Loving our Neighbor as Ourselves Means Rebuking Them

The above picture is of two bumper stickers I have on my car. The “Hate Crime” sticker is one I had custom made. The idea for the wording isn’t mine; I got it from a sign that I saw a Facebook friend holding. On the surface it may seem a bit exploitive, using a charged term in our culture to make a spiritual point. Some might even deny that failing to warn sinners of the judgement to come is a hate crime. They might say it may be wrong, but it’s not necessarily hatred. However, I think the Bible would teach otherwise. Jesus famously tells us that the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31). What many don’t realize is that Jesus is actually quoting from the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:18) when he uses those words. In the same chapter of Leviticus, the very verse before the quotation from Jesus, we read this:

Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.

Leviticus 19:17 (KJV)

Here God declares we shall not hate our brother, and this is immediately followed by a command that contrasts hating our neighbor: rebuking them. To let our neighbor continue in sin without at least a warning is to show hate to them. This may seem strange to modern world. If anything, to tell someone else that what they’re doing is wrong would be seen as demonstrating hate. People don’t have negative feelings to those around them when they fail to tell them that they are wrong, they’re just “minding their own business.” However, just as love, biblically speaking, is an act, not a feeling, so hatred is also an act. Just because one doesn’t have negative feelings toward his neighbor doesn’t mean it isn’t still hatred when he fails to help his neighbor. The real roots of failing to help one’s neighbor is cowardice and laziness. Cowardice, because that person doesn’t want to come under pressure for having called out sin, and laziness because we’d rather tend to our own affairs than help out a neighbor. Both of these are ultimately rooted in a prioritization of oneself over others, and this is a mindset we cannot, as Christians, have:

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

Philippians 2:3-4

So, we cannot hate our neighbors by failing to warn them. This includes our brothers in the church as well as unbelievers. If we truly are Christians, we should want to be told when we are sinning against the God whom we love. Surely, if our brothers are in Christ, they should want the same. If they are not in Christ, then they need to be warned that what they’re doing is sin and the Gospel needs to be proclaimed to them that they may be saved. Rebuking our neighbor also means rebuking them for the unpopular sins, not just the popular ones. Everyone wants to call someone out for the sins that are not socially acceptable, but are you willing to bring up sins that the culture finds acceptable or even sees as good? The command to rebuke our neighbor does not mean that we have to be harsh when we rebuke them. Sometimes kindly pointing out someone’s error is better. Other times, a more harsh tone is required (see Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthians for letting a man living in sin remain in their congregation in 1 Corinthians 5). This also doesn’t mean we need to be the sin police, constantly snooping in others’ live to make sure they’re not sinning. But if we see someone in sin and they don’t seem to be aware of what they’ve done, we have an obligation to warn them, if possible. I write this article as a rebuke to myself, as I have many times failed to warn others of their sin. So let us all remember to love our neighbors as ourselves and rebuke those in sin, for their sake. And if you are not a Christian, I implore you to repent for your sins which have put enmity between you and God. The wages of your sin is death (Romans 6:23), but in Jesus Christ there is forgiveness of sin. Turn to God and believe in Jesus and you will be saved.

A Response to “Should You Dine Out on the Sabbath?”

This article is a defense of the idea that believers shouldn’t eat out or do other things that cause unbelievers to do work on that Sabbath based on the fact that we have both command and example to do so. It will also respond to Andrew’s article (found here) where he responds to my view and presents his own view of who needs to keep the Sabbath. Note that this is not a defense of the belief that believers in the New Covenant should be keeping the sabbath day. That understanding of the sabbath as moral law will be assumed.

Moral law

The sabbath commandment is part of the moral law. It is found in the Ten Commandments, the summation of the moral law:

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Exodus 20:8–11 (KJV):

Note that the sabbath command is not merely for the individual to keep for himself, but also that he should not make those around him and in his employ work. The term stranger is especially interesting. The underlying Hebrew word is defined as:

גֵּיר a guest; by impl. a foreigner:—alien, sojourner, stranger.

Strong, J. (2009). A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Vol. 2, p. 28). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

The same term (and Hebrew root) is used in Leviticus where the context clearly shows this is referring to a gentile.

And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. 34 But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Leviticus 19:33 (KJV)

Thus, the command would tell us that everyone whom we have the power to make not do work for us, we should do so, regardless of their status with God. It is in our power to make those who serve us at restaurants not do additional work. When you go out to eat on the sabbath day, you are making cooks cook for you, servers serve you and bus boys clean up after you, and this would thus be a violation of this command. Neither would the fact that they would be working anyways be a valid excuse. Even if they are working we should not add to their load, and also if it is sinful in its own right we should not participate in it. Just as we would recognize that a person who drives a pregnant mother to an abortion clinic has no excuse for their participation in the sin of the mother, even if the mother would have found another way to get there, we should be careful not to make excuses if indeed it is a sin for an unbeliever to work on the sabbath.

Responses

Getting into some interaction with Andrew’s article, I agree with Andrew (and the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith) that the sabbath is both positive and moral in its character. Positive here means that something is commanded but is not universally moral in nature. For example, the command to not commit adulatory is moral in nature, it is universally wrong for all time. The command to keep the feast days of the Mosaic Covenant are positive, as they are not binding on the conscience of believers today, but were only for the people of that time. It would have been wrong for the Jews to ignore the feast days, but it is not wrong for us not to keep them. The Sabbath is both moral in that it is a creation ordinance designed for the worship and remembrance of God, and positive in that it was initially enacted on the 7th day of the week, and now is enacted on the 1st day. However, just because something is positive in its character doesn’t inherently mean that all men aren’t obliged to follow it. God has given all creatures to eat as food (Genesis 9:3). This is a positive command as prior to the fall where there was no death, and thus humans would not have eaten animals. It would be wrong for someone today to insist meat couldn’t be eaten despite the fact that this is positive law, because that positive law is given for all men, and it lays on the foundation of moral law (it’s wrong to force someone to do what God has not commanded). So the question then becomes is the Sabbath for all or just believers? Paul reminds his gentile hearers in Galatians that:

For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. 11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. 12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. 13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: 14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith

Galatians 3:10-14

Thus even the Gentiles were under the curse of the law, although they were not underneath that Covenant. How else would Christ be able to redeem them (us) from the curse of the law if they were not under that curse? The curse is for “all the things which are written in the book of the law,” which is a quotation that comes from Deuteronomy 27:26. Thus, by the Apostle Paul’s inspired interpretation, the Gentiles were cursed because they too did not keep the whole law as contained in Deuteronomy. If this would apply to the ceremonial laws, how much more the moral like the sabbath command?

Andrew also views the sabbath command as having a twofold purpose, for acknowledging God and His work of creation and proclaim by type the true rest that one has in Christ. To these, I’d like to add a third. The sabbath command has the purpose of giving physical rest to those who are weary. The version of the 4th commandnet in Deuteronomy reads as follows:

But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou. 15 And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.

