Towards a “Biblical Philosophy”: Examination of Biblical Texts
Special words or themes that are commonly misunderstood… click here.
The following are not thoroughgoing arguments. They are meant to give insights into the coherence of Biblical thought and theology as a philosophical system. The more thorough arguments are given elsewhere on this site and others. Many links have been provided for those more complete arguments.
Genesis 1 – The Creation of Philosophical Concepts The Unity of Metaphysics, Epistemology, and Ethics (God Is Unity)
Genesis 1:1 The Biblical Metaphysics or Cosmology – Metaphysics and Cosmology
Genesis 1:3 Let there be light… Truth and more
Genesis 1:5 So the evening and the morning were the first day Metaphysics
Genesis 1:22ff Be fruitful and multiply… have dominion… and more Ethics (Obedience)
Genesis 1:27 God created man in His own image Neuroscience, Philosophy of Mind
Genesis, Chapter 1 (and 2) Ancient Language and Modern Science
Genesis 2:17 “You shall surely die…” Metaphysics of death and life
Genesis 2:19-20 Adam Naming the Creatures Epistemology, Metaphysics, Language, and Science
Genesis 2:20 “But for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him” Anthropology, Ecclesiology, Ethics, “Feminism,” Government, Hermeneutics
Genesis 3:1 The First Question about Epistemology Answered by the Greatest Certainty: Death! Epistemology and Ethics Inescapably Unified
Genesis 6:2 “Sons of God” Hermeneutics, Grammar, and Context (Book and Bible)
Exodus 3:14 “I AM WHO I AM” Ontology, Metaphysics and “Being”
Exodus 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before Me” – Classical Theism as A God of Christian Philosophers
Exodus 20:4 You shall not make for yourself a carved image Epistemology (Empiricism)
Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! – Unity of Philo-sophia in God
Psalm 111:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” – Philosophy
Proverbs 8:35 “All those that hate me love death” – Unbiblical Philosophy
Proverbs 25:2 “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter.” – God Is God
Isaiah 45:7 “I form the light… and create evil” Theodicy
Jeremiah 31:33 “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.” – Law and Mind
Micah 6:8 “Doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly” – Justice, Love, Ethics, Anthropology
Matthew 4:4 “Man shall not live on bread alone…” Loving God, neighbor, and self with the mind
Matthew 4:4 “… but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” Metaphysics, neuroscience, value, anthropology
Matthew 10:28 “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Anthropology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, substance dualism, Biblical-Christian orthodoxy
Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden…” Psychology, anthropology, epistemology
Matthew 19:28 – “In the regeneration” – Cosmology and Ethics Inexorably Linked
Matthew 22:37 Love is a commandment, not a feeling Ethics, psychology
Matthew 25:34-46 Judgment by Works – God’s Equity Is Beyond Question (the Telos of Ethics)
Mark 4:35-41 Peace! Be still! – Insight Into an Idealistic Ontology?
Luke 20:27-40 Jesus’ logical deduction of the living from the “dead” Logic
Luke 22:19; I Corinthians 11:24 “Do this in remembrance of me” – Philosophy of mind: memory
Luke 23:39-43 – The Thief on the Cross: What Did He Believe? – Knowledge and Regeneration
John 1:1-16 “In the beginning was the Word…” Prologue to John’s Gospel – Epistemology, language theory
John 1:3 “All things were made through Him…” Metaphysics, ontology, physical science, “being”
John 1:4-5 “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” Epistemology, worldview, “darkness”
John 1:9 “The true Light… which… enlightens every man.” – Epistemology
John 1:12 “But as many as received Him…” – Anthropology
John 3:12 “Earthly and Heavenly Things” – Epistemology, noetic effects of sin
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world…” Hermeneutics: definition in context
John 4:24; 6:63; 10:30; 15:26; 16:13; 17:17 Trinity, Word, and Truth: Unity – Epistemological and Omniscient Unity
John 14:6 “I AM, the way, the truth, and the life … Unity of the Subjective and Objective
… no man comes to the Father but through me.” Logic and the Law of Non-Contradiction
Acts 17:22-32 Paul’s Speech to the Athenians – Apologetics
Romans 1:18-31 One of the Great Texts for a Biblical Philosophy Lengthy Essay on Philosophy and Biblical Anthropology; Evangelism; Epistemology and Immorality; Natural Law
Romans 1:18 “Who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” Ethics, not epistemology is the problem—the noetic effects of sin
Romans 2:15 “Their conscience also bearing witness… Anthropology, soteriology, guilt
Romans 3:8 “Let us (not) do evil that good may come…” Teleological, utilitarian, normative, and other ethics
Romans 3:11 Calvin on the “Greatness” of Philosophers – What is “great” philosophy
Romans 8:20, 22 The creation was subjected to futility… (and) groans and labors with birth pangs… – Environmentalism, Cultural Mandate (Kingdom of God)
Romans 14:23 “Whatever is not from faith is sin” Ethics, certainty, anthropology, “examined life”
I Corinthians, Chapters 1-2 Concentrated Epistemology; The Wisdom of God vs. Wisdom of the World and Its Philosophers; Noetic effects of sin
I Corinthians 2:14 “But we have the mind of Christ” – Epistemology, Mind
I Corinthians 3:11: The Foundation for “No creed but Christ” Epistemology, Belief, Foundationalism
I Corinthians 6:1-8 Pagan and Christian judges… Politics, ethics, ecclesiology
I Corinthians 8:1 “Knowledge puffs up” Hermeneutics, Coherence, Love
I Corinthians 9:25 “Be temperate in all things” – Ethics, The Good, Happiness (Eudaimonia)
I Corinthians 10:20 “Gentiles sacrifice to demons” – Demons in Greek Philosophy
I Corinthians 13:13 The Relationship of Hope and Faith Certainty, Time, and Perseverance
II Corinthians 4:6 Hebrews (light), Greeks (knowledge), and Romans (glory) – Faith of Cultures
Galatians 5:1“It was for freedom that Christ set us free!” Anthropology, sociology, politics, free-will
Ephesians 1:11 “Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will” Supernaturalistic truth, transcendental ethics
Ephesians 4:17-24 The Total Life Re-orientation of Regeneration and Sanctification – Metaphysics, Epistemology, and Ethics
Colossians 2:3 In (Christ) Are Hidden All the Treasures of Wisdom and Knowledge Sophia of God
Colossians 2:8 Do Not Be Taken in by Pagan and Jewish Philosophies – Epistemology and Theology
Colossians 2:9 In Him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily Metaphysics, Anthropology, Greek Philosophy
II Thessalonians 3:10 “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” – Coherence (Systematics)
Hebrews 2:13-15, 9:27 “Fear of death … the judgment” – The Greatest Certainty and the Greatest Fear
Hebrews 11:3 The empirical is predicated upon the invisible The Ultimate Ontology and Cosmology — Empiricism, Not!
