Posted in Apologetics, Doctrine, Evolution, Logic/Philosophy, Metaphysics

Could God Create (ex nihilo) on the First Day?

[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 TimeGod Making TimeGod 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 HoursWithin The First 24 HoursFollowing 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.

CreatorCreation

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:

Argument #1

Remember: God either (1) initiated creation from “within” time, or (2) God initiated creation before time and, therefore, outside of time.

  1. If God initiated creation “within” time, then time existed before the heaven and the earth did.
  2. But it is false that time existed before the heaven and the earth did.
  3. Therefore, it is false that God initiated creation “within” time.

Argument #2

  1. If God was “within” time at the point of initial creation, then he was not inhabiting eternity.
  2. But it is false that God was not inhabiting eternity at the point of initial creation (Psalm 90:2; Isaiah 57:15).
  3. Therefore, it is false that God was “within” time at the point of initial creation.

Argument #3

  1. 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.
  2. (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).
  3. Then, the making of heaven and earth for six days per Exodus 20:11 begins with Genesis 1:3.

Argument #4

  1. If God created time, then he is not within time at the initial point of time’s creation.
  2. God created time (with the creation of heaven and earth [Genesis 1:1]).
  3. Then, he is not within time at the initial point of time’s creation.

Argument #5

  1. 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.
  2. God is not within time at the initial point of time’s creation (Psalm 90:2; Isaiah 57:15).
  3. Then, he cannot be within the first day’s 24 hour period.

Argument #6

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. Then, Exodus 20:11 excludes Genesis 1:1 in its reference to six days.
Posted in Doctrine, Elders/Deacons, Marriage, New Testament

The Husband of One Wife

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.

Posted in Doctrine, Expository, Salvation

Letter and Spirit

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.

Posted in Doctrine, Heaven, Metaphysics

New Heavens and a New Earth

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.

Argument #1

  1. 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.
  2. (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).
  3. Then, the new heavens and a new earth are metaphysical or spiritual and eternal.

Argument #2

  1. 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.
  2. (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).
  3. Then, the new heavens and a new earth are no part of this physical universe either.

Argument #3

  1. 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.
  2. The resurrected body is not physical (1 Corinthians 15:2-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
  3. Then, the new heaven and a new earth where the body will eternally reside cannot be physical either.

Argument #4

  1. If the new heavens and a new earth are physical or even partly physical, they cannot be eternal.
  2. 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).
  3. Therefore, it is false to say that the new heavens and a new earth are physical or even partly physical.

Argument #5

  1. 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.
  2. (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).
  3. Then, the new heavens and a new earth are not of this world.
Posted in Christian Living, Doctrine, Salvation

We Can Keep the Commandments

The only faith that saves is the faith that obeys (James 2:26; Heb. 5:8-9). Paul speaks of the “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5; 16:26). Jesus said that love would demonstrate itself by keeping his commandments (John 14:15) and that his friends were those who did that very thing (John15:14). Solomon in the long ago concluded that the whole of life was in fearing God and keeping his commandments (Eccl. 12:13-14). Anyone today who undermines the concept of keeping divine commandments does so to his own peril. But notice that we can only keep divine commandments if—