Deuteronomy 5:14-15

The sabbath is not merely for worship of God (although its more important aspect is about that). It is also about achieving physical rest for those who labor. The reason God gives here for the sabbath command is so that servants can rest physically. He even reminds the Jews of their time in Egypt, when they needed rest and were not given it out by Pharaoh (Exodus 5:5-23). Thus we should remember those around us and make sure they are able to rest physically. When we go out on God’s appointed day for rest, we are preventing those that serve us (at least in part) from having the rest that they need. Another example that the concept of sabbath is also about rest is the land sabbath that Israel was supposed to keep. Although not the same as the weekly sabbath (and not moral law), it is still useful for our understanding of the sabbath. God tells the Israelites if they don’t obey the land sabbath command he will remove them from the land with the the result that:

Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies’ land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths. 35 As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest; because it did not rest in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it.

Leviticus 26:34-35

God cares about even the land getting its rest. If he cares about the land getting its rest, surely he cares about those made in His image to get theirs.

Andrew’s main argument is that the command to keep the Sabbath can only be kept by the covenant community, and thus shouldn’t be applied to unbelievers working on the Sabbath today. In his view the sabbath is to be kept holy and the means of doing so is by resting so that the day can be devoted to God. Unbelievers aren’t resting for the purpose of keeping the day Holy unto God, so even if they were to rest, it wouldn’t be fulfilling the command. In talking with him, he also makes it clear that those on the covenant land were also supposed to keep the command to not do work as this foreshadows the rest all will have in Christ. Ultimately I think this is contradictory, if the sabbath is solely about the worship of God, how is it that the sojourner in Israel must not work when they don’t worship God? Why is that tied to the moral law in the ten commandments, if the part about having others rest can only be fulfilled in the Old Covenant, as there is no covenant land today? If they are to rest regardless of their status towards the covenant, then why would we in the New Covenant not care if those outside the covenant get their rest? Any stranger coming into the land would know God’s requirement to rest on the seventh day (assuming the Jews were actually keeping the practice at the time). It would have been hard for them not to:

In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals. 16 There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. 17 Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day? 18 Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath. 19 And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day. 20 So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice. 21 Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no more on the sabbath.

Nehemiah 13:15–21 (KJV)

Notice some important things about this passage. First it is explicitly mentioned that there were merchants from Tyre coming to Jerusalem. These men as gentiles would not have been part of the covenant community. Second it explicitly mentions that the traders from Tyre were bringing in their wares and selling them. This highlights what their sin was as they were both working and causing the children of Israel to sin by engaging in unneeded commerce. Third, Nehemiah puts guards around the city gates permitting no one to come in with a burden. The gentile traders weren’t excluded from this. Finally, Nehemiah says the traders still lodged outside the city walls and that he threatened them with violence because of this. These traders in context would have still included those from Tyre, so clearly those outside the covenant community can be condemned for violating the sabbath command. In all of this, Nehemiah in his writings didn’t need to include the details about the sellers of Tyre and what they were doing, but he did to make the point clear that they were also involved in sin. When the traders returned to Tyre, were they now no longer obliged to keep the sabbath, after having been exposed to the fact that God commands rest and worship on that day? How is this different from the person who knows the Church meets on Sunday, yet decides to work that day instead? If the Jews who were exiled from the land still would have had to keep the Sabbath, then the commandment is not about the land. If the gentiles were required to keep the law (even if we only have example doing so when on the land), then its not only about the covenant people keeping the Sabbath.

Andrew brings up the point that because the word “gates” in Exodus 20:10 is only ever used for gates of city and never private property, this was something to be exercised as part of the national covenant. While it is true, in the Old Testament (although not the New), the word “gate” only ever refers to city gates, I’m not sure that matters. We’re told the Sabbath is to take place in “all your dwellings” (Levitcus 23:3). Should we therefore conclude that when the Jews were exiled in Babylon, they could make any Babylonians work for them in their homes on the sabbath? The command surely would extend beyond the physical borders of the covenant community to any gentiles the Jews came in contact with. And if, as Andrew rightly points out, the application of the fifth commandment (honor your mother and father that it may go well with you in the land) changes from the “land”, to the “earth” (Ephesians 6:3) why would we not expect that the application of the “stranger that is within your gates” to apply more universally as well? To say otherwise would make this the only commandment that had a portion of text in no way apply today, which would be odd for something that’s supposed to be the summation of the categories of the moral law.

I would also be remiss if I did not bring up the New Testament commentary on the Sabbath. Jesus tells us:

And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath

Mark 2:27 (KJV)

The Sabbath was made for man in general. There’s nothing in the context that would make us conclude this was something for the Jews only. In its original purpose, all were to be blessed by it.

Application

Andrew does bring up a very important point and the end of his article that I want to highlight here:

Our message to unbelievers should be this: repent and believe, be baptized, and keep the Sabbath — in that order. We should no more want them to keep the Sabbath before joining the covenant than we should want them to be baptized before professing faith.

https://theparticularbaptist.net/2021/03/13/should-you-dine-out-on-the-sabbath/

Amen. To those reading that are not in Christ I implore you not to come away from this article with the idea that sabbath keeping will make you right with God. By works of the law no man will be justified in His sight (Romans 3:20). Even if you were to keep the sabbath command perfectly from now on, you still would not atone for your past Sabbath breaking, nor would you atone for your other sins (James 2:10-11). In order to have your sins atoned for and be in right relation to God, you must put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1, Romans 3:25-56). His death on the cross for sin and righteous life are applied to our account when we believe. The Scripture says any other path to God will lead in your condemnation. Neither will it be that only those who have my view of the sabbath will be in heaven. Perfect understanding of the moral law and its application is not a requirement for salvation.

However all that being said, just because we aren’t seeking people to follow the law apart from Christ, it doesn’t mean that we should participate in their sin. Just as we wouldn’t sell a gun to someone we know intends to commit murder with it, we also would not want to go and cause someone to sin by working on the sabbath, even if they don’t recognize it as sin. I would implore the reader to think through these issues carefully, as no believer should desire to cause a neighbor to live in sin.

All That the Prophets Have Spoken: Isaac on the Altar

Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?  And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

Luke 24:25-27 (KJV)

Though it may be hard to see at first glance, the entire Old Testament is a testimony to the Messiah to come. The above verses demonstrate this. Christ rebukes His disciples (who do not recognize that it is Him), for failing to realize that the Old Testament prophesies that the Messiah needed to suffer and enter into His glory. He reiterates this idea again later:

And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.  Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

Luke 24:44-47 (KJV)

Christians should be prepared to see Christ in all of scripture. In this post I’d like to go through one particular Old Testament story and how it, through the eyes of faith, prophesies of the coming Messiah and his sacrifice: the story of Abraham going to sacrificing Isaac on the altar in Genesis 22. This is a text that leaves many well-meaning Christians confused, as child sacrifice is very much against the character of God, but I think when seen rightly, it really should cause awe and wonder at the brilliance and love of our God. As we go through, we will see some striking parallels in the text, as well as one very important discordant element.

