Provisionism and Man’s Moral Posture

Provisionism seems to have made a surge in popularity in both Calvinist and anti-Calvinist groups. It has created firepower for both sides. One of the main points of contention between Provisionists and Calvinists is on the nature of man. Did Adam’s fall really make us incapable of freely (in a libertarian sense) responding to the Gospel or not? Are we so corrupted by sin that that we are only able to choose that which is evil? Let us look at a Twitter page called ProvisionistPersective, which is a platform for Provisionist theology. They recently tweeted the following message:

The assertion here is that we are not dead in our sins, but merely diseased, sick, and Mark 2:17 is quoted as a “proof text”. This is a classic example of isolating verses from the rest of the biblical narrative and thereby reading into the text what is not there. This seems to be a theme in the Provisionist camp. Dr. Leighton Flowers, a prominent Provisionist, has done this with verses like Jeremiah 19:5 where this single verse is used to deny that God has an active decree of all sinful things that will come to pass, while ignoring passages in Isaiah that clearly speak of God bringing about His plan and purposes, and actively causing evil things to come to pass (albeit without being the author or partaker thereof). This is the only way, from a biblical perspective, that the Provisionist framework can survive, because a consistent hermeneutical system would not lead to the eisegesis that is placed upon the Scriptures. That is what I want to address with the usage of Mark 2:17 above. I want to address it using consistent hermeneutical principles. Let us begin.

First, the assertion is made that Calvinists say we are not sick, but dead. Sin most certainly is a disease, a defect, a twisting of the good. Sin is lawlessness as 1 John 3:4 explicitly states. However, historically, Calvinists have taught we are spiritually dead in our sins, ergo, not able to respond to God positively without God working toward our salvation.

This leads to our second point: the usage of Mark 2:17. In context, Jesus was eating with “sinners” in an evangelistic effort. He came to save people from their sin. The Pharisees were having none of it and criticized Jesus for his association with these sinners, which prompted His response in verse 17. Before moving on, it is important to note what these Provisionists are trying to do by saying we are simply “sick”. This is an attempt to somehow preserve man’s inherent ability to freely respond to the Gospel. Because if man is as spiritually corrupt as Calvinists assert, then man’s libertarian free will is gone. The argument that is used is, “Good enough for Jesus = Good enough for me.” I can play that game, too, with other verses. For instance, Jesus (yes, the same one who spoke in Mark 2:17) clearly describes man’s LACK of ability to respond to the Gospel in John 6:44: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. (NIV) Jesus said it, so its good enough for me. Oh, what about John 6:65? He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” (NIV) This is good enough for me! There are other things that could be gleaned from chapter 6 such as Jesus’ knowledge of the choices of men in their betrayal and His certainty of those who would be saved, which I believe causes problems for Provisionists with regards to omniscience, but that is a discussion for another day. My point here is, just simply quoting one verse does not necessarily prove a point. All of Scripture must be taken into account when exegeting a passage.

With a proper hermeneutic in mind, how do we address the verse above? Are we simply sick? First, let us analyze the verse itself. Jesus brings forward the analogy of a doctor coming to heal the sick. On its face, it makes sense as far as it goes. A sick person isn’t dead are they? They have life in them. Fair enough. However, that is not ALL that He says. He says, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (NIV) Hmm. He says you are in two camps: righteous or sinner. This is not a “relative righteousness” that we find in other places of Scripture where someone is described as being more righteous than others, but this is about their spiritual condition. If you are simply sick, strictly speaking, there would be a mixture of the two conditions since the sickness has not fully corrupted your body. But Jesus makes clear that if you are a sinner, there is no righteousness in you. You are completely corrupted. It is a terminal disease. This principle is laid out in different places, but most most clearly in Jeremiah:

The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?

Jeremiah 17:9 (NIV)

Here we see that the human heart is not just sick, but that it is terminally ill. There is no life in this heart of ours that can be redeemed or brought back by our own volition. Going back to what was discussed before, if there is some part of us that is not corrupted by sin and we are simply “sick” with some parts of us being healthy, we now have righteousness inherent in us. We now have the ability to keep God’s law (at least to some extent). The dichotomy that Jesus had made is now destroyed. Now we move onto a section of Scripture that lays out more explicitly our “deadness”.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:1-10 (NIV)

Notice that Paul uses the same dichotomy that Jesus does: you are either a righteous person or you are a sinner. If you are a sinner, then you are dead in your transgressions. If man was simply sick, as ProvisionistPerspective has clearly asserted, we would have a contradiction in the Scriptures as Paul does not assert we are sick, but dead. He would go beyond what Jesus is teaching. So we have to ask ProvisionistPerspective, is the Scripture consistent? If so, then how is the interpretation of Jesus saying we are sick consistent with the rest of Scripture, given he clearly does not think we are spiritually dead? The only explanation is that Jesus is not saying we are simply sick but that the sickness is terminal and we are, for all intents and purposes, dead. Even someone who has died is still sick in that the disease still clings to their body. Being “sick” does not necessarily negate death. We do not have life in us. And that lack of life requires an outside mover to bring us to spiritual life. The mover all the way through is God Himself. There is no libertarian freedom in Paul’s mind with regard to believing in the Gospel. God is the mover and the finisher of our faith, down to the good works that we will do.

What we have seen is that simply asserting a single verse is about an alleged condition of man does not mean that is what is being spoken of. A proper hermeneutic is paramount to understanding different texts. All of Scripture must be taken into account when interpreting Scripture.

Of Creation Part 2

Last week we looked at the creation account, what creation was and its standing in relation to God.  A point that we touched on was whether God became the Creator when the world was made. We concluded that He does not. We also established that a proper doctrine of God is necessary to understanding the act of Creation. While the first paragraph focuses on the work of God in the overall Creation of the world, the last two paragraphs focus on man and his state before the fall. This brings up some important implications about the condition of man today and in our future.

Let us look at the 2nd LCBF Chapter 4, paragraphs 2 and 3.

Paragraph 2:

After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, rendering them fit unto that life to God for which they were created; being made after the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it, and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject to change.

2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689

Paragraph 3:

Besides the law written in their hearts, they received a command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which whilst they kept, they were happy in their communion with God, and had dominion over the creatures.

2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689

We see here a focus on two things: the state of man as it relates to being in the image of God, and the state of man’s moral disposition.  Our focus today will be on two aspects discussed in Waldron’s commentary on the 1689 LBCF:

  1. The duality of man’s disposition
  2. What is the “image of God”?
  3. Did Adam and Eve have true free will?

The Duality of Man’s Disposition

God made Adam and put him in the garden. But Adam was more than simply another animal. There was something about him that separated him from those animals. It was that he had a soul. He had an eternal aspect to him.

Genesis 2:7

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

There has been debate about what constitutes a whole man.  Is man composed of soul, spirit, and body or is he composed of body and soul?  These were questions that the church had to deal with.  The idea of a trichotomic constitution of man goes back to Greek philosophy. Michael Horton notes,

“…Plotinus (AD 205-270) posits a hierarchy of three divine realms: the One (eternal, absolute, transcendental), the Nous (ideas, concepts), and the World Soul (including individual souls, incorporeal and immortal). Below the realm of the Soul is nature, including the terrestrial bodies in which some souls are imprisoned. Individual souls emanate from the World-Soul, turned toward the unchanging, rational One. Thus, the human person could be divided into three components in descending order: spirit, soul, and body.”

The Christian Faith, page 374

It is interesting to note that the “One” coincides with what we believe about God.  Even pagan thinkers knew that there was an eternal one.  Be that as it may, this is where that idea of man’s trichotomy comes from. This even bled over into the church where Gnostics adopted this form of thinking and has crept into the church (see The Christian Faith page 374).  Where is their Biblical support?  Passages such as Luke 10:27 and Hebrews 4:12 are appealed to in order defend the notion of “three” components of man. 

Luke 10:27

So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

Hebrews 4:12

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Do these passages hold any water?  In the Luke passage, Jesus notes that we are to love the Lord our God with, “all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ” From this, trichotomists will say this means man is broken up into these segments despite the fact this mentions four, not three areas that we are to love God with. What Jesus is discussing here is that we are to love the Lord with all our being, not that we are divided into these specific sections. This view stems from a faulty hermeneutic thereby looking for things in the text that do not exist and completely missing the point of Jesus was trying to communicate. The same hermeneutical error is made in Hebrews 4:12. In this passage, it has been assumed that there is a true division of soul and spirit that is view by the writer of Hebrews and that is not the case. Horton says,

“Hebrews 4:12 does not say that the Word divides between soul and sprit but that it divides even soul and spirit. “Dividing” in this context is examining, judging…It is not a cutting between but a cutting through that is intended here.”

The Christian Faith, page 375

The writer did not intend for the understanding of man to be broken up into multiple spiritual components, but to show that the Word cuts into that complete, whole, soul/spirit. Again, an improper hermeneutic was in play here that assumes what the text does not say.

What is the biblical view of man’s constitution? Are there really parts of man that make the whole? The answer is yes.  However, it is not done in a trichotomy but rather a dichotomy. This is through body and soul.  Where do we see this biblically though? In 2 Corinthians 5 discusses this where it talks of those who leave this body in death are present with Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:1-8

For we know that if our earthly [a]house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our [b]habitation which is from heaven, 3 if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. 4 For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as [c]a guarantee.

