Archive for the 'Salvation' Category

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

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

clip_image002

(image of Eucharist courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This fellow became even more dogmatic:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B. Which is the correct interpretation?

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

John 6:47-58 (ESV) states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

D. How to add confusion: Tom’s responses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Look up the definition of the word cannibalism.

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

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

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

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

10. Makes no sense.

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

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

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

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

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

Those verses are:

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

1. Who were these disciples?

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

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

2. How did the disciples respond to Jesus?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Alleged disciples do not make Christian believers

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

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

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

F. When will the supply run out?

One fellow asked these two brilliant questions:

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

Or is it not that ‘literal’?[9]

G. Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

H. Works consulted

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

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

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

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

I.  Notes


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

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#250.

[4] Ibid., tom55#252.

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

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

[7] Ibid., tom55#254.

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

[9] Ibid., Oneoff#256.

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

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 1 September 2016.

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

clip_image011

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).

clip_image014

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.

Loss of salvation is nowhere taught in the Bible

Thursday, December 24th, 2015

 clip_image002

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]

clip_image004

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?

clip_image008

(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!

clip_image010

(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:

clip_image012

(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.

clip_image013
(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:
clip_image014
(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

When does a person become a Christian?

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

Unwanted Truth

(courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

A person wrote: ‘Only faith “full belief” in Jesus Christ can provide salvation. Ask in your own way this is just a guide. “Dear heavenly Father I am sorry Christ had to take the punishment that I deserve.” “I ask you Christ that you please forgive me of all my sins. I thank you Lord for your wonderful grace and forgiveness’.[1]

That seemed a reasonable response from a Christian, but for for this one: It generated this provocative response : ‘At what point in this process does a person go from being a non-Christian to a Christian?’[2] I don’t quite know why this kind of response was necessary as the first person’s response was indicative of what happens when many come to Christ for salvation.

Believe, put complete trust in clip_image002

[3]Surely it is not difficult to determine this issue of when salvation begins. Acts 16:31 (ESV) states: ‘And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”’ ‘Believe’ is an aorist tense imperative (command) in the Greek. The aorist means instant point action so ‘believe’ here means that the moment a person believes in the Lord Jesus salvation is his or hers. To believe means to put one’s trust and confidence in Jesus Christ.

R C H Lenski in his commentary on Acts 16:31 states,

‘”To believe” always means to put all trust and confidence in the Lord Jesus, in other words, by such trust of the heart to throw the personality entirely into his arms for deliverance from sin, death and hell. Here epi [a preposition] is used; this trust is to rest on Jesus. This the jailor is to “do.” He must do the believing, every individual in his household likewise, for no one can do the believing for others. But faith is not our own production. Even in ordinary life confidence is awakened and produced in us by the one in whom we believe. The same holds true with reference to Jesus who is most worthy of our confidence and trust. To come in contact with him is to be moved to trust him and him alone for salvation. For this reason unbelief is such a crime. It is the refusal to trust him who is supremely worthy of trust’ (Lenski 2001:680-681, emphasis added).?

Remember what the other fellow stated: ‘I ask you Christ that you please forgive me of all my sins. I thank you Lord for your wonderful grace and forgiveness’. I gather from that kind of statement that he is affirming, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus’.

So to answer your question: ‘At what point in this process does a person go from being a non-Christian to a Christian?’ On the basis of Acts 16:31 and the Philippian jailor, a person goes from being non-Christian to being Christian the moment that person believes and puts absolute trust and confidence in Jesus Christ for salvation.

But elsewhere there are some conditions placed on this believing. Take John 3:16 (NIV) as an example: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’. Here, ‘whosoever believeth’ (KJV) or ‘whoever believes’ (NIV) uses the present tense of the verb ‘believe’, meaning ‘continues to believe’. So, on the basis of this verse, a person who continues to believe ‘may continue to have eternal life’.

To answer the question: a person becomes a Christian the instant he or she places faith/trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation but we know that genuine faith by that person continuing to believe. And the inference will be that that person will continue to bear fruit that demonstrates genuine belief. Jesus said, ‘You will recognize them by their fruits’ (Matt 7:16 ESV).

Conclusion

Therefore, we can conclude that any person who puts complete trust or confidence in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, will be saved from that moment. That faith will be demonstrated by: (1) Continuing to believe (and follow Christ), and (2) bearing fruits that demonstrate a person is a Christian.

Works consulted

Lenski, R C H 2001. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (based on the original published in 1934 by Lutheran Book Concern and assigned in 1961 to Augsburg Publishing House).

Notes


[1] Christian Forums, ‘Please understand’, January 8 2015, ddrgkd#1. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/threads/please-understand.7859952/ (Accessed 16 June 2015).

[2] Ibid., 98cwtr#20.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#22.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 November 2015.

Save yourselves

Saturday, May 9th, 2015

Salvation by Faith

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

You might think that this is a ridiculous question. Seriously, is it possible for Christians to save themselves? Or, does it take God’s action to experience eternal life? This seems like a stupid question to raise as it seems self-evident that any person is not able to experience eternal salvation by his or her own actions.

But….

Take a read of Acts 2:40, ‘And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation”’ (ESV). This verse raised some interesting comments on a leading Christian forum online. Here’s a sample:

  •  ‘Well, let’s see, surely the translation of “save yourselves” must have been by synergists. We either need to delete this from Acts or explain it away from our own intelligence’.[1]

Remember the other emphases in Acts 2:

  • ‘And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’ (Acts 2:21 ESV).
  • ‘And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved’ (Acts 2:47 ESV).

So, we seem to have three emphases:

  • Salvation comes when any person calls on the name of the Lord (v. 21);
  • People can save themselves from a crooked generation (v. 40);
  • The Lord adds those who are being saved (v. 47).

Are there contradictions here?

‘Save ourselves’ – the meaning

My response to the comment of saving ourselves was:

In Acts 2:40, what do you consider is the best translation of sothete apo tes geneas, based on the grammar of sothete?[2]These are some of the translations I have access to:

  • ‘Save yourselves from this untoward generation’ (KJV)
  • ‘Be saved from this perverse generation’ (NKJV)
  • ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation’ (ESV)
  • ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!’ (NASB)
  • ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation’ (NIV)
  • ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation’ (NRSV)
  • ‘Be saved from this corrupt generation’ (HCSB)

A response came, ‘I am not a Greek scholar, so I don’t know which is the best translation. But they all say the same thing. They all require action on the part of man’.[3]

It’s not saying the same thing[4]

They actually don’t all say the same thing. Let’s look at them again:
In Acts 2:40, what do you consider is the best translation of sothete apo tes geneas, based on the grammar of sothete?

