Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Biblical Inerrancy Part 2 (modified)

(This is based on John Gerstner’s Primer on Biblical Inerrancy from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.) 

A solid Basis for Biblical Inerrancy

Having dealt with the common “bad” arguments, we look at a good one. Again, we cannot make a mathematical, bullet proof justification. This argument will be most helpful to those who generally agree that the bible is reliable and written in “good faith” but not necessarily inerrant. If you think the bible is a complete fiction, then no human reasoning without concomitant divine intervention will make you think otherwise.

As an example, I once had an exchange with a bible-denier who claimed no New Testament scripture could have been written before the second century. (This he stated matter-of-factly, with no evidence.)

I argued:
That is utter, revisionist nonsense for many reasons, including circumstantial.

For example, there is no mention (except prophetically) of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by Roman legions in 70 CE. This means that these Jewish writers didn’t think it important to mention, even in passing, the massacre of about a million Jews and the enslavement and relocation of 200,000 others. Not to mention the desecration and destruction of their center of worship.

This would be akin to multiple Jewish writers penning a history of the twentieth century without mentioning the Holocaust.
When others joined in (not on my side) my regrettable snarkiness got the better of me, and I wrote:
But to assume the gospels and the epistles, even if they are fiction, were written around 100 CE and (the Jewish writers) didn’t bother to weave in the destruction of Jerusalem, an event known from independent accounts to be factual, (well) the only argument you could make is that the writers conspired thusly:
  1. Let’s write a (fake) history of events from seventy (or more) years ago, so that we can have cushy ecclesiastical jobs, all that pesky persecution being little more than an annoyance.
  2. Oh, let’s not mention our holocaust of 70 CE so that it will look like we wrote these before that event.
  3. Oh, just for kicks, let’s put fake prophecy about 70 CE into the mouth of our invention, Jesus.
  4. Oh, but lets be very clever and make (the bulk of it) it vague. Not in the sense of the Oracle of Delphi, but so that in the distant future, many people will think it refers to a still future event, so that our descendants can continue to milk the same prophetic text as referring to a rapture and great tribulation.
And then you’d have to get Clement of Rome, just for another example, to insert into his writings of that era fictional references to Paul’s nonexistent letters to the Corinthians.

And of course, the failure to mention the events of 70 CE is just one reason why the late date is nonsense.
As you might have guessed, this approach didn’t work, because the response was generally along the lines of: yeah, that sounds about right.

(Aside to my fellow Christians who do believe the prophecy to which I am referring, the Olivet discourse (Matt. 24) is indeed about a future Great Tribulation--well that's a separate issue that we have looked at in the past and may look at again.)

So keeping in mind that the target is (for the most part) the believer who wants to learn why he can be confident in biblical inerrancy, let’s move forward.

The Testimony of Jesus

Our approach is to appeal to the testimony of Jesus. Jesus himself expresses the highest view of Scripture, saying that “not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen” in the law shall disappear or fail to be accomplished. (Matt. 5:18) We also know that Jesus was prone to use scripture in his arguments, often beginning sentences with “It is written” and to proclaim that he is the Messiah (Luke 4:21). And of course, Jesus used scripture alone when tempted by Satan.

In short, Jesus asserts that all of Scripture is inspired, inerrant, infallible, and authoritative to the letter. Therefore, the proper view of biblical inerrancy affirms not only the general events and doctrines taught in Scripture, but it affirms that God has infallibly caused to be written the very words used in the Bible. To deny this or to affirm anything short of this is to call Jesus a liar.

By now you should be screaming: yes all that is fine and good but you are appealing to the bible as evidence for what Jesus said, and so it cannot be proof of inerrancy. You are correct. It is just background.


We will use a bootstrapping approach. Here the idea is to build a logical chain from the least controversial claim to the conclusion, that the bible is the inerrant Word of God. The "proof" is then as strong as the weakest link.

