In April 2021 Mac Deaver held a four night debate with Israel Rodriguez in Denton, Texas on the subject of immersion in the Holy Spirit. All sixteen speeches can be viewed here. Also, the debate can be accessed via the dropdown menu under “Debates.”
When I was a very young gospel preacher and while teaching in a preacher training school, I would on Sunday’s drive to my regular preaching appointment in a small farming community. One day one of the members of the congregation explained to me that people in the world were not amenable to God’s New Testament teaching on marriage and divorce because they haven’t heard the gospel. I think that was my first experience with a brother in Christ advocating such nonsense about marriage and divorce, but I have remembered that experience to this day.
Over the years many faithful gospel preachers have written books, preached sermons, wrote articles, and even engaged in public debate on what the Bible teaches on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Of course one of the major controversial aspects of the subject was the matter of the application of the law of Christ on marriage. I have been in three debates myself on the application of New Testament teaching on the topic. And my father engaged in a great written debate that went on with his opponent for about five years.
And after all these years, one might still on occasion hear of someone’s still trying to uphold the view that people in the world are not amenable to Christ’s teaching on marriage and divorce, or one might hear that while it is admitted that they are amenable to the law of Christ, it is still the case that they surely do not have to give up adulterous spouses in order to become Christians. Now, there is already much, much audio, video, and written material available to settle the issue for an honest and good heart, but in this brief article, I simply want to make a few basic points, anyway, hopefully to help further clarify the matter.
Let’s begin with a few questions:
- Can a man in the world commit fornication (have sex with someone who is not his wife)?
- Can a man in the world commit adultery (have sex with someone who is someone else’s wife)?
- If a man in the world can commit either fornication or adultery or both, what law is he violating in committing the sin? In other words, what law makes the act itself sinful?
- What law is it that defines for a man in the world who a wife is and what fornication is and what adultery is?
- To what law was the next generation obligated following the time when the gospel was preached throughout the whole world in the first century?
If someone says that the law that makes fornication or adultery sinful is the “moral law,” then we would respond that that was the law for the Gentile prior to the time when the gospel completely reached the Gentile community about 63 A.D. (Col. 1:23; Rom. 2:14-15). If someone suggests that it was the law of Moses, then we would respond that in the first place, that was for Jews only, and in the second place, that law was nailed to the cross when Jesus died (Col. 2:14). Furthermore, what is the law that defines for the man in the world what a “wife” is and what a “fornicator” is and what an “adulterer” is? Fornication and adultery are connected to the very definition of what marriage is. So, again, to the man in the world (allegedly not under obligation to the gospel), what law provides definition to him of what the concepts of marriage, wife, husband, fornication, and adultery precisely entail?
If someone says that even though the gospel was preached to the whole world (including what the Lord taught on marriage and divorce), that the second generation reverted to the earlier responsibility to moral law only (for Gentiles) and to the law of Moses (for the Jews), we would respond, that such is not so. The Jew could not revert to an earlier responsibility because his law had been divinely removed. And the Gentile could not revert to an earlier responsibility because moral law had now been completely inculcated within the New Testament law of Christ. Universal obligation to the gospel was once fixed; and when finalized, amenability to it remained perpetually constant. If the Jew could not revert to Jewish law only, the Gentile could not revert to moral law only either.
Some admit the foregoing but then suggest that even though this is all true, and even though it is the gospel itself that now defines for all men what fornication is and what adultery is, still when alien sinners today become Christians, they do NOT have to put away their adulterous wives per Matthew 19:9 because their adultery which is against the law of Christ is forgiven by the law of Christ, so that the adultery is no more adultery. In other words, we still have people among us who contend for the view that if an alien sinner living in adultery wants to become a Christian, then he can do so while retaining his adulterous partner on the grounds that following baptism, his adultery ceases to be adultery.
Now, I raise the question in all kindness, how does that exactly work? How can adultery cease being adultery? How can adultery at one moment not be adultery the next moment? Now, at this juncture someone may victoriously shout, why, it is “forgiveness” that changes adultery into non-adultery! Oh really? Let us carefully delve into that.
First, we have no New Testament instance of such a thing with regard to any act whatever. Stealing remains stealing, drinking alcohol remains drunkenness, lying remains lying, coveting remains coveting, and blasphemy remains blasphemy after a person’s baptism. These acts by definition all remain the same following baptism as before baptism. Read Acts 5:3-4 for a case in point! Baptism is not a form of magic. Definitions still hold. Wife abuse before baptism remains wife abuse after baptism. The deed is the same. It is not modified by one’s attempt to enter the church via baptism.
Second, since the definition of all acts remains in place following one’s baptism, in order for a person to be “forgiven” of a sinful act or relationship in baptism, he must repent of that act or of that relationship before his baptism. Godly sorrow produces repentance (2 Cor. 7:10). A man can no more be scripturally baptized while remaining in an impenitent state than he can be scripturally baptized while remaining in an unbelieving state. A man must come to faith and repent before his baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38, 3:19).
Third, one cannot be repenting of a sin while desiring to retain the fruit or product of it. If a man steals his neighbor’s cow and later allegedly becomes a Christian, can he rightly claim the cow as his own now on the basis that he was a non-Christian when he stole the cow, but that now his “new” condition renders his relationship to the cow legitimate. The sad fact is that the man doesn’t have a new condition.
Even if he never commits a momentary act of theft anymore, the fact that he wants to keep stolen goods indicates that he has not repented regarding thievery. Regarding his thievery, he remains in the same condition following his baptism as he was before it. If a man “repents” of thievery and keeps the “goods” that he stole, who in his right mind would believe for a moment that if the man now claims to have a right to the goods on the basis of “forgiveness,” that the man genuinely repented? No one! If definition remains the same of what a deed is, and if forgiveness is divinely granted for the commission of the deed, it is because the man’s relationship to the deed has changed! But if an adulterer desires to keep his adulterous wife following his baptism, his relationship to her has not changed! He did not repent of his adultery any more than our thief repented of his stealing his neighbor’s cow.
Just here let me make a few points about David. Some reader may be thinking: Well, after all, David committed adultery with Bathsheba and got to keep her. Yes, but notice these relevant points:
- Neither David nor Bathsheba lived under the law of Christ.
- The law under which they did live entailed a very generous divorce law (Deut. 24).
- David committed several other sins in connection with his affair with Bathsheba, all of which were actual sins, including the sin of murdering her husband!
- Why God allowed David to live and allowed Uriah to die is God’s business.
- David could not return Bathsheba to her husband since he no longer lived.
- God required the life of the child produced rather than to take the life of either David or Bathsheba and that, too, is God’s business.
- David did not “keep” Bathsheba following his adultery with her and following the murder of her husband. David became her husband after the death of her husband.
Fourth, some claim, however, that adulterous marriage is not like stealing and so should not be compared to it. We ask, why not? How is it that Bible principles that apply to lying, stealing, coveting, etc., apply to all of these things but do not apply to adulterous marriages? Who made up that rule? Where can we locate it in Scripture? It is a human fabrication.
Fifth, if someone says that an alien sinner living in an adulterous marriage should not be told to separate from his wife prior to his baptism on the grounds that Jesus said that man should not put asunder what God has joined together (Matt. 19:6), the proper response would be that this man living in an adulterous relationship was not by God joined to anyone! God never joined two people together in adultery in the history of God or man! God only joins two people together in scriptural wedlock according to his law on marriage, just as he only forgives men according to his law of forgiveness. Adulterous marriage may be legal, but that does not make it scriptural!
Sixth, going back to the matter of definition, when an alien sinner actually repents of stealing prior to his scriptural baptism, since it is not the definition of stealing that changes (and it is not), then it has to be that his relationship to the act changes. He no longer steals! And when a man living in an adulterous marriage is scripturally baptized, it cannot be because the definition of adultery changes, but rather it is because his relationship to the act changes. He no longer commits adultery! But if he remains with his current adulterous wife, he keeps on committing adultery (Matt.19:9).