  1. There is a commander. The eternal God and creator of everything other than himself is in position to exact from humans what he wishes. In the three divine religions of which we read in Scripture (Gentile-ism, Judaism, Christianity), God obligates according to his holy and perfect will. Today, since the last will and testament of Jesus Christ is in effect, we are to listen to him (Matt. 17:5; Heb. 9:15-17; 12:25; 2 John 9-11). Anyone who would approach God today must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him (Heb. 11:6; 4:16; 7:25).
  2. There are commands. Unfortunately, many have misconstrued the notion of salvation by grace to mean that there is complete exclusion of the requirement for obedience. There can only be obedience to commands, and if there are no commands, there can be no obedience. And if salvation by grace excludes commands, then obedience is not required. Some brethren take passages on grace to mean this very thing. For example, in Rom. 6:14 Paul wrote, “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under law, but under grace.” Notice that Paul said that sin would not have “dominion” over a Christian, for a Christian stood under grace while Jews in the previous divine regime stood under law. John wrote, “For the law was given through Moses; ‘the’ grace and ‘the’ truth came though Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Paul in Rom. 6 did not say that Christians had no law but that law itself could not hold sway over them because of the grace they had received. They surely had obligation and where there is obligation there is law, but Christians were not under the law of Moses (the contrast between law [which killed] and grace [which made alive] is elaborated in Rom. 7 and 8). Sin cannot dominate the life of a Christian because of the grace made available by the law (gospel) itself. Paul had in Rom. 6:1 earlier raised the question, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” Of course, the answer was “no.” But the question is absurd if there is no law, for if there is no law, one could not commit sin, much less continue in it.
  3. We do know where to find them. We cannot obey the commands if we do not know where the commands are located. Where should a man go in order to find his obligations to God? First, he looks at his own conscience which declares to him the significant moral difference between right and wrong. Furthermore, his conscience convicts him of guilt when he violates it. He sees, or should see, that his own conscience is guiding him to find the source of it who is also the Creator of all. Paul told the Athenians that man was made to look for God who is not far from any man (Acts 17:27-28). Paul also told the Athenians that they (and we) would be judged by Jesus (Acts 17:30-31). Jesus had once said that anyone who rejected his sayings would by the Lord’s word be judged in the last day (John 12:48). If the word of Christ is the judge, and that word is the equivalent of his last will and testament (our New Testament), then men today will be judged by the New Testament. That is where we find our current obligations imposed on us by God. That new testament (or covenant) is now in force (Heb. 9:15-28).
  4. We do know what they are. One could conceivably recognize that the New Testament is the will of God operative today without really ever learning much about the contents of that will. He might never be serious in study so as to survey the scene to find his duty. The New Testament contains facts, promises, obligations. If a man would know what to do to be saved (Acts 2:37; 16:30), he must study and find divine answer to that question and accept no mere man’s conflicting answer to counter what God has said. Since the answer to the question is given in various pieces and places in Scripture, he must be diligent in his search to know all that he must do to become a Christian and to remain a faithful one. Can a man know “all” he must do to become a Christian? Indeed, he must know all. Can a man know all the principles to which he must submit in order to remain a faithful one? Of course. How can a man remain faithful if he does not know how to do so? Jesus promised that the knowledge of truth which would provide spiritual freedom would be accessible to those who would abide in his word (John 8:31-32). Christians today who deny the knowability of truth (that is, they deny that we can be certain about it) do not believe what the Lord taught about it.
  5. We have the right attitude toward them. Can a man obey a command of God without proper regard for or respect for the command? Can a man say, in effect, “Well, I’ll do it, but I don’t like it”? We might recall that Naaman had to put aside his anger before he would do what God’s prophet instructed him to do (2 Kings 5:8-14). Would not an honest sinner welcome the information regarding his duty to God? Is it possible for a practicing sinner to become a Christian while not loving God and not welcoming the saving information he has learned? Paul informs us that godly sorrow that produces repentance brings no regret (2 Cor. 7:10). Furthermore, if faithful Christians find grief, they do not locate it in the commandments of God (1 John 5:1-3).
  6. They mean what they did when first given. The duties imposed on all men today through the law of Christ are the same permanent obligations which rested on the first century church. We are far removed in time from that period in which the first obligations were preached to the whole world. The divinely given duty to take the gospel to the world was given to the apostles (Matt. 28:18-20). In thirty years they accomplished that noble and necessary assignment that once and for all changed human amenability from Gentile-ism and Judaism to the gospel (Col. 1:23; Mark 16:19-20). And the same obligations that were preached to sinners and saints still reside in God’s book, binding on men today our duty to God. The warning was early on given not to go against the gospel that was revealed (Gal. 1:6-10). The apostles’ doctrine or teaching (Acts 2:42) was the gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16-17; Gal. 1:7). The pattern was and remains set regarding obligations (2 Tim. 1:13; 1 Tim. 1:16; Heb. 8:5). No one has the authority to change them. They are not fluid in nature. And translation does not alter human obligation.
  7. We have inherent capacity to obey. There are those who still maintain that a sinner cannot on his own make any move toward God, but that he must wait on divine help in order to get to repentance. The Bible simply does not teach this unholy doctrine. We simply cannot move from sinner status to saint status without utilizing our will to make the move. Do we want to do the right thing? Do we want to obey God? If we do, can we obey the gospel? If damnation is pronounced on all who sin and who do not obey the gospel, then either we can obey that gospel or God does not want us all to be saved. Damnation is pronounced against all sinners who obey not the gospel (2 Thess. 1:7-10), and yet God wants all men to be saved (2 Pet. 3:9, 1 Tim. 2:4). Then, it follows that there is an inherent capacity within the sinner to learn and obey the gospel. He can come to faith, repent of his sins, confess his faith, and be baptized into Christ (John 8:24; Luke 13:3; Matt. 10:31-32; Mark 16:15-16). And every Christian (one in whom the Holy Spirit now dwells per Rom. 8:9-11) has divine help within that helps him to hold sin down (Rom. 8:14) in the production of Spirit fruit (Gal. 5:22-24).
Posted in Abortion, Doctrine, Nature of Man