Sproul uses a Christ-based bootstrapping argument based on this chain:
  1. The Bible is a basically reliable and trustworthy document. 
  2. On the basis of this reliable document we have sufficient evidence to believe confidently that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. 
  3. Jesus Christ being the Son of God is an inerrant authority. 
  4. Jesus Christ teaches that the Bible is more than generally trustworthy; it is the very Word of God. 
  5. The word, in that it comes from God, is utterly trustworthy because God is utterly trustworthy. 
  6. Conclusion--On the basis of the inerrant authority of Jesus Christ, the church believes the Bible to be utterly trustworthy; i.e., inerrant.
We will use a similar chain:
  1. Jesus is a real historic figure
  2. The gospels are, at least, reasonable historic accounts
  3. Jesus performed miracles
  4. Miracles are a sign from God that the person performing them is a prophet
  5. As a prophet, Jesus would speak the truth
  6. Jesus affirmed the bible as the word of God
    Conclusion--Therefore, the bible is the word of God 

Jesus is a historic figure

This receives very little criticism, even in secular circles. Non-Christian historians such as Josephus discuss Jesus. (Note: references to the resurrection in Josephus’ Antiquities were almost certainly redactions by misguided Christians. However, the core reference to Jesus is considered by many to be reliable.)

The Roman historian Tacitus (ca. 56–ca. 117) wrote, describing Rome’s burning under Nero:
Nero fastened the guilt… on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus (Christ), from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of… Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even Rome… (Tacitus, Annals 15.44, cited in Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ, 82.)

There are references to Jesus in the Babylonian Talmud, of which the earliest period of compilation occurred between 70 to 200 CE. One reference to Jesus from this period states:
On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald . . . cried, "He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy."
There are also references in the writings of Pliny the Younger, the Roman governor of Bithynia in Asia Minorca, ca. 112 (where he seeks advice from Rome on how to prosecute Christians). The Greek playwright Lucian (AD 120- ~180) mentions (satirically) Christians and Christ (though not by name). Even the Koran mentions Jesus. There is little argument that Jesus existed.

The gospels are, at least, reasonable historic accounts

Again, there is little argument here. Both historically and archeologically, the gospels have proved to be models of reliability. In particular, no archeological work has ever disproved a claim of one of the gospels.

In his article The Inerrancy of Scripture Tim Challies writes:
Only a couple of generations ago, scholars pointed to the Bible's claim that there was a king of Assyria named Tiglath-Pileser as an error, for archaeological evidence had not proven that any such king existed. But then archaeologists excavated Tiglath-Pileser's capital city and found this carved into bricks: "I, Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria..." It is a fact that "the results of sound scholarship have not tended to uncover more and more problems...Rather they have tended to resolve problems and to show that what were once thought to be errors are not errors at all" (James Boice, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace, page 70). R.C. Sproul writes, "The Christian has nothing to fear from rigorous historical research. Rather, we have everything to gain." 

Jesus performed miracles

Given that we know the gospels are reasonable historic writings, and not subject to wild speculation, we acknowledge that Jesus performed miracles. We know that not only did his friends attest to and write down his miracles, his enemies also acknowledged them, although they attributed his miraculous works to Satan. Furthermore, his miracles were witnessed by a large number of people, many of whom would have had ample opportunity to deny the miracles when the apostles began preaching in Jerusalem. This is no known account of someone claiming “I was there, I was among the crowd, and that didn’t happen.” There is, of course, a great deal of skepticism among even some who say they are Christians about the truth of the miracles, but most acknowledge that the writers of the gospels believed that had witnessed actual miracles, i.e., they were not lying.

Miracles are a sign from God that the person performing them is a prophet

Miracles are expressions of divine power and as such they bear witness to the fact that the performer has been marked by God as His prophet. They are, in fact, God offering proof that the messenger is His messenger. They do not necessarily imply deity: God has empowered humans (such as Moses) to perform miracles, or to be the conveyor of miraculous, divine power. If a human performs a true miracle, we are confident that he doing so at the pleasure of God, the ultimate power behind the miracle.

We conclude then, at a minimum, Jesus was a prophet of God.

As a prophet, Jesus would speak the truth

As a prophet of God, speaking as God’s messenger, Jesus would speak the truth. The assumption here is that God would not go to the trouble of providing the credentials of a prophet, via miracles, without ensuring that the messenger’s message was true.

