Category Archives: Salvation

God’s election and foreknowledge for salvation

Bible Open To Psalm 118

By Spencer D Gear PhD

How would you respond to these statements on a Christian forum? We were discussing John 12:32.

All that the Father gave Christ shall come to Christ; that is the all that Christ draws to Him.
The all Jesus draws don’t reject Christ, they come to Him, they Willingly come to Him.
[1]

I responded:[2]

The Bible bases election on His foreknowledge (Rom 8:28-30; 1 Pet 1:1-2). We need to differentiate between God’s foreknowledge and His randomly determining all things and the distinction between God’s efficient and permissive decrees.

Why did sin enter the world? James N Anderson wrote, “Why would God permit such a tragic event, such an act of flagrant rebellion, in full knowledge of its horrific consequences? A friend of mine quipped, “I can answer that one in three words: I don’t know!”[3]

Anderson reasoned further:

clip_image002“In His infinite wisdom and goodness, God chose the plan that would bring the greatest good.”

clip_image002[1]“ God allowed the fall.

clip_image002[2] “God has good reasons for everything he does, including what he allows.

clip_image002[3] “Therefore, God had good reasons for allowing the fall, whether or not we can discern them.[4]

God foresaw sin’s entering the world but he did not decree it. God knows how people will respond to the Gospel invitation but he does not deliberately determine that response.

Regarding election we must have regard to God’s justice. Let’s admit it. God is not under any obligation to save anyone even though Jesus has provided salvation that is sufficient for all.

God would not be partial if he did nothing to provide salvation for all. But how can He be other than playing favourites if he selects some from the multitude of people throughout history and does nothing for the remainder who are doomed.

However, that is not how the Bible sees it. The common grace of God has been extended to all people so that everyone has the ability restored to be “willing to do His will” (John 7:17). God’s grace has appeared to all people (Titus 2:11) bringing or offering them salvation. Sadly for many this grace is futile.

Understanding this biblical view of election has the logical and practical ramifications, leading to great missionary and evangelistic actions. If God arbitrarily chooses some and damns the rest, why should the Christian be bothered with preaching or witnessing? When we know salvation is available to everyone, it stimulates resounding evangelistic and missionary activity.

What is God’s plan for permitting evil?

This is the question asked by Dr Norman Geisler.[5]

clip_image004 “In His infinite wisdom and goodness, God chose the plan that would bring the greatest good.”

clip_image004[1]“God deemed that the plan resulting in the greatest good would be to permit evil in order to defeat it, without destroying free will in the process.”

clip_image004[2]“As He is the greatest possible Good, God willed the greatest possible good for free creatures.”

clip_image004[3]“Furthermore, God used the greatest possible means to attain the greatest possible good.”

God is all-good. How can the Best Being possible do less than what is best to do? It would seem that the perfect Being must perform perfect actions, for less than the best does not measure up to the standards of the Best.[6]


[1] Christianforums.net, Theology, “Is man not really capable of seeking God?” brightfame52#550. Available at: https://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/is-man-not-really-capable-of-seeking-god.85385/page-28#post-1611696, accessed 4 March 2021.

[2] Ibid., OzSpen #559.

[3] Anderson, “Why Did God Allow the Fall?” The Gospel Coalition, Available at: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/why-did-god-allow-the-fall//, accessed 5 September 2021.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Geisler, Systematic Theology: Sin, Salvation (vol 3). Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House, p. 155.

[6] Ibid.

 

Copyright © 2021 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 05 September 2021.

 

Early Church Fathers on eternal security and predestination

[The Church Fathers, an 11th-century Kievan Rus’ miniature from Svyatoslav’s Miscellany (from Wikipedia)]

Compiled by Spencer D Gear PhD

A person asked on a Christian Forum:

If you can, let us know.
The ECFs (Early Church Fathers) did NOT believe in eternal security. . . .
The ECFs did NOT believe in predestination . . . . (I don’t consider Augustine to be an ECF as he wrote in the 400’s)
The ECFs believed in doing good works.
[1]

Google helped me locate the following. I see no point in repeating what other researchers had done in pursuing these three topics, so I’ve supplied links to helpful research online.[2]

clip_image002

Early Church Fathers (ECF) on eternal security:

What Early Church Fathers Said about Eternal Security by Todd Tomasella

In this article, the author quotes ECF on eternal security and cuts to the chase of what the ECF believed:

It can be perhaps witnessed, when studying the Church as it functioned through the New Testament centuries that after Christ and His apostles left the earth, there was a steady decline in doctrinal purity leading up to our day. This was long ago prophesied – “Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse.” (2 Tim. 3:13)

It is interesting to observe the words of some of the leaders in the Church world throughout these New Testament centuries. Many of these men held to the biblical revelation of salvation – how it is received and how it is maintained. It may interest you to know that Polycarp was the direct disciple of the apostle John. These men addressed this unconditional eternal security matter that had already sprung forth from diabolical origins soon after Christ had risen again from the dead.

Later, John Calvin came on the scene and grossly perverted the grace of God as foretold by Jude in Jude 3-4. Calvin set forth and re-established the lie that would continue through the centuries to be responsible for the damnation of millions of souls who believed and died believing they were eternally secure no matter what spiritual state they died in.

Flower5

What did the early church fathers have to say about “eternal security” or “assurance of salvation”

This StackExchange included these helpful insights from the ECF:

These men wrote from about A.D. 100 – 250. We do not find any statements to the effect that once a Christian is saved, he or she is always saved. But we do find a consistent belief, except for a few instances, that faith and works go together. This is consistent with the teachings of the Bible.

The earliest statement regarding “once saved always saved” comes from Augustine (A.D. 354-430).

It was left to Augustine to speak a clear word for perseverance in pre-Reformation times. Starting with predestination, he saw that election to eternal life inevitably involves final perseverance. Since salvation is always God’s gift, he entitled his work on perseverance On the Gift of Perseverance. He denied, however, that the believer can have any assurance of his final salvation. Carl F. Henry. Basic Christian Doctrines. Baker Book House, 1962.

It is important to note that the doctrine of “Once Saved Always Saved” did not appear in the literature of the church until the Reformation period. A review of the existing literature from the early church fathers suggests that most of them believed faith and works must both exist for a person to be a true Christian. While no person is perfect, the pattern of life must be present. Only a few seem to believe that a person can lose his or her salvation by disobedience. But it is also possible that they are only observing the biblical truth stated in James 2:17 and 1 John 2:19.

What is most important is, “Does the Bible teach, ‘Once Saved Always Saved.?’” The opinion of the early church fathers does not constitute truth. The early church fathers were not inspired authors. But Jesus and the apostles were. Jesus did not teach and the Bible does not teach that once a person believes in Jesus Christ he or she is going to heaven regardless of what he or she does in the future. James 2:26 captures the truth that faith and works go together. A true Christian will believe and obey. A true Christian will not leave the faith. Someone who claims to believe and lives like the world or leaves the faith is a liar, and 1 John 2:4 says the truth is not in him or her. However, we must remember that only God knows if one has actually left the faith. We do not see as God sees. The statement “Once Saved Always Saved” is misleading because it is not backed by biblical substance. It should be worded as follows, “Saved Only Once” or “Once Truly Saved Always Saved.” Once God selects people for salvation they have been selected and they will not depart from the faith. Those who have been truly saved will never depart from the faith. The better biblical language is: “The one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matt 24:13 NIV).

However, there are times in severe persecution that some apostasize and leave the faith, only to return later.

clip_image002[1]

ECF on predestination:

Here is an interesting article by Jacques More titled, “The Early Church Fathers and Predestination.” Its first paragraph stated:

In a previous Article I wrote entitled THE MEANING OF ELECT – now a chapter in the book So you think you’re chosen? – I made mention that ‘There is no record of a teaching of “predestination of individuals” in the early church until Augustine came along. So for at least 300 years any such notion was not taught.’ The context of this remark was that anyone “specially picked” or “chosen out from others” was not a concept familiar to the first century Christian. This helps to define the predestination discussed as unconditional predestination: a choosing by God in no way initially influenced by the chosen one, but in being prior to the existence of that person. This is what I mention as foreign prior to Augustine (AD 354-430).

This following article provides a comprehensive list of the early church fathers and direct quotes from their writings regarding predestination:

Did the Early Church Fathers Teach Calvinistic Doctrines?

Tim Warner wrote in 2003,

Prior to the writings of Augustine, the Church universally held that mankind had a totally free will. Each man was responsible before God to accept the Gospel. His ultimate destiny, while fully dependent on God’s grace and power, was also dependent on his free choice to submit to or reject God’s grace and power. In the three centuries from the Apostles to Augustine the early Church held to NONE of the five points of Calvinism, not one.

The writings of the orthodox Church, for the first three centuries, are in stark contrast to the ideas of Augustine and Calvin. Man is fully responsible for his choice to respond to or reject the Gospel. This was considered to be the Apostolic doctrine passed down through the local church elders ordained by the Apostles, and their successors. Below we have listed a few representative quotes from the earlier writers in order to give the flavor of the earliest tradition regarding election and free will. Some deal with the subject of perseverance and apostasy (cited in “Did the Early Church Fathers Teach Calvinistic Doctrines? Soteriology 101).

clip_image004Cyprian (ca. 200-258), Bishop of Carthage[3]

No evidence remains of the date of his birth, but he is known to be a child of wealthy parents and lived in the same city as Tertullian where he received a good education in rhetoric – “The art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing” (Oxford English Dictionary 2021. s.v. “rhetoric”). While there were many periods of persecution of Christians in the early centuries of the church, it became intense for the Christians when Emperor Decius issued an edict in 250 that demanded an annual offering of sacrifice at the Roman altars to the gods. Those who made such sacrifices were given “a certificate called a libellus.”

As a lawyer, he became a Christian about 246 and a couple years later, as a new convert, he was appointed Bishop of Carthage. There he was confronted with the Decian persecution and he went into hiding. Thousands of Christians left the faith (apostatised) and the church had to deal with what to do with those who returned to the faith.[4]

During the Decian persecution of Christians under the emperor Decius (emperor from 249-251) the imperial Roman government issued tickets (libelli), indicating that citizens had satisfied the pagan commissioners by performing a pagan sacrifice (sacrificati), or burned incense (thurificati), demonstrating loyalty to the authorities of the Roman Empire. The government also issued libellatici (certificates) certifying that apostates had renounced Christianity.[5]

It is written, “He who endures to the end, the same shall be saved” [Matt. 10:22]. So whatever precedes the end is only a step by which we ascend to the summit of salvation. It is not the final point wherein we have already gained the full result of the ascent” (Cyprian, Treatise 1, On the Unity of the Church sec. 21).

Cyprian of Carthage (northern Africa) wrote under the chapter heading, “The liberty of believing or not believing is placed in free choice.”

In Deuteronomy: “Lo, I have set before your face life and death, good and evil. Choose for yourself life, that you may live” [Deut 30:15]. Also in Isaiah: “And if you be willing, and hear me, you shall eat the good of the land. But if you be unwilling, and will not hear me, the sword shall consume you. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken these things” [Isa 1:19-20] (Treatise 12, third book, ch. 52).

He made controversial statements such as:

· “There is no salvation out [outside] of the Church” (Cyprian, Treatise 72.21), i.e. Christian salvation is found only in the Roman Catholic Church.

· “He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother” (Cyprian, Treatise 1.6).

· What will happen to those who committed apostasy during persecution and wanted to return to church? Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage (northern Africa),

held that they ought to be received back into full communion after suitable intervals of probation and penance, adjusted to the gravity of the denial. In this he took a middle course between Novatus, who received apostates with no probation at all, and Novatian, who would not receive them back at all, and who broke communion with the rest of the Church over this issue, forming a dissident group particularly strong in Rome and Antioch.[6]

He died a martyr’s death, being beheaded, at Carthage, northern Africa, in 258.

clip_image006 Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165)[7]

Justin was born to pagan parents near Shechem, an ancient Canaanite city, now in the northern region of the West Bank of Palestine. His early life was that of a wandering philosopher searching for truth in ideas from Stoicism, Plato, and Aristotle. It was without success. One day while walking along the seashore he met an old man who directed him to the Scriptures where he would find the true philosophy. He described this true peace he was craving in Dialogue with Trypho, chapters 2-8.

However, most of his writings have been lost. He wrote his First Apology to Emperor Antoninus and his adopted sons in about AD 150. The themes included a request for the emperor to examine the charges against the Christians (chs 1-3), and if the Christians were innocent of charges they should be released. In chs 14-60 he discussed Christian morals, doctrine, and instruction on the Christ, the Founder of Christianity. He pointed to the Old Testament prophecies that pointed to the Messiah’s superior life and morals. He blamed persecution and error on the work of demons. In chs 61-67 of this writing, he expounded on Christian worship and showed charges against them should be dropped and they should live as free people, allowed to worship their Lord. Justin’s followers pursued these teachings.

His Second Apology is really an appendix to the First Apology in which he cites examples of cruelty and injustice of Christians. He tried to show the rationality of the Christian faith. He moved to Rome in 161 and founded a Christian School:

Justin and his disciples were arrested for their faith. When the prefect threatened them with death, Justin said, “If we are punished for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, we hope to be saved.” They were taken out and beheaded. Since he gave his life for the “true philosophy,” Justin has been surnamed Martyr.[8]

He died a martyr’s death for his Christian beliefs.

Justin wrote concerning free-will:

Could not God have cut off in the beginning the serpent, so that he exist not, rather than have said, ‘And I will put enmity between him and the woman, and between his seed and her seed?’ [Gen 3:15] Could He not have at once created a multitude of men? But yet, since He knew that it would be good, He created both angels and men free to do that which is righteous, and He appointed periods of time during which He knew it would be good for them to have the exercise of free-will; and because He likewise knew it would be good, He made general and particular judgments; each one’s freedom of will, however, being guarded.” (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, 102)

There is no doubt these Early Church Fathers believed in free will and did not promote the Calvinistic-Augustinian doctrine of predestination.

Notes:


[1] Christian Forums.net 2021. “The Good News/Bad News”, wondering#403, https://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/the-good-news-the-bad-news.84920/page-21#post-1601858 (Accessed 8 January 2021).

[2] My following major outline points were posted to the Forum at OzSpen#412, https://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/the-good-news-the-bad-news.84920/page-21#post-1601858 (Accessed 8 January 2021). This article is developed from that outline.

[3] These biographical details are based on Earl E Cairns 1981. Christianity through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church, rev. & enl. edn. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, p 92.

[4] The above paragraph is based on Encyclopedia Britannica (2021. s.v. “St. Cyprian”). Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Cyprian-Christian-bishop (Accessed 27 January 2021).

[5] Jery M Norman 2021. historyofinformation.com, “The Imperial Roman Government Issues Certificates of Conformation to Pagan Religious Practice.” Available at: https://www.historyofinformation.com/detail.php?id=3491 (Accessed 26 January 2021).

[6] Cyprian of Carthage, Bishop and Martyr, biographical sketch written by James E. Kiefer.

[7] These biographical details are based on Earl E Cairns. Christianity through the Centuries, pp 106-07.

[8] Christian History 2021. Christianity Today, “Justin Martyr: Defender of the ‘True philosophy.’” Available at: https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/evangelistsandapologists/justin-martyr.html (Accessed 26 January 2021).

Was John Calvin a TULIP Calvinist?

By Spencer D Gear PhD

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(Tulip image courtesy photos public domain)

Does it matter what your church teaches and practices concerning Christian salvation?

What is the future for churches that proclaim the following?

clip_image004All people are saved (universalism)?

clip_image005People have no say in whether they accept or reject the Gospel of salvation?

clip_image004[1]The whole of humanity is so corrupted inwardly that there is no hope of salvation without God’s supernatural intervention – without that person’s agreement.

clip_image006People have a free will that enables them to accept or reject God’s offer of salvation.

clip_image005[1]The offer of salvation is open to everyone in the world?

Two of these positions come under what is known as the salvation theology of Calvinism.They are:

clip_image005People have no say in whether they accept or reject the Gospel of salvation?

clip_image004[1]The whole of humanity is so corrupted inwardly that there is no hope of salvation without God’s supernatural intervention – without that person’s agreement.

In this article, I will examine whether the teaching of TULIP was included in the doctrines of Calvin.

I’m particularly concerned with whether John Calvin, who preceded the formulation of TULIP, believed the doctrines of TULIP.

1. What is TULIP Calvinism?

TULIP is an acronym for the theology expounded at the Synod of Dort (1618-19), held in the city of Dordrecht, the Netherlands, that responded to the five points of the Arminian Remonstrance. These doctrines have been summarised as TULIP. Here is a brief explanation of these five doctrines at: ‘The Calvinistic “TULIP”’:[1]

In brief, TULIP means:

clip_image008 – ‘total depravity. This doesn’t mean people are as bad as they can be. It means that sin is in every part of one’s being, including the mind and will, so that a man cannot save himself’.

clip_image010– ‘unconditional election. God chooses to save people unconditionally; that is, they are not chosen on the basis of their own merit’.

clip_image012 – ‘limited atonement. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross was for the purpose of saving the elect’.

clip_image014 – ‘irresistible grace. When God has chosen to save someone, He will.

clip_image016 – perseverance of the saints. Those people God chooses cannot lose their salvation; they will continue to believe. If they fall away, it will be only for a time.

Since Calvin did not originate TULIP, the purpose of this article is to discover from Calvin’s writings if he taught the theology expressed in TULIP.

Of necessity, this article will require many quotes from Calvin, especially to demonstrate favour or disfavour towards each point of TULIP.

clip_image0181.1 Total Depravity:

Calvin wrote in Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.2.26: ‘The will is so utterly vitiated[2] and corrupted in every part as to produce nothing but evil’.

Elsewhere in Institutes he states:

‘Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,’ (Gen. 6:5; 8:21). If every thing which our mind conceives, meditates plans, and resolves, is always evil, how can it ever think of doing what is pleasing to God, to whom righteousness and holiness alone are acceptable? (John Calvin, Institutes, Book 2:2.25)

… Man, since he was corrupted by the fall, sins not forced or unwilling, but voluntarily, by a most forward bias of the mind; not by violent compulsion, or external force, but by the movement of his own passion; and yet such is the depravity of his nature, that he cannot move and act except in the direction of evil. If this is true, the thing not obscurely expressed is, that he is under a necessity of sinning (Institutes Book 2:3:5).

clip_image020See my articles in support of total depravity:

clip_image0221.2 Unconditional Election:

Calvin wrote in Institutes of the Christian Religion:

Book Three, Chapter 21.1: OF THE ETERNAL ELECTION, BY WHICH GOD HAS PREDESTINATED SOME TO SALVATION, AND OTHERS TO DESTRUCTION.

