CHRISTMAS: A Reason to Celebrate

CHRISTMAS. It’s a time of rejoicing. It’s a time for family to be together. It’s a time for opening gifts. It’s a time for seeing others open gifts. It’s a time for setting our diets to the side. It’s a time to relax. While it has become all these things, it is really so much more.

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. (Matthew 1:18-19, NASB)

The birth of Jesus was not your average trip to the hospital. In fact, there was nothing normal about it at all. Even from the beginning, it was unique. The verses above begin by telling us that Joseph was engaged to be married to Mary. In those days, marriages were arranged most times. The groom or his family paid a price to the bride’s family that covered expenses of the wedding ceremony as well as other areas. The betrothal, or kiddushin, was actually enough to legally bind the bride and groom in marriage. Despite this, the couple would not have sexual relations for quite some time to come. In some cases, this could span the course of even a year. This would not normally occur until the marriage ceremony, or huppah, took place. They were already in the betrothed stage but had not yet come together in a sexual sense as is indicated in the text.

Despite this, we find that Mary was found to be with child. Joseph’s natural reaction was that he had been cheated on. There were a few options with him at this point. Old Testament Law, which they were under, stated Joseph had every right to take Mary out in public and stone her to death. If her adulterer was ever to be found, he would join her in death by stoning (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). Should he not desire her death, he could have at the very least made her ashamed for the rest of her life by leading a life marked of adultery. However, notice that Joseph does not appear to harbor any anger or resentment. He did not desire to publicly shame her or have her stoned. Not only was he a righteous man, but he also loved her. This love is evident by the fact that he desired to put her away secretly. Remember, they were already legally married although the ceremony and the consummation had not yet taken place. The word used for “send her away” literally meant a secret divorce. He loved her enough that despite being “cheated” on, he desired her safety. He would divorce her secretly and buy her some time before the public realized what had happened. However, God had other plans.

20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” (Matthew 1:20-23, NASB)

Joseph was afraid and rightly so. He assumed he had been cheated on, as they had not had sexual relations, yet she was pregnant. He was to have her stoned to death under the Law, yet he still loved her and cared for her safety. He was about to lose his wife to adultery before the ceremony could even take place. This, in turn, would embarrass him as well. God took all these fears and put him at ease. He sent an angel to Joseph to appear to him in a dream. This one spot in Scripture is a very important passage. He tells Joseph that Mary did not cheat on him and that the baby was actually conceived of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, being a righteous man, would have known Scripture very well. It was not simply casual reading for them. It was a way of life filled with study and memorization from childhood. The angel quoted Isaiah. The virgin birth was actually prophesied some 650 years prior. Furthermore, the name prophesied by Isaiah was Immanuel which means “God with us.” This name means more than they could have guessed. Not only is God with us but he literally came to be with us in the flesh.

24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (Matthew 1:24-25, NASB)

Imagine the relief that must have followed upon waking! Scripture doesn’t say he deliberated in what to do. It says he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and he took Mary as his wife. The ceremony, or huppah, took place. At this point, he had every right to have sexual relations with his wife. Despite this, we are told they refrained from doing so. We are told he kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son. Despite the teaching of the Roman Catholic institution, it’s safe to say he didn’t refrain from natural marriage relations forever as the text says that it was only until she gave birth. Not to mention, Scripture gives the names of other children of Mary. However, Jesus was different. While Joseph was His legal father, His natural Father was of Heaven above. The baby’s name was Jesus and, according to the angel, He was going to save His people from their sins.

No, Jesus was not just your ordinary pregnancy and birth. He was unique in every way. It had to be so in order to fulfill the prophecy declared all throughout the Old Testament. Jesus matched every single prophecy and not one was overlooked. This is because He is who the Bible claims Him to be: God in the flesh sent not to condemn the world but to save it.