Dear reader, our wicked culture has had a tremendous influence on the church of our day here in America. The morals of the world have degenerated to such an alarming degree that it now makes some Christians uncomfortable, and some perhaps even unwilling to stand up for plain New Testament teaching with regard to marriage, divorce, and remarriage. May God help us do better and hold our ground.
How many times have we heard it said that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles only (excepting Cornelius and his household and near friends—Acts 10), to enable them to write scripture? How many Christians still hold to this unfounded idea?
Not long before his death, Jesus met with his apostles in an upper room to observe the Jewish Passover feast (Mark 14:12-16). He observed the Passover, instituted the Lord’s Supper, predicted his betrayal, and spoke of various matters (Matt. 26:17-29; Luke 22:7-38; John 13-17). The passage from John provides some extraordinary information regarding the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Many times in the past, some gospel preachers have tried to distance us Christians from what the Lord promised regarding the Holy Spirit in John 14-16 by making the statement, “The Lord was talking only to the apostles,” thus attempting to suggest that whatever the passage said about the Holy Spirit was intended for the apostles only. And if intended for the apostles only, then the Lord’s statements were not intended for any other Christian in days to come.
Let me kindly suggest just here, that whatever the merit of the claim regarding the fact that the Lord was talking to the apostles only, the suggestion that therefore what was said could not apply to anyone else is going to have to be supported by something other than the fact that the statement or statements were made only to the apostles. Surely, no one in his right mind would be willing to affirm that everything the Lord said to the apostles only was intended (in application) for the apostles only!
For example, in John 14:6, to the apostles only Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Obviously the “no one” who could not come to the Father but by Jesus applied to the apostles, but not to the apostles only, because it included all other men as well. So, even in the context, we know that to say that something was said TO an apostle ONLY does not entail the idea that it could not then apply to anyone else also.
Now if somehow at this point asks me, “Are you saying that everything in John 14-16 that was said to the apostles only applies equally in the same way and in the same sense to EVERYONE else?” I would answer, “No.” But that leaves “some things” in the passage that do apply both to apostles and to non-apostles as well, including the promise of the Holy Spirit whom the world cannot receive (John 14:17; 3:3-5; Acts 2:1-4, 38; 1 Cor. 12:13).
Now, I do not want to take up an analysis of the complete context of John 14-16 in an effort to see everything that applies in the same way and in the same sense to both apostles and to non-apostles. However, I do want to explore what restricting all of the passages on the Holy Spirit to “the apostles only” means with regard to the doctrine of inspiration and the writing of New Testament Scripture.
In John 13:30, Judas, one of the original twelve apostles, left the upper room before Jesus spoke about the coming of the Holy Spirit. The words of Jesus in John 14-16 were not spoken to Judas, so our first relevant point is that not even all of the original apostles were the recipients of the Lord’s words in chapters 14-16 of John regarding the Holy Spirit. The second point is that of the eleven apostles left, not all of them wrote Scripture, even though all of them did preach (Mark 16:14-20). Matthias later replaced Judas (Acts 1:15-26), but we have no Scripture from Matthias. Of the original group of twelve apostles (Matthew 10:2-4), the only ones who wrote Scripture were Matthew, John, and Peter. Of course, later Saul of Tarsus would be converted, and he became an apostle born out of due season (Acts 9:1-18; 22:16; 1 Cor. 15:8-9). But he was not present when the Lord spoke in John 14-16. So, thus far we have the following:
- Eleven apostles heard Jesus in John 14-16 (these were the apostles to whom he spoke);
- One apostle (Judas) was not present so the Lord did not speak directly to him;
- One apostle replaced Judas later (Matthias), so that he was not present either in John 14-16;
- One apostle (Paul) became such later, so that the Lord did not speak directly to him either in John 14-16.
So, of the twelve original apostles, one (Judas) was missing in John 14-16. The replacement (Matthias) was not present either because he had not been selected yet, and Saul who became Paul the apostle was not present either. So, of the apostles present on Pentecost of Acts 2 when the church began, there were only eleven of them who had been present in the upper room in John 14-16. And Paul was not yet a Christian and certainly not an apostle yet. Did all twelve of the apostles in Acts 2 speak by virtue of their having the Holy Spirit within? Of course (Acts 1:26-2:4)! But one of them never heard Jesus in the upper room promise him the Holy Spirit. Since he did receive the Holy Spirit, it was NOT because the Lord had spoken to him in John 14-16.
What is our point? Our first point is that what Jesus said TO the apostles ONLY in John 14-16 about the coming of the Holy Spirit was not said EVEN TO ALL OF THE APOSTLES! The second point is that since others became apostles later and did receive the Holy Spirit, their absence from the upper room in John 14-16 DID NOT EXCLUDE them from the application of the Lord’s remarks with regard to the coming of the Holy Spirit even though the Lord did not address them directly in the upper room. If Matthias and Paul both received the Holy Spirit, it was not because the Lord spoke to them as a part of the APOSTLES ONLY group in John 14-16 because they were not apostles at the time. If the Lord’s words applied to them, it was not because the Lord had spoken directly to them in John 14-16 about the coming Spirit. Now, as noted, we have no inspired writings from most of the apostles including Matthias. We do have inspired writings from the apostle Paul.
But now, consider: if most of the apostles did not write Scripture (and they did not, though they preached by inspiration), and if Matthew, John, Peter, and Paul (as apostles) did not write the totality of Scripture, then who were the writers of the rest of the New Testament?
Well, Scripture claims that non-apostle prophets did that. Notice these passages:
“And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers…” (1 Cor. 12:28-29).
“So then ye are no more strangers and sojourners, but ye are fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone;” (Eph. 2:19-20).
“And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;” (Eph. 4:11).
All apostles were prophets, prophets being those through whom God spoke by his Holy Spirit. The word “prophet” refers to someone who speaks for someone else. Prophets of God spoke for God. Prophets received revelation and spoke or wrote by inspiration (cf. 1 Cor. 2:12-13). In Paul’s list in 1 Corinthians 12 and in Ephesians 4, prophets are second only to apostles. And this group included those non-apostle men whom God selected to write the rest of the New Testament. These were John Mark, Luke, James, and Jude. The apostle writers were Matthew, John, Peter, and Paul.
Now consider that about half of the New Testament writers, then, were non-apostles! That means that if they were in fact inspired to write Scripture, their receiving the Holy Spirit in order to write Scripture was not because the Lord was speaking to APOSTLES ONLY in John 14-16! They were NEVER apostles, and yet the same preachers who try to disconnect brethren today from the Holy Spirit on the basis that the Lord was talking to apostles only in John 14-16, evidently forget about this group of inspired writers to whom the Lord in John 14-16 was not speaking at all! And yet our restrictive preachers allow them “in” to receive the Holy Spirit so as to write Scripture (though they claim that these prophets did not receive the “baptism” of the Holy Spirit), but they keep us Christians today “out” of the application of any of the Lord’s remarks regarding the coming Spirit in John 14-16. What a hermeneutical mess!
Furthermore, when preachers today claim that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was for the purpose of enabling the apostles to write Scripture (as this precise point has been made by some of our preachers for years and years), it seems as though they forget the second class of writers (the prophets) altogether! Why? Because our preacher friends do not concede that the prophets were ever baptized in the Holy Spirit! Well if the prophets wrote Scripture without the baptism of the Spirit and the apostles received the baptism of the Spirit, certainly it wasn’t the “baptism” of the Holy Spirit that enabled them to write Scripture any more than the “baptism” of the Holy Spirit enabled Old Testament writers to write Scripture either. No one today in our brotherhood claims that David or Moses received the baptism of the Holy Spirit in order to write Scripture! What an absolute confusion some of our preachers experience with regard to the Holy Spirit. But a focused consideration of the above material ought to provide some clarity on the matter. While having the Holy Spirit was necessary to a person’s speaking or writing by inspiration (1 Cor. 2:12-13; 1 Pet. 1:10-11; 2 Pet. 1:20-21), the “baptism” of the Spirit had nothing to do with either inspired speaking or inspired writing.