The God of Human Governance

The Bible offers plenty of passages that bespeak the sovereignty of God and his complete management of human affairs. After all, why would God make man in his image and then leave him unattended? I think, however, that the attention divinely given to our affairs on earth is far, far more extensive and encompassing than many of us Bible students have in the past realized. God is not simply an occasional visitor or infrequent penetrator into man’s affairs. It is only by constant involvement that God could control the history that is recorded in Scripture. And it is only by constant involvement that God today moves history to his glory and to the good of his family. If the prayers of the righteous avail much, then God is very, very involved in our lives and what affects them. Divine intervention in the past at times entailed the miraculous; today it entails the supernatural non-miraculous. But divine intervention is an essential feature of our situation on this earth.

Scripture assures us that God calls the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10), and he calls the things that are not as though they were (Rom. 4:17). He never lies (Heb. 6:18; Titus 1:2), and yet in the ultimate sense of control, God claims to be the One who deceives the deceived prophet (Ezek. 14:9). He arranged the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh in order that God’s name “might be published abroad in the earth” (Rom. 9: 17). No one can come close to the management of life’s affairs! And we must remember that man is not the center of reality. God is! “The Lord hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil” (Prov. 16:4). How God can mix his determinate counsel and foreknowledge with man’s free will only he knows. But he does know, and he does do that very thing, including his use of evil men (Acts 2:23; Amos 3:6; Isa. 45:7). Let us briefly notice a short summation of his governance in the affairs of any given man.

God governs the WOMB. This is indeed a most fascinating thought. According to Scripture God is the One who decides who is conceived. Those that are conceived, God knows beforehand (Isa. 49:1, 5; Jer. 1:5). God controls barrenness. You might recall that on one interesting occasion God “had fast closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech” (Gen. 20:18). Sarah’s barrenness was of divine design in order that in time she would become the mother to a child of promise in her older years (Rom. 4:19; Heb. 11:11). In fact, Paul says that while Ishmael was born “after the flesh,” Isaac was born “through the promise” (Gal. 4:23). And the definite article “the” is there in the Greek text. And Hannah became the mother of Samuel although earlier “the Lord had shut up her womb” (1 Sam. 1:5, 20).

The degree of the divine control of the womb comes down to a consideration of a single question: Does natural law determine conception in the sense that when natural law is in effect it “triggers” or necessitates human conception, or is it the case that God’s supernatural law governs natural law in procreation? In other words, is God’s power limited by human free will, or is human free will limited by divine power? Which is always the superior force: natural law or supernatural law? According to Hebrews 12:9, God is the father of our spirits. No human being is conceived unless God sends Holy Spirit to join human flesh! God controls natural law; he is not controlled by it. This is ultimately why abortion upon demand is wrong. Such would be the malicious taking of a life that God produced. God could have prevented the conception by simply not sending Holy Spirit. Human spirit comes from Holy Spirit (Mal. 2:14-15). And if God doesn’t send it to the womb, no child is conceived. Divine governance is extreme. If God knows when a sparrow falls and how many hairs are on each man’s head (Matt. 10:29-30), he certainly knows when and why he sends Spirit to flesh to form a human and when and why he does not do so.

God governs the ROOM. And just here by “room” I mean the space or the area or the atmosphere in which human lives operate. This is the place where we make our decisions as pilgrims and sojourners on the earth. Our choices are somehow attached to our will, and our will is a part of our rational and emotional makeup. Jesus once declared that salvation was determined by a man’s will (John 7:17). Salvation is not simply a matter of intellectual elevation. Rather, it is a matter of character and whether or not someone wants to do right and be right. And no one can ultimately want to do the right thing while having a heart that would reject the truth that demands the right thing (2 Thess. 2:10). There is a degree of trust that I must essentially have in myself as a truth searcher (Acts 17:26-28). But I know that my human capacity is inferior to God’s divine capacity when I personally come to the realization of his existence, and so when I find him, I trust him. The writer of Proverbs wrote, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:5-6). Here there is a definite line drawn between finally trusting in myself or in trusting God. But why should any man acknowledge God with regard to all of that man’s ways?