The covenant of life is not preached equally to all, and among those to whom it is preached, does not always meet with the same reception. This diversity displays the unsearchable depth of the divine judgment, and is without doubt subordinate to God’s purpose of eternal election.

But if it is plainly owing to the mere pleasure of God that salvation is spontaneously offered to some, while others have no access to it, great and difficult questions immediately arise, questions which are inexplicable, when just views are not entertained concerning election and predestination. To many this seems a perplexing subject, because they deem it most incongruous that of the great body of mankind some should be predestinated to salvation, and others to destruction.

How ceaselessly they entangle themselves will appear as we proceed. We may add, that in the very obscurity which deters them, we may see not only the utility of this doctrine, but also its most pleasant fruits. We shall never feel persuaded as we ought that our salvation flows from the free mercy of God as its fountain, until we are made acquainted with his eternal election, the grace of God being illustrated by the contrast–viz. that he does not adopt all promiscuously to the hope of salvation, but gives to some what he denies to others.

See also Institutes 3.22.7,10. In point 10 of this quote, Calvin wrote:

Some object that God would be inconsistent with himself, in inviting all without distinction while he elects only a few. Thus, according to them, the universality of the promise destroys the distinction of special grace. . . . But it is by Isaiah he more clearly demonstrates how he destines the promises of salvation specially to the elect (Isa. 8:16); for he declares that his disciples would consist of them only, and not indiscriminately of the whole human race. Whence it is evident that the doctrine of salvation, which is said to be set apart for the sons of the Church only, is abused when it is represented as effectually available to all. For the present let it suffice to observe, that though the word of the gospel is addressed generally to all, yet the gift of faith is rare (emphasis added).

This point also infers the doctrine of Limited Atonement as well.

In his commentary on Romans 9:3 he wrote:

It was then a proof of the most ardent love, that Paul hesitated not to wish for himself that condemnation which he was impending over the Jews, in order that he might deliver them. It is no objection that he knew that his salvation was based on the election of God, which could by no means fail; for as those ardent feelings hurry us on impetuously, so they see and regard nothing but the object in view. So Paul did not connect God’s election with his wish, but the remembrance of that being passed by, he was wholly intent on the salvation of the Jews (Calvin’s Commentary, Romans 9:3).

Second Timothy 2:19 (ESV) states, ‘But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity”’.

Calvin responded:

Having this seal ([It] denotes either “a seal” or “the print of a seal”) having led into a mistake some people who thought that it was intended to denote a mark or impress, I have translated it sigillum (a seal,) which is less ambiguous. And, indeed, Paul means, that under the secret guardianship of God, as a signet, is contained the salvation of the elect, as Scripture testifies that they are “written in the book of life.” (Psalm 69:28; Philippians 4:3.)

The Lord knoweth who are his This clause, together with the word seal, reminds us, that we must not judge, by our own opinion, whether the number of the elect is great or small; for what God hath sealed he wishes to be, in some respect, shut up from us. Besides, if it is the prerogative of God to know who are his, we need not wonder if a great number of them are often unknown to us, or even if we fall into mistakes in making the selection.

Yet we ought always to observe why and for what purpose he makes mention of a seal; that is, when we see such occurrences, let us instantly call to remembrance what we are taught by the Apostle John, that “they who went out from us were not of us” (1 John 2:19) (Commentary on 2 Timothy 2:19-21).

While Calvin’s language is not that of unconditional election but elect who are known only to God who has sealed them, shut them in. That sounds awfully like unconditional election language.

Elsewhere he stated it more clearly: ‘It is no small matter to have the souls perishes who are bought by the blood of Christ’. (A Selection of the Most Celebrated Sermons by John Calvin: Titus 1:15-16, p. 84).

This reads like universal atonement but the same sermon he wrote of God’s eternal predestination and election before the world began:

Whereupon hangeth our salvation? Is it not upon the election and choice that hath been from everlasting? God chose us before we were. What could we do then? We were made fit, We were well disposed to come to God. Nay, we see that our salvation doth not begin after we have knowledge, discretion, and good desires; but it is grounded in God’s everlasting decree, which was before any part of the world was made: (A Selection of the Most Celebrated Sermons by John Calvin: Sermon II, 2 Tim 1:8-9. p. 42).

There you have the contradictory nature of Calvin’s views: (1) Souls perish who have been bought by Jesus’ blood sacrifice, BUT (2) God’s salvation is grounded in His decree before believers were created and before the world came into existence.

I’m befuddled how Calvin could say that he bought the souls of unbelievers with his blood but they didn’t make it into the elect. This is a glaring example of Calvin’s violation of the law of Noncontradiction.

clip_image020[1]See my articles opposing unconditional election:

clip_image0241.3 Limited Atonement

Calvin wrote (quoted above) that salvation is solely for the ‘sons’ (believers) of the church and is not effectual for all. So, Jesus’ salvation through substitutionary sacrifice could not have been for everyone.

By application, it means Jesus’ atonement was for a limited number of people, ‘the sons of the church’. Did he believe in limited atonement? Was it only for the elect of God? Let’s check him out!

He continued:

Though the word of the gospel is addressed generally to all, yet the gift of faith is rare. Isaiah assigns the cause when he says that the arm of the Lord is not revealed to all (Isa. 53:1). Had he said, that the gospel is malignantly and perversely condemned, because many obstinately refuse to hear, there might perhaps be some color for this universal call (Institutes 3.22.10).

Paul Helm’s research on Calvin and the atonement led to this conclusion:

While Calvin did not commit himself to any version of the doctrine of definite atonement, his thought is consistent with that doctrine; that is, he did not deny it in express terms, but by other things that he most definitely did hold to, he may be said to be committed to that doctrine. The distinction is an important one in order to avoid the charge of anachronism (Helm 2013:98).

Not all Calvinistic scholars are in agreement with Helm’s conclusions as he acknowledged:

Those who claim that Calvin held to indefinite atonement are by no means agreed about its consequences. G. Michael Thomas refers to a “dilemma” in Calvin’s theology, the existence of “stress points,” rendering Calvin’s overall position “inherently unstable.” R. T. Kendall holds that while Calvin had an unlimited view of the atonement, Christ’s intercessions were definite, on behalf of the elect alone. Kevin D. Kennedy claims that, according to Calvin, while atonement is universal, union with Christ is particular. The difficulty with the last two views, which tend in the direction of post-redemptionism, or Amyraldianism,[3] is that they imperil the unity of the divine decree, and the divine operations ad extra that Calvin emphasized (Helm 2013:100).

He included this example from Calvin to support his conclusion:

That which Augustine adds in continuation must by no means be omitted. “Since we know not (says he) who belongeth to the number of the predestinated, and who doth not, we ought so to feel as to wish all to be saved. From this it will come to pass that whosoever shall come in our way, we shall desire to make him a partaker of the peace which we ourselves enjoy. ‘Our peace,’ however, will nevertheless ‘rest upon the sons of peace’ (John Calvin, A Treatise of the Eternal Predestination of God).

Calvin wrote this treatise to challenge the teachings of ‘Albertus Pighius, the Campanian, a man of evidently phrensied audacity, [who] attempted, at the same time, and in the same book, to establish the free-will of man. and to subvert the secret counsel of God, by which He chooses some to salvation and appoints others to eternal destruction’ (ibid.).

Other Calvinistic scholars are not as sure as Helm – neither am I – about Calvin’s support for limited atonement. The following evidence should demonstrate that Calvin’s teaching on the scope of the atonement extended to the whole world. But there are passages where he is double minded.

1.3.1   I John 2:2 (ESV) states:

‘He [Jesus Christ] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world’.

Calvin’s interpretation endorses his view of limited atonement.

And not for ours only He added this for the sake of amplifying, in order that the faithful might be assured that the expiation made by Christ, extends to all who by faith embrace the gospel.

Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated?…

They who seek to avoid this absurdity [universalism – all saved, including Satan], have said that Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole Church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world. (Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles: John 2:1-2).

Honestly, is that what 1 John 2:2 teaches? Sounds more like Calvin pushing his own Reformed barrow to me.

Here Calvin confirmed again that Christ’s propitiation/expiation was not for the sins of the whole world of unbelievers but for the ‘whole Church’ and that ‘all … does not include the reprobate’. It only designates those who ‘should believe’.

Simply put, that is not what 1 John 2:2 teaches. Jesus died for ‘our sins’ (believers’ sins) and ‘the sins of the whole world’ of unbelievers. Any other interpretation manufactures conclusions to agree with one’s presuppositions.

1.3.2 Conversely, Calvin also supported universal atonement

However, in other passages Calvin supported unlimited atonement. This is only a sample from some of his commentaries, Institutes, and other writings:[4]

He wrote:

We must now see in what way we become possessed of the blessings which God has bestowed on his only-begotten Son, not for private use, but to enrich the poor and needy. And the first thing to be attended to is, that so long as we are without Christ and separated from him, nothing which he suffered and did for the salvation of the human race is of the least benefit to us (Institutes 3.1.1).

Calvin used the language of the offer of universal salvation, hence unlimited atonement, to have limited effects on people:

If it is so (you will say), little faith can be put in the Gospel promises, which, in testifying concerning the will of God, declare that he wills what is contrary to his inviolable decree. Not at all; for however universal the promises of salvation may be, there is no discrepancy between them and the predestination of the reprobate, provided we attend to their effect. We know that the promises are effectual only when we receive them in faith, but, on the contrary, when faith is made void, the promise is of no effect (Institutes 3.24.17).

I find this commentary by Calvin to be conflicting, even contradictory:

This is my blood. I have already remarked that, when we are told that the blood is to be shed according to the narrative of Matthew — for the remission of sins, these words direct us to the sacrifice of the death of Christ, without the remembrance of which the Lord’s Supper is never observed in a proper manner. And, indeed, it is impossible for believing souls to be satisfied in any other way than by being assured that God is pacified towards them.

Which is shed for many. By the word many he means not a part of the world only, but the whole human race; for he contrasts many with one; as if he had said, that he will not be the Redeemer of one man only, but will die in order to deliver many from the condemnation of the curse. It must at the same time be observed, however, that by the words for you, as related by Luke — Christ directly addresses the disciples, and exhorts every believer to apply to his own advantage the shedding of blood Therefore, when we approach to the holy table, let us not only remember in general that the world has been redeemed by the blood of Christ, but let every one consider for himself that his own sins have been expiated (Commentary on Matthew, Mark, Luke, vol 3, Mark 14:24).

On the one hand, the Lord’s Supper reminds believers that ‘God is pacified towards them’, i.e. His wrath towards sinners has been appeased (expiation). However, according to Calvin, ‘shed for many’ means for ‘the whole human race’. Wait a minute! Is it for the whole world? Not according to Luke where this message is directed to the disciples/believers and this shedding of blood is applied only to them and their own sin being expiated.

Here, I see that Calvin has violated the law of non-contradiction.

The law of non-contradiction states that A and not-A (where A is a proposition) cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. For example, my car cannot be parked in my driveway and not parked in my driveway at the same time and in the same sense.[5]

Calvin’s contradictory remarks were: (1) The Lord’s Supper reminds believers God is pacified towards them, and (2) When the ‘holy table’ is approached, ‘let us not only remember in general that the world has been redeemed by the blood of Christ’. Has the whole world been ‘redeemed’ by Christ’s death or only that of believers? He did not state it plainly as it is.

However, everyone does not embrace the Gospel that is proclaimed:

Accordingly, he is called our Head, and the first-born among many brethren, while, on the other hand, we are said to be ingrafted into him and clothed with him,[6] all which he possesses being, as I have said, nothing to us until we become one with him. And although it is true that we obtain this by faith, yet since we see that all do not indiscriminately embrace the offer of Christ which is made by the gospel, the very nature of the case teaches us to ascend higher, and inquire into the secret efficacy of the Spirit, to which it is owing that we enjoy Christ and all his blessings (Institutes 3.1.1).

1.3.3 Calvin, Scripture and universal atonement[7]

clip_image026 Matt 22:14: ‘For many are called, but few are chosen’ (ESV).

Calvin’s interpretation was:

The expression of our Saviour, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14), is also very improperly interpreted (see Book 3, chap. 2, sec. 11, 12). There will be no ambiguity in it, if we attend to what our former remarks ought to have made clear, viz., that there are two species of calling: for there is an universal call, by which God, through the external preaching of the word, invites all men alike, even those for whom he designs the call to be a savor of death, and the ground of a severer condemnation. Besides this there is a special call which, for the most part, God bestows on believers only, when by the internal illumination of the Spirit he causes the word preached to take deep root in their hearts (Institutes 3.24.8).

clip_image027 The parallel in the Synoptics is Mark 14:24 (ESV): ‘And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many”.

Concerning this verse, Calvin’s comment is significant:

Mark 14:24. This is my blood. I have already remarked that, when we are told that the blood is to be shed according to the narrative of Matthew — for the remission of sins, these words direct us to the sacrifice of the death of Christ, without the remembrance of which the Lord’s Supper is never observed in a proper manner. And, indeed, it is impossible for believing souls to be satisfied in any other way than by being assured that God is pacified towards them.

Which is shed for many. By the word many he means not a part of the world only, but the whole human race; for he contrasts many with one; as if he had said, that he will not be the Redeemer of one man only, but will die in order to deliver many from the condemnation of the curse. It must at the same time be observed, however, that by the words for you, as related by Luke — Christ directly addresses the disciples, and exhorts every believer to apply to his own advantage the shedding of blood Therefore, when we approach to the holy table, let us not only remember in general that the world has been redeemed by the blood of Christ, but let every one consider for himself that his own sins have been expiated (Commentary on Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:17-20).

Here would have been an ideal opportunity for Calvin to expound on ‘many’ meaning that Jesus did not die for the whole world but only for the elect. He didn’t. Instead he stated that ‘many’ does not leave out a chunk of the world’s population that are excluded from Jesus’ atonement.

This was in opposition to contemporary Calvinistic commentator, the late William Hendriksen, who stated that ‘Jesus’ says that his blood is poured out “for many,” not for all’ (Hendriksen 1975:575).

This is in contrast with the biblical teaching in 1 Timothy 2:9 (ESV), ‘For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time’.

Jesus’ atonement cannot be ‘for many’ and that does not mean ‘for all’. Why is ‘for many’ used in this way? Lenski, a Lutheran commentator, explained the meaning of huper mallwn (‘in behalf of many’) in the synoptic parallel of Matt 26:28 as:

These polloi [many] are all men [people], for all of whom the blood was shed “for remission of sins,” and not merely the believers in whom this remission was realized. They are “many,” and thus extend far, far beyond the eleven. Mark combines this by using huper mallwn, “in behalf of many” in the sense of “in place of many, huper having the idea of substitution (Lenski 1943:1031).

clip_image026[1] John 1:29 (ESV): ‘The next day he [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming towards him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’

How would Calvin interpret ‘the sin of the world’? He leaves no doubt that it applies to all people, Jews and Gentiles – everyone:

Who taketh away the sin of the world. He uses the word sin in the singular number, for any kind of iniquity; as if he had said, that every kind of unrighteousness which alienates men from God is taken away by Christ. And when he says, the sin Of The World, he extends this favor indiscriminately to the whole human race; that the Jews might not think that he had been sent to them alone. But hence we infer that the whole world is involved in the same condemnation; and that as all men without exception are guilty of unrighteousness before God, they need to be reconciled to him (Commentary on John 1:29-34).

Calvin did not understand Jesus’ taking away the ‘sin of the world’ in any limited way. All were guilty of unrighteousness and needed to be reconciled to God through Christ’s death for all. Calvin is sounding more like Amyraldians who support a universal atonement.

clip_image026[2] John 3:14-16 (ESV):

Calvin’s commentary on John 3:16 was:

And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life.

Let us remember, on the other hand, that while life is promised universally to all who believe in Christ, still faith is not common to all. For Christ is made known and held out to the view of all, but the elect alone are they whose eyes God opens, that they may seek him by faith. Here, too, is displayed a wonderful effect of faith; for by it we receive Christ such as he is given to us by the Father — that is, as having freed us from the condemnation of eternal death, and made us heirs of eternal life, because, by the sacrifice of his death, he has atoned for our sins, that nothing may prevent God from acknowledging us as his sons. Since, therefore, faith embraces Christ, with the efficacy of his death and the fruit of his resurrection, we need not wonder if by it we obtain likewise the life of Christ (Commentary on John 3:16).

So, all are invited to Christ to partake of the Christian life and unbelievers are without excuse. However, while all people ‘without exception’ are invited to faith in Christ, but there is one brick wall for them: Only the elect have eyes opened by God.

There we have a violation of the Law of Noncontradiction again: All are invited to come but all do not have a chance of responding positively to the invitation. I could paraphrase Calvin’s position: ‘Yes, all of you can come to Christ but all of you can’t come because you are not elected to salvation’.

clip_image026[3] John 12:48 (ESV): ‘The one who rejects me [Jesus] and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day’.

How is it possible for anyone to reject Christ if he or she is included in TULIP theology? What did Calvin have to say about this verse? ‘And receiveth not my words…. We must therefore attend to this definition, that Christ is rejected when we do not embrace the pure doctrine of the Gospel’ (Commentary on John 12:47-50).

So, individual people can reject or embrace the Gospel. This excluded unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace. Since Calvin believes there is this choice for people, he is affirming some dimension of free-will, the power of alternate choice for or against Jesus.

clip_image026[4] John 16:8-11 (ESV): ‘And when he [the Helper] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgement, because the ruler of this world is judged’.

Will the Helper, the Holy Spirit, convict the whole world of sin and righteousness or only part of the world because the other part is not included in Jesus’ salvation?

Calvin’s interpretation was:

He will convince the world; that is, he will not remain shut up in you, but; his power will go forth from you to be displayed to the whole world. He therefore promises to them a Spirit, who will be the Judge of the world….