Hebrews 11:6 Without Faith It Is Impossible to Please God – The Most Basic Epistemology, commonly misunderstood
James 1:17 “No variation or shadow of turning” Theism, Anthropology, and Metaphysics
James 2:19 Even the demons believe––and tremble! Epistemology, supernatural metaphysics
I Peter 4:8 “Love Covers a Multitude of Sins” – Ethics, Law, Definition of Love
Genesis 1 – The Creation of Philosophical Concepts
Over the years of my study, I have concluded that there are three major categories (branches) of philosophy: ontology (cosmology), epistemology, and ethics. I have read enough of others who more or less conclude the same thing. But, it seems that most of the time, these categories are discussed as being independent of each other. However, they are simply, necessarily dependent upon one another. One cannot think (an epistemological activity) without having being (ontology), and what one thinks (which determines what one speaks or how one acts) is either right or wrong by some standard (ethics).
It is not philosophy, however, that determines this interdependency, but God as He creates. “In the beginning God…” Before Creation, only God existed. His unity is sometimes expressed as aseity (God is complete within Himself) or His being and essence are unity and cannot be separated. Further, God uses words (epistemological derivations) to create what we now call “matter” (physical, ontological being), a cosmological process. After each day of Creation, He declares what He has done as “good” and at the end, “very good” (an ethical evaluation).
Thus, an inseparable interdependency is established that many philosophers ignore. In so doing, their work (epistemology) is flawed (unethical) from their beginning (cosmology, ontology)!
Genesis 1:1 The Biblical Metaphysics or Cosmology
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In the “beginning” of what? In the beginning of time, God created space, matter, and energy. Before time, God was… existed … was real … was contained in His essence … His ousia or ‘upostasis. In this simple declaration,, the answer for metaphysics and cosmology is given. Many philosophers over the centuries have recognized that man could never know the “essence” of anything in the universe (Kant in particular) . Indeed, man is still searching the atom and other cosmic phenomena (strings, quarks, etc.) to discover its “ultimate” mysteries. As they search for some “beginning” other than God, they become shrill and even foolish in their theories. Genesis 1:1 answers the essence of all things: gravity “works” because God made bodies to attract each other; light is both a wave and a particle because God made it that way; quantum changes occur because God made them so, and so on for all that exists in the universe. All metaphysics and cosmology is answered in this simple, but “ultimately” profound statement, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Hebrews 11:3 follows with “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word “of” God or “is, was, will always be”(Greek, logos or preferably Logos—John 1:1), so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.” The ‘upostasis of Hebrews 11:1 is also the ‘upostasis of all matter and energy—God Himself as Spirit.
Many philosophers focus on being or Being, but “ultimately” all that one can say about this concept is (1) God’s being is manifested in His attributes; that is, He is indistinguishable from His attributes. (2) All created things are indistinguishable from their “attributes” (characteristics) and relations (“relational ontology”). There is no “essence” (being, hypostasis, substance or ding an sich) of any material object in the universe except how it is empirically known. In quantum theory, all “substance” consists of “relations” of power and energy. Matter is energy, and energy is power.
One can make the case that the purpose of creation is to fulfill the characteristics that God has created inherently in each thing—its nature (Greek, physis). (Jonathan Edwards wrote a whole book, Concerning the End for Which God Created the World—His own glory). For mankind, this position means that his purpose is ultimately found in his morality (righteousness), as directed by God’s declarative (revealed) will. For philosophy, then, ethics becomes secondary only to epistemology; that is, once one knows with certainty (trust in the Bible), then his task becomes one of right behavior (righteousness), not in discovering his “being” (which cannot be known other than being an object of God’s creation). Thus, “from the beginning” Biblical theology determines the priorities of philosophy
Cosmic personalism: The cosmos created by a Person means that it is “personally generated.” God created the universe for His purposes and for His glory. Thus, the whole cosmos is not a cold, stark stage of blind and undirected forces, but one that has the personal touch of an omnipotent Creator. Once this personalism is realized, then there can be no evil in the universe—God is good and directing all things to His ends (Isaiah 45:7).
The hypostasis of the visible is the invisible. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” (Colossians 1:15-17)
Apologetic—only two choices: There are only two choices about the origin of the universe: creation by a person or a non-person. A choice here has powerful ramifications. For example, if the universe is impersonal, there can be no meaning, purpose to human life, or any other teleological end. But, if personal, then ultimate teleological purposes much be researched from all the existing possibilities of religious origins. I leave the reader to explore other powerful differences between these two possible origins. For more on these two origins, see here.
Quantum “Observer Effect.” One can speculate that the “observer effect” in quantum mechanics is consistent with this “Personal universe.” By having an (instrumental) “observer,” the wave function of sub-atomic particles found in the double slit experiment is changed to its particle function. Thus, at quantum hypostasis, a person (present by an instrument) effects quantum character. I begin with “speculate” because any theory of science is subject to change with a paradigm shift in scientific thinking. Scripture never changes. Thus, to link a Biblical understanding to scientific understanding is always tenuous. However, is interesting that this “effect” is best explained by a Personal universe, as is many, many scientific claims.
Genesis 1:3 “Let there be light…”
This first mention of light in the Bible begins fascinating associations of light. It will be a recurring theme in this file, as one can see by all the mentions in it.
Here in 1:3, this light is not the sun! The creation of the sun comes later on Creation Day Four. So, what is this light? Well, we find clues that continue about Day One. “And God saw the light that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night.”
First, the light was “good.” In itself, that statement is not too remarkable. Everything that God created, He called “good.” However, the opposite of light, He called “darkness.” Generally in Scripture “light” becomes a metaphor for the Word of God (Psalm 119:105), God’s favor (Psalm 4:7), wisdom (Ecclesiastes 2:13), Christians influence on the world (Matthew 5:13-16), knowledge per se (John 1:9—see herein), and the Gospel (Romans 2:19)—to mention only a few. In fact, “light” appears in almost 300 passages in Scripture, frequently if not mostly, contrasting God’s understanding with that of Satan, the world, and “man as the measure of all things.”
Finally, Christ Himself will be the “light of heaven” (Revelation 21:22). There will be no physical sun or any other “light” there. This reality has powerful implications that will be explored later.
Now, if I have introduced “light” properly, the reader should be gasping for more! Well, we will definitely explore this theme in passages ahead. For now, and for brevity in keeping with this file, this introduction will have to suffice. But, readers, and especially students for a paper might want to use a concordance, e.g., www.biblegateway.com, to check what all the metaphors of “light” in Scripture represent.
Speech Act: in postmodern terms, creation is the greatest speech act in history. Of course, there are others: Jesus stilling the storm on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:23-27); Jesus casting out the “legion” of demons (Mark 5:6-13); and Jesus giving up His own spirit (Luke 23:46). The reader can explore the power of this idea throughout the Bible!
Genesis 1:5 So the evening and the morning were the first day
I have long been puzzled by attempts to figure the time period for Creation Week. God’s creative work during that period was miraculous—one evidence being the creation of plants before their life-giving sun. Further, miracles supersede time, space, and other natural laws, so “time,” as we know and measure it, did not really exist that week. Thus, I have coined the term, Creation Day, to designate each “evening and morning” of that week. A “Creation Day” has no time period and is only designated by the events of that day.