It is so because any man can see only so much. And it is not very much at all. That is why Jeremiah told us long ago, “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his own steps” (Jer. 10:23). It is in man to search for God and to find him (Acts 17:27), and it is in man that when he finds him he begins to lean on him. And when we lean on him, we are declaring the recognition of our need. We do need help in large amounts and all the time in all places! And the writer of Proverbs says that God will direct the paths of his people. Here our prayers and his paths intersect. The Proverbs writer also says, “Man’s goings are of the Lord; how can a man then understand his own way?” (Prov. 20:24). There is altogether too much for one man to comprehend regarding his own situation: (1) why he was allowed to be conceived in the first place, (2) why his conception entailed the two people who became his father and mother, (3) how that genetic mix contributed to the personality that he could and would in time have, (4) why he has a specific ethnicity, sex, and inherent capacity that he has, (5) how he arrived at the current point and place in his life—his present situation, and (6) how it is that he is currently making a personal contribution to the accomplishing of the Lord’s will either on the good side or on the evil one. This is TOO MUCH for any of us to know. It is one reason why we always should say with Christ, “Let thy will be done.” God controls the room!

God governs the TOMB. James warns us about depending on tomorrow. So far, every tomorrow that we thought was coming has, in fact, come. But the next one may not. And the arrival of the previous ones was not because it was guaranteed. We simply have no divine promise of more time on earth (Jas. 4:13-17). James reminds us that we do not know what will happen tomorrow even if it does come. We are completely dependent on God for the preservation of our earthly lives. In verse 15 James says, “For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall both live, and do this or that.” Did you notice that James by inspiration declared that our continuation in life or the termination of our earthly life is a matter of divine will. There is no way to get around the fact that if a man is still alive on the earth, it is because God has allowed his life to continue. And when, for reasons some of which are known only to God, a given man dies, we have to conclude that there is a sense in which God was willing for that man to die. Not all death cases are the same, but there is an identical truth respecting all of them. Given all relevant factors involved in God’s will for human living and dying, God did not choose to allow that life to continue. Each life reaches its final earthly appointment (Heb. 9:27). According to James, we live by permission. According to the writer of Hebrews, we die by appointment. I am glad that regarding my forthcoming death, I do not know when, where, or how it will come. But I do know, unless the Lord comes first (1 Thess. 4:13-18), I am fast approaching it.

Posted in Baptism, Doctrine, Expository, New Testament, Salvation

Baptism In One Spirit Per 1 Corinthians 12:13

Last Sunday, I listened to a faithful gospel preacher as he misinterpreted this passage. Sadly, I misinterpreted this passage most of my preaching life. It was all because I failed to understand that Holy Spirit baptism entailed no miracle whatever! As you, I was taught that there are three measures of the Spirit among men (while there actually are none—John 3:34), and that baptism in Spirit was a miracle. But this was all wrong, so sadly wrong, and these mistakes affected all of our biblical interpretation of passages that mentioned the Spirit and his relationship to us.

Think about the words in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were made to drink of one Spirit.” Please go immediately to Galatians 3:26-29 for the language of Paul there. And please return to John 7:37-39 immediately for the language there. Do you see concept and language connection?

But, because (1) we all knew there was only one baptism, and because (2) we all knew that water was for the remission of sins, we concluded that we must “interpret” 1 Corinthians 12:13 to mean that we were baptized “by” the Holy Spirit (usually taken to mean by the teaching of the Holy Spirit). How many times have you heard this “interpretation”? We were told that we were baptized in water in harmony with the teaching of the Holy Spirit. My, my! This was an honest but ignorant and unintentional interpretive mistake that we made. But most of us made it. Think! Is there any other passage in the New Testament that supports the claim that the Spirit is an AGENT who baptizes anyone? No! However, we do have passages that claim that JESUS HIMSELF would be the agent who baptized in the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16).

Interestingly, Luke in describing the difference between John’s baptism and the Lord’s baptism, says that John baptized “with” water, using the dative case of the word “water.” However, he used the preposition “in” (Gr. en) when he said that Jesus would baptize “in” Holy Spirit. Now, we do not reject water as the element in the first baptism on the basis that the proper translation is “with water” rather than “in water.” Do we? No, we do not. Secondly, John said that Jesus would baptize not “with” the Holy Spirit but “in” the Holy Spirit! So, we allow “with” to mean “in” but in 1 Corinthians 12:13 we force “in” to mean “by,” and the only reason we did this was because we took baptism “in” Spirit to mean a miraculous baptism! We were trying, in our ignorance, to be logically consistent.