Of those 7 translations quoted above, all of them correctly translated the verb sothete as a command, ‘Save’ or ‘Be saved’, as it is an imperative verb. However, the verb is aorist, imperative, middle-passive. Therefore, it could be translated as ‘Save yourselves’ (middle voice) of ‘Be saved’ – by somebody else (passive voice). Either one would be correct grammatically in that verse. However, when we compare with the rest of Scripture we know that Christians cannot save themselves. If it were not for the active grace of God in taking the initiative towards sinners, there would be no salvation.

Ephesians 2:8-9 makes that crystal clear: ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast’ (ESV). Therefore, any concept of ‘save yourselves’ should be abandoned as it is not consistent with the emphasis of Scripture of the need for God to take the initiative for salvation to be accomplished.

John 6:44 confirms this: ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day’ (ESV).

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

Therefore, in my understanding of the Greek language and the context of the whole of Scripture, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!’ (NASB) is the better translation of Acts 2:40.

There have been those who promoted self-salvation

Throughout the history of the Christian church there have those who supported ‘save yourselves’. They were:

Flower7 Pelagius (ca 390-418) and Pelagians who believed ‘the value of Christ’s redemption was, in his opinion, limited mainly to instruction (doctrina) and example (exemplum), which the Saviour threw into the balance as a counterweight against Adam’s wicked example, so that nature retains the ability to conquer sin and to gain eternal life even without the aid of grace’ (Catholic Encyclopedia: Life and Writings of Pelagius).

Flower7 Semi-Pelagians whose view of salvation is that it ‘is more than denial of the efficacy of grace for salvation; it is the affirmation of the human initiative in salvation…. Every scholar of historical theology knows that “semi-Pelagianism” is a term for a particular view of grace and free will that emerged primarily in Gallic monasticism in the fifth century in response to Augustine’s strong emphasis on grace as irresistible for the elect…. although God may initiate salvation with grace, for many people the initiative is theirs toward God. That is, God waits to see the “exercise of a good will” before responding with grace. This is what was condemned (along with predestination to evil) at Orange in 529.’ (Roger E Olson, ‘R. C. Sproul, Arminianism, and Semi-Pelagianism’, Patheos, February 22, 2013).

Conclusion

Therefore, Acts 2:21, 40 and 47 demonstrate that, (1) The Lord saves, and there is (2) The human responsibility for human beings to respond to the offer of salvation. There will be no salvation without the Lord saving and there will be no salvation without people responding in faith. So, God-centred salvation is hand in glove with human response. There is no conflict with the Gospel proclaimed, human beings responding, but it is salvation from the Lord God (because of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice).

It’s interesting to see how some generally sound Bible translations such as the KJV, ESV, NIV and NRSV can translate a verb without taking into consideration the whole context of the Bible. There is conclusive evidence from Scripture that we cannot save ourselves. To save ourselves or even take the initial initiative to respond is the false teaching of  Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism.

No human being can save himself or herself to experience eternal salvation. Therefore, ‘save yourselves’ is an heretical view of salvation that was condemned as semi-Pelagianism at the Second Council of Orange in 529. In one of its canons it stated:

CANON 7. If anyone affirms that we can form any right opinion or make any right choice which relates to the salvation of eternal life, as is expedient for us, or that we can be saved, that is, assent to the preaching of the gospel through our natural powers without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who makes all men gladly assent to and believe in the truth, he is led astray by a heretical spirit, and does not understand the voice of God who says in the Gospel, “For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), and the word of the Apostle, “Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5).

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

Notes


[1] EmSw#2, 27 August 2014, Christian forums, General theology, Soteriology DEBATE, ‘More evidence for Christ’s death for everyone’. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7839226/ (Accessed 9 May 2015).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#4.

[3] Ibid., EmSw#6.

[4] This is my reply at ibid., OzSpen#7.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 May 2016.

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

Monday, March 16th, 2015

Image result for Jacobus Arminius public domain

(images in public domain)

By Spencer D Gear

It’s not unusual to hear of people who are confused over the differences between Arminians and Calvinists. Too often there are misrepresentations of Arminianism (often by Calvinists) such as these:

  1. Arminian theology is not Reformed and is the opposite of Calvinistic theology.
  2. It is possible to develop a ‘hybrid’ of Calvinism and Arminianism.
  3. To be an Arminian is to promote heresy. It is not an orthodox evangelical theology.
  4. At the centre of Arminianism is belief in free will.
  5. Arminians deny the sovereignty of God.
  6. Arminians promote human-centred theology.
  7. Arminianism is not a theology of grace.
  8. Predestination is not one of the beliefs of Arminians.
  9. Arminian theology denies salvation by grace alone through faith alone.
  10. Arminians believe in the governmental theory of the atonement, i.e. ‘God forgives sinners without requiring an equivalent payment’.[1]

Each of these 10 myths has been addressed and challenged by Roger E Olson in Arminian theology: Myths and realities (Olson 2006). However, in formal theological and lay-level discussions, these issues are raised. I struck one in an online forum.

Theological differences: Calvinism, Arminianism and Lutheranism

What are the differences of beliefs among Calvinism, Arminian and Lutheran beliefs? This was a good question asked on a Christian forum.[2] An immediate reply from a Calvinist was:

Arminians are syncretists meaning they believe salvation is both a work of God and man. You will here (sic) them say things like “I asked God into my heart” or “I accepted Jesus.” Calvinists & Lutherans are Monergists meaning they believe God does all the work in salvation. You may hear them say they have been regenerated.[3]

Falsehood in that statement[4]

What is false about that declaration? She stated that ‘Arminians are syncretists meaning they believe salvation is both a work of God and man’. Does she know the difference between syncretists and synergists? Could she be referring to synergism and not syncretists?

It is disappointing in this, her first post on this forum, that she provided not one piece of evidence to support her claim that Arminians ‘believe salvation is both a work of God and man’. This is false as a reading of James Arminius will tell us.

In his exposition on ‘The Justification of man before God’, James Arminius wrote:

I believe that sinners are accounted righteous solely by the obedience of Christ; and that the righteousness of Christ is the only meritorious cause on account of which God pardons the sins of believers and reckons them as righteous as if they had perfectly fulfilled the law. But since God imputes the righteousness of Christ to none except believers, I conclude that, in this sense, it may be well and properly said, to a man who believes, faith is imputed for righteousness through grace, because God hath set forth his Son, Jesus Christ, to be a propitiation, a throne of grace, [or mercy seat] through faith in his blood (Works of James Arminius, vol 1, IX).

Arminians believe that sinners are declared righteous only through the work of God and Christ. Arminians do not conclude that salvation is both a work of God and man. Arminius declared:

I am not conscious to myself, of having taught or entertained any other sentiments concerning the justification of man before God, than those which are held unanimously by the Reformed and Protestant Churches, and which are in complete agreement with their expressed opinions (Works of James Arminius, vol 1, IX).

There is much false information in the public market place about the beliefs of Arminianism. If anyone is interested in some clarification on this topic, I recommend Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Olson 2006).

