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Introduction to Personal Bible Study - Videos (2007)

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Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Examining the Regulative Principle

The "regulative principle" [RP] is most often heard in regard to worship in the "church." So, we will be focusing much on that application. However, there is a larger definition at work, but we will start with the idea of the "regulative principle of worship" to give us some context.

the regulative principle states that “the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself and so limited by his own revealed will” (WCF [Westminster Confession of Faith] 21.1). In other words, corporate worship should be comprised of those elements we can show to be appropriate from the Bible. The regulative principles says, “Let’s worship God as he wants to be worshiped.”

-The Gospel Coalition ("a fellowship of evangelical churches in the Reformed tradition")

I'd first like to note (as an aside, but I think relevant) is the reliance on the Westminster Confession of Faith. Reformed theologians reference it almost as though it were scripture; as though you can't question it. I'm sure they would bristle at that statement, but ask any of them if they feel free to depart from its wording. 

The opposite of the "regulative principle" of worship is the "normative principle" [NP] of worship. That is, whatever is not expressly prohibited in scripture is permitted. This principle is practiced by just about every believer on a variety of subjects. Many Reformed believers, in my experience, have never heard the phrase. It's very seminary. Note what Kevin DeYoung at TGC says about it:

Even though I grew up in a Reformed church, until seminary I was one of the multitude of Christians who had never heard of the regulative principle.

So, in regard to worship, they believe that only worship specifically outlined in scripture is acceptable. This obviously exonerates the very biblical pipe organs, choir robes, neckties, and 18th and 19th century hymns. Yes, I'm kidding, but you see the point (small as it may be). None of these are "limited by his own revealed will." Along these lines, how do we determine "hymns are good" and "contemporary is bad" apart from how we differentiate is anything is good or bad? That depends on how we interpret "limited by his own revealed will." In my world, that would mean "doctrinally."

Pipe organs, choir robes, neck ties, etc. are neither doctrinal nor biblical. Yet we have no compliant as they are neutral. They are neither expressly commanded nor forbidden. We can, and should, apply this to all things used in our worship. Doctrines should be judged, and that which is not clearly unbliblical should be treated as liberty. You don't have to like it, but that's another matter.

While worship is an area about which much of the RP is aimed and applied, the general idea of RP is broader.

A broader sense of the term "regulative principle" is occasionally cited on matters other than worship, for example, to constrain designs of church government to scriptural elements. [Wikipedia]
It’s not been at the core of my identity. But over the years I’ve come to appreciate the regulative principle more and more. [Kevin DeYoung]

We want to be clear that RP is not exactly Sola Scriptura (which we wholeheartedly support). Sola Scripture (the Scriptures alone) is the doctrine that the scriptures are the only infallible source of truth. RP teaches that things such as worship must reflect perfectly what is in scripture. It may not be a clear distinction, but there is a chasm between the two.

Let's turn back to Kevin DeYoung and TGC.

“What do we know they did in their Christian worship services in the Bible? We know they sang the Bible. We know that preached the Bible. We know they prayed the Bible. We know they read the Bible. We know they saw the Bible in the sacraments. We don’t see dramas or pet blessings or liturgical dance numbers. So why wouldn’t we want to focus on everything we know they did in their services? Why try to improve on the elements we know were pleasing to God and practiced in the early church?”

There are legitimate concerns here. But let's dig a little deeper. Am I opposed to "pet blessings" because it's not in the Bible or because it's biblically stupid? The greater question is "what is the blessing supposed to be for?" "How are the animals to be 'blessed'?" Let me take that back, I'm not really "opposed" to pet blessings, I just don't get it. It doesn't hurt anything, but I do think it's worth a discussion.

So, the core of my argument is that it serves no purpose and is connected to nothing in scripture. "Blessing" is a wide term. In liturgical settings, it often requires a "clergy." Is the idea of the "clergy" "his own revealed will?" Well, Israel had a priesthood. It's in the Bible. It's in the Old Testament like the Psalms. But is it for our day? 

I am not opposed to a "teacher" or a "pastor," but such things have no resemblance to the priests of the Temple. So, even if we limit ourselves to "his own revealed will," we still must "rightly divide the Word of Truth."

"Liturgical dance numbers" is a little different. I don't care for them much either. But the reason for that is that I don't care much for "liturgy" as it's commonly practiced. I'm not against "public worship," but "liturgy" lends itself a to "clergy/laity" distinction and leans towards ritualism. But I would fall short of calling any of it "Satanic." They may not like the use of "Satanic," but what else are we to say if what the (assumed) adherents to RP reason is true? Pushed, I believe they'd happily adopt the adjective.  

This last point is really the distinction between RP and NP understanding. If something isn't expressly practiced in scripture, is its practice therefore necessarily "anti-God?" The NP position is that it stands on its own. 

We can examine the elements of anything against Sola Scriptura (not against the Westminster Confession of Faith, FTR). Do the words of a hymn or a worship song exalt scriptural truth without necessarily being exactly expressed the same way in scripture? The NP position leans (or should lean) on Sola Scripture and not on RP. 

The RP view, theoretically, should dismiss all hymns with either words or music or instruments or structure not expressly stated in scripture. If that were applied uniformly, we'd have to mark the hymns as Satanic. The immediate objection to my conclusion is that RP would endorse hymns if they reflected direct biblical truth. We are now back to doctrine. We are now back to scripture. 

This is how ALL music should be discerned. Too often we have this general concept:

  • Hymns Good
  • Contemporary Bad

Again, there would objections to the simplicity of this dichotomy, but that is almost universally how I have experienced the argument. Yes, that's subjective, but essentially true in my over 30 years discussing the topic of Christian music.

It's simply lazy. Many hymns are lightweight or simply heretical. Not every contemporary song is Satanic. Pianos and acoustic guitars are no more biblically sound than keyboards or electric guitars.  

Applying these different arguments to scripture, was Paul "Satanic" when he quoted pagan poets to the Greeks in Acts 17 to make his point about the true God? Note that Paul does not refer directly to scripture in that passage.

God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: for in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.

-Acts 17:24-29

Paul not only quotes the pagan poets in Acts 17, he uses their quote to make his point about the true God. He is not claiming their poets to be inspired of God. I agree that scripture should be part of all we express, but just as Paul has done here, we can appeal to different things in our quest to relate scripture (as long as the thing does not expressly oppose scripture). If a local assembly puts on a drama which speaks biblical truth, how is that forbidden?

Surely, we must get to scripture and to truth, but how can we conclude that hymns always do this and all contemporary music does not. Again, this is just lazy.

If I did an "interpretive dance" of the Book of John and quoted the many invitations to Christ in its pages, what difference does it make? Again, we see unfair examples used to make their point. Sure, an interpretive dance with no message adds up to nothing, but that's cherry-picking. What if a world class dancer offered a dance along with a reading of the Book of Ephesians? Not my kind of thing, but how is that "forbidden" or "Satanic?"   

The great error of the "regulative principle" (like its Romanist predecessor "ius divinum"), the "acceptable way of worshiping the true God," is the failure to "rightly divide the Word of Truth." As with all systems which do this, it tends to pick and choose what it believes is "biblical," "commanded," or "prohibited" and it chooses individuals in "authority" as arbiters of what is truly biblical. 

Look again at part of Kevin DeYoung's call for "true" worship, "We know they saw the Bible in the sacraments." But when we rightly divide the Word of Truth, we realize the sacraments are not for this current age. We also note that the Reformed feel free to refer to Old Testament practices and texts (such as the hymns) when convenient, but solely to Acts Age when convenient. By doing so, they unwittingly acknowledge that just because something is "in the Bible" does not make it for all people of all ages.

