Saturday, June 21, 2008

Further Response to FreeGrace - Exegesis Defended Against Assertion

FreeGrace has provided some further comments, which I will respond to below.

FreeGrace: "Your comment that the "all" fits perfectly with "all kinds" surprises me. I thought you had more academic training than to think that. If you want the "all" to mean only "all kinds of", then Paul isn't really saying that everyone in the human race is under sin, only "all kinds of humans". That, of course, would be a ridiculous understanding. Unless you really don't think that everyone in the human race is under sin. Maybe I presume too much of you. :)"

I supported my comment in the original post (link). We get the definitive universality of sinfulness from the "there is none righteous, no not one." The "all" unmistakably refers to "both Jews and Gentiles" in context. If that doesn't fit with your theory, revise your theory. As for "academic training" and "presume too much," they would be relevant if you had some sort of merit to your contentions: merit that you could demonstrate with exegesis, not assertion. On the other hand, I don't rest on academic laurels, but simply on the Scriptures. If you presume that I would go along with your theory without holding it up to the light of Scriptures, you do presume too much.

FreeGrace: "Also, GMB fails to grasp what I've said, to be claiming that universal atonement leads to universalism. That is only an erroneous presupposition. His way of interpreting to be "that those who have sinned and those who are justified are one and the same" suggests the same thing you seem to be proposing. That not everyone in the human race has sinned, which is a ridiculous proposal."

GMB, of course, stands for Gene M. Bridges, who commented on the original post (link). It seems you are having trouble understanding the verses, or simply want to promote your theory regardless of what the verses say.

Here, again, is the text:

22Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

You seem to want to imagine that "all have sinned" is the same group as "being justified" AND that "all have sinned" is a reference to the entirety of humanity. If that were so, then the result would be that the entirety of humanity is justified. If that were so, then the entirety of humanity would be saved. There's no escape from that conclusion.

FreeGrace: "Since Paul has noted in 3:9 that everyone is under sin, not just "all kinds of men", it is ridiculous to presuppose that 3:23 is referring only to believers, which is what you have done. 3:23 is clearly a re-iteration of 3:9. You may deny it, but that's what Paul has done."

If you go back and read the original post (link), you will see that "presuppos[ing]" it is not what I did. Instead, I derived the sense of verse 23 from the context, something you seem incapable of following. I hope this explanation will help. The interpretation of verse 23 does not depend on whether the "all" in verse 9 extends (in context) to all of the members of both sets (in context, it does - because of the "none is righteous, no not one"). In fact the way to logically arrange the discussion is to see Paul making a general statement about humanity in verses 9-10, and then a specific statement about the elect in verses 22-24.
FreeGrace: "For you to say "All have sinned, both Jew and Gentile--consequently all who believed have sinned" is silly. When Paul stated that all are under sin, he wasn't saying that only all kinds of people have sinned. He was stating the fact that everyone in the human race has sinned. Do you disagree? So 3:23 is simply re-iterating his point from 3:9. After saying everyone in the human race is under sin, and then to say "all believers have sinned" is absurd."

It's actually quite a simple, syllogistic way of discussing things:

1. All men are sinners.
2. Believers are men.
3. Believers are sinners.

(3) is proved by (1), not made ridiculous by it (or "silly" or any other name you may wish to tar it with), whatever you may think.

Furthermore, Paul presented the entire argument from verse 9 to verse 20 to deal with the issue of the possibility of works righteousness. Paul denies that we are better than the unbelievers, affirming the universality of sinfulness both categorically ("both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin") and individually ("There is none righteous, no, not one: there is noen that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable, there is none that doeth good, no, not one ... there is no fear of God before their eyes.")

Verse 23 serves as a reapplication of that general principle to the believers, "all them that believe" (verse 22) namely those who are "justified freely by his grace." After all, that's the reason for Paul's argument ... referring back to verse 9, "What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise ..."

