Van Tillian Inconsistency

I want to start off by saying that I fall into the “presup” camp when it comes to apologetics. I find the position to be most consistent with Scripture (which I am not seeking to defend in this article). However, I find problems among those in the camp and even with some of Van Til’s teaching. I don’t necessarily buy everything Van Til or his followers teach or have taught. I would label myself a “moderate” presuppositionalist. I believe it is possible to find middle ground between the “classical” approach and the “presup” approach without having to result to what I think is a false dilemma between the two positions. Both sides have truths that can be offered and we shouldn’t throw either position out entirely because we may not like certain teachings sourced in either position. I do find it ironic that there are those in the “classical” camp who would complain because some in the Van Tillian camp will reject their position or aspects of it on theology proper due to philosophical commitments that are used in their theology, but then turn around and criticize the “presup” view because Van Til used idealist philosophical concepts in his system. For some reason, it is okay for “classicists” to use philosophical concepts in their theology (and rightly so) that are found in pagan philosophy, but Van Til can’t, even when he goes to great length to defend himself against accusations of adopting idealism (see his work “The Defense of the Faith”). And on the flip side, there are those in the Van Tillian camp that have fallen into this too, where there will be criticism of the usage of “Greek philosophy” in theology while adopting a system (“presup”) that has inherent philosophical commitments that are found in idealism. We have to move beyond this type of argumentation. With all that said, this article spawned out of me reading an essay that Dr. Matthew Barrett of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary posted by Richard A. Muller titled, “Reading Aquinas from a Reformed Perspective: A Review Essay” from 2018. This article is not meant to cover every inconsistency by Van Tillians or the beliefs of Van Til, but a point-by-point discussion of inconsistencies among Van Til and some of his followers. Also, when I say, “Van Tillian” in the title, I am not only referring to what Van Til may have taught, but some teachings found among the “presup” camp that have come from followers of Van Til. Let us begin.

The Doctrine of God

This doctrine seems to be in some way be at the center of multiple controversies. There are those in the “presup” camp (not necessarily everybody) that have adopted an unorthodox doctrine of God. However, there seems to be disagreement among followers of Van Til with Van Til himself on what constitutes an orthodox theology proper. One need look no further than Jeff Johnson. He identifies as a presuppositionalist in his book, “Saving Natural Theology from Thomas Aquinas,” on page 6 of the Kindle edition. However, there does not seem to be agreement even with Van Til on who God is (although this may be done in ignorance). In his previous book (“The Failure of Natural Theology”) he specifically rejects the concept of God as “actus purus,” meaning God is pure act without the capacity to become more than He actually is. He is the fullness of His being, completely perfect. Jeff says the following:

Actus Purus Is Not the God of the Bible…Actus Purus Is Oblivious and Unconcerned…Actus Purus Cannot Create…Actus Purus Does Not Have a Free Will…Actus Purus Is Impersonal…Thus, according to Aristotle, God is somewhat deistic in that he is oblivious to the universe.

Johnson, Jeffrey D. “The Natural Theology of Aristotle.” The Failure of Natural Theology: A Critical Appraisal of the Philosophical Theology of Thomas Aquinas, Free Grace Press, 2021, pp. 66–69.

As you can see, he expressly denies this doctrine. He sees it as a philosophical commitment and not a biblical one, although he does see some overlap between Aristotelian concepts of God and the biblical God (see page 67). However, it is clear that Van Til did teach this doctrine of actus purus as applied to God and even grounded this understanding of God as the basis for his apologetic position (which position Jeff Johnson espouses). Notice what Van Til says,

As God is absolute rationality so God is also absolute will. By this we mean primarily that God did not have to become good, but has from everlasting to everlasting been good. In God there is no problem of activity and passivity.

Til, Cornelius Van. “The Christian Philosophy of Behavior.” The Defense of the Faith, 4th ed., Presbyterian and Reformed, Philadephia, 1955, p. 83.

Even on a footnote on the same page, K. Scott Oliphint who edited the 4th edition, says the following in relation to the above:

That is, as orthodox theology has maintained, God is Pure Act. There is nothing incomplete or in any way imperfect in God.

Til, Cornelius Van. “The Christian Philosophy of Behavior.” The Defense of the Faith, 4th ed., Presbyterian and Reformed, Philadelphia, 1955, p. 83.

And Van Til then seems to tie this view of God to his view of apologetic methodology where he says,

It should be especially noted that Christians put forth this concept of God, not as something that may possibly be true and may also possibly be untrue. From the nontheistic point of view our God will have to appear as the dumping ground of all difficulties. For the moment we waive this objection in order to call attention to the fact that all the differences between the Christian and the non-Christian point of view, in the field of ethics, must be ultimately traced to their different God-concepts. Christians hold that the conception of God is the necessary presupposition of all human activity.

Til, Cornelius Van. “The Christian Philosophy of Behavior.” The Defense of the Faith, 4th ed., Presbyterian and Reformed, Philadephia, 1955, p. 83. (Emphasis mine)

Just prior to this section is where Van Til established actus purus as biblical in understanding God’s nature. So the context and what is said above would seem to indicate that to reject this view of God is to undermine a core aspect of Van Til’s position on God. Jeff says he’s a presuppositionalist without qualification as we’ve quoted already, so it can safely be assumed he holds to Van Til’s apologetic as a whole. Remember, this concept of “presupposing” God is key to Van Til’s methodology. God must be presupposed to account for all things such as logic, thought, facts themselves, etc. This is essentially the transcendental method of arguing for God’s existence. Also, there is no real neutrality when it comes to man. Man’s state is sinful and as such he is bent away from God. Also, since he lives in God’s world, man must assume God by default since he is using those things created. He cannot escape God. So this statement made by Van Til that, “the conception of God is the necessary presupposition of all human activity” is an indication of his apologetic methodology. This, I think, would put Jeff in a precarious situation as it relates to holding to Van Tillian apologetics the way he does.

Proofs for God

Now, I want to visit some of the apologetic argumentation of Dr. K. Scott Oliphint, professor at Westminster Theological Seminary who knew Van TIl personally and was a student of his post-Van Til’s retirement. Among the Van Tillian camp and with Van Til himself, there is a large amount of criticism of Thomas Aquinas. Van Til, at least to me, seems to identify Aquinas with the broader Roman tradition and not allow for much nuance of Romanism. If this is indeed the case, this could be problematic as the Catholic Church under Aquinas was very different than post-Trent Rome, so this could lead to anachronistic predication. Regardless, the emphasis on Aquinas by Van Til seems to have been passed to at least some of his followers including Dr. Oliphint. Let us look at an example. Richard A. Muller says the following in critique of Oliphint’s understanding of “proofs for God” :

Oliphint makes several crucial mistakes in his interpretation of Aquinas’s proofs of the existence of God. The first mistake is categorical. Oliphint assumes, largely on the basis of Aquinas’s Summa contra Gentiles (even though his analysis of Aquinas’s proofs is based on the Summa Theologiae) that the proofs are not only an exercise in the philosophy of “pure” natural reason but also a form of apologetics. The proofs in the Summa Theologiae, however, are identified as preambles to articles of faith that neither identifies them exclusively as philosophy nor classifies them as apologetic—they belong to sacra doctrina.