Under the term world are, I think, included not only those who would be truly converted to Christ, but hypocrites and reprobates. For there are two ways in which the Spirit convinces men by the preaching of the Gospel. Some are moved in good earnest, so as to bow down willingly, and to assent willingly to the judgment by which they are condemned. Others, though they are convinced of guilt and cannot escape, yet do not sincerely yield, or submit themselves to the authority and jurisdiction of the Holy Spirit, but, on the contrary, being subdued they groan inwardly, and, being overwhelmed with confusion, still do not cease to cherish obstinacy within their hearts (Commentary on John 16:8-15).

Holy Spirit convincing will happen to the entire world with two kinds of responses, according to Calvin, they willingly agree with the Holy Spirit’s conviction while the rest do not yield. There is no U or I here.

clip_image026[5] Isaiah 53:12 (ESV): ‘Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors

Calvin’s comment was: ‘I approve of the ordinary reading, that he alone bore the punishment of many, because on him was laid the guilt of the whole world. It is evident from other passages, and especially from the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, that “many” sometimes denotes “all”’ (Commentary on Isaiah 53:1-12).

Therefore, he adopts the view that the Messiah’s bearing the punishment ‘of many’ means He had ‘the guilt of the whole world’ laid on him. If ‘many’ sometimes indicates ‘all’, as in Romans 5, the Messiah took on himself the punishment for the whole world (of sinners).

Thus, Calvin supported universal atonement.

clip_image027[1] Galatians 5:12 (ESV): ‘I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!’

This is an unusual verse to attract this kind of comment by Calvin:

Would that they were even cut off. His [Paul’s] indignation proceeds still farther, and he prays for destruction on those impostors by whom the Galatians had been deceived. The word, “cut off,” appears to be employed in allusion to the circumcision which they pressed. “They tear the church for the sake of circumcision: I wish they were entirely cut off.” Chrysostom favors this opinion. But how can such an imprecation be reconciled with the mildness of an apostle, who ought to wish that all should be saved, and that not a single person should perish? So far as men are concerned, I admit the force of this argument; for it is the will of God that we should seek the salvation of all men without exception, as Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world (Commentary on Galatians 5:7-12).

Here he supports the view it is God’s will for all people to seek salvation and that refers to every single person in the world, without exception. How is this possible? ‘Christ suffered (atonement?) for the sins of the whole world’.

Nothing could be clearer. He supports unlimited atonement. However, in Institutes 3.24.16 he makes ‘all men’ mean all ‘order of men’. I find this to be manipulation. He seems confused, indicating salvation is for all people but then he tempers it to the limit of ‘order of’ people – groups, ethnicity, etc. This is nonsensical eisegesis of the biblical texts.

clip_image026[6] Colossians 1:14 (ESV): ‘in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins’.

Calvin’s commentary on 1:14 could not be clearer on the extent of expiation of sins:

Unquestionably, when God remits our transgressions, he exempts us from condemnation to eternal death. This is our liberty, this our glorying in the face of death — that our sins are not imputed to us. He says that this redemption was procured through the blood of Christ, for by the sacrifice of his death all the sins of the world have been expiated (Commentary on Colossians 1:12-17).

So Calvin supported expiation for the sins of the world, thus confirming his rejection of limited atonement.

clip_image026[7]1 Timothy 2:3-4 (ESV): ‘This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’.

This passage should challenge the extent of Calvin’s understanding of the atonement. He wrote:

How comes it that many nations are deprived of that light of the Gospel which others enjoy? How comes it that the pure knowledge of the doctrine of godliness has never reached some, and others have scarcely tasted some obscure rudiments of it? It will now be easy to extract the purport of Paul’s statement. He had commanded Timothy that prayers should be regularly offered up in the church for kings and princes; but as it seemed somewhat absurd that prayer should be offered up for a class of men who were almost hopeless (all of them being not only aliens from the body of Christ, but doing their utmost to overthrow his kingdom), he adds, that it was acceptable to God, who will have all men to be saved. By this he assuredly means nothing more than that the way of salvation was not shut against any order of men; that, on the contrary, he had manifested his mercy in such a way, that he would have none debarred from it (Institutes 3.24.16).

Note the difference between what Scripture states that God our Saviour ‘desires all people to be saved’ but Calvin interprets it as salvation ‘not shut against any order of men’. The difference is crucial – and cunning manipulation, in my view.

All people include every single person in the world while ‘any order of men’ can refer to different classes and races of people instead of individual people. In his commentary on 1 Tim 2:4 Calvin stated that ‘all’ does not mean ‘all’:

Hence we see the childish folly of those who represent this passage to be opposed to predestination. “If God” say they, “wishes all men indiscriminately to be saved, it is false that some are predestined by his eternal purpose to salvation, and others to perdition.” They might have had some ground for saying this, if Paul were speaking here about individual men….

There is no people and no rank in the world that is excluded from salvation; because God wishes that the gospel should be proclaimed to all without exception. Now the preaching of the gospel gives life; and hence he justly concludes that God invites all equally to partake [of] salvation. But the present discourse relates to classes of men, and not to individual persons; for his sole object is, to include in this number princes and foreign nations (Commentary on 1 Timothy 2:1-4).

‘God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved’ does not refer to every single person in the world but only to groups of people such as classes of people, princes of foreign nations, but definitely not ‘individual persons’.

That’s Calvin’s view and I’d put it in the class of Calvinistic spin where these interpreters make it comply with their presuppositions against universal atonement, conditional election and the free grace of Titus 2:11 (ESV), ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’.

clip_image026[8] Hebrews 5:9 (ESV): ‘And being made perfect, he [Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him’.

For Calvin, his interpretation was that benefits of salvation came to those who chose to obey him:

To all them that obey him. If then we desire that Christ’s obedience should be profitable to us, we must imitate him; for the Apostle means that its benefit shall come to none but to those who obey. But by saying this he recommends faith to us; for he becomes not ours, nor his blessings, except as far as we receive them and him by faith. He seems at the same time to have adopted a universal term, all, for this end, that he might show that no one is precluded from salvation who is but teachable and becomes obedient to the Gospel of Christ (Commentary on Hebrews 5:7-11).

There is no unconditional election, limited atonement or irresistible grace here. Nobody is disqualified from salvation except those who do not want to obey the Gospel of salvation through Christ alone.

Overall, Calvin is straddling the fence between limited atonement and unlimited atonement. He can’t make up his mind.

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(image courtesy The Remarkable Blog)

clip_image030See my articles opposing limited atonement:

clip_image0321.4 Irresistible Grace

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

This verse is used by Calvin to expound his gospel of irresistible grace:

Christ declares that the doctrine of the Gospel, though it is preached to all without exception, cannot be embraced by all, but that a new understanding and a new perception are requisite; and, therefore, that faith does not depend on the will of men, but that it is God who gives it.

Unless the Father draw him. To come to Christ being here used metaphorically for believing, the Evangelist, in order to carry out the metaphor in the apposite clause, says that those persons are drawn whose understandings God enlightens, and whose hearts he bends and forms to the obedience of Christ. The statement amounts to this, that we ought not to wonder if many refuse to embrace the Gospel; because no man will ever of himself be able to come to Christ, but God must first approach him by his Spirit; and hence it follows that all are not drawn, but that God bestows this grace on those whom he has elected. True, indeed, as to the kind of drawing, it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant. It is a false and profane assertion, therefore, that none are drawn but those who are willing to be drawn, as if man made himself obedient to God by his own efforts; for the willingness with which men follow God is what they already have from himself, who has formed their hearts to obey him (Commentary on John 6:41-45).

In light of that interpretation, how does Calvin interpret the prevenient grace of John 12:32 (ESV), ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself’.

Following Calvin’s decision on the meaning of John 6:44, he is required to provide an interpretation at 12:32 that is in harmony with 6:44. I wasn’t disappointed:

I will draw all men to myself. The word all, which he employs, must be understood to refer to the children of God, who belong to his flock. Yet I agree with Chrysostom, who says that Christ used the universal term, all, because the Church was to be gathered equally from among Gentiles and Jews, according to that saying,

There shall be one shepherd, and one sheepfold, (John 10:16) [Commentary on John 12:27-33].

I find this to be fiddling with the data of exegesis to fit into Calvin’s theological framework of only the elect (the children of God) being drawn. Calvin could reach a harmonious conclusion if he accepted:

clip_image034 Only God provides salvation (Eph 2:8-9; 2 Tim 1:9);

clip_image035 Since Jesus’ death and resurrection, God has extended his grace (his drawing power) to all people (John 6:44; 12:32; Titus 2:11). It is not irresistible grace. It can be rejected or accepted.

clip_image034[1] Since the time of Adam and Eve, God has given all human beings the power of alternate choice (free-will). They can choose for or against God’s salvation (John 1:11; 12:48; Acts 16:31).

Calvin further supports irresistible. Is God’s grace extended to all sinners to enable them to repent? Not according to Calvin:

Hence it is that the whole world no longer belongs to its Creator, except in so far as grace rescues from malediction, divine wrath, and eternal death, some, not many, who would otherwise perish, while he leaves the world to the destruction to which it is doomed (Institutes 3:22.7).

It is agreed that all human beings suffer from the curse (malediction) of sin. Why, then, would the Creator choose only a portion of these cursed sinners while allowing the rest to be damned forever? It sounds awfully unjust to me?

The fundamental problem with this comment from Calvin is that he ignores the extent of God’s grace to all people: ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’ (Titus 2:11 ESV). See my exposition of this verse: How to interpret ‘appeared’ in Titus 2:11.

Calvin wrote that there was zero chance of anyone anywhere resisting God. This citation could just as easily be placed under unconditional election and the sovereignty of God:

Scripture proclaims that all were, in the person of one, made liable to eternal death. As this cannot be ascribed to nature, it is plain that it is owing to the wonderful counsel of God. It is very absurd in these worthy defenders of the justice of God to strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. I again ask how it is that the fall of Adam involves so many nations with their infant children in eternal death without remedy unless that it so seemed meet to God? Here the most loquacious tongues must be dumb. The decree, I admit, is, dreadful; and yet it is impossible to deny that God foreknew what the end of man was to be before he made him, and foreknew, because he had so ordained by his decree. Should any one here inveigh against the prescience of God, he does it rashly and unadvisedly. For why, pray, should it be made a charge against the heavenly Judge, that he was not ignorant of what was to happen? Thus, if there is any just or plausible complaint, it must be directed against predestination (Institutes, 3.23.7).

I react negatively to this view when examining the logical consequences of the Lord God Almighty and his ‘wonderful counsel’ being ‘dreadful’ and ‘impossible to deny’. It makes God the author of horrible evil. Calvin’s teaching is that salvation is irresistible through grace extended to the elect but that God decreed all that happens in our world.

That makes God responsible for child sexual abuse, rape, murder, genocide, the Holocaust, terrorism, etc. He would be a monster God. See my articles:

(1) God sovereign but not author of evil,

(2) Is a Calvinistic God a contradiction when compared with the God revealed in Scripture?

(3) Salvation by grace but not by force: A person chooses to believe

(4) Prevenient grace – kinda clumsy!

(5) Does God create all of the evil in the world?

clip_image030[1]See my articles opposing irresistible grace:

Now to the last point of TULIP. Did Calvin teach and promote it?

clip_image0371.5 Perseverance of the Saints

For although adoption was deposited in the hand of Abraham, yet as many of his posterity were cut off as rotten members, in order that election may stand and be effectual, it is necessary to ascend to the head in whom the heavenly Father has connected his elect with each other, and bound them to himself by an indissoluble tie (Institutes 3.21.7).

In Institutes 3:22.10 Calvin wrote:

Why does the Lord declare that our salvation will always be sure and certain, but just because it is guarded by the invincible power of God? (John 10:29). Accordingly, he concludes that unbelievers are not of his sheep (John 10:16). The reason is, because they are not of the number of those who, as the Lord promised by Isaiah, were to be his disciples. Moreover, as the passages which I have quoted imply perseverance, they are also attestations to the inflexible constancy of election.

Rieske (2016) in

citing data from Calvin supporting penal substitution, from such places as Institutes, 2.16.2.3.5 and 3.22.7.10, on the definite scope of the atonement, the distinction was made between Calvin’s being committed to definite atonement and committing himself to that view.

Calvinism has been called “the archenemy of soul-winning” and rightly so…. Failure to present the gospel of Christ is the real problem. One can easily notice that Calvinists discuss and present Calvinism with the notion that they are presenting the gospel.

How can they do that when their theology states that not all people are thoroughly depraved, offered the Gospel without reservation when they don’t accept conditional election? How can a TULIP people be true to their calling when their theology states that Jesus died only for the elect and not for all. Imagine an evangelist on the street preaching, ‘Seek forgiveness from God for your sins, repent – but you may not be able to do this as you are not in God’s elect. Unless the Calvinists are honest with their theology, they should keep quiet on evangelism, not preach for all within listening distance. They could do letter box drops and engage in Internet evangelism where they don’t have to be honest about their TULIP beliefs.

I find that to be a dishonest approach to evangelism in my community. I attended 2 different Presbyterian churches for 6 years and preached semi-regularly in another. None of these TULIP Calvinist churches conducted evangelistic outreach. I asked one pastor why there was no evangelism in his church and his response was, ‘God will bring them in.’ He sometimes does in dribs and drabs but they are most often from other churches and not new converts.

I recommend this printed interview with Austin Fischer by Jonathan Merritt on Religion News Service, Author says Calvinism can’t make sense of the cross (3 April 2014). Fisher tells of his journey into the young, restless and reformed Calvinists and his journey out of them.

clip_image030[2]See my articles in support of perseverance of the saints:

I am convinced the Bible does not teach OSAS where a person makes a decision for Christ, does not persevere in the faith, and is considered saved forever. See: Once Saved, Always Saved or Once Saved, Lost Again?

I also am convinced by the biblical teaching on total depravity.

2. Conclusion

Calvin taught total depravity, unconditional election, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. He presented contradictory messages on the atonement. At times he stated that Jesus’ death was for the whole world. In other instances, Jesus’ atonement was for the elect of God.

Therefore, Calvin was a ‘leaky’ TULIP theologian because of his double-mindedness on the atonement.

I am a TP Calvinist, which makes me a Reformed Arminian in my doctrine of salvation.

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

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3. Works consulted

Barnett, T 2015. Can We Escape the Law of Non-Contradiction? Stand to Reason (online), 31 October. Available at: https://www.str.org/blog/can-we-escape-the-law-of-non-contradiction (Accessed 30 June 2019).

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

Helm, P 2013. Calvin, Indefinite Language, and Definite Atonement. In D Gibson & J Gibson (eds), From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective (online), 97-120. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway. Available at: http://s3.amazonaws.com/churchplantmedia-cms/new_covenant_presbyterian_church_ga/from_heaven_he_came_and_sought_her_1.pdf (Accessed 21 June 2019).

Hendriksen, W 1975. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel according to Mark. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Lenski, R C H 1943/1961.Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel. The Wartburg Press. This limited edition licensed by special permission of Augsburg Fortress to Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. Edition.

Lumkins, P 2011. John Calvin on Limited Atonement. SBC Tomorrow (online), 15 April. Available at: https://peterlumpkins.typepad.com/peter_lumpkins/2011/04/john-calvin-on-limited-atonement-by-peter-lumpkins.html (Accessed 15 June 2019).

Rieske, K R 2016. Calvinism: False doctrines from the ‘Pope’ of Geneva. Bible Life Ministries (online). Available at: https://biblelife.org/calvinism.htm (Accessed 15 June 2019).

4.  Notes

[1] Available at: http://www.thecaveonline.com/APEH/calvinTULIP.html (Accessed 29 June 2019).

[2] Vitiate means to ‘spoil or impair the quality or efficiency of’ (Lexico/Oxford Dictionary 2019. s.v. vitiate).

[3] Post-redemptionism and Amyraldianism are synonymous terms for belief in Jesus’ universal atonement and are opposed to limited atonement (particular redemption).

[4] These Scriptures were raised and expounded by Peter Lumkins (2011).

[5] Barnett (2015).

[6] See Eph. 4:15; Rom. 6:5; 11:17; 8:29; Gal. 3:27.

[7] I am indebted to Geisler (2004:182-185) for some of the research in this section.

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 02 July 2019.

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Hope for a Hopeless Australia

Salvation gives you hope that is out of this world (1 Peter 1:13)

Image result for Clipart Hope Christ's second coming

(image courtesy Pinterest)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

In today’s values, this verse could be mutilated to say something like: “Don’t let your feelings be judged by anybody. In your thoughts and actions, be open-minded. You do whatever brings you pleasure right now. Set your sights on your self-esteem and go for it with gusto.”

I’m using ‘hopeless’ as an adjective for the wrong direction in which Australians, as a nation, are seeking hope. We seek it in:

blue-arrow-small Consumerism. We are a materialistic society seeking pleasure in things. ‘Australians spent up to $2.4 billion at the Boxing Day sales [2017]’.

blue-arrow-small False ethical standards. Ethical values by government and individuals – in the main – are decided by personal or government choice. There is no overall absolute standard by which moral decisions are made (e.g. Ten Commandments, Sermon on the Mount). We see this with the legalisation of prostitution, abortion, euthanasia, homosexual marriage, exaltation of same-sex relationships, transgenderism, and defacto relationships. Every one of those ethical values is refuted by the Christian Scriptures but relativism dominates ethical decisions at both national and personal levels.

All About Philosophy provides this explanation:

What is ethical relativism? Relativism is the position that all points of view are equally valid and the individual determines what is true and relative for them (sic). Relativism theorizes that truth is different for different people, not simply that different people believe different things to be true. While there are relativists in science and mathematics, ethical relativism is the most common variety of relativism. Almost everyone has heard a relativist slogan:

  •  What’s right for you may not be what’s right for me.
  •  What’s right for my culture won’t necessarily be what’s right for your culture.
  •  No moral principles are true for all people at all times and in all places.

Ethical relativism represents the position that there are no moral absolutes, no moral right or wrong. This position would assert that our morals evolve and change with social norms over a period of time.

The problems with relativism are:

3d-gold-star (1) In allowing all people to choose their own values, there is no value that can be prohibited because ethics are left up to personal choice. Why should murder be wrong if a person is allowed to choose his or her own values? From where do those standards come?

3d-gold-star (2) The logical consequences of relativism are that it gives licence to all kinds of extreme behaviour such as paedophilia, DV, Hitler’s holocaust, the mass shootings in Christchurch NZ and Sri Lanka, murders, lying, stealing, adultery and all kinds of immoral acts (by God’s standards).

