The Provenance and Audience of Galatians

Note: The following is a paper I wrote for a course at CBTS, unedited besides the headers and a few grammatical touch-ups. My prayer is that it will be helpful for those seeking to form a more accurate understanding of the chronology of Paul’s ministry. I also pray it will help form a healthy skepticism of modern theories in biblical studies. This paper will defend the traditional view.

The date, place of composition, and intended recipients of Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians is a matter of great controversy in Pauline scholarship. The chronological anchors are few, and none so sure as to preclude rival interpretations. This has birthed a variety of opinions, with some defending the Epistle as being Paul’s earliest, latest, and virtually everything in between.[1] Time, place, and audience cannot be treated independently, and the likelihood of a conclusion for one of these factors will determine the likelihood of conclusions concerning the rest. So, to form the most plausible complete picture of the letter’s origin, we will have to analyze three issues in turn: the respective merits of the North and South Galatian hypotheses, the evidence for a pre- or post- Apostolic council date, and the evidence in favor of a specific place of composition. The uncertainty of the evidence forbids dogmatic conclusions, but we will argue that it is overall favorable to the ancient view: North Galatia is the audience, a late post-council date is the time, and Rome is the place of writing.

North or South?

Historically, the view that the South Galatians were the intended recipients of the letter is an anomaly. As one of the great defenders of the South Galatian hypothesis admits, “The ‘North Galatian’ hypothesis held the field almost unchallenged until the eighteenth century.”[2] The reason for the South Galatia theory’s recency is its proposal that the addressed Galatians were not true ethnic Galatians, but rather inhabitants of the Galatia’s southern province beyond where the ethnic people lived. This, coupled with the fact that the cities of South Galatia ceased to be part of the Galatian province within two centuries after the writing of the New Testament, made the notion that Paul was addressing people who merely lived in the rim of the province an unnatural conclusion for most interpreters. Even when 18th Century commentators first began to consider the South Galatian churches as a possible audience, their theories did not exclude the churches of North Galatia initially.[3] Few, after all, would argue that the Epistle’s terms themselves would more naturally refer to South Galatia than to North Galatia; the contemporary argument has been that the terms could also be appropriately used for South Galatian churches. Opponents of the North Galatian hypothesis argue that Paul cannot be referring to the churches of North Galatia because of other considerations beyond the terminology. Those other considerations tie into the arguments for a pre-Apostolic council date and will be dealt with later. We will first concern ourselves with explaining why it would, in fact, be strange for Paul to use the terms he does if he was addressing exclusively non-ethnic Galatians.

There is no evidence that non-ethnic Galatians would have been referred to as “Galatians” or that the biblical writers addressed the southern cities as Galatia, even if it was technically part of the same province. The province did not even have the official name, “Galatia,” but was only popularly called that because the ethnic Galatians formed a large area of it – an area that the churches in the South were excluded from.[4] Outside of the brief and inconclusive reference in 1 Corinthians 16:1, the other biblical references to the Galatia all decidedly point beyond the southern cities to the regions where the ethnic Galatians lived. Peter undoubtedly is including the inhabitants of ethnic Galatia in his first epistle’s greeting when he references it after Pontus and before Cappadocia; both border Galatia’s northern territory (1 Pet. 1:1). In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke mentions Paul’s visiting of Galatia in his second and third missionary journeys and appears to be referring to the ethnic territory (Acts 16:6, 18:23). Many defenders of the South Galatian hypothesis have insisted that Luke could have just as easily been referring to the cities outside of ethnic Galatia, but in context this is unlikely. Luke had already referred to the southern cities of that province multiple times and never referred to them as Galatia; the use of a new name usually implies a new place. In Acts 16, Luke had already referred to Paul visiting some of the very cities proposed to be the subjects of Paul’s Epistle (Lystra and Derbe) before mentioning Paul’s missionary work in Phrygia and Galatia, implying that Galatia was distinct from those cities. His use of Phrygia and Galatia in the same breath in both Acts 16 and Acts 18 also indicates that Luke is not speaking provincially, since Phrygia was not a province. And while it is possible that Luke had a different practice when referring to Galatia than Paul, it is more likely that Paul and his close travelling companion would use similar language when describing the places he visited on his mission trips, especially since Luke probably got the information he records in Acts 16 and 18 from Paul himself. The default conclusion should be that Paul’s nomenclature is consistent with the other biblical writers.

