Monthly Archives: June 2016

The Wedding at Cana Led to Divorce


By Spencer D Gear PhD

I read the Brisbane Times online (28 June 2016) and the story, ‘Koala in pain for hours after dog attack’. It stated:

A koala was left lying in pain for five hours after being attacked by a dog north of Brisbane before finally being put out of its misery.

The koala, a young male coming into his first breeding season, was attacked about 2.30am on Tuesday at Petrie, but the dog’s owners did not contact the RSPCA until 7.30am.

The animal had to be euthanased due to the severity of its injuries (Brisbane Times 2016).

clip_image004(photo of koala, courtesy Wikipedia)


Do you think it is reasonable to understand this as referring to a cuddly marsupial koala that was attacked by an actual dog in the Brisbane suburb of Petrie? The real pain lasted hours until the koala was euthanised after the RSPCA, an animal welfare organisation, had been contacted.

Or would you prefer that I interpret this story as referring to pain that was a symbol of what God wanted to teach Christians about the benefits of suffering, according to James 1:2-4 (NASB):

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

You would be justified in calling for the mental health people if I came up with such a crazy allegorical interpretation of imposing on the text of the Brisbane Times a meaning that was in no way found in the newspaper’s wording about the injured koala.

But that’s exactly the kind of interpretation I encountered when I visited a Christian forum online with allegorical interpretations of Jesus’ miracle of converting the water into wine at the wedding at Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11 NLT).

If you want to screw up the meaning of Jesus’ first ‘sign’ miracle and cause it to be divorced from the fundamental narrative of the text, there is a way to do it. Read on and you’ll be exposed to some glaring examples of what people do to reject an objective interpretation of a biblical text.

When I speak of the wedding at Cana leading to a divorce, I’m referring to a divorce from the meaning presented by the text. It is disarming to see how some Christians can do it but not see the danger of what they do. We will see this as this article unfolds.

Two people did this on a Christian forum with their allegorical interpretations of the Wedding at Cana. I’ll use a back and forth dialogue with me as the format for this engagement although the original was in posts that could have been separated by a day or two.

1. Divorce in view: Allegorical interpretation of the wedding at Cana


This person started the thread with a lengthy statement of interpretation. I can see the divorce in motion: [2]

God’s word can be literal and Spiritual as in the case of the wedding in Cana. The wedding represents the Spiritual being the union between Jesus and his bride whom are the children of God through repentance. Jesus brings his disciples to the wedding to show them the wonders of God through the renewal of his Spirit. I want you to see the relationship we have between the old self in the flesh and the new Spiritual rebirth in Christ. We are called the bride of Christ and I could not find any better example of this as in the story of the first wedding Jesus attended with his disciples, (Ref: John 2:1-11).

The word marriage represents our relationship with Jesus. We are called the bride of Christ which means when we ask Jesus into our life through repentance we become one in the Spirit that is in Christ and have communion with his life, death and resurrection. We are united with Jesus as one body that has been renewed through the Spirit that is God. We become as a bride to the bridegroom as we are joined together as one. (Matthew 9:15; Rev 21:9)

The word call means that we do not just happen to fall into a relationship with Jesus as we are called of God or predestined before the world began for Gods purpose and grace. Jesus and his disciples were called to the wedding to witness the testimony of Gods power and authority through the miracle of changing water into wine, which was Jesus first miracle. The water and the wine represent the word of God and his Spirit as a renewal of our body and soul through the salvation of Jesus. (Jeremiah 1:5; 2Timothy 1:9; John 3:5)

Wanting wine meant the disciples wanted understanding of those things Jesus was teaching them as they could not understand with their carnal minds, but did know that Jesus was a prophet sent by God. When Jesus said to his mother my time has not come yet he was speaking of his death and resurrection. Spiritual understanding could not come until Jesus ascended unto the Father and the Holy Spirit that is the Spirit of God be brought down from heaven to open our Spiritual eyes and ears to understand those teachings of Jesus while he walked the earth with his disciples. (Romans 8:5-8; John 14:26)

The water pots in themselves are a Jewish tradition of placing these pots outside the wedding feast so everyone could wash their hands and feet before entering into the feast. The significance of there being six water pots of stone is that the number six represents the number of the beast or sinful nations that are being controlled by Satan using others to deceive man like he used a serpent to deceive Adam and Eve as Satan is a spirit that has no form and has to use whatever or whomever he can to work through to deceive man.

When Jesus asked the servants to fill the water pots with water and then he changed the water into wine is a Spiritual representation of the water being the word of God and the wine being the Holy Spirit as it is only by the word of God and his Holy Spirit that we can see the kingdom of God through a renewed Spiritual rebirth through repentance.

The governor asked Jesus why was the good wine served last after everyone was already drunk as he could not understand such a thing. In the beginning man was pure and knew no sin until they allowed themselves to be deceived by Satan who used the serpent to deceive them thus the knowledge of sin was revealed to them and extended to all generations. The good wine (Gods Spirit come to flesh in Jesus) was sacrificed for the atonement of sin as through repentance we now have the Holy Spirit (Spirit of God – new wine) that renews our inner man through the word of God that we can now have life eternal with the father. (Rev 13:18; John 1:14; Colossians 3:5-14; Genesis 3:6, 7)

Before the dispensation of grace (Jesus) men were bound by the laws and traditions enforced by the Priest and the Scribes. The laws that were established by God were changed daily by the Pharisees so they could justify their own deeds of unrighteousness, By changing the laws this put men under bondage and they ended up dying in their sins for if you broke even one you were guilty of breaking them all because the law had no saving provisions in it and became a curse to men because they could not e justified by the laws. (Galatians 3:10-12)

Jesus gave a parable about the old garment and old bottle which represents our old sin nature. When we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior through repentance this created a new Spiritual inner man and old things are passed away (sin) and remembered no more by God and all things become new once again. You have two masters you can choose to serve as one is God and the other is self. If we have truly died to self (old garment, old bottle) and serve God then he clothes us in his robe of righteousness and we drink from the new bottle from the fountain of living water. There is no fence riding when it comes to our relationship with Jesus. You either trust him in all things or you deny him in all things. You can not put a new piece of garment on an old piece as it ruins the new garment if you cut into it. (Note: wine bottles were made from the hide of animals and if used to much the hide would wear out and split.) (Luke 5:36-39; Matthew 6:24)

When the Pharisees saw Jesus sitting with such undeliverable type of people in their opinion they question his disciples why he would waste his time on those they deemed unworthy and Jesus overhearing their conversation told them that he came to call the sinner not the righteous back to the grace of God through repentance as the righteous already hold that which is of God in their hearts. The Pharisees could not understand what Jesus meant as they felt that anyone who did not support their interpretations of the laws of Moses would become an outcast forever. Their interpretations of the laws, as they changed them daily, became more authoritative than the original ones God gave to Moses. The laws had become bondage and caused many to die in their sin for they could not keep all the laws as there were over 613 of them as I said before the Pharisees added to them daily to try and justify their own deeds. Jesus was sent of God to make an end to the curse of the law as he was made the final blood sacrifice to redeem us all from sin through repentance to bring us back to the grace of God. (Matthew 9:10-13; Galatians 3:10-14)

Once again the Pharisees came against Jesus and his teachings for what he was teaching came against their own interpretations and traditions of the laws and as he was also teaching to the gentiles who were thought to be heathens as they worshipped other gods this angered those who held high office in the Priesthood in the Jewish nation. The Jewish people were bound by the laws as they were taught by the Priest and Rabbi in the Synagogue they also questioned Jesus about why his disciples did not fast as fasting was part of the law of purification and Jesus told them why would one fast for something they already had. He also told them that he would not always be with the people and they would fast again, but it would be another type of fast that the disciples of Jesus (us) would loose the bands of wickedness, to undo heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke of bondage. The fast Jesus was talking about was to feed the hungry, help the poor and clothe the naked.

Fasting was not afflicting the soul as what would that bring about, but only ones own emotions of pain. Fasting is to take the word of God out to those who need to hear of Gods salvation and showing the actions of the word of God by helping those in need. The old bottle or the old wineskin (man under the law) was bound by the law or the interpretation of it, which only brought Spiritual death and literal death, but the new bottle or new wine skin (man under grace) has been set free from the curse of the law as the Holy Spirit has been given to us that renews Gods Spirit in us and teaches us the true knowledge of Gods spoken word. (Matthew 9:14-17; Isaiah 58:5-8)

We have to be careful for what we are being taught by others so we will not fall into the bondage of traditional interpretations and preach a deceptive gospel that will cause others to stumble and separate themselves from grace, but rather we need to be teaching the acceptable word of God in all truths no matter what tries to come against us. You might think that anything taught from the pulpit is truth because after all these people are our teachers and they should know what they are speaking, but we are warned many times in the word of God to watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing because Satan as a roaring lion is seeking to whom he can use to devour us. Learn to discern what is being taught to you so you can rightly divide the word of God to know what is truth or what is error as we will stand before God individually to give an account for what we have learned and taught others and there will be no excuses before the father as he has given us truth by his Spirit, but it was up to us to accept it or reject it.

Never take anyone’s word for what they teach unless they can back themselves up with scripture and you study it for yourself by asking the Holy Spirit to confirm if what you have been taught is truth or error and if you find error in those teachings it is up to you to go to them in love and compassion to show them where they have erred as when you do this you gain a brother, but if they refuse to hear you then shake the dust from your feet and move on. Never argue or debate Gods word for this will only bring foolishness on you and is not pleasing to the Father, but in all things let us bring glory and honor to the Lord by living in his will of love and show forth the good fruits of his grace. (1 Peter 5:8; 1Timothy 1:4-7).

This lengthy interpretation is a classic piece of creative innovation that makes the text state what is not included in it. The interpreter has not separated the subject from the object in interpretation.

1.1   Adding to the text with alleged ‘spiritual’ interpretation

clip_image005Here is my response:


The above interpretations[4] you have made from John 2:1-11 are not in the text. They are added to the text in these ways:

  1. ‘God’s word can be literal and Spiritual as in the case of the wedding in Cana. The wedding represents the Spiritual being the union between Jesus and his bride whom are the children of God through repentance.’
  2. ‘The water and the wine represent the word of God and his Spirit as a renewal of our body and soul through the salvation of Jesus’.
  3. ‘Wanting wine meant the disciples wanted understanding of those things Jesus was teaching them as they could not understand with their carnal minds, but did know that Jesus was a prophet sent by God’.
  4. ‘six water pots of stone is that the number six represents the number of the beast or sinful nations that are being controlled by Satan using others to deceive man like he used a serpent’;
  5. ‘The good wine (Gods Spirit come to flesh in Jesus) was sacrificed for the atonement of sin as through repentance we now have the Holy Spirit (Spirit of God – new wine) that renews our inner man through the word of God that we can now have life eternal with the father’,
  6. Etc, etc, etc.

None of these interpretations came from the text; they were your inventive creations. The early church Father, Origen (ca. 185-254) , would have been proud of your allegorical interpretations as he was one of the famous allegorisers in the early church and his method of interpretation has been condemned because it means that anyone can come along and say what he or she wants about a text – a long as it has spiritual overtones. See, ‘The rise of allegorical interpretation‘.

You exhort us: ‘Never take anyone’s word for what they teach unless they can back themselves up with scripture and you study it for yourself by asking the Holy Spirit to confirm if what you have been taught is truth or error’.  As I have mentioned briefly, the teachings you have given from the Wedding at Cana of Galilee are not in the text and are thus in error. I’m using your call to assess whether it is truth or error.

You see, if I accept your allegorising, there is no way that you can reject my responses as well. Here goes:

  1. God’s word can only be interpreted literally and that means all figures of speech are included in literal interpretation. This is the case for the incident of turning water into wine at Cana of Galilee.
  2. The water and the wine are literal products involved in the miracle at Cana.
  3. For the disciples to understand what Jesus taught, they interpreted him as one would any conversation or piece of literature – literally – which includes acceptance of figures of speech.
  4. Six water pots of stone were just that – 6 water pots of stone – no more and no less.
  5. The good wine was kept until last to demonstrate the importance of Jesus’ first sign at Cana.
  6. Etc, etc, etc.

When one allegorises Scripture, one can make it say anything one wants. It’s really imposing on the text a meaning that is not there. It is like postmodern, reader-response interpretation where the reader determines the meaning of a text and does not allow the intention of the original author to speak.

I did not state this in the thread and I was negligent in not doing it. I should have provided a definition of allegorical interpretation and a list of its dangers. Here goes for this article:

1.2   Definition of allegorical interpretation

clip_image007Let’s check on three leading texts from the past on hermeneutics (i.e. biblical interpretation.

Berkeley Mickelsen, in a text I used in seminary, warns that

allegory, a very legitimate way of teaching truth, should not be confused with allegorizing, which takes a narrative that was not meant to teach truth by identification. By a point by point comparison, allegorizing makes a narrative convey ideas different from those intended by the original author. Thus allegorizing is an arbitrary way of handling any narrative (Mickelsen 1963:231).

Milton Terry’s definition is:

The allegorical method of interpretation is based upon a pro­found reverence for the Scriptures, and a desire to exhibit their manifold depths of wisdom. But it will be noticed at once that its habit is to disregard the common signification of words, and give wing to all manner of fanciful speculation. It does not draw out the legitimate meaning of an author’s language, but foists into it whatever the whim or fancy of an interpreter may desire. As a system, therefore, it puts itself beyond all well?defined principles and laws (Terry n d:164).

Bernard Ramm, in a text I used in Bible college, stated that:

Allegorical interpretation believes that beneath the letter (rhete) or the obvious (phanera) is the real meaning (hyponoia) of the passage. Allegory is defined by some as an extended metaphor…. But if we presume that the document has a secret meaning (hyponoia) and there are no cues concerning the hidden meaning interpretation is difficult. In fact, the basic problem is to determine if the passage has such a meaning at all. The further problem arises whether the secret meaning was in the mind of the original writer or something found there by the interpreter. If there are no cues, hints, connections, or other associations which indicate that the record is an allegory, and what the allegory intends to teach, we are on very uncertain grounds (Ramm 1970:24).

We’ll discuss the dangers of allegorical interpretation after my discussion with two promoters of the allegorical method below.

Now we return to the Christian Forum dialogue. The stereotype continued:

1.3   ‘Spiritual meaning’


Can we quit making this a battle field and please stay on topic. My whole point of starting this thread was to show how something that is literal can also have a Spiritual message to it. Thank you.[5]


Your supposed ‘spiritual message’ is really allegorical interpretation, which means that you impose your own alleged spiritual meaning onto the text. That ‘spiritual message’ is not stated in the text (John 2:1-11). It is invented by you. It is a battlefield of your own making because of your invented method of adding to the text.

Roy Zuck’s practical definition of allegorical interpretation (what you have done) is:

Allegorizing is searching for a hidden or secret meaning underlying but remote from and unrelated in reality to the more obvious meaning of a text. In other words the literal reading is a sort of code, which needs to be deciphered to determine the more significant and hidden meaning. In this approach the literal is superficial, the allegorical is the true meaning.[7]


Just as Nicodemus did not understand that of the Spiritual in John 3 that Jesus was telling him so the same as many will not see the Spiritual teaching in the wedding in Cana. Words have literal meaning like water and wine, but some, like water and wine, have very Spiritual meaning within the literal as I have already explain in my OP with scripture.

John 3:11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?[8]

1.4   We should not go beyond the text of Scripture

Another came in to offer support of the position I was advocating.


I must, however, agree with Oz. He’s right in making the point that we should not go beyond what is actually in the scripture. Anyone could come up with any concept and put it forward as a teaching. How would we ever know which is correct and which isn’t correct?

We should try to adhere to what the original writer intended us to know. Wine is held in jars. It’a normal everyday thing. It’s okay to see some spirituality in this – but it should not be a teaching, an official teaching. If John had meant to say what is being expressed here, then he would have just said it.

John made it a point to say what he believed to be important.
Scripture looses all meaning when we give our own private interpretation and then pass it along as a factual teaching. If you believe anything – believing becomes meaningless.[9]

1.5   Spiritual meaning ‘given to me’


From where did this ‘spiritual meaning’ come that was given to the person?

I already stated that this was something that was personally given to me and no, I am not adding anything to the text, but only showing things that are also Spiritual within the literal. Spiritual usually is never stated, but can be applied, as it is given to one by the revelations of the Holy Spirit when one seeks understanding.

