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!

Posted in Church History, Doctrine, Instrumental Music, Worship

Three New Arguments (on the Instrumental Music Question)

The churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ have been formally recognized as two groups of people at least since 1906. The division occurred over the formation of the American Christian Missionary Society and the introduction of mechanical instruments of music into public worship. D. S. Burnett played a prominent role in the establishment of the society, and L. L. Pinkerton of Midway, Kentucky was involved in the innovation regarding music. Pinkerton, in a letter to Ben Franklin, said, “So far as known to me, or, I presume to you, I am the only ‘preacher’ in Kentucky of our brotherhood who has publicly advocated the propriety of employing instrumental music in some churches, and that the church of God in Midway is the only church that has yet made a decided effort to introduce it” (Earl West, The Search for the Ancient Order, Vol. I, p. 311).

In passing years as more and more brethren demanded the change in worship, much discussion, disagreement, aggravation, tension, and separation followed. It was a sad time for the church.

Over the years many debates have been held on the music question. One of the greatest debates on the issue of scriptural music in worship was between N. B. Hardeman and Ira M. Boswell held in 1923 in Nashville, Tennessee. Boswell contended that the Greek word, “psallo,” used by Paul in Ephesians 5:19 and translated in our ASV as “making melody,” permitted the use of a mechanical instrument in worship. In his first affirmative speech he declared that he was attempting to prove that “To sing with or without instrumental music is scriptural” (Hardeman-Boswell Debate, p. 29). Neither Boswell nor any other disputant of whom I am aware ever committed himself to the position that the New Testament obligates worshipers to worship with a mechanical instrument of music in the song service.

Hardeman admitted that some instrument inhered in the word “psallo.” He took the tack that “psallo” did demand some kind of instrument. But in the passage, the particular instrument that Paul named is “the heart.” Boswell resorted to much lexical evidence for the Greek word which indicated that some instrument of some kind inhered in the word, but then he would not draw the conclusion that Christians today must use that instrument, whatever it was. In his second speech, Hardeman said, “It seems to me that Brother Boswell is in this kind of a predicament: First, God demands it. The word means it, and you cannot do what ‘psallo’ means without the use of the musical instrument. That is Brother Boswell’s contention, as from the lexicons to which he has referred; and then the next part is, notwithstanding the word means that and notwithstanding that idea inheres in it, yet I can leave it out” (Hardeman-Boswell Debate, p. 56). This was a fantastic moment in the history of the discussion!

In the debate Boswell’s weak position was completely routed, and Hardeman took the correct position on the music issue including proper handling of the word “psallo.” Hardeman’s effort was masterful. And when he took the position that the Greek word, “psallo,” did, in fact, demand an instrument, his approach was a complete surprise to Boswell. Boswell did not expect it!

In Hardeman’s biography we learn that Hardeman viewed his debate with Boswell as his best (James Marvin Powell and Mary Nelle Hardeman Powers, N. B. H., p. 195). We also learn the following:

Some twenty years after the debate, Hardeman met Boswell in Louisville, Kentucky. He told Boswell that he had heard that Dr. Carey Morgan, who at the time of the debate was pastor of Nashville’s Vine Street Christian Church, and J. J. Walker had stayed up nearly all night after the first session of the debate, trying to answer Hardeman’s argument, and revamp their own arguments. Boswell said that was true. Hardeman and Boswell remained friends through the years, though their paths did not often meet. There was mutual respect though their views were poles apart” (N. B. H., pp. 195, 196).

The issue has been debated much, and the history of the debates has revealed that on the polemic platform, mechanical instrumental music in worship has never been proved to be authorized by the New Testament, while singing without the accompaniment of any mechanical instrument of music in worship has been conclusively proved to be authorized.

Our preachers have defended the truth on the issue for years. Sadly, too many brethren now alive have become ignorant of history and are completely out of touch with Bible authority and, therefore, find mechanical instruments in worship harmless, appealing, and acceptable. How tragic!

Finally, let me by way of three new arguments, add to the history of the defense of the truth regarding scriptural music in worship. Consider the following:

First Syllogism:

  1. If the Old Testament authorized both singing and playing, then the Old Testament distinguished singing from playing.
  2. The Old Testament authorized both singing and playing (Psalm 149:1; Psalm 87:7).
  3. Then, the Old Testament distinguished singing from playing.