However, once Creation Week is completed, time is counted, as we know it today. Thus, the chronology of the Bible must be valid from the end of the Sixth Day. Adam’s life began 4033 B.C., as calculated by Bishop Usher in the 17th century and Floyd Jones in the 20th century. Attempts to determine age of created objects could be distorted by this concept of Creation Days. But once human chronology begins, Biblical accuracy of times periods is mandated by the authority of God Himself.
This concept could have further applications. (1) It would explain the absence of life-giving sun for plants, food for animals, etc., as God supplied them miraculously for this “beginning.” (2) It would give additional meaning to “God’s rest” at the end of the week. The universe, especially living things, functions as a composite, well described by Leibniz’ fictitious “monads,” modern chaos theory, and many other attempts. It could only function as a whole when it became “whole” at the end of Creation Week. It was not a whole prior to that time, thus God had to miraculously sustain it during that week. However, once completed, the universe could function as a whole according to what we call “natural laws and order.” Thus, God rested from this necessary sustenance from the end of the Sixth Day onward. He still sustains it (Hebrews 1:3), but according to a predictable ordering and without a continually sustained miracle.
Genesis 1:22ff Be fruitful and multiply… have dominion… and more!
See Glossary here: The Creation Mandate.
Genesis 1:27 God created man in His own image
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:26-27, NKJV)
Dominion over the entire universe. Romans 1:29 and 8:20, 22 speak of “the creation” which would include the entire universe, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” See Romans 8:20, 22 below.
Genesis, Chapter 1 (and 2) Ancient Language and Modern Science
Neither science nor theology can answer the problems of Creation Week. The “problems” are the length of “day”; the intricacies of the interaction of light, plant life, etc. that are different from present natural conditions; the conflict of literal Biblical days and radioactive dating that is millions of years old; and others, especially those about which “young-earth” and “old-earth” creations debate.
Science. Science cannot answer the questions definitively because the very nature of science is tentative and conditional. It is tentative by the empirical method of induction: taking a small sample and assuming a universal conclusion; arbitrary decisions of what to measure and how; personal decisions of “what” to study; subjective conclusions of the data gathered; and a host of other arbitrary and conditional choices in the methods of science (re: Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge). Young-earth scientists and old-earth scientists use the same “facts,” but interpret them differently. What better example can be given of the tentative and conditional nature of science when those committed to Biblical inerrancy cannot agree?
Scripture. Moses wrote to be understood by a pre-scientific culture. Yes, it was also written for all times and all peoples, but it had to be written in the language of that time to be understood before the scientific age. The language of Genesis will not allow any accurate correlation with the language of modern science. All linguists state that one language cannot be fully translated into another. How much more so is that fact true with more than 2000 years and extremely diverse cultures between them!
Day. There are strong Biblical evidences for yom (Hebrew “day”) being a standard calendar day. (1) There was “evening and morning” each day. (2) The 4th Commandment fits a standard 7-day week. (3) The overwhelming use of yom is a literal 24-hour day.
But there is a difference between “strong Biblical evidence” and an absolute conclusion. (1) The yom of Genesis One occurs during a week of miracles which are not subject to natural conditions of time and space. (2) Yom is used for longer periods of time, as in “those days,” in other places in Scripture. That reality allows the possibility, not the certainty, of something other than a calendar day. (3) A calendar day is not absolutely necessary to retain all the theological meaning of texts that refer to “days” of Genesis One. (4) I use “calendar” day because a day is not exactly 24 hours, but about four seconds less. To require 24-hour literal days is to lose one’s argument from the start.
Conclusion: This review has been a quick and superficial analysis. Nevertheless, it illustrates that conditionals and imprecision of words and language will always prevent absolute agreement on all these issues concerning Genesis One. However, one must be careful here. (1) The genealogies that begin in Genesis are an entirely different matter. There is no compelling reason to not accept those years as literal years, as we understand them. (2) Genesis One (and Two) is a unique text whose hermeneutics do not necessarily correlate with the hermeneutics of other texts. (3) It is modern science that has compelled a re-thinking of Genesis One. Any challenge by modern science according to its tentative and conditional nature must be taken as tentative and conditional. Modern science is a logical fallacy in its methods and conclusions. It is never truth. Therefore, one must not be compelled by science to change one’s view on Genesis One. (4) The Bible is the most certain and only truth known to mankind. Therein is truth and absolute certainty.
Genesis 2:17 “You shall surely die…” Did Adam die? If so, what type of death?
Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” At first glance, Adam did not die! He lived another 930 years (Genesis 5:5) So, did God fail to punish Adam with death? The only conclusion is that Adam did not die physically, but he did die spiritually—that is, he became estranged or separated from God. Herein is the Biblical concept of death—separation.
There are four types of death in the Bible. (1) Spiritual death. Man “is dead in trespasses and sins”—that is he is spiritually separated from God. That is what happened to Adam, and in him all men die’ (I Corinthians 15:22). (2) Physical death. “It is appointed unto man once to die (physically), and after that the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). (3) Death to the “old man.” “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God … put to death your members which are on the earth” (Colossians 3:3, 5). (4) The second death. “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death” (Revelation 20:14)—separation from God forever and finally. By contrast, there are four types of “life”—life in the Garden of Eden, physical life on earth, regenerate life after being “born-again,” and life in heaven.
What is common to these four types of death is separation. The life of the person does not end—even in physical death, because he lives eternally in Heaven or Hell. Once a person is conceived, he lives eternally—for a while on earth and eternally thereafter. Thus, the Bible student must come to understand death, as separation, not cessation of life. Contrast these four types of death with naturalism which knows only one type of life and one type of death—that which is physical.
Genesis 2:19-20 Adam Naming the Creatures
“Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field.”
“In our present state we can find out about things only by observation and analysis (Ed: empiricism, induction, and scientific method), but in Paradise it was not so. For we read that God brought animals to Adam and that Adam perceived their nature in such a way that he gave them names at first sight. Naturally, this cannot mean that, as the animals went by him, he uttered a sound without thought or sense. Imagine that someone carried two or three hundred suitcases in front of you and that you randomly made a sound at the sight of each, one after the other. Before you reached the hundredth, you would have forgotten the name of the first. Besides, what purpose did Adam’s naming the animals serve? Eve was not there. Nobody heard him. The passage makes sense only if it is understood that Adam, directly penetrating to the essence of each animal, expressed his insight in a name that corresponded to that essence.
“Adam’s ability with respect to the animal world no doubt be applied just as much to vegetation, indeed, to all of nature. The faculty of immediate comprehension we no longer possess. If we want to learn more of a plant or animal, we have to study it closely and for a long time and draw conclusions about its nature [aard] from our observations; but we will never thus understand its essence [wezen]. Even its instincts remain an unsolved riddle. But Adam had this ability. Recognizing that, we grasp how Adam, without the entrance of sin, would have immediately come to a science of all Creation that would have lead on to a direct understanding of all Creation with respect to origin and destiny.