My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning…… All who see me sneer at me; They separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying, “Commit yourself to the LORD; let Him deliver him; Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.”……. For dogs have surrounded me; A band of evildoers has encompassed me; They pierced my hands and my feet……. They divide my garments among them, And for my clothing they cast lots. (Psalm 22: 1, 7-8, 16, & 18)

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” (Matthew 27:46, NASB)

And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.” (Luke 23:35, NASB)

So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”……….. Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” (John 20:25 & 27)

And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots. (Matthew 27:35, NASB)

He keeps all his bones, not one of them is broken. (Psalm 34:20, NASB)

So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; (John 19:32, NASB)

Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me. (Psalm 41:9, NASB)

I do not speak of all of you I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘HE WHO EATS MY BREAD HAS LIFTED UP HIS HEEL AGAINST ME.’ (John 13:18, NASB)

While we are all on this Earth trying to live our lives, Jesus came to this Earth to glorify the Father by dying for our lives. This is the real reason for the season. Presents and family time are fun and can even be an important time of togetherness, but we should never let it overshadow why it is we even have a season to celebrate. It’s because of this one baby boy born under the most peculiar of circumstances so that we might one day have eternal life through Him. I urge you all to ponder this thought as we prepare to celebrate the most important birthday party in all of history. Merry Christmas!

~ Travis W. Rogers

Of Creation Part 2

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

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

Paragraph 2:

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

2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689

Paragraph 3:

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

2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689

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

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

The Duality of Man’s Disposition

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

Genesis 2:7

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

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

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

The Christian Faith, page 374

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

Luke 10:27

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

Hebrews 4:12

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

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

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

The Christian Faith, page 375

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

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

2 Corinthians 5:1-8

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

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

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

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

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

The Christian Faith, page 379

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

What is the “image of God”?

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

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

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 549

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

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

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

Bavinck says,

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

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 555

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

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

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

Romans 2:12-16

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

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

Bavinck says,

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

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 559

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

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

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

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

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 561

Did Adam and Eve have true free will?

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

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

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

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

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

The Institutes of the Christian Religion Volume 1, page 195

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

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

The Institutes of the Christian Religion Volume 1, page 195

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

Romans 3:10-18

As it is written:

“There is none righteous, no, not one;

11 There is none who understands;

There is none who seeks after God.

12 They have all turned aside;

They have together become unprofitable;

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

13 “Their throat is an open [d]tomb;

With their tongues they have practiced deceit”;

“The poison of asps is under their lips”;

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

15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;

16 Destruction and misery are in their ways;

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

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

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

Calvin again,

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

The Institutes of the Christian Religion Volume 1, page 264

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

Of Creation Part 1

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

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

2LBCF (1677/89) IV.1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reformed Dogmatics Volume 2, page 416

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

Herman Bavinck says,

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

Reformed Dogmatics Volume 2, pages 158-159

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

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

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

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

2 Timothy 1:9

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

Titus 1:2

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

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

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

All That Is in God, page 79

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

John Owen notes,

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

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

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

Change in God and Creation

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

Barcellos says,

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

Trinity & Creation A Scriptural and Confessional Account page 43

Richard Muller notes,

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

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

We see this doctrine by what is revealed in Scripture:

Job 35:6-7

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

Acts 17:23-28

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

TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.

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

Exodus 3:13-15

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

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

Numbers 23:19

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

Nor a son of man, that He should repent.

Has He said, and will He not do?

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

Malachi 3:6

For I am the Lord, I do not change;

Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.

James 1:17

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

Hebrews 6:13-18

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

Daniel 4:35

All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing;

He does according to His will in the army of heaven

And among the inhabitants of the earth.

No one can restrain His hand

Or say to Him, “What have You done?”

Isaiah 40:14

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

And taught Him in the path of justice?

Who taught Him knowledge,

And showed Him the way of understanding?

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

Creation: Poetry or History?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

How Shall We Live? Reminders for Life!

In last week’s article, we went over Jude 1-13. While we learned that Jude was the brother of Jesus, we also learned this was not a point that Jude felt he should brag about. In fact, he doesn’t even mention it in his letter. Jude felt his calling was to be a bondservant of Christ. He felt it necessary to teach of a certain group of men within the Church. These men were apostates and false teachers who, though appearing to belong in the Church, actually acted as nothing more than weeds dragging everybody else down.

For this article, I’d like to continue with Jude and dive into the remainder of his message. He wasn’t content telling us what to beware of. His message wasn’t wouldn’t be complete until he also told us how we are to live for Christ. He tells us what to watch out for and then goes on to tell us what to become. Just as with last week, I’ll refrain from posting all of Jude 14-25, for the sake of brevity. Again, I invite you to open your bible and follow along as we venture down this trail.

