Posted in Doctrine, Logic/Philosophy, Theology

It Shall Be More Tolerable

The biblical doctrine of hell has been part of the arsenal of skeptics for years. Along with the problem, as they see it, of reconciling an all powerful, all loving God with the reality of human suffering on this earth (and with the reality of animal suffering as well), skeptics have also used the biblical doctrine of hell as a justification for their rejection of the Bible as the word of God and of the existence of the God who is alleged to have written it. In Thomas B. Warren’s debates with Antony Flew, Wallace Matson, and Joe Barnhart, each of Warren’s opponents used the concept of hell against God’s existence and/or the ethic of Jesus Christ. In Flew’s fourth affirmative on Tuesday night, Flew said, “Suppose now, considering those alleged arrangement, someone says, as I would say, that it would be absolutely wrong to keep any conscious being, man or animal, in such torment forever; and, furthermore that it would be to the last degree monstrously unjust for a Creator Himself to punish His own creatures in that way” (Warren-Flew Debate, p. 69). In Matson’s second affirmative on Monday night, he referred to the New Testament teaching on hell (Warren-Matson Debate, p. 38). And while Warren defended God’s infinite love and justice, Matson denied that God’s love could be harmonized with God’s allowing a person to suffer punishment for even one moment in hell (p. 48). Matson inconsistently admitted that it would be right for mere humans to punish Hitler and wrong for God to do so (p. 76-77). And in his first rejoinder on Monday night of the debate, Matson in referring to Warren, said, “He did say that he loves his children and he has punished them. With a blowtorch in the face, Dr. Warren?” And if so, for one second, for one minute, for ten minutes, for an hour?” (p. 88).

In the Warren-Barnhart discussion, Joe Barnhart, in his first negative speech, said, “It is one thing to say that the vast majority of the human race of adults will be tortured and tormented endlessly because they did not subscribe to Tom’s (Thomas B. Warren, MD) ideological tenets. It is another thing to say more concretely that Tom’s grandfather or his brother is currently screaming in hell, and that Tom’s only word of comfort is, ‘Grandad (sic), you have what is coming to you. So take your torture and know that it is fully just’” (Warren- Barnhart Debate, p. 15).

Please note that both the Warren-Flew debate and the Warren-Matson debate were on the existence of God. The Warren-Barnhart debate was about ethics, and particularly it was a discussion of the ethical system proposed by Jesus Christ and that proposed by Jeremy Bentham as to which system was superior. Warren, of course, advocated the life prescribed by Jesus; Barnhart stood with Bentham. Barnhart’s position was completely exposed.

It is interesting that in each encounter, Warren’s opponents attempted to show that the concept of hell cannot cohere with God’s love and power (Flew and Matson) or with an ethical system that employs it (Barnhart). To Warren’s adversaries, any doctrine that entailed the concept of hell had to be false. Warren showed that any doctrine that denied hell had to be incomplete and was ascribing mere finite justice to God. Warren, of course, in my judgment did a masterful job in his effort to defend what the Bible claims about hell. Philosophically, he showed the justice of hell and the implications of denying the reality of hell. Furthermore, he pointed out the inconsistencies of philosophers who want to admit suffering as an objective concept and yet deny God who is necessary as a concept in making suffering objective in the first place. His defense of hell as an essential part of divine justice in the Matson affair was, in my judgment, extraordinary.

But, many people will never read those discussions, and I would think that many brethren have at times been bothered by what they read in scripture about hell as they reflect on the destiny of departed loved ones. During my lifetime, some preachers have even “opted” for a doctrine of a finite hell in their desire to find justice, but such effort is futile. I would suggest to all of them that they get the Warren-Matson Debate and devour it. This should help them immensely in becoming familiar with the intellectual concepts involved in the notion and necessity of divine punishment and with the eternality of it.

Let me just here present a few thoughts that I hope will be helpful to Bible believers, and perhaps even some skeptics, in trying to harmonize divine justice with our intellect and emotion as we experience suffering on earth and think about eternal suffering in hell. The doctrine of hell, it seems, can trigger human emotion somewhat like in our country the issue of abortion does. People can get awfully defensive or accusative very easily and very early. Let me mention and briefly elaborate on twelve fundamental facts that I hope will help us in putting the Bible’s doctrine of eternal punishment in perspective, thus seeing the doctrine of hell without intellectual and/or emotional distortion.

One, hell was originally made for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41; cf. 2 Pet. 2:4). However, it is the eternal destiny of men as well who die in their sin (Matt. 25:46; Rev. 20:11-15). Jesus used the reality of hell as a warning to mankind to live according to God’s will or to face divine punishment (Mark 9:42-50). Even God’s own people, according to the New Testament, must be careful to live righteously so as to avoid having to face hell (cf. Heb. 10:30-31; Jude 20-21; Matt. 25:46). But it is also the case that a Christian can become so mature in spiritual development that he no longer relies on hell as motivation to his righteousness (1 John 4:18). He now loves God so much that the fear earlier felt no longer constitutes a part of his motivation to continual righteousness.

Two, the nature of hell is punitive. That is, it is not for correction. It is pure punishment. Too, it is unending punishment. Whatever heaven is in its duration, hell is in its own duration also (Matt. 25:46). If one attempts to rid hell of its everlasting quality, he must also do the same with heaven. This shows the enormous significance of sin which is the violation of God’s will and which inevitably leads to hell if it remains unforgiven (1 John 3:4; Rom. 6:23). Furthermore, hell shows the shame involved anytime anyone enters eternity having rejected the means of deliverance from it. A man who dies in his sin has turned his back on God’s desire and plan for his own salvation which plan had included the death of Jesus Christ. And a Christian who apostatizes from the faith is said to have “trodden under foot the Son of God, and to have counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing, and to have done despite unto the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29-30). His final state is even worse than that of the alien sinner who never knew the gospel (2 Pet. 2:20-22). What a man, once having committed sin, does or fails to do with regard to the gospel is a central fact to consider in the analysis of his just punishment.

Three, the language of hell in scripture is, at times, extreme and at other times it is somewhat softened (Mark 9:47-48; Luke 12:47-48). That is, there are times when hell is described in extreme language as productive of much personal pain, and again there are times when the language is reduced to presenting a punishment with less pain. Luke’s reference to some who will receive “few stripes” indicates this use of language. Since God is always eternally and infinitely fair, hell would have to entail this characteristic (Gen. 18:25; Rom. 3:25-26; 11:32). Not everyone deserves the same amount or degree of punishment. In the law of Moses, God made it very clear that He is quite concerned about justice or fairness of treatment. His own nature is the background out of which the very precisely stated laws in Deuteronomy come. Consider Deuteronomy 22:22-29 which even entails the notion of granting the accused the benefit of the doubt (v. 24-25). The New Testament teaches that God is especially concerned with punishing (1) those who walk after the flesh in the lust of defilement, and (2) those who despise dominion (2 Pet. 2:9-10). Some sins are worse than others! Of course, neither heaven nor hell are physical places, and what they offer by way of reward or punishment cannot be physical as the spirits of men who enter these domains are not physical (Luke 16:19-31; 1 Cor. 15:50). But the language that God employs in describing both places is based on our acquaintance with physical pleasure and pain. Thus, we are able to make a comparison between human existence in time and in eternity.