Second Syllogism:

  1. If the Old Testament distinguished singing from playing, then the authorization to sing by itself did not authorize playing anymore than the authorization to play by itself authorized dancing.
  2. The Old Testament distinguished singing from playing (Psalm 87:7; Psalm 149:1; Psalm 150).
  3. Then, the authorization to sing by itself did not authorize playing anymore than the authorization to play by itself authorized dancing.

Third Syllogism:

  1. If the Old Testament authorization to sing did not by itself authorize playing or dancing, then the New Testament authorization to sing cannot by itself authorize playing or dancing.
  2. The Old Testament authorization to sing did not by itself authorize playing or dancing (Psalm 87:7; Psalm 149:1; Psalm 150; Ezekiel 33:32).
  3. Then, the New Testament authorization to sing cannot by itself authorize playing or dancing.
Posted in Baptism, Doctrine, New Testament, Salvation

How could we miss it so badly?

What we in the churches of Christ have done to Acts 1:5-8 is almost unbelievable. Of course, we simply accepted what was handed down from a generation of brethren who had been taught wrongly on the passage as well. And we thought the way we handled the passage was true to Bible teaching on the Holy Spirit in other passages, and our inherited view kept us from endorsing modern day miracles. It is hard to imagine now in the year 2020 that we could miss the correct interpretation of that passage so terribly.

How did we miss it so horrendously? (1) We took the baptism of the Holy Spirit to be miraculous and temporary, and (2) we took the “great commission” to be permanent and obligatory! And each interpretation is wrong.

Since the words of Jesus to Nicodemus were spoken in John 3:3-5, there has been only one way into the kingdom. I have had debate opponents admit this. Well, how did the first entrants enter the kingdom? If you look at Acts 1 and 2, you will find that the first disciples including the apostles entered the kingdom having already been baptized with John’s water only baptism for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4; Luke 7:29-30) when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). How did the apostles enter the kingdom in Acts 2? They had already been baptized in water for the remission of their sins which is baptism into the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:12, 16; Acts 19:15). But they did not enter the kingdom until they were baptized in the Spirit (Acts 1:5; 2:1-4), which is baptism into the name of the Father and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20). Their kingdom entry entailed baptism in both water and Holy Spirit which is the one baptism of John 3:3-5 and Ephesians 4:5. If you and I entered the kingdom, we came in just as the apostles did. There has never been any other way into it. Their water only baptism was not enough to propel them into the church. When we concluded that Holy Spirit immersion was a miracle, we made a horrible mistake! The Greek grammar of Acts 1:8 shows that the power came “after” the coming of the Spirit, so that it did not come (1) before the Spirit came, and neither did it come (2) at the same time that the Spirit came.

Too, in our wrong handling of Acts 1:5-8, we concluded that the so-called “great commission” (to distinguish it from the “limited commission” of Matthew 10) was permanent and obligatory. Our false conception of the passage has over many years created (1) imbalanced preaching, (2) a great sense of spiritual insecurity, and (3) guilt-evangelism! Elsewhere on this site is an article, “The Great Commission Has Been Fulfilled,” that provides in-depth analysis of this point. The “great commission” was an assignment given to the apostles only (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47), divinely managed to its completion (Acts 16:6-10; Colossians 1:6, 23), and entailed inspired preaching and miraculous signs (Mark 16:19-20; 1 Corinthians 2:12-13). This was God’s way of changing human amenability once and for all. The Gentiles were brought out from under their obligation to moral law only (cf. Romans 2:14-15; Acts 10), and the Jews were brought out from under their obligation to the Mosaic law which legally had died at the cross (Colossians 2:14). The announcement of (1) the passing of past obligation and (1) the creation of new obligation to Christ was made over a period of thirty years. The apostles and other brethren were involved, but only the apostles were given the specific assignment to see that the gospel went throughout the world. No other Christian ever evangelized because an apostle told him that he, too, was under the assignment of the “great commission”. While many helped in the work, only the apostles would stand before God as responsible to see that that assignment was carried out. The apostles alone were Christ’s ambassadors, a select group, who had been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-20; 12:12; Acts 10:40-43; 22:15; 26:16).