Jude 17
But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Note how Jude refers to us. He calls us beloved. This wasn’t merely an impersonal message to church members. It wasn’t a memo to be passed around. It was a deeply personal message written to his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no stronger bond than that of Christ. In calling us “beloved” we can feel the sense of love and concern that he was putting forth. He stresses the importance of remembering the words spoken by the apostles. In Jude’s day, this was done through verbal traditions. These words would have been passed on by word of mouth and held on to dearly. If anything, we are in a much better position because we have the Word of God. Jude didn’t have a New Testament to turn to whenever he felt the need to recall something. He was helping create the New Testament through inspired and authoritative writing.

Many people say Scripture memorization is only for intellectuals with great memories. This is completely untrue. If this were the case, it wouldn’t be commanded by God in His Word. This isn’t to say we need to know all of Scripture verbatim. It just means we are to be able to recall the teachings of Scripture as a whole. The only way to do this is to habitually be in the Word. the more we’re in the Word, the more comfortable we’ll become in our quest to know what it says. It’s by treasuring the Word in our hearts that we can remain pure and blameless (Psalm 119:9,11).

Jude tells us to remember the words spoken before us by the apostles. Psalm 119 tells us by keeping the Word of God in our hearts, we can avoid sinning against God. This is because it is by His Word that we are to live. Many years ago, I heard the quip that BIBLE stands for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, but it’s so much more. It’s our only true and unchanging guideline and standard by which everything else must be judged.

Jude 18-19
that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts. These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.

As we covered last week, these men are in the Church but they are not true believers. They are not followers of Christ. They follow after whatever doctrine fancies them at the time. They blow about with the wind. They crash like wild waves. They are dead both inside and out. However, we also have to remember that they were appointed by God for this condemnation long beforehand as Jude 4 tells us. Last week, we learned how to spot them. This week, we are learning how to not become like them.

Jude 20a
But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith,

We are called to build ourselves up. Simply residing on a foundation is not enough. Imagine buying a piece of property. You seek out the absolute best contractors to get a perfect foundation laid. You ride them day and night to the point where they are exhausted. You refuse to give them water when they are thirsty and you beat them when they show signs of weakness. In the end, the contractors achieve what they set out to do: create the perfect foundation. There isn’t a crack or imperfection to be found. It has been finished. Would you be content with this foundation by itself? Would you set up a tent and then call it a day knowing that you had the perfect foundation and needed nothing else? The purpose of a foundation is to prepare for a building. The better the foundation, the stronger the building will be able to hold up to the ground beneath it.

Jesus is our perfect foundation (Ephesians 2:20). We beat Him to the point of exhaustion and, when we appeared to be on top, nailed Him to the cross. We may not have been there in person but we still shout, “Crucify Him!” on a daily basis in our actions. We murder our Savior day in and day out when we are called to build upon him as our perfect foundation. While false teachers and apostates have no root, we are to be firmly rooted in Christ, being built up and established in our faith (Colossians 2:7).

Not only are we called to build up ourselves but also to build up one another (Romans 14:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:11). We are to encourage one another and care for one another. This is the exact opposite of what the apostates were doing. They cared only for themselves. This is because they lacked the one thing needed to truly care for someone other than oneself. They lacked love.

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29, NASB)

Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. (1 Corinthians 8:1b, NASB)

In the above verse, the Greek word used for “edifies” is oikodomē. It literally means to build up. We are to constantly be in a state of building. We are to build ourselves but we are also to build our neighbor. It is through love that edification can occur and it is only in Christ that we can truly love as it is meant to be.

Jude 20b
praying in the Holy Spirit,

The idea of praying in the Spirit has taken on many interpretations. Some feel it’s a supernatural prayer language. Others feel it’s the gift of tongues. However, neither of these are accurate, and they completely miss the point of what Jude was trying to say. Praying in the Spirit is simply having the Spirit pray through us. The Spirit is not some foreign deity that we have to seek out. He literally dwells within us (1 Corinthians 6:19) and guides us in our sanctification. God is a Holy God. There are many times when we may feel like we fall short and don’t deserve to go before such a Holy God. The great news is that though Romans 3:23 confirms this truth, God wants us to come before Him regardless. When we have absolutely no idea what to pray for, we are to pray that the Spirit will show us what to pray about (Romans 8:26). He will intercede on our behalf as the Helper (John 14:16). Even if there are no words to be expressed, God knows our hearts. The Spirit will move us to be holy, set apart for God. Again, to pray in the Spirit is simply to have the Spirit pray in us.