They are some of the problems when there are no absolute standards. All nations need absolutes to make legislation and apprehend criminals.

· Australia’s Christian foundation is demonstrated each day when the President of the House reads a Christian prayer. Christian values brought to Australia by the First Fleet and enshrined in the Australian Constitution: ‘Humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God’.

God’s view is radically different.

1. God’s view of hope

God commands Peter’s readers, you and me to “set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (v. 13). These persecuted believers of the first century “were to set their hope completely, with finality, on the grace being brought to them in connection with Jesus Christ’s revelation” (Blum 1981: 52).

When the going gets tough and you are persecuted for your faith, your salvation means that you place your hope completely on the future grace that you will receive when Christ is revealed. When will Christ be revealed again?

We know he was revealed at his birth, death and resurrection. But these believers are told that they must place their hope on the grace “that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (ESV). It was future for the first century church and it is still future for us.

It undoubtedly refers to Christ’s Second Coming (the Parousia). We read about it in I Peter 4:13, “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”

Or, 1 Cor. 1:7, “Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” Also 2 Thess. 1:7, “and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.”

During these tough times, you will need one another especially. That’s why Scripture teaches:

We must not quit meeting together, as some are doing. No, we need to keep on encouraging each other. This becomes more and more important as you see the Day getting closer. (Heb 10:25 ERV).

2. What is hope?

Our hope is NOT based on the temporal, but on the future revelation of the Lord Jesus. It is sometimes said of Christians that “they are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.” Folks, the true Christian is one who is not half-heartedly, but completely and fully, setting his/her hope on the Christ who is to come.

Stephen Spencer states that:

Hope is waiting in confident expectation for God’s promises in Christ, summed up in the gospel. Hope is fundamental because the gospel concerns God’s culmination of his redemptive work, “the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed” (1 Pet 1:13 NRSV), the “hope of glory” (Col 1:27). Most of what for which we trust in Christ remains yet future (Rom 8:24b)….

Christians hope “by faith” (Gal 5:5). Faith trusts in God’s promises, while hope expects what is to come….

Christians’ most cherished hope is Christ’s personal, bodily return in judgment and blessing[1]

We are of great earthly good, because our hope is set on Him and his coming to rule and reign forever. If you set your hope on anything in this world, you are on a sinking ship. Chuck Colson’s view is that “the culture in which we live is nearly lost” (Colson 1994, p. x). What a tragedy that so many Christians have their hope on the sinking ship.

If you set your hope on who will win the election, you’re on board the Titanic – a sunken ship.

In order to “set your hope completely” on God’s grace at Christ’s second coming, Peter tells his persecuted readers that you must do two things:

Flower11 First, you are “preparing your minds for action” and

Flower11 Second, “exercise self-control” (1 Pet 1:13 NLT).

3. Simply stated

Hope is not a hope so, maybe, perhaps, it could be, or possibly!

It means you look forward, with anticipation, to Jesus’ second coming, the end of this wretched world, and ‘we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth. Godliness will live there. All this is in keeping with God’s promise’ (2 Pet 3:13 NIRV).

It is not a hope-so but the guarantee of God’s grace coming to believers at the Second Coming of Christ with the establishment of the new heavens and the new earth.

Until then, what are Christians to do? See 1 Pet 1:13:

Foward  Prepare your minds for action, and

Foward Exercise personal and church self-control.

4. Notes

[1] Stephen R Spencer 2005. Hope. In Kevin J Vanhoozer (gen ed), Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 305-307.

5. Works consulted

Blum, E. A. 1981, ‘1 Peter’ in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (vol. 12), gen. ed., Frank E. Gaebelein, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids,
Michigan.

Hope Butterfly Clip Art

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 22 April 2019.

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Eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus (John 6:53-54, 60, 66)

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(image of Eucharist courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

It is not unusual to meet someone with an Anglo-Catholic understanding of the Eucharist who makes extreme claims like this:

If you are WRONG then you are divisive. When Jesus says this is my flesh/blood and you then say it isn’t….you are being divisive. One of us is right and the other is wrong.

No pointing fingers. He is flat out wrong and so are you if you don’t believe what Jesus said. I believe what Jesus said.[1]

I had made the comment to another person online:[2]

The Roman Catholic New Advent exposition of ‘The real presence as a fact’ states: ‘The whole structure of the discourse [John 6] of promise demands a literal interpretation of the words: “eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood”‘ (The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist).

Interpreting it literally sure sounds to be closer to being a vampire.

A. You are non-believers if you don’t accept what I believe about the teaching on Jesus’ body and blood.

This fellow became even more dogmatic:

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day” [John 6:52-54]. Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him [John 6:66].

The Jews questioned Him and you can see what he told them. Now you are questioning Him. I think he has the same message for you. They walked away and so are you. How sad.

clip_image004So I Tom55 say to you non-believers what Jesus told the Jews….VERY TRULY I TELL YOU IT IS HIS FLESH AND BLOOD. Walk away if you want. It won’t effect (sic) my salvation

As we know “This is a hard saying so who can listen to it?”  Apparently those of you who don’t believe what Jesus said (blue font emphasis added)[4].

So those who don’t accept his sacramental view of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his flesh are non-believers who don’t believe what Jesus said.

Really? Or is this tom55, the interpreter, imposing his view on the biblical text? Could Tom be engaging in eisegesis instead of exegesis of John 6:53-54?

See the article, ‘What is the difference between exegesis and eisegesis?[5]

Now let’s do some checking, using contextual interpretation of Scripture.

B. Which is the correct interpretation?

Let’s check who is really right or wrong. Could this be a classic example of misinterpretation because of failure to observe the context?

John 6:47-58 (ESV) states:

47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread[a] the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live for ever.”

C. Meaning of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood

1. Let us deal with the meaning of vv 53-54,[6] which states,

53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day’.

Here, Jesus repeats a truth he stated as the second part of v. 51, ‘If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever’. Note the emphasis in v. 53, ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man … you have no life in you.’ Now v 54, ‘Whoever feeds on my flesh … has eternal life’.

2. What will be the result of this? ‘I will raise him up on the last day’ (v 54).

3. Who is the one whose flesh is eaten? He has the title of ‘the Son of Man’ (v. 53). Yes, he is a fleshly human being – a man – but God has placed his seal of approval on him (Jn 6:27).

4. So the meaning is that the Son of Man is a title given to Jesus, but it does not overlook the fact that he is a flesh and blood human being. The supreme revelation of God is through Jesus, the Son of Man. Unlike any other fleshly human being, he has the amazing ability to grant a person eternal life if that one ‘eats’ of him.

5. ‘Drink his/my blood’ is added in vv 53 & 54. The Jews objected strongly to this statement (see v 51). Why? The Law of Moses forbade the drinking of blood (see Gen 9:2-4 ESV). So to drink the blood of the Son of Man was offensive to them.

6. John 6:54 & 40 have a close connection:

(a) v. 54, ‘Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day’, and

(b) v. 40, ‘For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day’.

clip_image006The only major difference between these two verses is eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood vs. looking to the Son and believing in Him. We come to an obvious conclusion of interpretation: The eating the flesh and drinking the flood is a metaphorical way of referring to looking to the Son and believing in the Son. How come? The result of both activities is the same – receiving eternal life and being raised on the last day.

7. This caused the eminent church father, St. Augustine of Hippo, to state: ‘Believe, and you have eaten’ [Tractate 25.12 (John 6:15-44)]. This is a concise summary of the teaching of John 6:53-54.

8. There are no indications in John 6:53-54 that this refers to the Lord’s Supper. If we make it refer to the Eucharist, it means that one of the things necessary to receive eternal life is to participate in the Lord’s Supper to eat the body and drink the blood. This would amount to works religion which is antithetical to New Testament Christianity (Eph 2:8-9 ESV).

9. There are cannibalistic overtones if one accepts the literal body and blood instead of the metaphorical meaning that points to looking to Jesus and believing in Him to receive eternal life.

10. When John stated, ‘And I will raise him up at the last day’ (John 6:40, 54), it demonstrates that eating the flesh and drinking the blood literally does not confer immortality/resurrection at the last day. The Lord’s Supper/Eucharist is not designed for immortality. However looking to the Son and believing in Him are for that purpose.

D. How to add confusion: Tom’s responses

This fellow added bewilderment with his deliberate distortion of what I wrote. This is his answer to the 10 points above. [7] I’ll reply as Oz[8] between each point to determine if he had understood what I wrote and responded accurately:

1. Thank you for making my point. I agree with you. “Jesus repeats a truth” which means it was important which is why he repeated it.

Oz: He has not known the truth to which I referred. I’ll repeat what I stated: Jesus repeats a truth he stated as the second part of v. 51, ‘If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever’. Note the emphasis in v. 53, ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man … you have no life in you.’ Now v 54, ‘Whoever feeds on my flesh … has eternal life’.

The truth repeated is this: When Jesus said anyone was to eat his flesh, it meant that it was the means of receiving eternal life, living forever. It was not referring to eating Jesus’ literal flesh but to living forever through faith in Jesus Christ. To eat his literal flesh then or now was impossible. He was not dead when he said this. After his death, there was no literal flesh to consume (and so to avoid the charge of cannibalism).

This demonstrates that Tom is so entrenched in his Roman Catholicism of interpreting the eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood as literal that he cannot understand the context is referring to a metaphor for receiving eternal life.

What’s a metaphor? A metaphor is ‘a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money); broadly: figurative language’ (Merriam-Webster Dictionary. s v metaphor).

2. And the result of this truth is ‘I will raise him up on the last day’

Oz: The result of eternal life is that the believer will be raised up at the last day. The result of eating the flesh and drinking the blood literally is not being raised up. The resurrection at the last day is dependent on a person receiving eternal life before that person’s physical death.

3-4-6 is double speak, confusing and rubbish

Oz: This is an offensive way of addressing me and does not deal with the content of what I wrote. Therefore it is a red herring fallacy of a reply.

What did I say in #3? I referred to the one whose flesh was eaten had the title of ‘the Son of Man’ (v. 53). While on earth, he was a man of flesh and God approved him (Jn 6:27). What’s double speak, confusing and rubbish about that? I know I needed to explain further the meaning of the Son of Man. To explain the meaning of this title for Jesus, see What does it mean that Jesus is the Son of Man? (gotquestions.org).

In #4 I continued with the emphasis that the Son of Man title for Jesus does not overlook his being a flesh and blood human being. This amazing, fleshly Son of Man has the ability to grant anyone eternal life if he/she ‘eats’ of him, i.e. eats = has faith in him.

My point at #6 of the close connection between John 6:40 and 54 was not explained well enough by me. The close connection is that those who look to the Son and believe in Him have eternal life (John 6:40) and that’s the message of John 6:54 except that Jesus uses the metaphor of eating his flesh and drinking his blood to have eternal life.

5. You are right about the Jews and it being abominable to them. They walked away and then Jesus doubled down on what he said. He didn’t clarify and say it was a metaphor or a symbol. He let them walk away and asked his Apostles if they were going to walk. IT WAS A HARD SAYING!! They didn’t believe him….. Just like you don’t.

Of course the Jews would object to the eating of flesh and drinking of blood that Jesus used (see my comment in #5) because they didn’t understand the metaphor Jesus was using. This is not a rubbish of an explanation but a fact. If anyone reads John 6:53-54 in a literal fashion, they would find it abhorrent. It was a hard saying because it would require the Jews to believe in the Son of Man to receive eternal life. They were not near ready to do that.

7. I am glad you brought up Augustine. Like a good protestant you only quoted what fit your belief. Here is more of what he said:

“I promised you, who have now been baptized, a sermon in which I would explain the sacrament of the Lord’s table. . . . That bread that you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ” (Sermons 227).

“What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ. This has been said very briefly, which may perhaps be sufficient for faith; yet faith does not desire instruction” (ibid., 272).

“Nobody eats this flesh without previously adoring it” (Explanation of the Psalms 99).

“He took flesh from the flesh of Mary . . . and gave us the same flesh to be eaten unto salvation. . . . We do sin by not adoring

Oz: Like a good Roman Catholic you did two things:

(1) You ignored the quote I gave from Augustine, ‘Believe, and you have eaten’ [Tractate 25.12 (John 6:15-44)]. Augustine knew exactly what John 6 was referring to with the eating and drinking. It dealt with believing in Jesus.

(2) You quote some other examples from Augustine and then don’t understand that Augustine used further metaphors to explain his position. These metaphors are the ones you have highlighted:

  •  That bread … is the body of Christ’.
  •  That chalice … is the blood of Christ’.
  •  The bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ’.
  •  gave us the same flesh to be eaten unto salvation’.

Every one of those examples is a metaphor, just like when Jesus said,

  • ‘I am the door’ (John 10:9 ESV). He was not a literal door.
  • ‘I am the light of the world’ (John 8:12 ESV). He was not a literal, physical light.
  • ‘You are the salt of the earth’ (Matt 5:13 ESV). Christians are not literal salt.

clip_image008The problem Tom runs into is that his RCC fixation on literal flesh and blood will not allow him to see that the context is using these metaphors as believing, in order to receive eternal life and to be resurrected at the last day.

8. During the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said “this is my body/blood do this in remembrance of me” and your theory there are no indications John 6:53-54 it refers to the Lords Supper?? You TWISTED that so much it broke!!!

Oz: No, Tom, I have ‘twisted’ nothing. I have read the verses in context and there is not a word in John 6 to indicate a thing about the Lord’s Supper. There is not a word that Jesus was here referring to the Eucharist – not a single word.

9. Look up the definition of the word cannibalism.

Oz: Why didn’t you provide me with that definition, Tom?

Look again at what I wrote at #9: ‘There are cannibalistic overtones if one accepts the literal body and blood instead of the metaphorical meaning that points to looking to Jesus and believing in Him to receive eternal life’.

What’s the definition of cannibalism? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s first definition is that cannibalism means ‘the usually ritualistic eating of human flesh by a human being’ (s v cannibalism).

What I wrote was true to the definition. It is Tom’s position that plays into the overtones of cannibalism in the ‘ritualistic’ eating of the flesh and blood of a human being – Jesus.

10. Makes no sense.

Oz: Perhaps my explanation was not as clear as it ought to have been. I wrote at this point: When John stated, ‘And I will raise him up at the last day’ (John 6:40, 54), it demonstrates that eating the flesh and drinking the blood literally does not confer immortality/resurrection at the last day. The Lord’s Supper/Eucharist is not designed for immortality. However looking to the Son and believing in Him are for that purpose.

clip_image010This is what I meant: To be able to speak of resurrection at the last day (John 6:40, 54), one has to have received eternal life. Therefore, what John is stating in using the metaphor of eating flesh and drinking blood is to give a picture of how to receive eternal life. To engage in physical eating of human flesh and drinking human blood does not bring eternal life that leads to last day resurrection. What does do this? Looking to the Son and believing in him.

That’s exactly what John was teaching in John 6:40, 54. He was not dealing with a literal eating of flesh and blood but referred to a metaphor of eating flesh and blood that was designed to represent the faith in Jesus to receive eternal life.

E. John 6:60, 66: Why did many of Jesus’ disciples desert him?

Let’s deal with two verses that Roman Catholics sometimes use to support their claim that John 6:53-54 refers to the bread and the wine literally becoming the flesh and blood of Jesus when the Eucharist is celebrated. Tom indicated in his statement about John 6:66 that those who don’t believe this refers to literal flesh and blood are regarded by him, a Roman Catholic, as non-believers (see above).

Those verses are:

  • John 6:60 (ESV), ‘When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”’ and
  • John 6:66 (ESV), ‘After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him’.

1. Who were these disciples?

You will note from John 6:67 (ESV), the context of John 6:66, ‘So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”’ So the ‘disciples’ of John 6:66 are separate from the Twelve.

Who were these disciples who were not among the Twelve? The larger context from John 6:59 infers that they were Galileans (from Capernaum) and were from a larger group of disciples who followed Jesus. A sifting of the larger group of disciples began to take place here (John 6:60, 66). Verse 66 says ‘many of his disciples turned back’. It does not say that all of his extra disciples deserted him; however, many did. We do know that of the number who remained true to Jesus, there were more than 500 brothers and sisters who assembled to meet the risen Jesus after his resurrection, according to 1 Cor 15:6 (ESV).

2. How did the disciples respond to Jesus?

According to John 6:60, the disciples (not the Twelve) reacted with skleros to Jesus’ message. They, figuratively, reacted in words that were ‘hard, harsh, unpleasant’ (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:763.1.b). Lenski describes the skleros reaction as ‘“stiff,” dried out and hard, like a twig that has become brittle. The word does not here mean dark and difficult to understand but objectionable, offensive, impossible to accept and to believe’ (Lenski 1943:504-505).

In John 6:60, where it states, ‘This is a hard saying’, the Greek, ho logos houtos (Lit. the saying this), we need to comprehend that this refers to the entire Bread of Life discourse (John 6:22-59). What offended them and caused the stiff, unbending, harsh reaction? In this discourse there seems to be four main issues about which they reacted (stated by Carson 1991:300):

(a) They were more interested in food (6:26), Jesus’ becoming a political king (6:14-15), and manipulating the miraculous (6:30-31), than in dealing with the spiritual realities of eternal life.

(b) They were unprepared to give up their personal, sovereign authority, even in Christian matters. So they did not take the first steps of genuine faith (see 6:41-46).

(c) What particularly got up their noses was Jesus’ claim that he was greater than Moses and was sent by God and uniquely qualified to give life (John 6:32ff., 58), and

(d) The stark metaphor of eating the flesh and drinking the blood (John 6:53-54) was offensive to them.

Those who consider that in John 6:60, 66, John is speaking in terms of the human body or humanity, have a general objection that this is referring to the ‘the idea of eating and drinking the human nature of the one whom these disciples saw standing before their eyes like any other man’ (Lenski 1943:505). This is how the Roman Catholics interpret it – as literal body and blood. Tim Staples gives his RC explanation:

When we examine the surrounding context of John 6:53, Jesus’ words could hardly have been clearer. In verse 51, he plainly claims to be “the living bread” that his followers must eat. And he says in no uncertain terms that “the bread which I shall give . . . is my flesh.” Then, when the Jews were found “disput[ing] among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” in verse 52, he reiterates even more emphatically, “Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you”….