Muller, Richard A. “Reading Aquinas from a Reformed Perspective: A Review Essay.” Calvin Theological Journal, vol. 53, 2018, p. 274.

This is key, as critiques of the “classical” position of apologetics from the “presup” camp do assume that the arguments coming from the other side, i.e Thomistic the view, are indeed apologetic in nature. This can be understandable given that men like Norman Geisler, who was R.C. Sproul’s mentor, used Thomas as an apologetic tool (see Dr. Oliphint’s book, “Thomas Aquinas” page 55, Kindle edition). However, Thomas never meant his work to be utilized as an apologetic tool or for it to be apologetic in nature, but as part of the basic articulations of the Christian faith itself. This changes the discussion, as this means to critique the “classical” position based on these proofs from Thomas would be to fall into a straw manning by arguing against something that Thomas never said. If the argument is simply against one like Geisler who turned the theistic proofs of Thomas into apologetical arguments, then the argument would be against Geisler and not Thomas unless one misrepresents Thomas. However, Oliphint, who is a prominent Van Tillian, imputes these motives of theistic proofs to Thomas himself as is seen in Muller’s critique above. One should argue against followers of Thomas who have changed his proofs into apologetic tools rather than going after Thomas when he was simply laying out the Christian faith if they are to engage with these proofs at all. Given the discussion above, we can then look at a common argument for any theistic proof that is not attached to the Van Tillian model and is applied to Aquinas’s theistic proofs. Muller says this,

The second mistake is also a categorical one: it concerns the issue of precisely what Aquinas thought he was proving. Oliphint, who has strenuously advocated Mclnerny’s critique of Gilson and has referenced a Cajetanian reading of Aquinas, clearly misunderstands Cajetan’s view of the proofs. Oliphint represents Cajetan as teaching that the “proofs only demonstrated properties that could apply to a god, but not to God himself.”…The intent of the proofs is not to provide a full doctrine of the Christian God but only to show that reason can attain a set of rather limited concepts that can only be predicated of God and that will be seen to belong to God in the full development of the Christian doctrine of God subsequent to the proofs.

Muller, Richard A. “Reading Aquinas from a Reformed Perspective: A Review Essay.” Calvin Theological Journal, vol. 53, 2018, p. 276-277

This line is key from Oliphint’s book “Thomas Aquinas” that Muller cites, “proofs only demonstrated properties that could apply to a god, but not to God himself.” (Page 155, Kindle edition) Oliphint is actually referring here to a Cardinal that was explaining Thomas but Oliphint clearly thinks this principle is true of Thomas’s theistic proofs. But as one works through a massive work like the Summa, it can be seen clearly that saying these theistic proofs logically leave us with merely a god and not the God is inaccurate. Aquinas in the Summa is very clear that the God these proofs are pointing to is not a faceless god but the God of Scripture. As he expounds for instance on God’s immutability in Part I, question 4 of the Summa where he clearly establishes the God that does not change is the God of Malachi 3:6, the one true and living God. And the starting point for Aquinas is not philosophy, but Scripture. He then works from the already established Scripture to bring to light implications of divine immutability. To separate the proofs of God’s existence from the rest of Aquinas’s work as if they are arguments that merely prove a “god” is to take Aquinas’s words completely out of context and to let Van Tillian methodology blind. This Van Tillian argumentation would apply certainly to an evidential apologetic where God’s word is left out of the presentation for the sake of different evidences and even theistic proofs. This methodology is not intended to couple the supernatural with the natural in terms of apologetic argumentation, but it is meant to use “evidence” in lieu of the supernatural to prove the supernatural. This is not what we find with Aquinas. We find that he never meant these proofs to be apologetic and that they were to be taken with the whole doctrine of God, that God being from Scripture who is brought out elsewhere in the Summa.

The Concept of Analogy

We now arrive at a thorny topic: “analogy” There seems to be issue here as it relates to Van Til when it comes to his definition of “analogy” and the concept of the Thomistic “analogy of being.” Let us look at Muller again.

Oliphint’s discussion of Aquinas’s view of God draws heavily on the claims of Cornelius Van Til, one of whose basic points of critique is that Aquinas’s “idea of the analogy of being compromises the biblical doctrine of creation.” The reason for this, in Van Til’s view, is that the notion of an analogy of being comes directly from Aristotle and reduces the distinction between the Creator and the creature by adopting the Greek philosophical assumption that “all being is essentially one” and that “all individual beings are being to the extent that they participate in this one ultimate being,” thereby undermining the Christian teaching of “a self-contained God”…

Muller, Richard A. “Reading Aquinas from a Reformed Perspective: A Review Essay.” Calvin Theological Journal, vol. 53, 2018, p. 270

I am not sure what version of analogy of being Van Til would have held to explicitly, but he did at the very least rejected the concept of “analogy of being” between God and creation, understood Thomistically. This would naturally create problems. It would be dangerous to reject analogy between God and creation as this would mean there really is likeness between us and God in some way completely destroying the creator/creature distinction that must be kept if God is to truly be the first cause of all things and independent of all things. Clearly though, Van Til rejected Thomas’s view of analogy and applied analogy in a different way. What I will say though is I doubt Van Til denied in every respect analogy of being as this would result in no distinction in reality or concept between Him and His creation. I don’t think this was the case. It seems to me that he denied the concept of analogy of being, but maintained it in other areas unknowingly and inconsistently. This would merely show a misunderstanding of Thomas rather than a complete denial of the doctrine all together. What is odd about Van Til’s understanding of analogy of being is that he thought it broke the distinction between God and creatures. This is a complete misunderstanding of analogy of being as it relates to Thomas in that it sought to show a very qualified similarity between God and creatures without violating the distinction. By definition this is the case, and to say it isn’t implements a straw man fallacy. What would in fact break down the distinction would be to utilize a univocal understanding of God and creation or adopt an equivocal view. Van Til seemed to have two different meanings of “analogy” when talking about God. That we shouldn’t talk about the relation between God and creation by way of Thomistic analogy and that analogy of “knowledge,” which Oliphint breaks down for us in a footnote in Van Til’s “The Defense of the Faith”, is how we should view analogy as it relates to God. First we will quote Van Til and then Oliphint’s footnote:

All of this may again be expressed from another point of view by saying that human knowledge is analogical of divine knowledge.

Til, Cornelius Van. “The Christian Philosophy of Knowledge.” The Defense of the Faith, 4th ed., Presbyterian and Reformed, Philadephia, 1955, p. 62.

Here is Oliphint’s footnote aforementioned on the above statement from Van Til:

Van Til’s notion of “analogy” or “analogical,” as it applies to knowledge and to predication, is central to his theology and apologetic. Though the term itself is confusing, in that it carries with it a host of assumptions in Thomism, it should not be confused or in any way identified with Thomas’s understanding of analogy. Though for Thomas there was an analogy of being, for Van Til, the notion of analogy was meant to communicate the ontological and epistemological difference between God and man. The difference has been expressed historically in terms of an archetypal/ectypal relationship.

