Monthly Archives: December 2013

What’s the meaning of Matthew 24:34?


Explosions (courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

This is a rather tricky verse that has caused lots of debates over the years. Matthew 24:34 states: ‘Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place’ (ESV).

It has created a number of challenges with interpretation, so much so that it has been included in this wonderful resource that is now available as a pdf document online: Gleason L. Archer 1982. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Regency Reference Library (Zondervan Publishing House). Available online at:

The following comments on Matt 24:34 are on pp 343-344 of Archer (1982):

Did Jesus mean in Matthew 24:34 that all the signs of His second coming were really fulfilled before His generation passed away?

Matthew 24:34 reports our Lord as saying, “Truly I say to you, this generation [genea] will not pass away until all these things take place” (NASB). What things? The rise of false teachers and prophets, the persecution and martyrdom of believers, and all the horrors of the Great Tribulation will occur (vv. 9-22). Also, there will be false Christs, deceitful miracles, and strange phenomena in the heavens (vv. 23-29). Then at last the “sign of the Son of Man” (v.30) will appear in the heavens; and all the world will witness His return to earth with power and great glory, when he sends forth His angels to gather together all the “elect” from every part of the earth.

Obviously these apocalyptic scenes and earth-shaking events did not take place within the generation of those who heard Christ’s Olivet discourse. Therefore Jesus could not have been referring to His immediate audience when He made His prediction concerning “this genea.” What did He mean by this prophecy?

There are two possible explanations. One is that genea (“generation”) was used as a synonym of genos (“race,” “stock,” “nation,” “people”). This would then amount to a prediction that the Jewish race would not pass out of existence before the Second Advent. Whatever other races would die out before that event—and most of the races contemporaneous with Jesus of Nazareth have in fact died out already–the Jewish race, however persecuted and driven from one country to another, would survive until our Lord’s return. No other nation has ever managed to live through all the dispersions and persecutions and uprooted conditions to which the Jews have been subjected. Yet they live on until this day and have reestablished their independence in the State of Israel. Although this meaning for genea is not common, it is found as early as Homer and Herodotus and as late as Plutarch (cf. H.G. Liddell and R. Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, 9th ed., [Oxford: Claredon, 1940], p. 342).

The other possibility is that genea does indeed mean “generation” in the usual sense of the word, but refers to the generation of observers who witness the beginning of the signs and persecutions with which the Tribulation will begin. Many of these will live to see the Lord Jesus come back to earth, as Conqueror and Judge, with great power and glory. This interpretation has the merit of preserving the more common and usual meaning of the word. But it suffers from the disadvantage of predicting what would normally be expected to happen anyway. Whether the Tribulation will last for seven years or for a mere three and a half years, it would not be so unusual for most people to survive that long. Seven years is not a very long time to live through, even in the face of bloody persecution.

Perhaps it should be added that if the Olivet Discourse was originally delivered in Aramaic (as it probably was), then we cannot be certain that the meaning of this prediction hinged entirely on the Greek word used to translate it. Genea and genos are, after all, closely related words from the same root. The Aramaic term that Jesus Himself probably used (the Syriac Peshitta uses sharbeta’ here, which can mean either “generation” or “race”) is susceptible to either interpretation, and thus could mean the Jewish “race” rather than the circle of Christ’s own contemporaries.

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 June 2019.

What’s the meaning of ‘propitiation’ in 1 John 2:2?

Through the cross

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

There has been controversy for centuries in Christian circles over whether Christ died for the sins of the whole world or only for the sins of those elected to salvation – the believers. One Bible helps to clarify this. Or, does it?

First John 2:1-2 (ESV) states:

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

In this verse, the Greek noun used that the ESV translates as ‘propitiation’ is hilasmos, while the NIV translates as ‘atoning sacrifice’. There has been much debate among Greek scholars as to the meaning of the noun form which is found in one other place in the NT and that’s in 1 John 4:10. The verbal form is in a few other verses.

In the early stages of this article, I’m relying heavily on I Howard Marshall’s commentary and its summary of the controversy (Marshall 1978:117-120).

Here are some of the issues with this word:

1.  When it is used outside of the Bible, it conveys the meaning of ‘an offering made by a man in order to placate the wrath of a god whom he has offended. It was a means of turning the god from wrath to favorable attitude’ (Marshall 1978:117).

2.  However, in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the OT) – the LXX – the meaning has been debated. Westcott and Dodd argued that in the OT, ‘the scriptural conception … is not that of appeasing one who is angry, with a personal feeling, against the offender; but of altering the character of that which from without occasions a necessary alienation, and interposes an inevitable obstacle to fellowship’ (in Marshall 1978:117). Therefore, they concluded that

3.  In secular sources, the word means ‘propitiation’ (placating an offended person), but in the Bible it means ‘expiation’ (a means of neutralising and cancelling sin (Marshall 1978:117). However, neither of these words is in common use in the English language so modern translations offer a paraphrase. The NIV and NRSV use, ‘atoning sacrifice’, which tries to combine two ideas: an atonement for sin and an offering to God (a sacrifice). The TEV used ‘the means by which our sins are forgiven’ while the NEB used ‘the remedy for the defilement of our sins’, the latter seeming to be closer to the meaning of expiation (Marshall 1978:117-118). The ESV, NKJV and NASB retain ‘propitiation’.

4.  L Morris and D Hill objected to the Westcott and Dodd interpretation and showed that in the OT ‘the idea of placating the wrath of God or some other injured party is often present when the word-group in question is used…. The meaning in the present passage would then be that Jesus propitiates God with respect to our sins [the Greek preposition peri]. There can be no real doubt that this is the meaning’ (Marshall 1978:118).

5.  In 1 John 2:1, the thought of Jesus as our advocate [NIV: ‘One who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One’] is of one who is pleading the cause of the guilty sinners before a judge in order to obtain pardon for ‘acknowledged guilt’. ‘In order that forgiveness may be granted, there is an action in respect of the sins which has the effect of rendering God favorable to the sinner. We may, if we wish, say that the sins are cancelled out by the action in question. This means that the one action has the double effect of expiating the sin and thereby propitiating God. These two aspects of the action belong together, and a good translation will attempt to convey them both’ (Marshall 1978:118).

6.  How does one find an English word that combines expiation and propitiation? ‘Atoning sacrifice’ is an attempt but I find that it de-emphasises the propitiation too much. I can’t see a way around this except for a preacher to make sure he/she explains 1 John 2:1-2 together and that needs to include both the advocate and the propitiation. A ‘propitiatory advocate’ could be a way around that, but the English language is too clumsy to put it that way as many people don’t understand the meaning of ‘propitiatory’ because it is not used in contemporary English in my part of the world.

Some other views on the meaning of propitiation

Leon Morris (courtesy Wikipedia)

1. Leon Morris refers to hilasmos related words in Rom 3:25, Heb 2:17 and 1 John 2:2; 4:10. His exegesis of the word indicates that it means,

the turning away of wrath by an offering…. Outside the Bible the word group to which the Greek words belong unquestionably has the significance of averting wrath…. Neither [C H] Dodd nor others who argue for “expiation” seem to give sufficient attention to the biblical teaching….

The words of the hilaskomai group do not denote simple forgiveness or cancellation of sin which includes the turning away of God’s wrath (e.g. Lam. 3:42-43)….

The whole of the argument of the opening part of Romans is that all men, Gentiles and Jews alike, are sinners, and that they come under the wrath and condemnation of God. When Paul turns to salvation, he thinks of Christ’s death as hilasterion (Rom 3:25), a means of removing the divine wrath. The paradox of the OT is repeated in the NT that God himself provides the means of removing his own wrath. The love of the Father is shown in that he “sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10)….

The consistent Bible view is that the sin of man has incurred the wrath of God. That wrath is averted only by Christ’s atoning offering. From this standpoint his saving work is properly called propitiation (Morris 1984:888).

(Henry C Thiessen, photo courtesy

2. Henry Thiessen wrote that

the New Testament represents Christ’s death as appeasing God’s wrath. Paul says, God set Him forth as a “propitiatory” (sacrifice) (Rom. 3:25); and Hebrews represents the mercy seat in the tabernacle and temple of the “propitiatory (place) (9:5). John declared that Christ is the “propitiation” for our sins (1 John 2:2:4:10); and Hebrews declares that Christ “propitiates” the sins of the people (2:17) (Thiessen 1949:326)

Thiessen quotes W G T Shedd in support of this view – based on the Old Testament:

The connection of ideas in the Greek translation appears therefore to be this: By the suffering of the sinner’s atoning substitute, the divine wrath at sin is propitiated, and as a consequence of this propitiation the punishment due to sin is released, or not inflicted upon the transgressor. This release or non-infliction of penalty is ‘forgiveness’ in the biblical representation (Shedd II:391, in Thiessen 1949:326).

Wayne Grudem 2011.jpgWayne Grudem (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

3. Wayne Grudem’s assessment was:

Romans 3:23 tells us that God put forward Christ as a “propitiation” (NASB) a word that means “a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing changes God’s wrath to favor.” Paul tells us that “That this was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:25-26). God had not simply forgiven sin and forgotten about the punishment in generations past. He had forgiven sins and stored up his righteous anger against those sins. But at the cross the fury of all that stored-up wrath against sin was unleashed against God’s own Son.

Many theologians outside the evangelical world have strongly objected to the idea that Jesus bore the wrath of God against sin.[1] Their basic assumption is that since God is a God of love, it would be inconsistent with his character to show wrath against the human beings he has created and for whom he is a loving Father. But evangelical scholars have convincingly argued that the idea of the wrath of God is solidly rooted in both the Old and New Testaments: “the whole of the argument of the opening part of Romans is that all men, Gentiles and Jews alike, are sinners, and that they come under the wrath and the condemnation of God.”

Three other crucial passages in the New Testament refer to Jesus’ death as a “propitiation”: Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; and 4:10. The Greek terms (the verb hilaskomai, “to make propitiation” and the noun hilasmos, “a sacrifice of propitiation”) used in these passages have the sense of “a sacrifice that turns away the wrath of God – and thereby makes God propitious (or favorable) toward us.” This is the consistent meaning of these words outside of the Bible where they were well understood in reference to pagan Greek religions. These verses simply mean that Jesus bore the wrath of God against sin.

It is important to insist on this fact, because it is the heart of the doctrine of the atonement. It means that there is an eternal, unchangeable requirement in the holiness and justice of God that sin be paid for. Furthermore, before the atonement ever could have an effect on our subjective consciousness, it first had an effect on God and his relation to the sinners he planned to redeem. Apart from this central truth, the death of Christ really cannot be adequately understood (Grudem 1994:575).

4. There was no reference to ‘propitiation’ or ‘expiation’ in Paul Tillich’s Systematic theology (Tillich 1968).

Rudolf Bultmann Portrait.jpgRudolph Bultmann (courtesy Wikipedia)

5. What of Rudolph Bultmann’s view of propitiation? Ben C Blackwell of Dunelm Road’s summary of Bultmann’s view was in,Bultmann on Paul’. He states:

For those under faith Bultmann (following in his methodology of doing word studies) begins by discussing “righteousness” as the Jewish eschatological pronouncement of right relationship at the judgment.  However, with the advent of Christ, righteousness is now a present reality experienced by believers, and it is in Romans 5-8 that Paul shows the Jews how an eschatological righteousness can be seen as present.

Bultmann then moves on to the concept of grace and the salvation-occurrence of Christ.  Just as God’s wrath is active and eschatological, so his grace must also be and it is found in the death-and-resurrection of Christ and our experience of it.  He lays out metaphors/explanations of this salvation-event in Paul’s understanding:

  • Propitiatory sacrifice – juristic (but meaning of resurrection is not highlighted pg. 300)
  • Vicarious sacrifice – instead of us, in place of us – very similar to propitiatoryl
  • Redemption – redeemed, ransomed – freedom from punishment/guilt of sin but also powers of the Age;
  • Participation into death of divinity through sacraments – like Mystery Religions;
  • Participation into incarnation-death-resurrection/exaltation – like Gnostics

It is this last category that Bultmann focuses after this point.  Since the incarnation and resurrection didn’t historically happen, believers are joining in the cosmic relationship with the cosmic Gnostic Redeemer by faith, which is a self-surrender, an utter reversal of one’s previous self-understanding.  This process is appropriated to the individual through the proclamation of the word.  Bultmann explains: “The union of believers in one soma with Christ now has its basis not in their sharing the same supernatural substance, but in the fact that the in the word of proclamation of Christ’s death-and-resurrection becomes a possibility of existence in regard to which a decision must be made, in the fact that faith seizes this possibility and appropriates it as the power that determines the existence of the man of faith” (302).  By entering into this cosmic union, the eschatological event is replayed in individual lives–it it the eschatological Now found in the proclamation of the word and sacraments.

I hope this helps to clarify the fact that both Old and New Testaments affirm the necessity of a blood sacrifice to appease the wrath of God. Jesus’ death was that propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). However, that propitiation is only potential until a person chooses to believe in Jesus to receive God’s propitiation.

Works consulted

Grudem, W 1994. Systematic theology. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Marshall, I H 1978. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: Epistles of John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Morris, L 1984. Propitiation. In W A Elwell (ed), Evangelical dictionary of theology, 88. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

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

Tillich, P 1968. Systematic theology (3 vols combined). Digswell Place, Welwyn, Herts: James Nisbet & Co Ltd.


[1] Grudem’s footnote was: ‘See the detailed linguistic argument of C. H. Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1935), pp. 82-95. Dodd argues that the idea of propitiation was common in pagan religions but foreign to the thought of Old Testament and New Testament writers (Grudem 1994:575, n. 11).


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 April 2016.

Was Judas Iscariot saved and then lost?



A person wrote on a Christian forum, ‘Satan can enter believers? More heresy’.[1]

My reply was as follows:[2]

I do wish this person’s presuppositions wouldn’t blind him to the facts recorded in the Gospels. A person who was denounced as promoting heresy, wrote:

Yes, he [Judas] was a believer. Even Calvinists will tell you unbelievers want nothing to do with the gospel, the kingdom, and the King Himself. If he wasn’t a believer, he would have turned away from Jesus just as other disciples did. Judas fell away when Satan entered him.[3]

So what did this person do but label his post as ‘heresy’ because he believes that ‘Judas fell away when Satan entered him’

Gospel facts

Let’s check out the Gospel facts. In Matthew 10, we note these Gospel details in the authoritative Scriptures:

Flower2 ‘These twelve [including Judas] Jesus sent out, instructing them’ (Matt 10:5). How did Jesus describe these 12?

Flower2 ‘Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves’ (Matt 10:16). So Jesus regarded Judas as one of his ‘sheep’.

Flower2 ‘For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you’ (Matt 10:20). So all of the 12, including Judas, had the Holy Spirit of YOUR heavenly Father speaking through them. So, for Judas, God was HIS Father.

What happened later to Judas? ‘Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve’ (Luke 22:3).
So the biblical record provides these facts about Judas:

designBlue-sma He was called as one of the 12, ‘whom he also named apostles’, and appointed the 12 that ‘he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons’ (Mk 3:13-15). Is this fellow daring to say that Jesus sent out Judas to preach and cast out demons and Judas was not a believer? That really is stretching my Gospel imagination!

designBlue-smaHe was one of Jesus’ sheep;

designBlue-sma The Spirit of the heavenly Father spoke through Judas;

designBlue-sma God the Father was Judas’s God.

designBlue-sma Then Satan entered into Judas (and the rest is history).