Please note that our opponents on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit go to John 14-16 and claim:
- In speaking of the Spirit, Jesus is talking about the baptism of the Spirit even though the word “baptism” in the context cannot be found;
- They claim that this “baptism” of the Spirit was promised to the apostles ONLY thus eliminating about half of the New Testament since about half was written by non-apostle prophets who according to our opponents never received the baptism of the Spirit but received the so-called “laying-on-of hands” measure of the Spirit.
Now, if it is true that Jesus is in John 14-16 speaking of Holy Spirit baptism (and our opponents claim that he is), and if it does apply to some non-apostles (New Testament prophets), and if non-apostle prophets wrote Scripture without receiving Holy Spirit baptism, then the apostles clearly did not write Scripture because they had received Holy Spirit baptism but rather because from the Holy Spirit they had received the gift of prophecy (1 Cor. 12:10-11). This shows that Holy Spirit baptism has nothing at all to do with the writing of Scripture! The gift of “prophecy” is what enabled men to write Scripture. This came FROM the Holy Spirit but was NOT the Holy Spirit any more than “the gifts of healings” constituted the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:4-11).
Furthermore, if Holy Spirit baptism has nothing to do with the writing of Scripture (and it does not), and if prophets and apostles wrote Scripture by means of the gift of prophecy (and they did), then if the non-apostle prophets who wrote the rest of the New Testament were “guided into all the truth” as well as the apostles in order to write Scripture (and they were—John 16:13), then there is no way for our opponents to restrict the application of the Lord’s remarks in John 14-16 on the Holy Spirit to apostles ONLY!
[The link is to Mom’s obituary, penned by Mac Deaver.]
“Her children rise up, and call her blessed;
Her husband also, and he praiseth her” (Prov. 31:28).
[Note: The following article was written several months ago and recently made its public literary appearance in the Fall 2020 issue of “Sufficient Evidence,” the bi-annual apologetics journal of the Warren Christian Apologetics Center in Parkersburg, West Virginia. We appreciate the interest in the article by our good friends, Charles Pugh and Terry Varner, and their desire to publish it.]
In Genesis 1:1 we find these words, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Now we know that the Hebrew word used for “created” is “bara” and can entail ex nihilo creation. According to the Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, it is not always used that way, but the word itself does entail that possible use which, no doubt, it must have in Genesis 1:1. In Genesis 1:27 the word “bara” is used for the creation of man whose existence clearly came from already existing dust (Genesis 2:7) and rib (Genesis 2:21-22) and from Holy Spirit (Malachi 2:15; Hebrews 12:9). Now notice that in Genesis 2:3 the same word “bara” is used for something other than or in addition to what we face in Genesis 1:1. Consider Genesis 2:1-3: “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.”
Now, the word “created” in 2:3 covers all that is entailed in the finished work of God. Verse 2 shows that he ended his work that he had “made” (not the word “bara” but “asah”). While “asah” can refer to creation as such, “The basic meaning…is ‘do’ or ‘make’ in a general sense” (ibid., p. 1626). So, God finished the creation, at least as provided in the description given in Genesis 1:2ff.
Years ago, our brethren did not make an issue of the age or alleged age of the earth. In fact, there was a certain obscurity in Moses’ account that most of us realized from the way that Moses wrote. Some prominent preachers were quite clear in their definite conclusion that the Bible is indefinite regarding the age of the earth. In a most excellent article entitled “Questions of Chronology” that appeared in the February 22, 1962 issue of Gospel Advocate, Guy N. Woods affirmed, “(1) The inspired text contains no data on which the events of Genesis 1 may be dated” and “(2) It is not necessary to assume that the earth and man were created at or near the same time” (p. 122). Thirty years later (1992) my father (Roy C. Deaver) published his commentary, ROMANS—God’s Plan For Man’s Righteousness, and in it he wrote, “How much ‘time’ (as men view time) elapsed between the original creation and the renovation (the work of the six days) no one can say with certainty” (p. 167). Both Woods and my father gave elaboration that I will not here insert, but both of them were convinced that regarding the age of the earth, we simply do not know and cannot say because the Bible does not reveal that information to us. I can remember years ago hearing brother Woods saying to my father that these preachers that are trying to prove that the earth is a very young earth are painting themselves into a corner. And I can remember that my father received some criticism of his commentary for inserting the truth regarding the non-knowability of the time of the creation in Genesis 1:1.
And yet, with the passing of more time, it seems that some among us have become quite emboldened in their attempt to claim that a young earth can be proven, and that it must be proven, and that those of us who are informed must know and claim that the earth created in “the beginning” (Genesis 1:1) has only existed for a few thousand years.
Let me say just here that it is my opinion that much of this push among some preachers and other brethren in claiming certitude with regard to a young earth is an overreaction to a social condition or cultural situation. Some seem to think that since Darwinian evolution requires a tremendous amount of time in order to satisfy the requirements for the evolutionary theory, we must in response to that false theory whittle down the time. To me, it is comparable to what the church did years ago in its response to Pentecostalism. In order to react properly to the false claim of modern miracles, some brethren went to the extreme and equally false position that the Holy Spirit does nothing (other than what he does in his word). Now, to respond to a false view that seemingly requires billions of years for enough time support, some of us have gone to the other extreme and claim that the Bible teaches that there is not sufficient time for the evolutionary theory because it can be proven that the earth is, in fact, quite young. It needs to be understood that Darwinian evolution cannot be proven even if we were to allow the evolutionists trillions and trillions of years in which to weave their web. Evolution cannot be established by the allowance of a great amount of time or of more time in addition to the first amount allowed or by the addition of more time after that, etc., etc. Time is simply not the issue! Some things are not possible in the nature of things, and the theoretical creation of more time to allow possibility doesn’t help if possibility is not a possibility! Given all the time conceivable, absolutely nothing cannot give existence to something, a man cannot become God, and life cannot be derived from non-life.
Now, be that as it may, let us be clear about motivation and position. There is a difference between (1) the motivation for or the reason why someone takes a view and (2) the evidence used in support of the view. So, regardless why some of us believe we must stand for a young earth in order to meet the threat of evolution, the claim to prove a young earth must stand or fall on its own. Of course, both camps (those who favor an old earth and those who favor a young earth) are trying to be faithful to God. But we certainly do not need to judge the faithfulness of a brother on the basis of which view on this issue he takes. If Moses wrote so that we can know that a young earth is what we have, then so be it. And if Moses wrote so that we cannot know that a young earth is what we have, so be it. But if Moses did not reveal the approximate date of the earth, no one has the right to claim to know that alleged date, and he certainly has no right to impose that claimed date on his brethren. Furthermore, he certainly has no right to consider someone who disagrees with his claim as being simply uninformed on the issue. We do not advocate the truth, and we do not defend the faith when we attempt to prove what cannot be proven. Claiming to prove what cannot be proven is just as wrong as asserting that we cannot know what the Bible affirms that we must know.
Furthermore, it needs to be pointed out that the topic here discussed does not lend itself to scientific inquiry. Guy Woods, Roy Deaver, and Thomas Warren all understood that “origins” does not come within the scope of science. It falls within the scope of philosophy and theology. If one would study “the beginning” of our universe, he has to step outside the discipline of science in order to make the exploration. The “scientific method” applies to material things only in their material existence—not in how their material existence initially came into being. Science’s method applies to empirical things and not to how empirical things originally arrived. Science must consider material things as they now are.