Changing water into wine was Jesus first miracle at the beginning of His ministry. We can also apply this to we (sic) being the water only having the word, but not yet having the new wine which represents the indwelling of the Holy Spirit like that of what Jesus taught Nicodemus in John 3.[10]


The advocate, against allegorical interpretation, continued:

THIS is what happens when we read too much into a scripture.
You mention the discourse between Jesus and John in John 3.
There are already 2 different theological theories as to what Jesus meant about being born of water.
1. One big denomination believes that Jesus is speaking about baptism. Baptismal water. This brings up problems but we won’t get into that.
2. Protestantism believes that Jesus is speaking about being born naturally since Nicodemus asks how it could be possible to return to the mother’s womb.
Now, YOU are introducing a new idea. You’re saying:
We can also apply this to we (sic) being the water only having the word,

You’re saying that WE are the water (the new idea) only having the word.
(And I still haven’t gotten some scripture as to how you can relate water to being the word …)
According to you, I must add a number 3 to my list above.[11]


This is rank eisegesis, so I replied:[12] When you engage in allegorical/figurative interpretation of any text, you are adding to the text – adding your own ‘spiritual’ interpretation that is not stated in the text of John 2:1-11 (ESV).

All right, let me try my own allegorical interpretation. Changing the water into wine means that Jesus promoted the view that it is spiritually uplifting to indulge in drinking large quantities of alcoholic wine when I gather with God’s people, to assist my spiritual life in developing miraculous, spiritual understanding and development.

What I have written here is just as suitable as what you have written because both of us have added to Scripture of John 2 (ESV) what is NOT in the text. However, your use of allegorical interpretation allows me to use the same method and make the text mean whatever I want it to mean. I can add all the spiritual words I want, but that does not detract from the fact that you and I have engaged in eisegesis with our allegorical/figurative interpretation.

Allegorical interpretation destroys the meaning of any text.


Predictably, the emphasis continued:

It’s not an allegorical interpretation, but a Spiritual understanding of that which is literal. It’s like all the parables Jesus taught. They were literal fiction stories, but each story had a Spiritual reference to our salvation through the Spiritual new birth as we take the part and combine it with the whole of scripture for our understanding. Your interpretation would have no merit for it has no scriptural founding in it and actually comes against what Jesus already taught about gluttony in Proverbs 23:20; Ephesians 5:18. Nicodemus only saw the literal in John 3:1-6, but was then given the Spiritual meaning. Water-word, wine-Holy Spirit.[13]

What could I do but have a laugh over the continued refusal to listen to the exposure of her unbiblical interpretations.


So I wrote:[14] I’m chuckling FHG! clip_image008Your ‘spiritual understanding’ is nothing more and nothing less than allegorical interpretation of infusing into the text of Cana of Galilee something that was not there. It’s an invention.

Cana of Galilee is NOT a parable but you are trying to make it into your own special variety by infusing your own imaginative stuff. You claim that my interpretation has no merit because it has ‘no scriptural founding’. Do you mean foundation? Yours has no more scriptural foundation than mine in interpretation of Cana of Galilee.

‘Spiritual meaning’ is your individualistic invention of spiritual sounding words that add to the text and make it say what it is not saying.

1.6   Unnecessary conclusion: Bible literal and not spiritual


The promoter of allegorical teaching continued:

So what you are saying is that the whole Bible is literal and contains nothing Spiritual in it for our understanding? How do we become born again without the Spirit? How do we learn the mysteries of Gods word without the Spirit revealing those things that confound the carnal mind, Deuteronomy 29:29; Proverbs 25:2 Matthew 13:11-13; Colossians 1:26, 27; 1Timothy 3:16 ? Not all private interpretations are to be shared unless God says it’s time to share them to those who have ears to hear. This is why God told Daniel to shut up the words and seal the book (visions) that were revealed to him until the time of the end when knowledge would increase, Daniel 12:1-4. The time of the end was when Jesus was taken up and the Holy Spirit was sent down to indwell us and teach us all things as then Spiritual knowledge was increased, John 14:26.
The book was opened in the end with John who was indwelled with the Holy Spirit who received these visions in Revelations from the angel Jesus sent to him while he was being held captive on the isle of Patmos for his witness and testifying of Christ. John was in the Spirit, not caught up to the third heaven where God sits on His throne, when these visions of Daniel were given to him to share with the seven Churches in Asia and all generations after him. It’s only understood by those whose knowledge has been increased by the Holy Spirit.[15]

1.7   John 3:5: Born of water and the Spirit


A portion of the allegorical promoter’s post read:

John 3:5 never mentions the word baptize, but says only by being born of water and spirit, which means water as living water (word) that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are Spiritually renewed (born again) by the word, which is Christ Jesus and by the Holy Spirit that came on them in the OT and indwells us in the NT. Many do read into the passage a preconceived idea or theology, but baptism is never mentioned in this verse. Word in John 3:5 is living water as described in John 4:10; 7:38; 1John 5:6; Jeremiah 2:13; Isaiah 55:1-3 to name a few.[16]


Therefore, I asked: ‘Please share with us how you obtain the meaning of John 3:5 (ESV), ‘unless you are born of water and the Spirit’ in context’.[17] The reply was:


Can we be born again by literal water like that of John the Baptist, no, for John’s baptism in water was for repentance and had nothing to do with being Spiritually born again. Ephesians 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. We are saved through faith by Gods grace, not by being dunked or sprinkled with water as that would be by works. Jesus being the word of God made flesh, John 1:1-14, as being the water in John 3:5 or a better word would be living water we are then born again by the word of God and the regeneration of the Holy Spirit as then we are baptized into Christ, Galatians 3:22-27.[18]


How should I reply? This was my retort:[19] This is a wonderful example of avoidance. I asked: ‘Please share with us how you obtain the meaning of John 3:5 (ESV), ‘unless you are born of water and the Spirit’ in context’, and this is what I got.

You assert that ‘as being the water in John 3:5 or a better word would be living water we are then born again by the word of God and the regeneration of the Holy Spirit as then we are baptized into Christ’. This does not tell us HOW you obtain the meaning of ‘unless one is born of water and the Spirit’ (John 3:5 ESV).

I still don’t know how you obtain the meaning you have given in the context of John 3:5 (ESV). In this thread you have imposed your allegorical/figurative interpretation on the text of the Wedding at Cana. Is that what you are doing here? Your imposition of your own idiosyncratic meaning on the text! Seems so!

Let’s get back to the Wedding at Cana. Why don’t you accept the literal interpretation of John 2:1-11 (ESV) instead of inventing your figurative understanding that is found nowhere in the text?


I did share the meaning, but will bring maybe a better light to what I said about the water in John 3:5 meaning the word of God:
Word is living water as described in John 4:10; 7:38; 1John 5:6; Jeremiah 2:13; Isaiah 55:1-3 to name a few.
I never said I didn’t accept the literal wedding. I’m just showing how it can be compared to the Spiritual new birth and there is nothing wrong with that as even Jesus compared different things in scripture. It’s called “likened”. I’m not interpreting it, but likening it to John 3:3-6 with the water, wine and six water pots.[20]


The evidence is obvious: ‘You are engaging in allegorical interpretation with adding to Scripture what is NOT in the text of John 2:1-11 (ESV)’.[21]


It’s not an allegorical interpretation, but a Spiritual understanding of that which is literal. It’s like all the parables Jesus taught. They were literal fiction stories, but each story had a Spiritual reference to our salvation through the Spiritual new birth as we take the part and combine it with the whole of scripture for our understanding. Your interpretation would have no merit for it has no scriptural founding in it and actually comes against what Jesus already taught about gluttony in Proverbs 23:20; Ephesians 5:18. Nicodemus only saw the literal in John 3:1-6, but was then given the Spiritual meaning. Water-word, wine-Holy Spirit.[22]

There were two consecutive comments here by FHG because there was an interjection by a moderator who was complaining about ‘no trolling’ and it’s a Bible Study forum where no debate is allowed.[23]


The whole point of my OP was not only based on the water and wine, but more importantly what is said in:
John 2:11 This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.
The water can be related to the word as well as the new wine being the best wine can be related to the Holy Spirit in that of our Spiritual rebirth and seeing the glory of the Lord when we first begin to follow Him as He is our Bridegroom and we His Bride. Many if not all of the teachings of Christ are directed to our need of a Savior as we put off the old man (flesh) and put on the new man (Spirit). We are renewed by the word of God and through the Holy Spirit teaching us of all things. John 3:1-6, 14:26, Colossians 3:1-4.[24]


My response was that this is allegorical interpretation because it adds to the text what is not in the text of John 2:1-11 (ESV).[25]


‘It adds nothing to the text, but draws a reference from the text that not everyone can see unless light is brought to it’[26]


That’s your adding to the text the alleged ‘deeper meaning’, which is the method of interpretation called eisegesis – reading into the text what is not there. To call it ‘light’ is to redefine the meaning of ‘light’ to make it equal eisegesis and allegorical interpretation. This is an example of the fallacy of appeal to authority.[27]

2.  Another supporter of allegorical interpretation

While I was engaged in the above challenge of allegorical interpretation, I was doing battle with another promoter of figurative, ‘spiritual’ hermeneutics.

The discussion on spiritual meaning and allegorical interpretation in this thread had been rolling along with much acceptance until I interrupted with my posts. It was at this point that this person stated:


There’s no question that Jesus came to transform the knowledge of the word–the water of the word–into the joyful infilling of the Holy Spirit. This is unique to the New Covenant….unless you were a king, or a priest, or a prophet, or a handful of other privileged people in the old covenant.
We can speculate as to specific details beyond that fundamental truth, and each one of us is free to take them or leave them, but the fundamental truth being illustrated by the story stands.[29]

2.1   Transforming knowledge with water


To the statement, ‘There’s no question that Jesus came to transform the knowledge of the word–the water of the word–into the joyful infilling of the Holy Spirit’, I asked him to ‘please provide book, chapter and verses in the NT to confirm your statement here’.[30]


Are you asking because you do not think Jesus makes it so mere written words become the Holy Spirit in a person?
I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 9It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt10This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.” (Hebrews 8:8-10 NIV bold mine)[31]


How should I reply?[32] Your statement was: ‘There’s no question that Jesus came to transform the knowledge of the word–the water of the word–into the joyful infilling of the Holy Spirit’.

I asked for you to provide book, chapter and verse to confirm what you stated. The reference you have given here from Heb 8:8-10 (NIV) in no way relates to the question I asked. Thus, this makes your reply a red herring. We can’t have a logical conversation when you engage in this kind of erroneous reasoning.

2.2   The first covenant of words transformed to the New Covenant of the Spirit


Then came this lengthy reply:

The first covenant, as we know, was a covenant of words, witnessed by a carving of stone. Those words provided a ceremonial outward cleansing. The New Covenant is a Covenant witnessed by the Spirit. It writes the words of the law on the heart by the Spirit and provides a complete inner and outer cleansing. Jesus did that. Jesus transformed the witness of the words of scripture carved in stone into the witness of the indwelling Holy Spirit for the people of God. Just like in the story, the very best was saved until last. And all to the pleasure of the Master of the Banquet.
Now, let’s look at the passage I provided, again: As was said, the first covenant was a covenant of written words, and which provided outward cleansing for the people of God as necessary. That fact is contained in this part of the NT scripture you requested:
I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 9It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt
Then the NT author reminds his audience of God’s promise to write those words on the heart in a New and subsequent Covenant (which we know is done by the Holy Spirit – 2 Corinthians 3:3 NASB):
10This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.” (Hebrews 8:8-10 NIV bold mine)
So you can see, the words of the old covenant used for ceremonial outward cleansing, likened unto the outward cleansing of water, become, like the best of wines, the very life and joy of God in us in this New Covenant. Jesus did that. It’s the miracle and glory of the New Covenant. It’s the miracle that he was to effect, scheduled to happen at a particular time in history, and after the time of ceremonial cleansing.
This could be hard to see for a person if they’re still in a ‘word only’ relationship with God and only attend churches where the promise of the life and joy and abundance of the Holy Spirit in the believer is suppressed and not taught, let alone experienced. This can be likened to only having John’s baptism–repentance in response to hearing the words of the gospel. In these kinds of churches, the Holy Spirit is just a factual reality, not a felt reality. For most Christians this is true. They simply do not get taught about, let alone experience, the joy and life of the Holy Spirit. In fact, it seems they get taught to resist that experience. This was the very first thing I realized when I was born again. I could see how the church of the world was devoid of the Spirit and how, sadly, even among the true believers in the church of the world, these promises remain unclaimed:
“And their heart will be glad as if from wine;
Indeed, their children will see it and be glad,
Their heart will rejoice in the LORD.” (Zechariah 10:7 NASB)
5“…you will see and be radiant,
And your heart will thrill and rejoice” (Isaiah 60:5 NASB)
And so it is that most of the ceremonial jars of clay in the church filled with the water of the word have yet to have that water turned into the wine of the Spirit. And worse, are terribly offended for you telling them that.[33]

2.3   Eisegesis of Wedding at Cana

I could not let him get away with this falsehood so I responded: This is false teaching. That is NOT what the Wedding at Cana of Galilee teaches at all in John 2:1-11 (ESV). You have imposed a foreign meaning – your idiosyncratic understanding – on the text. You have not obtained the meaning of the text from out of the text. You have imposed YOUR meaning on the test. This is called eisegesis.
This means that I could make John 2:1-11 (ESV) mean whatever I wanted and you would have no objective means to oppose my false or even heretical views. That’s what allegorical meaning does. It adds to the text. You have done just that in your response to me.[34]

Instead of pursuing his previous thought, I reverted to commenting on what I said above:

All right, let me try my own allegorical interpretation. Changing the water into wine means that Jesus promoted the view that it is spiritually uplifting to indulge in drinking large quantities of alcoholic wine when I gather with God’s people, to assist my spiritual life in developing miraculous, spiritual understanding and development.


Predictably, he did not like this and stated:

That’s impossible. Not because I personally don’t agree with it, which is the reason some people choose not to believe other people’s insights into scripture. See, it’s important to know that Biblical insights come from the Bible itself. This is not about knowing things pulled out of thin air and calling it from the Spirit and then insisting everyone agree with it. It’s about knowing what the Bible says about a particular subject in the places where it says that and then using that information to spiritually discern more veiled or less understandable passages of scripture.
This being true, we know that we can immediately discard the interpretation of the water into wine passage that you developed for purposes of illustration. Not only does it have zero Biblical support, it actually contradicts the Bible. So we know without a doubt that these pretend spiritual insights into the story are false. And again, not just because I don’t agree with them, but because they have no support from the Bible itself and actually contradict it.
The ‘water into wine’ meaning the converting of the water of the word in to the wine of the Spirit in this New Covenant is developed through other scripture. That’s how and why it can be received as a legitimate spiritual insight. In fact, here we see the water of the word being changed into the wine of the Spirit in an actual recorded Biblical account:
43“Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”
44While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. (Acts 10:43-44 NASB)
The servant, Peter, filled the clay ‘vessels’ of Cornelius’ household up with the word of the prophets and it in effect became the wine of the Spirit in those vessels. That’s what happens in this New Covenant. It’s the miracle of the New Covenant.[35]


This gave me an ideal opportunity to expose the destructive nature of his hermeneutics:[36]

You don’t seem to understand how destructive your allegorical interpretation is to the actual statements of Scripture. I’ve tried to show you over and over how your invention of the meaning is nothing more than allegorical-figurative eisegesis. See the article, What is the difference between exegesis and eisegesis? (Got Questions) which explains the difference between exegesis and eisegesis:

Exegesis and eisegesis are two conflicting approaches in Bible study. Exegesis is the exposition or explanation of a text based on a careful, objective analysis. The word exegesis literally means “to lead out of.” That means that the interpreter is led to his conclusions by following the text.
The opposite approach to Scripture is eisegesis, which is the interpretation of a passage based on a subjective, non-analytical reading. The word eisegesis literally means “to lead into,” which means the interpreter injects his own ideas into the text, making it mean whatever he wants.
Obviously, only exegesis does justice to the text. Eisegesis is a mishandling of the text and often leads to a misinterpretation. Exegesis is concerned with discovering the true meaning of the text, respecting its grammar, syntax, and setting. Eisegesis is concerned only with making a point, even at the expense of the meaning of words.

