Monthly Archives: September 2014

Is there literal fire in hell?

By Spencer D Gear


Jonathan Edwards (painting courtesy Wikipedia)

I can’t remember the last sermon I heard on hell in an evangelical church here in Australia. Absence of such preaching seems to be part of the contemporary approach of seeker-sensitive, user-friendly Christianity in my part of the world. The inference, by the silence, seems to be that to preach on hell will scare people away from the church and that we don’t need that. We need more and more people to come to church. Forget about the hell emphasis. It’s no good for our image of popularity.

It seems to me that this is because of a number of factors:

(1) Hell is not regarded as a positive message in modern society;

(2) The holiness of God is not in the forefront of Christian’s theology of God;

(3) Why would there be a need for hell if it were not for a  knowledge of the human condition – unrepentant sinners?

Preaching the consequences of sin is not at the top of the preaching Hit Parade Down Under. The silence in these areas is deafening.

That famous sermon

Perhaps the most famous sermon ever preached on hell was by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). He delivered it to his own congregation at Northampton, Massachusetts with unknown impact, but when he preached it again in Enfield, Connecticut, 8 July 1741, that’s when he gained the nation’s attention. The impact has continued beyond the 18th century.

Part of this sermon reads:

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.

O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment (Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol 2, ‘Sinners in the hands of an angry God’).

I urge you to read the sermon in its entirety.

How did the listeners respond to such a sermon with hell portrayed as God’s wrath towards people burning like fire and people being cast into the fire of hell? It sure reads like a literal hell that is ‘full of the fire of wrath’ and of ‘flames of divine wrath’. This is one report of that sermon’s impact:

An eyewitness, Stephen Williams, wrote in his diary, “We went over to Enfield where we met dear Mr. Edwards of Northampton who preached a most awakening sermon from these words, Deuteronomy 32:35, and before the sermon was done there was a great moaning and crying went out through ye whole House…. ‘What shall I do to be saved,’ ‘Oh, I am going to Hell,’ ‘Oh, what shall I do for Christ,’ and so forth. So yet ye minister was obliged to desist, ye shrieks and cry were piercing and amazing” (in William P Farley, ‘Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening’).

Edwards pursued this kind of emphasis in another sermon:

The body will be full of torment as full as it can hold, and every part of it shall be full of torment. They shall be in extreme pain, every joint of ’em, every nerve shall be full of inexpressible torment. They shall be tormented even to their fingers’ ends. The whole body shall be full of the wrath of God. Their hearts and bowels and their heads, their eyes and their tongues, their hands and their feet will be filled with the fierceness of God’s wrath. This is taught us in many Scriptures (in Gerstner 1980:56, n. 37).

See another sermon by Edwards that also uses graphic imagery, ‘The portion of the wicked’, preached in 1735.


C H Spurgeon (painting courtesy Wikipedia)

Charles Spurgeon pursued similar, literal language:

Now, do not begin telling me that that is metaphorical fire: who cares for that? If a man were to threaten to give me a metaphorical blow on the head, I should care very little about it; he would be welcome to give me as many as he pleased. And what say the wicked? “We do not care about metaphorical fires.” But they are real, sir—yes, as real as yourself. There is a real fire in hell, as truly as you have now a real body—a fire exactly like that which we have on earth in everything except this—that it will not consume, though it will torture you. You have seen the asbestos lying in the fire red hot, but when you take it out it is unconsumed. So your body will be prepared by God in such a way that it will burn for ever without being consumed; it will lie, not as you consider, in metaphorical fire, but in actual flame” (Spurgeon 1856).[1]

However, I have a question: In spite of Jonathan Edwards’ reputation as an outstanding Calvinistic theologian and leader of a Great Awakening of spiritual impact, did Edwards paint an accurate picture of the nature of hell with his language? Is hell a literal place of fire where God’s wrath is experienced in literal manner? Is there a more accurate, biblical understanding? Was C H Spurgeon’s view harmonious with the biblical accounts?

A modern questioner

If you want to pick up some contemporary version of hell, go to an active Christian forum where you will find any number of agreements and challenges to the doctrine of hell. I met one fellow who stated:

Rev 20:14, ‘And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death’.
Rev 20:15, ‘And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire’.
Rev 21:8, ‘But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death’.
Sounds pretty scary some have suggested its (sic) a metaphor but for what.
Deut 4:24, ‘For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God’.[2]

I asked for some clarification: What would be one primary question you want us to address from what you have posted here?[3] His reply was:

What is the nature of the lake of fire?


(image courtesy public domain)

The primary question would be what does the lake of fire consist of is it a real fire to torment the wicked and unbelievers for eternity I don’t think so.
I believe it has a good purpose There are many references in the bible about fire of which I have chosen just a few to maybe show that there maybe another explanation.
Is God the lake of fire he is eternal the same as the lake?
Is the lake of fire a refining fire to remove the dross from the wicked?
Zech 13:9  And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God.[4]

Hell fire as metaphorical

My response was:[5] I consider that hell/Hades/Gehenna are real and this will be a conscious, frightful place. But I can’t conclude about its exact nature for these reasons:
I accept that the biblical writers used metaphorical and not literal language. My main reasons for such a view are:
clip_image007 Hell/Hades could not be represented as literal fire because it is also described as a place of darkness (see Matt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; 2 Peter 2:17; Jude 1:13). Fire and darkness are mutually exclusive terms so hell’s description cannot be literal.

clip_image007[1] Let’s use Jude as an example. He described the after-life as ‘eternal fire’ (Jude 1:7) but that is contrasted with ‘utter darkness’ (Jude 1:13). For the angels, Jude writes of ‘gloomy darkness’ (Jude 1:6). Again, literal fire and literal darkness would be contradictory – from my human perspective.

clip_image007[2] This issue is made knotty by the ‘lake of fire’ (Rev 19:20; 20:10, 14, 15; 21:8. This hardly conforms with the ‘blackest darkness’.

clip_image007[3] John the Baptist and Jesus also describe hell as ‘fire’ (Matt 3:10; 25:41) but also as ‘darkness’ (Matt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30).

clip_image008 Also Matt 25:41 describes hell as a place for the devil and his angels. They are spirit beings. How is it possible for fire to work on non-physical beings?
Therefore, I accept a metaphorical understanding of hell/Hades/Gehenna. It does involve conscious suffering/torment (cf Luke 16:23-24) , but its nature is unknown to me because of the language used. Evidence from outside the NT also supports this perspective.

See fire and darkness appearing together in Jewish writings such as Qumran (1QS 2:8; 4:13), 1 Enoch 103:7; 2 Enoch 10:2-3; Jerusalem Talmud, Shekalim 6:1, 49d. These writings also speak of the bodies of the wicked that are rotting with worms and maggots (Judith 16:17; Sirach (Ben Sira) 7:17, cf Isa 66:24). It was ‘hot as fire and cold as ice’ replacing eternal torment in 2 Enoch 14:20(12).[6]

Support for the metaphorical view


William V Crockett (photo courtesy Facebook)

I have been helped greatly in reaching this understanding by the exposition on hell, ‘The Metaphorical View’, by William Crockett. Crockett wrote:

Christians should never be faced with this kind of embarrassment – the Bible does not support a literal view of a burning abyss. Hellfire and brimstone are not literal depictions of hell’s fictions, but figurative expressions warning the wicked of impending doom…. Opinions on the nature of final judgment will always be with us, and it would be presumptuous to say that I know precisely what hell is going to be like. I do not, of course, and no one else does either. When it comes to the afterlife, only the dead know for sure. Yet we do have revelation from the Lord of the living and the dead, and that revelation – the Scriptures – must be our guide…. The words of Jesus and the apostles tell us that the final abode of the wicked will be a place of awful reckoning, but specifically what that reckoning will be, we cannot know for certain until we pass beyond this life (Crockett 1999:44, 45).