Moreover, when we consider the language used by John, a literal interpretation—however disturbing—becomes even more obvious. In John 6:50-53 we encounter various forms of the Greek verb phago, “eating.” However, after the Jews begin to express incredulity at the idea of eating Christ’s flesh, the language begins to intensify. In verse 54, John begins to use trogo instead of phago. Trogo is a decidedly more graphic term, meaning “to chew on” or to “gnaw on”—as when an animal is ripping apart its prey (Staples 2010).

However, the wider context (as I have tried to show in this article) demonstrates that the eating of the flesh and drinking the blood is used as a metaphor to demonstrate the nature of belief in Jesus that leads to eternal life and the resurrection at the end of the world, i.e. ‘I will raise them up at the last day’ (John 6:54 NIV).

3. Alleged disciples do not make Christian believers

Since many of Jesus’ disciples here found his teaching to be harsh, the question needs to be asked: Were these ‘disciples’ true believers who became hardened by his message and stiffly resisted it, or were they really unbelievers who gave up pursuing Jesus? Carson explained:

“Disciples” must be distinguished from “the Twelve” (cf. vv. 66-67). More importantly, just as there is faith and faith (2:23-25), so are there disciples and disciples. At the most elementary level, a disciple is someone who is at that point following Jesus, either literally by joining the group that pursued him from place to place, or metaphorically in regarding him as the authoritative teacher. Such a “disciple” is not necessarily a “Christian”, someone who has savingly trusted Jesus and sworn allegiance to him, given by the Father to the Son, drawn by the Father and born again by the Spirit. Jesus will make it clear in due course that only those who continue in his word are truly his ‘disciples’ (8:31). The ‘disciples’ described here do not remain in his word; they find it to be hard teaching…. These “disciples” will not long remain disciples, because they find Jesus word intolerable (Carson 1991:300).

The conclusion is that John 6:60 and 66 refer to a bunch of disciples (not the Twelve) whose faith was so frail or non-existent that they found it easy to drift away when they couldn’t tolerate the stiff, hard, harsh or unpleasant teachings of Jesus in his whole Bread of Life discourse. Therefore, they did not continue in his teachings and can be written off as his disciples.

F. When will the supply run out?

One fellow asked these two brilliant questions:

Regarding the eating and drinking of “Jesus’ flesh and blood” being ‘literal’, how long will it be before it has all been consumed and none remains?

Or is it not that ‘literal’?[9]

G. Conclusion

In context, the meaning of John 6:53-54 is easy to discern. It has to do with obtaining eternal life and being raised at the last day. Therefore, it could not refer to the literal eating of Jesus’ body or drinking of Jesus’ blood. It is a metaphor for believing in Jesus.

Image result for clipart believeIt does not refer to a sacramental view of the Eucharist. Therefore, those who disbelieve in the literal meaning of the body and blood of Jesus are not non-believers but are Christians who correctly interpret these two verses in context. This is a classic example of how eisegesis can overcome a passage and cause it to become void of sound exegesis.

It is important to believe what Jesus stated but the meaning of some of his statements are sometimes misconstrued because of lack of knowledge of the culture from 2,000 years ago or failure to engage in careful hermeneutics in context. That’s the issue with tom55. He has failed to interpret contextually and then has labelled people who don’t believe as he believes, as non-believers. He thus has become a dogmatic extremist in his approach to other believers.

Augustine summarised the biblical content well: ‘Believe, and you have eaten’.

It was expected that a Roman Catholic would distort this metaphorical meaning of eating the flesh and drinking the blood to indicate believing in Jesus to receive eternal life. He could not get out of his fixation with a literal eating and drinking, which makes no sense in context or throughout Scripture.

As for the disciples who deserted Jesus, these were not the Twelve but part of a larger group of followers who may not have been believers. However, there was a separation of the wheat from the weeds in discerning true believers from the false.

H. Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature [10]. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Carson, D A 1991. The Gospel according to John. Leicester, England / Grand Rapids, Michigan: Inter-Varsity Press / William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Lenski, R C H 1943. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (1943 The Wartburg Press; assigned 1961 to Augsburg Publishing House).

Staples, T 2010. What Catholics believe about John 6. This Rock 21(6), November. Available from Catholic Answers (1996-2016) at: http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/what-catholics-believe-about-john-6 (Accessed 1 September 2016).

I.  Notes


[1] Christianity Board 2012. In Reference To CyBs Statement of Faith – Christian Forum (online), tom55#251. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/17009-in-reference-to-cybs-statement-of-faith-christian-forum/page-9 (Accessed 20 August 2016).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#250.

[4] Ibid., tom55#252.

[5] Got Questions Ministries 2002-2016. What is the difference between exegesis and eisegesis? (online) Available at: http://www.gotquestions.org/exegesis-eisegesis.html (Accessed 20 August 2016).

[6] Many of the following points are based on Carson (1991:296-297).

[7] Ibid., tom55#254.

[8] My response is at ibid., OzSpen#257.

[9] Ibid., Oneoff#256.

[10] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev & augmented edn 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 1 September 2016.

Why is eternal security such a touchy subject?

Hanging Cat

(image courtesy ChristArt.com)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

If you want to stir up some controversy, go to a Presbyterian church and question the eternal security of the Christian believer. To suggest that a Christian can fall away and even commit apostasy from the faith (1 Tim 1:18-20; Heb 6:4-6) is almost to have the anathema pronounced over you. I had a TULIP Presbyterian member tell me on 1 May 2016 that he would not attend a Wesleyan Methodist church in his rural community because those people ‘believe people can lose their salvation’.

1. Samples of OSAS

Try opposing once-saved-always-saved (OSAS) in some Baptist churches and you could be vigorously opposed. I’ve experienced similar animosity in opposing OSAS on Christian forums where Calvinists and Arminians hover and engage in sometimes antagonistic interaction. Some examples of this included:

bronze-arrow-small ‘Surely Satan does not want us to know that faith is the security of our salvation: “who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:5 NASB)
He wants every one of us who believes to stop believing, so we will no longer have access to God’s protection for our salvation through that faith’.[1]

bronze-arrow-small ‘Some teachers and preachers of the Word teach OSNAS [once saved not always saved] so that they can keep their congregation under their thumb—fearful, insecure and dependent on their leaders to know what to do to maintain or keep their salvation. (Many cults function this way.) The more sincere ones are just afraid that teaching OSAS will cause their congregations members to leave church and sin like there’s no tomorrow. This opposite is true, though’.[2]

bronze-arrow-small ‘This statement — “faith is the security of our salvation” — is also one of the reasons why there is resistance to the doctrine of eternal security. There are many Christians who believe that it is their faith and/or their good works which keeps them saved’.[3]

You can encounter similar antagonism by promoting TULIP in Wesleyan, Assemblies of God, or Free Will Baptist churches. Then if you promote Arminianism in Reformed, Presbyterian, or Reformed Baptist churches, you’ll find similar resistance.

That’s a sampling from an online Christian forum, but it could happen anywhere that there are Christians from both sides of the theological fence in a congregation – promoting Arminianism or Calvinism.

2. Eternal security: A touchy topic

Why is eternal security such a contentious subject among Christians? I encountered it again with the topic, ‘Why is there so much resistance to the eternal security of the believer?[4]

2.1 He fired away

The opening post got the discussion underway with this perspective:

The eternal security of the believer is a fundamental Bible truth (1 Jn 5:13). Yet there is considerable resistance to this doctrine in many quarters, and at the same time many believers who really don’t know the Scriptures are uncertain about something which should be absolutely certain. So why is there so much resistance? I believe there are at least two reasons, and perhaps you might find that there are several others.

The first reason in my esitmation (sic) is the opposition of the archenemy of God and of the Christian. Satan does not want anyone to know – without the shadow of a doubt – that their salvation is eternally secure.

The second reason is that Gospel Truth is not being preached and taught as it ought to be (in all its fulness), babes in Christ are not being discipled as they ought to be, and too many believers do not really understand their position in Christ. The point of this thread is to determine whether we clearly understand our position in Christ.[5]

How should I, a Christian believer who accepts perseverance of the saints but not OSAS, answer such a person’s unfortunate misinterpretation of 1 John 5:13 (ESV)? I responded:[6]

2.2 The meaning of 1 John 5:13

What does 1 John 5:13 (ESV) teach? The verse states, ‘I write [Gk aorist tense] these things to you who believe [Gk present tense] in the name of the Son of God that you may know [Gk perfect tense] that you have [Gk present tense] eternal life.

The aorist tense is point action. The present tense refers to continuing action in the present time. The perfect tense refers to an action in the past with continuing results. In Dana & Mantey’s advanced Greek text, they explain that there are ‘two fundamental ways of viewing action’ for Greek tenses. ‘It may be contemplated in single perspective, as a point, which we may call punctiliar action…; or it may be regarded as in progress, as a line, and this we may call linear action…. The perfect tense is a combination of these two ideas: it looks in perspective at the action, and regards the results of the action as continuing to exist; that is, in progress at a given point. Hence the perfect has both elements, linear and punctiliar. The aorist may be represented by a dot (clip_image001), the present by a line (————), and the perfect by the combination of the two (clip_image001[1]————-) [Dana & Mantey 1955:179].

Therefore, the meaning of 1 John 5:13 (ESV) is NOT that somebody believed in the past and thus is guaranteed eternal security for salvation, no matter what he or she does after saying ‘yes’ to Jesus. The meaning is that it is written to those ‘who continue to believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may continue to have the result of knowing that you are continuing to have eternal life’. So, perseverance of the saints is better language than eternal security OSAS, based on this verse, 1 John 5:13 (ESV). Christian believers are those who continue to believe to the end of their lives.
Why is that the case? It is because the original Greek language of the text affirms that the Christians who continue to believe in the name of the Son of God will know that they continue to have eternal life. Thus, eternal life is guaranteed to those who persevere in the faith – they continue to believe.

3. Resistance to teaching on eternal security

Another person made a perceptive observation:

What security EXACTLY is being resisted? Rom 8:38-39 (NIV) or some other issue?

1 John 5:13 (NIV), IN context, refers to EVERYTHING John wrote in this whole letter. It says nothing about ‘eternal security’.

That is a catch phrase for RT [Reformed Theology].[7]

He’s correct. First John 5:13 (NIV) reads, ‘I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life’.

What is being resisted is the spiritual condition of continuing to believe (Greek present tense). For those who continue to believe, the result is that the believers will know they have eternal life.

Why is there resistance to the eternal security teaching? From my point of view, it is related to these issues:

1. It is not a biblical teaching and when this is shown to the OSAS folks, they can get defensive and resistant to hear what the Scriptures state. I’ve found nothing in Scripture that supports the view that a person can believe in Christ once, live a life in continuing, deliberate sin, and be guaranteed eternal security of salvation. See my articles:

clip_image003 Once Saved, Always Saved or Once Saved, Lost Again?

clip_image003[1] Loss of salvation is nowhere taught in the Bible;

clip_image003[2] Where do Scriptures say Christians can be lost?

clip_image003[3] Controversies: Once saved, always saved.

clip_image003[4] What does it mean to shipwreck your faith?

clip_image003[5] Did Arminius refute eternal security?

2. They may resist the doctrine of eternal security or OSAS because the biblical view is perseverance of the saints. They have not been taught this.

This doctrine is taught in passages such as John 3:36 (ESV),

Whoever believes [continues believing] in the Son has [continues having] eternal life; whoever does not obey [continues not obeying] the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains [continues remaining] on him.

What I have inserted in square brackets [ ] indicates the meaning of the Greek present tense. There is only eternal life for those who continue believing in the Son, Jesus, and continue to remain in him. There is no eternal life for those who continue not to obey the Son.

Perseverance of the saints is the biblical teaching that believers who continue believing in Jesus to the end of life or the second coming of Jesus, are the ones guaranteed eternal life. They are the ones who enjoy eternal security.

3. This is a core issue: A person’s theological views are driven by presuppositions.

Concerning NT scholars, Graham Stanton wrote:

Why do the conclusions of New Testament scholars differ so widely? Anyone who begins to read books about the New Testament soon becomes aware that competent scholars defend with equal vigour and sincerity widely differing approaches to the New Testament. The variety of viewpoints often causes great perplexity both to theological students and to the church at large…. The presuppositions adopted either consciously or unconsciously by the interpreter are far more influential in New Testament scholarship than disagreements over method (Stanton 1977:60)

If it is not possible for a person to lay aside his or her presuppositions, Stanton recommends three safeguards:

(a) The interpreter who is aware of the danger of not laying aside the person’s assumptions is more likely to avoid this problem.

(b) Use the historical, critical method. This will help rule out fanciful, allegorical [and postmodern][8] interpretations.

(c) ‘The third safeguard is even more important. The interpreter must allow his own presuppositions and his own pre-understanding to be modified or even completely reshaped by the text itself. Unless this is allowed to happen, the interpreter will be unable to avoid projecting his own ideas on to the text’ (Stanton 1977:68).

While Stanton wrote for a scholarly audience, his ‘safeguards’ are just as important in Christian conversation, preaching and discussion about Calvinism and Arminianism.

Until those presuppositions change, the possibilities of changing from one view to the other is nigh impossible. The Calvinistic view of OSAS or perseverance of the saints is driven by the presuppositions of TULIP and if one accepts the content of TULI, then P is a normal and natural consequence. The Arminian theology is driven by FACTS. ‘Arminianism may be represented by the acronym FACTS’:

Freed by Grace (to Believe)
Atonement for All
Conditional Election
Total Depravity
Security in Christ (Abasciano & Glynn 2013).

See my articles in support of this latter view:

clip_image005 Continue in the faith to guarantee eternal life;

clip_image005[1] Loss of salvation is nowhere taught in the Bible;

clip_image005[2] Is it possible or impossible to fall away from the Christian faith?

Now let’s look at the teachings of some leading lights in this theological debate.

3.1 Arminius and eternal security

It is sometimes said by those who oppose Arminian theology that Arminius (1560-1609)[9] did not believe in eternal security. Let’s check out some evidence:

clip_image007

Jacobus Arminius (image courtesy Wikipedia)

It is worth quoting Arminius at some length in his teaching on ‘The Perseverance of the Saints’:

My sentiments respecting the perseverance of the saints are, that those persons who have been grafted into Christ by true faith, and have thus been made partakers of his life-giving Spirit, possess sufficient powers [or strength] to fight against Satan, sin, the world and their own flesh, and to gain the victory over these enemies—yet not without the assistance of the grace of the same Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ also by his Spirit assists them in all their temptations, and affords them the ready aid of his hand; and, provided they stand prepared for the battle, implore his help, and be not wanting to themselves, Christ preserves them from falling. So that it is not possible for them, by any of the cunning craftiness or power of Satan, to be either seduced or dragged out of the hands of Christ. But I think it is useful and will be quite necessary in our first convention, [or Synod] to institute a diligent inquiry from the Scriptures, whether it is not possible for some individuals through negligence to desert the commencement of their existence in Christ, to cleave again to the present evil world, to decline from the sound doctrine which was once delivered to them, to lose a good conscience, and to cause Divine grace to be ineffectual.

Though I here openly and ingenuously affirm, I never taught that a true believer can, either totally or finally fall away from the faith, and perish; yet I will not conceal, that there are passages of scripture which seem to me to wear this aspect; and those answers to them which I have been permitted to see, are not of such a kind as to approve themselves on all points to my understanding. On the other hand, certain passages are produced for the contrary doctrine [of unconditional perseverance] which are worthy of much consideration.

Thus, Arminius, whose views have been most often associated with loss of salvation and repudiation of eternal security, actually stated that the one who is ‘a true believer’ (presumably meaning that he/she continues as a true Christian), cannot either totally or finally commit apostasy and fall away from the faith. Here’s the key: Is that person continuing to trust in Jesus alone for salvation?

3.2 Calvinism and eternal security

clip_image009

John Calvin (image courtesy www.biography.com)

John Calvin (1509-1564)[10] was the one after whom the Calvinistic system of theology was named. He promoted the view of eternal security that the Lord’s promise declares that all who have been received by the Lord ‘in true faith have been given to him by the Father, no one of whom, since he is their guardian and shepherd, will perish [cf. I John 3:16; 6:39]’. Of Judas, Calvin claims that ‘the Lord’s assertion in another passage [John 6:70] that he was chosen by him with the apostles is made only with reference to the ministry…. That is, he had chosen him for the apostolic office. But when he speaks of election unto salvation, he banishes him far from the number of the elect’ [John 13:18] (Calvin, 1960:3.24.7 and 3.24.9, pp. 973, 975).

What was the Calvinistic view of perseverance of the saints by those after Calvin? The Synod of Dort[11] that met in Dordrecht, the Netherlands, in 1618-1619, in response to the Remonstrants’ challenge, concluded that

for God, who is rich in mercy,[12] according to the unchangeable purpose of His election,[13] does not completely withdraw His Holy Spirit from His own even in their deplorable fall.[14] Neither does He permit them to sink so deep that they fall away from the grace of adoption and the state of justification,[15] or commit the sin unto death[16] or the sin against the Holy Spirit[17] and, totally deserted by Him, plunge themselves into eternal ruin (Synod of Dordt, Head 5, Art 6).[18]

It is not surprising that Calvinism would adopt the position of eternal security since it believes that the only ones out of all humanity who are recipients of salvation to eternal life are those who have been unconditionally elected to salvation and drawn through irresistible grace. The natural corollary is that those who are predestined unconditionally to salvation will persevere to the end. If such a person, in the Calvinistic system, were to fall from grace, then it would be a demonstration that that person had not received the effectual call of salvation. See the explanation of TULIP (the five points of Calvinism).

The Westminster Confession of Faith,[19] an eminent Calvinistic confession, in its chapter, ‘Of the Perseverance of the Saints’, states:

1. They, whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.

2. This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.

3. Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; and, for a time, continue therein: whereby they incur God’s displeasure, and grieve his Holy Spirit, come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded; hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves (ch 17).[20]

Therefore, the Calvinistic position is that those who are unchangeably drawn to salvation by God through election, will not be permitted to fall away from the grace of adoption in Christ to return to eternal ruin. The perseverance of the saints depends, not on human free will, but on the immutable decree of election. However, they may be tempted by Satan, fall into severe sins and even continue committing such for a time and bring temporal judgments on themselves. However, their salvation will not be lost.