“This too, Adam, not only penetrated to the essence of things but named them as well. This naming is also lost to us. We can give a name to a strange thing but take it over from another people or make such a name with the help of Greek roots, as with telegraph, telephone, electricity, etc. But new names in our own tongue expressing the essence of things we can only from by composition or by taking over two words already in use. We can no longer create language. Adam, however, could. In him concept stood in organic coherence with essence and word with concept. He never learned to speak from his mother but spoke automatically and as God already spoke to him, which in turn he must have understood. All this shows at how high a level his language and conceptual ability must have stood. We do not exaggerate in saying that Adam possessed a clarity and insight in his own world of thought, in his own consciousness, that is lost to us. Without sin science would have had a completely different course and would have been built with an immediacy that we can hardly imagine…. To Adam, science was an immediate possession; for us it is bread we can only eat in the sweat of our minds, after hard and strenuous labor.”
Genesis 2:20 “But for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him”
18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him…. 20 but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him (Genesis 2:18, 20, NASB).
God did not create for “man” (masculine) another man; He created a woman–a being different physically, sexually, hormonally, emotionally, instinctually, and other ways in contrast to the man. The word “help-meet” has to do with completion; a single man is not complete without being married to a woman. He is inadequate without a wife. The vocation of a woman is to complete a man—be a “help-meet” for him and to be a mother… to bring all the differences in her person to complete the man.
For anyone who believes that the Bible is the Word of the omniscient, “all-wise” God, this verse destroys feminism, same-sex marriages, and individualism. Men and women necessitate each other (with one exception below). Man is not “all that he can be” without a woman. A woman’s nature is to complete the man, as husband and father, and she as wife and mother.
The institution of marriage is established that forms the cohesive and godly unity for raising children “to be all that they can be.” Empirical (“scientific”) studies illustrate this truth overwhelmingly. The family becomes the building unit for society with its own “sphere of sovereignty” (Kuyper) and second tier of government. (The first tier is self-government.)
“Male” and “female” establish the hermeneutic of different sexes, destroying homosexual and feminist interpretations. The highest telos for women is to serve their husband first and secondarily their children. While “the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world” may not be a Biblical statement, it has a great deal of truth in it. If feminists want “power,” what greater “power-trip” could they have? How many great men thank their mothers? This writer believes that the use of “she” by the large majority of Christians in philosophy is a capitulation to feminism that undermines the authoritative design of the family and society. Man is the one to exercise power which he cannot exercise fully without his wife’s help. (This method also strikes as the authority of the Trinity which is explicitly masculine.
Ecclesiastically, only men may serve in leadership as pastors, preachers, teachers, and government. Again, they cannot complete their roles without the help of their wives. Together with “husbands of one wife,” these verses strike down churches that require celibacy for such leadership roles and allow women in church offices.
All these instructions have great implications for ethics. The reader can clearly see the implications without my spelling them out.
There is one exception to marriage. Some men and women are called to singleness to serve God in vocations other than wife and mother. This exception is a gift of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 19:11, I Corinthians 7:7-9). The large majority are called to marriage and family that they my fulfill their callings under God.
Genesis 3:1 The First Question about Epistemology Answered by the Greatest Certainty: Death!
Satan challenged Eve on the trustworthiness of the epistemology of God, “Has God not said…,” clearly inferring that indeed God had lied! Both Adam and Eve failed in this epistemological test. Thus, death has become the most certain (not taxes) knowledge among the human race. There are no sane persons on planet earth who denies that every person dies. They may differ on what happens after death, not the fact of death. It is the greatest certainty no matter what one’s epistemology. Not being certain of God’s word, the Giver of Life, our first parents brought the certainty of physical death! The greatest certainty of all.
Readers should also note the unity of epistemology and ethics. What “God had said” concerned both knowledge and ethics. Many philosophers, both pre-modern, modern, and post-modern (and both Christian and non-Christian), divorce discussions of epistemology from those of ethics. However, the certainty of one’s knowledge controls the certainty of one’s ethics, and their being acted upon in one’s life. The Bible summarizes this position simply, “The fool (a moral or ethical term) has said in his heart, there is no God.” Romans 1 says that although men “know” God, they “suppress” this knowledge. Suppression is an active, ethical choice. Epistemology and ethics are inseparably linked, both on a Biblical and secular basis. One is responsible for what one knows, as well as, what one thinks and does.
Genesis 6:2 “Sons of God”
“Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, 2 that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose” (Genesis 6:1-2)
The “sons of God” were the godly line of Seth, not angelic beings. John Murray in Principles of Conduct (pp. 243-249), working from the commentaries of C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, makes seven arguments for this position. (1) In the movement from vs. 1 to vs. 2, there is no compelling reason to consider that both “sons of God” and “daughters of men” refer to any beings other than generic humans. (2) In the preceding context, the godly line is indicated in Seth, “Men began to call upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 4:26). Thus, “sons of god” is opposed to “daughters of men” (the ungodly line). (3) The meaning is clear from vs. 1-2 that these marriages were a “grievous” wrong in the context of the following verses of Genesis 6 where other wrongs are listed. (4) There are no passages anywhere in the Bible that angels can have sexual relations with themselves or with humans. (5) “And they took wives for themselves” is the common O.T. phrase for marriage. (6) “Sons of God” is a common term for humans in the Pentateuch in particular and the O.T. in general. (7) There is no necessary causative link of vs. 1-2 with vs. 4, especially with vs. 3 in between. Moses is merely citing evil events of that time: godly men marrying pagan women and the savage Nephilim.
I have minimally outlined Murray’s much more substantive arguments in his book. I refer reader to that work for those expanded arguments.
Exodus 3:14 “I AM WHO I AM.”
“I AM WHO I AM” is the translation of this phrase in the NASB and NJKV. For all its brevity, it is perhaps one of the most powerful in the Bible relevant to philosophy. “Being,” as metaphysics and/or ontology, is one of two major divisions in philosophy. (The other is epistemology.) While “being” appeared before Plato, “being” or “Being” was central to his philosophy or as he sometimes called it, “The Philosophy.” It has been a major focus of many philosophies since Plato down to the 21st Century. It is a subject that needs a long treatise, even a book, on its relationship to philosophy, but in keeping with shorter themes here, I can only introduce it. John Calvin in his Commentary on Exodus is on target both theologically and philosophically. I have italicized to emphasize certain of his comments.
The verb in the Hebrew is in the future tense, “I will be what I will be;” but it is of the same force as the present, except that it designates the perpetual duration of time. This is very plain, that God attributes to himself alone divine glory, because he is self-existent and therefore eternal; and thus gives being and existence to every creature. Nor does he predicate of himself anything common, or shared by others; but he claims for himself eternity as peculiar to God alone, in order that he may be honored according to his dignity. Therefore, immediately afterwards, contrary to grammatical usage, he used the same verb in the first person as a substantive, annexing it to a verb in the third person; that our minds may be filled with admiration as often as his incomprehensible essence is mentioned.