6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

Paul gives a lengthy discussion of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 as well.

There is this sense of a person that is distinct from our physical selves that goes to be with God first, although our bodies are not meant to be separated from our souls. Horton again,

“While the body and soul can be separated, they are not meant to be separated, and our salvation is not complete until we are bodily raised as whole persons (Ro 8:23).”

The Christian Faith, page 379

As we see, this separation is not meant to be, but is necessary.  This stands in stark contrast with Gnostic theology which teaches that the body is bad and the soul or spirit good.  Biblical theology teaches, however, that both body and soul will be redeemed for those who are elect of God.  This means that God’s creation remains good even after the effects of the fall had corrupted it.  We should not think that this material world is bad and especially our bodies.  Both are redeemed by the one who made them.  And our bodies will be united to our souls when Christ comes again.

What is the “image of God”?

What the “image of God” is has been debated at different points in church history.  This strange language that is applied to mankind is certainly not an easy concept to grasp. Being a difficult topic, it was not one that even the Reformers agreed on. Herman Bavinck notes,

“But the scholars of the Reformation, too, held differing views of the image of God. In the early period some Lutherans still equated the image of God with the essence of man and the substance of the soul, but Lutheran theology as such was grounded in another idea.”

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 549

If the Reformers did not have a monolithic view of this doctrine, what can be said of it?  Is it a doctrine that is knowable? Yes, indeed it is.  We can formulate this doctrine based on the evidence found in Scripture.  There is not one single place that we see the image of God brought out in Scripture, but it is gained by the implications of the passages provided about man.  Certain truths of the Bible are not formulated with one verse, the Trinity being exhibit ).  The doctrine of the Trinity is formulated based on multiple witnesses in Scripture and by harmonizing them based on sound hermeneutical processes to confess this vital doctrine. The doctrine of man being in God’s image is no different.

We will follow Bavinck’s points about what the image of God is in man from Volume 2 of his Reformed Dogmatics:

“God is, first of all, demonstrable in the human soul.” How does God show Himself in the human soul? The soul shows eternity in man.  This distinguishes us from the animals. We are not mindless organisms that are focused only on reproducing and finding our next meal. We as humans are given souls that live on forever.  We discussed this in the dichotomy of man earlier. 

Bavinck says,

“The breath of life is the principle of life; the living soul is the essences of man. By means of this combination Scripture accords to man a unique and independent place of his own and avoids both pantheism and materialism.”

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 555

God is not placing Himself in us as if we are God (pantheism) ,but He also does not leave us a mindless organisms (materialism).  We have the stamp of eternity in us.

“Belonging to the image of God, in the second place, are the human faculties.” Humans have emotions, thoughts, desires, which as Bavinck says, “have to be led by the mind (nous) and express themselves in action.” We can make rational decisions that do not show themselves in the same way that the animals do.  We make decisions and show our emotions with higher purpose and meaning than that of the animals and in doing so it evidences the image bearing that we reflect from our Creator.  These virtues show themselves in God and are reflected in us as humans, him being the “highest” or “perfect” virtues of those features found in us.

“In the third place, the image of God manifests itself in the virtues of knowledge, righteousness, and holiness with which humanity was created from the start.” Man has moral faculties that reflect themselves in our actions.  We as humans know right from wrong. We know we should not steal or should not take the name of the Lord in vain. How do we know this? The law of God is written on our hearts. Look at Romans 2.

Romans 2:12-16

For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law 13 (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; 14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) 16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.

Our consciences tell us what is right and what is wrong.  Animals and mindless organisms do not have this faculty.  And this “moral compass” points to a law and lawgiver higher than ourselves.  This, biblically speaking, points us back to God Himself. God did not tell the animals to not eat the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but he told man not to do so. He is special and unique.

Bavinck says,

“Man was not created as a neutral being with morally indifferent powers and potentialities, but immediately made physically and ethically mature, with knowledge in the mind, righteousness in the will, holiness in the heart.”

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 559

“In the fourth place, also the human body belongs integrally to the image of God.” Since the spirit and body are so integrally tied together, there is no way that the body, being crafted by God himself, can be said it is not God’s image.

“Finally, also belonging to this image is man’s habitation in paradise.” Adam’s status before God in the garden as the overseer of the earth.  He was given the task of caring for the garden given dominion over the animals in a way that no one else had.

Bavinck sums up the image of God well when he says,

“So the whole human being is image and likeness of God, in soul and body, in all human faculties, powers, and gifts. Nothing in humanity is excluded from God’s image; it stretches as far as our humanity does and constitutes our humanness. The human is not the divine self but is nevertheless a finite creaturely impression of the divine. All that is in God-his spiritual essences, his virtues and perfections, his immanent self-distinctions, his self-communication and self-revelation in creation-finds its admittedly finite and limited analogy and likeness in humanity.”

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 561

Did Adam and Eve have true free will?

Now what about the part of paragraph 2 where it says,

“…being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject to change.”?

2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith 1689, Chapter 4, paragraph 2

I thought that the Reformed did not teach that man has “free will”? Could Adam and Eve have truly chosen otherwise?  Keep in mind that this was prior to the fall and there was no “bondage” to sin as we would think of it.  There was no slavery to sin.  Man had not been plunged into spiritual and physical death yet.  So, the will could not be spoken of in the same sense as it is spoken of with regards to man being dead in sin and his trespasses.  Adam had the ability to choose that which was genuinely good, but also truly evil.  Calvin notes,

“Therefore God provided man’s soul with a mind, by which to distinguish good from evil, right from wrong; and, with the light of reason as guide, to distinguish what should be followed from what should be avoided…To this he joined the will, under whose control is choice. Man in his first condition excelled in these pre-eminent endowments, so that his reason, understanding, prudence, and judgment not only sufficed for the direction of his earthly life, but by them mounted up even to God and eternal bliss. Then was choice added, to direct the appetites and control all the organic motions, and thus make the will completely amenable to the guidance of the reason. In this integrity man by free will had the power, if he so willed, to attain eternal life.”

The Institutes of the Christian Religion Volume 1, page 195

Adam could stand or he could fall if he so chose. He was not bound to sin or to righteousness. He had the perfect ability to continue in the way.  Therefore, our concept of free will to some extent must change when speaking of actions prior to the fall.  Calvin goes onto say,

“Here it would be out of place to raise the question of God’s secret predestination because our present subject is no what can happen or not, but what man’s nature was like. Therefore Adam could have stood if he wished, seeing that he fell solely by his own will.”

The Institutes of the Christian Religion Volume 1, page 195

Calvin is not saying that God has not decreed what would happen and that Adam could work outside of that decree, but that Adam’s will was bound to his nature and since his nature was not that of evil yet, his choice was truly “free” in that he could make an actual choice between that which is actually good and that which is actually evil.  Remember, in our fallen state we as human beings are not able to choose that which is in good in any way. Apart from saving grace of God it is impossible. Romans 3 makes this clear.

Romans 3:10-18

As it is written:

“There is none righteous, no, not one;

11 There is none who understands;

There is none who seeks after God.

12 They have all turned aside;

They have together become unprofitable;

There is none who does good, no, not one.”

13 “Their throat is an open [d]tomb;

With their tongues they have practiced deceit”;

“The poison of asps is under their lips”;

14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”

15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;

16 Destruction and misery are in their ways;

17 And the way of peace they have not known.”

18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

What this means is that man cannot do that which is truly pleasing to God. All of his choices are evil continuously. This does not mean that man acts as bad as he could, but even the most righteous acts are sinful in God’s eyes when not done from a regenerate heart.  Paul makes in clear in Romans 8 that those who are in the flesh cannot submit to the law of God.  They do not have the ability to do so in their sinful state. 

Calvin again,

“Man will then be spoken of as having this sort of free decision, not because he has choice equally of good and evil, but because he acts wickedly by will, not by compulsion.”

The Institutes of the Christian Religion Volume 1, page 264

They act on what they want.  God is not forcing them to do it against their will, but their choices flow from their will and their nature.  Adam was not under such conditions of sinful nature and was able to choose what he wanted.  Despite Adam’s freedom to choose good and evil, there was no power within Adam to thwart the plan of God. He was not able to work outside of what God’s eternal plan and purpose was set to do.  Adam did exactly as he was decreed to do.  But that decree had no compulsion in nature nor did was there any acting outside of his nature. He did exactly what he wanted to do. This will have some mystery to it obviously, but we can see that God works out His plan and purpose along with human actions including Adam’s in spite of his ability to make true moral choices.

Of Creation Part 1

*This post is adopted from a presentation on chapter 4 paragraph 1 of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith

1. In the beginning it pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, to create or make the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good.

2LBCF (1677/89) IV.1

Chapter 4 is a small chapter in the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 with only three paragraphs. But there is so much doctrine here that is assumed by the writers of our confession.  It is built upon (at the time) over 1000 years of the church’s orthodox confession of theology. The writers were trying to cram as much as they could into this little chapter. Now some things we will be discussing today will be deep. We will have to stretch our minds some as we go through the doctrine of Creation. Keep in mind though that these doctrines were considered basic Christianity to the men who compiled the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith. This not considered “high church” doctrine or a 500-level course in systematic theology. This was Christianity 101. These doctrines encompassed the basics of what Christian doctrine entails. Christians need to have this mindset as it should lead us to want to study and gain the knowledge that these doctrines contain. We should not fear them.