I continued: This is how you have engaged in allegorical interpretation in this quote of yours:

  • ‘It’s about knowing what the Bible says about a particular subject in the places where it says that and then using that information to spiritually discern more veiled or less understandable passages of scripture’ (Here you are searching for the ‘deeper meaning’ behind the words – this is your invention of what is in the text but all done ‘ to spiritually discern more veiled or less understandable passages of scripture’ (your language). That is not how Scripture asks us to read it. Take a read of Acts 17:11 (ESV).
  • ‘we know that we can immediately discard the interpretation of the water into wine passage that you developed for purposes of illustration. Not only does it have zero Biblical support, it actually contradicts the Bible’. You have no basis to make this judgment of what I stated because the method I used (allegorical interpretation) was exactly the same as you used. The only difference is that you don’t like the content of what I wrote. That’s hardly a reason to reject it when it is true to your methodology – the deeper allegorical meaning which I gained. Your method contorts and distorts Scripture, as I did when I gave my example.
  • ‘The ‘water into wine’ meaning the converting of the water of the word in to the wine of the Spirit in this New Covenant is developed through other scripture‘. This is another allegorical invention that has no connection with Acts 10:43-44 (NASB). Zero connection!
  • ‘The servant, Peter, filled the clay ‘vessels’ of Cornelius’ household up with the word of the prophets and it in effect became the wine of the Spirit in those vessels. That’s what happens in this New Covenant. It’s the miracle of the New Covenant’. That is nothing more than your figurative invention. It is not based on exegesis of the text but is your insertion, which is called eisegesis as a method of interpretation.

You are so enraptured with this method that you can’t see the damage done by it to meaning of a biblical text. I suggest that you learn to use the historical-grammatical method of interpretation that will enable you to get to the meaning of the text and not engage in a spiritually esoteric meaning.


Oz, I want to preach a sermon about people–you know, clay vessels on the earth (2 Corinthians 4:7 NASB)–receiving the word of God and it resulting in the Holy Spirit being in them. Can you think of some Biblical stories and/or accounts I can use to illustrate this miraculous experience?[37]


It is fairly easy to respond to this kind of challenge. If you want to preach a sermon about anything, I suggest that you quit allegorical interpretation and learn some sound exegesis of the text that you will use as the foundation of expository preaching/teaching. Then preach your way through books of the Bible and engage in historical-grammatical interpretation.
I’m not interested in fuelling any of your imagination with figurative hermeneutics.[38]


Here’s water being symbolic of the washing of the word:
“…having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:26 NASB)
3“You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” (John 15:3 NASB)
Here’s wine being symbolic of, and likened to, the joy of the Holy Spirit:
“And their heart will be glad as if from wine” (Zechariah 10:14 NASB italics in original)
“do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18 NASB)
Here’s people being referred to as earthen vessels (you know–bodies made of the clay of the earth):
6For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 7But we have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7 NASB)
And here’s an actual Biblical account of the water of the word being changed into the wine of the Spirit in earthen vessels:
44While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message.” (Acts 10:44 NASB)
The word becoming the wine of the Spirit in earthen vessels is a miracle of the New Covenant. And all scheduled to happen at the appointed time through Christ’s ministry:
“when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law” (Galatians 4:4 NASB).


Oz, I guess your argument would mean something if you could show us how it is unBiblical that water = the word, wine = the Holy Spirit, earthen vessels = people, and so on. I’ve shown you where they are Biblical. edited . Just because you don’t see it (even though the interpretation is right in the Bible) doesn’t mean it’s false. What it means is you can’t see it.[40]


I’ve already shown you that nowhere in the story of the Wedding at Cana is anything said about the water = word and the wine = the Holy Spirit and earthen vessels = people. That’s your allegorical invention – imposing a meaning on the text that is not there.

Showing me where you gain your figurative interpretation does not make the view legitimate when it is imposed on a narrative where that information is not contained.

I have zero misguided fear. My only concern is over what allegorical interpretation does to propositional revelation – what the text actually says. It prostitutes the text.

Your statement, ‘even though the interpretation is right in the Bible’, is not a fact. Your allegorical interpretation of John 1:1-11 (ESV) is NOT in the Bible. It is Jethro’s creative invention.


Well, this is the Bible study forum, so perhaps you can provide some Biblical study material to show that water can not be interpreted as the word, wine can not be interpreted as the Holy Spirit, and earthen vessels can not be interpreted as people. Then you will have some Biblical foundation to resist interpreting the wedding at Cana in the way it is in the OP.
Until then we’ll go with the Biblical material that has been presented that does allow the wedding at Cana to be interpreted per the OP. I think that’s only reasonable. I think it entirely unreasonable to say one can not interpret those things that way when in fact the Bible itself sets the precedent to interpret them that way. This has nothing to do with Jethro’s creative invention. It doesn’t come from me. It comes from the Bible itself. I proved that in post #119 which you are free to discuss (not debate) using the Bible per the guidelines of this particular forum. I’m interested in what you say is in the Bible that makes it so water can not be interpreted as the word, and so forth.
So tell us, what Bible material do you have to show that water can not be interpreted as the word, wine can not be interpreted as the Holy Spirit, and jars of clay can not be interpreted as people? And then, tell us Biblically, what to do with the examples in the Bible of the word of God going into a person and it becoming the Holy Spirit in that person?[42]


Since my reply was edited, a moderator claiming I was ‘trolling’, I do not have my exact words of reply. However, this is approximately what I wrote: Since it is a Bible study forum, I have shown you over and over that nowhere in the text of John 2:1-11 is it ever stated that water = the word and wine = the Spirit. That is foreign language you have inserted in the text. It is not a ‘fact the Bible itself sets the precedent to interpret them that way’. That water, wine, word, Spirit interpretation is an invention of Jethro.

I have repeated this over and over to you but I’ll not hold my breath waiting for you to see that you have added to the text. If you come back with a repeat of what you’ve already said, I’ll not respond.

2.4   What are the dangers of allegorical interpretation of the Bible?

Bernard Ramm has already hinted at one of them:

1. If the secret meaning was not stated by or hinted at by the original writer, then the allegorical is on ‘uncertain grounds’ of interpretation (Ramm 1970:24). I would go beyond that to state that the interpretation is irresponsible and should not be accepted.

2. It is an imposition of meaning on the text that is creatively invented by the reader. Therefore, it promotes eisegesis when exegesis is needed to obtain the meaning directly from the text. Reading into the text meaning that is not there is a travesty of hermeneutics that no responsible interpreter should support.

3. It sounds remarkably like a contemporary postmodern, reader-response interpretation. By reader-response, I mean that ‘all reading is ideological and guided by certain interests…. The text, with no aims nor interests of its own, is at the mercy of the reader. With only slight exaggeration, Mark Taylor characterizes interpretation as “a hostile act in which interpreter victimizes text”’ (Vanhoozer 1998:28).[44]

Scholar of the Jesus Seminar, John Dominic Crossan’s plays reader-response with the text when he says of Christ’s conception:

My position as an historian trying to be ethical and a Christian trying to be faithful is this: I do not accept the divine conception of either Jesus or Augustus as factual history, but I believe that God is incarnate in the Jewish peasant poverty of Jesus and not in the Roman imperial power of Augustus (Crossan 1998:29).

4. One of the fundamental principles in our quest for knowledge is the subject-object distinction. By this I mean that the subject is the thing or person who is the observer. The object is the thing or person observed. There needs to be a distinction between these for objective knowledge to be obtained. So knowledge of any object is independent of the subjective if ‘objective knowledge’ is to be acquired.

So, Norman Geisler makes this pointed statement about how to obtain objective meaning from any text:

The objective meaning of a text is the one given to it by the author, not the one attributed to it by the reader. Readers should ask what was meant by the author, not what it means to the reader. Once a reader discovers what the author meant by the text, he has obtained its objective meaning. Thus, asking, “What does it mean to me?” is the wrong question, and it will almost certainly lead to a subjective interpretation. Asking of the author, “What did he mean?” will almost certainly lead the reader in the right direction, that is, toward the objective meaning (Geisler 2002:173).

What allegorical interpretation does not do is separate the subject and object so that objective knowledge can be obtained about any text. Suppose I refuse to separate the subject and object in this story that appears in Queensland Country Life (June 28, 2016):

Cattle station announces plans for a yacht club in the outback

With the announcement last week that the Longreach community is to host an Outback Yacht Club, many could be forgiven for thinking that seeing their dams filled for the first time in years has made the locals a little over-excited.

If you were to have driven over the bank of a turkey’s nest at Camden Park, east of Longreach, last Thursday evening and spotted some red sails in the sunset belonging to a tiny boat hitched to the bore water outlet, you might be forgiven for thinking it was a mirage.

It was all fair dinkum though and all in aid of building bridges between city and country, according to “commodore” James Walker, who conceived the idea along with his brother Dan and some urban mates in the depths of last year’s drought (Cripps 2016).

If I meld the subject and object in this story and introduce allegorical interpretation or reader-response ideology, I can arrive at this understanding: The parched lives of unbelievers who lack the living water was ended with the living water of the Gospel coming to the spiritually dry people of outback Queensland, especially Longreach. This town is a symbol of the lengths to which God goes to reach people and the Yacht Club is a reminder of Jesus’ desire to turn water into the wine of his Holy Spirit. Drought becomes life when God is involved.

That inventive, spiritual, ‘deeper meaning’ of the Country Life story is an example of creative nonsense that is associate with imposing the reader’s reader-response understanding on the text (my creation). This is parallel to allegorical interpretation. It destroys the objective interpretation of the text.

Therefore, Geisler hit the target with his pursuit of objective meaning: ‘Look for meaning in the text, not beyond it’. He explains:

The meaning is not found beyond the text (in God’s mind), beneath the text (in the mystic’s mind), or behind the text (in the author’s unexpressed intention); it is found in the text (in the author’s expressed meaning). For instance, the beauty of a sculpture is not found behind, beneath, or beyond the sculpture. Rather, it is expressed in the sculpture.

All textual meaning is in the text. The sentences (in the context of their paragraphs in the context of the whole piece of literature) are the formal cause of meaning. They are the form that gives meaning to all the parts (words, punctuation, etc.)….

Look for Meaning in Affirmation, Not Implication

Another guideline in discovering the objective meaning of a text is to look for its affirmation, not its implication. Ask what the [text] affirms (or denies), not what it implies. This is not to say that implications are not possible or important, but only that the basic meaning is not found there. Meaning is what the text affirms, not in how it can be applied.

There is only one meaning in a text, but there are many implications and applications. In terms of meaning the sensus unum (one sense) view is correct; however, there is a sensus plenum (full sense) in terms of implication (Geisler 2002:174, 175, emphasis in original).

5. Another dangerous aspect of allegorical interpretation is that it sounds so spiritual. The language used comes from other portions of Scripture, mingled with aspects of the wedding at Cana. What could be so dangerous in allegorising when it sounds so harmless?

The peril is in seducing the reader into believing this is the objective meaning of the text when it is not. It is a deceitful way of spiritualising Scripture with the intent of getting a supposed ‘deeper understanding’, but it is a fabricated meaning that comes out of the mind of the reader or interpreter.

3.  Which is a better method of interpretation?

Surely this encounter with a couple people on a Christian Forum should provide evidence to refute allegorical interpretation. Pursue principles of objective biblical interpretation that acknowledge the subject-object distinction.

Also see my articles:

clip_image012 What is literal interpretation?

clip_image012[1] What is the meaning of the literal interpretation of the Bible?

clip_image012[2] Is the Bible to be interpreted as literal or metaphorical?

clip_image012[3] Dangerous church trend: Subjective spiritual knowledge

4.  Conclusion

Two people in this Christian Forum thread cannot see the damage they are doing through allegorising the Wedding at Cana. Both inserted their own, idiosyncratic ‘spiritual deeper meaning’ into the narrative text. This means they invented content what was not in the Wedding at Cana narrative in John 2:1-11. No matter how one wraps the package, the end result is that allegorical interpretation is destructive to the meaning by an author of any text because it adds to the text, reads into it content that is not there, and thus engages in eisegesis.

It is a parallel perspective to that being promoted by postmodern reader-response advocates such as John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar.

The need was demonstrated for an interpretation methodology that is objective and maintains the subject-object distinction.

What caused the divorce following the wedding at Cana? It was a divorce between the literal words of Scripture and a subjective, spiritualised, allegorical interpretation. When the subject-object relationship in interpretation is lost, a divorce is inevitable. It is a divorce that sends the subject (the reader) into the arms of another ‘lover’ – a lover of spiritual, deeper meaning that is divorced from the literal interpretation.

Works consulted

Brisbane Times 2016. Koala in pain for hours after dog attack (online), June 28. Available at: (Accessed 28 June 2016).

Cripps, S 2016. Cattle station announces plans for a yacht club in the outback. Queensland Country Life (online), June 28. Available at: (Accessed 28 June 2016).

Crossan, J D 1998. The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Geisler, N 2002. Systematic Theology, vol. 1. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

Mickelsen, A B 1963. Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Ramm, B 1970. Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics, 3rd rev ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Terry, M S n d (first reprint 1974). Biblical Hermeneutics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Vanhoozer, K J 1998. Is There a Meaning in This Text? Leicester, England: Apollos (an imprint of Inter-Varsity Press).


[1] FGH is an abbreviation for a poster by the name of for_his_glory. I think the person is a female.

[2] Christian, ‘Wedding in Cana’, now a dead thread that has been closed. for_his_glory#1. Available at: (Accessed 21 June 2016).

[3] Oz is an abbreviation for my posts as OzSpen.

[4] This is my response, OzSpen#75, 21 June 2016.

[5] Ibid., for_his_glory#62.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#78.

[7] In Bible Study Tools 2014, ‘The rise of allegorical interpretation’. Available at: (Accessed 28 June 2016).

[8] ‘Wedding in Cana’ loc cit., for_his_glory#80.

[9] Ibid., wondering#81.

[10] Ibid., for_his_glory#82.

[11] Ibid., Wondering#83.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen#102.

[13] Ibid., for_his_glory#109.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen#112.

[15] Ibid., for_his_glory#84.

[16] Ibid., for_his_glory#86.

[17] Ibid., OzSpen#91.

[18] Ibid., for_his_glory#94.

[19] Ibid., OzSpen#96.

[20] Ibid., for_his_glory#99.

[21] Ibid., OzSpen#101.

[22] Ibid., for_his_glory#108.

[23] Ibid., reba#109, reba#110.

[24] Ibid., for_his_glory#111.

[25] Ibid., OzSpen#112.

[26] Ibid., for_his_glory#113.

[27] Ibid., OzSpen#120.

[28] Jethro is a shortened form of the poster, Jethro Bodine.

[29] Wedding at Cana, op cit., Jethro Bodine#76.

[30] Ibid., OzSpen#79.

[31] Ibid., Jethro Bodine#95.

[32] Ibid., OzSpen#97.

[33] Ibid., Jethro Bodine#98.

[34] Ibid., OzSpen#100.

[35] Ibid., Jethro Bodine#104.

[36] Ibid., OzSpen#105.

[37] Ibid., Jethro Bodine#108.

[38] Ibid., OzSpen#112.

[39] Ibid., Jethro Bodine#119.

[40] Ibid.., Jethro Bodine#122.

[41] Ibid., OzSpen#125.

[42] Ibid., Jethro Bodine#126.

[43] My reply, ibid., OzSpen#128, was edited by reba and then the thread was closed

[44] Vanhoozer (1998) provides a superb critique of postmodern hermeneutics.


Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 June 2016

God reveals Himself in nature to everyone

(image courtesy

By Spencer D Gear PhD


How would you respond to these statements?

bug ‘There is no such person as an atheist’.[1]


bug ‘Most natural theology is metaphysical and the current theories of the day for Science do not really have an impact’[2]?

bug ‘Natural theology is anti-biblical as well as unbiblical’ (Morey 2010:396).


The importance of natural theology[3]

Scripture, which is revealed theology, focusses on God’s searching for human beings. According to Romans 1:18-32 (NLT), natural theology involves human beings searching for God through the display of Himself in the cosmos – nature.

How does one define natural theology? By it, I mean that attempts are made from evidence in nature that ‘there is a First Cause or unmoved Mover or cosmic Orderer, without reference to the characteristics attributed to God in Scripture’ (Oden 1987:134).