And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.  And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

Genesis 22:1-2 (KJV)

In order to put Abraham to the test, God tells him to sacrifice his son. Already we see start the parallels between Isaac and Christ. God calls Isaac, Abraham’s “only son… whom thou lovest.” Although Abraham had another son (Ishmael), he was not the son of the promise, the son of his wife Sarah, nor did Ishmael live with Abraham any longer. Thus Isaac is called his only son. Despite God having many sons, (John 1:18), Christ is the only begotten Son of the Father (John 3:16, 18)1 as well as the Son whom the Father loves (Matthew 3:17). Additionally, we know from 2 Chronicles 3:1 that the Temple in Jerusalem was built on Mount Moriah. Thus the same place that Jesus was to be offered up (Jerusalem) was where Isaac was to be offered. We’ll pick the narrative back up where Abraham sees the place where he is to offer up Issac.

And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.  And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.  And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?  And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.  And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.  And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.

Genesis 22:5-10 (KJV)

Isaac has to carry the wood for his own death instrument just as Christ had to carry His death instrument: the cross of wood (John 19:17). Isaac just like Christ was to be slain and sacrificed while laying against wood. Notice also what Abraham says to Isaac: God will provide a lamb. Abraham is lying to Isaac, but later will be proven to be true as God does indeed provide something for a sacrifice. We’ll pick that thought back up after the final portion of the narrative.

And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.  And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.  And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.  And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.  And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.

Genesis 22:11-18 (KJV)

Again the text emphasizes that Isaac is Abraham’s only son. Notice even the detail about how the ram was caught. It was caught by its horns. Why this particular detail? If the ram was caught by its horns, that means the thorns were right next to its head, just as Christ had thorns upon his head (Matthew 27:29). There’s no good reason for this particular detail except as a foreshadowing of Christ. Isaac is not reported as saying anything or fighting his elderly father, just as Christ did not resist what was coming (John 19:8-11, Matthew 26:59-65). And as an interesting note, if one holds to the idea that the Angel of the Lord is the second person of the Trinity (which I do), this means that the Son is the one who speaks to Abraham, participating in the foreshadowing of His own death.

Despite all these parallels, the narrative now breaks away from paralleling Christ. Isaac is not actually sacrificed here, whereas Christ would be. Why is this? There are several reasons, but the one I want to bring out is that this points to the fact that a sacrifice is still needed. Abraham sacrificing his son would not have saved him. A better sacrifice was needed. Also, there’s the fact that Abraham said a lamb would be provided. When you read through the story, it feels wrong, that Abraham would say God would provide a lamb, but instead a ram is provided. One would expect literarily, that if an element in the story was set up, it would be fulfilled exactly. However, Abraham still spoke the truth. God would provide Jesus, the lamb of God (John 1:29), as a sacrifice, some hundreds of years later. The discordant element turns out to be perfectly harmonious when viewed in the light of Christ. The ram also speaks of the need for a substitute. God provided the ram so that Abraham was able to sacrifice it, instead of his son.

Abraham may have loved his only son, but God the Father loved His Son more. Yet He gave His Son up for a sacrifice. He put the crown of thorns on Him, and made Him carry in the instrument of His death. He then had Him slain; unlike with Abraham He could not spare Him. And here is the final parallel we’ll discuss. After Abraham goes to give up his son, he’s told that this act will lead to his seed and the nations being blessed. In Jesus, the true seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:16), the nations are blessed because now they are able to be freed from their captivity to sin. Because Christ lived a righteous life (1 Peter 2:22), and died as a penalty for sin (2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 3:25), all those that believe in Him by faith will be saved from the just wrath of the Father (Acts 16:31, John 3:36). What beautiful love that Father has for those who believe, that He gave His beloved Son on our behalf. If you are not a Christian, I urge you, repent and believe in the Son of God who gave Himself up as that simultaneously dreadful and wonderful sacrifice.

Photo by Geoffrey A Stemp from FreeImages

[1] The same Greek word used of Christ as only begotten (μονογενής), is also used of Isaac in Hebrews 11:17.

Does Genesis 6 Actually Prove Total Depravity?

In defending the Calvinist doctrine of Total Depravity, I’ve seen some pushback on a frequently used prooftext. Genesis 6:5, which describes the reasoning behind God’s decision to destroy the world, reads as follows:

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

Genesis 6:5 (KJV)

The Calvinist point is obvious. The Bible declares that the thought of men are always evil, therefore Total Depravity. However, I’ve seen non-Calvinists point out multiple times that this took place before the flood. The world at that time was at its maximum evil, but you cannot say that this is the same post-flood. Obviously, the world isn’t that evil.

On the face of it they do have a point. Genesis 6:5 in of itself does not say whether men continue to be as evil as they were when God destroyed the world. It’s merely a description of what God saw at that time. However I’d like to point out that the Bible does indeed tell us that nothing has changed post-flood. After the flood has taken place, God’s word tells us:

And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.

Genesis 8:21 (KJV)

God says He will not destroy the world again even though man is still evil and nothing has changed. By using similar language (the imagination of man’s heart is evil), He harkens back to His original declaration of why He would destroy the world and declares that state of man to be a present reality. We don’t get any sense from the text that this state is time bound, but rather that this is a characteristic of man permanently. So if God doesn’t destroy the world again, it isn’t because man is now better than he was, but because God said He wouldn’t.

But how, you may ask, is this possible? “Surely, while there are some wicked men out there, not everyone has an imagination that is evil continuously? This interpretation has to be incorrect,” one might say. I think this response stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of what good and evil are. Jesus declares to His followers in the Sermon on the Mount:

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

Matthew 7:11 (KJV)

Jesus can call those listening to sermon (including his disciples) evil. This is contrasted with the fact that Jesus recognizes they are doing good by giving good gifts. How can people be both evil and do good at the same time? It is because they do not do the good for the right reasons. Doing a good act doesn’t make you good if you’ve done it for the wrong reasons. All acts must be done for the love of God and the love of neighbor.

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Matthew 22:36–39 (KJV)

Have you kept the greatest commandment? Have you loved the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind? You couldn’t have possibly loved Him any more than you have? You couldn’t have read your Bible more to guard against the attacks of the enemy, or served Him any more than you already have? You could not have treated your neighbors any better than you already have, or been a better witness to them? As to the thoughts of the heart, God tells us that lust counts as adultery (Matthew 5:27-28) and hatred as murder (Matthew 5:21-22). Impure thoughts are still evil even if they don’t result in the corresponding evil action. The rich young ruler thought he had kept the law but Christ showed him that he loved his money more than God (Matthew 19:16-22). Any thought or action that is not perfect in its love for God and neighbor is sin, and therefore is evil. We may not think of it as evil, because we’re so used to it, and no one else on the earth has perfect love for God, but other men are not the standard for what is evil. God is. God is worthy of every single ounce of love we can produce (and more than that), but we do not give it to Him. Thus, when the world does good without regard for the God who made them, they demonstrate that they are evil.

For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.

Ecclesiastes 7:20 (KJV)
The Good News

I’d be remiss if I left the blogpost there without offering the hope that is found after the condemnation. Despite the fact that we are evil and cannot measure up to God’s standard, God has mercy toward the wicked.

6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6–8 (KJV)

The wages of sin is the eternal death (Romans 6:23), but Christ died for the ungodly. He took the curse we deserved (Galatians 3:13) and by believing in Him we are credited as righteous (Romans 4:5). If anyone today reading this blogpost feels the weight of their sin toward God for the first time, I urge you, flee to Christ, and you will find Him to be the perfect Savior.