Jude 21a
keep yourselves in the love of God

Note the change in instruction here. Building ourselves up in faith and praying in the Spirit are things we are to do, but this is not the end point that Jude is making. Everything he urges us to do points to the end goal of keeping the faith. He doesn’t simply say, “Keep the faith,” while leaving us in the dark. How do we keep the faith? We keep the faith by building ourselves up and praying in the Spirit. We keep the faith by keeping our focus on God at all times and growing in Him.

While keeping in the love of God, know that it isn’t a system of legalism that does it. We can’t work our way into God’s favor. It’s by the grace of God alone that we can enjoy being in His love. While we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), that doesn’t imply works will earn us salvation. It means we are to live for God each and every day under His grace (Acts 13:43).

While we are to keep ourselves in the faith, it’s God who keeps His children. He has promised to never let any of His children go (John 6:37, 10:28). He has promised eternal life. Not only is it a promise to His children but it is a promise that has already been fulfilled. Those who are His have eternal life. However, there are many who supposedly fall away from the faith, not just for a short time, but for real. The fact of the matter is that these men never had real faith, were never children of God, and were only deceiving themselves. This is why we are called to not only build ourselves up but to also build up one another. Edify one another.

Jude 21b
waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.

While living each day for God, we have a greater hope of the future in the return of Christ (Titus 2:13). We are made in the image of God and there will be a day when we will be glorified as Christ was also glorified following his resurrection. John says the one who anxiously looks forward to the Second Coming purifies himself to the same degree in which Christ is pure (1 John 3:2-3). Keeping our sight on God with anxious expectation is a sure fire way to sanctify oneself, edify the Church, and keep ourselves for God.

Jude 22-23
And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

Jude tells us we are to have mercy on some. The “some” that he refers to appear to be broken down into three different groups of severity. While we’re to show mercy to those in each group, each requires it for a different reason. Additionally, each group necessitates we take different precautions when interacting with them.

Jude 22
And have mercy on some, who are doubting;

These people appear to be your typical lost person. They have their doubts and aren’t quite ready to take the leap of faith just yet. Just as God was merciful on us, we are to be merciful on them. As Christians, we are called to be fishers of men. By showing mercy and compassion, we are showing them the love of Christ. These men would fall under your basic evangelism and witnessing.

Jude 23a
save others, snatching them out of the fire;

These men are also doubters but to a much severer degree. They are on the fast track for Hell as we all once were. These men need emergency intervention. They need a bit more focus and dedication to be swayed to truth. At one point in time, we were all bound for Hell. All mankind has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The wages of this sin is death (Romans 6:23). However, God saved us from the flames to spend eternity worshiping Him in His court. Shouldn’t we turn around and do the same for others by spreading the Gospel and preaching Christ crucified at every opportunity?

Jude 23b
and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

This third group would be the false teachers and apostates that we spoke of last week as well as the beginning of this article. These men are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Instead of building others up, they tear them down. We’re still to have mercy on them in that we preach the Gospel to them but we are to do so with a certain sense of fear. When handling these types, be careful not to be dragged down in the process. How many relationships have you heard of where the girlfriend dated an unbeliever hoping to convert him only to be dragged away from the faith as a result of being unequally yoked? Take an instance such as that and multiply the dangers. We should hate everything that these doubly dead men stand for but we should not let that get in the way of our mission of being fishers of men. Personally, I do not recommend a new believer speak with these people. Should a new believer come across one of these types, I would urge him or her to be loving but get away and refer him to a more mature believer in the faith.

Jude 24-25
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

After everything that Jude had to say to us, he finishes it out with praise to God. All of these are reasons for us to worship the Living God.

God has promised to keep us for Himself. In fact, even verse 1 tells us we are kept for Christ. We may face temptation but this does not mean we have to stumble. When God is our foundation, we can stand firm in Him. When we stand firm in Him, we will follow His ways and His commands which will result in standing blameless before Him. Think of the joy of Christ telling us, “Well done my good and faithful servant. Enter into your rest.” It is only through Christ that we are reconciled to the Father. To God, through Christ, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority. In Christ, it is finished and eternity awaits us.