Since I live in a post-Christian culture, I use natural theology, whenever possible, to point people to the existence of God. Therefore, I do not agree with your statement that ‘most natural theology is metaphysical’.[4]

Most natural theology should be pointing to the revelation of God in nature through which all human beings know of his existence. If there is order and design in our world, we need to test the hypotheses: (1) Who is the one who creates order? (2) Who is the designer?

The argument for natural theology was summarised by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) in his Summa Theologica  (I Q2.3.1, p. 14):

a. The visible world is a cosmos, an orderly unity whose order is constant, uniform, complex, and intrinsic to the universe itself.

b. Such an order cannot be explained unless it is admitted that the universe has a cause that displays intelligence capable of bringing it into being.

c. Therefore, such a cause of the universe exists, which is to say, God exists as the intelligent cause of the universe (summarised in Oden 1987:143).

Part of the Aquinas’ argument was:

The existence of truth is self-evident. For whoever denies the existence of truth grants that truth does not exist: and, if truth does not exist, then the proposition “Truth does not exist” is true: and if there is anything true, there must be truth. But God is truth itself: I am the way, the truth, and the life (John xiv. 6). Therefore “God exists” is self-evident (Aquinas Summa Theologica 1.Q2.1.3).

Even though the Aquinas’ summary argument was made in the 13th century, it is just as relevant to a post-Christian Australia in 2016. I’m in the midst of preparing a submission to the Queensland government against decriminalising abortion at any time up to the time of birth, using natural theology and revealed theology to call on our politicians not to change the criminal code that already allows for abortion if the life of the mother is at risk.

Natural theology has especial benefit when in apologetic discussion about the existence of God. For example, the east coast of Australia (including my city of Brisbane) has experienced the unseasonal ‘Big Wet‘ of torrential rain and destructive winds over the weekend of 4-5 June 2016 (Branco 2016).

What an opportunity to use natural theology to point to God’s existence and his involvement in the cosmos. This is no metaphysical examination but a pointing to the evidence for God’s existence and interventions in nature.

However, Thomas Oden rightly shows that it may lead to confusion if we try to prove God’s existence from natural theology and then later state the specifics of what Christian teaching means by ‘God’. His approach is:

For so long as what one means by “God” remains wholly ambiguous, it is hardly an exercise of great meaning to prove God’s existence. It is less pivotal to biblical faith that an unmoved Mover exists than that the caring God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jesus lives indeed and acts as attested in Scripture (Oden 1987:134).

So, it is packed with more meaning to proceed from the nature of God revealed in Scripture and to state ‘candidly what Christians mean by the caring God and only then to ask whether that One is as characterized and whether that set of meanings is true to the facts we can gather’ (Oden 1987:134-135).

When we define God as ‘caring holy love’ (Oden’s language), as revealed in Scripture, and then turn to natural theology for evidence of this care, we are on more solid foundations to discuss the nature of God and his actions. My understanding is that the caring, holy, loving God deals with humanity with loving, perfect discipline, which is a discipline that flows from the perfect nature of the one true God who exists and is revealed in Scripture.

For further explanations of the nature of God, according to the Bible, see my articles:

Implications of natural theology

Natural theology, as Romans 1:18-32 (NLT) indicates, is designed to demonstrate:

cream-arrow-small The truth about God is obvious to all people (v. 18);

cream-arrow-small God has made the truth about himself known since the world was created (v. 19);

cream-arrow-small That truth about God is seen in the earth and sky, i.e. in everything God has made (v. 20);

cream-arrow-small All people can see God’s invisible qualities, his eternal power, and divine nature in what God has made (v. 21);

cream-arrow-small Therefore, all human beings have no excuse to say they do not know of the existence of God (v. 20);

cream-arrow-small People do not worship God because they choose to suppress the truth of God’s existence by their wickedness (v. 18);

cream-arrow-small Then they turn to their own foolish ideas about what God is like (v. 21);

cream-arrow-small They worship their own idols (v. 23), and

cream-arrow-small God abandons them to their shameful desires (v. 24) with their many ugly consequences.

If sinful human beings do not pursue the revelation of God in nature (natural theology), God hands them over to their natural, sinful desires with their many wicked consequences. These are described in Romans 1:26-32 (NLT) as including:

flamin-arrow-small  Both women and men abandoning heterosexual for homosexual relationships. This brought negative consequences.

flamin-arrow-small They committed other sin, including greed, hate, envy, murder, quarrelling, deception, malicious behaviour, gossip and were backstabbers;

flamin-arrow-small Thus, they are God haters who are insolent, proud and boastful;

flamin-arrow-small They invent ways of sinning, including being disobedient to parents;

flamin-arrow-small They refuse to understand, break promises, are heartless, and without mercy;

flamin-arrow-small Knowing God’s justice requires that they deserve to die, they continue to practise wickedness themselves and encourage others to join them.


Natural theology is designed by God himself to provide evidence of his existence in creation so that human beings will pursue him. When it comes to judgment day, all human beings will be ‘without excuse’ about whether they know of God’s existence (Rom 1:20 NIV).

Related imageHowever, natural theology does not lead to eternal salvation through Christ. That is obtained by responding in faith to the proclamation or sharing Gospel: ‘God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it’ (Eph 2:8-9 NLT). How does that happen? ‘So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ’ (Rom 10:17 NLT).


‘But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them’ (Rom 1:18-19 NLT).

Works consulted

Branco, J 2016. Brisbane Weather: SES prepares for a day of cleaning up. Brisbane Times (online), June 5. Available at: (Accessed 6 June 2016).

Morey, R 2010. The Bible, natural theology and natural law: Conflict or compromise? Maitland FL: Xulon Press.[5]

Oden, T C 1987. The living God: Systematic theology, vol 1. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.


[1] This is adapted from Crossway, ‘Why there’s no such thing as an atheist’, November 02, 2015. Available at: (Accessed 7 June 2016).

[2] Christianity Board 2016. ‘Natural Theology?’ 6 June. Administrator#167. Available at: (Accessed 6 June 2016).

[3] The following is my response in ibid., OzSpen#168.

[4] His reply, before closing the thread, was: ‘Very well stated….I stand corrected’ (ibid., Administrator#169).

[5] This Press is a publisher for self-publishing of Christian books.


Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 7 June 2016.

Dangerous church trend: Subjective spiritual knowledge

(photo courtesy

By Spencer D Gear PhD

The Pentecostal-Charismatic movement has brought many positive dimensions into the church, one of the chief being the teaching on every-member gifts to the church gathering or small groups. See my articles that deal with some of these issues:

clip_image001 Does the superiority of New Testament revelation exclude the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit? Is cessationism biblical?

clip_image001[1] Spiritual gifts sign of Christian maturity

clip_image001[2] Tongues and the Baptism with the Holy Spirit

clip_image001[3] Is the spiritual gift of tongues ‘gibberish’?

clip_image001[4] St. Augustine: The leading Church Father who dared to change his mind about divine healing

However, there is….

1. A BIG negative of Pentecostalism

One of the most devastating influences on the church from Pentecostal-charismatic theology has been the subjectivism and esoteric knowledge that has replaced sound interpretation of the biblical text and solid exposition of Scripture. I encounter it in a growth group led by a Pentecostal and in posts on the Internet. Let’s examine a few examples from Christian forums on the Internet.

I came across a group of Christians who wanted to use types and shadows from the OT to present their subjective opinions of the meaning of these types and shadows. I began this thread,

2. Old Testament types and shadows need New Testament support[1]

Trees With Late Afternoon Shadows(photo courtesy


A person claimed that these OT words were direct references to Christ and not types or shadows? The words to which he referred were LORD (YHWH), LORD God (Yahweh Elohim), God (Elohim) and Almighty (El Shaddai).[2]

Is it true that we need to go beneath the surface of a word or statement to gain a true understanding of the meaning? Is Noah’s Ark a type of Christ? See 1 Peter 3:20-22 (NIV).

I raised some biblical examples of types from the OT that are affirmed as types in the NT:

clip_image003 John 5:45-46 (NIV), ‘But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me’.

clip_image003[1] Rom 5:14 (NIV), ‘Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern [tupos = type] of the one to come’.

clip_image003[2] In I Corinthians 10:11 (NIV) Paul spoke of the OT patriarchs, ‘These things happened to them as examples [tupikos = typically] and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come’.

clip_image003[3] Colossians 2:17 (NIV) ‘These [laws] are a shadow [skia] of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ’.

clip_image003[4] Heb 10:1 (NIV), ‘The law is only a shadow [skia] of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship’.

We are told in 1 Cor 10:4 (ESV) that ‘all drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, the Rock was Christ’. To which rock is Paul referring in the OT? We know that there are two Meribah incidents involving the rock (e.g. Ex 17:6-7 ESV; Num 20:10-13 ESV) that were about 40 years apart. The first one was at Horeb, Mt Sinai, which was near the start of their wandering in the wilderness. The last one happened at Kadesh which was as they were about to enter the Promised Land.

Matthew 16:16-18 (ESV) and 1 Pet 2:4-8 (ESV) confirm Jesus as the Rock and the 1 Peter 2:6-8 example cites various passages from the OT to lend support for the statements. In 1 Cor 10:1-7a (ESV), Paul tells us:

For I want you to know, brothers [and sisters] that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were….

The issue I am raising is: Do Christians have the right to create their own understanding of what is a type or shadow from the OT that is fulfilled in the NT or do we need the NT’s confirmation that it is a type or shadow? To me, the latter seems to be the biblical means of identification.

How can we confirm that YHWH, Yahweh Elohim, Elohim, and El Shaddai are references to Christ in reality and not in type or shadow? What’s the biblical evidence?

3. New Testament confirmation needed of types

What kinds of responses do you think the above statement would engender?

clip_image005’I agree there must be relevance to Jesus in the names used, but we read in 1 Cor 10:11, Now all these things (Judgments?) happened unto them for ensamples (analogies): and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
As a type or description of Jesus I read the word “Image,” and that being other than spirit we read of in Col 1:15.
Isa 43:3 For I am the LORD (Jehovah) thy God, the Holy One of Israel (Jesus?), thy Saviour (Jesus?).
Isa 43:11 I, even I, am the LORD (Jehovah); and beside me there is no savior (Jesus)?
In power Jesus is described as the almighty in Rev 1:8 during His reign.
He is the last Adam in 1 Cor 15:45.
Other OT references are in Isa 9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.[3]

My response was:[4] Apart from 1 Cor 10 (ESV), I don’t think you are giving examples of types or shadows in the OT that are fulfilled in the NT, as demonstrated by NT statements.

In that other thread, we had people using Adam and Eve as types and shadows. My question is: Is it legitimate for Christians to make up, create, decide their own opinion on what is a type or shadow of Christ or some other theology – without the NT confirming that such is a type or shadow?

I’m not discussing the fulfilment of OT prophecy as in the example you gave from Isa 9:6 (ESV), which is fulfilled according to Luke 2:11 (ESV). My discussion is about types and shadows that Christians want to push from the OT, but with no confirmation of such in the NT.

Eugene’s response was: ‘Can you give an example? I may also be guilty of that, although I don’t always attempt to prove the OT with proof from the NT’.[5]

3.1 Example of New Testament application

There are at least 4 different interpretations of 1 Cor 10:3,[6] ‘And did all eat the same spiritual meat’. This is not the place to discuss these. They are articulated by Charles Hodge in A Commentary on 1 & 2 Corinthians (Edinburgh/Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), pp. 172-174. See HERE.

We see Israel’s example in 1 Cor 10:1-5 (NIV) and that example applied by giving a warning against idolatry (1 Cor 10:6-13 NIV).

In vv 1-5, it is a powerful type with the language of ‘our fathers’ and their form of ‘baptism’ and the ‘Eucharist’. It prefigured our baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
What was the purpose of the type given from the OT and articulated in 1 Cor 10:1-5 (NIV)? It continues with some of the events in Exodus to warn the Corinthians (vv 6, 11-12). These Corinthians enjoyed blessings like those of Israel but the Corinthians were in danger of losing those blessings because of their idolatry: ‘Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters….’ (1 Cor 10:6-7a NIV).

These things in Exodus happened to be ‘examples’ to the Corinthians ‘so, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall’ (1 Cor 10:12 NIV).

That’s my understanding of this type. But it is important to realise that it is only a type or shadow because it is specifically mentioned as such in the NT. We are not left to speculate that types and shadows are on nearly every page of the OT. That isn’t true.

Yes, there are types and shadows that are mentioned in the NT that draw attention to examples from the OT, but the NT has to mention them as examples to make them types.

3.2 You limit us too much. Be free to encounter Jesus in other ways

clip_image005[1]This one came out of left field, but it demonstrates the spiritual subjectivism of some people. I don’t know if this person has any Pentecostal leanings. She wrote:

I don’t think we should use only those types and foreshadows that are permitted to us because they’re mentioned in the N.T. as such. Doesn’t this limit us too much? Am I not free to encounter Jesus wherever I might find Him?
The entire bible was written to show God’s relationship to Man. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of that relationship. I see Him all over the O.T., as one poster said from the other thread. Can I not discern the bible spiritually also? Must it always be using intellectual knowledge? Most people don’t know as much as you do and so this question never even arises.
So is the prophetic scripture and the fulfillment scripture not valid unless one of the N.T. writers speaks of it as such? I am trying to understand you better. When I open up my bible, am I entering into a classroom?
Could it be that ALL must be said or it is not valid? Was EVERYTHING written down? John 21:25
1 Corinthians 10:3
All ate the same manna. Jesus is the new manna which does not rot after one day but lasts forever. We must, even today, all eat the same manna.
Manna = Spiritual food.
Jesus is the new manna.
Jesus is our spiritual food.
Now very learned persons will have 3 other meanings for this scripture.
But most of us are not learned and will be satisfied with the above.
I mean, how much do you want us to know??[7]

That one did press my theological buttons, so I came back with,[8]

3.3 Individualistic interpretations

If there is no NT confirmation, then the alleged OT types become no more than individualistic interpretations with no more weight than a person’s assertions or experiences.

Now to some points (not comprehensive) from this person’s post:

  1. ‘I don’t think we should use only those types and foreshadows that are permitted to us because they’re mentioned in the N.T. as such. Doesn’t this limit us too much? Am I not free to encounter Jesus wherever I might find Him?‘ If you invent the types and shadows, that amounts to postmodernism in action. There is no hermeneutical way of countering anyone who comes to this forum and says, ‘Jesus told me X, Y, Z’ and it is not endorsed by Scripture. There are droves of people in my region who have existential experiences of ‘mystery’ that are a country mile from biblical fidelity. I have no way of knowing whether the postmodern, existential interpretation is for real unless I have my thoughts firmly planted in the revealed Scripture. In fact, I have no Gospel to proclaim unless it is biblically based. If I am free to encounter Jesus wherever I have a new revelation of him, are you going to extend that same ‘Jesus encounter’ privilege to the Mormon in the Temple or the New Age practitioner in an occult group?
  2. ‘Can I not discern the bible spiritually also? Must it always be using intellectual knowledge? Most people don’t know as much as you do and so this question never even arises’. That kind of demeaning put down is totally unnecessary on an evangelical Christian forum. If it were not for people with knowledge of the original languages, you wouldn’t even have a Bible you can read in English.
  3. One more, ‘The entire bible was written to show God’s relationship to Man’, you say. Try telling that to the Amalekites who were slaughtered by Saul, ‘Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys’ (1 Sam 15:3 NIV).

There are many other red herrings that this person raised in her post that are unrelated to the topic of my original post.

3.4 Postmodern reader-response

clip_image005[2] An earlier poster came again with input:[9]

Stating that many Christians today create their own understanding of shadows and types I think is the product of precept upon precept, and line upon line as we grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord. Over the years I’ve changed certain views; some due to experience, and at other times maturing in the word of God.
I’ll just give one example how I’ve use (sic) the striking the Rock instead of speaking to it. At first Moses was instructed to strike the Rock, and that to me was a type of the crucifixion of our Lord in Exodus 17: 5-6.

Next I read in Num 20:8 that Moses was to speak to the Rock, but he struck the Rock twice, and God said to him in Num 20:12, And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.
Here there was evident consequence, and we read in Deut 32:50, And die in the mount whither thou goest up, and be gathered unto thy people; as Aaron thy brother died in mount Hor, and was gathered unto his people:
Deut 32:51 Because ye trespassed against me among the children of Israel at the waters of Meribah-Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin; because ye sanctified me not in the midst of the children of Israel.