Til, Cornelius Van. “The Christian Philosophy of Knowledge.” The Defense of the Faith, 4th ed., Presbyterian and Reformed, Philadephia, 1955, p. 62.

Why Van Til chose to use the terminology Thomas did is odd and even Oliphint notes this terminology as “confusing” since it is clearly a Thomistic term. This makes it quite concerning that Van Til would choose to reject the notion of analogy of being and replace it with his own, confusing definition of “analogy” even if what he meant wasn’t necessary incorrect. This phraseology is not helpful.

Conclusion

These are just some quick points laid out of inconsistencies I see in Van Tillian theology. This does not mean I’m abandoning all that position. But I will not jump on the “presup” band wagon and try to remain objective. Van Til was a product of his day and it seems to bleed through sometimes in a negative way. I have come back to the “presup” position with new eyes having studied more historical theology and theology proper. I’ve been able to look at the position and go, “no that doesn’t work” for some things. But I can do so without throwing out the position entirely. I refuse to commit the genetic fallacy of rejecting “presup” because it came from Van Til or because Van Til was allegedly an idealist. This argumentation is not sound. But, like we do when we critique Aquinas while keeping the gems he taught, we should be willing to critique the Van Tillian camp even if it makes us fall out with the “cool kids club.”

– Daniel Vincent (thanks for those from the team who assisted with reviewing and editing this article)

REASONS FOR INFANT BAPTISM? Do they exist?

PAEDOBAPTISM. Is there a valid reason for doing it? More importantly, is there a valid biblical reason for doing it? See THIS ARTICLE for my thoughts on paedobaptism and the covenant of grace. Over the last few months, a dear brother in the Lord has been sharing what he deems to be “Reasons for Infant Baptism.” Of course, he comes from a Presbyterian perspective, so it only makes sense that he would promote such a position. What I can appreciate is that all of his “reasons” have Scripture attached to them. In fact, many of them are nothing more than a verse or passage left to speak for itself. But just because one can post a verse or passage from the Bible does not mean it is automatically a biblical justification. It is this which I have sought to demonstrate in my responses to him. Those responses make up the underlying structure and content of this article. I will break it down into sections, with each one representing a different reason. As you read, I encourage you to think about how you might have responded to each of these propositions.

REASON #1
“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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’” (Acts 2:38-39)

I have heard this verse used by paedobaptists more times than I can possibly count. As with many things in life, this is just another instance where popularity doesn’t necessarily equate to accuracy. Bottom line: These verses have nothing to do with infant baptism. This is a case for the Elect coming from all groups of people. The promise is for everyone who is called by God. If it was for the children of believers, it means all the children would also have to be called. If all the children are called, it stands to reason that all the children would also be predestined, justified, and glorified. Since we know not all children of believers fall into this category, we can also know the passage is not saying all children of believers are called (any more than all who are far off are called). Therefore, to use this verse to justify infant baptism, it must also be used to justify the baptism everybody who is far off. Or we can accept it for what it’s actually saying: God calls His own, and they may come from Israelite parents, their children, or anyone else. Context matters!

REASON #2
“And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” (Genesis 17:7)

Would anyone be shocked that I disagree with this being a reason for infant baptism? Abraham had physical descendants, with Christ being the Seed. Whereas Abraham’s physical descendants partook of the blessings of the covenant, only spiritual descendants are part of the covenant of grace. This is accomplished by being united in Christ through faith. Ephesians 2:12-13 makes it clear that Gentiles were once far off but have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Anybody who believes in limited atonement would have to admit the blood of Christ was only shed for the Elect. Therefore, only the Elect are brought near. Since Christ is the only way into the covenant (i.e. once being far off and now being brought near), only the Elect can possibly be in the covenant of grace. Since baptism is a sign of membership in the covenant of grace, it should only be applied to those who are in it and precaution should be taken against applying it to anyone who does not have faith in the Son. Therefore, this passage, when taken in the full context of the New Testament, would actually have nothing to do with infant baptism.

Oftentimes, a paedobaptist will follow up with an attempt to back the credobaptist in a corner by asking if they have only ever baptized genuine believers, as if mistakenly baptizing a false convert will completely vindicate their system. There are certainly many who go through the motions of baptism when they never should have. This number includes both unbelievers who perhaps exhibited some sign of fruit only to later fall away, as well as infants. But just because there are non-Elect who go through the motion of baptism doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our due diligence to prevent it from happening as often as we can. Also, I would say the non-Elect are never truly baptized because they lacked an essential part of a valid baptism: faith.

Earlier, I alluded to the covenant of grace. While there are many flavors of paedobaptists (i.e. Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc), when it comes to Presbyterians, our differences really do boil down to our system of covenant theology. Regarding baptism, the Presbyterian argument (in a highly summarized nutshell) is that circumcision was a sign of the old covenant and baptism is a sign of the new covenant. In this, it would be safe to say that, in such a view, baptism has taken the place of circumcision. Where I feel this is impossible is in the fact that, while circumcision was the sign of the old covenant, circumcision is still very much the sign of the new covenant. The difference is in who it is applied to as well as the one doing the applying. In both the old and new covenants, circumcision was given to all who were in it. The old covenant was physical in nature. Thus, a physical sign was given from men to men. In the new covenant, it is spiritual in nature. Thus, a spiritual sign is given from God. No longer are we circumcised in the flesh but are circumcised in the heart. This circumcision of heart (a sign of being in the covenant of grace) is only given to believers through faith in Jesus Christ. Circumcision of the flesh was typological of the circumcision of heart. Since circumcision is very much still the sign being applied, to replace it with baptism becomes a dangerous precedent because it replaces that which God has not done away with. Baptism is what believers do out of obedience to God as they profess their faith to other men, but baptism is not the new circumcision nor has it replaced it. Additionally, the verse in Genesis 17 is about the spiritual future of the New Covenant. While it did have a practical application for the people of Israel, hence circumcision being a physical sign, it was another facet of the typological nature of the Abrahamic Covenant and not a matter of substance in the New Covenant.

REASON #3
“In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism…” (Colossians 2:11). The sign given to Abraham when God made a covenant with him was circumcision, given to infants. Baptism is the new sign of the covenant, the new circumcision.

While there is certainly talk of circumcision in the verse above, baptism doesn’t actually circumcise anyone. The circumcision that occurs is circumcision of the heart by the Spirit. It’s the removal of our heart of stone and giving us a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Baptism is the outward proclamation that the inward reality (circumcision of heart) exists. The external sign should never be worn by one who does not possess the inward reality.

REASON #4
“For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea…” (1 Corinthians 10:1-3). Israel, including children, were baptized in the Old Testament.

Considering paedobaptists attempt to correlate circumcision to baptism, and not the Red Sea to baptism, I truly failed to pick up on this. I just had no idea how it was even being related. The “baptism” into Moses wasn’t a sacrament or a sign of a covenant. It was describing what they went through as they passed through the waters. Through discussion, it was explained to me that just because circumcision is connected to baptism does not mean that there are no other texts of scripture that teach us about it, and that Paul connects what happened to the Israelites in the Exodus account to the life of believers today. Essentially, he was not using the above passage as straight exegesis but rather as inference. But is it proper inference? I dare say not.

