The Hermeneutics of Origen

כִּֽי־אָמַ֣ר אֱלֹהִ֔ים
Genesis 3:1
The words seem simple enough. What did God say? That cunning serpent, in the Garden of Eden, is asking a question which still haunts humanity today.
I. Introduction
Certainly Christians should have no room to complain. The New Testament is represented by over 25,000 ancient manuscripts that contain all or portions of the New Testament. The Leuven Database of Ancient Books (LDAB) is an online searchable database of ancient texts in Greek, Latin, Coptic, Demotic, Syriac and other languages. In reference to New Testament manuscripts there are :
minuscules = 2926; majuscules (uncials) = 322; papyri = 128; lectionaries = 2462 for a total of 5,838. 26 The earliest New Testament Greek MS as of 2012 is the John Ryland’s Papyrus (P52) which Bart Ehrman dates to “125-130,
The Old Testament was faithfully preserved by the Masoretes who produced the Aleppo and Leningrad Codices in the 10th and 11th Centuries. The recent discoveries Qumran testify of the accuracy and the preservation of the Old Testament texts which date back to 250 BC.
The British and Foreign Bible Society has by their estimates put in circulation seventy-four million copies of the Bible in over 200 languages. In 2014 alone the United Bible Societies (UBS) distributed nearly 34 million Bibles.
We know what the Bible says in the original languages. We have unprecedented knowledge of grammar and syntax. We have the best translators, translating into modern languages. The 21st Century has more opportunity, ease of access and availability of the Christian Scriptures than could ever be imagined 2,000 years ago in Israel.
Yet we still have this problem; What did God say? Eve knew the commandment “Do not eat from this tree?” but what did God mean? Was God protecting mankind from the consequences of sin or was God keeping knowledge from the man and the woman? A knowledge that would make them like God knowing good and evil.
Jesus holds up the bread and the wine and says this is my body, this is my blood. The words are simple, the translation is not difficult. Yet millions of Christians cannot agree on what this is. Is it the actual blood and body of Christ or are the words used a metonymy. Does the blood and the body stand for the sacrifice of Christ? Are these symbols used as a mnemonic to remember this sacrifice?
Hermeneutics is the study of the method and interpretation of texts. The term was borrowed from the Greek ἑρμηνεύω (hermēneuō) which means to interpret. It was coined into the English language by Johann Conrad Dannhauer who wrote a systematic textbook in 1630. He had studied the Aristotelian Organon and sought to expand the method of distinguishing between the true and false meaning of any text.
When Aristotle uses the term “first principles” he may mean the original elements like earth, fire, air and water. But in Posterior Analytics II.19, he has a more interesting explanation. Most explanations of existence are analogies that are explained by analogies etc. which would produce an endless circle of explanations. There must be some explanation which is not an analogy which stops the endless circles of explanation. This explanation is a cognitive state known as the nous. (translated variously as “mind”, “insight”, “intuition”, or “intellect”.)
We conclude that these states of knowledge are neither innate in a determinate form, nor developed from other higher states of knowledge, but from sense-perception
The nous is not a discursive method of knowledge but it is a method understood by perception. Almost every Greek philosopher started from a basis of first principles and then build their philosophy from this base. Plato himself had a concept of the unhypothetical first principle which was directly connected to the forms.
Understand that by the other segment of the intelligible … in order that it may go as far as the unhypothetical to the first principle of all things and grasping it, again clinging to the things that cling to it, may descend to a conclusion, making no use at all of the objects of sense, but of Ideas themselves, proceeding through Ideas, to Ideas and ending in Ideas {Rep. 511b31c2).
One of the most famous Platonist philosophers who was also a Church Father to write extensively about hermeneutics was Origen.  (184 CE –  253 CE) On First Principles is his contribution to the starting place of philosophy. Before we get to First Principles, who was Origen?
II. Origen
Origin wrote extensively covering such topics as textual criticism, exegesis, hermeneutics and homiletics. His most impressive work was the Hexapla a side by side comparison of six translations of the Old Testament. Jerome lists 800 major treatises of Origen and Eusebius lists 2,000 titles. In his time he was considered the Christian authority in the fight against the pagan religions and many consider him as the greatest theologian the Christian Church ever produced.
He was born in Alexandria to Christian parents, but his name means born of Horus which is an Egyptian falcon-headed deity. Eusebius who wrote Church History claimed his education was Greek from the philosophy teacher Ammonius; a Christian with Neoplatonist sympathies. His father Leontius died in a Christian persecution in 202 when Origen was 17. The legend is that Origen wanted a death like that himself but his mother hid his clothes. He was too embarrassed to venture onto the streets in that manner thus his mother saved his life. He would refer to this in writings while desiring to suffer the fate of a martyr.
At the early age of 18, he was a notable teacher at the catechetical school of Clement in Alexandria. In accordance with the Platonic purification method and the Christian ascetic practices he lived the ascetic life of poverty, not sheltering from the cold, eating meat or drinking wine.
One of the defining characteristics of the early church is the petty jealousies and in fighting of the bishops and secular rulers of the church. Over the objections of the Bishop of Alexandria, Demetrius, the bishop of Caesarea ordained him as a presbyter.
He would eventually fulfill his wish and suffer martyrdom. Unable to cope with a plague which broke out in 249, the Emperor would fix liability on the Christians. In the resulting arrests of Christian Origen was imprisoned and tortured for two years. Eusebius describes his torture as a type of stretching where his neck was enclosed with an iron collar and his feet pulled for several days. When his tormentors lost their lives in an important battle, he was released from prison, but ultimately died as a result of the wounds of his torture.
When Origen was preaching in Caesarea he finished his famous hermeneutical masterpiece entitled First Principles: De Principiis in Latin, in Greek περι αρχων). Most of the original text in Greek was lost but a scholar called Rufinus provides us with a Latin text he translated from the Greek. Rufinus admitted to supplying a lot of gloss and explanation over the original text.
Origen was preaching from the liturgical cycle of readings when he came to Genesis. He wrote a series of homilies on Genesis which is thought to have been written down by stenographers from sermons he was preaching. He was known to complain that he sermons were not enthusiastically received. The crowds seemed to preoccupied with social discourse and every day concerns.
We will look at his Homilies on Genesis with a concentration of Homily VIII on the offering of Isaac. In order to understand the hermeneutics used for this homily, we will study the hermeneutical method of On the First Principles applying these methods to understand Homily VIII. Was Origen faithful to his own principles of hermeneutics?
Shall we try to understand Origen from the accolades of his Christian admirers or from the attacks of his Christian opponents? Perhaps it is more interesting to listen to his pagan critics. Someone who has no invested Christian bias in his evaluation of Origen.
III. An Analysis of Allegory by Porphyry
Porphyry  (234 CE –  305 CE) was the writer and publisher of the Greek Enneads of Plotinus; the handbook of the Neoplatonists. He divided the writings into six books of nine treatises each. (ennead means nine). It was an established Platonic tradition to interpreted classical Greek mythology as philosophical allegories. Porphyry was both a critic of allegory and a systematic user of allegory. Rather than examine his hypocrisy we should seriously consider his criticisms. Is there some substance to his criticisms or not? He explains the allegory of Homer.
The [Homeric] account of the gods is generally held to be useless and inappropriate, for it tells stories about the gods that are not seemly. Against this accusation, some apply a solution from diction, considering everything to have been said as allegories
The activity of the gods in the Iliad and the Odyssey, were a cause of embarrassment for the Platonists and the Neoplatonists. The Olympian gods were violent, dishonest, and lustful. Zeus was depicted as taking animal forms like a swan and then raping human women who fooled by his disguise. He hung his wife Hera on a chain for Mount Olympus as punishment.
In reaction against these gods the philosophers from the sixth century BC to the present age have proposed a god who is immutable, eternal, simple and impassive. The question became what to do about the Iliad and the Odyssey which was accredited to Homer? The stories from Homer were equivalent to Biblical standards of authority of the Christians. Do you deny Homer or do you allegorize the stories?
Even Plato used allegory as his famous allegory of the cave is perhaps the most quoted allegory in history. However he disliked allegory. What did Plato think about allegory?
But Hera’s fetterings1 by her son and the hurling out of heaven of Hephaestus by his father when he was trying to save his mother from a beating, and the battles of the gods in Homer’s verse are
things that we must not admit into our city either wrought in allegory or without allegory. For the young are not able to distinguish what is and what is not allegory
Socrates would be forced to commit suicide because the city accused him of corrupting the young. Plato, the most famous student of Socrates perhaps the most famous philosopher of all times, would learn from this event. He would turn the argument around and accuse Homer of corrupting the youth. Plato would save the youth from being corrupted by not even allowing allegory in his “perfect” city.
What did Porphyry think about allegory and the hermeneutical method of Origen?
When certain ones wanted to find a solution rather than apostatize from the wickedness of the Jewish Scriptures, they turned to exegeses which were disjointed and inappropriate to what was written… boasting that the things said openly by Moses were riddles and invoking them as oracles full of hidden mysteries… I came across…Origen, whose fame has been passed down as great by the teachers of these arguments For, having become a disciple of Ammonius who has made the greatest contribution in the field of philosophy in our times, he obtained from his teacher the benefit of great experience in arguments, but in the correct way of life he made a path opposite to him. For Ammonius, having been raised a Christian with Christian parents, when he grasped intellectual pursuits and philosophy, immediately converted to the way of life according to the laws; but Origen, a Greek trained in Greek arguments… Hellenizing in his doctrines about reality and the divine and substituting the ideas of the Greeks for foreign myths. For he always consorted with Plato… learned the allegorical character of the mysteries among the Greeks and attached them to the Jewish writings. (Fragment 39 Harnack (n.l) [= Eusebius HE 6.19
The Jewish Scriptures were wicked, perhaps they had some of the same atrocities as Homer. The interpretation was inappropriate to the literal sense. Moses was open and honest about what he said but Origen would suppose another meaning, a hidden mystery. Contrary to Eusebius, Porphyry said Eusebius was a Christian who converted to pagan philosophy. Origen was as good student of Philosophy, in fact Origen still taught philosophy which is hellenizing in doctrines about reality. Origen’s problem is his dishonesty. In the same manner as the mythology of Homer was allegorized to make it more suitable to the tastes of the Platonists, Origen and other Christians would allegorize the writings of Moses to make Christianirity more suitable to their tastes.
He claims Origen was trained in Greek arguments, taught Greek philosophical ideas but deceptively robed them in the writings of Moses. We will examine these claims at length, analyzing Origen’s theology of theodicy, ascent and descent. Only in comparing his theology with Neoplatonism can we decide if the claims of Porphyry are true.