Now how could or would I use this as a type pertaining to Christendom? We read of a sin that is unto death in Rom 6:16, Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? Did Moses die as the result of his unbelief? Of course, but do any think he went to hell; we see Jesus with Elias and Moses on what has become known as the mount of transfiguration in Mt 17:4. As an example of things, 1 Cor 10:11 Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition (or warnings), upon whom the ends of the world are come. Could lying [to] the Holy Spirit be justification for such judgment such as that of Ananias & Sapphira of Acts 5:1? I think so.

Image result for clipart reader-response public domain(image courtesy


My reply was:[10] Have you ever heard of postmodern reader-response criticism? Do you know what it means?

For a brief mention of its meaning, see D A Carson & Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, pp 61, 62, 66 (online). How do you think your comments here fit with reader-response criticism?

His reply was interesting and revealed some lack of knowledge of the content of the link I gave:

I had no idea that my discussion to a question was a criticism rather than tossing some ideas around concerning types and shadows portrayed in scripture.
Having read the excerpt of Post Modern Reader-Response Error Theology, it seems to suggest there is no right or wrong leading me to wonder at God’s purpose in having the Bible written.[11]

How should I reply? Here goes:[12]

It seems that you are misunderstanding the theory and practice of postmodern reader-response criticism in your own writing. What you did in #10 was give us a string of verses that were interpreted as Eugene’s postmodern reader-response theology.

So, prior to my giving you the link to reader-response theory, it seems that you did not have an understanding of what you have done with these verses at #10.

Reader-response errors happen when a reader accepts that the writer of any document does not determine its meaning but that the reader’s understanding and response are what matters, i.e. the reader’s meaning is the meaning of the text. That seems to be what you have done with the verses you gave in #10.

This is such a serious error infiltrating the Christian church that Kevin Vanhoozer has addressed it in an entire book, Is There a Meaning in This Text? (Zondervan 2009)

Do you think you would read the local newspaper like you did the verses you gave in #10?

9780310324690(image courtesy Zondervan)


Now the discussion progresses to:

3.5 The Holy Spirit fills in the blanks

Could you imagine that spiritual individualism and Holy Spirit magic would deteriorate to this point. A fellow wrote,

clip_image005[3]‘We don’t need everything written when we have the Holy Spirit to fill in the blanks’.[13]

That’s like a red rag to me as a theologian and apologist, so I responded:

Subjectivism, whether by the Spirit or any other measure, is very difficult to discern because of the variation from person to person. ‘The Spirit filled in the blanks for me’ is in competition with ‘The Spirit filled in the blanks for you’, the Mormon, the occult practitioner, and the information provided may be very different for the same topic. Subjectivism, whether spiritual or humanistic, is a poor measure of competent content of revelation.[14]

3.6 Multi-faceted wisdom

clip_image005[4]Another said, ‘That’s why it’s called “multi faceted” wisdom, because the truth that is found in wisdom, is like a diamond or precious stone and is relevant as God sees each circumstance’.[15]

The rag for the apologist’s bull is getting redder and more worn from over-use:[16]

That’s why it is called subjectivism and/or Gnosticism as it is impossible to obtain objective information from that ‘revelation’. Your subjective revelation has no more impact than another believer’s or a Gnostic’s insight of esoteric knowledge. I understand this person is using ‘multi faceted wisdom’ as esoteric knowledge, which means:

“Esoteric” refers to insight or understanding of inner (Greek: eso-) or spiritual or metaphysical realities, or a specific teaching or spiritual practice or path or “wisdom tradition” that is based on a mystical interpretation of spirituality, rather than a religious or slavish following of the outer words of scriptures, or pertains to transpersonal or transcendent states of existence. In contrast exoteric knowledge is knowledge that is well-known or public, and does not require any such transformation of consciousness (Kazlev 2016).

This definition of ‘esoteric’ comes from Kazlev who is involved in analysing the philosophy of Ken Wilber and his ‘psychology and spirituality (though many have disapproved of his endorsement of controversial gurus, such as Adi Da[17] and Andrew Cohen[18])’ (Kazlev 2016).

It seems to me that these Christians on Christian forums who are advocating ‘multi faceted’ wisdom and deeper meaning revelation, are following a parallel path with these mystical gurus or postmodern, reader-response advocates. It is a dangerous, subjective and mystical experience that is outside of Scripture and runs the risk of contradicting Scripture.

3.7 Do we need NT confirmation for a type or shadow?

That’s the question I asked for this forum thread? This was one retort:

clip_image005[5]‘Only if you want to impress it upon someone as undeniable fact. Otherwise you can only share it using your best efforts of honest debate you can muster and leave the rest to God’.[19]

How should I counter?[20] Here goes!

That makes you a supporter of subjective interpretation and reader-response ideology. It also makes you a sitting duck for any kind of hermeneutic that comes along and wants to dethrone your reader-response. It makes no fixed interpretation possible.

Try that approach with your next electricity bill, a letter from a lawyer, or reading a local newspaper. Creating your own reality in reader-response theology or esoteric revelation amounts to Gnosticism in action in the 21st century.

That approach makes Jesus a moving target of any kind of interpretation. If you don’t believe me, take a read of John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity (1998).

What is reader-response theory?

Reader response is a school of literary criticism that ignores both the author and the text’s contents, confining analysis to the reader’s experience when reading a particular work. Reader response theorists are particularly concerned with the traditional teaching approaches that imply that a work of literature has a particular interpretation. According to Louise Rosenblatt, one of the primary figures in reader response, all reading is a transaction between the reader and writer (as represented by an immutable text). She further posits that the “stance” of the reader, either “aesthetic” (reading by choice or for pleasure) or “efferent”(reading by assignment or because one has to), has a major influence on the textual experience (source Chegg).

In Christian scholar, Kevin Vanhoozer’s, words, ‘Reader response criticism stresses the incompleteness of the text until it is constructed (or deconstructed) by the reader…. Meaning is the product of the interaction between text and reader (e.g. the “two horizons”)’. The more radical reader-response practitioners such as Stanley Fish and Jacques Derrida agree that ‘there is no such thing as “disinterested,” that is, innocent or objective reading. All reading is ideological and guided by certain interests’ (Vanhoozer 1998:27-28).

This fellow came back with this response:[21]

3.8 No fixed interpretation with plain words of the Bible

clip_image005[5]It makes no fixed interpretation possible in regard to hard and fast and plain words of the Bible. That’s all. That hardly means it can’t possibly be true.

That’s not a good argument to make [about the example of the electricity bill].

No one is suggesting that personal interpretation – meaning that interpretation isn’t spelled out in the Bible word for word – can somehow be inconsistent with what is written in the Bible. Perhaps that is the big mistake you are making about this. This isn’t about saying your electric bill is $30.00 when it plainly says it’s $150.00 on the written bill.

What is being defended in this thread fails to meet the criteria for this being a matter of ‘Reader Response’:

1. Personal interpretation does not ignore the author of the Bible and the context, nor content, of the Bible. One of the rules of personal spiritual revelation not spelled out in scripture is that it can not contradict what the Bible already says.

2. Personal interpretation is not about ‘confining analysis to the reader’s experience’ because it does not consist of analysis confined only to the reader, and is not based on an experience other than the experience of spiritual revelation itself. It’s not about having experiences, and an analysis of spiritual matters that contradict what the Bible does say about a particular subject.

3. The spiritual interpretation that is being defended here is exactly the opposite of being “concerned with the traditional teaching approaches that imply a work…has a particular interpretation”. Because it is open to a greater spiritual depth and insight and understanding of scripture it sometimes grates against the traditional interpretation of scripture (i.e. 1 Corinthians 3:8-15 NASB. Not a terribly good example because so much of the non-traditional interpretation of that passage is directly supported by the Bible).

This promotion of reader-response, subjectivism became more obvious in that post, so I responded:[22]

And that’s the problem. If there are no hard and fast rules for the plain words of John 3:16 (ESV), then you have postmodern reader-response Gnosticism in action. It leads to hermeneutical shipwrecks. If there were not hard, fast and plain meanings to words of the Bible (and to any other writing), what you and I write on CFnet would not be understood. I think you are whistling in the wind of subjective vagueness.

It is a good argument to make [analogy with an electricity bill] because personal, subjective interpretation, is a bummer when it comes to understanding the meaning of your electricity bill. You must read it literally to obtain its plain meaning. There is no other means of interpretation of your electricity bill and it is a fixed interpretation. Esoteric, deeper knowledge ideology will not work.

He also asked if Joseph (OT) was a shadow and type of Christ. My reply was that, as I’ve stated a few times in this thread, an OT person or incident is not a type or shadow unless it is confirmed in the NT as such. Some see the OT story of Joseph (Gen 37-45) as a type of Christ because of Joseph’s humiliation and glorification that could be compared with Jesus’ passion and resurrection. However, the NT does NOT confirm that the OT Joseph is a type of Christ. Joseph’s story is an illustration with a parallel with Jesus – but it is NOT a type or shadow because the NT does not confirm it as such.

As to personal interpretation not ignoring the author, context, etc., I wrote: That might be what you see, but in this thread I’ve seen too many personal interpretations that were subjective impositions on the biblical data. So you say that a rule of personal spiritual revelation (not revealed in the Bible) must not contradict the Bible. That’s your own personal opinion and it is open to contradiction by another personal interpretation. You are building your interpretation on the slippery sands of personal revelation.

As to his point #3, I wrote: That’s subjective Gnosticism in action and it is what the church apologists had to battle in the first few centuries of the church’s existence. Seems like it is alive and well in your posts.

He didn’t seem to like this labelling of subjective Gnosticism, so gave his deconstruction:[23]

I think what you really mean to say is the idea of esoteric knowledge upon which Gnosticism relied seems alive and well in my posts.
If being able to discern things by the Spirit of God that others can’t, or aren’t yet able to discern, is considered esoteric knowledge, then yes, that broad definition and application of esoteric knowledge is alive and well in my posts. That is the very foundation of teaching. I guess your problem is that you feel that is not allowed.
“we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood…” (1 Corinthians 2:6-8 NASB)
By pure definition, if that isn’t esoteric knowledge, then nothing is.
All I’m saying is, it is allowed as long as it does not contradict, or can not be reconciled with what we already know to be true in the Bible. In Paul’s case, his esoteric knowledge did not contradict, or not reconcile with the scriptures of his day, what we call the OT.
The use of Paul’s esoteric knowledge to teach spiritual truth shows us it’s okay to say that Joseph, for example, is a type and shadow of Christ. Does Christianity and the truth of God come crashing down in a worthless heap if, technically, God did not say it’s a type and shadow of Christ? Of course not. You’re tossing out all privilege of personal interpretation and suggestion and it’s value in spiritual education just because there certainly are those who would abuse it. Yours is a misguided, contentious argument. What you should be arguing against is not esoteric knowledge, but esoteric knowledge that has no basis or support in scripture.

Esoteric knowledge in 1 Cor 2:6-8 when it speaks of ‘God’s wisdom in a mystery’?? I replied[24] Where does the Bible provide an exposition of the need for and the meaning of ‘esoteric knowledge’?

Another definition of esotericism is: ‘Esoteric: known or knowable only to initiates; secret or mysterious knowledge; cryptic; hidden; concealed; clandestine, cover’ (source).

1 Corinthians 2:6-8 NASB is hardly an explanation to cover this meaning of esoteric knowledge in the secular world or in a biblical worldview.

3.9 The shifting sands of ‘biblical discernment’

clip_image005[6]Another person entered the discussion:

This is supported [Adam & Eve as types] by the NT (see Ephesians 5 and other passages). Ideally, we should have NT corroboration, but that may not always be found, yet the interpretation will not be in violation of Scripture. There are things which can be spiritually discerned.[25]

I do not find a word in Ephesians 5 that supports what I asked: ‘In that other thread, we had people using Adam and Eve as types and shadows’.[26]

4. The plot thickens: ‘Esoteric knowledge’ enters

I’ve already mentioned this promotion by one person of 1 Cor 2:6-8 in support of esoteric knowledge endorsed by Scripture – so he said. It is necessary to respond.

4.1 What ‘secret wisdom’ is not[27]

Image result for esoteric public domain (image courtesy, public domain)


This person seemed to have missed the meaning of the Greek musterion (mystery) used in 1 Cor 2:7. Paul confronts his Corinthian opponents with the message of the cross (1 Cor 1:26ff) as he is dealing with ‘the mystery cults and gnosticism [that] are directly dealt with’. Wherever musterion appears in the NT it is found in association with verbs that denote revelation or proclamation. ‘It is a present-day secret, not some isolated fact from the past which merely needs to be noted, but something dynamic and compelling. This is vividly expressed in Col. By his office the apostle “fulfills” (Col. 1:26) “the mystery of Christ” (4:3), i.e. by bearing in his own body that which is still lacking in the afflictions of Christ (1:24), he gives practical expression to the “mystery” and carries it on towards its final consummation’ (Brown 1978:504).

It is not esoteric knowledge (he needs to note the difference in meaning between knowledge and wisdom). It is wisdom that was previously hidden that God has revealed – in 1 Cor what is revealed is ‘the message/word of the cross’ (1 Cor 1:18).

Leading evangelical Greek scholar, Dr Gordon D Fee, does not agree with this person in his exegesis of 1 Cor 2:6-8 (he uses the NIV). In his exegetical commentary on 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (partially available online pp 102-106). He states this about the wisdom of God in 1 Cor 2:7-8:

Vv 7-8  In these verses Paul elaborates the two sides of v. 6. V. 7 explains the nature of God’s wisdom that made it impossible for the wise of this age to grasp it; v. 8 repeats the failure of the “rulers” in terms of their responsibility for the crucifixion.

He begins with a sharp contrast to the negative side of v. 6. “No,” he says, “we speak God’s wisdom,” which he immediately qualifies in four ways. The first three describe its nature, so as to distinguish it from the wisdom of this age. First, it is wisdom “in mystery” (NIV, “secret wisdom”).[28] One cannot be certain whether this phrase modifies “wisdom” as an adjective (hence the NIV’s “secret wisdom”) or the verb “we speak” as an adverb. The former seems preferable. God’s wisdom is not some inaccessible teaching, spoken in secret. As Paul will develop more fully in Colossians and Ephesians [see Col. 1:26-27; 2:2: 4:3; Eph. 1:9; 3:3, 4, 9: 6:19], in the singular the term “mystery” ordinarily refers to something formerly hidden in God from all human eyes but how revealed in history through Christ and made understandable to his people through the Spirit. The seeds of this idea are sown here for the first time in Paul; in particular it embraces the paradox of the crucifixion of “the Lord of glory” (v. 8).

Second, and to clarify the phrase “in mystery,” God’s wisdom – salvation through a crucified Messiah – “has been hidden.” The perfect tense, plus the phrase that follows (“before time began”), indicates that such wisdom has been hidden in God from eternity until such a time (“now”) as he was ready to reveal it. What follows in v. 8 suggests further that God’s “secret” remains hidden from the “rulers, ” the representatives of the “wise” of this age.

Third, God’s secret wisdom, long hidden – and still hidden to some – was “destined” by God himself “for our glory before time began.” This is the clause that begins to clarify both the content of “wisdom” and the identity of the “mature” in v. 6. The verb “destined” is an intensified form of the ordinary verb for “determining.” The emphasis lies on “deciding upon beforehand” (BAGD);[29] therefore, to “predestine.” As in [1 Cor] 1:1, God’s call is the expression of his prior will, which in this case is further intensified by the phrase “before time began” (lit. “before the ages”). What God determined “before the ages” has been worked out in the present age, which is being brought to its conclusion as the final glorious age has dawned and is awaiting its consummation – “for our glory.” What has been predestined technically is God’s wisdom; the larger context indicates that Paul has in view God’s gracious activity in Christ, whereby through the crucifixion he determined eternal salvation for his people – including especially the Corinthian believers. Just as God chose the foolish and weak for salvation and thereby “shamed” the wise and powerful, who are being brought to nothing (1:26-28), so now Paul repeats that God “destined” his people for glory (not shame), and has done so in contrast to the rulers of this age who are “coming to nothing.” “For our glory” is eschatological language, referring to the final goal of salvation, namely that God’s people should share in his own glory. Hence the crucified one is in this context also called “the Lord of glory” (v. 8).

