Friday, March 30, 2018

Is Your Jesus Real?

This is Jesus speaking and it goes against the impotent Jesus one sees plastered on the sides of buses or adorning internet art.  It also goes against the Jesus that is often preached from pulpits all across our country.

The Jesus the world wants is a liberal Jesus:  a Jesus of convenience and a Jesus who isn't dangerous:  a Savior, but not a Judge - a Sacrifice, but not a Sovereign.  The worlds wants a Jesus that endorses and empowers their own hopes and dreams, but that makes no demands other than acceptance of a few facts that is called the Gospel.  

This is not however the person that Jesus was and is, and it certainly isn't the message He gives about Himself:

Matthew 10:32-39 (NIV)

32 "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. 

34 "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn " 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law-- 36 a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' 37 "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 

39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 

The real Jesus demands not only commitment, but a primacy of commitment.  He not only must be followed, He must be followed first before anyone or anything else.  And this discipleship isn't sourced from duty.  In other words, it isn't religious.  It's sourced from love.  Because it's sourced from love, the duty that it does impart follows naturally.  Therefore it isn't religious, but is instead simply proper.

And the path upon which we must follow Him is in the likeness of His death.  If we try to follow Him yet stay upon the path we were born on, we will lose the life about which we so desperately worry and try to keep alive.  But if we are willing to give up our life and our goals, on account of Him and His goals - for His sake, then we will find the life that we so desperately seek.

What we will discover is that our life isn't our life.  It's His life.  And when we give up ourselves to Him, He takes His life and makes it our life.  What an uneven trade!  But this is what grace is.  

The 'disowning' of verse 32 is explained in verses 34-39.  After learning about Christ and His message, to decline to love Him more than anyone else is to disown Him.  To decline to give up the little life we think we have cobbled together for ourselves, and instead accept the life He offers is to disown Him. 

Because of His nature and character as God, He demands that we take Him as a whole.  This is because God is one.  He isn't divisible.  When we seek to take advantage of only the parts of God that we like, we seek to do the impossible which is to fracture the unbreakable.  Thus we disown Him and reject Him at the most foundational level possible - His very nature as a person.  It is the ultimate insult to reject the only thing that is perfect because it is perfect.

God works all of this through revelation and revelation alone.  This is nothing which we could have ever learned empirically.  To deny the revelation that God has made plain in Jesus is to decline to acknowledge Him (to take note of Him in a serious manner and to pay attention to what He says and obey it).   But to accept Him for Who He was and what He said, to believe Him in a manner whereby obedient actions naturally follow, is to acknowledge Him before men.

What a different church we would have if this were really preached.  How many wolves would be denied entry if the social gospel were denied and God's gospel proclaimed.  And what a different country we could have if we had a church as God intended.  And what a different world we could have if the most powerful country in the world were truly "Christian".

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Unless God Draws

One of the most misunderstood and thus misinterpreted verses of the Bible is John chapter 6, verse 44:
Jn 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.
This passage holds great import among Calvinists because they feel it bolsters their ideas about how God saves.  They say that the exclusivity inherit in this verse delineates "the Elect".  The Elect being the people God has decided to save while the much, much larger balance of humanity has no chance as God has decided not to save them.  As they usually state it, they have been "passed over".  It is the Elect and the Elect only that God chooses to "draw", and the rest never encounter the "drawing".

Of course myself, not being a Calvinist, believe this view to be incorrect and I'd like to examine this verse in context to show that.  But first I think it's important to underscore some fundamental truths:

  1. Salvation is God's alone.  What this means is that God has determined whether or not salvation is possible, how it will work, and to whom it will be extended.  It might sound silly to have to say it, but God is Lord over salvation.
  2. And in line with the first point:  God is sovereign.  What this means is that God gets to decide what happens.  He is the great "Decider".  His will is the course of events that will happen.  His will cannot be overcome or circumvented.  This is all part and parcel of being God.
  3. Because of our inherit sin, we cannot come to God on our own.  This is the first truth Jesus states in John 6:44:  No one can come to me (Jesus) unless the Father who sent me "draws him".  If God had simply left us alone, none of us could be saved.
  4. God did not decide to "leave us alone".  He decided to love us and to send His Son as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.  This is a point that I believe Calvinism often misses.  So much of their theology focuses on fallen man and our depravity (our sinfulness) and our inability to seek out God on our own, that one might forget that instead God has sought us out Himself.  What is necessary is a coming together of the two.  Because we could not move to Him, God came to us - and that fact makes all the difference.  God's ability renders our inability inconsequential.

But what does all this really mean?  What is this "drawing"?  How does God "draw" people to Himself?  Does God fiddle inside a person's head and flip a switch so that they all of a sudden are open to His advances  (or rather to state it in more definite terms - does God fiddle with a person such that they absolutely respond in the affirmative)?  Does God have to basically generate a new person in place of the fallen person in order for them to be able to understand what God says and respond?

Many believe so, and have anchored their entire understanding about God and man to these assertions.

But we have to ask:  is that what the Bible is saying?  I'd like to show you that it's not.

Let's start with a look at the active word in John 6:44 in regard to God's actions upon people, in the Greek "helkyse", the inflected version of the word "elko".  It is translated in English as "draws"   When you listen to Calvinistic teachers, such as John MacArthur, etc., you'll hear them define this word as dragging something along the ground, drawing water up from a well, dragging a lifeless or unresponsive body in a certain direction, etc.  And of course, these definitions fit very, very well with Calvinism.  One could even say they're tailor made.

Well, I'll tell you that all of these definitions are true.  They most certainly are.  However, they are not all of the truth, and that is where the problem lies.  I've found that in general, Calvinism as a system is very, very selective in the definitions of words they accept and teach, and equally as selective in what they ignore.  And if you don't know how to do your own research you'll most likely be stuck believing what you're told instead of seeking out the truth for yourself.  This pattern overall is known as eisegesis.  That means reading something into Scripture that isn't there but one wants to see.  Where does the thing come from then?  It comes from inside one's own head, and it is extracted from there and "read into" Scripture.  Or to put it another way, it is the rule in the head by which Scripture is understood.  And this verse is a perfect example of that truth.

You see, our word in question has another definition.  It also has to do with "drawing" or "dragging", but it is altogether of a different sort.  The other definition has to do not with irresistible or violent force, but with irresistible truth.  And where the first definition requires no response from the object of the verb - in fact the object can mount no response, the second absolutely requires a response - actually a series of them.  And lastly, the responses required by this "drawing" are not available to only a few, but to all human beings.

So how do we know about this other definition?  Is it legitimate?  And how does it apply to understanding our verse?

Well, we know about it because we still have some honest scholars.  And one of their works is known as the BDAG.  That moniker is made up of the initials of its editors:  Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich.  It is a massive Greek-English lexicon and is the pinnacle of definition for understanding the Greek of the New Testament.  It covers not only Scriptural references and other early Christian literature, it also covers older extant Greek literature.  What this means is that when the BDAG gives the definition for a word, it is doing so from a superior point of awareness, education, and understanding - which is exactly what you want.  Unless you knew what a word meant during the full time of its natural usage, you have no accurate way to translate it into a modern language, and that's simply a fact.

When we look at the root of our word above (in the Greek: elko), we find definition #1 as already described:  
"to move an object from one area to another in a pulling motion, draw, with implication that the object being moved is incapable of propelling itself or in the case of persons, is unwilling to do so voluntarily, in either case with implication of exertion on the part of the mover."  

And the BDAG goes on to give several scriptural and extant Greek literature references for this definition.  But one of those references is NOT John 6:44.  And this turns out to be very, very important.

John 6:44 is referenced in the second definition, and this definition is the true target of explanation for this post.  So what is it?