Too, in Matthew’s rendering of the account, in both references to water baptism and Holy Spirit baptism, he uses the same preposition, “in” (Gr. en). Whatever John was doing with water, Jesus would do with Spirit. If John immersed people “in” water, then Jesus would immerse people “in” Spirit. There is no getting around this. John in his preaching used both water and Spirit as elements. John and Jesus were both agents! We must be fair with the text. Ephesians 5:26 is no help in trying to get around what Matthew says that John did. Paul in Ephesians 5:26 says that Jesus cleansed us by “the washing of the water with the word.” But “the word” is applied to cleansing, and not to regeneration. And they are not the same. So, the passage does not support the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12:13 that the Holy Spirit “baptizes” us through his teaching in his word!

Also, if Jesus in John 3:3-5 said that a person must be born of both water and Spirit, and if to be born of water means to be baptized in water, then just so does to be born of Spirit mean to be baptized in Spirit.

My good friend, Glenn Jobe taught me several years ago that Acts 1:8 proves that there is no miracle in Holy Spirit baptism. The verb “is come” is an aorist participle which indicates action antecedent to that of the main verb, “shall receive.” That is, the power which would enable the apostles to be the Lord’s “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” came after their reception of their baptism in the Holy Spirit. The power did not come before nor at the same time as but AFTER the baptism! The KJV is helpful in its translation: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” We have correctly taught that salvation follows baptism in water as Mark 16:16 teaches. The passage says that the one believing and being baptized shall be saved. Both “believing” and “being baptized” are aorist participles which indicate action prior to that of the main verb, “shall be saved.” It is an aorist participle in Acts 1:8!

Furthermore, while water baptism in the book of Acts is always connected to remission of sins, baptism in Holy Spirit is not. It follows forgiveness rather than to provide it. It is the regeneration of which Paul speaks in Titus 3:5-6. Only a forgiven man can then be given spiritual life! But, think about it: when we were baptized in water, we had to come up out of and leave the water. Water is not the church! When we came up from the water, we were already in the Holy Spirit, and remained in him! Jesus had immersed us in Spirit while we were being immersed in water. This is how and why it can correctly be said that we arise to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4) because life was given us while we were under the water following forgiveness! But we remained in Spirit after we left the water. Following our immersion in water, we came up from it while remaining in Spirit! We are, Paul says, “in Spirit” (Romans 8:9). Being in Spirit is being in the non-personal but spiritual body of Christ (Romans 8:1; Colossians1:18). And just as with regard to any physical human birth, our spiritual birth entails two elements (John 3:3-5). And remember, before Paul mentioned our baptism in Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:13, he had already reminded the brethren at Corinth that the Jews had been baptized unto Moses by being baptized in two elements (1 Corinthians 10:1-2).

Posted in Apologetics, Doctrine, Logic/Philosophy, Nature of Man

God’s Fairness and Man’s Free Will

Historically, controversy has raged with regard to the nature of man and his relationship to God. In Christian Apologetics, one would have to find a way to defend both God and man as to (1) God’s justice or fairness in making man in the first place (2) with a human will put to a purpose that would evoke divine justice in the form of punishment in the second place. This short piece cannot survey the total scene of all relevant aspects of the complete picture (even if we were capable of such a survey). However, we can identify and explore briefly some elements involved in this complex matter.

First, God knowingly and lovingly made man in His image, having in mind an eternal purpose to save him from sin, even before the first sin by Adam had been committed (Gen. 1:26-27; 1 John 4:8; John 3:16; Eph. 3:10-11). God desired to bring many sons to glory (Heb. 2:10). Giving man existence and giving him nature in the image of God made heaven a possible destiny.

Second, man was free from the beginning to choose obedience or disobedience. This is the significance of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). This provided man an opportunity for definite pure positive law choice in the expression of his free will. The punishment for the violation of the prohibition regarding the tree shows us that God considered man responsible enough to understand the prohibition and accountable for the violation of it. The initial punishment for the man and the woman (Gen. 3:16-19) enacted for the violation was based on the fact that the violation of the prohibition entailed a will that was (1) independent, (2) free to exert itself, and (3) accountable before God for the consequences that would follow.