The following is part of DeYoung's argument under his point "Freedom of Conscience."

Reformed Christians said in effect, “We don’t want to ask our church members to do anything that would violate their consciences.” Maybe bowing here or a kiss there could be justified by some in their hearts, but what about those who found it idolatrous? Should they be asked to do something as an act of worship that Scripture never commands and their consciences won’t allow? This doesn’t mean Christians will like every song or appreciate every musical choice. But at least with the regulative principle we can come to worship knowing that nothing will be asked of us except that which can be shown to be true according to the Word of God.

As an ex-Catholic, I am in agreement, in part. That is, anything that is not expressly biblical should be optional. But being optional is not the same as being forbidden. 

I attended a service at Tenth Presbyterian Church while I was working in Philadelphia. James Montgomery Boice in the pulpit. Can't get much more Reformed than that! But the service was replete with Catholic leftovers. The processional, the robes, the reciting of "The Lord's Prayer" (not for today), and even statues. And they practice such things as infant baptism. They infer this scripture 

We must also take a quick look at what is called "The Lord's Supper." In the Catholic faith, it is salvific. The host is the actual, physical body of Christ. They teach that non-Catholics who partake are eating damnation unto themselves (attend a RC wedding or funeral mass and they'll ask non-Catholics to abstain). Of course such a doctrine is to be rejected. But I reject ALL uses of the The Lord's Supper today as it is part of the covenant with Israel. We've covered that elsewhere, but suffice it to say, just because something is "scriptural" does not necessarily mean it is "applicable" in this age.

The same Reformed teacher who limits himself to the Psalms (for instance) will not bind himself by all of the Book of Leviticus. They pick and choose what is in the gospel accounts and what is in the Book of Acts. So, this pretense to the idea of "bound to scripture" is really just being bound to (ironically) "The Westminster Confession of Faith." Sola Scriptura becomes the oxymoron Sola WCF and Catechisms which they give us to tell us what is Biblical. The doctrine of Sola Scriptura itself recognizes different ages and dispensations. It is our duty to study to discern these differences not to simply bow will and intellect to a system, a catechism, a board, etc.

Let us recall what The Gospel Coalition argues, “Let’s worship God as he wants to be worshiped.” That sounds good, but it fails to recognize God's dispensations. To worship God is to do his will. For Noah, that was building an ark. For Abraham, that was taking Isaac to Mount Moriah. For Moses, that was crossing the Red Sea. For the Hebrew priesthood, that was wearing certain items of clothing and sacrificing certain animals on certain days.  

We don't look to these for our practice in this age. The Reformed teacher picks and chooses what practices from the Bible he likes. He takes the hymns for Israel and gladly applies them to himself. I would suggest that applying scripture incorrectly is worse than practicing things not expressly forbidden in scripture.

If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his home town. And they shall say to the elders of his city, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear of it and fear.

-Deuteronomy 21:18-21

Do we do this with a rebellious child in this current age? If not, why not? Easy question for me to answer, we're not Israel, we're not coming into an inheritance, we don't have city elders. etc. There may be a principle here about discipline, but who is applying the specifics in his Reformed church today?

The Reformed tradition has many unbiblical practices based on a failure to rightly divide the Word of Truth. They fail to compare things that differ. And that is the irony here. A smarmy take on contemporary music as they hide behind some perceived notion that hymns are somehow what God has ordained all the while adopting a form of leftover Catholicism and an allegiance to catechism, confessions, church history, church fathers, and creeds.

I realize that this particular post is subjective and anecdotal, but it is a response to very a generic rejection of rejection (and condemnation) of all modern worship in way that I would argue is not only self-serving, but blinding.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

A Fresh Look at Suicide

But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper-tree: and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, It is enough; now, O Jehovah, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.

-1 Kings 19:4

Therefore I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind.

-Ecclesiastes 2:17

The two men we are dealing with in these verse are two of the greatest men who have ever lived: Elijah and Solomon. Yet these men, at some point, find life to be not worth living. The first a prophet of the Living God and the second a king blessed and adorned by God as no other (Matt 6:29). We can find room in our hearts for Elijah's predicament and we can readily understand his desire to live no longer, but Solomon is another story.

Solomon had riches untold. In today's economy of value, he had sexual satisfaction at his disposal as well (700 wives and princesses plus 300 concubines).  Sexual satisfaction is something sought after by many in our world. Yet we find this man, who had his fill, writing one of the most despair-filled books (Ecclesiastes), not only in scripture, but in all of ancient literature. It is hard for many of us who struggle day to day with bills, emergencies, hunger, and loneliness to find pity for someone like Solomon. We cannot imagine how he could find life so vain in light of his circumstances.

This is a reasonable thought. I admit I envy those who do not worry about expenses. I envy those who don't live in fear that the car won't start or that the roof might spring a leak or that they might need a new prescription. These seemingly small issues can throw a balanced budget into turmoil. How can those who have no fear of the ordinary be in any darkness of mind? But my envy is my sin. I have no right to pretend to translate my envy into another's sin.

Likewise, anyone who has suffered a broken heart cannot fathom the love of a thousand at one's beck and call. Even more to the point, we feel the pain of a single spouse who discovers the unfaithfulness of one to whom he/she has pledged his/her heart. This is devastating. We understand the despair. We sympathize. We reach out in love. How could one so awash in physical satisfaction be depressed? One who had 700 spouses? How could one who had guards standing by making sure his wives were faithful find himself in despair?

One of the insights gleaned from Solomon's other inspired book, The Song of Solomon, which we should not miss, is how one woman in particular stole the heart of the King. He had a thousand women available to him, yet he longed to be held in the bosom of only one. Of all he could have, one stole his heart.

Like a lily among thorns,
So is my love among the daughters.

Solomon is fortunate in that his beloved returned his love. We have great sympathy for the one whose love is rejected, especially the one who is rejected after giving many years of self to another. How tragic it is to see a family broken by infidelity or selfishness. How we hate to witness the denying or breaking of vows. Yet it happens. And we acknowledge it can happen to anyone. We are fallen creatures, weak and carnal. Even the believer carries his old nature about with him. Even one who loves his/her spouse dearly is subject to falling to the flesh. 

Imagine the soldier, far from home in a war zone. This one may seek comfort in a moment of weakness. He may become overcome with guilt and his wife back home may be crushed by his infidelity. Despair may abound! 

There are countless scenarios whereby we can certainly understand despairing of life, even for those we deem "lucky" or "winners of life's lottery." Even if we are puzzled by certain circumstances we observe, we recognize pain when we see it. We find solace in "love" songs which are often "rejected love" songs. Pain of soul has many origins and plays out in many ways. 

Let us turn back to Elijah for a moment. Imagine in today's world a pastor who is depressed and finds himself in the darkness of despair. We are tempted to claim such an one lacks faith or that he must be hiding a secret sin. But as with Elijah, he may be carrying a great burden from the Lord for the Lord's people. He may be suffering attacks from the world or even from his own flock that we cannot fathom or see. 

