Must We Accommodate the Weaker Brother? A Response to Owen Strachan

Owen Strachan is no stranger to causing controversy. He is Provost and Research Professor of Theology at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. His view on Christ’s relation to the Father within the Godhead (which places him outside of Nicean and biblical orthodoxy) has ruffled some feathers (as it should), but that is a discussion for another day. I want to focus on Owen’s assertions in a tweet he made on August 18th, 2021 and why he is wrong about how we are to accommodate the weaker brother. He said,

The “weaker brother” principle of Romans 14 does not mean you MUST accommodate the conscience of your weaker brother. It means you are free to do so, may choose to do so from love, but are in no way compelled to do so. Otherwise we would have a functional rule of weakness.

Owen Strachan Tweet from August 18th, 2021 at 11:36 AM

Lack of Exegesis

Yes, I know. He posted this on Twitter and there are only a certain number of characters that can be placed in a single Tweet. Which is precisely why at least some theological assertions should be left to mediums such as blogs, podcasts (such as ours, The Particular Baptist Podcast), or the pulpit as you can expound and exegete in a way that is difficult on Twitter. But Owen merely asserts without any references to context, Greek word usage, or any specific place in Romans 14 that would allow us to extrapolate his interpretation from the text. It is merely asserted. And this is a huge problem given his interpretation is in contradiction to the majority reading of Romans 14. I think that Twitter has led us to making quick, terse theological assertions and discussions preventing us from taking the time and effort to be clear and correct. It is better to leave certain conversations off the Twitter space and take the time to write long on them to ensure we are clearly heard and understood.

Loving our Neighbor

Owen says that we do not have to accommodate the conscience of the weaker brother. Paul didn’t actually mean that in Romans 14. It is merely optional. However, let us look at what Romans 14 says and exegete to find out.

Paul is continuing his discussion of love and holiness that we find in chapter 13:

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Romans 13:8-14 (ESV)

We are to walk as holy ones and walk in love with our neighbors which would (especially) include Christians. There is to be self-sacrifice and a putting of others’ interests ahead of our own. In doing so, we are fulfilling God’s law, ergo loving God. Keep this theme of love in mind as we go into chapter 14. Notice what Paul says in the opening verses:

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.  One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.  Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Romans 14:1-4 (ESV)

Already we see that there is to be sensitivity to the weaker brother and this follows right after Paul discussed loving our neighbors in chapter 13. We are not to hate the brother who has a different view than we do about scrupulous things. We should be patient with them and see this thing they are NOT doing as something to not divide over. Calvin said,

He passes on now to lay down a precept especially necessary for the instruction of the Church, — that they who have made the most progress in Christian doctrine should accommodate themselves to the more ignorant, and employ their own strength to sustain their weakness; for among the people of God there are some weaker than others, and who, except they are treated with great tenderness and kindness, will be discouraged, and become at length alienated from religion.

Calvin’s Commentary on Romans 14

We should not be discouragers! We should not have a cruel spirit toward our brothers who are weak in the faith, weak in scruples. But we should love them and help them to grow, although not at the expense of their spiritual well-being. Owen has abandoned the principle in Romans 14 of obligatory love toward our brothers and sisters in Christ. He makes love optional in our accommodation of the weaker brother while Paul grounds these principles in God’s law which requires love of our neighbor at all times. And how much more for God’s people! (Galatians 6:10)

The first rule of Christian love is that we receive others who are weaker in faith as brothers and sisters. Every Christian is a servant of Christ. Christ is his master and judge. I am not to judge those who are Christ’s.

Sproul, R. C. “Dealing with Those Who Are Weaker | Reformed Bible Studies & Devotionals at Ligonier.Org | Reformed Bible Studies & Devotionals at Ligonier.Org.” Ligonier Ministries, Ligonier Ministries, 28 July 2009, http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/dealing-those-who-are-weaker.

We Must Accommodate

Given what we find from Paul below, it is a wonder how Owen could come to such a conclusion in his tweet. What he says is in contradiction to Paul’s clear and unequivocal language.

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Romans 14:13-19 (ESV)

Here we have imperatives, not suggestions. Here we have commands to be obeyed, not guidelines that I can follow if I so choose. But this is what Owen wants us to believe. However, the apostle says we are to not cause our brother to stumble. We are not to grieve our brother as we carry out our liberty. He grounds that in the second greatest commandment: to love your neighbor as yourself. This means we are absolutely obligated to not destroy the one for whom Christ died.

Owen, at the end of his tweet says, “Otherwise we would have a functional rule of weakness.” This could be true if a situation arises where there are weak brothers who are trying to impose their views on other Christians and a church simply accommodates them without confronting them. As Paul said in the opening verses of chapter 14 of Romans, this would be wrong for the weaker brother to do since he is not to judge the one who eats meat (verse 3). So to accommodate him simply because he says we shouldn’t eat meat would be wrong. But if we know that there is a brother or sister who does not like what we do in liberty and we do it in front of them, we are not loving them or considering their weakness and we have sinned. And this has to be based on us knowing who the weaker brother or sister are and that they have this weakness. We cannot live in fear of the weaker brothers as there is any possibility of things that are not commanded or addressed in Scripture that could cause a brother to stumble. In verses 1-4 Paul talks about judging each other based on what we do or do not do in terms of indifferent activities. This would mean that there is knowledge of the weaker brother and his scruple. With this in mind, Paul then moves throughout the rest of the chapter to discuss how the strong are the handle the weak in the assembly. So while a “functional rule of weakness” could be had in unchecked situations, the rule of willing to lay aside what we want to do for our brothers must be in the forefront of our minds as it relates to Christian liberty. Simply writing it off will not do when we have clear instruction from the apostle.

Conclusion

It is frustrating to see this kind of talk about the holy Scriptures in the church. Seeing one who should know better because he is highly educated in the Word and is involved in teaching it to others means he is subject to higher criticism when he speaks. As the Scripture says,

But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

Luke 12:48 (ESV)

If you are educated and are a teacher of the Word or are involved in somehow educating others in the Word, especially at the academic level, you are held to a higher standard than those who do not. Much is given to you, ergo much is required. May the Lord help us all to stay true to His Word and to exegete it rightly.

Jesus in Hell? Where Did He Go?

How many of you clicked this because of the title? It’s okay. You can admit it. Yes, you read it right. While it may sound blasphemous to one without understanding, by the end of this article, it may actually sound like solid doctrine. This subject was brought up in a recent episode of The Particular Baptist podcast and I wanted to flesh it out a bit more for the blog.

We always say that God loved us so much that he gave His son to die on the cross but how many of us really stop to think about it? We all know Jesus died and rose again three days later, but most people don’t really think about the time in between.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sinsa;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.
Amen.

The Apostles Creed

Before going any further, I will admit there have been varied interpretations of this over the years. Among Particular Baptists, Hercules Collins’ An Orthodox Catechism is a favored work. Question 23 of the catechism recognizes the Apostle’s Creed as one of our articles of faith. Question 44 attempts to answer the question of what “He descended into hell” actually means. While being a helpful work, I do believe Collins got this one wrong. In response to why the Creed has that line, Answer 44 says,

“To assure me in times of personal crisis and temptation that Christ my Lord, by suffering unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul, especially on the cross but also earlier, has delivered me from the anguish and torment of hell.”

Hercules Collins, An Orthodox Catechism

According to Collins, the “hell” being spoken of was nothing more than the “anguish, pain, and terror of soul” that Christ went through both on the cross and in the events leading up to it. By Him experiencing hellish torment and anguish, He has saved us from actual hell with eternal torment. I just don’t feel this adds up and I can’t help but think this is just one of the many ways Christians try to avoid the difficult-to-grasp truth of what I believe to be plainly taught in Scripture.