Third, there was nothing wrong or imperfect about the nature of man as God made him. He was innocent and mature from the beginning. Solomon tells us, “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Eccl. 7:29). Adam and Eve when made were certainly inexperienced, but they were not imperfect creatures. It is something essential to the creation of man. Of necessity a created man could have no past (experience). But he had to be mature by nature in order to be responsible from his initial moments of existence, and he had to come without experience if he was to come at all. While Adam was not deceived into sin, Eve was (1 Tim. 2:13-14), but neither one of them could sin without a good will that was his/hers to be expressed in the selection made.

Fourth, after sin entered the human domain, several things changed, one of which was that the human heart in every human being born (remember, Adam and Eve were not born) would be a heart that would choose evil early on in its personal history. This is what we learn in Genesis 9:21. After the flood, God said to Himself that He would never again curse the earth (cf. 3:17 and 4:12) or kill almost everything off as He had just done, because “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” The exception, historically speaking, consisted of Adam and Eve who never had a youth. But beginning with Cain and Abel, this truth that God later has Moses record in Genesis 9 represented the things that were in place regarding all who came after Adam and Eve. The flood became necessary because “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). The “evil from youth” fact was cultivated by Noah’s contemporaries to the degree that they were no longer fit to live.

Now, while many people have over the years opted for the view that man is evil from his conception or birth, the Scriptures never declare that. They do say, however, that sin enters the heart of any given person during his youth. This was my experience and yours, too.

Fifth, this means that the universality of human sin following Adam was inevitable. Even now, none of us is waiting for an individual to arise who will never commit sin. One of the ways in which Jesus was and is so different from the rest of us is that by His divinity He kept His humanity under complete control. His sinlessness is a characteristic that proves His deity. When Paul wrote Romans around 57 or 58 A.D., the fact was then as it stands now: “for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). Furthermore, he later affirmed that after Adam “all sinned” (5:12).

Sixth, given the point just discussed, there must be an inherent “weakness” involved when Holy Spirit is joined to flesh so as to produce a mere human being. God is the Father of our spirits (Heb. 12:9), so there is nothing inherently weak about our human spirit. Our spirit comes from Holy Spirit (Mal. 2:14-15). After all, we are in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27). However, when combined with flesh, there is essentially a weakness that obtains because of the connection now initiated because spirit is now made vulnerable. The lust of the flesh is the spirit’s expressing desire via the flesh. So, the weakness of the flesh is because of the power of the flesh to weaken spirit. This sets up our freedom of will (Gal. 5:17). Consider: God cannot be tempted, but Jesus could be (Jas. 1:13; Heb. 4:15). We are not born in sin. But we are born with a nature that is now weak! This helps us to understand the “why” of Romans 3:23. Remember the Lord’s admonition to three apostles that they needed to watch and pray to avoid temptation, for “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). Every person born from Cain and Abel forward has been born with this weakness. That’s how it could be truthfully declared that Jesus tasted death for every one of us (Heb. 2:9).

Seventh, since God knew that all men would sin, there had to be a plan whereby all could be saved. That is, the solution had to be as large as the problem. In fact, in the language of Scripture, the solution was much larger than the problem, and so we read of such things as grace abounding “more exceedingly” than sin did (Rom. 5:20-21) or of “the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7). There has always been an “over supply” of divine blessing to deal with the sin of mankind.

Eighth, in Scripture we read of many sinners lost in sin and some who found salvation. The two categories rest on the free will of the men involved. Since God was always prepared to save any man from his sin, the finally lost condition of any individual bespoke what that man had decided in life to be on his own, and the salvation of any man bespoke the fact that he had decided to become what God would bless him to be. Man has never been finally lost because of his weakness; he has been finally lost because he has chosen weakness over strength. In other words, he chose flesh over spirit! And the spiritual law of kinds informs us that our crop can be no better than our seed (Gal. 6:7-8).

Ninth, this means that when Jesus spoke of the impossibility of people coming to Him unless the Father drew them to Him (John 6:44-45), He was referring to the two categories of people whom Paul later identified as (1) “vessels of honor” or “vessels of mercy” and (2) “vessels of dishonor” or “vessels of wrath” (Rom. 9:21-23). Furthermore, when Jesus referred to people who could not believe Him because they “were not of his sheep” and because of such could not hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:16-29), He was referring to those whom John would later identify as people who were characterized by the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (1 John 4:5-6). That is, the two classifications of people (regarding salvation and damnation) are: (1) those who are of the world, and (2) those who are of God. Christians and all those bound to become such today are in Scripture language “of God” (cf. 1 John 4:4; 5:19). They have an “honest and good heart” (Luke 8:15). Notice the possibilities and impossibilities just here:

T F 1. One can have an honest and good heart.
T F 2. One can have an honest and non-good heart.
T F 3. One can have a dishonest and good heart.
T F 4. One can have a dishonest and non-good heart.