Four, the concept of hell is intended to be a deterrent to wrong living. Both reward and punishment are utilized in the Bible as motivations to righteousness (2 Tim. 4:6-8; Rev. 20:11-15). Some would suggest that men do not need such, but the Author of the Bible knows human nature completely. And observant men know that children at times need incentives and even adults can find great motivation in rewards offered (cf. 1 Cor. 9:24-25). And those bent on violence at times are curbed by the fear of facing punishment or having committed crime, they are incarcerated. Even with the presence of the Bible in the world today, we do not have to search for ungodliness among men. It permeates the societies of men. Indeed, the whole world lies in the evil one (1 John 2:15-17; 5:19). If human society is this way with the Bible within it, what would human society be like without it?

Five, the basic shared condition of all men in hell will be separation. It is a separation from God forever. John would call it “the second death” (Rev. 20:6). The Greek word for “death” here is “thanatos.” According to Vine, it signifies (1) the separation of man’s soul from his body, and (2) the separation of man from God (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 276). Of course, when speaking of man’s separation from God, the scriptures describe the condition while the man is on earth as spiritual death or as a death in sin (John 8:24; Eph. 2:5). When a sinner becomes a Christian, he becomes dead to sin (Rom. 6:2, 11). A sinner who remains in his sin faces eternal death or the second death (Rom. 6:23; Matt. 25:46). So, just as a human body separated from its spirit is physically dead (Jas. 2:26), when a man is separated by sin from his God, he is spiritually dead. When that man is punished by God in hell, he is being separated from God forever. This is eternal death. And that is what all lost men face. And there is no remedy or relief from it once a person leaves this earth (Heb. 9:27). Thus, there is the necessity of obedience to the gospel of Christ. The gospel frees man from sin and prevents any entry into hell! All men should love God for making life possible and for making such fantastic delivery from sin available (cf. John 3:16; 1 John 4:19). Heaven is what earth is all about (Heb. 2:9-10; Eph. 3:10-11)! This is so because of God’s love and will. However, hell is what earth tends toward in the lives of those who die on it without God.

Six, the fact is that if a man enters hell he does so by his own choice. Given human free will, each man decides his own eternal destiny. Neither God nor the devil can make this determination for him. Each man decides his own destiny. No man will ever on earth unravel the complexities involved in human free will. But the fact is, each of us is free and thus the personal agent of his own thoughts and deeds. The doctrine of hell is involved in the doctrine of human responsibility and accountability. The New Testament warns all of us that we will give account of our lives on this earth. The doctrine of hell is intended to help man live on this earth before God and with his fellow man in a responsible way. He is under obligation to love God and his neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40). Whether he obeys his obligation or not, he will face God in judgment (2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 20:11-15). If a man leaves this earth in his sin, he judges himself unworthy of eternal life (cf. Acts 13:46).

Seven, the Bible plainly teaches that God wants all men to be saved (Heb. 2:9-10; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4). God has always had in mind the eternal purpose of saving man from the sin which God knew he would commit (Eph. 3:10-11). God does not want man to enter hell! If a man enters hell that implies that the man left this earth in his sin which God wanted removed. Remember, God so loved the world that he sent Jesus to die for all of mankind (John 3:16; Heb. 2:9-10). God finds no joy in the physical death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:23, 32). The death of the righteous, however, is “precious” to God (Psalm 116:15). The Bible is marvelous in its own description of the divine plan of salvation that God had in mind before the creation of the universe (Eph. 1:3-10). The plan of salvation is wonderful in its development throughout history down to the coming of Jesus and the establishment of His church. Romans 11 is a most excellent summation of how God used both Jews and Gentiles to make sure that the gospel of Christ eventually would go to all men throughout the world as God took men from Patriarchy (Moral Law-ism) and Judaism to amenability to the gospel. Indeed in about thirty years from around 33 A.D. to about 63 A.D. the gospel was preached in the whole creation (Col. 1:6, 23; Mark 16:19-20). God knew that when He created man that man would have to have help. It evidently was always God’s desire to bring many sons to glory (Heb. 2.10). When a man physically dies in his sin, his spiritual death having been self-inflicted, now means that his “second death” destiny has been self-determined.

Eight, men who leave this world in their sin today do so having rejected all of God’s help available to them for their salvation. They have refused all divine aid available to rescue them from their evil ways. In other articles I have discussed this vital point, but I repeat that the system of divine delivery is sufficient to the salvation of each person. God is not helpless to deliver from sin. God sent His Son for all of us (John 3:16). God made each one of us by personal constitution such that we could and should search for saving truth (Acts 17:27). Paul told that truth to heathen idolaters in Athens. We are made to look for God! And God will help us find Him (Luke 11:5-13). While the church is responsible to uphold the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), God is still and always has been responsible to make sure that every person on the earth who desires the truth will find the truth. That is not up to the church. That is between that soul and his Maker!

Unfortunately, in my lifetime, most preachers have attempted to put that responsibility of rescue on the church, but one cannot rightly place it there. The church can certainly cooperate with God in upholding and circulating truth, and we should do that in compliance with our obligation to love our brethren and to love all men. But the basic responsibility of rescue (as with the right of divine condemnation) has always been God’s. God made man so that he would look for his Maker (Acts 17:27). And all men have God’s promise that He will as a loving Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him (Luke 11:13). And that Spirit is given to one who finds the truth and who obeys it (Acts 2:38; Gal. 3:2). The program is God’s. God wants to be found! The church is composed of those who have found God and His truth (1 Tim. 2:4), and the church certainly is to live in and support that truth (John 8:32; 1 John 1:7; 1 Tim. 3:15).

The church should do what we can in supporting the gospel especially in areas where it seems to be currently welcomed. But God opens and closes the doors to gospel reception (Rev. 3:7). Consider that the brotherhood combined, if it lost all of its love for the gospel, could not possibly prevent one alien sinner with an honest and good heart from being saved by God! God saved people before the Lord’s church was even here (Matt. 8:11). Now that she is here, she certainly should love the saved and the lost and love the truth by which any man can be saved (1 Thess. 4:9-10; Rom. 12:9-10; 13:8-10; 2 Thess. 2:10-12). The priority of her efforts, however, puts her regard for her brethren above those who are not (Gal. 6:10). In my lifetime, most brethren seem to place the priority on the lost rather than on the saved. This wrong idea did not come from scripture! We misunderstood scripture regarding evangelism and applied our misunderstanding of it to ourselves as an obligation which is impossible to obey. The mistake we have made is that the “great commission” given to the apostles and only to the apostles, is now somehow an obligation perpetually bound on the church. But as I have shown, this is not even possible. (If you have not read it, please read “The Great Commission Has Been Fulfilled” at biblicalnotes.com). Divine salvation, as with divine condemnation, is fundamentally a responsibility of God Himself who will always do right by man whom He loves (Gen. 18:25). Surely, no Christian for a moment thinks that his own death will lessen the opportunity for a lost man to become a saved one by the grace of God. In the year that king Uzziah died, God remained on His lofty throne (Isaiah 6:1). With the passing of any man or many men, God remains on His throne and in complete control of affairs on earth. He still knows how to get a lost man who loves truth and desires salvation into contact with that truth! And Christians, to be like God, desire the salvation of all men.