Not only did God send His Son to die on the cross, but He also sent His Son to hell for three days. Now, I want to clarify when I say hell. I’m not referring to a place of torment that we know it as. In English, we are very limited in our wording (for instance, our one word for love versus the four words in ancient Greek). When I say hell, I am actually referring to Hades, the Greek abode of the dead. I’m merely referring to it as “hell” for familiarity’s sake, as this is what the vast majority know it as. Please keep this in mind as you see the many references to hell in this article. As a whole, Hades did not refer to a place of suffering nor did it refer to a place of peace. It was simply the storage location, or abode, of the dead. The Hebrews believed in the same place, only they called it Sheol.

At this point, no human was in heaven since the only way in is through the Son (John 14:6). The only other place for Him to have gone during those three days was Hades. It was simply where all human souls went after they died. Imagine how happy Satan must’ve felt when he thought he had triumphed only to be proven wrong a few days later. Ever wonder what Jesus went through during those three days? Really stop to think about it. God loves us beyond our comprehension!

Some may ask why God would send His only begotten Son to hell for even one day let alone three. I’m not one to guess why God set up the timeline the way He did but I am willing to bet the three days wasn’t meant to “work off” any sin as if he were in some form of purgatory.

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. (Hebrews 9:27-28, NASB)

Jesus bore the sins of the entire world. He was condemned as guilty and unsanctified despite having committed no crime. Though never becoming a sinner, His righteousness was imputed to us while, at the same time, our guilt and shame was imputed to Him. Sin must be punished. Due to God being just, He issues no waivers. Sin will, and must, be dealt with according to His standard set forth from eternity. Our debt could not be brushed to the side. Jesus did more than declare us innocent. He transferred His innocence upon us while, simultaneously, transferring our guilt upon Himself. Because of this, He died and went to Hades. God’s timeline said three days later He would rise. I don’t know why He picked three days but He did and that’s that. Jesus’ judgment was hell just as any others would have been. God had His plan for Jesus to rise. After He had risen, He was in a glorified state, free of any filth of imputed sin. He had already died and received judgment. Now, He was alive for the second time. It was an entirely new life. It was a life that would never again see the sting of death.

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

As it is appointed unto man once to die. Jesus had defeated death, risen from the grave, and visited his disciples one last time before rejoining his Father in Heaven. I say rejoined because He was there since the beginning (Genesis 1:26).

To understand why Jesus went to hell, we must understand the reasons people go there:

  • They do not trust in Christ as their Savior. They do not believe that He was the Son of God who died on the cross for our sins and rose again on the third day.
  • They cannot enter heaven blemished with sin.
  • They have not repented of their sins and turned in faith to Christ as be the ultimate sacrifice.

A friend once attempted to prove this wrong by saying it was the blood of Christ that washes away our sins. In and of itself, this is correct theology. The point he was trying to make was that since Christ had already shed His blood, He no longer had a need to go to hell because His blood covered it all while He was still on the cross. The same argument was used for the thief on the cross. The problem with this is that the new covenant wasn’t established until Jesus had risen from the dead. The thief on the cross died under the old covenant as did anybody else that died within those three days. We can believe Jesus was who He said he was all we want but unless we also believe that He conquered death by rising from the grave on the third day, one is not truly saved. That is a vital part to our salvation!

Jesus did not have to deny God or Himself as He is God (John 10:30). The reasons I gave previously were all reasons why men go to hell. Points one and three above cover point two now that He is raised but since that had not happened yet, Jesus was still bound by number two. Yes, He had already died but He had not yet risen. He died just as any other man under the old covenant. It was once He had risen that the new covenant began and He was brought up into Heaven.

Now that we have a biblical understanding of what the requirements of entry into heaven are, we can focus on the biblical support for Jesus in Hades. 

Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things. (Ephesians 4:9-10, NASB)
for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:40, NASB)
“Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s Bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.’” (Luke 16:22-24)

While many respected theologians throughout the years have interpreted “the lower parts of the earth” to be Jesus’ condescension through the incarnation coupled with the suffering he underwent in the crucifixion, I don’t believe this is sound for a number of reasons. During the times of Jesus, it was a normal belief that Hades was located deep within the Earth. Hades was broken into two parts. There was a place of torment and a place where there was peace. Before the death and resurrection of Christ, the faithful went to a temporary holding place of peace. The unfaithful went to a place where there was torment and suffering. This temporary holding place was not purgatory. It was not meant to work off the sins of the flesh. We also know Heaven is a place of eternity and not merely temporary. This place was meant to act as a holding area for those Old Testament saints awaiting the death and resurrection of Christ so that they might gain access to Heaven. This place was known as Paradise, or Abraham’s Bosom. Those with faith were in Paradise and those without faith were in a place of tormenting flames; a precursor to the Lake of Fire called Gehenna.

To further elaborate, picture the afterlife as four separate chambers. These chambers consist of:

  • Heaven
  • Hades (non-tormenting side)
  • Hades (tormenting side)
  • Gehenna (the actual fiery Hell)

Prior to the cross, both heaven and Gehenna were devoid of humans. No man had been granted entrance into heaven yet the final condemnation to the flames of Gehenna had not been carried out either. Upon the resurrection of Christ, both Gehenna and the non-tormenting side of Hades were empty. While Christ redeemed those in Abraham’s Bosom, those in the tormenting side of Hades remained. Their final condemnation to Gehenna still awaits. Only upon the second coming of Christ will both sides of Hades finally be empty and everyone in their eternal residence. Those with faith in Christ will continue to be in the presence of the Lord. However, those who rejected the Savior will finally see weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 22:13) in the fires of Gehenna for all eternity.

Looking back at Matthew 12:40, some have tried to say it was likely speaking of a cave or a tomb in which Jesus’ body was kept. I would like to take a moment to explain why this was not the case. The tomb of Jesus would have been more of a cave. The heart of the earth is hardly a hole in a mountain. The word used for” heart” is the Greek word kardia. It was used in the sense of being the center of the earth and to say the entire earth comes from it. Kardia is certainly not being used to speak of a tomb. It speaks of the center of the earth. The kardia of the earth is referencing Hades, the location that was once believed to be in the center of the earth.

We all remember the story of the thief on the cross. Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” The thief went with Jesus, as well as all the rest of the Old Testament saints, to Hades. Yes, they went to Hades. No, they did not go to be tormented. As Jesus said, they went to Paradise; the non-tormenting part of Hades, the abode of the dead.

What do we know as of now?

1) Jesus was in the grave for three days.

2) Jesus descended into the lower parts of the earth.

3) Jesus was going to be in Paradise the day of His death.

4) Jesus was in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.

Based on this information, we can see Jesus spent three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Since this was the exact same amount of time His body was in the grave, we can conclude that if He was in Paradise on one of those days, Paradise would have to be in the heart of the earth. The only way to heaven is through the Son. It is not simply a belief in the Son that grants us access. It is belief in who the Son is as well as belief in what took place in the death and resurrection. Before this process was complete, man had no way into heaven. It was not until the resurrection that Paradise was relocated into heaven and all the saints from that day forth could share in the Glory of God in heaven. For those who may want to argue that Paradise has not been relocated to heaven and that it still resides in Hades, they must first explain how believers who die will be absent from the body and at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). After all, He’s no longer in Hades. Additionally, I believe this is what the dead saints rising in Matthew 27:53 after his resurrection is evidence that the Old Testament saints are no longer in Hades. When Christ ascended, so did they (Ephesians 4:8). While it is true that we will still go to Paradise upon death, Paradise is now located in heaven with the Lord.

In which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, (1 Peter 3:19-20a, NASB)

What exactly did Jesus do during His three days in Hades? 1 Peter makes mention of Jesus proclaiming the truth to the spirits in prison. These spirits were characterized as being disobedient. The Old Testament saints that went to Abraham’s Bosom certainly were not characterized by disobedience. Their obedience and faithfulness was the thing that saved them. They just had to wait for Christ before they could enter the kingdom of heaven. Verse 19 also says the spirits were in prison. Prison is a place where you go as a result of wrongdoing. You break the law and you go to prison. The demons and disobedient people of the world both broke the law of God. As a result, they would have been imprisoned in Hades awaiting the final judgment of God when all of Hades is cast into the lake of fire: Gehenna (Mark 9:43, Revelation 20:14).