A good friend of mine recently reminded me of something I had forgotten though I had marked it in my own book years ago. In Rubel Shelly’s 1975 book, What Shall We Do With The Bible?, Shelly affirmed, “The ‘beginning’ could have been millions or billions of years ago. Or it could have been only a few thousand years ago—with the earth having been ‘aged’ at the time God brought it into existence” (p. 91). Shelly’s onetime professor, Thomas B. Warren, wrote the “Introduction” to that book, and Warren’s publishing company, National Christian Press, published it and holds the copyright on it. Warren did not disavow the remark or edit it out of the book.
Now, let us begin to look seriously at the Genesis text. The KJV has, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved (ASV—was brooding) upon the face of the waters.” Notice that the original creation (v. 1) is separated from the literary account of additional creative work (v. 3) by verse 2 which entails a conceptual change and a pause in the creation account itself. Verse 2 indicates that God’s Spirit was surveying the scene of the formless and void earth; it was a chaotic, water-earth mixed mass. Verse 2 is a transition verse that ties verse 1 to verse 3.
Verse 3 follows the survey of the scene, and God then continues with creative effort: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” Then “God divided the light from the darkness” (v. 4), and he “called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night” (v. 5). Then at the end of verse 5, we have, “And the evening and the morning were the first day.”
Now, in our Genesis 2:1-3, Moses wrote, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.”
So, clearly there is a creation week of six days duration followed by a seventh day of rest. Now the question becomes: When did the first day begin? Did God create (ex nihilo) on the first day? Is Genesis 1:1 a part of what is described in Genesis 2:3? Or does Genesis 2:3 omit Genesis 1:1? Please notice that God rested “in” the seventh day (Genesis 2:3). So, did he initially create something out of nothing on or “in” the first day?
Now, we must remember that in Exodus 20:11 Moses recorded this: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” So, we ask ourselves whether or not Exodus 20:11 includes Genesis 1:1, or does it begin with Genesis 1:3 following the Spirit’s survey of the chaotic scene. As we ponder that question, let us think about the extraordinary situation that it addresses. Let us think about the situation like this: before creation, during creation, after creation. Or we have—
|God Before He Creates (Eternity Before Time)||God As He Creates (Eternity With Time)||God After He Creates (Time After Eternity)|
Now, when does the first day in Genesis 1 actually begin? We can exclude the first category (God Before He Creates) because by definition Day One as described by Moses is a part of creation (Genesis 1:5). That leaves two categories to consider. And this is where the controversy has always been. Now let me ask, does the third category (God After He Creates) end with Genesis 1:1? Of course not. And no one claims this on either side of the issue. So, we then ask, does the third category (God After He Creates) end with the completion of the six days work? Or, is the creation finished completely by the time of the sixth day? Yes. Again, everyone agrees that it is. So the issue has always been: Where do the six days of creation as per Exodus 20:11 begin? Do the days begin in Genesis 1:1 or do they begin in Genesis 1:3? This is the essential question in settling the dispute as to whether or not the Bible provides information whereby we can know the approximate age of the earth.
Now, the advocates of the extremely young earth theory claim that Exodus 20:11 includes Genesis 1:1 so that God began the actual creation itself on the first day, and the first day is like all the others in that it is a 24 hour period. We do not disagree as to the time of each day, but we must explore whether or not Genesis 1:1 allows for such a description of God’s initial creative act. So, let us think about God and his relationship to time.
|God Before Time||God Making Time||God After Time|
Regarding the first category (God Before Time), we know from Scripture as well as from philosophy that God existed alone before time began. Of necessity he existed before his own creative work began, of course (cf. Psalm 90:2). The third category entails all of God’s personal history subsequent to his creation of the first thing that he created. Now the fascinating and crucial category regarding our issue is the middle one: God Making Time. When did time begin? The correct answer is that it began at the point at which the first thing came into existence. Since God didn’t “come” into existence, the point at which the first thing came into existence was the creation of the heaven and earth. Whether the heaven came first or the earth came first or they came simultaneously, Moses does not say. But time is simply the description of the duration of a created condition. Time is the “marking” or “passing” of moments or segments of duration. That is, time entails the existence of something that was created and which can only be maintained by something external to itself (God). So, time began when God created the heaven and the earth. But, of course, God did not make “time” in the same sense in which he made the heaven and the earth. Time was “made” by the creation of the heaven and the earth. Simultaneously time arrived at the same point at which the heaven and the earth arrived.
Now the question is: Did God create the heaven and the earth on the first day as Moses described that day? In Genesis 1:5 Moses wrote, “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.” The boundaries or markers that defined the first day were an evening and a morning. Again, I would certainly agree that as with the other six days, we are discussing a 24 hour period.
So, the next question would be: Was the initial creation of the heaven and the earth WITHIN that 24 hour period? If the answer is “yes,” then the advocates of the extremely early earth must be correct. If the answer is “no,” then there is no biblical proof of an extremely early earth (nor of an old one either). Now, which answer is correct? The correct answer, as far as I can tell, is “no.” Why? Look at the following chart:
The First 24 Hours
|Before The First 24 Hours||Within The First 24 Hours||Following The First 24 Hours|
God’s first creative act as recounted by Moses (Genesis 1:1) needs to be identified or classified in order to get at the truth with regard to whether or not Exodus 20:11 includes Genesis 1:1 in its six day reference. Consider the following:
T or F #1. God initially created before the first 24 hours began (True).
T or F #2. God initially created within the first 24 hours or after the first 24 hours began (False).
T or F #3. God created following the first 24 hours (False).
We would all say that #3 is false. So what about #1 and #2? Did God initially create before the first 24 hours began? If #2 is true, then God himself was within the 24 hour period at the time of creation. That means that time already was existing before creation was initiated! If #1 is true, then we face the situation that before time, God started his initial creative work. Either God was already “in” time at the initial point of creation, or he was “outside” of and “before” time. If Exodus 20:11 includes Genesis 1:1, then we must face the “fact” that God was already existing in time before he did his initial creative work! Consider the following possibilities:
T or F #1. When God created the heaven and the earth, God did so before time.
T or F #2. When God created the heaven and the earth, God did so during time.
T or F #3. When God created the heaven and the earth, God did so after time.
To consider these questions, let us think of initial creation (ex nihilo or “out of nothing” creation). But as we consider this, we must remember to distinguish the Creator from his own creation.
In order for God to precede creation, creation as an act of force must somehow precede what the force brings about. Does God exist before the heaven and the earth do? Of course. Well, that means that the creation category must exist subsequently to that of the first category (God). So, in the creative act itself, we still have to differentiate between God himself and the thing he is creating. If there is anything about the initial creative act that preceded the actual existence of the something that came to be, then that “anything” (power exerted by God) existed prior to the first day’s 24 hour period.
Creation is the transition from nothing to something. Now, when the nothing (ex nihilo creation) becomes something, the something must be marked by time since the something was, in fact, a created something (i.e. non-eternal). So, time begins with the initial existence of what is made if what is made is durative (i.e. something that has the capacity to go out of existence).
But now remember (as already explained), that God himself is not within time to make the initial something that he makes (the heaven and the earth). Before creation, the Bible plainly teaches that God was everlasting (Psalm 90:2). But, “everlastingness” (or eternity) is not time. There is no time to eternity. Eternity is outside the boundaries of time. Time began with something created. So, again, the question is: Was God within time when he created the first thing he created, or was he before time and, therefore, outside of time?