Nine, the separation from God forever will be more tolerable for some than for others. Consider Romans 9:1-5. I have puzzled over this passage for years. For most of my life I took the passage to be hyperbolic. That is, I took Paul’s expression of potential sacrifice to be figurative. Read the passage very carefully. Paul desires the salvation of his fellow Jews. His desire is great. He bemoans their fate in hell because of their rejection of the gospel (as a nation). Consider Romans 10:1-2. He says that if his own damnation could be a guaranty of their salvation, he could bring himself to wish that he were anathema. In other words, if he could possibly trade his salvation for damnation in order to the Jews’ salvation, he could bring himself to make the trade. He doesn’t say he wished that, but we cannot escape the point that he claimed that if the situation which could not be actually could be, that by that actualization, he could bring himself to the point of wishing or willing his own loss for the salvation of his kinfolk!

I no longer consider his remarks as hyperbolic. Why? Notice that before Paul makes the extreme point regarding this proposed conceptual sacrifice that he introduces it by emphasizing what he is about to say by affirming the following: (1) I say the truth, (2) I say the truth in Christ, (3) I lie not, (4) my conscience is bearing witness with me, and (5) my conscience is bearing witness with me in the Holy Spirit. These four supports stand behind the truthfulness of what he is about to say, and what he is about to say is that he has great sorrow and unceasing pain in his heart for his kinfolk and that he could bring himself to wish himself anathema for their sake. I no longer think that he is presenting hyperbole. He would not have given the five points to support exaggeration for the sake of emphasis, which is what hyperbole is. Of course, a Christian who loves the souls of men as much as Paul could not possibly be involved in any such trade as Paul, in concept, is willing to entertain. But in saying what he does with regard to it, Paul gives us insight into a great truth regarding eternal punishment. While faithful Christians cannot be lost as long as they are faithful Christians, if they could be lost in that condition, their love of their fellow man would lessen their misery in hell! Otherwise, Paul could not possibly say that he could, in the given situation proposed, wish himself anathema. Hell is more tolerable for those who on earth loved their neighbor even though they didn’t love God and His truth (cf. John 15:13).

Ten, the separation from God forever must be eternal. But why couldn’t God simply “snuff out” the spirits of wicked men who leave earth unprepared to meet their God? The answer is that God cannot simply “snuff out” or annihilate the spirits of men. And this is true because the spirit of every man is of the essence of Holy Spirit. In a context where God through Malachi is rebuking His people for the way that they have treated marriage, Malachi points out that if the ideal marriage state had entailed more than one woman for a man, God could have given Adam more than Eve. How was that possible? He had the “residue of the spirit” (Mal. 2:15). Moses had told us that God had made man in His image (Gen. 1:26-27). And the Hebrews writer years later referred to God as “the Father of spirits” (Heb. 12:9). Men are in essence kin to God by our spirit which derives from Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Thess. 5:23). We are not related to God because of our dust (Gen. 2:7). None of us can know exactly “how” God can produce kinfolk to Himself, but the fact is, per plain Bible teaching, He has done it. And somehow by using Holy Spirit in our construction, He made us in His image without making us divine. We could not become God (since we are created beings) but we could share with God His essence. Somehow the distribution of Spirit essence via human conception weakens that essence by its connection to flesh (cf. Matt. 26:41). This is why God cannot be tempted, but Jesus in the flesh could (Jas. 1:13; Matt. 4:1-11). So, man cannot be God. In fact, we are not even given the status of angels (Heb. 2:7). And while man’s body and soul can be terminated, a man’s spirit cannot because it is of the same essence as God Himself! God is eternal “in both ways” from everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 90:2); man has a “one ended eternity.” That is, while man certainly had a beginning, he can know no end, unlike creatures whose nature is below that of the human level. Man’s body (dust) can and does come to an end. His spirit does not. And since man can know no end, then final divine punishment given him can know no end either if remaining apart from God is punishment, and it is. Man’s eternal punishment must exist as long as he does, and since he cannot cease from existence, hell cannot end.

Eleven, God’s nature doesn’t change (Mal. 3:6; Jas. 1:17). Among other things, He is love (1 John 4:8). But we are instructed to accept His love and once having entered into the grace that that love brings, to remain in that grace or what, we will call, the expression of God’s love. Notice the warnings given in scripture regarding a disciple’s remaining in the love of God. Consider John 15:9-10. Jesus encouraged His apostles to abide in His love just as Jesus had abided in the Father’s love. And He stated that remaining in God’s love was attached to keeping God’s commandments. Jude wrote to brethren, “keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 21). But now, given the fact that God doesn’t change His nature, what does it mean for a man to keep himself in God’s love? The answer lies in distinguishing between motive and methodology.

Paul exhorted the Corinthian church, “Let all that ye do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:14). Earlier, however, he had asked the brethren with regard to a future visit that he himself hoped to make to them, “What will ye? Shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness?” (1 Cor. 4:21). The context shows us that Paul had been rebuking the brethren regarding many things. So much was wrong with the church in Corinth! And due to the sad and unfortunate situation, Paul was having to be quite frank. And he wanted the brethren to correct their errors and get things back in order lest when he come to them again personally, he would have to rebuke them further. He did not want this. But he shows that it is up to them. If they do not change their ways, he will bring a rod. If they do make the necessary changes, he will be able to face them in love and in a spirit of gentleness.

Now, since Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:14 by inspiration tells the brethren that all that they do is to be done in love, he cannot himself possibly be meaning in 1 Corinthians 4:21 that he has the right to do some things that are NOT “in love.” So, what can 1 Corinthians 4:21 mean? If he can bring “love and a spirit of gentleness” on the one hand if they repent, does bringing a rod as distinguished from “love and a spirit of gentleness” mean that he won’t bring the rod in love? The answer lies in making the distinction between Paul’s (1) condition of love and his motivation of love with (2) the expression of it. If he is compelled to bring a rod, while his heart remains one of love for them and his motivation in writing is prompted by love, the rod as an expression of that love will not be pleasant! So the key is in understanding condition and motivation as distinguished from the expression of that condition and motivation or intention (cf. Heb. 12:9-11; Prov. 13:24). God remains Himself and part of Him is the infinite trait of love (1 John 4:8). Man is His own creation (Gen. 1:26-27). God loves man (John 3:16). But He tells us that He will punish us eternally for our sins if we refuse to accept His deliverance from them. While His love remains constant as His infinite and eternal condition and motivation, the expression of that love will not in hell be pleasant at all! In Romans 11:22 Paul wrote, “Behold then the goodness and severity of God: toward them that fell, severity; but toward thee, God’s goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.” God’s severity cannot cancel His goodness (as condition and motivation or intention), but it does eliminate the expression of that goodness as goodness (that which would be pleasant to receive). Rather, His personal goodness expresses itself to the lost finally in severity.

Jesus on one occasion was upbraiding some impenitent cities where He had performed miracles. The people had refused to repent. And so in speaking of Chorazin and Bethsaida, He said that if the mighty works that He had performed in them had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, that Tyre and Sidon would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. And then He compared the eternal destiny of Chorazin and Bethsaida with that of Tyre and Sidon. He said, “But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you” (Matt. 11:22). Indeed, greater privilege brings greater responsibility, and failure with regard to greater privilege brings greater condemnation (Luke 12:48). Individual situations are not the same, but all men die either in sin or forgiven of it. And those who die in sin are told by God that they cannot be with Him in eternity. Jesus made this clear (John 5:28-29; Mark 16:15-16). And the apostle John in writing the last book of the New Testament describes the awful and eternal ruin of those whose names are not written in the book of life (Rev. 20:11-15).