Crockett rightly calls on support for the metaphorical view from John Calvin, Charles Hodge, J I Packer, Kenneth Kantzer, and Billy Graham. Let’s check out what these Christian leaders stated.

clip_image012 John Calvin in describing the ‘eternal fire’ in texts such as Matt 3:12 stated:

Many persons, I am aware, have entered into ingenious debates about the eternal fire, by which the wicked will be tormented after the judgment. But we may conclude from many passages of Scripture, that it is a metaphorical expression. For, if we must believe that it is real, or what they call material fire, we must also believe that the brimstone and the fan are material, both of them being mentioned by Isaiah. fire] is a metaphorical expression’ (Calvin’s commentaries, vol 31, Matthew Mark, and Luke, Part 1, Matthew 3:11-12).

clip_image012[1] Charles Hodge, Calvinistic theologian, was very pointed:

There seems no more reason for supposing that the fire spoken of in Scripture is to be a literal fire, than that the worm that never dies is literally a worm. The devil and his angels who are to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire, and whose doom the finally impenitent are to share, have no material bodies to be acted upon by elemental fire. As there are to be degrees in the glory and blessedness of heaven, as our Lord teaches us in the parable of the ten talents, so there will be differences as to degree in the sufferings of the lost: some will be beaten with few stripes, some with many (Hodge 1975:868).

clip_image012[2] J I Packer wrote, ‘Do not try to imagine what it is like to be in hell…. The mistake is to take such pictures as physical descriptions, when in fact they are imagery symbolizing realities … far worse than the symbols themselves’ (Packer 1990:25).[7] Elsewhere, Packer wrote:

The New Testament views hell (Gehenna, as Jesus calls it, the place of incineration, Matt. 5:22; 18:9) as the final abode of those consigned to eternal punishment at the Last Judgment (Matt. 25:41-46; Rev. 20:11-15). It is thought of as a place of fire and darkness (Jude 7, 13), of weeping and grinding of teeth (Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30), of destruction (2 Thess. 1:7-9; 2 Pet. 3:7; 1 Thess. 5:3), and of torment (Rev. 20:10; Luke 16:23)—in other words, of total distress and misery. If, as it seems, these terms are symbolic rather than literal (fire and darkness would be mutually exclusive in literal terms), we may be sure that the reality, which is beyond our imagining, exceeds the symbol in dreadfulness. New Testament teaching about hell is meant to appall us and strike us dumb with horror, assuring us that, as heaven will be better than we could dream, so hell will be worse than we can conceive. Such are the issues of eternity, which need now to be realistically faced….

The reality … will be more terrible than the concept; no one can imagine how bad hell will be (Packer 1993:261-262).

clip_image012[3] A former editor of Christianity Today, Kenneth Kantzer, was quoted in an article in U.S. News and World Report (March 25, 1991): ‘The Bible makes it clear that hell is real and it’s bad … but when Jesus spoke of flames … these are most likely figurative warnings’.


Billy Graham (photo courtesy public domain)

clip_image014 This metaphorical view is also supported by Billy Graham who stated, ‘I have often wondered if hell is a terrible burning within our hearts for God, to fellowship with God, a fire that we can never quench’ (Graham 1984:2). Elsewhere it is reported of Billy Graham:

The Orlando (Florida) Sentinel for April 10, 1983, asked Billy Graham: “Surveys tell us that 85% of Americans believe in heaven, but only 65% believe in hell. Why do you think so many Americans don’t accept the concept of hell?” He replied: I think that hell essentially is separation from God forever. And that is the worst hell that I can think of. But I think people have a hard time believing God is going to allow people to burn in literal fire forever. I think the fire that is mentioned in the Bible is a burning thirst for God that can never be quenched.”

“Hell is not the most popular of preaching topics. I don’t like to preach on it. But I must if I am to proclaim the whole counsel of God. We must not avoid warning of it. The most outspoken messages on hell, and the most graphic references to it, came from Jesus Himself. … Jesus used three words to describe hell. … The third word that He used is ‘fire.’ Jesus used this symbol over and over. This could be literal fire, as many believe. or it could be symbolic. … I’ve often thought that this fire could possibly be a burning thirst for God that is never quenched. What a terrible fire that would be–never to find satisfaction, joy, or fulfillment!” (source).[8]

clip_image012[4] Dave Hunt took a similar metaphorical view of hell: ‘The lake of fire will be torment of a burning spiritual thirst beyond description and will never end’ (Hunt 2004).

How do people get in hell forever?

I have found no better, brief explanation than that of J I Packer:[9]

Scripture sees hell as self-chosen; those in hell will realize that they sentenced themselves to it by loving darkness rather than light, choosing not to have their Creator as their Lord, preferring self-indulgent sin to self-denying righteousness, and (if they encountered the gospel) rejecting Jesus rather than coming to him (John 3:18-21; Rom. 1:18, 24, 26, 28, 32; 2:8; 2 Thess. 2:9-11). General revelation confronts all mankind with this issue, and from this standpoint hell appears as God’s gesture of respect for human choice. All receive what they actually chose, either to be with God forever, worshiping him, or without God forever, worshiping themselves. Those who are in hell will know not only that for their doings they deserve it but also that in their hearts they chose it.

The purpose of Bible teaching about hell is to make us appreciate, thankfully embrace, and rationally prefer the grace of Christ that saves us from it (Matt. 5:29-30; 13:48-50). It is really a mercy to mankind that God in Scripture is so explicit about hell. We cannot now say that we have not been warned (Packer 1993:262-263).


The NT provides a picture of heaven with gates of pearl and hell with flames and darkness. These were not meant to be taken literally. The writers were using language that was understood by the people of the day to have the greatest impact. The important emphasis is: ‘Heaven and hell are real; one a place of immeasurable happiness, and the other of profound misery’ (Crockett 1999:76).

See also William V Crockett’s article, ‘Wrath that endures forever’ (1991).


(image courtesy Wikipedia)

Works consulted

Crockett, W 1999. The metaphorical view, in W Crockett (ed), Four views on hell. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Gerstner, J 1080. Jonathan Edwards on heaven and hell. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Graham, B 1984. There is a real hell. Decision 25, No 7-8, July-August.

Hodge, C 1975.[10] Systematic theology, vol 3. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Hunt, D 2004. The Berean Call, a monthly newsletter, July. Bend, Oregon.

Packer, J I 1958. Introduction to John Owen, The death of death in the death of Christ (online). London: Banner of Truth. Available at: (Accessed 28 September 2014).

Packer, J I 1990. The problem of eternal punishment. Crux 26, 18-25, September.

Packer, J I 1993. Concise theology: A guide to historic Christian beliefs. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Spurgeon, C H 1856. The resurrection of the dead [Sermon], New Park Street Chapel, February 17. Available at The Spurgeon series 1855 & 1856: Unabridged sermons in modern language (Accessed 29 September 2014).


[1] This is the unabridged language of Spurgeon, but in modern English. A copy of the original sermon can be found HERE.

[2] Davetaff, ‘The lake of fire’, UK Christian Web, September 24, 2014. Available at: (Accessed 27 September 2014).

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#1.

[4] Ibid., Davetaff#2. Dave’s language & punctuation seem to indicate this is posted from an iphone or tablet.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen#3.

[6] These verses are from Crockett (1999:59).

[7] I located this quote in Crockett (1999:44-45).

[8] A Biblical Standard for Evangelists, Billy Graham, A commentary on the 15 Affirmations made by participants at the International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, July, 1983 (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Worldwide Publications, pp 45-47).

[9] I find the following statement by Packer to be incompatible with his Calvinistic belief, ‘Grace proves irresistible just because it destroys the disposition to resist’ (Packer 1958). How can there be irresistible grace AND a doctrine that ‘sees hell as self-chosen; those in hell will realize that they sentenced themselves to it’. Irresistible grace means that some are chosen by God through grace that they cannot resist. That means that the rest are chosen by God not to receive grace. So how can that be self-chosen when it was impossible for them to choose otherwise?

[10] This is a reprint in 1975.


Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 April 2016.

When will the world be convicted of sin?

Iraq (image courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

We live in a world where incredible wickedness is displayed. We know of the atrocities under Emperor Nero, Adolph Hitler & the Holocaust, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Boko Haram kidnapping of girls in Nigeria, and the ISIL slaughter in Iraq and Syria.

But what about the lying and deceit that is part of everyday life, work and business? When will it be exposed? When will the world be convicted of its sin and when will judgment be declared on a rebellious sinful world?

Now that question assumes that such will happen. I didn’t invent this one out of thin air. I read it in John 16:7-9, Jesus Christ speaking,

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper [the Holy Spirit] will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me (ESV).

A fellow raised it on a Christian forum:

(image courtesy clker)

Convict the World?

John 16:8-9
“When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me”
When does the Holy Spirit convict the world of it’s (sic) unbelief, before or after regeneration?[1]

I asked him,[2]

There is a bigger issue than what you are raising IMO. We need to know what we are talking about with the meaning of ‘convict’ or otherwise.
John 16:8-9 reads in these various translations:

  • ‘And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me’ (ESV);
  • ‘And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:9 Of sin, because they believe not on me’ (KJV);
  • ‘When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me’ (NIV);
  • ‘And when he comes, he will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me’ (RSV).

So what does the future tense, active voice, indicative mood of elegchw mean in this verse: convict, reprove, prove to be wrong, or convince?