If we affirm that God was within time, we contradict Psalm 90:2 because we are told that before God formed the world he was before time (cf. Isaiah 57:15). But, in order to claim that Genesis 1:1 is a part of the six day creation per Exodus 20:11, we must say that God was “within” time (within the first 24 hour day of creation [Genesis 1:5]). In other words, to claim that Genesis 1:1 is a part of the creation referenced in Exodus 20:11 is to put God “inside” of his own creation rather than to allow him to remain “outside” and prior to and the cause of that creation. Furthermore, note that it is not enough to claim that the earth existed on the first 24 hour day of the creation week. Of course it did. The work that God does, beginning in verse 3, has to do with an already existing heaven and earth. But the point of controversy has to do with the “creation” of the earth. In our analysis we must remain clearheaded about this.
Now, let us revisit the three True-False statements already given regarding God and time:
T or F #1. When God created the heaven and the earth, God did so before time.
T or F #2. When God created the heaven and the earth, God did so during time.
T or F #3. When God created the heaven and the earth, God did so after time.
Applying each statement to Genesis 1:1, we would have the following answers:
The first True-False statement would be “true” in the sense that God’s initial creative act had to commence or begin before the heaven and earth actually appeared. Otherwise, God did not exist before his own creation did.
The second True-False statement would be “false” in the sense of the initial exertion of divine force because the initial exertion of that force would, by definition, have to be before time or there would have been no creation at all. That is, the cause has to be prior to the effect, but in the initial “creation” of something out of nothing, the exertion of the force must result in the thing God intended (heaven and formless and void earth) where the effect “triggers” time. When God’s initial exertion results in immediate effect (heaven and earth), the effect is now in time because it is empirical (subject to ruin and passing away). Where divine cause meets physical effect is where time began. But if the initial effort or divine exertion, in any sense, preceded the effect (heaven and earth), then God did not completely create the heaven and the earth within the first 24 hour day. There had to be a foundational or first exertion of divine power that constituted the initial act of creation, the force of which resulted in the coming into being of the heaven and the earth. So we would have:
|Initial Divine Exertion (Cause)||The Heaven And The Earth As Formless And Void (Effect)|
The third True-False statement would be “false” in reference to God’s initial exertion of force in the creative act in Genesis 1:1, but it would be “true” with regard to the creation account as recorded in Genesis 1:2-31.
Now, in conclusion, I would offer the following arguments that proceed from the above analysis:
Remember: God either (1) initiated creation from “within” time, or (2) God initiated creation before time and, therefore, outside of time.
- If God initiated creation “within” time, then time existed before the heaven and the earth did.
- But it is false that time existed before the heaven and the earth did.
- Therefore, it is false that God initiated creation “within” time.
- If God was “within” time at the point of initial creation, then he was not inhabiting eternity.
- But it is false that God was not inhabiting eternity at the point of initial creation (Psalm 90:2; Isaiah 57:15).
- Therefore, it is false that God was “within” time at the point of initial creation.
- If (1) God began creation from his habitation in eternity, and if (2) God made heaven and earth for six days, and if (3) there is a conceptual pause between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:3 at Genesis 1:2 dividing the chaotic condition of the formless and void earth from the initial orderliness beginning in verse 3, then the making of heaven and earth for six days per Exodus 20:11 begins with Genesis 1:3.
- (1) God began creation from his habitation in eternity [Psalm 90:2; Isaiah 57:15], and (2) God made heaven and earth for six days [Exodus 20:11], and (3) there is a conceptual pause between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:3 at Genesis 1:2 dividing the chaotic condition of the formless and void earth from the initial orderliness beginning in verse 3 (the text reveals this).
- Then, the making of heaven and earth for six days per Exodus 20:11 begins with Genesis 1:3.
- If God created time, then he is not within time at the initial point of time’s creation.
- God created time (with the creation of heaven and earth [Genesis 1:1]).
- Then, he is not within time at the initial point of time’s creation.
- If God is not within time at the initial point of time’s creation, then he cannot be within the first day’s 24 hour period.
- God is not within time at the initial point of time’s creation (Psalm 90:2; Isaiah 57:15).
- Then, he cannot be within the first day’s 24 hour period.
- If God cannot be within the first day’s 24 hour period at the point of time’s initial creation, then Exodus 20:11 excludes Genesis 1:1 in its reference to six days.
- God cannot be within the first day’s 24 hour period at the point of time’s initial creation (Psalm 90:2; Isaiah 57:15; Genesis 1:1).
- Then, Exodus 20:11 excludes Genesis 1:1 in its reference to six days.
In 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 Paul says that any man who is to be appointed to the eldership is to be “the husband of one wife.” In Paul’s first letter to Timothy and in his letter to Titus he gives important information regarding the required qualifications of these at the time of their appointment, and he briefly points out their duty. Under the heading of their personal qualifications, we find three classifications of their credentials. We have qualifications regarding (1) attitude/character, (2) domestic considerations, and (3) ability/experience. To Timothy and to Titus Paul briefly cites their duty as being to take care of the church (1 Tim. 3:5) and to exhort and to convict (Titus 3:9).
The qualification that I want to address in this article appears in the title. The requirement itself shows that an elder (1) must be a man, (2) must be a married man, and (3) must be a man married to one wife.
Over the years as brethren have attempted to select and appoint elders in various places, the question arose time and again as to whether or not a divorced man met the qualification of having one wife. Evidently, some brethren were not sure if a divorced man could serve as an elder, since he had put away one wife according to Matthew 19:9 and had married another. They were not calling into question his marriage, but they were wondering about whether the Lord intended for a divorced man to serve as a shepherd of a congregation.
In my judgment, the problem arises simply because the passage is taken out of its historical context. That is, some brethren in my lifetime were looking at the “one wife” requirement from the viewpoint of the condition of the church in our time as opposed to the condition of the church in Paul’s time. Now what do I mean?
As I have discussed in other places, the problem is the failure of recognizing the existence and significance of the “transition era” as men were being divinely transported from prior obligation to current obligation. Before Pentecost, Gentiles had been allowed to have multiple wives. Abraham had a wife and one concubine, and following Sarah’s death, he had another concubine (Gen. 16, 17; 25:6). Isaac had one wife (Gen. 25:20). Both men were non-Jews. They preceded Judaism. Jacob—or Israel—was the head of the Jewish nation. His sons became the heads of tribes that composed that nation. And, in Judaism, men were allowed to have more than one wife.
When the church was established on Pentecost of Acts 2, Jews were present from every nation under heaven (Acts 2:5). And, as already declared, under Jewish law men had been allowed to have more than one wife. Jacob (Israel) had four wives (two free women and two bond-servants or concubines according to Gen. 29 and 30). Polygamy was allowed by the law of Moses. Polygamy is not to be confused with divorce and divorce law (Deut. 24). Men could marry several times and never be involved in even one divorce. In this article we are concerned with polygamy and not divorce. Polygamy was NOT a violation of moral law as such. It was certainly not the ideal marriage arrangement as God demonstrated with Adam and Eve, and as he explained to the Jews through Malachi (Gen. 2:18-25; Mal. 2:14-15), but it was divinely approved in the first two divine systems of accountability arranged by God. Neither Abraham nor Jacob were immoral men because of their polygamy (cf. Matt. 8:11).
And this has a definite bearing on “the husband of one wife” requirement for elders per Paul’s remarks in First Timothy and Titus. It is so because at Pentecost of Acts 2 when the church was established, Jews and proselytes from all the nations were present. And all of those men had lived in a system that allowed them to be married by God to more than one wife. If any man present on Pentecost was in violation of God’s marriage law for the Jews, then he would stand in need of repenting of that unlawful relationship. But our point just here is that if polygamists were present on Pentecost, their polygamy as such was not something for which they were blameworthy or divinely condemned. In fact, if they were in authorized marriages, it was because God had joined them (Matt. 19:6). And whosoever God had joined together under an earlier arrangement (Gentile-ism and Judaism) were not to be put asunder.