The "we" and "they" in verse 9 is not Jews and Gentiles (for Paul is a Jew writing to Gentiles) but believers and unbelievers. We are not saved because we are saved because we are better. Instead, we are saved by the free and sovereign grace of God.

FreeGrace: "Further, GMB's comment that there are "not 2 ways of salvation" is absurd. Where does he get that from? Where does he think I've said anything close to that? His first point completely misses what I've said. The condition for justification is believing, but he seems oblivious to that fact. And his second point is simply his opinion. On what basis does he claim that statements about universal atonement cannot be differentiated from statements about universal salvation. That is just reformed presupposition."

I assume by "absurd" that you mean that you did not intend to say that there are two ways of salvation. I think, though, that you need to go back to the original post and reread his comment to see the point of what he's saying. I'll let him clarify again, though, if he so chooses.

As for the issue of claims about universal atonement being non-differentiable from statements about universal salvation is not "reformed presupposition," but extensive experience speaking. We look for advocates of the former to try to differentiate their statements from those of the latter, and it comes up empty. This case is no different: rather than differentiate, you have simply sold the house.

What do I mean by saying that you have sold the house? You have acknowledged that, to use your words, "The condition for justification is believing." If that is so, then there are only three options:

1. The "for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" refers (as, in fact, it does) only to believers in the context of verse 23;

2. It refers to "each and every person" and "each and every person" fulfills the condition and is justified (leading to universal salvation); or

3. It refers to "each and every person" but not all of them fulfill the condition which contradicts your original statement that "all have sinned" refers to the same group as "being justified."

So, you have (1) our position, (2) universal salvation, or (3) self-contradiction. Take your pick.
FreeGrace: "Here is an example of how Christ could purchase (agarazo) salvation for everyone, yet not everyone receive it."

A. The Whole Foundation of this Argument is Contra-Biblical
1. Christ purchased (peripoieomai) the church with his blood (Acts 20:28).
2. That's why we can be refered to as the purchased possession (peripoiēsis) (Ephesians 1:14).
3. We, believers, are bought (agorazō) with a price (timē). (1 Corinthians 6:20 and 7:23).
4. Indeed, the elect was redeemed (agorazō) out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation (Revelation 5:9) and redeemed (agorazō) from the earth (Revelation 14:3) and redeemed (agorazō) from among men (Revelation 14:4).

But Scripture never ever refers to salvation being purchased (agorazō) by Christ's blood, it speaks of people, namely the elect, being purchased by Christ's blood.

B. Even if it were Biblical, it is not germane to Romans 3.

Romans 3 refers to believe who are justified, not who might possibly some day be justified, if they choose to be justified. In short, there's no reason, linguistic or contextual to jump from "being justified" to "potentially being justified."

FreeGrace: "A man living in an apartment building wants everyone in his building to have a Bible. So he goes out and purchases a Bible for every resident in the building. Then he goes to every apartment and offers a Bible to each resident. Those that want one receive one, and those who do not want one, don't receive one."

The great over-spender analogy. Counter query. If the man knows in advance that only 1/2 of the people will want one, would he be wiser to buy the right amount, or wiser to overpurchase? (as he does in your analogy) In fact, wouldn't the man in your analogy be wiser to go around and find out how many people want a Bible before making his purchase?

Surely, in this example, a Bible has been purchased for each and every person, but to what end? It is simply to make Bible ownership a possibility for each person. If that's your analogy to salvation, come out and say that you think Christ died on the cross simply to make salvation possible for his people, not - as Scripture says - to save his people from their sins.

FreeGrace: "Now, how can you or GMB claim that statements about "universal Bible purchases" cannot be differentiated from statement about "universal Bible ownership"? Please explain. My example demonstrates that while a Bible was purchased (agarazo) for everyone, not everyone received one."
No, those can be differentiated. But the atonement reconciles God to man. It does not merely make reconciliation possible. The analogy to creating a stockpile of Bibles falls apart, because the Atonement actually accomplishes something. It also falls apart because it is not a stockpile of salvation that is purchased by Christ, but people: the elect.