My understanding of suicide and suicidal thoughts has evolved over the years. Growing up in the Roman Catholic faith, this is how suicide was officially seen by my church: 

That suicide is unlawful is the teaching of Holy Scripture and of the Church, which condemns the act as a most atrocious crime and, in hatred of the sin and to arouse the horror of its children, denies the suicide Christian burial. Moreover, suicide is directly opposed to the most powerful and invincible tendency of every creature and especially of man, the preservation of life. Finally, for a sane man deliberately to take his own life, he must, as a general rule, first have annihilated in himself all that he possessed of spiritual life, since suicide is in absolute contradiction to everything that the Christian religion teaches us as to the end and object of life and, except in cases of insanity, is usually the natural termination of a life of disorder, weakness, and cowardice.

-New Advent, Catholic Encyclopedia 

Persons who willfully and knowingly commit such an act die in a state of mortal sin [no hope, eternal damnation] and are deprived of Christian burial.

-Baltimore Catechism

They have, in recent years, allowed for the idea of those suffering “grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.” Of course, this is a very recent change (after I left the RCC) and the victim still has no access to "Christian burial" in the RCC.

I only note the teaching of the RCC because it has always clouded my thinking on the subject. Living in fear of dying in a state of "grave (mortal) sin" colored my view of suicide. It was considered an act of pure evil ("a most atrocious crime"), on the level of premeditated murder. The more recent "nuanced" (their description) only adds to the fallible nature of RC doctrines. But that's another matter. 

My liberty from that system, my reliance on scripture, and the illumination of scripture by the Holy Spirit have helped me better understand suicide. I do not deny that it can be a selfish act (to one degree or another), but it cannot be seen on the same level as murder. Only because it is irreversible we deem it worse than other sins. Here's an irony: if one survives a suicide attempt, he may receive absolution for that sin in the RCC while the one who succeeds cannot. It's an insane system.

But on this last point, we must point the finger at ourselves. Imagine a father is despair. He has lost his job. Because of this, he may find himself and his wife and kids homeless and hungry. He cannot bear the thought. He blames himself for their misery. If such a man attempts suicide and survives, we often pour out our love on him and his family. We rally to his side. But if he had succeeded, we may be tempted to call him "selfish" and cast aspersions upon him in our hearts. Our reasoning is just as insane as the religious system of absolution. 

The Lord's despair in Gethsemane was much different from anything we could experience, but it was despair nonetheless.

He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”

-Mark 14:35-36

Gaebelein in his commentary interprets this moment this way:

What was the cup He dreaded? The Sinless One, who knew no sin, was now soon to be made sin for us. God’s face upon which He had ever looked was soon to be hid. And what was it when at last He was made sin for us on the cross? One sentence gives us the answer, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”

Again, we cannot enter into this moment of dread, but many have experienced a level of dreading to face another day. The Lord persevered out of love for the Father and out of love for us, but some cannot always find the same strength. I believe this moment is recorded in scripture to help us see the way out of crushing despair. But as with all guidance from the Lord, it is given to weak men. "The Lord knows our frame, that we are but dust" (Psalm 103:14). Even if one loses the battle to despair, the Lord still has pity on him and so should we.

Suicide can the be result of many things (guilt, fear, suffering, painful memories, etc.) and we cannot pretend to understand the mind of another. We leave that in God's hands. What we can do is make ourselves available for those contemplating the idea and comfort those left behind in this instances when, sadly, someone is moved to take his own life in despair. 

For the brother or sister in Christ, we can remind them of God's forgiveness and his promise of abiding love. We can help them put their faith in God's will again. The latter is not always easy. The man who has lost wife and children in a horrible accident will find it difficult to see "God's good will" behind the scenes, but somehow we must help him get to that point. 

For the unbeliever, there is an opportunity to practice the ministry of reconciliation to which we have been called (2 Cor 5:18-19). As Ambassadors of Christ, we have a message of hope in this life and in the life to come through His name. 

In all cases, looking to lover of our souls must be a priority and compassion for the hurting must be our commitment. Judgment has no place. 

As my bones break,
my persecutors deride me,
all the time saying “where is your God?.”
Why are you so sad, my soul,
and anxious within me?
Put your hope in the Lord, I will praise him still,
my savior and my God.

- Psalm 42

Monday, March 7, 2022

Checking on Westboro Baptist Church Doctrines

 Many of us are familiar with the protests by the members of Westboro Baptist Church. This tiny number of people were, for a time, a convenient reference point for media and others to bash Evangelical Christianity as a whole. The picture above is one of the few without offensive wording (well, those signs are offensive, but they don't have any words I'd have to blur out).

Let me start with this quote from Volume 23 of The Berean Expositor from 1933:

Practice can never precede doctrine. Practice is the fruit of doctrine. I must know, before I can do. I cannot walk worthy of a calling that I do not believe or understand. I cannot adorn a doctrine that I do not know or believe.

We also want to start by recognizing the temporal nature of things. All around us will cease to be as is. If the Lord does not appear in our lifetimes, we shall go the way of all flesh (back to dust). Our accomplishments in the eyes of men are not worthy to be compared to the fruit of our lives as seen by the Lord. Two passages come to mind here.

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?

-2 Peter 3:10-12 


For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.

-Romans 8:18-19

So, we turn from the overt, outward fruits of Westboro's hate on parade, to Westboro's underlying doctrines. Here we will find both a disconnect from their fruit and some direct growth from the seeds they sow. 

When we look at their Doctrine Page, we see an entry for "Why You Deserve to Go to Hell." Readers of this blog know my position on "Hell." That is, I try to stick with the biblical use of the words translated "hell" in English versions (Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, Tartarus) and avoid personal feelings or Greek mythological understandings. WBC loves the manmade doctrine of fiery torture by God. They love it so much, they praise God for supposedly not choosing some people for redemption, just so he can mercilessly torture them (this would be mass of humanity).

When you combine their full embrace of Calvinistic predestination with their personal hared of Jews and their inability to understand that we all continue to sin even after we receive a new nature, you get very ugly fruits indeed.

Let the reader not conclude that I would ever excuse or make apology for sin (in myself or in anyone else). That is not what is to be taken from this acknowledgment of sin. I have been clear on matters of immorality. But I am careful to see sin in the believer and in the unbeliever in light of scripture (rightly divided) and in light of the biblical age in we live.

On their "Jesus Christ's References to Hell" chart, they include Matthew 8:12. To their credit, they quote the whole thing.

But the But the children [sons] of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer
darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

But like most hell-lovers, they fail to notice a glaring problem with their citation.  That is the subject of the punishment, "the sons of the kingdom." We've covered that elsewhere, but it is a prime example of what you want to read into a verse as opposed to what the verse actually teaches. This is eisegesis, not exegesis. They see what they want to see.

They want the Lord to randomly be talking about torturing people with fire in their mythical and unbiblical "hell." To do so they have to ignore the context and the actual words in the verse! Not only is the subject of the punishment "the sons of the Kingdom," the punishment is being "cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth." 

Again, we've covered this before, but just a simple thought here: if you re being tortured mercilessly by fire, will have the gumption to gnash your teeth in anger? This punishment is elsewhere said to be for servants. So, to make this fit the common understanding, we have to see the Lord calling those who reject his offer of grace, "sons of the Kingdom," "servants," and guests invited to the marriage of the King's son!

Now let's turn to the foundation upon which they build their doctrines, 5-point Calvinism.  

The "Doctrines of Grace" hold that God has created the mass of humanity so he could torture them with fire, without hope, without end, apparently. That's the dark side of the implications of TULIP. They scream at homosexuals, find joy in threatening them with their doctrine of God's torture chamber while as teaching they have no choice whether to avoid it or not.    

And note how they have exalted the 5-points of the Doctrines of Grace to be superior to the Gospel of Grace. It is not a rejection of the sacrifice of Christ that will doom you, it is apparently the rejection of any of the 5 points of Calvinism according to them. But they must do this. The Gospel of Grace is the offer of reconciliation. 

we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we implore you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.