We must also consider the internal evidence that Paul is referring to ethnic Galatians in the Epistle. The very singling out of Galatia as the problem territory suggests both that Paul is not referring to the southern cities of the province and also that the controversy was not contemporaneous with the Judaizing addressed at the Apostolic Council. Luke records that Judaizers spread from Judea itself and then confronted Paul and Barnabas at Antioch (Acts 15:1). There is no indication that it even spread beyond Antioch by the time of the Council, which appears to have occurred soon after it reached Paul’s location. But even if it had reached the cities of South Galatia, it would have travelled there through Cilicia and doubtless would have affected the neighboring cities as well, since the cities of South Galatia had strong commercial and social ties to the regions surrounding it – indeed, more so than they did to the ethnic Galatians north of them. The problem would not have disappeared from Antioch either; the persistence of the problem at Antioch was the very reason Paul was sent to meet with the Apostles at Jerusalem. What reason, then, would there have been to single out the churches of South Galatia when they would have merely been one of the many regions assaulted by the heresy? The targeting of South Galatia becomes especially unaccountable when we consider that a frequently suggested place of Paul’s writing is Antioch itself, which – as we have said – would have been battered by the heresy at the proposed time of Paul’s writing. And even if one were to suggest that Paul was writing to the South Galatians at a later date (a rare view), the close connection to neighboring cities and churches make it difficult to imagine that such a heresy would ever be the peculiar problem of their churches. The singling out of churches in Galatia would suggest that the more isolated, backwater churches of ethnic Galatia are in view, because a truly local problem is considerably more likely to emerge in such a community. A more isolated audience also better comports with Paul’s perplexity about the culprits. He asks, “who hath bewitched you” (Gal. 3:1) and “who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” (Gal. 5:7), and says of the instigator, “he that troubleth you shall bear his judgement, whosoever he be” (Gal. 5:10). This perplexity better fits a problem that peculiarly sprung up, rather than the situation in Acts 15 where there is no mystery – those agitators came from Judaea.

Lastly, even if it would have been excusable for Paul to refer to the churches of Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe as “churches of Galatia,” would it have been appropriate for him to call them “foolish Galatians” if they were not part of the Galatian people? Is there any precedent in referring to non-ethnic Galatians as “Galatians” either in Scripture or any other works of antiquity? The Galatians were viewed as fickle and barbarous descendants of the ancient Celts, and the inhabitants of Lystra and Derbe would have surely shuddered to identify with them. Reymond responds to this objection by asking, “What other single term could Paul have used which would have more accurately covered all of the churches he founded on his first missionary journey if he had wanted to write a letter to all of them?”[5] But we reply by asking, “Why not simply ‘fools,’ instead of ‘foolish Galatians’?” It is no less strange to call them such an unfitting name simply because there is no good umbrella term for them. The very absence of a fitting alternative simply reinforces the point we have already made – the cities of South Galatia were not distinct enough from their neighbors to warrant a special name, which decreases the likelihood that there was a theological issue peculiar to their churches.

Pre- or Post-Council?