But although philosophers discourse in grand terms of this eternity, and Plato constantly affirms that God is peculiarly τὸ ὄν (the Being); yet they do not wisely and properly apply this title, viz., that this one and only Being of God absorbs all imaginable essences; and that, thence, at the same time, the chief power and government of all things belong to him. For from whence come the multitude of false gods (including the “gods of the philosophers“), but from impiously tearing the divided Deity into pieces by foolish imaginations? Wherefore, in order rightly to apprehend the one God, we must first know that all things in heaven and earth derive Precario (“of grace”). From this Being all power is derived; because, if God sustains all things by his excellency, he governs them also at his will. And how would it have profited Moses to gaze upon the secret essence of God, as if it were shut up in heaven, unless, being assured of his omnipotence, he had obtained from thence the buckler of his confidence? Therefore God teaches him that He alone is worthy of the most holy name, which is profaned when improperly transferred to others; and then sets forth his inestimable excellency, that Moses may have no doubt of overcoming all things under his guidance. We will consider in the sixth chapter the name of Jehovah, of which this is the root.
I offer only a few comments on Calvin’s words for our focus here. Everything, inorganic or living, in the universe is created except God Himself. When philosophers, especially those in continental philosophy, speak of “being,” they err in attributing that concept to anything other than God alone. Further, everything in creation is utterly and entirely dependent upon God for continued existence (Acts 17:28, Hebrews 1:3). Second, everything is becoming and thus is not static, as being requires. Everything except God is changing—losing some attributes and gaining others—Heraclitus’ flux, for example. And, what they are becoming is determined by His Providence, as well.
Thus, philosophers err to speak of “being” as an attribute of any created thing. This truth limits, if not destroys, a needless area of philosophical, humanistic speculation, especially in continental philosophy. Such focus needs to be re-directed to epistemology and ethics. One continental philosopher—Jacques Derrida, however, does write about an urgency for morality and ethics. The world might be better served with more attention to, and action based upon, Biblical ethics, than all the mis-directed focus on “being.”
Exodus 20:3 “You shall have no other Gods before me”*
William Lane Craig wrote an article entitled, “The Resurrection of Theism,” as the Introduction to Volume 3 of The Truth Journal in 1991. In that article he uses the various terms of “philosophical theism,” “traditional theism,” and mostly just plain “theism,” which is perhaps more commonly known as “classical theism” or “god of the philosophers.” I find this term problematic for Christians, as declared clearly in this verse from Isaiah.
For example, Alvin Plantinga in his book, Knowledge of God, a debate with Michael Tooley, equates “classical theistic belief” with Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Are we called to defend false beliefs, as indeed we would all agree that the latter are false beliefs, or at least Judaism is an incomplete belief since Messiah has not come in their system. By contrast and appropriately Greg Bahnsen, in his famous debate with Gordon Stein in his introductory remarks declared that he was defending Christian theism…
…not general theism—whatever that might be. I have not found the non-Christian religions to be philosophically defensible, each of them being internally incoherent or undermining human reason and experience. Since I am by the grace of God a Christian, I cannot, from the heart, adequately defend those religious faiths with which I disagree. My commitment is to the Triune God and the Christian world view based on God’s revelation in the Old and New Testaments.
Interestingly, that position confused Stein. He was prepared to argue against classical theism which Bahnsen was not defending because other Christians, whom he had debated, had used that approach.
In another direction, there has been much rejoicing in Anthony Flew’s “conversion” to theism, especially in the publication of his book, There Is a God. But is theism, even classical theism, sufficient for salvation? Theism includes no orthodox specifics about Jesus Christ. Without Him and His work there is no salvation. So, is Anthony Flew in Heaven or Hell today? I would not dare speculate, but Romans 10:9 declares, as far as belief is necessary for salvation, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” It says nothing about a confession of a “god of theism.”
Blaise Pascal warned that the “The God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob (was) not the God of the philosophers!” Of course, one could use the terms “Christian theism,” as do Cornelius Van Til and others, or even something like “maximal classical theism.” But being consistent with a Biblical epistemology, why not advocate and defend Biblical theism? Why not defend the jealous God before whom there is no other!
*Excerpted from my paper, Quo Vadis Christian Philosopher? Some Concerns among the Successes and modified slightly. References for citations may be found there.
Exodus 20:4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image”
One traditional approach to epistemology—how to be certain about what we know—is empiricism. Empiricism is the basis of the scientific method and the necessarily predominant approach to knowledge in our modern physicalist universe. Thomas Hobbes, representative of empiricists, said, “There is nothing in the mind that is not first in the senses.” Exodus 20:4 necessarily refutes all empiricists, including many Christians who have fallen into that way of thinking. God has forbidden us to have an image of Him, affirmed again powerfully in John 4:24. (1) God is Spirit (again in the context of worship)—a spirit has no image and thus an image can never represent God. (2) If we are both commanded not to worship God in image, and are to worship him in “spirit and truth,” empiricism, as a method of knowledge is absolutely refuted! To worship God, we must have knowledge of Him. That knowledge cannot be one of image—by both positive and negative command. Thus, the highest form of knowledge, that required to worship God, cannot and should not be gained through empiric methods. And, since only God is truth, all other methods to knowledge are false. Indeed, it is recognized by almost all philosophers that induction (another name for empiricism) is a fallacy of process!
As a corrective, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz said, “There is nothing in the mind that was not first in the senses… except the mind!” He was one of the most Biblical of philosophers of the modern period.
Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!
Philo-love, sophia-wisdom: philosophy is the love of wisdom… the love of Gods’ unity in His Creation. Click here.
Psalm 111:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’
Verses with the same theme: Job 28:28; Proverbs 1:7, 9:10, 15:33; Isaiah 11:2
“Philosophy” is a compound word of “philo-” which means “love” and “-sophy” which means wisdom. Thus, philosophy in the true (Biblical) sense is not possible without a “fear of the Lord.” And, the fear of the Lord can only be known in its fullest and most authoritative sense in the Scriptures. Thus, any philosopher, despite his claim to be a Christian, who does not place the authority of Scripture above all other knowledge, and who also does not make Scripture his controlling epistemology, has no claim to a “Christian” philosophy.
There are other dimensions to this verse. (1) “Fool” in Scripture has a more serious meaning than in English. In Scripture it has a hardened moral dimension of someone who is not only unrighteous, but one who is committed to “walking in the paths of sinners” (Psalm 1:1) and “not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1:32). (2) A “fool” denies what he knows to be true. He “knows” much about God—His attributes, power, and Godhead (Romans 1:19-20), yet denies this knowledge. While he may reach a point where his heart is hardened, prior to that time he is aware that he is self-deceived. These mental gymnastics may be more prevalent among philosophers because they know that their systems are tenuous at best without some unity of knowledge and power holding them together. This grasp at unity is seen in their “theism” that is not Biblical theism, for example, the god of Descartes, Spinoza, and Kant, as well as the Begriffe (Absolute, Reason) of Hegel.
See I Corinthians, Chapters 1-2 below.
Perhaps, the best discussion of “the fear of God” anywhere is found in Chapter 10 of John Murray’s book, Principles of Conduct.
Proverbs 8:35 “All those that hate me love death”
I wonder how those who define God as “love” would interpret this verse? Their concept of love has no place for “love of death” which this verse states for those who hate God. Their only concept of love is a sentimental, anything-goes, situational ethic of Joseph Fletcher. The opposite of love is hate; if one loves passionately, he will hate the opposite of his love passionately. Jesus told us about “lukewarm” love in Revelation 3:16. Lukewarm love is lukewarm hate. Both are nauseating. Christians are called to “love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.” They cannot practice this love without hating what God hates with “all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.”