FreeGrace: "Anyway, thanks for your thoughts. You have in no way provided me any support for your pov on this passage, as I'm sure you have already figured."

I'm willing to let the reader judge for himself.

FreeGrace: "I thought it was interesting how you wanted to emphasize the passage, when you put in very small print the last part of v.22 and v.23. Seems you want to "minimize" it. Here is a way to read the passage with only the prepositional phrase in v.25 moved to the beginning of the verse:
Through faith in His blood (v.25)...all (who) have sinned (entire human race) (v.23)...are justified freely (v.24). I added the "who" to smooth the sentence. The key remains: justification is through faith. Paul has included the entire human race in a statement about how to be justified."

Your problem is clearly seen here. The verse says "are justified," whether you ignore that or not. It does not say "can be justified" or "should be justified" or "ought to be justified" or "may be justified" or "might be justified" or "would be justified" or "could be justified" or anything else but "are justified" (or "being justified").

The point of the passage is only partly to talk about justification by grace through faith - you're missing the other half: the other half of the point is to show that gracious justification is the great equalizer: it is because justification is not based on us distinguishing ourselves from others, but instead is based on grace, that there is no difference between us and the unbeliever except the grace of God.

FreeGrace: "In other words, Paul didn't limit from the human race who can be justified. He noted the condition, that is, faith. That is the only "limit" on justification. I think your attempt to render "all" in v.23 to refer only to believers reveals your defense of your pov at the expense of what the text says."

Yes, Paul does implicitly limit who can be justified, by making by grace. If justification were by works, those who wanted to be justified would simply work hard, distinguishing themselves from others.

But instead, all mankind universally is under sin - there is none that seeks after God. God graciously converts some, bringing them to faith in Christ, justifying them by grace. All of these were sinners, none were righteous, for everyone is a sinner. Thus, there is no room for pride to those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, because this was not of themselves - they were saved by grace, not obedience to God's law.

Nevertheless, the limitation on who can be justified is not the main point of the passage, it's simply implicit in gracious salvation (see above for the main point). If other parts of Scripture were ignored, we could accept universal salvation as being consistent with this text, because God could (again, ignoring other things we know about God from other Scriptures) show the same grace to all, if he so desired, because his grace is freely bestowed, not earned, merited, or procured.


Jonathan Edwards Resources

Hopefully, many of you will be as excited as I was to see this helpful catalog of Jonathan Edwards Resources, provided by Ryan Martin at the blog Immoderate. (link) I cannot emphasize his disclaimer enough: "Google should not be used as a substitute for your careful reading and study of these materials in their complete form." That said, using Google Books current interfaces you can, in many instances, download the complete form of the books, and read and study them carefully.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Response to FreeGrace - Unlimited Atonement in Romans?

A Non-Calvinist who uses the screen name FreeGrace recently resent me a question he had sent a while back, and which I had hoped to answer more quickly.

FreeGrace: "I recently discovered a phrase by Paul that I believe is clearly indicative of unlimited atonement, though not specifically mentioning it. It is Rom 3:32-25."

Here is the text, Romans 3:22-25
22Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;

FreeGrace: "But first, Paul makes the clear point in 3:9 that "all are under sin", obviously meaning everyone in humanity, not just "all kinds of", as the reformed like to say.:) "

Actually, the "all" refers to "both Jews and Gentiles," ("we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin") which fits perfectly with "all kinds." In fact, what rules out a barely general (as opposed to universal) reading is the "none righteous, no not one" in the next verse. Anyhow, the sinfulness of man is universal.

FreeGrace: "Then, he repeats that point in 3:23 with "for all have sinned"."

Actually, it is roughly repeating the same point, which is a little different from what FreeGrace seems to think. The text is:

Romans 3:22-23
22Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

The point of "for all have sinned" is in reference to the fact that there is no difference between Jewish and Gentile believers: all have sinned - all are saved by grace, not works.