Despite the explanation that was offered up, I still failed to see the connection of Paul using the word “baptizo” with the ordinance of baptism in the life of the Church. Again, he was being descriptive of what they went through, with the primary purpose being in running the race and being obedient. It wasn’t a message on baptism, infant or otherwise. Not only is the passage not an explicit text on baptism, it’s not even an implicit text with good and necessary consequence or inference. I can 100% agree with good and necessary consequences. I just don’t agree that this is one of them. I think this is a very far stretch to shoehorn unbiblical tradition into the life of the church (and I mean no offense by that, just stating it as I believe it to be). In this case, my brother felt like Paul using the word baptizo should be enough to mean they were baptized, and that we should take it as a written example for us to follow.

Personally, I don’t take it to mean what he was asserting. If one didn’t believe in infant baptism, I think most would read that verse very differently. It’s neither descriptive nor prescriptive when it comes to the ordinance of baptism as found in the Church. I think this is an instance of grasping at straws and possibly an instance of an equivocation fallacy. There’s literally nothing in it that would lead the reader to think Paul was referring to the ordinance of baptism and relating it to entire families. That’s just a really big stretch. All it says is that they all passed through the sea and were immersed into Moses. The example is not baptism for all but rather to not be disobedient as the followers of Moses were. We are to be immersed in Christ and be obedient in faith. It’s a thought that immediately follows chapter 9 where it speaks of such things. Again, this simply is not an argument for infant baptism and, if anything, is an argument against it since infants cannot run the race and be obedient in faith. They can’t be immersed in Christ. Therefore, they would only end up receiving a hollow version of a sacrament.

REASON #5
“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Psalm 127:3-5a)

At the risk of being overly blunt, this is even more of a stretch than Reason #4. Children are a blessing, but that doesn’t mean all blessings are baptized. Otherwise, I’d have to baptize my house in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. While having absolutely nothing to do with infant baptism, this text fits perfectly with a Baptist worldview. Children are a blessing and, more importantly, it is obedience to the command given in Genesis 1:28. But our children are still under the dominion of Satan unless regenerated by the Spirit. This is why we raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord while stressing the need for them to trust in Christ as their Savior, lest they be lost to the pits of Hell without Him.

REASON #6
“Did he (the Lord) not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring…” (Malachi 2:15)

As with all the other reasons given before now, this is also a stretch. This verse has nothing to do with infant baptism nor does it contain an underlying reason to baptize infants. Note the last part of verse 15 (that was conveniently cut off when it was posted):

“So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “

This verse is speaking about how the priests were unrighteous and sinning against their wives. Notice that verse 3 says their children would be rebuked as a result. We see a similar warning in Leviticus 26:16. The passage isn’t referencing infant baptism. It’s not even about godly parenting. It’s about a covenant between a man and his wife and the consequence that comes with breaking it. I, too, seek godly offspring. This is why I raise them to know they are sinners in need of Jesus instead of telling them they’re part of an unbreakable covenant even if they don’t have faith (which would make them children of Satan).

I was then met with the claim that he was not trying to interpret it as a command to baptize infants but that he was using it as justification for determining what view of baptism allowed for the category of “godly seed”. He said God desires faith and faithfulness in a marriage because of what it produces, and that such logic carries over to the New Testament. While I promote there are only two categories of children in Scripture, children of God or children of Satan, his position is that there are additional categories that must be recognized in order to properly understand how the children of believers are to be dealt with. I can appreciate the desire to do something with these children, but I just do not see the biblical warrant to baptize them.

As for the category of what best describes godly seed, I would say that is going to entirely depend on whether or not God calls the child to Himself, not whether or not a child has been baptized. Certainly, any Reformed person would agree that we are all children of the devil prior to regeneration (John 8:44). So long as one remains in this state, he/she is not godly. The Presbyterian must create a third category, but those are the only two spiritual states laid out in Scripture. There simply is no third option. Anything else would be a purely fabricated category that would have nothing to do with their spiritual status. We are either in Adam or in Christ. That’s it. If we are in Adam, we need Christ and any blessings that might come our way are only because of either God’s common grace or as a byproduct of blessings given to His believing children that have a residual effect. I’m not even sure how one can say there is another category apart from Adam or Christ, Satan or God, unregenerate or regenerate. To say children of believers, so long as they remain in an unregenerate state, are anything other than children of the devil (in a spiritual sense) is to be at odds with Scripture. All humanity, regardless of whether or not their parents are saved, are in dire need of a Savior and are not adopted into the covenant until they enter through faith. The fact that Presbyterians believe in preaching the gospel to their kids only serves as an inconsistency in their view of the covenant of grace. To place them in a third category that merits bearing the sign of the covenant treats kids like they’re in, even though they lack faith and still belong to Satan.

Credobaptism is the clear demonstration from Scripture. I assert infant baptism is purely tradition, be it Presbyterian, Catholic, Lutheran, or other. This is further amplified by the fact that the Presbyterian version of paedobaptism isn’t even the original reason it was performed. Remember, other paedobaptist systems came before them and each had their own separate reasons. Thus, the Presbyterian edition is a revised version that clung to an action of tradition while merely changing its reasoning.

REASON #7
“For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” (1 Corinthians 7:14). The children of at least one believer are considered holy and not unclean like the world.

This is perhaps one of the easiest arguments to defeat. The basis of the argument is that the children of at least one believing parent is considered clean (i.e. holy) and should therefore be baptized. However, the unbelieving husband is also explicitly called holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is explicitly called holy because of her husband. Therefore, if the argument is that since the unbelieving child should be baptized due to being made holy by one believing parent, you would also have to argue that an unbelieving spouse should be baptized due to being made holy by the one believing spouse. If Presbyterians will not advocate for an unbelieving spouse to be baptized, it shows they don’t even really believe their own argument, at least not with any level of consistency. In fact, if one states the unbelieving spouse should abstain from baptism and the Supper, it would only serve to demonstrate why the unbelieving infant should also abstain.

But this goes back to the previous “reason” where the idea was floated that there are other categories apart from elect and reprobate within the Church. I admit there are various other categories (i.e. elder, deacon, sheep, husband, wife, child, etc), but when it comes to spiritual states, I outright deny this. There are only two. If one desires to be consistent, to use 1 Corinthians 7:14 for infant baptism would also be to use it as justification for the baptism of unbelieving spouses so long as one spouse was a believer. Yet, this isn’t pushed for. For any argument that the children are to be treated differently, the same argument must exist that the unbelieving spouse must be treated differently. Since all males who were part of Abraham’s house were to receive the sign of circumcision, it would stand that all (at a minimum, males) who are in the house of a believer would also have to bear the sign. Faith simply would not play a role. If faith does play a role, it must play the same role for all. This would only be further backed by the fact that the verse puts both unbelieving children and the unbelieving parent in the exact same category. Of course, the Presbyterian view begins not with Scripture but with a category of “covenant children” as rooted in tradition. Again, it requires a foundation of tradition before the subject can ever be broached. Since baptism does not regenerate, the paedobaptist must advocate for children of the devil bearing the sign of the covenant of Christ, void of faith and filled with sin.