To accept the gift of faith is a work

Image result for picture of gift public domain

(image courtesy pinstake.com)

The response back was to correct her misspelling of ‘syncretist’ for ‘synergist’. Then she stated:

What Jacob Arminius wrote and what Arminians today claim to believe are probably quite different; just as, I, being a Calvinist, do not agree with all of what John Calvin wrote.

I grew up in an Arminian church and was a staunch anti-Calvinist until a few years ago. Most of the people in my life are staunch Arminians. They will all claim that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone. However, they will say that you must “accept” this gift. If we have to accept anything, we are doing a work thus being a synergistic.

However, there are many different flavors of Arminians out there today just as there are many flavors of Calvinists. What I will say is that I have yet to meet one who does not hold to a synergistic idea by what they claim whether they admit to it or not.[5]

I could not allow this to go unchallenged as there are several misrepresentations here:

  • Arminius vs Arminians today;
  • To accept a gift is to do a work for salvation;
  • What is synergism?

Salvation is not attained by human beings[6]

My rejoinder was to her statement, ‘What Jacob Arminius wrote and what Arminians today claim to believe are probably quite different’. This is way too broad a statement and she has provided no examples to support her claim. To know what a chunk of evangelical Arminians believe today, I suggest a visit to a site such as the ‘Society of Evangelical Arminians‘ where you will find many Arminians who support the general thrust of Jacob/James Arminius’s theology. I, as a Reformed Arminian, am one of those, although not a member of that Society.

The terms, ‘synergism’ and ‘monergism’ have different shades of meaning. Synergism is a theological understanding which believes that there is human participation in salvation. It does not indicate that salvation is attained by human beings. That would be an heretical view. There are heretical forms of synergism in Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism (Olson 2006:17). Roger Olson maintains that ‘Arminianism is evangelical synergism as opposed to heretical, humanistic synergism…. Arminian synergism … affirms the provenience of grace to every human exercise of a good will toward God, including simple nonresistance to the saving work of Christ’ (Olson 2006:18). Olson, an Arminian, writes that

Monergism is also a broad and sometimes confusing term. Its broadest sense points to God as the all-determining reality, which means that everything in nature and history is under the direct control of God. It does not necessarily imply that God causes all things directly, but it does necessarily imply that nothing can happen that is contrary to the will of God, and that God is intimately involved (even if working through secondary causes) in everything, so all of nature and history reflect God’s primary will…. Monergism especially means that God is the sole determining agency in salvation. There is no cooperation between God and the person being saved that is not already determined by God working in the person through, for example, regenerating grace’ (Olson 2006:18-19, emphasis in original).

Matt Slick, a Calvinist, defines monergism as ‘the teaching that God alone is the one who saves. It is opposed to synergism which teaches that God and man work together in salvation. Cults are synergistic. Christianity is monergistic’ (CARM: Monergism). Slick is wrong about ‘cults are synergistic’ and ‘Christianity is monergistic’. The facts are that evangelical Arminians believe in a synergistic view of salvation. Cults may also do that, but that is not the point of my brief article. His view of Calvinistic Christianity is that it is THE Christianity and it is the one that is monergistic, which he considers is the correct view.

Pelagianism denies original sin and considers that people have the human ability to live spiritual lives. Semi-Pelagianism is a modified form of Pelagianism in that it modifies the Pelagian original sin view that sinful human beings have the ability to initiate salvation by responding in good will toward God. I, as a Reformed Arminian, consider those two theological systems to be heretical. See my article, Calvinist misrepresents the Reformed.

In my library I have a few Arminian theologies, including the works of James Arminius, and they include the fact that God’s grace initiates justification. Henry Thiessen is one of those and he wrote:

Justification thus originates in the heart of God. Realizing not only our lack of righteousness, but also our inability to attain to it, He in His kindness decided to provide a righteousness for us. It was His grace that led Him to provide it; He was under no obligation whatsoever to do it. In His grace He had regard to our guilt and in His mercy, to our misery (Thiessen 1949:365).

This person online said of Arminians, ‘I have yet to meet one who does not hold to a synergistic idea’. But what kind of synergistic idea? The heretical Pelagian or semi-Pelagian, evangelical Arminian, etc? To which shade of synergism are you referring?

She said, ‘They will say that you must “accept” this gift. If we have to accept anything, we are doing a work thus being a synergistic’. In my understanding that is a misunderstanding of synergism and of works. In my 53 years of being a Christian, I have heard a number of Calvinists want to include ‘accepting the gift of faith’ as a work. That is not the common understanding of salvation by works, which is a view promoted by some cults or false religion that teach that entrance into eternal glory (or whatever they call it) is attained at least in part by doing a certain list of good deeds or serving the church or organisation with some time or money. That is not the same as accepting a gift that is offered.

See the Roman Catholic article, ‘Why does the Church teach that works can obtain salvation?

If someone were to ask you, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ what would be your answer?

Arminians include Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians?


(A 17th century Calvinist print depicting Pelagius;

image courtesy Wikipedia)

How would this lady reply to my exposition? This is what she wrote:

The reason I didn’t “provide any examples to support my claim” is because I didn’t come here to argue or debate. The original poster asked what the difference between the different beliefs were and I gave him a very general, over-simplified explanation. If the OP [original post] wanted a full explaination (sic) with every nuance and flavor, I’m sure he/she knows better than to get that info from a forum thread.

I have never heard of a “Reformed Arminian.” I must admit that sounds like an oxymoron but I’ll also admit that the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. You learn something new every day. clip_image001

As far as which kind of synergistic idea I was talking about, I would say both Pelagian and Semi-Pelagian. I’ve met Arminians who hold to both but never one that holds to a mongergistic (sic) view of salvation.

If someone were to ask me “What must I do to be saved?” I would probably tell them to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and repent of their sins. However is someone asked my “How is a person saved?” I would tell them that God regenerated a person whom He has chosen from before time. He gives that person “spiritual eyes” to see Jesus for who He really is, to see their own sin and need for a Savior, and gives them the ability to believe and repent. But the work of salvation was already completed before the person was aware [6a].

Her ideas include:

  • She didn’t want to debate Arminianism.
  • She is so misinformed about Arminianism that she does not know what a Reformed Arminian is.
  • To her, Arminianism is synergism and includes Pelagian and Semi-Pelagian Arminianism.
  • Salvation needs an explanation of regeneration, election and predestination.
  • Salvation for that person was completed before the person was aware.

Misinformation continues from a Calvinist[7]

There is considerable misinformation here that needs correction.

She stated that she didn’t come to the forum for a debate. However, when she makes a statement such as, ‘Arminians are syncretists [she has since corrected this to mean synergists] meaning they believe salvation is both a work of God and man’ (as stated in #2) she is asking for a debate whether she says so or not. Why? Because to say that Arminians believe that ‘salvation is both a work of God and man’ is not what I as a Reformed Arminian and other Arminians believe (as in the Society of Evangelical Arminians).