Another replied:

The conviction Jesus talks of here is a condemnation because they do not believe in Him.
So nothing to do with being saved.
Nothing to do with any kind of born again regeneration. Do we agree?[3]

While I agreed with his sentiments, he still had not clarified enough, so I pursued the topic: ‘But you haven’t provided an exegesis of the verb, elegchw. We won’t know to what it refers if we don’t know the meaning of the word’.[4] His comeback was:

This? KJV uses ‘reprove’
Greek Lexicon :: G1651 (KJV)

to convict, refute, confute
generally with a suggestion of shame of the person convicted
by conviction to bring to the light, to expose
to find fault with, correct
by word
to reprehend severely, chide, admonish, reprove
to call to account, show one his fault, demand an explanation
by deed
to chasten, to punish

BLB – Jhn 16: Gospel of John 16 (Blue Letter Bible: KJV – King James Version).[5]

That dished up a mish-mash [6]

That fellow amalgamated headings and sub-headings here to make the meaning rather confusing.

Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol 2 (Eerdmans 1964) gives the meaning of elegchw in the NT with the active voice as:

to show someone his sin and to summon him to repentance’. This may be a private matter between 2 people (Mt 18:15; Eph 5:11); a congregational matter under the leader as seen in the pastoral epistles (1 Tm 5:20; 2 Tm 4:2; Tit 1:9, 13; 2:15). It is also the work of the Holy Spirit in the world as we see here in John 16:8, the exalted Christ in the community (Rev 3:19) and of the Lord in judgment at the parousia (Jude 15) [Kittel 1964:474].

This exegesis of the term in Kittel concluded that

the word does not mean only “to blame” or “to reprove,” nor “to convince” in the sense of proof, nor “to reveal” or “expose,” but “to set right,” namely “to point away from sin to repentance”…. The noteworthy and impressive battle against sin which is part of NT Christianity is reflected in the rich use of elegchw and related words (Kittel 1964:474).

A. T. Robertson, one of the greatest Greek scholars of the 20th century stated that elegchw is an ‘old word for confuting, convicting by proof’ [already in John 3:29; 8:46] (Robertson 1932:266).

One of the best non-technical explanations I have read is in William Hendriksen’s commentary on the Gospel of John 16:8 in which he states of ‘will convict’:

But just what does the term convict mean? Convince and convict are not always nor necessarily identical in sense. A man is convinced of a doctrine or of a duty; he is convicted of a crime. Nevertheless, when the context or universe of discourse is human guilt, the two verbs may approach each other very closely in meaning. However, the English verb to convict is rather ambiguous because it may mean either: a. to prove guilty, without implying that the person whose guilt is proved is ready to admit and confess his guilt; and b. to awaken to consciousness of guilt. Surely, when the Holy Spirit convicts the world through the preaching of the Gospel, both of these results are achieved, but not in each individual to whom the Word is proclaimed. The Gospel immediately proves the whole world to be guilty. In the case of many this guilt is brought home to the conscience, so that they feel it. And among these, again, there are some (God’s elect) who not only are convinced of it in their soul, but also admit it openly, truly repent, and, confessing the wrong which they have committed, cast themselves upon the mercy of God in Christ. Hence, the verb to convict does not have the same meaning for all. By and large the wicked world continues in open hostility to God, his Christ, and his people (see Vol. I, p. 79, footnote 26, meaning 6). Though its guilt has been exposed or proved (hence, though in that sense it has been convicted), it does not repent.

The term employed in the original (elegchw) is at least just as elastic in meaning as is the English word to convict. That it means more than merely to rebuke has been shown by R. C. Trench, op. cit., pp. 13–15. However, as his summary is not complete and as he seems to build his case on some (and not on all) the uses of the term, the value of his discussion is somewhat limited. In the passages which he mentions the verb implies to rebuke with good effect, that is, to bring sin home to the conscience.

The divergence of views with respect to the proper translation of the term is evident from the following Table, which lists all the seventeen instances of its use in the New Testament. (In this summary no mention is made of John 8:9 and of Jude 22, where the textual support is weak.)


A.V. A.R.V. R.S.V.
Matt. 18:15 tell him his fault show him his fault tell him his fault
Luke 3:19 reprove reprove reprove
John 3:20 reprove reprove expose
John 8:46 convince convict convict
John 16:8 reprove convict convince
I Cor. 14:24 convince reprove convict
Eph. 5:11 reprove reprove expose
Eph. 5:13 reprove reprove expose
I Tim. 5:20 rebuke reprove rebuke
II Tim. 4:2 reprove reprove convince
Tit. 1:9 convince convict confute
Tit. 1:13 rebuke reprove rebuke
Tit. 2:15 rebuke reprove reprove
Heb. 12:5 rebuke reprove punish
James 2:9 convince convict convict
Jude 1:15 convince convict convict
Rev. 3:19 rebuke reprove reprove


Moulton and Milligan, op. cit., on this verb, prefers the translation convict (in the sense of “bring to light the true character of a man and his conduct”) for all three instances of its use in the Fourth Gospel; and renders it expose, set forth in I Cor. 14:24; Eph. 5:11, giving papyri support for both uses (Hendriksen 1953:324-325).


My overall conclusion is in line with that of Hendriksen that the world is convicted (about the true character of human beings and their conduct) by the proclamation of the Gospel and that will be exposed in judgment at the parousia (i.e. Christ’s second coming).

I know that this has been long and quite technical, but I find it is too easy to throw around the meaning of ‘convict’ in John 16:8 without doing the exegesis. I also realise a lot of folks won’t have the interest in and tools to do this kind of exegesis.

Works consulted

Hendriksen, W 1953. New Testament commentary: Exposition of the Gospel according to John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, also available at:

Kittel, G (ed) 1964. Theological dictionary of the New Testament, vol 2. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. The article cited was on elegchw by Friedrich Büchsel, 473-476.

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


[1] gmm4Jesus#1, 10 May 2014, Christian Forums, General Theology, Salvation (Soteriology), ‘Convict the world’, available at: (Accessed 12 May 2014).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#9.

[3] Ibid., sdowney#10.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen#12.

[5] Ibid., sdowney#13.

[6] The following is my response at ibid., OzSpen#15.


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

Was the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah not being hospitable?

John Martin’s rendering of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction (Courtesy Creationwiki)

By Spencer D Gear

I find it disconcerting how wide of the mark some secular journalists can become in their understanding of Scripture. A recent example was that of Elizabeth Farrelly in The Age, a Melbourne newspaper (also online). The article was titled, ‘Tenets of democracy get lost in hate storm’.[1]

The first line was, ‘The sin of sodomy, say biblical scholars, was not homosexual sex but a failure of hospitality’. Really?

Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe give this reason behind the ‘hospitality’ interpretation of Gen 19 rather than sexual sodomy:

Some have argued that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was inhospitality, not homosexuality. They base this claim on the Canaanite custom that guarantees protection for those coming under one’s roof. Lot is alleged to have referred to it when he said, “Don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof” (Gen. 19:8 NIV). So Lot offered his daughters to satisfy the angry crowd in order to protect the lives of the visitors who had come under his roof. Some also claim that the request of the men of the city to “know” (Gen. 19:5 ) simply means “to get acquainted,” since the Hebrew word “know” (yada) generally has no sexual connotations whatsoever (cf. Psalm 139:1 ) (Geisler & Howe 1992:48).

Farrelly’s view is that biblical scholars claim that the issue for Sodom & Gomorrah is not the sin of male homosexuality but of being inhospitable.

That is not how the Hebrew scholars who translated the New International Version of the Bible saw it. Their translation of Genesis 19:5 is that the men from every part of Sodom who ‘called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them”‘. That’s not hospitality but sexual perversion.

While the Hebrew word, yada (know),[2] is not mandatory to be translated as ‘to have sex with’, in 10 of its 12 times in Genesis (see Gen 4:1, 25), it does mean that. We know from Gen 19:8 that it means sexual intercourse as Lot refers to his virgin daughters who had not ‘known’ a man, obviously meaning sexual intercourse.

‘Know’ cannot mean a hospitable person getting acquainted with someone else because it is associated with ‘a wicked thing’ in Gen 19:7. In addition, God said he would be destroying Sodom & Gomorrah in Gen 18:16-33, before the evidence of Gen 19:5, 8.

Elizabeth Farrelly, as a journalist, has violated a fundamental of interpretation in her statement that the sin of Sodom was not homosexual sex but failure to be hospitable. That fundamental of hermeneutics is that the meaning of any text, including Farrelly’s writing in The Age, is determined by the context in which it is used. To determine the context for the Sodom situation, one has to go to Genesis 18 and 19. There one finds evidence that the sin of sodomy definitely refers to sexual intercourse between men (homosexuality) and not to inhospitality.

Farrelly concludes her article with these words:

When the men of Sodom demanded that Lot relinquish his angel visitors, his asylum seekers, God punished Sodom for this breach of the sacred duty of welcome. A sodomite was a hard-heart, a jackboot, a repeller of blow-ins.