3.3 The church fathers and eternal security

What can we discern from the writings of the church fathers on this topic? It was Arminius’s view

that almost all antiquity [i.e. the teaching of the church fathers] is of the opinion, that believers can fall away and perish…. “Elect” and “believers” are not convertible terms according to the view of the fathers, unless perseverance be added to faith. Nor is it declared, by Christ, in Matt. xxiv,24, that the elect can not depart from Christ, but that they can not be deceived, by which is meant that though the power of deception is great, yet it is not so great as to seduce the elect (Arminius, 1977:493, emphasis in original).

Using Judas as an example, these church fathers reached different conclusions concerning his eternal destiny in the beginning and at the end of his life.

a. Concerning Judas

File:F463.highresBaiserJudas.jpg(Francais: Daiser de Judas, image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Irenaeus (ca AD 125-202),[21] bishop of Lyons in Gaul about the year AD 180, wrote in Against Heresies (about AD 185), of Judas[22]

‘who was expelled from the number of the twelve, and never restored to his place…. but Judas was deprived [of his office], and cast out, while Matthias was ordained in his place….’

‘But Judas having been once for all cast away, never returns into the number of the disciples; otherwise a different person would not have been chosen to fill his place. Besides, the Lord also declared regarding him, Woe to the man by whom the Son of man shall be betrayed [Matthew 26:24]; and, It were better for him if he had never been born [Mark 14:21]; and he was called the son of perdition [John 17:12] by Him’ (Against Heresies, 2.20.2, 5).

Chrysostom (ca AD 347-407),[23] was born and ministered in Antioch, Syria, and was the golden-mouthed expositor and orator. He wrote, ‘For Judas too was a child of the kingdom, and it was said to him with the disciples, you shall sit on twelve thrones [Matthew 19:28]; yet he became a child of hell’ (Homily 26 on Matthew).

Ambrose of Milan (ca AD 340-397),[24] administrator and preacher, said, ‘For both Saul and Judas were once good…. Sometimes they are at first good, who afterwards become and continue evil; and for this respect they are said to be written in the book of life, and blotted out of it’ (cited from The Works of John Fletcher, p. 137).

St Augustine of Hippo (ca AD 354-430),[25] philosopher and theologian, in his Tractate 62 (John 13:26-21) had quite a bit to say about Judas and his condition. This is but a sample:

It was after this bread, then, that Satan entered into the Lord’s betrayer, that, as now given over to his power, he might take full possession of one into whom before this he had only entered in order to lead him into error. For we are not to suppose that he was not in him when he went to the Jews and bargained about the price of betraying the Lord; for the evangelist Luke very plainly attests this when he says: Then entered Satan into Judas, who was surnamed Iscariot, being one of the twelve; and he went his way, and communed with the chief priests [Luke 22:3-4]. Here, you see, it is shown that Satan had already entered into Judas. His first entrance, therefore, was when he implanted in his heart the thought of betraying Christ; for in such a spirit had he already come to the supper. But now, after the bread, he entered into him, no longer to tempt one who belonged to another, but to take possession of him as his own.

But it was not then, as some thoughtless readers suppose, that Judas received the body of Christ. For we are to understand that the Lord had already dispensed to all of them the sacrament of His body and blood, when Judas also was present, as very clearly related by Saint Luke [Luke 22:19-21]; and it was after this that we come to the moment when, in accordance with John’s account, the Lord made a full disclosure of His betrayer by dipping and holding out to him the morsel of bread, and intimating perhaps by the dipping of the bread the false pretensions of the other. For the dipping of a thing does not always imply its washing; but some things are dipped in order to be dyed. But if a good meaning is to be here attached to the dipping, his ingratitude for that good was deservedly followed by damnation (Tractate 62.2-3).

What can we conclude from these church fathers about Judas’s destiny? He was once a child of the kingdom (Chrysostom) and then was damned after Satan entered him and he betrayed Jesus. Movement from being chosen as a disciple of Jesus to being a ‘son of perdition’ is a demonstration that these church fathers saw a falling away from grace.

b. Church fathers and eternal security for believers

clip_image011

Irenaeus (image courtesy Wikipedia)

clip_image012 Irenaeus (ca 125-202), bishop of Lyons, ‘was most influenced by St. Polycarp who had known the apostles or their immediate disciples’. It was he who wrote in one of his most celebrated publications:

Christ shall not die again in behalf of those who now commit sin, for death shall no more have dominion over Him…. We ought not, therefore, as that presbyter remarks, to be puffed up, nor be severe upon those of old time, but ought ourselves to fear, lest perchance, after [we have come to] the knowledge of Christ, if we do things displeasing to God, we obtain no further forgiveness of sins, but be shut out from His kingdom (Against Heresies 4.27.2).

clip_image014

Tertullian (image courtesy Wikipedia)

clip_image012[1] Tertullian (ca 155/160-220)[26], the son of a centurion and a pagan until middle life, wrote,

But some think as if God were under a necessity of bestowing even on the unworthy, what He has engaged (to give); and they turn His liberality into slavery…. For do not many afterward fall out of (grace)? Is not this gift taken away from many? (Tertullian, On Repentance, ch. 6).

clip_image012[2] St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354-430)[27] wrote: ‘This grace He placed in Him in whom we have obtained a lot, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things.’ And thus as He worketh that we come to Him, so He worketh that we do not depart’ (Augustine 1887b).

Augustine also wrote: ‘He that made us without ourselves, will not save us without ourselves’ (cited in Wesley, 1872/1978:281).[28] We note Augustine’s struggle with human free will and divine sovereignty in the following teaching from, “A Treatise on Grace and Free Will” (Augustine, 1887a):

Lest, however, it should be thought that men themselves in this matter do nothing by free will, it is said in the Psalm, ‘Harden not your hearts;’ [Ps. 95:5] and in Ezekiel himself, ‘Cast away from you all your transgressions’ [Ezek. 18:31]…. We should remember that He says, ‘Make you a new heart and a new spirit,’ who also promises, ‘I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you.’[Ezek. 36:26] How is it, then, that He who says, ‘Make you,’ also says, ‘I will give you’? Why does He command, if He is to give? Why does He give if man is to make, except it be that He gives what He commands when He helps him to obey whom He commands?…” [Ch. 31 (XV)]

It is certain that it is we that will when we will, but it is He who makes us will what is good, of whom it is said (as he has just now expressed it), ‘The will is prepared by the Lord.’ [Prov. 8:35] Of the same Lord it is said, ‘The steps of a man are ordered by the Lord, and his way doth He will.’ [Ps. 37:23] Of the same Lord again it is said, ‘It is God who worketh in you, even to will!’ [Phil. 2:13] It is certain that it is we that act when we act; but it is He who makes us act, by applying efficacious powers to our will, who has said, ‘I will make you to walk in my statutes, and to observe my judgments, and to do them’ [Ezek. 36:27]…. [Ch. 32 (XVI), emphasis in original].

Forasmuch as in beginning He works in us that we may have the will, and in perfecting works with us when we have the will…. On which account the apostle says, “I am confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” [Phil. 1:6] He operates, therefore, without us, in order that we may will; but when we will, and so will that we may act, He co-operates with us. We can, however, ourselves do nothing to effect good works of piety without Him either working that we may will, or co-working when we will’ [Ch. 33 [XVII]).

These church fathers taught that a person who believed in Christ could be shut out of the kingdom, thus losing salvation. However, Augustine’s view was people ‘act when we act; but it is He [God] who makes us act, by applying efficacious powers to our will’.

4. Conclusion

There have been those throughout church history who have believed it is possible for a person to commit apostasy and fall away from the Christian faith. Others teach the opposite. This Arminian-Calvinistic divide will continue. Reasons were suggested why eternal security (OSAS) is a touchy subject and provokes such antagonism in the Christian community.

One of the dominant reasons suggested for such continuing conflict involved the presuppositions from both sides of the debate. If a person cannot lay aside his or her presuppositions, Graham Stanton suggested three safeguards: (1) Interpreters are to be aware of their own presuppositions; (2) Use the historical critical method to avoid fanciful allegorical interpretations; and (3) Most importantly, interpreters need to allow their own presuppositions to be modified by the content of the biblical text. Unless this happens, the interpreter will impose his or her own ideas onto the text (Stanton 1977:68).

5. Works consulted

Abasciano, B & Glynn, M 2013. An Outline of the FACTS of Arminianism vs. The TULIP of Calvinism. Society of Evangelical Arminians (online). Available at: http://evangelicalarminians.org/an-outline-of-the-facts-of-arminianism-vs-the-tulip-of-calvinism/ (Accessed 1 May 2016).

Arminius, J 1977, The writings of James Arminius, vol. 3 (Nichols, J & Bagnall, WR eds.), Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Also available at CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/arminius (Accessed 1 May 2016).

Augustine, A 1887a. ‘On grace and free will’, in Schaff, P (ed), Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1st series (online), vol 5. Tr by P Holmes & R E Wallis.  Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co. Rev & ed for New Advent by K Knight at: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1510.htm (Accessed 10 April 2015).

Augustine A 1887b. ‘On the predestination of the saints’, in Schaff, P (ed), Nicene and Post-Nicene fathers, first series (online), vol 5, rev by B B Warfield. Tr by P Holmes & R E Wallis. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co. Rev & ed for New Advent by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/15122.htm (Accessed 10 April 2015).

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

Calvin, J 1960, Institutes of the Christian religion, vols. 1-2 (McNeill, JT ed. & Battles, FL transl.), The Westminster Press, Philadelphia. Also available online at CRTA, http://www.reformed.org/master/index.html?mainframe=/books/institutes/ (Accessed 1 May 2016).

Dana, H E & Mantey, J R 1927/1955, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. Toronto, Canada: The Macmillan Company.

Harper, J S 2002, “A Wesleyan Arminian view,” in Four views on eternal security, gen. ed. J. M. Pinson, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Stanton, G N 1977, Presuppositions in New Testament criticism, in I H Marshall (ed), New Testament interpretation: Essays on principles and methods, 60-71. Milton Keyes, England: The Paternoster Press Ltd. This chapter is available also at: http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/nt-interpretation/nti_03.pdf (Accessed 1 May 2016).

Wesley, J 1872/1978, The works of John Wesley (vol. 6), Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Also available at Wesley Center Online, http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/ (Accessed 1 May 2016).


Notes

[1] This is located at Christian Forums.net, Apologetics & Theology, 29 May 2015, Jethro Bodine#3. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/why-is-there-so-much-resistance-to-the-eternal-security-of-the-believer.59729/ (Accessed 3 June 2015).

[2] Ibid., DWJL511#4.

[3] Ibid., Malachi#9.

[4] Ibid., Malachi#1.

[5] Ibid., Malachi#1.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#132.

[7] Ibid., StanJ#16.

[8] Postmodern is my insertion.

[9] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Jacobus Arminius). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Jacobus-Arminius (Accessed 2 May 2016)

[10] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v John Calvin). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Calvin (Accessed 2 May 2016).

[11] Dort is the English spelling for Dordrecht, the Netherlands.

[12] Eph 2:4-5 (NIV).

[13] Eph 1:11 (NIV).

[14] Ps 51:13 (NIV).

[15] Gal 4:5 (NIV).

[16] 1 John 5:16-18 (NIV).

[17] Matt 12:31-32 (NIV).

[18] Canadian & American Reformed Churches 2016. ‘God will not permit his elect to be lost’. Available at: http://www.canrc.org/?page=281 (Accessed 18 April 2016).

[19] This Confession was produced by the Westminster Assembly, completed in 1646 and approved by the British parliament in June 1648 (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2016. s v Westminster Confession). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/topic/Westminster-Confession (Accessed 2 May 2016).

[20] Available from The Orthodox Presbyterian Church at: http://www.opc.org/wcf.html#Chapter_17 (Accessed 18 April 2016). Scriptures to support this position are provided in Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 17, Center for Reformed Theology & Apologetics 1996-2016. Available at: http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/ (Accessed 18 April 2016).

[21] Lifespan dates are from ‘St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons: Biography’, Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/irenaeus (Accessed 29 December 2013).

[22] These details of Irenaeus are from Cairns (1981:110), who stated that he ‘was born in Smurna, had been influenced by Polycarp’s preaching while Polycarp was bishop of Smyrna’. Against Heresies is his ‘greatest work’ and ‘was done in the field of polemics writing against Gnosticism’ (Cairns 1981:10).

[23] Lifespan dates are from Cairns (1981:141).

[24] Lifespan dates are from Cairns (1981:145).

[25] Lifespan dates are from Cairns (1981:146).

[26] Lifespan details, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Tertullian). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Tertullian (Accessed 1 May 2016).

[27] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Augustine). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Augustine (Accessed 1 May 2016).

[28] This quote by Augustine is from John Wesley’s Sermon LXIII, “The General Spread of the Gospel”(in Wesley, 1872/1978b, p. 277ff). However, Wesley did not footnote his bibliographical details for Augustine and Augustine’s quote was repeated in Harper (2002:251), also without bibliographical information. I have not been able to locate Augustine’s exact quote in his works on the World Wide Web.

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 2 May 2016.

Loss of salvation is nowhere taught in the Bible

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By Spencer D Gear PhD

How would you respond to this assessment? ‘Where are the words “loss of salvation” or “loss of eternal life” found ANYWHERE in the Bible?????’[1]

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The exact word, ‘Trinity’, is not found in the Bible, but the teaching on the Trinity is there.[2] The exact words, ‘Jesus is God’, are not in Scripture, but the teaching on Jesus’ deity is there.

In the same way, ‘loss of salvation’ or ‘loss of eternal life’ is not the exact language used, but the teaching on loss of salvation is there. We find it in this kind of language:

A. Those who commit apostasy, cannot be restored to repentance

‘For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt’ (Heb 6:4-6 ESV, emphasis added).?

clip_image006(image courtesy twoedgegraphics.com)

‘Have fallen away’ is from the Greek verb, parapiptw, which Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon gives the meaning in Heb 6:6 as ‘fall away, commit apostasy’ (A&G 1957:626). Thayer’s Greek lexicon provides the meaning of parapiptw as ‘in Scriptures, to fall away (from the true faith): from the worship of Jehovah, Ezek. 14:13; 15:8…; from Christianity, Heb 6:6‘ (Thayer 1885/1962:485).

Leading Greek exegete from the 20th century, A T Robertson, in commenting on the seriousness of the consequences of this apostasy in Heb 6:6 stated, ‘It is a terrible picture and cannot be toned down…. This is why renewal for such apostates is impossible. They crucify Christ. And put him to an open shame….In a bad sense to expose to disgrace’ (Robertson 1932:375-376).

Thus, in the Greek, whether LXX or NT, parapiptw means that it is possible to commit apostasy and fall away from the true faith in Christ. In English, apostasy means ‘The abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief or principle’ (Oxford dictionaries 2015. S v apostasy). That’s what it meant in the LXX and NT as well.

B. It is possible to shipwreck one’s faith

For a more comprehensive response to what it means to shipwreck one’s faith, see my article, What does it mean to shipwreck your faith?

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(Willy Stöwer [Public domain], image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

That is a painting of the Titanic going down after it was shipwrecked off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. Was this boat of any use after its shipwreck? Of course not!

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(image courtesy titanicexpo.co.za)

‘The wreck of the RMS Titanic was located about 370 miles (600 km) south-southeast of the coast of Newfoundland, lying at a depth of about 12,500 feet (3,800 m)’. The liner hit an iceberg and sank on her maiden voyage in 1912 from Southampton UK to New York NY (Wikipedia 2015, Wreck of the RMS Titanic).

Take a look at the present condition of the wreck of the Titanic:

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(Titanic wreck 2003, image courtesy Wikipedia)

How does this analogy relate to shipwreck of a person’s faith?

We have this verse that speaks of ‘holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.’ (1 Tim 1:19 ESV, emphasis added). So, in their shipwrecked faith they were blaspheming. Whom were they blaspheming? It seems obvious in context that the blasphemy is against God and so Paul hands them over to Satan for Satan’s consequences against them.

In this verse, the verb, ‘have made shipwreck’ is nauagew which means literally in ancient Greek ‘to suffer shipwreck’ and is the word used for Paul’s physical shipwreck in 2 Cor 11:25 (ESV). It is used metaphorically with respect to shipwreck of one’s faith (1 Tim 1:19 ESV) (Thayer 1885/1962:423). Arndt & Gingrich (1957:536) affirm the same meaning as Thayer, literally and metaphorically, ‘they have suffered shipwreck in their faith’ (1 Tim 1:19).

Note the emphasis that this has applied to ‘some’ Christians who were supposed to be ‘holding faith and a good conscience’ have rejected this faith and so have shipwrecked their faith (1 Tim 1:19 ESV). It is important to note that in the NT, the same word used for a literal shipwreck is used for a metaphorical shipwreck of one’s faith. Shipwrecks wreck ships, thus making them unusable for the purpose for which they were created. Shipwrecks of faith make faith unusable for the purpose for which faith is engendered – for salvation. So, to shipwreck one’s faith is parallel to committing apostasy.

C. Avoidance of issues

How do you think a person, who supports eternal security, would respond to the above exegesis? As happens so often in person and on Christian forums, people are known to engage in the use of logical fallacies when their favourite doctrines are refuted. I long for the day when someone says, ‘I have never considered that before. I’ll need to re-evaluate my support of eternal security’. However, I also need to be open to the possibility that I could be wrong in my support of perseverance of the saints (as opposed to once-saved-always-saved). Up to this point in my Christian journey, I’ve not found a consistent case for eternal security as a doctrine of Soteriology. There are too many warning passages to make an absolutely tight case for eternal security.

Back to the Christian forum! This is what he did when he stated:

My point is that there is no clear teaching on loss of salvation in the Bible. It’s all just assumption of verses that are not specifically clear about it. And there are clear verses on eternal security.

In fact, the verses on eternal security are as clear as the verses on unlimited atonement.[3]

What has he done with those kinds of statements?

1. Logical fallacies

(image courtesy chopcow.com)

Logical fallacies are errors in reasoning that can throw a discussion way off topic and may even get to the point where continuing a discussion is nigh impossible. It is important to recognise, name and explain how these fallacies are used in discussion.