If we today were successful in carrying the gospel to every creature in the world, we still would not be “fulfilling” the “great commission” because we cannot now accomplish what its completion in the first century did. All men by it were made answerable to Christ (Acts 17:30-31). All men still are, whether we preach or not. Today our evangelism in based on the “great commandment” (Matthew 22:37-40) rather than the “great commission.”

Posted in Doctrine

Denominationalism exists because?

By Ron Thomas

Why are there so many denominations? This is the question asked in a Bible study book called God’s Answers to Man’s Questions (p. 178). The answer given? “Each is probably like a variety of fruit and it takes many varieties to make an orchard. (Many spokes to make a wheel.) Christ’s desire is that the Church on earth should be clean, glorious and holy, Eph. 5:27. ‘That He might present it (the Church) to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it (you and I) should be holy and without blemish.’”

This is all there is to his answer. Did he answer it? Yes, I suppose you can say he did. Is his answer adequate or, better yet, biblical? It is not. The Bible passage he referenced is certainly biblical, but it does not support the contention of the “orchard” he mentioned.

In the same epistle of Paul to the Ephesians there is also a reference to the church obeying Christ in everything (5:24), and that there is only one church or body (4:4; 1:22). There is no mention of more than one, and there is no mention of anything corresponding to an orchard.

This is the problem with such an approach to the topic. In one’s desire to be charitable to others of a different persuasion or understanding of Scripture, there is an answer given that is wholly inadequate and unbiblical. It is good to be charitable, but it is better to be biblical.

Problem. Denominationalism got its start with the thinking of man. One can go as far back as 1 Corinthians 1:10, and note the seed of denominationalism being planted. Paul took note of it and “headed it off at the pass” before the seed broke ground (so to speak). Denominationalism is a plague that every man has to address at some level with regard to himself. A man constantly struggles to suppress his own thoughts and his own ways under the authority of Christ. Jeremiah proclaimed quite a number of years ago that in man there is no direction within that allows him to know where he is going – if he desires to go to God. “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23, KJV).

Denominationalism exists because man has allowed his way of thinking to rise to the top. In Galatians 2:20, Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (ESV). Thus, the Lord’s apostle made it very clear that the only thinking that was (and is) to rise to the top is that thinking that belongs to Christ. This is another way of saying that which Paul wrote to the church in Rome. The NET reads, “For I will not dare to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in order to bring about the obedience of the Gentiles, by word and deed” (Romans 15:18).

Solution. Considering further what Paul said in his remarks to Rome, he would not allow himself to speak by his authority, but only by the authority of Christ. Given the fact that Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to preach and write, one can be sure he spoke only the word of God (cf. 1 Timothy 6:3). Second, Paul would only do that which the Lord authorized. In other words, if the Lord did not “ok” it, it was not to be done!

The New Testament does not speak, not even a little bit, of denominationalism. It is a man-made concept; they are institutions of ideology that allow us to “agree to disagree.” If there is one “Church” (one body) in the heavenly realm, why is there not the same on earth? Because many want to eat from an orchard full of variety. I, on the other hand, want to eat from the singleness of the Lord’s hand.

Posted in Doctrine, Marriage

Remarriage Right and the Law of the Husband

By Mac Deaver

Recently, Weylan posted the oral exchange between my father, Roy Deaver, and Gus Nichols (listen at: biblicalnotes.com/audio/roy-deaver-gus-nichols-debate). The exchange took place on the campus of the then Harding Graduate School of Religion in Memphis, Tennessee in 1973. At issue between the two parties was whether or not the “guilty party” of Matthew 19:9 could by scriptural authority remarry. Deaver said that the “guilty party” could not remarry. Nichols said that he could.

Deaver spoke first and gave an argument based on the alleged unfairness of allowing the guilty party to remarry since God disallowed the “innocent party unjustly put away” the option of a remarriage. That is, according to Matthew 19:9, if A put his wife B away, not for fornication, then A and B were still joined in marriage, and so if someone married B after the legal divorce, the second marriage was only legal but not scriptural. The case is such that A’s condition at the time of the putting away is simply that of a non-guilty party who legally divorces his wife but not for fornication. The wife in the now legally divorced condition commits adultery with whoever legally marries her. So, she is stuck in a scripturally necessitated celibacy as long as she remains the “innocent party” unjustly put away by a person not guilty of fornication. She is still scripturally married to her husband regardless of his attempt to get rid of her.