God is "beseeching" (Greek: parakalountos), as we "implore" (Greek: deometha) people to be reconciled to God who is already reconciled to them through Christ's perfect work. This is insanity if they have no ability to respond.

Parakalountos: (a) I send for, summon, invite, (b) I beseech, entreat, beg, (c) I exhort, admonish, (d) I comfort, encourage, console. [Strong's Concordance]

When the Lord tell his on in John's gospel that he sill send the "comforter," he uses the word, "Paraklētos." This word has the same root idea of coming along side. God is coming along side the world and inviting them to accept the reconciliation offered which is wholly paid for by Christ. Both the WBC signs of awaiting torture and doctrines of inability are anathema to the true calling of grace and reconciliation. WBC hides all of this wickedness under a cloak of "Grace." They reject the ministry of reconciliation to which we've been called.  


And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation...

-2 Corinthians 5:18-19

As we have noted from this passage in other studies, God is already reconciled to the world, not imputing their trespasses against them. God is more interested in the sins of his own rather than the sins of the world. Believers are to separate and correct/restore other believers who fall into destructive sin, however, our only message for the world is grace.

The many listings of sins in the epistles are most often in reference to sins of believers (who continue to walk in the old nature). The unbeliever has only an old nature. God is calling them, through us, to accept his free offer, then they can start to walk in the newness of life in his name.

 Let us be sure our walk is honoring to the Lord (and consistent with the calling of this current age, Eph 4:1) before we start our ministry of reconciliation. We must offer hope of liberty along with hope of a life to come. 

Three walks of the believer of this Current Age (Dispensation) in Ephesians:
  1. Walk in love. Eph 5:2 
  2. Walk as children of light. Eph. 5:8 3
  3. Walk circumspectly Eph. 5:15

Friday, March 4, 2022

Sell Everything That You Have, Then What?

Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ ”

-Luke 18:18-20 (NKJV)

This passage is one the most familiar passages in the New Testament. Primarily among professed believers (true or not), but even known among many outside Christendom. Our primary focus in this study is the Lord's admonitions and the ruler's response; specifically in the call to sell everything.

At the start of this passage, we see the rule asking about "inheriting eternal life." In the account in Matthew it is rendered, "that I may have eternal life?

In Luke, the word used which is translated "inherit" is klēronoméō. In Matthew, the word translated "have" is "échō." The word used in both passages translated "eternal" is the word "aiṓnios"[eons, ages, age-abiding, limited to time] and the word "life" comes from the Greek "zoe."  The Lord does not use the word "Psuche" which is translated as "soul" or "life" in many other passages. 

Putting these thoughts together, under the Law, to "inherit" and "have" (as a possession) "age-abiding life" in the Kingdom (as opposed to death, loss), one had to qualify under the Law. The Law was given "from the foundation of the ages" and is part of time. The Law is specific to Israel and to the Land (see: Exodus 19:3-7) as we have seen in many previous studies. 

We know that Paul will later write this well-known argument in the Book of Galatians:

knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

But when we step back and look at the context, we see Paul is even more specific. 

We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ...

When we read the epistles of the Acts Age, we see Paul going back and forth between Jewish believers and Gentile believers as his audience. The differences are the most stark in the epistle to the Romans (as we have seen in previous studies). 

We've also noted that the earthly blessings of Israel is the root into which Gentile were temporarily grafted for the expressed purpose of making all Israel jealous. These Gentile believers had a different set of life instructions for purity (Acts 15:28; 21:24-25) and they could be "cut-off" from the blessings if they became haughty against Israel (Rom 11:15-23). We know no such division between Jewish and Gentile believers in the current age. This was unique and specific to the Acts Age when the Lord was still offering the Kingdom to Israel.

We've, again, noted how Paul reiterates the distinctions in lifestyle between the different groups of believers in Acts 21. There, he assures James he is continuing to teach Jewish believers to circumcise their boys and keep the Law. Paul himself maintained the Law (apart from the sacrifices which were completed in Christ).

On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 When he had greeted them, he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; 21 but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. 22 What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come. 23 Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow. 24 Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law.

This is in regard to Jewish believers living among Gentile believers. They still had to maintain their distinction. Paul himself testifies at his trial that he taught nothing that Moses and the Prophets did not teach (Acts 26:22; 28:23). Even the "necessary things" of Acts 15 and Acts 21 for Gentiles is in the Law (Lev 23). The so-called "compromise" of Acts 15 was no compromise at all, it was standard practice. 

James continues in Acts 21:

But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality [fornication].”

Paul does not dispute this. Paul goes on from this encounter to go "up to Jerusalem to worship." This is what a faithful Jew would do. As an aside, how many local churches today celebrate "Pentecost" as though it is given to Gentile believers and as though it is to be celebrated anywhere we like? Well, technically, it could be celebrated anywhere, but the call on the Jew was to be in Jerusalem.

For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost.

As with the Law, the Feasts were specific to Israel (Lev 23).

Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts..."

Now, back to the young man's case.

And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth. So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.

The Lord does not dispute the assertion that the ruler has "kept" the commandments listed (again, not all the Law is listed). We have two options before us (as I see it). Either the Lord was using his statement and his own response to expose the man, or the Lord accepted the statement, but added another element in regard to his question regarding his goal to "inherit eternal life."

As we have seen, with inheriting the life of the ages to come, the Lord combines these arguments. That is, it was a requirement under the Law to keep the letter of the Law for "life" unto the age of the promises to Israel and the fulfillment of God's covenants with her, his bride, ("[Israel] to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises." Romans 9:4).

And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Let's think through this. Did our Lord become sorrowful because now he has to torture him with fire for an immortal future without hope of relief? "I'm so sorry, but now I have to burn your flesh in horrible agony without relief." Unthinkable. We must be consistent in our theology. If you believe that the end for the "unsaved" is torture by God by fire, this is how you must read this. I beg you to reconsider.

He was sorrowful because the believer chose his life now over a greater life in the coming, promised Kingdom in Israel. We've noted in many studies that the Lord came preaching "the Gospel of the Kingdom" to Israel alone. There is application here to us in this age. We, as believers, are heirs of promises (not in the earthly kingdom) for which we must qualify through service and sacrifice. But we are not on trial so we can add to the all-sufficient work of our Savior. He took ALL sin on him on the cross. We must distinguish between gifts and rewards. 

And those who heard it said, “Who then can be saved?”

Again, we must understand "saved." 

Our Greek word here is "sṓzō." Let's look briefly at the depths of this word:

For it is by grace you are saved, by faith, and that not of yourself, it is the gift of God.

If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

We are rescued from sin by faith and grace alone. It is a gift. Our lives are preserved in Him. As Paul teaches us, our lives are hid in God in Christ, waiting to be revealed. All of our works may perish, but our life in Him is preserved. Even a believer who chooses to live in wickedness was to be turned over to Satan for the specific purpose of destroying his "flesh." Satan could not touch his life. [We note "the day of the Lord Jesus" in the last passage, but we'll have to leave that alone for this study.]

Here are a couple of studies with sections on the "Days" of scripture:

Judgment is done for the believer's life. All that remains is judgment of service. Paul was clear to tell us that we should tolerate the fornicator outside the faith because we have a message for him. But we do not tolerate the fornicator within.

I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.

All these sins are possible for believers. But they are still "within" the household of faith. The believer is called "wicked" and yet still distinguished from the wicked without.