IV. The Hermeneutics of Origen
For so long as any one is not converted to a spiritual understanding, a veil is placed over his heart, …then the veil is taken away, and with unveiled face we shall behold the glory of the Lord in the holy Scriptures.
Since Origen is a prolific writer with over 2,000 treatises and many references to his hermeneutic method, this paper will concentrate on the method referred to in De Principiis or On the First Principles which is also considered as representative of his hermeneutic principles.
In Principles Origen divides interpretation into three categories:
1. Literal
2. Moral (Soul)
3. Spiritual or Allegorical.
This is not just three different categories but it is a hierarchy of inferior methods of interpretation and preferred or superior methods of interpretation. Some commentators would divide the third category into allegorical and anagogical making four categories. Origen arranged these methods as the literal, more simple individuals, the moral, something more; the very soul of Scripture and the spiritual senses among them that are perfect; the spiritual law itself.
then, ought to describe in his own mind, in a threefold manner, the under¬standing of the divine letters — that is, in order that all the more simple individuals may be edified, so to speak, by the very body of Scripture; for such we term that common and historical sense: while, if some have commenced to make considerable prog¬ress, and are able to see something more (than that), they may be edified by the very soul of Scripture. Those, again, who are perfect, and who resemble those of whom the apostle says, We speak wisdom among them that are perfect, but not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, who will be brought to nought; but we speak the wisdom of God, hidden in a mystery, which God has decreed before the ages unto our glory; — all such as these may be edified by the spiritual law itself (which has a shadow of good things to come), as if by the Spirit. For as man is said to consist of body, and soul, and spirit, so also does sacred Scripture,
Clearly the spiritual interpretation is considered the superior method of interpretation as opposed to the literal method. He then plays on an obvious metonymy of John declaring that God is light and makes a straw man argument. There are literalists who think God is physical light and do not appreciate that this reference in John is to the cause of knowledge.
He constantly uses quotes from Paul about the mystery. Paul was trying to turn the mystery cults around. The mystery cults had secretes which were only available to the enlightened ones. Paul declares his mysteries are no longer mysteries but are now revealed.
Ephesians 3:8 (NASB)
8 To me, the very least of all [d]saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things;
In Origen’s mind the mysteries are not plainly stated but are hidden in the spiritual texts under the literal meaning of the text. As in the Platonic descent matter is inferior to the intellectual things. The spirit is in the intellect or the superior realm of being.
to call it spirit, as in the expression, The letter kills, but the spirit gives life, where there can be no doubt that by letter are meant bodily things, and by spirit intellectual things, which we also term spiritual.
Those literal interpretations of Scriptures are equated with the letter of the law and death. Those spiritual things are intellectual ideas which give life. What happens when the spiritual truths about God conflict with the literal accounts of God?
And now, if, on account of those expressions which occur in the Old Testament, as when God is said to be angry or to repent, or when any other human affection or passion is described, (our opponents) think that they are furnished with grounds for refuting us, who maintain that God is altogether impassible, and is to be regarded as wholly free from all affections of that kind… But when we read either in the Old Testament or in the New of the anger of God, we do not take such expressions literally, but seek in them a spiritual meaning ,
Here is a problem of interpretation. The “us” who maintain that God is altogether impassible, reject the literal interpretation of Scripture. What is the evidence for rejecting the literal interpretation. The philosophy of the objectors override the obvious meaning of the text. First note, that Origen says the literal meaning in the Old Testament is that God becomes angry and repents. His argument is that Scripture does not matter because there are us who are spiritual who maintain that God is wholly free from all affections of any kind. Who are those spiritual persons who think God is impassible?
God, therefore, is not to be thought of as being either a body or as existing in a body, but as an uncompounded intellectual nature, admitting within Himself no addition of any kind; so that He cannot be believed to have within him a greater and a less, but is such that He is in all parts Μονάς, and, so to speak, ῾Ενάς, and is the mind and source from which all intellectual nature or mind takes its beginning. … Wherefore that simple and wholly intellectual nature… ought to be free from all bodily intermixture
Those philosophers who maintain that god is impassible also have other ideas about the nature of god. As a lead into this argument Origen quotes Scripture as saying God is Spirit. This is an unwarranted extrapolation from Spirit to the apophatic attributes of God. He then uses his concept of spirituality to jump to those attributes listed above: incorporal not… existing in a body; simple, uncompounded; the nous of Plotinus, intellectual, the one of Plotinus, Μονάς Ενάς; immutable, no addition of any kind; simple cannot…have within him a greater and a less.
As a Scriptural argument Origen plays on the those verses which describe God as a spirit. Does the Bible say God is only Spirit and is no way corporal. Does Jahweh speak to Abraham, wrestle with Jacob, eat with the elders of the Exodus?
Since these attributes of God are first principles they are believed noetically and not discursively. The Scriptures are not allowed to falsify these beliefs. There are no words existing or possibly existing in the Scriptures which can falsify these first principles.
This incorporable and incomprehensive God is a Platonic God. Plotinus was a contemporary of Origen. He taught that God who he called “the One”, an utterly simple, ineffable, unknowable. He considered himself a Platonist. Plato called “God” as The Good beyond being and immutable from Book VI of the Republic.
Here Origen identifies God as both One Μονάς and the one Ενάς. These are Neoplatonist terms to refer to their “God.” They refer to the simplicity, aseity and the immutability of God. What is the point? These are not Biblical ideas, not Biblical terms and they have no precedence in Scripture. Yet Origen does not allow Scripture to falsify this idea of God. Origen’s concept of God overrides all Scriptural terms. Scripture must conform to his “God” or Scripture must allegorize, or spiritually interpret any Biblical evidence to the contrary.
Origen bases his hermeneutics as the Bible being the divine revelation and authority for hermeneutics. The literal interpretation accepts the intended meaning of the words resting in the context of the Scriptures. The Protestant concept of Scriptures is divine inspiration and inerrancy. The Scriptures are delivered by God and are true. Origen’s concept of divine means, the literal interpretation of Scripture may be errant, but this allows for a deeper spiritual interpretation not in the literal narrative.
Since, in our investigation of matters of such importance, not satisfied with the common opinions, and with the clear evi­dence of visible things, we take in addition, for the proof of our statements, testimonies from what are believed by us to be divine writings, viz., from that which is called the Old Testament, and that which is styled the New, and endeavour by reason to con­firm our faith; and as we have not yet spoken of the Scriptures as divine… we must make the following statement regarding Moses and Jesus Christ — the lawgiver of the Hebrews, and the Introducer of the sav¬ing doctrines according to Christianity.
Origen makes an important contribution to Christian apologetics. Christian doctrines are based on Scriptures as the source of authority. However, this is not the Protestant use of authority. For Origen the Scriptures are authoritative sometimes for their literal meaning but more importantly as a springboard for the deeper spiritual meanings.
The literal method is severely limited. Many people have accepted the literal meaning of Scripture and have been lead astray. In particular this was the leading problem of the Jews. They push a literal interpretation of Scripture which lead them to deny the Christian version of Scripture, the spiritual interpretation.
regarding the inspiration of the sacred Scriptures by the Holy Spirit…how certain persons, not reading them correctly….The Jews, in fine, owing to the hardness of their heart, and from a desire to appear wise in their own eyes, have not believed in our Lord and Saviour, judging that those statements which were uttered respecting Him ought to be understood literally,
Now the reason of the erroneous apprehension of all these points on the part of those whom we have mentioned above, is no other than this, that holy Scripture is not understood by them according to its spiritual, but according to its literal meaning.
What does it mean they believed in the Lord Jesus only literally and not spiritually? Are the miracles of Jesus, his birth and resurrection, are these not literal statements of fact? That warning to the Jews, those who dare to take the Bible literally, could be a warning to all of us who impiously interpret the Bible literally. Is he trying to convert pagans to Christianity or Christians to his form of spiritual Christianity?
Origen implies that there is a second type of biblical hermeneutics; the soulish method. This is referred to as the moral interpretation. Obviously the literal interpretation has drawbacks. Did Lot have sex relations with his daughters, or did Abraham have two wives? These are contrary to the moral sensibilities of Origen thus they had spiritual realities. There is a literal interpretation of Scriptures like historical events and a moral interpretation such as the ten commandments but the literal interpretation must be avoided if it conflicts with the moral sensibilities of Origen.
How do we avoid the literal interpretation. The second sense is often referred to as the “moral” sense is called the soul by Origen. Origen will say that in reference to the commandments it can be called the literal or moral sense. But Origen prefers to use this sense in a more figurative manner. The example he gives is from 1 Cor. 9:9. This is actually admitted by all to be the proper use of typology.
1 Corinthians 9:9 (KJV)
9 For it is written in the law of Moses, thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?
Paul will say this law in Deuteronomy is the written word. He then implies an alternative meaning which was intended (by God) for the body of Christ that a minister should be fed from his flock. This is clearly a typological approach from Scripture. Is this the original intention of the author, Moses? It is doubtful that Moses has this application in mind. Paul is taken a literal passage from the Torah making a typological interpretation and saying this typology was a Christological intention.
Since Paul was writing inspired Scriptures there is no doubt this is the correct use of typology. Those who believe in the inerrancy of Scripture will have to make some adjustments in their understanding “of intent of the original authors.” However Origen wants to take this one example and make it into a universal axiom of interpretation.
Origen will say there a two senses in which to view this tope. The first sense is the literal sense. This is the lowest sense regulated to simple believers and to the Jews who serve according to the flesh.
That the first sense, then, is profitable in this respect, that it is capable of imparting edi-fication, is testified by the multitudes of genuine and simple believers;… the Jews according to the flesh served as an example and a shadow
The second sense which he refers to as the soulish sense is a typology to the passage. The type is the ox and the corn. The antitypes are the minsters and their wages. He goes farther with the antitypes. There is a literal understanding represented by the flesh and a spiritual understanding represented by the spirit. There is a middle ground not entirely literal and not entirely spiritual; the soul.
Into the hands of His Father He commends not His soul, but His spirit; and when He says that the flesh is weak, He does not say that the soul is willing, but the spirit: whence it appears that the soul is something intermediate between the weak flesh and the willing spirit.
Origen would claim this one example. The use of an Old Testament tope for a New Testament typology has numerous other examples (that were not specified as such by new Testament apostles?) which God ordained before the world. This one example becomes a universal principal which justifies using any literal passage from the Old Testament as a figurative type for a Christological interpretation
while of that interpretation which is referred back to the soul… there are numerous interpre-tations… profounder mean¬ings… and of what future blessings the law contains a shadow… the wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wis¬dom which God ordained before the world for the glory of the just, which none of the princes of this world knew.
How does one distinguish between the literal and spiritual meanings of Scriptures. If the Scripture has impossibilities or incongruities then it should have a spiritual meaning. Sometimes there is both a literal meaning and a spiritual meaning. Those passages which are unseemly or appear to be impossible are spiritual which leads to allegorical or typological interpretation.
How is one to determine if the literal words are to be interpreted literally or spiritually?
1. If the narrative is impossible or incongruous use the spiritual method
2. The true or chief method is always the spiritual
3. Those false things in the narrative have a deeper spiritual meaning.
so for that reason divine wisdom took care that certain stumbling-blocks, or interruptions, to the historical meaning should take place, by the intro¬duction into the midst (of the narrative) of certain impossibilities and incongruities… the reader, whereby he might refuse to acknowledge the way which conducts to the ordinary meaning; … and passing to a loftier and more sublime road, he might lay open the immense breadth of divine wisdom. This, however, must not be unnoted by us, that as the chief object of the Holy Spirit is to preserve the coherence of the spiritual meaning, either in those things which ought to be done or which have been already performed, if He anywhere finds that those events which, according to the history, took place, can be adapted to a spiritual meaning, He composed a texture of both kinds in one style of narration, always concealing the hidden meaning more deeply; but where the historical narrative could not be made appropriate to the spiritual coherence of the occur¬rences, He inserted sometimes certain things which either did not take place or could not take place; sometimes also what might happen, but what did not: and He does this at one time in a few words, which, taken in their bodily meaning, seem inca¬pable of containing truth, and at another by the in¬sertion of many. …Now all this, as we have remarked, was done by the Holy Spirit in order that, seeing those events which lie on the surface can be neither true nor useful, we may be led to the investigation of that truth which is more deeply concealed, and to the ascertaining of a meaning worthy of God in those Scriptures which we believe to be inspired by Him.
We must turn to the spiritual interpretation which includes typology and allegory. There are deep philosophical truths in the narratives of the Bible. Further analysis hints of a fourth method of interpretation which was labeled in the Middle Ages as anagogical interpretation. The common and the historical sense is the literal sense representing the body. Those persons who make progress and resemble wisdom are considered soulish representing the soul of man. The highest part of man the spirit is represented by the mystery of God which is not explicit in Scripture but hidden.
The allegorical model is an apophatic description of God.
For it is the Trinity alone which exceeds the comprehension not only of temporal but even of eternal intelligence
How does the allegorical model work? He cites the vision of the two seraphim as an example. The seraphim have six wings with two covering his feet, two his face and two flying. What do these wings represent?
the treasure of divine meaning is enclosed within the frail vessel of the common letter…. That the seraphim alone have both their wings over the face of God, and over His feet, we venture to declare as meaning that neither the hosts of holy angels, nor the holy seats, nor the dominions, nor the principalities, nor the powers, can fully understand the beginning of all things, and the limits of the universe.
We will venture a guess that the wings of the seraphim have nothing to do with the knowledge of heavenly beings about the structure of the universe. Allegory is only limited by the imagination of the exegete. Yet allegory is the highest form of interpretation for Origen. Scripture exercises no limits on this form of imagination.
Everyone exegeting Scripture should be concerned. Are we looking at God’s Word or Origen’s word. The allegorical abstraction may be clever and interesting, but in the end it is only the musings of a philosopher, devoid of Scriptural content. This is not just an amusing sideline. This method detracts from Christ’s redemptive and salvific message in the gospels. What is the ascent and the descent in Origen’s theology?
The Descent and the Ascent in Origen
Origen was concerned with the problem of theodicy, from the Greek θεός God and δικη righteous. If God is holy, just, almighty and loving how can he allow the existence of evil? This is an old perhaps eternal question framed in the argument called the trilemma by Epicurus in the 3rd Century BC
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

― Epicurus

Simple observation shows a world with a form of order but with diversity, good and evil. How could a good god create all this evil? Origen denied that evil could come from a good god. All things from God were created good. In this first estate all rational beings lived in equality and in harmony with each other and with God. Angels, men, demons and devils lived in the state of equality and goodness in which they were first created.
Through the aid of contemplation they were able to remain in union with god even though they were capable of both good and evil which is called free will. In the end all things will be restored to these former conditions. Origen refers to this restoration as apocatastasis from the Greek: ἀποκατάστασις.
This was before the creation of the cosmos or matter. Then came a precosmic fall which tainted all these beings.
of those who fell from that primeval unity and harmony in which they were at first created by God, and who, being driven from that state of goodness, and drawn in various directions by the harassing influence of different motives and desires, have changed, according to their different tendencies, the single and undivided goodness of their nature into minds of various sorts?
But since those rational natures, which we have said above were made in the beginning, were created when they did not previously exist,… changeable and mutable;… but slothfulness, and a dislike of labour in preserving what is good, and an aversion to and a neglect of better things, furnished the beginning of a departure from goodness. But to depart from good is nothing else than to be made bad. For it is certain that to want goodness is to be wicked. Whence it happens that, in proportion as one falls away from goodness, in the same proportion does he become involved in wickedness.
Through free will rational minds became souls and fell into wickedness. This falling away from goodness is in the same proportions as the wickedness they receive. This exonerates god from being the cause of evil. Free will caused evil and each one gets as is deserved by his status in life. Some humans are born into good families with plenty of advantages and opportunities. Some are born into miserable conditions with poverty and sickness. The descent is an apology for the fairness of a good God?
There is a hierarchy in the universe. The flesh is at the bottom. The spirit is at the top presumably on the same level as the precosmic fall rational mind. The soul occupies the ground in the middle from the very top to the very lowest.
Into the hands of His Father He commends not His soul, but His spirit; and when He says that the flesh is weak, He does not say that the soul is willing, but the spirit: whence it appears that the soul is something intermediate between the weak flesh and the willing spirit.
The origin of evil is the misuse of freedom resulting in the stratification of each beings in the corporal world. All this was ordained before the creation of the world. This is not the fall in the garden of Eden, it is not the sin of disobeying God in paradise. This fall is the pretemporal and precosmic judgement of all rational beings into the universe with a ordered scale of being.

In order to explain the ascent back to paradise Origen employs some Pythagorean numerology. He establishes the number 42 as the correspondence between 42 stages of the Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land to the 42 generations from creation to the birth of Christ to 42 stages of the ascent of the soul. He imagines a symbolic connection from the ascent of the human soul to the descent of Christ through human ancestry. Every step of the gradient represents different stages in the purification of the soul through contemplation, deprivation, fasting and abstaining from worldly desires such as sex and wine.
We end, then, where Christ began, so long as we persevere: “If we persist in them until we come to perfection, we shall be said to have made a stage at each of the steps of the virtues until, when we attain the height of our instruction, and the summit of our progress, the promised inheritance is fulfilled.”
This is a quotation from Origen’s Homily on Numbers. There must be something lacking in Christ’s sacrifice. Each stage in the 42 steps requires self-sacrifice and the denial of earthly pleasures: food, drink, housing, family. It is necessary to compare this to the Plotinian ascent.
The Theology of the Neoplatonists
Plotinus, a philosopher of the third century AD (204/5 – 270 C.E.), is considered the founder of Neoplatonism. He was born in Lycopolis, Egypt in 204 C.E. He was a student of Ammonius Saccas in Alexandria. Origen also studied at Alexandria and was a student of Ammonius Saccas. There is some controversy over this Ammonius Saccas. Eusebius declares he was a Christian, Porphyry declares he was a pagan Platonist. The apologists on both sides of the debate have argued there were two Ammonius persons, one pagan and one Christian. That there were two famous schools of philosophy in Alexandria with leaders of the same name, seems highly unlikely.
Plotinus wrote extensively in Greek but what survives of his writings was severely edited and reorganized by his student Porphyry. Plotinus considered himself a Platonist and interpreter of Plato. (The Enneads. V.i.8.10-14). Those philosophers of the 19th century renamed his philosophy “Neoplatonism”. Only after his death did Porphyry edit and publish The Enneads. In Greek ennea means nine, this work was organized into six books of nine chapters.
Origen died before these works were published, but there is still a good connection with the Neoplatonism which Origen expounded. First, the theme of Origen’s theology is very similar to Plotinus. Second, it is more than likely that both Origen and Plotinus studied under the same teacher than two teachers with the same name. Third, Porphyry writes that Origen expounded Neoplatonism well but Origen just mixed this philosophy with Jewish myths.