Definition # 2 says:  
"to draw a person in the direction of values for inner life, draw, attract".  
And the BDAG goes on to give John 6:44 as just such a reference, as well as several notable pieces of Greek literature.  I'd like to mention three of these other references as I feel they give a good picture of the full meaning of elko.  Specifically I'll mention Plato, Epictetus, and Porphyry.

Plato uses this word in his famous work entitled "Phaedrus", a typically Platonic dialog between two people covering a range of important ideas.  In sections 237d-238c, we have a debate between Socrates and Phaedrus concerning the inner war that is waged inside of every person.  In fact, this debate is a perfect picture of the prelude to Romans where Paul talks about how God's power is known through creation because He has made it known, therefore no person has an excuse for their sin.

This knowledge God has given extends even to our inner selves:  the most inner thoughts and urges that we have - the core of our soul.  Some of these are from our most base instincts:  emotion, lust, greed, gluttony, etc., while others are from a higher part of our nature:  the acknowledgement, appreciation, and exercise of things like love, truth, beauty, nobility, and morality.   Because of length I won't reproduce it here, but Plato's main point and usage of elko, is that we can be "drawn" by outward stimuli to an indulgence of our lower instincts - we all recognize and have fallen prey to this in our own lives.  But by the same token we can also be "drawn" by outward stimuli to exercise our higher nature.  We all recognize this fact to be true as well.  We willingly go along either path as we decide which is more important to us.

But in either case the "drawing" is not a picture of an object, corpse, or unwilling person being drug along against their will.  Rather, it is a picture of a person examining truth around them and making a choice to take a step up or a step down.  This is a much different definition for our word than Calvinism would suggest exists.  Yet there it is in the Greek language, big and bold for anyone willing to be Berean and do the work that fidelity to God in learning requires.

Consider also Epictetus.  In his "Discourses", Book 2, Section 20 he writes:

"What was it, then, that waked Epicurus from his sleep, and compelled him to write what he did; what else, but that which is of all influences the most powerful among mankind, Nature; which draws every one, however unwilling and reluctant, to its own purposes."
Epictetus speaks here of nature as a drawing force: our word elko.  What he means is truth imparted or ordered by nature.  You see, he was convinced that God created the universe according to reason.  And because of that, any rational person could take advantage of that fact to look at creation and learn about God.  It is exactly this truth that Paul states in the prelude to Romans.  The problem is that in our sin we suppress the truth creation speaks to us and in one way or another, fashion a god of our own making and turn away from the Creator.  Epictetus goes on:
"So strong and unconquerable a thing is human nature! For how can a vine have the properties not of a vine, but of an olive tree; or an olive tree not those of an olive-tree, but of a vine?  It is impossible. It is inconceivable. Neither, therefore, is it possible for a human creature entirely to lose human affections.
But even those who have undergone a mutilation cannot have their inclinations also mutilated; and so Epicurus, when he had mutilated all the offices of a man, of a master of a family, of a citizen, and of a friend, did not mutilate the inclinations of humanity; for this he could not do, any more than the idle Academics can throw away or blind their own senses, though this be the point they chiefly labor.
What a misfortune is it, when any one, after having received from Nature standards and rules for the knowledge of truth, does not strive to add to these, and make up their deficiencies; but, on the contrary, endeavors to take away and destroy whatever truth may be known even by them."
So Epictetus uses our word "draw" here in the sense we would say of drawing certain conclusions based on evidence. When exposed to the truth, there are certain conclusions that cannot be avoided.

He writes at another point:

When you eat, where do you put your hand, - to your mouth, or to your eye? When you bathe, where do you go?

It is impossible to be a rational person, and to see truth, and not come to the necessary conclusions. We are "drawn" to these conclusions based on truth because they are rationally inescapable.  

Beginning to see the picture yet?

And lastly, Porphyry in his letter to his wife Marcella, paragraph 16, also uses our word "draw" (elko) in the sense of higher truth drawing us higher in our understanding to certain conclusions. Why? Because higher truth, higher virtue makes these conclusions rationally inescapable. 
"Thou wilt best honor God by making thy mind like unto Him, and this thou canst do by virtue alone. For only virtue can draw the soul upward to that which is akin to it. Next to God there is nothing great but virtue, yet God is greater than virtue. And God strengthens the man who does noble deeds. But an evil spirit is the instigator of evil deeds. The wicked soul flies from God, and would fain that His providence did not exist, and it shrinks from the divine law which punishes all the wicked. But the wise man's soul is in harmony with God, and ever beholds Him and dwells with Him. If the ruler takes pleasure in the ruled, then God too cares for the wise man and watches over him. Therefore is the wise man blessed, because he is in God's keeping. 'Tis not his speech that is acceptable to God, but his deed; for the wise man honors God even in his silence, while the fool dishonors Him even while praying and offering sacrifice. Thus the wise man only is a priest; he only is beloved by God, and knows how to pray."

And of course our word elko appears in the second sentence, speaking of this upward drawing from where a person is to higher and more noble apprehensions of truth:  "For only virtue can draw the soul upward to that which is akin to it."

So, you now have a complete sense of the definition of our word elko - "draws".  How can we know if the second one is, as I maintain, the meaning used in our target verse?  

Easily my friend.  Very easily.  Just read the next verse (45) that is usually omitted from most Calvinistic teaching.  I'll reproduce both verses here:
Jn 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.
Jn 6:45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to me.

Let me ask a couple of simple questions:
  1. Does verse 45 picture an object, a corpse, or an unwilling person being drawn in a certain direction?  Or does it instead picture a person using the reason God gave them to listen to what God is teaching, and following that teaching to come to Christ?  The answer is clearly the latter.
  2. Does verse 45 picture a drawing towards the baser instincts of a person, toward unholy things?  Or does it instead picture the upward drawing to higher, more noble truth that is the essence of the second definition of our word elko?   The answer is clearly the latter.

You see, the "drawing" of God is defined by God Himself as being "taught" by God.  That is God's part.  He provides revelation and conviction of truth.  The listening and learning are our part.  We must listen and truly take to heart (learn) what God says and follow the stimuli to its natural destination which is Jesus Christ and His great work on our behalf.

God's savior is for everyone.  It was for the whole world, Jesus said, that He was given.  His cousin, who had the Holy Spirit from birth, proclaimed: "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"  It was God's love for the fallen world that was the motivation for this great gift.  And apprehension of the gift is made possible everywhere the Gospel message goes.  It is the Gospel message itself that makes faith possible as God's word is not dead, rather it is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  (Hebrews 4:12)

Consider this road of God's truth leading to Christ in Romans 10, but not only leading to Christ, but in itself providing the very means by which Christ is apprehended and the sinner is saved.
Ro 10:4 (Amplified Bible)
For Christ is the end of the Law [the limit at which it ceases to be, for the Law leads up to Him Who is the fulfillment of its types, and in Him the purpose which it was designed to accomplish is fulfilled. That is, the purpose of the Law is fulfilled in Him] as the means of righteousness (right relationship to God) for everyone who trusts in and adheres to and relies on Him.

Is this road of God a sprint, or a marathon?  Is it a road of religious exertion upon which one must strive and struggle, exhausting themselves in some sort of energetic piety in order to gain salvation?  No, not at all,  Not at all.
Ro 10:5 For Moses writes that the man who [can] practice the righteousness (perfect conformity to God’s will) which is based on the Law [with all its intricate demands] shall live by it. [Lev. 18:5]
Ro 10:6 But the righteousness based on faith [imputed by God and bringing right relationship with Him] says, Do not say in your heart, Who will ascend into Heaven? that is, to bring Christ down;
Ro 10:7 Or who will descend into the abyss? that is, to bring Christ up from the dead [as if we could be saved by our own efforts]. [Deut. 30:12, 13]
Ro 10:8 But what does it say? The Word (God’s message in Christ) is near you, on your lips and in your heart; that is, the Word (the message, the basis and object) of faith which we preach, [Deut. 30:14]

So how does it work?  By acknowledgement and confession.  Acknowledgement is a function of listening and learning (John 6:45).  It is the intake of truth and the determination that it is indeed true and worthy of attention.  Confession is the rational fruit of acknowledgment.  The most important truths that we admit, demand action.  Think about this and you'll see that this has been true in your own life.