FreeGrace:"One of the C campers on CW wants to believe the "all" of v.23 is the same "all" found in v.22 in the phrase "all who believe", but that makes Paul's statement in v.23 rather silly in light of what he has just said about all of humanity in 3:9."

That depends on the point of Paul's argument. It looks like a syllogism. All have sinned, both Jews and Gentiles -- consequently all who believe have sinned - there is no difference between Jewish and Gentile believers - they have to be saved the same way: freely by grace through the redemption that is in Christ.

FreeGrace:"iow, why would Paul state that "all believers have sinned" when he has just made the point that everyone in humanity is under sin, a point that the reformed do not argue."

He would do that to emphasize that it is not the case that some come to salvation by works, and others by faith. All come by faith, since works are unavailing.

FreeGrace: "Anyway, here is the connected thought found in that passage, with only the pertinent words included: "for all have sinned...(v.23) and are justified freely...(v.24) through faith in His blood...(v.25)."

I would respectfully submit to you that the correct way to read the passage is this way:
"22Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: (for there is no difference: 23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;) 24Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

That is to say, I would view the "for there is no difference ... glory of God" phrase as a parenthetical - explaining the "all" in the "all them that believe."

FreeGrace: "By including the entire human race in v.23, and saying "being justified" per KJV or "and are justified" per ESV (a favorite among reformed I learned recently), Paul is saying that the entire human race is justified through faith. That can only be possible if Christ died for everyone, which I think this verse demonstrates."

Men are justified when they believe. Even if there were some sense in which we could say that men are justified from eternity (not admitted), justification, properly speaking, occurs when a man believes. Not all men (i.e. each and every member of humanity) believe, therefore not all men (in that sense) are justified.

Thus, you have two options:

1) You can deny that not every man believes, which leads to a sort of "Evangelical Universalism," or

2) You can recognize that the "being justified" just refers back to the part of the passage immediately before the parenthetical, namely to the "all them that believe" the same group upon whom the righteousness of God, which is by faith in Jesus Christ, has been manifested.

I would respectfully submit to you that the latter interpretation is the better one.

FreeGrace: "When Paul penned Rom 5:8, based on his comments in 3:9 and 3:23, I believe he was speaking as a member of the human race, rather than as a believer."

This seems like a strange jump, and a wrong jump. It is strange because the only connection seems to be the fact that we were sinners. It is wrong, because we can clearly pick out who the "we" is in the context.

Here's the text of Romans 5:8

Romans 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Here's the context:

Romans 5:1-9
1Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: 2By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; 4And patience, experience; and experience, hope: 5And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. 6For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 8But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.

The "we" is the justified, the ones who have access, who have the Holy Ghost, and who shall be saved.


Team Apologian

As many of my blog readers already know, I've been inducted as a member of the Team Apologian at the blog of Alpha & Omega Ministries. I look forward to doing my best to try to contribute to that blog. At the same time, I think it worthwhile to provide a couple of caveats.

a) Dr. White, the leader of the team, does not endorse everything I write here (he may not even endorse everything in every article I write at the A&O Ministries blog).

b) Conversely, I don't agree with Dr. White (or other members of the team) on everything.

Given all that disagreement, how can we be on one blogging team?

The answer is simple: we agree that Scripture is the rule of faith and that the Gospel message is one of faith in Christ alone for salvation. We are divided in some ways, but we can have Christian fellowship and unity that bridges the denominational and lesser doctrinal differences among us. We worship one God, and defend faith in Him against all those who question our sure hope of Salvation from the wrath which is to come.

In the essentials: Unity
In the non-essentials: Liberty
In all things: Prudence and Charity


Thursday, June 19, 2008

New Pictet Book Available (French Only)

Google Books has recently (as far as I know) added Histoire de l'Eglise et du monde (History of the Church and of the World) by Benedict Pictet to their collection of books. Those who are Reformed and read French will presumably be thankful to be able to add it to their collections.



Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Justice and Mercy Compared

It is sometimes stated that permitting a criminal to go unpunished is wrong, and is actually worse than the crime the criminal did.

I distinguish.

a) It is worse when done by a judge.
b) It is not worse when done by a victim.

We can see this by considering that it is mercy not to drag everyone who has wronged us before a judge. On the other hand, it is injustice for a judge to fail to apply the law to the guilty.

We can also see this in the work of God. Christ shows us mercy. The Father shows Christ justice. Thus, God as victim shows mercy, while God as judge shows justice.
Furthermore, God as king shows mercy by permitting a substitute, but that mercy in no way diminishes justice, because he still demands satisfaction.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Instructions to a Minister - An Ancient Voice Speaks

V. A bishop must be no accepter of persons; neither revering nor flattering a rich man contrary to what is right, nor overlooking nor domineering over a poor man. For, says God to Moses, "Thou shalt not accept the person of the rich, nor shalt thou pity a poor man in his cause: for the judgment is the Lord's." [Leviticus 19:15 and Exodus 23:3] And again: "Thou shalt with exact justice follow that which is right." [Deuteronomy 1:17 and 16:20]

Let a bishop be frugal, and contented with a little in his meat and drink, that he may be ever in a sober frame, and disposed to instruct and admonish the ignorant; and let him not be costly in his diet, a pamperer of himself, given to pleasure, or fond of delicacies.

Let him be patient and gentle in his admonitions, well instructed himself, meditating in and diligently studying the Lord's books, and reading them frequently, that so he may be able carefully to interpret the Scriptures, expounding the gospel in correspondence with the prophets and with the law; and let the expositions from the law and the prophets correspond to the gospel. For the Lord Jesus says: "Search the Scriptures; for they are those which testify of me." [John 5:39] And again: "For Moses wrote of me." [John 4:46] But, above all, let him carefully distinguish between the original law and the additional precepts, and show which are the laws for believers, and which the bonds for the unbelievers, lest any should fall under those bonds. Be careful, therefore, O bishop, to study the word, that thou mayest be able to explain everything exactly, and that thou mayest copiously nourish thy people with much doctrine, and enlighten them with the light of the law; for God says: "Enlighten yourselves with the light of knowledge, while we have yet opportunity." [Hosea 10:12]

The above ancient advice is part of the so-called "Apostolic Constitutions," Book II, Section II, Paragraph V. Translation taken from Donaldson et al. (Edinburgh, 1870) "Ante-Nicene Christian Library: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325," Volume XVII, page 29. Book II was actually translated by Rev. Thomas Smith, D.D. It's tough to date these "Constitutions," but the best guess would seem to be third or fourth century.

It is interesting to note the primary method for minister (bishop) to be taught is from studying the Bible.


Grudem On-Line

I'll confess that I greatly prefer Hodge, Shedd, Calvin, Turretin, Dabney, Ames, Ridgley, and Reymond to Grudem, and even prefer Berkhof to Grudem, nevertheless many of my Reformed Baptist brethren seem to enjoy Grudem's Systematic Theology. That volume is now freely available on-line.


I've decided to remove the link, after reading the following article (link), which I cannot verify, and which contains certain misrepresentations upon which I won't elaborate.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Responding to Churchfellaway

Churchfellaway (CFA) has provided a video responding to Dr. White's response to a Muslim fellow. (link) CFA begins badly, having to ensure the audience that he is not defending the Muslim.

He wants to respond to the fact that Thomas called Jesus "God." His first argument is that Thomas didn't speak English (ok ...) and didn't speak Greek (how in the world does he conclude that? he does not say). He claims Thomas never would have said "theos."

As reported by the Apostle John, however, that's just what Thomas said:

John 20:28 και απεκριθη ο θωμας και ειπεν αυτω ο κυριος μου και ο θεος μου

θεος = Theos = God

He claims that he calls Jesus "Elohim."