She stated that ‘I have never heard of a “Reformed Arminian” I must admit that sounds like an oxymoron….’ Jacobus Arminius was a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church to his dying day, so he was Reformed theologically and regarded his view as Reformed. A Reformed Arminian is one who accepts the soteriology (doctrine of salvation) and other doctrines as expounded by Arminius. Therefore, to use Reformed as only referring to Calvinism is not true. Reformed Arminianism is sometimes called Classical Arminianism. See Roger E Olson’s article, ‘Another Calvinist Misrepresentation of Arminianism‘.

If you want to know more, Stephen Ashby has a summary article online, ”A Reformed Arminian view‘. Ashby presented a Reformed Arminian view of eternal security in Four Views of Eternal Security (Zondervan) – Ashby’s exposition begins on p. 135.

clip_image003(image courtesy Zondervan)

She stated that ‘I’ve met Arminians who hold to both [Pelagian and semi-Pelagian] but never one that holds to a mongergistic view of salvation’. To the contrary, ‘Arminianism is God-centered Theology‘.

Could it be that she is unable to see God-centred theology in Arminianism’s synergism because she doesn’t seem to have read extensively in The Works of James Arminius? If she did, she would find that Arminius believed salvation was the work of God.

What must I do to be saved? When the Philippian jailer asked Paul this question, Paul told him what to DO: ”(You) believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household’ (Acts 16:31) and then Paul spoke the word of the Lord to him and those with him. This was followed by the jailer and his household being baptised (Acts 16:33). We have no direct indication of what Paul said when he spoke the word of the Lord to them, but he ‘rejoiced along with the entire household that he had believed in God’ (Acts 16:34). There is no mention in this text of Paul’s preaching regeneration, election and predestination in order for the jailer to be converted to Christ.

Here is a summary of ‘The FACTS of Salvation: A Summary of Arminian Theology/the Biblical Doctrines of Grace‘.

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

Works consulted

Enns, P 2008. The Moody handbook of theology, rev & enl. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.[8]

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

Notes


[1] Governmental theory described by Paul Enns (2008:333). It was promoted by Dutch jurist, Hugo Grotius (1583-1645).

[2] Christian Forums, ‘Differences between Arminian, Calvinist, and Lutheranist?’, Constantine I #1, 11 March 2015. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7869796/ (Accessed 15 March 2015).

[3] Ibid., kristea516 #2.

[4] This is my response to kristea at ibid., OzSpen#18.

[5] Ibid, kristea#26.

[6] Ibid, OzSpen#27.

[6a] Ibid., kristea516#28.

[7] Ibid, OzSpen#30.

[8] The original edition was published in 1989.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 1 May 2016.

Salvation by faith according to the Church Fathers

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

StClement1.jpg   Justin Martyr.jpg  Burghers michael saintpolycarp.jpg  Johnchrysostom.jpg  Augustinus 1.jpg

(Clement of Rome, Justin Martyr, Polycarp, Chrysostom, Augustine – courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

Justification or salvation by faith is taught by these church fathers:

Clement of Rome (ca 30-100):

‘All these, therefore, have been glorified and magnified, not through themselves or through their works, or through the righteousness that they have done, but through his will.And we who through his will have been called in Christ Jesus are justified, not by ourselves, or through our wisdom or understanding or godliness, or the works that we have done in holiness of heart, but by faith, by which all men from the beginning have been justified by Almighty God, to whom be glory world without end. Amen’ (The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians 32:3-4).

Justin Martyr (ca 100-165):

‘For Isaiah did not send you to a bath, there to wash away murder and other sins, which not even all the water of the sea were sufficient to purge; but, as might have been expected, this was that saving bath of the olden time which followed s those who repented, and who no longer were purified by the blood of goats and of sheep, or by the ashes of an heifer, or by the offerings of fine flour, but by faith through the blood of Christ, and through His death, who died for this very reason, as Isaiah himself said’ (Dialogue with Trypho, ch 13).

Polycarp (ca 70-155):

‘Though you did not see him, you believed in unspeakable and glorified joy,” — into which joy many desire to come, knowing that “by grace ye are saved, not by works” but by the will of God through Jesus Christ. (Polycarp to the Philippians chap. 1, v. 3).

Chrysostom (ca 347-407):

‘But no one, he says, is justified by works, in order that the grace and loving-kindness of God may be shown. He did not reject us as having works, but as abandoned of works He has saved us by grace; so that no man henceforth may have whereof to boast. And then, lest when you hear that the whole work is accomplished not of works but by faith, you should become idle, observe how he continues’ (Homilies on Ephesians, Homily 4, ch 2, v 9).

Augustine (ca 354-430):

“Having now to the best of my ability, and as I think sufficiently, replied to the reasonings of this author, if I be asked what is my own opinion in this matter, I answer, after carefully pondering the question, that in the Gospels and Epistles, and the entire collection of books for our instruction called the New Testament, I see that fasting is enjoined. But I do not discover any rule definitely laid down by the Lord or by the apostles as to days on which we ought or ought not to fast. And by this I am persuaded that exemption from fasting on the seventh day is more suitable, not indeed to obtain, but to foreshadow, that eternal rest in which the true Sabbath is realized, and which is obtained only by faith, and by that righteousness whereby the daughter of the King is all glorious within” (Letter 36, ch 11, v 25).

(Courtesy Loyal Books)

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 November 2015.

It’s amazing what some Calvinists will do

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Reformation Wall in Geneva; from left to right: William Farel, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, and John Knox (courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

This applies only to some of them – not all. I picked up the comments of one such person in a discussion on the Internet on the doctrine of salvation that related to Romans 10:9-11.

An Arminian, who has made many posts, wrote:

‘Calvinism has been shown to be untenable regarding Romans 10 – for it would not be right for Paul to tell one of those ones whom Calvinists say salvation was never intended for to believe in the resurrection (which was not intended for them) for their salvation.
Paul preached v.9 because he knew that not one person was not provided for – he knew that Christ died and rose for everyone.[1]

How would a Calvinist respond?

Nope! Verse 8 says that the word of faith is in the mouths and hearts of men PRIOR to their coming to faith. This excludes some men. Jesus said that the word had “no place” in the Jewish leadership of His day.
You have proven NOTHING. You are wasting your time and energy.[2]

I, as a convinced Classical/Reformed Arminian, could not let this kind of response go without a challenge. Well it could be ignored, but not when such important issues are at stake.[3]

James Arminius

Jacobus Arminius (courtesy Wikipedia)

 

My, oh my! What an example of eisegesis. This is what Rom 10:8 states:

But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” [a quote from Deut 30:14] that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim (NIV).