If it is important to truly provide for those who cannot provide for themselves, then provide for them we must.  If it is truly right that all life is sacred, then seek to protect the unborn we must.  And if Jesus be God, and His words be true, then confess Him as Lord we must.
Ro 10:9 Because if you acknowledge and confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and in your heart believe (adhere to, trust in, and rely on the truth) that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
Ro 10:10 For with the heart a person believes (adheres to, trusts in, and relies on Christ) and so is justified (declared righteous, acceptable to God), and with the mouth he confesses (declares openly and speaks out freely his faith) and confirms [his] salvation.
Ro 10:11 The Scripture says, No man who believes in Him [who adheres to, relies on, and trusts in Him] will [ever] be put to shame or be disappointed. [Ps. 34:22; Isa. 28:16; 49:23; Jer. 17:7]
Ro 10:12 [No one] for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek. The same Lord is Lord over all [of us] and He generously bestows His riches upon all who call upon Him [in faith].
Ro 10:13 For everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord [invoking Him as Lord] will be saved. [Joel 2:32]

But then of course the great question, the next step in this road:  how can people hear the great Gospel message of and about Christ?

The answer is that preachers must be sent.  You are reading the writing of such a one even now.  Your job is to listen and learn from God's word being presented and move to acknowledgment and confession.  Open your heart to what God is saying to you, and believe.  And after believing, act.
Ro 10:14 But how are people to call upon Him Whom they have not believed [in Whom they have no faith, on Whom they have no reliance]? And how are they to believe in Him [adhere to, trust in, and rely upon Him] of Whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?
Ro 10:15 And how can men [be expected to] preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings! [How welcome is the coming of those who preach the good news of His good things!] [Isa. 52:7]

The required final element: faith, is made possible by hearing.  This is possible because God's word is not dead, but alive.  It comes with life and power, and like the seed in the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8), it must encounter a receptive heart to germinate.  This is why in His explanation Jesus says, "be careful therefore how you listen..." (Luke 8:18).

When God's word comes and you harden your heart against it because you don't like what it says about your sin, or the sin of someone you care about, then your heart becomes harder towards God.  But if instead when the word comes, if you open your heart, laying down your own opinions about right and wrong, and instead choosing to be taught by God, then the Word will come in and provide life.

In closing, Paul describes this situation in Romans 10 as well.  When the Gentiles (non Jews) heard the Gospel they came in droves.  They came in multitudes.  But not the Jews.  They were hampered by their own beliefs they had layered over the Old Testament Scriptures.  And when Messiah came, they missed Him.   The Old Testament history of the Jews, sadly, is one of rebelling against God with very few bright spots in that long story.  But the saddest part of their history was when their Great Hope came, and most of them didn't even recognize Him because they had so hardened their hearts against God that they could no longer tell the genuine from the artificial.

But it wasn't God that caused this misapprehension of Christ.  Not at all.  Listen to who God says is to blame.  It wasn't the fact that He didn't "draw" them.  He did.  The fact was, and still is, that some people don't like where the "drawing" leads:
Ro 10:16 But they have not all heeded the Gospel; for Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed (had faith in) what he has heard from us? [Isa. 53:1]
Ro 10:17 So faith comes by hearing [what is told], and what is heard comes by the preaching [of the message that came from the lips] of Christ (the Messiah Himself).
Ro 10:18 But I ask, Have they not heard? Indeed they have; [for the Scripture says] Their voice [that of nature bearing God’s message] has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the far bounds of the world. [Ps. 19:4]
Ro 10:19 Again I ask, Did Israel not understand? [Did the Jews have no warning that the Gospel was to go forth to the Gentiles, to all the earth?] First, there is Moses who says, I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry. [Deut. 32:21]
Ro 10:20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, I have been found by those who did not seek Me; I have shown (revealed) Myself to those who did not [consciously] ask for Me. [Isa. 65:1]
Ro 10:21 But of Israel he says, All day long I have stretched out My hands to a people unyielding and disobedient and self-willed [to a faultfinding, contrary, and contradicting people]. [Isa. 65:2]

And of course this makes perfect sense.  Scripture interprets Scripture, and all throughout the Bible God appeals, He calls, He even pleads with His creation to be saved.  He provides lessons from the created order, the Old Testament, but fully and finally in the person of His Son as recorded in the New Testament.

You see, the message from God in vv 44-45 is that no one can save themselves.  If God had not first moved none of us would have a chance.  But of course the clarion cry of Scripture is that God has not left us alone.  We could not go up to Him, so He came down to us.  He took our sin upon Himself, paid the penalty for it and endured the hell for it, and then rose again on the third day so that all who place their trust in Him will enter into Him and realize His victory over sin, death, and the grave.  His victory over sin is ours.  He conquering of death is ours.  And His resurrection will one day be ours as well.

The road-map of truth God has provided in creation and Scripture lead the honest listener directly to God the Son.  Now it is true that a person can decide to exit off of this highway early.  He or she may decide laying down their life for Christ isn't worth it.  They may not decide to climb down off the throne of their life so Jesus may rule, just like the Jews described at the end of Romans 10 above.  But they cannot do so and remain true to the message God presents.  They cease to "listen and learn" from God.  

It is this concept of "elko - drawing" that exists in John 6:44-45.  And it is the hope of this writer that you the reader understands this and follow God's road directly to the One who laid down His life for you.  Accept His gift with childlike trust and enter into His kindness and love forever.

God bless.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Gnostics and the Limitation of the Atonement

All ideas have their genesis.  The same is true with the idea that Jesus / God doesn't want to save everyone.

This idea takes the form that Jesus was only sent by God to save the Elect.  This isn't the Biblical definition of the Elect (which is the "whosoever" that will trust in Christ), it is the Calvinistic idea of the Elect which means people that God decided to save before their creation to proclaim His glory.   The balance of humanity He decided to consign to hell (to pass over and not effectively save) also for the purpose of proclaiming His glory.  Apparently some are to shine by grace, and others by the light of the fire that is never quenched.  Neither group can do anything about it in the Calvinistic system because it is all God's doing and their will plays no part in it at all except to play by wrote the fate God has already assigned.

This view of salvation is actually very similar to how Allah describes himself in the Quran.  It's one of the reasons that Jihadi scholars had to come up with a new form of inducement for recruits.  In the Islamic writings, Allah explains that one can live a perfectly righteous life, but in the end he may send them to hell anyway on his own whim.  Likewise, he may send to Paradise one who was less than perfectly righteous.  Why?  Because he can.  He sees this as magnifying his "godness".  Allah is very much about power, but not very much about love.  The idea of "salvation" in the Quran is totally up to Allah's whim.  Thus Jihadi scholars came up with the notion of dying while committing Jihad as a "guaranteed" way into Paradise.  Prior to that scholarly idea there was no "guaranteed" way to be saved in Islam.  You had to die to find out, and you had better hope Allah was feeling kindly towards you.

Of course the most well known Biblical text that would refute this (there are many others) is John 3:16:  "For God so loved the world...".   Theologies such as Calvinism that have a need to provide evidence for a limited atonement grab this verse and change the interpretation of the word "world" - kosmon (an inflected form of kosmos) from its clear meaning in Scripture to another possible definition.  Now not all Calvinist scholars do this, but many do.  I could compile a list but it's tiresome.

Kosmos has two definitions:  it can mean the entire created order and/or its affairs and populace, or it can mean an adornment or decoration - such as the stars being the "adornment" of the heavens, down to something like an earring.