In fact, the prophet will speak the truth even though he will often not understand what he is saying. Prophets generally do not understand their own prophecy. Peter tells us that their prophecy (concerning Jesus) was not for them or even their contemporaries, but for us (1 Peter 1:10-12). That we may look back and see how the prophecy was fulfilled. If you believe that the story of Jesus is generally true, it is useful to go back and study the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. Then you will see how precisely it was filled, which should give further confidence in biblical inerrancy. (Or, once again, that it was a carefully crafted fiction.)

This is a crucial point. The bible is so self-referential (across vast time periods), and so detailed, and so specific, that the only two rational choices are that it is the truth or it is a pack of lies.

Jesus affirmed the bible as the word of God

As mentioned in the introductory paragraph, Jesus attested to scripture being of God on many occasions. Again, most liberal scholars do not dispute that Jesus spoke of scripture as being inspired. However, a claim is sometimes made that Jesus was mislead by his times—the Jews of that day also believed in inspiration. Jesus, in his human nature, it is argued, was not omniscient (Matt. 24:36). This is true, but we do not rely on Jesus’ omniscience but his sinlessness. For He makes bold claims of doing nothing except the father’s bidding—claims that would be outright lies regardless of His times or the lack of omniscience of His human nature. Thus Jesus, as truthful messenger, could not have treated the bible as inspired solely because he was misled by His times.

Therefore, the bible is the word of God

Since Jesus is a true prophet, and He taught of the authority of scripture, then scripture must indeed be the word of God.

In summary—the gospels, once we grant their being generally reliable as almost all scholars do—then bootstraps itself into being the word of God through the claims of Jesus. The only real alternative, if the gospel writers were even just mostly reliable, is that Jesus was the consummate fraud and fakir. His miracles have not been disputed, including a bold prediction that Jerusalem itself would be destroyed within a generation. The only hole in this approach is if you believe that a true prophet could lie, and Jesus lied egregiously when it came to his view of scripture.

-- To be continued --

Monday, February 12, 2018

Biblical Inerrancy Part 1 (modified)

(This is based on John Gerstner’s Primer on Biblical Inerrancy from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. ) 

Let us consider the inspiration and inerrancy of scripture. This is no small matter: more than 3000 times, the bible makes the claim “thus sayeth the Lord.” If the bible is not really the word of God, then it is a pack of lies. This is an important point: The bible makes very lofty claims about itself—this exaggerates the negative impact of any discovered biblical error. Suppose you have two professors. Professor A claims that everything he says is absolutely true while Professor B makes no such claim. When each is found in error, is it not Professor A’s credibility that takes the bigger hit?

In this segment, we will attempt to prove biblical inerrancy. Not in the scientific sense, but more like in the “beyond a reasonable doubt” sense. What we really doing is uncovering the minimum set of assumptions you need in order to establish the authority of scripture. So instead of saying, “I just know it is true” you can at least say “If you can believe X, Y and Z then I can make a compelling case for inerrancy.”

For the most part, this argument will be for the believer. An atheist will accept no proof of biblical inerrancy just like he will accept no proof of God's existence. It is not just that he won't, but he cannot. (He of course interprets this inability as rational denial.) If he is not drawn by God, and not moved by the Spirit, he will, enslaved by his natural state, view the word of God as foolishness.

Of course, God ordains the means as well as the ends, so we take every chance provided, always praying that this time the atheist will believe our arguments. If he does, we know it wasn't the persuasiveness of our words that deserves the credit.

Like apologetics, what we are doing here is strengthening our case for why we believe what we believe. It is, for the most part, to give ourselves encouragement. At the same time, it does allow us live up to our biblical mandate to answer our critics. If someone argues: you have no reason to believe in the truth of the bible we can say: yes we do.

Inerrancy is an important topic. The great confessions of the past, including the London Baptist and the Westminster, make this claim:

The Holy Scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith, and practice.

Many denominations, faced with higher criticisms of this doctrine, have substituted the above statement with a new one:

The Holy Scriptures are infallible in matters of faith and practice.