It is entirely biblical to say that a believer who was chosen by Jesus, who was one of Jesus’ sheep, who had the Spirit of the Father speaking through him, eventually allowed Satan to enter him.

It is preposterous that this person could state that a poster on a Christian forum is promoting heresy when the Scriptures declare these facts, including the fact of Satan entering Judas – a called one, follower, preacher and exorcist for Jesus.



[1] Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology, ‘Does Matthew 11:13 support election and reprobation?’ Hammster#22, available at: (Accessed 13 October 2013).

[2] OzSpen#29, ibid.

[3] Ask Seek Knock#20, ibid.

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 12 November 2015.

Where are the expositors in Pentecostal-charismatic churches?

Empty Joy

(courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

Bill Muehlenberg of Culture Watch, a cultural apologist in Australia, wrote a provocative and needed article, ‘On Expository Preaching’.[1] I encourage you to read this brief article. In it, he stated:

Our churches today are therefore filled with people who are biblically illiterate. A good part of the reason – and blame – for this is because our pulpits are not feeding the people. We have far too many topical sermons and way too little actual preaching of the text itself.

One of my favourite Old Testament professors, Walter Kaiser was a real stickler for “keeping the finger on the text”. He knew the value of expository preaching, and the need to be text-orientated, not topic-orientated. I once heard him say this: “I preach a topical sermon once every five years – then repent of it immediately!”

David Hunt, a Bible teacher in his local church in Brisbane, provided some feedback on Bill Muehlenberg’s article:[2]

Thanks for your helpful article Bill. I agree wholeheartedly that we need more expository preaching. I’d be interested in yours & others comments: I’ve NEVER heard an expository sermon in a Charismatic church. I serve the Lord as a Bible teacher in an Evangelical church, but over the years have visited Charismatic churches (eg. Hillsong in Sydney & Brisbane). I’ve never heard a preacher in one of those churches teach verse-by-verse through a passage. Instead, the norm is a topical message with a few Bible verses thrown in. Interested in others’ observations.


Why expositions are absent in many charismatic churches?

clip_image001Aeron Morgan (courtesy Christian Witness Ministries)

My response was:[3]

I agree that there are few expositors in charismatic ranks. I’ll include Pentecostals also in my comments. One of the finest Pentecostal expositors I’ve heard in Australia was my friend and colleague, the late Aeron Morgan (formerly Toowoomba AoG and principal of Commonwealth Bible College – AoG – when it was at Katoomba NSW). Aeron was a Welshman and an outstanding Pentecostal expositor. From 1977-1980, I was on the faculty of Commonwealth Bible College when Aeron was principal. I also was there from 1985-87.

However he was one of the Lord’s special preachers, in my view. He went to be with the Lord in 2013.

Aeron wrote:

I am disturbed and distressed by the trends away from the Scriptural position and the more existential climate now apparent on the neo-Pentecostal Church scene. I make an effort to speak to this as a serious concern….

There is observed an increasing readiness to accept all manner of strange teachings and questionable manifestations as being of God, the naïve and mindless validating of all kinds of weird and abnormal phenomena, without the applying of any Biblical test to them. This is most serious and needs addressing urgently (Morgan 2005:39, 45).

Aeron wrote of ‘the abnormal conduct of misguided Charismatics’, which is a gentle and mild way to describe the chaotic behaviour that I encountered in that charismatic house church in Brisbane (Morgan 2005:172). He wrote:

It appears that in recent times something of this dubious conduct has taken place where people have witnessed in the meetings certain behaviour with others which has been claimed to be the work of the Holy Spirit, and consequently they in turn have given themselves to ‘manifesting’ in a like manner. It has not been a work of the Holy Spirit, but the result of psychological manipulation, autosuggestion, and in some instances what appears to have been certain hypnotic influence. This is very serious, for it reveals two things:

(a) How easily many people are accepting teachings and practices on the strength of what they are told or witness, without any discernment.

(b) It shows up the serious lack of discernment and judgment of these things by those leaders who profess to be “full of the Holy Ghost”. It can only be described as gross irresponsibility on the part of those who ought to know better. Their failure cannot be excused. It must be condemned. Such persons are not fitted for the role of leadership. Leaders in Christ’s Church are to be “Watchmen”, considering as a divine obligation the spiritual welfare of His people before any personal interest (Morgan 2005:177-178).

What is your view?

I would be interested in knowing why there is not an expository emphasis in Pentecostal-charismatic circles. I have my theories that need to be tested with evidence. These include:

(1) The teaching of expository preaching is in decline in our theological colleges. If the colleges are not convinced of its benefits, the skill will not be passed on.

(2) Too often expository preaching is viewed as ‘dry as dust’ preaching that some charismatics may see as contrary to Spirit-inspired preaching. It doesn’t have to be that way. One of the finest texts on expository preaching is Bryan Chapell’s, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon (2005). I recommend it highly.

(3) Some Pentecostal-charismatic preachers I’ve met and heard consider that expository preaching is too legalistic and they prefer Spirit-anointed ad-lib around topics and occasional verses. That’s what a few have told me. I need to add that some of the worst preachers I’ve heard are among those who ad-lib around topics and don’t seem to deal with the meat of the Word. Some of these are very incompetent presenters whose skills could be improved by attending a Rostrum Club or a Toastmasters Club.

(4) For me this is the BIG issue. I have serious questions about whether some of these topical preachers have as high a view of Scripture as they do of the Holy Spirit’s ability to influence ad-lib preachers. Their doctrine of the Holy Spirit (pneumatology) seems to be one of the major reasons for not using expository teaching.

I’d be interested in hearing what others think on why there is a demise of expository preaching with charismatic-Pentecostals. But that down-turn is just as great with the evangelical Baptists, Wesleyan Methodists, Brethren, and Churches of Christ churches that I’ve visited in my region of northern Brisbane.

I, as a convinced evangelical charismatic, am committed to being an expositor of Scripture whenever I’m asked to preach. I’m an independent research living in Brisbane, Qld, Australia and am currently writing a PhD dissertation in NT (dissertation only in the British system) so have to restrict my preaching activities for a time.

(Google public domain)

It’s a sin to bore God’s people with God’s word

Back in 2010 when Bill Muehlenberg first uploaded this article, I responded with the following comment:[4]

I applaud your call to get back to preaching expositionally as a primary means of getting the church back to solid grounding in Scripture. My wife and I will not regularly attend a church that does not engage in expository preaching. But it is getting more difficult to find such as the seeker-sensitive philosophy does not want to favour such an approach. However, a warning must be given not to bore God’s people with such expositions.

At the time of writing this response, I attended Fraser Coast Baptist Church (Hervey Bay, Q, Australia) where Pastor Steve Sauvageot was an excellent expository preacher. As the time of this writing, he was preaching through the Book of Ephesians. One of the keys to Steve’s expositions is that he not only expounds the text, but also makes application to the people, which is a strong point that you have made in your advocacy of expository preaching. The senior pastor is a gifted expositor, but his two associates are NOT and that led me to write this article, “It’s a sin to bore God’s people with God’s wordafter I heard these other two preach. I’m convinced that all preachers can be taught to be expositors without denying their unique gifts.

In my response to Bill Muehlenberg, I wrote: One of the expository texts you recommended, Bryan Chapell (2005), is the one I most highly recommend and is the basic text I use when training others in expository preaching. Chapell wrote that ‘the technical definition of an expository sermon requires that it expound Scripture by deriving from a specific text main points and subpoints that disclose the thought of the author, cover the scope of the passage, and are applied to the lives of the listeners’ (Chapell 2005:132).

I pray that the pastors who read your website will understand that the critical importance of the need to “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2) will help get evangelicals back on track with foundational biblical theology.

I have also written an article with the title, ‘It’s a sin to bore God’s people with God’s word‘.

Works consulted

Chapell, B 2005. Christ-centered preaching: Redeeming the expository sermon, 2nd edn. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic).

Morgan, A 2005. The biblical testing of teachings and manifestations. Spring Lake, MI: Dust & Ashes Publications.


[1] Bill Muehlenberg, Culture Watch, 25 July 2010. Available at: (Accessed 17 November 2013).

[2] Response was on 13 November 2013 at: (Accessed 17 November 2013).

[3] Posted by Spencer Gear, 17 November 2013.

[4] Spencer Gear, 25 July 2010, available at: (Accessed 25 December 2013).

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 12 November 2015.

Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?

Stone Heart

(courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

Does God deterministically, fatalistically harden any people so that they are unable to respond to God? This has become a very controversial topic in Calvinistic-Arminian discussions, as will be evident as this article unfolds.

It is expected that:

cubed-iron-sm A Calvinist would favour God deterministically causing the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart: ‘while it is said, for instance, that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, it is also said that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex. 8:15; 8:32; 9:34). One description is given from the divine viewpoint, the other is given from the human viewpoint. God is ultimately responsible for the hardening of the heart in that He permits it to occur, and the inspired writer in graphic language simply says that God does it; but never are we to understand that God is the immediate and efficient cause’ (Loraine Boettner, Unconditional election, Reprobation).

cubed-iron-sm An Arminian to agree to God and Pharaoh working together on the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. An example is:

‘The same is true of God in his dealings with Pharaoh. God did not change Pharaoh’s heart to make him want to kill the Hebrews. Pharaoh already wanted to kill them. What God did was give Pharaoh the courage to follow through with what he already desired to do. Pharaoh was an evil man, but he was also timid and fearful of the Hebrews and their God. God simply gave Pharaoh the tenacity to follow through with the desires of his evil heart (Wesleyan Arminian, March 9, 2011).

What happened to Pharaoh? Who was it that hardened Pharaoh’s heart? We have two contrasting sets of verses that we will examine in this table:

Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?

God hardened Pharaoh’s heart Pharaoh’s heart was hardened Pharaoh hardened his own heart
Exodus 4:21, ‘And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go”’ (ESV).[1]Ex 7:3, ‘But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt’.

Ex 9:12, ‘But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses’.

Ex 10:1, ‘Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them’.

Ex 10:20, ‘But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go’.

Ex 10:27, ‘But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go’.

Ex 11:10, ‘Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh, and the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land’.

Ex 14:4, ‘And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” And they did so’.

Ex 14:8, ‘And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the people of Israel while the people of Israel were going out defiantly’.

Exodus 7:13-14, ‘Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go’.Ex 7:22, ‘But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts. So Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said’.

Ex 9:7, ‘And Pharaoh sent, and behold, not one of the livestock of Israel was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go’.

Exodus 8:15, ‘But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the Lord had said’.Ex 8:32, ‘But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and did not let the people go’.

Ex 9:34-35, ‘But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet again and hardened his heart, he and his servants. 35 So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people of Israel go, just as the Lord had spoken through Moses’.

1 Samuel 6:6, ‘Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? After he had dealt severely with them, did they not send the people away, and they departed?’

Romans 9:17-18, ‘For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills’.

Do we have contradictory messages here?

clip_image002 The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

clip_image002[1] Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.

clip_image002[2] Pharaoh hardened his own heart.

Let’s check out these charges.

A. Determinism or choice?

This is how it played out on a large Christian forum to which I have contributed since 2005. A Lutheran wrote:

Been going around with Calvinist(s) for almost 3 decades regarding Rom.9:21. They assert the sovereignty which from the same fallen lump of humanity decreed and shaped some to salvation and decreed and shaped some to damnation where I assert such a sovereignty which is contrary to God’s very nature as agape does not exist.[2]

I replied, ‘Have you had any discussions with them of the Hebrew thinking on the potter and the clay in Rom 9:21 and the parable of the potter and clay in Jeremiah 18?’[3] The Lutheran responded:

Our Lord had an uncomfortable discussion with me, ie, I didn’t construe Rom.9:21 with Jer.18. Good job! The unlimited power of God over mankind is exercised according to man’s conduct, not according to a decretum absolutum or unchangeable determination.

Most of my discussions have been with modern Lutherans, ie, against their post-1930 unionized modernization; however God impacted one Calvinist, not so recent, with the true interpretation of agape a little over 5 years ago and he’s available of course, ie, haven’t done too well with our Christian brothers Calvinist.[4]

My comeback was:[5]

You have taken some of your language from Keil & Delitzsch’s commentary on Jeremiah 18:6-10:

In Jer 18:6-10 the Lord discloses to the prophet the truth lying in the potter’s treatment of the clay. The power the potter has over the clay to remould, according to his pleasure, the vessel he had formed from it if it went wrong; the same power God possesses over the people of Israel. This unlimited power of God over mankind is exercised according to man’s conduct, not according to a decretum absolutum or unchangeable determination. If he pronounces a people’s overthrow or ruin, and if that people turn from its wickedness, He repeals His decree (Jer 18:7.); and conversely, if He promises a people welfare and prosperity, and if that people turn away from Him to wickedness, then too He changes His resolve to do good to it (Jer 18:9.) [in my hard copy edition it is Keil n d:295, emphasis added]

So are you saying that you have had some success in presenting this view of the potter and the clay with Lutherans? It is interesting that you have not had a similar response with brother Calvinists. Any idea why?

B. Potter and clay connection

I find the Jewish thinking of the potter and the clay between Rom 9:21 and Jeremiah 18 to be significantly strong and helped me in my hermeneutics of Romans 9.

I was originally alerted to this potter and clay connection between Rom 9:21 and Jeremiah 18 by Norman Geisler in his comments on Rom 9:21. He wrote:

The image this conjures up in a Western mind is often a deterministic, if not fatalistic, one where they have no choice but are overpowered by God…. However, a Hebrew mind would not think this way, knowing the parable of the potter from Jeremiah 18. For in this context the basic lump of clay will either be built up or torn down by God, depending on Israel’s moral response to God. For the prophet says emphatically, ‘If that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned’ (18:8). Thus, the unrepentant element of Israel becomes a ‘vessel for dishonour’ and the repentant group a ‘vessel for honour’ (Geisler 1999:90, emphasis in original).

The Luther’s response was that he did borrow his statement from Keil and Delitzsch’s commentary. Then he stated,

A Calvinist prior to the last one was a young 30 year old, I’m well over 70, and he was in profound shock when I put forward just a simple old outdated Lutheran definition of agape: The object intelligently understood with a higher divine intelligent purpose where both Calvinist and modern Lutherans reject of course. A few days latter he contacted me saying he couldn’t find fault thus opened up Rom.8 & 9 where he become ‘floored’ having to sit down. My point over a simple interpretation,, ie a paradigm shift would send them to an early grave.[6]

Гончар - клипарт в векторе / векторное изображение




(Courtesy: vector-images)

C. Jewish understanding of the potter and the clay

As a result of this link that I understand between the meaning of God and nation as the potter and the clay in Jeremiah 18 – and its application to Romans 9:21 – I was engaged in various interactions with Calvinists on this forum. They did not want to accept that the potter and the clay in the Jewish worldview did not mean that God the determinist was in action with no thought of human responsibility by way of response. The following are some gleanings from what I wrote:[7]

clip_image004 The God who can absolutely choose the nations of Jacob (Israelites) over Esau, who could absolutely choose the incarnation and passion-resurrection, is absolutely able to affirm that ‘if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it’ (Jer 18:8 ESV)

This God can absolutely choose to grant salvation to these: ‘If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved’ (Rom 10:9 ESV). He is utterly able to involve human beings in the choice.

clip_image004[1] The simple point I was raising in comparing Rom 9:21 with Jeremiah 18 was to show how a Jew (Paul) would understand the potter and the moulding of the clay analogy. God moulding the clay would not take place without the nation (the clay) also being involved. See Jeremiah 18:8, ‘and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it’ (ESV). If the nation turns from evil (human responsibility), God would relent and not send the disaster that He intended.