The context in John's writings, indeed all of Scripture, shows that kosmos here is used in its much more prevalent "universal" extent - meaning that God so loved His creation, the entire world of people, that He sent Jesus to die for them as a sacrifice for their sin.  This gift must be accepted through repentance and trust (faith) or else it remains unused.  That interpretation uses exegesis to determine the meaning.  The specific type of Calvinistic interpretation mentioned above uses eisegesis.  Exegesis means "lead out" meaning that the reader uses the words written and the author's deduced intent to discover what was meant.  It involves language study (grammar, vocabulary, and history), historical studies, etc.  Eisegesis is the opposite.  That is when someone has an idea in their head and then reads that idea into something written and tries to get it to agree with what they already think.  The first is the realm of scholars, the other of lawyers (think Liberals with the Federalist Papers and the Constitution).

That being said, want to hear something interesting about the genesis of this idea of a limited atonement?  It certainly didn't start with Calvinism of any stripe, not by a long shot.  Calvinism is relatively new.  It goes way back in history to the early days of the church, but not from inside the church.

Upon study you'll find that this particular form of eisegeis goes all the way back to a man named Heracleon who lived around 175AD.  He was a follower (and perhaps friend) of an early Gnostic heretic named Valentinus.  He is mentioned by a small handful of the early fathers but is written about mostly by Origen (see ANF Origen 9.380).

Like the Calvinist scholars alluded to above, most all of the Gnostics that accepted some or all of the Christian writings had a need to try and find a limiting scope for the atonement.  They had to because the idea that Divinity (the Ogdoad & Aeons to the Gnostics) had already marked some out for paradise and other for perdition was one of their bedrock beliefs and they weren't going to give it up.  So when co-opting other writings (such as they did not only with Christianity but also with Judaism, paganism, and some really weird flavors of thought from ancient Persia), they had to find a way to make these new things squeeze into their mold.  Their answer was the answer that people always use when they are building a man-made religion based on other's ideas:  eisegesis.

Is it possible Valentinus and his crew (or any of the other Gnostic leaders) were perhaps the "real" Christians and the fathers we know about were the real heretics?  That is easily answered when one looks at their other beliefs.  I studied Gnosticism for several years.  Their different philosophies have some strong common threads but all of them are like falling down a wormhole while very high on LSD (or so I hear).

Here is a sampling of the beliefs of the Valentinians as they were called (and I warned you Gnosticism is weird, so hang on):

The Gnostics believed, much like Plato and his "Allegory of the Cave", that there is a spiritual world and a physical world.  The things we see in the physical world were brought about by a multitude of beings from the spiritual world.  These spiritual beings were pure idea, pure thought.  They originated from the Ogdoad which at various times was held to be a group of eight (8) gods and goddesses, to the more abstract idea of "the depth or silence of produndity".

These spiritual beings, the Aeons, were really emanations from deity (the Ogdoad) to bring about the created order.  The issue was that the spiritual could never truly interact with the physical.  The spiritual was seen as "good", the physical as "bad".  So in most Gnostic systems there were many "waves" of these emanations that brought about more and more physical creation.  Each "wave" of Aeons and their respective creative efforts brought things more and more away from the spiritual and closer to the physical.  But the idea was that in order to do this, the Aeons and their works had to be increasingly corrupted, "bad", with each wave.

Thus the idea that deity created evil.  That idea is NEVER found in the OT or NT scriptures.  Isaiah 45:7 is misunderstood by people who aren't educated and don't understand Hebraic Parallelism.  That's a story for another time.

It was also believed by the Gnostics that deity had decided to create some physical people in a way that they would be saved no matter what, and others that they would be doomed no matter what.  Since the physical was "bad", they were all in need of this salvation (a rising to the spiritual realm)  but deity denied it from most while granting it to others.  This "grace" wasn't based upon the people in question or their actions.  It was determined by whether or not they were "called".

Thus the idea that divinity "predestined" some to paradise and some to perdition by fiat irrespective of their own will.  That idea is also NOT FOUND in the OT or NT.  It is read into it but cannot be read out from it.

Now check this out:

They believed that Sophia (Greek for wisdom) was the youngest of the Aeons.  Seeing what deity had done in "birthing" the other Aeons, she sought to emulate those actions by trying to give birth herself without sexual intercourse.  She fails and only begats an abortion.  It is "physical", but without form.  Having failed in her task as an Aeon (to bring about the physical with form) she is cast out of the group of Aeons (called the Pleroma) and falls down to the physical creation in banishment.

The Gnostics saw themselves as the children of Sophia, thus their attempts to gain wisdom and their hard focus on various types of education.  They prided themselves on being "scholarly".  When the Gnostics encountered the Christian scriptures, they usually equated their Aeon Sophia with the Holy Spirit.  That was one part of the salvation puzzle for them, but there was another partner spirit.

That partner spirit of the opposite sex (male) they saw in Christ.  In some forms of Gnosticism they were brother and sister, but in the earliest forms Christ was "birthed" from Sophia on a later attempt,  but as a higher being than she.  Consequently, being more "spiritual" and thus incompatible with the physical, he rose up out of the physical to the spiritual realm and left Sophia behind.

This is where the Valentinians found another of their heresies:  that the "real" Christ wasn't born a man in Bethlehem.  Instead, that was just a physical container and the "real" Christ came down on him in the form of a dove at his baptism.  Then, before the crucifixion the "real" Christ left the container and rose back to the father leaving just the hollow shell of a man to die upon the tree.  Because in their view the "real" Christ being perfectly Spiritual could never suffer and die, he had to depart before Calvary.   Heresy in its every conception.

There are many other ideas they held, but this small sampling should suffice to show that in no way were these Gnostics Christian.  They were pagans who latched on to other "holy" writings in an effort to show that their truths existed among other groups but were misinterpreted.  They did this to gain credibility with those that they would seek to indoctrinate.

But suffice it to say, the idea of a limited atonement was never found in the first few centuries of the church, but only outside of it with groups that were blatantly heretical.

What does that say for something like Calvinism?  I'll leave you to judge, but the news isn't good.  And in fact, the news gets worse the deeper you dive into the five points of Calvinism and compare them to ancient heretical beliefs.  That too is a story for another time.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Should We Use the King James Bible Only?

Below are links to a two part article from Dr. Picirilli on the "King James only" debate.  They're excellent.

King James Only? (Part 1) Robert E. Picirilli

King James Only? (Part 2) Robert E. Picirilli

Monday, April 06, 2015

For When You Feel Hopeless

A few years ago I found Jeremy Myer's blog (Till He Comes) and began skulking around and reading.  I came to the conclusion that I like Jeremy but we hold to some pretty different views on theology.

That's okay by me.  I am much more like folks such as Robert Jeffress, Adrian Rogers, and say David Wilkerson - but even then there are differences (and okay, heck, add Alistair Begg in there too minus the Calvinistic hangups).  I look at it like this:  if you are secure enough in your beliefs such that you can read many different people in order to expand your ability to understand others and better reach them with God's truth, why not do it?

At any rate, in my readings I came across an article on the Unforgivable Sin (a topic that anybody should be interested in, IMHO), and encountered a comment from a reader with the handle "RC" that made me want to reply in the best way that I could.

"RC" wrote this, and it broke my heart:
"I have sought after God but He has soundly rejected me.  I am legally changing my first name to Reprobate.  I am morally disciplined but I am predetermined for damnation.  Why I don't know.  It's very discouraging.  I didn't seek God my own way but His, via accepting Jesus into my life.  I've tried my best to follow His will but I am going to Hell...God does not accept everyone and I am proof of that.  I am Reprobate.  I 'knocked on the door' so many times.  I work for a Christian organization and I am damned to Hell."