To what does ‘it’ refer? It is the divine righteousness based on faith (Rom 10:6). The utterance/word Paul had in mind when he associated this righteousness with the words from Deut 30:14 was ‘concerning the faith’ which Paul and others were preaching.
Both examples of ‘word’ or ‘message’ (some translations) in Rom 10:8 use rhema and it means ‘the thing uttered’ (Lenski 1936:654). It is referring to the word/message that is uttered when it is preached, the content of which Rom. 10:9-11 demonstrates.
We know that the Jews from the earliest days of their lives as children learned the message/word of the Law by memory, so it was put into their mouths and hearts by that means. It was designed to enter the centre of their beings.
The view that you have presented to us in your interpretation of v. 8 is not based on the verse’s exegesis. A Calvinistic commentator, William Hendriksen, confirms this in his exegesis of Rom. 10:8,

The apostle continues to “quote” the righteousness that is by faith. The quotation found in Rom. 10:6, 7 ended with the words of Deut. 30:13 [Rom. 10:8]….
There is only one way, however, in which this can be appreciated. That is the way of faith; for God’s word, as revealed both in the Old Testament and in the New, is “the word of faith“; that is, it is the word which, in order to exert saving effect, must elicit the response of faith!
Paul now shows that the statement, “the word is close to you; (it is) on your lips and in your heart” is true (Hendriksen 1980:344, bold & underline emphasis added).

There is not a word in this text that says anything about ‘the word of faith is in the mouths and hearts of men PRIOR to their coming to faith’. Some Calvinists are so blatant in pushing their unbiblical agenda of regeneration prior to faith and unconditional election.

For my refutation of regeneration prior to faith, see,

clip_image002 Does regeneration precede faith?

clip_image002[1] Does regeneration precede faith in Christian salvation?

Is unconditional election biblical? You might like to read my brief articles:

clip_image004 God’s foreknowledge and predestination/election to salvation

clip_image004[1] Elected to salvation and/or damnation?

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

Works consulted

Hendriksen, W 1980. New Testament commentary: Exposition of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Lenski, R C H 1936. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (limited edition by permission of Augsburg Fortress).

Notes


[1] janxharris#119, Christian Forums, Soteriology DEBATE, ‘Acts 18:4’, 5 August 2014, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7827019-12/ (Accessed 5 August 2014).

[2] Ibid., The Boxer#120.

[3] My response is at ibid., OzSpen#130.

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 November 2015.

What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?

Friday, October 31st, 2014

Out of Heart

(courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

It is not unusual to meet concerned Christian people who worry about whether they have committed the unpardonable sin. These verses from Jesus bother some folks:

‘Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’ (Mark 3:28-29 ESV).

So they should bother them if they have committed this unpardonable sin. However, what is the nature of such a sin that God will never forgive?

What is blasphemy?

Barnard Franklin summarised the New Testament material:

The word “blasphemy” in its various forms (as verb, noun, adjective, etc.) appears some fifty-nine times in the New Testament. It has a variety of renderings, such as, “blasphemy,” “reviled,” “railed,” “evil spoken of,” “to speak evil of,” etc. Examples of these various renderings are: “They that passed by reviled him” (Matthew 27:39). “He that shall blaspheme” (Mark 3:29). “They that passed by railed on him” (Mark 15:29). “The way of truth shall be evil spoken of” (2 Peter 2:2). “These speak evil of those things” (Jude 10). It is evident from these that blasphemy is a sin of the mouth, a “tongue-sin.” All New Testament writers except the author of Hebrews use the word (Franklin 1936:224-225, in Butt 2003).

I met one such person on the Internet whose issue was,

Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost was put this way from a Christian write up I just found.
The man said,

“The unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is an act of resistance which belittles the Holy Spirit so grievously that he withdraws for ever with his convicting power so that we are never able to repent and be forgiven.”
So for me to put it in my head that I was never forgiven was wrong.
To catch up really quick with my story is 10 years ago I thought I made the unforgivable sin and gave up since why would i continue if in my head I was never going to be forgiven. Here I am 10 years later with a burning desire to really follow Christ but once again having to come to some conclusion did I wait too long and grieve the Holy Spirit? Or is the fact that I still have a desire to follow good enough to prove I have hope?
I do know some Christians follow maybe as a child or a teen and then have a falling away only to be brought back at a later time in life.
I surely hope that is me.[1]

My reply to this person was as follows:[2] It seems to me that, based on the sins you have done, you are battling whether or not you have committed a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit for which there is no forgiveness. Why is this happening for you? The Scriptures state that such a person is guilty of an eternal sin.

Blasphemy and damnation

What is the nature of this sin that has no forgiveness? If this sin cannot be pardoned, it means the person is damned forever. At the final judgment (Matt 25:31-46), Jesus describes what will happen to the unrighteous who are cursed by God: ‘These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life’ (Matt 25:46).

The nature of this blasphemy

Many theologians and exegetes have battled over the nature of this sin.

Henry Thiessen wrote:

The degree to which the soul has hardened itself and become unreceptive to multiplied offers of the grace of God here determines the degree of guilt. Final obduracy is the sin against the Holy Spirit and is unpardonable, because the soul through it has ceased to be receptive to the divine influence (Matt. 12:31, 32; Mark 3:29; 1 John 5:16, 17; Heb. 10:26) (Thiessen 1949:270).

I consider that William Hendriksen’s commentary on these 2 verses explains this blasphemous sin with no forgiveness as well as any I have read. He expounds:

The question is, “How is it to be understood that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unpardonable?” As to other sins, no matter how grievous or gruesome, there is pardon for them. There is forgiveness for David’s sin of adultery, dishonesty, and murder (II Sam. 12:13; Psalm 51; cf. Psalm 32); for the “many” sins of the woman of Luke 7; for the prodigal son’s “riotous living” (Luke 15:13, 21-24); for Simon Peter’s triple denial accompanied by profanity (Matt. 26:74, 75; Luke 22:31, 32; John 18:15-18, 25-27; 21:15-17); and for Paul’s preconversion merciless persecution of Christians (Acts 9:1; 22:4; 26:9-11; I Cor. 15:9; Eph. 3:8; Phil. 3:6). But for the man who “speaks against the Holy Spirit” there is no pardon.

Why not? Here, as always when the text itself is not immediately clear, the historical context must be our guide. See Luke 11:15, 18; Mark 3:22; cf. John 7:20; 8:48, 52; 10:20. From it we learn that the bitter opponents of Jesus have been ascribing to Satan what the Holy Spirit, through Christ, was achieving. Moreover, they were doing this willfully, deliberately. In spite of all the evidences to the contrary they were still affirming that Jesus was expelling demons by the power of Beelzebul. Now to be forgiven implies that the sinner be truly penitent. Among the opponents such genuine sorrow for sin was totally lacking. For penitence they substituted hardening; for confession, plotting. Thus, by means of their own criminal and completely inexcusable callousness, they were dooming themselves. Their sin was unpardonable because they were unwilling to tread the path that leads to pardon. For a thief, an adulterer, and a murderer there is hope. The message of the gospel may cause him to cry out, “O God be merciful to me, the sinner.” But when a man has become hardened, so that he has made up his mind not to pay any attention to the promptings of the Spirit, not even to listen to his pleading and warning voice, he has placed himself on the road that leads to perdition. He has sinned the sin “unto death” (I John 5:16; see also Heb. 6:4-8).