There is no autocratic determinism in God’s actions in the Jewish thinking re potter and clay. Paul was a Jew and was coming from this framework of the potter and the clay of Jeremiah 18.[8]

clip_image004[2] You are still missing my point. Perhaps I’m not communicating with clarity.

Paul, as a Jew, would not be using the potter and clay example without his the Jewish (God’s) understanding of the clay’s responsibility (as in Jeremiah 18) in the hands of the potter.

God did not let Israel off the hook as the potter. If the clay (Israel) responded, God would relent from his threatened disaster. He was not a deterministic God in action according to Jeremiah 18.

Therefore, Romans 9 is written from within the Jewish framework/worldview that Paul endorsed. No matter who the audience was, the potter and clay analogy was not written as a deterministic potter with the clay not responding to arrive at the final result. That’s how it was for the Jewish worldview.

What you seem to be promoting here (and many Calvinists that I interact with try to do it) is a Western world imposition of determinism of God’s actions in Romans 9.

The Jews do not see the potter and the clay that way, as Jeremiah 18 demonstrates. It matters not whether Paul is addressing individuals or nations. The Jewish worldview was that God and human responsibility (whether national or individual) go together. In my understanding, it’s our Western world that wants to see determinism here.[9]

clip_image004[3] I do pay attention to the details when I read Scripture and that applies to the Hebrews’ worldview of the potter and the clay. There was no deterministic God in action (that seems to be Western thinking), but the God who requires human responsibility, whether that be nation or individual.

Your presuppositions seem to be clouding your understanding of God, the potter, and the nation or individual as the clay. God is not the determinist in the Jewish understanding of the potter and the clay.[10]

clip_image004[4] This is a red herring.

You want me to go on your tangent when you don’t seem to want to understand the Israelite worldview and God’s understanding that he gave them of the potter and the clay throughout the OT and especially in Jeremiah 18.

God hardened Pharaoh’s heart at the same time as Pharaoh hardened his own heart.

To further understand God, the potter, and the nation/human being as the clay from a Jewish worldview (which was the apostle Paul’s background) – the sovereignty of God and the human responsibility of human beings – see the article, ‘Who Hardened Pharaoh’s Heart?‘ by Dave Miller & Kyle Butt.[11]

clip_image004[5] No matter how much I go over and over this in stating the Jewish (and Paul’s Jewish) worldview on the potter and the clay, exemplified in Jeremiah 18, you don’t seem to want to understand what I’m saying about what that means for Romans 9:21 and the Jewish view of the potter and clay.

The image you seem to be wanting me to see is something coming out of the Western mindset of God, the determinist, with your language, ‘he can make anything he wants’.

That is not how the Hebrews understood the potter and the clay analogy from Jeremiah 18 and this applied to how Paul used the analogy in Rom 9:21.

In the Jeremiah 18 example, the nation of Israel would be built up or torn down, depending on its response to God. Jeremiah 18:8 makes this clear: ‘And if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it’ (ESV).

So, God the potter is not God the determinist with Israel. God’s will for the nation is determined by whether it turns from evil or not. If it – taking human responsibility – turns from evil, God will relent.

That’s God’s understanding of the potter and clay example and that’s how Paul understands it as a Jew who is writing. He would not see it as God the determinist. Human co-operation was part of the plan of God.

This has been God’s requirement since the beginning of time when he did not deterministically require man to sin. God commanded the man, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’ (Gen 2:16-17 ESV).

God did not command: ‘You have only one option – you must eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’.

The potter and the clay analogy, from God’s perspective, is not a promotion of determinism. A human moral response is required.
You ask: ‘Do you see the difference between Paul’s analogy and Jeremiah’s analogy being two different times in the Potter’s creation process?’

No, I don’t. That’s because for the Jewish worldview from which Paul writes, God is not the determinist. God requires human response, whether that be national or personal.[12]

clip_image004[6] I observed: ‘God does not harden Pharaoh’s heart without Pharaoh hardening his own heart.’.[13] A reply was, ‘How about in Exodus 4:21? Had Pharaoh hardened his heart already?[14]

clip_image004[7] I replied:[15]

That is but one example [Exodus 4:21] of a summary of the actions regarding Pharaoh’s hardening of his heart.
Justin Taylor has provided this summary of ‘
the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart’:

Here is a quick run-down of the key biblical data:

  • Three times Yahweh declares that he will harden Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 4:21; 7:3; 14:4).
  • Six times Yahweh actually hardens Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 9:12; 10:1; 10:20; 10:27; 11:10; 14:8).
  • Seven times the hardening is expressed as a divine passive with Yahweh as the implied subject, i.e., Pharaoh’s heart “was hardened” by Yahweh (Ex. 7:13; 7:14; 7:22; 8:19; 9:7; 9:35; 14:5).
  • And three times we are told that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex. 8:15; 8:32; 9:34).

Most certainly let God be God. I agree wholeheartedly. But we need the elements of God’s revelation that he has supplied in the above verses and not one verse only that you supplied of Ex 4:21.

clip_image004[8] The Lutheran contributor provided this helpful insight:

Just to bring a little more clarity: Rom.9:18 via Mr. Chemnitz, Matthias Loy, and Keil summarized: Ten times Exodus reports that Pharaoh hardened himself; then, only in consequence of this self-hardening, we read ten times that God hardened this self-hardened man.

Then Mr. Loy wraps up with something like after five plagues Pharaoh hardened his heart progressively; then after the sixth God’s hardening set in (Exod.9:12). After the seventh it is again Pharaoh (Exod.9:35); then it is God who hardened, but now in complete tragedy (Exod.10:20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 5).

I agree with all the former, and personally accountable for any discripancies (sic) in Exod., ie, my backyard.[16]


D. God and human beings collaborate in causation

clip_image004[9]You do not seem to understand how the Jewish worldview understood the potter and clay analogy. God was not the determinist who acted without human response and responsibility. God’s method started in the Garden of Genesis 2 and it will not change throughout human history.

That’s what the potter and clay analogy teaches, but a Western worldview wants to make it mean a deterministic God, but Jeremiah 18 makes it clear that that is not how Yahweh understands his actions in human history, whether on nations or individuals.[17]

clip_image004[10] A Calvinist wrote:

The NEB[18] reads thus,

8:15 He became obdurate
8:32 Once again Pharaoh became obdurate
9:34 So Pharaoh remained obstinate

***These do NOT necessarily infer that Pharaoh hardened his own heart.***
The NEB seems to be more in line with the English sub-text of the Online Hebrew Interlinear which does not indicate that Pharaoh acted upon himself. In fact, 9:34 in the Interlinear suggests that Pharaoh remained obstinate because YHWH was adding to his sin and making his heart hardened.

and he [YHWH] is adding to the sin of [Pharaoh] and he [YHWH] is making heavy heart-of-him [Pharaoh] Brackets mine.[19]

My reply[20] was that Keil & Delitzsch’s OT commentary, based on the Hebrew, does not agree with this New English Bible translation that he was promoting. Keil & Delitzsch state regarding Exodus 8:15,

‘Though Jehovah had thus manifested Himself as the Almighty God and Lord of the creation, Pharaoh did not keep his promise; but when he saw that there was breathing-time … relief from an overpowering pressure), literally, as soon as he “got air” he hardened his heart, so that he did not hearken to Moses and Aaron’ (Keil & Delitzsch n d:482).

Whether the language is ‘obdurate’ or ‘hardened’, the issue does not change. God did not make Pharaoh’s heart obdurate/hardened without the free choice of Pharaoh hardening his own heart. We know that ‘Pharaoh’s heart was hardened’ or ‘grew hard’ (Ex 7:13) the more that God pressured Pharaoh.

We know that the same sun that hardens clay also melts wax. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in a like manner. If Pharaoh had received God’s warnings and acted on them, his heart would not have been hardened.

clip_image004[11] Part of what Lutheran commentator, R C H Lenski, wrote about Romans 9:18 was:

‘Ten times Exodus reports that Pharaoh hardened himself; then, only in consequence of this self-hardening, we read ten times that God hardened this self-hardened man…. The door of mercy is not shut at once on the self-hardened so that they crash into the locked door with a bang. We might rush to close it thus. God’s mercy closes it gradually and is ready to open it wide again at the least show of repentance in answer to his mercy; and not until all the warnings of the gradually closing door are utterly in vain does the door sink regretfully into its lock.

In Exod. 4:21 the Lord tells Moses the final outcome: “I will harden his heart”; and “all those wonders” refers to all of them that Moses was to do before Pharaoh. After five plagues Pharaoh hardened his heart progressively: then after the sixth God’s hardening sets in (Exod. 9:12). After the seventh it is again Pharaoh (Exod. 9:35); then it is God who hardened but now in complete tragedy (Exod. 10:20, 27: 11:10; 14:4,5). The history of his hardening certainly speaks for itself. Pharaoh wanted none of the mercy for himself and for his own nation and with all his might intended to block the plans of that mercy with regard to Israel. The case of the Jews was even worse, for all the mercy was covenanted to be theirs, and they did not only refuse it and crucify the Christ but intended to prevent all other men from receiving this mercy (Matt. 23:13)’ (Lenski 1936:617).

clip_image004[12] [21]The prediction that God would harden Pharaoh’s heart was before the hardening happened (Ex 4:21).

Exodus 4 and 7 give some reasons why God would harden Pharaoh’s heart after Pharaoh hardened his own heart.

When you leave out Pharaoh’s responsibility in what he did to Israel and to God and in the hardening of his own heart, you leave out a valuable part of the biblical evidence and make God a determinist.

Since Genesis 2, we know that God gives human beings, starting with the first man, the ability to say yes or no to God. It started with God giving man the ability to affirm or reject the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This God-given ability is affirmed throughout the OT and the NT.

The unchanging God has not changed his view on the need of human beings to respond to or reject God. A classical OT example is in Joshua 24:15,

But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (NIV, emphasis added)

From Genesis to Revelation, God has not changed his theology on the responsibility of human beings to respond to God’s commands before He announces the final decision.
If God were the determinist, it would have been determined in Genesis 2 and the first man would have had no choice. It wasn’t.

clip_image004[13] A person stated: ‘If this be the case, then please explain Ex 5:7-9 and Moses’ recognition of God as the causal agent in 5:22’.[22]

My response was:[23]

I find this to be such a basic question with a straight forward answer. The sovereign God of the universe causes many things to happen, but He does not do it without human involvement.

I write this on 22 November 2013, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of USA president, John F Kennedy. Was it God who deterministically caused it or was Lee Harvey Oswald involved in the cause?[24]

Did God deterministically cause the September 11 2001 disaster in the USA or were human beings involved in the cause?

Did God deterministically cause the slaughter of Australian, New Zealand and other soldiers on the Gallipoli Peninsular on 25 April 1915 in World War I, or were soldiers and others the cause of the slaughter?

Did God deterministically cause the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart or was Pharaoh involved in the cause of his own hardening? God works with human beings to bring about God’s ultimate decisions in the world. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but he did not do it without Pharaoh’s hardening his own heart and resisting God.

See the article, ‘An exegetical and theological consideration of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus 4-14 and Romans 9(G K Beale, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’ (Trinity Journal, 5NS, 1984, pp. 129-154) for further insight into this controversial topic.

Works consulted

Geisler, N 1999. Chosen but free. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.

Keil, C F n d. Commentary on the Old Testament: Jeremiah, Lamentations, in C F Keil & F Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol 8 (2 vols in 1). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company. Jeremiah available online at:

Keil, C F & Delitzsch, E n d: Commentary on the Old Testament: The Pentateuch, vol 1 (3 vols in 1). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Lenski, R C H 1936. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers (limited edition, based on 1936 Lutheran Book Concern; assigned 1945 to The Wartburg Press, assigned 1961 to Augsburg Publishing House).


[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version of the Bible (ESV).

[2] Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology, ‘Romans 9’, shturt678 #341, 19 November 2013, available at: (Accessed 22 November 2013, emphasis in original).

[3] Ibid., OzSpen #343.

[4] Ibid., shturt678 #344.

[5] OzSpen #366, available at: (Accessed 22 November 2013).

[6] Ibid, shturt678 #367.

[7] This is beginning at ibid., OzSpen #369. There will be quite a bit of repeat in these responses as some Calvinists do not want to accept this view, so they raise all kinds of red herrings to try to distract me onto their way of thinking. I maintained my stance of God who is not the fatalistic, deterministic, autocrat who makes personal salvation decisions without the participation of human beings and their free will.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen #372.

[9] OzSpen #376,

[10] OzSpen #378,

[11] Ibid., OzSpen #379.

[12] OzSpen #382,

[13] Ibid., OzSpen #383.

[14] Ibid., Charis kai dunamis #384.

[15] Ibid., OzSpen #386.

[16] Ibid., shturt678 #389, emphasis in original.

[17] Ibid., OzSpen #393, (Accessed 22 November 2013).

[18] NEB = New English Bible.

[19] The Boxer #391, available at:

[20] Ibid., OzSpen #398.

[21] Ibid., OzSpen #414, (Accessed 22 November 2013).

[22] Ibid., Charis kai Dunamis #413.

[23] Ibid., OzSpen #416, (Accessed 22 November 2013).

[24] See Stephen Smith 2013. ‘Accused JFK assassin is arrested, then gunned down’ (CBS News, November 24, 2013, available at: – accessed 24 December 2013).

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 12 November 2015.

Is hell fair?

Hell is Real

(image courtesy ClipArt)

By Spencer D Gear

Bertrand Russell, the atheistic British philosopher, was no friend of the biblical doctrine of hell. His provocative, penetrating, and blasphemous words were:

There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching — an attitude which is not uncommon with preachers, but which does somewhat detract from superlative excellence. You do not, for instance find that attitude in Socrates….

You will find that in the Gospels Christ said, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of Hell”…. I really do not think that a person with a proper degree of kindliness in his nature would have put fears and terrors of that sort into the world….

I must say that I think all this doctrine, that hell-fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty. It is a doctrine that put cruelty into the world and gave the world generations of cruel torture; and the Christ of the Gospels, if you could take Him as His chroniclers represent Him, would certainly have to be considered partly responsible for that (Russell 1996)

The Bertrand Russell Society gives these details about Russell: ‘Bertrand Arthur William Russell [3rd Earl] (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970).[1] Russell lived to be 97 years of age. It was he who said, ‘When I die, I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive’ (Russell 1967:47).

A.  Eternal punishment for temporal sin is unfair?

However, it is not unusual in conversation with Christian believers to hear some object to eternal punishment in hell for the wicked. I encountered this on a Christian forum with a fellow who wrote:

The ultimate sin, it is said, is to reject a relationship with Christ. But hell punishes a bad choice made over a finite lifetime for eternity, for no chance of parole.

Yes, I understand that God “cannot tolerate sin” and that God’s love also requires judgment. Isn’t it a contradiction, however, to speak of God’s infinite, unchanging love while simultaneously talking about casting sinners into the pits of hell for all eternity?

