Roman Catholicism: Doctrines of Error

Last week (CLICK HERE), I wrote on some of the differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. We learned that Roman Catholicism is not part of orthodox Christianity. We reviewed their own declarations from the Council of Trent as well as the Catechism. Today, we are going to focus on what Scripture has to say regarding some of the other doctrines and dogmas of the Catholic Church. As was the case with last week, this is not meant to belittle anyone simply because they have a different faith from ours. It is merely meant to point out the differences from a Scriptural perspective to further your understanding of the Truth. I agree with the below statements by the great theologian:

I neither hate you nor despise you; nor do I wish to persecute you; but I would be as hard as iron when I behold you insulting sound doctrine with so great audacity.

John Calvin (to Michael Servetus)

A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.

John Calvin

As always, my goal is to proclaim the truth of Scripture in light of Scripture alone. Sola Scriptura! Our first area we are going to touch on is the doctrine of purgatory. This is one I feel most have heard of but few properly understand.

All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation, but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1030

If you die in the love of God but possess any stains of sin, such stains are cleansed away in a purifying process called Purgatory. These stains of sin are primarily the temporal punishment due to venial or mortal sins already forgiven but for which sufficient penance was not done during your lifetime.

Handbook for Today’s Catholic, page 47

According to Roman Catholicism, all men die with a stain of sin. The only exceptions to this are infant babies who have been baptized and the saints who were deemed exceptionally holy. All others are blemished with sin even until the point of death. As a result of this, one cannot enter into the joy of heaven until he has been purified. This purification is as by fire. Catholicism does not rely primarily on Scripture for this doctrine. It is a doctrine that stems from their own teaching which they refer to as Sacred Tradition. It is also a doctrine that comes from the Apocrypha, which is included in the Catholic bible, but it is not found in the Protestant Bible. These deuterocanonical books can be used as history lessons but they were written by fallible men and are not to be included among the inspired Word of God. However, they have attempted to fit it to Scripture by referencing various passages. One passage in particular is from 1 Corinthians.

If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:15, NASB)

In essence, the doctrine of purgatory teaches that one is to live a good and holy life, but that he will eventually end in a state of sin with the need to be purified by fire and cleansed from the stain. It’s ironic that false teaching would stem from a verse that is actually referring to the danger of falsehoods by teachers and hollow teachings that contain zero eternal value. Before I get into the doctrine of purgatory as a whole, I’d like to touch on a couple other areas: penance and indulgences.

Like all the sacraments, Penance is a liturgical action. The elements of the celebration are ordinarily these: a greeting and blessing from the priest, reading the word of God to illuminate the conscience and elicit contrition, and an exhortation to repentance; the confession, which acknowledges sins and makes them known to the priest; the imposition and acceptance of a penance; the priest’s absolution; a prayer of thanksgiving and praise and dismissal with the blessing of the priest.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1480

The whole power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God’s grace and joining us with him in an intimate friendship.” Reconciliation with God is thus the purpose and effect of this sacrament.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1468

In other words, penance is a part of the process of reconciliation. We become reconciled to God through a string of actions on our part. We earn the grace of God by the works that we complete on this earth. According to Catholicism, the proper way to be reconciled to God is by being greeted and blessed by a priest, reading Scripture in public, and confessing our sins to a priest. It is by this method that one can attempt to achieve a state of holiness so as to reduce the amount of time they have to spend in purgatory. After all, isn’t the goal to get to heaven as soon as possible?

All of this ties into indulgences. While penance is the active process of sanctification and obtaining holiness and the good grace of God, indulgences are the method of obtaining forgiveness for sins already committed. It is not actually a way of obtaining forgiveness of the sin itself, but rather a method of spiritual stain removal. Penance is preventative whereas indulgences are corrective. Like penance, indulgences are meant to reduce the amount of time one has to spend in purgatory. This is done by drawing from what is known as the Treasury of the Church, also known as the Treasury of Merit. Just as the Roman Catholic faith is based, in part, upon works, these same works are stockpiled in a heavenly storehouse where merit can be drawn on by members of the Church. However, all drawings of indulgences are given through the Church by its priests through official sacraments.

Penance and indulgences are both a form of works based salvation. They deny the efficacious atonement of Christ and places it in the hands of the priests. Regarding penance, the Catholic Church tells us we can perform works to earn justification and be considered righteous. However, Scripture tells us nothing of the sort. Scripture is very clear when it says we are not saved by our works (Galatians 2:16) nor is there anything we can do to justify ourselves. It is faith alone (Romans 5:1) through the blood of Christ (Romans 5:9) that makes us righteous (Romans 4:3). We are not justified by penance and indulgences. We are justified by His blood. The doctrine of penance and indulgences clearly detracts from the atonement provided in the blood of Christ. It removes the sufficiency of Christ and amounts it to nothing more than a fraction of plan of salvation. Interestingly enough, a certain apostle battled a type of people similar to this.

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13, NASB)

John was combating a particular type of crowd in his day. That crowd was the Gnostic movement. They taught a secret knowledge that was pertinent to salvation that only they could reveal. John speaks boldly and bluntly in his use of the word “know.” He wanted the readers to understand that there was no hidden knowledge regarding salvation. It was cut & dry. They could KNOW whether or not they were saved. They could be confident! The Roman Catholic Church functions in much the same way as the Gnostics. They say, outside of the Catholic Church, there is no preservation from error. They say, outside the Catholic Church, one cannot be saved. Sure, this is not the spoken word taught today but it is to be understood so long as they affirm the declarations of the Council of Trent that we went over last week. They teach that they have a hidden knowledge that is preserved within their organization (which they claim to be Christ’s only Church). It is only through the priests that this knowledge and revelation can be shared and experienced. It is modern Gnosticism in more ways than one.

Not only are indulgences unbiblical, they were also created as a money making scandal. In the early Church, indulgences were often sold to the people. The people would bring the priests money and the priests would then offer up indulgences on their behalf. These indulgences would often be purchased for the dead in a hope to speed up their time in purgatory so they could enjoy the peace of heaven. Indulgences were sold in the form of time periods. There were basic indulgences sold during the Mass that would shave time off of purgatory for basic sins. Additionally, there were more expensive indulgences offered by bishops. These would only be available to certain people in higher financial standing. Of course, if it meant getting to heaven faster, isn’t it worth it to give some money? You can’t take it with you, after all, right? On top of this, the quality of the pardon varied based on the motives of the priests. If they didn’t have the proper attitude while performing the sacrament, the quality was reduced. Of course, they were collecting money from people so the sacrament was not considered null and void. It was just reduced in effectiveness. An undisclosed amount of time would still be shaved off purgatory just for going through with the hollow ritual. Because a man’s heart is only known by God, it made sense to keep repeating it over and over just in case. On top of that, nobody knew how long a man would spend in purgatory. Again, it only made sense to keep paying for indulgences in hopes that you would free your dead loved ones from the fires of purgatory as well as avoid having to go there yourself. As long as you pay, you can enjoy the riches of heaven in an expedient manner. So long as you perform works in the Church, purgatory will go by much faster for some than for others. However, if you really care about the others, you can help them out by paying some more. This is the grim reality of how it all started. Things may have changed over the years but the roots still remain.

All of this leads to the concept of purgatory and how it completely assaults the concept of grace and forgiveness in Christ. Since we already covered the basics of what purgatory is all about, I now want to go over the Scriptural response. As Christians, we have no fear of going anywhere but heaven, as there is no condemnation awaiting us (Romans 8:1). Paul had no fear of death. He knew the moment he left his body, he would be at home with the Lord experiencing the joy of heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8).

Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. (John 19:30, NASB)

The Greek word used here is teleo, and it refers to something coming to an end. Regarding monetary matters, the word was used to refer to a payment of debt. Christ was saying that all debt was considered paid in full. Through his blood, there is no more debt. Why is it that the Catholic Church teaches otherwise?

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, (Hebrews 9:27, NASB)

This verse looks like it could almost be used to justify purgatory. Isn’t it saying there is judgment after death? Can’t it support the notion of God judging us to an intermediate place of purgatory to be cleansed of the stain of our sins? Most certainly not! That is what the blood of Christ perfected! Let’s revisit that ever-popular fire from 1 Corinthians 3:15.

If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:15, NASB)

Upon death, there will indeed be judgment from God. For the unsaved, this judgment will end in eternal death and suffering of hell. For the saved, this judgment will result in eternal life with the Father. However, our works will be judged as well. They may not play a part in our timeline from death to heaven but they most certainly affect our rewards in heaven. Instead of attempting to find out the meaning of 1 Corinthians 3:15, the Roman Catholic Church invents a meaning in order to make it fit their pre-existing doctrine of purgatory. It is dangerous practice to invent doctrine and then make Scripture fit. If it is not explicitly in Scripture, it is to be excluded. This is the very essence of the Regulative Principle of Worship, as well as the intent of Sola Scriptura.

Again, Paul is not saying one must be purified in purgatory. In those days, fire was the method of removing the dross. Dross is all the waste product of metals being purified in fire. Let’s look at the entire passage.

According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15, NASB)

Notice it is not saying that a man must perform works or else be saved through the fires of purgatory. As I alluded to earlier, it’s speaking of the hollow teachings of men. The foundation of Christ had already been laid, yet some were building on the foundation with materials that were of zero reward. Perhaps it was their charm or a flashy stage, or maybe it was of some other valueless substance. The point is that, one day, the judgment of God will come to all. The atoning blood of Christ is the only thing that can save. This will be the first step. Among Christians, however, there is yet another judgment. This judgment will determine the eternal rewards in Heaven. While specifically referring to teachers, there is a certain universal application that can be extracted. We must always remain focused on Christ and things of eternal value. Outside of Christ, even our greatest works are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). In the Hebrew, this literally meant the rags used to catch the bloody flow of a menstruating woman. However, when we have Christ as our foundation, those works take on a whole new meaning. They may not purify us, speed up entrance to heaven, or work off past sins of others, but they do indeed build up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20). In the Day of Judgment, all of our works will be burned up (2 Peter 3:10). The only ones to remain will be the eternal works in Christ. These works are described as being of even higher quality than gold (1 Peter 1:7). Gold and empty works will burn away, but our works in Christ will remain forever.

We are justified by faith alone (Romans 5:1, 8). The Roman Catholic Church teaches we must work for justification, work for heaven, and experience suffering by fire in order to reach heaven. Not only is this unbiblical, but it is also anti-biblical.