My desire to give a really full reply to RC sort of shunted things out of the realm of a regular blog comment to more of a post of my own, but directed to RC.  But not just to him, but to everyone who feels hopelessly distant from God.  Perhaps like RC, even feeling like there is no chance for salvation - that God has fully and finally rejected you, for whatever reason.   In the parlance of the general culture, "This Bud's for you".


Hi RC,

I'm sorry that I am somewhat late to the party, so to speak.

As I was surfing around on the site I came across your comment and if you are willing to hear it I'd like to offer you some food for thought and also let you know that I will pray for you.

I have to admit that I originally had a bunch of theological stuff typed in here but I just deleted it.  I'm a bible nerd and self-styled "armchair theologian" (if that's even possible), so it's sort of in my nature to go off in that direction.  In fact, mark my words - I'll probably end up there by the time I'm done writing this!  Please forgive me for that.  But at any rate, that kind of thing isn't what I sense you need.  My hope is that this impression is the Holy Spirit speaking and not me.  Actually, that's my hope with everything I write.

My assumption is that you already know the stuff I was going to say - maybe not exactly like I would have said it but the gist would have been the same.  You're a sinner and you know that.  Jesus came to die for sinners and you know that.  By accepting Jesus as your sacrifice and resurrection through repentance and faith, you can be right before God with everything that entails here and beyond.  You said you work for a Christian organization so I'm working under the assumption they aren't completely off in the weeds as it concerns God and His salvation.

I don't think those things are your problem.  I think the issue you may be stuggling with is not an understanding of the letter of God's salvation, but instead your problem is a problem of the heart.   Specifically, your heart.

So in thinking about how to speak to your heart, I first want to speak to your head.  There are a couple of things that I want to point out in God's Word, and then I want to say a few words and then I'll shut up.

The first place I'd like to talk about is Romans chapter 5.  I cover much more of this in an earlier blog post called "All or Many....".  I hope you'll read it.

But to say that all of Romans is 'great' is like saying that a Ferrari is a 'pretty cool car' or that drinking liquid nitrogen is 'sort of dangerous'.  Romans is awesome because it is Paul's fullest explanation of the Gospel, and Paul was nobody's dummy.  He was quite bright, and He was saved.  In our day and time we have many Christian speakers that couldn't think their way out of a wet paper bag, and many of them are not saved - but thanks be to God for the witness He has left us in Scripture.

In Romans 5, Paul is speaking about all the benefits we receive through faith in Christ, and He works around to the truth that we can have these things because Christ died for us - not when we had made ourselves 'good enough to die for' by our own efforts (or our own asking, seeking, and knocking by the way), but when we were rebellious sinners with nothing at all going for us to make us attractive to God - Jesus died for us. The possibility of salvation is about God being love, not about there being anything inherently lovable about us.  In fact, that's part of the definition of agape love.  All of the other words for "love" in Koine Greek must find something lovable or of merit in their object (be it beauty or lust), but not agape.  Agape is the concept of love in the Greek that inherently loves the unlovable.  It loves because of who and what the lover is, not because of who and what the object of that love is.

But Paul knew, just as I and others know, that this brings up another question.  It isn't a question that heads off in a different direction- it's one of those questions that begs a more specific answer.  See, Paul - writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit - knew that there would be those that would say that Jesus didn't really die for everyone.  Or, as a variation on a theme, there would be those that would say that Jesus didn't really die for everyone in the same way.  And even worse, that there would be those that would deny God's Word concerning the proclamation of the Gospel as the source of faith and would insist on something different:  something over and above the preaching of God's Word to enable belief (as Romans 10 teaches).

There are many flavors of false gospels that meander among these different themes but the best representation of them since the 1500s is classical Calvinism.  To prove my point let me quote John Calvin himself from his lengthy work:  "Institutes of the Christian Religion" from 1561:

Concerning the nature of the Gospel on this account Calvin writes (in section 3.21.5):
All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death.

In your comment you mentioned the term 'reprobate' and made the statement that 'God doesn't accept everyone'.   Based on those words my assumption is that you have been fed a false gospel instead of God's gospel, and as a result you are suffering.  I feel for you because I've been there.

It's a hard thing for me as well because I have Calvinists in my life that I love, but I detest the theology because it goes beyond what God has given, it directly contradicts what God has said, and it is needlessly hurtful as you well know from personal experience.

Calvinism is very logical.  When it is presented by someone with even a little bit of intellect it can be very, very convincing.  But if you examine it closely in the light of Scripture you'll see where it falls down.  Specifically (sorry for waxing nerd here), it is logical, but it is not rational.

"Logical" just means an idea follows a clear and sensible path of thought.  But for a logical idea to be "rational", the idea has to be sensible outside of itself.  If you take it as a whole and pull back and compare it with known truth, does it stand up to the scrutiny?  Does it have legs of iron or legs of clay?  As it turns out, in the light of God's truth false Gospels fall down, and hard.  You then come to understand that the basis for the arguments in Calvinism stem much, much more from human reasoning than any evidences found in Scripture.  When evidences from Scripture are given, they are ripped out of context or they rely on interpretations that favor Calvinism.  Acts 13:48 being probably the best example of that last point.  One of these days I'll get around to addressing that topic as well.

So returning to Romans 5, Paul starts in verse 12 and he explains that sin entered into mankind through the trespass of Adam and it killed all of us because we were bound up in Adam.  His fate was our fate.
Ro 5:12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—

Sin existed outside of our creation in Satan and his demons, but Adam let it in our door and into us.  Paul continues to explain (verses 15 and 16) that if such a sweeping effect of death could come through a mere man, and through a trespass against God's Word no less, how much better and more effective is it when God Himself - God the Son in all of His deity, became also a man and brought about a new effect for us - not through disobedience - but through perfect obedience to God.

Ro 5:15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
Ro 5:16 Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.

This is why in 1st Corinthians 15:45, Paul calls Jesus the "last Adam":
1Co 15:45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being” ; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.

Paul goes on to explain that this effect of 'justification', which means we are right before God in regard to our sin; this justifying effect that Christ brings, is for the exact same group that was damned in Adam.  This is a critical point and I hope it comes home to your heart.  What Christ won was the cure for everyone who was damned by the curse.  No one was left out.  No one was shoved aside.  No one was passed over.  Jesus died for all of us because we were all cursed under Adam.

Verses 18 and 19 hammer home this truth.
Ro 5:18 Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.
Ro 5:19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

The "all men" (Greek: pantas anthropous) in the first part of verse 18 is the same "all men" (pantas anthropous) in the second part of verse 18.  The Holy Spirit through Paul is talking about the same group of people.  The first Adam killed all of us, but Jesus (the last Adam) brought justification for all of us through His own blood shed on the cross.

You will notice that in verse 19 Paul is speaking about the same group of people (everyone) but he changes his term from "all men" to "the many".  Calvinism likes to ignore verse 18 and pull verse 19 out of context and twist it to say that God indeed did not send Christ to die for everyone - or if He did, He didn't send Jesus to die in the same way for everyone.

But note what the Holy Spirit is saying here:  "the many" in verse 19 that were made sinners through Adam are the exact same group for which Christ died.  That's all of us.  Me, you, everybody.  It's the "all men" in verse 18.  It's the same group.  Don't get confused by 'many' versus 'all'.  In the Greek of this passage the definite article "the" is included before "many" (Greek: hoi polloi).  This means Paul is talking about a specific group, not just some large group of people.  "The many" is humanity - it's the "all men" of verse 18.  "The many" that the first Adam made sinners, is the same "the many" that the last Adam (Jesus Christ), made righteous.

I often give an illustration where I hold up "all" of my car keys, and "all" of my house keys.  I have one car key in this example, and many house keys.  The point is:  "all" can be singular or "all" can be plural (one or many).  It just depends on the category about which we are speaking.