The West which was once a Christian culture is now a culture of death. Unborn persons are murdered by the millions, euthanasia is legal in several states in America and in some countries. Stalin and Hitler implemented their ideas that murdered millions. Suicide rates are up. Westerners seek “happiness” in the pharmaceutical industry. All solutions by “those who hate God” immediately or eventually, literally, end in death!
See I Peter 4:8 below to understand what Biblical love is and how it should be practiced.
Proverbs 25:2 “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter.”
(1) Young Earth Creationism. One argument raised against Young Earth Creationism (YEC) is that God would not deceive mankind by creating a universe that appears to be old when it is not. For example, the light of dead stars is still visible to telescopes and even unaided eyes. This verse and others (for example, Deuteronomy 29:29) states clearly and definitively that God may conceal whatever He likes. Jesus Christ spoke in parables in order that only His disciples and followers would understand. So, the Biblical position (that is, God’s position) that He may conceal whatever He wishes from anyone at any time. This argument against YEC is no argument at all.
One fact that is revealed that goes against this argument, also, is that Adam and Eve, the animals, and plants were created fully grown. An objective observer who came along after Creation Week would think that they have grown up from babies and from seeds. Wrong!
(2) Limited use of logic. “Computers would have been much more useful than they are in the field of philosophy, since they are eminently useful for managing relations of ideas, and the remaining part of knowledge would have been attainable by ‘going and having a look,’ assuming you found reason to care. Kant’s model leaves us with hidden truths; truths which may be attainable, in part at least, but which cannot be reached by applied logic alone. Perhaps Kant would have appreciated Proverbs 25:2 in light of his observation.” http://www.nutters.org/docs/kant-sap
Isaiah 45:7 “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.
There is a great deal in this verse, but I want to focus on possibly the most difficult statement, “create evil.” Other translations substitute “evil” with calamity, disaster, good times and bad times, discords, troubles, and woe. Perhaps, there are three levels to be dealt with here: (1) natural disasters apart from the actions of man, (2) the evil actions of men, and (3) evil at the hands of God directly. These seem to have a progression of difficulty in which many Christians believe (1), fewer accept (2), and very few would think (3) consistent with Scripture. For brevity here, and simplicity, if (3) is true, the others follow.
The argument is really simple because God has been explicit in the Bible. What could possibly be the greatest evil? The death of God Himself as the incarnate Jesus of Nazareth only would fit this criterion. Acts 2:22-23 states “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God… The greatest evil was orchestrated by God the Father on His own Son. If then this greatest evil was not only executed, but planned from eternity before time, then all other lesser “evils” are of no consequence being attributed to the planned actions of God.
But there is more, much more. (1) God is omnipotent—almighty, all powerful. He has all power. The reader will have to wrestle with this concept. To have all power includes control of secondary powers. Scripture is clear that He turns men’s thoughts and actions to His own ends (hardening Pharaoh’s heart, directing Samuel to David, making Nebuchadnezzer insane, etc.). Thus, while God is not the agent (secondary cause), He is controlling the power that makes men act. (2) More simply, “(God) works all things after the counsel of His own will” (Ephesians 1:11). All things simply means all things—all natural events and people and their actions. (3) God is good; He can do no evil. From this last verse, there is really no evil. Certainly, from man’s perspective the universe contains monstrous and heinous evil. But from God’s perspective, all is not only “good,” but “very good.” We need to ponder with some effort to understand His perspective and not the narrowly finite scope our perspective. God creates everything… including evil.
Jeremiah 31:33 “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.”
The full verse is “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people” (KJV). However, my focus is “in their inward parts.” The transliteration for this Hebrew word is kereb. The various translations of this word in the Old Testament are:
- among 62, midst 33, within 22, entrails 20, in 13, middle 7, heart 5, through 3, inside 3, nearby 2, throughout 2, with 2, him 2, herself 1, heat 1, In 1, group 1, from their own 1, contaminated 1, before 1, around 1, core 1, courage 1, estimation 1, deeply 1, grave 1, inwardly 1, stomachs 1, seeped into 1, recipient 1, stroke 1, threaten 1, us 1, to 1, presence 1, possessed 1, minds 1, intensified 1, inner thoughts 1, near 1, on 1, owned 1, out of 1, inner 1 (from www.netbible.net)
I want to suggest two particular applications of kereb. (1) The first and most frequent translation is “among.” The 2nd and 3rd are “midst” and “within.” I suggest this translation of our verse: “I will give my written Word (the Bible) to be placed and used among my people.” If one examines Psalm 119 in particular, and the remainder of the Bible in general, one will find that “the law” often is a synonym, designator if you will, of the entire Bible. Thus, this verse only states what God has done, that is, placed the Bible (His Word) among His people to be learned and obeyed. (2) The NKJV translates kereb as “mind.” Too often “heart” (which follows in this verse) is understood as feelings or emotions. However, if one searches all the uses of “heart” in Scripture, the overwhelming use refers to thoughts and thinking (for example, “as a person thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). Thus, “mind” counters this modernist error of some nebulous entity called the heart—the concern of Jeremiah is the mind—thinking, understanding, thoughts, enlightenment, and ultimately wisdom. For more on this understanding of heart, see here.
Now, link this phrase with Romans 12:2, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The power of this “transformation” is seen in its only other New Testament uses as “transfiguration” in (Matthew 17:2, Mark 9:2) and “transformed” in the heavenly state of believers (II Corinthians 3:18).
So, this phrase in Jeremiah 31:33 is not some ethereal “writing” of the law (the entire Bible) on nebulous “hearts,” but the placing of God’s Word among His people to be studied, yes diligently studied, and obeyed so that they will indeed be “transformed.” Thus, they will “transform” families, culture, and civil governments. God’s mind wrote the Word to communicate to the minds of His people for transformation. Modern Christians have mostly failed in their study and application of Jeremiah 31:33, perhaps, because they have misunderstood what it actually says! And worse, perhaps, because they have just been negligent and lazy!
Hard Sayings of the Bible: Book reference
Micah 6:8 “Doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly”
He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8
Justice was one of the four virtues of Ancient Greek culture and a central concern of many philosophers since then. It is central to this verse that is often quoted by diverse Christians: from those of a sort of “liberal” persuasion to the most conservative. However, the context of these quotes denotes a superficial understanding of what has broad and deep meaning. To “do justly,” one must know what justice is. To love mercy, one must know what “love” and “mercy” are. “To walk humbly with your God,” one must know the essence of humility and who “God” is.
Hardly a day passes that both children and adults exclaim vigorously, “That’s not fair.” In courtrooms, fairness (justice) is pursued extensively and passionately. But justice demands a standard by which it can be measured. It is no accident that one synonym for the Bible is “canon” which means measuring stick.” And, “to do” is bettered translated “promote, work, or accomplish.” (See NetBible online.) So, justice is Biblical justice—the full application of all the passages of Scripture that concern one’s relation with his fellow human beings and with God. This implementation requires a thoroughgoing knowledge of Scripture and how to apply it!