According to Romish theology, all past sins both as respects their eternal and temporal punishments are blotted out in baptism and also the eternal punishment of the future sins of the faithful. But for the temporal punishment of the post-baptismal sins the faithful must make satisfaction either in this life or in purgatory. In opposition to every such notion of human satisfaction Protestants rightly contend that the satisfaction of Christ is the only satisfaction for sin and is so perfect and final that it leaves no penal liability for any sin of the believer.

John Murray (Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, p.49)

Christ said it himself. It is finished (John 19:30)! Roman Catholic teaching does not believe this and, in turn, adds to the gospel. Anything added to the Gospel is a false gospel. Anything that adds to the finished work of Christ is a false gospel, and a false gospel is to be condemned (Galatians 1:8-9). To close with another excellent and highly relevant quote by John Murray:

This polemic against Romish blasphemy is just as necessary today as it was in the Reformation period. The atonement is a completed work, never repeated and unrepeatable.

John Murray (Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, p.51)

~ Travis W. Rogers

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.

THE WILL OF GOD IN THE SALVATION OF MAN

CHOICE. What is it about that word that makes it so appealing? Personally, I think it’s part of what makes us human. We value our freedom and the ability to determine for ourselves what we shall do or not do. The word is used in everything from abortion debates to facemasks. However, one place I can’t understand it existing is in soteriology. Now, I’m not saying we don’t make a choice, from a finite human perspective, in our salvation and acceptance of Christ as Savior, but the word has no bearing on the monergistic act of God in the salvation of mankind. Despite this truth, there have always been debates among Christians when it comes to man’s role in salvation. Even of those who readily admit God is the One who effected salvation, most still desperately cling to the idea that man had to make the free choice, and to choose wrongly would result in eternal death. The idea is that God has invited His creation into eternity and the onus is now on us. Friends, this isn’t what the Bible says! The following image is from a Facebook post made by Dr. Leighton Flowers on his Soteriology 101 page.

Instead of beginning with what John is not saying, I’ll begin with what he is saying, and then demonstrate why it simply cannot (not merely does not) mean what Dr. Flowers suggests. To get a better understanding, we need to understand the context as well as any potential fallacies within the above claim.

“For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40, NASB)

Both sides of the soteriological discussion can appreciate this verse. That said, we both have very different takeaways of what Jesus was actually saying. The Arminian or Provisionist will undoubtedly say one must believe in Jesus in order to be raised up on the last day. They’ll argue that the will of the Father is their final resting place should they maintain faith in Christ. With this in mind, is that actually what Jesus was teaching? I argue against such an interpretation. In reality, I don’t really even need to argue it. I just need to set the stage with the context already painted by our Lord Himself. The will of the Father is not merely the final resting place. It’s actually of those who will be in Christ, and of those who will not be.

“Everything that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I certainly will not cast out.” (John 6:37, NASB)

Notice it doesn’t say anything about the Father giving a potential resting place. Jesus literally says the one who comes to Him does so because the Father has given him to the Son. But doesn’t it just say “everything” has been given to the Son, but the one who comes still has to do so of his own will? While it’s possible one could interpret it that way, to do so, he must first strike verse 44 from his Bible.

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him;” (John 6:44, NASB)

There is no ambiguity here. Out of Jesus’ own mouth, He has said no one can come to Him unless he is drawn by the Father. I suppose the argument could be made that the Father draws everyone but not everyone will come. After all, this is the premise of the claim being made in the graphic above. However, such an argument turns into one of wordsmithing. The Greek word literally means for something to be dragged or impelled. It’s used a total of eight times in the New Testament; five of those being found in John (6:44; 12:32; 18:10; 21:6; 21:11). In all cases, it refers to an outside force pulling up fishing nets, drawing a sword, or dragging men from one place to another. Yet, in John 6:44, the argument is that it is a mere invitation.

People who claim this will say one can come if drawn by the Father, but there’s no guarantee that such a person will come. However, once again, this interpretation requires another striking of Scripture. In this case, one would have to strike out verse 40 (see above). Of course, by this point, the counterpoint typically becomes one of claiming the Father draws everyone, not everyone will come even though they all now possess the ability, and that person must now remain in their faith if they hope to be raised on the last day. Is that checkmate? Of course not!

“And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of everything that He has given Me I will lose nothing, but will raise it up on the last day.” (John 6:39, NASB)

The will of the Father is that Christ should lose nothing He has been given. All who are given to Christ will be raised on the last day. Here’s the breakdown:

  • No man can come unless he is drawn by the Father (v.44).
  • The Father does NOT draw everyone because everyone who is drawn will be raised on the last day (v.44).
  • Those who are to be raised on the last day are those who come to the Son (v.39).
  • Those who come to the Son are only those who were given to the Son by the Father through the monergistic act of drawing (v.37).
  • Those who come to the Son will remain in the Son, and abide in their belief (v.40), because it is the will of the Father (v.39).

Now that we’ve established what the passage DOES say, let’s look at why it CANNOT say what Dr. Flowers claims. In an attempt to refute the effectuality of the word ἕλκω (G1670) in verse 44, he attempts to utilize John 6:65. His claim is that Jesus, in verse 65, speaks of men merely being enabled. Unfortunately for him, it appears his entire argument rests upon the New International Version. It’s true that the NIV translates δίδωμι (G1325) as “enables,” but does that mean it’s accurate? John uses this word quite often. In every instance, it’s in reference to something being given to someone. Not once does he use it in a sense of enablement. In fact, every other reputable translation opts to translate it as either given or granted. For instance, the NASB says, “…unless it has been granted him from the Father.” The KJV says, “except it were given unto him of my Father.” Yet, the NIV decided to go with, “unless the Father has enabled them.” This is just a poor translation that possibly displays personal bias over what is actually being said.

If there was a way to definitively affirm that Jesus was merely speaking of enablement, vice effectuality, Dr. Flowers might have a leg to stand on. However, since his premise rests upon a poor English translation, it gets knocked down quite easily. In reality, John 6:65 fully supports the rest of the passage but not for the reason he states. It’s because, once again, John recognizes that no man can come to Christ unless he is drawn by the Father, and no man is drawn by the Father unless he is given to Christ. To tie it all together, all who are drawn will indeed come and shall be raised on the last day.

Every facet of salvation is from God alone. He chooses, He draws, He sustains, and He raises. Yes, we do make a choice to believe the gospel, but our belief in the gospel is actually effected through our regeneration when our heart of stone is removed and we are given a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). At this point, we are no longer the natural man who lacks the ability to understand (1 Corinthians 2:14), but we are now reborn as new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). If you know Christ, be thankful God chose you before the foundation of the world that He might be glorified through your honorable use (Romans 9:21). If you do not know Christ but feel the call of God, I urge you to place your trust in the risen Savior and understand that that feeling is nothing less than God Himself working His good work within. Soli Deo Gloria!

~ Travis W. Rogers

God or Satan? Choose Responsibly.

CHOICE. It’s such an enticing word. For most, it implies a sense of freedom. Yet, at the same time, it can be one of the most burdensome words to ever exist, as it can also imply responsibility and accountability. The primary theme of this article is going to be the sovereignty of God. In particular, we are going to go over man’s role in regard to the sovereignty of God. There are three basic positions on the subject:

1) If man has free will, God cannot truly be sovereign

2) If God is sovereign, man cannot be held accountable for his actions, as he has no free will

3) God is sovereign, yet man is still accountable for his actions

I adhere to the third option (I know, quite the shocker!). It’s my hope that, by the end of the post, all who read this will feel the same way. Before we get into man, we must begin with God. We know God is sovereign because the Scriptures tell us so. Before we go into the Scriptural backing, let’s define sovereign. Dictionary.com defines sovereign as “having supreme rank, power, or authority.” Scripture fully supports this idea when it says God sovereignly rules over all (Psalm 103:19) and works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11). He rules over all the kingdoms of the nations (2 Chronicles 20:6) and no purpose of His can be thwarted (Job 42:2). We can clearly see that God is in control at all times. He is sovereign!

It is not merely that God has the power and right to govern all things but that He does so always and without exception.

John Piper

This sovereignty flows into all areas. Nothing escapes it. As Psalm 103:19 said, “His sovereignty rules over all.” In this case, all means all. This isn’t about all types of things or all of a certain category. This is about all of creation. Every facet of creation is intricately controlled by God. From the casting of lots (Proverbs 16:33), to the sparrow that falls to the ground (Matthew 10:29), to the vapors of the earth and weather conditions (Psalm 135:6-7), He controls all. Even Paul writes of being set apart from his mother’s womb and called to preach among the Gentiles (Galatians 1:15-16).

Most people don’t take issue with the teaching of God’s sovereignty so long as it is spoken of in these terms. Up until now, all the verses have been describing God and leaving man out of the picture. Man naturally likes to live a guilt free life. Nobody likes a buzz kill. It is unfortunate that, even by many in the Church, God is viewed as sovereign so long He doesn’t interfere with our own free will. Such a concept is entirely unbiblical and is to be rejected. Not only does heaven and earth fall under the sovereignty of God but so do we as people. The Lord rules over all things; even mankind. This becomes no clearer than in the predetermined plan of the cross.

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

Even the crucifixion was ordained by God. Notice what is taking place in the verse above. It says that godless men will put him to death. Godless men will nail him to a cross. Both of these things imply man will make the choice to perform a wicked act. However, take note that it only takes place because of the predetermined plan of God. It also speaks of His foreknowledge. Don’t be confused. God didn’t ordain His plan based on choices He knew man would make. Rather, He knew the choices man would make because He foreordained it to be so.

For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. (Acts 4:27-28, NASB)

This just drives home the previous point. Both Herod and Pontius Pilate had gathered together to go against Christ. In fact, they were not alone. Scripture says the Gentiles and people of Israel had gathered as well. There were countless people rising up against Christ. This was of their own doing and their own choices. They had made the decision to put Jesus to death for his claims. Again, however, notice that it says they were only doing whatever God’s hand and purpose had predestined to occur. While they were making their own choices in life, there was only one way it would play out. God had decreed it to be so and that was the end of it.

Another example in Scripture of God’s sovereignty mixing with man’s choices is in the story of Joseph, in Genesis 37:18-22. I’m sure most of us are familiar with the passage. It’s the part where Joseph’s brothers are conspiring to kill him. This was a free and open dialogue between siblings. Their discussion wasn’t being coerced or pushed in any direction. It wasn’t being moderated. They were freely coming up with a plan to murder Joseph. At the same time, Reuben took it upon himself to talk them into sparing his life and throwing him into a ditch, or pit of some sort, instead. On the surface, it appears they are free to do as they wished with nothing else to lean on other than their own desires. While it’s true that they were coming up with this plan on their own, there is more to the story.