There is no grammatical problem in the Greek of equating "all" and "many".  "Many" simply describes the "all" as plural (and large) rather than singular.  When you hear someone taking verse 19 out of context and twisting it to try and say that Christ died for the "many" (some subset of everyone - the elect) and not the "all", what they are doing is forcing an improper English understanding of "many" on the underlying Greek in order to support an erroneous theology.  It is eisegesis, and it is ignorant.  I hope you've seen that this isn't the idea the Holy Spirit is communicating there.

So am I preaching what is called "Universalism"?  Universalism is a heretical teaching that all people are automatically saved because of Christ's sacrifice and all people will go to Heaven as a result.

The answer to that is "no", and the reason is because I believe God's Word and Universalism is not being taught here by Paul.

Look at verse 17.  I left it until now for this very reason:

Ro 5:17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Here is the difference that keeps this from being about Universalism.  Whereas we were damned through Adam's fall because all of us were 'in' Adam, we are not all automatically 'in' Christ.  We are born under Adam's sin, but we are not automatically 'reborn' under Christ.  As Jesus told Nicodemus in John chapter 3, we must be 'born again'.  But there is something we must do for that to happen.

Verse 17 tells us how we can be in Christ like we are already in Adam.  The "those who receive" is in the Greek:  hoi lambanontes.  "Hoi" is the definite article (translated here as "those" in the NIV) and it tells us we are talking about a specific group of people.  In this case, not the "all men" of the previous verses.  There is something special about this group.  This is the group that "receives" what has been offered through Christ.  Lambanontes (to take or to receive) is in the active Greek voice.  That means the subject is the one doing the action of the verb.  So the "those" are the ones doing the receiving of what is offered.  God isn't forcing this on anyone, nor is He tweaking around in people's heads so that they will accept Him.  This group are those that hear the Gospel and respond to it as God has indicated they should:  they accept it for themselves.

As we know from the balance of Scripture, this "acceptance" comes through the mechanisms of repentance and faith that God has made available to us.  Repentance and faith taken together are what the Bible means by 'belief'.

Repentance is not the catholic idea of penance (doing something to pay for sin - Jesus has done that for us).  Repentance (from the Greek: metanoeo) simply means to change one's mind in such a way that we take a different direction.  It isn't within our power to make ourselves stop sinning.  That isn't repentance.  Repentance is when one decides they do not want to sin anymore and they want to exercise saving faith in Christ.   Jesus' message was one of repentance (Matthew 4:17),  Jesus had harsh words for those that refused to repent (Matthew 11:20-24) - this is because they could have, but they refused.  Repentance is made available to everyone, but it is a choice we each must make.

But I will say this RC.  One of the toughest sins from which to repent is the acceptance of a false theology.  Some things hit us at the surface, but others burrow down deep.  It's these deep things that are the hardest to shake, but you can if you simply believe what God has said.  That's really the simplest way I can describe the problem:  you have the choice of believing what God has said, or believing what man has said.... choose well.  I'm afraid the real problem you are fighting is not the fact that God loves you, died for you, and wants to save you.  The real problem is that someone has fed you Calvinism and you ate it.  Please spit it out and take the bread of life instead.

But even without Calvinism in the picture, there are pitfalls.  Repentance is also a place where so many fall down.  Some feel they have to be 'good enough' to be worthy of salvation, so they try to save themselves by their own works.  God says that only leads to death (the end of Romans chapter 9).

After being saved, some feel they then have to make themselves "worthy" of the salvation they have received.  This is closer to the mark but still wrong.  It degenerates into works based salvation.  Salvation is about God living in us and through us.  Even when God declares us "justified" in regards to our sin, we still have a sinful nature against which we struggle (see Romans chapter 7 and weep along with me.  We suck, but God knows we suck and saved us anyway because He loves us: John 3:16-21).

So how is someone saved?  How can you be saved?

The way that God has ordered His salvation is as follows, and all of it flows from His very character and nature:

Because God is holy and righteous, He must judge sin in every one and every where that He finds it.  That judgement for sin is always death.  Death is the kill switch God has built in to creation and rebelling against God throws the switch.  Irregardless of our descent from Adam and what that means to our composition as spiritually fallen creatures, both you and I have sinned willfully and are culpable from within our own persons.  But because He is God, He has the freedom and authority to decide how He will carry out His judgment.  God is never robbed of the sovereignty of His will by any of His other characteristics.  He is never at the mercy of His love OR His anger against sin that results in judgment.  Whereas we are often creatures of a divided mind (ruled by emotion one day, by our rationale on another), He is the master and creator of all and He is undivided and one in all senses of the word.  He is the master of His will or else He isn't God.

God has decided to extend his love and mercy to us,  and that's all of us.  Please don't buy the classical Calvinist line and their interpretation of election and predestination - they are part of a false gospel.  They attribute things to God that He has not attributed to Himself, they directly contradict Scripture, and they cause many to be estranged from God over a lie.  The truth is this:  because God has decided to love all of us and extend mercy to all of us, He does so.  It really is quite that simple.  God will not be shoved into a theological box of human manufacture.

As our story goes so far, we are lost by nature and by our own willful actions, but we are very much on the sidelines as spectators to God's saving actions.

Because God is sovereign over all things, He has decided to exercise His judgment upon sin and His love for us simultaneously.  He exercised this will in the very body of His own Son, Himself God, upon the cross.  As I have said when I'm trying to wax poetical, the cross is the nexus where God brings together seemingly mutually exclusive truths.  It is the royal standard of His sovereignty thrust into the ground of Calvary whereby He proves that He can indeed do all things - that nothing is too impossible for Him.  In short, He can judge the sinner, slay the sinner, forgive the sinner, redeem the sinner, and raise the sinner to glorification all at the same time without any insult to His love or injustice to His declaration that the soul that sins must die.

In His sovereignty, God has allowed the concept of a substitute.  This allowance was the basis of the Old Testament animal sacrificial system, which itself was merely a foreshadowing of the eventual sacrifice of God the Son Himself for all mankind... the "all" and the "many" of Romans chapter 5.

Yes, God gave the Law to describe what human righteousness looks like.  The problem is that no one outside of Jesus was or is ever able to perform it, and that was never the goal that God set before man.  It sounds like either you are trying to be 'worthy' of salvation to be saved or you are struggling to stay saved by your own efforts.  You are failing in this, which is to be expected because it is an impossible mission, and therefore you feel you aren't saved and are being rejected by God.

RC - the ONLY thing that God has put on our plate concerning our salvation is John 6:28-29:

28 Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?"  
29 Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."

We must remember Romans chapter 4.  Long before the Law was given, Abraham was justified by faith:  God told him something, and Abraham believed it.  He made the conscious choice not to look at his own situation and inabilities, but to instead look to God and His abilities.  This is how he believed God:  he repented from the desire to look to himself, and instead he exercised faith in God.

God made a promise, and Abraham believed it.

When God saw that Abraham had believed Him, God credited true righteousness to him on the basis of his faith.

The message of the Gospel is a promise from God.  We receive the benefits of the Gospel by believing the promise.  That's it.  Full stop.  That's the full extent of what one must do to be saved.  Of course God means true belief.  And of course because of the particulars that the Gospel promise contains we understand that repentance and faith are tied together and cannot be separated, but at its root what God has laid at our feet to do is to simply believe what He has said and live our lives accordingly.

The messenger bearing the promise of the Gospel from God is God Himself in God the Son, Jesus Christ.  To believe in Him is to believe His message.

We must also remember that as part of the Law, God gave the institution of sacrifice for a three fold purpose:  the forgiveness of sin, re-dedication to God, and face to face fellowship with God over a meal.  These by name are the Sin Offering, the Whole or Burnt Offering, and the Fellowship Offering.  I won't go into those in detail, but my point is this:  God knew Israel could never perfectly fulfill the demands of the Law because like us, they were all sinners.  That's why God made provision for forgiveness and restoration within the Law via the altar of sacrifice.