Acts 2 Teaches Credobaptism

Acts 2 (specifically part of verse 39) is a favorite of paedobaptists to bring up in support of their position. I think this is very ironic however, as the passage very clearly teaches credobaptism. In Acts 2 Peter preaches his first sermon after the Spirit is poured out on him (Acts 2:4-5). This causes some of the crowd to become convicted of their sins and repent. After this, the apostles begin baptizing the new converts:

41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.

Acts 2:41 (KJV)

Whatever our interpretation of the rest of Acts 2, it must be consistent with this fact, that all those who gladly received the word, that is they who believed in the Apostle’s message, are the ones who were baptized. It does not say all that believed with their children were baptized, even though there would indeed have been children there as Deuteronomy 16:11 commands sons and daughters to be brought to the feast. Nor does it say that all the Jews were baptized as if being a Jew automatically meant that they were to be given the sign of baptism. It is only those whom the apostles saw had received the word that were baptized. Now on to the contested verses:

37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? 38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. 40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.

Acts 2:37–40 (KJV)

As you’ll note verse 39 does indeed say the promise is “to your children”. Before we conclude that this means all believer’s children should be baptized, we should first ask what promise this is. Because Peter has been talking about the Holy Spirit, it is most likely the promise of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. So the promise of the Spirit is to “you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Now as we’ve already seen not all the Jews were baptized so clearly the “you” must be conditional in some way. Additionally, no one thinks that “all that are far off”, a reference to the Jews that were dispersed from Israel out into the world and to gentiles, were all going to receive the Holy Spirit. These groups are conditioned by the phrase at the end, “even as many as the Lord our God shall call”. This it those who are called by God who have this promise. Thus is not to everyone who has the word preached to them, but those who receive what is called the inward call of God (see Romans 8:28-30 and John 6:43-48). So if the “You” and the “those far off” are conditioned upon the call of God, should we expect that the “your children” is not also conditioned by this phrase? The promise of the Holy Spirit is to those who are called by God, not merely any children of believers. And this interpretation fits in perfectly with what we see in Acts 2:41, that only believers were baptized.

To attack the pedobaptist interpretation from another angle, why is it that the children of those far off are not explicitly included in the promise? Why is it only the children of the Jews that are mentioned? If we search the scripture there is a connection to what the crowd of Jews said when Pilate was attempting to get them to choose Jesus for release:

25 Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.

Matthew 27:25 (KJV)

We know from verses 23 and 36 of Acts 2 that many people (if not all) to whom Peter was preaching were the same ones who shouted this on that day. Peter says they participated in the crucifixion of Jesus, and the only way that could be true is if they were part of the crowd that asked for Jesus’ execution. So in telling the Jews that their children were included in the promise, he gives them assurance that just because they invoked a curse upon their children, doesn’t mean they were doomed forever. (As a brief aside here, is our God not wonderful that despite such a rebellious act where they desired to be cursed, that God did not give them what they asked but pardoned their sins? What mercy He has.) If Peter’s statement about the children is to reassure the Jews, it explains why the children of those far of were not included in the statement, as they were not under any particular curse. Thus, this isn’t some universal promise to the children of believers anywhere, but rather a recognition that there is no category of person (Jew, Gentile, whatever), that the Lord is not willing to call to himself.

A final point I want to make is that repentance is a precondition for receiving the Holy Spirit (v38). Although it does not explicitly say that repentance must precede baptism, many pedobaptists (although not all), would say that baptism of infants mean they automatically receive the Holy Spirit at that time. This, however, runs contrary to Acts 2. Those who would receive the Holy Spirit must repent. Baptism alone will not do this, and to teach our children that they have received the Holy Spirit when they have not is a terrible thing that may lead to a false assurance. Our children should be urged to examine themselves and repent, not told immediately they are Christians when God has not promised any such thing.

Conclusion

So after looking at this passage in Acts 2, who is it that we are to baptize? Just like the apostles, we should baptize those that receive the word, that is those who repent and believe. This includes any of our children who are believers. We do this when we have reason to think that someone has received the word, not immediately upon birth when we don’t know if they have received the word. The hope that someday they might receive the word is not grounds to baptize them either. We need to follow the apostolic pattern for whom baptism is to be administered.

Believers Are More Blessed than the Mother of God?

My title is somewhat provocative and needs some explanation. Clearly Mary, was immeasurably blessed when she was chosen by God to be the woman that would bear the Messiah. This has lead to many professed Christians to highly elevate her status. For example the Roman Catholic Church states:

“All generations will call me blessed”: “The Church’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship.” The Church rightly honors “the Blessed Virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of ‘Mother of God,’ to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs…. This very special devotion … differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and greatly fosters this adoration.” The liturgical feasts dedicated to the Mother of God and Marian prayer, such as the rosary, an “epitome of the whole Gospel,” express this devotion to the Virgin Mary

Roman Catholic Catechism Paragraph 971

The blessing leads Rome to conclude that she should be given “special devotion” and that takes the form of liturgical feasts and Marian Prayer. However, contrary to what Rome and others might teach, the blessing the virgin received was actually a lesser blessing compared to what all believers receive (and we don’t see such devotion to the average believer). The word of the living God tells us:

And it came to pass, as he [Jesus] spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.

Luke 11:27-28

Here we see an example of what many today do. The woman was praising Jesus’ mother and announcing that she must have been blessed. And surely there is nothing wrong with the bear recognition that Mary was indeed blessed for having bore Jesus. However, our Lord wanted this woman to shift her focus for a very important reason. The blessing of hearing the word of God and keeping it is the one we should be focused on because it is the superior blessing. Why is this a better blessing? Because this blessing results in eternal life. Mary, as much of a blessing as it was that she received, would still have gone to Hell had she not also received the blessing of being able to hear the word of God and keep it and the same goes for us. This is a Gospel issue. We as fallen humans (even those in a regenerate state) are inclined to have our eyes stray off the eternal for that which is of lesser value. Our Lord warns us in the Gospel of Mark :

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

Mark 8:36

The eternal soul is of greatest importance, far more valuable than anything this world could offer. Focusing on the wrong things leads unbelievers to fail to realize the fullness of the danger they’re in outside of Christ. Christians are supposed to have their eyes fixed on the eternal (2 Cor 4:18) so we can warn those that aren’t in Christ and thus perhaps they might be saved. Proclaiming the blessings of Mary saves no one.

Conclusion

To those who have engaged in the adoration of Mary because of her Motherhood of our Lord, I implore you, do not exalt Mary more highly than the Lord would have her to be. Why focus on her blessing when the one who believes receives a greater one? Do not treat devotion to her as the “epitome of the whole Gospel” as the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church states (a most vile and blasphemous declaration). The true Gospel of Christ is that, through faith in Him, we are saved from the eternal death we deserve. So instead put your trust in the One that can save you from death, and praise Him for the completely unmerited blessing He has bestowed upon you. God has declared to you in His word:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

Romans 10:9

I pray that anyone apart from Christ will indeed hear those words and keep them.