~ Travis W. Rogers

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

Glory to God Alone!

“Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
But to Your name give glory
Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth.”

Psalm 115:1, NASB

NOT TO US. We live in a world that screams, “US!” Whether it be our job success, latest toys, or life experiences, the world says to always look out for #1. The sheer number of lawsuits in the headlines proves this. We live in a world of self-entitlement where we expect to be treated the same, if not better, than everybody else. If we do something well, we want our praise. If we mess up, we want to be thanked for at least trying and giving it our best shot. To us be the praises. To us be thanks. To us be the glory!

Yet, Psalm 115 opens up with a distinctly different wording. Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory. This is a recurring theme throughout the Psalms.

“Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in holy array.” (Psalm 29:2, NASB)
“Ascribe to the LORD the glory of His name;” (Psalm 96:8a, NASB)

God’s glory is not to be shared with anyone. It belongs to Him alone.

“For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 48:11, NASB)

 From a very early age, we’re taught to share with others. Yet, God is not some child being taught how to interact with other children. God is the Creator of the universe. Colossians 1:16 says all things were created by Him, both in the heavens and on the earth. Psalm 115:15 states the same.

“God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne.” (Psalm 47:8, NASB)

How can we expect our Ruler to share His glory? How can we expect anything from God at all? Are we worthy enough to lay claim to even the smallest inheritance? What does Romans 3:23 say? Does it say that all have sinned but still deserve credit for their efforts? No! It says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God! God owes us nothing. We have zero right to claim what is not ours. By nature, we are fallen beings who deserve nothing more than death and eternal damnation. We deserve outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Our God is in the heavens. He sits on His holy throne and rules over all of creation forever and ever.  If all glory belongs to the Lord, it stands to reason that anything we might boast of is actually us attempting to rob God. Instead of giving honor and praise to the King, it is our attempt to play thief to the very One who gave us life. How arrogant can we be?!?!?! Yet, this is exactly what we see in Psalm 115:2. We see men taunting, “Where, now, is their God?” We can see the same in Psalm 42:10.

“As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:10, NASB)

Can such behavior and attitude really be excused by a holy and righteous God? Can a man go so far as to mock God and get away with it?

“Then my enemy will see, And shame will cover her who said to me, “Where is the LORD your God?” My eyes will look on her; At that time she will be trampled down Like mire of the streets.” (Micah 7:10, NASB)

 If we plan to go before God with such great audacity, be prepared to pay the price. Such a man may see death sooner rather than later.

“Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker” (Isaiah 45:9a, NASB)

The question that begs to be asked is, “Is this really fair?” Would a loving God really care if we mess up? Won’t He forgive somebody in His love so long as that person tries to be good? After all, if we have already fallen short of the glory of God, shouldn’t such behavior be expected? To this I respond with questions of my own. Is it fair that we take God for granted in times of peace? Is it fair that we neglect to thank the very One who blesses us day after day? Even more so, is it fair that the Father would send His Son to die a brutal death on the cross so that guilty men could be reconciled to Him to spend eternity basking in God’s glory in heaven? No, fairness is hardly the question at all. Psalm 115:3 very plainly states that our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.

The sovereignty of God is as much a part of His glory as any of His other attributes. God doesn’t need to consult man before acting (Ezekiel 36:22; Isaiah 40:13-14).

In His sovereignty, He created the angels, even those who fell. In His sovereignty, He created man and even decreed the Fall. In His sovereignty, He ordained to send His Son in a beautiful plan of redemption. Christ was no mere afterthought. Every last detail of life is because of God’s sovereign rule from the throne. In a sermon on Matthew 20:15, Charles Spurgeon stated:

There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that Sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children ought more earnestly to contend than the doctrine of their Master over all creation — the Kingship of God over all the works of His own hands — the Throne of God and His right to sit upon that Throne.

Charles Spurgeon (cited in “The Attributes of God” by A.W. Pink, pg. 34)

Arthur W. Pink said that:

Divine sovereignty means that God is God in fact, as well as in name, that He is on the Throne of the universe, directing all things, working all things “after the counsel of His own will”.