            Again, the South Galatian hypothesis is not so much fueled by the Galatian terminology itself, but by other considerations that would make an ethnic Galatian audience extremely unlikely. Those considerations stem from an insistence that the Epistle had to have been written before the Apostolic Council. If it was written before the Council, then the North Galatian hypothesis runs into the difficulty that there is no hint that Paul had gone to churches in that region yet, and it is unlikely that the Judaizer controversy would have extended that far by this point (as we have argued, though, the early date creates similar problems for the South Galatian hypothesis, too; it would merely be somewhat less difficult with a pre-Council date). We have already laid out evidence for a post-council date through the arguments in favor of an ethnic Galatian audience – whose churches appear to have formed in Paul’s second missionary journey – and through our argument that the Galatian controversy does not likely coincide with the controversy in Acts 15. But we must still reckon with the problems that South Galatian advocates insist are created by a post-Council date.

            One problem alleged by such a dating is that, if we agree with the South Galatian advocates that Galatians 2:1-10 refers to Paul’s famine relief visit, it is inexplicable that Paul does not mention the Apostolic Council of Acts 15. But if we believe that Galatians 2:1-10 is a reference to the Apostolic Council (as most North Galatian advocates do), then we run into the problem of Paul not mentioning the famine relief visit when his argument depends on referencing all previous trips to Jerusalem, and then there is still the problem of Paul not incorporating the Apostolic decree into his argument, which we are told would have been a powerful tool in the controversy. The only solution, they contend, is that the Epistle was written before the Apostolic Council.

            But we will contend that these alleged difficulties hang on a misunderstanding of Paul’s arguments in the first two chapters, and that the preponderance of evidence supports Galatians 2:1-10 being a reference to the Apostolic Council, not the famine relief visit. There are great chronological difficulties created by the insistence that Galatians 2:1-10 is a reference to the famine relief visit of Acts 11-12. The first issue is an unnatural interpretation of Galatians 2:1, when Paul says, “Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem…” To make this line up with their chronology, they insist that “fourteen years after” is referring to fourteen years after Paul’s conversion described in Galatians 1:16, rather than the more immediate chronological event of the first visit to Jerusalem described in Galatians 1:18. While it is possible that the event in verse 16 – as the pivotal moment – is the starting point of all Paul’s later chronological reckoning, it is normative that listings of durations pile on sequentially and have the most immediate event as the starting point of the next calculation. This is especially likely in this case because Paul does not simply say that he went up to Jerusalem after fourteen years, but that he went up “again” (παλιν) to Jerusalem, which tells us that he has his first visit to Jerusalem immediately in mind when he makes this statement. It is, therefore, the most obvious place to begin calculating the fourteen years.

            But this is not the only chronological difficulty of equating Galatians 2:1-10 with the relief visit. Even if we considered the fourteen years as being reckoned from Paul’s conversion, that would still place the famine relief visit at approximately 46 AD. The problem with this is that the death of Herod Agrippa – which Josephus fixes as having taken place after Claudius Caesar reigned three years[6] – occurred in 44 AD. But Acts 12 indicates that Herod was still alive at the time of the famine relief visit, only dying sometime after Peter’s miraculous escape from prison (Acts 12:20-23). Sensitive to this issue, defenders of the South Galatian hypothesis fix on the words of Acts 12:1, which describe the incident with Herod occurring “about that time [of the famine relief visit],” so it could have been somewhat before it. But to put it at least two years beforehand stretches credulity; the narrative strongly suggests that the events of Acts 12 overlap with the famine relief visit, because Paul and Barnabas are depicted as departing for Jerusalem immediately before Acts 12 and then are described as returning from that visit right after Luke finishes telling us about the events of Peter and Herod. It would be bizarre for Luke to sandwich his telling of Acts 12 in between his brief, five verse description of the famine relief visit if those events had no chronological overlap.