Now, Deaver’s argument that he presented was based on this point. That is, if God necessitated the perpetual celibacy of the “innocent party unjustly put away,” that it would be unfair for God to allow the remarriage of a “guilty party” put away because of his fornication. How could God reward the “guilty” with a new marriage and “punish” the “innocent” by withholding one? Dear reader, it doesn’t seem to make sense, does it? Deaver’s syllogism was:

(1) If it is the case that Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 do not allow the remarriage of an innocent party unjustly put away, then it is the case that Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 do not allow the remarriage of the guilty party justly put away.

(2) It is the case that Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 do not allow the remarriage of an innocent party unjustly put away.

(3) Then, it is the case that Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 do not allow the remarriage of the guilty party justly put away.

This syllogism was based on the principle that punishment is justly related to sin committed. He cited Matthew 12:41-45, Matthew 11:20-24, Luke 12:47-48, and 2 Peter 2:20-21 to identify the principle that the syllogism incorporates.

In response, Nichols declared that we, as a people, have always taken the position that someone who kills his wife has a scriptural right to a new marriage, but that if we say that (1) a murderer can remarry, but that (2) a guilty fornicator cannot, we are allowing, in effect, the more guilty more right and the less guilty less right. Nichols did not use these exact words, but these words represent precisely his point. He was saying, in effect, that Deaver’s position is not fair. That is, if a man can kill his wife in order to marry another woman, but that the “guilty party” cannot remarry, then we are imposing on people a position that is completely unfair. So, he was hitting at Deaver’s argument based on the concept of fairness. I must confess that I had always taken Nichols’ position on the murderer’s right to a remarriage as the correct position, but in this reinvestigation, I think that my father was, after all, correct in his analysis of the situation. And I am very glad to now see what he and Warren affirmed in 1973. As usual I come to the truth as a latecomer.

Now, let me say that Deaver’s position (that the guilty party has no right of remarriage) did not depend upon any argument on “fairness,” though I now agree that the argument is sound. And in all fairness to my father, in his discussion with Nichols, he rightly observed that the contention that the guilty party can remarry is in outright contradiction to the “except for fornication” clause! It was not clear to Nichols at the time, however, that Deaver’s own position regarding the guilty party was fair at all.

When my father later faced James D. Bales (from whom Nichols said that he had learned his position on the “guilty party”) at Searcy, Arkansas he had a syllogism based on Matthew 19:9 that was not based on the concept of fairness. The syllogism was written:

Maj. Prem. If it is the case that Mt. 19:9 teaches that the only scriptural ground for divorce and remarriage is the ground of one’s having put away his companion because of that companion’s fornication, then it is the case that any interpretation of any passage which contradicts that teaching is an erroneous interpretation.

Min. Prem. It is the case that Mt. 19:9 teaches that the only scriptural ground for divorce and remarriage is the ground of one’s having put away his companion because of that companion’s fornication.

Con. It is the case that any interpretation of any passage which contradicts that teaching is an erroneous interpretation (“Marriage, Divorce, And Remarriage—Harding Lecture, April 19, 1977, p. 15).

Now, this more wide-sweeping argument covers the “guilty party” issue as well as other matters. But in Deaver’s 1973 confrontation with Nichols, he used an argument that was more narrow in scope or focus and which he thought would do the job in exposing the idea that the “guilty party” did have a right to a remarriage. God is, after all, always fair. That is certainly correct, but it needs to be noted that “divine fairness” is not always easy to comprehend due to human failure to grasp features of a situation that only God can know. What was fair to Deaver didn’t seem fair to Nichols at all.