Arthur W. Pink (The Attributes of God, pg. 34)

It is not in spite of all of this truth that we give God glory but BECAUSE of it. Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth. While God is righteous, holy, just, jealous, and wrathful, He is also love. It is because of God’s goodness, faithfulness, and truth that we proclaim His name to the masses and declare of His goodness. Our God is so vastly different than any other god (lowercase g). He is true. He is all knowing. He is sovereign. He is eternal. He is unchanging. He is holy. He is patient. He is good. He is merciful. He is gracious. He is faithful. He is loving. But most of all, He is alive.

In Psalm 115:4-7, we see a clear distinction between our God and the idols worshiped by the world. There could’ve been any number of ways in which to describe the idols but we see a very specific description being used. Ears that do not hear. Noses that do not smell. Hands that do not feel. Feet that cannot walk. Throats that remain silent. Imagine how insulting this would’ve been to the one who worshiped such an idol. After all, we don’t take too kindly when we hear people blaspheming our God. Honestly, I can fully understand how one would be insulted. That said, I care more about not insulting God than I do about insulting man. The Scripture is plain. I love the passage in 1 Kings 18 where we see the prophet Elijah challenging the worshipers of Baal. In verses 25-29, it says:

“25 So Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one ox for yourselves and prepare it first for you are many, and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under it.” 26 Then they took the ox which was given them and they prepared it and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon saying, “O Baal, answer us.” But there was no voice and no one answered. And they leaped about the altar which they made. 27 It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened.” 28 So they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them. 29 When midday was past, they raved until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention.(1 Kings 18:25-29, NASB)

The ESV actually translates verse 27 as “Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself…” When we look at this, we see some serious smack talk. While Elijah meant all of it as a taunt, to those worshiping Baal, it wouldn’t have been too far off from a very real possibility. In some ancient texts, Baal was known as one who would travel and fight wars. He was even reported as dying and coming back to life, hence the need to be awakened. Chances are, Elijah’s taunts would’ve gone right over their heads. Nevertheless, he mocked them with a purpose. He mocked them to show that there was no voice and no god to pay attention to them. Yet, they continued to plea for their god to answer them. They leapt around and began cutting themselves in an attempt to get Baal to answer. What happened next is nothing short of amazing!

30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” So all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord which had been torn down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Israel shall be your name.” 32 So with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he made a trench around the altar, large enough to hold two measures of seed. 33 Then he arranged the wood and cut the ox in pieces and laid it on the wood. 34 And he said, “Fill four pitchers with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” And he said, “Do it a second time,” and they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time. 35 The water flowed around the altar and he also filled the trench with water. 36 At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.” (1 Kings 18:30-39, NASB)

God answered Elijah upon his first request. Not only did God accomplish what Baal could not but He accomplished even more. Whereas the Baal worshipers simply had to get him to consume the meat, Elijah had them completely drench the sacrifice in water before it was his turn. No, our God is far more powerful than a little water.

21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” (Romans 1:21-23, NASB)

Mankind made idols in every fashion you could think of including images of other men. I’m reminded of when I lived in Japan. In Kamakura, there was a giant statue of Buddha. Further down the street, there was a temple with a golden Buddha. As you walked through the gardens, you could see little statues that were dressed in various articles of clothing. These statues represented the lost children of the individual worshipers. They would go and dress these statues in winter to keep them warm. It was sad on many different levels. I remember another temple where people were fighting to get close to the Buddha idol. They wanted to drop their money into the giant box in front of the statue. You had people in the back who were literally throwing money to the front hoping to be able to give to the idol. As I looked upon the Buddha statues, you could see they came in a variety of forms ranging from a peaceful chubby guy to a fiery warrior to a demon. However, they all had one thing in common: they were all depicting a man. They had reduced God to nothing more than an image of a man. Psalm 115:4 tells us that all who make them become like them. What does this mean? The idol is empty. It’s useless. It has no voice. It’s dead. All who worship idols become just like them. Idols may be made in the image of whatever form man concocts but man is ultimately just as dead as the idol they create. They have eyes but cannot see God. They have ears but cannot hear the gospel of Christ. They have noses but cannot smell the fragrant aroma of Christ’s sacrifice. They have hands that will never be cleansed. They have feet but do not run after God. They have throats but do not praise God. Then again, Psalm 115:7 tells us as much.

Many Christians read through these texts and wonder how a man could worship something he made with his own hands. The Scriptures address this same concern.