Twelve, man is in no position to criticize God for telling us what to Him an unforgiven sinner finally deserves given his rejection of the divine offer of forgiveness. Warren stressed in public debate that man simply is in no position to criticize God! From what vantage point does an atheist present his criticism? He attempts to put himself above God in his critique of God’s character. Granted, man can know by pure reason that if God punishes man for sin, He must be fair in the doing of it. This we willingly and gladly admit. Man knows that God would have to be fair in all things, and he knows this, first of all, by his conscience. It is his conscience which provides man with the insight into the distinction between moral right and moral evil. Without conscience, man cannot distinguish between moral right and moral wrong. But in order for that moral information to be available for intuition (his immediate grasping of this distinction without having to reason about it), his conscience must be a product of God Himself. The intellectual CONCEPT of the distinction between moral right and wrong is not simply floating around in space. It is content. It is information insight. And as a moral conceptual fact, it has to have ultimate source in MIND. Also, remember that man’s own awareness of and the need for, at some level, JUSTICE ITSELF implies that the source of conscience is God HIMSELF. God is the ultimately fair or just PERSONALITY in existence. He cannot be otherwise (cf. Rom. 3:25-26).

The atheist is simply wrong in his conception of what ultimate “justice” would have to be. He wants to claim that if God punished man in hell, God would be unjust in that He would be the committer of moral evil Himself. But unfortunately for the atheist, objective moral evil requires the prior existence of objective moral good, and the existence of objective moral good has to reside in a person, and that Person must be God. In other words, the atheist attempts to ascribe objective moral wrong to such a hell-providing God without realizing that the very existence of objective moral wrong would demand the existence of an ultimate moral being—God! Without good there can be no evil, and without ultimate eternal Good, there can be no proper criticism of anyone for anything at anytime for any alleged moral wrong. God will always remain beyond the scope of righteous criticism. And instead of constantly attempting to justify oneself to oneself because he thinks hell would be unfair, a man should seek to glorify the God who made him and who assures him that He loves him. Indeed the skeptic needs to realize that the goodness of God is intended to lead him to repentance and obedience to the gospel of Christ (cf. Rom. 2:4; Heb. 5:8-9). And that skeptic should also know that if he remains impenitent he is simply treasuring up wrath for himself “in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5).

Posted in Doctrine, Expository, New Testament

And So All Israel Shall Be Saved

The religious doctrine of “premillennialism” entails the notion that after the Lord comes back to the earth, the Jews as a nation will be converted by the gospel. They base this contention, at least in part, on a misunderstanding of Romans 11:26 where the expression “and so all Israel shall be saved” is found. To understand that expression in its context, one has to familiarize himself with the context. Otherwise, the expression becomes by misconstruction a conclusion that is not intended.

In the context, Paul is developing the idea that God has used both Jews and Gentiles historically in such a way as to make the gospel accessible to all men. The gospel first went to the Jews (Acts 2) in harmony with what the Lord had predicted in Acts 1:8. Jesus had told the woman at the well that salvation is from the Jews (John 4:22). The Jews were the first ones to enter the church, and so were the ones from whom the gospel later was provided to non-Jews. Paul affirms in Romans 11 that he hoped that by preaching to the Gentiles, that his Jewish kinfolk would be moved to jealousy and so come to understand the gospel. My father, Roy Deaver, points out in his good commentary, Romans—God’s Plan For Man’s Righteousness, that the jealousy to which the Jews were moved was a jealousy with regard to their own Jewish law. That is, the divine strategy was that when Paul preached to Gentiles, Jews would be so jealous of their law that they would be moved to investigate it further so as to disprove what Paul and others were preaching. If they had honest and good hearts, by their jealous search of their Scriptures, they could come to understand the gospel. In Beroea we later find some noble Jews willing to search the Scriptures to see if the gospel was in harmony with the Old Testament Scriptures (Acts 17:11). In Romans 11:11-15, Paul shows that the gospel reached the Gentiles by means of the falling of the Jews. We see this strategy demonstrated in Acts 13:46 at Antioch of Pisidia. Luke informs us that when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted what Paul preached (13:45). “And Paul and Barnabas said, It was necessary that the word of God should first be spoken to you. Seeing ye thrust it from you, and just yourselves unworthy of eternal life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” This is the very strategy that Paul is discussing in Romans 11. He is showing that by means of the rejection of the gospel on the part of some Jews, the gospel then went to the Gentiles. Gentiles are represented in Romans 11 as a wild olive tree (11:17), and the Jews are represented as a good olive tree (11:24). Paul says that Jewish branches were broken off and wild Gentile branches were grafted in. If natural branches (Jews) came to faith, then they could be grafted back into the good olive tree. No one had to be lost; all could be saved. But salvation came by faith. Unbelief was not a condition in which a person (either Jew or Gentile) had to remain (20-24). And God had so arranged history so as to make the gospel accessible to all Jews and all Gentiles so that all could be saved (11:32). It was a remarkable divine scheme which evoked the great doxology that Paul by the Spirit provides in Romans 11:33-36.

Back in verse 25 Paul said, “a hardening in part hath befallen Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” The rejection of the gospel by some Jews provided the historical circumstance in which the gospel then went to the Gentiles. Paul was even “an apostle of Gentiles,” and he hoped that by this Gentile ministry he could provoke Jews to jealousy that would motivate them to come to faith and be saved (11:13-14). The Jews could come back to the gospel if they would, and Paul so hoped. In fact, he desperately desired that they would (Romans 9:1-3; 10:1-3). But we also remember that he desired the salvation of all Gentiles as well as all Jews, while knowing that only some would be saved (1Corinthians 9:19-23). In Romans 11:25 Paul warns Gentile brethren against arrogance with regard to their salvation. They came into the church because of “the hardening in part” that befell Israel “until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” And then he said, “and so all Israel shall be saved.” Notice, in the text we find in verses 25-26 (1) Israel, and then (2) all Israel.

Now, as before stated, premillennialism affirms that verse 26 declares that the time is coming when all of the ethnic Jews will be converted by the gospel following the Lord’s return (which they also wrongly declare will be a return to the earth to live on it). No passage says Jesus will ever set foot on earth again. Not one! And Romans 11 does not teach the universal salvation of the Jews at some future time. But let us proceed.

In my father’s commentary on Romans, he makes the point that the Greek word for our English word “so” in Romans 11:26 is an adverb (p. 414). The passage means that in the same manner by which the Gentiles were saved, all Israel would be saved. The word “so” is not a conclusion reached regarding numbers, but rather a word showing that Jews and Gentiles had to enter the kingdom in the same way or manner if they entered at all.

Now, please think about the expression “and so all Israel shall be saved” in Romans 11:26 and compare it with the expression “so also in Christ shall all be made alive” in 1 Corinthians 15:22. Read both passages very carefully, and then consider the following argument:

Argument

  • If the expression “and so all Israel shall be saved” in Romans 11:26 means that all ethnic Jews would in the future at some point be saved, then the expression “so also in Christ shall all be made alive” in 1 Corinthians 15:22 means that all men would be saved.
  • But, it is false that the expression “so also in Christ shall all be made alive” in 1 Corinthians 15:22 means that all men would in the future be saved (Revelation 20:11-15; Matthew 7:13-14; Luke 13:23-24; 1 Corinthians 15:23).
  • Therefore, it is false that the expression “and so all Israel shall be saved” in Romans 11:26 means that all ethnic Jews would in the future at some point be saved.