            Much more parsimonious is the view that Galatians 2:1-10 depicts events surrounding the Apostolic Council. Using the more natural way of chronological reckoning, we are left with Paul telling us that those events occurred 17 years after his conversion, which perfectly accords with the standard dating of the council around 49-50 AD. Furthermore, the principal events of this section correspond perfectly with what occurred at the time of the Council but are nowhere hinted at during the famine relief visit. On the contrary, Acts 15 presents the controversy as erupting for the first time then, beginning with men from Judaea coming down to teach the brethren while Paul is at Antioch and then having the controversy emerge again at Jerusalem. The “much disputing” at the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:7) and the need for an Apostolic verdict does not comport well with the notion that the chief Apostles already stood against such Judaizers three years earlier, but we would have to believe that if we accepted the episode in Galatians 2:1-10 to be the famine relief visit. The only superficial similarity with the famine relief visit is Paul’s statement that he went to Jerusalem by revelation (Gal. 2:2), which South Galatia advocates interpret as a reference to Agabus’ prophecy of the famine (Acts 11:28). But this in no way precludes Paul from having received a revelatory command from the Lord to go to Jerusalem in Acts 15 and then – after bringing the matter to elders at Antioch – being sent out with the other brethren as described in Acts 15:2 on account of the controversy. It is unreasonable to allow this single detail to cause us to identify Galatians 2:1-10 with an episode that otherwise has no described resemblance to it.

            But if Galatians 2:1-10 references the Apostolic Council, why does Paul not mention the famine relief visit? Critics argue that it would have been necessary to do so, because the point of Galatians 1:11-24 was to prove that Paul had a divinely given message, and that he had not received his commission even from the other Apostles. Therefore, he would have needed to list all his visits to Jerusalem to vindicate his true apostleship. But this is a non sequitur; Paul sufficiently demonstrated the divine nature of his apostleship by retelling how he was converted directly by God and did not so much as see any Apostle until three years afterwards – and even then, he saw just two of them for no more than fifteen days, which is hardly enough time to be mentored. Nor did he linger in Judaea; he immediately left for Syria and Cilicia where his ministry grew enough in reputation that those in Judaea glorified God because of him. The fact that Paul’s ministry was established before he had virtually any contact with the Apostles or disciples in Judaea (with even that contact not being until three years after his conversion) is all the proof he needed to give that his message was independently given to him from God, not from man. He had no need to mention a famine relief visit eleven years after his conversion because his ministry was well known by that time and had been vindicated as independently established. The visit could neither support nor detract from the verified independence of his apostleship and would have thus been completely irrelevant to his argument. The only way it could have been relevant is if – like the Acts 15 visit – it helped to vindicate the supernatural nature of his ministry, which is what he endeavors to prove in the first two chapters. The Acts 15 visit did this because he had an opportunity to meet with the pillars of the Church and hear that they preached the same gospel that he did. That the living disciples of Christ preached the same message he received by direct revelation was a powerful testimony to the legitimacy of his apostleship. But when he went to Jerusalem during the famine relief visit, the church there was experiencing the Herodian persecution, and the primary targets (the Apostles) likely were not accessible – Peter, for example, may have been in prison for part of the visit. There is no hint in Acts that Paul met any of the Apostles during the famine relief visit, which is understandable given the circumstances.

            The other difficulty alleged by South Galatia advocates is Paul not explicitly mentioning the Apostolic Council’s decree. In the eyes of some, its absence from a post-Council Galatians would be so inexplicable that it would threaten to undermine the inerrancy of Scripture altogether. Longenecker writes, “Paul’s silence in Galatians regarding the decision of the Jerusalem Council forces the irreconcilable dilemma of declaring that either (1) the Acts account of the Council and its decision in Acts 15 is pure fabrication, or (2) the letter to the Galatians was written prior to the Council.”[7] According to him, the decision is “the coup de grâce to the whole conflict,” and it is inconceivable Paul would have not mentioned it if he was aware of it.[8]