In discussing with me, this fellow used a red herring logical fallacy. Here he has introduced an irrelevant topic ‘no clear teaching on loss of salvation’ to divert attention from the exegesis I provided on Heb 6:4-6 and 1 Tim 1:19 that do provide evidence on loss of salvation. When this tactic is used, the view is to try to win an argument by introducing another topic. It is deceptive because it is changing topic to what he wants to say and is not dealing with the arguments I presented. He is not refuting the claims I have made. The Nizkor Project illustrates this sort of illogical reasoning:

(1) Topic A is under discussion.

(2) Topic B is introduced under the guise of being relevant to topic A (when topic B is actually not relevant to topic A).

(3) Topic A is abandoned (1991-2012. S v Fallacy: Red Herring).

This sort of “reasoning” is erroneous because merely changing the topic of discussion, even though here it looks to be close to the original topic, does not present an argument against a claim. He has not challenged the content of what I stated.

As to what I stated about apostasy in Heb 6:4-6 (ESV), he continued his diversionary tactic:

But there is a very logical and reasonable explanation for this passage that doesn’t involve loss of salvation.
How does “restored to repentance” even relate to the status of loss of salvation. Repentance isn’t a one time thing. We need to turn from sin every time we do sin. This isn’t the basis of maintaining our salvation.?[4]

This is inserting his own opinion. Note the language from Heb 6:4-6, ‘It is impossible … to restore them again to repentance’. His argument was that repentance was needed every time we sin. I agree with that, but he used a detour tactic to take the discussion where he wants it to go – in support of his once-saved-always-saved position. These 3 verses from Hebrews demonstrate that there is no possibility of repentance from any sin for a person who has committed apostasy. But this fellow didn’t deal with that. He was off and running with his own emphasis – repentance is needed every time we sin. However, that is not related to the issue I raised from Heb 6:4-6. It can become very frustrating trying to interact with people who use logical fallacies. In fact, ‘

See my articles

coil-gold-sm Logical fallacies hijack debate and discussion.

coil-gold-sm Logical fallacies used to condemn Christianity

coil-gold-sm Christians and their use of logical fallacies

coil-gold-sm One writer’s illogical outburst

coil-gold-sm Bible bigotry from an arrogant skeptic

I urge you to watch for these digressions that are used in discussions to avoid dealing with the matters you and I raise. My experience is that Christians online and in person frequently use logical fallacies. I was speaking with a person recently about Australian cricket’s opening batsman, David Warner and his good looking wife, Candice. His response was, ‘My wife also is good looking’. That was a red herring fallacy. I was not talking about his wife, but about David Warner’s wife.

2. Inventing a definition

Notice how he does it: ‘Yes, apostasy is very serious, but does not lead to loss of salvation, no matter how much it may offend and disgust people’.[5]

I reminded him:[6] From where did you obtain that definition of apostasy? I do wish you would document your sources. Nothing was documented in your reply. If you are going to continue to do this, we have no grounds for a reasonable discussion. See the definitions above from the Greek NT and Oxford dictionaries of the definition of apostasy. They are far removed from this person’s agenda. He is pushing a theological barrow. No matter what biblical evidence is provided, he is so blinded by his theological ‘cataracts’ that he cannot see the evidence of what apostasy is and its dangers.

3. Distorting the biblical material

If one can’t use the Greek exegesis to refute parapiptw in Heb 6:6 in the Greek NT, what does one do? Here is his approach.

There is nothing in the word for “apostasy” that means loss of salvation.
Here is the word for “fall away” in Heb 6:6 – parapiptw
1) to fall beside a person or thing
2) to slip aside
2a) to deviate from the right path, turn aside, wander
2b) to error
2c) to fall away (from the true faith): from worship of Jehovah

Nothing here about loss of salvation.

Further, Paul described God’s gifts as justification (Rom 3:24 and 5:15,16,17) and eternal life (Rom 6:23) and then wrote that God’s gifts are irrevocable (Rom 11:29). That should end all debate on eternal life.

These gifts of God are “unrepented of” or irrevocable.

Further, when one believes they are sealed with the Holy Spirit, a promise and guarantee FOR the day of redemption.
Eph 1:13,14, 4:30, 2 Cor 1:22, 5:5.

Heb 10:14 – because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

Those “who are being made holy” is a reference to believers, and God “has made (them) perfect FOREVER”.

Having been made perfect forever precludes the loss of salvation.

These are not “cherry-picked” verses, but verses that clearly speak of eternal security.[7]

This is a detour into irrelevance. He’s going off at tangents, which indicates he does not deal with the specifics I raised. I chose to correct his erroneous statements.

So, ‘There is nothing in the word for “apostasy” that means loss of salvation’. Who said so? He has given us his opinion – a red herring. In section A above, I provided the definitions of ‘apostasy’ to refute this person’s statement. Evidence is better than personal assertions in any situation. When a person comes up with this kind of lack of evidence, I urge you to challenge him or her to provide the proof to confirm what he/she is avowing.

4. Correcting erroneous statements

I did obtain this person’s information online about the meaning of parapiptw from Strong’s Concordance (online) at:[8]  http://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Lexicon.show/ID/G3895/parapipto.htm. Here it stated that Thayer’s Greek lexicon gave the meaning of this word for ‘fall away/apostasy’ as:

Thayer
1) to fall beside a person or thing
2) to slip aside
2a) to deviate from the right path, turn aside, wander
2b) to error
2c) to fall away (from the true faith): from worship of Jehovah
Part of Speech: verb
Citing in TDNT: 6:170, 846?

I have Thayer’s lexicon in hard copy. What this abbreviated version at that website has failed to state was that 1), 2), 2a) used ‘to deviate from the right path, turn aside, wander’ and that related to the meaning of 2) ‘to slip aside’. Number 2b) should be the infinitive ‘to err’. All of these meanings are from classical Greek authors Polybius and Xenophon and were NOT from the Bible. They were the meanings in those ancient Classical Greek authors.

What his abbreviated edition failed to mention was that 2c) was the only meaning that was from the Bible and it means ‘to fall away (from the true faith); from the worship of Jehovah’ (Ezek 14:13; 15:8 in the LXX) and ‘from Christianity’ (Heb 6:6) (Thayer 1885/1962:485). This is the meaning of apostasy as Arndt & Gingrich’s lexicon confirms (as I’ve already provided above).

I know that this kind of definition is outside of this persons theological philosophy of eternal security, but I want to be honest with the Greek exegesis of the text. It is possible to commit apostasy (fall away from the faith) in such a bad way that ‘it is impossible’ to restore their faith again through repentance. The language of Heb 6:6 (ESV) is accurate that it is impossible ‘to restore them again to repentance’, i.e. the apostasy has caused them to reach a stage where repentance to obtain true faith is needed, but it is impossible for that to happen.

That’s what Heb 6:6 (ESV) states. It’s a challenging thing before God to want to minimise this serious situation. I was in Bible College with two students who became Christian ministers and they have now committed apostasy. They have repudiated Christ and their Christian faith. They are now secular pagans in their thinking and actions.

See Carl Wieland’s, ‘Death of an apostate’ (i.e. Charles Templeton). Templeton in the 1940s was a colleague of Billy Graham in Youth for Christ.

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(Image courtesy Worldcat)?

Michael Patton has written this sad but challenging article, ‘Billy Graham and Charles Templeton: A Sad Tale of Two Evangelists’.

5. Irrelevance again

Image result for clipart signs public domainIf you want to continue to divert a topic to your own agenda, throw in another red herring. That’s what this person did again: ‘My position is based on what the Bible says clearly. And the verses I provided are clear about eternal security’.[9]

Notice the tactic! It sounds so reasonable, but the ploy he used was contrary to the information I supplied. I provided verses that demonstrated that apostasy could be committed (I defined apostasy) and how one could shipwreck one’s faith. He didn’t want to deal with this information to refute it, so he goes off into a statement about his favourite topic, eternal security – based on the Bible. Why is he refusing to answer the issues I raise about eternal security? Could it have something to do with his fixation on his version of the doctrine and not wanting to deal with the problems I raise that oppose that position? Seems like it.

What he doesn’t know is that I support the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints and not once-saved-always-saved. See my other articles on this topic:

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

Do I have a fixation in support of Arminianism? I have searched my heart on this topic. I don’t think so. I have seen so much misrepresentation of the Arminian position in 54 years as a Christian, in this latter stage of my life, I’m attempting to bring correction of that misinformation. Roger Olson’s book, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Olson 2006) challenges some of these misconceptions regarding Arminianism.

6. A postmodern approach to Bible verses

What is postmodern interpretation? Ben Witherington explained:

[Stanley Fish, a postmodernist interpreter] does not really believe texts have meanings. He believes that active readers give texts their meaning.
I was always taught to call this eisegesis– the inappropriate reading into the text of something that is not there. He is not at all interested in arguments about “the intention of the author”. He thinks those intentions, whatever they were can’t be known and don’t matter. Meaning happens– its not encoded in texts, and the issue of authorial intent is a moot point. The funny thing about this is that when some people have misread his own work on John Milton, and totally misrepresented what he said— he objects “but that is not what I said or meant.” But he doesn’t have a leg to stand on. He gave up claims about objective meanings in texts and authorial intent. As for me, I would much rather listen to Kevin Van Hoozer on these subjects (see his “Is There a Meaning in This Text?“) or more remotely E.D. Hirsch’s classic study “Validity in Interpretation” (Witherington 2006).

Paul Noble described Fish’s hermeneutics as engaging in ‘radical reinterpration’. Noble maintained that ‘the text has an independent existence over against the interpreter, and offers very significant resistance to the reader’s interpretative strategies, in ways that contradict Fish’s central principles…. In spite of his denials, Fish’s theory entails a radical form of solipsism’. Oxford dictionaries defined solipsism as ‘the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist’ (Oxford dictionaries 2015. S v solipsism). It is Noble’s view that biblical studies should not move in a more Fishian direction (Noble 1995:1, emphasis in original).

In reply to another poster, this person on the Christian forum wrote:

One of the other of God’s gifts that is irrevocable is justification: Rom 3:24, 5:15,16,17.

Paul noted 2 of God’s gifts and then wrote that they are irrevocable.

Since he didn’t describe any other things as gifts of God, when he wrote Rom 11:29 we must go to where he DID describe gifts of God. And they are irrevocable.[10]

What are the difficulties with this post?[11]

Those verses from Rom 3 and Rom 5 teach justification but they do not teach justification that is irrevocable. You are imposing on these verses to get your ‘irrevocable’ emphasis.

Romans 11:29 (ESV) in the context of Rom 9-11 (ESV) is not talking about irrevocable or unrepented gifts in isolation. The Greek preposition gar (for) at the beginning of this verse (11:29) links it back to what has preceded it. The gifts of God, as the context makes clear, are not just for Jews but for Gentiles as well. See Rom 9:4-5 (ESV); Rom 11:1 (ESV); Rom 11:11-24 (ESV).

It is so important to interpret in context and not as a remote verse. The meaning of Rom 11:29 (ESV) is tied up with the Gospel going to the Jews (who often rejected it) and the Gentiles.

This person seems to want Rom 11:29 (ESV) to mean something that it doesn’t mean in context.

D. Make verses conform

Part of his response was: ‘The definition of the Greek word found in Heb 6:6 is from Strong’s…. Are you suggesting that the Bible re-defines some words?? Where would I find that teaching in the Bible?… But where in the Bible is the teaching that if one falls away, they lose their salvation?’[12] There were other parts to this response, but I found them to be meanderings that were not attempting to solve the differences between supporters and opponents of eternal security.

My reply to him was that when I wrote (above) that Thayer gave the meanings from classical Greek authors Polybius and Xenophon in his definitions of papapiptw, I was showing that authors outside of the Bible – and ancient authors – did use papapiptw in a different way to the LXX and NT.
Yes, the Bible does use words with a slightly or even considerably different meaning from ancient secular sources. Where do I find that in the Bible? I won’t, just as I won’t find the fact that Captain James Cook circumnavigated New Zealand in 1770 and then sailed up the east coast of Australia. I’m grateful for scholars who have compared the ancient sources with the LXX and NT in our Greek lexicons and publications such as Kittel & Friedrich’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. It is hard work reading and analysing the etymology of words in ancient writers in the original languages to arrive at meanings.

I’m grateful for scholars who have compared the ancient Greek, secular sources with the LXX and NT in our Greek lexicons and publications such as Kittel & Friedrich’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. It is hard work reading and analysing the etymology of words in ancient writers in the original languages to arrive at meanings.

Where in the Bible is the teaching of losing salvation? I’ve already provided the evidence from Heb 6:4-6 (ESV) and 1 Tim 1:19 (ESV) but you don’t want to receive that information. This latter verse talks of shipwreck of one’s faith.

Take a look at the present condition of the wreck of the Titanic:
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(Titanic wreck 2003, photo courtesy Wikipedia)

Apostasy speaks of repudiating salvation; a shipwrecked faith indicates a useless faith for what it was designed (salvation).
I don’t believe in eternal security or once-saved-always-salved but I do believe the Bible teaches perseverance of the saints, i.e. believers will persevere to the end of life. This is taught in John 3:36,

‘Whoever believes [continues believing] in the Son has [continues having] eternal life; whoever does not obey [continues not obeying] the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains [continues remaining] on him’.?

The meaning of the Greek present tenses [that I have put in square brackets], confirms this biblical theology that the saints will persevere and not commit apostasy or have their faith shipwrecked.
Matt 24:13 (ESV) also verifies this: ‘The one who endures to the end will be saved’.

E. Conclusion

The challenge from a proponent of the eternal security of salvation was, where are the words or the message, ‘loss of salvation’, found in the Bible?

The answer is that the exact words, ‘loss of salvation’, are not found. However, having the identical words is not necessary. As demonstrated, it has been shown that the Scriptures do use language that it is possible for a Christian to,

clip_image015 commit apostasy, which means to renounce the Christian faith;

clip_image015[1] shipwreck the faith, so that the faith is useless in action. It has been demolished or shattered so that it is worthless for its purpose of achieving salvation.

clip_image015[2] some promoters of eternal security will avoid the biblical issues of apostasy. They seem blinded by their theological cataracts.

Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[13] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Noble, P R 1995. Hermeneutics and postmodernism: Can we have a radical reader-response theory? Part 2. Religious Studies, 31(1), 1-22, March.

Olson, R E 2006, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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

Thayer, J H 1885/1962.Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti, tr, rev, enl. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Witherington, B 2006. Thoroughly post-modern biblical interpretation. Ben Witherington Blogspot (online), October 3. Available at: http://benwitherington.blogspot.com.au/2006/10/thoroughly-post-modern-biblical.html (Accessed 23 December 2015).

Notes


[1] ChristianForums.net, Apologetics & Theology, ‘If I ask someone for a gift, did I earn it, or work for it when I got it handed to me?’ FreeGrace #703, 20 December 2015. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/if-i-ask-someone-for-a-gift-did-i-earn-it-or-work-for-it-when-i-got-it-handed-to-me.61200/page-36 (Accessed 21 December 2015).

[2] This is my response to FreeGrace at ibid., OzSpen#714.

[3] Ibid., FreeGrace#718.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#728.

[7] Ibid., FreeGrace#718.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen#728.

[9] Ibid., FreeGrace#726.

[10] Ibid., FreeGrace#735.

[11] This is my response in ibid., OzSpen#745.

[12] Ibid., FreeGrace#732.

[13] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev & augmented edn 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 December 2015.

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When does a person become a Christian?

Unwanted Truth

(courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

A person wrote: ‘Only faith “full belief” in Jesus Christ can provide salvation. Ask in your own way this is just a guide. “Dear heavenly Father I am sorry Christ had to take the punishment that I deserve.” “I ask you Christ that you please forgive me of all my sins. I thank you Lord for your wonderful grace and forgiveness’.[1]

That seemed a reasonable response from a Christian, but for for this one: It generated this provocative response : ‘At what point in this process does a person go from being a non-Christian to a Christian?’[2] I don’t quite know why this kind of response was necessary as the first person’s response was indicative of what happens when many come to Christ for salvation.

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[3]Surely it is not difficult to determine this issue of when salvation begins. Acts 16:31 (ESV) states: ‘And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”’ ‘Believe’ is an aorist tense imperative (command) in the Greek. The aorist means instant point action so ‘believe’ here means that the moment a person believes in the Lord Jesus salvation is his or hers. To believe means to put one’s trust and confidence in Jesus Christ.

R C H Lenski in his commentary on Acts 16:31 states,

‘”To believe” always means to put all trust and confidence in the Lord Jesus, in other words, by such trust of the heart to throw the personality entirely into his arms for deliverance from sin, death and hell. Here epi [a preposition] is used; this trust is to rest on Jesus. This the jailor is to “do.” He must do the believing, every individual in his household likewise, for no one can do the believing for others. But faith is not our own production. Even in ordinary life confidence is awakened and produced in us by the one in whom we believe. The same holds true with reference to Jesus who is most worthy of our confidence and trust. To come in contact with him is to be moved to trust him and him alone for salvation. For this reason unbelief is such a crime. It is the refusal to trust him who is supremely worthy of trust’ (Lenski 2001:680-681, emphasis added).?

Remember what the other fellow stated: ‘I ask you Christ that you please forgive me of all my sins. I thank you Lord for your wonderful grace and forgiveness’. I gather from that kind of statement that he is affirming, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus’.

So to answer your question: ‘At what point in this process does a person go from being a non-Christian to a Christian?’ On the basis of Acts 16:31 and the Philippian jailor, a person goes from being non-Christian to being Christian the moment that person believes and puts absolute trust and confidence in Jesus Christ for salvation.

But elsewhere there are some conditions placed on this believing. Take John 3:16 (NIV) as an example: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’. Here, ‘whosoever believeth’ (KJV) or ‘whoever believes’ (NIV) uses the present tense of the verb ‘believe’, meaning ‘continues to believe’. So, on the basis of this verse, a person who continues to believe ‘may continue to have eternal life’.

To answer the question: a person becomes a Christian the instant he or she places faith/trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation but we know that genuine faith by that person continuing to believe. And the inference will be that that person will continue to bear fruit that demonstrates genuine belief. Jesus said, ‘You will recognize them by their fruits’ (Matt 7:16 ESV).

Conclusion

Therefore, we can conclude that any person who puts complete trust or confidence in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, will be saved from that moment. That faith will be demonstrated by: (1) Continuing to believe (and follow Christ), and (2) bearing fruits that demonstrate a person is a Christian.