However, this is not knowledge for knowledge sake. We ultimately gain this knowledge so we can worship God properly. How can I worship a God that I do not know? I must know Him to worship Him. The more knowledge that is gained of Him, the more I should worship Him. In other words, proper doctrine will lead to proper living if applied. These items are vital if we are to worship God properly. Now, as we go along this will not solely be a post about whether the Genesis account is figurative or literal, but a discussion of the meat behind this doctrine that the writers of our confession packed into Chapter 4, paragraph 1. The Doctrine of God is integral to this chapter and we will be diving into this post and then next weeks post focusing on man being made in God’s image and his state of freedom before sin came into the world. I think there is a tendency to read these chapters in isolation which is not how they are to be read. Of Creation was placed as chapter 4 intentionally. Now why would the authors place this right after the chapter on God’s decree? Would it not make more sense for the doctrine of providence to come after the decree because they are intricately related and inseparable? Maybe at first glance it appears that way, but we must not think this to be the case. Richard Barcellos notes,

“The decree of God is an ad intra divine work, as Richard A. Muller says, “willed by the entire Godhead as the foundation of all [ad extra works]”. The decree is sometimes termed an immanent, or intrinsic, divine work because its termination is in God. The execution of God’s decree, however, brings us into the realm of God’s external, ad extra, transient, or extrinsic, works-works which produce effects, or creatures.”

Trinity & Creation: A Scriptural and Confessional Account, pages 8-9

The doctrine of Scripture is put first to show where our supreme authority for faith and practice comes from: Scripture. Chapter 2 builds upon this by grounding our minds in the doctrine of God who is the creator of Scripture. Then the basis for everything, His decree, is then laid out for us and after that there is chapter 4 being an outpouring of that decree. Chapter 4 could rightly be said to be a “part 2” to chapter 3 since it essentially tells us more about the actual decree of God. He then works out His decree through providence.  You can see the systematic way in which this was formulated. I do think, however, that chapter 2 on God and the Holy Trinity is probably more in view here in the first paragraph. Again Barcellos says,

“What chapter 4 does is confess, in particular, the manifestation of the very same God confessed in chapter 2. This manifestation of God comprises the revelatory divine effects in creatures. It is the eternal and immutable God confessed in chapter 2 who manifests divine power, wisdom, and goodness in that which comes-to-be.”

Trinity & Creation: A Scriptural and Confessional Account, page 10

 Notice what is says in the opening paragraph of chapter 4: “In the beginning it pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit …” There is this trinitarian emphasis given with respect to God’s working in creation. What the confession says on God in chapter 2 must be in light here or the words used here to describe God make no sense. He is most wise in his acts; He is impassable meaning he does not have passions. He is simple meaning He is not composed of parts and does not change. A solid doctrine of God is needed to understand this chapter, or our understanding of this passage will be hindered greatly. Barcellos notes,

“Since chapter 4 is not the first chapter of the confession, it assumes all the formulations which precede it. Though this is obvious to anyone who reads the confession, it is no small or trite observation. It has mammoth implications of hermeneutics and theological method in the process of formulating Christian doctrine.”

Trinity & Creation: A Scriptural and Confessional Account, page 9

Another interesting note is that this chapter does differ from the Westminster Confession of Faith. Sam Waldron notes,

“The 1689 Confession differs from the Westminster and Savoy only in making the last sentence a separate paragraph.”

A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith 5th edition, page 88

What this shows is that our Particular Baptist forefathers were in complete agreement with their Presbyterian brothers on this topic.  If you recall, the Particular Baptists were not looking to create division with their Presbyterian brethren. Far from it. They desired to walk in unity with them, but there was a time to bring forward their differences. But here they show their unity.

Given that, here is what I want to investigate from Chapter 4, paragraph 1:

  1. What exactly is Creation and what is the Trinitarian activity in the eternal act of Creation?
  2. Was there a change in God because of Creation?
  3. Is Creation Poetry or History?

What Creation is and the Trinitarian activity of God in the eternal act of Creation

We find the Creation story at the beginning of Genesis which spans the first two chapters of that book.  Let us look at Genesis 1:1-8,

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness [a]was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.  And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. [b]So the evening and the morning were the first day.

 Then God said, “Let there be a [c]firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day.

Now we know the rest of the story. God makes animals and man, placing that man in the garden of Eden to watch over what had been created. Woman was then made from him and they were told to be fruitful and multiply. This is the story of Creation. Given this story, we would tend to think that Creation is just simply God creating all things, right? While that is true, there is more to it than that. Creation is God creating things that are not God. It is God working outside Himself bringing things to be that were not before.  Herman Bavinck says,

“[Creation is] that act of God through which, by his sovereign will, he brought the entire world out of nonbeing into being that is distinct from his own being.”

Reformed Dogmatics Volume 2, page 416

This distinction is especially important. I think the tendency to make God like us in our descriptions of Him, flows from a conflation of these categories. While it may be denied that God is creature, the way He is sometimes described assumes a creatureliness about Him.

Herman Bavinck says,

“It is God who posits the creature, eternity which posits time, immensity which posits space, being which posits becoming, immutability which posits change. There is nothing intermediate between these two classes of categories: a deep chasm separates God’s being from that of all creatures.”

Reformed Dogmatics Volume 2, pages 158-159

Going back to our discussion about Creation, the act also includes the creation of time. Time was created along with other created things as William Ames notes in his work, The Marrow of Theology. Since time is the measurement of change in what is created, it must have been created along with the rest of the world and its contents.  James Dolezal notes,

“Properly considered, time is not an entity or an essence but rather is merely a relation between things that change and are liable to change. Time is concreted with all creatures insofar as it is the measure of all their movement. When we speak of time as a realm we do not mean to imply that it is like a container or box in which temporal things exist, rather we denote simply the created order which is populated by beings that are subject to and undergo change and thus are measured temporally.”

“Eternal Creator of Time” from Journal of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies, 2014

The act of Creation is an eternal act of God and it was not just one or two persons of the Trinity that were involved in said act.  They were all participants in the act of Creation. We know that Scripture discusses this in different places.  It was the full being of God making the world out of nothing. Now what do I mean that the act of Creation was an “eternal” act of God? How can the act of Creation be an eternal act if it happened at the beginning of time? God exists outside of time. We see this in passages such as 2 Timothy 1:9 and Titus 1:2.

2 Timothy 1:9

who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,

Titus 1:2

in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began,

In both these passages God works outside of time. He is not bound to it nor is he measured by it. Dolezal notes,

“Both 2 Timothy 1:9 and Titus 1:2 describe God’s purposeful activity…Literally rendered “before times eternal” or “above times eternal,” the sense is that God’s intrinsic activity is not a temporally indexed event. In the context, the point is that God’s good purposes toward His people are not an afterthought with Him, but are eternally settled apart from the fluctuations of history.”

All That Is in God, page 79

This means that God acting as God is not held in place by time or the constrains of this created world. His actions are outside of it are therefore eternal. The conclusion then is that all the acts of God are eternal, including Creation. There was no point where Creation began with God and no point where it stopped. It simply is. With Creation, this means that there is an eternal act of Creation in God that produced a temporal effect in the production of material things (Dolezal discusses this in All That Is in God on pages 100-103). This is the only way to consistently look at all the acts of God with the biblical data that is presented to us. Keeping the principle in mind that Creation is God making things that are not God is important here as we are confronted with this difficult truth. God created the world and therefore He is not bound by time, He must be eternal. If He is eternal, all His acts must be eternal. The truth about God’s eternity is by no means an easy thing to grasp. In fact, we will not be able to fully comprehend it.

John Owen notes,

“How inconceivable is this glorious divine property unto the thoughts and minds of men! How weak are the ways and terms whereby they about to express it… He that says most only signifies what he knows of what it is not. We are of yesterday, change every moment, and are leaving our station to-morrow. God is still the same, was so before the world was, – from eternity. And now I cannot think what I have said, but only have intimated what I adore.”

A Practical Exposition upon Psalm CXXX from The Works of John Owen Volume 6, page 662

There is mystery involved. However, that does not mean that we should not pursue greater knowledge of God in things like this.  We should seek to know this God more! Mystery should not lead us to timidity. These men who came before us sought to know these things and so should we. This is the God we serve.

Change in God and Creation

Given what we have discussed about the eternal act of Creation, why is it so important that we defend this difficult doctrine of Creation? Who cares about how God created the world (whether it is an eternal act or not?). Is it not enough that the world was created?  No, it is not. If we are not careful, we can posit things about God that are in fact not true therefore creating a different God. Once it is placed in those terms, it should cause us to be incredibly careful with the doctrine of God. What may seem like trivial technicalities about the being of God to us, were by no means trivial to the orthodox in the church and to the writers of our confession of faith. If we go back to chapter 2, we see a detailed description of who God is (read chapter 2 paragraph 1).  We see from this paragraph the careful detail that is given to who God is.  One aspect of God’s nature that is of importance in relation to His creation of the world is what is called His simplicity and immutability.  Simplicity does not mean that God is easy to understand. It means that God is not composed of parts. This is what is being referred to in chapter 2 paragraph 1 where it is posited that God is “without body, parts, or passions”.  God is not “made up” of anything. There are no components to God’s being.  He is not dependent on anything outside of Himself to be Himself. He just is. God cannot become anything greater or lesser than He is.