Also, please consider that it is contextually possible that in Romans 11:26, when Paul uses the expression “all Israel,” he is not referring to ethnic Jews but rather to all the members of the church. Remember, back in Romans 2:14-15, Paul pointed out that Jews and Gentiles in days prior to the gospel system would be judged based on their laws. The Jews would be judged by the law of Moses, and the Gentiles would be judged by the moral law. And he pointed out that by means of the gospel, there was a new definition of an Israelite. A Jew, under the gospel, is not one by outward sign but by inward condition (Romans 2:28-29). And in Romans 9:6 he says, “they are not all Israel that are of Israel.” In other words, the church of the Lord constitutes spiritual Israel. Furthermore, in Galatians 6:16, Paul plainly identifies the church as “the Israel of God.”

So, it seems to me that it is possible in Romans 11:26 after referring to “Israel” in verse 25, Paul may well be referring to the church as a whole in verse 26. That is, all who come into the kingdom come in the same way, and this group constitutes “all Israel.” It would be similar (though not parallel) to what he had done earlier in chapter eight. In speaking of the suffering experienced in this world, Paul spoke of (1) the creation, and (2) the whole creation (8:19, 22). In context, “the creation” seems to refer to the church, and “the whole creation” would then refer to all of mankind. My father has an excellent discussion of this point in his commentary (pp. 280-283). Here in Romans 11:25-26 Paul refers to (1) “Israel” and then to (2) “all Israel.”

Let me make one further additional observation. If “all Israel” in Romans 11:26 implies the universal salvation of the Jews, then the “fulness of the Gentiles” would imply the universal salvation of the Gentiles. And if Romans 11:25-26 implies a time in which all the Gentiles and all the Jews will be saved, then we would ask, “Why didn’t that occur following the coming of the Lord the first time when the gospel was preached throughout the whole world? If there could be no guarantee of such a universal result following the Lord’s incarnation, his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension back to the Father’s right hand (John 1:14; 1 Corinthians 15:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; 2:33), his dispatching of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13; Acts 2:1-4, 33), the apostolic preaching throughout the whole world with the accompaniment of miracles (Mark 16:19-20; Colossians 1:23), then how could there be a guarantee of such a universal result in some alleged future time since God has always desired the salvation of all men (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4)?

Posted in Doctrine, Nature of Man

An Interview with Death

Interviewer: Death, I appreciate your taking the time to talk with me. I know that you suggested that I call you Thanatos since that is the name for you in the Greek New Testament. And I will do that, but I wanted my English readers to know to whom I am speaking.

Thanatos: Fine. Let us proceed. I haven’t much time to linger here. There is work to be done—people I need to meet.

Interviewer: All right. I have just a few questions, please. The first one is: What are the various forms you have taken in pursuit of living men?

Thanatos: Well, there are three forms. When I take the life of someone, I can do it in two ways this side of eternity. The first way is simply to take his physical life. The second way is to take his spiritual life. There is a third way that has to do with the final and everlasting form which the New Testament refers to as eternal punishment or everlasting separation from God (Matt. 25:46).

Interviewer: I see. So, when Adam died. He died in two ways.

Thanatos: That is correct. But that truth has to be understood. He died physically in that he began to deteriorate, which deterioration would eventuate in the separation of his spirit from his body, which would mean that I had gotten him (James 2:26). This began because Adam lost access to the tree of life.

Interviewer: So, the physical death that came was an eventual thing that potentially began the moment he lost access to the tree of life?

Thanatos: Yes.

Interviewer: And his spiritual death was immediate in that he lost fellowship with God?

Thanatos: Correct. The spiritual death was immediate; the physical came immediately in potential but eventuated into actual physical death when Adam was nine hundred and thirty years old (Gen. 5:5).

Interviewer: So, when we read about you in the New Testament, the form that is referenced has to be decided by the precise language used and the literary context in which your name is called?

Thanatos: Yes. At times physical death is being referenced; at other times spiritual death is being referenced, and a few times, even eternal death is being referenced. And at times, even distant facts must come into play for the reader to correctly interpret a passage that uses my name.

Interviewer: Let’s consider an example. Paul wrote, “Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through the sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Is that spiritual death or is that physical death?

Thanatos: Well, think about it. The death referred to passed to “all” men. Earlier Paul had written, “for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). All Jews and all Gentiles had all sinned. But physical death had not passed to “all” men. I would have taken Enoch, but before I could get to him, God had already removed him from the earth (Gen. 5:24). Spiritual death had come to him because he, like all others, had sinned. But he was the exception to the rule regarding physical death. Years later, Elijah became an exception, too. I was not allowed to take him (2 Kings 2:11). The death that Paul referred to in Romans 5:12 did come to all men who sinned and it came because they sinned. That kind of death included Enoch and Elijah. That was spiritual death or the loss of spiritual fellowship with God. Fortunately, Jesus died for all men including Enoch and Elijah (Heb. 2:9; 9:15). All others for whom Jesus died, died or will die physically (unless they are in the group that is alive at the Lord’s final coming [1 Thess. 4:13-18; Rev. 22:20]).

Interviewer: Let’s take one more passage. In Romans 6:23, Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Which death is here mentioned?

Thanatos: Well think about the contrast Paul made. Think of the opposite concepts he mentions that are antithetical to one another. In other words, think of the words before the word “but” and then think of the words after the word “but.” The nature of the first concept is countered by the nature of the second concept.

Interviewer: What do you mean exactly?

Thanatos: The verse ends with the words: “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is the opposite of what the wages of sin is! It is the remedy to the wages of sin which is death. What eternal life is counters what the death is that sin produces. So, since the gift is “eternal life” rather than spiritual life and rather than physical life, the death that constitutes the wages of sin is spiritual death rather than physical death.

Interviewer: Yes, that is clear. We must consider the context, the way the words are used, concepts employed, and all relevant facts that must not be contradicted. So, in Hebrews 9:27 when we read that death is an appointment for all men, we know it is physical death because the context (verses 23-28) is a discussion of the Lord’s own death (which was physical—not spiritual, and not eternal) as distinguished from all other authorized physical sacrifices for sin.

Thanatos: Indeed.

Interviewer: My second question is: How many people have you already claimed?

Thanatos: Do you mean by claiming them physically or spiritually?

Interviewer: I mean physically.

Thanatos: I have up to the current living generation, taken everyone with the exception of Enoch and Elijah. Since God performs no miracles today, there are no “Enochs” or “Elijahs” that get to pass to the next domain without my claiming them. I have always been the “general rule,” but God excused two men from my clutches. What men they were! However, now, no one escapes. It is, as the Hebrews writer referred to it, an appointment (Heb. 9:27). Jesus himself met that appointment. His was a special death for a special reason, but the death that he died was still his meeting that appointment. That is the writer’s very point in the passage. In other words, as other men had kept the appointment and as all men will continue to meet the appointment, so Jesus himself was appointed to meet me as well.

Interviewer: I sometimes like to say that we live by permission, and we die by appointment (James 4:15; Heb. 9:27).

Thanatos: That is a fair way to describe mankind’s condition regarding life and death.

Interviewer: Who was the first to die physically?