So I ask again, is Scott Morrison a sodomite? Is Tony Abbott? Are we okay with this?

Farrelly is right off track because she can’t be on track with her interpretation of Sodom and the sodomites in Genesis 19. If she gets that context wrong, how can she be correct with her application to Scott Morrison or Tony Abbott?

Am I okay with Farrelly’s interpretation of sodomites and application to Morrison and Abbott? Absolutely not! She is pushing her politically correct agenda and it has nothing to do with an accurate, contextual interpretation of the Sodom and Gomorrah events of Genesis 19.

Therefore, based on the above exposition, it is reasonable to interpret the Genesis 19 passages as referring to something other than Farrelly’s view of not being hospitable. It definitely refers to the sin of sexual sodomy, i.e. homosexuality.

Works consulted

Geisler, N & Howe, T 1992. When critics ask: A popular handbook on Bible difficulties. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.


[1] The Age, 25 September 2014. Available at: (Accessed 25 September 2014).

[2] Some of the following information is based on Geisler & Howe (1992:48-49).


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

Jesus’ death and God’s foreknowledge of it

Open Bible by mahanaim - Vectorisation of an open Bible

(courtesy openclipart)

By Spencer D Gear

If you want to see a Calvinist duck and weave in discussions, raise the issue of God’s foreknowledge in relation to Jesus’ death. They can get especially uncomfortable if you engage them on God’s foreknowledge in relation to a person’s salvation. They see that as aligned with one of their chief enemies – Arminians.

I met such a person on a leading Christian forum. He wrote:

Crucifixion. Planned and predestined.
“For, in fact, in this city both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:27, 28 HCSB)[1]

Someone responded with a perceptive point:

Yet Acts 2:23 states; this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.

God’s plans are always based on His foreknowledge, Just as Paul teaches in Romans 8:28-30, and 11:2, and as Peter teaches in 1 Peter 1:2 and 20. [BTW, they are all from the NASB.][2]

The Calvinist’s response was predicted: ‘”the predetermined plan”. Exactly. And it doesn’t say “foreknowledge of the crucifixion”’.[3] This is typical of his one-liner kind of response. He does this ever so regularly. He is not known for his lengthy expositions to explain his positions.

A Calvinist commentator on God’s foreknowledge

My response was as follows:[4]

Simon Kistemaker (courtesy Reformed Theological Seminary)


Calvinist commentator on the Book of Acts, Simon Kistemaker, refutes your understanding of Acts 2:23 with your wanting to exclude foreknowledge of the crucifixion. He wrote:

23. “This man was given up to you according to God’s set purpose and foreknowledge, and you by using lawless men nailed him to the cross and killed him.”

We note these two points:

a. God’s purpose. Peter intimates that the audience is fully acquainted with the trial and death of Jesus Christ. He employs the personal pronoun you in this verse to involve his listeners in assuming responsibility for Jesus’ crucifixion. However, he views their accountability from a divine point of view. God is in complete control even though the Jews brought Jesus to trial and the Roman soldiers killed him.

Peter says that Jesus’ death occurred according to “God’s set purpose and foreknowledge.” The expression set purpose denotes a plan that has been determined and is clearly defined. The author of this set purpose is God himself (see 4:28). Peter removes any doubt whether God acted rashly in formulating his purpose to hand over Jesus to the Jewish people. He adds the term foreknowledge. With this word, Peter points to God’s omniscience by which every part of his plan is fully known to God in advance (I Peter 1:2). In his first epistle, Peter writes that “[Jesus] was chosen before the creation of the world” (I Peter 1:20, NIV). And last, through all the Old Testament prophets, God foretold that Christ would suffer (3:18).

b. Man’s responsibility. Peter holds his audience responsible for Jesus’ death. In their view, “Jesus’ messianic claim and his death on the cross were irreconcilable, self-contradictory opposites” [Dulon 1975:473]. They know that “anyone who is hung on a tree is cursed [by God]” (Deut. 21:23; Gal. 3:13). Peter opposes this view by pointing to God’s determinate counsel and foreknowledge.

Here is an unresolved tension between God determining the death of his Son and man being held responsible for perpetrating the deed (see 3:17–18; 4:27–28; 13:27). God himself handed Jesus over to the Jews, who put him to death by nailing him to the cross. The Jews could not exonerate themselves by blaming Jesus’ death on the Romans, whom the Jews called “wicked men,” for they themselves had engaged the help of the Romans. Peter teaches that the Jews must be held accountable for killing Jesus (3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:39). The Jews must see all the aspects of God’s plan. Thus Peter says,

24. “God raised him up, having freed him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for him to be kept in its power” (Kistemaker 1990:93-94).

Günter Dulon in his examination of the etymology of the Greek word horizw used in Acts 2:23 explained that

‘Jesus’ messianic claim and his death on the cross were irreconcilable, self-contradictory opposites for the Jews. Peter wished to counter this offence by showing that it was God’s “deliberate (hwrismene) will and plan’ (Acts 2:23 NEB) by which Jesus was crucified by blinded Jewry. Similarly in Lk. 22:22 the Son goes the way “determined” by God for him, “but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed”. It is this Jesus who is the one “ordained” by God to be the judge of the last judgment (Acts 10:42).
Paul made a similar statement to the Areopagus. After God had “determined” allotted periods and boundaries for the men that he had created so that they should seek him, he “appointed” a man to judge the world on the day appointed for it (Acts 17:26, 31)’ (Dulon 1975:473).

In this Calvinist poster’s response here, in my understanding of NT Greek, he has violated some fundamentals of the Greek grammar of Acts 2:23 and Kistemaker, a Calvinist from his own camp, and Dulon have exposed some of his exegesis of this passage. The facts are that Acts 2:23 teaches God’s set purpose in the trial and death of Jesus involved God’s foreknowledge.

However, it is too easy for us to think of God’s foreknowledge from our human perspective. That is not the case when we are dealing with the attributes of God.  Richard Lenski’s commentary (he was a Lutheran) helped me gain a better handle on how God’s ‘deliberate will and plan’ involved ‘foreknowledge’ in Christ’s death:

‘In what way God delivered Jesus up to die on the cross [Acts 2:23] is indicated by the weighty datives [cases] of means. The success of the betrayal by Judas, which placed Jesus into the power of the Sanhedrin, was due to no cunning or power of men (Matt. 26:53, 54; Luke 22:53b). The death of Jesus was due to “the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God”; the perfect participle horismene, “having been fixed or determined on,” places the counsel of God back into eternity. God formed his plan of salvation, which involved the sacrificial death of his Son, in eternity and therefore alone gave him over to the murderous Jews. The divine counsel comes first, and on it rests the divine, infallible foreknowledge. The relation of the two is not one of time – in God no before and after exists – but of inward connection. When we consider the actions of men, this relation is reversed; what God determines in eternity regarding them rests on his infallible foreknowledge. “Counsel” and “foreknowledge” are not identical; to make them one and the same is to misunderstand both. The “foreknowledge” is misunderstood when it is regarded as an action of the will, a determination to do something and thus knowing it in advance’ (Lenski 1934:83).

So Acts 2:23 involves God’s ‘set purpose and foreknowledge’ but understood from the perspective of God’s attributes and actions. I find the Calvinistic poster was dodging the issue when he wanted to exclude God’s foreknowledge in relation to Jesus’ passion.

A Calvinist’s piffling response

How do you think the Calvinist who doesn’t believe in God’s foreknowledge in Acts 2:23 would respond to the exegesis I provided above?[5] His unreasonable and irrational response was to ask a question: ‘Why do you think that refuted my understanding?’[6]

So my response was very pointed: I go to all of the effort of showing you the exegesis of Acts 2:23 to demonstrate that you are WRONG in your denial of God’s ‘foreknowledge’ regarding the death of Jesus, and you have the audacity to give me this one liner:

This again demonstrates that you are not serious about giving answers of substance. You have proven to me that I waste my time giving extended responses to you. I wrote 1,054 words to refute your perspective and you come back to me with 8 words. That’s a disgrace.[7]clip_image001

How much clearer can it be?

Please take a read of all of these translations of Acts 2:23:

New International Version: This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
English Standard Version: this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
New American Standard Bible : this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.
King James Bible: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:

New King James Bible: Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;
Holman Christian Standard Bible: Though He was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail Him to a cross and kill Him.
International Standard Version: After he was arrested according to the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified this very man and killed him using the hands of lawless men.
NET Bible: this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles.
Aramaic Bible in Plain English: “This one, who was separated to him for this, in the foreknowledge and will of God, you have betrayed into the hands of the wicked, and you have crucified and murdered.”
Jubilee Bible 2000: him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken and by wicked hands have crucified and slain,
King James 2000 Bible: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:
American King James Version: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:
American Standard Version: him, being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay:
Douay-Rheims Bible: This same being delivered up, by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you by the hands of wicked men have crucified and slain.
Darby Bible Translation: — him, given up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye, by [the] hand of lawless [men], have crucified and slain.
English Revised Version: him, being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay:

Revised Standard Version: this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

New Revised Standard Version: this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.