For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; (2 Peter 2:4, NASB)

The fallen angels are in prison. The NASB uses the word “pits” but, if you look, the KJV uses the word “chains” in their translation. The Greek word for this was σειρά (seira). It literally meant a line, rope, or chain. The fallen angels, as well as disobedient people, are in chains in prison.

When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man And He placed His right hand on me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. (Revelation 1:17-18, NASB)

Jesus conquered death. Death no longer has any hold over a Christian. Sure, we will all die. The difference is that we will live in heaven because we have been reconciled to God through Christ. Christ is the only way to heaven. What of the people from the Old Testament? Did they go to heaven? I would have to say no. They performed sacrifices but this was a continued action. Christ cannot be compared to an animal. He is called the Lamb of God but He was so much more than that. No mere animal could cleanse the way Christ did. I fully believe the Old Testament saints went to Paradise as a place of storage awaiting the death of Christ. Even more, I believe they stayed there until the resurrection. While they were saved through the same faith as New Testament believers, it was not until Jesus rose from the grave that He truly defeated death.

Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" (John 20:17, NIV)

This has commonly been misinterpreted to mean Jesus had to remain pure and did not want anyone to touch him. The problem with that interpretation is that it is in direct contradiction with John 20:27 when Jesus told Thomas to touch his wounds. In truth, Jesus was telling Mary not to cling to him. He was telling her to not expect His presence to continue for much longer for He had not yet returned to the Father but would soon be doing so. This brings me to my point. Jesus rose on the third day. Up until this point, He had not yet returned to His Father. He had not rejoined God in Heaven as of yet. Well, where was He then? He was in Paradise during this time. After the third day, He rose from the dead, saw His apostles along with hundreds of others, and joined God in Heaven.

Looking back, we see a few things:

1) The kardia of the earth is Hades and not a hole in a mountain.

2) Jesus preached to the spirits in prison.

3) The spirits in prison are the fallen angels and those who rejected God.

4) Jesus had not yet returned to the Father.

The very basis of the disbelief in Jesus going to Hell for three days is:

1) People do not want to believe Paradise was a section of Hades.

2) People refuse to believe Jesus (being God) could go to Hades.

There is no biblical evidence stating that Jesus did not go to Hades. On the other hand, the biblical evidence is stacked saying He did. Ask yourself these questions: If He had not yet returned to the Father, where was He those three days? What spirits in prison was He preaching to? Why would Scripture speak of the center of the earth?

If He was in a tomb that whole time, He would not have been able to preach to anyone. This is another sign that the kardia of the earth is not speaking of the tomb of Jesus. Jesus was preaching to the spirits in prison. He was in the kardia of the earth while doing it. He had not yet returned to the Father. That only leaves one place and it makes perfect sense biblically.

The doctrine of Jesus in hell (Hades) is both a very biblical and accurate teaching. I do not believe He went there to suffer in pain. I believe He went there as a result of the sin of the world being on Him. It was the same reason any of the other Old Testament saints went there. They placed their faith in God but they still owed the penalty of sin. Jesus was spotless up until the point that He became the ultimate sacrifice and took the sin of the world upon Himself as our substitutionary atonement (2 Corinthians 5:21). He then went to Paradise and rose three days later, defeating death once for all.

~ Travis W. Rogers

Baptism and Salvation Part 2 (1 Peter 3:21)

Continuing on in our series on baptism and salvation, we look at an even more difficult passage but one that is none the less used in Lutheranism to support the theological stance that baptism saves (at least from Dr. Jordan Cooper). If he has anything going for him in the Scriptures that supports a soteriological effect of baptism, this is (in my opinion) the best he has. It is an explicit declaration that baptism saves. However, if this is his best argument from Scripture and it can be refuted, then there is nothing else for him to turn to that could possibly support his position. But as we look at the passage further, we will see that soteriology is not in Peter’s mind when it comes to being “saved” by baptism. Let us look at the passage.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

1 Peter 3:18-22 (ESV) Emphasis Added

Peter is laying out from chapter 2 into chapter 3 what the Christian life is to look like.  Christians are not be a malicious, conniving people (2:1). They are to live in a way that is honorable in front of sinners (2:11-12) and submit to the authorities (2:13-17).  Christians are to be distinct from those around them while still living in the world (John 17:15) obeying God’s commandments and glorifying God in their good works (Matthew 5:16). This theme of Christian living then is continued on into chapter three with family life being discussed and how Christians should handle persecution. The apostle gives a simple Gospel reminder to his readers.  Jesus suffered as Christians might suffer under their pagan rulers.  They are to remember Christ’s work in that they are not alone in their trials.  This then leads us to the discussion on baptism.  There is a clear type vs. antitype distinction being made between what we see in Noah’s case and with baptism. As Steven Cole says,

“Peter is using the flood and deliverance of Noah and his family as a loose analogy or type of what is portrayed in Christian salvation and baptism. Just as Noah passed through the flood waters into salvation from God’s judgment, so believers pass through baptism into salvation from God’s judgment.”

Cole, Steven J. “Lesson 18: A Difficult Passage Explained and Applied (1 Peter 3:18–22) | Bible.org.” Bible.org, Bible.org, 2 Aug. 2013, bible.org/seriespage/lesson-18-difficult-passage-explained-and-applied-1-peter-318-22.

I am honestly not sure if this is the best rendering of the relationship between the type and antitype, but it gives us an idea of what Peter is doing.  Given this relationship and that the word for “baptism” is the Greek word βάπτισμα which means, “a dipping, a baptism” (A Pocket Lexicon to the Greek New Testament), Peter is talking about water baptism here and not simply the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” or something to that effect.  This is the general typology that we see in the Scriptures.  You have a type (the Noaic flood) pointing toward something to come (baptism). 

“The grammar in the opening of verse 21 is difficult. To simplify, we should probably understand it in this way: “which (water) now also saves you, (who) are the antitype (of Noah and his family)—(that is) baptism.” In other words, the experience of Noah and his family in the flood is the type of which Peter’s audience and their baptism is the antitype (antitypon).”

Storms, Sam. “Does Baptism Save? (1 Peter 3).” Crossway, Crossway, USA, 5 Jan. 2019, http://www.crossway.org/articles/does-baptism-save-1-peter-3.

And this typology is part of why the apostle’s meaning is so difficult to shed light on. This leads to the question: is Peter talking about soteriology or some other type of salvation? Cooper would hold that this is talking about soteriology. This would tie in at least in part to Acts 2:38 which was discussed in my last blog post. But the assumption is that this usage of “saved” (Greek σῴζω) must be soteriological. Problem with this argument is that salvation can refer to more than one thing in the Scriptures. It can most certainly refer to soteriology (Romans 10:9-13), but it can also refer to the progression of sanctification throughout the Christian’s life. Let us look at Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:1-2 (ESV) Emphasis Added

In this famous chapter, Paul is laying out the Gospel with a focus on the resurrection but in the beginning of the chapter he says what the Gospel’s current effect is on the Christian.  It not only saves completely in our legal standing before God (Romans 1:16-17) but it also sanctifies us as we live out our lives.  Sin still clings to the believer but we are being redeemed so to speak as we rest in the Gospel.  And that work will be completed (Philippians 1:6). We also see this language earlier on in the Corinthian letter.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 1:18 (ESV) Emphasis Added

Paul in talking about the Gospel message says it has a sanctifying effect upon the believer. Certainly these passages imply soteriology in that in order to continue on in salvation you must be saved initially (and finally I might add).  All this to show that the concept of salvation in the Scriptures is not monolithic and can take on different meanings depending on the context.  It must not be assumed that when salvation language is used that it must be soteriological.