The Enneads presents a description of god, the problem of theodicy and the solution which is a form of their salvation. The god of Plotinus’ consists of three hypostases of Being inspired from Plato’s Parmenides. The word “hypostasis” derives from the Greek hupo (ὑπό) meaning “under” and stasis (στάσις) meaning “standing”. The hypostasis is the real or true substance which underlies all living things

Plotinus proposes three hypostases that compose a hierarchy of being: the One (εν), the Intellect (νους) and the Soul (ψυχη). Unlike the Christian trinity, this is not an equal partnership. This is a hierarchal relationship with each hypostases generating the next lower level, The One is first, the Intellect second and the third Soul.

The Plotinian One has the same attributes to the One in Plato’s Parmenides. It is immutable, ineffable, transcendent, simple and generates all other hypostases. The next level is the Intellect. Those familiar with Plato’s cave allegory will recognize this as the divine level of the Platonic Forms. The Intellect is also immutable but it is not one. It represents a Dyad because it includes thinking.. The Intellect is produced through the One but the Intellect looks back at the One through contemplation. The Soul is generated by the Intellect. It produces and animates the sensible world. This Soul, the third hypostasis is sometimes confused with the world’s soul and a person’s soul. The created world is a creation of the Soul. This creation is a result of losing the contemplation toward the One. The production of the material world is the culmination of an evil act of separation from the One.
Thus all souls begin with the One, proceed to the Intellect, pass through the Soul in their way to the material world. Even though all souls were perfect they began with the One, where they were perfect, as they travel through each hypostasis, they become more and more corrupt. This process is referred to as the descent.
“Salvation” is possible through contemplation. Each of the lower hypostases is generated by contemplating the next higher hypostasis in itself. The sensible or material world which also has a hierarchical order from humans, to animals, to plants and finally to inorganic matter, which is the lowest level of being. Just as the descent was possible through lack of contemplation the ascent is also possible through contemplation. The lower souls enjoy evil and being independent of God.
A Neoplatonist practices his religion by returning (επιστροφη) up the hierarchy of being from the Soul to the One. This process of returning is called the ascent (ἄνοδος). It is a form of meditation which the Christian mystics call contemplation. The Platonic mystic must prepare himself for the ascent by practicing purification. Purification is the process of ridding oneself of the evil inherent in the body and escaping into the noncorporeal world of the spirit. This purification is not the Christian process of becoming holy by following commandments. This is the Plotinian purification of denying the body on its dependence of material things. The body is enslaved by evil. To escape this slavery, it is necessary to practice the higher virtues. Of course the three hypostases are spiritual beings and do not require the passions of the body: sex and food. Plotinus says this unabashedly:
But we must state the extent of this purification; in this way it will become clear what god we are made like to and identified with…It gets rid of passion as completely as possible, altogether if it can, but if it cannot, at least it does not share its emotional excitement…It will obviously not desire anything bad; it will not itself have the desire of food and drink for the relief of the body, and certainly not of sexual pleasure either.

As a soul ascends the ladder of being the soul, becomes more and more like the hypostasis at the end of the ladder. The One is an impersonal god without emotions or passions. The soul loses contact with his personal relatives and acquaintance and withdraws into his own world. Plotinus insists that solitary life is most godly.
But if it runs the opposite way, it will arrive, not at something else but at itself…but in itself; but when it is in itself alone and not in being; it is in that ; for one becomes, not substance, but “beyond substance”….
This is the life of god and of godlike and blessed men, deliverance from the things of this world, a life which takes no delight in the things of the world, escape in solitude to the solitary.
Does Origen’s ascent and descent resemble Plotinus’ ascent and descent. There is no doubt that the similarities are striking and too close to be accidental. In Origen’s theology there is a descent from a previously perfect universe. In Plotinus’ theology there is a descent from the perfect One. In Origen’s theology the remedy is an ascent back to God by a process of purification that includes fasting and abstinence from sexual relations. In Plotinus’s ascent one must ascend to the One through contemplation and purification which includes fasting and abstinence from sexual relations. These two theologies are too close to be accidental and are admitted by Origen to be philosophical and by Porphyry to be related to his Platonic theology. Each are dependent on a God who has the apophatic attributes of immutability, simplicity, incomprehensibility and impassibility.
V. Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, Homily VIII
Homily VIII is Origen’s exposition about offering of Isaac as a sacrifice in Genesis 22. The whole basis of the sermon is the Christological interpretation of an Old Testament event.
Behold God contending with men in magnificent liberality: Abraham offered God a mortal son who was not put to death; God delivered to death an immortal son for men.

The story of the binding of Isaac in Genesis 22 has received the attention of students of the Bible for many years. In Jewish terms the binding is called ‘Aqedat Yitshaq ( יַּעֲקֹד֙ אֶת־יִצְחָ֣ק ) from Genesis 22:9. The Aqedah is renowned for being a type of willing sacrifice of the young for the nation of Israel. In Christian terms is Isaac a sacrifice which is a type of the sacrifice of Christ? Did the apostles portray Isaac as a type of Christ or was the connection made later by the Church Fathers? Origen clearly believed and taught Isaac as a type of Christ:
But the Word continued “in incorruption,” which is Christ according to the spirit, of which Isaac is the image. For this reason he himself is both victim and priest. For truly according to the spirit he offers the victim to the Father, but according to the flesh he himself is offered on the altar of the cross,
Isaac is an image of Christ. As Christ is both victim and priest so Isaac is both victim and priest. As Isaac was offered on the altar of sacrifice so Jesus was offered on the altar of sacrifice.
The sacrifice of Isaac is seen as a type prefiguring the actual sacrifice of Jesus Christ which is the antitype. As interesting as this argument might be, what concerns this paper the hermeneutics behind Origen’s argument. How did Origen argue for Isaac as a type and Jesus Christ as the antitype?
These questions should be answered:
1) Did the New Testament teach this typology
2) What evidence did Origen use to support his argument
3) Did Origen define his hermeneutic and did he use this method in his analysis
4) Did the Rabbinic tradition have similar motives that might have influenced Christian thought?
Many commentators have noted the literary forms used by Origen influenced later patristic forms but the style of the sermon is strikingly modern. Those extant works of Origen that remain can be grouped into three categories: brief notes, homilies and books. Certainly many if not most of his works were written by stenographers who listened to his sermons as preached to an audience of common people at a church in Caesarea. In Homily VIII, chosen as part of a cycle of liturgical readings, Origen expounds on the attempted sacrifice of Isaac. As it is tedious to give an exhaustive account of any passage it is insightful what Origen chose to stress and what he omitted.
Most modern sermons follow the format of a sales pitch. There is the hook. Tension is created which grabs the buyers attention. There is an unmet need that needs to be satisfied.
What does Origen say: l
Give me your attention, you who have approached God, who believe yourselves to be faithful. Consider diligently how the faith of the faithful is proved from these words which have been read to us
Origen is speaking to a secular group of Christians who desire God enough to be in church and to certain extant even defy the ruling authorities. Under normal circumstances this would be enough to be praiseworthy but a tension is needed to provoke the desired response.
Yes you have approached God but you just believe yourselves to be faithful. What is needed is for you to prove your faithfulness. The tension may or may not be true. All that is needed is for there to be a felt tension, a perceived tension.
In a fast sale the salesman must get to the solution right away. Since Origen has a captive audience he can delay the solution to the end of the sermon. How does one meet this need. What is the solution? The expositor has the solution.
“Now I know that you fear God, because you spared not your son,” or your daughter or wife, or you spared not your money or the honors of the world or the ambitions of the world, but you have despised all things and “have counted all things dung that you may gain Christ,”5l “you have sold all things and have given to the poor and have followed the Word of God?”52 Who of you, do you think, will hear a word of this kind from the angels? Meanwhile Abraham hears this voice, and it is said to him: “You spared not your beloved son because of me.”53
This is a very modern solution. The solution to all problems is to give money. Of course the modern expositors say give to God and somehow this means give to me. There seems to be a confusion of who God is. Origen spares us this confusion and ask his congregation to give to the poor.
He expects his congregation to give “all” to the poor at the expense of their sons and daughters and wives. Not surprisingly the emphasis is not on the relief of the poor. This is absent from his motive. The motive is purification of the soul of the giver.
But these things are written on account of you, because you too indeed have believed in God, but unless you shall fulfill “the works of faith,” unless you shall be obedient to all the commands, even the more difficult ones, unless you shall offer sacrifice and show that you place neither father nor mother nor sons before God, you will not know that you fear God nor will it be said of you: “Now I know that you fear God.”
Notice the conflation that leads to extrapolation and excess. Did Abraham sell all his possessions and give to the poor. Did Job sell all his possessions and give to the poor. No, but through Abraham’s and Job’s example his congregation is expected to sell all their property. As one step in the 42 steps of purification this makes sense.
How does the expositor prove his solution. What are the facts that lead to the obvious solution. The form of the sermon is interesting in its own right. However the meat of this exposition is the proof and the hermeneutical methods Origen is using to support his sales pitch and conclusion.
That Isaac himself carries on himself “the wood for the holocaust” is a figure, because Christ also “himself carried his own cross,”2! and yet to carry “the wood for the holocaust” is the duty of a priest. He himself, therefore, becomes both victim and priest. But what is added also is related to this: “And they both went off together.” For when Abraham carries the fire and knife as if to sacrifice, Isaac does not go behind him, but with him, that he might be shown to contribute equally with the priesthood itself.
Just a note on typology. It is easy to create a typology. Here is the analogy. Isaac carried wood and Jesus carried wood. Isaac is the type which prefigured Jesus the antitype. Jesus is a priest according the order of Melchizedek and Isaac functions as a priest. He does not walk behind but alongside of Abraham and he carries the implements and the sacrifice to the altar.
The power of the typology lies with the writers of the cannon. Did Moses realize when he lifted the snake on the stick that it would be a prefiguration of the crucifixion of Christ? No, but when Jesus explained the serpent in the wilderness and used it as typology, then the type became effective. (John 3:14) If the typology is used by New Testament writers then it has the divine inspiration which gives weight to the typology. If the typology is in the imagination of the preacher, it may be interesting but it lacks authority.
There are three NT passages about Genesis 22. Hebrews 11:17-20, James 2:21-23 and Romans 8:32. In Hebrews 11 the main character is Abraham not Isaac. If Christ was prefigured then Abraham represent God and Isaac would represent Christ. The purpose of the passage is to point out the faith of Abraham not the sacrifice of Isaac. God is not testing himself, the analogy falls short. Abraham is the type for God, the New Testament antitype.
Hebrews 11:17-20 (NKJV)
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 [a]of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” 19 concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.
James refers to Abraham offering his son on the altar. In order to be a typology of Christ’s sacrifice, somehow Isaac is a type of Christ and Abraham is a type of God. Somehow the sacrifice has to benefit a sinner who is in need of forgiveness. James is concerned with the faith of Abraham as an example of faith being made perfect by a human work of faith.

James 2:21-23 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God.
Again the passage is stressing Abraham’s faith and not the sacrifice of Isaac. The analogy to the crucifixion of Christ is not present.
Romans 8:32 is included in this list because it shares some key words with the Septuagint version of Genesis 22. The words for spare and the words for delivered up and the object son. Paul did not specifically mention Isaac at all. There is not enough evidence to directly connect this passage to Isaac.
Romans 8:32 (NKJV)
32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all,
Genesis 22:12 Septuagint
12 καὶ εἶπε· μὴ ἐπιβάλῃς τὴν χεῖρά σου ἐπὶ τὸ παιδάριον μηδὲ ποιήσῃς αὐτῷ μηδέν· νῦν γὰρ ἔγνων, ὅτι φοβῇ σὺ τὸν Θεὸν καὶ οὐκ ἐφείσω τοῦ υἱοῦ σου τοῦ ἀγαπητοῦ δι᾿ ἐμέ.
Romans 8:32
ος γε του ιδιου υιου ουκ εφεισατο αλλ υπερ ημων παντων παρεδωκεν αυτον πως ουχι και συν αυτω τα παντα ημιν χαρισεται
.
The New Testament writers do provide an obvious or direct analogy from the binding of Isaac to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The New Testament writers did use Genesis 22 as a typology for the sacrifice of Christ.
Many of you who hear these words are fathers in the Church of God. Do you think anyone of you from the mere relating of the story acquires so much steadfastness, so much strength of soul, that when a son perhaps is lost by a death that is common and due to all, even if he be an only son, even if he be a beloved son, might bring in Abraham as an example for himself and set his magnanimity before his eyes?
Origen makes an emotional appeal to engage the reader and elicit an emotional identification with the struggle Abraham was enduring. To engage the crowd and to bring sympathy to your cause through shared experiences may be good rhetoric but it is not a convincing argument. Later in the text he mentions to the crowd about his desire to by a martyr. This shameless self-aggrandizement is not flattering to his character.
Now it is worthwhile to know how both are appropriate to Christ, both Isaac who is not slain and the ram which is slain. Christ is “the Word of God,” but “the Word was made flesh.”55 One aspect of Christ, therefore, is from above; the other is received from human nature and the womb of the virgin. Christ suffered, therefore, but in the flesh; and he endured death, but it was the flesh, of which this ram is a type, as also John said: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sin of the world.”56 But the Word continued “in incorruption,”57 which is Christ according to the spirit, of which Isaac is the image.
There is a problem in the typology. Jesus was slain but Isaac was not. How does Origen resolve the problem. Christ has two natures; the human the deity. The ram represents the human nature in the flesh that died. Isaac represents the divine nature that did not die. This typology suffers from many false analogies but here is a few. The ram was not a son of Abraham. Abraham suffered no loss or any sacrifice as a result of the death of the ram. Isaac did not die at the altar but he eventually died How is Isaac a spiritual figure since he had a beginning and an end?
A clear way of spiritual understanding is opened for those who know how to hear these words. For everything which has been done reaches to the vision, for it is said that “the Lord saw.” But the vision which “the Lord saw” is in the spirit so that you too might see these things in the spirit which are written and, just as there is nothing corporeal in God so also you might perceive nothing corporeal in all these things,62 but you too might beget a son Isaac in the spirit, when you begin to have “the fruit of the Spirit,joy, peace.”
Truly seeing Scripture in the spiritual sense leaves no boundaries for interpretation. From the Lord saw we are transformed into a superior spiritual insight from the corporeal insight that is clearly not in God. This is shameless exploitation of a simple narrative in Genesis to support his Platonically inspired maxim. The spiritual is superior to the corporeal.