Joseph was rescued, sold into slavery, and eventually took on a prestigious position under the pharaoh. None of this was by accident. Scripture is clear that God had a plan and that plan was good (Genesis 50:20). After all, we’ve been given the promise that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

While Joseph’s brothers were free in the choices they made and the actions they took, they only made these choices because God had decreed it to be so. God is always in charge. Sometimes He actively takes part in an event such as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah whereas most times, He allows man to freely make decisions and choices. However, even when left to freely make decisions, they are always within the constraints of God’s sovereign plan and purpose. Why then do so many cling to the false premise that God is limited in His sovereignty when it comes to matters of salvation?

To argue that God is “trying His best” to save all mankind, but that the vast majority of men will not let Him save them, is to imply that the will of the Creator is impotent, and that the will of the creature is omnipotent.

A.W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God

While I firmly believe salvation falls under the sovereign decrees of God, and I believe Scripture when it says all who are appointed to eternal life will believe (Acts 13:48), I don’t intend on getting into a lesson on God’s Election. While it is true that only those whom God has called unto Himself will respond to the call of Christ, I want to focus on those whom He does not call unto Himself. Are these men condemned because of God? Should they be given a free pass? Can they possibly be guilty if they were never given a fair chance or opportunity? No, no, and yes!

While they are indeed condemned, it is certainly not because of God. These men will never choose Christ because God has ordained that they will not but this does not mean God is responsible. Each man is still held accountable for his actions, as we saw earlier in the cases of the crucifixion, as well as in the example of Joseph’s brothers. There is no free pass to be given because each man is guilty to begin with. Compatibilism is the term used to describe man’s responsibility as it meshes with God’s sovereignty.

One would be remiss to think man has no responsibility for his actions. God has made very clear that the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, as is the wickedness of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:20). Just as our words justify, so do they condemn (Matthew 12:37). Throughout the totality of Scripture, there is a clear distinction being taught between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. While there is no doubt that God is sovereign, and all things only come to pass because He ordained it to be so, it is equally as true that man makes his own choices without being forced or coerced. Man’s choice will always be the outcome that God decreed, but man will gladly make it. This is because man is bound by his nature and that nature is wretched and fallen. Our hearts are evil from our youth (Genesis 8:21) and are more deceitful than all else (Jeremiah 17:9). The unregenerate love darkness (John 3:19) and hate the Light (John 3:20).

If it sounds totally depraved, that’s because it is. That’s the state of the unregenerate natural man. We simply follow our nature. Before salvation, we were slaves to sin (Romans 6:17). We had no choice but to give our all to sin. However, this was not done in a begrudging manner, as we did it with pleasure. Our hearts were evil. Our hearts were deceitful. Our deeds were evil and we hated the Light. We hid from the Light lest our evil deeds should be exposed (John 3:20). Our natural inclination was to sin. We were in bondage to sin but we enjoyed every minute of it. This is why we are still found guilty for our sins despite following God’s sovereignly decreed plan.

While once enslaved to sin, we are now enslaved to God (Romans 6:22-23). The unregenerate man, despite being in full accord with God’s sovereign decrees, is still found guilty and deserves death. He works as a slave to sin and, as a result, he will be paid death for wages. It is what we all deserved as we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Thankfully, God chose us and called us unto Himself. This does not make us perfect but it does make us His own. When we sin, we are covered by the blood of Christ. It’s the blood that justifies and saves (Romans 5:9) in accordance with God’s calling and election (Romans 8:30).

We still sin daily in our battle with the flesh but we will not see Hell for it. We have been justified by the blood of Christ. His blood alone has fully atoned for our sins. There is no more debt. The blood was not merely hypothetical, but actual. In Christ’s sacrifice, there was a substitutionary atonement taking place on behalf of all who would put their faith in the death, burial, and resurrection. However, just because we are covered by the blood does not mean we are to abuse our justification. Paul makes it very clear that we are not to sin so that the grace we fall under may increase (Romans 6:1-2). We are now free of the chains of the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). This is where we differ from the unregenerate man. We have a new nature in Christ whereas he does not.

Reader, do you love God? If so, do you feel as if you are being forced to love Him against your will? Just as we love God and desire to serve Him with all we have, so does the unregenerate man hate God and desires to hide from the Light. Even if an unsaved individual says he is not at war with anyone, his refusal to submit to the authority of God proves otherwise. A man cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). He is either for God or he is against God (Matthew 12:30). Both sides serve their masters willingly yet both sides do so only because God has declared and ordained it to be so. God is sovereign yet we are responsible.

…we allow that man has choice and that it is self-determined, so that if he does anything evil, it should be imputed to him and to his own voluntary choosing. We do away with coercion and force, because this contradicts the nature of the will and cannot coexist with it. We deny that choice is free, because through man’s innate wickedness it is of necessity driven to what is evil and cannot seek anything but evil. And from this it is possible to deduce what a great difference there is between necessity and coercion. For we do not say that man is dragged unwillingly into sinning, but that because his will is corrupt he is held captive under the yoke of sin and therefore of necessity will in an evil way. For where there is bondage, there is necessity. But it makes a great difference whether the bondage is voluntary or coerced. We locate the necessity to sin precisely in corruption of the will, from which follows that it is self-determined.

John Calvin, Bondage and Liberation of the Will

~ Travis W. Rogers

A Systematic Defense for the Textus Receptus

Disclaimer: The Particular Baptist is evenly split on the issue of the Textus Receptus, with the hosts of the podcast having a debate on the subject here. As such, the following post does not represent the views of the blog as a whole. You can also read Dan and Sean’s articles here and here, respectively.

In the debate between the confessional text underlying historical Protestant translations of the Bible and the modern critical text underlying the majority of contemporary translations, it’s my opinion that the real substance of the debate can be lost in the sea of variants, manuscripts, and church father citations. By saying this, I don’t mean to diminish the importance of those facts. Rather, I say this because I contend the real reason for the disagreement is not the facts themselves, but how we interpret and weigh those facts. In other words, it’s the presuppositions we bring to the table that form the heart of this debate. My aim in this post is nothing less than to demonstrate that the presuppositions that lead to the Textus Receptus position are biblical, and that they are alone consistent with the tenets of Reformed Christianity, despite the good Reformed men who indeed disagree with us on the issue.

I will not be arguing in favor of the TR here per se, but rather in favor of the principles that would lead Christians such as myself to adopt it. Thus, there will be no discussion of the “Which TR?” question here. Even though I believe that a rigorous application of these principles would lead you to embrace a specific edition of the TR that you can hold in your hands as the very words of God, I will present the principles in a safer, more modest form, which – even if it didn’t lead you to adopt a single edition of the TR – would inevitably result in something that looks much more like it than the modern critical text offered as an alternative.

My argument can be summarized as follows: God’s promise to preserve His Word is more sure than our ability to reconstruct it. The reconstructionist presuppositions behind the modern critical text are incompatible with God’s promise of preservation. Therefore, the modern critical text must be rejected in favor of the text that the Church has organically received.

The rest of this two-part article will be a defense and an elaboration of the above.

Part 1 – Different Ways of Knowing and the Authority of Preservation

In order to properly evaluate the evidence on this issue or any other, we must know how much weight to give to the different types of arguments. For our purposes, we can divide the types of arguments Christians encounter into three broad categories.

  1. Appeals to the authority of Scripture. This is the highest and only absolute authority that can be appealed to. Scripture alone is given by inspiration of God, and is able to make the man of God perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is breathed out by God, contains no errors, and – as the infallible self-revelation of the infallible God – grounds every assertion faithfully derived from it with an absolute certainty trumping the authority of all other claims. We can be more sure of the claims of Scripture than the color of the sky, because its self-authenticating authority generates a greater assurance than even our fallible senses can provide. When our eyes tell us that the tree looks good for food, the Word of God says with greater authority, “thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). If any position is truly grounded in the authority of Scripture, it can NEVER be overthrown by an appeal to any lesser authority, because no lesser authority carries absolute authority with it, and it is impossible to overthrow a claim that you are 100% sure of using evidence that is less than 100% sure. By its very nature as the only absolute authority, it is the only authority that can ever have 100% certainty associated with it.
  2. Appeals to Church tradition. Already, we have moved to considerably weaker ground. Those who would attempt to bind a man’s conscience by the authority of tradition alone are rebuked by the Savior Himself, decrying those “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:7). However, it must be said that when Scripture is silent, it is at least more authoritative than the third category, even if it already cannot be used to teach any sort of binding doctrine. The Scriptures themselves say, “in the multitude of counsellers there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14), and what is church history but a multitude of Spirit-led counselors? (Assuming the men we’re consulting are genuine Christians). [1] Again, Church tradition cannot bind the conscience or rival the authority of the Bible, but it can at least be helpful. I am here speaking only of Church tradition considered apart from the Bible itself, and not about the consistent exegesis of Scripture by faithful men of the past, which – when it can be demonstrated that they did it properly – carries the authority of the first category.
  3. Appeals to reasoning divorced from Scriptural truths and Church tradition. The weakest authority of all is reasoning that does not rest on the solid ground of Scripture or even the shaky ground of Church tradition, but rather on the quicksand of arguments unconnected to either of them. Over and over again the Bible throws water on merely human authority, admonishing us to “lean not unto thine own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5), calling the wisdom of the world foolishness (1 Corinthians 3:19), and warning us not to be taken captive by human tradition and philosophy that isn’t based in Christ (Colossians 2:8). In the context of rebuking those who had a conceited pride about their own knowledge/wisdom independent from divine revelation, the Bible says, “if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:2). As feeble, fallen creatures who either abide in darkness or else are just beginning to become truly acquainted with the light, all of our thinking is corrupted, dim, inconsistent, and woefully incomplete, so that we cannot truly know anything unless it stems from the revelation of Him who alone knows perfectly. Arguments from this third category are suspect by their very nature.

It’s important to keep these categories in mind when examining the merits of any position, and that includes the textual issue. Arguments that can plausibly be grounded in the first category must always be weighed as having greater authority – indeed, infallible authority if conclusively proved – than any arguments based on the second or third category. Likewise, arguments from the second category should be favored over the third, but are unable to challenge the first. Frankly, the only place for the third category is when both the first and second are silent/when appeals to them are utterly baseless, leaving the third as the only option. Accordingly, the burden of proof always rests on those arguing from the third category to show that it is really and truly the last resort, and even then they cannot present their position as certain due to the nature of the authority they appeal to – independent, worldly reasoning. They cannot simply pit their arguments against an argument derived from Scripture as if they are of equal weight. In order to have a hearing, they must show conclusively that the position they are opposing doesn’t have the Scriptural basis that’s asserted of it.