Barcellos says,

“Confessing divine simplicity, eternity, infinity, immutability, and impassibility (WCF/2LCF 2.1) means that God cannot change from within or from without because of what he is and what he is not. He is God, the simple and immutable Creator; he is not in any sense a mutable creature, nor does he become one, in the sense of changing divine being.”

Trinity & Creation A Scriptural and Confessional Account page 43

Richard Muller notes,

“…God in himself, considered essentially or personally, is not in potentia because the divine essence and persons are eternally perfect, and the inward life of the Godhead is eternally complete and fully realized.”

Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms Second Edition, page 11

We see this doctrine by what is revealed in Scripture:

Job 35:6-7

If you sin, what do you accomplish against Him?
Or, if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to Him?
If you are righteous, what do you give Him?
Or what does He receive from your hand?

Acts 17:23-28

for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:

TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.

Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: 24 God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 And He has made from one [a]blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’

Exodus 3:13-15

 Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?”

14 And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” 15 Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’ 

Numbers 23:19

“God is not a man, that He should lie,

Nor a son of man, that He should repent.

Has He said, and will He not do?

Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good

Malachi 3:6

For I am the Lord, I do not change;

Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.

James 1:17

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

Hebrews 6:13-18

For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, 14 saying, “Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.” 15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. 16 For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. 17 Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the [a]immutability of His counsel, [b]confirmed it by an oath, 18 that by two [c]immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we [d]might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.

Daniel 4:35

All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing;

He does according to His will in the army of heaven

And among the inhabitants of the earth.

No one can restrain His hand

Or say to Him, “What have You done?”

Isaiah 40:14

With whom did He take counsel, and who instructed Him,

And taught Him in the path of justice?

Who taught Him knowledge,

And showed Him the way of understanding?

Given what the Bible says about the immutability and simplicity of God, how does that relate to Creation?  Because if God cannot change then Creation does nothing to make God something He was not before.  God cannot take on new properties to be God. God would not be a perfect being if He is able to take on new properties. There was no time where God was not the Creator. There was no new property that was taken on by Him given the temporal world that was brought into existence. If God could change due to Creation, then He is no longer the God that is explicitly confessed in Scripture as not being dependent upon His creation to be God.  We now have a God that is like us. We have fundamentally changed God.  The basis for the promises of God found in Word are now shaken.  This principle of change in God given Creation has been asserted by some in the Reformed camp (John Frame and K. Scott Oliphint). This view is far from what the writers of what both the Westminster Confession of Faith and the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith had in mind.  They confessed an eternal Creator who was before the world existed and continues to be.

Creation: Poetry or History?

In our final point here this morning, I want to touch upon a topic that Dr. Waldron brings out in his book on the confession. That is the topic on whether the Genesis account of Creation is a historical account or simply poetic, figurative language. There are those who have suggested that the Creation is simply figurative and should not be taken as actual historical record.  It has also been posited, that the terms for “day” in Genesis are referring to a time over millions of years.  Why are these assertions about the text dangerous? They seek to impose to the text what does not exist.  As to the argument raised about the historicity of the Creation account, there are problems with this view.  Dr. Waldron brings out some very helpful points. There is no reason to believe the account of Creation is given in any other way than by historical account. The language is given of a record and it is noted within time the events that took place (temporal effect of God’s eternal act).  Waldron notes,

“If we take Genesis 12 and following as historical narrative (and it would be a radical critical position to deny the historicity of Abraham), then it cannot be doubted that Genesis I-II is intended also to be understood as such.”

A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith 5th edition, page 90

It would be ridiculous to think that the account given in the Scripture is anything but historical given what follows it.  Unfortunately, higher criticism of the Bible leads us to question fundamental truths in the Bible not only on a theological level, but simply on a literary level.

Finally, we will address the falsehood that the term “day” means “age” or “millions of years”.  This is probably the most radical view, but one that appears to try to make modern day science and the Bible compatible with one another.  There is an underlying assumption that the theory of evolution must be true and therefore for Christians to be consistent, we must assume the text is talking about an “age” when it says “day”.  This is preposterous.  Waldron notes how it would be foolish to think that a Jew would read this and understand “day” to mean millions of years.  Waldron goes on to say,

“Furthermore, the meaning of day is defined in Genesis 1:5 as composed of periods of light and darkness, as well as evenings and mornings.”

A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith 5th edition, page 92

How this translates into “millions of years” is left lacking. This is what is called a non-sequitur. That means it does not follow. Just because A is given does not mean B follows. That is what is being asserted in this argument.  Also, historically speaking the theory of evolution did not exist prior to the Genesis account being written. It came maybe close to 3,000 years later. To read a system backwards into a text that says completely the opposite with no other supporting evidence is to create an anachronism that is laughable.  The text should be taken as it is.  God worked a supernatural miracle to bring about material things that are not God.  We should bask in the awesomeness of the power of God.  What did we say before? Why is the Creator/creature distinction so important? It keeps us from making God like us.  We are more hesitant to make assertions about God based on our experience when we have firmly grounded in our minds that He is distinct from us. 

Thoughts on the Textus Receptus: A Critical Text View

Author’s note: This is a revision of my opening statement from my debate with The Particular Baptist Podcast co-host Sean Cheetham. The content of this post is not representative of all contributors at The Particular Baptist.

CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s opening post by Sean Cheetham as he introduced this series with his position.

Recently, there has been a resurgence in debate as it relates to the text of the New Testament. Should the Textus Receptus (TR) be considered the “final word of God”? Those of the so-called “ecclesiastical text” or “confessional text” perspective would have us believe that the TR fits this paradigm. As debated in our last episode, Is the TR the Preserved Word of God? this was brought forward. To be clear, I do not mean to say that my opponent is “TR only”. He is not. However, I believe the core arguments for both “TR onlyists” and “TR advocates” are the same. Before moving on, I want to briefly provide context on what the TR (Textus Receptus) is.  The TR as it is known is really the combination of the Greek texts of Erasmus, Beza, and Stephanus. They each produced more than one Greek New Testament.  Their works would be utilized by the King James Bible translators.  The TR that is probably used most today is not strictly the works of Erasmus, Beza, and Stephanus.  It would be the work of Scrivener’s published Greek New Testament which is a work based on the underlying textual choices made by the King James translators.

Considering all the evidence we have is important if we are to honestly view the text of the New Testament. We should not simply pick a text-type, or a specific printed Greek text based on tradition or any other means that excludes honest historical evidence.  I believe that God has kept his Word pure in all ages as the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith states in chapter 1 paragraph 8.  I believe His Word has been preserved and kept from error.  This does not mean that the manuscripts were kept free from human mistakes as plainly seen by the over 400,000 variants that show up in our manuscripts which is more variants than there are words in the New Testament. But it does mean that in the tradition, God has kept his Word pure. As a side note, I do not believe that this confession is saying that a particular Greek text was kept pure, but that the text has been preserved in the manuscript tradition. James Renihan in an article titled “Our Confession and the Textual History of Scripture” writes on the historical accuracy of the claim that paragraph 1.8 is talking about the Textus Receptus. He notes,

“On the Confessional issue, I think that the matter has to be handled with great care.  On the one hand, it is easy to think that the language of the Confession supports the kind of doctrine of providential preservation promoted by modern defenders of the Textus Receptus.  But, in the study that I have done on the issue, I think that that is probably anachronistic.  Much more work needs to be done, but I think that the Confessional position is much more carefully nuanced than is sometimes represented to us today.”

He goes onto quote William Bridge who was a Westminster Divine and since the 1689 is based on the work of these Divines (at least in part), it can provide insight into what was believed by those scholars.  Bridge writes in his Works,

“How can we hold and keep fast the letter of the Scripture when there are so many Greek copies of the New Testament, and those diverse from another?”

“Yes, well; for though there are many received copies of the New Testament, yet there is no material difference between them.  The four evangelists do vary in the relation of the same thing; yet because there is no contradiction, or material variation, we do adhere to all of them, and deny none.  In the times of the Jews, before Christ, they had but one original of the Old Testament, yet that hath several readings: there is a marginal reading, and a line reading, and they differ no less than eight hundred times the one from the other; yet the Jews did adhere to both, and denied neither.  Why? Because there was no material difference.  And so now, though there be many copies of the New Testament, yet seeing there is no material difference between them, we may adhere to all: for whoever will understand the Scripture, must be sure to keep and hold fast the latter, not denying it.”

This statement by Bridge does not imply the settlement on a single Greek text or manuscript but taking the evidence that is given to reconstruct the original. What this means is that these men, at least with Bridge, would have loved to look at the other evidence we have today, yet would have held to divine preservation.  There may be a rebuttal that they would only be collating manuscripts of their day and therefore would not have envisioned using manuscripts found after their time. My response would be that nothing in what Bridge said implies only utilizing manuscripts of his day but discusses the method used to reconstruct the text. This method transcends manuscripts confined to a specific point in history and can be applied across the board.