Fourth (v. 8a), God’s wisdom is something that “none of the rulers of this age understood.” With this clause Paul elaborates the negative side of v. 6, but now in light of the preceding description of God’s wisdom. The reason for their failure is that it was “hidden in God” and could only be grasped by revelation of the Spirit (v. 10). The reason for repeating the idea seems twofold: first, to reestablish the contrast between “us” and “them” that is crucial to his argument; and second, to confirm their part in the historical event itself, which both demonstrated their “ignorance” of God’s ways and implicated them in the carrying out of his plan. What they did not understand was the nature of true wisdom – God’s wisdom, as spelled out in 1:18-2:5 – which stands in contradiction to human understanding; and because they were thus “ignorant” they did what human “wisdom” demanded – they crucified the one who for them was one more messianic pretender. Thus the divine irony: The very ones who were trying to do away with Jesus by crucifying him were in fact carrying out God’s prior will – “destined for our glory before time began.” Instead of crucifying a messianic pretender, they killed “the Lord of glory” himself, the one who, as Lord of all the ages, is therefore Lord of the final glory that is both his and his people’s ultimate destiny. The Pauline irony, of course, is that the Corinthians in pursuing sophia [i.e. wisdom] are pursuing what belongs to this age, which is passing away and whose rulers were implicated in the divine irony (Fee 1987:104-107, italics emphasis in original; bold emphasis added).

4.2 How to interpret Scripture

To assist with the interpretation of Scripture and any other piece of literature, see my articles:

clip_image007 What is literal interpretation?

clip_image007[1] What is the meaning of the literal interpretation of the Bible?

clip_image007[2] Isn’t it obvious what a literal interpretation of Scripture means?

clip_image007[3] Does God have a physical body?

5. Conclusion

The Pentecostal-charismatic movement, in its emphasis on the Holy Spirit, has rightly pursued the biblical mandate to ‘follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy’ (1 Cor 14:1 NIV). However this movement has introduced a down side.

That negativity is related to the subjective, Gnostic type of knowledge that entered Christian circles through existential experiences of the Holy Spirit. This article has attempted to show through posts on a Christian forum how Holy Spirit encounters, even to the point of thinking this is receipt of esoteric knowledge, has derailed the Holy Spirit’s ministry. The result can lead to Gnostic error.

Image result for Gnosticism image public domain(image courtesy


I suggest that the New Gnosticism is alive and well on this Christian forum. Part of Michael Horton’s assessment is:

Both liberals and evangelicals disdain doctrine for personal experience, and objective truth for personal transformation, and in this sense, each is, in its own way, Gnostic. The anti-intellectualism is understandable, according to Lee. “If God is immanent, present within our psyche, if we already have the truth within, then why go through all the hassle of studying theology?” [Lee 1987:111]. Isn’t this precisely the point of the division many of us grew up with between head knowledge and heart knowledge? The former is intellectual, the latter spiritual – that is, gnosis….

Pentecostalism represents an even greater dependence on Gnostic tendencies…. The outer edges of Pentecostalism are especially blatant in Gnostic emphases, as a number of works have shown, including The Agony of Deceit.[30] Salvation is knowledge – “Revelation Knowledge” (Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, Paul Crouch and other “faith teachers” use the upper case to distinguish this from mere written revelation). The Word that truly saves is not the written text of Scripture, proclaiming Christ the Redeemer, but is rather the “Rhema” Word that is spoken directly to the spirit by God’s Spirit (Horton 2016).

If spiritual insight is used as an interpretive measure and esoteric knowledge is permitted as a means of gaining a biblical understanding of the text, then expect pooled ignorance to infiltrate the church. My series of interactions on this topic have demonstrated that ‘no fixed meaning’, ‘esoteric knowledge’, and ‘my understanding’ can derail biblical interpretation.

The New Gnosticism is with us and the landscape does not look pretty. There is a heightened need for apologists and theologians to be involved in addressing this heresy that is invading the church.

6.  Works consulted

Brown, C (gen ed) 1978. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol 3. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Crossan, J D 1998. The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately after the Execution of Jesus. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Fee, G D 1987. The First Epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament, F F Bruce gen ed). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Horton, M S 2016. The New Gnosticism: Is it the age of the Spirit or the spirit of the age? Modern Reformation (online). Available at: (Accessed 17 May 2016). The article originally appeared in Modern Reformation, “Gnosticism”, July/August 1995 Vol. 4 No. 4 Page number(s): 4-12.

Kazlev, A 2016. Integral esotericism: A new integral paradigm in theory and practice. Integral World (online), June 04.[31] Available at: (Accessed 4 June 2016).

Lee, P J 1987. Against The Protestant Gnostics. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press. Also available at: (Accessed 17 May 2016).

Vanhoozer, K J 1998. Is There a Meaning in This Text? Leicester, England: Apollos (an imprint of Inter-Varsity Press).

7.  Notes

[1] Christian, 13 May 2016, ‘Types & shadows needing NT support’, Apologetics & Theology, OzSpen#1. Available at: (Accessed 17 May 2016).

[2] They were raised by Malachi#33 at Christian, ‘Underlying types & shadows’, The Lounge. Available at: (Accessed 17 May 2016).

[3] ‘Types & shadows needing NT support’, Eugene#2.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen#3.

[5] Ibid., Eugene#5.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#6.

[7] Ibid., Wondering#8.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen#9.

[9] Ibid., Eugene#10.

[10] Ibid., OzSpen#11.

[11] Ibid., Eugene#12.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen#13.

[13] Ibid., Sinthesis#15.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen#16.

[15] Ibid., JLB#17.

[16] Ibid., OzSpen#19.

[17] Adi Da was the Hindu god-man cultist who was head of an abusive personality cult. See: Timothy Conway (2007). Available at: (Accessed 4 June 2016).

[18] On his homepage, Andrew Cohen describes himself as, a ‘modern mystic, cultural critic, and award-winning spiritual journalist’. Available at: (Accessed 4 June 2016).

[19] Ibid., Jethro Bodine#18.

[20] Ibid., OzSpen#20.

[21] ‘Types & shadows needing NT support’, op cit., Jethro Bodine#22.

[22] Ibid., OzSpen#24.

[23] Ibid., Jethro Bodine#27.

[24] Ibid., OzSpen#28, #29.

[25] Ibid., Malachi#34.

[26] Ibid., OzSpen#40/

[27] This is my response, ibid., OzSpen#44.

[28] Fee’s footnote is, ‘This is another phrase that has caused some to see Paul as reflecting the mystery cults or Gnosticism. But again that not only misses Paul’s own Jewish background, but the whole point of the argument as well’ (Fee 1987:104, n. 27).

[29] BAGD = Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich & Danker Greek lexicon (dictionary).

[30] See The Agony of Deceit, ed. Michael Horton (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991).

[31] It seems that this date is a roving date that will change daily.


Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2016.

Sproul damns Arminianism by association with semi-Pelagianism

R. C. Sproul (cropped).jpg   Divine Grace and Human Agency

(photo R C Sproul Sr., courtesy Wikipedia)  (book image, Rebecca Weaver, courtesy Book Depository)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Thumbnail for version as of 01:40, 17 July 2010

(Jacob Arminius image courtesy

If you want to denigrate the theology of Arminians, associate them with some heretical or negative theology. Use a poisoning the well logical fallacy. Let’s explain this approach:

This sort of “reasoning” involves trying to discredit what a person might later claim by presenting unfavorable information (be it true or false) about the person. This “argument” has the following form:

1. Unfavorable information (be it true or false) about person A is presented.

2. Therefore any claims person A makes will be false.

This sort of “reasoning” is obviously deceptive. The person making such an attack is hoping that the unfavorable information will bias listeners or readers against the person in question and hence that they will reject any claims he/she might make. However, merely presenting unfavorable information about a person (even if it is true) hardly counts as evidence against the claims he/she might make. This is especially clear when Poisoning the Well is looked at as a form of Ad Hominem in which the attack is made prior to the person even making the claim or claims. The following example clearly shows that this sort of “reasoning” is quite poor in trying to communicate accurately (The Nizkor Project 1991-2012, Fallacy: Poisoning the Well).

1. Poisoning the well of Arminian salvation

(image courtesy

Now apply this to Arminian theology, following this procedure:

1. Associate a person’s Arminian theology (whether true or false) with some heretical or questionable theology like Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism.

2. Therefore, the claims made by that person’s Arminian theology in relation to, say, salvation will be false.

R C Sproul Sr, an ardent and articulate Calvinistic teacher and advocate, did this when he stated:

If I am in the kingdom of God because I made the good response rather than the bad response, I have something of which to boast, namely the goodness by which I responded to the grace of God. I have never met an Arminian who would answer the question that I’ve just posed by saying, “Oh, the reason I’m a believer is because I’m better than my neighbor.” They would be loath to say that. However, though they reject this implication, the logic of semi-Pelagianism requires this conclusion. If indeed in the final analysis the reason I’m a Christian and someone else is not is that I made the proper response to God’s offer of salvation while somebody else rejected it, then by resistless logic I have indeed made the good response, and my neighbor has made the bad response.

What Reformed theology teaches is that it is true the believer makes the right response and the non-believer makes the wrong response. But the reason the believer makes the good response is because God in His sovereign election changes the disposition of the heart of the elect to effect a good response. I can take no credit for the response that I made for Christ. God not only initiated my salvation, He not only sowed the seed, but He made sure that that seed germinated in my heart by regenerating me by the power of the Holy Ghost. That regeneration is a necessary condition for the seed to take root and to flourish (Sproul 2009, emphasis added).[1]

Thus, Sproul has used a poisoning the well logical fallacy to try to discredit a person’s Arminian theology of salvation. Logical fallacies are dangerous when used in preaching, teaching and in conversations because they engage in erroneous reasoning. They make reasonable communication difficult or impossible. What has Sproul done with his example? He has made an attack on Arminianism by associating it with semi-Pelagianism, hoping that this unfavourable association will cause listeners to the Arminian to be biased against his or her teaching. The hope is that people will reject the claims of the Arminian – particularly in relation to salvation – and accept Sproul’s Calvinism.

However, Sproul, in making this poisoning the well fallacy of associating Arminianism with semi-Pelagianism, has made a fundamental mistake. He has not dealt with the theology of salvation that the Arminian presents. Poisoning the well by Sproul is a vicious attack against an Arminian view of salvation (Soteriology), but without having to deal with the Arminian’s elements of salvation.

Before we get to explaining semi-Pelagianism, we need to ask….

2. What is Pelagianism?

(image of Pelagius courtesy Wikipedia)

A Pelagian is a follower of Pelagius (ca. AD 260-340)[2] who was a British monk and theologian, described by Jerome as ‘weighed down with the porridge of the Scots’ (in Cairns 1981:137). He went to Rome about 400 and joined with Celestius to help formulate a view on how human beings can be saved. St Augustine of Hippo (ca. AD 354-430)[3] would not participate. Pelagius reached the conclusion that he

was more willing to give the human will a place in the process of salvation. But Augustine had found his will helpless to extricate him from the morass of sin in which he found himself because of his sinful nature.

Pelagius believed 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 ancestors, although the sins of individuals of the past generation do weaken the flesh of the present 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 of salvation (Cairns 1981:137).[4]

It would be expected that Augustine of Hippo would oppose such a view because he saw that it had these deficiencies: (a) It denied the grace of God by which ‘regeneration is exclusively the work of the Holy Spirit’; (b) it rejected the view that the sin of Adam as head of the human race bound all human beings in sin; (c) it was a refusal to acknowledge that human beings’ wills are entirely corrupted by the Fall, i.e. denial of total depravity; (d) rejection of the teaching that human beings’ wills are so corrupted by the Fall that they are unable to exercise the will in regard to salvation. Pelagius’ views were condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431 (Cairns 1981:137-138).

Church historian, Earle Cairns, claims that the Pelagian vs Augustinian issues have been a perennial problem for the Christian church. ‘Twentieth-century liberal thought is only a resurgence of the Pelagian idea that man can achieve salvation by cooperation with the divine will through his own efforts’ (Cairns 1981:138).

2.1 Pelagian beliefs

Thumbnail for version as of 01:40, 17 July 2010What were some of the beliefs of Pelagianism that have caused so much theological heartache throughout church history? They were exposed in Augustine’s writings, Against Two Letters of the Pelagians. These beliefs include:

(i.) Whether Adam had sinned, or had not sinned, he would have died.

(ii.) The sin of Adam was injurious to no one except to himself; and therefore,

(iii.) Little children do not contract original sin from Adam; neither will they perish from life eternal, if they depart out of the present life without the sacrament of baptism.

(iv.) Lust or concupiscence in man is a natural good; neither is there any thing in it of which man may be ashamed.

(v.) Through his free will, as per se, man is sufficient for himself, and is able to will what is good, and to fulfill or perfect that which he wills. Or even, for the merits of works, God bestows grace on every one.

(vi.) The life of the just or the righteous in this life has in it no sin whatsoever; and from these persons, the church of Christ in this state of mortality are completed, that it may be altogether without spot or wrinkle.

(vii.) Pelagius, being compelled to confess grace, says that it is a gift conferred in creation, is the preaching of the law, and the illumination of the mind, to know those things which are good and those which are evil, as well as the remission of sins if any one has sinned, excluding from this [definition of grace] love and the gift and assistance of the Holy Spirit, without which, he says, the good which is known may be performed, though he acknowledges that this grace has also been given for this purpose — that the thing may be the more easily done, which can indeed be otherwise done by the power of nature, but yet with greater difficulty (in Arminius 1977b:389).

Arminius set out to refute Pelagius and concluded:

(i.) Our opinion openly professes that sin is the only and sole meritorious cause of death, and that man would not have died, had he not sinned.

(ii.) By the commission of sin, Adam corrupted himself and all his posterity, and rendered them obnoxious to the wrath of God.

(iii.) All who are born in the ordinary way from Adam, contract from him original sin and the penalty of death eternal. Our opinion lays this down as the foundation of further explanation; for this original sin is called, in Romans 7, “the sin,” “the sin exceedingly sinful,” “the indwelling sin,” “the sin which is adjacent to a man, or present with him,” or “the evil which is present with a man and” the law in the members.”

(iv.) Our opinion openly declares that concupiscence, under which is also comprehended lust, is an evil.

(v.) The fifth of the enumerated Pelagian dogmas is professedly refuted by our opinion; for, in Romans 7, the apostle teaches, according to our opinion, that the natural man cannot will what is good, except he be under the law, and unless the legal spirit have produced this willing in him by the law; and though he wills what is good, yet it is by no means through free will, even though it be impelled and assisted by the law to be capable of performing that very thing. But it also teaches that the grace of Christ, that is, the gift of the Holy Spirit and of love, is absolutely necessary for this purpose, which grace is not bestowed according to merits, (which are nothing at all,) but is purely gratuitous.

(vi.) The sixth of the enumerated dogmas of Pelagius is neither taught nor refuted by our opinion, because it maintains that Romans 7 does not treat about the regenerate. But, in the mean time, the patrons and advocates of our opinion do not deny that what is said respecting the imperfection of believers in the present life, is true.

(vii.) The seventh of the enumerated dogmas of Pelagius is refuted by our opinion; for it not only grants, that good can with difficulty be done by the man who is under the law, and who is not yet placed under grace; but it also unreservedly denies that it is possible for such a man by any means to resist sin and to perform what is good (Arminius 1977b:390-391).

So the exposure of the heretical Pelagian view, which is not that of Classical, Reformed Arminianism, leads to the question …

3. What is semi-Pelagianism?

Is a semi-Pelagian half a heretic since a Pelagian is a heretic? After all, in geometry a semi-circle is half a circle. See:

clip_image002(Fan wave spectrum mosaic, courtesy openclipart)

An Arminian-leaning theologian, even though he didn’t want to be identified as Arminian, Henry Thiessen, put Arminius’ interpretation of the imputation of Adam’s sin in the semi-Pelagian camp. He asserted that the Arminian theory was that human beings were sick and ‘the evil tendency in man may be called sin; but it does not involve guilt or punishment. Certainly, mankind is not accounted guilty of Adam’s sin’ until people consciously and voluntarily appropriate these evil tendencies by acts of transgression. This is a position held by the Greek and Methodist churches according to Thiessen (Thiessen 1949:261).