But if the children of believers are not considered clean or holy, how can it be declared, with any level of confidence, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15)?” Can a house truly serve the Lord if the children within are not clean, holy, and baptized as children of the covenant who have been marked out as members of the visible Church? Is it a valid category? The problem with using a term like “covenant child” is that it isn’t even hinted at in Scripture. Yes, it could have been used of Old Covenant children but not of the New Covenant. People became members of the Old Covenant by nothing more than simply being born. It included believers, unbelievers, children, and servants. It was meant for a nation and all who were part of it. The New Covenant is far more selective in that only those who are in Christ are in the covenant. This limits the members to being only those who possess faith.

I also noticed a repeated theme in these “reasons” being cited. In many of them, it was said the reasoning does not depend on just that one reason but on all of it combined. However, every last one of the reasons has been easily refuted to show why it does not say what is being claimed. This means the reasoning is now built upon at least eight (counting the next one) refuted passages that are taken out of context. Having a plethora of verses taken out of context doesn’t mean a solid foundation exists. If anything, it demonstrates the opposite. A solid foundation would be built upon multiple verses that all say the same thing and can stand on their own merit individually but gain more strength when taken collectively. This is not the case here.

As for the comment about what marks the visible church, I agree this is baptism (though I would also add to that a public and credible profession of faith). However, the visible church should, in as many ways as possible, reflect the invisible church. This is why, when we discover someone who is living in sin, we might cast them out of fellowship and membership. Similarly, it is why we would not baptize an unbeliever who just so happens to come to church every Sunday (for whatever his reasons may be). To apply the sign to some merely because they sit in a pew or have a parent who believes is to misapply the sign. Yes, unbelieving wives and unbelieving children may be in the pew but that does not make them worthy of receiving the sign.

The holiness being spoken of is in the sense of being sanctified as a household. The believing spouse didn’t have to worry about leaving the unbelieving spouse. This is clearly the context of what’s being said in the passage. The same context is to be applied to the children. They didn’t need to be treated like outsider pagans to be rejected. Just as it isn’t saying they are saved, it also isn’t saying they are the recipients of the sign that is to be given to members of the covenant. This sign only belongs to believers who possess faith in Christ and are admitted membership through said faith.

As for Joshua 24:15, if it requires all members to actively serve the Lord in covenant before one can make the statement, it means a household who has one believing parent and one unbelieving parent would not be able to claim it. The children have no bearing on it. If being able to make the claim first requires baptism and entrance into the covenant, you now have to advocate for the unbelieving parent being admitted into the covenant, baptized, treated as a holy covenant member, and admitted to the Table. While some Presbyterians actually do claim this, I know my brother was not about to go that far. In that respect, I am thankful for his inconsistency.

REASON #8
Infants can die apart from conscious sin due to Adam’s federal headship and his imputed sin. Likewise, they can be saved through Christ’s federal headship and His imputed righteousness. Baptism does not force God’s grace, but it does signify it. See Romans 5:12-21.

Anybody whom God has called can (and will be) saved by His grace alone. If we’re not going to baptize all unbelieving adults in order to signify the potential grace that might be shown to them, we shouldn’t do it for infants either. While they may be saved and shown grace, they may not. Notice that both the WCF and 1689 (in 10.3) leave room by saying “Elect infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit; who worketh when, and where, and how he pleases; so also are all elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.”

To go a bit further, his reasoning deferred to federal headship. While we are all in Adam by physical birth, we are only in Christ by spiritual rebirth. This first requires the Holy Spirit regenerating an individual. Of course, once regenerate, there is no becoming unregenerate. This is the very basis of Preservation of the Saints. Thus, once a person is regenerate, he are now in Christ and become the proper recipient of the sign. However, apart from this, no sign should be administered, for it becomes a sign administered in vain and error.

CONCLUSION

While there are a great many verses that our Presbyterian brethren will throw out there in an attempt to plead their case, none of them actually support their cause. In fact, when properly exegeted, they will often betray their cause and speak against it. We all come before Scripture with our presuppositions, but we should also always strive to let the Scriptures speak as we pray and meditate upon them. While some of my commentary above may sound harsh at times, it is my hope that you, the reader, will not only see why my brother’s “reasons” are flawed but also see love and grace in my rebuttals.

~ Travis W. Rogers

DANGER AHEAD: Proceed with Caution

Earlier this year, I wrote two articles (Roman Catholics: Mission Field or Family? and Roman Catholicism: Doctrines of Error) outlining some of the major differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. We covered much of the teachings of the Catholic Church by using their own writings and then compared them to Scripture. The undeniable conclusion is that there are many irreconcilable differences and that the Catholic Church is to be viewed as the mission field in desperate need of the gospel and teaching of the doctrines of grace. Now we are going to move away from this area in particular and cover a much broader subject. That subject is the danger of false teaching and the importance of sound biblical doctrine.

By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness:
He who was revealed in the flesh,
Was vindicated in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Proclaimed among the nations,
Believed on in the world,
Taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16, NASB)
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, (1 Timothy 4:1, NASB)

Our faith is based on Christ and the Word of God alone. Despite this, there are many out there who deny it. Not only are there other religions, but there are also those who claim the title of Christianity while teaching something that Scripture refers to as “doctrines of demons.” To get a better idea as to what these doctrines of demons are, we are going to see what Paul had to say to Timothy on the matter.

...by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, (1 Timothy 4:2, NASB)

Those who teach doctrines of demons do so without conviction. They believe their own lies. They have given in to the demonic influence and lies of Satan to the point where they no longer see the line between truth and heresy. It was my intent to vividly paint this picture the previously mentioned articles. We covered the irreconcilable differences between Catholics and Protestants such as works versus grace, the priesthood, the Mass, the continual re-sacrificing of Christ, penance and indulgences, as well as others. These are all false doctrines that fly in the face of Scripture while relying on the Traditions of the Roman Catholic Church to support themselves. I was kind in calling them false doctrines. Scripture is not so kind.

...men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. (1 Timothy 4:3, NASB)

Both of these are doctrines that the Catholic Church holds near and dear. Priests are not allowed to marry. Of course, this was not always the case. The Roman Catholic priesthood was once allowed to marry without issue. Unfortunately, this wonderful blessing and covenant with God was not to last. At the First Lateran Council of 1123, rules were imposed barring unmarried priests from marrying but allowing already married priests to remain married. Of course, it didn’t take long for that to change. Another rule was imposed, in the Second Lateran Council of 1139, forcing married priests to leave their wives which caused many of them to be cast out and become street walking prostitutes just so they could survive. For those who chose to continue having sexual relations with their wife, they were viewed as fornicators and were not privy to receive any of the benefits of the Church. As if this wasn’t bad enough, even the children were to suffer as they were declared illegitimate. This resulted in their being ineligible to enter the clergy or, for many of them, to even be married themselves once they reached adulthood. This is all the grim history surrounding the Roman Catholic Church. Why would they forbid marriage? Even Peter was married (Matthew 8:14; Mark 1:30; Luke 4:38) and he is the one they claim to be their first Pope.