(9) “And looking back with his eyes,” the text says, “Abraham saw, and behold a ram was held by its horns in a bush Sabec.”54 We said above, I think, that Isaac represented Christ. But this ram no less also seems to represent Christ. Now it is worthwhile to know how both are appropriate to Christ, both Isaac who is not slain and the ram which is slain.
Of course the analogy falls short. Isaac was not sacrificed but the ram was. How is the ram a type of Christ? Isaac was a type of Christ until his life was spared but the sacrificed ram was the type of Christ in his death.

The Ascent in Homily VIII
But first it is said to him that he ought to offer his son, and then he is ordered to go “into the high land” and ascend the mountain. … the ascent of the mountain is enjoined, that in all these things there might be a period of struggle between affection and faith, love of God and love of the flesh, the charm of things present and the expectation of things future. He is sent, therefore, “into the high land” …, but he is also ordered to ascend a mountain, of course that, exalted by faith, he might abandon earthly things and ascend to things above.
When Moses had come to the place which God shows him, he is not permitted to ascend, but first God says to him: “Loose the tie of the shoes from your feet. “29 None of these things are said to Abraham and Isaac, but they ascend nor do they put aside their shoes. The reason for this is perhaps that Moses although he was “great,”30 was, nevertheless, coming from Egypt and some fetters of mortality were bound to his feet. Abraham and Isaac however, have none of these, but “they come to the place.”
There is nothing in Genesis 22 to suggest a significance to the heights or the ascent to the heights to be significant. This is an appeal to the ascent in Origen’s theology of ascent and descent. Ascending the mountain somehow represents a struggle between the fleshly affliction of love for your sons and the spiritual value of faith in God. How does Abraham abandon earthly things by ascending the mountain? He still has his flocks, his wife and his tents.
Moses was less than Abraham because he came from the flesh which is Egypt but Abraham and Isaac are superior to Moses because they were not bound by the fetters of mortality. This makes no sense in the context of verses in the Scripture. This make sense only if an overlay of the theological speculations of the ascent and the descent are forced upon the interpretation.
Origen concludes his homilies with the same doxology 1 Peter 4:11 To him belong glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen .









Bibliography
Avi Sagi, “Judaism:Akedah” April 5, 2020. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/akedah
Aristotle. Posterior Analytics. Trans. G. R. G. Mure. Internet Classics Archive. http:// http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/posterior.2.ii.html Accessed 10 April
Crombie, Frederick. “De Principiis (Book II).” CHURCH FATHERS: De Principiis, Book II (Origen). Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1985. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/04122.htm.
Davies, P. R., and B. D. Chilton. “The Aqedah: A Revised Tradition History.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 40, no. 4 (1978): 514-46. Accessed April 4, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43715037.
Domaradzki, Mikolaj “The Beginnings of Greek Allegoresis Classical World”, Classical World, Volume 110, Number 3, Spring 2017, Johns Hopkins University Press http://mikolajdomaradzki.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Domaradzki_2017.pdf, pp. 299-321
Fanning, W. (1908). Citation. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved April 4, 2020 from New Advent: Church History (Eusebius), Book VI, Chapter 2: http://www. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/250106.htm
HEINE, RONALD E. Homilies on Genesis and Exodus. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1982. Accessed April 4, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt32b3pv.
HINSON, AARON P. “PHILOSOPHY, HELLENICITY, LAW: PORPHYRY ON ORIGEN, AGAIN.” The Journal of Hellenic Studies 132 (2012): 55-69. Accessed April 11, 2020. www
JOHNSON, AARON P. “PHILOSOPHY, HELLENICITY, LAW: PORPHYRY ON ORIGEN, AGAIN.” The Journal of Hellenic Studies 132 (2012): 55-69. Accessed April 4, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41722254.
The Bibliographical Test Updated, Christian Research Journal, vol. 35, no. 3 (2012). Available at http://www.equip.org/articles/the-bibliographical-test-updated/)

Plato, Republic , trans. Paul Shoreyy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1920), Perseus Digital Library. http://perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D2%3Apage%3D378accessed April 17, 2012). Book II, 378a

Plotinus. Ennead V. Trans. A. H. Armstrong. Loeb Classical Library 444. 1984. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2001. P 39-41 P 11 (V,1,1)
Prat, F. (1911). De Principiis In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved April 8, 2020 from New Advent: http:// http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/04121.htm
Scott, Mark S.M.. Journey Back to God (AAR ACADEMY SER) (p. 108). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition. p 108.





This is a cow.





























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Reformed and Covenant theologians do not believe in the power of the gospel, they do not even know what the gospel is Part 2: The missing gospel of Reformed Theology

While Dispensationalists believe the content and perhaps the method of salvation has changed from each dispensation, the Covenant Theologian believes the gospel of Paul (I Cor. 15:1-5) is the same gospel in each dispensation.  There is some confusion in their ranks as to the meaning of the same gospel.  Either the gospel is very generic, belief in a future Messiah that will redeem his people, or there is an extra-biblical source of revelation, or the Old Testament is twisted into proof for the gospel death, burial and resurrection of the Messiah.

In the Old Testament, there is no developed gospel of the death, burial and resurrection of a Messiah figure for the redemption of mankind.  Perhaps it is possible to assemble something from Isaiah 53, Daniel 9 and Jonah.  Even this would be impossible for the saints who lived prior to Daniel and Isaiah not to mention the difficulty in having access to many scrolls of the Old Testament even in the time of Jesus.  But these glimpses of a Messiah to come would not be obvious to the congregation and certainly not the core message of their salvation.

The great chapter of faith, Hebrew 11, does not force this unrealistic expectation on prior dispensations.  The content of faith is the promise to Abraham of many children.  He is praised for the believing the revelation given to him.  The other examples are similar, the gospel of I Cor. 15:1-5 is not mentioned.

The terms “Covenant of Works” “Covenant of Grace” “Covenant of Redemption” and “Covenant of Law” are not in the Scriptures.  In the magnum opus of both Berkhof and Hodge the gospel of I Cor. 15:1-5 is never referenced but there are lengthy apologies for these non-Scriptural terms.  The non-Scriptures terms are three covenants:  the Covenant of Redemption; an agreement between Christ and God to save mankind; the Covenant of Law, which includes the laws given to Moses and the Covenant of Grace.  The Covenant of Grace is the New Testament gospel of salvation by faith alone in the risen Savior.

Charles Hodge confirms this relationship between the gospel of salvation and the covenant of grace.  His theology attacks the Paul’s gospel, the gospel which now saves the persons in the Body of Christ.

In all these senses of the word the plan of salvation is properly called a covenant of grace.

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology , 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1940), 2:285

Remember the Covenant or Reformed three versions of the gospel: generic, extra-biblical or twisted.  The low lying branch will examined first.  The laughable excuse of the Covenant theologian Charles Hodge is in a kind of oral tradition, known by Israel, but not in the Scriptures but necessary for the salvation of Israel.

Charles Hodge hints at a water-downed gospel and arrogantly claims the gospel was revealed to the Old Testament saints in an extra-biblical manner.  He (1797 – 1878) is the preeminent Presbyterian theologian, a principal of Princeton Theological Seminary the leading proponent of the Princeton theology, in the Calvinist tradition.  He believes in some type of oral tradition was necessary for Old Testament saints to believe or become eternally damned.[1]

This is an incredible twist on Scriptural authority.  In his words “What amount of supplementary instruction the people received from the prophets, or what degree of divine illumination was granted to them we cannot tell.”  Not only does Scripture not contain enough information to be saved but there is some oral tradition which really saves.  Why is he a Protestant and why was the Protestant Reformation even necessary?

What is the solution?  Somehow Moses had to believe in the death, burial, resurrection and witness of Jesus Christ in order to be saved.  Moses did not write about this event but his belief in this event was necessary for their salvation.  How did the people receive this information?  The people to whom Moses wrote the Torah, had to believe in this event even if Moses failed to mention the event.

What drives the Reformed and Covenant theologians to such extremes.  They promote immutability, a concept more loved than the gospel.[2]  Paul is clear the gospel has changed because of the unbelief of the Jews.  Because Hodge believes in immutability he denies Paul’s clear presentation of the change in the gospel: Charles Hodge “They (the decrees of

God)  cannot be supposed to be contingent or suspended on the action of his creatures.”  Of course this is a direct contradiction of Romans 11:20.  The Scripture is no restraint on Covenant Theology.

Romans 11:20
Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear.

God decreed that Israel would be the vehicle of bringing salvation to the world but Israel failed.  As a result of this failure God changed his plan or decree and turned to the Gentiles.  The wild branch of the Gentiles would become grafted to root and replace Israel which is the natural branch.

Early in the lives of Reformed and Covenant professors, it becomes necessary to make a decision.  What should one love more, the gospel or theology?  The decision in made, the gospel has to change from the simple presentation in I Cor. 15:1-5.  Throw in a little philosophy from immutability and “abracadabra”  the Covenant of Grace; the gospel and the method of salvation had to be the same from the beginning.  This is the same message and the same vehicle of salvation,  the message of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and salvation by faith alone.

Unfortunately there is not a clear presentation of I Cor. 15:1-5 in the Old Testament.  This fact is not lost on Covenant theologians.  Their job is to find the unfindable or make it up in their imaginations.  The solution robs the gospel of effectiveness and denies either the content of the gospel.  Either solution is destructive of the Gospel or the authority of Scriptures.

Louis Berkhof (1873 –1957),  perhaps the most influential Dutch Reformed theologian of the United States, is unable to define the gospel.  In his work Systematic Theology he never even cites 1Cor. 15:1-4; a whole theology without a gospel.  He attempts to define the content of the gospel.  Under the heading “

THE CONTENTS OF THE COVENANT OF GRACE”
THE PROMISES OF GOD. The main promise of God, which includes all other promises, is contained in the oft-repeated words, “I will be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.”

The content of the Gospel is not a promise.  The content of the gospel, what you must believe in order to receive the promise of salvation, is not an evangelical method for salvation i.e. four spiritual laws, or a Christian doctrine i.e. Nicene Creed or the implications of the Gospel i.e. what are the effects or the promises of the gospel.[3]  The gospel is the content of an historical event:  the death, burial, resurrection and witness thereof of Jesus Christ.  These events happened for our sins and according to Scriptures.  This is the gospel.

If the gospel was a watered down version of believe that God will be your God then Paul suffered for nothing.

Galatians 5:11
And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased.

Certainly the Jews who persecuted Paul believed that God was their God and their children’s God.  Paul was still imprisoned by such people who he called “estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” (Gal. 5:4)

The core belief of Jesus died for your sins, was buried, rose again the third day and was seen, included some attendant attributes such as “the resurrection of the saints” (I Cor. 15) and “salvation by faith and not of works (Gal. 5).”  But the gospel is simple enough for a child to understand.  Somehow the simple message of the gospel suffers in intelligibility after the theologians are finished.

If extra-biblical revelation is fantastic and unbelievable to rational people Hodge suggests the possibility of a water-down gospel:  a gospel of a Messiah who would come and redeem his people.  From 1 Cor. 15, it is clear that this is not sufficient.  A person must believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  After presenting the gospel in the first five verses the rest of the chapter is devoted in stressing the resurrection in the gospel.

If Paul did not believe in the power of the gospel would he suffer whippings, beatings, stonings and shipwrecks [4]  for the gospel? If everyone is who would be saved in predestined to salvation without any effort by Paul why did he call the gospel the power of salvation?  Did Paul retain the hope that he had some effect on their salvation?  Paul even suggests that he begot his converts through the gospel.[5]

Peter calls Paul’s gospels the rest of Scriptures.  In the same way, the Gospels (Mark, Matthew Luke and John) were considered Scriptures.  The concept of a sacrifice for sins and perhaps the three days of Jonah’s confinement in the whale offer parallels in the Old Testament but a fully developed theological solution of the sacrifice of the Messiah for our sins and then the subsequent resurrection is not present.

Of course the central theme, motivation and message of the Christian faith is the gospel.  Most Protestants whether they are familiar with the term “sola fide” or not intuitively believe this doctrine of justification which is Latin for “by faith alone.”  Martin Luther called this the “the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine” and insisted the Church stands or falls on this doctrine.

Yet sadly for most Protestants this word “faith” or even the word “gospel” has become a connotation word without content.  Yet we must have faith but faith in what.  I may believe my tooth paste will prevent tooth decay but that faith will have no effect on my eternal salvation.  I may receive “good news” or the gospel from my dentist that I have no cavities but that good news is not effective in my salvation.

Paul says there is “good news” which saves.[6]  The gospel  has content which has been delivered to us, we have received it, stand in it and are saved by it.  The content of the good news is the “death, burial, resurrection and the confirmation of the witnesses of these events in Jesus’ life.” But these events would be nothing unless they were confirmed by Scriptures and understood as a effecting our lives or “for our sins.”

Why is a belief in a “Messiah who redeems us” a watering down of the gospel?  Because the gospel is Jesus Christ offering himself as the offering for our sins.  If the Old Testament saints believed in redemption it was through the sacrifice of bulls and goats, not through the offering of a human being.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is his sacrifice of himself for our sins.

So faith is not isolated it has content.  That content is the gospel or good news.  The good news is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins.  The gospel has content, the content is easy to understand, and the content has to be believed.