The Word of God Kept Pure for us to Read in our Language

*Note this was adapted from a paper I wrote from Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary. It includes a partial defense of the Confessional Text position and thus is not representative of the opinions of all the writers on The Particular Baptist.

CLICK HERE to read the response by Daniel Vincent.

The doctrine of the Scripture is one of the most important doctrines of Christianity.  It is by this doctrine that we know how to find God’s will and the knowledge of how we can be reconciled to Him.  However, underpinning this doctrine is the concept that we actually have access to the Scriptures.  If we do not have access to them, it does not matter that they are the sole infallible rule of faith or that they give us the wisdom unto salvation (2Tm. 3:16).  The 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 in chapter one paragraph eight lays out the details of how we can know we have access to the Scriptures today. The confession reads as follows:

The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentic; so as in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them. But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have a right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded in the fear of God to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope.[1]

This paper will defend the statements of the Baptist Confession as being entirely biblical, will discuss the historical conflict with Rome over her authority and the puritan response that every word in the Bible had been kept pure as the reason that this paragraph is in the confession, and finally will demonstrate its disagreement with the assumptions of modern textual criticism. 

Biblical Basis

There are two major unique claims that the LBCF 1.8 makes that require a biblical justification.  First, that the Bible has been kept pure in all ages by God Himself, and second that the Bible should be translated out of the original languages they were written in into the language commonly used by the people reading them.  The other claims of the paragraph are either dealt with in more depth in other paragraphs of the confession (such as the affirmation that the church is to appeal to the Scriptures as the final authority), or are not usually disputed within church history (such as the affirmation that the Old Testament is written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek).[2] 

Dealing with the first claim, it is important to establish that God desires the scriptures to remain pure.  God cares about His word remaining free from the impurities put there by man.  He gives warnings about adding to or subtracting from His word in both the Old Testament (Dt. 4:2, Prov. 30:6) and the New Testament (Rev. 22:18-19).  The God who desires His words to be unaltered is able to prevent their corruption, as He can thwart the plans of man (Ps. 33:10-11). In various places, the scriptures testify that God has indeed kept them pure.  The confession cites Isaiah 8:20 as a proof text for this, which reads: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Is. 8:20).  In context God, speaking to the prophet Isaiah, tells him that rather than going to seek knowledge from the dead, through mediums, the people of Israel should inquire of God.  Thus, they should go to the law and to the testimony, as that is where God’s will is clearly laid out.  Between the giving of the law and the time of Isaiah several hundred years had passed, and yet God still points them to that law.  Clearly, if the law and testimonies had become corrupt whether by poor copying of manuscripts or by malicious intent, God could not tell Israel to go to them, as they would be unreliable witnesses to His will. Thus, by implication, God has preserved His will even across the centuries in the written word.  Outside of the prooftext used by the confession, there are others that can be appealed to.  Referring to the words of Psalm 82, Jesus says, “If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” (Jn. 10:35).  Jesus’ argument to the Pharisees rests on the idea that because the scripture calls human judges gods, it is appropriate for Jesus to be called the Son of God. [3]  If scripture could be totally corrupted, His statement that scripture could not be broken would not be true, and thus His argument would fail.  The Pharisees could (in theory) say to Jesus that they did not believe the original version of Psalm 82 had such words, and thus they were not bound by them.  But Jesus reminds them that scripture cannot be broken, and thus they must deal with what they know to be what scripture says.  A final proof text is from Matthew’s Gospel, which reads, Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35).  Jesus claims that even though something as fixed as heaven and earth will be destroyed, His words will never be destroyed.  In context, He is referring to His words regarding the destruction of the temple and of His coming.  However, the same confidence we put in those words not disappearing we can put in the rest of the scriptures not disappearing, as the same God that preserves them will preserve the rest.

The second major claim, that the scriptures must be translated, rests first on the idea that believers have a right to, an interest in, and a command to read the scriptures.  Because the believer needs and wants to have the scriptures, the confession states they should be translated so they can read them.  The believer desires to read the word because it contains knowledge of how to be saved (2 Tm. 3:15).  They have a have a right to the scriptures, as Jesus condemns those who take away the knowledge of how to enter the Kingdom of God:  “Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered” (Lk. 11:52). For the command to read the scripture, the confession lists John 5:39 as a prooftext, which the King James and Geneva Bibles (the versions the framers of the confession would be most familiar with) do translate as Jesus commanding the Pharisees to search the scriptures.  However, as Gill points out, the verse could easily be translated as an indicative.[4] Another verse that would convey the idea would again be Isaiah 8:20; as demonstrated above, God has commanded people to go to the law and to the testimony in order to find out His will.  Thus, the believer has every desire to have the scriptures.

However, just because the people of God have an interest in knowing what the scriptures teach, does that mean that they should be translated for them?  It would seem obvious that since not everyone is able to read the original languages, that translations should be made, but the Bible also implies this is the case as well.  The confession rightly sites several texts from 1 Corinthians 14 to demonstrate the biblical nature of the idea.  1 Corinthians 14 contains a discussion about speaking in unknown languages by supernatural gifting and its edification to the church.  Here, Paul lays out a problem: “Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me(1 Cor. 14:11).  The fact that the church might not understand what is being said is such a problem that Paul says later, But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God” (1 Cor. 14:28).   Thus, the argument for the translation of the Bible from this passage is as follows: because Paul says that the we need an interpreter, or else no one will know what is being said and be edified, we should provide an interpretation (translation) of the Bible, so the churches can understand what has been said to them by God.  Paul does not seem to be worried that the translation may not fully capture the meaning of the words of another language, so neither should we.  Thus, not only are translations of the scriptures the only reasonable to thing to do, to hinder the making of them would be to harm our brethren and those that would believe through the translations by denying them access to God’s word, which they have a right to.

Historical Background

In comparing the three, there is no difference between the wording of the Westminster,[5] Savoy,[6]  and Second London Baptist confessions of faith in Chapter 1 paragraph 8.  Renihan notes:

When it [the 1689] concurs with these other documents [the Westminster and Savoy], it can be read as an endorsement of the views espoused by those Presbyterian and Independents who subscribed those documents, and of the theological works they published in defense of the Confessional statements.[7]

Additionally, out of the questions debated at the 1689 general assembly, none of them were issues that deal with the preservation or translation of scripture.[8]  Thus, it is safe to conclude that the framers of the Second London believed that they were in line with what their paedobaptist brethren of the time were saying.  We, therefore, can look at both Presbyterian and Congregationalist writings of the period to gain insight into what the Baptists believed about the purity of scripture and its necessity of translation.  