The first statement is TRUE. In fact, this is the only class that can be saved or ever could be saved! The second statement might at first be considered “true” if picturing a man before he is willing to come to repentance and would seem to show the possibility of a man squarely facing sad facts about himself but yet unwilling to do the right thing about his sin (cf. Luke 15:17; 2 Cor. 7:10). But, on the other hand, if he is unwilling to do the “right” thing about his sin, he is not being honest about his sin. So, it would appear that this statement is itself FALSE. The third statement is FALSE. No one can be both dishonest and good at the same time. The fourth statement is TRUE. A person can have a non-good heart (evil heart) partly composed of his dishonesty.

Now regarding the third statement in the above list of True-False statements, consider again what Jesus said in John 6:44-45. No one can come to Jesus unless drawn by the Father, and he cannot be drawn by the Father unless he has an honest and good heart (Luke 8:15). Verse 45 shows that the “drawing” is done by Scripture. And those who are “drawn” are those who are taught of God, have heard from the Father, and have learned. These are the only ones that can come and do come to Jesus! The Father draws and the Father teaches, but all these students who are taught, who hear, who learn, are the ones who then come to Jesus.

So, all whom the Father draws to Jesus are those who are taught, who hear, who learn and who come. They all come! There is no class of those who learn, in this context, but who still do not come. My father used to refer to the word “learned” in verse 45 as a learning “in the sense of this passage.” What John said in 1 John 4:6 helps us with some clarification here. “We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he who is not of God heareth us not. By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” Those who are “of God,” those characterized by “the spirit of truth,” those characterized by “an honest and good heart” upon hearing the truth are drawn by the truth. And they are the only ones drawn by it!

Tenth, if God wants all men to be saved, and He does (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9), then whatever are the full complexities of features that contribute to a man’s damnation, they all rest on the rock bottom foundation of a man’s own free will which (1) was given as a blessing and which (2) turned out to be a curse because (3) the man himself failed to use it as it was designed to be used (Acts 17:27; Eccl. 12:13-14). He used his own will against himself! Jesus once said it like this: “If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself” (John 7:17). So, God can never be rightly criticized for the damnation of anyone or of everyone who is lost, but He can be and should be praised for the salvation that He has made possible (1 Tim. 4:10). And it is a wonderful thing that God is able and willing to use the evil purposed free will of men to His own glory and to the ultimate salvation of all those who love truth (Acts 2:23; 2 Thess. 2:10-12).

Posted in Church History, Doctrine, New Testament

We Have Overlooked the Transition Era

It is unfortunate and somewhat strange that we have as a people, generally speaking, overlooked the transition period that began with John (Luke 16:16) and ended when the gospel was made available to the whole world (Colossians 1:6, 23). We have studied the book of Acts as though the events were transpiring today.

When we look at the world today, we see sinners. And we see sinners that are amenable to the gospel of Christ. But we study the book of Acts as though the world of the first century was like our world today. And this is a colossal interpretive blunder that our brotherhood has made for years.

The world of the first century entailed four classes of people: righteous Jews, unrighteous Jews, righteous Gentiles, and unrighteous Gentiles none of whom were amenable to the gospel of Christ before Pentecost of Acts 2. When I was growing up, brethren usually believed that all Jews became amenable to the gospel on Pentecost and that all Gentiles became amenable to the gospel in Acts 10. This was another almost unbelievable error! It is certainly true that some Jews became amenable to the gospel on Pentecost. It is even true that some Jews became amenable to John’s baptism prior to Pentecost (Luke 16:16; Mark 1:4; Matthew 3:1-12). It is not true that all Gentiles became amenable to the gospel in Acts 10, even though it certainly is true that some of them did when Peter preached the gospel to Cornelius, his household, and his friends who lived near him.

God had a way for Jews and Gentiles to be saved prior to Acts 2! What we usually called “Patriarchy” (Gentile-ism) and Judaism were God’s divine arrangements for both classes of men whereby they could be saved prior to divine amenability change (Romans 2:14-15). That means that the book of Acts covers history when the gospel, for the first time, goes to Jews and Gentiles. Some of the Jews were good people, and some were not. Some of the Gentiles were good people, and some were not. If the good Jews and good Gentiles had died in the first century prior to the gospel’s being made available to them, they would have gone to paradise.