[1] In determining the degree of knowledge possessed by the ancient people of God, we are not to be governed by our own capacity of discovering from the Old Testament Scriptures the doctrines of grace. What amount of supplementary instruction the people received from the prophets, or what degree of divine illumination was granted to them we cannot tell. It is, however, clear from the writings of the New Testament, that the knowledge of the plan of salvation current among the Jews at the time of the advent, was much greater than we should deem possible from the mere perusal of the Old Testament. They not only generally and confidently expected the Messiah, who was to be a teacher as well as a deliverer, but the devout Jews waited for the salvation of Israel. They spoke as familiarly of the Holy Spirit and of the baptism which He was to effect, as Christians now do. It is, principally, from the assertions of the New Testament writers and from their expositions of the ancient Scriptures, that we learn the amount of truth revealed to those who lived before the coming of Christ.

From the Scriptures, therefore, as a whole, from the New Testament, and from the Old as interpreted by infallible authority in the New, we learn that the plan of salvation has always been one and the same; having the same promise, the same Saviour, the same condition, and the same salvation.

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology , 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1940), 2:273

[2] Again, as the decrees of God are eternal and immutable, no view of his plan of operation which supposes Him to purpose first one thing and then another can ho consistent with their nature.  And as God is absolutely sovereign and independent, all his purposes must be determined from  within or according to the counsel of his own will. They cannot be supposed to he contingent or suspended on the action of his creatures, or upon anything out of Himself.

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology , 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1940), 2:239

[3] Borrowed from ibid. Blake Newsom

[4] 2 Cor 11:23-26 23 Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. 24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep;

[5] 1 Corinthians 4:15 For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.

[6] 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 (NKJV)

15 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.

 

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Reformed and Covenant theologians do not believe in the power of the gospel, they do not even know what the gospel is Part 1 What is the gospel by which we are saved?

Romans 1:16 (NKJV)

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.

“For I am not ashamed of predestination for it is the power of God to salvation.”  ‘Predestination’  is in italics to stress the irony of the Covenant and Reformed Theology, which denigrate the gospel.  What causes salvation in the Reformed tradition; salvation through faith or predestination?  Predestination is the cause of salvation. Charles Hodge a leading Reformed Theologian explains the cause of salvation:

The fact that God has predestinated them to salvation is the reason why they are brought to repentance and a holy life. (Charles Hodge) [1]

This misconception of predestination is from a misunderstanding of Ephesians 1.  It is clear from Ephesians 1:13 that salvation is from belief in the gospel.  A person is saved after believing.  (13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise)  God determined this method or salvation from the beginning of the world and in his plan, the saved would become holy and blameless before him in love. (Ephesians 1:4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love)

Reformed and Covenant theologians do not believe in the power of the gospel.  Their hope is election.  The gospel is not the power of God for salvation and belief is not optional, it is predetermined in eternity past.  The gospel does not have the power to transform, the real power is in election.

If belief in the gospel is not a real transformation but an outward sign of a predetermined salvation by election, then why pretend that the content of the gospel is meaningful?  Indeed content is not meaningful for the Covenant and Reformed Theologians.  They do not know what the gospel is.

The Westminster Confessions explains the gospel as “faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation.”[2]  The gospel by which man are saved is more than this.  The Gospel includes the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the resurrection of the saints and salvation by faith alone.

Paul explains the content of the gospel is important.  It is through which we are saved.  The content of the gospel is simple and easy to understand.  Many children are saved through this gospel who do not have doctorate degrees in Christian universities.

The term “gospel” is used 101 times in the New Testament.  71 times the term is used by Paul and 30 times by others.  However the content of the gospel has changed.  The gospel Paul preached was the final form of the gospel which now saves us.  The Gospel which Paul preached and by which we are saved is the gospel presented in 1 Cor. 15:

15 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.

Paul calls the death, burial, resurrection and the witness of the same by the disciples; the gospel.  This is a summary of course, as later in the same chapter, he declares faith as vain or empty to those who believe the resurrection of the saints has already happened.  In Galatians he is clear salvation is by faith in this gospel and not by the law.

If the gospel was a watered down version of believe that God will be your God then Paul suffered for nothing.

Galatians 5:11
And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased.

Circumcision is a synecdoche for keeping the law as the Covenant theologian would say the “Covenant of Works.”  A synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a word referring to a part of something is used for the whole of something i.e. White House.

Paul believed in salvation by faith alone and justification that was not by the works of the law.  Paul is being persecuted because he is not preaching justification by the law.   Certainly the Jews who persecuted Paul believed the water-downed version;  God was their God and their children’s God; the Westminster gospel.  This content was not enough to save them under Paul’s gospel.  Paul was still imprisoned by such people who he called “estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” (Gal. 5:4)

What does it mean “the works of the law?” or to be “justified by law.”  Who commanded Israel to live under the law and follow all things written in the law?  It was God who gave the law to Israel and God who expected Israel to observe the law.  Moses says cursed is everyone who does not follow the whole law.  Paul quoting the same verse in the Torah says cursed is everyone trying to follow the law.  These are antithetical statements.  Israel is keeping the law to become close to God and the Galatians are running away from the law to become close to God.

Deuteronomy 27:26
‘Cursed is the one who does not confirm all the words of this law by observing them.’ “And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’

Galatians 3:10:
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.”

There has been a tremendous change in the dispensation of God.  Paul personalizes this gospel by calling it “my gospel.”  This gospel differs from the gospel preached by the apostles in that it includes salvation by faith alone and a refinement of the resurrection as the hope of all Christians. The gospel preached by the apostles and Jesus did not include salvation by faith alone.  This is a change in the gospel.  If one does not understand this change, he does not understand Paul or the gospel of the mystery given to him.

 

[1] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology , 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company,

1940), 2:255

 

[2]   VII.3. Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant (the Covenant of Works), the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace: wherein he freely offered unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.

  VII.4. This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in the Scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ, the testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed.

  VII.5. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come, which were for that time sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation, and is called the Old Testament.

The Westminster Confession of Faith. 3rd ed. Lawrenceville, GA: Committee for Christian Education and Publications, 1990. WCF 7.5

 

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The Gospel of the Kingdom is not the Gospel of Paul

The Gospel of Paul which he calls my gospel is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This is the content of the gospel which saves and in which the church stands.  Was this the gospel which Jesus and his disciples taught?
1 Cor. 15:3-5
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.

Of course when Jesus was alive on earth his death had not yet happened.  The gospel being preached was called the gospel of the kingdom of God.  Was there a previous mention of the Kingdom of God in reference to Jesus?

Mark 1:14-15  (NKJV)
14 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Zacharias who had been visited by the angel Gabriel and being released from his curse of being rendered mute, announced the Kingdom.

Luke 1
67 Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:

68 “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,
For He has visited and redeemed His people,
69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of His servant David,
70 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets,
Who have been since the world began,
71 That we should be saved from our enemies
And from the hand of all who hate us,
72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers
And to remember His holy covenant,
73 The oath which He swore to our father Abraham:
74 To grant us that we,
Being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
Might serve Him without fear,

The Kingdom will redeem His people who is Israel.  He will provide for salvation for the House of David.  The kingdom, Israel, will be saved from their enemies who are the surrounding nations.  The holy covenant promised to Israel which is the promise of the land.  The goal is to serve before God in holiness and righteousness in the days of their life on earth.

Genesis 17:8
Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.
10 This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised;

The holy covenant is the promise of the land.  This promise is bilateral, the people of Israel must practice circumcision.  This is the kingdom gospel.  It is a promise to Israel.  What does Paul think about the content of the gospel of the ministry of Jesus?

Romans 15:8 (NKJV)
Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers,

Jesus preached circumcision and confirmed the promises made to the fathers.  Paul did not preach circumcision.[1]  Paul did not confirm the promises made to fathers, he preached to the Gentiles.

Eph. 3:8-9

8 To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make all see what is the fellowship[a] of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ.

 Paul preached to a new audience to the Gentiles, not to Israel alone.  Paul preached the mystery and not the promises made to the fathers.  You cannot find his gospel of salvation by faith alone, the death and resurrection of Jesus and the saints, in the Old Testament.

Did Jesus and the disciples preach the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in order to be saved?  The disciples were preaching the gospel, they were promised to sit on twelve thrones judging the people of Israel.  Were they saved?  The gospel preached by the disciples did not believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ until these events actually happened.

Luke 18
31 Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. 32 For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. 33 They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”34 But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.

Did Peter, the one called the rock who was appointed by Jesus to be the leader of the church after his death did he believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ?  Not only did Peter not believe but he was so deluded by Satan that Jesus rebukes him.

Mark 8:30-33 (NKJV)
29 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.”  30 Then He strictly warned them that they should tell no one about Him.
30 Then He strictly warned them that they should tell no one about Him.  31 And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. 33 But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

Before the death of Jesus, He and his disciples preached a gospel of the kingdom.  This was not the gospel Paul preached.  Their gospel preached circumcision and the establishment of the promised Kingdom to Israel.  The content of the gospel changed from the Kingdom gospel to the gospel preached by Paul.

[1] Galatians 5:11
And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased.

 

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Reformed and Covenant Theologians deny the gospel!

Part I,  What does John (Calvin) have to say?  It is not

1 Corinthians 15:1-5 (NKJV)

15 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 

Blake Newsom who has a Ph.D from a Baptist Seminary and is the  Director of Mentoring for Pastoral Ministries at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary was given a “softball question” from the pastoral search committee.  He was surprised to hear, the committee did not share his belief. In his words:

“What is the gospel?” The question seemed simple enough, so without hesitation I responded in a relatively straightforward and unguarded manner by quoting 1 Cor 15:1–5…
“That’s not the gospel!” To say that I was stunned to hear those words rifling in response from one of the pastor search committee members would be a dramatic understatement…
I could not understand the reason for such a protest. Because I had completed two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. from a respected seminary, having my understanding of the gospel challenged was a bit confusing. [1]

There should not have been any confusion.  Those persons professing a Reformed or Covenant theology have a long history about being confused on what the gospel is.  The confusion is from their theology.  It is not a minor issue since their theology called the covenant of grace is equated with the plan of salvation:  the essential and core object of faith which unites all Christians.[2]

While Dispensationalists believe the content and perhaps the method of salvation has changed from each dispensation, the Covenant Theologian believes the gospel of Paul (I Cor. 15:1-5) is the same gospel in each dispensation.  There is some confusion in their ranks as to the meaning of the same gospel.  Either the gospel is very generic, belief in a future Messiah that will redeem his people, or there is an extra-biblical source of revelation, or the Old Testament is twisted into proof for the gospel death, burial and resurrection of the Messiah.

In the Old Testament, there is no developed gospel of the death, burial and resurrection of a Messiah figure for the redemption of mankind.  Perhaps it is possible to assemble something from Isaiah 53, Daniel 9 and Jonah.  Even this would be impossible for the saints who lived prior to Daniel and Isaiah not to mention the difficulty in having access to many scrolls of the Old Testament even in the time of Jesus.  But these glimpses of a Messiah to come would not be obvious to the congregation and certainly not the core message of their salvation.

The great chapter of faith, Hebrew 11, does not force this unrealistic expectation on prior dispensations.  The content of faith is the promise to Abraham of many children.  He is praised for the believing the revelation given to him.  The other examples are similar, the gospel of I Cor. 15:1-5 is not mentioned.

The terms “Covenant of Works” “Covenant of Grace” “Covenant of Redemption” and “Covenant of Law” are not in the Scriptures.  In the magnum opus of Berkhof and Hodge the gospel of I Cor. 15:1-5 is never referenced but there a large apologies for these non-Scriptural terms.  The non-Scriptures terms are three covenants:  the Covenant of Redemption; an agreement between Christ and God to save mankind; the Covenant of Law, which includes the laws given to Moses and the Covenant of Grace.  The Covenant of Grace is the New Testament gospel of salvation by faith alone in the risen Savior.

The forerunner of Covenant Theology John  Calvin explains this as:

  1. It is possible, indeed, to explain both in one word. The covenant made with all the fathers is

so far from differing from ours in reality and substance, that it is altogether one and the same: still the administration differs…. That they both had and knew Christ the Mediator, by whom they were united to God, and made capable of receiving his promises.[3]

Is John Calvin asserting the gospel is a belief in a Messiah figure who would be mediator between God and man?  This is a bit watered-down from Paul’s presentation of the gospel in I Cor. 15.  Paul was jealous and protective of this gospel.  In the rest of the chapter he explains the need to believe in the coming resurrection of all mankind or a person’s belief is null and void and ineffective in salvation.  What would Paul of thought of a gospel that did not include the resurrection of Christ?

Almost all Covenant theologians speak out of both sides of their mouths and Calvin is no exception.  Has the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins been the gospel since the beginning of the world?  Calvin seems to say this:

The constancy of God is conspicuous in this, that he delivered the same doctrine to all ages, and persists in requiring that worship of his name which he commanded at the beginning.[4]

Roll the dice.  Is the gospel the watered-down version or the same doctrine from the beginning?  In Covenant Theology, the Covenant of Grace which is the plan of salvation has not changed since Adam.  Since the death burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ cannot be found in the Old Testament, the Covenant Theologian is forced to water down the gospel, i.e. “belief in a Messiah who redeems us” or to posit extra-biblical doctrine in the Old Testament or to force the gospel on uncooperative Old Testament narratives.

 

It is impossible to make up the laughable excuses of the Covenant Theologian.  In the next post the incredible hypothesis of Charles Hodge will be examined.  He believes in some kind of oral tradition, known by Israel, but not in the Scriptures was not only available but necessary for the salvation of Israel.

Why are Reformed and Covenant theologians ashamed of the gospel and unable to define the simple gospel of 1 Cor. 15:1-4?  In the tradition of Platonism immutability is being impressed on the doctrine of salvation and the definition of the Gospel.  [5]  John Calvin believed the content of the gospel had to be the same since the fall of mankind because “that God ought not to be deemed mutable.”  This Platonic “god” of immutability and the three Omni’s, that supplants the God of Scripture, is now supplanting the gospel.

Somehow Moses had to believe in the death, burial, resurrection and witness of Jesus Christ in order to be saved.  Moses did not write about this event but his belief in this event was necessary for his salvation.  The people whom Moses wrote the Torah, had to believe in this event even if Moses failed to mention the event.