Renihan goes onto quote Richard Muller who is a scholar in Reformed history from his Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms,

“specifically, variant readings in the several ancient codices of Scripture that lead to debate concerning the infallibility of the scriptural Word.  The orthodox, Lutheran and Reformed, generally argued that the meaning of the original can be recovered by careful collation of the texts.  In the second half of the seventeenth century, the argument was developed that inconsistencies occurred only in the copies, or apographa, and not in the now lost originals, or autographa, of Scripture.”

With confessional discussion aside, I want to address some assertions made by my brother Sean and bring out more detail than I was able to in our debate.

First, Sean asserts in a paper he wrote called, “The Word of God Kept Pure for us to Read in our Language” that modern textual criticism means text has been lost due to corruption. He writes,

“Modern textual criticism rests on the idea that the text of the Bible has become corrupt and is currently in the process of being restored…If it is true that the Bible was corrupt, then at best we could say that it was kept pure in some ages, but not that it was kept pure in all ages.  This is not to ignore the fact that the manuscript copies of the Bible do contain variances from one another, and clear deviations from the original text.  However, that fact does not mean the true church as a whole had a completely corrupted textual transmission.  We would expect by God’s providence that, even if only in a minority of manuscripts, the correct words of any part of scripture would be preserved somewhere in the Greek and Hebrew and at least some of the church would have access to it.  Any idea that part of the text has been completely lost to the church (even if only for a certain amount of time) should be rejected on its unbiblical nature.”

This argument is a strawman as it presents modern textual criticism as monolithic when it is not. Notice what Kurt and Barbara Aland said about the text’s tenacity in their book The Text of the New Testament on pages 291-292 and 294 respectively,

“The transmission of the New Testament textual tradition is characterized by an extremely impressive degree of tenacity. Once a reading occurs it will persist with obstinacy …. It is precisely the overwhelming mass of the New Testament textual tradition which provides an assurance of certainty in establishing the original text”

“It is probably quite clear that the element of tenacity in the New Testament textual tradition not only permits but demands that we proceed on the premise that in every instance of textual variation it is possible to determine the form of the original text”

They held that we have the original readings in our textual tradition without doubt, which by implication means God has preserved His Word and kept it pure in all ages.  To imply that modern textual scholarship as a whole means text has been lost is to misrepresent the position.

Second, my brother has asserted that we must determine the Greek text of the New Testament primarily by presupposition, meaning that since the Scripture is our ultimate standard, we must believe it to be the case from a textual stand point. Since his position holds the TR as the standard, we must believe that to be God’s Word, kept from error.  An evidence of this is found in his paper,

“Although there are variances between the printed editions of the TR, the variances are minor , and based on our faith in God’s word being preserved, we should expect that the TR editions should have the true reading somewhere and that it should be possible to identify which are true and which are false on theological or other grounds. Thus, we can say that every letter of God’s word is available to us complete and pure.”

To argue your view of a certain Greek text by using “presuppositionalism” is a misapplication of Cornelius Van Til’s system of apologetics. And if all agree that his systematizing of apologetics is truly biblical, an appeal to the Scriptures for authority on this apologetic methodology cannot be done without utilizing his method. Van Til did not apply his apologetic methodology to a specific manuscript or Greek text.  You find evidence for this in his book The Defense of The Faith on page 130 of the Fourth Edition,

“The proper attitude of reason to the authority of Scripture, then, is but typical of the proper attitude of reason to the whole of the revelation of God. The objects man must seek to know are always of such a nature as God asserts they are. God’s revelation is always authoritarian. This is true of his revelation in nature no less than of his revelation in Scripture. The truly scientific method, the method which alone can expect to make true progress in learning, is therefore such a method as seeks simply to think God’s thoughts after him. When these matters are kept in mind, it will be seen clearly that the true method for any Protestant with respect to the Scripture (Christianity) and with respect to the existence of God (theism) must be the indirect method of reasoning by presupposition. It in fact then appears that the argument for the Scripture as the infallible revelation of God is, to all intents and purposes, the same as the argument for the existence of God.”

In the referenced passage in his book, we see no mention of the “TR” or any specific Greek manuscript or text. In fact, in Van Til’s specific discussion of the doctrine of Scripture (on pages 127-136) he never once discusses directly the aforementioned items. Van Til’s point here has to do with the nature and authority of Scripture, not a certain Greek New Testament, or otherwise. Even if the rebuttal is that you are not strictly arguing what Van Til proposed, you are still utilizing his method, effectively borrowing from his worldview (ironically so, given Van Til argued the same about what the unbeliever does with the Christian worldview). And if you use the teachings of another individual as is done here in supporting the TR position, those words and messages still carry the meaning as they were originally intended. Just like when the unbeliever borrows from the Christian worldview, the meaning of those items he is borrowing do not change just because he is not giving God the glory. When we go to apply the teachings of a man, we should be careful to use them as they were intended, not as we want them to be. This is also not an argument from silence, as Van Til asserts his arguments for Scripture in the positive in relation to its authority and nature as opposed to anything else.  Also, this would be the place one would expect Van Til to address an issue such as a specific text of the New Testament as he clearly applies the same ontological argument for the existence of God to the Scripture being the infallible Word of God, but does so in the context of its authority and nature and not in any way implying a specific Greek text. But do not confessional text advocates argue a Greek TEXT by presupposition? Yet Van Til never argues a TEXT by presupposition, but the Scripture’s NATURE by presupposition. The only way this could be consistent is if a specific Greek text and the nature of Scripture are conflated.

After our debate, Sean had sent me a passage from R.J. Rushdoony in a book called Faith & Action, Vol. 1: Authority, Humanism & Morality where he asserts that Van Til came to believe his apologetic methodology should be applied to the underlying text of our Bibles. The quote from him is on page 569. There are three reasons I do not believe this to be accurate:

  1. Van Til’s book The Defense of the Faith was not recanted as needing to be updated. Given what I have established already about Van Til’s position on Scripture, would it not it be important for Van Til to have updated his work to reflect his new view? Otherwise, would it not lend us to believe his work remains as is given the evidence presented in this paper? In my next point, I note what Oliphant says about this specific work of Van Til.
  2. This book is still printed as representing Van Til’s apologetic methodology and therefore his conclusions. The conclusion or application of a methodology systematized by an author cannot be divorced from the methodology itself. If Van Til did in fact change his conclusion, the methodology would indeed have to change along with it. Since the notion of “presupposition” being applied to Scripture only encompasses its nature in Van Til’s mind, the the meaning of it would have to be expanded to include a specific Greek text. If 2+2 no longer equals four but now equals six, we would not simply look at the conclusion (six), but would want to know WHY 2+2 now equals six. This is because we would see a change in methodology that now changes the conclusion that was at once different. Given what I have said about Van Til’s methodology and conclusions, notice what K. Scott Oliphant who is the editor of the Fourth Edition said on page ix of the forward of The Defense of the Faith, “Given this context of controversy, this book should be seen as the center of Van Til’s long (forty-plus years) teaching and writing career. All that he had written and taught previously leads up to this book, and all that came after reflects back to it. In that sense, this is the book to read if one wants to understand Van Til’s approach to apologetics.” The controversy noted is about critiques that were laid against Van Til in relation to his apologetic methodology.
  3. Oliphant knew Van Til in his later years while in retirement not long before his death. He corresponded with him at length and learned from him in person ergo becoming an eye witness to teaching from Van Til.  This would likely be the time that Rushdoony asserted Van Til believed his apologetic methodology should be applied to the underlying text of the Bible. Oliphant, who inputs multiple clarifications of Van Til’s methodology throughout the book, makes no mention of this alleged key shift in Van Til’s philosophy. One would expect this to be addressed given Rushdoony’s claim about how much of a controversy this was between Van Til and Hills. We also have the positive statement by Oliphant in my previous point that clearly references Van Til’s work in The Defense of the Faith as representing the apologetic views of this great man and those views do not include application of those views to a specific Greek text. The only note that Oliphant makes on page 130 as it relates to the quote I used by Van Til is where he quotes the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 1, paragraph 4 on the authority of Scripture which is consistent with Van Til’s thought process in his discussion of Scripture.

Second, I want to address an inconsistency in Sean’s view of preservation and that the text the 16th century was “solidified”.

I want to demonstrate this by using the comma Johanneum.   He holds that the comma Johanneum is original, which creates problems with preservation on his own standard (the alleged grammatical issue created with the comma’s absence aside). The comma Johanneum does not show itself in the Greek tradition until the 13th century when a Greek copy of the Latin came into the scene.  This means that there is no early Greek evidence for this reading.  It only appears in Latin.  If a verse does not show up in the Greek tradition until the 13th century, and is later part of the text in the 16th century, doesn’t that mean the verse would have disappeared for nearly 1,200 years? This idea has been brought out by James White. Furthermore, does not this mean that the purity of the Word would not have been kept by God in all ages? This means that my brother cannot hold to preservation consistently with the very Greek New Testament he espouses as containing the Word kept pure. Even if you want to go to Erasmus, whose work was part of the TR, he did not include the comma Johanneum in his Greek New Testament until his third edition. If one of the framers of what would become the TR had issues with this verse, should that not cause one to pause and consider the authenticity of this verse? Luther’s German Bible did not even contain it since his New Testament was based on Erasmus’s second edition.