The historic condition of the time when the church was first established called for the requirement of the “one wife” rule for the eldership. The divine allowance for polygamy was on its way out as the gospel was preached to all men. And while men with several wives could certainly be faithful Christians if God had joined them to their wives in earlier days while they were still amenable to their prior obligations in Gentile-ism and Judaism, the situation in the “transition era” was changing. And as the gospel became accessible to men, they became amenable to it. And they learned that from then on, marriage was to be monogamous without any polygamy whatever. Paul would come to write in about 57 A.D., “let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband”(1 Cor. 7:2). This was going to be the permanent and perpetual marriage policy under the law of Christ.
So, while for a while men in the first century church could have more than one wife (if these marriages were contracted under the previous divine systems), God stipulated that such men could not serve as elders, however. They were caught up in a unique situation as they moved in their own human accountability from one divine system to another. And the law of Christ was a higher law than that of moral law in Gentile-ism, and it was higher than the law of Moses. So, there was nothing wrong with the men and women caught in this situation where their polygamy was allowed. It was just that the gospel of Christ was God’s final law to be imposed, and it was to be imposed on all men, and it was a law of higher requirement that that demanded in the previous systems.
And the more restricted requirement of monogamy was to be the permanent marriage law for all men under the law of Christ for all time. God would not, then, allow elders in polygamy to lead his people, many of whom or most of whom in the first century were in better marriage relationships than polygamy allowed. The elders were to be examples to the flock (1 Pet. 5:3). But how could that work if elders were in polygamy (with polygamy being inferior to monogamy) and if some, many, or most of their flock were not? If the gospel was in process of bringing an end to the practice of polygamy, it was not something to be encouraged. If monogamy is the superior relationship (and it is), and if polygamy was about to run out of allotted time, then the marriages of elders in polygamy could not provide an example to the flock as far as their domestic situation would allow.
So, “the husband of one wife” requirement of an elder does not mean that a man scripturally divorced per Matthew 19:9 and scripturally remarried would not qualify for the eldership. In my judgment, that is not in the purview of the restriction. If a man has put away his wife for fornication and has scripturally married another, then he has only one wife. It is the same with a widower. A man scripturally married but whose wife has died certainly has a scriptural right to another marriage (cf. 1 Cor. 7:8-9). And his second marriage does not mean he now has two wives. He still has only one. The same is true regarding scriptural divorce and remarriage.
Finally, it is interesting that in 1 Timothy 5:9 the topic of marriage surfaces again, and this time Paul discusses the “enrolled widow.” This is not to be confused with Paul’s discussion of widows who simply need help. The enrolled widow needs help, but she is enrolled to work for the church. And the widow whom the church can enroll has to meet certain qualifications including the fact that she is a woman who has been the wife of one man. “Having been” or “having become” is a perfect participle which indicates completed action with a resulting state of being. She has been and remains in that condition. Here Paul in context shows that the widow to be enrolled is not to be a woman who has already shown her desire to marry again. Younger widows are not to be enrolled to work for the church. They need to marry again (v. 11-14). But the widow to be enrolled must be at least sixty years old and when widowed remained in that state. Paul could have used the same language in 1 Timothy 3 for the elder that he used for the enrolled widow in 1 Timothy 5, but he did not. So, in the selection of elders, we need not be more restrictive than the language of Paul necessitates.
Whether a divorced man and a widower who has married again would want to serve or ought to serve, and whether or not a congregation might want either man to serve as an elder are other considerations. But the fact that he is required to be “the husband of one wife” or an “of one wife husband” is not a requirement, in my judgment, with which he is out of harmony.
The four night debate will happen April 26-29 beginning at 7:00 p.m. each evening. It is to be streamed live on Facebook at this link:
We hope all of you will be able to watch it in person or online and thus participate in the study of this vital topic.
Have you ever heard someone say, “Well, that may be in accordance with the letter of the law but certainly not with the spirit of it”? When such is said, it is offered as some kind of criticism as though the stated obligation as to its overt requirement or outward form has been met, but somehow the proper disposition (or internal requirement of heart) intended as obligation has not been fulfilled. That is, the statement is suggesting that someone has “gone through the motions” of doing what law required, but his heart wasn’t in it or he did not comply with the intent of the requirement. He did only what the minimum requirement was, as stated or legislated, rather than the maximal and intended requirement which obligated him to do whatever he was to do with proper attitude as well regarding the purpose of the requirement.
Of course, it is very possible for a person to “go through the motions” of some realized obligation without thinking about what he is doing. A person can sing without understanding. He may move his mouth while his mind is on lunch (cf. Eph. 5:19; 1 Cor. 14:15). One can worship without worshiping in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), but if a person worships in truth, he must worship with his own spirit under the influence of the Holy Spirit (Jude 20).
This idea of (1) complying with stated requirement and (2) at the same time not complying with motive/disposition requirement is mistakenly thought by some to explain certain Bible passages contrasting “law” and “spirit.” We have some passages that do mention and/or discuss the contrast between “letter” and “spirit.” Romans 2:27-29, Romans 7:6, and 2 Corinthians 3:1-11 do this. According to Bible teaching, however, there is no such thing in Scripture as faithfully complying with legislated obligation by overt action when the action does not derive from proper disposition. For example, whatever the Jew under the law of Moses was commanded to do, he was obligated to do it with love for God and neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40). If he failed in disposition, he failed in overt action.
The Lord’s disciples were once criticized for transgressing the tradition of the elders (Matt. 15:1-2). Jesus accused the critics of transgressing the commandment of God because of their tradition (v. 3). They were in fulfillment of one of Isaiah’s prophecies, “This people honoreth me with their lips; But their heart is far from me” (v. 8). It wasn’t that they outwardly obeyed and inwardly disobeyed. They altogether disobeyed, and their disobedience entailed hypocrisy (v. 7). Honoring with lips only amounted to violation of law and, actually, to no honor at all being given to God. Pretense is not partial obedience. Hypocrisy is not law compliance with one’s obligation to any degree.
And yet, we do find in Scripture the contrast between “letter” and “spirit.” We must, however, keep the contrast in its context and not make the contrast become what it never distinguished. If we fail here with such a disregard for context, we wind up with concepts that do not derive from Scripture.
Let us briefly point out a few things that, when the contrast is made in Scripture between “letter” and “spirit,” the contrast cannot possibly mean. It is not a contrast between—
1. Being a stickler for accuracy on the one hand and, on the other, having the proper over-all disposition toward God, but without being all that concerned with the details of obligation. Have you ever heard a Christian explain a given passage in just this way? Sometimes Christians have wound up, even if unintentionally, justifying disobedience by thinking that “letter” and “spirit” suggest that accuracy of interpretation and action does not really mean much to God in the Christian dispensation. How many times have cautious brethren been accused of being “legalists” or “five-steppers” or described by some other conceptually kindred term? Such criticism may be offered because of the failure of the critic to grasp true contrasts as opposed to false ones. The Bible contrast between “letter” and “spirit” is never a contrast between accuracy with regard to divine information (the supposed “letter”) and good disposition without necessarily having accuracy of information (the alleged “spirit”). This is a humanly imagined contrast, but Scripture does not authorize it.
This suggestion that we do not really under New Testament authority have the obligation to be accurate as to information and correct in the practice of our obligations is never made in Scripture! In fact, the New Testament obligates us to know the truth (if we want to be saved) and to practice the truth (John 8:32; 1 John 3:18; Heb. 5:8-9). No Bible writer ever undermined knowing truth for certain and doing the truth. Preachers of another generation used to speak of our having purity of doctrine and practice. Amen! Those today who would have us suppose that, somehow, the grace of God is going to cover the sins of people who never know God and who never obey the gospel are wrong and dangerous (2 Thess. 1:8). Furthermore, no man can have the proper attitude toward God while at the same time trying to devise ways and means of opposing what God, who cannot lie, has already said (Rom. 1:18; Heb. 6:18; Titus 1:2; Rom. 3:4). One prominent preacher among us several years ago claimed that it is the case that men must be right about Christ but that surely we can be wrong about everything else. His apostasy is sad, and his comment is unfounded.