            Protestantism in the 16th and 17th centuries had to respond to attacks by Rome on the source of its authority: the scriptures.  One attack was to claim that Hebrew and Greek texts were corrupt to show that Protestants needed to have the Church to have the scriptures.  Turretin summarizes the issue: “This question is forced upon us by the Roman Catholics, who raise doubts concerning the purity of the sources in order more readily to establish the authority of their Vulgate and lead us to the tribunal of the church.”[9]  Rome had declared that the Latin Vulgate with all its books and parts to be the authentic scripture and anathematized anyone who would say otherwise.[10]  Any other edition of scripture made would have to have the approval of the Catholic Church.  Some Catholics rejected the idea that there should be translations at all.  As Turretin reports: “Arbor says, ‘The translation of the sacred writings into the vulgar tongue is the sole origin of heresies,’ and Soto, Harding, Bayle, and many of the order of Loyola agree.”[11]  The Catholic translators of the Douay Rheims Bible obviously did believe in translations, but also declared that the Greek copies were corrupted by heretics and that the Protestant translations were “corrupting both letter and sense by false translation.”[12]  These ideas, if true, would be devastating to Protestantism, which was built on the bedrock that the word of God was the sole infallible rule of faith.  A compromise on the purity of the scriptures (either in underlying text or perhaps even in translation) could lead people to conclude that they needed an external authority to know God’s word and will, and that would lead to Rome.  John Owen, when confronting the idea that Walton’s Polyglot might lead believers to conclude the scriptures had become corrupt, commented on this idea: “We went from Rome under the conduct of the purity of the originals; I wish none have a mind to return thither again under the pretense of their corruption.”[13]

            Protestants, therefore, began to defend the Scriptures both by evidence that they had been perfectly preserved, and on the biblical mandate that God said they would be.  They also began to defend the veracity of their translations.  The common protestant view of the day was that each individual word of God had remained uncorrupted.  Thomas Cartwright wrote a work defending the preservation of the Bible against what had been said by the translators of the Douay Rheims and said that “no one oracle or sentence of God can fall away,” and “the old and new testament written in their original tongues cannot either by addition, detraction or exchange be corrupted.”[14]  The Westminster Divines made reference to Cartwright and to his work during the assembly, showing his influence.[15]    He also defends the idea that, while the English translations of his day may not have been perfect, more work would improve them.[16]  Thus, translations could accurately communicate the word of God to their readers.  Many of the members of the Westminster assemblies defended perfect preservation in their sermons and writings.  Daniel Featly, a Westminster divine,[17]  held that Matthew 5:18 (a prooftext for the confession) meant God preserved “the smallest parcels of Scripture.”[18]  Thomas Manton, another divine, speaking about the same text stated that “Christ hath promised not a tittle shall fall to the ground.  The word hath been in danger of being lost, the Miracle of Preservation is therefore the greater.”[19] Here an acknowledgment of the reality that while the Greek and Hebrew copies may have had errors in them, God’s word had still not fully passed away.  It was only in danger of being lost, not that it had been.  Thus, Manton was confident he had the word down to the tittle in his day.  John Owen, whom many of the particular Baptists admired, wrote “whole Scripture, entire as given out from God, without any loss, is preserved in the copies of the originals yet remaining … In them all, we say, is every letter and tittle of the word.”[20]  Owen thus explicitly affirmed that every letter of the word existed in the copies of his day.  This was the milieu that the framers of the 1689 Baptist Confession had grown up in.  They no doubt feared an attack on the purity of the scriptures would result into people returning to the kingdom of the great enemy of Christ, and thus felt, like their other protestant brethren, that their confession of faith needed to include a section on the purity of the text and a note on translation to affirm that God had indeed kept His word pure in all ages.

Modern Application

One practical application of this paragraph has remained unchanged from the time of the Reformation;  Rome makes similar claims today about the necessity of its authority in order to know what the scriptures are in their text, and they can be refuted on the same grounds that our protestant forbearers did.  However, a perhaps newer application of this paragraph in the confession is to resolve a modern controversy, namely whether God’s word needs to be reconstructed using modern textual critical methods.  While this may be a controversial opinion, the author of this paper finds that the modern idea that the text of the church has been corrupted and needs to be restored to be unbiblical and unconfessional. 

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.  Take the title of one of the books by Bruce Metzger, one of the leading authorities on textual criticism in the 20th century: The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration.[21]  Clearly, he viewed the text as having become corrupt at least at some point and believed that it needed to be restored.  Wescott and Hort, two major forerunners of modern textual criticism, wrote that textual criticism is the “attempt to present exactly the original words of the New Testament, so far as they can now be determined from surviving documents.”[22] Thus, they were not even sure that they could fully restore the original biblical text with the manuscripts in their day.  This has not changed since the days of Wescott and Hort, as some modern biblical scholars define New Testament textual criticism as “the art and science of reconstruction the original Greek autographs as closely as possible.”[23]  Even if the texts produced by modern textual criticism do not disagree in core doctrine from the text of the framers of the confession, they clearly are not certain of the faithfulness of specific words in parts of the Bible.

These ideas do not appear to be in line with either the biblical data discussed in this paper or the views of the protestant orthodox.  If it is true that the Bible was corrupt, then at best we could say that is 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.  If it were true, Jesus’ words in John 10:35 that “scripture cannot be broken” would be wrong.  Scripture could be broken, as we might not have its correct reading, and even if we did, we might not know it.  Thus, any power it would have over us would be null.  Finally, if our protestant forebearers could say they had the complete and uncorrupted word of God down to the letter in their day and be wrong, then likewise, we would not be able to say with full confidence that we have the uncorrupted version today.  This leaves the believer in a precarious spot indeed, and susceptible to Rome or anyone else would seek to undermine the authority of the scriptures. 

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).  Although there are variances between the printed editions of the TR, the variances are minor,[24] 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.  Ultimately, as the Baptist Confession says, “our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our heart”,[25] and thus it is the Spirit who gives us true assurance of the word of God, not a scientific reconstructionist textual methodology.  While this view is not held by the majority of the reformed today, the author of this paper does find it to be biblical, and that it would help strengthen the faith of many by assuring them they have the true text of the Bible and would help us in our efforts to witness to Rome or any other group that claims infallible authority.

[1] 2LBCF (1677/89) I.8

[2] It should be noted that there are a very few places where the Old Testament uses Aramaic instead of Hebrew, and there is a dispute about whether Matthew may have been originally written in Hebrew instead of Greek.  Overall, however, the statement of the confession about the original languages of the Bible is without controversy. 

[3] There is a popular interpretation of the Psalm that holds the gods being referenced are heavenly beings.  The author of this paper holds that they are human judges, although either view would not invalidate the point being made.

[4] John Gill, An Exposition of the New Testament (1746–48; reprint, London: Mathews and Leigh, 1809), 1:807.

[5] WCF I:8

[6] Savoy Declaration I:8

[7] James M. Renihan, Edification and Beauty: The Practical Ecclesiology of the English Particular Baptists, 1675-1705 (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2009), 20.

[8] James M. Renihan, Faith and Life for Baptists (Palmdale: RBAP, 2016), 37-43.

[9] Francis Turretin, Institutio Theologiae Elencticae., ed. & trans J. Beardslee (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), II, 21 Questions, Q 10, accessed August 26, 2020. https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/21%20Questions%20on%20Doctrine%20of%20Scripture.pdf

[10] Council of Trent, Session IV, First Decree

[11] Francis Turretin, Institutio Theologiae Elencticae., ed. & trans J. Beardslee (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), II, 21 Questions, Q 13, accessed August 26, 2020. https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/21%20Questions%20on%20Doctrine%20of%20Scripture.pdf

[12] John Fogny, Rheims New Testament, preface, accessed August 25, 2020. http://www.u.arizona.edu/~aversa/rheims_intro.pdf

[13] John Owen, The works of John Owen. W. H. Goold, Ed. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), Vol. 16:370.