The rest of this post will be dedicated to showing that the presuppositions behind the TR rest in the authority of the first and second categories, as opposed to the arguments for the critical text, which appeal only to the third and contradict the first and second. I will also show that the appeals to the third category – like all other appeals to it – are ultimately shallow, unstable, and are completely unable to generate the certainty that the proponents of the critical text often claim it can provide. To argue for the critical text is to become inconsistent with the biblical epistemology that the faithful Christians who support it would otherwise embrace. If we embrace this way of thinking in the fields of cosmology, biology, geology, archaeology, and ancient history whenever the current consensus (derived from the “preponderance of evidence”) of any of them contradicts biblical claims, what biblical reason do we have for abandoning that way of thinking in the field that just happens to be closer to the hearts of many modern, famous conservative Christians – textual criticism?

The Biblical Basis for the Promise of Preservation

A number of passages can be appealed to in defense of the preservation of the Scriptures; the doctrine is ubiquitously taught in the Book whose availability is a testament to its truth. The Westminster Confession cites Matthew 5:18 as a prooftext for the doctrine in chapter one paragraph eight, which paragraph is identical to our 2nd London Baptist Confession. The verse reads, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” Many complain that this verse is taken out of context, and that the chief point is that the prophecies and teachings of the Law will be completely fulfilled. But while that might be the ultimate aim of the verse, such complaints are nevertheless unwarranted because 1) Jesus’ argument appears to be a classic example of an argument a fortiori, and 2) the prophecies and teachings of the Law depend on the jot and tittle, which Jesus explicitly says will not pass away. An a fortiori argument is an argument from the certainty of a stronger claim in favor of a claim that would be true by extension. In effect, Jesus would be saying, “of course God’s law will be fulfilled, because God’s Word is so precious in His sight, and so sure to continue, that not even the smallest letter of it will be lost.” Again, arguments of this sort depend on the stronger premise being true, so there can be no doubt that Jesus really meant that not even a jot or tittle would be lost, which is what He says. The cultural context strengthens this interpretation, because that was indeed the common view of the Jews Jesus was speaking to and is how they would have understood it. In John Gill’s (1697-1771) commentary on this verse, he refers to several different Jewish sources that clearly indicate as much. For example, Rabbi Meir (2nd Century AD) says:

“In the time of the prophets there were such who very diligently searched every letter in the law, and explained every letter by itself; and do not wonder at this that they should expound every letter by itself, for they commented … upon everyone of the tops of each letter.”

Clearly, every letter was considered sacred in the eyes of the Jews. They believed each letter was that which God chose to infallibly speak and commit into writing for His perfect purposes. Since they were treating their copies of the Scripture in this way, they also clearly believed the original letters God gave them were preserved for them in those copies. More explicit is Akiba ben Joseph (40-135 AD), who Gill references as saying:

“If, (say they,) all the nations of the world were gathered together, ‘to root one word out of the law’, they could not do it; which you may learn from Solomon, who sought to root ‘one letter out of the law’, the letter ‘jod’, in ( Deuteronomy 17:16 Deuteronomy 17:17 ) but the holy blessed God said, Solomon shall cease, and an hundred such as he (in the Talmud it is a thousand such as he) … ‘but, jod shall not cease from thee (the law) for ever'”

The similarity between the language used by Jesus and a Jewish rabbi from the same century cannot be missed. Akiba even tells us of an apocryphal story where Solomon attempted to alter one “jod” (or jot) of Scripture, but God didn’t allow it, because He decreed that not one letter should cease from His Word. There can be no doubt, then, that when Jesus said, “one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law,” His audience would have understood Him to really mean that not a single jot or tittle would be lost. Frankly, there is no reason to believe that He just meant “no general concept would be lost” unless you’ve already made up your mind that He couldn’t have meant that, perhaps because your understanding of preservation wouldn’t allow it.

But a passage that I believe is even more relevant for supporting the view of preservation advocated by TR proponents is the classic text on the inspiration and sufficiency of Scripture: 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”

There are two reasons this passage is relevant. First, despite the frequent use of this passage to say that the original autographs (the original manuscripts written by the human authors of Scripture) were God-breathed and sufficient, the passage never directly references the autographs at all. That Paul is here speaking about the autographs is an assumption brought in by those who already believe that only the originals are the true Scriptures referenced by Paul in this passage. But if we believe that words should be interpreted in their own context, we will see that Paul just told us what Scriptures he was referring to in the previous verse:

“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15)

In other words, the God-breathed Scriptures Paul is referring to in verses 16 and 17 are the Scriptures Timothy has known from childhood referenced in verse . We must then ask, “did Timothy had the original autographs?” Since the answer is obviously no, we have two options:

  1. The copies Timothy had were given by inspiration again, or:
  2. Through the copies he had, Timothy possessed the original autographs which God had preserved through their faithful transmission all the way to Timothy’s generation.

The first option is obviously incorrect, because it contradicts Scripture’s presentation of inspiration as an event that happened in the past. Peter, for example, says, “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” in reference to the prophecies of Scripture (2 Peter 1:21). Therefore, that leaves us with option two: the copies of Scripture had been faithfully transmitted from generation to generation, and could be referred to as the authentic God-breathed Scriptures given by God. We have no biblical reason that this would cease after Timothy’s day, especially in light of the already discussed Matthew 5:18, which says that not one jot or tittle would pass.

The second reason this passage is relevant is its insistence that Scripture is able to make the man of God perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. As has long been recognized by Bible commentators, the phrase “man of God” does not simply refer to any male Christian, but rather refers to a minister of the Church in its New Testament usage (cf. 1 Timothy 6:11 and its Old Testament usage as a title for prophets – those who proclaim God’s Word). This does not diminish the sufficiency of Scripture for the Christian in the pew; rather, it confirms it, because a Christian minister has to be equipped for all the duties of an ordinary Christian as well as those only necessary for a pastor/elder/deacon.

But one of the most essential good works the Scripture equips a minister for is the pulpit ministry. As proponents of modern textual criticism are often not shy to admit, their view requires the minister to familiarize himself with the basic principles of textual criticism in order to handle the Word of God properly from the pulpit. It is essential, they say, for the minister to be able to distinguish the authentic from spurious textual variants using their principles as he encounters them in his preaching. The obvious problem is that, under this view, we have something necessary for the pulpit ministry that Scripture does not furnish us for. If it can’t be denied that the pulpit ministry is a good work – one of the most essential works for the man of God – and that an essential part of this ministry is identifying which variants can be preached as God’s inspired Word, then Scripture MUST equip us for it. Therefore, we must reject any method of determining the authentic readings of Scripture that cannot be grounded in Scripture itself. Otherwise, we risk denying the sufficiency of Scripture in an area it promises to thoroughly equip us for.

The difference between proponents of the Textus Receptus and the modern critical text is clear at this point. The methodology of the Textus Receptus follows the biblical example of organically receiving the Word of God. Like Timothy, who was able to know the Word of God from childhood, it proposes that all we have to do determine the true Scriptures is to look at what was received by God’s people. The only caveats is that the received text must be in the original language since inspiration was an event that occurred at the writing of the Scriptures, and so they cannot be reinspired in another form. The approach of modern textual criticism, however, is at odds with the biblical method of organically receiving God’s Word, and introduces unbiblical methods for determining the readings of Scripture using manuscripts that had been lost to the Church for over fifteen hundred years in some cases. This makes their approach at odds with the Bible’s teaching on preservation.

The Church’s Confirmation of the Doctrine

To prevent this post from being excessively lengthy (more than it already is), I will keep this section brief. An example of an argument from the Church’s traditional understanding would be an appeal to her confessions of faith. The 1689, for example, states that the words of God have been kept pure in all ages, and that the Greek New Testament they had and the Hebrew Old Testament they had “are authentic.” A modern critical text proponent will say that they don’t refer to any specific textual family here, and that is true. However, the whole of the Greek manuscript tradition they had was essentially that which is found in the Textus Receptus, and so unless one is prepared to say that the New Testament they referred to as being kept pure in all ages and presently authentic consisted of manuscript traditions they didn’t have access to in their age, it is clear that the NA28 is incompatible with their view of the text. This is especially certain in the context of who they were responding to, as one of the Roman Catholic arguments against Sola Scriptura was that the manuscript tradition had become too corrupted for the Reformers to use as their final authority. But if they were still unable to determine the authentic Greek text in their day, then this would have been a useless defense on their part. (see the section on the historical background of 1.8 of the Confession in Sean’s post for more on this).

The practice of modern textual critics is also certainly not in line with the Church tradition. They will often accuse Erasmus, Stephanus, and Beza of doing work similar to theirs, but their practice differs in several vital areas. Most importantly, the manuscripts used for the TR had been in active use by the church in the East, and had not been altogether lost to the people of God. The manuscripts came to the West after Greek-speaking Christians were pushed out of their native territory, just in time for the development of the printing press, which would give the new Reformation Church a stable Greek text to be propagated and translated into the native languages of Protestants throughout the world. (The convergence of all those factors at one time and place seems almost providential, doesn’t it?). As such, the reformers were able to receive their Bible from a living tradition, rather than from an archeological site. For those interested in exploring the differences between the methodologies of the Reformers and modern textual critics more, I commend this article by Taylor DeSoto to you.

How the Modern Critical Text Position is Based Only on the Third and Weakest Form of Authority

That modern textual criticism is based neither in Scriptural truths nor Church tradition hardly needs to be proved. Proponents are quite open to the fact that it’s based in considerations such as the perceived development of text types, the plausibility that a scribe would make one sort of error over another, and an evaluation of the earliest extant copies. An easy proof of this is that some of the greatest textual critics even in the eyes of Christians in the field are unbelievers like Bart Ehrman, and that their scholars do not see the sharing of different theological commitments as any hindrance to their work.

But how could it possibly not be a hindrance? In a world where God has – with His singular care and providence – been working to keep His text pure in all ages, would we not expect a denial of that truth to have an impact on the work of the textual critic, and lead him to erroneous conclusions at least some of the time? Wouldn’t someone who believes God was working to give His Church His pure Word have a different standard of what’s necessary to overthrow the present text than someone who believes that the present text is just as likely to be inauthentic as not? We’d expect that someone who didn’t believe in preservation would overthrow the Church’s readings whenever the “preponderance of evidence” (according to the standards they’ve come up with) favored another reading by any more than 50%, but we hope the believer in God’s preservation would need something significantly more compelling than that. How then, could the believer and unbeliever come up with the same text, unless the believer was doing textual critical work with unbelieving presuppositions, or else the unbeliever was behaving like a believer? Considering the statements of some believing textual critics, such as Tommy Wasserman who once said, “I would like to work as a text-critic as if God didn’t exist, so to speak,” it’s not hard to say which of those two scenarios has happened.