            But with all due respect, to call the decision of a council the coup de grâce when Paul spends much of the first two chapters treating the authority of men – indeed, even the authority of Apostles and angels – as utterly inferior to the divine revelation of the gospel is to entirely miss the point. Paul does not finish his greeting without stressing the divine authority behind his apostleship and message, saying he is not an apostle “of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Gal. 1:1). He goes on to say that even if he (an Apostle with apostolic authority) were to preach another gospel, he should be accursed (Gal. 1:9), because his gospel “is not after man” (Gal. 1:11) but given directly by the risen Lord Himself (Gal. 1:12). Paul tells us that the authority of the Apostles makes no difference to him when it comes to this issue (Gal. 2:6), and he is perfectly willing to oppose Peter, the chief of the Apostles, “to the face” (Gal. 2:11) when his practice contradicted the truth of the gospel. Paul does not bring up his encounter with the Apostles at the time of the council for the sake of their authority – he goes out of his way to deny that his message depends on such authority; rather, he brings it up because the episode vindicated the supernatural character of his gospel. If the living disciples preached the same gospel that he received independently through revelation, this demonstrates that Paul’s experience was by no means a hallucination; it was a supernatural revelation possessing divine authority. Paul’s point is that the Galatians are striving against God, not man. If Paul were to appeal to the authority of a council against the Galatian heretics, it would effectively undermine all his previous statements about not depending on such authority, and worse, it would make him seem insecure about his message’s divine origin by implying that it needed the authority of others after all. Paul would show no such timidity. The coup de grâce against the Galatian heretics would not be the decision of the council, but the divine testimony that “if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (Gal. 2:21).

            Space prohibits us from addressing every objection against a post-Apostolic Council date, but the above deals with the most major two. We will turn to considering the question of its place of origin. Our answer will depend on what we have already established as well as the consideration of a new piece of rarely consulted evidence: the colophons.

Place of Origin

            If one owns an older printing of the Bible, he will likely find the words, “Unto the Galatians written from Rome,” appended to the end of the Epistle. This is known as a colophon (or subscription) and can be found in virtually all English translations before the 20th Century in the Pauline letters, as well as the common foreign translations from the same period, like the Luther Bible. They are, however, lacking in the vast majority of modern translations as well as many modern printings of the King James Version, such as those put out by Thomas Nelson and Christian Art Publishers. What are we to make of these colophons? Where did they come from, and why do many contemporary Bibles not have them? These questions are intensely relevant to our subject, because if the Galatian colophon has credibility, it would make an early dating of Galatians impossible and render it as one of the latest of Paul’s epistles.

            The presence of the colophons in vernacular translations since the time of the Reformation is a direct result of their presence in the Greek texts they are based on.  Every Greek printing of what is commonly known as the Textus Receptus has them, including all the editions by Erasmus, Stephanus, Beza, and the Elzevir brothers.[9] Nor were they invented at the time of the Reformation; these colophons can be found in the majority of Greek manuscripts. They are included in many ancient copies, such as Codex Vaticanus,[10] and are there in truncated form in some other manuscripts, like Codex Sinaiticus.[11] Besides their presence in the Greek manuscripts, the colophons can also be found in the early vernacular translations, such as the two Syriac versions and the Coptic.[12] And while they are not found in the important witness of P46,[13] their presence in the manuscript tradition is much stronger than many variants noted in NA28, which makes the absence of any mention there conspicuous. It appears that their near complete disappearance from modern Bibles stems from more internal considerations than the manuscript tradition. Even the Trinitarian Bible Society – which is committed to printing the Textus Receptus and Bibles that derive from it – does not include the colophons found in all the Textus Receptus’ editions in its products.[14] Their rationale is not primarily based on manuscript evidence, but on the alleged unreliability of the colophons, which seems to be the chief basis for their removal from other modern editions.