Dan Wallace, in talking about the comma Johanneum and about those who say the TR is the original text in an article titled, “The Textual Problem in 1 John 5:7-8” says,

“Modern advocates of the Textus Receptus and KJV generally argue for the inclusion of the Comma Johanneum on the basis of heretical motivation by scribes who did not include it. But these same scribes elsewhere include thoroughly orthodox readings—even in places where the TR/Byzantine manuscripts lack them. Further, these KJV advocates argue theologically from the position of divine preservation: since this verse is in the TR, it must be original. But this approach is circular, presupposing as it does that the TR = the original text. Further, it puts these Protestant proponents in the awkward and self-contradictory position of having to affirm that the Roman Catholic humanist, Erasmus, was just as inspired as the apostles, for on several occasions he invented readings—due either to carelessness or lack of Greek manuscripts (in particular, for the last six verses of Revelation Erasmus had to back-translate from Latin to Greek).”

This has now been updated to seven readings due to later findings.

Would not this mean Erasmus ADDED to the text?  Does not that mean there would be more than God had preserved? How is that consistent with God’s Word being kept pure in all ages? To be clear, Wallace’s discussion about what TR and KJV advocates argue in his first two sentences does not appear to represent my brother Sean. But it provides context to what Wallace is arguing.

As to the notion of a “solidified” text in the 16th century, Sean writes about this as well in his paper. He asserts that the text the Protestants had was solidified with the help of the printing press.

“So, if modern textual critical methods are unable to help us identify the true text, how do we know what it is?  We should expect based on the wording of the confession and the scripture that we should have the text that the true church of Christ has always had.  While it may be harder to see what the state of the text in the manuscripts was in earlier centuries, even with new manuscript finds, we do know what the text looked like that was available to Protestantism in the 16th century when the text became solidified with the help of the printing press. The Hebrew text of the Old Testament that was available was known as the Masoretic Text, and the Greek text of the New is commonly called the Textus Receptus (TR).”

Sean noted in our debate that “solidified” was referring to the lack of ability for errors to be introduced into the text which by implication means the text had to be pure. Erasmus and the Reformers did not believe the Greek text of the New Testament was “settled” or “solidified” in their time as evidenced in the fact that not all the “TRs” of the day even agreed with one another. For instance, in Luke 17:36, Erasmus omitted this verse but Beza kept it. Theodore Beza even made a conjectural emendation at Revelation 16:5 deviating from Stephanus (as discussed in The King James Only Controversy second edition on page 105).

John Calvin, who was one of the Reformers, did not believe in a “solidified” or “finalized” text either as evidenced by his own changes to the “TR” of the time through conjectural emendations. Again, refer to James White in The King James Only Controversy of the second edition on page 114,

“Hills also noted that Calvin went beyond Erasmus, adding eighteen other places where he rejected TR readings in favor of others. Calvin also made two conjectural emendations: (1) at James 4:2, in reading “envy” instead of “kill”, and (2) deleting 1 John 2:14, seeming to him a repetitious interpolation.”

Reconstruction had to be done to the text.

Weren’t Reformers and Erasmus the ones who challenged Rome’s view of Scripture being preserved in the Latin Vulgate? Weren’t they the ones who were reconstructing Greek texts in opposition to the status quo? How are TR advocates not falling into the same position Rome did by challenging those who would criticize the TR? There were those who even questioned Erasmus’s view of inspiration in relation to his Greek New Testament as noted in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Erasmus’s life:

“Critics of Erasmus’ New Testament edition accused him of introducing changes to a sacred text and thus challenging the principle of inspiration. Erasmus denied these charges. On the contrary, he said, his edition restored the original text and corrected the errors introduced by translators and scribes.”

It can be seen from this short historical survey that this idea of a text that could not have errors introduced into it was unknown to the writers of the said text, and the one who advocates for that view must remain alone as it relates to its authors.

In conclusion, preservation of the Scriptures is especially important. If there is no preservation of God’s Word, there can be no confidence in what the New Testament teaches and therefore we cannot know what God has told us. Our faith would have no ground without the Scriptures. However, holding onto false notions of what the Greek New Testament should look like leads us into misrepresenting history. We must not fall into such historical fallacies.

Who Can Stay His Hand?

The book of Daniel is a fascinating book. We see Daniel and his friends in the midst of exile serving a pagan king and being seeped in pagan culture. They rose to power as they served the Lord faithfully where they were, by working hard at the tasks they were given. In this, we see the hand of God providentially bringing about His purposes in Daniel and his friends. This is a perfect place to reference with regards to biblical evidence for God’s sovereign power over all things. Even early on in the book, these faithful ones are put to the test and God’s power was shown:

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.  He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it.

 Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do:  As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.  Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”

Daniel 3:1-6 (NIV)

They were given the choice to serve God or serve man. God then worked mightily in Daniel’s friends by showing His power to Nebuchadnezzar, who then praised the one, true God. But the king’s heart was still hard and he would not repent. And then chapter 4 comes. Here, we see the story of a king turned madman because he would not give praise to the one, true God, but rather saw himself as all powerful:

Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon,  he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”

Daniel 4:29-30 (NIV)

You would think at this point the king would have learned that God was not to be trifled with. He had witnessed on more than one occasion God working through His servants that were placed in Babylon. But Nebuchadnezzar continued in his arrogance and rebellion to God. He continued to give praise to his gods and even went as far as to say, “This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, Belteshazzar, tell me what it means, for none of the wise men in my kingdom can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.” (Daniel 4:18 NIV)

He was so arrogant that he said Daniel had the spirit of the pagan gods within him, notwithstanding all of the mighty things Daniel did by God’s clear power and the praise that the king himself gave to The Most High. God then brought the king low, giving him the mind of an animal. To be clear: it was not the king who brought his own sanity back, but through the supernatural power of God Himself. Notice what the response was after he was brought back from his low state:

At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.

His dominion is an eternal dominion;
    his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
 All the peoples of the earth
    are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
    with the powers of heaven
    and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
    or say to him: “What have you done?”

 At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before.  Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

Daniel 4:34-37 (NIV)

The king explicitly confesses the sovereignty of God above His creation. His creation is but a pawn being used to bring about His eternal purposes. There is nothing man can do to legitimately call into question the acts of God. Given that we are His creation, He has the right to do with us as He wills, and whatever that is, it is just, righteous, and pure. How arrogant are we when we say that God can not possibly have brought about this terrible thing or that terrible thing or that God does not have absolute sovereignty over all His creation, which includes our wills! Does God work against what man wants to do? Absolutely. See what the Psalmist says:

The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.

Psalm 33:10 (NIV)

Here we see two wills at play: the will of man, which plans and purposes, and the will of God which, foils and thwarts (or, as the ESV says, “frustrates”). Any notion of libertarian free will as it relates to God’s plan is moot given this passage. Man wants one thing, but God wants another, and His will takes precedent given that He is the Creator. He is the great “I AM”, the self existent one who needs no other to exist. His decree will come to pass infallibly.

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
    I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me.
 I make known the end from the beginning,
    from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
    and I will do all that I please.’

Isaiah 46:9-10 (NIV)

These truths should humble us and cause us to submit to God’s providence, however harsh it may seem from our perspective.

Notice, after the king’s restoration there is not one mention of himself in his praise to God. He has been emptied of himself and his pride, and ascribes all glory, honor, and praise to the One who is all powerful. We will close with commentary from Calvin on Daniel 4:35:

For although men make themselves of very great importance, yet Nebuchadnezzar here pronounces himself by the Spirit’s instinct, to be of no value before God; for otherwise they would not attempt to raise themselves, unless they were utterly blind in the midst of their darkness. But when they are dragged into the light they feel their own nothingness and utter vanity. For whatever we are, this depends on God’s grace, which sustains us every moment, and supplies us with new vigor. Hence it is our duty to depend upon God only; because as soon as he withdraws his hand and the virtue of his Spirit, we vanish away. In God we are anything he pleases, in ourselves we are nothing.

It now follows: God does according to his pleasure in the army of the heavens, and among the dwellers upon earth.

Calvin’s Commentaries on Daniel 4:35

I’m Not Simple Minded!

The book of Proverbs is full of pithy sayings that apply to the everyday, practical life of man. There are verses on taking bribes (Proverbs 15:27) or on being lazy (Proverbs 13:4). The book is meant to show its readers what it means to truly be wise in the sight of God. Being wise doesn’t mean that you have multiple college degrees or that you are able to explain Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, but rather it is concerned with our relationship to God. It has to do with our moral disposition rather than an intellectual one. We see this in the first chapter of the book of Proverbs:

For the simple are killed by their turning away,
and the complacency of fools destroys them;

Proverbs 1:32 (NIV)

In this section of Proverbs, we see the foundation being laid for the purpose of the book. Everything that comes after this is based on these principles. Here Wisdom is calling for those to turn from their ways of foolishness in repentance that they may live. However, those who reject the way of Wisdom will die. Essentially, the contrast is being made between the believer and unbeliever. The believer follows Wisdom, while the unbeliever continues in their foolishness and perishes. This is the hermeneutical context we find ourselves in as we progress through the book of Proverbs.

Lacking Discernment

The book of Proverbs has sayings for aspects of our lives that we probably would not think would be included in God’s Word. One of those is in relation to critical thinking. We see this in Proverbs 14:

The simple believe anything,
but the prudent give thought to their steps.