The New Living Translation says the same thing but in simpler language:

New Living Translation: But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him.

What do these translations teach in regard to God’s foreknowledge? All of them make it clear that Jesus was delivered over to the Jews and lawless men according to the determined plan AND foreknowledge of God. It cannot be stated more clearly, but this Calvinist has great difficulty in accepting the teaching of Scripture that affirms the foreknowledge of God in understanding the trial and death of Jesus.


Acts 2:23 is crystal clear. The Trinitarian Lord God Almighty exercised his attributes of a set purpose and foreknowledge in the trial and death of Jesus. But it is foreknowledge from God and not a human being’s perspective.

Works consulted

Dulon, G 1975. Horizw, in C Brown (ed), The new international dictionary of New Testament theology, vol 1, 472-474. Exeter, Devon, U.K. / Grand Rapids, Michigan: The Paternoster Press / Zondervan Corporation.

Kistemaker, S 1990. New Testament commentary: Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic. Also available HERE (accessed 17 May 2014).

Lenski, R C H 1934. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (edition assigned from the 1961 edition by Augsburg Publishing House).


[1] Hammster#181. 17 May 2014, Christian Forums, General Theology, Salvation (Soteriology), ‘Why do Arminians…’, available at: (Accessed 17 May 2014).

[2] Ibid., stan1953#199.

[3] Ibid., Hammster#205.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen#208.

[5] At ibid., OzSpen#208.

[6] Ibid., Hammster#211.

[7] Ibid., OzSpen#218.


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

Do Arminians believe in election and total depravity?

(image courtesy clker)

By Spencer D Gear

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

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

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

James Arminius 2.jpg

Jacob Arminius (image courtesy Wikipedia)

Arminianism does not affirm election – says an opponent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Calvin (image courtesy clker)

Calvinism affirms free will – says a Calvinist

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

Did you get it from Sproul?

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

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

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

What is a question begging fallacy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine it? Deterministic free will.

clip_image002(image courtesy canstock)

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

Arminians do not believe in total depravity – so says one

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

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

Article 3 of the Five Articles of Remonstrance states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also my articles:

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

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

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

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

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

Works consulted

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

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

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


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

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

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#30.

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

[5] Ibid., Ignatius21#19.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#32.


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

Sheol is translated as Hades

Heaven or Hell

(courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

Where did people go at death prior to Christ’s coming? How do the Scriptures describe what happens at death in the OT?

On a Christian forum on the Internet, a person wrote: ‘Hades is a different creature then (sic) sheol’.[1] Those who know Hebrew and Greek disagree with him.

My response was:[2]
According to OT commentators Keil & Delitzsch, ‘Sheol denotes the place where departed souls are gathered after death’ (n d:338).

One of the leading exegetical Greek word studies edited by Colin Brown states: ‘In the LXX [Septuagint] hades occurs more than 100 times, in the majority of instances to translate Heb sheol, the underworld which receives all the dead. It is a land of darkness, in which God is not remembered (Job 10:21f; 26:5; Ps. 6:5; 30:9 [LXX 29:9]; 115:17 [LXX 113:25]; Prov. 1;12; 27:20; Isa. 5:14)’ (Brown 1976:206).
So in the LXX, hades is a Greek translation of the Hebrew, sheol.

There is a further explanation of hades and sheol in my articles,

Works consulted

Brown, C (ed) 1976. The new international dictionary of New Testament theology, vol 2. Exeter: The Paternoster Press.

Keil, C F & Delitzsch, F n d.[3] Tr by J Martin (from the German). Commentary on the Old Testament: The Pentateuch, vol 1. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.


[1] Jasonc#114. Christian Apologetics & Theology, SOUL SLEEP – TRUE/FALSE (online). Available at: (Accessed 19 September 2014).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#115.

[3] This is from a 1980 printing by Eerdmans.


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

Politicians, people and the pits

Why this person distrusts politicians


Parliament House Canberra Dusk Panorama.jpg

Australian Parliament House, Canberra (Wikipedia)

By Spencer D. Gear

Why do politicians refuse to answer the questions of mass media interviewers? It frustrates me over and over when a journalist asks a specific question on a topic and the politician gives an answer that is not related to the question. It’s called political spin and amounts to a red herring logical fallacy.

That happened on Wednesday, 17 September 2014, when the Australian federal treasurer, the honourable Joe Hockey, was interviewed on Australia’s ABC’s nation current affairs programme, ‘7.30’. The nature of the logical fallacy became evident when the interviewed talked over the treasurer to try to bring him back to the topic. Those in current affairs’ shows often do this when a politician goes off at a tangent and doesn’t answer the question.

Some background


Peter Costello (Wikipedia)

This is how The Guardian, a British newspaper, reported on former Australian treasurer, Peter Costello’s, speech to a property forum:

Australia’s longest-serving treasurer has warned that the country’s luck is beginning to run out as wages fall and consumer pessimism grows.

Peter Costello says while Australia is “far” from recession, the economy is undergoing big changes, leaving people with a sense of uncertainty about the future.

“(Australia’s) luck’s beginning to run out,” he told a property forum in Sydney on Wednesday. “For the first time since the 1990s, per capita incomes have stabilised in Australia – they are no longer growing.

“Young people under 50 who have lived through a period of uninterrupted rising incomes are beginning to experience something that’s different.”

Consumers were “anxious” and had “stopped spending”, he said.

Real wages were falling and disposable incomes had “peaked”, Costello said.[1]

Costello also added: ‘And they’re distrustful of the political class where consensus is breaking down. We need to work out how to put things back together’.[2]

A politician’s problem

I have grown increasingly frustrated by the inability of politicians, whether federal or state, and no matter what political brand, to answer straight-forward questions put to them by journalists. What follows is but one example.

Leigh Sales (, public domain)


On the evening of 17 September 2014, I watched Australia’s ABC 7.30 programme and Australian federal treasurer, Joe Hockey, being interviewed by Leigh Sales. See ‘Joe Hockey rejects Peter Costello’s warning that Australia’s economic luck is running out as demand for resources falls‘. Leigh referred to the above speech made by Australia’s former, but longest serving, federal treasurer, Peter Costello, on 17 September 2014.

One of Leigh’s questions to Hockey was: ‘Mr Costello mentioned a distrust of the political class. Has the Abbott government contributed to that by introducing plans like the Medicare co-payment and the pension changes without ever mentioning those things before you were elected?’

Although Hockey said, ‘Well, no, not at all’, he directly avoided answering the specifics of this question. Leigh persisted, saying that politicians have eroded public goodwill and this has contributed to the distrust of the political class. Hockey continued on with his political spin (only saying what you wanted to say in promoting his political line) and not answering her questions about this specific topic of distrust of the political class.

I ask Hockey and all politicians: Don’t you understand what that does to droves of us around the nation who know what he is doing and we are fed up with THE POLITICAL TACTICS OF NOT ANSWERING QUESTIONS. If he and his party continue to do this, I’ll put my TV volume on mute immediately I see a politician on air. I’ve learned to expect the politicians of whichever stripe all to do the same – AVOID THE ISSUES OF THE MASS MEDIA QUESTIONER.

Don’t politicians understand what this does to the people of the electorate? It causes exactly what Leigh Sales said – a distrust of the political class, eroding public good will, and causes listeners to tune out on politicians.

There is a simple solution

When will politicians wake up to the Aussie populace who know exactly what they are doing?

All politicians would enhance credibility if they as politicians would make these commitments:

1. I now will specifically answer whatever a mass media journalist asks me about any topic.

2. Quit making promises before the election that you will break when in government.

3. Become politicians of integrity who speak the truth and nothing but the truth.

Is that asking too much? That’s what would assist in enhancing political good will.

Equipping politicians for the simple solution


(courtesy Rostrum)

One of the problems for politicians is that when many of them are elected to parliament, they don’t seem to have a handle on being competent public speakers. They need more training in how to think on their feet to answer:

blue-arrow-small questions in parliament,

blue-arrow-small questions from their constituents, and

blue-arrow-small questions from the mass media.

How do they get that training? Before they are elected to parliament and while they are in parliament, join a public speaking club such as Rostrum or Toastmasters.