2. Having a law and not having a law. Have you ever come across a Christian who takes the position that we do not have law from God today? Well, if we do not have law from God today, then we have no obligations from God today, if the idea of law entails obligation. In fact, if we have no law from God, we currently have no obligation to God. But, the matter of obligation is the dominant concept in “law” as described in Scripture. And that is why “law” as such is said to be unable to save anyone (cf. Rom. 7:11-13; Gal. 3:11). Law obligates, sin violates, grace eliminates. Again, we must keep contrasts in context or we wind up imagining what is never declared. For example, in Romans 6:14 Paul affirms that Christians are not under law but under grace. Now, if someone reads that and knows nothing of what Paul had already said in the same document or he does not know what Paul says later or he knows nothing of what other Bible writers say about law, he may well draw an erroneous and dangerous conclusion that Christians are not under any law whatever. But such is not expressed by Paul in this passage, however, or in any other one for that matter. In Romans 4:15 he had said that if we do not have any law, we cannot have sin. In Romans 6:1 Paul asks if we Christians should continue in sin that grace may abound. We should not, he affirms, but the possibility of even attempting this (continuing to sin so that grace may abound) is only possible because Christians do have law. In context Romans 6:14 is saying that our law (or gospel) is not a law system. And no law systems (Gentile-ism and Judaism) can save; they only condemn because there is in them no provision for actual forgiveness. Forgiveness in these systems could only be prospective (cf. Heb. 9:15; 10:1-4; Rom. 3:25-26). It was the death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and coronation of Christ that made forgiveness actually possible. That is why the gospel can be called “a law of faith” (Rom. 3:27). Why? Because, unlike Gentile-ism and Judaism, we can trust—or, have faith—in the gospel itself to save us (Rom. 1:16-17). No Gentile (under moral-law-ism or Gentile-ism) and no Jew (under Judaism) could trust in his law to save him. He will certainly be judged by his law (Rom. 2:14-15), but his salvation (if such there be) would have to come from God outside of the system of law under which he lived. The gospel is not like that (Rom. 1:16). We can trust it to save us, or to put it another way, we can trust God by trusting his message to save us! This is why the gospel can rightly be called “a law of faith.” The gospel is “the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). It is “a law of liberty” (Jas. 2:12). In fact, it is the “perfect law of liberty” (Jas. 1:25). It sets us free—not from obligation, but from sin (guilt, practice, consequence).
3. Abiding by law and merely following the supposed “intention” of the law without doing what it says. Some evidently have subscribed to the notion that since we are under grace and not under law that we are at liberty to do pretty much what we want even though we do have definite and specific obligations stated in the New Testament. But what are specific obligations among friends? As long as we follow the intended purpose of an obligation, we stand all right before God, it is thought by some, even while we violate the specificity of the obligation as stated. The question is: How in the world can we follow the “intended” purpose of an obligation if we do not submit to the obligation as stated? This issue is settled by interpreting Scripture, understanding Scripture, and rightly applying Scripture. There is no scriptural authority for the concept of (1) disobeying a specific obligation and yet at the same time (2) obeying its intention. Cannot God properly describe what it is that he does and does not want me to do? How can I know what his intended purpose is beyond what he declares? If his purpose is not revealed in the specific obligation, how in the world could I find it outside of and beyond the stated obligation? Can God not make himself clear?
This approach to contrasts is a way of justifying the claim that we do not or perhaps even cannot know truth for certainty regarding obligation, but that we can comprehend God’s general intention behind the stated obligations. But then the question arises: How can we know, generally speaking, God’s intention from Scripture, but that we cannot know specific obligation from Scripture? After all, the supposed comprehension of the divine intention is derived from the articulated obligation.
The fact is that in 2 Corinthians 3:1-11, Romans 2:27-29, and Romans 7:6, where we find the contrast between “letter” and “spirit,” the contrast is between the law of Moses and the gospel of Christ.
It has recently come to my attention that some among us are now advocating that the “new heavens and a new earth” of which Peter speaks is going to be a reworking or remodeling of the present heavens and earth. This is not damnable heresy, but it is certainly an unnecessary mistake in interpretation of Scripture. There is, in my judgment, simply no reason to draw such an erroneous conclusion. Peter said, “But, according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13). Are we really to expect a merely renovated atmosphere? I would offer the following points to support the denial of such an idea.
First, Peter’s language is not the concept of mere renovation. His language is that of ruin rather than repair. His is the language of destruction and not merely that of modification or alteration or remodeling in order to improve something or to restore to it to a better condition. In the context Peter had already declared that “the heavens that now are, and the earth, by the same word have been stored up for fire, being reserved against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (v. 7). “The same word” which has stored up our present heavens and earth for fire is the word by which the heavens and earth were originally made (v. 5). Too, that existing world once “perished” by being overflowed with water (v. 6). Thus, the original heavens and earth were not annihilated but perished temporarily due to the flood.
In contrast to what had earlier occurred in the days of Noah, Peter now discusses the end of the world. There will certainly be similarities between what happened in the days of Noah and what will happen when the Lord returns. The Lord spoke of this (cf. Matthew 24:36-44). But one striking difference will be that in the days of Noah, there was a divine interruption of earthly affairs. When the Lord comes there will be a termination not only of life’s affairs but of the atmosphere in which those affairs where carried on. He says that “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements (or heavenly bodies, ASV) shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (v. 10). Again, in verse 12 he declares that “the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat.” So, both the present heavens and earth shall be burned up, dissolved, melted. Rather than the heavens and earth experiencing a temporary interruption by water (as in the days of Noah), the second time the universe experiences a universal calamity, it will be a destruction by fire, and it will be permanent.
Peter does not say that the heavens that now are and the earth that now is will undergo renovation. They are both to be destroyed. Destruction is not repair. The words “will pass away” come from one Greek word, a derivative of “parerkomai” which has various meanings, the context indicating which meaning is appropriate. It means such things as “to pass beside, pass along, pass by…to pass, elapse, as time…to pass away, be removed…met. To pass away, disappear, vanish, perish…” (Harper, 308). The words “will be dissolved” come from one word, “luo,” which also has various meanings. The context will have to determine which meaning fits what is being discussed. The word means, “to loosen, unbind, unfasten…to loose, untie…to disengage…to set free, set at liberty…to break…to break up, dismiss…to destroy, demolish; met. To infringe…to make void, nullify…” (Harper, 255). The words “burned up” are from a word indicating “discovery.” The ASV has in the footnote, “The most ancient manuscripts read discovered.” Thus, every element or piece or part of the existing universe will be located and affected; each part of everything will experience whatever is to occur. The words “shall melt” (v. 12) come from a word which means, “to dissolve, render liquid; pass. To be liquefied, melt” (Harper, 403). So, every solid substance will lose its form. The heavens will be destroyed or removed, and all heavenly bodies within that atmosphere will melt. Since the heavens will be destroyed or pass away, the “melting” of the heavenly bodies would suggest the first stage of the annihilation of the heavenly bodies. The solids become liquids on their way out of existence as they are set on fire. They will burn up until finally nothing of them is left.
Peter’s language is not suggestive of divine improvement of the current condition of the universe. The language itself indicates complete ruin.
