addressed this letter: ‘We desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises’ (Heb 6:11-12 ESV).

So the writer is dealing with immature Christian believers who had been feeding on milk instead of solid food. For these, the temptation to fall away from the faith was always a possibility. But for these Hebrew Christians, the writer desired better things – perseverance in the faith.

I don’t believe the context, based on this reasoning, allows us to say that these people were ‘NOT speaking about a child of God or Christians’ (the language of the person on the forum). They were immature Christians who could be tempted away from the faith and fall into apostasy.

So close, but not a Christian

Image result for cross public domain(www.clipartlord.com)

 

How do you think this person would respond to the above exposition? Here goes:

Unfortunately, the passage concerned is Hebrews 6:4-6 which speaks that there will be “some” (in a church setting), who will fall away.

I was merely responding to Barrd’s post #10 where she claimed those who will fall away are Christians, just as you do but in a different twist, by saying these who fall away are also Christians but unskilled in the doctrines of Christ. I have yet to read in the Bible that anyone lacking in the knowledge of scriptures cannot be saved!!

We are not saved because of knowledge of Scripture.

FYI, the gist of Hebrews 6:4-6 is about someone who was brought so close to salvation but rejected it!

Consider these scriptures which are self explanatory:

1Jo 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

Heb 4:2 For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.

Heb 3:17-19 But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness?

18 And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?

19 So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

To God Be The Glory.[4]

What has he done here?

Red herring fallacy in place of evidence

Red Herring Clipart(courtesy clipartsheep.com)

 

This fellow has done what many Christians resort to. My response was that I am flabbergasted that I provided an extended examination of the context to demonstrate the nature of the salvation that the people of Heb 6:4-6 (ESV) had. He refuted not a word of this, but then gave this red herring logical fallacy:

‘FYI, the gist of Hebrews 6:4-6 is about someone who was brought so close to salvation but rejected it!’

Could I be wasting my time in providing this person with an exposition in context? Seems so![5]

This person is imposing his view on the text. In biblical interpretation, this is called eisegesis, that is, ‘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’ (Exegesis v. eisegesis).

Conclusion

Hebrews 6:4-6, when examined in context, demonstrates that it is speaking about Christians who are so immature in the faith that they are still being fed on spiritual milk.

They are so weak in the faith that they do not persevere but are tempted away from the faith and may even commit apostasy.

A person who had a pre-commitment to once-saved-always-saved theology could not accept this explanation so engaged in fallacious reasoning by committing a red herring logical fallacy. It’s impossible to have a logical conversation with anyone who uses a logical fallacy and will not deal with the illogic of his or her views.

Therefore, Heb 6:4-6 teaches that it is possible for Christians living on the milk of the Word to be so immature in the faith that they can fall away from the faith. This apostasy is so serious that they cannot be restored to repentance, which means they are lost permanently because ‘they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt’ (Heb 6:6).

It is serious charge to make against Scripture to make it say what it does not say. To the contrary, those who promote eternal security and deny apostasy are teaching false doctrine.

Notes


[1] Christianity Board, Christian Theology Forum, ‘The Law & The Gospel’, The Barrd#10, 8 October 2015. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/21997-the-law-the-gospel/#entry263608 (Accessed 12 October 2015).

[2] Ibid., Jun2u#18.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#19.

[4] Ibid., Jun2u#20.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen#22.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 2 December 2015.

Can world not mean world?

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

(courtesy freeclipartnow.com)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Do you think that it is possible for people to argue over the meaning of ‘the world’? Yep! I was engaged in such a discussion on an Internet forum where world was made to mean other than world.

What’s the meaning of ‘world’ in John 3:16?

This is probably the best known verse in the whole of the Bible for evangelical Christians. Many regard it as a summary of the Gospel message. It states: ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’ (ESV).

Calvinists often make ‘world’ in John 3:16 not mean the total world of all people. Here’s a sample from Calvinists on a leading Christian forum on the subject, ‘John 3:16 – is it important what the average Joe understands by ‘world’?’[1]

blue-corrosion-arrow-small ‘What matters is what the Apostle John intended not what the reader understands. It is the duty of any reader to pay attention to context and try to understand what John meant. It is intellectually dishonest and lazy to take his words (or any words) at face value and assume a surface-level meaning’.[2]

blue-corrosion-arrow-small ‘Of the 10+ uses of "world" that John uses in his writings, why did you pick that one?’[3]

blue-corrosion-arrow-small ‘I guess you misunderstood the question. Of the 10+ uses of "world" that John uses in his writings, you chose the one that means every person who’s every lived. Why is that?’[4]

I asked this Calvinist:

1) Would you please document where those 10+ meanings of ‘world’ are found in John’s Gospel?
2) Would you please document from a Greek lexicon there are 10+ meanings of ‘world’ in the Gospel of John?[5]

How to avoid answering the question

This person’s immediate response was: ‘No. But if you’d like to, go ahead’.[6] Do you see what he was doing? He was the one who made the claim of 10+ meanings of ‘world’ in John’s Gospel, but he doesn’t want to provide the evidence. He wants me to do the hard work for him. I won’t fall for that trick. It’s his responsibility to provide the evidence for the claim he is making.