The Reformed and Covenant theologians promote immutability, a concept more loved than the gospel.  Early in the lives of Reformed and Covenant professors, it becomes necessary to make a decision.  What should one love more, the gospel or theology?  The decision in made, the gospel has to change from the simple presentation in I Cor. 15:1-5.  Throw in a little philosophy from immutability and “abracadabra”  the Covenant of Grace; the gospel and the method of salvation had to be the same from the beginning.  This is the same message and the same vehicle of salvation,  the message of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and salvation by faith alone.

Unfortunately there is not a clear presentation of I Cor. 15:1-5 in the Old Testament.  This fact is not lost on Covenant theologians.  Their job is to find the unfindable or make it up in their imaginations.  This solution robs the gospel of effectiveness and denies the plain statements in the Scriptures.

 

 

 

[1] Blake Newsom,The Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry, Fall 2014 • Vol. 11, No. 2

[2] In all these senses of the word the plan of salvation is properly called a covenant of grace.

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology , 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company,1940), 2:285

[3] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1949), 2:10:2, p 266.

[4] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1949), 2:11:13, p 286.

[5] It is unreasonable they say, to suppose that Gods who is always consistent With himself permitted such a change as afterwards to disapprove what he had once ordered and commended. I answer, that God ought not to be deemed mutable, because he adapts different forms to different ages, as he knows to be expedient for each….The constancy of God is conspicuous in this, that he delivered the same doctrine to all ages, and persists in requiring that worship of his name which he commanded at the beginning.

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1949), 2:11:13, p 286.

 

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Psalm 139:16 Screams Out Against Calvinism

Psalm 139:16

New International Version (NIV)
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

JPS Hebrew-English TANAKH
16:Your eyes saw my unformed limbs;
they were all recorded in your book;
in due time they were formed to the very last one of them.

This is the same verse as depicted in two very different translations. The NIV translates the verse as the “days” were formed and written before one of the “days” came to be. The JPS says the “unformed limbs” were formed and written before the “unformed limbs” became fully formed. The NIV uses the term “days” as the subject of the sentence clauses, the JPS uses the term “days” as an adverb; all these things happen in the days the limbs were being formed.

Although the Hebrew is not straightforward, the NIV leaves room for only one interpretation. In this version, the word “days” is the subject of all three clauses: the days “were ordained”, “were written” before “one them came to be”. As is often the case, this translation is used as a proof text for predestination and foreordination. It is claimed that God has predestined the days of every individual’s life. This has been the theme of too many Calvinist commentators who subordinate biblical exegesis to theology:

Foreordination in general cannot rest on foreknowledge; for only that which is certain can be foreknown…His foreknowledge of what is yet to be, whether it be in regard to the world as a whole or in regard to the, detailed life of every individual, rests upon His pre-arranged plan (Jeremiah 1:5; Psalm 139:14-16; Job 23:13, 14; 28:26, 27; Amos 3:7).

Boettner, Lorraine. The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1966(p. 74)

The translation committee of the NIV was heavily weighted with Calvinist sympathizers. The lead translator was Edwin H. Palmer, who had died in 1980 served as executive secretary of CBT, as coordinator of all translation work on the NIV, and as the first general editor of The NIV Study Bible. Dr. Palmer was a pastor of Christian Reformed Churches and an Instructor in Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary (1960–1964). He wrote two books, one of which was The Five Points of Calvinism.

But as the JPS translations indicates, this is a poor prooftext for the Calvinist’s point. There is a better competing translation to the translation offered by the NIV. Although many if not most Calvinists accept Psalm 139:16 as a proof text for predestination, Calvin himself would agree with the JPS translation that the Hebrew uses “days” in an adverbial sense:

PSALM 139

16. …Interpreters are not agreed as to the second clause. Some read ימים, yamim, in the nominative case, when days were made; the sense being, according to them — All my bones were written in thy book, O God! from the beginning of the world, when days were first formed by thee, and when as yet none of them actually existed. The other is the more natural meaning, That the different parts of the human body are formed in a succession of time; for in the first germ there is no arrangement of parts, or proportion of members, but it is developed, and takes its peculiar form progressively.

Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. 12: Psalms, Part V, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com Psalm 139

Calvin does not go into detail why he thinks “days” should be translated adverbial but I propose three reasons: the common adverbial use of the word “days” transliterated yā·mîm in the Old Testament, the context of Psalm 139, and the description of the use of yā·mîm as an adverb by a grammarian. It cannot be emphasized enough; this idea is supported by one very important grammarian: John Calvin.

The Hebrew word for days in Psalm 139:16 is transliterated yā·mîm (Hebrew יָמִ֑ים) is used 269 times in the Old Testament. It is used nominatively or accusatively, as the subject or the direct object of the verb, fewer than 45 times. (Amos 9:13 Behold the days are coming) Most of the other uses are adverbial uses of noun, what often is referred to as the genitive case.  (Genesis 8:12 So he waited yet another seven days and sent out the dove) It is admitted that “days” is a noun, the question is how is the word “days” used in the sentence; as the subject of the verb or the object of the verb or as an indicator of the duration of the action.

Most of the 269 times are adverbial uses of yā·mîm. In many cases as in Genesis 8:12 “seven days” just appears as a noun without a preposition or other indicator of adverbial use. In the English it is common to put a preposition before a noun to indicate the adverbial use of the noun. For example “we sleep at night.” The preposition “at” helps us to understand the noun “night” is being used adverbially in the sentence describing when we sleep.

In comparison to Psalm 139:16, in Genesis 24:55 there is a close equivalent use of yā·mîm. There is no preposition or adjective qualifying “days” the word just appears in the sentence. The reason the word few is in parenthesis is the translators have to supply an adjective to make the English understood. It is not common in English to use the accusative or nominative “days” alone in the sentence. But this is common in Hebrew.

Genesis 24:55 (NKJV) But her brother and her mother said, “Let the young woman stay with us a few days, at least ten; after that she may go.”

The word “days” is being used adverbially.  The subject of the sentence is not “days” but “the young woman.”  This common adverbial use of “days” is in Psalm 139:16.

Many translators have chosen to use the word “days” in Psalm 139:16 as the subject of the word form. (NKJ, NIV ESV, NASB, ASV, Douey-Rheims).  Other translators have used the word “days” as an adverb in the sentence.  (KJV, JPS, AKJV, ERV, Jubilee, Webster) Syntactical adverbial use of the word “days” describes the length of the activity of the main verb.   This form of the word “days” transliterated yā·mîm is used 269 in the Old Testament, and the overwhelming syntactical use is adverbial. (over 240 times)  In fact, placing yā·mîm at the end of the clause “all of them (unformed limbs) were being written,” and at the beginning of the clause “they (unformed limbs) were being formed” is a clever use of the adverb “in the days” complementing the imperfect forms “were being written” and “were being formed,” and at the same time providing a common link between the two clauses.  The formation of the unformed limbs was occurring in the same days God was seeing and writing down the event.

Another common indicator of meaning is context. There are three pronouns in Psalm 139:16. What are the antecedents of these pronouns?  The NIV translators thought the three pronouns should refer to “words.”
Psalm 139:16 NIV
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
 all the days (they) ordained for me (they)were written in your book
 before one of them (them) came to be.

The “JPS Hebrew-English TANAKH” translators thought the three pronouns should refer to “unformed limbs.”

Psalm 139:16 JPS
Your eyes saw my unformed limbs; they were all record in your book; in due time they were formed to the very last one of them.

In the Hebrew, the first clause is “(they)were written in your book.”  The word days comes after the first clause. The first use of the pronoun “they” is before the word “days” is even used. This would be very unusual because pronouns are used to avoid boring and redundant use of nouns. In order to be boring and redundant, these nouns would have to be used prior to the pronoun.

In fact the “unformed limbs” seems to the whole topic of the preceding three verses. These unformed limbs are mentioned as; my inward parts, me in my mother’s womb, my frame. The whole context is David as an unformed fetus before he was born. . Certainly context in verses 13-16 shows at least five references to the unformed limbs being formed.

Psalm 139:13-18 New King James Version (NKJV)
13 For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;[a]
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.

It is most likely the reference to “all of them” is David’s unformed limbs. This is supported by the King James version which says, and in thy book all my members were written. In fact the King James version used “days” adverbially and uses “unformed limbs” as the antecedent of the pronouns in the sentences.

Psalm 139:16 (KJV)
16 Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.

The word for unformed substance is used as the subject and object of the prepositions. (“my members” were written, they were fashioned, and there were none of them.) The phrase (in continuance) is a translation of the Hebrew word “days.” This is an adverbial use of “days.”

The following is a lengthy quote from perhaps the most famous Hebrew grammarian. Gesenius affirms the use of nouns as adverbs in the sentence. There is not real distinction morphologically between nouns used in the accusative vs the nominative in the Hebrew. As a grammarian he would categorize this noun as an accusative noun, although he admits this is the adverbial syntactical use (genitive case) of Hebrew language. He actually uses a form of “day” in the Hebrew as an example of “day” used as an adverb.

 (b) Substantives in the accusative (the adverbial case of the Semites, § 118 m), cf. τὴν ἀρχήν, δωρεάν, e. g. מְאֹד (might) very, אֶ פֶ֫ס (cessation) no more, הַיּוֹם (the day) today (cf. § 126 b), 1מָחָר to-morrow, יַ חַ֫ד (union) together. Several of these continued to be used, though rarely, as substantives, e. g. סָבִיב , plur. סְבִיבִים and סְבִיבוֹת , circuit, as adverb circum, around; others have quite ceased to be so used, e. g. כְּבָר (length) long ago [Aram.: only in Ec.]; עוֹד (repetition, duration) again or further.

Gesenius, W., E.Kautzsch & A.E. Cowley (ed.), Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910), 270. (§ 100. Adverbs.2.(b))

The grammarians agree, it is possible to use the word “days” in the adverbial sense.  The overwhelming use of the word day (Hebrew yā·mîm) is in the adverbial sense.  Why does the NIV insist on using days as the subject and not as an adverb?

Are the commentators guided by exegesis or by theology? If the JPS translation is correct then this is not a proof text of the Calvinist eternal now. In the eternal now, God exists outside of time and sees every detail of the future outside of the limitation of time. The JPS translation leaves room for God seeing the development of the unformed fetus in real time as the event happens.

If one were to examine the literal Hebrew translation in the same word order, it would look like this:

The Westminster Leningrad Codex (WLC)

16 גָּלְמִ֤י׀ רָ֘א֤וּ עֵינֶ֗יךָ וְעַֽל־סִפְרְךָ֮ כֻּלָּ֪ם יִכָּ֫תֵ֥בוּ יָמִ֥ים יֻצָּ֑רוּ ׳וְלֹא׳ ״וְל֖וֹ״ אֶחָ֣ד בָּהֶֽם

My unformed substance, they saw, your eyes, and in your book, all of them, will be written, days, they shall be formed, and not, and him, one in them.

I would like to propose a different translation.

Your eyes saw my unformed substances and they were being recorded in your book, in the days the unformed substances were being formed, and as yet, not one of them was fully formed.

There is no controversy about the first clause (Your eyes saw my unformed substances). It is translated, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance.”

The second clause (and in the days) the word “days” is used adverbially. The pronouns used for the subject of the verbs formed and recorded is unformed substance and not days. The English word “words” (ימים, yamim) is being used syntactically as an adverb. It is referring to the timing of the verb ordain NIV or fashioned NKJV. God is observing the formation of the unformed embryo as it is being formed into a newborn baby.  In the words of John Calvin (the different parts of the human body are formed in a succession of time.) Calvin refers to this translation as the more natural meaning because of the context of Psalm 139.

Another problem of this verse is the tense forms of formed and written. (were being formed, they were being recorded in your book) The Hebrew has two tenses, the imperfect and the perfect. In English we call the imperfect the future and the perfect as the past for convenience. The Hebrew however stresses that the perfect is a completed action and the imperfect is an incompleted action. Every translation I could find translates the verbs in the past tense but the verbal form is imperfect not past.

The Psalmist is putting us into the perspective of God, in the past, when the events were not yet done. Keil and Delitzsch refers to this as the synchronous past.  As God’s eyes saw the embryo being formed into a human being he was recording the events as the embryo is being formed. Naturally to the Calvinist this would be against his theology. A Calvinist believes God decrees or writes in his book the formation of the embryo before the world began. These tense forms of “written” and “formed” should be respected.

There is some confusion about the translation of the last clause but it is probably an elliptical construction. An elliptical construction is the omission of one or more words in a sentence that are understood in the context. God was observing the process of the embryo being formed and as yet not one part was fully formed.

If the meaning were “the days were ordained,”  then God would be injecting some sort of timeless, philosophical, statement in the middle of a discourse about the formation of embryos. The word translated as “fashioned” is transliterated as yatsar, Hebrew יָצַר. It is used 63 times in the Old Testament. It is translated “ordained” by the New King James translators 0 times, King James version 0 times, and the NASB 1 time and the NIV 3 times. “Ordained” implies that God preplanned the event in ages past. The most natural meaning of the word yatsar is to fashion or form.

There is a real problem with the tense of the verbs. The verb for “saw” is in the past tense but the words fashion/ordain and “were written” are in the future tense. The tenses in Hebrew do not necessarily correspond to the English tenses. The past tense refers to completed action and the future tense refers to uncompleted action.  When God was looking at the unformed limbs he recorded them and fashioning them.

Your eyes saw my unformed limbs; they are being recorded in your book; in the days they were being formed to the very last one of them. Why do most translations used the past tense for the these verbs? (all the days ordained for me were written in your book) Keil and Delitzsch perhaps the most respected Hebrew commentary refers to the tenses as follows.

The signification of the future יכּתבוּ is regulated by ראוּ, and becomes, as relating to the synchronous past, scribebantur. The days יצּרוּ, which were already formed, are the subject. It is usually rendered: “the days which had first to be formed.” If יצּרוּ could be equivalent to ייצּרוּ, it would be to be preferred; but this rejection of the praeform. fut. is only allowed in the fut. Piel of the verbs Pe Jod, and that after a Waw convertens, e.g., ויּבּשׁ equals וייבּשׁ,

Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary on Psalms 139:16

The synchronous past is referring to a point of view. The passage starts out with the past “Your eyes saw” and the words which follow are translated with a view as if one was speaking in this past time. Although the verb “is being written” is in the future/uncompleted tense it is referring to the past event “saw.” The timing of the event (is being written) is at the same time as the past tense “saw” making the action of the verb write being in the past. Therefore to match the past tense of “saw” the verb “write” is put into the past tense.