In the last section, I will show how that – like every other argument grounded in the third category – the methods adopted by modern textual critics are far from able to provide the certainty they pretend to, and so do not come close to challenging a position built on God’s sure promises.

Part 2 – No Ability to Reconstruct the Text of the Early Centuries

One of the easiest ways to tell if someone has understood our position is if they accuse us of being inconsistent on the grounds that we have no consistent textual critical methodology to reconstruct the text. This would be much like saying to a young earth creationist (such as myself), “You have no consistent scientific methodology to determine the age of the earth! You use one standard of explaining fossils that exist in this strata, and another standard for fossils in a different one, etc.” Someone who would say this to a creationist clearly has not understood their position; the creationist position is that we should not use scientific inquiry to determine the age of the earth! The evidence is too fragmentary, the assumptions behind historical science are unfounded and untestable, and none of their efforts have the infallibility of God’s Word, which plainly teaches a young earth. Likewise, we proponents of the Textus Receptus say that the manuscript evidence is too fragmentary, that the assumptions behind textual criticism are unfounded and untestable, and that none of their efforts have the infallibility of God’s Word, which plainly teaches God preserved His Word.

The parallels between creationism and the arguments in favor of the TR are many, and the proponent of the modern critical text would do well to stop and ask himself before making a given argument: “Does this argument look a lot like the ones old earth creationists use against young earth creationists?” They complain that we shouldn’t discuss evidence if our position is theologically based. Well, is Ken Ham wrong to look at fossil evidence when his position is theologically based? It would be inconsistent of us to do so if we were saying our position was based on manuscript evidence, but that doesn’t mean it’s not useful in bringing up the errors of our opponents’ viewpoint, and showing that the evidence is not as conclusive as they’d like it to be. Their view, in fact, has many problems.

1- Their evidence is fragmentary. Despite the often repeated trope that “we have earlier and better copies of the New Testament than any other work of antiquity,” the honest truth is we have nowhere near the number of copies necessary to establish the readings of the early Church with the level of certainty maintained by some modern critical text advocates. While its true that we have a greater number of New Testament manuscripts than other works of antiquity, and we have certain fragments that are nearer to the time of the autographs than can be found in other ancient works, none of these facts imply that we can have the kind of certainty we’d like to have in the reading of the Word of God. Most of the large number of New Testament manuscripts are late, and agree much more with the Textus Receptus than they do with the modern critical text. But there are some parts of Revelation, for example, that have only one extant Greek manuscript attesting to them for nearly the first thousand years of the Church, and it’s a sleight of hand to use the large number of later manuscripts to say that the early copies of the Church are well-attested to. Further, the Greek copies that we do have from the earlier periods are not geographically wide-spread, but simply come from a region whose climate was more conducive to their survival: Egypt. There is no good evidence that those manuscripts were representative of the text in Christendom as a whole and not simply the region they came from. This is especially probable because those texts (formally called “Alexandrian,” but that’s no longer recognized as a legitimate category) have been observed to contain more readings in common with the Textus Receptus the older they are. In the early 3rd Century Cheaster Beatty Papyri, for example, there are dozens of readings that are distinctly Byzantine (the family of manuscripts the TR belongs to), which surprised the textual critics of the time, who before only had Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus as the earliest Greek manuscript evidence [2]. In any case, the “Alexandrian” manuscript family that the modern critical texts mostly align with has little more than a handful of early manuscripts (mostly fragmented) from a narrow region of Christendom to support it. Considering the immensely larger population of manuscripts that no doubt existed at the time, the vast swaths of Christendom whose climate wasn’t favorable for the survival of manuscripts, and the apparent lack of influence these manuscripts had on many that came after them, can anyone say that this is sufficient to determine with certainty what the text of the Church looked like at this time? Especially when that “text” is so unstable, and its manuscripts so dissimilar from one another, that modern textual critics are abandoning the notion that its representatives could even be classified into a unified manuscript family?

For throwing doubt on the notion that the manuscript evidence is solid enough to reconstruct the text of Scripture with a high degree of certainty, TR proponents are often accused of a “hyper-skepticism” that would obliterate are ability to know anything about ancient history at all. The argument seems to be that since the standards for establishing the readings of other ancient works is even weaker than those for the New Testament, that therefore the small, disparate, regional manuscripts must be good and solid. This is a non sequitur. Poor evidence for one discipline doesn’t make evidence for another good. Further, TR advocates do not generally say that the scant evidence means you wouldn’t be able to know anything about the New Testament by the standards of secular history, or that you can’t know anything about Plato or Aristotle; rather, what we are saying is that it’s utterly insufficient to be able to establish individual readings with anywhere near the level of certainty that the opposing position pretends. Especially since – as the early, heretical corrupters like Marcion have shown – the authority that the New Testament demands over its hearers provides greater motivation for evil men to alter it than the works of Plato or Aristotle, and so if we are to appeal to the world’s standards of textual certainty, we would have greater reason to be suspicious of the copies of the New Testament than other works of antiquity. Therefore, our standard of evidence would need to be all the more stronger, and we cannot pretend that as long as it would be sufficient for another work that it would be sufficient for the NT. Most importantly, we can all rest easy if the standards for the Greek poets is only good enough to reliably establish their general content and not their exact words, but we can NOT rest easy if that’s all we can do with the Bible. God’s words are much more precious to the Church than the words of ancient pagans, and God has promised to preserve His words perfectly, not theirs. Every word of God is pure (Proverbs 30:5).

2- Their methods are unscientific. Despite often being referred to as the “science” of textual criticism, textual criticism is about as scientific as the social sciences. It’s essentially just guess work, and the principles for favoring one variant over another rests on little else than the opinions of a few men who pioneered the field. Sure, on the microscopic scale they may be able to reliably determine the spelling of a word, but whenever they encounter a translatable variant of significance, their “scientific” methodology is basically, “If I was the scribe in that circumstance, I think I’d probably be more likely to make this mistake instead of that mistake.” Examining their works, the language that appears is “probably,” “most likely,” “with little doubt,” etc. Unlike a real scientific discipline, they are unable to quantify those probabilities in any meaningful way. This is because they can’t conduct any sort of rigorous experiment to examine the success-rate of the “rules” they developed. Without knowing what the correct readings of a text should be, there is no way to determine if their methods have produced the correct readings, which is why they are unable to provide any hard numbers about the likelihood of their product. They are ultimately limited to their ability to imagine the different motivations for spurious readings, as well as their ability to reconstruct the circumstances of the unknown scribe, without any thorough way to determine if they’ve done a good job. Indeed, there must be many places where they haven’t done a very good job before, because as we speak CBGM (a computerized way of trying to uncover relationships between manuscripts) is overthrowing a large number of the readings that they claimed were established using reliable principles that could give us near certainty. So far, in fact, CBGM has been favoring Byzantine readings.

An example of the unreliability of their historical methods may be helpful. There’s a discrepancy in the opening of Mark’s Gospel between the TR and the modern critical text. The TR reads,

As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” (Mark 1:2-3)

However, in the modern critical text, instead of reading “As it is written in the prophets,” it reads “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet.” The problem with this reading is that the quotation that Mark immediately references is from Malachi, not Isaiah. But largely because one of the principles of textual criticism is to prefer the harder reading – i.e., the reading that’s harder for them to imagine emerging by accident – they ignore the vast majority of manuscripts which read “the prophets” in favor of “Isaiah the prophet.” They generally excuse the problem on the grounds that there was a custom to refer to the scroll of a major prophet that a minor prophet was attached to, but those who have looked into this have been hard-pressed to find a citation for that claim. But in any case, it’s far from inexplicable why “Isaiah the prophet” might have been tacked on later. I say that with confidence, because I once made a similar mistake myself. Earlier in my Christian walk, I had a conversation with two Jehovah’s Witnesses, and while witnessing to them I remembered hearing something about the citation in Mark 1:2 confirming that Jesus is Jehovah God. And so, I went to my King James Bible, which read “the prophets” in Mark 1:2, and recognizing the language of the quotation that followed, I went to the place I was sure it came from… Isaiah 40. Unfortunately, I found Isaiah 40 wasn’t nearly as clear in confirming Christ’s Deity as I was expecting it to be. The reason, of course, is because the passage Mark cites in verse 2 which proves Jesus is Jehovah God is in Malachi 3, not Isaiah 40, even though Mark references Isaiah 40:3 in verse 3. Because Isaiah is a more familiar book to most Christians than Malachi, and because I didn’t have the whole of chapter 40 memorized (believe it or not), I simply assumed that’s where the whole passage was from. Would it be shocking, then, if an early scribe who likewise didn’t have the whole Bible memorized but recognized the familiar language of Isaiah, wrote “Isaiah” in the margins, which was later confused as part of the text? This is especially probable considering that the scribe very likely wouldn’t have even had an Old Testament on hand to check the citation, and he couldn’t exactly Google the reference either.

Many more examples of their suspect conclusions could be given. I bring up that example not to say for sure how the error arose (I can’t mind-read the scribe any better than they can), but rather to show that it’s unwise to base our texts on the limited imagination of man. There is no guarantee we could come close to imagining all the possible ways one reading may have emerged over another, so it’s dangerous to place confidence in a reading simply because we think it’s less likely to be accidental. We are dealing with the Word of God, and we need a much surer ground for our confidence than what men can provide.