Fairness” is not always easy to discover. Some issues become so involved that it is hard to determine where fairness lies. And I would repeat that, though we know God is always fair since he is infinite in justice, we are not always able to determine how it is that he is fair when he gives definite positive legislation. At times the “fairness” is somewhat hidden from our view. God kept Cain, the brother-murderer, alive and allowed him to remarry and yet later decreed that all such murderers should be put to death (Gen. 4:9-15, 17; 9:6). And following his humanly undetected adultery, David was allowed to marry the widow of the soldier that David had killed under the camouflage of war (2 Sam. 11, 12). Because we are not privy to all knowledge to which God is, we are not always aware of how something is fair or “fair enough” in the eyes of God at a given time. So, from this angle of examination, “fairness”—though always rightly ascribed to God and to God’s applicable law—can be fair without our being able to explain in what way it is fair or why it is fair at all. The “fairness” of some laws is not on obvious display.

The issue of “divine fairness” has come up many times in marriage discussion. Some have wondered how it is fair for God to allow fornicators (before marriage) to commit fornication for hundreds of times and then be given scriptural right to marriage, while at the same time disallowing a “guilty party” the right of one more marriage. No preacher that I know has ever taken the position that the Scriptures teach that unmarried fornicators cannot enter a scriptural marriage. What about a person who—knowing Bible teaching—purposefully refuses to marry for years, during which time he fornicates over and over again? Let us say that in his 60’s he decides finally to marry. Where is the passage that disallows the marriage? Is the New Testament law on marriage and divorce unfair if it allows an habitual fornicator to get married?

Note carefully that we are not discussing whether practicing fornicators can go to heaven. They cannot (Gal. 5:19). But entry into heaven is not to be confused with marriage rights on earth. Nichols made this point in his part of the discussion. And he was correct. To say that a man has a right, given his circumstances, to another marriage is not at all the same thing as saying that the man stands before God approved and heaven bound. Plenty of people have a right to marriage who at the time of the application of the right are not in fellowship with God. But since God allows all persons guilty off pre-marriage fornication the right of entering a scriptural marriage and yet disallows, per Matthew 19:9, some parties to remarry, it is evident that God looks at the marriage covenant as something to be protected and maintained. After all, God does the actual joining in marriage (Matt. 19:6); he is no party to fornication!

Now, at the 1973 confrontation between Deaver and Nichols, Nichols took the position that if a man killed his wife in order to marry some other woman, that even though the murder was certainly sinful, marriage right still characterized the murderer since his wife was now dead. Evidently Nichols was thinking of Romans 7:1-6, though I do not remember his actually referring to the passage. But when he said that a man could kill his wife and marry again, both Deaver and Thomas B. Warren (who was in the audience and who in the question/answer session asked Nichols some questions) objected and declared that the murderer had no such right. When Nichols called for the passage that prohibited the murderer from remarrying, Deaver cited Matthew 19:9.

Earlier in his own presentation, Deaver had gone over Matthew 19:9 very carefully, presenting the words in Greek and giving a detailed analysis of the passage. Clearly, per Matthew 19:9, someone may and someone may not remarry. If all can remarry, according to God’s approval, then, Deaver asked, why did the Lord address the topic at all? The passage affirms that someone may remarry without being guilty of adultery and that someone may remarry but only by becoming guilty of adultery. “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery.” According to Deaver, the Lord said that only persons who put away their mates for fornication are persons who may marry again without committing adultery. And guilty fornicators are not in that class of persons.

I agree with my father and Warren that the guilty party cannot with divine sanction remarry. And it is my view that Deaver’s 1977 syllogism that he gave to James Bales presents the truth on the topic. Furthermore, in the past (although I have taken the position that Nichols took at Memphis with regard to a wife-murderer having the right to another marriage since his wife was now dead), I now confess that such is absolutely wrong. I now see that Deaver and Warren were both correct in their claim that no wife-murderer has the right of remarriage even though his wife is dead. I had taken the position that even though a wife-killer was hell bound, his eternal destiny and his marriage rights were not to be confused. And they should not be. However, as we will see as our examination continues, though a wife-murderer is no longer bound to a wife, he is still bound to God who in the New Testament gives him no more marriage rights.