[14] Garnet Howard Milne, Has the Bible been kept pure? The Westminster Confession of Faith and the providential preservation of Scripture (self-pub., 2017), 73.

[15] Ibid, 68.

[16] Ibid, 70.

[17] Although he would eventually withdraw from the assembly before its conclusion

[18] Ibid, 138.

[19] Ibid, 126.

[20] Ibid, 195.

[21] Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament (New York, Oxford University Press, 2005).

[22] Stanley E. Porter and Andrew W. Pitts, Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism (Grand Rapids: Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2015), 2.

[23] Ibid, 1.

[24] James R. White, The King James Only Controversy. 2nd ed.  (Bloomington: Bethany House Publishers 2009), 113.

[25] 2LBCF (1677/89) I.5

Can Rome Even Identify the Word of God?

A frequent claim by Roman Catholics is that Protestants need Rome to know what the Bible is. After all, how could we infallibly know the contents of the Bible? We need an infallible authority, and Rome is just that authority they claim. However, I’d like to pose a question: Can Rome actually identify what the contents of the Bible are? I know they claim they can, but their official pronouncements are contradictory, which leads me to conclude that even on their own terms Rome cannot tell us what the word of God is.

I’d like to investigate the difference between what the Reformation-era Roman Catholic Church says is contained in the Bible, and what modern Rome says. The first thing to understand is that the Latin Vulgate was affirmed as the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church at the council of Trent.[1] However, in the 20th century the Nova Vulgata (New Vulgate) was adopted as the official Latin text of the church.[2] So the question is: are there significant differences between these two editions of the Vulgate? I’d like to look at two texts to demonstrate that Rome can’t even identify the true contents of the bible.

Acts 8:37

Acts 8:37 is a contested verse because it is not well represented in the Greek manuscripts we have that survived to this day[3]. It reads as follows in the New King James Version:

Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”
And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

The New King James Version. (1982). (Ac 8:37). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

This verse was included in the Latin Vulgate of the Reformation era. An easy way for an English speaker to see this is to look at the Douay-Rheims version of the Bible, which was an approved Catholic translation of the Vulgate into English[4]:

And Philip said: If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answering, said: I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Acts 8:37, The Holy Bible Douay Rheims Version.

However, this verse is not included in the Nova Vulgata. As you can see from the Vatican’s website, the verse itself missing. All that remains is the verse number in parenthesis.

1 John 5:7

1 John 5:7 (known as the Comma Johanneum) is a hotly contested verse, because it doesn’t appear in very many Greek manuscripts, and the ones it does appear in were made very late[5]. Again, this verse is included in the Latin Vulgate of the day:

And there are three who give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost. And these three are one

1 John 5:7, The Holy Bible Douay Rheims Version.

So is it in the Nova Vulgata? This will be a little more difficult for non-Latin readers, as it does include a verse 7. However, it does not have the same contents as the verse 7 from the Old Latin Vulgate. A modern Roman Catholic translation will show the difference:

So there are three that testify,

1 John 5:7, New American Bible

There is a significant portion of the verse that is gone. So how much does this really matter for the Roman Catholic? It matters a great deal because as the Council of Trent declared:

But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema.

Council of Trent, Session IV, First Decree

Note that is says the “books entire with all their parts”. This would include Acts 8:37 and 1 John 5:7. So what are we to make of this then? Has Trent condemned modern Rome saying it is anathema for holding different parts of the Bible? Is modern Rome correct, and Trent mistaken? If Trent can be mistaken about this, can it be mistaken about other things, most importantly justification by faith alone?

To get back to my original question, it does not appear that Rome is able to tell us what the word of God is. Roman Catholics might say that, while perhaps they don’t know what the exact words of the books of the Bible are, we still need Rome to tell us what books should be in the Bible. However, this is nonsensical. Should we trust Rome on the macro level when it comes to the canon, when it cannot tell us even the littlest part of it?

Now, the Roman Catholic may ask at this point how I, as a Reformed Baptist, know what the word of God is. And this is a very fair question to ask. To quote from my confession of faith:

We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church of God to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scriptures; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, and the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, and many other incomparable excellencies, and entire perfections thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, Paragraph 5.

The testimony of the Church may indeed be helpful for identifying the word of God. However, ultimately it is the Holy Spirit that gives us testimony that the Bible is the word of God, and he being God is able to communicate us this knowledge infallibly. Does this mean that every true Christian is always knows exactly what the word of God is? No it does not, but it does mean it is possible in this life to know exactly what the word of God is. So I invite my Roman Catholic readers to come out of the institution that is the Roman Catholic Church, which makes enormous claims about the certainty it can provide, but ultimately cannot deliver. I’ll close with a passage from the word of the living God:

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.

The New King James Version. (1982). (Jn 10:27–28). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[1] https://banneroftruth.org/us/resources/articles/2014/nine-things-know-council-trent/?fbclid=IwAR2ATiRhKQFnkyshmUo4gX8w4g0iLCaACR5SfnWUWrRvJl7S4LjCNnZ3zq0

[2] https://m.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/is-the-vulgate-the-catholic-churchs-official-bible?fbclid=IwAR2D69Eibl2XQH7hDdzKwTcdoVevN1XDC9pGbs3a-Qf3Q92bWVTz1suTWZw

[3] It should be noted that author of this post considers Acts 8:37 to be part of the inspired word of God

[4] https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/uncomfortable-facts-about-the-douay-rheims?fbclid=IwAR2XyGlB6LOHRO6RiTFfl563p14d_7jg2OqjoAFUUlgm0tdh46fOxMU9xjk

[5] It should be noted that author of this post considers 1 John 5:7 as found in the majority of editions of the Textus Receptus to be part of the inspired word of God

Should Each Local Church Have Multiple Bishops?

This is part 2 in a series on ecclesiology. Click here for part 1.

Anyone unfamiliar with the debates about church government probably will be confused by the title of this post. When we think of bishops, what usually comes to mind is a man with long and ornate robes that sits and rules over many individual churches (or parishes to use the correct term). Most people wouldn’t consider them as part of a local congregation, and many protestants wouldn’t want anything to do with them, as their various denominations don’t have any office called bishop. However, the Greek word for bishop, ἐπίσκοπος, (also translated as overseer), actually does appear in the New Testament, so Bible believers should be OK with using the term. The question, of course, is does the New Testament description of the office of bishops actually match what many today claim it should? Let’s take a look.

The first major point is to demonstrate that the term bishop and elder are used as synonyms, because then we can also use the passages that describe elders to know how many bishops an individual church should have. Paul, writing to Titus says the following:

For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you—6 if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. 7 For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money

The New King James Version. (1982). (Tt 1:5–7). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Note the fact that Paul here uses the words elder and bishop interchangeably. He starts off with the word elder, but then uses to word bishop to continue talking about the office.