He says we know that it was translated from Elohim, because we see Jesus making a reference in John 10 where Jesus is accused of making himself God. Jesus responds by quoting Psalm 82:6 to them, which states: "I have said, ye are gods ..." the word being used in the Hebrew original of Psalm 82 being Elohim.

It's a little irritating for him to keep calling Psalm 82, "Psalms 82."

There's an obvious problem with his argument: John 10 is not the context of John 20:28, and there's no real reason to suppose that Thomas spoke these words to Jesus in anything other than Greek.

Furthermore, there is an underlying problem with CFA's view of the significance of Jesus' reference to Psalm 82:6. Jesus was not suggesting that he was merely a Psalm 82:6 Elohim: merely a judge or ruler. Instead, he was convicting them using Scripture. They could not answer him. He started from Psalm 82:6, and said if it was lawful to use the name of God to describe the judges ordained by God, how much more lawful it was for Jesus who was sent into this world by the Father to use that title. Psalm 82:6 was provided for contrast, not for explanation of his own title.

In fact, CFA is so bold as to call this an "English and Greek farce." Of course, CFA has no good reason to suppose that the gospel of John was originally written in some other language than Greek. Greek fragments of the Gospel of John are among the earliest fragments of the New Testament in our possession. By calling John's account a "farce," CFA is actually opposing not Dr. White, but Scripture.


Dr. White Explains Textual Transmission to Kent Hovind

Dr. White has provided a series of three video responses to some rather uninformed comments by Kent Hovind on Bible versions. Hovind's comments appear to be gleaned from the book he recommends, a book by Gail Riplinger, one of the prominent promoters of KJV-Onlyism.

The problems in Hovind's presentation are numerous, and even Dr. White's presentation is unable to snag all of them.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Ultimately, the video series demonstrates that one has to be careful in who one listens to. Hovind probably sounds like he knows what he is talking about to someone who doesn't understand the history of the transmission of the text of Scripture. In fact, however, he's wildly off the mark.

Some of his points may ring true (for example, a manuscript in constant use is less likely to survive for more than a millennium while a manuscript in disuse will last a long time). On the other hand he makes such egregious errors as to identify the Textus Receptus with the Majority Text and to imagine that the Textus Receptus was based on 5,000 or so Greek manuscripts (when, in fact, more realistic estimates are at least a couple of orders of magnitude less), as well as to confuse the manner of transmission of the Hebrew text by the Jews with the manner of transmission of the Greek text by the Christians.

All in all, I found the video series enjoyable and educational. I hope that if the transmission of the text of the New Testament interests you, you'll also find the series profitable.


P.S. As an aside, I would be very cautious about relying on Hovind's work. That's not to say that everything he says is wrong - for example he has many right things to say in other areas than the areas noted in the video series above. The problem is that Hovind doesn't appear to have a good idea of the limits of his own knowledge, as demonstrated in this video series.

Rocks Ahead!

Those of us who live inland are sometimes blissful unaware of the dangers of coastal navigation in boats. In old times, it would be routine for some sailors to make their living guiding out-of-town boats through the waters even of a harbor out to the ocean, assisting them in avoiding submerged rocks, and sandy shoals that could sink a ship, or cause it to become stuck. When such a pilot was not available, those operating the ship would have to keep their eyes peeled for clues as to the dangers at hand, and proceed cautiously. Thus, "Rocks Ahead" would be a call of alarm, much like the call "Iceberg Dead Ahead" became a chilling warning of impending doom in the cinematic portrayal of the Titanic's demise.

So to, I'd like to try to help a bit in this regard. There are a few rocks that I've noticed, that I'd like to draw to your attention - rocks that are especially dangerous to young or new Christians, rocks that are especially dangerous to developing Christians, and rocks that are dangerous to mature Christians.

I. New Christians - Zeal and Love without Knowledge

Many who come to faith in Christ, whether young or old, come with great zeal and love of God. Usually, however, they have a rather minimal understanding of theology and the Bible. They are eager to serve God who they love, but they don't always know how. This can pose a danger because their lack of knowledge can lead to gullibility or to misdirected zeal.