Those who fashion a graven image are all of them futile, and their precious things are of no profit; even their own witnesses fail to see or know, so that they will be put to shame. 10 Who has fashioned a god or cast an idol to no profit? 11 Behold, all his companions will be put to shame, for the craftsmen themselves are mere men. Let them all assemble themselves, let them stand up, let them tremble, let them together be put to shame. 12 The man shapes iron into a cutting tool and does his work over the coals, fashioning it with hammers and working it with his strong arm. He also gets hungry and his strength fails; he drinks no water and becomes weary. 13 Another shapes wood, he extends a measuring line; he outlines it with red chalk. He works it with planes and outlines it with a compass, and makes it like the form of a man, like the beauty of man, so that it may sit in a house. 14 Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. 15 Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” 17 But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.” (Isaiah 44:9-17, NASB)

It almost sounds silly, doesn’t it? Yet we see this taking place all the time. It may not look like what that passage is depicting but we see idolatry all the time in the form of worshiping celebrities. It may be in the form of wealth. Perhaps it looks like a desire to be in control of all things at all times. Yes, idols exist today and they are just as dead and powerless as they were back then. Why then do we fall before them time and time again? Why do we repeatedly turn to the vices of this fleeting world? Ask yourself if there is anything you place before God. Ask if there is anything you might run to with more excitement than you get at the thought of being able to come before the very presence of God in worship. I’m not saying it’s wrong to enjoy other things. I’m not saying you have to move into one of the rooms at your local church to ensure you never miss a meeting, service, or opportunity. In fact, it’s very possible to be doing everything the “textbook Christian” should be doing and still be wrong. I’ve seen people who appear to be as Godly as they come and that turned out to actually be the case. I’ve also seen people who turned out to be cleverly disguised. Though it appeared both were giving glory to God, one was just a wolf out to seek his own glory, while attempting to lure as many Christians away as he could. True knowledge. Discernment. Increased love. Approving of excellent things. Being sincere and blameless. Having the fruit of righteousness. This declares how the Christian should live. With all this in mind, I would urge such a person to continually check himself or herself, as it’s easy to become haughty and prideful. However, it all has a purpose. It’s meant to bring all glory and praise to God. When those feelings of pride may begin to sneak in, I’ve found Roman 9:22-26 helps snap things back into perspective.

22 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? 23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. 25 As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’” 26 “And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God.” (Romans 9:22-26, NASB)

As I began before, I’m simply asking you to quietly ponder if there is anything that excites you more than the opportunity to worship with other believers in the presence of God. There is only one God and He is alive! He has called us out of darkness and into the Light. He has removed our heart of stone and given us a heart of flesh. He has given us sight to see. He has given us ears to hear. He hears our prayers and answers them in the form of His grace. He preserves our hearts and keeps us in Him when we would so easily drift away otherwise. He planned, orchestrated, and carried out His redemptive story in Christ. He has saved us from eternity past, continues to save us from ourselves as we follow in obedience, and will one day save us from all forms of suffering and sorrow. Our God is alive and is worthy of our praise. Not to us, not to us, but to His name give glory! The Reformers held to a Latin phrase as should we all: “Soli Deo Gloria: Glory to God alone!” Let us be as the psalmist as we say:

“I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
And will glorify Your name forever.”
(Psalm 86:12, NASB)

~ Travis W. Rogers

I Am the True Vine

Let’s be real: Jesus was no stranger when it came to speaking in parables and confusing language. In fact, we’re even told the purpose of much of it was to prevent some from hearing and believing the truth (Mark 4:10-12). But what was Jesus getting at when He said He was the true vine? Was this just another riddle meant to confuse the self-righteous, or was there a deeper meaning behind it? For this post, I’d like to focus on the seventh “I AM” statement made by Jesus in John 15:1-6 and break down exactly what Jesus was talking about.

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.

John 15:1-6, NASB

Verse 1
Using the analogy of the vine and vineyard was nothing new. John’s use of it is actually a play on the Old Testament.

For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel.” (Isaiah 5:7a, NASB)
“Israel is a luxuriant vine;
(Hosea 10:1, NASB)

In John’s gospel, we see Jesus going above and beyond by calling Himself the true vine. There is far more to this than a mere analogy. Through careful wording, He is proving that He is the fulfillment of the promises given to Israel.