“To love mercy” is no less comprehensive. Is it always merciful to give to others? The Apostle Paul said, “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (II Thessalonians 3:10). So, “mercy” is not simply giving handouts; sometimes it is merciful to withhold handouts! Thus, mercy must have Biblical guidelines, again requiring a considerable knowledge of Scripture and how to apply it. This method is described further in II Peter 3:8 below on “love.”
“To walk humbly with your God” is not a “sentimental journey.” The first requirement is regeneration—that a person’s soul has been “born again” by the Holy Spirit that produces the only great act of humility—repentance: a change of mind and confession that one is totally corrupt and without hope apart from the work of God in one’s soul. Then, one must live according to the instructions of the Sermon on the Mount in its intricate detail of holy living and right attitude along with everything else the Bible teaches.
And, with what God do you walk with: the God of the Old Testament or the God of the New Testament? Rather, He is the God of both. The God who is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent to implement his predestinating and sovereign plan in eternity? There are some 200 or more names for God in the Bible—do you know them? Do you “know” this God is all the fullness and perfection described by Scripture?
You should be getting the picture by now. Micah 6:8 commits a Christian to no easy task. It requires not less than Jesus’ “If you love me, keep my commandments!” There are a lot of commandments in the Bible. Traditional Judaism counts 613 in the Old Testament, and there are more than that in the New Testament. One could say that these verses are a short summary of a large work: the totality of conversion and the Christian life (“walk”). So, when we say or hear this verse, let us realize the full impact and weight of its meaning. This obedience is not earning our salvation—that is a gift—but living out what He has already given us.
For more on this verse, see the book written by George Grant, The Micah Mandate.
Matthew 4:4 “Man shall not live on bread alone…”
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (NASB). The necessity of bread (a symbol of all necessary foods) for the nourishment and health of the body is obvious. Less obvious, but made apparent by this verse, is the necessity of the Word of God for “life.” “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63—NKJV). The reading and digesting (studying, meditating, memorizing, etc.) of Scripture are as necessary to the health of the soul (spirit) as food is to the body. This emphasis is not a five or ten minute “quiet time” each day, but a vigorous approach to all of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. I daresay that this necessity is as true for philosophers, as theologians and laymen.
Note further that Jesus says here, “every word.” Every word means every word. Again, we are to know the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. “Thus says the LORD!” Are you as a philosopher as engaged in His Word, as you are in the words of other philosophers?
Literally, man shall not “live” by bread alone. Never in the history of the world has a country experienced the wealth of the United States in the latter 20th and current 21st century. Yet, yet, Americans are unhappy, committing suicide (sometimes taking others, including their own families), and trying to find happiness in pills. For more on the connection between Biblical understanding and real health, see Proverbs 8:35 “All those that hate me love death.”
Matthew 4:4 “… but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”
“The orientation of philosophy is “to major on minors” and to focus on “lesser” things to the exclusion of the “major.” This situation is true of non-Christians and too many Christians. Metaphysical investigation into the supernatural is called “speculative philosophy.” Modern neuroscience is claiming eventually to explain all thinking, even morality, on the basis of understanding brain physiology. Divisions of this effort include neurophilosophy, neuroethics, and even neurotheology.
Because of the Fall, man is driven to consider virtually every whim of knowledge that comes along to the exclusion of Jesus’ reply to Satan in the wilderness. First, science is empiricism (induction), and induction by definition is a fallacy: a narrowly defined and restricted investigation that claims universal validity. Thus, all scientific knowledge, including that of neuroscience, is based upon a fallacy. Now, that is not to exclude empiricism for having a certain operationalism, that is, being pragmatic and functional. While water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit and is quite practical information, there is no actual place on earth where that happens except under artificial conditions (sea level, distilled water, precision of measurement, etc.)
Second, even apart from Revelation, the physical can only be based upon the spiritual; spiritual here meaning the thoughts and values of men and women. Michael Polanyi called this foundation “personal knowledge,” which is also the title of the book that he wrote in breadth and depth about this subject. All knowledge, including natural science, is based upon personal preferences and values throughout the scientific process.
Third, Jesus told us over and over about the greater importance of the spirit. Our verse here, Matthew 4:4 states this priority clearly. Here, Jesus is starving, and Satan tempts Him to use His miraculous powers for physical sustenance. Jesus does not deprecate the importance of bread, but shows the greater importance of spiritual nourishment. Further, He is clear as to what this spiritual nourishment is: every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. God has spoken from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. Two emphases should not be missed.
(1) The vital link to life is God’s Revelation: the Bible. Some have claimed that “revelation” includes natural revelation. But, as we have just seen, while empirical knowledge is valuable for practical results when used carefully, it is not truth but a fallacy. What the human soul (spirit) needs is spiritual truth as food. (2) Every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. That means the entire book of the Bible needs to be studied a systematic form. This systematic study is true science, defined as the systematization and categorization of the subject (the Bible) being studied.
Neuroscience and all of its metaphysical claims are wild speculation, but are dangerously claiming the pedestal of truth. Even conservative Christians are falling for their speculations. But for all its claims, neuroscience is still science, and science is based upon the personal choices of the scientists, their authority as a community, and finally, by definition, a fallacy.
Dear reader, what are your priorities? Do you study the Bible as much as you do other subjects? If not, perhaps this verse will lead you to re-consider your priorities. Feed on the vital substance of life—feed on every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
Matthew 10:28 “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”
“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” There is a substantial number of evangelical Christians who are physicalists, that is, they believe that only God created only matter. Man has no immaterial or non-physical substance. Other names for this theory are materialism, naturalism, scientism, physical monism, positivism, objective realism, epistemic reductionism, property dualism, and many others. Be careful of Christians in academia using strange and/or new scientific terms. While many will be partially or thoroughly orthodox, many will not.
Thus, “they say,” any activities of the mind are epiphenomena, a type of identity theory, philosophical behaviorism, eliminativism, or some else esoteric. Also, look for terms, such as, “wired,” “hard-wired,” “integration of neuroscience and the Bible,” “biological bases of spirituality and personhood,” “behavioral neuroscience,” “neuroethics,” “non-reductive physicalism,” and others.
Any variety of strict physicalism, disallowing an immaterial soul (spirit, mind, heart), is anathema and violates any Biblical orthodoxy. God breathed into Adam a “living soul” (Genesis 2:7). Matthew10:28 quoted here. The body as a “temple of the Holy Spirit” (I Corinthians 6:19). The body dies to give new life; “the body is sown in corruption”; “it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body”; and the “mortal must put on immortality” (I Corinthians 15:35-54). The “earthly house” (home for the soul), being “naked” (soul without body), and “being home in the body” (for the immaterial self) of II Corinthians 5:1-6. Unless an immaterial soul survives the decay of the body, then all personal identity and knowledge are lost. And, on and on. The Bible defines man as both body and soul. This tenet is one that rivals, if not exceeds, that of Biblical creationism in importance for Biblical-Christian orthodoxy.