Sorry…that doesn’t make much sense to me.[2]

My initial response was,[3]

I don’t find any inconsistency in God’s treatment of sinners. Why? It’s because God is the absolutely fair, absolutely just/righteous, absolutely good, absolutely holy God. When we stand before him, we will not be able to announce to him, “God you were unfair in your treatment of me, the sinner. You don’t have a clue about doing what is right for the sinner”. Those kinds of thoughts will not enter my mind because they are based on my puny, limited, finite thinking.

I ask: Are there degrees of punishment in hell? I am convinced the answer to that question is, ‘Yes’.

This fellow’s comeback was, ‘If He’s “absolutely fair” (and I believe He is), then why plunge people into oblivion for all eternity for sins committed during a finite lifetime?’[4]

The following is my reply to him:[5]

I’m of the view that this matter rises or falls on (1) our understanding of the eternal attribute of God, (2) the nature of human beings, and (3) whether or not we think the human soul lives forever. If our souls are not eternal, then sins do not have eternal consequences. They are temporary. But that is not the case.

The reality is that we are beings who live forever. We are made for an eternal relationship with God, who is the eternal Being. Therefore to sin against the eternal God, reject his overtures to us, has eternal consequences.

My understanding is that when we think of sins as being temporal and not having eternal consequences, then we begin to think that eternal hell is unfair.

When I understand the eternal nature of sins, and the eternal attribute of the One against whom I sin, I understand why Jesus’ sacrifice for sin was the necessary sacrifice. Is it fair that the eternal Son of God had to be sacrificed for temporal sins? That’s the wrong question. The eternal Son of God was sacrificed on the cross because sin has eternal consequences.

Hebrew 7:27 states, ‘He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself’ (ESV).

B.  Eternal punishment in hell is fair

So the reason why eternal punishment in hell is fair is because:

(1) Of the nature of God,

(2) The nature of human beings, and

(3) The eternal consequences for human sin against the eternal God.

God is absolutely just and always does what is fair and righteous. That’s why the consequence for sin for the unregenerate is eternal.

See Michael Houdmann’s article, How is eternity in hell a fair punishment for sin?

Another wrote, ‘That’s [i.e. eternal hell] something they invented that it was eternal to scare the people. It’s more like a washing machine, like the Jews taught before this was invented’.[6]

How should one reply to this kind of serious allegation?[7]

I asked, ‘Are you saying that Jesus invented eternal punishment to scare people?’ It was he who stated:

“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt 25:46 ESV).

The word aiwnios (eternal) is the very same word associated with punishment as with eternal life. Therefore, eternal punishment is as long as eternal life will be. What’s the meaning of aiwnios?

This fellow made a serious allegation when he said that ‘that’s something they invented … to scare people’ because he was accusing Jesus of doing that.

Why doesn’t he accept what the Scriptures state? He seems to be inventing his own theology that avoids eternal punishment. Eternal punishment is the teaching of Jesus.

Somebody had the audacity to state,

No Augustine, before him they didn’t preach eternal damnation.

Did it ever occur to you that the reason people don’t believe this is that they reach out to atheists, who fell off their faith primarily because of eternal hell preaching and people doubting their faith because of the concept of eternal hell which isn’t even Biblical?

Plain reading of the mistranslated text leads to it, not plain reading of the original.[8]

I responded:[9]

My, oh my!! I do wish that you would read the Church Fathers and accurately report what they believed about hell. Before Augustine there were definitely church fathers who believed in the hell of eternal punishment.

Please take a read of this summary of material in the article, The Early Church Fathers on Hell.

I pray that you will report accurately what the Church Fathers BEFORE Augustine truly believed, instead of providing us with this misrepresentation.

The response was rather disjointed and called on some rather controversial resources:

Sorry, could be, but I don’t care what church fathers say, most of them were antisemites anyway, I care about what the jews before that taught and what the Bible teaches.

I read this:

Matthew 25:46 In the original Greek it says kolasin aionion, which is the opposite of eternal torture. The pharisees taught eternal torture and used timorion aidion.

Greek used timoria for a revenge punishment and kolasis for a correction punishment.

If Jesus meant eternal torture He would have used timorion aidion or timorion ateleutelon, just like the Pharisees who did believe in eternal torture. aionios comes from the Hebrew olam, which is an undefined period.

Augustine wrote that most christians in his time believed in universalism, which he rejected.

Justinianus (482 – 565) forced the church to teach eternal damnation, which lead to translators in the Middle Ages translating aionos with eternal, which wasn’t so in the time of Justinianos.[10]

How should I counter?[11]

You actually do care what the church fathers believed. Your writing on this forum confirms your view when you stated: ‘No Augustine, before him they didn’t preach eternal damnation’.

I was responding to what you wrote about those who were ‘before him’, i.e. the church fathers who were before Augustine.

The facts are that there were church fathers before Justinianus who believed in eternal damnation. Thus, I seriously question your statement that Justinianus ‘forced the church to teach eternal damnation’. That is not the case. You seem to be creating your own view of things – perhaps fed by some others of like persuasion.

Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon studied aiwnios from the time of the Septuagint and concluded that it means ‘eternal’ and in many passages, including Matt. 25:46, it means ‘without end … eternal life’ (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:28).

Seems as though you are trying to promote another agenda.

This person replied:

No I read this and believe it now, well, not 100% sure when I read this comment. I don’t know much about church history and not enough about this theory, just read this what I translated here and more on forums and also from a theologian and Sadhu Sundhar Singh saw it.

There are texts like with the Pharisees that will not be forgiven in this age or the age to come and others will, for Sodom judgement would be more bearable (sic), he who knew not what his Master wanted will be punished less. Doesn’t sound like one eternal hell for everyone.[12]

It is pleasing to see that a person will admit his lack of knowledge in this area. But this didn’t stop her from spruiking her lack of knowledge in the area.[13]

1.  St Augustine on eternal punishment

Eminent early church father, St Augustine, in his prominent production, City of God, wrote:

“But eternal punishment seems hard and unjust to human perceptions, because in the weakness of our mortal condition there is wanting that highest and purest wisdom by which it can be perceived how great a wickedness was committed in that first transgression” (The City of God, Book 21, chapter 12).

St Augustine continues concerning eternal life and eternal punishment and one of the passages we are discussing, Matt 25:46 (ESV):

They who desire to be rid of eternal punishment ought to abstain from arguing against God, and rather, while yet there is opportunity, obey the divine commands. Then what a fond fancy is it to suppose that eternal punishment means long continued punishment, while eternal life means life without end, since Christ in the very same passage spoke of both in similar terms in one and the same sentence, These shall go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into life eternal! Matthew 25:46 If both destinies are “eternal”, then we must either understand both as long-continued but at last terminating, or both as endless. For they are correlative—on the one hand, punishment eternal, on the other hand, life eternal. And to say in one and the same sense, life eternal shall be endless, punishment eternal shall come to an end, is the height of absurdity. Wherefore, as the eternal life of the saints shall be endless, so too the eternal punishment of those who are doomed to it shall have no end (The City of God, Book 21, Chapter 23).

Human perceptions are hard to take in light of the reality proclaimed by Jesus himself in Matt 25:46 (NLT), ‘And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life’.

2.  Norman Geisler on everlasting punishment

Systematic theologian and apologist, Dr Norman Geisler, further confirms this position:

If destruction did mean “annihilation” when used of the unbeliever’s post-death state, it would not be “everlasting” destruction, for annihilation is instantaneous; annihilation does not stretch over a long period of time, let alone forever, but only takes an instant and then is over. If someone undergoes everlasting destruction, then they must have an everlasting existence. (Analogously, just as the cars in a junkyard have been destroyed but are not annihilated – they are beyond repair or irredeemable – so the people in hell are not extinguished but are simply irredeemable and irreparable) [Geisler 2005:396, emphasis in original].

I’m sticking with Jesus’ firm word on Matt 25:46 (ESV) – with sound support from St Augustine of Hippo and Norman Geisler – that eternal punishment for unbelievers is as long as eternal life for the believers. Trying to interpret from a contemporary Western perspective or using an emotional response doesn’t stack up with the biblical evidence.

C.  What’s the meaning of aiwnios in Greek?


(image courtesy ChristArt)

My response was rather pointed![14] And you trust a link to a website that is titled ‘Evangelical Universalist’.[15] Anyone who tries to defend universalism is not promoting biblical Christianity. It is an oxymoron to use the language of ‘evangelical universalist’.

Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon studied aiwnios from the time of the Septuagint and concluded that it means ‘eternal’ and in many passages, including Matt. 25:46, it means ‘without end … eternal life’ (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:28). This is an authoritative Greek dictionary (lexicon), yet you seek your definition from one who claims to be an ‘evangelical universalist’. Why, oh why do you do this?

If you wanted to understand an English word, would you go to a strange unrelated source, or would you go to an English dictionary for an accurate definition? I urge you to go to an authoritative Greek dictionary like Arndt & Gingrich to determine the meaning of aiwnios (eternal, without end).

I made a further response:[16]

However, you stated at #96, ‘I don’t know much about church history and not enough about this theory’.

I suggest that you are digging yourself into a theological hole for which you don’t have an exegetical ladder to get out – based on your own statement about your lack of knowledge in this area.

This person replied to my question, ‘Why, oh why do you do this?’ with this content that revealed her ignorance, ‘‘Euhm, when I have a question I ask google. Thanks for the tip to not trust anything.’[17] My reply should be predictable to her and others:[18]

Do you know what that means? Since when was Google an authoritative source for the Greek language? It may lead you to an authoritative source if you know the source you look for AND it is available on Google.

Would you please direct me to a website that contains the entire Arndt & Gingrich Greek lexicon that is available free to all Internet users? However, to read Arndt & Gingrich, you’ll need to be able to read the Greek words. I recommend that you be more discerning about the sources that you quote when trying to understand the meaning of a Greek word in the Greek New Testament. Using a search engine such as Google or Bing will not help you do that automatically.

Google is a wonderful and powerful search engine. It is the primary search engine I use for surfing the Internet. But its work is to search for sites. Its job is not to be an authoritative source for what it finds. What it finds is only as accurate as the information fed into it by a user. It is the user’s responsibility to assess the credibility of the content of what Google finds.

This is a sad situation where a woman is replying to topics on an Internet forum and she is right out of her depth.

Also recommended

See my other articles on hell:

clip_image001What is the nature of death according to the Bible?

clip_image001[1]2 Thessalonians 1:9: Eternal destruction;

clip_image001[2]Hell & Judgment;

clip_image001[3]Hell in the Bible;

clip_image001[4]Should we be punished for our sins?

clip_image001[5]Paul on eternal punishment;

clip_image001[6]Where will unbelievers go at death?

clip_image001[7]Torment in Old Testament hell? The meaning of Sheol in the OT;

clip_image001[8]Eternal torment for unbelievers when they die;

clip_image001[9]Will you be ready when your death comes?

clip_image001[10]What happens at death for believer and unbeliever?

clip_image001[11]Does eternal destruction mean annihilation for unbelievers at death?

clip_image001[12]Refutation of Seventh-Day Adventist doctrine of what happens at death;

clip_image001[13]Near-death experiences are not all light: What about the dark experiences?

Works consulted

Geisler, N 2005. Systematic theology: Church, Last things, vol 4. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

Russell, B 1967. Why I Am Not a Christian. London: Unwin Books.

Russell, B 1996. J R Lenz (ed), Why I am not a Christian (online).[19] Madison NJ: Drew University, available at: (Accessed 20 October 2013).


[1] The Bertrand Russell Society, available at: (Accessed 20 October 2013).

[2] Ringo84, #82, Christian Forums, General Theology, Hamartiology, ‘Is hell fair?’, available at: (Accessed 11 October 2013).

[3] OzSpen#83, ibid.

[4] Ringo84, #84, ibid.

[5] OzSpen#88, ibid.

[6] Messy#85, ibid.

[7] With the following, I responded as OzSpen#89, ibid.

[8] Messy#90, ibid.

[9] OzSpen#91,

[10] Messy#92, ibid.

[11] OzSpen#93, ibid.

[12] Messy#96, ibid.

[13] See Messy #97, #99, ibid.

[14] OzSpen#100, ibid.

[15] This was in response to a link provided at Messy#99, ibid, to: (Accessed 11 October 2013).

[16] OzSpen#103, ibid.

[17] Messy#101,

[18] OzSpen#104, ibid.

[19] At the beginning of this article, it was stated: ‘Introductory note: Russell delivered this lecture on March 6, 1927 to the National Secular Society, South London Branch, at Battersea Town Hall. Published in pamphlet form in that same year, the essay subsequently achieved new fame with Paul Edwards’ edition of Russell’s book, Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays … (1957)’.


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 14 April 2018.

George Carey on Anglican demise in UK

The Lord Carey of Clifton,
former Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop george carey1.jpg

By Spencer D Gear PhD

There is an article in the issue of AP (Australian Presbyterian, Summer 2013/14), ‘Battle for the Bible’ in which Peter Hastie states:

Wherever churches in the Protestant world have identified with theological liberalism they have diminished in size or are dying. I can’t think of a Protestant church anywhere in the world that has embraced an anti-inerrancy view that is thriving right now – they just don’t exist in the English-speaking world (see:, p. 4)

We know that when Spong was bishop of Newark NJ, 40,000 people left the Episcopalian church in that diocese. See my articles:

However, I’m not convinced that one has to believe in inerrancy for a church to grow. I’ve encountered many in the Pentecostal-charismatic movement who wouldn’t take an overt stance on inerrancy and yet their churches are attracting the numbers. That would be an interesting exercise to survey AoG, CLC, Vineyard and other such Pentecostal-charismatic denominations to find the views on Scripture of their leaders.

What’s the status of the evangelical Anglican diocese of Sydney? Are the churches growing or in decline? Tony Payne wrote an article in Aug 2011 for The Briefing, out of the evangelical Anglican Sydney diocese, in which he asked, ‘Why aren’t we growing?‘ Provocative and interesting article, based on research.

What did the former Archbishop of Canterbury, an evangelical, George Carey have to say about the demise of the Anglican Church?

On 18 November 2013, the British newspaper, Daily Mail, in its online edition had the heading: “Church ‘is on the brink of extinction’: Ex-Archbishop George Carey warns of Christianity crisis”.

In the article, Mail Online had these sub-points from Carey:

clip_image004 ‘Lord Carey said Church of England is at risk if ‘urgent’ action is not taken’;

clip_image004[1] ‘He warned Church could be just one generation away from extinction’;

clip_image004[2] ‘The 78-year-old Reverend laid the blame at the feet of Church leaders’;

clip_image004[3] “He said should they be ‘ashamed’ of their failure to bring youngsters in”;

clip_image004[4] ‘Lord Carey’s stark message has been echoed by the Archbishop of York’.

The Mail Online also stated:

‘Lord Carey’s warning was delivered in a speech at Holy Trinity Church in Shrewsbury as part of the Shropshire Churches Conference 2013.

Church of England Sunday congregations are running at half the numbers of the 1960s, and over the past two decades Roman Catholic churchgoing has seen a similar decline.

Christian numbers are rising fast in some parts of the world, notably in Africa. Worldwide, the Anglican churches have between 70 and 80 million followers – many of whom look to the Church of England for a lead.

However Christian churches are under pressure from Islam, particularly in West Africa, and persecution and violence in parts of the Middle East and Pakistan.

A. George Carey placed blame with aggressive secularism

Back at the time of Easter 2013 (end of March), The Independent reported George Carey:

A former Archbishop of Canterbury has accused the Prime Minister of doing more than any other recent political leader to make Christians feel a “persecuted minority”.