Now that doubt has been cast upon the interpretation of “saved” in 1 Peter 3:21, how is Peter using that term? He says, “but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Peter even explicitly condemns any notion that the act of baptism has any saving effect (“not as a removal of dirt from the body”) which is amazing how this is missed by Cooper who emphasizes the actual act of baptism as being needed to be saved (again going back to Acts 2:38).

“Appeal” (ESV) is the translation of eperōtēma, which others render as “pledge.” If the former is accurate, the one being baptized “appeals” to God, on the basis of the death and resurrection of Christ (or more literally, “through” or “by means of,” if dia is instrumental; cf. 1:3), to cleanse one’s conscience and forgive one’s sins.21 In good faith or conscience we appeal to God for vindication, that we might be considered part of his victory won by Christ in the resurrection (3:21b). It is only in this light that God uses the water of baptism to save us—as it links us to Christ and his victory and promises.

Storms, Sam. “Does Baptism Save? (1 Peter 3).” Crossway, Crossway, USA, 5 Jan. 2019, http://www.crossway.org/articles/does-baptism-save-1-peter-3.

Baptism is the identification with Christ in His death and a declaration that we are His.  Although I don’t know if I would agree with Storms’ rendering of this passage as it seems he is saying that soteriology (initial salvation) is happening at baptism, but it does help us to see at least that baptism is declaring something.  Not only to the world, but to God Himself.  I think the salvation noted here is us appealing, pledging, answering to God saying we are going to live rightly now that we are saved. We are identifying with Christ and are therefore declaring our submission to Him going forward. 

Peter is using the flood and deliverance of Noah and his family as a loose analogy or type of what is portrayed in Christian salvation and baptism. Just as Noah passed through the flood waters into salvation from God’s judgment, so believers pass through baptism into salvation from God’s judgment. But, before you leap to wrong conclusions, Peter clarifies—it is not the act of baptism which saves (“the removal of dirt from the flesh”), but what baptism signifies—the appeal to God for a good conscience. “Appeal” can point either to the moment of salvation, when a person cries out to God for cleansing from sin; or, to the pledge given at the baptismal ceremony, when a person promises to live in a manner pleasing to God. Either way, baptism testifies to our faith in Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on our behalf (3:18). Since Christ’s suffering did not minimize His witness, but rather enhanced it, Peter is urging his readers to be baptized, even if it means persecution, in order to bear witness of Christ’s saving grace.

Cole, Steven J. “Lesson 18: A Difficult Passage Explained and Applied (1 Peter 3:18–22) | Bible.org.” Bible.org, Bible.org, 2 Aug. 2013, bible.org/seriespage/lesson-18-difficult-passage-explained-and-applied-1-peter-318-22.

I think Cole’s latter option that, “a person promises to live in a manner pleasing to God,” is probably the correct view. This verse is very difficult but we can at least say what it is not. There is no soteriological view of salvation here. It is merely the appeal to God for a good conscience that is saving us. Proper qualification must be given as we look at this passage.

Baptism and Salvation (Acts 2:38)

I have recently been taking a study into Lutheranism especially as it relates to baptism and salvation. Classical Lutheranism (at least) affirms that baptism does have a saving effect upon a person even though faith is still required by an individual. The confession of classical Lutheranism is the Augsburg Confession. The purpose of the Confession was to clearly define Lutheran theology.

The purpose was to defend the Lutherans against misrepresentations and to provide a statement of their theology that would be acceptable to the Roman Catholics…The first 21 articles of the Augsburg Confession set forth Lutheran doctrine in order to demonstrate that “they dissent in no article of faith from the Catholic Church.”

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Augsburg Confession”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2 Jan. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Augsburg-Confession. Accessed 23 June 2021.

Their Confession was to show distinctives from the Catholic Church while still identifying with it on much. If I want to know what someone believes that has a formal confession of faith, I would consult it. It should give the reader a good idea of what is believed about a particular topic. The Augsburg is formatted similar to the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith and Westminster Confession of Faith at least in that it has sections that are broken down by a theological topic, thereby making it easier to find a particular topic to read about. Article 9 is where we find the classical Lutheran view of baptism, at least in part.

Of Baptism they teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that through Baptism is offered the grace of God, and that children are to be baptized who, being offered to God through Baptism are received into God’s grace. They condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the baptism of children, and say that children are saved without Baptism.

Mahler, Corey. “Article IX. Of Baptism.” Book of Concord, BookofConcord.org, 2 Jan. 2020, bookofconcord.org/augsburg-confession/article-ix.

We see very clearly here that classical Lutheranism confesses baptism is needed for salvation. Melanchthon, who really authored the Confession and was a close friend of Luther, believed this doctrine and espoused it as a formal belief of their faith.

The principal author was the Reformer Philipp Melanchthon, who drew on earlier Lutheran statements of faith.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Augsburg Confession”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2 Jan. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Augsburg-Confession. Accessed 23 June 2021.

There are various passages that are used to support salvation by baptism and I will look at some of these here. It is not my intention to be exhaustive in presenting EVERY passage that a Lutheran may use to support salvation by baptism in this blog series, but I hope that by refuting these it can be seen that Lutheranism’s teaching about the soteriological effects of baptism are unfounded in Scripture. Dr. Jordan Cooper was a helpful resource in my research on the Lutheran position of salvation by baptism. Another resource that was helpful in this article was GotQuestions.org. Let us begin.

Baptism Forgiving Sins?

The first passage we will look at is from the book of Acts.

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:38 (ESV)

Here Peter is addressing those at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit had come down causing some to speak in “tongues” or different languages (2:4). This was signifying not only God working among Jews but Gentiles as well (2:8-11). Peter then presents the Gospel to those there and it is evident that God brings His convicting nature to those listening (2:14-37). This is where we find Peter saying to those there what they must do to be saved. Now this is where the passage appears to be confusing. It says that baptism is “for the forgiveness of sins”. On the surface this gives the appearance that baptism itself produces forgiveness of sins. However this cannot be the case.

First of all, the passage cannot be isolated from the rest of the book. If we jump forward to Acts chapter 10 we see a very different formula than what appears to be in Acts 2.

And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

Acts 10:42-48 (ESV)

Peter is preaching to Cornelius and others who were with him the Gospel. The apostle was doing the unthinkable: associating with dirty, uncircumcised Gentiles and even preaching Christ to them. Yet the message is clear: by believing in Christ forgiveness would come. Peter even ties this back to the Old Testament saying that all the prophets speak of faith in Christ as the means of forgiveness before baptism became an institution under the New Covenant. Unless we believe the Old Testament saints were saved differently than us today, they had to believe in Christ (albeit in promise form and not fully revealed) as they were justified by faith (as we see in places like Genesis 15 with Abraham) and there was no New Covenant ratified yet which the sign of baptism would be tied to. Faith is the means of justification and by effect forgiveness of sins. This would mean that any Old Testament saint that had faith would be lost, as they did not follow the alleged formula of Peter in Acts 2.

Going back to our passage, as Peter was speaking to the Gentiles, the Holy Spirit came down on them. Notice this was before they were baptized. This means they had believed and received forgiveness of sins already, apart from baptism. It was not until Peter had seen the clear evidence of the Holy Spirit upon them that the Gentiles were baptized. Paul says in Romans 8:

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Romans 8:9-11 (ESV)

The very fact they had the Spirit of God before baptism proves they were already saved since the possession of the Spirit is proof a person is Christ’s. And in Romans 8, Paul contrasts the difference between an unbeliever and a believer: one who has the Spirit and one who does not. This is all in the greater context of God’s righteousness being received by faith in Jesus (Romans 3). Baptism can only be a symbol and a means of communicating the Gospel at that point. Another question to ask as well: is Christ’s work enough for salvation if faith and baptism are required? Let us look at Romans 3.