The first statement is strong, saying that of all books ever written, the bible stands alone in its infallibility. The second is as different from the first as night is from day. It states only that the bible is infallible (and perhaps not uniquely so) in matters of faith and practice. In matters of history and science, it is deemed fallible and hence, ultimately, unreliable. The stakes are very high.

Four Bad Proofs

As important as inerrancy is to us, we need to avoid bad arguments supporting it. In the book Primitive Theology, Gerstner outlines four bad proofs. These are four ways that are sometimes used but which in fact are fallacious and should be avoided. These four “bad arguments” are lifted, nearly verbatim, from Gerstner’s treatment of their error in Primitive Theology.

1. The Bible’s own Testimony as the Basis for Inerrancy

We cannot use passages such as 2 Tim. 3:16 to prove the bible is inspired or inerrant. Probably everyone senses the circularity of such an approach, or the logical fallacy of begging the question, in which the conclusion is demonstrated by first assuming it to be true. And of course, if a claim of inerrancy is all that is required then we must allow that the Koran and the Book of Mormon are also inerrant.

Here is the important distinction: The bible is not the word of God because it says so, it says so because it is.

Some will argue that the bible is different. In general, they agree that something is not true merely because it says it is true. However the bible, being the word of God, is subject to different rules. It is God’s word, and God’s word cannot be challenged. This, of course, is true. But it misses the point. The question is not whether we should instantly obey the word of God. We agree with the prophet Samuel who said "Speak, for your servant is listening." (1. Sam 3:10) but like Samuel we must first know that the voice we hear is really God’s. The question is whether we can accept the bible as the word of God merely because it says that it is. The answer is we can not.

Some will argue it is simply too presumptuous and impious to put the bible to the test. On the contrary, it is an act of humility. For we are using the only means at our disposal that God has given us, our reason, to distinguish between the true word of God and the word of men falsely claiming to speak the word of God. We are again reminded that Jesus’ miracles are offered as proof of his claims of deity.

No we cannot use the bible’s own claim as proof of its inspiration. However, if we successfully make a case for inerrancy, as we will attempt to do later, then the bible’s lofty claims about itself will carry great weight. It’s claim of inspiration will be of comfort, and its refrain of “Thus sayeth the Lord” and its proclamation of the gospel will be sources of great joy.

2. The Holy Spirit’s Testimony as the Basis for Inerrancy

Another bad proof of inerrancy attempts to ride the coattails of a sound doctrine: the “Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit.” This internal testimony is necessary for us to understand God’s word, for without it His truth would appear as foolishness to our ears (1 Cor. 1:18). It is tempting, then, to make this type of argument:

Just as the bible certifies itself by the letter of scripture, so by the living voice of God the Spirit convinces the hearts of men.

Many even assume the bible is “dead text” until the Spirit speaks to a heart at which time the beneficiary has an experiential basis for accepting inerrancy. What more, could one demand as proof than the voice of God speaking directly into one’s soul?

Nothing more, is the obvious response. Nobody would be foolish enough to reject as inconclusive the very voice of God inwardly announcing to us that the bible His word. At such a point, searching for proof would be superfluous.

Of course, when pressed for details, the proponents of this view will concede that they never actually heard the voice of the Holy Spirit say to them “the Bible is my Word.” Many would even complain that it is impertinent to ask them if they actually heard the voice of the Holy Spirit, even as they continue to claim that the Sprit is talking to them. We politely remind them that we affirm the doctrine of the inward testimony of the spirit as it applies to understanding scripture, just not as it applies to the bible’s inerrancy.

If the Spirit does not testify audibly, the question becomes, how does the Spirit, through inaudible testimony, convey to someone that the bible is inerrant? The answer given is that the Holy Spirit confirms our convictions when we read the bible and intensifies our experience as we meditate on scripture. Once again we agree that such a thing happens, but counter that it still doesn’t prove inerrancy or inspiration. All it means is that a person reads the bible and he is stirred by parts of what he reads. He feels or thinks he feels a spirit other than his own working in his heart. Even if he is sure there is another spirit, he cannot be sure what that spirit is. Furthermore, if it is the Holy Spirit he cannot be sure it isn’t the Spirit telling him that this part of the book he is reading is good, but other parts—well—if you don’t feel the same way don’t you have to believe them.