I would add that the Arminian position was what I was taught in Assemblies of God Bible colleges in Australia, Canada (PAOC)[5] and the USA. It was the view that was promoted at Ashland Theological Seminary (The Brethren Church), Ashland OH, when I was a student there in the early 1980s. So, Arminian theology is endorsed by other than Greek and Methodist churches.

Thiessen’s retort was that ‘according to the Scriptures, man sinned in Adam and is, therefore, guilty before he commits personal sin; that man’s sinful nature is due to his sin in Adam’ (Thiessen 1949:261). Is Thiessen correct about the Arminian imputation of Adam’s sin being semi-Pelagian? Arminian theologian, H Orton Wiley, expounded his Arminian position:

Not only are all men born under the penalty of death, as a consequence of Adam’s sin, but they are born with a depraved nature also, which in contradistinction to the legal aspect of penalty, is generally termed inbred sin or inherited depravity (Wiley 1952:98).

3.1 Theological attributes of a semi-Pelagian

Now let’s check out the nature of semi-Pelagianism beliefs. Pelagians do not believe in original sin and consider they have the natural spiritual abilities to respond to God and live fulfilled lives. This is an heretical view, as is that of semi-Pelagianism which ‘believes that humans have the ability, even in their natural or fallen state, to initiate salvation by exercising a good will toward God’ (Olson 2006:17-18). It is Olson’s view that ‘the gospel preached and the doctrine of salvation taught in most evangelical pulpits and lecterns, and believed in most evangelical pews, is not classical Arminianism but semi-Pelagianism if not outright Pelagianism’ (Olson 2006:30). When I attended a Canadian Pentecostal Bible college in the mid-1970s, one of the lecturers told the students he did not believe in original sin. That placed him in the Pelagian camp. I did not know enough about Pelagians at that time to be able to confront him gently – with knowledge of that heretical position.

Wiley accurately defines semi-Pelagianism as a mediating position between Pelagianism and Augustinianism:

It held that there was sufficient power remaining in the depraved will to initiate or set in motion the beginnings of salvation but not enough to bring it to completion. This must be done by divine grace (Wiley 1952:2.103).

In an attempt to rectify the wrong view of equating classical Arminians with semi-Pelagians, Calvinistic theologians, Robert Peterson and Michael Williams, stated:

The Arminians of the seventeenth century … held that the human will has been so corrupted by sin that a person cannot seek grace without the enablement of grace. They therefore affirmed the necessity and priority of grace in redemption. Grace must go before a person’s response to the gospel. This suggests that Arminianism is closer to Semi-Augustinianism than it is to Semi-Pelagianism or Pelagianism. The word Pelagian as a description of Arminians—or Roman Catholics for that matter—does them an injustice because it associates them with a theological tradition that is truly heretical (Peterson & Williams 2004:39).

4. Why the confusion of Arminianism with semi-Pelagianism?

Thumbnail for version as of 01:40, 17 July 2010Classical, Reformed Arminianism is not a version of Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism. Mark Ellis, a Calvinist, translated and edited ‘The Arminian Confession of 1621’. In its introduction, he wrote, ‘If one allows history to define labels, neither Arminius nor the Remonstrants were semi-Pelagian’ (Ellis 2005:vi).

Olson has identified some issues that impact on this Calvinistic association of semi-Pelagianism with Arminianism.

Why do so many Calvinists insist on identifying Arminianism as Pelagian or semi-Pelagian? This puzzles Arminians because of the great lengths they have gone to distance their theology from those heresies. Perhaps critics believe that Arminianism leads to Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism as its good and necessary consequence. But if that is the case, it should be stated clearly. Fairness and honesty demand that critics of Arminianism at least admit that classical Arminians, including Arminius himself, do not teach what Pelagius taught or what the semi-Pelagians (e.g., John Cassian) taught.

Closely connected with the charge that Arminianism is semi-Pelagian if not Pelagian is the accusation that it departs from Protestant orthodoxy by abandoning or rejecting monergism.[6] This was the line taken by Calvinist theologian and author Michael Horton in early issues of the magazine Modern Reformation, which he edits. In an infamous article attacking “evangelical Arminianism” as an oxymoron, Horton declares that “an evangelical cannot be an Arminian any more than an evangelical can be a Roman Catholic.”[7] He claims that Arminius revived semi-Pelagianism and that “Arminians denied the Reformation belief that faith was a gift and that justification was a purely forensic (legal) declaration. For them, it included a moral change in the believer’s life and faith itself, a work of humans, was the basis for God’s declaration”[8] (Olson 2006:81).

R C Sproul Sr.’s claim is that semi-Pelagianism ‘has always taught that without grace there is no salvation. But the grace that is considered in all semi-Pelagian and Arminian theories of salvation is not an efficacious grace. It is a grace that makes salvation possible, but not a grace that makes salvation certain’ (Sproul 2009). Really? That’s not what my research has discovered in examining the theology of Arminius and prevenient grace.

When R C Sproul was asked if Arminians were saved, he said, ‘Yes, barely. They are Christians by what we call a felicitous inconsistency’ (Sproul 1997:25).

(photo courtesy Baylor: George W Truett Theological Seminary)

Roger Olson, an Arminian, wrote:

Sometime late in the 1990s I heard a taped talk by R. C. Sproul where he simply used “semi-Pelagianism” as a synonym for “Arminianism.” In that talk (I don’t know where it was given) he divided evangelicals into two camps—“Augustinians” and “semi-Pelagians.” He treated semi-Pelagianism as a legitimate evangelical option (in contrast to Pelagianism) while criticizing it for minimizing the sovereignty of God. I could tell that by “semi-Pelagianism” he meant Arminianism….

In 2009 I wrote to Sproul and gently corrected his identification of Arminianism with semi-Pelagianism. I offered to send him the book[9] if he would read it. I received his reply dated July 17, 2009. He addressed me as “Dear Roger.” He wrote that “I do not identify semi-Pelagianism with Arminianism, but as you indicate in your letter, that I see it as a variety of semi-Pelagianism.… All Arminians are semi-Pelagians in the sense that we have a relationship of genus and species.” He went on to explain that what “differentiates all forms of Augustinianism from all forms of semi-Pelagianism at bottom is the question of the efficacy of prevenient grace.” According to him, Arminianism is semi-Pelagian because it denies that grace is effectual.

I sent Sproul a signed copy of my book and asked for his response. In it I argue that “semi-Pelagianism” is more than denial of the efficacy of grace for salvation; it is the affirmation of the human initiative in salvation – which Arminians deny. I did not receive a response, so I don’t even know if he read the book. (I have given it to several Calvinist acquaintances and asked them to respond. Most did not)….

But what about Sproul’s definition of semi-Pelagianism? I can say quite confidently that he is wrong. “Semi-Pelagianism” is not any denial of effectual grace (i.e., what is commonly called “irresistible grace”). Every scholar of historical theology knows that “semi-Pelagianism” is a term for a particular view of grace and free will that emerged primarily in Gallic monasticism in the fifth century in response to Augustine’s strong emphasis on grace as irresistible for the elect (Olson 2013).

In simple terms, a Pelagian pursues heretical teaching that denies original sin, elevates natural human ability to take the initiative to receive salvation and live the Christian life. Semi-Pelagianism also is an heretical doctrine that believes that fallen human beings, in their natural state, are capable of initiating salvation and exercising good will towards God. When conservative theologians declare synergism[10] to be a heresy, they should be referring to Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. Arminians agree with those heretical designations (Olson 2006:17-18).

Semi-Pelagianism was condemned at the Council of Orange in AD 529. A summary of the Council’s semi-Augustinian decisions is found in Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, vol 3, § 160). Olson, in another publication, confirmed that semi-Pelagianism is heresy and he ‘wondered why a Catholic synod of bishops held so much weight for Protestants, but I agreed that semi-Pelagianism is biblically in error as well as seriously out of step with both Catholic and Protestant traditions (even if many in both folds fall into it out of ignorance)’ (Olson 2013).

By contrast, Arminius maintained the initiative in salvation was with God, so his view was contrary to Pelagian and semi-Pelagian theology. Let’s check out his views on these two heresies.

See the interview of Arminian theologian, Roger Olson, by Calvinist theologian, Michael Horton: ‘Arminian Theology: An Interview with Roger Olson’ (Modern Reformation, February 2007).

5. Arminius’s views on Pelagians and semi-Pelagians

(image courtesy

In ‘An examination of the treatise of William Perkins’, Arminius dealt with the issues raised by Perkins and said, ‘The whole troop of Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians in the church itself do not know them’ (Arminius 1977c:289). Perkins was an English Calvinist who interacted with Arminius.

In addressing the false teaching of Pelagius, Arminius wrote of ‘the principal dogmas of the Pelagian heresy’. Of the seventh of Pelagius’ dogmas, Arminius wrote that it ‘is refuted by our opinion’. On further Pelagian theology, Arminius wrote that ‘our opinion is directly opposed to the Pelagian heresy’ (Arminius 1977b:389, 391, 397).

So it should be clear that Arminius should not be identified as a Pelagian as Arminian theology is markedly different to the heretical Pelagian doctrines because (a) All human beings are born sinful; they are born with original sin (Rom 5:12), and (b) salvation is not generated by human beings; it is from God (1 Cor 2:14; Eph 2:8-9) and needs God’s drawing power to experience it (John 6:44).

James Pedlar explains how Arminian theology is neither Pelagian nor Semi-Pelagian:

Semi-Pelagianism is a mediating position between Augustine and Pelagius which was proposed later. In Semi-Pelagianism, the initial step towards salvation is made by the unaided human free will. In other words, the human person is capable of deciding to turn to Christ in faith, without any divine assistance. After that initial step is made, the Semi-Pelagian position proposes divine grace is then poured out for the “increase of faith.” Semi-Pelagianism was condemned at the Council of Orange in 529.[11]

Again, any responsible account of Arminian soteriology will make it clear that Arminians are not Semi-Pelagian. Arminians do not believe that human beings decide to exercise faith in Christ by an unaided act of the will. On the contrary, they affirm that, without divine grace, the fallen human person is incapable of turning to God. Prevenient grace frees the person so that such a response is possible.

What is distinctive about the Arminian position (as opposed to monergistic Reformed accounts) is that God’s grace is resistible, meaning that we can refuse his gracious offer of salvation. However, that hardly means that our acceptance of that offer is some kind of Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian meritorious “work” (Pedlar 2012).

Pedlar, an assistant professor of Wesley Studies and Theology at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, Canada, wrote to demonstrate that Arminian theology is neither Pelagian nor Semi-Pelagian.

6. Arminius: Corrupt human beings need divine grace

In his brief exposition on ‘Grace and free will’, Arminius confirmed that the mind and affections of carnal human beings are obscure, dark, corrupt and unrestrained. This requires the special grace of God to enable human beings to experience God’s spiritual goodness. However, this grace must not do violence to the justice of God.

Arminius wrote:

Concerning grace and free will, this is what I teach according to the Scriptures and orthodox consent: Free will is unable to begin or to perfect any true and spiritual good, without grace. That I may not be said, like Pelagius, to practice delusion with regard to the word “grace,” I mean by it that which is the grace of Christ and which belongs to regeneration. I affirm, therefore, that this grace is simply and absolutely necessary for the illumination of the mind, the due ordering of the affections, and the inclination of the will to that which is good. It is this grace which operates on the mind, the affections, and the will; which infuses good thoughts into the mind, inspires good desires into the actions, and bends the will to carry into execution good thoughts and good desires. This grace [praevenit] goes before, accompanies, and follows; it excites, assists, operates that we will, and co-operates lest we will in vain. It averts temptations, assists and grants succor in the midst of temptations, sustains man against the flesh, the world and Satan, and in this great contest grants to man the enjoyment of the victory. It raises up again those who are conquered and have fallen, establishes and supplies them with new strength, and renders them more cautious. This grace commences salvation, promotes it, and perfects and consummates it.

I confess that the mind [animalis] of a natural and carnal man is obscure and dark, that his affections are corrupt and inordinate, that his will is stubborn and disobedient, and that the man himself is dead in sins. And I add to this that teacher obtains my highest approbation who ascribes as much as possible to divine grace, provided he so pleads the cause of grace, as not to inflict an injury on the justice of God, and not to take away the free will to that which is evil.

I do not perceive what can be further required from me. Let it only be pointed out, and I will consent to give it, or I will shew that I ought not to give such an ascent. Therefore, neither do I perceive with what justice I can be calumniated on this point, since I have explained these my sentiments, with sufficient plainness, in the theses on free will which were publicly disputed in the university (Arminius 1997b:472-473).

Olson’s summary statement was that ‘Arminius’s synergism places all the initiative and ability in salvation on God’s side and acknowledges the human person’s complete inability to do anything whatever for salvation apart from the supernatural assisting grace of Christ’ (Olson 1999:471).

Jr-copy-for-wiki.gif(photo R C Sproul Jr., courtesy Wikipedia)

R C Sproul Sr’s son, R C Sproul Jr, wrote:

My own earthly father [i.e. R C Sproul Sr] has been known to answer this question [i.e. Do Arminians go to heaven when they die?] this way – Arminians are Christians, barely. What he is getting at, one should not be surprised, is wisdom. First, the problem. Why would we even have to ask? The difficulty is two-fold. First, we are blessed with the atoning work of Christ when we repent for our sins, and trust in His finished work on our behalf. How much of our sin must we repent for? All of it. In the Arminian scheme there remains in man a part of him that is still righteous, that part out of which comes his ability to choose the good as it is offered in the gospel. The Arminian is not, according to his theology, fully repentant. Second, we must trust in the finished work of Christ alone. In the Arminian schema, he trusts a great deal in the finished work of Christ, but trusts some in his own ability to choose the good. If a man believes that God does 99% of the saving, and man 1%, then that man is not truly saved. The Galatian heresy is dealing with just this issue….

I would suggest that heaven is full of Calvinists who affirmed with great vigor sola fide, but who in the dark recesses of their hearts, subconsciously, believed that God was pleased with them because of their fervor for sola fide, or because of their fidelity in keeping their quiet times, or their passion for honoring the Sabbath. We are all Pelagians at heart, even those of us who are dyed-in-the-wool Calvinists….

The Arminian says at the same time and in the same relationship, “It’s all Jesus” and “It’s mostly Jesus and partly me.” They are inconsistent, self-contradictory. In the end, those who most fully believe it’s all Jesus will be with Him forever. Those who more fully believe it’s Jesus and them (sic) will hear Him say, “Depart from me I never knew you.” To put it another way, we are justified by trusting in the finished work of Christ alone, not by articulating a doctrine of justification by faith alone. We too, we Calvinists that is, make it into heaven by a happy inconsistency. That is, we all have error in our thinking. And every error contradicts what is true. Were we to adjust the true things we believed to make them consistent with the false things we believe, we would all end up in damnable heresy.

We have to affirm, at the same time, that Jesus came to save sinners, but not all sinners. He will save those sinners to whom His Spirit gives the gift of faith. That will include those who don’t know where the gift came from, as long as they actually have the gift. We ought also to remember that if we are right on this issue, if Calvinism is true and Arminianism false, we are right by the grace of God, not our own wisdom. What do we have that was not first given to us? (Sproul Jr 2012, emphasis added).

Could that kind of teaching have influenced what a prominent Arminian supporter experienced in a private appointment with a student on a college campus? The student said: ‘Professor Olson, I’m sorry to say this, but you’re not a Christian’. The context was an evangelical, liberal arts college that did not have ‘an official confessional position on Arminianism or Calvinism’. The denomination that controlled the college and seminary had Calvinists and Arminians in its ranks. When Olson asked the student why this was so, the reply to this author and Arminian professor was, “Because my pastor says Arminians aren’t Christians’. Olson stated that the pastor was a well-known Calvinist who later distanced himself from that statement (Olson 2006:9).

See the YouTube video, an interview with R C Sproul, on ‘Why are Western Reformed Christians so influenced by Arminian theology?

R C Sproul Sr. again:

When I teach the doctrine of predestination I am often frustrated by those who obstinately refuse to submit to it. I want to scream, “Don’t you realize you are resisting the Word of God?” In these cases I am guilty of at least one of two possible sins. If my understanding of predestination is correct, then at best I am being impatient with people who are merely struggling as I once did, and at worst I am being arrogant and patronizing toward those who disagree with me.

If my understanding of predestination is not correct, then my sin is compounded, since I would be slandering the saints who by opposing my view are fighting for the angels. So the stakes are high for me in this matter.