…the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Romans 3:22-26 (ESV)

Christ’s work on the cross was a “propitiation”. His death satisfied the wrath of the Godhead against sin thereby bringing about forgiveness of every sin. If we receive this work by faith as Paul says then why is baptism needed for the remission of sins? If Christ’s work was enough to make me right before God and the righteousness received by faith (Romans 1:16-17) then my salvation is complete, is it not? This is a crucial point that is missed by our orthodox Lutheran friends. The sufficiency of Christ’s work is called into question (although I do not think they do so intentionally).

This leaves Acts 2:38 only meaning one of two things:

  1. The Gospel is changed in Acts 10 as Peter clearly did not use the same alleged formula from chapter 2 when preaching to Cornelius et al, and it is able to morph to fit different situations.
  2. Peter was actually preaching the same thing in Acts 2 and Acts 10.

Number two must be the only option. Not only does Acts 10 play a role in proving this, but the underlying language (Greek) must be inspected as well. GotQuestions.org was very helpful in this discussion:

We need to start by looking back to the original language and the meaning of the Greek word eis. This is a common Greek word (it is used 1774 times in the New Testament) that is translated many different ways. Like the English word “for” it can have several different meanings. So, again, we see at least two or three possible meanings of the passage, one that would seem to support that baptism is required for salvation and others that would not. While both the meanings of the Greek word eis are seen in different passages of Scripture, such noted Greek scholars as A.T. Robertson and J.R. Mantey have maintained that the Greek preposition eis in Acts 2:38 should be translated “because of” or “in view of,” and not “in order to,” or “for the purpose of.”… Besides the precise meaning of the preposition translated “for” in this passage, there is another grammatical aspect of this verse to carefully consider—the change between the second person and third person between the verbs and pronouns in the passage. For example, in Peter’s commands to repent and be baptized the Greek verb translated “repent” is in the second person plural while the verb “be baptized,” is in the third person singular. When we couple this with the fact that the pronoun “your” in the phrase “forgiveness of your sins” is also second person plural, we see an important distinction being made that helps us understand this passage. The result of this change from second person plural to third person singular and back would seem to connect the phrase “forgiveness of your sins” directly with the command to “repent.” Therefore, when you take into account the change in person and plurality, essentially what you have is “You (plural) repent for the forgiveness of your (plural) sins, and let each one (singular) of you be baptized (singular).” Or, to put it in a more distinct way: “You all repent for the forgiveness of all of your sins, and let each one of you be baptized.”

GotQuestions.org. “Does Acts 2:38 Teach That Baptism Is Necessary for Salvation?” GotQuestions.Org, Got Questions Ministries, 26 Apr. 2021, http://www.gotquestions.org/baptism-Acts-2-38.html.

What this means is that the English translation which gives the appearance of baptismal salvation, is not a very good one. English does not always do well in capturing what the underlying language is saying (this could happen in any type of translation from one language to another). This stresses the importance of utilizing the original languages of a text in our toolbox of hermeneutics.

In part 1 of this series we have looked at Acts 2:38 and whether it means baptism saves. It does not. The only thing we do that brings about justification is faith and that faith is a gift from God and cannot properly be said to be from us (Philippians 1:29). Repentance is implied in faith (and Peter calls specifically for the repentance of his listeners in our passage today, but that does not negate faith) but the conduit by which our right standing before God is through faith.

The Westminster Confession of Faith and General Equity

The Westminster Confession of Faith is probably the most prominent of the Reformed confessions. It has stood the test of time providing a biblical framework for theology. I am not sure if its writers knew the impact it would have on the Christian world when it was written. While I substantially hold to the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith (referred to in this article as the 2LBCF), there is much that can be gleaned from the Westminster Confession of Faith (referred to in this article as the WCF) especially given that my confession is based in part on the WCF. However, these documents are not perfect and were written by mere men requiring us to not hold them to the level of Scripture. I want demonstrate what I see as an inconsistency in the WCF as it relates to the role of the state and what is called “general equity”.

What is “General Equity”

General Equity means that the judicial laws that applied under Old Testament Israel do not apply in the exact same way to states today, but that their moral equivalent applies for today. This concept of “general equity” is laid out in both the WCF and 2LBCF:

To them also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution; their general equity only being of moral use.

2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith 19.4

To them also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.

Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) 19.4

Both the Westminster divines and the Particular Baptists who framed and adopted the 2LBCF held this idea of “general equity” as it relates to God’s law. An example of this is a quotation from William Perkins (thank you to Dr. Tom Hicks for this quotation):

Judicial laws so far as they have in them the general or common equity of the law of nature are moral and therefore binding in conscience as the moral law

A Discourse on Cases of Conscience in The Whole Works, London, 1631, 1.520

Both were identifying themselves with the Reformed community. However, only one confession was being consistent in its application of general equity: the 2LBCF.

Correct, Yet Inconsistent

Although the WCF does teach the biblical view of general equity, it does not apply that principle consistently. If we go back to the 1646 edition of the WCF, we will see an interesting section as it relates to the magistrate:

The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven:(e) yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be. preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administrated, and observed.(f) For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God.

Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) 23.3

I will note that this is the original WCF and is quite different in this chapter from the American revision done here. This change may have been adopted at or very close to the same time the American Constitution was ratified, conveniently. I’m glad that our Presbyterian brethren are more Baptist than they would probably admit and certainly like to be.

The 1646 edition, though, painted an interesting picture of what the state was to do with its power. It was not to hold the keys of the kingdom nor was it to administer sacraments, but it could punish you for blasphemy, heresy, and abuses of worship. It was to ensure that proper worship was enacted in a land. There is no concept of religious liberty as found among Particular Baptists.

The inconsistency comes where judicial law is applied in a way that is not congruent with general equity. There is a movement beyond the simple application of a “moral” equivalent whereby the framework (at the very least) of the judicial law (s) is applied to the contemporary state. An example of this is in the use of the proof text the WCF used to support the suppression of blasphemy:

And whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall certainly stone him, the stranger as well as him who is born in the land. When he blasphemes the name of the Lord, he shall be put to death.

Leviticus 24:16 (NKJV)

Clearly, at the very least, the divines thought that it was necessary to use capital punishment as it relates to “suppressing” blasphemy in the land. This went hand in hand with ensuring that true teaching is taught in the land and is “proved” through the use of another Old Testament passage:

But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall [a]put away the evil from your midst.

Deuteronomy 13:5 (NKJV)

Again, a judicial law that applied to a particular people (and a particular covenant) is applied to the contemporary state. While there may not be a complete application of the law, there is at the very least (through the use of this passage as a proof text) an application of it beyond general equity (putting to death a false teacher). If 19.4 was held to consistently, there would never have been the usage of judicial laws from Israel being applied to the contemporary state. I think this demonstrates the influence of the times in which the Westminster Assembly found themselves in and the integral nature the Assembly had with Parliament (see From Shadow to Substance The Federal Theology of the English Particular Baptists (1642-1704) page 109).

Conclusion

There is much we can be thankful for as it relates to the WCF. The 2LBCF would not exist without it and its influence on the Reformed world cannot be understated. But, as with any confession of faith, it is not infallible. With the influence of the cultural setting these men were in, it seems to have led to the inconsistency on their application of general equity and that different from what we find in Reformed thinking. May God continue to Reform His church.

THREE SIMPLE WORDS: Grace, Faith, Regeneration

I want to start out by asking a question. I’m just going to mention three simple words and I want you to put them in chronological order. While contemplating the order in which you believe these words should be placed, I ask you to truly question what the words actually mean. The words are:

1) Grace

2) Faith

3) Regeneration 

If you had to place a chronological order on those three words, what order would you put them in? In my personal experience, most people place them in the order of grace, faith, and then regeneration. The reasoning is that God must first give us grace but then we choose whether to accept His gift before any regeneration can occur. This is a false doctrine that has infiltrated the Church and confused many well intentioned believers; many of whom are not even aware they are confused. While I would never advocate for rejecting your fellow brother or sister in Christ over this, one should still be aware of the depth of this doctrine and how it lays the foundation for the understanding of who God is and what He has done for you. It is my hope that by the end of this article, you will be able to fully (or at least begin to) understand the proper order of these three words.