For anyone who is truly penitent, no matter how shameful his transgressions may have been, there is no reason to despair (Psalm 103:12; Isa. 1:18; 44:22; 55:6, 7; Mic. 7:18-20; I John 1:9) (Hendriksen 1975:138-139).

Wayne Grudem takes a similar line:

WHAT IS THE UNPARDONABLE SIN?

There are several passages of scripture that speak about a sin that will not be forgiven.  It is described as blasphemy against the Spirit. (Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:29-30; Luke 12:10; Hebrews 6:4-6)

Possible interpretations:

(1) Some have thought that it was a sin that could only be committed while Christ was on earth, but Jesus statement in Matthew 12:31 is too general to mean this and Hebrews 6:4-6 is speaking of apostasy that occurred after Jesus.

(2) Some hold that it is describing unbelief that continues until the time of death.  While it is true that unbelief until death will not be forgiven, these verses are not speaking about unbelief in general, but a specific sin of speaking against the Holy Spirit.

(3) Some hold that this sin is serious apostasy by genuine believers.  While there is a case based upon Hebrews 6:4-6, the argument loses strength when considering the context of the gospel passages where Jesus is responding to the Pharisees denial of the work of the Holy Spirit through him.

(4) The most likely interpretation of the unpardonable sin in these verses is that it is an unusually malicious, willful rejection and slander against the Holy Spirit’s work attesting to Christ, and attributing that work to Satan.  In the context of these verses, Jesus is responding to the Pharisees accusation that he was casting out demons by the power of Satan.  This despite of the fact that they were aware of Jesus’ miraculous works and authoritative teaching that was consistent with scripture.  This made their lies especially malicious in nature.  This sin is speaking of one that includes (a) a clear knowledge of who Christ is and the power of the Holy Spirit working through him, (b) a willful rejection of the facts about Christ they knew to be true, and (c) slanderously attributing the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ to Satan.  This explanation fits with the passage in Hebrews 6:4-6 as well because it describes someone who has knowledge and conviction of the truth, but willingly turns away from Christ and holds him in contempt.

These verses speak more to the condition of the human heart than the willingness or ability of God to forgive them.  These people have hardened their heart so much toward God that normal means of bringing them to salvation would not work.  Believers who fear they have committed such a sin should not really worry because the fact that there is still sorrow for sin and a desire to return to God is evidence in itself that they do not fall into this category.[3]

What about purgatory?

https://i1.wp.com/www.clker.com/cliparts/4/d/7/3/1335964111846931012purgatory-md.png

clker.com

Mark 3:29 stated that the person who blasphemed against the Holy Spirit ‘is guilty of an eternal sin’. However, in Matthew 12:31-32, Jesus stated the Mark 3:28-29 theme but with a slight variation:

Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come (Matt 12:31-32 ESV).

This different emphasis here is not in Mark 3:29. The person who commits this blasphemy ‘will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come’ (Matt 12:32). Some have used this nuance to promote the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory. What is purgatory? The Roman Catholic Church teaches that

Purgatory (Lat., “purgare”, to make clean, to purify) in accordance with Catholic teaching is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions (Hanna 1911).

Edward Hanna, in articulating the Roman Catholic position, cited the Council of Trent’s position:

“Whereas the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Ghost, has from the Sacred Scriptures and the ancient tradition of the Fathers taught in Councils and very recently in this Ecumenical synod (Sess. VI, cap. XXX; Sess. XXII cap.ii, iii) that there is a purgatory, and that the souls therein are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but principally by the acceptable Sacrifice of the Altar; the Holy Synod enjoins on the Bishops that they diligently endeavor to have the sound doctrine of the Fathers in Councils regarding purgatory everywhere taught and preached, held and believed by the faithful” (Denzinger, “Enchiridon”, 983) (in Hanna 1911).

When confronted with the Scriptures, interpreted in a contextual way, purgatory fails the test. For a refutation of the doctrine of purgatory, see ‘What does the Bible say about Purgatory?’ (Got Questions Ministries 2014) This article provides some reasons why purgatory is a non-biblical teaching:

Purgatory, like many other Catholic dogmas, is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of Christ’s sacrifice. Catholics view the Mass / Eucharist as a re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice because they fail to understand that Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice was absolutely and perfectly sufficient (Hebrews 7:27). Catholics view meritorious works as contributing to salvation due to a failure to recognize that Jesus’ sacrificial payment has no need of additional “contribution” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Similarly, Purgatory is understood by Catholics as a place of cleansing in preparation for heaven because they do not recognize that because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we are already cleansed, declared righteous, forgiven, redeemed, reconciled, and sanctified.

The very idea of Purgatory and the doctrines that are often attached to it (prayer for the dead, indulgences, meritorious works on behalf of the dead, etc.) all fail to recognize that Jesus’ death was sufficient to pay the penalty for ALL of our sins. Jesus, who was God incarnate (John 1:1,14), paid an infinite price for our sin. Jesus died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3). Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 2:2). To limit Jesus’ sacrifice to atoning for original sin, or sins committed before salvation, is an attack on the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. If we must in any sense pay for, atone for, or suffer because of our sins – that indicates Jesus’ death was not a perfect, complete, and sufficient sacrifice.

For believers, after death is to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:23). Notice that this does not say “away from the body, in Purgatory with the cleansing fire.” No, because of the perfection, completion, and sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice, we are immediately in the Lord’s presence after death, fully cleansed, free from sin, glorified, perfected, and ultimately sanctified.

In his exposition of Matthew 12:31-32, William Hendriksen demonstrates why the phrase, ‘will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come’, does not refer to purgatory:

These words by no stretch of the imagination imply that for certain sins there will be forgiveness in the life hereafter. They do not in any sense whatever support the doctrine of purgatory. The expression simply means that the indicated sin will never be forgiven. As to the doctrine of purgatory, supposedly the place where the souls of those who are not eternally lost pay off the remainder of their debt by suffering punishment for the sins which they committed while still on earth, it is clearly contradicted by Scripture, which teaches that ‘Jesus paid it all’ (Heb. 5:9; 9:12, 26; 10:14; 1 John 1:7; Rev. 1:5; 7:14) (Hendriksen 1973:528).

Personal application

For you personally, are you presently and continuously ascribing to Satan what the Holy Spirit, through Christ, is doing in you or others’ lives? In addition, are you continuing to do this wilfully and deliberately?

Or, have you been so convicted of what you have been doing that you have come to Jesus in repentance to seek forgiveness for your sins? Do you have utter contrition for what you have been doing?

The fact that you are here on this forum discussing your sins and concern about the unpardonable sin indicates that you have not turned off the Holy Spirit’s promptings. Please remember what Mark stated: ‘All sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter’ (Mk 3:28) EXCEPT one. That one thing for which there is no forgiveness is if you currently are wilfully accusing Jesus of expelling demons and linking that to the work of Satan (Beelzebul).