The struggle about predestination is all the more confusing because the greatest minds in the history of the church have disagreed about it. Scholars and Christian leaders, past and present, have taken different stands. A brief glance at church history reveals that the debate over predestination is not between liberals and conservatives or between believers and unbelievers. It is a debate among believers, among godly and earnest Christians.

It may be helpful to see how the great teachers of the past line up on the question.

“Reformed” view Opposing views
St. Augustine

St. Thomas Aquinas

Martin Luther

John Calvin

Jonathan Edwards



Philip Melanchthon

John Wesley

Charles Finney

(Sproul 2011:5-6).

Notice what Sproul Sr did? He falsely included Pelagius with the Arminian views when Arminius is a ‘Reformed’ view. In the ‘Reformed’ view he did not include the theologically liberal ‘Reformed’ scholars such as Paul Tillich (1886-1968), Karl Barth (1886-1968), Rudolph Bultmann (1884-1976), Bishop James Pike (1913-1969), or Sir Lloyd Geering (b. 1918). Theologically liberal Arminians could include Charles Chauncy (1705-1787), Jonathan Mayhew (1720-1766), and Henry Ware Sr (1764-1845), as well as conservative Arminians who included Adam Clarke (1760-1832), Richard Watson (1781-1833), William Pope (1822-1903), John Miley (1813-1895), and H Orton Wiley (1877–1961).

Thumbnail for version as of 01:40, 17 July 2010The fact is that Classical Arminianism is a Reformed view. To his dying day, Arminius was a Dutch Reformed minister. At death he was ‘in good standing with the Dutch Reformed Church’, a Reformed denomination.[12] Carl Bangs is a leading scholar of the life and theology of Arminius, being the author of Arminius: A study in the Dutch Reformation (Bangs 1985). Olson’s summary of Bangs’ view of the Dutch reformer was that

Arminius considered himself Reformed and in the line of the great Swiss and French Reformers Zwingli, Calvin and Bucer. He studied under Calvin’s successor Beza in Geneva and was given a letter of recommendation by him to the Reformed church of Amsterdam. It seems highly unlikely that the chief pastor of Geneva and principle (sic) of its Reformed academy would not know the theological inclinations of one of his star pupils (Olson 2006:48).

What is a Reformed Arminian in the twenty-first century? Such an Arminian follows the primary doctrines articulated by Arminius and the Remonstrance. Matthew Pinson explains:

Reformed Arminians take their cues from Arminius himself and thus diverge from the mainstream of subsequent Arminianism. They are Reformed in their understanding of sin, depravity, human inability, the nature of atonement, justification, sanctification and the Christian life.  Reformed Arminians subscribe to the penal satisfaction understanding of atonement and justification by the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience to the believer. Thus, only by departing from Christ through unbelief—a decisive act of apostasy—can a Christian lose his or her salvation. Furthermore, they argue, apostasy is an irrevocable condition. These perspectives mark Reformed Arminians off from the mainstream of Arminian thought, since most Arminians disavow Reformed understandings of atonement, justification, and sanctification (Pinson 2002:15-16).

The battering of Arminianism continued from an eminent Calvinist:

7. J I Packer’s uncomplimentary remarks about Arminians

J. I. Packer (photo courtesy InterVarsity Press)

These quotes are from Packer (1958):

The “five points of Calvinism,” so-called, are simply the Calvinistic answer to a five-point manifesto (the Remonstrance)[13] put out by certain ‘Belgic semi-Pelagians’[14] in the early seventeenth century. The theology which it contained (known to history as Arminianism) stemmed from two philosophical principles: first, that divine sovereignty is not compatible with human freedom, nor therefore with human responsibility; second, that ability limits obligation. (The charge of semi-Pelagianism was thus fully justified). From these principles, the Arminians drew two deductions: first, that since the Bible regards faith as a free and responsible human act, it cannot be caused by God, but is exercised independently of him; second, that since the Bible regards faith as obligatory on the part of all who hear the gospel, ability to believe must be universal…. Thus, Arminianism made man’s salvation depend ultimately on man himself, saving faith being viewed throughout as man’s own work and, because his own, not God’s in him.

The denials of an election that is conditional and of grace that is resistible are intended to safeguard the positive truth that it is God who saves. The real negations are those of Arminianism, which denies that election, redemption and calling are saving acts of God. Calvinism negates these negations order to assert the positive content of the gospel, for the positive purpose of strengthening faith and building up the church….

The Calvinist contends that the Arminian idea of election, redemption and calling as acts of God which do not save cuts at the very heart of their biblical meaning; that to say in the Arminian sense that God elects believers, and Christ died for all men, and the Spirit quickens those who receive the word, is really to say that in the biblical sense God elects nobody, and Christ died for nobody, and the Spirit quickens nobody. The matter at issue in this controversy, therefore, is the meaning to be given to these biblical terms, and to some others which are also soteriologically significant, such as the love of God, the covenant of grace, and the verb ‘save’ itself, with its synonyms. Arminians gloss them all in terms of the principle that salvation does not directly depend on any decree or act of God, but on man’s independent activity in believing. Calvinists maintain that this principle is itself unscriptural and irreligious, and that such glossing demonstrably perverts the sense of Scripture and undermines the gospel at every point where it is practiced. This, and nothing less than this, is what the Arminian controversy is about….

This is the one point of Calvinistic soteriology which the ‘five points’ are concerned to establish and Arminianism in all its forms to deny: namely, that sinners do not save themselves in any sense at all, but that salvation, first and last, whole and entire, past, present and future, is of the Lord, to whom be glory for ever; amen!…

Certainly, Arminianism is ‘natural’ in one sense, in that it represents a characteristic perversion of biblical teaching by the fallen mind of man, who even in salvation cannot bear to renounce the delusion of being master of his fate and captain of his soul. This perversion appeared before in the Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism of the patristic period and the later scholasticism, and has recurred since the seventeenth century both in Roman theology and, among Protestants, in various types of rationalistic liberalism and modern evangelical teaching; and no doubt it will always be with us. As long as the fallen human mind is what it is, the Arminian way of thinking will continue to be a natural type of mistake. But is not natural in any other sense. In fact, it is Calvinism that understands the Scriptures in their natural, one would have thought inescapable, meaning; Calvinism that keeps to what they actually say; Calvinism that insists on taking seriously the biblical assertions that God saves, and that he saves those whom he has chosen to save, and that he saves them by grace without works, so that no man may boast, and that Christ is given to them as a perfect Savior, and that their whole salvation flows to them from the cross, and that the work of redeeming them was finished on the cross. It is Calvinism that gives due honor to the cross….

Arminianism is an intellectual sin of infirmity, natural only in the sense in which all such sins are natural, even to the regenerate…. Arminian thinking is the Christian failing to be himself through the weakness of the flesh (emphases added).

So the eminent professor, J I Packer, has fallen for the Calvinistic trick of a poisoning the well fallacy by identifying Arminianism with heretical Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism, a label which he claims is ‘fully justified’. It may be a position adopted today by many who call themselves Arminians, but it is not the teaching of James Arminius, his immediate followers, and that of Classical Reformed Arminianism. It is an heretical version that has crept into churches. However, let’s be clear. What Packer calls Arminianism is not Arminian at all but it is prostituted Arminianism, a heresy that must be called semi-Pelagianism, to the exclusion of Classical Arminianism.

(image courtesy

The Five Articles of Remonstrance (A W Harrison translation) dealt with:

clip_image004 Conditional election

clip_image006 Unlimited atonement

clip_image008 Total depravity

clip_image010 Prevenient grace[15] [resistible grace]

clip_image012 Conditional preservation

Arminius said: ‘I can err but not be a heretic’.

This is a final word from Arminius himself concerning his teaching: ‘It is possible for me to err, but I am not willing to be a heretic’ (Arminius 1977b:475).


R C Sproul Sr associates Arminianism with semi-Pelagianism. He wrote: ‘I have never met an Arminian who would answer the question that I’ve just posed by saying, “Oh, the reason I’m a believer is because I’m better than my neighbor.” They would be loath to say that. However, though they reject this implication, the logic of semi-Pelagianism requires this conclusion’ (Sproul 2009).

Here he used a poisoning the well fallacy by associating the doctrine of salvation of heretical semi-Pelagianism with Arminianism.

Image result for clipart semi-PelagianIn this article, I examined the doctrines of Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism to show that Pelagians deny original sin and promote the view that each person has the ability to choose good or evil and thus to choose salvation. It was demonstrated how Arminius refuted the teachings of Pelagius.

Semi-Pelagians hold that human beings have sufficient human power in the depraved will to initiate salvation but divine grace is needed to bring it to completion.

Both Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism were rejected by Arminius and his followers as heresy in the seventeenth century. Classical, Reformed Arminians contend that a person’s will is so corrupted by sin that it needs enabling, prevenient grace for redemption to take place. This grace comes prior to a person’s response to the Gospel. Arminianism is closer to semi-Augustinianism than semi-Pelagianism. It does an injustice to Arminians to place them in the same camp as heretical semi-Pelagians.

However, R C Sproul Sr claims the logic of semi-Pelagian Arminians means that they have made the ‘good response’ in accepting salvation in Christ. So, are Arminians Christian? Sproul Sr.’s response was, ‘Yes, barely. They are Christians by what we call a felicitous inconsistency’. His son, R C Sproul Jr went further than this conclusion: ‘In the Arminian schema, he trusts a great deal in the finished work of Christ, but trusts some in his own ability to choose the good. If a man believes that God does 99% of the saving, and man 1%, then that man is not truly saved’.

Arminius’ theology was that corrupt human beings need divine grace prior to redemption. He called this prevenient grace. See my articles to explain this grace:

clip_image013 Is prevenient grace still amazing grace?

clip_image013[1] Prevenient grace – kinda clumsy!

clip_image013[2] Do Arminians believe in election and total depravity?

clip_image013[3] Does God only draw certain people to salvation?

J I Packer, an outstanding theologian in many areas of doctrine, was fallacious in his reasoning at this point. Similarly to the Sprouls, he used a poisoning the well fallacy by associating Arminians with semi-Pelagians when he wrote of the Remonstrance that was put out by certain ‘Belgic semi-Pelagians’. The Remonstrance manifesto by Arminians led to examination and pronouncements by Calvinists against the Remonstrance at the Synod of Dort (1618-1619) and the development of the summary TULIP doctrines of Calvinism.

Packer went further in committing a straw man fallacy by stating that Arminianism made a person’s salvation dependent ultimately on people themselves. He made the false accusation against Arminians that saving faith was ‘viewed throughout as man’s own work’. Arminius and Classical Reformed Arminians reject Packer’s caricature as false. His error is his wrong association of semi-Pelagianism with Arminianism and his failure to understand the doctrines of Classical, Reformed, Arminian soteriology.

Arminius understood that he could err but he was not a heretic. Some of the prominent Calvinists, quoted above, place Arminius in the heretical semi-Pelagian camp. The error Arminius made was that it was for later generations of theologians to examine his teaching. Sadly, some have concluded that he was an heretical semi-Pelagian. I place him in the orthodox, evangelical camp which regarded salvation as from the Lord. There was no salvation unless the Lord drew the person to salvation through prevenient grace, but that drawing could be resisted.

One of the difficulties faced in the contemporary evangelical church is that there is not enough preaching on this topic to gain clarity of understanding. So, as a result, many people in the pew seem to be semi-Pelagians in their practice of Christianity in thinking and behaviour with regard to salvation. It does raise the issue: Are these people saved if they are relying on self to initiate salvation.

I would find it encouraging and amazing to have a preacher expound these verses and their implications:

clip_image015 ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day’ (John 6:44 ESV).

clip_image015 ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself’ (John 12:32 ESV)

Works consulted

Arminius, J 1977a The writings of James Arminius, vol 1 (online). Tr by J Nichols & W R Bagnall. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL). Available at: Works of James Arminius, Vol. 1 – Christian Classics Ethereal Library (Accessed 11 December 2013).

Arminius, J 1977b The writings of James Arminius, vol 2 (online). Tr by J Nichols & W R Bagnall. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL). Available at: Works of James Arminius, Vol. 2 – Christian Classics Ethereal Library (Accessed 11 December 2013).

Arminius, J 1977c. The Writings of James Arminius, vol 3. Tr by J Nichols & W R Bagnall. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House. Available at: Works of James Arminius, Vol. 3 – Christian Classics Ethereal Library (Accessed 3 June 2016).

Bangs, C 1985. Arminius: A study in the Dutch Reformation. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers.

Cairns, E E 1981. Christianity through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church, rev & enl ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Ellis, M A 2005. Trams & ed, The Arminian Confession of 1621. Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications (a division of Wipf and Stock Publishers).

Horton, M 1992. Evangelical Arminians? Modern Reformation 1(3), May/June. Available (with subscription) at: (Accessed 13 March 2016).

Olson, R E 1999. The Story of Christian Theology; Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic.

Olson, R E 2006. Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

Olson, R E 2013. R. C. Sproul, Arminianism, and Semi-Pelagianism. Society of Evangelical Arminians (online), July 4. Available at: (Accessed 1 November 2015). This article also is available at Patheos, February 23, 2013, at: (Accessed 13 March, 2016).

Packer, J I 1958. J. I. Packer’s introduction to a 1958 reprint of John Owen’s, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. London: Banner of Truth. Available at: (Accessed 1 November 2015).

Pedlar, J 2012. Why Arminian theology is neither Pelagian nor Semi-Pelagian, 10 May. Available at: (Accessed 2 June 2016).

Peterson, R A & Williams, M D 2004. Why I Am Not an Arminian. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Pinson, J M 2002. Introduction. In J M Pinson gen ed, Four views of eternal security, 7-20. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.

Sproul, R C 1997. Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

Sproul, R C 2011. Chosen by God, rev & updated. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Sproul, R C 2009. Grace alone. Tabletalk magazine (online). Ligonier Ministries, June 1. Available at: (Accessed 1 November 2015).

Sproul Jr, R C 2012. Ask RC: Do Arminians go to heaven when they die? R C Sproul Jr (online), April 13. Available at: (Accessed 1 November 2015).

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

Wiley, J M 2012. Distinguishing Classical Arminianism from Semi-Pelagianism. A Blog for Theology & History (online), 16 December. Available at: (Accessed 3 June 2016).

Wiley, H O 1952. Christian theology, vol 2. Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City.


[1] From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: Email: [email protected].

[2] Lifespan is from Cairns (1981:137).

[3] Lifespan is from Cairns (1981:146).

[4] At this point, Cairns acknowledged the assistance of Bettenson and Kidd for obtaining this information (Cairns 1981:483 n. 11)

[5] PAOC is the acronym for the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, the Assemblies of God equivalent in Canada.

[6] Olson stated that ‘monergism especially means that God is the sole determining agency in salvation. There is no cooperation between God and the person being saved that is not already determined by God working in the person through, for example, regenerating grace. Monergism is larger than Calvinism’. Olson uses ‘monergism to denote God’s all-determining will and power to the exclusion of the free human cooperation or resistance’ (Olson 2006:19, emphasis in original).

[7] Here Olson is quoting Horton (1992:18).

[8] This is citing Horton (1992:16).

[9] The book is Olson (2006).

[10] Synergism refers to ‘belief in divine-human cooperation in salvation’ and Olson uses it in the sense that ‘it merely means any belief in human responsibility and the ability to freely accept or reject the grace of salvation’ (Olson 2006:13, 14).

[11] Some details of this decision are recorded in Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol 3, §160).

[12] Christian History (online), ‘Jacob Arminius: Irenic anti-Calvinist’. Available at: (Accessed 3 June 2016). After Arminius’s death in 1609, it was a group of Dutch Reformed pastors and theologians that composed The Remonstrance (see next endnote).

[13] ‘The Remonstrance was prepared by forty-three or so (the exact number is debated) Dutch Reformed pastors and theologians after Arminius’s death in 1609. It was presented in 1610 to a conference of church and state leaders at Gouda, Holland, to explain Arminian doctrine. It focuses mainly on issues of salvation and especially predestination’ (Olson 2006:31).

[14] The footnote at this point was, ‘John Owen, Works, X:6’.

[15] The A W Harrison translation of this link was not available at the time of writing this article (3 June 2016), hence this link to the Dennis Bratcher (ed) edition of The Remonstrance.

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 March 2020.