3- Their methods are inconsistent. The methods which they defend as the best way to reliably ground the preservation of Scripture can’t be applied to the whole Bible. Namely, they cannot be applied to Old Testament. A staple of their argumentation is that we can have confidence that we have the Word of God in the modern critical editions because it’s based on earlier and better evidence than other works of antiquity. However, the same people will usually insist that we can be confident about the readings of the Bible as a whole, but the OT would fail by those standards. The earliest material we have for the OT are the ~3rd Century BC Dead Sea Scrolls, which do include virtually the entirety of Isaiah, but otherwise little more than scraps of the rest of the OT. For the rest of the Hebrew Bible, we have the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex, which are from the 10th and 11th centuries AD. Considering that the Pentateuch was written c. 1500 BC, we’re talking about a gap of ~2500 years from the autographs to our earliest copies. To dodge this obvious problem, evidence-based apologists will appeal to how similar the material is in the Dead Sea Scrolls is to the later copies we have, and indeed this is a remarkable testament to God’s providence in preserving His Word. However, they have already rejected appealing to God’s providence to ground the text of Scripture, and so to fill in the massive gaps between the earliest copies and the originals they appeal to the rigorous copying techniques of the Jewish Masoretes, and say this is sufficient reason from a purely naturalistic perspective to trust that the OT we have is authentic. But this argument cannot withstand any serious scrutiny, because it relies on extrapolating the techniques of the later Masoretes (6th-10th centuries AD) all the way back to the time of Moses. The history given to us in our Bible makes this impossible. Are we to believe that the techniques of the Masoretes were employed during the Babylonian Captivity? If we insist on not appealing to the promises of God when establishing our text, what historical evidence would anyone bring to say those practices existed during that time? Further, we know there wasn’t any extensive copying during the early reign of Josiah, because the copy found in the Temple was the only one they had (2 Kings 22:8-10). You can say that it was faithfully transmitted before and after that event, which I do, but you must admit that our grounds for saying that with confidence can only be God’s promise to preserve His Word. And if you say that we can be confident about the readings of a text that’s removed 2500 years from its originals, how can you turn around and say we’re wrong for trusting a text 1500 years removed from its originals is authentic? Are we wrong to do that because you believe the evidence we’ve found since that time undermines the TR (despite the fact this evidence isn’t good enough to prove that a single reading of our TR is inauthentic)? If that’s the case, why can you be confident that the Hebrew Bible we have is authentic, and that we won’t find earlier evidence for it that undermines it, in the same way you believe the TR has since been undermined? You surely can’t claim that our copies of the OT are too near to their originals to make that impossible. You are left where we are, and where we will always remain by the grace of God: trusting in God’s providence for your Bible.

Conclusion

When there’s a conflict between the plain reading of Scripture and the “plain reading” of other forms of evidence, we must always let Scripture interpret the evidence, and not let evidence interpret the Scriptures. This, I contend, is the foundation of creationism as well as the TR. Scripture was given to us to read and understand by the infallible God, but extra-biblical evidence has no such promise attached to it, and we have no reason to believe the “plain reading” of the current consensus of any human field was meant to lead us into truth. When the choice is between arguments built on the infallible ground of Scripture and arguments built on the quicksand of man’s reasoning, latest archaeological findings, and favorite scholars, we hope the right decision is clear.

Footnotes:

[1] Proverbs 11:14, of course, is speaking of godly counselors – followers of the old paths whose wisdom is rooted in God’s Word, such as the old men who counseled Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12:7. The verse is not speaking of counselors that may appear in the third category – those like the young men who counseled Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12:10-11 out of their own fleshly wisdom. The latter type of counselors multiply only folly.

[2] Hills, Edwards. The King James Version Defended. Des Moines: The Christian Research Press, 1997. Pg. 225.

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.

Doubly Dead: Danger Ahead!

DANGER. It’s a term not to be used lightly. While we, as Christians, look forward to eternal peace with the Father, in the Son, our present environment comes with no shortage of danger. In particular, I’d like to focus on the spiritual danger imposed by false teachers and apostates. To set the stage, we’ll primarily be in Jude. Jude is a small epistle consisting of only a single chapter. However, in that one chapter is a very important lesson that we all need to learn. As hinted at, it is the subject of apostates and false teachers within the Church. For the purposes of this article, our focus will be on Jude 1-13. We’ll simply address each verse individually as we paint the scene.

Jude 1
Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ:

First of all, we see that it was Jude who wrote this epistle. As it is written in verse 1, we can see that Jude is the brother of James. However, James was not his only brother. He was also the brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55). Some doubt Jude’s family ties by saying he would have mentioned Jesus instead of James in this verse, but it is commonly held that James was simply practicing humility. He could have clearly bragged about his relations with Christ. Instead, he lowered himself to nothing more than a bond servant. If we look at James 1:1, we can see James describes himself in the exact same way.

Knowing who it was written by is equally as important as knowing who it was written to. Verse 1 tells us it was written to believers. This was not a message for anybody who had ears. It had an intended audience. Jude had a word for believers, and by God’s grace it has been preserved for us. Notice how it describes believers. It doesn’t simply give an Arminian tag such as “one who chose Christ,” or “one who sticks around.” It goes much deeper than that. Anybody who has ever had the chance to speak with me knows that I am a Five-Point Calvinist through and through. This is because I firmly believe this to be the conclusive truth of Scripture. In fact, even Jude 1 appears to stand in favor. It says he is writing to those who are called and those who are kept for Jesus Christ. What exactly is meant by these words?

Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, (1 Corinthians 1:1a, NASB)

To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. (John 10:3, NASB)

“These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.” (Revelation 17:14, NASB)

and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8:30, NASB)

We can see those who are called are much more than just publicly invited to something. As per Revelation, they are also chosen. As per Romans, they are predestined. Jesus is the Shepherd. He knows His sheep by name. He chose us before the foundation of the world to be His. We have been called by God.

Not only are all believers called by God before they come to Him, once called, they are also kept by God in Christ (John 17:11). No one can snatch us out of God’s hand (John 10:28). It’s His will that, if we are given to Christ by the Father, we will also be raised up on the last day (John 6:37,39; 1 Peter 1:5). Our salvation begins and ends with God. In the opening statement, Jude professes more truth than we’ll hear in an entire Leighton Flowers lecture.

Jude 2
May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you.

This is a very common opening that we see in many of the other epistles. However, it’s not merely an introduction. Mercy, grace, peace, and love are all promises of God. It’s only by His mercy and grace that we, as wretched sinners who were bound for Hell, are saved at all. Scripture calls God our peace (Ephesians 2:13-14a). We’re called to be anxious for nothing (Philippians 4:6). If we have any concerns at all, we’re to cast them on God (1 Peter 5:7). He loves us so much that He died for us (Romans 5:8), and He desires to take every bit of anxiety away from us so that He can be our complete peace.

Jude 3
Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.

Here, we can see Jude is urging his fellow believers to contend earnestly for their faith. Paul used similar wording in his epistles when he tells us to fight the good fight (1 Timothy 6:12), and to run the race in such a way that we win (1 Corinthians 9:24). Though we’re contending for our faith, it’s not something that we’re striving to obtain. The following verses demonstrate the nature of this.

By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10, NASB)

and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8:30, NASB)

Notice that it speaks of sanctification, justification, and glorification in the past tense. Saving faith is something that has already been completed in us through Christ, once and for all. The faith for which we are contending is simply our walk with God. Paul urges us in 1 Corinthians to not continue in sin for the sake of abounding in grace. We are to increase in our love for God, walk with God, and knowledge of God. This is only accomplished by continually staying in the Word as well as being in fellowship with other mature believers. We’re to continually fight the good fight. It’s in fighting this good fight that we will find ourselves equipped to recognize false teaching and steer clear of lurking danger that attempts to sweep people away (Mark 13:22).

Jude 4
For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

False teachers were all over the place. In fact, they’re still all over the place. We see numerous places in Scripture where they are spoken of as having infiltrated the Church in a silent manner (Galatians 2:4; 2 Peter 2:1). Their goal was to learn about our ways so that they could pretend to be like us while pulling others astray. They introduce destructive heresies and teach things that take glory away from God and place it elsewhere (CLICK HERE FOR MORE). These people were getting to know their enemy, so to speak, even if they may not have thought about it in that way. Certainly, some false teachers are obvious to even the casual believer. Some of these include heretics such as Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar, etc. However, there are others who are in error while drawing in masses of ignorant (and I use the term in the most loving way possible) believers. Some of these teachers include Steven Furtick and Beth Moore. Even with what seems to be an unending mine field of false teaching, and we need sound teachers and pastors to assist us in navigating through it, we shouldn’t be deceived into thinking they are there by accident.

A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. (1 Peter 2:8, NASB)

What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? (Romans 9:22, NASB)

While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. (John 17:12, NASB)

No, these men are not here by accident. Similarly, those Jude had in mind weren’t there by accident either. They were appointed by God’s sovereign will to be the foul apostates that they were. Even Judas Iscariot is described as the son of perdition. His whole purpose was to be destroyed. The Greek for “of perdition” is apōleia. It literally means annihilation. He was created to betray Jesus and then be completely and thoroughly destroyed. It goes so far as to say he was a child of utter annihilation. He was born to it. In all of this, God’s glory is made known through his power and wrath.

Jude 5
Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe.

Jude speaks of the future of unbelievers. This ties into the beautiful companionship of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Though all things are set in motion and held in place by God, the unbeliever destroys himself in his rejection of God and constant state of sin. We don’t hear about Hell very often in the Church today. Jonathan Edwards gave a sermon in 1741 called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Over the years, while being acknowledged as one of the most powerful sermons of all times, it has been the subject of backlash among bitter Christians who desire a feel-good Gospel. Even if we think we are familiar with sound doctrine, it needs repeating (2 Peter 1:12). A pattern you might notice in my articles is that I quote many verses over and over again over a period of time. I also touch on many core doctrines repeatedly. There is nothing wrong with this. Both Peter and Jude were under the impression that, despite already knowing certain teachings, it’s important to repeat them and remind fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. This is how we remain sharp as we fight the good fight before us.

Jude 6
And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day,

Here, Jude refers to another group who rebelled against God and will one day be destroyed for it. It’s the fallen angels who followed after Satan.

Most of us know the story of the fall of the angels. Lucifer was an angel who rebelled against God, and, in fact, wanted to be God. As a result of his disobedience and rebellion, he was cast out of heaven and one-third of the angels were cast out with him because they chose to follow Satan instead of God (Isaiah 14:12-15; Revelation 12:4a). The result was being cast into pits of darkness, reserved for judgment (2 Peter 2:4). This is no minor event as it set the stage for the very fight we’re told to keep up.

Jude 7
just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.

Jude continues with his theme of the relationship of rebellion and destruction. Just as God will destroy the fallen angels, He also destroyed Sodom & Gomorrah by fire for their perverted lusts, homosexuality, etc. We will be held accountable for our actions. While sin can be satisfying to the flesh at the time, we will reap nothing but death from it. Danger abounds!

Jude 8
Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties.

The “these men” that Jude speaks of are the same men he spoke of in verse 4. They are the apostates who are in the Church posing as brothers and sisters in Christ. Jude just finished speaking poorly of the fallen angels as well as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Note that he now refers to these men as performing many of the same acts. Yet somehow these men are within the Church! It may seem hard to believe that someone like this could possibly blend in among us but it happens all the time. Refer to the above examples if there is any doubt. This is why we need to know how to spot them. We need to stay grounded in the Word so that we can know how to properly discern truth from error.