Conclusion

When the Pharisees were faced with Jesus’ miracles and the working of the Holy Spirit through him, they credited that power to Beelzebul (the devil). Franklin rightly stated that the Pharisees claimed that Jesus was ‘Satan incarnate instead of God incarnate. It is this, and nothing else, that our Lord calls the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost’ (Franklin 1936:227, emphasis added). By attributing Jesus’ miraculous powers to Satan, the Pharisees were committing blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Thus, this was a particular sin addressed to the Pharisees in the time of Jesus for which there was no forgiveness .

However, a person can commit another sin for which there is no further repentance. That is described in Hebrews 6:4-6 as apostasy (‘fall away’ from the faith and renounce it). For my exposition of this passage, see the article, ‘Once Saved, Always Saved or Once Saved, Lost Again?

Works consulted

Butt, K 2003. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit – the ‘unpardonable sin’. Apologetics Press. Available at: http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=11&article=1218 (Accessed 25 October 2014).

Franklin, B 1936. The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost: An Inquiry into the scriptural teaching regarding the unpardonable sin. Bibliotheca Sacra, 93:220-233, April-June.

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

Hanna, E. 1911. Purgatory. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. New Advent, available at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12575a.htm (Accessed 25 October 2014).

Hendriksen, W 1973. New Testament commentary: Exposition of the Gospel according to Matthew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Hendriksen, W 1975. New Testament commentary: Exposition of the Gospel according to Mark. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

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

Notes


[1] Jayblue1#1. Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Hi there, I have some questions’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7847469/ (Accessed 25 October 2014). Because Jayblue1 made and error and deleted his original post, the content of what is said is gained from its being quoted by ibid., 98cwitr#7. Jayblue1#5 said the Bible passage was from Matt 3:28-29, but it is Mark 3:28-29.

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#37.

[3] Grudem, W 1994 (Systematic theology), ch 24, available at: http://www.thegravelperspective.com/blog/2013/10/23/grudems-systematic-theology-chapter-24-sin (Accessed 25 October 2014).

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.

Do Arminians believe in election and total depravity?

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

(image courtesy clker)

By Spencer D Gear

It is not unusual to get ignorance on Internet forums about the content of Arminian theology. Professor of theology and an Arminian in beliefs, Roger E. Olson,[1] told of a student who made an appointment to see him and announced, ‘Professor Olson, I’m sorry to say this, but you’re not a Christian’. From where did the student get this idea? He responded: ‘Because my pastor says Arminians aren’t Christians’. Olson said that this ‘pastor was a well-known Calvinist who later distanced himself from that statement’ (Olson 2006:9).

Olson told of his attending an evangelical Baptist seminary where Arminianism was used in a pejorative sense and equated with the heresy of semi-Pelagianism. Of one of his professors, James Montgomery Boice, an eminent Calvinist, Olson said that ‘I perceived he had already made up his mind that my church’s theology was heretical’ (Olson 2006:8).

Olson said that he wrote his 2006 publication because ‘I want to clear up confusion about Arminian theology and respond to the main myths and misconceptions about it that are widespread in evangelicalism today’ (Olson 2006:10).

James Arminius 2.jpg

Jacob Arminius (image courtesy Wikipedia)

Arminianism does not affirm election – says an opponent

What was the anti-Arminian sentiment promoted on that Internet Christian forum? There are often straw men logical fallacies used to oppose Arminians.

A straw man fallacy ‘is committed when a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position….This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because attacking a distorted version of a position simply does not constitute an attack on the position itself. One might as well expect an attack on a poor drawing of a person to hurt the person’ (The Nizkor Project). So this false or distorted view of Arminian theology turns up in various ‘dresses’.

Here is some ignorance about Arminianism I encountered on this forum. One fellow, a known Calvinist, wrote: ‘Calvinism affirms free will, problem is arminianism does not affirm election, even though it is really explicit’.[2]

This kind of ignorance is difficult to tolerate. My response, as a convinced Reformed Arminian, was,[3] ‘This is a false statement as the Society of Evangelical Arminians article provides evidence to counter your argument that Arminians do not believe in election. See: ‘The FACTS of Salvation, C: Conditional Election‘. Part of this explanation on the Arminian view of condition election is,

For election to be conditional means that God’s choice of those he will save has something to do with them, that part of his reason for choosing them was something about them. Concerning election unto salvation, the Bible teaches that God chooses for salvation those who believe in Jesus Christ and therefore become united to him, making election conditional on faith in Christ.

Desiring the salvation of all, providing atonement for all people, and taking the initiative to bring all people to salvation by issuing forth the gospel and enabling those who hear the gospel to respond to it positively in faith (see “Atonement for All” and “Freed to Believe” above), God chooses to save those who believe in the gospel/Jesus Christ (John 3:15-16, 36; 4:14; 5:24, 40; 6:47, 50-58; 20:31; Rom 3:21-30; 4:3-5, 9, 11, 13, 16, 20-24; 5:1-2; 9:30-33; 10:4, 9-13; 1 Cor 1:21; 15:1-2; Gal 2:15-16; 3:2-9, 11, 14, 22, 24, 26-28; Eph 1:13; 2:8; Phil 3:9; Heb 3:6, 14, 18-19; 4:2-3; 6:12; 1 John 2:23-25; 5:10-13, 20). This clear and basic biblical truth is tantamount to saying that election unto salvation is conditional on faith. Just as salvation is by faith (e.g., Eph 2:8 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith”), so election for salvation is by faith, a point brought out explicitly in 2 Thes 2:13 – “God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth” (NASB; note: “God has chosen you . . . through . . . faith in the truth”; on the grammar of this verse, see here).

That someone could promote the view that Arminians do not believe in election affirms that the person does not know Arminian theology or he is saying that Arminians do not believe his Calvinistic view of election. I asked him: Do you mean that Arminians do not believe in unconditional election according to a Calvinistic view?’

I was in conversation with someone at a Presbyterian Church event in which this person was speaking of the Dutch Reformed Church in a certain country that had compromised with some churches becoming theologically liberal and others promoting Arminianism.

John Calvin (image courtesy clker)

Calvinism affirms free will – says a Calvinist

As indicated above, the Calvinist on the forum stated, ‘Calvinism affirms free will, problem is arminianism does not affirm election’. What exactly does a Calvinist mean by free will? R C Sproul, a Calvinist, is utterly confusing in his explanation: ‘It is important to note that even the unregenerate are never forced against their will. Their wills are changed without their permission, but they are always free to choose as they will. Thus we are indeed free to do as we will. We are not free, however, to choose or select our nature’ (Sproul 1992:180).

Did you get it from Sproul?

  • The unregenerate are never forced against their will;
  • BUT, their wills are changed without their permission;
  • However, they are always free to choose as they will.