To summarize we must reject the testimony of the Spirit as a basis for inerrancy. (At the same time, we loudly affirm our belief in the testimony of the Spirit.) The Spirit’s testimony is not audible, it is an intensifying of feelings and enlightening of understanding as we contemplate, but it does prove inerrancy.

3. The Believer’s Testimony as the Basis for Inerrancy

It may not be obvious that the first two “bad” proofs—using the bible itself or the testimony of the Spirit as the basis of inerrancy—are rooted in the same error: elevation of the creature above the creator. Indeed, they seem to have a level of piety implying just the opposite. However, accepting, for example, the bible as the word of God just because of its own claim is sheer arbitrariness, regardless of how lofty the intention. By dismissing (often derisively) God’s gift of reason, we become a law unto ourselves, appealing to our own “feelings.”

In our third version of bad arguments for inerrancy, we find an augment that is transparently man centered. The argument is this:

The bible is inspired because it inspires me.

Here we have a “proof” that is purely based on experience. But a proof based on experience can never prove anything to anyone else. In addition, the book that you claim inerrant on the basis of the experience never states that you are justified in your reasoning—it never states that “see, you have come to believe me just like I said you would, by feeling it in your bones.”

No rational person would deny that a Christian will have experiences when reading scripture that are different from when he reads something else, but this is not a basis for inerrancy, it is only a basis for stating that the bible is “moving.” One sign of the unreliability of this proof is that Christians often have similar feelings when reading a biblical commentary, watching a move such as The Passion of the Christ, receiving a well crafted sermon, or listing to a poignant testimony. Yet the same feeling would never be used to claim the inerrancy of those sources.

4. The Church’s Testimony as the Basis for Inerrancy

Some, sensing the error in the previous approaches, yield to the temptation of the bosom of the mother church. The (erroneous) idea is that God has promised guidance to the body as a whole that He has not promised to individual believers. In effect, God is entrusting, by means unspecified, the church with the certainty of the inspiration and inerrancy of the bible, and then saying: now you go teach the flock who should require no proof other than your word.

This relies on the authority of the church. And the church does have authority. And from where does the church derive its authority? From the bible! We are back to circular reasoning, although this circle has a larger diameter. The bible is inerrant because the church teaches that it is. To accept this, we must bow to the authority of the church. But the church enjoys this authority because it is granted in the bible, which is inerrant.

We must be straight on this: The church is not the basis of the bible’s authority. The bible is the basis of the church’s authority. The Catholic Church, for example claims papal authority from And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matt. 16:18) But to make this claim Rome must first prove the trustworthiness of Matt. 16:18. Only after that is established can the Catholic Church then attempt to use the passage to make her case for papal authority.

--To be continued --

Friday, February 09, 2018

Give me your Puzzling Passages (modified)

I'd like to start a new collection: Puzzling Scripture. Submit your passages that, for you, resist a satisfactory explanation.

Of course, there are likely many such passages. However, if I had to pick just one, I think it'd be:
16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. (1 John 5:16-17)
No matter how many commentaries I read, or study-bible footnotes, I have yet to come across a parsing of this passage that smells right. For example, Matthew Henry, whom I find consistently reliable and understandable, writes, concerning this passage:
There is a sin unto death (v. 16), and there is a sin not unto death, v. 17. (1.) There is a sin unto death. All sin, as to the merit and legal sentence of it, is unto death. The wages of sin is death; and cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them, (Gal. 3:10). But there is a sin unto death in opposition to such sin as is here said not to be unto death. There is therefore, (2.) A sin not unto death. This surely must include all such sin as by divine or human constitution may consist with life; in the human constitution with temporal or corporal life, in the divine constitution with corporal or with spiritual evangelical life.
Say what?

Feel free to offer an explanation of this passage—but the main point for this post is to encourage you to submit your favorite puzzling scripture.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Deborah and Barak (modified)

My favorite Old Testament book: Judges. An vile, obese king being stabbed to death through righteous subterfuge with the pronouncement of execution: "Here's a message from God." A tent peg pounded through the head of a scoundrel. I mean, what's not to like?