The solution, the way to avoid these rocks, is to study Scripture. Learn what God has to say in the Word. That is not to say that one must only study Scripture unassisted by human aids. When one uses human aids, even the aids of excellent commentators like Matthew Poole, Matthew Henry, or John Gill, one needs to be cautious carefully comparing what the commentator said to the Word of God, remembering that the commentator is a man, and that men sometimes make mistakes: even Godly men.

II. Developing Christians - Inadequate Methodology

Christians who have started studying sometimes seem to forget the rock summarized by the adage: "A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing." These are Christians who have found some useful tool or other for studying Scripture, have been delighted by the influx of knowledge they have gleaned from it, and have overlooked their own lack of experience in using it or (perhaps) lack of gifts in applying it.

The most frequent example of this sort of behavior that I have seen is the misuse of lexicons. These days one can find on-line dictionaries and, for Greek, parsing software, that can enable a person with very little training or actual linguistic or even grammatical skill to unearth some of the nuances of the Bible.

This sort of thing can have its place, certainly. Strong's lexicon and concordance are an invaluable (that means "of enormous value") resource. It is helpful to be able to learn sometimes that the Greek word for "suffer" in the verse "suffer the little children to come" means to permit, not to torture. Another example, is to look up the Greek word underlying "whosoever" in John 3:16 to discover that the Greek word means "all."

A lexicon, though, has to be used carefully. Languages, especially ancient languages, are full of traps for the unwary. One typical example of such a trap is the use of paraphrastic constructions: ways of saying something in a roundabout or indirect manner. We sometimes do this in English, though much more rarely. For example, one might consider the expression "I am going to sell my house," to be an example of an English paraphrastic way of saying, "I will sell my house." Someone who did not know English, and who only had a lexicon and/or some parsing software might conclude, by looking up each word individually, that the person was trying to say that he was presently ("am") moving ("going") to a closing on the sale of a house. In fact, the person simply means that he will sell his house, and "am going to sell" is a round-about way to express that.

Another example of this sort of error can be found in the use of "word studies." I have met many Christians who seem to live and die by word studies. Typically, these people will do the word studies in English in some English version (such as the KJV), but a few will do the same in Greek. Again, these studies can have value. For example, one might want to know the semantic range of a particular Biblical word, such as "Lord." A word study is a way to discover (in English) that the word "Lord" is used of a variety of different referents, and not only about our Lord God.

On the other hand, these word studies can (especially when performed only in English) be misleading and dangerous. For example, while it may be helpful to find out that some particular word is used 99% of the time in the context of judgment, that statistical analysis (at best) provides a default position for understanding the term in the context you are considering. Assuming that the Bible always uses words the same way is a sure way to lead to absurd results. Consider, for example, the problem with assuming that the words in "For God so loved the world," and "If any man love the world," are supposed to have precisely the same meaning.

Finally, a third example combines the last two techniques, in a way. In the third example, the person uses Strong's number for the word (translated "X" in English) in question in verse A and finds out that the same word has been translated with meaning "Y" in one or several other verses. The person then concludes that since the word can mean "Y" in those other verses, it can mean "Y" in verse A. This sort of analysis overlooks the complexity of translation, and the importance of understanding a word's semantic range as limited by the context in which the word is used. What one has to be especially cautious of, is finding a word in a verse that does not fit one's theology, running to a lexicon, and finding a definition within the general semantic range of that word that does fit one's theology, and then insisting that the word has been either poorly translated or mistranslated by others (especially when this means claiming that the verse has been wrongly translated by virtually all the previous translators).

The solution for each of these errors is to be cautious and cognizant of one's own academic, linguistic, and grammatical abilities. Don't assume that Strong's Concordance makes you a Greek scholar, and be cautious about standing opposed to Greek scholars when it comes to translating Greek (or Hebrew for that matter, though fewer people seem to get hooked on trying to re-translate the Hebrew). If your translation of a verse doesn't jive with either the traditional translation (KJV or the like) or the newer translations (ESV or NASB), consider whether perhaps you may have made a mistake, and try to learn why the other translators translated it the way they did. They may know something you do not. In fact, they may know plenty that you do not.