Grace is completely God’s doing. It is His unmerited favor toward His own and it is the backbone of our salvation. We are saved through grace (Acts 15:11), believe through grace (Acts 18:27), and are justified by grace (Romans 3:24). What a gracious God we serve (Psalm 86:15, Jonah 4:2)! Ephesians 2:8 tells us that we are saved through faith by grace. Grace has to take place before any faith can occur.

And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory,

Romans 9:23. NASB

God showered His grace upon us before the foundation of the world. Before anything ever was, He had a plan. Part of that plan was to call the vessels of mercy to Himself. Even while we were still enemies of God, He showed His love for us and lavished us with grace (Romans 5:8, Ephesians 1:8). The fact that grace comes first is not usually the part that confuses people. It is the proper order of faith and regeneration that gets sticky. As I have already stated, this is not the correct order at all.

God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men, To see if there is anyone who understands, Who seeks after God. Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one.

Psalm 53:2-3, NASB

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.

Luke 9:23, NASB

While some claim a conditional statement implies a necessary choice, this is not always so. Oftentimes, as is the case here, it only necessitates a requirement. However, a requirement does not always necessitate an ability to fulfill it.

First of all, it is impossible for one to choose God. Before salvation, we serve the dominion of Satan (Acts 26:18). We are at war with God and hate Him (John 3:20a). Nobody chooses the enemy. Even the most infamous traitors in American history were not serving the enemy. They may have been OUR enemy, but they were not THEIR enemy. Whether it was money, allegiance, or some other common bond, our enemy had become their ally. In the same way, nobody who chooses God is an enemy of God at the time. In order for one to choose God, a change must first occur. There must be a common bond.

Scripture not only tells us we are at war with God, hate God, and belong to Satan, but it also takes it a step further by telling us we are dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1, Ephesians 2:5, Colossians 2:13). Opponents of pre-faith regeneration are forced to take verses such as these and manipulate them to say what they want. Even some of the staunchest literalists have changed these passages to say we are almost dead or are currently in a state of dying. This might sound nice except for one simple fact. It says we are already dead! The dead man does not choose to come back to life. Even Lazarus had no control over when he would be raised from the dead. In fact, Jesus left him there to rot for four days before raising him! Those who are spiritually dead can control when they are raised no more than Lazarus could.

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

1 Corinthians 2:14, NASB

We see this verse speaking of the natural man. The natural man is a man of his own desires. He is a man at war with God. He is the unregenerate man bound by the chains of sin who still serves the dominion of Satan. Scripture tells us plainly that this man cannot understand the things of the Spirit. However, the Christian is a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17). He is the regenerate man who has been set from the chains of sin. He has turned his eyes to the Light (Acts 26:18). He has been renewed, not on the basis of any righteous deeds we may have done but by the Holy Spirit through the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5).

The Holy Spirit does not reside in the natural, unregenerate man. The Holy Spirit resides only in the regenerate. Our bodies are the very dwelling place of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). Having the Holy Spirit is synonymous with being saved. It is utterly impossible for a man to be saved without the Holy Spirit. It is equally as impossible for a man’s body to be the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit if he has not been regenerated. As a result, there is no way faith can come before regeneration. 

First, the grace of God is poured out to us. This occurred before the foundation of the world. Next, in God’s timing, we are washed anew and regenerated by the Holy Spirit. At this time, we become a new creature in Christ. We now possess the ability to understand the things of the Spirit because the Spirit resides within us. Lastly, faith occurs. It is only after grace and regeneration that one can truly have faith in God. That said, please don’t view this as a mechanical process of “if this, then that,” as that’s not what I’m implying. I am merely reviewing the logical order of salvation. In the practical sense, faith comes at the very moment of regeneration. There are no regenerate unbelievers. This is important to point out as it has been the victim of many a strawman. While we should all be pleading with unbelievers to choose this day whom they will serve (Joshua 24:15), this means the “choice” we made was not of some act of Libertarian Free Will but an irresistible calling of God Almighty, as He had already changed our very nature and desires. I am thankful for this because if it were up to me and my own works/choices, I would be left with nothing but filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) and a lack of Christ. Soli Deo Gloria!

~ Travis W. Rogers

THEONOMY: A Doctrine of Ignorance and Error

About a year ago, I wrote an article called Theonomy No More. In it, I addressed certain points such as why a theocracy is an unbiblical (and horrible) idea, how it inconsistently applies the threefold division of Law, and how it minimizes the completed work of Christ. Since writing that article, I’ve received multiple comments (some good, some bad) and have observed what appears to be a rising tide of those promoting the position. As a brief follow-up, I want to focus on why theonomy is a doctrine of ignorance and error.

6Some people have strayed from these things and have turned aside to fruitless discussion, 7wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.

1 Timothy 1:6-7, NASB

When Paul was writing to Timothy, he instructed Timothy to teach sound doctrine and to be careful of those who had turned aside to teach things they knew nothing of. While it may sound harsh, I believe theonomists are committing a similar error. I want to be clear that I do not automatically count a theonomist as a false teacher or heretic. There are many who are dear brothers in our risen Lord. However, the underlying concept and method being employed does share a common vein. They continually make proclamations of Law while understanding nothing of it. In fact, while promoting error, they typically do not even do it with any form of consistency, which I will briefly highlight. While this won’t be an exhaustive refutation of theonomy, my hope is that it will be enough to cause the reader to question it.

Undoubtedly, anyone who has ever encountered a theonomist has likely heard the person employ Matthew 5:17 as the definitive prooftext.

17Do not presume that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. 18For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter shall pass from the Law, until all is accomplished!

Matthew 5:17-18, NASB

I guess that settles it. If not even the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until heaven and earth pass away, the argument must certainly be over! After all, I’m still here typing this article instead of enjoying eternity with our Lord. Then again, maybe there might be more to the story.

by abolishing in His flesh the hostility, which is the Law composed of commandments expressed in ordinances,

Ephesians 2:15a, NASB

In this, we are explicitly told Jesus abolished “the Law composed of commandments expressed in ordinances.” This is just another way of saying the Ceremonial Law has been abolished. The word used for “abolished” is καταργέω (G2673). It carries with it the idea of an external force putting a stop to something. For all my cessationist brethren out there, it’s the same word used in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, where Paul speaks of prophecy and knowledge being done away at the coming of the perfect. This poses quite the dilemma for the theonomist who desires to use Matthew 5:17 in an all-encompassing manner. Clearly, Christ has abrogated, at a minimum, a part of the Law. Therefore, the verse can’t possibly be saying no part of the entirety of the Law (Moral, Civil, and Ceremonial) will be abolished before heaven and earth pass away, as the Ceremonial Law was abrogated in His death, burial, and resurrection. It necessitates and “all or nothing” approach be deemed inadequate and incorrect.

With the Ceremonial Law being out of the picture, that leaves the Moral and Civil Law. While it could very well be that Christ was only referring to those two, with the Ceremonial Law being explicitly removed from the topic at hand, it does open the door to the possibility that another one may be on the chopping block as well. In fact, I will make the assertion that the Civil Law no longer applies either and that we are only bound to the Moral Law. While I believe the the “commandments expressed in ordinances” refers to both the Ceremonial and Civil Law, a case can still be made to one who disagrees.

One thing that must be kept in mind is that the Civil Law was only given to ethnic Israel. It was given for the purpose of preserving a people for the coming Messiah. Even before the Law was given to mankind, God’s Moral Law still existed and sin was still in the world (Romans 5:13). This is because it’s universal law that applies to all of humanity. Unlike the Moral Law, the Civil Law was only given to a specific people for a specific purpose. Not once do we see the early Church calling believers to uphold the Mosaic Civil Law. You can search until your eyes bleed but you won’t be able to find a single verse advocating for it. This is because they were not bound to it. Conversely, we do see Jesus making proclamation that the entirety of the Law rests on God’s Moral Law (Matthew 22:37-39).