Then, in Judges 4, there's the story of Deborah and Barak. Deborah being the only woman among the judges, and Barak being the general who was reluctant to make war against Israel's oppressors. He did his job, you'll recall, only when Deborah agreed to accompany him into battle.

A common conservative theme is that Deborah was only a judge because no men were willing to take on leadership. I disagree with that. When Deborah is introduced:
4 Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. 5 She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4-5)
there is no mention that she was a last minute replacement after every male Jew was determined to be inadequate. In the New Testament we see compelling teaching that one of the requirements for being an elder in the church is a Y-chromosome. But we see no such teaching regarding a similar demand being placed on judges or prophets. In fact, scripture is crystal clear in its affirmation of the office of prophetess.

Still, it is plainly seen that Barak was guilty of poor leadership. However, it seems to me that, in general, commentators are too tough on Barak. He in fact is something of a scapegoat: there is a tendency to say that Deborah was a necessary aberration because Barak was too pusillanimous. This is something of a double insult.

Two passages from scripture argue against this view and shed a better light on Barak.

The first is the very next chapter in Judges, which is the song of Deborah and Barak. A two part harmony. The impression I get reading Judges 5 is one of great celebration in which Deborah and Barak are both held in high esteem--there is no festering wound about Barak's reluctance to enter into battle.

The second passage comes from the Faithful Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11. When the writer gets to the section where judges are praised, we read:
32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, (Heb 11:32-33)
We see that Barak is honored--and Deborah isn't even mentioned! Seriously? What's up with that?

Well, I don't know!

Monday, February 05, 2018

Mystified. Again. Hebrews 2:14.

Last night the pastor discussed a portion of Hebrews 2. This verse, which I've read a thousand times, pricked my brain:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— (Heb 2:14)
The devil holds the power of death? What's up with that? And holds, not held?

So far commentaries have not been helpful. They point out that Satan can only act within the confines of the power granted by God. And/or Satan is indeed a murderer. All of which is true, but none of which explains the plain reading of the verse. Nebuchadnezzar was also God's servant and also a murderer, and he is not described as one who holds (or held) the power of death.

I do not understand what power of Satan is being referenced in Hebrews 2:14.

I won't worry too much about it. After years I'm finally simpatico with the adage that it's not the parts of the bible I don't understand that keep me awake--it's those other parts.

UPDATE: I see that some translations do render it in the past tense (e.g. NASB: him who had the power of death, that is, the devil) This is helpful, but still leaves me wondering what power of death Satan held.

Monday, January 29, 2018

CFT Talk at CNU (by your's truly)

This might be fun. Or a disaster. Only time will tell. I hope they save a slice for me.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Immersed in immersion (modified)

I am a Baptist. Baptists, in addition to the ordinance of pot luck, are known for

  1. Baptizing  professing believers
  2. Baptizing by immersion

I'm for both. However I think only the first can lay a reasonable claim to being proved by scripture. The second, in my opinion, cannot be demonstrated beyond what we call in math and physics a "plausibility argument." I support baptism by immersion not because it is prescribed in the bible, but because it is a beautiful tradition that almost perfectly symbolizes death, burial, and resurrection.

I simply don't find "proofs" of immersion from my beloved baptist brothers and sisters satisfying. I'd like to, but I don't.

The Baptist derivation of  immersion as the only acceptable mode for baptism is based on three arguments. One is the meaning of the Greek word babtizo, for which the (incorrect) claim is made that it absolutely implies immersion. The second (and strongest) argument is that Paul's writing identifies baptism as the symbolism for Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, and only immersion gives justice to that symbolism. And the third is that the baptisms described in scripture clearly indicate immersion.

All three of these points are susceptible to counter-arguments, but the last one is probably the weakest of the three, and is the only one I'll discuss here.

The basis for the argument is the Greek preposition eis which, in the relevant passages we'll examine, is translated as out of and into. However, it can also be translated as to, upon, unto, towards, for, and among.

The most quoted passage is that of Jesus' baptism, another famous 3:16 verse:
And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: (Matt 3:16)
Here the argument goes that if Jesus came "out of" the water, then he must have been immersed. Obviously that is not the case: if one is waist deep with a dry head one can still come up out of the water by walking to the shore. This passage is, at most, suggestive of immersion. It does not require it.