Back to Luke 18:

But He said, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”

The Greek here for impossible is "adýnatos." The idea of the verse is "things not possible in human strength are possible with God's strength." That must be the case. It cannot mean "completely unattainable at all" or Peter would not interject and the Lord not recognize his point.

Remember, this is the answer to the question, "who then can be saved?" That is, everyone there doubted his worthiness (including the chosen disciples and future rulers of Israel in the Kingdom) for the Kingdom. Peter goes on to note that they had forsaken all earthly things (even Judas at this point).

Then Peter said, “See, we have left all and followed You.

If we put all these thoughts together here, we have the Lord stating that which would guarantee reward in the kingdom, his listeners fearing that they would fall short, the Lord noting that they would all fall short if not for God's intervention, and Peter offering what little he had (note, Peter does not address the matter of keeping the commandments listed). We cooperate with grace for our service, not for the gift of resurrection life. We are sealed.

But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.

-Romans 8:9-11

So, what does all this mean? It means that servants who seek God and rely on his working in them, although they will not achieve the impossible on their own, may still achieve reward in accordance with their calling (we must "walk according to calling to which we have been called," Eph 4:1). Luke must be understood in the context of the earthly blessings and rewards for servants. And as we have seen, there may be an application to resurrection life, but the context is always reward for service.

So He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life [age life aionion].”

Note, again, the absence of the list of commandments and the focus on reward. Have the 12 received "many times more" yet? Will Judas receive his reward? No and no. These are conditional promises. Conditional upon Israel's repentance and the restoration of the Kingdom in Israel (Acts 1; Acts 3) and conditional upon being a "good and faithful servant."

Could this be resurrection life truth? We run into the same issue we run into in the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25. What if I visit one sick person, one person in prison, etc.? Is God my debtor for an immortal life beyond time? Of course not. As that passage deals with entrance into the kingdom for Gentile nations (see our studies on the parables of Matthew 25), so too does the passage in Luke before us deal with entrance into the Kingdom for Israel. 

Volume 6 of the Berean Expositor notes:

Many have felt how diametrically opposed to the way of justification and life these passages are to the doctrine revealed through Paul, and, failing to "discern the things that differ," [Phil 1:10] they have attempted to make the Lord teach the rich young ruler that aionion life was to be attained only by faith and not by works. In no other branch of study would such biased reading be tolerated. Nothing is clearer than that aionion life was connected with doing, keeping, forsaking, and following. Matthew, writing with the kingdom of the heavens before him, uses aionion life with special reference to that period. The Lord Himself links it with the kingdom and the regeneration, and the time when He shall sit upon the throne of His glory.

I want to close with a verse from a similar encounter recorded in Mark's Gospel and another verse from that very same chapter.

And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved [agapáō] him...

How often is this encounter told today with scorn heaped upon the young man? Scorn offered as though we are not guilty of the same failing ("went away grieved: for he had great possessions")? Yet the Lord loved him with agape (boundless) love nonetheless.

And finally.

Allow the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein...

This is Kingdom truth, but we see here how the Lord values the simple faith and trust of a child. The one who answers not back. The one who runs to him without hindrance or hesitation. In our own walk and calling, we should also have this attitude. Paul warns us against being "childish" in our understanding, but that is quite different than being "child-like" in our faith.

One last theological thought... we hear about "storing up treasure in heaven." We will look at this idea in our next study. That treasure is coming to earth. 

Friday, February 25, 2022

Overview of the Entire Bible

 A few years ago, my local church asked if I'd teach an introductory series on the Bible for the young people of our fellowship. That was a 12-week (2-hours each) experience which included a lot of discussion. What I am offering in this series is a truncated version of that course.

There are seven videos in this series (playlist). Hopefully, you have seen the four very short videos linked at the top of this blog. That short series is a very brief introduction to basic theology (explaining the basics of dispensationalism, right division). This series seeks to give a context to every part of the Bible. When we land on a verse or a passage in holy writ, we need to know where we are before we can properly interpret and apply. 

As my readers know, I do not claim to be infallible. I am just someone with a decaying mind, a rebellious flesh, trying to seek my Lord with an open and honest heart as best I can. Hopefully, these videos will help young believers (young in age or young in the faith or even young in theology) to, at least, start thinking about interpreting the scripture for yourself.

It is often said that personal study can be dangerous. It is only dangerous if you seek to force others into agreement. Men have used armies and clergy to force men into their theologies. Whether you agree with none, a little, or all of what I propose in these videos, it remains true that I am not your judge. We will all stand alone. 

All that said, I hope what comes through is my love for God, my love for scripture, and my understanding of my own frailties and limitations. My personality will also come through. I can be a bit snarky, but it is all done in jest, I assure you. I like "table talk" theology. I'm not standing in a pulpit as I flip through my sloppy PowerPoint shows, I'm sitting across the table with a cup of Italian Roast, dark coffee with the full understanding that I don't have all the answers.

LINK to the playlist on YouTubeThe Bible From 30,000 feet Playlist

Individual Studies:


Genesis - Deuteronomy (The Law)

Joshua - Esther (History Books)

Poetry and Prophecy

The Gospel and Acts Period

The Epistles

The Revelation

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

More on Calvin's View of the "Early Church Fathers"

In our previous study, we referred to Calvin's Commentary on John 8 which contains this:

Nor do I approve of the ingenuity of Augustine... [in his interpretation of this verse]

Calvin contradicting Augustine. Way to go, John!

And Calvin generally liked Augustine, as did Luther.

Further, even though the Greeks above the rest—and Chrysostom especially among them—extol the ability of the human will, yet all the ancients, save Augustine, so differ, waver, or speak confusedly on this subject, that almost nothing certain can be derived from their writings.
-Excerpt, Calvin’s Institutes, “The church fathers generally show less clarity but a tendency to accept freedom of the will. What is free will?” (2.2.4, pp. 258-261)

Calvin states that the "church fathers" speak "confusedly" on the matter of free will. This excerpt was  quoted negatively in a series at the "ORTHODOX-REFORMED BRIDGE" website. Their argument is that Calvin did not submit to the ECFs as they believe he should have. I'm no Calvinist, but Calvin was right to not hold them as "authorities" (even if I disagree with Calvin's view of the will here).

I disagree with Calvin and probably hold views in regard to the will closer to some (or many) of the so-called "Church Fathers," but that does not matter. Neither Calvin nor the CFs are "authoritative" on this or on any matter.

 Look at this excerpt from The Calvinist International in regard to the authority of scripture:

In today’s post, Melanchthon begins to marshal patristic support for his understanding of the relative weight of various authorities in theology. Melanchthon’s high view of both Scripture and patristic antiquity are clear in what follows from his use of Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Basil...

This is "confused."

To argue the authority of scripture, they resort to referring the authority of "the fathers" (patristic antiquity)? I find that somewhat comical. I have a "high view" some writing apart from scripture, but my trust in scripture as my authority doesn't come from their "authority." In fact, I recognize no other authority, for there is no other authority (an idea that got Luther condemned).

Calvin was right to disagree with Augustine on John 8 (although I tend to disagree with them both). At the end of the day, neither Calvin nor Augustine nor Michael are "authoritative." My presentation in my previous post refers to E.W. Bullinger's understanding of John 8:6, and while I have a "high view" of Dr. Bullinger's writings, I would NEVER suggest they are authoritative. 