And once a year God provided an event called Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).  On this day a sacrifice was provided for ALL of Israel for ALL of their sins.  See, there were some limitations as to what the daily sacrifices could cover.  But on this once a year event, ALL sins could be forgiven.  But like the daily sacrifices, there was a requirement upon the sinner:  they had to repent and believe.

Here we have an even clearer Old Testament picture of Christ on the tree.  We have a sacrifice to God, made available by God Himself, for the purpose of forgiving all who would repent and believe what God has said concerning this sacrifice.  It was given for all of Israel, but it was only effective for those that accepted its benefit though repentance and belief:  exactly how the Holy Spirit describes the cross of Jesus Christ in Romans 5.  An all sufficient sacrifice given for all, but only beneficial to those that believe (that accept it in the manner God had indicated they should).

But as sinners, how can we believe?  Calvinism likes to point out that in and of ourselves we cannot believe God - and they are absolutely correct.  They truly are.  How sad that they seem to leave the topic alone at that point and introduce puppet strings into the mix that change men and women from how God created them in His own image into veritable muppets.

The answer is that left alone, none can believe.  That is what sin has done to us.  But the answer after that is that GOD HAS NOT LEFT US ALONE.  See John 3:16.  God didn't send His son to enhance His own glory - it cannot be enhanced as it is already full and infinite.  God sent His son because He loves us.

I'll close with God's solution to the problem from Romans 10 & Hebrews 4:

But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Romans 10:8-17) 

But how can being presented with the Gospel enable faith?  How does that work?  Well, it works because God says it does - but aside from that never forget the message of Hebrews 4:12:

 12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

See, to people dead and dying in the dark who are powerless because of the devastation of sin - God sends His word:  both the written word and the living Word (His Son).  The word in the Greek above for "alive" is "zoe" - the express Greek term for life in all its fullness.  The word for "active" is "energes" - where we get our word energy.  It is the motivating means by which work is done - something is accomplished - the immovable is moved.  God knows what He is doing my friend.  To people dead and dying in the dark God has sent light, life, and motivating energy to enable belief.  The exercise, the apprehension of that possibility, is up to you.

My prayer for you is that you will shrug off the deadly coils of the snake that is Classical Calvinism, and instead embrace God's gospel with all of your heart.  He has made it possible through the agony and blood of Calvary, but you must make it real through the very real agony of dying to yourself - and all false notions- and instead running to the safe harbor of Christ that God has provided.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Was Jesus in the Tomb for Three Days?

One of the questions that always comes up this time of year is this:  if Jesus was crucified on Friday and rose on Sunday, how was He in the tomb for "three days and three nights" as He had foretold in Matthew chapter 12:

Some attempt to sidestep the issue by claiming that Jesus was crucified on an earlier day (usually Wednesday) because of some supposed special Sabbath or the like, and that by backing up the day they can get what we westerners understand as three, 24 hours days of tomb time.  But of course one thing they don't think about is this:

Matthew 16:21
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Jesus makes this "third day" claim here in Matthew 16:21, as well as Matthew 17:23, 20:19, Luke 9:22, 13:32, 18:33, and 24:7.

This begs the question:  how could Jesus claim that He would be in the tomb "three days and three nights", and that He would "on the third day be raised"?  At face value, at least to people of a western mindset, these are contradictory statements.  Consider:  Day 1/ Night 1, Day 2 / Night 2, Day 3 / Night 3.  How could Jesus be both "on the third day be raised to life" without cratering the time limit He gave of "three days and three nights"?    If the latter is true He would have to be raised on Day 4.  If the former is true, He could only spend Day 1 / Night 1, Day 2 / Night 2 in the tomb as well as part of Day 3 (and be raised on that day).

The short answer is that as westerners, we don't do a good job of understanding what we're reading.  It's understandable.  We pick up a Bible written in our language and we immediately start reading it as if it were written in our language and our time.  But of course it wasn't.  The particular passages in question were written over two thousand years ago in Greek and Aramaic by first century Jews.  They lived as first century Jews, thought at first century Jews, and spoke and wrote as first century Jews:  Jesus included.

The keys to Biblical interpretation are these, as given by the late Robert L. Cate in his excellent book  "Old Testament Roots For New Testament Faith".  The bullet points are his, the explanations are mine:
  1. Find out what the passage really says.  This involves the study of languages and the mindset behind those languages.  Any Bible other than the Hebrew OT or the Greek NT is a translation of the original manuscripts and fragments.  No translation is perfect.  English is not nearly as expressive as Koine Greek and if you never pick up a Greek dictionary to research words, I can guarantee you that you'll miss out on the deepest, most rich truths of Scripture.
  2. Establish the passage's historical meaning.  This involves the study of archaeology, history, culture, and comparative religions.   In other words, know what it says - then know what it said to the people to whom it was immediately given, and what it meant in the time in which it was given.  Missing the keys mentioned so far has lead many astray from understanding God's truth.  Hebrew is full of various idioms as is Greek.  An idiom is simply a cultural figure of speech.  An idiom's meaning is different than its literal meaning.  In English I might call something I like "cool".  But that is a temperature reference in its literal sense.  Without understanding that particular idiom, a non-English speaker would be quite confused by that phrase.  Our current question has its answer in a Jewish idom as well as how they thought about time.  More on that in a second.
  3. Discover the passage's basic principle or thrust.  This involves the study of the context of the passage:  its immediate context, chapter and book context, and then how it relates to other parts of Scripture.  Scripture interprets Scripture.
  4. Apply the passage to contemporary life.  Once we know the ancient meaning of a text, then we can figure out the modern meaning.  As Cate puts it:  "every passage has a "so what?" attached to it.  If you don't know what it meant in the original language, to the original people, in the original culture, in the original time, in the original context... how could you every figure out how you should understand it?  The answer is you can't.  You can just take some blind stabs in the dark and hope for the best.
  5. Apply the spiritual dimension.  Once you know what it really means, then you can see better how to apply the passage's spiritual meaning to your life and the lives of those around you.  All Scripture was inspired by the Holy Spirit and is infallible and completely sufficient as it was originally given.  Ultimately it can only be truly known by the inward help of that same Holy Spirit.

Okay, those things being said, how in the world do they apply to this topic?

In this case there really aren't any translation issues that we have to deal with.  It's fairly straightforward to understand it in the English.  Jesus has made both claims:  "three days and three nights", and "on the third day".  If we only understand one or the other to be true, we have a real problem with how we're interpreting Scripture.  All Scripture is true and it was given to be understood.  But how can both of these types of statements from Jesus be true?  The answer is to be found in Jewish idiom and Jewish thought.

The passage's historical meaning unlocks this for us.  As English speaking, western minded people reading this passage we see "three days and three nights" and automatically assume three 24 hour periods as we think of them in "modern" society.  But do we have the right to do that?  Well, no - we really don't.  Not when reading something that has been translated into English from a time period sometimes very different from our own.  How do we know that first century Jews thought about time like we do?  The answer is that they didn't.  Please consider the following from the renowned Biblical historian and Rabbinical Scholar John Lightfoot (1602-1675).  Lightfoot, along with a couple of later historians named Augustus Neander and Joseph Barber Lightfoot clear up many such questions as these with their research, but sadly they aren't taught much any more in Bible study classes.  (Why that is exactly I can only guess but from my experience people clamor for something far less than true, in-depth Bible study.)