However, the death blow to this argument (not the death blow to the case for immersion, just the death blow for using such passages to prove that it is the only legitimate mode) comes from the case of the Ethiopian eunuch. There we read:
36As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" 38And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:36-39, NIV)
The problem here for Baptists is that whatever was described for the Ethiopian in relation to the water must also apply to Philip. They both went "into" the water. They both came "up out of" the water. If such language, the same as used in describing Jesus' baptism, demands immersion—then we must conclude that the baptizer (Philip) was also immersed. I know of no Baptist church that requires the pastor to be immersed when administering the ordinance.

 The observant will note there is no verse 37. It was not left out.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

I still don't want to be a Hyper-Calvinist (hyper-modified)

I am always interested (terrified of?) one flavor of hyper-Calvinism of which I have been accused: the denial that the gospel is a "sincere" offer of salvation made to all persons.

The tension here, for the Calvinist, is rather obvious. Only the elect will be regenerated by grace, come to faith in Christ, and receive the gift of salvation. Only the elect hear an inward call. Therefore, how can the offer be sincere?

Imagine a universe where the requirement for salvation was to describe, accurately, what was depicted in a picture chosen at random. And in this bizarro universe their crazy god was true to their word--that anyone who achieved this would have eternal life. Certainly we could agree that the offer was universal. But in what sense is it sincere?

Doesn't an offer, if it is to be called sincere, imply that the offer not only may be accepted (or rejected) but can be accepted (or rejected)?

In that sense of sincere, our gospel is even less sincere than this bizarre offer. Our gospel is presented (and I fully agree that it should be!) to the unselect--blind as bats. But in the bizarro universe the sighted still have to, by choice, describe the picture. With our gospel the sighted are predestined to tell what they see.

And if that is correct, then how is the gospel offer sincere for anyone? For the elect it is like a Don Corleone offer—it cannot be refused—and for the non-elect it is literally asking the impossible.

I don't want to be a hyper-Calvinist. I want someone to demonstrate, from scripture, how the offer is sincere (in they way I use that word) for everyone. Or even for anyone. Or to give me an alternate definition of sincere that isn't diluted of all meaning.

Some background may be helpful. I first realized that I was a hyper-Calvinist (of this flavor) when reading an essay from John MacArthur's man Friday, Phil Johnson:
This is virtually the epitome of the hyper-Calvinist spirit: it is a denial that the gospel message includes any sincere proposal of divine mercy to sinners in general.
Johnson, after describing hyper-Calvinsim, went on to give the first of several examples that don't seem to fit:
The most famous example of this kind of hyper-Calvinism was when John Ryland heard William Carey talking about becoming a missionary to India, and told him, "Sit down, young man. When God decides to save the heathen, He will do it without your help."
Now I agree that there is something seriously wrong with this sentiment. But in my opinion, the flaw in Ryland's rebuke to Carey was not in the denial that there is a sincere offer for everyone, but in his blatant disregard for God's command to preach the gospel to the world, and most likely in his understanding of why we are to preach the gospel, which is to glorify God, not to make converts—although that is wonderful when it happens.

Phil Johnson goes on to give five ways one can be a Hyper-Calvinist, writing:
A hyper-Calvinist is someone who either:
  1. Denies that the gospel call applies to all who hear, OR 
  2. Denies that faith is the duty of every sinner, OR 
  3. Denies that the gospel makes any "offer" of Christ, salvation, or mercy to the non-elect (or denies that the offer of divine mercy is free and universal), OR 
  4. Denies that there is such a thing as "common grace," OR 
  5. Denies that God has any sort of love for the non-elect.
Notice that Johnson, when describing the hyper-Calvinist spirit (which I quoted above) used the adjective sincere. In giving his five ways by which one crosses the boundary into hyper-Calvinism, he omitted sincere in item three. I assume, however, that it is implied.

In my own scorecard, I am in big danger, I know, of being a Type-3 hyper-Calvinist.

Okay, I'm willing to be instructed. I don't want to be a hyper-Calvinist of any type. I want someone to explain exactly how the gospel offer is sincere, in the way we would use "sincere offer" (both may and can be accepted/rejected.)