14 O God of hosts, turn again now, we beseech You;

Look down from heaven and see, and take care of this vine,

15 Even the shoot which Your right hand has planted,

And on the son whom You have strengthened for Yourself.

16 It is burned with fire, it is cut down;

They perish at the rebuke of Your countenance.

17 Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand,

Upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself.

18 Then we shall not turn back from You;

Revive us, and we will call upon Your name.

19 O Lord God of hosts, restore us;

Cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.

Psalm 80:14-19, NASB

In verse 14, the psalmist describes Israel as the vine. Verse 15 says that it was God Himself who planted the vine. Though Israel was meant for great things, we see verse 16 says they were perishing. In verse 17, he pleads with God to show His mercy and grace. In fact, he pleads that it would be done through the Son of Man. When Jesus says He is the true vine, He is saying He is the fulfillment of the promise made to Israel. Christ’s church is Israel fulfilled. The nation of Israel was a foreshadowing of the vine to come: Jesus! He is the true, authentic vine and it is the Father who is the caretaker.

Verse 2
This is often used by people to make a case for losing salvation. However, when taken in context with the rest of Scripture, it falls short. The phrase “takes away” comes from the Greek word airo (ī’-rō). The word translated into prunes is kathairo (kä-thī’-rō). Kathairo has multiple meanings. While it does mean to prune, it also means to cleanse of impurity. Jesus is not telling us we are to live a works based faith lest we be cut off. He is actually telling us how we will know one another and is giving us a hope that we will grow in Him. Those who are cut off are those who we are warned of throughout Hebrews as well as in Jude. They are those who appear to be Christian within the visible church but have never truly become members of the invisible Church through faith. They are the apostates and wolves in sheep’s clothing. Jesus promises to cut them out completely lest they sap the strength from the rest of the fruit in the vine. For the true believers who will produce fruit, He will also cleanse and prune them so that they will be even more fruitful. The analogy would have hit home back then because the major fruit grown were grapes in the vineyard and this was exactly how it was done, and for the same reasons. We see a similar warning in Matthew 15:13 where it says, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted.” Those planted by God WILL bear fruit.

Verse 3
Here, Christ is telling us how we are to be cleansed. In fact, we see him using the word katharos. This is the root of the word kathairo used in verse 2. He tells us we will be cleansed by the Word (John 17:17, Ephesians 5:26).

“Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” (John 17:17, NASB)
“so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,” (Ephesians 5:26, NASB)

Verses 4-6
By now, you should be seeing the simple fact that we have a complete and utter dependence upon Christ. We may act in obedience, but it’s always in complete reliance upon unity in Christ or else it is of no value. Scripture gives plenty of examples of our unity in Christ and the relationship that follows.

Foundation & Building
“For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11, NASB)
“having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:20-22, NASB)

Head and Body
“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 6:15a, NASB)
“And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church,” (Ephesians 1:22, NASB)

Husband & Wife
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” (Revelation 19:7, NASB)

The union between the vine and the branches is one in which no branch can produce fruit apart from the vine. Unless the nutrients are flowing freely, a branch will wither and die. The use of the word “abide” goes to show that salvation has already taken place in the individual. It is not something that he is working toward. Apart from Christ, we cannot produce any good fruit. As a result, we can rest assured the fruit is not our own but is of the Spirit working in us. We have nothing of ourselves to boast about (1 Corinthians 1:31; Ephesians 2:9). If it were so, we would continue to produce good works apart from the vine and Scripture would be a lie. The Spirit alone produces the fruit in the believer and keeps the believer abiding in Christ until the end. For those who were never a part of the true vine but only appeared to be for a time, they will have their day of judgment. Verse 6 is quite clear they are cut off, thrown away as a branch, dry up, and are burned in the fire. Hebrews 9:27 says, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.”

May we continually trust in the true vine and the vinedresser. Let us continue to stimulate one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24) while remaining steadfast in the faith of a risen Savior (1 Corinthians 16:13), letting the word of Christ richly dwell within us (Colossians 3:16)!

~ Travis W. Rogers

Who Can Stay His Hand?

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

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

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

Daniel 3:1-6 (NIV)

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

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

Daniel 4:29-30 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel 4:34-37 (NIV)

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

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

Psalm 33:10 (NIV)

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

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

Isaiah 46:9-10 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

Calvin’s Commentaries on Daniel 4:35

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