Along the same lines, the Roman Catholic Church also teaches that you cannot eat meat on Fridays. Granted, this is most commonly enforced only during Lent, there are still many Catholic Churches that have extended this practice to include every Friday of the year. According to Catholic teaching, eating meat on a Friday during Lent is considered to be a mortal sin.

So, I state it again:

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,...men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. (1 Timothy 4:1&3, NASB)

As I said, Scripture is not so kind. It specifically calls these Roman Catholic teachings doctrines of demons. They are lies straight from the pits of hell as are the other doctrines we covered in the other articles. Again, this is not an attack on Catholics but it is indeed a brutal attack on the religion that has perverted the gospel and doctrines of grace in favor of a doctrine of legalism and tradition of men. Some say I am too harsh. I say I am not harsh enough. There is a very real danger in false teaching (1 Timothy 4:1). We are called to draw people to Christ, not to draw them away from Him (Matthew 24:4-5). False teachers present a very real danger to the Church body and are compared to a pack of savage wolves that tear apart the Church body and spare nobody (Acts 20:29).

Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, NASB)

That one sounds a lot like the Pope doesn’t it? Sitting high on the throne, making people kiss his ring, taking on the title “Vicar of Christ” which literally means one who acts as a substitute. The Pope has taken on the title of a substitute Christ. One can’t display himself as God any more than this even if he tried. And for those who say the Pope is only sitting in the place of Christ on earth, he must first answer why he believes Christ to have no power or dominion at present time.

To be clear, I’m not saying the Pope is the Antichrist (in the singular sense as some eschatogical positions hold). There are many false teachers and antichrists in the world (1 John 2:18) who seek to prevent others from receiving the love of truth so as to be saved (2 Thessalonians 2:10). The fact that false teaching is such a danger makes the need for Godly teachers all the greater. Teachers have a very high calling and an even higher responsibility to teach the truth with accuracy (James 3:1). True teachers are always feeding on the Word of God (1 Timothy 4:6) and should be diving head first into Scripture in order to gain a better understanding of the Truth. They are to act as the Bereans who sought to prove what they heard by examining the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11).

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NASB)

Scripture is the only true litmus test. If it is not found there, it is to be rejected. If something contrary or in addition to Scripture is taught, the teacher is to be rejected and shunned. Scripture is what equips us for every good work. It is what makes us adequate. Its purpose is for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. Sola Scriptura! Scripture Alone!

Scripture is plain that, while not everyone is to desire to be a teacher in the official sense, all are called to teach truth as fellow believers in Christ (Hebrews 5:12-14). We are all called to search the Scriptures daily. In fact, this is what John tells us all to do in order to know the Truth.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. (1 John 4:1-3, NASB)

The first place we should start in testing the spirits is to see what their basic teaching is regarding Jesus. Do they teach of him being 100% man while also being 100% God or do they teach something contrary. Peter says if they confess Christ is God in the flesh, that teacher is from God. However, we must realize that there are many other perversions. One can easily claim Jesus was man and God yet then detract from who He really is by diminishing His role. Again, the Catholic Church does this repeatedly by diminishing the doctrines of grace and, through their continual re-sacrifice during the Mass, refusing to accept that Christ died once for all. This only reinforces the importance of knowing Scripture and being able to recall it during those crucial moments. This can only be done by daily examination and study.

They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:5-6, NASB)

The spirit of Truth will teach from the Word of God and the spirit of error will reject it (1 John 4:5-6) The latter will be accomplished either by adding to, detracting from, or perverting the Word. Scripture tells us what will become of this man:

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19, NASB)

Teachers are held to a very high standard and should do their best to ensure the accuracy of what is taught. As you sit under various teachers, beware to not place them on a pedestal as a substitute Christ. Trust in your teachers can be a beautiful thing, but never forget to search the Scriptures to prove what is being taught. Any teacher worth his weight in salt will readily encourage such action. Use biblical discernment and pray that God will preserve you from error. Proceed with caution!

Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16, NASB)

~ Travis W. Rogers

On the Sufficiency and Inerrancy of Scripture

One would be remiss to write on the important matters of the faith while failing to mention the supremacy and sufficiency of Scripture in the Christian life. In all the ways God has spoken through the ages, the written Word has been the farthest reaching and most used method. Even in Scripture, we see positive affirmation of this. We see it in the way Paul praised the Bereans for searching the Scriptures to verify the words they had heard preached (Acts 17:11). In 1 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul even refers to Scripture not as the word of men but as the Word of God. And this is barely scratching the surface!

One would think, with such clear descriptions and characteristics being used to define the written Word of God, it would be at the pinnacle of our faith and defended to the death. Yet, throughout the ages, there has been an assault on God’s written Word. No, not only from those who openly mock Christianity but also from those who claim to be a part of Christ’s flock. Some are vehemently opposed to such ideas as the inerrancy of Scripture while others are subtler in their tactics.

Over the years, I’ve heard challenges to accepted authorship, date origins, translations, and inerrancy. While all of these are common and can be easily noticed, some attacks are more difficult to identify. For instance, I hold to the position that the Roman Catholic Church, while accepting the inerrancy of Scripture, denies the sufficiency in the way they hold sacred tradition to be on equal ground.

Consequently, it is not from sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore, both sacred tradition and sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of devotion and reverence.

Vatican II, Chapter 2, Para.9

Simply put, if any form of divine revelation or tradition, in addition to Scripture, is said to be required to have certainty of the object of our faith, of necessity, it denies the absolute sufficiency of the Scriptures. It declares a need for something more in order to fully understand that which God has already revealed in His completed Word.

For those who have debated with Mormons, you know that they will openly embrace multiple “sacred” works to include the Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrines and Covenants. Once again, we see an assault on the sufficiency of Scripture. However, if you were to accuse a Latter-Day Saint (LDS) of such a charge, he or she would openly deny it. Technically, they’d be right. The reason why they can say they believe in the sufficiency of Scripture is because all the above works are included in “their” Scriptures. While Protestants adhere to the Bible as the sole Scriptural text, the LDS add to their foundation via claims of additionally inspired text. Never will they claim to replace the Bible with these added texts, yet never will they claim to place the Bible over them. In fact, they also stand behind the claim, as found in their eighth article of faith, that the Bible is, “the word of God as far as it is translated correctly” while also admitting to the continuation of divine revelation through the office of the prophet. Therefore, it’s vitally important for us to be able to distinguish both the subtle and the obvious and know how to defend the truth.