Proverbs 14:15 (NIV)

Here we see Solomon addressing how we use our minds. There are two people that are mentioned here: the one who is simple and the one who is prudent or wise. Charles Bridges notes on this passage:

To believe every word of God is faith. To believe every word of man is credulity. Faith is a principle of infinite moment. Eternal life and death hang upon it…But it must be grounded upon evidence, and it can only be exercised according to the character and measure of the evidence. An indiscriminate faith is therefore fraught with mischief…Cautious consideration should mark our general conduct; trying before we trust; never trusting an uncertain profession.

Charles Bridges, Proverbs Geneva Series of Commentaries

This seems straight forward, right? Why would we not use critical thinking in our lives? Why would we trust everything we hear? The truth is, we are prone to do so. In our immaturity, there can be times where our minds wander to things that just are not true. This can be in the political arena where people fall into the traps of having an overconfidence is certain political leaders while ignoring clear problems that arise in their worldviews and lives. More importantly, this can happen in the church. There are those who lack discernment and are led by different doctrines without stopping to think about the implications of the teaching they are following after. This is where false teachers thrive. They prey on those who lack discernment. They feast on the simplicity of others. This mindset is dangerous. It is not only dangerous because of what it can lead to, but the very act of lacking discernment is sin. Remember, to be “simple” or “foolish” in the book of Proverbs is not an IQ assessment. It is a moral disposition. This means that to fall into the category of a fool or a simpleton is to live in sin and therefore like an unbeliever. God gave us our minds to use them, not throw them to the wind for some teaching, worldview, or political candidate we might fancy. We are to carefully think about how we live, ultimately doing so in light of the Word of God. And how can we do that? By doing what the Psalmist does:

How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.

Psalm 119:9-10 (NIV)

How do I know I am saved?

 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;  and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;  and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble,  and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:5-11 (NIV)

This passage may seem like a strange one to quote as it relates for assurance of salvation. But Peter wants his readers to ensure that they confirm that they are really the elect of God. This leads us to questions like, “How can I know that I am saved?” “What if I have doubts of my salvation in light of my sin?” These are questions that all Christians have probably struggled with at one point or another and is not an abnormal feeling to have. But the Scriptures give us standards by which to judge our lives against as it relates to what the Christian lifestyle is to resemble. While there are multiple places in the Bible for what a Christian is to look like, no other book exemplifies this more than 1 John.

Background of 1 John

This book was written by the apostle John to combat false teachers in the church at the time. One of the charactaristics of false teachers was the lack of love that they had for the people of God.

A lack of love for fellow believers characterizes false teachers, especially as they react against anyone rejecting their new way of thinking…

John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary

John wanted those in the church to be aware of those who did not love God. False teachers would not love God’s people, they would not obey the commandments of God, and they would deny that Jesus is the Christ. These are the primary ways that distinguishes heathens from Christians.

The Importance of Gaining Assurance

Going back to the passage noted at the beginning of the article in 1 Peter, we are called to gain assurance of salvation. This is an imperative and is not optional for the Christian as they move along in their walk. Why would this be an important aspect of our pilgrimage? Peter provides the answer. Right before he commands believers to make their calling and election sure, he gave the imperative that Christians are to make every effort to gain characteristics of Godly behavior. And because of this, they were to make their calling and election sure. Peter then concludes that gaining assurance, along with the other characteristics mentioned, will prevent Christians from stumbling. In other words, a lack of assurance will hinder you from obeying God. If we are constantly struggling with assurance, there will not be growth in our walk with the Lord.

Evidences of Salvation

What are evidences of salvation found in 1 John that would help us to gain the assurance Peter is commanding the church to obtain? We see this in three key areas:

  1. Habitual obedience to God’s commands
  2. Love for God’s people
  3. Faith in Jesus as the Christ

First, John lays out in no uncertain terms what a Christian life is to look like. He begins his argument in 1 John 1:

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

1 John 1:5-7 (NIV)

John doesn’t simply go to how we are to live specifically. He begins with who God is and then notes how we should live in light of that. Since God is light we are to walk in the light. The Greek word here for “live” is περιπατῶμεν which means to walk or to tread around. In this context it has to do with how one lives their life. John compares the one who lives their life according to darkness and one according to the light. And since light is what God is, to live according to darkness contradicts what it is to be a Christian. John is laying out the simple yet important truth of the two worlds that the human race is a part of: of the devil or of God’s grace.

John then moves onto the specifics of what it means to be a Christian. In chapter 2 there is explicit teaching on what a Christian does:

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

1 John 2:3-6 (NIV)

This is one of the most simple evidences of what the life of a true Christian looks like. A Christian will obey the Lord. There will be a lifestyle of habitual obedience to the commandments He has laid out in His Word. This does not mean that every commandment is always obeyed, but the lifestyle of obedience will be there. If you claim to know God, but show not life of obedience you have no reason to think you are saved. You, in fact, are a liar. Jesus discussed the principle of obedience as well in John 14:

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

John 14:15-21 (NIV)

There is an equivocation between love for Jesus and obedience to His commandments. Love for God is not a feeling or an experience. It is deliberate, continuous obedience to what Scripture commands. The converse is obvious. Lack of obedience to God is to not love Him. That would make you a liar if you claimed to know Him and yet lived a sinful lifestyle.

Second, a true Christian will love God’s people. John makes this very clear:

This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

1 John 3:10 (NIV)

There is a special love that will be exhibited to God’s people (this is noted by Paul in Galatians 6:10). This love, as with the love for God, isn’t an emotional or experiential love but a love shown in action. This means that self-sacrifice is involved. There is concern for your brothers’ and sisters’ welfare which leads to action (this is seen in verses 16-18 of 1 John 3). The primary way that we do this is by ministering to one another in the local church. Joyfully giving the church of our talents and services displays that we love one another as Christ loved us. This love that the people of God have is such an integral part of being a Christian that this is how the world will know that we are true disciples of Jesus (John 13:35).

Finally, a true Christian believes that Jesus is the Christ.

Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

1 John 2:22-23 (NIV)

False teachers (i.e. false converts) will not truly embrace Jesus as the Son of God. If they did, they would exhibit it by their actions. Now this may seem like a strange qualification for a Christian. After all, those who are in modern evangelicalism generally believe in the deity of Christ. However, the doctrine of God is key to understanding the rest of the Faith, since it rests on God Himself. In this case, the Gospel is at stake. The deity of Christ goes to the heart of the Christian message of salvation. It wasn’t simply a man that came and died for our sins, but the God Man that took on the wrath of God. If we deny the deity of Christ, there is no consistent Gospel to give. There is no real atonement for sin, as a mere man cannot bear the eternal wrath of God. To deny the Son is to reject the Father, as Jesus is the Word that reveals who the Father is. You cannot have one without the other. Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ?

What About Remaining Sin?

We have established three key evidences of salvation. But how does this relate to remaining sin in the life of the Christian? If a Christian is one that habitually obeys God’s law, what does that mean for the sin I continue to do? We know from 1 John 1:8 that we as Christians still have sin in them and to claim that we do not would be speaking a falsehood. We also know from Romans chapter 7 that the SAVED apostle Paul (how anyone can somehow read the present tense language in this chapter given the context and consistently say it is referring to a “pre-saved” Paul is beyond me) discusses his struggle with sin.

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.

Romans 7:14-19 (NIV)

Clearly, we see an on going struggle with sin. Paul doesn’t say that he did sin at one time and stopped, but that it is something that he keeps on doing. How do we hold to what is explicitly taught here with what is explicitly taught in 1 John?

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

1 John 3:4-6 (NIV)

Paul says that he keeps doing the thing that he doesn’t want to do (that is, sin) and yet it says in no uncertain terms in the above passage that the one keeps doing that “thing” is not a Christian. What gives? The issue here is not so much the specific frequency of the sinning as it is the nature of the act itself. Is the sinning a practice? Is it defining who you are? Are you bent toward sin? Is your lifestyle mostly marked by sin? These are ways that we reconcile these two passages. And this is informed by other places in Scripture that describe what the life of a lost person looks like. Take the book of Ephesians for instance in the second chapter:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

Ephesians 2:1-3 (NIV)

We see here a bent toward that which is evil for those who are unsaved. There is a natural inclination toward sin. It comes easy to the heathen. There is no godly sorrow for sin. There is no repentance or a desire for righteousness. Their desire is to live in gratification of their sinful lusts without a thought given to truly living according to Scripture. This is the difference that we see between the cry of the true believer in Romans 7 where he loves God’s law, sees the sinful condition in his very being, and is repentant of it and the person who swims in his lusts day after day. This is the “practicing” of sin that is being referred to the the apostle John. This does not, however, take away from the seriousness of sin in the Christian’s life. It is incompatible with their new nature in Christ. We must be repenting of sin on a regular basis and putting to death our old man.

Sounds Good, But How Can I Know I’m Saved?

Scripture gives us standards by which to test ourselves to see if we are really believers. As Christians, we must be vigilant to do this and it will not necessarily be easy. But in light of what we have discussed, ask yourself these questions to gain assurance: do you love God’s law and obey it habitually? Do you love God’s people and give yourself for them? Do you believe in the Christ that is revealed in Scripture? If so, then you can be assured that you are the Lord’s. If you do not meet these standards for what a Christian looks like, then you need to repent of your sins and place your faith in Jesus and in Him alone for your salvation with no confidence in your own works, but trusting in the work that He did in His perfect obedience to God’s law and His wrath-bearing sacrifice on the cross. Only in Christ can you have true assurance of salvation.