Jude 10
But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed.

Verse 8 says these men speak harshly of angelic majesties and of God. Verse 10 goes on to say that, despite being in the Church and acting like a Christian, these men do not understand the ways of the Church. If they truly understood, they wouldn’t have been acting the way they were. Though this is to be expected from the natural man in his unregenerate state. It’s simply not possible to understand the things of God unless you first have the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14). All these men know is the evil of their unregenerate nature and that is the very thing that destroys them. In the end, they will be held accountable. They sin abundantly so that grace may abound. Paul tells us this is the exact opposite of how a Christian is to live his life.

Jude 12-13
These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.

There is a lot to be said in these two verses. On the surface, a lot of it can be confusing due to all the metaphors. Because of this, I want to break it down piece by piece.

Jude 12a
These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves;

These men care only for themselves. They are as the shepherds of Israel who were feeding themselves while forsaking the flock (Ezekiel 34:2). They don’t care about the Christians within the Church, nor do they help them when in a time of need. They blend in with us but only take for themselves. They look out for #1.

Jude 12b
clouds without water,

Just like clouds without rain, these men are empty on the inside and serve no purpose (Proverbs 25:14). They revile the things of God yet often claim to be “holier than thou” in their quest for preeminance and glory.

Jude 12c
carried along by winds;

They are not rooted in the Word but go with many new doctrines and blow every which way. I’m reminded of the tragic downward spiral of Francis Chan as he seems to continually be carried about by every wind of doctrine and by the trickery of men (Ephesians 4:14). Look out at the overgrown grass in a field on a windy day. The grass will sway in one direction for a little while but, before you know it, it begins swaying in a different direction. As the wind changes direction, so the grass changes with it. The same is said of the men Jude is referring to. There is no absolute truth to these men. There is only what tickles their fancy at the time. There is no root. We are not to be like these men. We are to be rooted in the Word. A helpful tool that can greatly assist those who may be struggling as they seek to systematize their doctrinal position is an orthodox confession or creed. I highly recommend the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689).

Jude 12d
autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted;

Now picture the trees toward the end of autumn. The leaves begin to fall off. In fact, most trees can even look as if they are dead. If you didn’t know any better, you would guess it was never going to be green again. However, in time, leaves begin to sprout and flowers begin to blossom. It’s not so with these men. Not only do they appear to be dead on the outside, they are truly dead on the inside. They have no root in Christ at all. This shouldn’t come as any surprise. Jesus said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted” (Matthew 15:13).

If we remember earlier, Scripture plainly told us that these men are not here by accident. They may be responsible for their current status but they were appointed by God long beforehand to bring God glory through His wrath. They may be silently wreaking havoc within the Church for now, but there will come a day when God will uproot every one of them and destroy them. Though they may not yet be physically uprooted, spiritually speaking, they are already dead. In fact, Scripture refers to them as doubly dead; dead on the outside and dead on the inside. There is no fruit on a plant that has no root. These men are the ones Christ refers to when He speaks of the unforgivable sin in Matthew 12. They have no hope. They have seen the grace of God in the Church. They have broken bread with Christians. They have enjoyed the blessings of the Church. Despite all of this, they do not understand the things of the Spirit, do not have faith in Christ, and revile the things of God. There is no hope whatsoever of them ever coming to repentance and there is no other way to deal with them but to cast them out of the Church as one would pull a weed from a garden. The problem is in spotting them.

I’m reminded of the garden my wife was trying to grow. She had planted a few different types of seeds and flowers. Over time, the seeds sprouted and things began to grow. She was particularly proud of one that seemed to grow more than the rest. She didn’t remember planting it, but she thought it was a wild plant that happened to land there somehow. She briefly looked it up in a book and came to the conclusion that it was a certain type of wild flower. This thing grew to be as tall as our children. One day we had a neighbor over. He asked us why on earth we had a weed that was as tall as that one. My wife was shocked and slightly embarrassed. Neither of us knew what it was. In fact, we thought it was something it wasn’t. Yet, somehow, this friend was able spot it for what it really was: a weed. Sometimes, something is able to blend in and seem like the real deal while, in reality, it’s doing nothing more than killing what is around it while thriving on its own.

Jude 13a
wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam;

These men are not at peace. Jude calls them wild waves of the sea. Isaiah uses the same descriptive terms when speaking of the wicked (Isaiah 57:20-21). They have no control or order to them. They crash about randomly on their own with no guidance.

They boast in their own folly (Proverbs 15:21). They profess to be wise as if it will make them look prominent. However, it is this same “wisdom” that brings them shame and destroys them (Romans 1:22). If you look carefully at false teachers, the common thread is that they seek glory, have showmanship, and take their follower’s eyes off of sound doctrine. Their end state will certainly be destruction (Philippians 3:19).

Jude 13b
wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.

As we reviewed above:

A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. (1 Peter 2:8, NASB)

“While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. (John 17:12, NASB)

What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? (Romans 9:22, NASB)

Not only are these false teachers/apostates bound for Hell but, in God’s sovereignty, it is actually reserved for them! Do not be like these men. We’re called to live for God and serve Him with everything we have. If we say we love God, we are to truly act it out in our every day lives. Be careful in the things you teach to another and always check yourself to make sure that you are God-oriented and not self-oriented. Learn to spot those whom Jude was speaking of so that you can accomplish what he so strongly urges.

Jude 3
Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.

~ Travis W. Rogers

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

How Much Devil Should You Study?

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil

Romans 16:17-19

The above passage is one of many that deals with the topic of biblical separation. The doctrine of separation is unpopular enough as it is, but the verses of Romans 16:17-19 should be more unpopular still, because they take the doctrine a step further than places like 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. In 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, the Bible only applies the doctrine of separation to fellowship, but Romans 16:17-19 extends it to all the way to knowledge, so that we are instructed to be “wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.” In an age driven by information, it may seem foolish and even offensive to suggest that sometimes ignorance really can be bliss, yet this appears to be what the Apostle is saying here. However, the title of this post, “How Much Devil Should You Study?”, is also not completely rhetorical. While Paul is admonishing us to avoid familiarizing ourselves with error to some degree, we will see that this prohibition is not so sweeping that it forbids knowledge of any kind concerning false worldviews. But this concession in no way vindicates those who rush headlong into the other pit; this text indeed rebukes those who make an idol out of learning. To discern the narrow path between the two pits, we will examine this passage in more depth and then compare Scripture with Scripture to uncover the full meaning behind the Apostle’s words.

The Text

The most pertinent part of this passage for our purposes is verse 19b, which reads, “I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.” We must discuss this verse in a little depth, because its rendering by several popular translations obscures its meaning. What the KJV, NKJV, Geneva, and others translate as “simple,” many others translate as “innocent.” This doesn’t necessarily change the meaning of the text (which can be thoroughly established by the context in either case) but it makes it somewhat less clear, and opens the door for people to try to interpret it like the NLT’s paraphrase of a “translation” does, which renders 19b as, “I want you to be wise in doing right and to stay innocent of any wrong.” That is not what the text says, which reads identically in the Greek regardless of what underlying Greek text you use. The Greek word in question is “akeraious” (ακεραιους). The “a” in akeraious serves the same function as the “a” in ahistorical or atheist (both words have Greek origins) – i.e., the “a” is a negative prefix, and would be like placing a “not-” before the word. Keraious is believed to be a derivative of kerannymi, which means “mix” or “mingled.” According to its etymology, then, the literal meaning of akeraious would be “not-mixed,” which is indeed its primary definition given by Thayer’s Greek Lexicon. In secular works, it was often used to describe things such as pure metals – things that were not mixed with other substances. But beyond this primary meaning, however, it also has a strong moral connotation. The word behaves in precisely the same way as the English words “pure” and “simple” do, both of which – in their literal sense – suggest something that’s “undiluted,” “uncompounded,” or “unmixed.” But, just like akeraious, they have moral connotations that often extend beyond their literal meanings, so that something can be described as “pure” that may in other respects be quite complex.

Given this information, is “innocent” an inaccurate translation of akeraious? Well, it’s not so much inaccurate as it is incomplete, or – at the very least – somewhat presumptuous. There may be contexts where it’s clear that only the moral connotation of the word is in view (Matthew 10:16 would be an example), but that’s not the case in Romans 16:19. On the contrary, the preceding verses are precisely about avoiding evil deceivers (i.e., not mixing with them), and as a consequence we are unmixed concerning evil. No doubt the moral connotation is also there, but it’s there on account of – not at the expense of – the literal, primary meaning. In other words, Paul indeed is saying that he wants the Romans to be innocent concerning evil, but they would be innocent by virtue of being simple concerning evil. Since “simple” already possesses both an analogous literal meaning and an analogous moral connotation to akeraious, it’s a perfect translation of the word in this context. This understanding is further supported by the fact that Paul is clearly juxtaposing akeraious with the word translated as “wise” (sophous [σοφους]) for the purpose of contrasting them and advising a contrary course of action. Rather than having the Romans to be wise concerning the evil (as he would have them be concerning the good), Paul wants them to be the opposite of that, because the opposite of good demands an opposite approach. But “simple” – and not “innocent” – is the opposite of wise, and so the contrast Paul makes would make little sense if we understood akeraious to only mean innocent.

The context might be even more decisive than the meaning of akeraious. In the 21st Century, it may be easy to imagine how we could mark and avoid those who cause divisions, and yet remain well-educated concerning their doctrine. However, in Paul’s immediate context (and the context of the vast majority of Church history for that matter), this would be an impossibility for nearly all of the Church. Most people in Paul’s days were illiterate, and couldn’t exactly Google the arguments of nearby heretics if they avoided them. In those days, to avoid a group of people would be to virtually guarantee that you would never hear their perspective except as reframed by those on your side. With this in mind, it almost doesn’t matter how one tries to bend verse 19, because the logical result of Paul’s instruction to avoid the Church’s enemies is that the people of God would be simple concerning false doctrine.

What he’s NOT saying

Paul is not saying that we should stick our heads in the sand and ignore the evil around us. He is not saying that we should be so intent on avoiding a confrontation with error that we retreat to our own bubbles that never interact with the world we sojourn in. On the contrary, Paul expressly denounces such hermit-like behavior in 1 Corinthians 5:9-10, where he says, “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.” As far as physical separation goes, Paul only instructs us to practice this when it comes to “any man that is called a brother” who is engaged in the above behavior (v. 11), but he does not encourage us to practice this in regards to those not numbered among us. We would need to leave the world altogether to do that. Accordingly, Romans 16:17-19 is likewise primarily directed at avoiding those who are falsely called brothers as well as their perversions of the Scriptures, even if the admonition to be simple concerning evil doesn’t seem to be entirely limited to that.