This is not a matter of semantics, it is a very serious matter. This blog is built on this pillar:

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

-2 Timothy 2:15

Many Orthodox sources claim that the "fathers" did not, nor could they, teach heresy. Now, if you believe as they believed, I could understand the "did not" position, but how could anyone hold to "could not" unless he held them as inspired? 

The "fathers" taught heresy. They had to because they contradicted each on other occasions just as the Roman popes have. Somebody has to be doctrinally wrong. 

The irony here is that I agree with the "fathers" (generally) on the role of the will, I also agree with some of them (to some degree) on the fate of the lost.

The mass of men (Christians) say there is to be an end to punishment and to those who are punished.—St. Basil the Great

There are very many in our day, who though not denying the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless torments. -- Augustine (354-430 A.D.)

I am NOT a universalist and I don't believe in any degree of torture of the lost. These are not mutually exclusive ideas. On the latter point, clearly I find more in common with denying "endless torments" than with the "hellfire" preaching of many Evangelical preachers.

On the most important issues (redemption, scripture, etc.), I obviously find myself aligned with the Evangelicals. I am not seeking to bash anyone, only to say that none of us is infallible. The "fire and brimstone" Baptist preacher of old and the "fiery, physical" Purgatory of Aquinas are both abhorrent to me. But the latter is even more abhorrent for it touches on the finality of the Lord's death, burial, and resurrection and limits his offer of forgiveness.

Jerome taught even the redemption of Satan. Whereas I do not believe this is accurate, I would be more inclined to accept the idea than to consider the God of scripture as the eternal fiery torturer of the mass of humanity. 

I know that most persons understand by the story of Nineveh and its king, the ultimate forgiveness of the devil and all rational creatures. --St. Jerome

Jerome's conclusion is, at least, built on the forgiving and redeeming character of God. The fiery torment of his creation gives us quite the opposite picture of our loving Father and our gracious Savior. If one refuses the free gift of Life, he has refused to be reconciled to God. But God was already reconciled to the sinner through the cross! He is satisfied. He has no need to extend his wrath for eternity. His son suffered his wrath and took the penalty of death which sits on all of us (in Adam).

And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. 
-2 Cor 5:18-19

For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
-1 Cor 15:21-22

Some of the "fathers" were essentially universalists. Just a few examples:

While the devil imagined that he got a hold of Christ, he really lost all of those he was keeping. 
--Chrysostom, 398 AD

Mankind, being reclaimed from their sins, are to be subjected to Christ in he fullness of the dispensation instituted for the salvation of all. 
--Didymus the Blind

The Son "breaking in pieces" His enemies is for the sake of remolding them, as a potter his own work; as Jeremiah 18;6 says: i.e., to restore them once again to their former state. 
--Eusebius of Caesarea

When death shall no longer exist, or the sting of death, nor any evil at all, then truly God will be all in all. 

All men are Christ's, some by knowing Him, the rest not yet. He is the Savior, not of some and the rest not. For how is He Savior and Lord, if not the Savior and Lord of all? 
--Clement of Alexandria

The Orthodox Church in America (OCA) calls the teaching of universalism a "fad" and the result of modern thinking. I've been around the block a few times with the sacramentalist religions. To be sure, I am certain they have explanations for the opinions of some "church fathers" (one I read stated these men just loved people so much they held to universalism... they love more than God?). But we can escape all these issues if we seek God diligently in his word, rightly divided.

There is one authority, scripture. We approach it as broken beings, fallible, and humbled by our own sin. But if we seek the Lord with a pure heart, he will reveal his truth as he sees fit. Surely, there are those who are teachers among us, but all must be tested against the whole word of truth, rightly divided. 

Whether it is Calvin or the Orthodox themselves, many who look to the "church fathers" really don't look to the "church fathers." It is my prayer they all wake from that slumber and submit themselves to the scriptures alone. Read all you want, submit to none but that which was inspired by the Spirit for this age. 

Saturday, February 19, 2022

What Did the Lord Write in the Dirt in John 8?

Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them.
John 8:1


The account of the woman taken in adultery is one of the more well-known parts of scripture. The main takeaway for most preachers and people is that the Lord asks those without sin to cast the first stone, does not condemn the woman, and tells the woman she is forgiven and to go and sin no more. I can't quibble with any of that.

But in the course of John's reporting on the incident, after the Pharisees try to corner the Lord by pointing to the Law, we see this odd detail:

Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.

Many thoughts have been offered on what the Lord was writing. Here is just a sample:

And Jesus stooping down. By this attitude he intended to show that he despised them. Those who conjecture that he wrote this or the other thing, in my opinion, do not understand his meaning. Nor do I approve of the ingenuity of Augustine, who thinks that in this manner the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is pointed out, because Christ did not write on tables of stone, (Exodus 31:18,) but on man, who is dust and earth. For Christ rather intended, by doing nothing, to show how unworthy they were of being heard; just as if any person, while another was speaking to him, were to draw lines on the wall, or to turn his back, or to show, by any other sign, that he was not attending to what was said.

-Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

The finger which wrote in the ground was the same which had written the law in the tables of stone. What He wrote we do not know; but it was symbolical of the fact that the law against man is written in the dust, the dust of death. Not alone had the woman deserved death, but all were equally guilty.

-A.C. Gaebelein Annotated Bible

Wrote with his finger, as one that was musing about something else.

-Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

God wrote once in the Old Testament; Christ once in the New: perhaps the words which he afterward spoke, when they continued asking him. By this silent action, he, 1, fixed their wandering, hurrying thoughts, in order to awaken their consciences: and, 2, signified that he was not then come to condemn but to save the world.

-Wesley Explanatory Notes

These are all worthy of consideration. They have some merit. The references to the Lord writing with his own finger once in the OT and once in the NT is an intriguing point. It may very well supplement what I am going to propose.  Also, writing "in the dust" as as opposed to the writing in stone of the Law is interesting. The Law that failed under the Old Covenant will one day be written on the hearts of the children of Israel under the future New Covenant. And, even in the age of the Law, the law was written, in a sense in the hearts of Gentiles as Paul argues in Romans 2:14-16.

For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.

So, under the Law, there is none who has excuse. In this case, Adultery is inherently wrong. The heart will condemn the atheist until he hardens his heart against his conscience.  

So now let's look at an interpretation of John 8:6 offered by E.W. Bullinger.


The temptation was in the word "such" [verse 5, "Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned..."], and of two cases they mention the punishment without defining what it was: for the one in Deuteronomy 22:23 , Deuteronomy 22:24 (a virgin) the death was stoning; but in the case of a "wife" the punishment was not stoning, but required a special procedure (Numbers 5:11-31) , which left the punishment with God.

Let's look at the referenced parts of the Law, plus verse 22:

If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel.

-Deut 22:22
If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbor's wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you.

-Deut 22:23-24

When comparing these two punishments, we notice that death by stoning is not required in verse 22. I suppose the punishment could be by stoning, but such a form of execution is not laid out. In both cases, it is BOTH the offenders who are to die. We know from the account in John 8 that only the woman is brought forth.

Let's step back to John 8:

So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

I would like us to see here the use of "heard" (Greek: akoúō). That is, the listeners were "convicted by their conscience" not at the writing alone, but at the words "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first." Perhaps they read something which appealed to their consciences? I'm inclined to believe we see the results of both hearing and reading. The word "then" follows  "And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground," (for he had written in the dirt right after the scribes and Pharisees posed their question). He wrote "again" (v.8), and "then" (v.9) they were convicted and started to leave. 