            We will immediately concede that the colophons were almost certainly not part of the text when Paul first penned his epistles. They are clearly distinct from the main body of the text and indicate that they reflect on the letters sometime after their original compositions. Proof of this can be seen in the colophons of those pairs of epistles written to the same churches or people. For example, First Corinthians reads, “The first epistle to the Corinthians was written from Philippi by Stephanas, and Fortunatus, and Achaicus, and Timotheus” (1 Cor. 16:24). The colophons of Romans, Galatians, Philippians, etc. do not refer to them as the “first” epistles to those churches, which indicates that the author of the colophons knew there was only one epistle for each of those, but that First Corinthians would be followed by another inspired text. The case of First Corinthians is especially telling, because it is not the first epistle Paul wrote to them (1 Cor. 5:9), but only the first inspired one. While it is possible that Paul had a supernatural revelation that he would write further inspired epistles in such cases and that those were the first of the inspired ones, it is more natural to take them as subscriptions that were added at a later date. This would meant that the letters had already been circulating before the addition of the colophons, which would explain why some manuscripts either do not contain them or have truncated versions of them.

However, just because the colophons are not original to the letters does not immediately rule out their authority. It could be that, before his execution, Paul desired to make certain details about his inspired letters’ respective origins known. We know that he was allowed to continue writing well into his second imprisonment, writing to Timothy to bring him books and parchments (2 Tim. 4:13), so this is not an impossibility. And even if they do not originate with the Apostle or bear any sort of apostolic authority, at the very least they are our earliest historical witnesses to the origins of Paul’s epistles. The very fact that they appear only in Paul’s epistle testifies that they were not added after it was common to compile full Bibles, but rather emerged around the time when collections like P46 were popular. This is reinforced by the appearance of the colophons in the Syriac and Coptic versions (many scholars argue that the Peshitta Syriac dates as early as the 2nd Century[15]). While some may argue that certain variants of the colophons appeared later, it is difficult to date their general appearance after the 2nd Century. Space precludes us from considering all the objections levied against the accuracy of many of the colophons, but this is not necessary anyways; even if some proved to be inaccurate in certain details, this does not negate the potential accuracy of the others or their general reliability. Nor does it take away their standing as our earliest witnesses, therefore making each of them worth consideration.

Because of their antiquity, and because they have come to dominate the manuscript tradition by God’s providence to the point where they are contained in all Reformation-era Greek texts, we consider the colophons innocent until proven guilty. They are clearly distinct from the main body of Paul’s epistles and so we do not claim that they have the same authority or are theopneustos. We do, however, judge that theories of any letter’s origin that match with the witness of the colophons have a significant support that other theories cannot claim. We also find that the colophon’s assertion that the Epistle was written from Rome harmonizes well with several other facts about the letter. Dating the letter around the time of the first Roman imprisonment would make it about ten years after Paul first began church planting in Galatia. Some have viewed this as a great weakness of a Roman provenance because of Paul’s marveling that the Galatians had “so soon” fallen away from his gospel (Gal. 1:6), but we believe this later date is actually a more realistic appraisal of the evidence. As Lightfoot astutely observes, “The rapidity of a change is measured by the importance of the interests at stake. A period of five or ten years would be a brief term of existence for a constitution or a dynasty. A people which threw off its allegiance to either within so short a time, might well be called fickle.”[16] When the interest at stake is submission to the King of the Universe through obedience to His gospel, ten years is very soon indeed to go from enthusiastic subjects to rebels. When we look at some Christian writers over a hundred years after the Apostles, we often marvel how quickly many went astray from the pure teaching of the primitive Church. How much sooner, then, would it be for the Galatians to have departed from the true gospel only ten years after they began to hear it, when the Apostle who preached it to them was still alive? The language of “soon” is perfectly appropriate. And we will turn the tables – the other language Paul uses in the letter is not so appropriate for a date significantly earlier than what we propose. His language does not suggest that the Galatians had simply been introduced to the gospel at this point, but that they had some measure of success and fruit by this point, increasing the Apostle’s bewilderment. He says, after all, that they had “run well” (Gal. 5:7). Therefore, our chronologies must not only leave enough room for a sizeable number of Galatians to fall away, but also enough time for the gospel to spread, discipleship to occur, and for fruit to be produced. It is unlikely that this could have occurred by the incredibly early date of 49 AD, but it is plausible for a date in the early sixties.