The verb “fashioned” is in the imperfect tense. How is one allowed to translate this verb into the past tense? Keil and Delitzch propose an error in the original manuscript or some alternative, corrupted form of the past tense. This corrupted form is somehow coincidentally the exact form of the future. The argument is unconvincing and too convenient for their goal of supporting their theology which makes their analysis suspect.

Even if one were to accept their methodology does it fit the translation? The action of writing and fashioning, even if they are in the past tense should be no more later that the action of the verb saw. The action of seeing is in the past when the embryo is still being formed. The Calvinist must believe the ordaining/fashioning and the writing are in the remote past at the beginning of time. This will not support the beginning of time contentions of the Calvinist.

Very rarely, do I agree with John Calvin but I have to admire him in this way.  He did not allow his theology to trump the translation of the verse.  In the Hebrew the most common way to indicate duration of time is with a simple noun uncluttered by propositions.
Exodus 20:11 Version (NKJV) For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth

The reason “in” is in italics is because the word “in” is not in the Hebrew.  It is implied by the context.  This is the same construction used in Psalm 139:16.  The noun “words” is not the subject of the sentence.  It is describing the duration of the events “saw” “were writing” and “were forming.”  The most natural meaning of the texts is “in days when.”  This translation allows for a more natural use of tenses of the verbs.  Excuses do not have to be made for translating the tenses away from their natural meaning.  The context is respected.  The context is about the unformed baby.  This is not some theological aberration about the “eternal now” of Plotinus.

What does Psalm 139:16 say?
Your eyes saw my unformed substances and they were being recorded in your book, in the days the unformed substances were being formed, and as yet, not one of them was fully formed.

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Holiness, Israel, the Land

Deuteronomy 14  (NASB)
2 For you are a holy (קָדֹושׁ֙ )people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen(בָּחַ֣ר ) you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.

Leviticus 20
26 Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine.

There is a lot of misunderstanding of what the word “holy” means.  In order to be a “holy people” and a “chosen people” Israel had to God’s own possession as a subcategory of all the people of the earth.  To be holy a person or a people had to be separated above the common ordinary animals, people and food.  The holy and chosen people are set apart from all the other common peoples of the earth.  In the two verses above, Deuteronomy and Leviticus illustrate what is meant to be holy and to be chosen.

The current popular political philosophy on discrimination clouds the understanding of holy.  To be holy is to discriminate.  God discriminated racially in the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The first step in being acceptable to God was being born into Israel or conversion into the body politic of Israel.  Of those people who made this first step, God required the keeping of the law and a true believing faith in order to become the true Israel.

There is a true Israel which is a subset of the body politic of Israel. (Eph 2:12) (πολιτειας του ισραηλ)
Romans 9:6
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel;

There is an Israel that is descended from Israel.  The Israel defined by physical descent, the body politic of Israel are heirs of the promises given to the fathers, but they are not chosen to salvation.  Notice the verse does not say there is no Israel from whom descent is measured.  The verse explicitly proclaims there is a remnant Israel descended from the physical Israel.

Romans 11:28
From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers;

In order to part of Israel a person had to be a descendant of one of the sons of Jacob:  Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah,  Issachar Zebulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Joseph or Benjamin.  In Genesis 49, Jacob calls his 12 sons and blesses them.  God explains why these 12 sons are important.  They represent the twelve tribes of Israel.

Genesis 49:28
All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father spoke to them. And he blessed them; he blessed each one according to his own blessing.

This distinction of being part of Israel, by birth and racial heritage is maintained through the Bible and reinforced by Paul’s explanation:

Romans 9:3-4                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; 5 of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.

Is it clear that Paul in an Israelite from birth, his birth made him an Israelite; his brothers are fellow descendants from the fathers.  What are they chosen to be?  They are not chosen to salvation.  They are chosen to be heirs to the promises of God.  The promises of the children and the land are the two greatest promises given to Abraham.

Often there is a misconception of holy.  Holy is perceived as a spiritual mood or as an antonym of defilement.  The antonym of holy is common.  The word “Holy” means to set apart.  There is even a form of the Hebrew word for holy “qadesh” which means a male temple prostitute.  Of course this prostitution is a different kind of holiness and “holy” Israel has to follow certain laws which keep them separated from the common people.  Prostitution certainly would be a disqualification.  The root meaning is clear and can be observed from the two verses above.  The holy people of God are set apart and are a subgroup all the peoples of the earth.

Moses lead the 12 tribes of Israel to Mount Sinai and gave them the law.  The law served as an instrument to make the children of Israel a separate and holy people.  The law did not make them the children of Israel, the law makes them separate and holy.

Exodus 19 (NKJV)
3 And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel… 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. 6 And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”

God’s goals for the children of Israel is to be a special treasure above all the people of the earth, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  Notice they are already the children of Israel but there is a covenant with the children of Israel.  If the children follow God and keep his commandments they will receive the special blessings mentioned above: special treasure, kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  According to Paul there are other promises given to Israel even if Israel is now any enemy of the gospel (Romans 11:28) and accursed by God (Romans 11:11).  Of course the promise of the land was the one of the most important part of the promises.

Bad theology leads to bad politics.  It is no coincidence that the complicity of the Lutheran and German Catholic Churches in the persecution of the Jews abetted the Nazi apology for the holocaust.  The Lutheran, Reformed and Catholic doctrines of Replacement theology and the complementary theology of Amillennialism contribute to the Antisemitism of the Pre-WWII Germany and the current Pro-Muslim Anti-Israel politics of the Protestant left.

 

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Dispensation, the most important word in the most important chapter in the Bible

Ephesians 3
2if netheles ye han herd the dispensacioun of Goddis grace, that is youun to me in you.
9which is the dispensacioun of sacrament hid fro worldis in God, that made alle thingis of nouyt;

Wycliffe’s Bible

The English translator of this verse died while saying Mass in the parish church on 28 December 28, 1384.  John Wycliffe (1324-1384)  suffered a stroke escaping the condemnation of the pope.[1]  The Catholic Church was not to be deprived of a victim.  On May 4, 1415 the Council of Constance officially declared Wycliffe a heretic.  The Council decreed Wycliffe’s works should be burned and his remains exhumed. In 1428, at the command of Pope Martin V  his corpse was exhumed,  burned and the ashes thrown into the River Swift.  Although by that time, he probably really did not care.

Yes this is an English translation of Ephesians 3:2&9, but it is an English of the 14th Century.  Although this translation may seem unimpressive the translator, Mr. Wycliffe paid dearly for it.  He was a 15th century priest who dared to translate the Scriptures from the Latin Vulgate into English.  Wycliffe understood the importance of having the Scriptures available in the common tongues, “Englishmen learn Christ’s law best in English. Moses heard God’s law in his own tongue; so did Christ’s apostles.”

The resistance of the Catholic Church is quite ironic, the official translation of the Catholic Church is in Latin and called the Vulgate because it was translated into the common language of the people from Hebrew and Greek into the “vulgar” language of Latin. Although Catholicism has a history of suppressing and inhibiting the translation of the Scriptures into the common dialects, the original translation of the “official” Catholic Bible was translated into Latin for the express purpose of making Scripture available to the common person in the vulgar language.  In the 4th Century AD Jerome translated into Latin, then the common tongue of the empire, the Scriptures using manuscripts in Old Latin, Greek manuscripts of the New Testament and the Septuagint and the Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament.

Jerome’s regard for the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts is indicated by his letter to Pope Damasas.  Jerome was upset over the many Latin versions of the Scriptures and the poor quality of these versions.  His goal was to produce a good translation in the Latin from the original languages of the apostles and prophets.

If, however, truth is to be a seeking among many, why do we not now return to the Greek originals to correct those mistakes which either through faulty translators were set forth, or through confident but unskilled were wrongly revised, or through sleeping scribes either were added or were changed?

Jerome, Letter to Pope Damasus: Preface to the Gospels

Certainly, Jerome was certainly no Protestant, but he shared a love for Scriptures with those Protestants not yet born.  The Scriptures had been translated into Latin but the available Latin manuscripts were in an Old Latin and often stilted style. The Latin Jerome spoke and wrote was not considered an ecclesiastical exclusive language, it was the common Latin spoken in the streets of the Empire.   Jerome has a high regard for the original Greek manuscripts to the extent of using the Greek originals to correct the Latin versions.  He even has the hubris to declare some of the Old Latin versions were translated by incompetent scribes.  Jerome’s Latin version of the Bible the  Vulgate (meaning “common”) was widely used as the official version of the Roman Catholic Church but become the officially recognized version of the Catholic Church by the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century.

Ephesians 3, Vulagate
2 si tamen audistis dispensationem gratiae Dei quae data est mihi in vobis
9 et inluminare omnes quae sit dispensatio sacramenti absconditi a saeculis in Deo qui omnia creavit

The English word dispensation or Old English dispensacioun is from the Latin dispensatio, which is a good translation of the Greek word oikonomia.  The Latin verbal form of this noun means “to weigh out or dispense.”  The Greek word οἰκονόμος  comes from the verb that means to manage, regulate, administer, and plan.   This is a compound word from οἶκος, meaning house and νέμω to dispense or manage.  The one who manages a house (Hesychius ὁ τήν οἶκον νεμόμενος), could be free-born, or, a slave.  His duties included the management of the business affairs, including the receipts and expenditures, and paying the wages of every servant and sometimes the care of master’s children.

The duties and the responsibilities of the steward are illustrated in the parable of the unjust steward.

Luke 16:1-4

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager (οικονομον)was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management (οικονομιας), because you cannot be manager (οικονομειν)any longer.’
3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job (οικονομιαν). I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job (οικονομιας) here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

If someone is not a theologian the parable is easy to understand.  Jesus is using mockery to ridicule the unbelievers.  Jesus is preaching generosity and love to the believers but the unbelievers should also practice generosity and love.  The unbelievers are going to need all their friends in the afterlife. This parable offers insight into the responsibilities of stewards and the accountability exercised by their masters.

In this parable the steward is the unsaved person, the master is God and the business owners are the other unsaved persons of the world.  God commends the unjust steward for acting shrewdly, and then Jesus recommends both to the unsaved and the saved:  use worldly wealth to gain friends.  You will need them in the afterlife.

The steward’s role is to protect the master’s assets but he has been wasting them.  Obviously the steward has the legal power to act on behalf of the master.  He has the power to enter into contracts, to collect moneys and disburse assets.  He knows he has been wasting assets and that an audit will reveal his misdeeds.  Using his authority he approaches his master‘s debtors, reduces their debt, binds his master by his legal in return for some future benefit.

The Latin dispensationem from which the English word dispensation is derived is a good translation of the Greek word oikonomia (οικονομιας).  The Greek word is used for our modern word of economy which means “the process or system by which goods and services are produced, sold, and bought in a country or region.”

The word that is translated “dispensation” or “stewardship” at various places in both the Old and New King James Bibles is the Greek word oikonomia. It is the word from which we get our English word “economy”.

Contrary to the relatively good translations of Jerome and Wycliffe, Mr. Tyndale introduced an inferior translation of this word.  Yes, William Tyndale, the greatest English translator of the Bible.  He influenced the all major English translations of the Protestant reformation (Great Bible, Geneva Bible, Bishops Bible, Douay-Rheims Bible and the King James Bible) and still is a major influence on modern translations.  He combined a plainness in diction and syntax, with an appreciation for a poetic echo of artful richness in rhythm and rhyme.

Eventually, Tyndale was betrayed by a friend while in Antwerp and imprisoned in the castle of Vilvoorde  near Brussels.  He was convicted of heresy in 1536 and condemned to be burned to death.  Mercifully he was strangled to death while tied at the stake, and then his dead body was burned.  His final words the stake were reported as “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes.”  His prayer was answered in the production of the King James Version of the Bible.

Tyndale New Testament
2If ye have heard of the ministration of the grace of God which is given me to youward: 9and to give light to all men, that they might know what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God which made all things thorow Iesus Christ,

To be fair to Tyndale, he probably possessed a Greek version of Ephesians similar to the Textus Receptus that substituted koinomia (fellowship) for oikonomia (dispensation).  With the advent of modern critical analysis, it has been determined that the Majority Text comprising 90% of all manuscripts supports oikonomia (dispensation) as do the Critical texts comprising the remaining 10%.  The Textus Receptus had a mistake.

“ministration” is a take on administration which refers to the running of a business.  This in itself is not a bad translation but the second use of fellowship is bad.  The word fellowship means a “friendly association, especially with people who share one’s interests.”  Why is this a bad and misleading translation?  The NASB translates verse 6 as

Ephesians 3:6 New American Standard Bible
6 to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,
6 ειναι τα εθνη συγκληρονομα και συσσωμα και συμμετοχα της επαγγελιας εν χριστω ιησου δια του ευαγγελιου

Although I consider the NASB translation of this verse to be superior to all other translations the common use of fellowship is a voluntary friendly association of people.  This is not what Paul intended in the use of the term “συv” a preposition meaning “with.”  He meant the totality of the persons who are together in this body of Christ.  There are three Greek nouns meaning heirs, body and partakers joined by the word “with” in Greek “συv.”  The word as used “denotes the totality of persons who are together, or who come together…sharing a common task.”2

In contrast to the prior dispensation which had “chosen” people, priests, and Levites.  The body of Christ is made up of common and equal partners who are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body and fellow partakers.

What is disturbing from using two different words to translate the term  “oikonomia” is that the English reader is not are of the relationship verses 2 and 9.  The reader is encouraged to believe that the fellowship has always existed from the beginning of the world, but it was not seen until Paul revealed it.  In reality the dispensation did not exist until Paul was chosen to be the acting steward of this new dispensation called the “mystery.”
Ephesians 3 King James Version (KJV)
2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:
9 And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:

2 ει γε ηκουσατε την οικονομιαν της χαριτος του θεου της δοθεισης μοι εις υμας
9 και φωτισαι τις η οικονομια του μυστηριου του αποκεκρυμμενου απο των αιωνων εν τω θεω τω τα παντα κτισαντι

The NKJV and the KJV follow Tyndale in using two different words for dispensation.  To Paul was given the stewardship of the grace of God.  The stewardship, dispensation or administration all have the same basic meaning.  The stewardship is handing out the rewards and supervising the responsibilities of the dispensation of the mystery.  If Paul’s commission was simple, revealing a hidden truth that had not been revealed in the past, this can hardly be called a stewardship.  In verse nine Paul is bringing to light not just a mystery but the administration of the mystery.