This, in my understanding, is a manipulation of words – a question begging fallacy (circular reasoning) – where Calvinism asserts that free will means,

  • Unbelievers are never forced to do anything against their will,
  • BUT, they are forced to change without their permission;
  • And this is described as the unregenerate being ‘always free to choose’.

What is a question begging fallacy?

Begging the Question is a fallacy in which the premises include the claim that the conclusion is true or (directly or indirectly) assume that the conclusion is true….

This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because simply assuming that the conclusion is true (directly or indirectly) in the premises does not constitute evidence for that conclusion. Obviously, simply assuming a claim is true does not serve as evidence for that claim (The Nizkor Project).

Thus Sproul, the Calvinist, assumes that unbelievers are not forced to do anything against their wills and concluded that they are ‘always free to choose’ (that’s circular reasoning). But in between he throws in the contradiction that those who are never forced to do anything are then forced to change without their permission. Of course, he doesn’t use the language ‘forced to change’, but ‘changed without their permission’. But the latter is the same meaning as forced or coerced to change. Imagine it – deterministic free will?

Charles Spurgeon in his sermon, ‘Free will – a slave’, was opposing the Arminian theology when he preached,

‘It has already been proved beyond all controversy that free-will is nonsense. Freedom cannot belong to will any more than ponderability can belong to electricity. They are altogether different things. Free agency we may believe in, but free-will is simply ridiculous. The will is well known by all to be directed by the understanding, to be moved by motives, to be guided by other parts of the soul, and to be a secondary thing (Sermon No. 52).[4]

Olson, an Arminian, explains this Calvinistic view of free will: ‘Insofar as they use the term free will positively, Calvinists mean what philosophers call compatibilist free will – free will that is compatible with determination. Free will is simply doing what someone wants to do even if that is determined by some force internal or external to the person willing’ (Olson 2006:20, emphasis in original).

Imagine it? Deterministic free will.

clip_image002(image courtesy canstock)

By contrast, an Arminian supports this view: ‘Noncompatibilist free will is the free agency that allows persons to do otherwise then they do; it may also be called libertarian free will…. Arminians believe such libertarian free will in spiritual matters is a gift of God through prevenient grace – grace that precedes and enables the first stirrings of a good will toward God’ (Olson 2006:20).

Arminians do not believe in total depravity – so says one

There was a discussion between individuals on the differences between Calvinists and Arminians. One fellow claimed, ‘What really distinguishes the two isn’t free will and/or election, but total depravity. Calvinists hold to it, Arminians don’t…. In my opinion they are so close to each other already, they basically could both be said to be true at the same time, except for total depravity’.[5]

This was like waving a red flag before a bull to this Reformed Arminian because it is a false understanding of Arminian theology on total depravity. Therefore, I replied:[6] I do wish you knew the doctrines of Arminianism. This statement demonstrates that you do not. Please take a read of this article from the Society of Evangelical Arminians: ‘The FACTS of Salvation,T: Total Depravity‘.

Article 3 of the Five Articles of Remonstrance states:

Article 3
That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free will, inasmuch as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do any thing that is truly good (such as saving Faith eminently is); but that it is needful that he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding, inclination, or will, and all his powers, in order that he may rightly understand, think, will, and effect what is truly good, according to the Word of Christ, John 15:5, “Without me ye can do nothing.

What did Jacobus Arminius believe about Total Depravity? In one of his disputations, he wrote:

V. In the state of Primitive Innocence, man had a mind endued with a clear understanding of heavenly light and truth concerning God, and his works and will, as far as was sufficient for the salvation of man and the glory of God; he had a heart imbued with “righteousness and true holiness,” and with a true and saving love of good; and powers abundantly qualified or furnished perfectly to fulfill the law which God had imposed on him. This admits easily of proof, from the description of the image of God, after which man is said to have been created, (Gen. i. 26, 27,) from the law divinely imposed on him, which had a promise and a threat appended to it, (ii, 17,) and lastly from the analogous restoration of the same image in Christ Jesus. (Ephes. iv. 24, Col. iii. 10.)

VI. But man was not so confirmed in this state of innocence, as to be incapable of being moved, by the representation presented to him of some good, (whether it was of an inferior kind and relating to this animal life, or of a superior-kind and relating to spiritual life,) inordinately and unlawfully to look upon it and to desire it, and of his own spontaneous as well as free motion, and through a preposterous desire for that good, to decline from the obedience which had been prescribed to him. Nay, having turned away from the light of his own mind and his chief good, which is God, or, at least, having turned towards that chief good not in the manner in which he ought to have done, and besides having turned in mind and heart towards an inferior good, he transgressed the command given to him for life. By this foul deed, he precipitated himself from that noble and elevated condition into a state of the deepest infelicity, which is Under The Dominion of Sin. For “to whom any one yields himself a servant to obey,” (Rom. vi. 16,) and “of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage,” and is his regularly assigned slave. (2 Pet. ii. 19.)

VII. In this state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace. For Christ has said, “Without me ye can do nothing.” St. Augustine, after having diligently meditated upon each word in this passage, speaks thus: “Christ does not say, without me ye can do but Little; neither does He say, without me ye can do any Arduous Thing, nor without me ye can do it with difficulty. But he says, without me ye can do Nothing! Nor does he say, without me ye cannot complete any thing; but without me ye can do Nothing.” That this may be made more manifestly to appear, we will separately consider the mind, the affections or will, and the capability, as contra-distinguished from them, as well as the life itself of an unregenerate man (Arminius 1977:525-526).

Jacobus (James) Arminius and Reformed/Classical Arminians most certainly believed in Total Depravity.

Therefore, this person’s statement here about total depravity not being an Arminian doctrine, is false.

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

See also my articles:

blue-corrosion-arrow-small Elected to salvation and/or damnation?

blue-corrosion-arrow-small God’s foreknowledge and predestination/election to salvation

blue-corrosion-arrow-small Does God only draw certain people to salvation?

blue-corrosion-arrow-small Sent to hell by God: Calvinism in action?

blue-corrosion-arrow-small Did John Calvin believe in double predestination?

Works consulted

Arminius, J. 1977. The writings of James Arminius, vol. 1, Public disputations of Arminius, Disputation 11 (On the free will of man and its powers), 523-531. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House. Available at: Works of James Arminius, Vol. 1 – Christian Classics Ethereal Library (Accessed 21 April 2014).

Olson, R E 2006. Arminian theology: Myths and realities. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic.

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

Notes


[1] Olson is professor of theology at George W Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University, Waco, Texas (a Southern Baptist institution) (Olson 2006:back flap).

[2] Christian Forums.com 2014. Soteriology DEBATE, ‘I believe arminianism and calvinism are both true at the same time!’, abacabb#2, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7816600/ (Accessed 21 April 2014).

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#30.

[4] This was preached at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark (UK), 2 December 1855.

[5] Ibid., Ignatius21#19.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#32.

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 11 April 2016.