            Additionally, there are a few hints in the letter that Paul may be writing during or slightly after his Roman imprisonment. He says, “From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Gal. 6:17). The “marks” could easily be a reference to his imprisonment at Rome. In our estimation, though, the more significant part of this verse for our purposes is the first part, when he says, “From henceforth let no man trouble me.” He certainly did allow himself to be troubled afterwards if this is his earliest Epistle – he would go on to deal with the theological and practical problems of Thessalonica and Corinth! But if this were written late in his imprisonment or slightly after, all his polemical letters would have already been written, making this statement more explicable than it would be under alternative theories. If written in the sixties, the statement could be taken in a more natural sense: Paul is experiencing persecutions and senses his ministry is almost over, and therefore he can no longer be troubled with such matters. He would confine himself to little more than personal correspondence after this Epistle.

Conclusion

            Unless one were to accept the colophons as inspired, we have no canonical declaration concerning the place, audience, and date of composition for Galatians. We can, therefore, make no dogmatic conclusions. But not only are there no insuperable arguments for departing from the ancient view championed by the colophons, our research has suggested that there are good reasons for favoring it. We advocate, therefore, the traditional understanding that the Epistle was written to the North Galatians from Rome approximately 30 years after the resurrection of our Lord.


[1] J.B. Lightfoot, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (Andover, MA: Warren F. Draper, 1870), 42.

[2] F.F. Bruce, “Galatian problems. 2. North or South Galatians?” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 52 (1969-70): 247, accessed April 21, 2021, https://www.escholar.manchester.ac.uk/api/datastream?publicationPid=uk-ac-man-scw:1m2967&datastreamId=POST-PEER-REVIEW-PUBLISHERS-DOCUMENT.PDF.

[3] Bruce, “Galatian problems. 2. North or South Galatians?” 249.

[4] Robert L. Reymond, Paul, Missionary Theologian. (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2000), 107. Logos

[5] Reymond, Paul, Missionary Theologian, 107.

[6] Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 19.8.2, accessed April 21, 2021, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2848/2848-h/2848-h.htm#link192HCH0008

[7] Richard N. Longenecker, The Ministry and Message of Paul, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971), 48.

[8] Ibid, 49.

[9] “Parallel Bible: Galatians – Chapter: 6,” Textus Receptus Bibles, accessed April 20, 2021, http://textusreceptusbibles.com/Parallel/48006001/BEZA/TRS/ELZEVIR.

[10]  Codex Vaticanus, Vatican Library, accessed April 20, 2021, https://digi.vatlib.it/view/MSS_Vat.gr.1209#, 1493.

[11]   Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Sinaiticus,accessed April 20, 2021, https://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/manuscript.aspx?book=40&chapter=6&lid=en&side=r&verse=18&zoomSlider=0, 84 f4v.

[12] Lightfoot, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, 43.

[13] Papyrus 46, Institut für Neutestamentliche Textfurschung, accessed April 21, 2021, http://ntvmr.uni-muenster.de/manuscript-workspace, 1530 (086r).

[14] M. H. Watts, “Subscriptions to the Epistles, Trinitarian Bible Society, accessed April 21, 2021, https://www.tbsbibles.org/page/Subscriptions?&hhsearchterms=%22subscription%22

[15] Edward F. Hills, The King James Version Defended, 5th ed. ( Des Moines, OR: Christian Research Press, 2006), 156.

[16] Lightfoot, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, 48.

Acts 2 Teaches Credobaptism

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

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

Acts 2:41 (KJV)

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

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

Acts 2:37–40 (KJV)

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

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

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

Matthew 27:25 (KJV)

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

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

Conclusion

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

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. 

Believers Are More Blessed than the Mother of God?

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

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

Roman Catholic Catechism Paragraph 971

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

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

Luke 11:27-28

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

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

Mark 8:36

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

Conclusion

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

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

Romans 10:9

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the response by Daniel Vincent.