How should I reply to him? ‘Why are you prepared to assert that there are 10+ meanings of ‘world’ in John’s Gospel and not be prepared to demonstrate where they are in John’s Gospel and how those 10 different meanings are defined by a leading Greek lexicon? If you are not prepared to document them, it becomes your assertion with no proof.’[7] His retort was, ‘I’m sorry that you think John only uses one definition for "world" in his writings. How did you determine which one John uses?’[8] My reply to this lie about my position was: ‘Not once have I ever said that. It is your false accusation against me. Please withdraw that statement against me immediately’.[9]

He continued his avoidance of providing the 10+ definitions of ‘world’ in John’s Gospel: ‘So if [you] don’t believe that, then why do you need a list of definitions?’[10] I continued: ‘I asked you to remove your false statement against me. Why have you not removed your false statement and given me a red herring fallacy here? When will you remove this false statement about my view of ‘world’ in John’s Gospel?’[11]

There was more and more avoidance from this Calvinist: ‘On what basis did I know that it was a false statement? It sure seemed true when I said it. You are free to refute it. When you do, however, please explain why you needed me to provide definitions’.[12] My response was to repeat what I’d raised previously:

It was a false statement by you against me because I have never ever stated that there is only one meaning of ‘world’ in John’s Gospel. Thus your statement about my one meaning of ‘world’ was an invention.
You need to provide definitions because so far you have only made assertions that ‘world’ has 10+ meanings in John’s Gospel. You have not demonstrated this to be true. Please provide the evidence that I have asked.[13]

He came back with further goading of me: ‘If you honestly believe that John only uses one definition for "world" in his writings, I’ll provide you a link to the various examples’.[14] At this point I reported him to the moderators for his going against the rules of the Forum with his goading of me. To goad means, ‘to prick or drive with, or as if with, a goad; prod; incite’ (dictionary.com).

Further tactics for not answering questions

Image result for clipart question mark public domainThis fellow (and he has done this a number of times to other people and me on various topics) uses a standard tactic when he doesn’t want to answer my question. He changes topics. This is called a red herring logical fallacy.

This is how he did it:

Oz (me): ‘When will you quit your goading me with your repetition of a false statement about my view of ‘world’ in John’s Gospel?’[15]

Hamm (my Calvinistic opponent): ‘Do you believe that John uses more than one definition for "world" in his writings? If so, how many definitions does he use?’[16]

Notice what he did. He did not answer my question about when he was going to quit goading me by a false statement about my view of ‘world’ in John’s Gospel. He got back to what he wanted to talk about: Do you believe that John uses only one definition of ‘world’? I have denied it post after post, but this is what he did when he didn’t want to answer my questions of him re goading me.

The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Watch for this tactic by people in debate and conversation. What is a red herring logical fallacy? The Nizkor Project describes it as:

Also Known as: Smoke Screen, Wild Goose Chase.

Description of Red Herring

A Red Herring is a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. The basic idea is to "win" an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic. This sort of "reasoning" has the following form:

1. Topic A is under discussion.

2. Topic B is introduced under the guise of being relevant to topic A (when topic B is actually not relevant to topic A).

3. Topic A is abandoned.

This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious because merely changing the topic of discussion hardly counts as an argument against a claim.

The discussion on the forum was closed by a moderator who considered the discussion ‘is getting more and more toxic’.[17]

Let’s check out a couple of commentators

What would a leading Calvinistic commentator say that the meaning of ‘world’ is in John 3:16?

Don Carson

CarsonD.A.01

(D A Carson, courtesy Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)

 

D A Carson is a Calvinist[18] and his commentary on John’s Gospel describes the meaning of ‘world’:

‘It is atypical for John to speak of God’s love for the world, but this truth is therefore made to stand out as all the more wonderful. Jews were familiar with the truth that God loved the children of Israel; here God’s love is not restricted by race. Even so, God’s love is to be admired not because the world is so big and includes so many people, but because the world is so bad; that is the customary connotation of kosmos (‘world’; cf. notes on 1:9). The world is so wicked that John elsewhere forbids Christians to love it or anything in it (1 Jn. 2:15-17). There is no contradiction between the prohibition and the fact that God does love it. Christians are not to love the world with the selfish love of participation; God loves the world with the self-less costly love of redemption’ (Carson 1991:205, emphasis in original).