Paul is most definitely not advocating a total ignorance of the errors of this world. In regards to the Devil, the Apostle says plainly that “we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11). There are many sections of Scripture that refer broadly to the pagan practices around the people of God, as well as to the workings of the enemy himself. God, in His wisdom, has seen it fit that His people should be aware of these things, so that we might be able to anticipate the operations of the one who opposes us. We are warned expressly about certain heresies which beset the early Church, such as the proto-gnostics that denied Jesus’ humanity (2 John 7, 1 John 4:2, etc.). We also see the Apostle Paul himself quoting a pagan philosopher to prove a point in Acts 17:28. All this would be impossible if we were forbidden to know anything about the systems of unbelief around us. How could we even avoid those like the proto-gnostics if we refuse to investigate them enough to know that they deny Jesus’ humanity? The same could be said of all other groups that deny the central tenets of the Christian faith. We can’t know that they’re in opposition to us without learning something about what they believe.

What he IS saying

He IS saying that we should be “simple concerning evil.” To be simple about something doesn’t mean that you know nothing, but it does mean that you don’t overly familiarize yourself with it. You should have a general sense of what people around you believe, and you should understand where the unbelievers diverge from the Faith and why what they believe is damnable error. You should understand the risk they pose to you, especially if there is any chance that their deceptions might creep into believing circles. But you can do all this and still be simple concerning their errors, because none of this should necessitate a deep dive into their teachings. Concerning the intricacies of their doctrine, you have learned enough when you have learned that they do not preach Christ crucified, and that they deny the simple Gospel that salvation is by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone, according to the merits of Christ Alone. You have learned enough when you learn that they deny the central truths about who God is, who Jesus is, and what the biblical way of salvation is. You have learned enough when it becomes clear that people in this group need the Good News of Jesus Christ preached to them, and at that point this is what you should be concerting your efforts to do. If this is your approach, you can very easily learn what the Bible tells us is necessary to learn about systems of unbelief while also following the apostolic admonition to be simple.

The best way to learn what it means to be biblically simple is to look at the examples the Bible gives us to follow. If we confess that Scripture is indeed sufficient, and that it is capable of making us “perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:17), and also confess that apologetics is a good work, then we can expect to find the principles directing us how to engage in it within the Word of God. And find it we do, with confrontations between believers and unbelievers appearing throughout the Scriptures. Yet, in none of these cases do we find evidence of the saints doing intense research into the positions of the children of darkness. When Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal, there is no hint of him studying the details of Baalic worship, their preferred “sacred” texts, or their favorite festival days. On the contrary, he lets the power of God speak for itself (1 Kings 18:36-38). In the New Testament, whenever we see Christians give an answer for the hope that is within them (1 Peter 3:15), the reason they give is always through the authority of God’s Word and grounded in the reality of the Lord’s Resurrection. The closest we see to familiarity of unbelieving thought is the already alluded to verse of Acts 17:28, but this doesn’t fall into the primary category that Paul is concerned with in Romans 16:19; Paul, in Acts, is referencing a nugget of truth contained in the pagan poet’s writings, and not to the heretical distortions of Scripture that would be made by those he is instructing us to avoid. Chiefly, it is the depths of those Satanic distortions that Paul wants us to be simple of – he is not telling us to be simple concerning anything that just isn’t explicitly Christian.

The biblical precedent is clear; the best defense is a good offense. Rather than exhorting us to study evil, Scripture exhorts us to “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). We are told that the way “to stand against the wiles of the devil” is to “Put on the whole armour of God” (Ephesians 6:11), which is composed of the girdle of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the preparation of the Gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:14-17). All of these things – which the Bible proclaims are effective against the Devil – are obtained from God through studying, applying, and receiving His truth into our lives. None of them stem from the study of evil.

Potential Objections

I anticipate that the greatest source of pushback against this post would stem from practical concerns. Perhaps one might ask, “How can we effectively persuade others to leave their errors without thorough research?” Or else they might say, “Will we not lose intellectual respectability with unbelievers? How will we be taken seriously if we timidly avoid those who disagree with us?” Neither of these objections are well-founded. The first one fails to understand the true means of converting sinners, which is the supernatural, self-authenticating authority of the Word of God, and not an exchange of ideas. To be sure, God often uses other means in the process and some of those means are legitimate. However, not all the means that God may work through in saving sinners are authorized for us to practice. As the saying goes, God is perfectly able to draw a straight line using a crooked stick, and sometimes those crooked sticks include seeker-sensitive worship services, charismatic revivals, and even “Christian” tarot cards in some bizarre cases. None of those are the least bit justifiable from Scripture. If you’re convinced that it “works” to thoroughly study evil when witnessing to the lost, you must show why this conviction legitimizes the practice anymore than Andy Stanley’s conviction would legitimize his unhitching of the Old Testament when he evangelizes, when both approaches are unauthorized. We must preach the Gospel after the pattern given us in the New Testament, which assures us that it is itself the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16).

The second hypothetical objection fails partly by misunderstanding the position advocated here, and also by striving for something the Bible repudiates as sinful. We do not avoid those who disagree with us, nor does the Apostle’s instruction demand that we run and duck for cover anytime we find ourselves in a situation where we begin to hear more about an aberrant view. Far from being timid, this position requires great boldness. It requires us to be confident that any detailed knowledge of the evil we face is unnecessary to overcome it, because our sword – God’s Word – is guaranteed to be more than sufficient to deal with any obstacle in our path. We are to be so confident in our General that there is no need to scout out the land of our enemies, for the battle is already ours. Whatever nuance, novelty, or sophistry the devil throws at us, we know that none of his adherents have an answer to one of the most simple questions: How will you stand before a Thrice-Holy God when you lie dead in your sins? The righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ and His death on the Cross for our sins remains the only means of abiding in the presence of the God who is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).

However, the objector would be right in saying that – if you follow this example – you will be looked down on by the world and lose intellectual respectability. But this is guaranteed for any man who simply believes the Gospel, let alone any other biblical doctrines: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). You can never obtain intellectual respectability with the world, and we are never instructed to pursue it. If we were to neglect the commands of the Bible for the sake of appearing intelligent, we would ultimately have to abandon the core truths of Scripture altogether. We should be more concerned with what God thinks of us than what man thinks of us.

Practical Motivations for the Doctrine

Why does the Apostle want us to be simple? As someone who has spent much of my time in the past absorbed in false worldviews, it isn’t difficult for me to understand potential motivations for the doctrine. Ultimately, I believe we shouldn’t fill our heads with too much error for the same reason we shouldn’t fill our heads with too much crass TV; it pollutes the mind. Even when you know the content you’re absorbing is wicked and false, that doesn’t stop it from seeping into your mind and popping up over and over again without your permission. The more you expose yourself to heretical perspectives, the more you ingrain them as permanent “voices” in your head, accompanying you as you read every passage, enter into every argument, and face every trial in your life, hoping to prey on your weaknesses. Sure, all error can be refuted and shown to not be built on the foundation of Truth, but that doesn’t stop it from sticking with you and constantly reasserting itself, even when you’re trying to do nothing else but reflect on the Truth you seek to defend. Little can be so corrosive to personal piety than when you are ceaselessly engaged in combating error at the very moment you are seeking peace and respite – in the regular reading of God’s sacred Word. Yet, this is precisely what the obsession with error can lead to, and it can seriously impede your ability to rest in the peace of Christ on this side of glory.

My purpose in writing this is not to encourage intellectual laziness, but to encourage intellectual rigor in the area that is much more profitable – in the study of the Truth. Who reading this will say that they have mastered the faith and are now ready to move on to mastering unbelief? The Bible is a well without a bottom and its depths can never be sounded out. We find more than enough armory to withstand whatever the devil may throw at us in it, and unlike the evils that beset us, we are always spiritually edified by anything we learn from Scripture. Why not seek to be wise unto the good?

“Love Your Enemy” in Exodus and Leviticus

We’ve all heard someone espouse the idea that somehow “the God of the Old Testament” is different than “the God of the New Testament.” This is claimed because they say that in the New Testament God is so loving and caring while in the Old Testament God is wrathful and mean. This is extremely frustrating because it’s obviously not true to anyone who has any passing familiarity with the Gospels. Jesus talks about coming judgement and how terrible it will be (Matthew 25:31-46, for example). However, while I think it’s easy to demonstrate from the New Testament that God’s wrath is indeed still present, I’d like to do the converse today. I’d like to show that God, in the Old Testament, was commanding the exact same things that Jesus was in the New. There is no disharmony in the teachings at all.

One of the supposedly more radical teachings of Jesus is that we should love and do good to our enemies. Surely, this idea was never taught before! I think this short passage from Exodus will put that to rest:

4 “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again.  5 If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.

The New King James Version. (1982). (Ex 23:4–5). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Here God is commanding the Israelites to do good to their enemy, even the “one who hates you.” Is this not the exact same sentiment that Jesus taught in the Gospels? God commands good to our enemies, regardless of what they’ve done to us. It is only out of ignorance that people can claim Jesus diverges from Old Testament moral teaching.

Another thing Jesus said was to “love your neighbor as yourself” (see Matthew 22:39). Surely, that teaching can’t be found in the Old Testament? Except, when Jesus says this, He is literally quoting from Leviticus 19:18

17 ‘You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

The New King James Version. (1982). (Le 19:17–18). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is an Old Testament teaching. There should have been nothing radical in Jesus teaching to His Jewish hearers. They should have already been exposed to the idea. Even in this passage the Israelites are commanded to not take vengeance, once again showing they were to love their enemies and not persecute them. In God’s law, wrongs were to be overlooked and people were not to be treated in accordance with their wicked deeds against you. It’s time to lay the slander against God to rest.

Application

Before closing out this article, I want to make some application for the Christian. We’ve heard the teachings of Jesus so many times we’re liable to not remember just how radical (from a worldly perspective) His statements are. Hopefully, looking at the same idea presented in the Old Testament has encouraged you to remember how we should live in this world. We should love our enemies and do good to them. It doesn’t matter if they’ve cheated, stolen from, oppressed, slandered, microaggressed, or even done actual violence to us. We are still to love them and do good to them. If you don’t want to do this, can you say you truly believe in Christ? If you don’t believe in Him, then you will see His wrathful side on the Day of Judgement. Repent and believe in Him, and you will find Him to be just as merciful as the New Testament portrays Him.

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