Next up, we have Luke’s description of Paul talking to the Ephesian Church’s leadership in Acts 20. At the opening of the section he writes;

From Miletus he [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church.

The New King James Version. (1982). (Ac 20:17). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

After reminding them of his time among them, Paul tells those he’s sent for:

Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

The New King James Version. (1982). (Ac 20:28). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

So here once again Paul is indicating the office of elder is the same thing as the office of bishop/overseer. He tells the Ephesian elders that the Holy Spirit has made them overseers. This was not any sort of promotion, as nothing in the context would suggest that. It’s a declaration of what the elders already are. As a passing note, the verb to shepherd in Greek is where we get the word pastor. So not only are the elders bishops, but they’re also pastors. All three of these titles are synonymous (see also 1 Peter 5:2)

So now that we’ve established that elders and bishops are the same, can we say where in relation to local congregations the bishop is, and how many there should be? At the very least as we’ve seen already the church of the Ephesians had a plurality of elders. Additionally as we saw in Titus 1:5, Paul had told Titus in every city to appoint elders (plural), implying that each church should have at least two of them. This idea of multiple bishops per church is also seen of the Church at Philippi (Philippians 1:1) and interestingly enough, Jerusalem:

And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them.

The New King James Version. (1982). (Ac 15:4). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Even the church at Jerusalem, the mother church of all, had a plurality of elders. If these bishops are at every church in every city, clearly they do not rule over multiple churches. Nowhere in the New Testament do we see elders exercising authority over multiple churches at the same time. Bishops perform functions in the local congregation like visiting the sick (James 5:14), which would be hard to do if they were not around for each church. They both rule and teach (1 Tim 5:17) and teaching must happen in the context of the local church, or else how will the members hear the teaching? Additionally, the only two offices in the New Testament that have qualifications laid out for them are elders and deacons. If elders are meant to rule over many churches, there’s a missing office of local church leadership, as deacons aren’t a teaching/ruling office.

To close, I’d like to go through why God in His almighty wisdom would determine to have the local church governed with a multiplicity of elders. I can think of 3 good reasons:

1. It protects the preacher

Even the best of men are inclined towards puffing themselves up. Having a plurality of elders reminds preachers that they are not the only man the church depends on, and that others can do their job. Additionally, the burdens of the ministry of shepherding souls is hard, and having other men to share that burden is helpful to prevent any one man from burning out, or succumbing to sin.

2. It protects the church from ungodly men, or true believers that have fallen into gross sin

If one of the elders in the church falls into sin (whether because they were a true believer or not), there are men around with the same level of authority who can offer correction. With just one man in authority, its harder to bring a charge against that one man. Also, certain men might have a blind spot (say in dealing with sin in a family member), but with many pastors there are other more unbiased perspectives that can win the day.

3. It provides continuity if there’s an issue with the leadership

If one of the elders (even the primary preaching elder) dies, when there’s a plurality of elders there’s already men that can continue to guide the church. In a church with a single pastor, when that man dies or falls into sin and has to be removed, there is no one immediately to lead the church and provide teaching and preaching. This can lead to churches getting bad shepherds, as in their desperation to find someone to fill the void, they may pick someone who isn’t nearly as qualified or doctrinally sound as they ought. Or they may pick someone from the congregation who is qualified, but doesn’t have the experience of leading. Finally, for some churches that lose their pastor, they may disintegrate as they no longer have a preacher, and the members would be forced to go to other churches, if there are any good ones around.

Next in this series we’ll move onto looking specifically at what authority that the local church has. Stay tuned.

Does Biblical Ecclesiology Matter?

The word ecclesiology means theology as applied to the nature and structure of the Christian Church. There are many institutions calling themselves churches that look very different from each other. Some have a hierarchy of bishops and are headed by a Pope or a King. Others groups believe there is no institution higher than the local church. The question for us is: which, if any of these, are correct? Or does it not matter how Christians are organized together? I’d like to start a series investigating how the Church should be structured while on earth and what powers it has, but to begin we need to address where we can go to find out these things about the Church.

It is my contention that everything needed to be known about how the church should be organized is contained in the Bible, whether by command or example. Many in church history have disagreed with such a supposition. For example, the 19th century theologian John Tulloch writes:

The Christian Scriptures are a revelation of divine truth, and not a revelation of church polity. They not only do not lay down the outline of such a polity, but they do not even give the adequate and conclusive hints of one.

Leaders of the Reformation: Luther, Calvin, Latimer, Knox

Are we to believe that Jesus, who gave His life for the Church, has not left us with any idea of how we are to be ordered while on earth? Or even worse, does He not care particularly how we are ordered, and it is up to learned men to figure out for themselves the best way to do it? The classic passage on the sufficiency of scripture demonstrates that Jesus has left us with guidance:

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The New King James Version. (1982). (2 Ti 3:16–17). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

The phrase, “man of God,” refers not merely to an ordinary believer, but someone in an official ministry position among God’s people.1 So, if those in the ministry are to be equipped by the Scriptures, surely it should teach them how the Church is to be organized. After all, is not the organization of the Church a good work, one that the man of God would need to be equipped for? God has left the knowledge of what the visible church should look like and how it should behave by giving us a series of commands and examples in His word, the Bible.2

A further (although more subtle) example of this is the fact that in two separate instances, 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, the qualifications for a local church office called “elder” or “presbyter” are laid out. Are we to say that God felt the need to preserve the qualifications for an office in not one, but two places in His word, but that this doesn’t apply, as we are able to decide how to organize ourselves any which way we want? I think that is an absurd idea, God’s word is always relevant (Romans 15:4, Isaiah 40:8).

Now, I do imagine some would like to posit an alternate place to find out how the Church should be structured: Church Tradition. After all, if the Church has faithfully transmitted the original instructions of the Apostles on how the Church should be organized, we don’t need to worry about what the Scriptures say. I think this is a bad idea for two reasons. First, as we know, the Pharisees developed ungodly traditions while claiming they were true doctrines, and Jesus used the word of God to demonstrate their falsity (Mark 7:1-13). Thus, we also should use the Scriptures to determine what is and isn’t true tradition. Secondly, what is more traditional than what the Apostles practiced? Would we say the way the Church was organized in the 1st century is not traditional? Surely, it would be more traditional then any other type of organization that comes after it.

So why study the ecclesiology of the Bible? If God has told us how He desires His Church to be set up and we ignore it, are we not saying that we are wiser than God? God has the ultimate right to establish how His Church should look. He has given it the authority that it has and we dare not step outside the prescribed limits of that authority. As we go through this series, I hope that you will see just how wise God is in how He has laid out His Church. We all have seen some of the scandals regarding gross sin committed by church leaders in America. A biblically set up church is a guard against error and sin, and effective for the propagation of the Gospel. I’ll close with this thought from Psalm 119:

Direct my steps by Your word,
And let no iniquity have dominion over me.

The New King James Version. (1982). (Ps 119:133). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[1] See A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith 5th edition page 57-58 for a discussion of the phrase man of God in 2 Tim 3:17

[2] For a proof of how the Bible is the word of God here is a previous blog article of mine: https://theparticularbaptist.net/2020/03/16/is-the-bible-the-word-of-god/

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