Works consulted

Lenski, R C H 2001. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (based on the original published in 1934 by Lutheran Book Concern and assigned in 1961 to Augsburg Publishing House).

Notes


[1] Christian Forums, ‘Please understand’, January 8 2015, ddrgkd#1. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/threads/please-understand.7859952/ (Accessed 16 June 2015).

[2] Ibid., 98cwtr#20.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#22.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 November 2015.

Save yourselves

Salvation by Faith

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

You might think that this is a ridiculous question. Seriously, is it possible for Christians to save themselves? Or, does it take God’s action to experience eternal life? This seems like a stupid question to raise as it seems self-evident that any person is not able to experience eternal salvation by his or her own actions.

But….

Take a read of Acts 2:40, ‘And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation”’ (ESV). This verse raised some interesting comments on a leading Christian forum online. Here’s a sample:

  •  ‘Well, let’s see, surely the translation of “save yourselves” must have been by synergists. We either need to delete this from Acts or explain it away from our own intelligence’.[1]

Remember the other emphases in Acts 2:

  • ‘And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’ (Acts 2:21 ESV).
  • ‘And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved’ (Acts 2:47 ESV).

So, we seem to have three emphases:

  • Salvation comes when any person calls on the name of the Lord (v. 21);
  • People can save themselves from a crooked generation (v. 40);
  • The Lord adds those who are being saved (v. 47).

Are there contradictions here?

‘Save ourselves’ – the meaning

My response to the comment of saving ourselves was:

In Acts 2:40, what do you consider is the best translation of sothete apo tes geneas, based on the grammar of sothete?[2]These are some of the translations I have access to:

  • ‘Save yourselves from this untoward generation’ (KJV)
  • ‘Be saved from this perverse generation’ (NKJV)
  • ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation’ (ESV)
  • ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!’ (NASB)
  • ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation’ (NIV)
  • ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation’ (NRSV)
  • ‘Be saved from this corrupt generation’ (HCSB)

A response came, ‘I am not a Greek scholar, so I don’t know which is the best translation. But they all say the same thing. They all require action on the part of man’.[3]

It’s not saying the same thing[4]

They actually don’t all say the same thing. Let’s look at them again:
In Acts 2:40, what do you consider is the best translation of sothete apo tes geneas, based on the grammar of sothete?

Of those 7 translations quoted above, all of them correctly translated the verb sothete as a command, ‘Save’ or ‘Be saved’, as it is an imperative verb. However, the verb is aorist, imperative, middle-passive. Therefore, it could be translated as ‘Save yourselves’ (middle voice) of ‘Be saved’ – by somebody else (passive voice). Either one would be correct grammatically in that verse. However, when we compare with the rest of Scripture we know that Christians cannot save themselves. If it were not for the active grace of God in taking the initiative towards sinners, there would be no salvation.

Ephesians 2:8-9 makes that crystal clear: ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast’ (ESV). Therefore, any concept of ‘save yourselves’ should be abandoned as it is not consistent with the emphasis of Scripture of the need for God to take the initiative for salvation to be accomplished.

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

Titus 2:11 affirms, ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’ (ESV).

Therefore, in my understanding of the Greek language and the context of the whole of Scripture, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!’ (NASB) is the better translation of Acts 2:40.

There have been those who promoted self-salvation

Throughout the history of the Christian church there have those who supported ‘save yourselves’. They were:

Flower7 Pelagius (ca 390-418) and Pelagians who believed ‘the value of Christ’s redemption was, in his opinion, limited mainly to instruction (doctrina) and example (exemplum), which the Saviour threw into the balance as a counterweight against Adam’s wicked example, so that nature retains the ability to conquer sin and to gain eternal life even without the aid of grace’ (Catholic Encyclopedia: Life and Writings of Pelagius).

Flower7 Semi-Pelagians whose view of salvation is that it ‘is more than denial of the efficacy of grace for salvation; it is the affirmation of the human initiative in salvation…. 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…. although God may initiate salvation with grace, for many people the initiative is theirs toward God. That is, God waits to see the “exercise of a good will” before responding with grace. This is what was condemned (along with predestination to evil) at Orange in 529.’ (Roger E Olson, ‘R. C. Sproul, Arminianism, and Semi-Pelagianism’, Patheos, February 22, 2013).

Conclusion

Therefore, Acts 2:21, 40 and 47 demonstrate that, (1) The Lord saves, and there is (2) The human responsibility for human beings to respond to the offer of salvation. There will be no salvation without the Lord saving and there will be no salvation without people responding in faith. So, God-centred salvation is hand in glove with human response. There is no conflict with the Gospel proclaimed, human beings responding, but it is salvation from the Lord God (because of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice).

It’s interesting to see how some generally sound Bible translations such as the KJV, ESV, NIV and NRSV can translate a verb without taking into consideration the whole context of the Bible. There is conclusive evidence from Scripture that we cannot save ourselves. To save ourselves or even take the initial initiative to respond is the false teaching of  Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism.

No human being can save himself or herself to experience eternal salvation. Therefore, ‘save yourselves’ is an heretical view of salvation that was condemned as semi-Pelagianism at the Second Council of Orange in 529. In one of its canons it stated:

CANON 7. If anyone affirms that we can form any right opinion or make any right choice which relates to the salvation of eternal life, as is expedient for us, or that we can be saved, that is, assent to the preaching of the gospel through our natural powers without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who makes all men gladly assent to and believe in the truth, he is led astray by a heretical spirit, and does not understand the voice of God who says in the Gospel, “For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), and the word of the Apostle, “Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5).

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

Notes


[1] EmSw#2, 27 August 2014, Christian forums, General theology, Soteriology DEBATE, ‘More evidence for Christ’s death for everyone’. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7839226/ (Accessed 9 May 2015).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#4.

[3] Ibid., EmSw#6.

[4] This is my reply at ibid., OzSpen#7.

 

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

Salvation is a work of God and human beings: More misinformation about Arminianism

Image result for Jacobus Arminius public domain

(images in public domain)

By Spencer D Gear

It’s not unusual to hear of people who are confused over the differences between Arminians and Calvinists. Too often there are misrepresentations of Arminianism (often by Calvinists) such as these:

  1. Arminian theology is not Reformed and is the opposite of Calvinistic theology.
  2. It is possible to develop a ‘hybrid’ of Calvinism and Arminianism.
  3. To be an Arminian is to promote heresy. It is not an orthodox evangelical theology.
  4. At the centre of Arminianism is belief in free will.
  5. Arminians deny the sovereignty of God.
  6. Arminians promote human-centred theology.
  7. Arminianism is not a theology of grace.
  8. Predestination is not one of the beliefs of Arminians.
  9. Arminian theology denies salvation by grace alone through faith alone.
  10. Arminians believe in the governmental theory of the atonement, i.e. ‘God forgives sinners without requiring an equivalent payment’.[1]

Each of these 10 myths has been addressed and challenged by Roger E Olson in Arminian theology: Myths and realities (Olson 2006). However, in formal theological and lay-level discussions, these issues are raised. I struck one in an online forum.

Theological differences: Calvinism, Arminianism and Lutheranism

What are the differences of beliefs among Calvinism, Arminian and Lutheran beliefs? This was a good question asked on a Christian forum.[2] An immediate reply from a Calvinist was:

Arminians are syncretists meaning they believe salvation is both a work of God and man. You will here (sic) them say things like “I asked God into my heart” or “I accepted Jesus.” Calvinists & Lutherans are Monergists meaning they believe God does all the work in salvation. You may hear them say they have been regenerated.[3]

Falsehood in that statement[4]

What is false about that declaration? She stated that ‘Arminians are syncretists meaning they believe salvation is both a work of God and man’. Does she know the difference between syncretists and synergists? Could she be referring to synergism and not syncretists?

It is disappointing in this, her first post on this forum, that she provided not one piece of evidence to support her claim that Arminians ‘believe salvation is both a work of God and man’. This is false as a reading of James Arminius will tell us.

In his exposition on ‘The Justification of man before God’, James Arminius wrote:

I believe that sinners are accounted righteous solely by the obedience of Christ; and that the righteousness of Christ is the only meritorious cause on account of which God pardons the sins of believers and reckons them as righteous as if they had perfectly fulfilled the law. But since God imputes the righteousness of Christ to none except believers, I conclude that, in this sense, it may be well and properly said, to a man who believes, faith is imputed for righteousness through grace, because God hath set forth his Son, Jesus Christ, to be a propitiation, a throne of grace, [or mercy seat] through faith in his blood (Works of James Arminius, vol 1, IX).

Arminians believe that sinners are declared righteous only through the work of God and Christ. Arminians do not conclude that salvation is both a work of God and man. Arminius declared:

I am not conscious to myself, of having taught or entertained any other sentiments concerning the justification of man before God, than those which are held unanimously by the Reformed and Protestant Churches, and which are in complete agreement with their expressed opinions (Works of James Arminius, vol 1, IX).

There is much false information in the public market place about the beliefs of Arminianism. If anyone is interested in some clarification on this topic, I recommend Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Olson 2006).

To accept the gift of faith is a work

Image result for picture of gift public domain

(image courtesy pinstake.com)

The response back was to correct her misspelling of ‘syncretist’ for ‘synergist’. Then she stated:

What Jacob Arminius wrote and what Arminians today claim to believe are probably quite different; just as, I, being a Calvinist, do not agree with all of what John Calvin wrote.

I grew up in an Arminian church and was a staunch anti-Calvinist until a few years ago. Most of the people in my life are staunch Arminians. They will all claim that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone. However, they will say that you must “accept” this gift. If we have to accept anything, we are doing a work thus being a synergistic.

However, there are many different flavors of Arminians out there today just as there are many flavors of Calvinists. What I will say is that I have yet to meet one who does not hold to a synergistic idea by what they claim whether they admit to it or not.[5]

I could not allow this to go unchallenged as there are several misrepresentations here:

  • Arminius vs Arminians today;
  • To accept a gift is to do a work for salvation;
  • What is synergism?

Salvation is not attained by human beings[6]

My rejoinder was to her statement, ‘What Jacob Arminius wrote and what Arminians today claim to believe are probably quite different’. This is way too broad a statement and she has provided no examples to support her claim. To know what a chunk of evangelical Arminians believe today, I suggest a visit to a site such as the ‘Society of Evangelical Arminians‘ where you will find many Arminians who support the general thrust of Jacob/James Arminius’s theology. I, as a Reformed Arminian, am one of those, although not a member of that Society.

The terms, ‘synergism’ and ‘monergism’ have different shades of meaning. Synergism is a theological understanding which believes that there is human participation in salvation. It does not indicate that salvation is attained by human beings. That would be an heretical view. There are heretical forms of synergism in Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism (Olson 2006:17). Roger Olson maintains that ‘Arminianism is evangelical synergism as opposed to heretical, humanistic synergism…. Arminian synergism … affirms the provenience of grace to every human exercise of a good will toward God, including simple nonresistance to the saving work of Christ’ (Olson 2006:18). Olson, an Arminian, writes that

Monergism is also a broad and sometimes confusing term. Its broadest sense points to God as the all-determining reality, which means that everything in nature and history is under the direct control of God. It does not necessarily imply that God causes all things directly, but it does necessarily imply that nothing can happen that is contrary to the will of God, and that God is intimately involved (even if working through secondary causes) in everything, so all of nature and history reflect God’s primary will…. 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’ (Olson 2006:18-19, emphasis in original).

Matt Slick, a Calvinist, defines monergism as ‘the teaching that God alone is the one who saves. It is opposed to synergism which teaches that God and man work together in salvation. Cults are synergistic. Christianity is monergistic’ (CARM: Monergism). Slick is wrong about ‘cults are synergistic’ and ‘Christianity is monergistic’. The facts are that evangelical Arminians believe in a synergistic view of salvation. Cults may also do that, but that is not the point of my brief article. His view of Calvinistic Christianity is that it is THE Christianity and it is the one that is monergistic, which he considers is the correct view.

Pelagianism denies original sin and considers that people have the human ability to live spiritual lives. Semi-Pelagianism is a modified form of Pelagianism in that it modifies the Pelagian original sin view that sinful human beings have the ability to initiate salvation by responding in good will toward God. I, as a Reformed Arminian, consider those two theological systems to be heretical. See my article, Calvinist misrepresents the Reformed.

In my library I have a few Arminian theologies, including the works of James Arminius, and they include the fact that God’s grace initiates justification. Henry Thiessen is one of those and he wrote:

Justification thus originates in the heart of God. Realizing not only our lack of righteousness, but also our inability to attain to it, He in His kindness decided to provide a righteousness for us. It was His grace that led Him to provide it; He was under no obligation whatsoever to do it. In His grace He had regard to our guilt and in His mercy, to our misery (Thiessen 1949:365).

This person online said of Arminians, ‘I have yet to meet one who does not hold to a synergistic idea’. But what kind of synergistic idea? The heretical Pelagian or semi-Pelagian, evangelical Arminian, etc? To which shade of synergism are you referring?

She said, ‘They will say that you must “accept” this gift. If we have to accept anything, we are doing a work thus being a synergistic’. In my understanding that is a misunderstanding of synergism and of works. In my 53 years of being a Christian, I have heard a number of Calvinists want to include ‘accepting the gift of faith’ as a work. That is not the common understanding of salvation by works, which is a view promoted by some cults or false religion that teach that entrance into eternal glory (or whatever they call it) is attained at least in part by doing a certain list of good deeds or serving the church or organisation with some time or money. That is not the same as accepting a gift that is offered.

See the Roman Catholic article, ‘Why does the Church teach that works can obtain salvation?

If someone were to ask you, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ what would be your answer?

Arminians include Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians?


(A 17th century Calvinist print depicting Pelagius;

image courtesy Wikipedia)

How would this lady reply to my exposition? This is what she wrote:

The reason I didn’t “provide any examples to support my claim” is because I didn’t come here to argue or debate. The original poster asked what the difference between the different beliefs were and I gave him a very general, over-simplified explanation. If the OP [original post] wanted a full explaination (sic) with every nuance and flavor, I’m sure he/she knows better than to get that info from a forum thread.

I have never heard of a “Reformed Arminian.” I must admit that sounds like an oxymoron but I’ll also admit that the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. You learn something new every day. clip_image001

As far as which kind of synergistic idea I was talking about, I would say both Pelagian and Semi-Pelagian. I’ve met Arminians who hold to both but never one that holds to a mongergistic (sic) view of salvation.

If someone were to ask me “What must I do to be saved?” I would probably tell them to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and repent of their sins. However is someone asked my “How is a person saved?” I would tell them that God regenerated a person whom He has chosen from before time. He gives that person “spiritual eyes” to see Jesus for who He really is, to see their own sin and need for a Savior, and gives them the ability to believe and repent. But the work of salvation was already completed before the person was aware [6a].

Her ideas include:

  • She didn’t want to debate Arminianism.
  • She is so misinformed about Arminianism that she does not know what a Reformed Arminian is.
  • To her, Arminianism is synergism and includes Pelagian and Semi-Pelagian Arminianism.
  • Salvation needs an explanation of regeneration, election and predestination.
  • Salvation for that person was completed before the person was aware.

Misinformation continues from a Calvinist[7]

There is considerable misinformation here that needs correction.

She stated that she didn’t come to the forum for a debate. However, when she makes a statement such as, ‘Arminians are syncretists [she has since corrected this to mean synergists] meaning they believe salvation is both a work of God and man’ (as stated in #2) she is asking for a debate whether she says so or not. Why? Because to say that Arminians believe that ‘salvation is both a work of God and man’ is not what I as a Reformed Arminian and other Arminians believe (as in the Society of Evangelical Arminians).

She stated that ‘I have never heard of a “Reformed Arminian” I must admit that sounds like an oxymoron….’ Jacobus Arminius was a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church to his dying day, so he was Reformed theologically and regarded his view as Reformed. A Reformed Arminian is one who accepts the soteriology (doctrine of salvation) and other doctrines as expounded by Arminius. Therefore, to use Reformed as only referring to Calvinism is not true. Reformed Arminianism is sometimes called Classical Arminianism. See Roger E Olson’s article, ‘Another Calvinist Misrepresentation of Arminianism‘.

If you want to know more, Stephen Ashby has a summary article online, ”A Reformed Arminian view‘. Ashby presented a Reformed Arminian view of eternal security in Four Views of Eternal Security (Zondervan) – Ashby’s exposition begins on p. 135.

clip_image003(image courtesy Zondervan)

She stated that ‘I’ve met Arminians who hold to both [Pelagian and semi-Pelagian] but never one that holds to a mongergistic view of salvation’. To the contrary, ‘Arminianism is God-centered Theology‘.

Could it be that she is unable to see God-centred theology in Arminianism’s synergism because she doesn’t seem to have read extensively in The Works of James Arminius? If she did, she would find that Arminius believed salvation was the work of God.

What must I do to be saved? When the Philippian jailer asked Paul this question, Paul told him what to DO: ”(You) believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household’ (Acts 16:31) and then Paul spoke the word of the Lord to him and those with him. This was followed by the jailer and his household being baptised (Acts 16:33). We have no direct indication of what Paul said when he spoke the word of the Lord to them, but he ‘rejoiced along with the entire household that he had believed in God’ (Acts 16:34). There is no mention in this text of Paul’s preaching regeneration, election and predestination in order for the jailer to be converted to Christ.

Here is a summary of ‘The FACTS of Salvation: A Summary of Arminian Theology/the Biblical Doctrines of Grace‘.

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

Works consulted

Enns, P 2008. The Moody handbook of theology, rev & enl. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.[8]

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

Notes


[1] Governmental theory described by Paul Enns (2008:333). It was promoted by Dutch jurist, Hugo Grotius (1583-1645).

[2] Christian Forums, ‘Differences between Arminian, Calvinist, and Lutheranist?’, Constantine I #1, 11 March 2015. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7869796/ (Accessed 15 March 2015).

[3] Ibid., kristea516 #2.

[4] This is my response to kristea at ibid., OzSpen#18.

[5] Ibid, kristea#26.

[6] Ibid, OzSpen#27.

[6a] Ibid., kristea516#28.

[7] Ibid, OzSpen#30.

[8] The original edition was published in 1989.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 1 May 2016.