While we could go on for days touching on the multitude of ways we might encounter contrary claims to the sufficiency and inerrancy of Scripture, it would be of little use if we didn’t also turn to the Scriptures to see what God has to say on this matter. As you’ve seen, some oppose the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture while adhering to their sufficiency (an oxymoron) while others adhere to their inerrancy while opposing their sole sufficiency. My hope is that, if you don’t already hold the position, by the end of this article, you’ll see the importance of adhering to both, while recognizing that the Bible alone is the sole source of holy writ.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NASB)

The rest of this article will revolve around the great theological and practical truths embodied within these two verses of Paul’s second letter to Timothy. In them, we see the source of Scripture, four clear and distinct benefits (though not an all-inclusive list) of said Scripture, and the powerful outcome.

The man who lives in such a way as to encompass all four uses in his daily life is said to be adequate and equipped for every good work. The word ἄρτιος (artios) gives reference to the idea of being specially and thoroughly equipped for the four preceding special uses. The NASB translates the above word as “adequate” while the KJV translates it as perfect, which Paul reinforces by describing such a man as equipped and furnished for every good work. There’s nothing left regarding matters of faith and practice in the life of the Christian that isn’t perfected through his use and daily application of the Scriptures.

The reason for this, while maintaining a certain amount of eternal mystery, has been made known to us. It’s because Scripture is inspired. Some have argued that this verse only refers to the Old Testament, but I’m convinced that, while he may not have fully understood the reach (i.e. a final 66 book canon in the drawer of every hotel nightstand), Paul was aware his letters were to be considered as Scripture. For those who may not yet be convinced, let’s go back to a verse we already alluded to at the beginning of this article.

For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13, NASB)

Paul readily acknowledges the words they previously taught to be the word of God and not merely the word of men. Many have argued that he was merely referencing the oral teachings of the Old Testament and was not including his own letters. However, this won’t stand to scrutiny.

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. (2 Thessalonians 2:15, NASB)

In case there was any confusion left, Paul sorts it out in his second letter to the church of Thessalonica when he states that the words of God pertain not only to the word of mouth but also to the words in his letters. Paul further emphasizes this point in 1 Corinthians 14:37 when he explicitly states that his own writings are the Lord’s commandments. Therefore, when Paul speaks of “all Scripture” being inspired, he’s referring to both the Old and New Testaments, which would include all remaining letters that God had yet to write through godly men.

The word translated as “inspired” paints a far more beautiful picture in the Greek. The word is θεόπνευστος (theopneustos) which literally means “breathed out by God” and carefully points to God as the true author through godly men moved by the Holy Spirit. This isn’t to say God controlled them robotically as they wrote, nor is it to say God merely gave them good ideas which they decided to write down. In infinite wisdom and power, God saw to it that each author retained his own personality and style of writing while also dictating each word to be jotted down and ensuring the promise that His Word would endure and none would pass away (Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33). It’s the last part, along with many other affirmations found in Scripture, that guarantees we can know Scripture to be not only divinely inspired but also inerrant.

With this profound promise in mind, what are some of the ways in which we can, and should, apply this to our own lives?

TEACHING

The first point of Paul’s is that Scripture is profitable for teaching. Sound doctrine is of the utmost importance in the life of the believer and the state of the Church. Without sound doctrine, one can never know Christ as He is. Instead, He becomes a product of men’s own imaginations and carries the traits that best suit their own fancies. As I’ve grown in my marriage throughout the years, I’ve sought to continually know my wife better. Similarly, to grow in one’s relationship with Christ, one needs to know Him better. While prayer is critical in the life of the believer, we can’t forget that God has already revealed Himself to us in the written Word.

It’s only through the study of Scripture that we can be properly equipped to know our Savior, combat heresy, evangelize to the lost, and grow in sanctification. This has far reaching implications, not only in our own lives, but also in the world. While the purpose of the Church isn’t to change cultures or society, there will undoubtedly be some impact within the community whether it be through prosperity and revival or through persecution and mocking. We need to stand is united in truth, standing for the proclamation of the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Christ. We evangelize the lost unashamedly and trust that God will call those He intends to save. This only comes from knowing the truth. After all, the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses also evangelize. In fact, some may say they put Protestants to shame on that front. With such heresies as false gods, counterfeit Christs, and works-based salvation, we can’t afford to stand on the sidelines singing, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so.” It’s high time we study Scripture seriously, then take to the streets. After all, “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7).

However, teaching isn’t only for our own personal growth or to be used in evangelism. While one will only ever come to salvation by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:14), Scripture is primarily for those in the Church with the ultimate purpose being worship and glorification of God. It should be the pinnacle of the worship service with the culmination being the Lord’s Supper. If done correctly, all singing should point to the sermon, while the sermon points to the Supper, with the focus being Christ’s sacrifice. Unless a church is built upon and relies on the accurate interpretation and exposition of Scripture, it will surely become a congregation of sinners in the hands of an angry God rather than a communion of saints.

Scripture is the divine plumb line by which every thought, principle, act, and belief is to be measured.

John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary on 2 Timothy

Only with this in mind can we begin to move into the other three remaining benefits.

REPROOF

In a “judge not” world, how can we possibly think of reproving another? After all, it seems that any time someone is corrected or admonished, countless “Christians” come out of hiding to admonish the original admonisher. The only wrong that can be committed is in telling another they have committed a wrong. So, who should be the subject of reproof and how does one do it biblically?

If you’re anything like me, you enjoy a good debate. One of the challenges I face in discussing or debating with unbelievers is that I need to remember I have no ground or reason to rebuke them for their lack of belief in the Word of God. It’s to be expected that unbelievers are going to live their lives contrary to biblical standards. This isn’t to say all unbelieving households are the epitome of immorality as much as it is to say that every unbelieving household will lack a reverence for God. While there is a place for rebuking unbelievers when it comes to matters of faith, this isn’t what Paul had in mind.

I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. (1 Corinthians 4:14, NASB)

The case that Paul is making in 2 Timothy 3:16 is for those within the church. This is the consistent theme of good order and discipline within the church. The world may love to take Matthew 7:1 out of context and declare that Christians should never judge. But that simply isn’t the case. Matthew 18 lays out a format for church discipline, which may lead to expulsion from the church. 1 Corinthians 5:12 tells us not to worry about judging those outside of the church as that judgment belongs to God. Yet, simultaneously, we are commanded to judge those within the church. John 7:24 makes the case that, when we do judge, we’re to judge righteously. Again, none of this should be for the purpose of making others feel small or unloved. Nor should it be for the purpose of shaming someone into submission. In all acts of judgment, it’s for the purpose of promoting good order and discipline within the church body. It’s to ensure righteous living and doctrinal truth. In extreme cases, it’s to purge the body of unrepentant sin. Even in such cases, the person being disciplined is typically given three prior chances (Matthew 18) to repent of their sin and heed the rebuke of the church. Without Scripture, there is no ground to rebuke anyone and the church falls into calamity.