At this point, we can see the Moral Law is the foundation of all binding law. We’ve also seen how the Ceremonial Law has been abolished. While there is no single verse that speaks to the abolition of the Civil Law, there is a clear example of who was and was not bound to it. Yet, we are all bound to the Moral Law. Of course, this isn’t to say the Civil Law doesn’t have any virtue to it. As I made clear in last year’s article, I’m not promoting antinomianism. Even the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith recognizes the Civil Law has a certain moral use to it through its general equity. But this does not mean believers are bound to observe it. This is because Christ fulfilled it in His active obedience. Believers are grafted into Him and His fulfilling of the Civil Law. There is only one aspect of the Law that we are now bound to: Moral Law.

Even among those who uphold this position, there tends to be uncertainty. Of course, we’re finite creatures living before an infinite God. Questions are certainly going to pop up. As stated, certain aspects of the Civil Law are helpful when held to the Moral Law. We are to strive for obedience in our duty to God (Commandments 1-4) and our duty to fellow man (Commandments 5-10). In our duty to man, we are not to murder, steal, covet, etc. These are all helpful and beneficial to society. But it does not mean we are to implement abolished Law in order to achieve it. While I may not agree with implementing the Civil Law, I also contend that applying morality to legislation is not synonymous with legislating morality. We can never make the unbeliever righteous by forcing him to obey the Civil Law. In fact, even if he were to follow it perfectly, he would still be unrighteous because it would not be with the motivation of obedience to God. In this case, even his perfectly kept legal standing would be as filthy menstrual rags (Isaiah 64:6). The only way to achieve righteousness is to be in Christ. Nobody in Christ should ever seek to bring back that which He has fulfilled. What we should be doing is seeking to demonstrate our love for Him by keeping His commandments (John 14:15).

We should strive to obey the Moral Law, not out of selfish ambition but out of a love for God. Because we love God and seek to obey His commandments, we apply the second table of the Law to legislation out of a desire to obey the first table, but the first table should not be legislated itself. While the Law does serve as a mirror, the first table should be proclaimed, not legislated. For instance, some may say we should outlaw working on the Sabbath in order to help prevent someone from reaping God’s wrath for practicing a Fourth Commandment violation (Exodus 20:8-10). But this would be no different from outlawing non-Christian places of worship in order to prevent a First Commandment violation (Exodus 20:3). It simply is not what we see prescribed in Scripture. To make an argument to the contrary is to make an argument from silence, while defending error born in ignorance of the Law and what it teaches.

~ Travis W. Rogers

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.

EVANGELISM: Whose Job Is It?

EVANGELISM. It’s a topic many people enjoy hearing about. It’s one of those subjects that makes us feel encouraged as we listen to the stories. It makes us feel thankful for all the faithful Christians who are working to further advance the kingdom of God. Unfortunately, too few of us will go beyond this. When confronted with an opportunity, we make excuses as to why we shouldn’t bother anybody. We may become nervous and try to avoid any awkward moments. We may become afraid of how the other person will respond. Then again, maybe it’s because we simply don’t understand what evangelism is really all about. It’s my hope that, as we dive into the Scripture, we can unpack what it teaches on the subject and then apply it to our lives.

The word translated as “evangelist” is only used only three times in all of the New Testament and literally means “a bringer of good tidings”. The three passages it can be found in are Acts 21:8; Ephesians 4:11; & 2 Timothy 4:5.

On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him.

Acts 21:8

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,

Ephesians 4:11

But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:5

Based on Ephesians, we can clearly see this is an important and distinctive role given from God, just as were apostles, prophets, and, presently, pastors and teachers. In Acts, we see Phillip is described as the evangelist. Notice the definite article. There was no confusion that Phillip was given this particular role by God for the purpose of equipping the saints and building up the body of Christ. Interestingly enough, in all of Scripture, Phillip is the only person who is personally identified as being an evangelist in the official sense (chapter 8 of Acts covers some of his works as an evangelist). The closest other spot we come is the passage in 2 Timothy.

If I were to make the statement that not all people are called to be pastors, I’m fairly certain there would be unanimous approval from everyone reading this. What about teachers? Aren’t we warned that not many should become one (James 3:1)? Considering pastors and teachers are official roles, does it stand to reason that not all are called to fill the official role of evangelist? I would say this is a valid statement. So, does this exempt Christians from evangelism? Does it exempt those Christians who do not fill the official role of teacher from going out and teaching others? Not at all! Look again at 2 Timothy 4:5. Notice that Paul is not actually referring to Timothy as an evangelist. Though the same word is being used here, we can see it is only being used as a reference point. Paul is not saying Timothy is filling the role of evangelist. He’s telling him he needs to do the work of an evangelist. Timothy was called to do a great many things though filling the official role of evangelist was not one of them. Some are spiritually gifted in specific ways and God places those people in unique positions. Pastors and teachers fit that bill as well. Evangelists are no different. That being said, there was no confusion that he was to perform the duties of evangelism nonetheless.

To further drive home this point, we need to look at another word. Whereas the word translated as “evangelist” is used only three times in the New Testament, its root word is used 55 times and is translated multiple ways. It is translated as “preach” 23 times, “preach the Gospel” 22 times, “bring good tidings” 2 times, and other methods another 8 times. The very foundation of the word is clearly one of great importance. In fact, without it, we can’t even accomplish the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).

Though not all are called to be teachers, all Christians are called to teach to some degree. Christ Himself has commanded it! So how are we to accomplish this? How do we make disciples of all nations? How can we make disciples of all nations unless they first hear the good news (Romans 10:14)? How is this accomplished? Through evangelism (Romans 10:15)!

The word translated as “bring good news” is none other than the root of evangelist. I love how the KJV words it: “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” It actually uses the same Greek word twice in the one sentence. Though some have the supernatural gift of evangelism so that they may fill the specific role, God has told us He counts it as a beautiful thing when His own share His gospel with the lost. Perhaps many can relate to Danny Akin when he says, “I don’t have the gift but I do have the responsibility.

Sadly, evangelism has steadily been reduced to the other guy’s job. It’s taken a back seat to the struggles of daily life and the already tight time constraints. As the bride of Christ, my fear is that we’ve simply lost our evangelistic fervor. How can this be when Scripture tells us the very souls of men are at stake? I love the way Charles Spurgeon had a zeal for evangelism. He understood God’s sovereignty yet he also understood God’s natural method for bringing new saints to Himself. Spurgeon said, “We believe in predestination; we believe in election and non-election: but, notwithstanding that, we believe that we must preach to men, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and ye shall be saved,’ but believe not on him and ye be damned.”

We, as Christians, have a duty to proclaim Christ crucified. We have a duty to evangelize to the lost. To some, it comes easy. To others, it is a work and a chore. Regardless, we are all called to perform this work just as Paul charged Timothy. After all, it isn’t called work without good reason. It may not always be easy but it is always critically important. John MacArthur makes a very valid point regarding the method of evangelism. He states, “It is also important to note that the purpose of evangelism — whether by an ordinary Christian to a neighbor, by a pastor to the unsaved in his congregation, or by an evangelist to the general public — is to carefully but simply help unbelievers become aware of their sinfulness and lostness and to proclaim Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Lord. Any human manipulation in that process, no matter how well intentioned, always becomes a barrier to genuine belief.

In John 4, we see this was the method Christ used in evangelizing to the Samaritan woman at the well. While speaking to her of living water and never thirsting, he also made it abundantly clear that she was living in a life of sin. This was done by pointing out how she was living with another man out of wedlock as well as what were likely multiple previous marriages. There was no promise of health, wealth, and prosperity. There was no sinner’s prayer. It was a clear cut method of lovingly pointing out her desperate need for a Savior while telling her the way to eternal life. Psalm 90:8 says, “You have placed our iniquities before You, Our secret sins in the light of Your presence.” There will come a day when the unsaved will hear of their inability to save themselves. Would you rather they hear it from you first or from God Himself on the Day of Judgment?