This explains Luke’s language in Acts. As the apostles took the gospel to the whole world, they found plenty of sinners for sure. In fact, more of the cases of kingdom entry recorded in Acts were of sinners. However, some cases of kingdom entry entail non-convert cases. That is, these cases were Jews and Gentiles already in a saved condition but who were required to become responsible to the gospel as it reached them. As the gospel reached each man, he was under divine obligation to submit to the truth and enter the kingdom, and every case of kingdom entry in Acts is in complete harmony with the Lord’s words to Nicodemus in John 3:3-5.

It took thirty years of preaching and teaching for all men to become amenable to the gospel of Christ, and no man became amenable to it without God’s making the gospel accessible to him! And that changing amenability required inspiration (1 Corinthians 2:12-13), miraculous signs (Mark 16:19-20), and miraculous providence (Acts 16:6-10; 21:10-14). The work of changing amenability began and continued for years prior to the first written New Testament book which appeared in the early 50’s. For about twenty years, the gospel was preached, congregations established, and these congregations were stabilized by miraculous gifts in the early church (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). The first century world was not like ours when it comes to amenability. The Jews and Gentiles were, as classes of people, amenable to a divinely arranged system of salvation prior to the preaching of the gospel. That is not true today since the gospel once and for all changed human amenability as it was preached to all the world in the first century.

Posted in Baptism, Doctrine, New Testament

Abusing Cornelius

Members of the Lord’s church have in Bible class abused Cornelius time and time again. And, too, he undergoes false accusation as well in sermons. How many times have you listened to someone trying to explain (1) how Cornelius received the Holy Spirit while (2) being a sinner? Imagine, the Holy Spirit entering the heart of someone presently practicing sin and thus bound for hell!

It is absurd. Cornelius was no sinner. How many times does Luke have to describe Cornelius for us until we finally admit his righteousness? See Acts 10: 2, 4, 15, 22, 28, 31, 35. Luke made seven attempts to describe Cornelius for us so that we would see that he was a righteous Gentile when the gospel reached him. How could he be? He was answerable to God through “Gentile-ism” or “Patriarchy” or “moral law-ism” (Romans 2:14-15). Remember the then Bible (law of Moses) had been given to Jews only (Psalm 147:19-20). The Gentiles up into the first century were answerable to God through moral law only. Had Cornelius died the day before Peter came to his house, he would have been bound for glory. Cornelius was a righteous Gentile just as much as Abraham in his own day had been.

Yes, but an objector replies that I am forgetting that Peter preached to him words whereby he would be saved (Acts 11:14). Indeed, but the salvation he received is not what most of us have taken it to be. He was saved in that he was delivered from “Patriarchy” which no longer for him would be operative as the divinely arranged system of religion for his people. Brother A. J. Freed, like most of us in the past, did not understand Holy Spirit baptism, but he did understand Cornelius’ condition. He correctly denied that Cornelius was an alien sinner, and he wrote, “He is told words by which he is saved from the sinking ship of patriarchy” (Sermons, Chapel Talks, and Debates). Amen! When the apostles, following Peter’s explanation of what happened at the house of Cornelius, concluded, “Then to the Gentiles also hath God granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18), that was a summation statement regarding the general condition of the Gentile camp which was usually one of sin (cf. Acts 17:30-31). It was not a description of Cornelius, his household, nor his friends. This is proved by Luke’s description of Cornelius and by the fact that Cornelius and the other Gentiles with him were baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-48; 11:15; 15:8). The first Gentiles to enter the kingdom were already living up to their spiritual obligations before the gospel reached them. Therefore, they were in a clean spiritual condition which allowed the Holy Spirit to enter them. After that they submitted to water baptism (Acts 10:47-48), but it was not for remission of sins in their case. It was, however, as per the words of Jesus in John 3:3-5, an absolute requirement (as was Holy Spirit baptism) to kingdom entry!

If, dear reader, you think I am abusing the word “saved” as applied to Cornelius (Acts 11:14), remember that we have to consider biblical words in their contextual use. Noah’s family was also “saved,” and it was even a salvation through water, but it was not salvation from sin (1 Peter 3:20). According to Paul, the unbelieving mate is “sanctified” in the believing mate, but the sanctification has nothing to do with the unbeliever’s salvation (1 Corinthians 7:15). We cannot impose a presupposed definition gleaned from other contexts onto a word in its own context that forbids the application of the presupposed definition. We have sadly done this in Acts 11:14, and abused Cornelius unmercifully!