So God’s love is not restricted to one particular group of people, according to Carson, but God’s love is admired because the world is so wicked but God loves it with the costly love of redemption. So Carson is interpreting ‘world’ to mean the whole world of wickedness.

Carson’s comments on John 1:9 are:

‘If the phrase "coming into the world" is understood to be masculine and attached to "every man", then we must translate this verse as in NIV fn. [footnote]: "This was the true light that gives light to every man who comes into the world" (similarly AV). If this is the correct rendering, then there is nothing here or in v. 10 that requires us to go beyond the illumination granted to the entire race in the Word’s creative activity (cf. vv. 4-5). This view is reinforced by a common rabbinic expression, "all who come into the world", used to describe "every man". But that expression is always plural; the construction here is singular. It is best to take "coming into the world" as a neuter form attached to "light", adopting the translation of NIV: The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. The most convincing support for this rendering is the fact that "coming into the world" or being sent into the world is in this Gospel repeatedly predicated of him who is the Word. Moreover the peculiar Greek syntax this translation presupposes is a common feature of John’s style (cf. 1;28; 2:6; 3:23; 10:40; 11;1; 13:23; 18:18, 25). What this means is that in this verse it is the Word, the light, that is coming into the world, in some act distinct from creation. If incarnation is not spelled out as forcefully as in v. 14, it is the same special visitation that is in view. Few could read the Fourth Gospel for the second time without recognizing that the coming of the Word into the world, described in the Prologue, is northing other than the sending of the Son into the world, described in the rest of the book’ (Carson 1991:121-122).

In his explanation of the meaning of ‘world’ in John 3:16, Carson referred back to commentary on John 1:9 where Carson emphasises that ‘world’ means that Jesus’ coming into the world to be a light was to be a light ‘to every man’ (i.e. to every human being), ‘the entire race’, and ‘than the sending of the Son into the world, described in the rest of the book’.

So D A Carson, a Calvinist, regards ‘world’ in John 3:16 as ‘God’s love is to be admired not because the world is so big and includes so many people, but because the world is so bad; that is the customary connotation of kosmos’. So how much of the world is so bad that God’s love needs to send a Saviour? The whole wicked world – every person in the world.

Leon Morris

 

(Leon Morris, courtesy Wikipedia)

Leading Greek exegete and commentator, the late Leon Morris, in his commentary on John 3:16 wrote:

‘God loved "the world"…. The Jew was ready enough to think of God as loving Israel, but no passage appears to be cited in which any Jewish writer maintains that God loved the world. It is a distinctively Christian idea that God’s love is wide enough to embrace all mankind. His love is not confined to any national group or any spiritual elite. It is a love which proceeds from the fact that He is love (I John 4:8, 16). It is His nature to love. He loves men because He is the kind of God He is. John tells us that His love is shown in the gift of His Son’ (Morris 1971:229).

That is as clear as crystal for Leon Morris: ‘God’s love is wide enough to embrace all mankind. His love is not confined to any national group or any spiritual elite’. All human beings are included in God’s love articulated in John 3:16.

 

Conclusion

Some Calvinists on this Christian forum want to distort the meaning of ‘world’ to comply with their narrow version of God’s atonement – limited atonement. When God ‘gave his only begotten son’ (John 3:16) to die as an atonement, it was based on God’s love for the whole world – every person in the world. This does not teach universalism (all will be saved) but God’s love extending to every human being so that when he sent his Son to die on the cross, it made provision of salvation for the whole world.

We know this as it is confirmed in:

  • I John 2:2, ‘He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world’ (ESV),
  • Titus 2:11, ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’, and
  • 2 Peter 3:9, ‘The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance’.

Works consulted

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

Morris, L 1971. The gospel according to John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Notes


[1] Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology, janxharris#1, 3 January 2014, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7796376/ (Accessed 6 January 2014).

[2] Ibid., Skala#4.

[3] Ibid., Hammster#7.

[4] Ibid., Hammster#17, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7796376-2/.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen#84, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7796376-9/.

[6] Ibid., Hammster#85.

[7] Ibid., OzSpen#89.

[8] Ibid., Hammster#90.

[9] Ibid., OzSpen#96, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7796376-10/.

[10] Ibid., Hammster#97.

[11] Ibid., OzSpen#98.

[12] Ibid., Hammster#100.

[13] Ibid., OzSpen#102, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7796376-11/.

[14] Ibid., Hammster#

[15] Ibid., OzSpen#105, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7796376-11/.

[16] Ibid., Hammster#106.

[17] Ibid., Edial#111, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7796376-12/,

[18] In this article, ‘Characteristics of New Calvinism’, D A Carson is associated with New Calvinism. Available at: http://www.newcalvinist.com/ (Accessed 6 January 2014).

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 18 November 2015.