I know that it is more comfortable for a politician to keep to the script of the party line. They can be prepared for this kind of rote response. However, I find it dissatisfying as a listener. There is no excuse for politicians not to become better presenters and to learn to think on their feet when journalists and constituents ask questions – even pointed questions.

Works consulted

Australian Associated Press 2014. Peter Costello warns ‘Australia’s luck is beginning to run out’, The Guardian (online),17 September. Available at: (Accessed 18 September 2014).

Powell, R 2014. Luck running out: Peter Costello warns of hard days ahead as property market slows, The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 September. Available at: (Accessed 18 September 2014).


[1] Australian Associated Press (2014).

[2] Powell (2014).


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

The Intermediate State for believers and unbelievers: Where do they go at death?

cemetery-pictures-public-domain-1 (4)

(image courtesy onemillionfreepictures)

 By Spencer D Gear

Christian forums on the Internet are places for provocative interaction and also promotion of false doctrine. I’ve interacted on a number of sites and found this to be so.

On one forum I met a fellow who stated:

“Where is the scripture that states Paradise as being a literal place for spirits upon death? Aside from the Rich Man and Lazarus…I believe that to be a parable…”[1]

My response was:[2] This is not the place for a detailed exposition. For that I recommend, Robert A. Morey (1984).

Before Christ’s resurrection, both believers and unbelievers went to Sheol/Hades – two separate places in that location (see Isa 14:9-20; 44:23; Ezek 32:21; Lk 16:22-23). After the resurrection, believers go to be with Christ (Phil. 1:23) which is better than Hades. According to 2 Cor. 5:6-9, believers are present with the Lord and are worshipping with the angelic hosts in heaven (Heb. 12:22-23).

We understand that Christ went to Hades at death (see Acts 2:31). When Jesus was in Hades, Peter explains that Christ was proclaiming to “the spirits now in prison” (1 Peter 3:18-22).

However, in the Gospel records (e.g. Luke 23:43), Paradise refers to the section of Hades reserved for the righteous. By the time of Paul’s writing in 2 Cor. 12:2-4, Paradise seems to have been taken out of Hades and is now the third heaven.

So, with progressive revelation, we understand that after the resurrection of Jesus, the believer who dies goes to heaven at death and there awaits the future resurrection to the eternal state.

What about unbelievers now? The Scriptures seem to teach that they go into torment in the intermediate state in Hades, awaiting the final judgment. Peter described it this way:

“Then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment” (2 Peter 2:9 NIV)

“To hold” in the Greek of this verse is a present, active infinitive, meaning that the wicked are being kept where they are, captive continuously. This verse clearly refutes annihilation of the wicked after death as there would be nothing “to hold” until the judgment day if they had no existence. Peter says the unrighteous are “continuing their punishment”, this phrase is interpreting a present, passive participle that indicates the unbelievers are being continuously tormented/punished. The Greek grammar of this text clearly states that the wicked dead are experiencing torment as they await the final judgment.

We read about the final judgment in Rev. 20:13-15 when Hades (the place for the wicked who died after Christ’s resurrection) will be emptied of the wicked dead and will face God for judgment. At that point, the wicked will be cast into hell.

That’s a very brief overview of how I understand the intermediate state for believers and unbelievers and the final judgment of unbelievers.

Works consulted

Morey, R A 1984. Death and the Afterlife. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.


[1] Big Drew #60, Christian Forums–>Theology–>Christian Apologetics, “Heaven?” #62, available at: (Accessed 23 September 2010).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen #62.
Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 11 June 2016.

Does God only draw certain people to salvation?

What is the meaning of ‘draw’ in John 6:44?

Boy and cat fishing vector drawing

(image courtesy publicdomain)

By Spencer D Gear

How are people drawn to Christ in Sierra Leone or North Korea? What happens in certain countries where the open proclamation of the Gospel is prohibited? This has been the burden of short-wave Christian radio stations such as Reach Beyond (formerly HCJB) and Trans World Radio. How can the Gospel reach beyond the human barriers that prevent overt evangelism on the ground in some countries?

How does God draw people to salvation? Is this by an irresistible grace of election over which they have no say? Do some people choose to respond in faith or is that forced on them by God (irresistible grace)? Or does it involve God’s drawing and human beings agreeing to co-operate with God by responding in faith?

Join a discussion on a Christian forum and you’ll see the heat – and not light – that this discussion often brings. I was involved in such a dialogue. There was quite a bit of banter between Calvinists and non-Calvinists (including Arminians) about the meaning of ‘draw’ in John 6:44. This verse states:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day (ESV).

A Calvinist wrote: ‘I never said it meant drag. But it doesn’t mean to woo or lure or whatever you think it means’.[1]

A non-Calvinist response was: ‘Well when you use those words, of course not. What it conveys is seen in the metaphorical use of [the Greek] helko, to signify “drawing” by inward power, by Divine impulse. Not against our will, but in empathy towards our inner heart’.[2]

What is the demonstration in Scripture?

To try to make headway through this sometimes antagonistic theological jungle, I replied:[3]

The focus on the etymology[4] of the Greek, helko, gets our discussion into this kind of bind. John 6:44 makes the teaching clear:

This drawing is by the power of God with the specific purpose of moving the sinner’s inner being (heart/soul) to move from darkness to light and into God’s eternal life. No human being can do this by himself/herself. God’s divine power does the drawing. If that does not happen, no salvation will take place.

However, the book of John clarifies that this is not for a select few. What does John 12:32 declare? These are the words of Jesus, ‘I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw[5] all people to myself’ (ESV). So the drawing of John 6:44 and the drawing of John 12:32 demonstrate that it applies to all human beings, not a select elect.
We know from Romans 1:16 that it is the gospel that is accompanied by God’s power ‘for salvation to everyone who believes’. So, people are the ones who make the decision to believe, to have faith in Jesus.

Not irresistible

 fishing the big fishes

(image courtesy shutterstock, public domain)

But we know from Matthew 23:37 what Jesus’ view was:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! (ESV)

Thus we know that God’s moving and drawing of all human beings is NOT irresistible as this verse affirms, ‘And you would not’. All human beings have the power to resist God’s drawing. This means that it cannot be an irresistible ‘dragging’ into the kingdom of God.
I’m pleased it is this way. There are decided disadvantages against a faith that compels people and does not allow them individual choice. See my article, What is the nature of human free will?

God does the drawing

It must be emphasised that there will be no kingdom salvation for believers without God doing the drawing and human beings responding. This is not Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism.

Pelagius (ca 360-420),[6] the originator of Pelagianism, was a British monk and theologian who went to Rome about AD 400 in the time of St. Augustine of Hippo who died in 430. Cairns explained that Pelagius’s beliefs were that

each man is created free as Adam was and that each man has the power to choose good or evil. Each soul is a separate creation of God and, therefore, uncontaminated by the sin of Adam. The universality of sin in the world is explained by the weakness of human flesh rather than by the corruption of the human will by original sin. Man does not inherit original sin from his first ancestor, although the sins of individuals of the past generation do weaken the flesh of the present generation so that sins are committed unless the individual wills to cooperate with God in the process of salvation. The human will is free to cooperate with God in the attainment of holiness and can make use of such aids to grace as the Bible, reason and the example of Christ. Because there is no original sin, infant baptism is not an essential element in salvation.

Augustine, the great bishop of Hippo, opposed what he believed was a denial of the grace of God by insisting that regeneration is exclusively the work of the Holy Spirit. Man was originally made in the image of God and free to choose good and evil, but Adam’s sin bound all men, because Adam was the head of the race. Man’s will is entirely corrupted by the Fall so that he must be considered totally depraved and unable to exercise his will in regard to the matter of salvation. Augustine believed that all inherit sin through Adam and that no one, therefore, can escape original sin. Man’s will is so bound that he can do nothing to bring about his salvation. Salvation can only come to the elect through the grace of God in Christ. God must energize the human will to accept His proffered grace, which is only for those whom He has elected to salvation.

(Cairns 1981:137)

According to Stephen Filippo, because Pelagius

promoted moral fervor, there was an inherent danger in it: self-reliance, not God-reliance, based upon an inadequate understanding of human nature. Pelagianism stressed complete human autonomy and freedom of the will before God. Pelagius posited three elements to any moral action: 1. that we must be able to do it, 2. that we must be willing to do it, and 3. that the action must be carried out. Or the three elements can be described as possibility, will, and action. Possibility is a natural gift from God alone, but the other two, since they arise from man’s choice, are from man. For instance, God has freely given us the gifts of speech, sight, hearing, etc., and the power to speak, see hear, etc., yet whether or not these are put to good use is left entirely up to the individual. Thus, we are entirely free to will and do good or evil. Nor does he separate will from power, finding in the will the power to automatically carry out what it has willed.