Lord Carey of Clifton said David Cameron’s government was “aiding and abetting” aggressive secularism in its approach to same-sex marriage.

His attack coincides with the Easter celebrations and the release of a survey for the Coalition for Marriage, which highlights the resentment felt by some Christians about the Prime Minister’s support for gay marriage.

“It was a bit rich to hear the Prime Minister has told religious leaders they should ‘stand up and oppose aggressive secularism’ when it seems that his government is aiding and abetting this aggression every step of the way,” said Lord Carey, 77, who led the Anglican Church from 1991 to 2002.

“At his pre-Easter Downing Street reception for faith leaders, he said that he supported Christians’ right to practise their faith. Yet many Christians doubt his sincerity.”

Citing the ComRes survey of 535 churchgoers, which suggested that two-thirds of Christians felt they were a persecuted minority, he wrote in The Daily Mail: “The Prime Minister has done more than any other recent political leader to feed these anxieties.”

A spokesman for Mr Cameron  rejected Lord Carey’s accusations,  saying: “This Government strongly backs faith and Christianity in particular. Christianity plays a vital part in the Big Society. The Prime Minister values the profound contribution that Christianity has made and continues to make to the country.”[1]

B. What about the real rot? Theological liberalism!

As indicated above, Peter Hastie, has stated that ‘wherever churches in the Protestant world have identified with theological liberalism they have diminished in size or are dying’. The evidence points in that direction. Let’s take a peer into the Anglicans, their beliefs and their decline.

C. The sickness in the USA Anglicans

In February 2005, Bill Boniface wrote an article that exposed the theological disease in the USA Anglican ranks (the Episcopal Church): ‘A SENIOR WARDEN’S LAMENT: “Why I left my liberal parish“’. Here he articulated the problem:

Some of you doubt the very notion that there’s a serious and divisive situation in the Episcopal Church[Anglicans USA] today. Please don’t rely on me or any one person to sway you. Make your own decision from the following facts and then decide on your own whether this is serious enough:

Over 40,000 faithful Episcopalians left the Church last year (didn’t just change congregations, but left it altogether).
100 entire congregations have left together to form new churches or worship under the protection of foreign Anglican primates or bishops.

11 dioceses have formed a Network within the Episcopal Church structure in opposition to the direction their Church is going.

These dioceses represent 1,100 clergy, 735 congregations and 176,000 faithful communicants.

Cathedrals and multi-million dollar retreat centers are being closed down and sold to raise money for the Episcopal Church due to losses of parishioners who took their money with them.

The Washington Diocese alone is tapping $1.9 million from a trust fund just to continue operating ($1.4 million this budget year alone).

In the Diocese of Newark (NJ), where there is reputedly the strongest support of any diocese for the Episcopal Church’s new agenda, 40 parishes are projected to close this year.

22 of the other 37 provinces in our Anglican Communion have declared impaired or broken communion with the Episcopal Church.

15 of these 22 provinces now officially recognize only the Network – not the Episcopal Church – as the voice of Anglicanism in the U.S. These 15 provinces represent 55 million Anglicans.

Faithful priests all over the country are being deposed and inhibited by their bishops for speaking against the church’s “new direction.”

The Episcopal Church is suing a number of Episcopal congregations for their church property in a number of states who won’t go along with the new “doctrine.”

Two parishes in the Washington Diocese have joined the Network in opposition to the church’s policies and 13 vestries in the Diocese of Maryland have joined together as “confessing vestries” whose congregations refuse to follow the church’s new policies.[2]

Information about the demise continues. One of the most damning pieces of evidence against John Shelby Spong’s theologically liberal views are contained in what happened when he was bishop of the Episcopalian Church diocese of Newark, NJ. It is reported inNewark’s Disastrous Decline Under Spong: Post-Mortem of a Bishop’s Tenure’. Here it was reported:

Prior to Spong’s arrival as bishop coadjutor in 1977, the Diocese of Newark, like the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A (ECUSA), was facing a slow but steady decline from its peak membership in the 1960s. After Spong became the bishop in 1979, the rate of decline began to pick up.

Between 1978 and 1999, the number of baptized persons in the diocese fell from 64,323 to 36,340, a loss of 27,983 members in 21 years. That’s a disastrous 43.5% decline. The Episcopal Church, by contrast, saw a decline in the number of baptized persons from 3,057,162 in 1978 to 2,339,133 in 1997, a loss of 718, 499, or a substantial 23.4%, according to the 1998 Church Annual.

The Diocese of Newark under Spong, thus, has declined at a rate 20.1 percentage points higher than the rate for the entire Episcopal Church. This rate of decline is 86% faster than the Episcopal Church, whose losses are considerable in and of themselves.

As any statistician would note, the losses in the Diocese of Newark represent a highly statistically significant variation from the trends within the Episcopal Church. No systematic effort has been made to get at the exact causes that made losses in the diocese so much greater.

Ominously for the future, church members in the diocese are also getting older and there are fewer children in Sunday School. In 1976 there were 10,186 children pupils in Sunday School. In 1999 there were only 4,833, a loss of 5,353. That’s 52.6% decline.

By 1997 the diocese had closed at least 18 parishes or missions which had existed when Spong became bishop. All of these parishes or missions were in urban areas. The details of the closing of these churches was reported by the author in an article in United Voice in 1997 titled “The Diocese of Newark’s Graveyard of Urban Ministry.”

The rate of decline under Spong – already fairly torrid – sharply accelerated after 1995. During the 1980s and early 1990s, there was often a loss of 1,000 members a year. From 1995 to 1998, there was a stunning drop from 44, 246 to 36,597 in only three years, a drop of 7,649 — or more than 2,500 a year.

The rate of membership decline under Spong is disastrous by any reasonable measure. Such a pace of decline cannot continue if the diocese is to survive and if the Episcopal church is to retain more than a marginal presence in northern New Jersey.

What’s the truth about the death of theism? This is but one example of what happens when theological liberalism has taken hold. Church numbers have crashed.

Continuing with the USA Episcopal Church as an example, this recent article, ‘Episcopal Church Task Force Releases Report on Restructuring Plans(July 17, 2013), stated.

“Entrenched bureaucracies and dozens of committees or commissions have accumulated over time. This has occurred even as the Episcopal Church has dropped from a high of 3.6 million members in the mid-1960s to 1.9 million members today,” said Walton. “The large amount of money that sustained these structures in the past is long gone, and the church looks very different than it did a generation ago.”

What’s the cause of this crisis in the Episcopalians in the USA? Bill Boniface nailed it:

So what is it that’s behind this dangerous agenda? A radical agenda orchestrated by supposedly “gay rights” activists that seeks far more than just rights. Who in this congregation is not for equal rights for all people? Who in this congregation wants any among us to have fewer rights than us? I can tell you from experience that all those dioceses and parishes who are standing in opposition to the Episcopal Church’s new direction aren’t against those things. And I seriously doubt that any of us are.

But it’s not about equal rights. That’s simply the strategic sound-byte. It’s about taking human experience and desire, laying it up next to Holy Scripture, and asserting that it’s the Holy Scripture that’s in error and has been for these almost two thousand years.[3]

How does it happen? Read Boniface’s section on ‘Moving the Strategy into the Church’ and you’ll see how ‘the most liberal philosophy and the most “flexible” theology’ can take over The Episcopal Church and send the attendance figures plummeting.

When John Shelby Spong was the Episcopal bishop of Newark NJ, the Episcopalians of Spong’s diocese voted with their feet while he was bishop there. One report said that

The Episcopal Church, with due respect, has suffered declining membership since 1965. Spong has been the Episcopal Bishop of Newark since 1976. He has presided over one of the most rapid witherings of any diocese in the Episcopal Church. The most charitable assessment shows that Newark’s parish membership rolls have evaporated by more than 42 percent. Less charitable accountants put the rate at over 50 percent (Lasley 1999; Virtue 1999).

Could a similar liberal theological rot be affecting the UK Anglicans (as it is here in Australia, except for the Sydney diocese, some of the Melbourne diocese, and isolated churches around the country)?

D. Roots of liberal theology

Mike Ratliff has written an article in The Aquila Report (November 18, 2013) that asks: ‘What is the Root of Liberal Theology?Its subheading is, ‘Unbelief is the root of Liberal Theology. Never forget, the attacks we are witnessing in our day on our faith are coming from within the visible Church’.

See my articles:

clip_image006 Is liberal theology heresy? 
clip_image006[1]  Damning evidence against theological liberalism
clip_image006[2]  Is theology important?
clip_image006[3]  What does historical-critical theology do to the Bible?

E. Theological liberalism in UK Anglicans: A scholar states it like it is –  liberalism supremo!

Emeritus Professor Paul Badham, has written of ‘The Anglican Liberal Tradition (April 2006), in which he makes these statements of its dynamics:

Liberalism has always existed within Anglicanism wearing different labels at different times: Latitudinarian, Broad Church, Modernist, Liberal, Radical…. More serious to traditional Christianity was liberal criticism of belief in original sin, substitution atonement or hell….

More serious to traditional Christianity was liberal criticism of belief in original sin, substitution atonement or hell….

The most widespread success of liberalism has been the near collapse of belief in hell. When disbelief in hell was pronounced as legal in 1864 almost half the clergy signed a petition to say they still believed in it. But preaching of hell fire has become very rare in contemporary Anglicanism and the doctrine was repudiated as incompatible with belief in the love of God in the Doctrine commission report The Mystery of Salvation in 1995.

On the doctrine of the atonement Bishop Stephen Sykes is right to say that ‘phrases and sentences’ associated with the older atonement beliefs are ‘the common coin of the Church’s worship’, but he also rightly notes that explanations of such language are ‘not obvious’. The problem is that theories of atonement in terms of a sacrifice by which God was placated, or of a bait through which the devil was deceived seem increasingly implausible.

However liberal theology offers an understanding of Jesus’ death which has become increasingly popular. This is that God was present in Jesus’ suffering on the cross and that this illustrates the way in which God shares in the sorrows of humanity. This understanding of the cross has been endorsed by the 1995 Church of England Doctrine Commission report on The Mystery of Salvation as the ‘only ultimately satisfactory response to evil.’

One further characteristic of liberal doctrine is that liberals believe that God has nowhere left himself without witness but has created all human beings with a yearning to feel after him and find him. Hence they believe that the logos of God which found expression in Christ was also at work in other religious leaders….

Liberal Anglicans consistently supported the ordination of women to the priesthood and now support their consecration to the episcopate. In the case of homosexuals, liberals accept the empirical evidence that suggests that homosexuality is a natural state for certain people to find themselves in, and believe they should be allowed the same opportunity to find fulfilment in a stable relationship as heterosexuals enjoy.

Liberal Anglicans find it puzzling that a Church which was formerly in the van of theological and social reform and which played a key role in changing public attitudes should now find itself increasingly at odds with the beliefs and values of modern society.[4]

That is the kind of sickness that will decimate British Anglicans. This is the disease that will kill the Anglican Church and it is what George Carey should be addressing.

F. Theological liberalism in UK Anglicans: A new evangelical graduate experiences the sickness

How does Paul Badham’s liberal Anglican tradition work itself out with new Anglican graduates who are seeking a parish? This is what liberal Anglicanism is doing to evangelicals in that church.

An article in Mail Online (23 December 2013) gives a sample of the disease that has infected the Anglican Church. It seems to have come from a much earlier time. The article is titled:Michael Howard’s son tells how liberal Anglicans have thwarted his ambition.

clip_image008Photo of Nick Howard, courtesy The Week. The son of Tory MP Michael Howard, age 33, is an evangelical Christian who lives off the kindness of believers’.

I urge you to read this article in its entirety to get a feel for the virus that is infecting Anglicans in the UK. It starts:

The son of Michael Howard, the former Conservative Party leader, has spoken for the first time about his distress at being turned down for ordination by the Church of England.

Nick Howard, who completed a theology degree this summer, was not ordained because of his “unwillingness to listen” to other viewpoints.

He told The Mail on Sunday that his strongly held evangelical beliefs on homosexuality and multifaith worship marked him out as a “troublemaker” even though they reflect official Anglican doctrine.

During his three-year training at Cranmer Hall, a theological college attached to the University of Durham, Nick discussed his concerns with tutors but found little comfort in their “blase attitudes”. Fellow students, although often sympathetic to his orthodox views, did not want to incur the wrath of college authorities by speaking out.

Nick, however, quietly reinforced his views by refusing to take Communion at the college’s weekly Tuesday evening service. Instead he stayed in his pew, his head bowed in reflection.

“An ethics tutor at the college was saying publicly that you can be in a gay sexual relationship and follow Christ,” he explains. “That is incompatible with the teaching of the New Testament.”

Nick was also encouraged to accord equal spiritual value to Muslim, Sikh and Hindu religions in the name of “multifaith ministry”.

“As a Christian, I believe that Jesus died for Sikhs and Muslims, too,” he says, “so I long to share the good news with them so that they can be saved. It felt a bit awkward sitting there when everyone else was going up [for Communion] but I couldn’t physically have done anything else because I can’t pretend someone shares the same religion as me if, in reality, they don’t.”

Yet, as a result of this silent declaration of belief, 30-year-old Nick now finds himself ostracised from the Anglican Church he so desperately wants to be a part of.

At the end of his final year, a panel of tutors explained that his “unwillingness to listen” would make him an unsuitable vicar.

It was an extraordinary decision because Nick’s view – that gay people are welcome to belong to the Church if they remain celibate – is official Anglican teaching.

But many may feel that Nick’s defence of the basic tenets of Christianity should be welcomed by the Church. After all, woolly-mindedness in its beliefs has seen a huge decline in congregations, while the clear dictums of Islam have contributed to its rapid growth around the globe.[5]

Anglican Mainstream, an Anglican newspaper, addressed this issue back in 2006 when Nick Howard’s ordination was rejected. So this is intimating that the original article about Nick Howard’s rejection of ordination was in 2006. This online magazine’s assessment was:

The trouble is that unrepresentative and unorthodox views, especially on human sexuality and the uniqueness of Christ, have become mainstream in some circles of the Church of England. Even an evangelical institution like Cranmer Hall undoubtedly has a problem with this ‘slippage’. The presence of the widely-respected gay theologian, Michael Vasey, led inevitably to changes in the ethos of Cranmer Hall.

I suspect that if recent evangelical giants of yesteryear like John Stott, Michael Green, and Jim Packer were ordinands or prospective ordinands today they would also be accused of an ‘unwillingness to listen’.[6]

This is the kind of sickness that will kill the Anglican Church and it is what George Carey should really be addressing – BIG TIME!

G. Conclusion

When core doctrines of biblical Christianity, the Gospel content, and a high view of Scripture are abandoned, Nick Howard’s experience should become the norm. Theological liberals cannot tolerate evangelicals and evangelicals will not buy into the liberal agenda.

What is left for the picking? I can’t see any future than to let the liberal Anglican churches die and the evangelicals to do church planting of evangelical Anglican churches – probably under another name. Or, the evangelical Anglicans will migrate to another evangelical denomination.

The ‘Anglican Down Under’ website questions, ‘A Post Anglican Denomination Emerging in New Zealand?’ which involves evangelical Anglican clergymen from Australia. Churches have been planted in Auckland and Christchurch. The author of this article mentioned The Campus Church in Christchurch and stated that ‘Its current pastor I have heard in personal conversation describe himself as Anglican, but he has no formal relationship with the Bishop of Christchurch. Its site is here and I do not think you will find on it any sign as to whom the leadership of the church is accountable’. Is this the evangelical Anglicanism of the future in regions of liberal Anglican influence?