When Nichols called for the passage that prohibits a wife-killer from remarrying, Deaver, as already stated, cited Matthew 19:9. Now, Matthew 19:9 deals with putting away and marrying again and with someone’s marrying the party put away. Murder either is a form of putting away or is not a form of putting away. If Deaver cites Matthew 19:9 as conclusive that a murderer (who kills his own wife in order to marry some other woman) has no right to a remarriage, then he is saying either that murder is a form of putting away or he is saying that murder is not a form of putting away. But, he cannot be saying that it is a form of putting away, because the last part of the verse contemplates a marriage on the part of the put away party. The “put away party” is not a dead person but a living one. Since we are told that “he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery,” we know that the “put away” party is a living party. If we say that murder is a form of putting away, we are then implying that someone can marry the dead which is, of course, absurd.

So, Deaver must be saying that murder is not a form of “putting away.” So, why would he think that Matthew 19:9 applied to the murderer’s case? How does the passage apply at all to the case of a murderer? Evidently, he thought it did because the only cases of remarriage allowed by Matthew 19:9 were cases involving “putting away” by parties whose spouses or ex-spouses were still living. No one else (no murderer) was being contemplated in the cases that involved “putting away.” Since all that we are to do is to be authorized by the New Testament (Col. 3:17), and since Deaver knew or at least assumed that there was no other passage that gave the scriptural right of remarriage to anyone else, then he cited the passage as conclusive that no man could kill his wife and then marry again. And this would mean that Deaver (and Warren, who agreed with Deaver that no man could kill his wife and remarry) considered Romans 7:1-6 to be inapplicable to the murderer’s case.

And this would mean, then, that Warren and Deaver considered Matthew 19:9 as applicable to the case of murder in the sense that it authorized only cases of remarriage on the part of non-murderers (just as the passages that authorize singing authorize singing only, and because of the complete absence of any other passage authorizing mechanical instruments in worship in addition to singing, then only singing is authorized). Deaver and Warren evidently thought that Romans 7:1-6 was inapplicable to the case of the murderer since, though the passage teaches that when the husband dies, the wife is free from the law of the husband so that death ends the application of the law of the husband generally speaking, it does not terminate the application of that law in cases of murder.

Now, if Romans 7:1-6 does not apply to a wife-killer (thus giving him a right to another marriage), how can we prove it? How was it that Deaver and Warren were both convinced that the wife-killer had no marriage rights? This exact point was not a part of the formal discussion at Memphis. And I do not remember ever discussing this point with my father or with Warren. But if they were right, how could we prove it now? From the discussion it is clear that Nichols thought that Romans 7:1-6 released the wife-killer so that he could remarry; it was Deaver’s and Warren’s contention that Romans 7:1-6 did no such thing. But there was no recording of any elaborate support of the Deaver-Warren position. I want to supply that information right here.

In Romans 7:1-6, Paul draws an analogy between the relationship that obtained between (1) a man and his wife and between (2) a Jewish Christian and his relationship to Christ. First, he gives the fundamental principle that the law was binding on a person only so long as that person was still alive. The law ceased in application to anyone who had been under it at the point of that person’s death (7:1). Second, after stating the fundamental feature of any law regarding its application, he then applies the binding nature of applicable law to marriage. He states that a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he is living. When he dies, she is free from “the law of the husband” (7:2). If she is joined to another man while he still lives, she is an adulteress, according to marriage law, but if the husband is dead she is not an adulteress though joined to another man (7:3). Third, Paul then draws an analogy between the two cases: that of a woman bound to a husband under the law and to Christian Jews who were once married to Moses but who are now married to Christ (7:4). Paul affirms that Christian Jews are not now in “spiritual adultery” because the first husband was dead (7:4). Moses, (the binding law of Moses) was now dead. And even though they were now joined to Christ, the joining was not “spiritual adultery” because the first husband had passed away.

Now to the very point of contention: how do we know that this passage does not free a wife-murderer to remarry? We know it because Romans 7:1-6 is a discussion of the relationship of the law of Moses to Jews who were now Christians. And these Jewish Christians who were now joined to Christ had been formerly married to the first husband (the law of Moses, or Moses) to whom they were “made dead” by the body of Christ (7:4). And notice: that law (the first husband) to which these Jewish Christians had formerly been married was a law that demanded the death of any murderer! Murderers did not have remarriage rights in Israel. Murderers were to be put to death (Exod. 21:12; Lev. 24:17). The analogy that Paul draws is between (1) the law of Moses and its binding nature on Jews (a law that gave no marriage rights to murderers) and (2) the law of Christ which, unless it be Romans 7:1-6, gives no marriage rights to murderers either). This proves that “the law of the husband” does not give marriage rights to murderers of their wives even though their wives are now dead! Wife-murderers are still bound to God’s marriage law which disallows them a new marriage.