Thanatos: Well, as you read in Scripture, Adam and Eve were the first who began to die physically when they lost access to the tree of life. So, we can say that Adam and Eve were the first to die physically in a potential sense. As far as the first to die in an actual sense, that was Abel. The first historical physical death was the one Abel experienced. I reached out for him early in the history of man. And it is interesting in that the first actual, historical physical death that I initiated was a violent one in which a man shed his own brother’s blood (Gen. 4:1-8). That certainly was a foretaste of things in the sad and sinful history of mankind to come. Abel’s blood cried to God for vengeance; fortunately for you, the Lord’s own blood cried out for mercy (Gen. 4:10; Heb. 12:24).

Interviewer: Thanatos, how many ways or means have you used to get people within your grasp in order to end their physical lives on this earth?

Thanatos: Well, I have never counted them, but I will be glad to identify some of them. They are so common place, you will recognize each one that I describe. There are various ways to get to a person. And, of course, all that I do, I do by allowance (James 4:15). I have been stopped many, many times from accomplishing what I was about to do. Various things may prevent my grasping a person including the prayers of righteous men (James 5:16; 1 John 5:13-15). However, unless God intervenes, I have access to many methods of establishing my claim regarding physical death.

For example, as a broad category, I have taken, as with Abel, many a person through some expression of violence. Many men are so sinful that they engage in violent behavior one toward the other. The “golden rule” (Matt. 7:12) is not only flagrantly disobeyed; it is often held in absolute contempt. Many men murder other men. Not everyone dies who is assaulted, but I do claim a lot of people who are violently attacked. And in war time, I am especially busy. Regardless of the cause, I claim many a life as nation rises up against nation. It is a good harvest for me.

Other methods that I have used with men include sickness. People get sick for various reasons, and at times I am allowed to come in and take some of those people. People become diseased, and I may be allowed to move in and remove that person. A few people are overcome by animal predators (such as lions, bears, snakes, etc.). These deaths are not as common, and when they occur, the report may become a headline in a newspaper given the horror or the drama involved in the incident. Natural catastrophes take some (tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.). And all kinds of accidents account for the passing of many. And you might be surprised how many times I am solicited to come to the scene of homicides that have continued since the days of Cain and Abel. Many a man still marches “in the way of Cain” (Jude 11).

Interviewer: Why do we men fear you?

Thanatos: There are, I suppose, various reasons why a person on earth would fear me. No man living has yet to meet me personally. So, I am feared because though men know of me and know others who have met me, no one who has met me has revealed to the yet living what I am like. The living may have been close to others whom he watched as I took hold of them, but the yet living have never met me themselves. So, I am a mysterious stranger to them. Too, men may fear some pain or imagined pain or duress that they think is essentially connected with me as I come for someone. Also, the living fear me because of the pain my coming will cause to those loved ones left behind. No one wants his loved ones to have to grieve, but they must, and they will. Leaving entails loss for those who stay. No one enjoys grieving for those I have taken; no one facing me himself enjoys the prospect of grief for those loved ones that he will soon leave behind.

Interviewer: Should the living fear you?

Thanatos: That depends.

Interviewer: What do you mean?

Thanatos: Well, if you believe God and you are prepared to face judgment, there is no need for fear. In fact, death is a release to the righteous so that they are unburdened. Ever since sin entered this world and me through sin, this world has been a rough environment in which all men must live. If a man takes God at his word, obeys His will, and trusts His promises, he should in his maturity welcome me as the one who will make possible for him a much better situation.

Interviewer: I remember that Paul expressed the thought of a place very far better than this vale of tears (Phil. 2:23).

Thanatos: Indeed. But that place is only for believers—those who take God at His word and walk in His way (Rom. 10:17; Heb. 5:8-9). For them, I am a blessing. I provide a release; I become a relief. When I come for the prepared, they can gladly welcome my approach and look forward to blessedness about which they have read but regarding which they have never felt until they meet me. That is why the Scriptures tell you people that God views the death of the righteous as “precious” (Psalm 116:15). God wants His people to look at me that way, too, in regard to them.

Interviewer: But what about all the others? What about the unprepared?

Thanatos: That is another matter altogether. For the unprepared, I bring more heartache. I lead them to a metaphysical or spiritual domain but one in which their continued spiritual separation from God continues, and it will continue forever. I am an enemy to those people—all of them (1 Cor. 15:26). I bring them no joy but only that which is to be most dreaded. And the only way to escape this eternal prospect is to accept the salvation offered by God through Christ who was raised from the death in order to bring life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:10). Jesus overcame ME in order that YOU humans can have spiritual life on earth and eternal life in glory. He “abolished” death not in the sense that men no longer die physically, but that though they die, given their spiritual life on earth, they may beyond earth and death live again!

Interviewer: Amen and Amen!!

Posted in Christianity and Culture, Doctrine, Ethics, Marriage

Adultery, Forgiveness, and Definition

When I was a very young gospel preacher and while teaching in a preacher training school, I would on Sunday’s drive to my regular preaching appointment in a small farming community. One day one of the members of the congregation explained to me that people in the world were not amenable to God’s New Testament teaching on marriage and divorce because they haven’t heard the gospel. I think that was my first experience with a brother in Christ advocating such nonsense about marriage and divorce, but I have remembered that experience to this day.

Over the years many faithful gospel preachers have written books, preached sermons, wrote articles, and even engaged in public debate on what the Bible teaches on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Of course one of the major controversial aspects of the subject was the matter of the application of the law of Christ on marriage. I have been in three debates myself on the application of New Testament teaching on the topic. And my father engaged in a great written debate that went on with his opponent for about five years.

And after all these years, one might still on occasion hear of someone’s still trying to uphold the view that people in the world are not amenable to Christ’s teaching on marriage and divorce, or one might hear that while it is admitted that they are amenable to the law of Christ, it is still the case that they surely do not have to give up adulterous spouses in order to become Christians. Now, there is already much, much audio, video, and written material available to settle the issue for an honest and good heart, but in this brief article, I simply want to make a few basic points, anyway, hopefully to help further clarify the matter.

Let’s begin with a few questions:

  1. Can a man in the world commit fornication (have sex with someone who is not his wife)?
  2. Can a man in the world commit adultery (have sex with someone who is someone else’s wife)?
  3. If a man in the world can commit either fornication or adultery or both, what law is he violating in committing the sin? In other words, what law makes the act itself sinful?
  4. What law is it that defines for a man in the world who a wife is and what fornication is and what adultery is?
  5. To what law was the next generation obligated following the time when the gospel was preached throughout the whole world in the first century?

If someone says that the law that makes fornication or adultery sinful is the “moral law,” then we would respond that that was the law for the Gentile prior to the time when the gospel completely reached the Gentile community about 63 A.D. (Col. 1:23; Rom. 2:14-15). If someone suggests that it was the law of Moses, then we would respond that in the first place, that was for Jews only, and in the second place, that law was nailed to the cross when Jesus died (Col. 2:14). Furthermore, what is the law that defines for the man in the world what a “wife” is and what a “fornicator” is and what an “adulterer” is? Fornication and adultery are connected to the very definition of what marriage is. So, again, to the man in the world (allegedly not under obligation to the gospel), what law provides definition to him of what the concepts of marriage, wife, husband, fornication, and adultery precisely entail?

If someone says that even though the gospel was preached to the whole world (including what the Lord taught on marriage and divorce), that the second generation reverted to the earlier responsibility to moral law only (for Gentiles) and to the law of Moses (for the Jews), we would respond, that such is not so. The Jew could not revert to an earlier responsibility because his law had been divinely removed. And the Gentile could not revert to an earlier responsibility because moral law had now been completely inculcated within the New Testament law of Christ. Universal obligation to the gospel was once fixed; and when finalized, amenability to it remained perpetually constant. If the Jew could not revert to Jewish law only, the Gentile could not revert to moral law only either.