The ‘Reformed and Post-Anglican’ website has noted:

To the distress of the bishops of yet other, mostly Anglo-Catholic [Anglican], dioceses Sydney has offered a process of ‘affiliation’ to so-called independent Evangelical churches in their territories, sometimes so placed as to be in direct competition with a bona fide [Anglican] parish of the diocese.

Although the diocese has not formally planted these churches outside its diocesan boundaries, they have often been seeded by individual Sydney parishes in a wave of cross-borders incursions dating from the 1990s.[7]

The challenge is that of 1 John 4:1, ‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world’ (ESV). Liberal Anglicanism does not agree with Scripture in some prominent areas (see Paul Badham’s summary above), so it is promoting false teaching and needs to be corrected. If correction is refused, the churches need to be abandoned as liberal theology promotes a dangerous virus that is deadly to vital Christianity.

H. Works consulted

Lasley, D M 1999. Rescuing Christianity from Bishop Kevorkian, review of John Shelby Spong’s, Why Christianity Must Change or Die (online), Anglican Voice, June 2. Available at (Accessed 4 November 2001). On 23 December 2013, this article was no longer available at Anglican Voice, but was available at Virtue (1999).

Virtue, D 1999. Rescuing Christianity from Bishop Kevorkian – A Baptist looks at Spong (this is the review by Marty Lasley). Virtue Online (online), 2 June. Available at: (Accessed 23 December 2013).

I.  Notes

[1] Lewis Smith 2013. ‘Former archbishop Lord Carey attacks David Cameron for “aggressive secularism” in the Government’s approach to same-sex marriage’, The Independent (online), 30 March 2013. Available at: (Accessed 23 December 2013).

[2] This article was published on 13 February 2005, Available at: (Accessed 23 December 2013).

[3] Ibid.

[4] The article states that ‘Revd Prof Paul Badham is Emeritus Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David (Lampeter Campus) and a Modern Church Vice-president’.

[5] The date of publication of this article at the top of the article is given as 23 December 2013. However, the original publication date must have been ;prior to this as the article has this statement at its conclusion: ‘Nick Howard will be speaking on God and Politics at Lansdowne Baptist Church, Bournemouth, at the 6.30pm service on 1 October’. I can’t imagine that this is referring to 1 October 2014. There was an article title, ‘Michael Howard’s son turned down for ordination because of biblical views’ (online), The Daily Mail, 30 September 2006, available at EV News. Available at: (Accessed 23 December 2013).

[6] Mainstream Anglican 2006. Serious issues over ordination (online), 5 October 2006. Available at: (Accessed 23 December 2013).

[7] This is the article, ‘Sydney Anglicans and the Threat to World Anglicanism’ (online), August 29, 2011. Available at: (Accessed 23 December 2013).

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 14 September 2021.

Is this verse forced into limited atonement theology?


(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

I’m speaking of 1 Corinthians 15:3: ‘For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures’ (ESV)

I find some Calvinists not to be upfront about their meaning when they make statements about Christ dying for sinners. A person asked online, ‘When Paul initially preached to them [the Corinthians] there would have been non-believers present. What would you say to such a crowd regarding “Christ”, “died” and “sins”?’[1]

A Calvinist who believes in limited atonement responded,

Christ died for sinners. You are a sinner. To receive forgiveness for your sins you must repent of your sins believe on The Lord Jesus Christ.

Later I could say that I preached that Christ died for our sins. And it would be true.[2]

Therefore, I asked, ‘In your first sentence, ‘Christ died for sinners’, are you affirming that Christ died for ALL sinners?[3] He did not want to affirm his belief in limited atonement at this point, so he said, ‘Read it again’.[4] My response was, ‘That’s like a non-answer’ He has affirmed his belief in TULIP Calvinism constantly in his posts to Christian Forums, but he didn’t want to go down that route at this stage of the discussion.

A.  The meaning of 1 Corinthians 15:3: Limited atonement or not?

That only believers are mentioned in 1 Cor 15:3, ‘Christ died for our sins’, is because of the grammar and semantics of writing a letter to anyone. When the Bible uses ‘our’, ‘us’, and ‘we’ regarding the atonement, it does this because this is the group of people that a writer (in this case, Paul) is addressing.

Such a verse as 1 Cor 15:3 is not addressing all of those for whom there has been provision of atonement; it is speaking to those for whom there has been an appropriation/application of the atonement in Corinth. Here in 1 Cor 15:3, Paul is addressing a few to whom the atonement has been applied, so he uses the language of ‘our sins’.

B.  Provision and appropriation

This language of ‘provision’ and ‘appropriation or application’ is used by some theologians to differentiate between the number of people who are provided with opportunity for salvation (all of the people in the world) and those who accept Christ’s offer (appropriation or application of salvation). Geisler, who links his view to that of a ‘moderate Calvinist’ (Geisler 1999:52-54), uses it also (see below). He wrote that ‘while salvation was provided for all, it is applied only to those who believe’ and ‘since God also wanted everyone to believe, he also intended that Christ would die to provide salvation for all people’ (2004:187, emphasis in original). Geisler also uses ‘everyone is potentially justifiable, not actually justified’ (2004:352, emphasis in original). He also uses parallel language when he stated that ‘God’s grace is not merely sufficient for all; it is efficient for the elect. In order for God’s grace to be effective, there must be cooperation by the recipient on whom God has moved’ (Geisler 2004:144).

Thiessen, an Arminian in his views, uses the language of ‘appropriation’:

‘There is a necessary order in a man’s salvation; he must first believe that Christ died for him, before he can appropriate the benefits of His death to himself. Although Christ died for all in the sense of reconciling God to the world, not all are saved, because their actual salvation is conditioned on their being reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18-20)’ (Thiessen 1949:330, emphasis in original).

Therefore, Thiessen offered this summary of how Christ can be the Saviour of the world and not offer salvation only to the elect:

His death secured for all men a delay in the execution of the sentence against sin, space for repentance, and the common blessings of life which have been forfeited by transgression; it removed from the mind of God every obstacle to the pardon of the penitent and restoration of the sinner, except his wilful opposition to God and rejection of him; it procured for the unbeliever the powerful incentives to repentance presented in the Cross, by means of the preaching of God’s servants, and through the work of the Holy Spirit; it provided salvation for those who die in infancy, and assured its application to them; and it makes possible the final restoration of creation itself (Thiessen  1949:330).

Others such as David Allen use the language of ‘the extent of the atonement’ and ‘the application of the atonement’ (Allen 2010:65, emphasis in original). Allen argues ‘the case for unlimited atonement (an unlimited imputation of sin to Christ)’ (Allen 2010:66). He concluded his exposition with this statement:

I have attempted to demonstrate the following: (1) Historically, neither Calvin nor the first generation of reformers held the doctrine of limited atonement. From the inception of the Reformation until the present, numerous Calvinists have rejected it, and furthermore, it represents a departure from the historic Christian consensus that Jesus suffered for the sins of all humanity. (2) Biblically, the doctrine of limited atonement simply does not reflect the teaching of Scripture. (3) Theologically and logically, limited atonement is flawed and indefensible. (4) Practically, limited atonement creates serious problems for God’s universal saving will; it provides an insufficient ground for evangelism by undercutting the well-meant gospel offer; it undermines the bold proclamation of the gospel in preaching; and it contributes to a rejection of valid methods of evangelism such as the use of evangelistic altar calls.

I cannot help but remember the words of the venerable retired distinguished professor of New Testament at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Jack McGorman, in his inimitable style and accent: ‘The doctrine of limited atonement truncates the gospel by sawing off the arms of the cross too close to the stake.’[5] Should the Southern Baptist Convention move toward ‘five-point’ Calvinism? Such a move would be, in my opinion, not a helpful one[6] (Allen 2010:107).

In 1 Cor 15:3, the language of ‘Christ died for our sins’ is using simple etiquette. When I’m writing to my friends and use ‘our’, I’m referring to them and me exclusively, so ‘our’ is appropriate. That is what Paul is doing here in 1 Cor 15:3. Paul is not making a statement about ‘our sins’ meaning limited atonement.

We know this because elsewhere in the NT, we have confirmation that God loves all people, Christ died for the sins of all people, and that God is not willing that any people should perish (Jn 3:16; 1 Tim 2:4-6; Tit 2:11; 2 Pt 2:1; 3:9).



C.  Norman Geisler responds to this verse

In his ‘answering objections to the origin of salvation’, Geisler responds to an objection ‘based on God’s unique love for the elect’. This is the objection:

Strong Calvinists claim that God does not salvifically love all people, insisting that Christ died only for the elect. If this is true, then God is not omnibenevolent. For instance: ‘He chose us’ (not ‘all’ – Eph. 1:4); ‘Christ died for our sins’ (1 Cor. 15;3); ‘I lay down my life for the sheep’ (John 10:15); ‘Christ loved the church and gave himself for her (Eph 5:25) [Geisler 2004:194, emphasis in original].

What is his rejoinder to this objection?

The fact that only believers are mentioned in some passages as the object of Christ’s death does not prove that the Atonement is limited, for several reasons.

First, Paul also said that Jesus ‘gave himself for me’ (Gal. 2:20), het no proponent of limited atonement takes this to exclude the fact that Christ died for others as well.

Second, when Paul uses terms like we, our, or us of the Atonement, it speaks only of those to whom it has been applied, not for all those for whom it was provided. In doing so, Scripture does not thereby limit the Atonement.

Third, and finally, the fact that Jesus loves His bride and died for her (Eph. 5;25) does not mean that God the Father and Jesus the Son do not love the whole world and desire them to be part of His bride, the church. John 3:16 explicitly says otherwise (Geisler 2004:195).

See also, S. Michael Houdmann, ‘Main arguments against limited atonement(please understand that Houdmann in this link is a 4-point Calvinist who does not believe in limited atonement).

red blood cells

(courtesy wpclipart)

Works consulted

Allen, D L 2010. The atonement: Limited or universal? In D L Allen & S W Lemke (eds), Whosoever will: A biblical-theological critique of five-point Calvinism, 61-107. Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic.

Geisler, N 1999. Chosen but free. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.

Geisler, N 2004. Systematic theology: Sin, salvation, vol 3. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

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


[1] janxharris#11, 17 November 2013, Christian Forums, Soteriology, ‘What did Paul preach to the Corinthians?’, available at: (Accessed 17 November 2013).

[2] Hammster#12, ibid.

[3] OzSpen#14, ibid.

[4] Hammster#16, ibid.

[5] At this point the footnote was, ‘Spoken to the author in a personal conversation’ (Allen 2010:107, n. 133).

[6] Here the footnote was: ‘We should heed the words of Thomas Lamb, seventeenth-century Baptist and Calvinist, who said: “… yet I deny not, but grand with him [John Goodwin], that the denial of Christs [sic] Death for the sins of all, doth detract from God’s Philanthropy, and deny him to be a lover of men, and doth in very deed destroy the very foundation and ground-work of Christian faith” (Thomas Lamb, Absolute Freedom from Sin by Christs Death for the World [London: Printed by H. H. for the authour, and are to be sold by him, 1656], 248)’ (Allen 2010:107, n. 134).


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 8 October 2016.

Hope for the Hopeless



by Spencer D. Gear[1]

This is a “no hope” world. If we want to put people down, we call them “no hopers.” Just think of what has happened to hope during this century. Two world wars, Hitler’s gas ovens and the deaths of 6 million Jews, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the atomic age ushered in with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The killing fields of Pol Pot‘s Cambodia. The slaughter in Rwanda, Zaire and Port Arthur (Tasmania, Australia).

Some of the young people I speak to, who are contemplating suicide, tell me they see no future. They have given up hope.

Dr Brendan Nelson, former president of the Australian Medical Association and now a member of Federal Parliament, wrote a letter to The Australian newspaper in which he said:

“The thematic currency of youth suicide is our failure to transmit a sense of belonging and meaningful purpose to young people. We have created a culture in which young people frequently feel they have nothing other than themselves in which to believe. The mesh of values that held Australian society together 30 years ago – God, king and country – has been systematically dismantled, leaving only a vacuum. The price of our shallowness is being paid by our children”.[2]

When the apostle Peter wrote to persecuted Christians scattered across Asia Minor, he affirmed their “living hope.” Pie-in-the-sky stuff? Never!

It is a living hope only because Jesus is alive. It is a hope that will not die because of the one who conquered death through his resurrection.

This is the living hope for which our young yearn. Who will tell them of the hope in Jesus?

As Bill and Gloria Gaither’s song puts it: “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow; because He lives, all fear is gone; because I know Who holds the future and life is worth the living just because He lives”.[3]



[1]At the time I wrote this brief article for a local newspaper (under authorisation from the local Ministers’ Fraternal), I was the co-ordinator and counsellor of a youth counselling service in Bundaberg, Qld., Australia and a member of the Bundaberg Ministers’ Association.

[2] Letters to the editor, “Suicide the price of our shallowness,” Dr Brendan Nelson, Federal Liberal Party member for Bradfield, NSW, Weekend Australian, January 11-12, 1997, p. 20.

[3] Performed here by the Gaither Vocal Band, available at: (Accessed 23 December 2013).

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 12 November 2015.

Controversies: Once saved, always saved

Ribbon Salvation Button Blue Salvation Button

By Spencer D Gear

It is predictable that in discussions on Christian themes in person and online, that there will be a dialogue, pro and con, regarding eternal security (often called once saved, always saved – OSAS) or perseverance of the saints. Sometimes this discussion can become somewhat heated.

In fact, Roger Olson, an Arminian, is of the view that there will be continuing Calvinistic-Arminian conflict in Christian theology. He wrote:

Whatever the future of the story of Christian theology brings forth, it is bound to be interesting. It always has been. And there are as-yet unresolved issues for theological reformers to work on. The major one, of course, is the old debate between monergists and synergists over God’s relationship with the world. New light from God’s Word is badly needed as the extremes of process theology and resurgent Augustinian-Calvinism polarize Christian thought as never before. While I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, I predict (with fear and trembling) that this issue will be the all-consuming one in Christian theology in the twenty-first century and that new insights and suggestions for resolving it will come from non-Western Christian thinkers. All the options of Western (European and North American) thought seem to have been proposed and have led only to reactions rather than resolutions. If this particular problem of theology is ever to be solved – even in part – the crucial insights will almost certainly need to come from outside of Western culture, with its dualistic mindset that insists on seeing divine and human agencies as in competition with one another (Olson 1999:612).