So I continued reading Johnson's essay.
Many modern hyper-Calvinists salve themselves by thinking their view cannot really be hyper-Calvinism because, after all, they believe in proclaiming the gospel to all. However, the "gospel" they proclaim is a truncated soteriology with an undue emphasis on God's decree as it pertains to the reprobate. One hyper-Calvinist, reacting to my comments about this subject on an e-mail list, declared, "The message of the Gospel is that God saves those who are His own and damns those who are not."
Well, no, that doesn't apply to me. I never mention election when presenting the Gospel. I tell people that if they recognize that they are sinners they should repent, and that salvation is a free gift for those who come to faith in Jesus Christ. Johnson's example of someone who gives a corrupted gospel message does nothing to help me understand how the offer of salvation is "sincere" for all.

Johnson continues:
The hyper-Calvinist position at this point amounts to a repudiation of the very gist of 2 Corinthians 5:20: "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God."
No, not in my case. The way I witness—telling those that they must acknowledge their sinfulness and that God will forgive—is completely in line with 2 Corinthians 5:20. Now it is true that, in the back of my mind, unspoken I know (or rather believe, I could be wrong!) that only the elect will be regenerated and acquire the moral ability to come to Christ. But of course I have no idea who is or is not elect. And it is also true that I view the purpose of witnessing more as glorifying God—by making his mercies known—than I view it as being beneficial to the hearer. However, I never alter the gospel in the way that Johnson suggests is the natural manifestation of my hyper-Calvinism.

He is making a classic straw man argument.

Johnson then goes into detail on the five forms of hyper-Calvinism. So I anticipate some answers in his in-depth examination of Type 3 hyper-Calvinsism. But there is no substance in Johnson's essay at this point; he merely refers to additional sources. He says nothing other than the view is wrong, nothing to help me with my conundrum about how an offer for which the hearer has a moral inability to assent can, in any manner, be sincere. At this point I get it that Johnson views this as hyper-Calvinism—I would just like some scriptural proof that directly supports his assertion.

So on the basis of Johnson's essay, I stood accused of being a hyper-Calvinist. But his essay was ultimately unsatisfying; it merely defined hyper-Calvinism, gave examples that did not apply, and offered no scriptural proof.

With that backdrop, you can imagine how happy I was to find the aforementioned essay by Michael S. Horton in the November, 2005 edition of Tabletalk.

In a paragraph under the heading Is the Gospel for Everyone Horton begins with:
Isn't it a bit of false advertising to say on one hand that God has already determined who will be saved and on the other hand to insist that the good news of the Gospel be sincerely and indiscriminately proclaimed to everyone?
Here I am a little nervous. I don't deny that God insists that, as evangelists, we must be sincere and indiscriminate in proclaiming the gospel. I want Horton to address whether God Himself makes a sincere offer of salvation to everyone. Horton diverted in midstream. Forget about us, tell me about God.

It really doesn't matter, because Horton doesn't answer his own (in my opinion ill-formed) question. He simply goes on to declare it a mystery, and then give the standard Calvinistic description of the outward and inward calls. I completely agree with his explanation of the calls, even as I lament that it offers no insight to the question at hand. It is a related but off-target point that Horton makes.

Horton then states that both Arminians and hyper-Calvinists ignore crucial passages, resolving the mystery in terms of either the free offer of the gospel or election. Like Johnson, Horton labels the pathology, describes inaccurate symptoms, and offers no substantive explanation.

I was very disappointed. I am left as always, with the feeling that nobody, from a Calvinistic perspective, can support the notion that God makes a sincere offer of salvation to all. And I am left, as always, with the impression that they simply cannot make such a statement (that God does not make a sincere offer to all), intuiting that it impugns the character of God. They label it as hyper-Calvinism, call it a mystery, offer anecdotal evidence that doesn't fit, or explanations for theological points not actually in dispute.

Or maybe, buried in Romans 9:
22What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory (Rom. 9:22-23)
they really can see a sincere offer for all. I can't. 

I guess I'm destined to carry the shame of being a hyper-Calvinist.