Lightfoot writes this concerning how the religious Jews documented the referencing of time in their era and culture.  This passage is taken from "The Whole Works of the Rev. John Lightfoot, D. D. (Doctor of Divinity) - Volume XI":

II. If you number the hours that passed from our Saviour's giving up the ghost upon the cross to his resurrection, you shall find almost the same number of hours (36); and yet that space is called by him "three days and three nights," when as two nights only came between, and only one complete day. 
Nevertheless, while he speaks these words, he is not without the consent both of the Jewish schools, and their computation. Weigh well that which is disputed in the tract Sabbath, concerning the uncleanness of a woman for three days; where many things are discussed by the Gemarists concerning the computation of this space of three days. 
Among other things these words occur; "R (Rabbi). Ismael saith, Sometimes it contains four Onoth sometimes five, sometimes six. But how much is the space of an Onah? R. Jochanan saith either a day or a night." And so also the Jerusalem Talmud; "R. Akiba fixed a day for an Onah, and a night for an Onah: but the tradition is, that R. Eliezar Ben Azariah said, A day and a night make an Onah, and a part of an Onah is as the whole." And a little after, R. Ismael computeth a part of the Onah for the whole.  
It is not easy to translate the word Onah into good Latin: for to some it is the same with the half of a natural day; to some it is all one with a whole natural day. According to the first sense we may observe, from the words of R. Ismael, that sometimes four Onoth, or halves of a natural day, may be accounted for three days: and that they also are so numbered that one part or the other of those halves may be accounted for a whole. Compare the latter sense with the words of our Saviour, which are now before us: "A day and a night (saith the tradition) make an Onah, and a part of an Onah is as the whole." 
Therefore Christ may truly be said to have been in his grave three Onoth, or three natural days (when yet the greatest part of the first day was wanting, and the night altogether, and the greatest part by far of the third day also), the consent of the schools and dialect of the nation agreeing thereunto. For, "the least part of the Onah concluded the whole." So that according to this idiom, that diminutive part of the third day upon which Christ arose may be computed for the whole day, and the night following it. 

So clearly the Jews had the concept of an "onah" - a portion of a day, yet also a whole day.  An onah could mean the nighttime of a day, or the daytime of a day - but it could also mean the whole day.  A half-day onah could also be taken to mean the whole day (day and night), and a partial onah (a part of the daytime 'day' or the nighttime 'night' could count for the whole thing (what we would call a 24 hour day).

So that is that.  It's simply a different way of referencing time and it seems strange to us in the 21st century.  But let's check our work as it were instead of wildly clinging to one example that seems to rescue us from this apparent difficulty.  Let's not rest upon one man's research here, as good as it is.  If this is true wouldn't we expect to see the same type of thing in other places in Jewish literature?  Was Jesus speaking in this manner out of the norm, or was He speaking to rabbinical Jews in their own manner of speech for the purpose of trying to communicate to their self-hardened hearts?  

It turns out that there are other places these concepts appear and Jesus was well within His rights to use this idiom, this figure of speech, to prophecy about His time in the tomb (about 36 hours) as "three days and three nights", as well as being risen "on the third day".  In fact, it is only the Jewish concept of an "onah" that allows both of Jesus' statements to be true.  But more on that in a moment.

Consider this from the book of Tobit (a Jewish apocryphal book not included in Protestant Bibles).  We have the following passage concerning a woman named Sara:

7 Now it happened on the same day, that Sara daughter of Raguel, in Rages a city of the Medes, received a reproach from one of her father's servant maids,
8 Because she had been given to seven husbands, and a devil named Asmodeus had killed them, at their first going in unto her.
9 So when she reproved the maid for her fault, she answered her, saying: May we never see son, or daughter of thee upon the earth, thou murderer of thy husbands.
10 Wilt thou kill me also, as thou hast already killed seven husbands? At these words she went into an upper chamber of her house: and for three days and three nights did neither eat nor drink:
11 But continuing in prayer with tears besought God, that he would deliver her from this reproach.
12 And it came to pass on the third day, when she was making an end of her prayer, blessing the Lord,
13 She said: Blessed is thy name, O God of our fathers: who when thou hast been angry, wilt shew mercy, and in the time of tribulation forgivest the sins of them that call upon thee.
Tobit (Douay-Rheims Version) 3:7-13

So here too we have these exact same two seemingly contradictory terms used in a Jewish writing in a Jewish manner to communicate a Jewish thought.

Now we've probably all heard of the story of Esther and how she saved the Jews from slaughter under the Persian empire.  Compare Esther 4:16 with 5:1:
4:15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 4:16 “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”   4:17 So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther’s instructions.
Est 5:1 On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the palace, in front of the king’s hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne in the hall, facing the entrance.

See how this works?  Unless we understand what a passage meant back then, we have no hope of faithfully understanding it now.  But study, or reading someone who studies, will clear it right up. And then something that at first glance seemed to harm faith, when understood correctly, actually is a great source of increased faith. God always works like this and I love Him for it. Ask, seek, and knock - God will deliver the goods. Always.

This post is getting a bit long but I'll mention one last thing in regards to Jesus quoting Jonah.  First, here from Jesus in Matthew 12 and in a couple of other places in the NT, Jonah is spoken of literally.  He really did exist, he really did run from God's command to preach to Nineveh, and he really was swallowed by some type of sea creature and after the Jewish idiom of "three days and three nights" got puked up on the shore so that he could make good on his repentance and be the prophet God called him to be.  That's number one.  The second thing to point out is that the story of Jonah is one of judgment.  The sin of Nineveh had come before God and he sent Jonah to preach that judgment.  The beauty of it is that until the final judgment, all proclamations of God's judgment contain within them the hope of restoration if those receiving the message will repent and turn back to God.  Nineveh heard Jonah's preaching and they did repent.

But here in Matthew 12, and in His entire ministry, Jesus has been demonstrating that He is the Messiah by His works of Godly mercy - as well as proclamations of judgement upon the unrepentant.  The Jewish religious leaders didn't believe Him.  They saw the miracles, but most of them refused to believe that He was from God (unlike Nicodemus in John 3) so they put Jesus in an impossible situation.  They demanded "a sign" to back up His words, because they had rejected all the "signs" Jesus had been giving.  The problem was, because of their unbelief there was no "sign" that Jesus *could* give them that they would believe.  Oh, He could have cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple and been unharmed, and they would have seen it - but they wouldn't have attributed that to His being the Messiah.  Just as in our chapter of Matthew 12, they would have said that He did it by Satan's power.  Heed well this maxim:  no "sign" can truly be given where unbelief has already been chosen.

So what did Jesus do?  Consider this passage:

38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.”
39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.
42 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.
Matthew 12:38-42 (NIV)

They were indeed a "wicked and adulterous" generation.  The second term clarifies and expands upon the first.  They had turned from true worship of the true God, and instead had made themselves the sons of Satan.  There was no "sign" that Jesus could give them that they would accept, because they had already decided to reject Him.  So He gives them the "sign of Jonah".  It is a sign of judgment, but not without the chance of repentance if they would only choose to believe.

Just as Jonah had been in his submarine transport back to his mission field for "three days and three nights", so Jesus would be in the belly of the earth "three days and three nights".  But of course this is first century Judea, with the very Jewish Messiah speaking to very Jewish, recalcitrant people.  It is all in a Jewish mindset with Jewish speech and Jewish idioms.

Jesus said that He came "to the lost sheep of Israel" (Matthew 15:24).  It would be left to His disciples to carry the message to the Gentiles.  So is it any wonder that God sent to the lost sheep of Israel one of their own?  A Jew?  Who thought in their ways and spoke in their manner?  Of course not, it's perfectly natural.  God desires to save all, and He uses the absolute best means available to secure that goal.  But He does not force.  He does not coerce.  Faith and love must be a choice, otherwise they cease to be faith or love.

Mt 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.

Late on this Easter Sunday evening, I hope this message blesses you.  And I hope it shows you just how much God loves you and desires for you to believe.

Each and every time someone names a supposed "contradiction" or "inconsistency" in the Bible, the answer is always found in the same manner as above.  And that answer doesn't minimize God, it maximizes Him.  It glorifies Him, for it shows His heart for what it is:  He sends just the right messenger to those He would save.  If only they will accept it and believe.