(courtesy ChristArt)


A. Doubts about Arminians even being Christian

I encountered this and entered into some discussions with advocates of the OSAS position in a Christian online forum. Arminians have come under some provocative attacks (I write as a Reformed Arminian). Here are a couple of challenging examples:

(1) Kim Riddlebarger has stated, ‘Arminianism is not simply an alternative for evangelicals who are uncomfortable with certain doctrinal tenets of Calvinism. Taken to its logical conclusion, Arminianism is not only a departure from historic orthodoxy, but a serious departure from the evangel itself’ (Riddlebarger 1992:5, emphasis added).[1]

(2) Michael Horton has stated:

There will doubtless be Roman Catholics, Arminians, and others in Paradise who were saved by God’s grace even if they, like me, did not understand or appreciate that grace as much as they should have. Nevertheless, if we are going to still use “evangelical” as a noun to define a body of Christians holding to a certain set of convictions, it is high time we got clear on these matters. An evangelical cannot be an Arminian any more than an evangelical can be a Roman Catholic. The distinctives of evangelicalism were denied by Rome at the Council of Trent, by the Remonstrants in 1610, were confused and challenged by John Wesley in the eighteenth century, and have become either ignored or denied in contemporary “evangelicalism” (Horton 2013, emphasis added).[2]

Some do not want to use the dichotomy of synergism vs monergism. See:Monergism Versus Synergism: Beware, Kobayashi Maru Ahead!(John Kebbel, Society of Evangelical Arminians). However, for plying these definitions apart, Terrance L Tiessen, wrote:

Calvinism is monergistic in its soteriology, as evidenced particularly in two points in the well known acronym, TULIP – unconditional election and irresistible (or efficacious) grace. These points identify salvation as God’s sovereign work, in which God chose to glorify himself by saving particular people, in Christ, without any conditions on their part except those which God himself efficaciously enables them to fulfill, so that salvation is God’s work from beginning to end, even though it does not come about without human response.

By contrast, though Arminians also insist that salvation is a work of God’s grace, God does not determine who will be saved by it. His prevenient grace enables people to meet the conditions (repentance, faith, and obedience) which they could never have met on their own, but whether or not that grace eventuates in their salvation is determined by the individuals, not by God. So Arminianism has been dubbed “synergistic.”

In both of these understandings of salvation, God’s grace is essential, and in both of them people are not saved apart from their response to God’s grace. But because God determines the outcome in the Calvinist construct, it has been called “monergistic,” though it is clear that God is not the only actor. The key point is that God is the decisive actor, the one whose action determines the outcome.[3]

B. John 10:28-29 and eternal security

These verses read:

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand (ESV).

In responding to an Arminian who wrote about the falling away of believers in Hebrews 6:4-6, a Calvinist wrote on Christian Forums:

Let me put it another way.

Jesus said: “My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” -John 10:29 (KJV)

If sin, causes you to come out of the Father’s hand, if you, choosing to sin, takes you out of the Father’s hand, and costs you your salvation, then God ceases to omnipotent (all powerful). Sin, and man (namely you) are able to overpower and take yourself from His care.

Now which is corect (sic)?

No man, not even yourself can take you out of God’s hand, or is sin and man more powerful than God?

Either Jesus and scriptures are correct, or Jesus told a lie and subsequently the scriptures lie also, which means sin and man are more powerful than God.[4]

Another responded, ‘The problem is: in this church age, once you are saved by God, there is no way YOU can unsave yourself no matter what you do’.[5] DeaconDean’s reply was, ‘Sure there is. Haven’t you read the thread?’[6] I’d recommend a read of this online thread to see the back and forth between eternal security supporters – unconditional eternal security – and those who believe in conditional eternal security for Christian believers, i.e. between Calvinists and Arminians.

My reply to DeaconDean[7], who cited the Calvinist, John Gill, on John 10:28, Kittel and others. was:[8]

This is what happens when you read John 10:28-29 in isolation from the rest of John’s Gospel. It is true that ‘I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand…. no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand’ (emphasis added).

BUT this is what can happen. Take a read of John 15:6. This is in the context of being in the vine – God’s vine – and Jesus being the true vine and God the Father being the vinedresser (John 15:1). This is what John 15:6 states, ‘If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned (ESV, emphasis added).

The gracious power of God is comprehensively sufficient to protect every born-again Christian believer forever. But a believer can in the end be lost, because salvation is conditional. None of our enemies will be able to snatch us out of the Father’s/Jesus’ hands.
BUT … BUT, any Christians can turn from Jesus, enter into disbelief, commit apostasy and perish by wilful acts of their own. That’s what John 15:6 teaches: ‘‘If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away….’.

Therefore, John 10:28-29 is not an absolute that guarantees once-saved-always-saved (which, by the way, is not biblical language). Eternal life is granted to those who continue to believe. We know this from verses in John such as John 3:36; 6:47,

Whoever believes [Gk present tense – continues believing] in the Son has [Gk present tense – continues to have] eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him (John 3:36 ESV)

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes [Gk present tense – continues to believe] has [Gk present tense – continues to have] eternal life (John 6:47 ESV).


1. People can commit apostasy

Thus, eternal life only continues as long as a person continues to believe. He or she can commit apostasy by not continuing to believe in Christ for eternal life.

 Chuck Templeton (from Brad Templeton’s photo site)

I know people for whom this has happened and is continuing to happen – apostasy – and they were once vibrant Christians. Consider Charles Templeton, one of Billy Graham’s associates in Billy’s early days of ministry with Youth for Christ. See ‘Death of an apostate’.

Lee Strobel interviewed Templeton for Strobel’s book The case for faith (2000:9-46). Here is a grab from that interview:

And what about Jesus? I wanted to know what Templeton thought of the cornerstone of Christianity. “Do you believe Jesus ever lived?” I asked.

“No question,” came the quick reply.

“Did he think he was God?”

He shook his head. “That would have been the last thought that would have entered his mind.”

“And his teaching – did you admire what he taught?”

“Well, he wasn’t a very good preacher. What he said was too simple. He hadn’t thought about it. He hadn’t agonized over the biggest question there is to ask.”

“Which is …”

Is there a God? How could anyone believe in a God who does, or allows, what goes on in the world?”

“And how do you assess this Jesus?” It seemed like the next logical question – but I wasn’t ready for the response it would evoke.

Templeton’s body language softened. It was as if he suddenly felt relaxed and comfortable in talking about an old and dear friend. His voice, which at times had displayed such a sharp and insistent edge, now took on a melancholy and reflective tone. His guard seemingly down, he spoke in an unhurried pace, almost nostalgically, carefully choosing his words as he talked about Jesus.

“He was,” Templeton began, “the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. His ethical sense was unique. He was the intrinsically wisest person that I’ve ever encountered in my life or in my readings. His commitment was total and led to his own death, much to the detriment of the world. What could one say about him except that this was a form of greatness?”

I was taken aback. “You sound like you really care about him,” I said.

“Well, yes, he is the most important thing in my life,” came his reply. “I . . . I . . . I . . . ,” he stuttered, searching for the right word, ‘I know it may sound strange, but I have to say . . . I adore him!” . . .

” . . . Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus. Yes . . . yes. And tough! Just look at Jesus. He castigated people. He was angry. People don’t think of him that way, but they don’t read the Bible. He had a righteous anger. He cared for the oppressed and exploited. There’s no question that he had the highest moral standard, the least duplicity, the greatest compassion, of any human being in history. There have been many other wonderful people, but Jesus is Jesus….’

“Uh . . . but . . . no,’ he said slowly, ‘he’s the most . . .” He stopped, then started again. “In my view,” he declared, “he is the most important human being who has ever existed.”

That’s when Templeton uttered the words I never expected to hear from him. “And if I may put it this way,” he said as his voice began to crack, ‘I . . . miss . . . him!”

With that tears flooded his eyes. He turned his head and looked downward, raising his left hand to shield his face from me. His shoulders bobbed as he wept. . . .

Templeton fought to compose himself. I could tell it wasn’t like him to lose control in front of a stranger. He sighed deeply and wiped away a tear. After a few more awkward moments, he waved his hand dismissively. Finally, quietly but adamantly, he insisted: “Enough of that” (Strobel 2000:20-21).

Chuck Templeton, Torrey Johnson and Billy Graham in a publicity photo for the European trip taken in the YFC offices in Chicago, about  March 1946. (Billy Graham Center Archives, Wheaton College) [courtesy Justin Taylor].

However, Hebrews 6:4-6 is very clear about what happens to those who apostatise from the faith: ‘It is impossible to restore [them] again to repentance’ (6:4).

What, then, is apostasy?

Apostasy refers to

defection from the faith, an act of unpardonable rebellion against God and his truth. The sin of apostasy results in the abandonment of Christian doctrine and conduct. With respect to the covenant relationship established through prior profession of faith (passive profession in the case of baptized infants), apostates place themselves under the curse and wrath of God as covenant breakers, having entered into a state of final and irrevocable condemnation. Those who apostatize are thus numbered among the reprobate. Since the resurrection of Christ, there is no distinction between blasphemy against Christ and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt 12:31-32; Heb 6:4-6 ; 10:26-29 ; 1 John 5:16-17) [Karlberg 1996].

John 10:28-29 cannot be read in isolation apart from John 3:36; 6:47 and 15:6.

I have to be honest with what the text says, based on the tenses of the original language.

I do not think that you will like this kind of news (and it shouldn’t be new news for you), but that is what the texts say.

And have a guess what? First Timothy 1:19 and Hebrews 6:4-6 confirm that this can happen. People can continue to believe or to discontinue in belief. They then move from eternal life to eternal damnation. That’s how I see the Bible unfolding.

I have to be honest with the biblical text and in this case, with John’s Gospel.

I replied:[9]

So I respectfully disagree with your ‘accessment’. I do hope you mean assessment and not accessment. Accessment is not a word in my dictionary (also check

Also he wrote, ‘Now, regarding the Hebrews passage, I’m sure your (sic) familiar with Kittles (sic)?’ His name is spelled Kittel.
I agree with the Greek exegesis of Kittel (I have the 10 volumes of the Theological Dictionary that he co-edited with Gerhard Friedrich) where he explained that a person who commits apostasy cannot be brought again to repentance. That’s Bible!

See my detailed exposition of Hebrews 6:4-8 in my, ‘Once Saved, Always Saved or Once Saved, Lost Again? What you have cited from John Gill on Heb. 6:4-6 is not in agreement with the exegesis I have provided in my exposition.

I wrote, that John 10:28-29 should not be read in isolation from John 3:36; 6:47 and 15:6′. What did I notice in his response? He provided not one word to refute the content of John 3:36; 6:47 and 15:6, which teach that eternal life is conditional on people continuing to believe. People will continue to have eternal life if they continue to believe and they continue to remain in the vine. These verses are contrary to the view this person was advocating.

In my understanding of the exegesis, a once saved, always saved view is not taught by these verses that require continuing belief to enter eternal life. And that is taught by John 3:16 as well, ‘whoever believes’ means ‘whoever continues to believe’ because the Greek for ‘believes’ is a present tense Greek participle, indicating continuing action. Thus affirming the other verses that I’ve cited from John that continuing / continuous believing is needed to enter and retain eternal life.

Thus, perseverance of the saints is a much more biblical description of the perspective in Scripture – as I understand the Greek present tense used in the verses I have mentioned – than a once saved, always saved view (based on my understanding of the Greek grammar of the meaning of the present tense).

In the Baptist church in which I was raised, I was taught the view this person advocated of once saved, always saved. But my examination of these Scriptures has brought me to the view I am here sharing. I take seriously the Scriptural injunction:

‘Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers [and sisters], for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness’ (James 3:1 ESV).

The NLT and the new NIV correctly translate adelphoi as brothers and sisters, based on the Greek etymology This is shown in the New Living Translation and the latest NIV. Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon confirms that ‘brother’ as in the singular adelphos means any believer, male or female. Arndt and Gingrich note that ‘Jesus calls everyone who is devoted to him brother Mt 12:50; Mk 3:25, esp. the disciples Mt 28:10; J 20:17. Hence gener. for those in such spiritual communion Mt 25:40; Hb 2:12 (Ps 21:23[22:22), 17 al’ (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:15-16).

So I respectfully come to a different conclusion to yours.

C. Conditional security in John’s Gospel

Another poster wrote:[10]

John 8:31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you ?abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.

This shows the principle and is why in John 15:6 those branches that are burned do not abide in His word as opposed to those in v7.

John 15:6-7 If anyone does not abide in Me, ??he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. ?7? If you abide in Me, and My words ?abide in you, ?you ?will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you

My response was:[11]

Now let’s do the exegesis to obtain the meaning of John 8:31, which stated in full reads, ‘So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples”’ (ESV).

‘Had believed’ is a perfect tense, active voice, participle. Thus it means that those believed in the past and had continuing results of believing. As for ‘abide’ it is an aorist subjunctive verb. It is the conditional subjunctive and a point action, but it needs to be combined with the perfect tense of ‘had believed’ to understand that the meaning is that these Jews had believed in Jesus but they had continuing results of their believing. As a result, they ‘are’ (present tense, continuous action) continuing to be his disciples.

Therefore, based on this exegesis of the Greek text, eternal security is based on continuing to be a disciple. This is not talking about once saved and no longer serving God. It is talking about once saved and continuing to be saved by continuing to believe. That’s why I find the language of ‘once saved, always saved’ to send a message that does not line up with the biblical message of continuing to believe to attain eternal life (as in John 3:16; 3:36; 6:47; 15:6).

John 15:6-7 affirms the need to continue to abide (believe) to remain in the vine.

His response was somewhat unexpected:[12]

After reading your comments here, without going back rereading all the earlier posts I am confused as to why we have disagreed. Other than these in v30 had believed just as Jesus had spoken in the preceding verses and later on in this chapter we see that it is not leading to their salvation. But as far as your other explanations in this post I would agree that saving faith is a one time event that needs not to be renewed but saving faith is a present tense action that will evidence itself in abiding in His word. God looks at the heart and even know the future so He is not sealing and unsealing His children. They are sealed unto the day of redemption. It is God holding on to us and not us holding on to God, Ps 37:23-24, God is the one performing the action of the holding on to us. That is why I agree with Paul when he said being fully persuaded that He who began the good work in you will perform it unto the end.

I’m not of the view that we are agreeing with the need to continue to believe and that it is possible for a genuine believer to commit apostasy. So I replied:[13]

I’m not so sure that we are in agreement as I have provided verses to confirm that John 10:28-29 is in harmony with John 3:16; 3:36; 6:47; and 15:6 where believers are required to continue to believe to attain eternal life. Thus OSAS, in my understanding, is an improper explanation of this view as apostasy can be committed (1 Tim 1:19; Heb 6:4-6; 1 John 4:1-3).

Is it your understanding that a person can be generally saved, continue to follow Jesus, walk away from the faith and then commit apostasy? And the person who commits apostasy cannot be brought again to repentance (Heb 6:4-6). If this is your view, then we are on the same page. But is that your view?

But the OSAS is what I was raised on and I’ve rejected it because I do not find it taught with a consistent hermeneutic in Scripture.

D. Continuing belief needed for eternal security

I do wish my two friends who have committed apostasy would be able to return to repentance, but Hebrews 6:4-6 says that is not possible as ‘they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt’ (6:6 ESV). Heb. 6:4 is adamant in its teaching about those who commit apostasy: ‘for it is impossible to restore again to repentance’. That’s not the way my limited understanding of compassion and mercy works. But that’s based on the absolute justice, empathy, love and compassion of the absolutely honest Almighty God.

I have an ultimate commitment to the Lord God Almighty who revealed His will in the infallible Scriptures (in the original languages).[14]

Let’s check out …


E.  R C H Lenski, a Lutheran, on John 10:28-29

John 10:28 in Lenski’s translation is, ‘And I will give them life eternal, and they shall in no wise perish forever, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand’ (Lenski 1943:754-755). Of this verse, Lenski wrote of the second half of the verse, beginning with ‘they shall in no wise perish forever’:

This is a double and direct promise; the doubling increases the emphasis. “To perish” is to be separated from God, life, and blessedness forever. John and Paul use especially the middle voice [i.e. meaning ‘for oneself’ – SDG] of the verb in this sense…. It is the opposite of being saved…. “Shall in no way perish” would itself be enough, the modifier “forever” is added pleonastically[15]: this dreadful act shall never occur…. This promise holds good from the moment of faith onward. The verb “to perish” never means “to suffer annihilation,” or to cease to exist.