(Filippo 2013)

(Pelagius, image courtesy Wikipedia)


So, self-reliant, human generated salvation of Pelagianism is contrary to Scripture and so is false teaching.

What about semi-Pelagianism that has often been associated by monergism with Arminianism. The Calvinistic website, CARM, gave this definition, ‘Monergism is the teaching that God alone is the one who saves. It is opposed to synergism which teaches that God and man work together in salvation. Cults are synergistic. Christianity is monergistic’.[7] While this accurately describes monergism, it is a false representation of synergism. Synergism is associated with Arminianiam, which is main-stream Christianity.


is tied inextricably to the teachings of Gallic monastic critics of Augustine and most importantly (prototypically) John Cassian. Cassian and certain other Gallic monks (“Masillians”) argued that although God may initiate salvation with grace, for many people the initiative is theirs toward God. That is, God waits to see the “exercise of a good will” before responding with grace. This is what was condemned (along with predestination to evil) at Orange in 529.

“Semi-Pelagianism,” then, is the view that “the beginning of faith may have its source in the human agent, although it will not always have its source there.” Furthermore, to compound Cassian’s non-Augustinian view of free will and human initiative in salvation, he taught that “the free will, even in its fallen condition, is not totally unable to will the good” and “the emphasis [of Cassian’s doctrine] falls on vigilance, unceasing struggle, in the attainment of salvation”.

(Weaver 1996, cited in Olson 2013a, emphasis in original)

Roger Olson’s further explanation of semi-Pelagianism was:

“Semi-Pelagianism,” then, is the view that “the beginning of faith may have its source in the human agent, although it will not always have its source there.” Furthermore, to compound Cassian’s non-Augustinian view of free will and human initiative in salvation, he taught that “the free will, even in its fallen condition, is not totally unable to will the good” and “the emphasis [of Cassian’s doctrine] falls on vigilance, unceasing struggle, in the attainment of salvation.”

This is the standard definition/description of semi-Pelagianism. But in some Reformed circles it has been broadened out to include any and every denial of the irresistible efficacy of grace (for the elect). That’s too broad and it departs from historical tradition in identifying what semi-Pelagianism is. That would be like me using “supralapsarians” to describe all denials of free will. I would be quickly challenged and corrected by especially infralapsarians like Sproul.

(Olson 2013a)

The Arminian position

As Roger E Olson has indicated with Sproul’s exposition of Arminianism, all too often semi-Pelagianism has been wrongly associated with Arminianism. The Arminian position in relation to the order of salvation is summarised by Olson:

Dr. Olson

1) God’s electing grace in Christ of all who will believe in him;

2) Christ’s atoning, reconciling death for all sinners;

3) Prevenient grace given by God to sinners through the Word (calling, convicting, illuminating, enabling);

4) Conversion (repentance and faith) enabled by assisting, prevenient grace;

5) Regeneration, justification, adoption, union with Christ, indwelling of the Holy Spirit;

6) Sanctification;

7) Glorification.

Remember—these are not necessarily chronologically sequential. Especially 3, 4, 5 and 6 may be temporally simultaneous. (Of course, some Arminians will view all as temporally simultaneous in God’s awareness as God does not experience temporal sequence of events).

(Olson 2013b)

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

The Calvinistic position

A Calvinistic view on John 6:44 is clearly articulated by Calvinistic commentator William Hendriksen:

William Hendriksen.jpg

William Hendriksen (image courtesy Wikipedia)


Here the emphasis is on the divine decree of predestination carried out in history. When Jesus refers to the divine drawing activity, he employs a term which clearly indicates that more than moral influence is indicated. The Father does not merely beckon or advise, he draws! The same verb … occurs also in John 12:32, where the drawing activity is ascribed to the Son; and further, in 18:10; 21:6,11; Acts 16:19; 21:30; and James 2:6. The drawing of which these passages speak indicates a very powerful – we may even say, an irresistible – activity. To be sure, man resists, but his resistance is ineffective. It is in that sense that we speak of God’s grace as being irresistible. The net full of big fishes is actually drawn or dragged ashore (John 21:6,11). Paul and Silas are dragged into the forum (Acts 16:19). Paul is dragged out of the temple (Acts 21:30). The rich drag the poor before the judgment-seats (James 2:6). Returning now to the Fourth Gospel, Jesus will draw all men to himself (12:32) and Simon drew his sword, striking the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear (18:10). To be sure, there is a difference between the drawing of a net or a sword, on the one hand, and of a sinner, on the other. With the latter God deals as with a responsible being. He powerfully influences the mind, will, heart, the entire personality. These, too, begin to function in their own right, so that Christ is accepted by a living faith. But both at the beginning and throughout the entire process of being saved, the power is ever from above; it is very real, strong, and effective; and it is wielded by God himself!

(Hendriksen 1953:238-239, emphasis in original)

It is important to note a couple of Hendriksen’s emphases that throw doubt on his rather adamant interpretation:

  • Contrary to Hendriksen, there is not a word here about predestination. That’s Hendriksen imposing on the text. In context this is not about the divine decree to salvific predestination. Faith as a predetermined gift from God is not the subject. The following verses does speak of those who ‘will all be taught by God’ (ESV). The predestination interpretation is Hendriksen’s imposition on the text, especially in light of the use of the same verb in John 12:32, where …
  • When Jesus is lifted up on the cross, he stated, ‘I … will draw all people to myself’. Hendriksen surely would not want that to mean the teaching of universalism – all people will receive salvation. It can only mean that God in his grace is making the offer to people regarding salvation – all people. But some will not receive it. We know from Romans 10:17 that ‘faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ’ (ESV).
  • Hendriksen’s language is that with sinners, ‘God deals as with a responsible being’. That cannot be so if ‘draw’ means ‘dragged’. Responsible human beings cannot be responsible if they are dragged as in the decree of a dictator. There is something fundamentally amiss with this Calvinistic interpretation.
  • Another Calvinist, G C Berkouwer stated of John 6:44, ‘This “drawing” of the Father is not at all an act that rules out all human activity; rather, says Kittel, it rules out all that is coercive and magical’.[8]

Robert Shank’s pertinent comment was,

Thus, according to Kittel (and Berkouwer), the “drawing” is a matter of compelling but it is not at all coercive. No explanation is given of how God can compel without being coercive. Obviously, both propositions cannot be true, for they are mutually exclusive. Truth rests with the latter proposition: The Father’s “drawing” is not coercive. And if God does not coerce, it follows that in man’s response to the Gospel, something is left to man’s volition. That this is so is implied in John’s passage. Having asserted that “no man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (v. 44), Jesus immediately declared,

It is written in the prophets, And they shall all be taught by God. Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me (v. 45 RSV).

Robertson comments on verse 45

And hath learned (kai mathen)…. It is not enough to hear God’s voice. He must heed it and learn it and do it. This is a voluntary response. This one inevitably comes to Christ.[9]

(Shank 1970:176)

Often the Calvinism vs Arminian debate can be buried within a discussion over monergism vs synergism. Why don’t you take a read of Eric Landstrom’s excellent overview: ‘The False Antithesis Between Monergism and Synergism: A Lesson from Historical Theology’.


John 6:44 is not dealing with the doctrine of election or predestination. God’s electing grace is needed for there to be salvation of any kind. However, it is extended to all who hear the Gospel and respond in faith to it. It is not a drawing of compulsion that avoids human responsibility. There can be no salvation without God’s initiative and God’s giving human beings the opportunity to respond in faith to the Gospel call.

The sinner’s inner being is moved by God but there is no salvation without a human response. Romans 10:17 is clear: ‘Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ’.

From this assessment, you hopefully will have concluded that I’m a convinced biblically-based Arminian in my theology (Reformed/Classical Arminian). See an affirmation of this position by Seth Miller in, ‘The Foundation of Election: An Overview of Classical Arminianism’. See Roger E. Olson, ‘Is Arminian theology “Reformed”?

Works consulted

Berkouwer, G C 1960. Studies in dogmatics: Divine election. Tr by H Bekker. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

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

Flippo, S N 2013. St. Augustine and Pelagianism. Ignatius Insight: Ignatius Press (online). Available at: (Accessed 5 September 2014).

Hendriksen, W 1953. New Testament commentary: Exposition of the Gospel according to John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Olson, R E 2013a. R C Sproul, Arminianism, and Semi-Pelagianism. Patheos (online), February 22. Available at: (Accessed 5 September 2014).

Olson, R E 2013b. An Arminian Ordo Salutis (Order of Salvation). Patheos (online), August 23. Available at: (Accessed 5 September 2014).

Oxford dictionaries 2014. Etymology (online). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Available at: (Accessed 5 September 2014).

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

Shank, R 1970. Elect in the Son: A study in the doctrine of election. Springfield, Missouri: Westcott Publishers.