So what may he have been writing? E.W. Bullinger proposes he wrote the Law as it applies in this matter. We refer back to the last part of our quote above from Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes, "the punishment was not stoning, but required a special procedure (Numbers 5:11-31) , which left the punishment with God."

When we turn to this passage in Numbers 5, we first want to know the target audience:


And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them...

 The context is the Law, given by Moses, to the children of Israel. You can do this on your own, but try and read this chapter and try to insert the "church" of this age into the passage as some sort of "spiritual Israel" still under the Law. That is not central to this study directly, but we must always note where were are in the Word of Truth.

We will walk through this passage in chunks and I believe we'll see that it differs from what the Pharisees and others called for in John 8 (i.e. stoning).

If any man’s wife go aside, and commit a trespass against him, and a man lie with her carnally, and it be hid from the eyes of her husband, and be kept close, and she be defiled, and there be no witness against her, neither she be taken with the manner; and the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be defiled: or if the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be not defiled: then shall the man bring his wife unto the priest, and he shall bring her offering for her, the tenth part of an ephah of barley meal; he shall pour no oil upon it, nor put frankincense thereon; for it is an offering of jealousy, an offering of memorial, bringing iniquity to remembrance.

We have the case of a woman who may or may not have slept with a man who is not her husband. In John 8, the text tells us, "this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act" (John 8:4). This brings clarity to the situation (if their witness is true), but Numbers 11 still applies. It is just easier to apply. Let's assume they are telling the truth and she is "defiled." 

if thou hast gone aside to another instead of thy husband, and if thou be defiled, and some man have lain with thee beside thine husband: then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman, The Lord make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the Lord doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell; and this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot: And the woman shall say, Amen, amen. And the priest shall write these curses in a book, and he shall blot them out with the bitter water: and he shall cause the woman to drink the bitter water that causeth the curse: and the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter. Then the priest shall take the jealousy offering out of the woman’s hand, and shall wave the offering before the Lord, and offer it upon the altar: and the priest shall take an handful of the offering, even the memorial thereof, and burn it upon the altar, and afterward shall cause the woman to drink the water. And when he hath made her to drink the water, then it shall come to pass, that, if she be defiled, and have done trespass against her husband, that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot: and the woman shall be a curse among her people. And if the woman be not defiled, but be clean; then she shall be free, and shall conceive seed.

I'd like to know what those who hold that believers today are "spiritual Israel" are supposed to do with this passage. The supposed law-keepers have to deal with this. Even if the argument is presented that the sacrifices, specifically, were done away with in Christ, they still have to deal with the curse, the priesthood, and the procedure. If they maintain that ALL of that is done away in Christ, their clinging to any part of the law must them go away. 

The last three verses of this chapter are specific to the Law of Moses and do not refer to any sacrifices.

This is the law of jealousies, when a wife goeth aside to another instead of her husband, and is defiled; or when the spirit of jealousy cometh upon him, and he be jealous over his wife, and shall set the woman before the Lord, and the priest shall execute upon her all this law. Then shall the man be guiltless from iniquity, and this woman shall bear her iniquity.

We have looked at other passages where fathers are required to have their daughters' virginity checked and, in certain cases, specific fines paid by husbands, etc.

If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her, and give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a [virgin]: then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel’s virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate: and the damsel’s father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her; and, lo, he hath given occasions of speech against her, saying, I found not thy daughter a [virgin]; and yet these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him; and they shall amerce him in an hundred shekels of silver, and give them unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days. But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.

False accusation will cost you 100 shekels, but if the charge is true, she is to be stoned to death. This is Deuteronomy 22:14-21. As we have noted, verse 22 does not mention stoning. The next charge does bring stoning, but that punishment is missing from 22 (as we've noted previously).

This brings us to another point I believe worth considering. What if the woman accused of adultery was actually being raped? 

But if a man find a betrothed damsel in the field, and the man force her, and lie with her: then the man only that lay with her shall die: but unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing; there is in the damsel no sin worthy of death: for as when a man riseth against his neighbour, and slayeth him, even so is this matter: for he found her in the field, and the betrothed damsel cried, and there was none to save her.

A betrothed virgin who is forced shall receive no punishment.

If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.

A virgin who is not betrothed is not punished either. The man must pay her father 50 shekels and must marry her. Perhaps the woman in John 8 fell into one of these latter categories? Regardless, the righteous judge does not accuse her. Either she had committed no sin or her sin was forgiven. 

Since the Lord calls on her to "go and sin no more," it is not unreasonable to believe she was caught in sin. The Lord, under the Law, in light of her guilt, did not see her sin falling under Deuteronomy 22, but rather under Numbers 5. In his office as priest in the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5:6), he declared that he would not accuse her and lifted the punishment. The priesthood of Melchizedek is before the Law (Gen 14:5). 

The Lord was not a high priest under the Law, but just as Abraham was declared righteous by faith 400 years before the Law, so the Lord was declared a high priest in the order of Melchizedek, who was before the Law.

So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee. As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec [Ps 110:4]. Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.

-Hebrews 5:5-10

Even in these very Jewish contexts, the truths of Galatians and Romans shine forth. The gift of life is by grace through faith apart from the works of the Law. This high priest is not subject to death. He has satisfied the Law and has declared grace.

The account of the woman caught in adultery is in John's gospel. This is the gospel of the Lord's deity (John 1:1), the gospel sent to "the world" (John 3:16). As God, as one who had no beginning, who had no mother or father (as scripture testifies), he did not accuse the woman as those under the Law had.

What we see in the passage is the Law, most likely wrongly applied, come to life in the God of Numbers 5 who judges this woman to be free of any guilt. How wonderful for her and even more wonderful for those of us in the Body of Ephesians in this age. We were declared blameless and without blemish from "before the foundation of the ages." We are not in Abraham. We are not subject to any earthly priesthood. We are hidden in Christ in God, waiting to be revealed. The Lord has reconciled us to himself by the cross and justified us in his resurrection. 

Do not let men spoil you with the vain deceit that you can keep a law that could never save, a law that was never given to Gentiles. It is not for this age.

I don't see law-keepers or "spiritual Israel" trying to apply all the standards of either Deuteronomy 22 or Numbers 5 amongst themselves. And if they are trying, they are fooling themselves. By trying to usurp Israel's place in God's plans for the earth, they are forced to make the Word and Promises of God of none effect. This is why we must "rightly divide the Word of Truth." 

The people in John 8 wanted to pick and choose what suited them and we see the same thing today in those who call themselves Jews ("spiritual Israel," "Hebrew Roots," etc.) and are not. I would suggest these are guilty of terrible heresies. 

Saturday, February 12, 2022

A Quick Word on Sola Scriptura and Gainsayers

Why Sola Scriptura? Why the scriptures alone as our authority? How can we ignore things like tradition and practice and the thoughts of "holy" men? 

I taught the catechisms of "Sacred Tradition" and was schooled in it for 25 years. I don't think Sola Scriptura is anything but a way of stating succinctly a central spiritual truth. Paul is my Apostle, not Augustine or Aquinas or Cyprian... or whomever. We all stand alone, naked, before him with whom we have to do. We all must study to show ourselves approved unto God, rightly dividing the Word of Truth. 

We bring nothing in our hands that he wants. All of our works are comparatively filthy rags to God. In Christ alone can we show fruit. This is not fruit that puts God in our debt in any sense, but fruit that witnesses to his mercy, grace, and glory. Any other understanding robs Christ of his glory.