The first part of the promise is stated from the viewpoint of the sheep: they shall never perish. The second part is from the viewpoint of Jesus and of any hostile being that might attack the sheep: No one shall snatch them out of his hand…. The “hand” of Jesus is his power. His gracious power is all-sufficient to protect every believer forever (Lenski 2001:756).

But wait a minute! Are there not New Testament passages that warn about the danger of a true believer falling away? Reading Lenski on John 10:28 it sounds like Jesus’ followers are saved forever and shall never ever experience anything that would cause them to lose their salvation. But that is not what he concludes from John 10:28. He continues, ‘However weak the sheep are, under Jesus they are perfectly safe. Yet a believer may after all be lost (15:6). Our certainty of eternal salvation is not absolute. While no foe of ours is able to snatch us from our Shepherd’s hand, we ourselves may turn from him and may perish wilfully of our own accord’ (Lenski 2001:756).

His translation of John 10:29 is, ‘My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand’ (Lenski 2001:757). He explained that ‘has given’ is in the perfect tense in Greek and ‘has its usual force: a past act when the Son entered on his mission and its abiding effect as long as that mission endures’. In addition, ‘while “greater” is broad, here it must refer especially to power: the Father exceeds in power every being arrayed against the sheep (Satan, demon spirits, human foes however mighty)’ (2001:758).

But what about nobody ‘able to snatch us from our Shepherd’s hand’? Surely that sounds like a sine qua non to affirm once saved, always saved? Lenski explains:

After thus declaring the Father’s might, it might seem superfluous for Jesus to add, “and no one can snatch them out of the Father’s hand,” for this is certainly self-evident. The reason for the addition lies far deeper. Jesus deliberately parallels what he says of himself, “no one shall snatch them out of my hand,” with what he says of his Father, “no one can snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” The fact that he mentions the detail (“shall snatch”) with reference to himself is due to his being on his saving mission; that he mentions the possibility (“can snatch”) with reference to the Father is due to the Father’s institution of that mission. Both thus belong together; Father and Son, fact and possibility. Does the promise of Jesus, standing there in human form before the Jews, sound preposterous, that no one shall snatch his sheep out of his hand? To snatch them out of his hand is the same as snatching them out of the Father’s hand. Remember the relation of these two hands as his relation centers in the sheep (Lenski 2001:758-759, emphasis in original).

Lenski applies this understanding to John 10:30, his translation being, ‘I and the Father, we are one’. He explains that ‘what is thus prepared [in the preceding verse] is now pronounced in so many words: “I and the Father, we are one”. The equal power to protect the sheep is due to the equality of these two persons. This makes the mighty acts of equal protection perfectly plain. This makes the mighty acts of equal protection perfectly plain’ (Lenski 2001:759).

Lenski has already indicated that John 10:28-29 does not mean that eternal security is affirmed absolutely, ‘Our certainty of eternal salvation is not absolute. While no foe of ours is able to snatch us from our Shepherd’s hand, we ourselves may turn from him and may perish wilfully of our own accord’ (2001:756).


(courtesy ChristArt)


F. Is any kind of reconciliation possible?

It is evident from these discussions on a Christian online forum that there was no movement by Calvinists affirming unconditional eternal security and my position as a Reformed Arminian, enunciating a conditional eternal security position. The view that one needs to continue to believe to guarantee eternal security (John 3:16; 3:36; 6:47; 15:6) did not make any impact on these people. It is also evident that some Calvinists, who are anti-Arminian (e.g. Riddlebarger & Horton) have doubts about Arminians being evangelical Christians and even align them with a heresy (Arianism).

There seem to be some aspects of Christian theology where there can be no reconciliation between Calvinists and Arminians. Roger Olson, an evangelical Arminian, claims that these include the nature of God and the understanding of free will. He wrote:

Contrary to popular belief, then, the true divide at the heart of the Calvinist-Arminian split is not predestination versus free will but the guiding picture of God: he is primarily viewed as either (1) majestic, powerful, and controlling or (2) loving, good, and merciful. Once the picture (blik) is established, seemingly contrary aspects fade into the background, are set aside as “obscure” or are artificially made to fit the system. Neither side absolutely denies the truth of the other’s perspective, but each qualifies the attributes of God that are preeminent in the other’s perspective. God’s goodness is qualified by his greatness in Calvinism, and God’s greatness is qualified by his goodness in Arminianism.

Arminians can live with the problems of Arminianism more comfortably than with the problems of Calvinism. Determinism and indeterminism cannot be combined; we must choose one or the other. In the ultimate and final reality of things, people either have some degree of self-determination or they don’t. Calvinism is a form of determinism. Arminians choose indeterminism largely because determinism seems incompatible with God’s goodness and with the nature of personal relationships. Arminians agree with Arminius, who stressed that “the grace of God is not ‘a certain irresistible force…. It is a Person, the Holy Spirit, and in personal relationships there cannot be the sheer over-powering of one person by another’” (in Olson 2006:73-74).

Therefore, Olson reaches the conclusion that

the continental divide between Calvinism and Arminianism, then, lies with different perspectives about God’s identity in revelation. Divine determinism creates problems in God’s character and in the God-human relationship that Arminians simply cannot live with. Because of their controlling vision of God as good, they are unable to affirm unconditional reprobation (which inexorably follows from unconditional election) because it makes God morally ambiguous at best. Denying divine determinism in salvation leads to Arminianism (Olson 2006:74).

It was Olson (2006:74, n. 21) who alerted me to what R C Sproul (1986:139-160) addressed the double-predestination issue. Sproul wrote:

DOUBLE predestination. The very words sound ominous. It is one thing to contemplate God’s gracious plan of salvation for the elect. But what about those who are not elect? Are they also predestined? Is there a horrible decree of reprobation? Does God destine some unfortunate people to hell?…

Unless we conclude that every human being is predestined to salvation, we must face the flip side of election. If there is such a thing as predestination at all, and if that predestination does not include all people, then we must not shrink from the necessary inference that there are two sides to predestination. It is not enough to talk about Jacob; we must also consider Esau (Sproul 1986:141).

Sproul regard Romans 9:16 as fatal to Arminianism. He quotes the New King James Version, ‘So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy’. The ESV reads, ‘So then it depends not on human will or exertion,[16]but on God, who has mercy’. Sproul’s commentary is:

Though Paul is silent about the question of future choices here, he does not remain so. In verse 16 he makes it clear. “So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” This is the coup de grace[17] to Arminianism and all other non-Reformed views of predestination. This is the Word of God that requires all Christians to cease and desist from views of predestination that make the ultimate decision for salvation rest in the will of man. The apostle declares: It is not of him who wills. This is in violent contradiction to the teaching of Scripture. This one verse is absolutely fatal to Arminianism.

It is our duty to honor God. We must confess with the apostle that our election is not based on our wills but on the purposes of the will of God (Sproul 1986:151).

How does an Arminian respond to such an attack on the Arminian view of election/predestination and human responsibility (free will)? I am in agreement with Olson that

the nature of free will is another point where Calvinism and Arminianism diverge and where no middle ground seems possible. Because of their vision of God as good (loving, benevolent, merciful), Arminians affirm libertarian free will. (Philosophers call it incompatibilist free will because it is not compatible with determinism)…. Arminians do not believe in absolute free will; the will is always influenced and situated in a context. Even God is guided by his nature and character when making decisions. But Arminians deny that creaturely decisions and actions are controlled by God or any force outside the self (Olson 1986:75).

As noted by Olson, the Calvinistic, compatibilist free will (if Calvinists talk of free will at all)

is compatible with determinism. This is the only sense of free will that is consistent with Calvinism’s vision of God as the all-determining reality. In compatibilist free will, persons are free so long as they do what they want to do – even if God is determining their desires. This is why Calvinists can affirm that people sin voluntarily and are therefore responsible for their sins even though they could not do otherwise. According to Calvinism God foreordained the Fall of Adam and Eve, and rendered it certain (even if only by an efficacious permission) by withdrawing the grace necessary to keep them from sinning. And yet they sinned voluntarily. They did what they wanted to do even if they were unable to do otherwise. This is a typical Calvinist account of free will.[18]

Once again it is difficult to see how a hybrid of these two views of free will could be created. Could people have freely chosen to do something different than they actually did? Some Calvinists (such as Jonathan Edwards) agree with Arminians that people have the natural ability to do otherwise (e.g., avoid sinning). But what about moral ability? Arminians agree with Calvinists that apart from the grace of God all fallen humans choose to sin; their will is bound to sin by original sin manifesting itself as total depravity (Olson 2006:75).

However, Arminians describe it differently to free will. This moral ability that people have is called prevenient grace, given to them by God. Again, Olson:

Arminians do not call this free will because these people cannot do otherwise (except in terms of deciding which sins to commit!). From the Arminian perspective prevenient grace restores free will so that humans, for the first time, have the ability to do otherwise – namely, respond in faith to the grace of God or resist it in unrepentance and disbelief. At the point of God’s call, sinners under the influence of prevenient grace have genuine free will as a gift of god; for the first time they can freely say yes or no to God. Nothing outside the self determines how they will respond. Calvinists say that humans never have that ability in spiritual matters (any possibility in any matters). People always do what they want to do, and God is the ultimate decider of human wants even though when it comes to sin, God works through secondary causes And never directly causes anyone to sin. These two views are incommensurable. To the Arminian, compatibilist free will is no free will at all. To the Calvinist, incompatibilist free will is a myth; it simply cannot exist because it would amount to an uncaused effect, which is absurd[19] (Olson 2006:75-76, emphasis added).

Contrary to Sproul, Romans 9:16 is not fatal to Calvinism. The Calvinistic and Arminian views of free will are not compatible. Sproul’s view seems to involve his imposition of a Calvinistic worldview on Romans 9:16. What about Romans 9:14-18, which reads:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

This refers back to Exodus 7 and 8. If we note that context, we see that Pharaoh ‘hardened his heart’ (Ex 8:15) and ‘Pharaoh’s heart was hardened’ by God (Ex 8:19). So none of the application in Romans 9 excludes the action of individual responsibility for Pharaoh hardening his own heart and thus God hardened it. Human responsibility was not excluded in God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus, as it is in God’s showing mercy and demonstrating hardening Romans 9. God’s actions and human responsibility go together in God’s super plan for the universe.

Therefore, I find Sproul quite wrong in his wanting to make Romans 9:16 to be ‘absolutely fatal to Arminianism’. Calvinism’s and Arminians’ concept of free will, election and predestination are described very differently, so the finger needs to be pointed to Sproul’s faulty understanding of the differences between Arminianism and Calvinism and making his judgement on a Calvinistic basis instead of reading Arminians on their own terms.

Therefore, there can be no reconciliation on the concepts of free will between Arminians and Calvinists while they maintain the positions as expounded above.


G. Conclusion

The conclusion is that none the twain shall meet. Calvinists will continue to believe in unconditional eternal security and Reformed/classical Arminians will continue to believe that it is possible for a person to commit apostasy for whom there is then no repentance possible to return to salvation.

For a biblical explanation of prevenient grace, see my articles,

clip_image002 Is prevenient grace still amazing grace?

clip_image002[1] The injustice of the God of Calvinism

clip_image002[2]Some Calvinistic antagonism towards Arminians

Other writings to confirm conditional security

I have written on this topic elsewhere. See:

clip_image004 Spencer Gear: Conversations with a Calvinist on apostasy

clip_image004[1] Spencer Gear: Once Saved, Always Saved or Once Saved, Lost Again?

clip_image004[2] Matthew Murphy: Practical Problems with OSAS

clip_image004[3] Spencer Gear: What does it mean to shipwreck your faith?

clip_image004[4] Spencer Gear: Is the Holy Spirit’s seal a guarantee of eternal security?

clip_image004[5]Matt O’Reilly: Eternally secure, provided that…

clip_image004[6] Spencer Gear: What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?

clip_image004[7] Spencer Gear: Does God want everyone to receive salvation?

clip_image004[8]Steve Witzki: The Inadequate Historical Precedent for ‘Once Saved, Always Saved

clip_image004[9] Spencer Gear: Does God’s grace make salvation available to all people?

clip_image004[10] Spencer Gear: Calvinists, free will and a better alternative

clip_image004[11] Spencer Gear: Is it possible or impossible to fall away from the Christian faith?

clip_image004[12] Steve Jones: Calvinism Critiqued by a Former Calvinist

clip_image004[13]Roy Ingle: Holding Firmly, I Am Held (An Arminian Approach to Eternal Security)

Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House)

Edwards, J n d. Freedom of the will. Christian Classics Etherial Library (CCEL).Available at: (Accessed 28 September 2013).

Horton, M S 2013. Evangelical Arminians: Option or oxymoron?[20] in Reformation online, September 28. Available at: (Accessed 28 September 2013).

Lenski, R C H 2001. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of St. John’s Gospel. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.[21]

Karlberg, M W 1996. Apostasy, in W A Elwell (ed), Baker’s evangelical dictionary of biblical theology. Available at, (Accessed 8 July 2013).

Olson, R E 1999. The story of Christian theology: Twenty centuries of tradition and reform. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Academic.

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

Peterson, R A & Williams, M D 1992. Why I am not an Arminian. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

Riddlebarger, K 1992. Fire and water. Modern reformation, May/June, 1-8 (Archives of Modern reformation, Riddleblog). Available at: (Accessed 29 September 2013).

Strobel, L 2000 The case for faith: A journalist investigates the toughest objections to Christianity. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.


[1] I was alerted to this citation by Olson (2006:79).

[2] Olson (2006:81) referred me to a portion of this citation, thus directing me to the original article.

[3] Terrence L Tiessen, Thoughts Theological, Is sanctification synergistic or monergistic? April 9, 2013, available at: (Accessed 29 September 2013).

[4] Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Eternal security’, DeaconDean#73, available at: (Accessed 28 September 2013).

[5] Danv8#74, ibid.

[6] DeaconDean#75, ibid.

[7] His post was at DeaconDean#73, ibid.

[8] OzSpen#79, ibid.

[9] OzSpen#93, ibid.

[10] iwbswiaihl #81 (emphasis in original), ibid.

[11] OzSpen#94, ibid.

[12] iwbswiaihl #96, ibid.

[13] OzSpen#98, ibid.

[14] I wrote the above 2 paragraphs as OzSpen#99, ibid.

[15] This means ‘the use of more words than are necessary to express an idea; redundancy’ (, accessed 28 September 2013).

[16] Here the ESV footnote is, ‘Greek not of him who wills or runs’.

[17] The online Free Dictionary gives the meaning of coup de grace as, ‘a death blow, esp. one delivered mercifully to end suffering’ and ‘any finishing or decisive stroke’.

[18] Here Olson referred to Peterson & Williams 1992:136-161).

[19] At this point, Olson gave the footnote, ‘The classic Calvinist critique of libertarian free will is found in Jonathan Edward’s treatise “Freedom of the Will”’ (Olson 1986:76, n. 23). For this treatise, see Edwards (n d).

[20] This was originally published in Modern Reformation, 1 (3) May-June 1992, available at: (Accessed 28 September 2013).

[21] This was originally published in 1943 by Lutheran Book Concern and assigned to Augsburg Publishing House in 1961.


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 3 November 2015.