CORRECTION

So, if reproof is meant to correct error in the life of an unbeliever, does that mean correction is for the unbeliever? While it would be easy to come to jump to such a conclusion, we’d be better suited to go to the Greek for clarification. The original word is ἐπανόρθωσις (epanorthōsis) which describes restoring something to an upright state. When we think of correction, we tend to think of admonishment. However, when we relate it to the depths of parenting, the proper purpose becomes clear. When our child misbehaves, he or she receives our discipline. Yet, the end goal is never discipline alone, but rather correction. It’s with the hope of correcting some deficiency so that the child will learn to obey. It’s in this sense that Paul is using the word. While reproof is the way in which the believer is chastised or disciplined, correction is the believer’s restoration to righteous living before God. In this way, Scripture is quite powerful. It not only points out our wrongs and convicts us of them, but it also builds us back up and tells us how to walk in the way of the Lord (Psalm 128:1).

INSTRUCTION

As we enter the last point made regarding the profitability of Scripture, you may have noticed how they build upon one another. First, there was doctrine or sound teaching. Next, we saw reproof and conviction. Thirdly, we see correction and restoration to an upright position. Lastly, we see Paul speaking of “instruction in righteousness.” The Greek word used here carries with it a sense of virtue, morals, and overall instruction. The root of the word would be used when speaking of training children in the way they should grow up. It refers to the whole of a man or woman.

So, how does one know what he ought to do unless someone teaches him? Paul rounds out his very short (not all-inclusive) list with an unfathomable concept. From our infancy, we’re constantly learning and being taught. As we stand today, we are each the culmination of our experience and learning. Hence why there’s such an emphasis placed on instruction. The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins by declaring that man’s chief end is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” This is backed by Scriptures such as Psalm 86:9, Isaiah 60:21, 1 Corinthians 6:20, and many others. It’s a theme that resounds throughout the Bible. Thus, we must ask ourselves the question of how do we learn Godly living? If such a lifestyle is expected of us, where do we turn for answers. The answer is obvious: Holy Scripture! God hasn’t left us alone in the world to wonder what He expects of us. As outlined in the beginning of this article, He spoke through men and preserved His words for us.

When it comes to righteous living, the only infallible source of authority is sacred Scripture. While we may learn from many resources, including family, books, articles, and blogs, all of these must fall in line with Scripture and, even then, they’re secondary to the Bible. While your pastor has been given the serious charge of tending to the flock and feeding his sheep, he also has the fearsome responsibility of accurately dividing the Word and expositing the Scriptures from the pulpit for the purpose of providing the nourishment of sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6).

While reproof may have carried with it a harsher or more negative connotation, instruction brings about the gentler side of things. The Greek refers to teaching a child the ways of education, morality, and care of their body. It’s the fundamental teaching for children. That said, it also leaves room for chastisement when the child fails to obey their teaching. In the context of this passage we can see how Paul comes full circle. Scripture is profitable for teaching sound doctrine to include the depths of God. When the believer fails to adhere to this teaching, it calls for reproof. After being reproved, the corrected believer is restored. At all times, there is a continued instruction in righteousness as he walks the path of sanctification. Once restored, and instruction is given, he should desire to return to a deeper study of sound doctrine for the purpose of Godly obedience and devotion.

Many children in this world are sadly neglected. Be it in a lack of discipline, a missing parent, or parents who don’t care, there’s no shortage of ones in this tragic state. For those seeking to do something about their misfortune, it’s become increasingly common to see self-help books on the shelves of most retailers, some of which may even label themselves as Christian. It’s unfortunate that people in despair tend to turn everywhere other than the very tool given to us by God. Scripture is more than mere words in a book. It’s more than a history lesson. It’s more than an antiquated lesson on morality. It’s the very breath of God in written form and is sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). It contains spiritual guidance and points us to our only hope: Jesus Christ. If we submit to the Scriptures through prayer, the Spirit will reveal to us, through our reading and meditation, how to properly uphold God’s righteous statutes and, when we fail, how to rest in His comfort, joyfully accept reproof or correction, and dive even further into sound doctrine.

All the above has its culmination in our daily living. If we fully submit to the Scriptures, we have the promise that we’ll be equipped for every good work. While this may sound cliché, it’s important to understand what that words “adequate” and “good” really mean. To break it down, I’d like us to look at them in the reverse order.

What does it mean to be capable of doing good? One of the first uses of the term that comes to mind is in Genesis during the Creation account. Everything God made was good in His eyes. This only makes sense since God alone is good. In fact, in Mark 10:18, Jesus says only God is good. So how does this account for man being equipped for good? For that answer, we can look to the very Scripture we say makes us capable.

All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.” (Romans 3:12, NASB)
Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
There is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 53:3, NASB)

According to the Scriptural account, mankind is incapable of doing good. By God’s own standard, there’s not a single person who does good, not even one. This is because, in his natural state, man rejects the things of the Spirit of God. He doesn’t understand them, nor is he capable of understanding (1 Corinthians 2:14). Yet, in God’s infinite wisdom, He has chosen to call His elect out of the domain of darkness and into His kingdom (Colossians 1:13).

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7, NASB)

It’s through this act of regeneration that we’re given a new nature. Instead of being broken and sinful creatures, we’re now justified saints of God who are capable of doing that which is good because we’re so empowered by the Spirit of God. Yes, we still sin but it no longer defines us. We are defined by Christ alone. We’re now equipped to do every good work in the name of Christ and for the sake of His glorious gospel.

Not only are we capable of doing good, but we’re adequately equipped to do so. Don’t be fooled by a cursory reading of this. When we hear the term ‘adequate’, we tend to think of just barely meeting the mark. However, Paul’s use of the word conveys so much more. In Greek, it means to be perfect and complete. It means to be thoroughly furnished and completely competent. Quite simply, Paul taught that such a person requires nothing more in life in order to be equipped for sound teaching, reproof of wrongs, correction and rebuilding, and training in fully righteous living. All of this is found in Scripture and equips the believer to do every good work unto God. While certain self-help books may have their place, nothing will ever supersede Scripture, nor is it be capable of equipping you with anything you can’t already receive within its pages. Christian books should always be used in conjunction with Scripture, and should be checked by it, but they should never take its place. The same goes for the article you’re currently reading. If you’ve found yourself learning more from this writing than Scripture itself, I urge you to close this one out and come back to it later after you’ve had time to meditate upon the Word in prayer. However, if this article is helping clarify points of confusion and has kindled a desire to study Scripture, it’s fulfilling its purpose.

The Reformers had it right when they said, “Sola Scriptura.” Scripture alone equips and fulfills. Embrace this fact and give thanks to the Lord for revealing within its pages all we need to know this side of Heaven.

~ Travis W. Rogers

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 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, while the new covenant was established upon His death, the captives were not set free until Jesus had risen from the dead (Ephesians 4:8). 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 Jesus was still bound by one simple fact. 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
  • Sheol/Hades (non-tormenting side)
  • Sheol/Hades (tormenting side)
  • Gehenna/Tartarus (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

Does Genesis 6 Actually Prove Total Depravity?

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

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

Genesis 6:5 (KJV)

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

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

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

Genesis 8:21 (KJV)

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

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

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

Matthew 7:11 (KJV)

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

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

Matthew 22:36–39 (KJV)

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

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

Ecclesiastes 7:20 (KJV)
The Good News

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

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

Romans 5:6–8 (KJV)

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

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