And this serves as proof that in Deaver’s confrontation with Nichols, he and Warren were correct to think that according to Bible teaching, no wife-killer had scriptural right to another marriage. Notice further that if “the law of the husband” (now completely incorporated within the law of Christ) still binds the “put away fornicator” (the “guilty party”) to God so that any marriage attempt on his part in the future will be simply a case of “adultery,” then it follows that “the law of the husband” binds a wife-murderer to God so that any marriage attempt on his part in the future will be simply a case of “adultery” as well. Both cases entail “adultery” by parties no longer bound to their spouses but still bound to God’s marriage law. Nichols had contended that when the handcuffs that bound a husband and wife together were taken off due to fornication or death, both parties were free to remarry since they were now free from each other. Deaver had correctly observed that there were three sets of handcuffs in any scriptural marriage. One set of handcuffs bound the married persons to each other, and one set bound the husband to God’s law, and the final set bound the wife to God’s law.

It amazes me that my father and brother Warren were so clear and correct in 1973 in their contention that not even Romans 7:1-6 gave a wife-murderer the right to remarry. They were far ahead of most of us then and, perhaps, many of us now.

Let me make one final comment concerning the relationship of Matthew 19:9 to Romans 7:1-6. Please note that the precision in language used by Paul together with the precision of language used by the Lord presents to us a striking instance of internal testimony to the profound inspiration of Scripture! Not only does Romans 7:1-6 not condone “murdering one’s way” out of a marriage so as to give the remarriage right to the murderer, but the language is so precise as not to contradict the allowance of polygamy under Gentile-ism and Judaism! Notice carefully that while Jesus restricted divorce right, compared to the most generous divorce allowance by the law of Moses (Deut. 24) in his remarks in Matthew 19:9, that Paul is careful in his use of marriage in his analogy as to protect divine sanction of polygamy under the previous regimes. He says that if a woman is joined to another man while she retains a living husband, she shall be an adulteress, but he does not say that a man joined to another woman while having an already living wife shall be called one under the governance of “the law of the husband.” The “law of the husband” allowed, in principle, both polygyny (one husband with more than one wife) and monogamy (one husband with one wife). The kind of polygamy (many marriages) allowed by God in the previous regimes was only polygyny. It was never polyandry (many husbands with one wife). Thus, Paul’s precision is for the purpose of harmonizing his illustration not only with the permanent New Testament requirement of monogamy but with divine approval of polygyny under Gentile-ism (i.e. Patriarchy) and Christianity. Incredible!

Posted in Debates, Doctrine, Marriage

Roy Deaver-Gus Nichols Debate: Can the Guilty Party Remarry?

By Weylan Deaver

A preacher’s forum took place in November 1973 at the Harding Graduate School of Religion in Memphis, Tennessee between Roy C. Deaver and Gus Nichols. Each man respected the other. In fact, in the November 1972 issue of his paper, Biblical Notes (p. 73), Deaver wrote: “When brother Nichols preaches, it is obvious to the hearer that here is a man who is not just keeping an appointment. It is apparent that he knows the difference between having to say something and in having something to say.” But love for the gospel compelled Deaver to defend it, even if doing so meant opposing a friend. At the time, Deaver was in his prime (around age 51). The question at issue that day at Harding Graduate School was: “Can the guilty party, put away for fornication, scripturally remarry?” Gus Nichols said “yes” and Roy Deaver said “no.” Thomas B. Warren was in the audience and, when it came time for the Q&A session, he also held Nichols’ feet to the fire on this crucial doctrinal point. Listen to the two speeches and the Q&A session at the three links below.

1 Roy Deaver. Can the Guilty Party Remarry? (November 7, 1973 / Harding University Graduate School of Religion)

2 Gus Nichols. Can the Guilty Party Remarry? (November 7, 1973 / Harding University Graduate School of Religion)

3 Questions and Answers. Can the Guilty Party Remarry? Deaver vs Nichols (November 7, 1973 / HUGSR)