III. Mature Christians - Pride

Knowledge truly can puff up. It's easy for mature Christians, having studied the Bible extensively, having learned theology in many nuances to become proud and think that have arrived at a full understanding or a methodology that does not need external correction. This is sometimes seen in the "Not Invented Here" (NIH) syndrome. NIH rejects ideas that one did not think of oneself. If someone tries to provide new light on an issue, a person suffering from NIH simply rejects it out of hand, "I never heard of that."

This kind of stubbornness can be helpful in keeping the mature Christian from being buffeted by every wind of doctrine. On the other hand, this can stop the growth of the mature Christian. It is always important for the mature Christian to be ready to go back and reconsider his views in light of Scripture. That does not mean we hold views that have been demonstrated from Scripture without tenacity. Instead, it means that we are careful to remember that we two are merely men, and in need of the sharpening iron of our fellow Christians.

This kind of stubbornness can also lead to another problem: disrespect for God-given spiritual authorities. That is to say, Christian men can (aware of their own well-developed knowledge) become scornful of the elders that God has given them for their spiritual edification. It's fairly common knowledge that in many households one of the main items at Sunday lunch is Roast Sermon, in which problems (real or perceived) in the sermon are dissected and amplified as though under a microscope. That is not to say that there is not a place for sermon criticism, simply that it is easy for people to forget that their elders have an important and God-ordained rule in providing teaching and spiritual rule. We can disagree Scripturally with them, but we must not allow ourselves to become disdainful of their gifts, while pretending to be under their leadership.

This problem extends beyond the man-elder relationship to the wife-husband relation and the child-parent relationship. While children normally would fall into one of the two previous categories, should a child by God's grace develop a mature understanding of Scripture while still a child, he must still remember the place and purpose not only of his elders, but of his parents as well. Likewise, wives need to remember that their primary human authority in spiritual matters is their husband. This can be especially difficult for wives who are more well read in theological matters than their husbands. The solution there is partly for the wives to learn humility, but also for the husbands to study harder: study the Word so that your wife will not have to ask for your help, but will be eager to ask for your help when it comes to understanding what was preached in church, or what is taught in Scripture.

With these cautions, let us do our best to navigate (with the help of our brethren and that Pilot of our souls, the Holy Spirit) the sometimes rocky harbor of this life, until we reach at last the open sea of heaven, a sea where there will be no icebergs - but we will have the Light of the Lamb to guide and teach us.

Praise be to the Lord!


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Clear Example of False Prophet

Here is a clear example of a false prophet: (link). He has now twice predicted a nuclear doomsday. That his prophecies have failed to come to pass is self-evident. The just and appropriate punishment for this crime against God is death:

Deuteronomy 18:20-22

20But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. 21And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? 22When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.

Although Texas does not punish false prophecy with death, it does punish fraud - and should use that mechanism to punish this con artist. I have no idea whether it will.

I wonder what other mechanism than the law is available to bring this group, and particularly its false prophet to a recognition of their sin, repentance of it, and faith in Christ.

Lest you think that I am relying solely on the secular media in this regard consider this, taken from the group's own web site (here):
"By June 12, 2007 the nine-month nuclear baby will have been born, causing a third part of man to be killed over a fourth part of the earth in and around the great River Euphrates with nuclear wars."

But this man is brazen ... he now claims: "It’s plain to see that all these Prophecies of this nuclear war that will kill a third part of man over a fourth part of the earth in and around the great River Euphrates would have been fulfilled already had it not been for another Prophecy showing the Plan of Yahweh."

It should be pointed out that the Texas authorities have been after this guy on other grounds, alleging that he is a polygamist and has been violating child labor laws. Ultimately, those are unsatisfying conclusions to the matter, though perhaps it is all we can hope for.