Some admit the foregoing but then suggest that even though this is all true, and even though it is the gospel itself that now defines for all men what fornication is and what adultery is, still when alien sinners today become Christians, they do NOT have to put away their adulterous wives per Matthew 19:9 because their adultery which is against the law of Christ is forgiven by the law of Christ, so that the adultery is no more adultery. In other words, we still have people among us who contend for the view that if an alien sinner living in adultery wants to become a Christian, then he can do so while retaining his adulterous partner on the grounds that following baptism, his adultery ceases to be adultery.

Now, I raise the question in all kindness, how does that exactly work? How can adultery cease being adultery? How can adultery at one moment not be adultery the next moment? Now, at this juncture someone may victoriously shout, why, it is “forgiveness” that changes adultery into non-adultery! Oh really? Let us carefully delve into that.

First, we have no New Testament instance of such a thing with regard to any act whatever. Stealing remains stealing, drinking alcohol remains drunkenness, lying remains lying, coveting remains coveting, and blasphemy remains blasphemy after a person’s baptism. These acts by definition all remain the same following baptism as before baptism. Read Acts 5:3-4 for a case in point! Baptism is not a form of magic. Definitions still hold. Wife abuse before baptism remains wife abuse after baptism. The deed is the same. It is not modified by one’s attempt to enter the church via baptism.

Second, since the definition of all acts remains in place following one’s baptism, in order for a person to be “forgiven” of a sinful act or relationship in baptism, he must repent of that act or of that relationship before his baptism. Godly sorrow produces repentance (2 Cor. 7:10). A man can no more be scripturally baptized while remaining in an impenitent state than he can be scripturally baptized while remaining in an unbelieving state. A man must come to faith and repent before his baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38, 3:19).

Third, one cannot be repenting of a sin while desiring to retain the fruit or product of it. If a man steals his neighbor’s cow and later allegedly becomes a Christian, can he rightly claim the cow as his own now on the basis that he was a non-Christian when he stole the cow, but that now his “new” condition renders his relationship to the cow legitimate. The sad fact is that the man doesn’t have a new condition.

Even if he never commits a momentary act of theft anymore, the fact that he wants to keep stolen goods indicates that he has not repented regarding thievery. Regarding his thievery, he remains in the same condition following his baptism as he was before it. If a man “repents” of thievery and keeps the “goods” that he stole, who in his right mind would believe for a moment that if the man now claims to have a right to the goods on the basis of “forgiveness,” that the man genuinely repented? No one! If definition remains the same of what a deed is, and if forgiveness is divinely granted for the commission of the deed, it is because the man’s relationship to the deed has changed! But if an adulterer desires to keep his adulterous wife following his baptism, his relationship to her has not changed! He did not repent of his adultery any more than our thief repented of his stealing his neighbor’s cow.

Just here let me make a few points about David. Some reader may be thinking: Well, after all, David committed adultery with Bathsheba and got to keep her. Yes, but notice these relevant points:

  1. Neither David nor Bathsheba lived under the law of Christ.
  2. The law under which they did live entailed a very generous divorce law (Deut. 24).
  3. David committed several other sins in connection with his affair with Bathsheba, all of which were actual sins, including the sin of murdering her husband!
  4. Why God allowed David to live and allowed Uriah to die is God’s business.
  5. David could not return Bathsheba to her husband since he no longer lived.
  6. God required the life of the child produced rather than to take the life of either David or Bathsheba and that, too, is God’s business.
  7. David did not “keep” Bathsheba following his adultery with her and following the murder of her husband. David became her husband after the death of her husband.

Fourth, some claim, however, that adulterous marriage is not like stealing and so should not be compared to it. We ask, why not? How is it that Bible principles that apply to lying, stealing, coveting, etc., apply to all of these things but do not apply to adulterous marriages? Who made up that rule? Where can we locate it in Scripture? It is a human fabrication.

Fifth, if someone says that an alien sinner living in an adulterous marriage should not be told to separate from his wife prior to his baptism on the grounds that Jesus said that man should not put asunder what God has joined together (Matt. 19:6), the proper response would be that this man living in an adulterous relationship was not by God joined to anyone! God never joined two people together in adultery in the history of God or man! God only joins two people together in scriptural wedlock according to his law on marriage, just as he only forgives men according to his law of forgiveness. Adulterous marriage may be legal, but that does not make it scriptural!

Sixth, going back to the matter of definition, when an alien sinner actually repents of stealing prior to his scriptural baptism, since it is not the definition of stealing that changes (and it is not), then it has to be that his relationship to the act changes. He no longer steals! And when a man living in an adulterous marriage is scripturally baptized, it cannot be because the definition of adultery changes, but rather it is because his relationship to the act changes. He no longer commits adultery! But if he remains with his current adulterous wife, he keeps on committing adultery (Matt.19:9).

Dear reader, our wicked culture has had a tremendous influence on the church of our day here in America. The morals of the world have degenerated to such an alarming degree that it now makes some Christians uncomfortable, and some perhaps even unwilling to stand up for plain New Testament teaching with regard to marriage, divorce, and remarriage. May God help us do better and hold our ground.

Posted in Doctrine, Holy Spirit, Inspiration

John 14-16, The Holy Spirit, And The Writing Of Scripture

How many times have we heard it said that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles only (excepting Cornelius and his household and near friends—Acts 10), to enable them to write scripture? How many Christians still hold to this unfounded idea?

Not long before his death, Jesus met with his apostles in an upper room to observe the Jewish Passover feast (Mark 14:12-16). He observed the Passover, instituted the Lord’s Supper, predicted his betrayal, and spoke of various matters (Matt. 26:17-29; Luke 22:7-38; John 13-17). The passage from John provides some extraordinary information regarding the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Many times in the past, some gospel preachers have tried to distance us Christians from what the Lord promised regarding the Holy Spirit in John 14-16 by making the statement, “The Lord was talking only to the apostles,” thus attempting to suggest that whatever the passage said about the Holy Spirit was intended for the apostles only. And if intended for the apostles only, then the Lord’s statements were not intended for any other Christian in days to come.

Let me kindly suggest just here, that whatever the merit of the claim regarding the fact that the Lord was talking to the apostles only, the suggestion that therefore what was said could not apply to anyone else is going to have to be supported by something other than the fact that the statement or statements were made only to the apostles. Surely, no one in his right mind would be willing to affirm that everything the Lord said to the apostles only was intended (in application) for the apostles only!

For example, in John 14:6, to the apostles only Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Obviously the “no one” who could not come to the Father but by Jesus applied to the apostles, but not to the apostles only, because it included all other men as well. So, even in the context, we know that to say that something was said TO an apostle ONLY does not entail the idea that it could not then apply to anyone else also.

Now if somehow at this point asks me, “Are you saying that everything in John 14-16 that was said to the apostles only applies equally in the same way and in the same sense to EVERYONE else?” I would answer, “No.” But that leaves “some things” in the passage that do apply both to apostles and to non-apostles as well, including the promise of the Holy Spirit whom the world cannot receive (John 14:17; 3:3-5; Acts 2:1-4, 38; 1 Cor. 12:13).