Does God Change His Mind?

One day I was perusing https://soteriology101.com/ and came across an article that caught my attention. It is titled, If God Changes His Mind, So Can I” by Drew McLeod. This caught my attention because it has implications for the doctrine of divine simplicity. This doctrine has been addressed before by another contributor to this blog site, Andrew Warrick, in previous posts. But in short, divine simplicity teaches that God is not composed of parts or passions (which would also constitute as parts in God). There is nothing in God that isn’t fundamentally God Himself. God is completely a se meaning He is self sufficient and therefore pure act. What this implies is that God cannot change. He is not able to become anything more than He already is and there is no possibility of Him becoming less than He already is. In other words, there is not potentiality in God. He just is. Let us look at the article.

Mr. McLeod begins the article with a story about how he gave up on praying for healing because he did not receive the response he desired for himself or for others. He then goes on to discuss when he began praying for healing again. He makes an interesting note:

“I remember the night that I prayed for healing again for the first time. I begged God, “If you’ll sustain Baby and heal it, I promise to always say at least one prayer for every single healing prayer request I hear from here on.” I thought maybe God would change his mind about his “no’s” that he had been giving me.”

The last sentence is what stands out. The assumption here is that God has His mind set on the “no’s” necessarily, and therefore He would be required to change His mind to “yes’s” to provide the answer Mr. McLeod was looking for. This assumption is faulty. How does Mr. McLeod know that when God says “no” to one or more instances, that He intended to leave it that way? This statement only makes sense if he believes God was actually intending on continuing to say “no” to a particular request for all eternity or give a final “no” for any particular request. Otherwise, there would be no need for God to actually change His mind. Would Mr. McLeod be content to say that He is able to say “no” temporarily or that God may be working in a way that helps us to understand Him since He is in a different category of being than we are? This doesn’t appear to be the case.

He then provides Scriptures which allegedly show that God really changed His mind on certain matters. These are Isaiah 38, Exodus 32:9-10, 33:19, and Jeremiah 18:1-11 to name some. I want to address his use of the first story he provides.

Hezekiah and his death predicted (Isaiah 38:1-6)

In this chapter we see king Hezekiah coming to the point of death. Isaiah brought the grim news to the king in verse one where he says,

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”

Isaiah 38:1 (NIV)

This news hit Hezekiah hard and it led him to cry out to God to deal kindly with him based on the righteous life he had lived (v. 3). God then appears to relent from bringing about the prophecy and adds fifteen years to the life of Hezekiah. Mr. McLeod attempts to use this as an example in Scripture to show that God actually changed His mind. While on the surface this may seem like a slam dunk for Mr. McLeod’s position, he misses what is really being communicated in this passage. Just six chapters later in the same book, God reminds the Israelites that He is the one who is sovereign over all.

“Remember this, keep it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels.Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that I will bring about;what I have planned, that I will do.

Isaiah 46:8-11 (NIV)

What is ironic is that this passage continues the line of thought from chapters 38 and 39 of the same book. Hezekiah recovers from his illness in chapter 38. Hezekiah then gives the Babylonians a tour of his kingdom and Isaiah tells the king that the Babylonians will come and take everything from him. Then, from chapter 40-55, we see the prophet talking to the Babylonian captives (The Reformation Study Bible note on this section is helpful). This means that chapter 38 is not to be disconnected from chapter 55. And chapter 46 falls in the middle of these passages about Babylon. Therefore, Isaiah could not have meant that God was actually changing His mind in chapter 38. God is the one who reveals His plans. He will accomplish His purposes and this power is grounded in His very nature. To say that God somehow did not have Hezekiah’s life planned before hand is to grossly neglect other passages of Scripture which say otherwise. Another example is in the book of Numbers, where we have explicit, unequivocal language about the nature of God’s decree:

God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?

Numbers 23:19 (NIV)

This is the importance of proper hermeneutical principles when looking at Scripture, as the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith notes in Chapter 1, paragraph 9, where it says,

The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly.

2nd LBCF 1.9

We have explicit teaching from Isaiah 46 and Numbers 23 about the nature of God’s plan and decree. That must be used to shed light on the passage in chapter 38 that is less clear. Otherwise we will come to the same conclusion Mr. McLeod has. Another interesting observation to note: Mr. McLeod bases the view that God changes His mind in this story on God’s ability not to lie. However, if God can actually change His mind on something that He said would come to pass, how is God being truthful at that point? Isn’t that a falsehood then? This simply means that Mr. McLeod has pushed the problem of God’s integrity back without actually solving the problem. If God is able to change His mind about something He said will definitively happen, how can God be trusted? Could God change His mind about the efficacy of the Gospel? Or of the promised inheritance to come for God’s people? Sounds very much like an Open Theist, although I don’t think Mr. McLeod would say he is one.

What does this passage indicate?

We have established that this passage cannot in any way imply that God is actually changing His mind when it comes to Hezekiah. If that is the case, what is God doing? There isn’t necessarily an easy answer to this question. Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology notes,

The situations with Hezekiah and with the intercession of Moses are similar: God had said he would send judgement, and that was a true declaration, provided that the situation remained the same.

Systematic Theology, pg. 165

If Hezekiah had not actually prayed, God would have let him die of his sickness. This doesn’t mean that God is held at the whims of men’s actions, but that He responds to men as the actions are in that particular moment (Grudem talks about this on the same page referenced above). This is also a matter of perspective. From our perspective, without knowing everything that will happen, it appears that God has gone from one state of mind to another. But from the point of view of the one who is beyond time and is pure act from everlasting to everlasting, it is simply the outworking of His plan.

Conclusion

Mr. McLeod has left hermeneutical principles behind in the construction of his article. It is dangerous to formulate a theological worldview based solely on your perceived implications of biblical narratives, especially when you ignore clear passages directly addressing the topic at hand. The implications are frightening: if God can change His mind about this, then what else can He change His mind about? What else is not “set in stone”? Is God simply at the mercy of what humans do without the power bring about His purposes? These are questions that Mr. McLeod does not answer in this article, but need to be addressed. We serve a God that cannot lie, that cannot change in any way, and that will bring about His plans, human choices and actions notwithstanding. This is the God of the Bible.

COVID-19 and Anxiety

COVID-19. This virus has taken over the news outlets as of late. You can’t scroll through Facebook without seeing coronavirus posts of some kind. There are ones that report news. There are also others that report opinions on what appropriate safety actions to take to prevent spreading the disease. The virus pandemic has led to much fear, leading people to react sharply such as buying excessive amounts of toilet paper. The government has told people to stay home. We are to practice what has been called “social distancing”. There seems to be a move toward the country shutting down. These are most certainly troubling times and will lead to worry. In light of these circumstances, how are we as Christians to respond to this outbreak? The Scriptures provide us answers for this. Our Lord in the sermon on the mount was teaching the disciples what it means to live in God’s kingdom. He was giving them a clear picture of what a life that has been changed by God looks like. How those in God’s kingdom deal with worry and anxiety is dealt with head on by Christ further showing that every aspect of life, even where our food, clothing, and daily provisions come from, is important to God. Jesus’s instructions begins with an imperative:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on…For the Gentiles seek after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 6:25,32-33 ESV


Jesus had just finished discussing the folly of pursuing financial gain, forbidding the storing up of treasures on this Earth. Then he shifts to the “why”. Because God will provide for us. Because treasures are not to be stored and prized above God and because we cannot both love God and money, we are not to be anxious about where our provisions will come from. Those who are consumed with material things only show that they are being sinfully anxious about this life. Jesus contrasts that lifestyle by commanding Christians to rely on their heavenly Father and not their treasures. They are to have their eyes so fixed on Him that they don’t worry about those earthly treasures. We are to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Doing so is resting in His provision for His people.

What does this mean in light of the COVID-19 pandemic? It’s a simple proposition laid out by Christ. We are to not fall into sinful worry. Christians are not to fear death nor are we to panic. Followers of Christ serve the omnipotent God who’s providence guides all events and is even in control of this virus. We should have no fear. There should be no fear mongering from Christians. We should instead be looking for ways to encourage other believers to further trust the God in light of this pandemic. Unnecessary anxiety is sin. Jesus said that those who worry about their lives are those who act like Gentiles. These are things that unbelievers chase after! The lost world doesn’t hope in God. The lost world relies ultimately on themselves and what they can see and/or control. We are to be better! Our lives as Christians are to be marked with obedience to God which includes trusting His provision to take care of our needs. Doing anything less is simply sin. This means stop buying massive amounts of toilet paper. How we as Christians react to this pandemic will show where our trust lies. If we panic, we only prove we are acting like sinners. We are living as if there is no God.

However, the call to not worry about your life doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have healthy concern. Nor does it mean we shouldn’t plan.

The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes to poverty.

Proverbs 21:5 ESV


We should plan and purchase items appropriately in response to this virus. It might also mean placing our worship services on pause for a time as a way to be prudent. But these activities should not be a response that doesn’t have hope. We know that God will provide and take care of His people, and if he calls us home we have the promise of being in His presence where all death and disease will cease. We would do well to remember the words of the Psalmist,

For he will deliver you from the snare and from the pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and a buckler.

Psalms 91:3-4 ESV

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