To take another look at Spurgeon’s example, he took this approach quite often. He was not afraid of how others would respond. He was more concerned with how God would judge. In his sermon, “Compel Them to Come In,” regarding those who simply feel they cannot believe or perhaps find it to be an inconvenient time, he stated, “No, my friend, and you never will believe if you look first at your believing. Remember, I am not come to invite you to faith, but am come to invite you to Christ….Our first business has not to do with faith, but with Christ. Come, I beseech you, on Calvary’s mount, and see the cross. Behold the Son of God, He who made the heavens and the earth, dying for your sins. Look to Him, is there not power in Him to save? But did I hear you whisper that this was not a convenient time? Then what must I say to you? When will that convenient time come? Shall it come when you are in hell? Will that time be convenient? Shall it come when you are on your dying bed, and the death throttle is in your throat — shall it come then? Or when the burning sweat is scalding your brow; and then again, when the cold clammy sweat is there, shall those be convenient times? When pains are racking you, and you are on the borders of the tomb? No, sir, this morning is the convenient time.

It’s this kind of passion that needs to be rekindled in the church. Under the oversight of the elders of a local church (and not divorced from it as a solo project), we need to recover our heart for the lost. Then, we need to take action and evangelize. Sadly, this problem isn’t new to our culture. In fact, Jesus himself addressed the situation and even gave the remedy.

Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

Matthew 9:37-38, NASB

I once attended a 9Marks conference where it was proclaimed that “no church is accidentally evangelical. It must be intentional.” If we are met with resistance, it shouldn’t discourage us. After all, we aren’t saving anybody. We’re simply going fishing (Matthew 4:19). God does all the work in salvation but He has commanded us to preach His word to the lost so that He might then follow through and perform His miraculous work. Trust that God is in control and remain faithful. As the old hymn says, “Trust and obey.” Evangelism shouldn’t be the arduous duty that this day and age makes it out to be. It doesn’t need to be feared nor should it be limited to weekly church events where there’s safety in numbers. Evangelism is a joyful privilege that encompasses our entire lives. It’s an opportunity to preach Christ crucified and extend the offer of eternal life to all who will believe. Is there no sweeter encouragement? Sadly, not all will see the glory of Heaven but, rest assured that not a single one of God’s elect will see the fires of Hell.

Closing with one final quote from Spurgeon, “That is why we preach! If there are so many fish to be taken into the net, I will go and catch some of them. Because many are ordained to be caught, I spread my nets with eager expectation. I never could see why that should repress our zealous efforts. It seems to me to be the very thing that should awaken us to energy — that God has a people, and that these people shall be brought in. When I cease to preach salvation by faith in Jesus, put me into a lunatic asylum, for you may be sure that my mind is gone.

~ Travis W. Rogers

Lessons Learned From the Thomas Collier Incident

The Particular Baptists were not strangers to controversy. One of, if not their biggest, disagreements with the establishment around them was on the issue of infant baptism. They were distinct in that they generally argued against it from the perspective of covenant theology (see Sam Renihan’s book, From Shadow to Substance). Although they agreed with Reformed orthodoxy on many things, they would not capitulate to the Church of England nor to their Puritan brothers, whom they identified with as Separatists. Controversy not only found itself from the outside, but also from within. The Particular Baptists, beginning in the 1640s, were faced with a substantial threat from a prominent and active member among them: Thomas Collier.

Historical Background

Thomas Collier was not a fringe or silent member of the Particular Baptists. He was quite active and, “served as a chaplain, pastor, evangelist, church planter, and associational leader in the west. Over the span of his long ministry, Collier covered considerable territory, geographically and theologically.” (Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 174) Just because a man is in this position does not mean error will not follow, although one would think he would have the spiritual maturity to avoid the heresies he would espouse. But espouse heresy he did. In the 1640s and into the 1670s he was teaching heresy. Renihan gives us a picture of his teachings:

…Collier published heretical expressions regarding the trinity, denying the distinction of the persons…In 1674, Collier boldly placed himself outside the boundaries of Protestant orthodoxy in a book entitled The Body of Divinity. Two years later he espoused heterodoxy even more explicitly in his Additional Word to the Body of Divinity. Among other things, he taught that God exists in a “increated” heavens, that Christ died for the universe, that man is able to believe the gospel of his own power, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, that believers could lose their salvation, that salvation remained possible after death, and other heresies regarding the hypostatic union of the Mediator, Jesus Christ, asserting that God the Son was a creature.”

Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 174-175

In other words, Collier was attacking the biblical teachings of the church. These deviations went to the heart of the Christian, let alone Particular Baptist, faith. This was not just about baptism or who the members of the new covenant were anymore. This was a fight for the faith itself. And the response of the Particular Baptists was one that needed to be proportionate to the teachings brought against them. Given he was no small fish in the Particular Baptist pond, this problem had to be dealt with quickly. And try they did.

A prolific author and active church-planter, Collier’s open and published embrace of heresy could not go unanswered. In fact, regional pastors and some of the members of the church in Southwick where Collier was pastoring took notice and requested help from London leaders in order to deal with his deviations.

Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 175

Collier was addressed by Nehemiah Coxe, William Kiffen, and others, although there was no repentance on the part of the heretic. “…it was clear that Collier had no intention of changing his mind or putting down his pen on the matter.” (Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 178)

In response to the beliefs of Mr. Collier, and to distance themselves from him, what would come to be known as the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith would be published (it was originally called A Confession of Faith put forth by the Elders and Brethren of many congregations of Christians (Baptized upon profession of their faith) in London and the country).

In fact, the Confession was published the same month (August of 1677) that elders from London and Bristol were declaring Collier a heretic (Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 178).

Lessons Learned

While there are probably many things that could be learned from the Collier incident, there are three items that can be gleaned.

  1. Sound doctrine is crucial to eternal life. This should seem rather obvious but it is good to re-iterate. What you believe will impact how you live especially as it relates to what we believe about God, His Word, and the Gospel. With the Gospel in particular, Paul was adamant about ensuring it was taught, and if another “Gospel” was taught, those who espoused it were damned to hell (Galatians 1:8). What Collier taught was against orthodoxy and ultimately went to the heart of the faith. Who God is, salvation, who Christ is, all these things were taught in a way that could not be reconciled with the Christian faith and really led to another Gospel, thereby securing him as a heretic.
  2. Having association with other like minded churches can be very helpful. While associationalism is not commanded in the Scriptures, it is a very helpful way for churches to support one another. We see this clearly in the Collier incident. Churches worked together to try to stamp out Collier as he made a stink among the brethren with his heresies. This strong associationalism can allow other knowledgeable brethren to deal with issues in other churches without being authoritative over a local church or substantially interfering in their affairs.
  3. Properly defining what we believe is very important. The 2nd LBCF coming out of this incident with Collier showed how important it was to clearly define what orthodox doctrine is and what the Particular Baptists believed. The Particular Baptists did not want to be associated with Collier in any way and wanted to ensure that there was no confusion in what “real” Particular Baptist theology was. This Confession was that official response. Properly defining as a church what is believed in said church is crucial. The Reformed were very careful to define their beliefs and were not casual or lazy in how they defined core orthodoxy. This meant that substantial time had to be given to their expositions and defenses, but it meant they could clearly define who they were as opposed to those around them, namely Rome (although the Particular Baptists were primarily dealing with the Church of England, Presbyterians, Independents, and Anabaptists, but there may be more). We need to clearly define what we believe and use this to take a stand against heterodoxy.

Conclusion

Collier is by no means an isolated incident in false teaching creeping into the church. The church has constantly been dealing with false teaching in one way or another and it was no different for the Particular Baptists. Their commitment to Biblical truth was what guided them through this difficult time and the Lord ultimately united them in it. May we have the strength and passion for truth as the Particular Baptists.

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