Now, I do not want to take up an analysis of the complete context of John 14-16 in an effort to see everything that applies in the same way and in the same sense to both apostles and to non-apostles. However, I do want to explore what restricting all of the passages on the Holy Spirit to “the apostles only” means with regard to the doctrine of inspiration and the writing of New Testament Scripture.

In John 13:30, Judas, one of the original twelve apostles, left the upper room before Jesus spoke about the coming of the Holy Spirit. The words of Jesus in John 14-16 were not spoken to Judas, so our first relevant point is that not even all of the original apostles were the recipients of the Lord’s words in chapters 14-16 of John regarding the Holy Spirit. The second point is that of the eleven apostles left, not all of them wrote Scripture, even though all of them did preach (Mark 16:14-20). Matthias later replaced Judas (Acts 1:15-26), but we have no Scripture from Matthias. Of the original group of twelve apostles (Matthew 10:2-4), the only ones who wrote Scripture were Matthew, John, and Peter. Of course, later Saul of Tarsus would be converted, and he became an apostle born out of due season (Acts 9:1-18; 22:16; 1 Cor. 15:8-9). But he was not present when the Lord spoke in John 14-16. So, thus far we have the following:

  1. Eleven apostles heard Jesus in John 14-16 (these were the apostles to whom he spoke);
  2. One apostle (Judas) was not present so the Lord did not speak directly to him;
  3. One apostle replaced Judas later (Matthias), so that he was not present either in John 14-16;
  4. One apostle (Paul) became such later, so that the Lord did not speak directly to him either in John 14-16.

So, of the twelve original apostles, one (Judas) was missing in John 14-16. The replacement (Matthias) was not present either because he had not been selected yet, and Saul who became Paul the apostle was not present either. So, of the apostles present on Pentecost of Acts 2 when the church began, there were only eleven of them who had been present in the upper room in John 14-16. And Paul was not yet a Christian and certainly not an apostle yet. Did all twelve of the apostles in Acts 2 speak by virtue of their having the Holy Spirit within? Of course (Acts 1:26-2:4)! But one of them never heard Jesus in the upper room promise him the Holy Spirit. Since he did receive the Holy Spirit, it was NOT because the Lord had spoken to him in John 14-16.

What is our point? Our first point is that what Jesus said TO the apostles ONLY in John 14-16 about the coming of the Holy Spirit was not said EVEN TO ALL OF THE APOSTLES! The second point is that since others became apostles later and did receive the Holy Spirit, their absence from the upper room in John 14-16 DID NOT EXCLUDE them from the application of the Lord’s remarks with regard to the coming of the Holy Spirit even though the Lord did not address them directly in the upper room. If Matthias and Paul both received the Holy Spirit, it was not because the Lord spoke to them as a part of the APOSTLES ONLY group in John 14-16 because they were not apostles at the time. If the Lord’s words applied to them, it was not because the Lord had spoken directly to them in John 14-16 about the coming Spirit. Now, as noted, we have no inspired writings from most of the apostles including Matthias. We do have inspired writings from the apostle Paul.

But now, consider: if most of the apostles did not write Scripture (and they did not, though they preached by inspiration), and if Matthew, John, Peter, and Paul (as apostles) did not write the totality of Scripture, then who were the writers of the rest of the New Testament?

Well, Scripture claims that non-apostle prophets did that. Notice these passages:

“And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers…” (1 Cor. 12:28-29).

“So then ye are no more strangers and sojourners, but ye are fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone;” (Eph. 2:19-20).

“And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;” (Eph. 4:11).

All apostles were prophets, prophets being those through whom God spoke by his Holy Spirit. The word “prophet” refers to someone who speaks for someone else. Prophets of God spoke for God. Prophets received revelation and spoke or wrote by inspiration (cf. 1 Cor. 2:12-13). In Paul’s list in 1 Corinthians 12 and in Ephesians 4, prophets are second only to apostles. And this group included those non-apostle men whom God selected to write the rest of the New Testament. These were John Mark, Luke, James, and Jude. The apostle writers were Matthew, John, Peter, and Paul.

Now consider that about half of the New Testament writers, then, were non-apostles! That means that if they were in fact inspired to write Scripture, their receiving the Holy Spirit in order to write Scripture was not because the Lord was speaking to APOSTLES ONLY in John 14-16! They were NEVER apostles, and yet the same preachers who try to disconnect brethren today from the Holy Spirit on the basis that the Lord was talking to apostles only in John 14-16, evidently forget about this group of inspired writers to whom the Lord in John 14-16 was not speaking at all! And yet our restrictive preachers allow them “in” to receive the Holy Spirit so as to write Scripture (though they claim that these prophets did not receive the “baptism” of the Holy Spirit), but they keep us Christians today “out” of the application of any of the Lord’s remarks regarding the coming Spirit in John 14-16. What a hermeneutical mess!

Furthermore, when preachers today claim that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was for the purpose of enabling the apostles to write Scripture (as this precise point has been made by some of our preachers for years and years), it seems as though they forget the second class of writers (the prophets) altogether! Why? Because our preacher friends do not concede that the prophets were ever baptized in the Holy Spirit! Well if the prophets wrote Scripture without the baptism of the Spirit and the apostles received the baptism of the Spirit, certainly it wasn’t the “baptism” of the Holy Spirit that enabled them to write Scripture any more than the “baptism” of the Holy Spirit enabled Old Testament writers to write Scripture either. No one today in our brotherhood claims that David or Moses received the baptism of the Holy Spirit in order to write Scripture! What an absolute confusion some of our preachers experience with regard to the Holy Spirit. But a focused consideration of the above material ought to provide some clarity on the matter. While having the Holy Spirit was necessary to a person’s speaking or writing by inspiration (1 Cor. 2:12-13; 1 Pet. 1:10-11; 2 Pet. 1:20-21), the “baptism” of the Spirit had nothing to do with either inspired speaking or inspired writing.

Please note that our opponents on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit go to John 14-16 and claim:

  1. In speaking of the Spirit, Jesus is talking about the baptism of the Spirit even though the word “baptism” in the context cannot be found;
  2. They claim that this “baptism” of the Spirit was promised to the apostles ONLY thus eliminating about half of the New Testament since about half was written by non-apostle prophets who according to our opponents never received the baptism of the Spirit but received the so-called “laying-on-of hands” measure of the Spirit.

Now, if it is true that Jesus is in John 14-16 speaking of Holy Spirit baptism (and our opponents claim that he is), and if it does apply to some non-apostles (New Testament prophets), and if non-apostle prophets wrote Scripture without receiving Holy Spirit baptism, then the apostles clearly did not write Scripture because they had received Holy Spirit baptism but rather because from the Holy Spirit they had received the gift of prophecy (1 Cor. 12:10-11). This shows that Holy Spirit baptism has nothing at all to do with the writing of Scripture! The gift of “prophecy” is what enabled men to write Scripture. This came FROM the Holy Spirit but was NOT the Holy Spirit any more than “the gifts of healings” constituted the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:4-11).

Furthermore, if Holy Spirit baptism has nothing to do with the writing of Scripture (and it does not), and if prophets and apostles wrote Scripture by means of the gift of prophecy (and they did), then if the non-apostle prophets who wrote the rest of the New Testament were “guided into all the truth” as well as the apostles in order to write Scripture (and they were—John 16:13), then there is no way for our opponents to restrict the application of the Lord’s remarks in John 14-16 on the Holy Spirit to apostles ONLY!

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

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

[Note: This piece appeared 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).