Second, the writer of Hebrews informs us that God is different from the present universe in that God continues while the current universe does not (Hebrew 1:10-12). Notice, please, in reading the passage that the writer quotes from Psalm 102. Notice these points from Psalm 102:25-27:
(1) Of old God laid the foundation of the earth;
(2) The heavens are the work of his hands;
(3) The heavens and earth shall perish;
(4) God shall endure;
(5) God is the same;
(6) His years have no end.
So, unlike God whose existence is eternal, the universe shall perish in the sense that it shall not endure. It will not remain the same in its continuance; it will have an end in contrast to God who will not! If one takes the position that the physical universe is simply renovated, then he is saying that the current universe does continue even though in a modified form. But to say it continues at all is to contradict Scripture!
Third, if one interprets “new heavens and a new earth” to be physical, then he is falling into a carnalization of our eternal reward. It is the same old interpretive mistake that the Jews made in their failure to understand their prophets with regard to the nature of the kingdom. Prophets used figurative language at times to indicate something spiritual about the kingdom. But, the language itself drew from physical things. Consider for example that Isaiah predicted that a descendant of Jesse would bring about circumstances wherein “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den.”
Now, any Jew who read that passage and concluded that these physical images were about physical things so that God was actually saying that the animosity between prey and predator would cease and that the time was coming in which beasts like wolves and leopards would no longer be a danger to humans (including children) would be missing the point entirely! It would be like someone in the Lord’s day not grasping the meaning of the Lord’s parables though each one entailed physical images. Isaiah was speaking of the peace that would obtain in the spiritual kingdom of Christ. After providing the striking imagery of the wolves and leopards, etc., Isaiah says, “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” So, Isaiah explained the significance of the language. It was not to be interpreted as a physical condition on earth, but rather as a spiritual condition that would be brought about by God and which would exist in his kingdom. The language is beautiful in that it is a figurative and poetical description of the peace and harmony that the gospel of Christ was to produce. The “new heavens and a new earth” are not physical parts of this created universe, but the language of Peter in context is indicative of a completely new kind of environment for all the redeemed.
In John 6:15, some Jews were about to attempt to force Jesus into the acceptance of kingship in an earthly kingdom, and they did this because they did not understand the spiritual nature of the kingdom he was about to establish. They later crucified him for the same reason (Acts 13:27). Peter’s use of the words “new heavens and a new earth” are indeed figurative but suggestive of a new atmosphere in which only righteousness dwells. The Bible had begun in reference to God’s creation of “the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Peter says these will cease to exist, but we will have a proper habitation suitable to our new condition which will be superior to anything physical.
Fourth, God has always suited bodies to their environment. In Genesis 1 God made grass, herbs, trees to live on land (v. 11-12), he located certain species to live in water and certain ones on earth to be able to fly in air (v. 20-21), and land animals (v. 24-25). Man’s body was taken from dust, and that body suited man to his physical environment (Genesis 2:7). But that body was never intended for heaven (Genesis 3:22; Ecclesiastes 12:7; 1 Corinthians 15:50-58).
Fifth, specifically Paul informs us that the resurrection body is not of the earth or “earthy” (1 Corinthians 15:42-49). If the resurrection body is not of the earth or physical, then the atmosphere in which it will dwell will not be physical either. Paul says that Christians will bear the image of the heavenly as they previously bore the image of the earthly (v. 46-49). No longer bearing an earthly image, their habitation will be non-physical. Any attempt to make Peter’s language imply a physical or even partly physical environment puts Peter into contradiction with Paul. Physical death forever puts any man beyond physical experience (cf. Matthew 22:29-33). The resurrection body is spiritual (1 Corinthians 15:50-58), and the universal judgment will take place after this universe is history (Revelation 20:11).
Sixth, if when the Lord returns we are going to be able to see him “even as he is,” John says we will have to be like him (1 John 3:2). The glorification of the Lord’s human body is something we will have to experience ourselves in order to be in his company. We will no longer have any physical body. That was lost in death or in translation of our form (James 2:26; 1 Corinthians 15:51). The resurrection body has no physical parts, and, therefore, is in need of no physical environment. When mortality puts on immortality and the corruptible puts on incorruption, our victory is finalized (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). Our victory is not experienced in a physical body but in a metaphysical or spiritual or heavenly one.
Seventh, if the redeemed are going to be with Christ in eternity, we are going to have to leave this universe behind, even any alleged restored version of it. In John 17, Jesus in the shadow of the cross prays to the Father. Relevant to our discussion is the fact that Jesus in the prayer makes several important points concerning glory and the world and pre-world. Notice that he mentions that he glorified the Father on earth, having accomplished up to that point all he was assigned to do (v. 4). Too, he wants the Father to glorify him with the glory Jesus earlier had with the Father before the creation of the world (v. 5). Jesus wants to go back to that condition and that glory. Now, in verse 11, knowing that his work on earth is almost over, he says, “And I am no more in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to thee.” At his ascension, Jesus not only left the earth (Acts 1:10-11), but he left the world! In John 17:13, he says to the Father, “But now I come to thee…”.
Now, notice verse 24, “Father, I desire that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” Before creation, the One God had compartmentalized himself into three manifestations (Genesis 1:1-2, 26-27; Isaiah 64:8; John 1:1-2—Father, Word, Holy Spirit). And in his prayer, the Lord expresses his desire that his disciples see him in his glory, the same glory that he had before the creation of this world. If we would experience that glory, we have to leave this world behind. A refreshed or renovated universe is not good enough! Jesus went back to glory that predated this universe. Anyone remaining in a merely improved physical world will not be experiencing the Lord’s glory at all.
Eighth, I close by merely listing several arguments that might be helpful.
- If (1) a person’s first resurrection takes place within the environment of the physical heavens and earth, and if (2) the second death hath no power over those who experience the first resurrection, and if (3) the second death is metaphysical or spiritual and eternal, then the new heavens and new earth are metaphysical or spiritual and eternal.
- (1) A person’s first resurrection takes place within the environment of the physical heavens and earth (Revelation 21:6; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 6:3-4), and (2) The second death hath no power over those who experience the first resurrection (Revelation 21:6), and (3) The second death is metaphysical or spiritual and eternal (Revelation 21:6; Matthew 25:46; John 5:28-29).
- Then, the new heavens and a new earth are metaphysical or spiritual and eternal.
- If (1) there is no place for the physical heaven and physical earth by the time of universal judgment, and if (2) “the lake of fire” is no part of this physical universe, then the new heavens and a new earth are no part of this physical universe either.
- (1) There is no place for the physical heaven and physical earth by the time of universal judgment (Revelation 20:11), and (2) “The lake of fire” is no part of this physical universe (Revelation 20:11, 14, 15).
- Then, the new heavens and a new earth are no part of this physical universe either.
- If the resurrected body is not physical, then the new heaven and a new earth where the body will eternally reside cannot be physical either.
- The resurrected body is not physical (1 Corinthians 15:2-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
- Then, the new heaven and a new earth where the body will eternally reside cannot be physical either.
- If the new heavens and a new earth are physical or even partly physical, they cannot be eternal.
- But it is false to say that the new heavens and a new earth cannot be eternal (2 Peter 3:10-13; Hebrews 1:10-12; Revelation 22:5).
- Therefore, it is false to say that the new heavens and a new earth are physical or even partly physical.
- If (1) the Lord’s kingdom is not of this world, and if (2) the kingdom was established within this world, and if (3) this world is going to be burned up, and if (4) there will be no place for this world by the time of the universal judgment, then the new heavens and a new earth are not of this world.
- (1) The Lord’s kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36), and (2) The kingdom was established within this world (Mark 9:1; Acts 2:1-4; Joel 2:28ff.), and (3) This world is going to be burned up (2 Peter. 3:10), and (4) There will be no place for this world by the time of the universal judgment (Revelation 20:11).
- Then, the new heavens and a new earth are not of this world.