Weaver, R H 1996. Divine grace and human agency: A study of the Semi-Pelagian controversy. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press.


[1] Hammster#561, Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology debate, ‘Why do Arminians’, available at: (Accessed 23 May 2014).

[2] Ibid., stan1953#564.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#567.

[4] Oxford dictionaries give the meaning of ‘etymology’ as, ‘The study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history: the decline of etymology as a linguistic discipline’ (Oxford dictionaries, s v Etymology 2014).

[5] This is the same word for ‘draw’ as in John 6:44.

[6] Lifespan dates are from Cairns (1981:137).

[7] CARM (2014).

[8] Berkouwer (1960:48).

[9] Robertson (1932:109).


Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 4 June 2016.

A Victoria Osteen big-time blooper

Victoria Osteen (, public domain)

By Spencer D Gear

There are some things happening in the Christian world that have to be heard to be believed. What does it take to launch an uproar in the Christian community? Victoria Osteen, wife of pastor Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church, Houston, Texas, made one of the greatest clangers of theological ignorance that I’ve heard in a long while.

Take a strong grip on your theological seats. clip_image003

She told a large public gathering at that their mega-Lakewood Church:

I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God–I mean, that’s one way to look at it–we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we are happy…. That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy….

She continued: “So, I want you to know this morning — Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy…. When you come to church, when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?”

And the congregational response was, ‘Amen’ (in Mohler 2014).

clip_image005Take a listen to the Victoria Osteen clip HERE, followed by Bill Cosby’s confrontational comment, ‘That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life’.

clip_image007 What a blooper by Victoria Osteen! It has the Christian bloggers and writers at their keyboards (including me) pumping out some provocative negative and supportive responses. Take a read of a few of them:

Osteen against the Scripture

Let’s check out the Scriptures to find how close Victoria Osteen came to declaring what God says about the highest responsibility of the individual and of the church?

clip_image009 Romans 15:5-6: ‘May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (NIV).

clip_image009[1] Ephesians 1:5-6: ‘he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves’.

clip_image009[2] Ephesians 1:12-14: ‘in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory’.

clip_image009[3] Ephesians 1:18: ‘I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people’.

clip_image009[4] Ephesians 3:21: ‘to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen’.

clip_image009[5] 2 Thessalonians 1:12: ‘We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ’.

clip_image009[6] 1 Peter 4:11, ‘If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen’.

clip_image007[1] Osteen says, ‘When we obey God, we’re not doing it for God…. When you come to church, when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy’.

What anti-biblical baloney!

   sausage,food,media,clip art,public domain,image,png,svg

How does Osteen’s teaching compare with Scripture? According to the above Scriptures, we are to glorify the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to give him praise for his glory. To God be glory in the church. The person (name) of the Lord Jesus Christ is glorified in believers and we in him.

Now that is a radically different message to what Victoria Osteen proclaimed. She’s into pick-me-up, me-centred, positive thinking psychology and not God-glorifying worship. People should run a country mile from such self-centred opposition to what Scripture teaches.

Two scriptural clinchers are:

clip_image013 Romans 11:36: ‘For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen’.

clip_image013[1]1 Corinthians 10:31: ‘So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God’.

The summary of what the Bible teaches is in the first question of the Westminster Larger Catechism:

Q. 1. What is the chief and highest end of man?

A. Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God,[1] and fully to enjoy him forever.[2]

The biblical teaching is crystal clear. In whatever you do, including obedience to God, you are to do it for the glory of God. But for Victoria Osteen, her teaching is radically opposed to that. She’s declaring on a TV and Internet program that which is opposed to what God says. Osteen’s sprouting, ‘When you worship him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy’, is junk theology. I declare it as such, with solid Scriptural support.

What does that make Victoria Osteen?

clip_image015Out of Victoria Osteen’s mouth has come false teaching that is humanistic and contrary to Scripture. What does Scripture say we are to do with false teachers? Take a read of Galatians 5:7-12 (NIV):

7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9 “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” 10 I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. 11 Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

My application to Victoria Osteen (based on this passage) is:

clip_image017 Osteen is keeping Christians from obeying the truth.

clip_image017[1] Therefore, Osteen is not teaching the truth. She does not promote God’s truth when she promotes self-benefit from obeying and worshipping God.

clip_image017[2] Osteen’s kind of persuasion that gets an ‘Amen’ from her and the large congregation, is not from God, the one who calls people to himself and they become Christians.

clip_image017[3] Osteen’s false teaching is like yeast that contaminates the Christian community. It is sewing weeds among the good seed (see Matt 13:36-43).

clip_image017[4] With the exposure of Osteen’s false teaching by discerning believers, I am confident that evangelical Christians will see her promotion of a false view of God and cling to the orthodox teaching of glorifying God in all things they do.

clip_image017[5] Victoria Osteen will have to pay the penalty of throwing Christians into confusion with her false teaching.

clip_image017[6] Those who oppose Osteen’s positive thinking message are likely to be persecuted by the health-wealth promoters.

clip_image017[7] The offense of the cross is abolished when one worships God for selfish gain.

clip_image017[8] Victoria Osteen, in my view, has extended the meaning of ‘selfie’. I wish she would go the whole hog, leave the church, and take her message into the self-help psychology classroom. It does not belong in the church or on Christian media.

Victoria Osteen responds

The Blaze has reported Victoria Osteen’s response to her controversial remarks:

Victoria Osteen, wife of megachurch pastor Joel Osteen, responded late Friday afternoon to furor and debate circulating in evangelical circles following a controversial sermon she delivered last month about church attendance and worshipping God.

Osteen said that she could have chosen her words more carefully, but that she did not mean to imply that parishioners shouldn’t worship the Lord, calling such a critique and interpretation “ridiculous” in a statement exclusively issued to The Blaze.

“While I admit that I could have been more articulate in my remarks, I stand by my point that when we worship God and are obedient to Him we will be better for it,” she said. “I did not mean to imply that we don’t worship God; that’s ridiculous, and only the critics and cynics are interpreting my remarks that way.”

Osteen continued, “Every Lakewood member knows what I was talking about because they have experienced first hand the joy and victory of a Lakewood Church worship service, and the honor, reverence and gratitude we show God.”

In the short, 37-second clip that has gone viral and led to intense criticism in recent days, Osteen, who co-pastors Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, along with her husband, Joel, is seen telling congregants that, when people obey the Lord and go to church, they’re not necessarily “doing it for God.”

“I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God we’re not doing it for God — I mean that’s one way to look at it,” she said from the pulpit. “We’re doing it for yourself, because God takes pleasure when were happy. That’s the thing that gives him the greatest joy this morning … just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy.”

She added, “When you come to church when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God, really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy.”

The controversial clip has been viewed and shared hundreds of thousands of times on social media since late August, with some Christians decrying Osteen‘s message — but with others supporting and explaining her commentary.

Consider Steve Camp, pastor of the Cross Church in Palm City, Florida, who said that Osteen ”honestly believes that God exists to make us happy rather than holy.”

“It’s the age old sin of idolatry — that it’s not about God, it’s about us,” Camp told Christian News Network last week. “True worship for the humanist is about how we feel at the end of the day and what gives us meaning, as opposed to what gives God glory” (Hallowell 2014).


(image courtesy


Victoria Osteen’s me-centred, worship is for me, is theological junk. ‘When you come to church, when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy’ is Osteen generated false teaching. I do not find Osteen’s response to be satisfactory in correcting her humanistic view of worship.

Albert Mohler put it precisely: ‘If our message cannot be preached with credibility in Mosul, it should not be preached in Houston. That is the Osteen Predicament’ (Mohler 2014).

The Scriptural view is: ‘So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God’ (1 Cor 10:31).

Recommended resources

There is some excellent teaching on the content of false teaching in this article from IVP New Testament Commentaries on Galatians 5: ‘Exposing the false teachers’.

Why don’t you take a read of this assessment of Victoria Osteen’s teaching by Albert Mohler, ‘The Osteen Predicament — Mere Happiness Cannot Bear the Weight of the Gospel‘.

Works consulted

Hallowell, B 2014. Pastor Joel Osteen’s Wife Hits Back at ‘Critics and Cynics’ and Addresses Furor Over Her Viral Sermon About Worshipping God. The Blaze, 5 September. Available at: (Accessed 15 April 2016).

Mohler Jr, R A 2014. The Osteen Predicament — Mere Happiness Cannot Bear the Weight of the Gospel (online), September 3. Available at: (Accessed 4 September 2014).


[1] The Scriptural references given were Romans 11:36 and 1 Corinthians 10:31.

[2] Scriptural support given was in Psalm 73:24-28; John 17:21-13.

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 15 April 2016.