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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