Ephesians 3 New King James Version (NKJV)
2 if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you,
9 and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;

Ephesians 3 New International Version (NIV)
2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you,
9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.

The NIV has an acceptable translation of the two verses using administration both times.  What is intriguing is the word mystery in italics.  I could not find any controversy in the critical analysis about the use of this word in verse nine.

What is needed to explore dispensation of the mystery is to show that not only the mystery was hidden and not traceable in the Old Testament, but the mystery is a dispensation with significant theological differences from the other dispensations of God.  This will be done in future articles.

A dispensation covers a period of time.  A steward serves his master for a period of time.  Some modern critics believe dispensationalism is refuted because traditional dispensationalists define dispensation with reference to time. This is a non sequitur argument.  (Latin for “it does not follow”)  Even if one proves that the Greek word for dispensation does not imply a period of time, the word does imply an agreement between God and men in the stewardship of God’s world.  Of course these stewardships happen in time but they are not dependent on time. They are dependent on the agreements between God and man.
[1] By the insinuation of many, if they are indeed worthy of belief, deploring it deeply, it has come to our ears that John de Wycliffe, rector of the church of Lutterworth, in the diocese of Lincoln, Professor of the Sacred Scriptures (would that he were not also Master of Errors), has fallen into such a detestable madness that he does not hesitate to dogmatize and publicly preach, or rather vomit forth from the recesses of his breast, certain propositions and conclusions which are erroneous and false…Moreover, you are on our authority to arrest the said John, or cause him to be arrested and to send him under a trustworthy guard to our venerable brother, the Archbishop of Canterbury

Bull of Pope Gregory XI, Against John Wycliffe

2) Kittel, Gerhard, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 1981). Volume VII, p. 770.

 

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What does Ephesians 1:4 Mean? Who are the “us in Him?”

Ephesians 1:4
just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,
καθως εξελεξατο ημας εν αυτω προ καταβολης κοσμου ειναι ημας αγιους και αμωμους κατενωπιον αυτου εν αγαπη

God is electing “someone” to be holy and blameless before Him.  When did this election to holy and blameless occur?  It occurred before the foundation of the world.  Lest anyone complain that before the foundation of the world means in regards to the fall, the companion verse in Timothy explains when the foundation of the world happened.  It was before time began.

2 Timothy 1:9 (NKJV)
who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,

The Calvinist “us” was inserted to propagandize an interpretation of this verse.  There is no us after calling and a better translation is 2 Timothy 1:9Young’s Literal Translation (YLT):

who did save us, and did call with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, that was given to us in Christ Jesus, before the times of the ages,

The holy calling is according to God’s purpose.  His purpose was given to us before the times of the ages.  Both the Second Timothy and the Ephesians verses should be understood be two important elements.  There is an election to something; what is being elected?  Who are persons being elected? Who are the “us in Christ?”

There is nothing inherent in the meaning of the verb “to choose” that implies salvation.  The common use of electing or choosing people for public office is a good English equivalent of the Greek verb.  Many people are elected or chosen to office all the time.  The verb is very generic.

The word to choose in Greek “ἐκλέγομαι” occurs 19 times in the New Testament.  Only perhaps three or four times does this verb mean an election to salvation.  Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, an early scholarly work in English has been a basic reference book since 1885. In this book he lists at least five different types of election relating to this verb:

1)      to pick out, choose, something of personal interest. i.e. Luke 14:7 to pick places of honor
2)      choosing one for an office i.e. Stephen to be a deacon Acts 6:5
3)      of God choosing the elect,  Mark 13:20
4)      the Israelites, Acts 13:7
5)      choosing the disciples, Acts 1:2

John Calvin certainly misuses Ephesians 1:4 as a reference to election to salvation.  Here in Ephesians Paul is describing an election to be holy and blameless.

Does Ephesians 1:4 really imply that all saved men were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world? As in the above example, it is common for the supporters of double predestination to leave out the infinitive clause at the end of verse. Those who are chosen are chosen to be holy and blameless. Grammarians classify verbal infinitive clauses in at least five ways: Purpose, Result, Temporal, Casual, or Complementary.

1)  Purpose – God chose us in Christ for the purpose of being holy and blameless.
2)  Result – God chose us in Christ as a result we are holy and blameless.
3)  Temporal – God chose us in Christ while we were holy and blameless.
4)  Casual God – chose us in Christ to make us holy and blameless.
5)  Complementary – “there is not a corresponding complementary use, since a verb of desire or wish is needed.”

There are good arguments for any of the above constructions.  There is an observation that must be made.  None of these uses implies “God chose us to be saved before the foundation of the world.”  The counter argument is that when we are chosen naturally we become holy and blameless.  This would make the statement into a banal tautology, God chose us to be chosen.

Corporate Election

What is the object of the verb “chose?”  The object is the pronoun “us” but the “us” is modified by the phrase “in him.”  God is choosing the persons who are already in Christ for something.  The something is in the infinite; “to be holy and blameless.”  Those who are already in Christ are chosen to be holy and blameless.

How does one get to be “in Christ?”  From the context a person becomes “in Christ” by believing first.  How can the chosen in Christ be predestined before the foundation of the world when there are no persons to believe?  This is corporate election.  Paul is outlining God’s plan for the body of Christ.  Those in Christ will be predestined to be holy and blameless.  The predestination of the group was predestined before the foundation of the world.   All those who would be in the group is not known until the end times.

Ephesians 1:13
In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,
13 εν ω και υμεις ακουσαντες τον λογον της αληθειας το ευαγγελιον της σωτηριας υμων εν ω και πιστευσαντες εσφραγισθητε τω πνευματι της επαγγελιας τω αγιω

What Calvin wants to do is to translated this verse as God chose from the world a group of people to be saved.  For this construction to work the words after “should be” would be the phrase “in Him.”  This would be the infinitive of purpose.  He chose us from the world for the purpose of being in him.

John Calvin has this wrong.  We were not chosen before the foundation of the world to salvation, those in Christ were chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless.  The comment with no regard to our own worth means that a person neither works for salvation nor exercises belief for salvation but is chosen based on the whim of God.

1 Thessalonians 4:15
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive [a]and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.

Did Paul die before the “coming of the Lord?”  Of course he died about two millennia ago.  When he says “we who are alive” is he referring to the believing persons alive in the first century or is he referring to the believers who may be alive when the Lord returns.  No one believes the “we” in this verse refers to Paul and the first century believers.  The “we” is a corporate idea.  Paul is referring to a group of persons who may be alive when Jesus returns.  This group may or may not include Paul.  Corporate is from the Latin meaning body, the adjectival use of the world refers to a unified group of individuals.  To belong to this group, one must be alive when Jesus returns and be a believer.

Romans 12:5
5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. ουτως οι πολλοι εν σωμα εσμεν εν χριστω ο δε καθ εις αλληλων μελη-

The basic sentence is “we are one body in Christ.”  Here is the corporate use of “we.”  The reference is as universally applicable to the members of the body of Christ who are alive today as the message is applicable to the first century believers.  Paul is using the plural pronouns, “us,” “we.” and “you” in referring to the corporate body of Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:27
Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.
υμεις δε εστε σωμα χριστου και μελη εκ μερους

The reason Paul keeps referring to the individual members of this one body is to avoid an esoteric interpretation of oneness that is common in pagan religions.  In Platonism the goal of the initiate is the unification of the individual with god who is called the one.  This unity is an absorption into god.  The Christian is not absorbed into God, he is unified with him but the individual retains his identity as a person.  He is not absorbed into the Godhead.

How does one get to be “in Christ.”  If a believer is chosen to be “in Christ”  before the foundation of the world then that person is not
1)      dead in his sins
2)      By nature children of wrath
3)      Without Christ
4)      Having no hope
5)      Without God

Ephesians 2:1-3; 11-12
 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others…

11 Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— 12 that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

The Scripture is absolutely clearly when a believer become “in Christ.”

Ephesians 1:13 (NIV)
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,

A believer becomes “in Christ” after hearing the gospel and believing.  This is not before the foundation of the world, this is after a person is born and reaches an age of maturity where he can understand the gospel.

Is a person chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world” or “after believing?”  When Paul says the “us in Him” he is referring to the body of Christ.  The individual members of the body of Christ are not chosen until they exercise faith and are sealed with the Holy Spirit.  The corporate group is chosen to be holy and blameless before Him.  We do not know who is in this group until much later than the foundation of the world.

Maybe an analogy will help.  The director says “the band is really fortunate this year, we will play in Hawaii this winter.”  Of course each band member has to try out for their chair in the band.  There remains a competition to determine who is going to be in the band.  The individual members have not yet been determined.  The corporate entity, the band, will go to Hawaii.

God chose the body of Christ to be holy and blameless before Him in love.  The body of Christ is the “us in Him.”  The individual members of the body have yet to be determined.

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The Doctrine of Reprobation, The Damnable Doctrine of John Calvin

Those, therefore, whom God passes by he reprobates, and that for no other cause but because he is pleased to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines to his children…When Paul declares that we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), he certainly shows that no regard is had to our own worth;.[1]
John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion

Did God make a choice before the foundation of the world that particular individuals are to be saved or reprobated based only on the whim of God?  Are there no conditions for salvation such as belief in Christ?  Are men condemned to eternal damnation without any hope of salvation?  John Calvin links his concept of reprobation to Ephesians 1:4:

just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,
καθως εξελεξατο ημας εν αυτω προ καταβολης κοσμου ειναι ημας αγιους και αμωμους κατενωπιον αυτου εν αγαπη

There are several presuppositions and a conclusion which are necessary to support this reprehensible doctrine of reprobation.
1) Each individual exists in the eternal now before the foundation of the world,
2) that God choses these individuals before the foundation of the world to predestine each person for salvation and faith,
3) that without being chosen a person has no chance to be saved and is by default reprobating all other individuals to eternal damnation.
Therefore, God must hate all those whom he reprobates.

If anyone should doubt Calvin’s conclusion we have his own words.

This I concede, but it does not affect the doctrine which I maintain, that the reprobate are hateful to God, and that with perfect justice, since those destitute of his Spirit cannot produce any thing that does not deserve cursing.[2]
John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion

The concept of eternal now has already been addressed see “The Eternal Now of Augustine and Calvin, Will the Real God Step Forward June 30, 2014 by craigfisher.”  In short the concept is ridiculous and the result of a Platonic world view.  God does not exist outside of time and there is no eternal hell in which all mankind relives every shame and torture in history.

This doctrine of double predestination, some to eternal life and the rest of humanity to eternal damnation, is based on Calvin’s personal obsession of unmerited grace.  Unmerited grace means a person cannot or may not do anything, neither by works nor faith, that represents merit before God. The correct doctrine is unearned grace.  Man cannot earn his salvation (Rom 4:1-5) with his works.

Romans 4:4-5
Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

Clearly faith is different than works.  If a person could work for his salvation, then God would be obligated to pay His debt.  In contrast faith is the pass into righteousness.  Righteousness is the badge of their salvation.  Grace is not unmerited, grace is unearned.

One definition of merit is something to be praised.  In Hebrews 11 each person is said to be worthy of praise because of his faith.

Hebrews 11:1-15
11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the men of old gained approval…By faith Abel…By faith Enoch…By faith Noah.. By faith Abraham…By faith even Sarah…All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth…Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.

These person earned merit or favor with God by their faith.  They were not robots unable to do anything other than the programmed suggestions from God.  They exercised some control over their faith and earned praise or merit from God.

According to Calvin, not only does God pass over any hope of most of the world for  salvation he is even pleased to do so. (for no other cause but because he is pleased to exclude them)  This is an insult both to God and to the reader.  The implication is that anyone opposing this view is denying God one of his pleasures. The insult to God is that he is pleased to damn people. According to 1 Tim 2:4 God desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  The Scriptures deny that God is pleased to reprobate any man to eternal damnation.

When Paul declares that we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), he certainly shows that no regard is had to our own worth;[3]
John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion

Calvin or his translator cleverly puts the “in Christ” after the verb implying the verb chosen is being modified. In the Greek the “in Christ (Him)” modifies the pronoun “us”.

Ephesians 1:4
just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,
καθως εξελεξατο ημας εν αυτω προ καταβολης κοσμου ειναι ημας αγιους και αμωμους κατενωπιον αυτου εν αγαπη

What is the object of the verb “chose?”  The object is the pronoun “us” but the “us” is modified by the phrase “in him.”  God is choosing the persons who are already in Christ for something.  The something is in the infinite; “to be holy and blameless.”  Those who are already in Christ are chosen to be holy and blameless.

How does one get to be “in Christ?”  From the context a person becomes “in Christ” by believing first.  How can the chosen in Christ be predestined before the foundation of the world when there are no persons to believe?  This is corporate election.  Paul is outlining God’s plan for the body of Christ.  Those in Christ will be predestined to be holy and blameless.  The predestination of the group was predestined before the foundation of the world.   All those who would be in the group is not known until the end times.

Ephesians 1:13
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,
εν ω και υμεις ακουσαντες τον λογον της αληθειας το ευαγγελιον της σωτηριας υμων εν ω και πιστευσαντες εσφραγισθητε τω πνευματι της επαγγελιας τω αγιω

What Calvin wants to do is to translated  verse 4 as God chose from the world a group of people to be saved.  For this construction to work the words after “should be” would be the phrase “in Him.”  This would be the infinitive of purpose.  He chose us from the world for the purpose of being in him.

John Calvin has this wrong.  We were not chosen before the foundation of the world to salvation. Those in Christ were chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless.  As will be seen in a later post, this is a corporate election.  There was a group of people chosen from the beginning to be holy and blameless.  Election to this group would not be made until each individual exercised his faith.  John Calvin often proclaims God has no regard to our own worth.  Actually God has great regard for the worth of the whole world and each individual.  For God so loved the world that he offered up his greatest possession, his Son Jesus Christ.  The offer was “whoever believes in him has eternal life.”  The offer expires when a person dies and is no longer part of the world.

John 3:16
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us,[a] not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

1 Timothy 2:4
 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

 

[1] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion,, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1845) p. 573, (3,23,1)
[2] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion,, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1845) p. 606, (3,24,17)
[3] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion,, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1845) p. 573, (3,22,1)

 

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