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

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

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

Biblical Basis

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

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

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

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

Historical Background

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

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

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

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

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

Modern Application

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

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

These ideas do not appear to be in line with either the biblical data discussed in this paper or the views of the protestant orthodox.  If it is true that the Bible was corrupt, then at best we could say that is was kept pure in some ages, but not that it was kept pure in all ages.  This is not to ignore the fact that the manuscript copies of the Bible do contain variances from one another, and clear deviations from the original text.  However, that fact does not mean the true church as a whole had a completely corrupted textual transmission.  We would expect by God’s providence that, even if only in a minority of manuscripts, the correct words of any part of scripture would be preserved somewhere in the Greek and Hebrew and at least some of the church would have access to it.  Any idea that part of the text has been completely lost to the church (even if only for a certain amount of time) should be rejected on its unbiblical nature.  If it were true, Jesus’ words in John 10:35 that “scripture cannot be broken” would be wrong.  Scripture could be broken, as we might not have its correct reading, and even if we did, we might not know it.  Thus, any power it would have over us would be null.  Finally, if our protestant forebearers could say they had the complete and uncorrupted word of God down to the letter in their day and be wrong, then likewise, we would not be able to say with full confidence that we have the uncorrupted version today.  This leaves the believer in a precarious spot indeed, and susceptible to Rome or anyone else would seek to undermine the authority of the scriptures. 

So, if modern textual critical methods are unable to help us identify the true text, how do we know what it is?  We should expect based on the wording of the confession and the scripture that we should have the text that the true church of Christ has always had.  While it may be harder to see what the state of the text in the manuscripts was in earlier centuries, even with new manuscript finds, we do know what the text looked like that was available to Protestantism in the 16th century when the text became solidified with the help of the printing press. The Hebrew text of the Old Testament that was available was known as the Masoretic Text, and the Greek text of the New is commonly called the Textus Receptus (TR).  Although there are variances between the printed editions of the TR, the variances are minor,[24] and based on our faith in God’s word being preserved, we should expect that the TR editions should have the true reading somewhere and that it should be possible to identify which are true and which are false on theological or other grounds.  Thus, we can say that every letter of God’s word is available to us complete and pure.  Ultimately, as the Baptist Confession says, “our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our heart”,[25] and thus it is the Spirit who gives us true assurance of the word of God, not a scientific reconstructionist textual methodology.  While this view is not held by the majority of the reformed today, the author of this paper does find it to be biblical, and that it would help strengthen the faith of many by assuring them they have the true text of the Bible and would help us in our efforts to witness to Rome or any other group that claims infallible authority.

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

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

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

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

[5] WCF I:8

[6] Savoy Declaration I:8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[15] Ibid, 68.

[16] Ibid, 70.

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

[18] Ibid, 138.

[19] Ibid, 126.

[20] Ibid, 195.

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

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

[23] Ibid, 1.

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

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

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

Should Each Local Church Have Multiple Bishops?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. It protects the preacher

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Not Simple Minded!

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

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

Proverbs 1:32 (NIV)

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

Lacking Discernment

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

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

Proverbs 14:15 (NIV)

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

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

Charles Bridges, Proverbs Geneva Series of Commentaries

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

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

Psalm 119:9-10 (NIV)

How do I know I am saved?

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

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

2 Peter 1:5-11 (NIV)

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

Background of 1 John

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

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

John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary

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

The Importance of Gaining Assurance

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

Evidences of Salvation

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

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

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

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

1 John 1:5-7 (NIV)

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

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

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

1 John 2:3-6 (NIV)

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

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

John 14:15-21 (NIV)

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

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

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

1 John 3:10 (NIV)

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

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

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

1 John 2:22-23 (NIV)

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

What About Remaining Sin?

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

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

Romans 7:14-19 (NIV)

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

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

1 John 3:4-6 (NIV)

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

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

Ephesians 2:1-3 (NIV)

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

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

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

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