As Luther noted, the men deemed the arbiters of faith (in our case) often contradicted each other (and still do). As he said in his defense at Worms:

 "Let my errors be proven by scripture... unless you can convince me by scripture (and not by popes and councils who have often contradicted themselves), unless I am so convinced that I am wrong, my conscience is captive to the Word of God. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. I can not and I will not recant. Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God."

Luther was accused at his trial of opposing "established truths which have passed into usage, rite, and observance... things you are obligated to believe." That he did, and rightly so! The Roman Chch doesn't even uphold its own traditions. As with all doctrines of men, they ebb and flow with the tide of men's desires and follies and whims. Scripture is the only solid rock upon which to build.

Now, to those who want to look to things like "church fathers" and "traditions" and "long-held truths," I say, feel free to do so. You have a free will. You have a choice to make. I know what my choice is and I demand no one follow me. It matters not to me what choice others make.

The East-West Great Schism should be enough to show us the uselessness of trusting "authorities" (if the contradictions among popes and councils isn't sufficient evidence):

In 1054, Pope Leo IX sent an emissary, Cardinal Humbert, from Rome to Constantinople. The cardinal's visit with Patriarch Cerularios was meant to be a mission of conciliation. It became anything but. The cardinal excommunicated the patriarch who, in turn, excommunicated the cardinal. The main point of contention was the use of leavened bread during the celebration of Mass… While it is commonly accepted that the separation of Rome and Constantinople into two Christian Churches was the result of centuries of conflict, the event became known as the Great Schism of 1054. The schism, which reflected numerous long-standing tensions between the eastern and western Roman empire, may have been inevitable. The Church had remained united for centuries without solving several theological disputes. 

Excerpt from EWTN (Catholic Source) 

So, by their own admission, there were theological disputes for which there was neither agreement nor direction. What was the layman to do? He was subject to the whims of men. And over time, those whims would change.

This is why we call each individual to study to show himself approved unto God, rightly dividing the Word of Truth (2 Tim 2:15).

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Revisiting Romans 9 and the Promises to Israel

One of the oddest things in Reformed/Replacement theology is its reliance on the "grafting in" passage in Romans 11. This truth of the Acts Age was part of the continuing offering of the earthly kingdom to Israel. Israel was never "replaced" in God's plans or promises regarding the Kingdom or the land. As we have seen in other studies, the Lord taught his disciples for 40 days after his resurrection about one thing: the kingdom in Israel (Acts 1:6). These are the men who were promised by the Lord they they shall "sit on 12 thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel."

Judging some "spiritual twelve tribes" in some "spiritual Israel" made up of Gentiles? This promise given not long after the Lord called Gentiles "little dogs" and told a Gentile woman he was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. The House of Spiritual Israel made up of Gentiles?

It is nonsensical to apply some sort of "spiritual Israel" to all these promises (or to the hundreds of connected prophecies in Moses and the Prophets). The "Israel" of God's earthly plan was still at the center of his working in the Acts Age. Paul tells us why the Lord used the grafting in of "little dog" (Matt 15) Gentiles into the root of Israel (not into some Gentile "spiritual Israel").

First Moses saith, I will provoke you [Israel] to jealousy by them [Gentiles] that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you.

-Romans 10:19

And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them: let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back always. I say then, Have they [Israel] stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their [Israel's] fall salvation [the kingdom] is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them [Israel] to jealousy. Now if the fall of them [Israel] be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them [Israel] the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?

-Romans 11:9-12

 We have looked at the grafting in in other studies. Here I just want to look at Paul's clear statement in Romans 9:1-5.

I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.

Let us bullet point these biblical truths and promises. 

To Israel pertains (present tense):
  • · The Adoption (an inheritance)
  • · The Glory
  • · The Covenants (plural)
  • · The Giving of the Law
  • · The Service of God (Worship/Priesthood)
  • · The Promises (to the fathers, Romans 15:8)
  • · The Fathers (from whom came Christ)

Just a quick note on this last one, “fathers.” In the Book of Acts alone, we have 25 or so references to the “fathers.” Men want to spiritualize all these references (and the references in the epistles), thus doing violence to the promises of God, rendering them almost meaningless. They thus accuse God of being a liar and dare to correct his meaning and apply these to themselves. 

While we’re here, I think I found 9 references to “the fathers” in the sense of those given the promises in the epistles written during the Acts Age. The word "father" is found 3 times in the Post Acts epistles , every time referring to the father of children. This is a concept exclusive to Israel (in the context of God's earthly plan for the land and for the priesthood).

This is earth's and Israel's future:

Thus saith the Lord of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.

-Zech 8:23

This is the fulfillment of Israel's Covenant. She shall finally serve as a holy nation and as a royal priesthood. Zechariah speaks of a priesthood of Jews. This is not Gentiles grabbing the skirt of a "Spiritual Jew-Gentile." This is the culmination of the "covenants" (which also includes a descendant of David sitting on a literal throne, in the land).

And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth/land is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.

-Exodus 9:3-6

The Lord did not bring "spiritual Israel" or a "gentile Body" out of Egypt.  

Israel did not obey the covenant, which is why the Lord had to create a new covenant with the same people:

Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them [Israel] out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

-Jeremiah 31:31-34

The context here is future. When we turn to the Book of Hebrews, written during the Book of Acts, written to Hebrews, this covenant is still future. 

Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man. For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer. For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount. But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: and they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.

-Hebrews 8:1-13

This is the same people of Exodus 19 and the same people of Jeremiah 31 and the same people of Zechariah 8 and of all the prophets. Note the last verse (8:13), the "old" covenant was vanishing away as the New Covenant was ready to come in. The condition was Israel's redemption by faith. Peter offered this in Acts 3 to "Ye men of Israel." Did he mean, "ye men of spiritual Israel?" No, there was not a Gentile in sight!

You cannot cram a Gentile Body in here:


Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk? The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go. But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; and killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses. And his name through faith in his name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know: yea, the faith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all. And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers. But those things, which God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled. Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.

The Replacement believerer (especially those who spew anti-Semitic hatred) would never call "Ye men of Israel" their "brethren." But both Paul and Peter do. Is this a promise to us today? If Gentiles repent, God will send Christ and restore all things as his Prophets have spoken?

We have covered how this current age and the current hope were hidden from "before the world began" (Ephesians) and have nothing to do with Moses and the Prophets who spoke "since the world began," I will leave that there and only note that Paul testified at his trial that he spoke NOTHING except that which was spoken by Moses and the Prophets in his Acts Age ministry (Acts 16:22; 28:23) . The Lord saved that which was hidden until Paul revealed in in the Book of Ephesians, Post Acts. Why would we want to look to earthly blessings when "unsearchable riches in heavenly places" await us?

A final word on modern-day Israel.

I am a Zionist. That is, I believe that the land God promised the physical seed of Abraham (from the Nile to the Euphrates) will come to pass. Israel will serve as a holy nation and a royal priesthood. But that does mean that I believe that the Israel in the land today is that nation. Surely not. She is still damaged by sin and unbelief. God's plan for this hour is to call Jew and Gentile into one, heavenly Body. But that does not change those who are the Lord's and Paul's and Peter's brethren "according to he flesh."

In the coming age of Jacob's Trouble, there will be those who "call themselves Jews, but are liars." These God tells us are of "the synagogue of Satan." That age concerns the earth again. It will be as the Book of Acts again. God will distinguish his brethren according to the flesh as he calls twelve thousand men from each of the twelve tribes of Israel (Rev 7). I suspect there will be those claiming to be believers, who are Gentiles, who will claim to be "spiritual Jews." It will be a grave sin then, and its sister sin in this age is a grave error.

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