So, beware of scholars and others citing new “science,” especially something new from “neuroscience,” “new psychology,” “evolutionary psychology,” any word with “neuro-“ to form a compound word.
Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden…”
Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
I have observed the interest and involvement of Christians in psychology and psychiatry for almost 40 years. I have seen instant acceptance and credibility given to these professionals in positions of responsibility and leadership in the most conservative of Bible-believing churches. I have counseled Christians who have been given “diagnoses” and labels which severely hampered their spiritual growth. Many Christian students have been counseled to enter psychology and psychiatry, as a means to assist Christians is their spiritual growth and walk. Many in these fields screen missionary candidates and “treat” their problems on the mission field.
Why does psychology have this instant and profound credibility? There are many reasons. (1) The most critical mistake is to limit the application of Biblical truth. The only way that anyone can find “rest for their souls” is to “take (Christ’s) yoke upon (them) and learn from (Him).” Is the Bible a book on psychology? Absolutely, “Yes!” The “psych” of psych-ology means soul or spirit. The Bible presents the truth of God about the soul and its needs. Psychology, as a pseudo-science, presents only theory (several hundred of them) and an a-moral science (no “ought” comes from an “is”—David Hume). (2) The mistaken and shallow concept of “All truth is God’s truth.” (3) Psychology is “scientific.” (I have already dealt with that claim.) (4) Christians in these fields who have a Sunday School knowledge of the Bible, no philosophical-logical training, and eight or more years of indoctrination from pagans who teach psychology in the colleges and universities.
Paul Vitz in his book, Psychology as a Religion, presents some of the conflict between psychology and Christianity. Psychology really is another religion. That Christians take to it so readily shows their superficial understanding of science and truth.
What does psychology have to do with philosophy? Everything. One’s personal philosophy, epistemology and ethics in particular, determines his or her thinking and practice. If one’s epistemology is not solidly grounded in Biblical Revelation, then that person will be led by all sorts of false epistemologies.
I have written a great deal about psychology and psychiatry here.
Matthew 19:28 “In the regeneration” Unity of the Material World with Man’s Morality
Matthew 19:28 “Jesus 1 said to them, “I tell you the truth: In the age when all things are renewed.”
Other verses to support this theme:
Genesis 1:3ff “Then God said…” All created things were spoken into being. See John 1:1
Genesis 3:17 “Cursed is the ground for your sake.”
Genesis 4:10 “The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.”
Numbers 35:33 “So you shall not pollute the land where you are; for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it.” Many, many times the shedding of blood is linked to the land.
Joshua 4:24 “that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.” Stones communicating knowledge
John 1:2 “All things were made through Him (the Word; John Calvin—the Speech)
Luke 19:40 “If they (the crowds celebrating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem) keep quiet, then even the stones will cry out”
Romans 8:22 “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.”
II Peter 3:10-13 “New heavens and a new earth.” Description of a purifying process
The predominant metaphysical position of secular philosophers today is that of materialism: the only substance that exists is material (atoms and their subatomic particles). Materialism has even been espoused by some Christian philosophers. Then, there are some who get the Biblical position correct as to the existence of both a material and immaterial (spiritual) universe. However, there are few who know the Biblical link between man’s morality (his actions, his righteousness) and the physical universe.
The Greek word for being “born again” or “regeneration, palingenesis, is only used twice in the New Testament. (There are other synonyms, such as being “born again” (John 3), crucifixion (Galatians 2:20), and several others.) First, as any knowledgeable Christian would suspect, is the “washing of regeneration” that applies to believers (Titus 3:5). But what may not be commonly known is that the other use of palingenesis in the New Testament concerns the entire physical universe. The literal interpretation of Matthew 19:28 of this word is “in the regeneration,” that is, when all things will be regenerated. The passage from Romans 8:22 demonstrates that the universe has been cursed (Genesis 3:17) and awaits the undoing of that curse through the same process by which Christians are “renewed” or “regenerated.” This purifying process is seen in II Peter 3:10.
The reader can do his own homework, just looking up all the references to “blood,” “justice,” and “righteousness” in the Old Testament. The New Testament echoes this theme, but it is not one that is common known among Bible-believing Christians today because our age is so predominantly physically oriented. The “new heavens and the new earth” are participants of God’s renewal process. One cannot have a Biblical philosophy without a philosophy and theology of the link between the physical and the spiritual.
Matthew 22:37 Love is a commandment, not a feeling
Matthew 22:37; Deuteronomy 6:5; Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27
Someone says, “God is love,” and love is an emotion, is not? Well, is it? Or, better, is what we call love in God an emotion? For that matter, is our love for God an emotion? In common conversation we do not think it makes much sense to command one person to love another. We are inclined to think it unreasonable to demand that a man would get emotional about something that happens to please us but does not please him. Love cannot be commanded. Yet God commands our love. He issues an order: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” Is this a command to become emotional? To have ups and downs, sudden urges and ebbings? “Oh, No!” Someone replies. Our love should never ebb. But if it never ebbs, it cannot surge. Without a down, there can be no up. We agree, do we not that our love for God be steady. And we agree that God’s love for us is unchangeable. Then is not such a mental activity or attitude better designated a volition that an emotion?
It is interesting to note that in modern psychology, not initiated by but vigorously advanced by Freudianism, the emotions are greatly emphasized. On the other hand, there is little discussion of the will. The situation was different in the time of Calvin and before. Perhaps some people think that the medieval theologians were overly intellectual. No doubt they think the same of Calvin too, for he emphasized the will and paid little or no attention to the emotions.
Now, those who fear that people may become too intellectual—though as a college professor I see little danger—ought not to shy away from a very practical application of this discussion. In evangelism should the evangelist appeal to the emotions? Many do. Or, would it be better to appeal to the will? Which is it better to say to an audience: “Stir up your emotions,” or, “Decide to make Christ your Lord?” The way in which these questions are answered throws light on whether God is emotional or immutable and dependable.
Consider Augustus Toplady. This great Anglican Calvinist, author of “Rock of Ages,” approves Bradwardine (Complete Works, pp. 106, 107, London 1869) who said, “God is not irascible and appeasable, liable to emotions of joy and sorrow, or in any respect passive.” Later on, p. 687, Toplady adds in his own words, “When love is predicated of God, we do not mean that he is possessed of it as a passion or affection. In us it is such |sometimes? |; but if, considered in that sense, it should be ascribed to the Deity, it would be utterly subversive of the simplicity, perfection, and independency of His being. Love, therefore, when attributed to Him signifies, His eternal benevolence, i.e., his everlasting will, purpose, and determination to deliver, bless, and save His people.” So Toplady.
Note: This entire section is quoted from Gordon Clark, What Presbyterians Believe, pp. 29-30, which is commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 2, Section 1.
Matthew 25:34-36; II Corinthians 5:10 Judgment by Works
It has long seemed strange to me that God will judge both the regenerate (believers) and the unregenerate (unbelievers) on their works! We see this judgment in Matthew 25:34-46 concerning the sheep (regenerate) and the goats (unregenerate). Also, II Corinthians 5:10 we see a judgment of works in believers only.
The huge question is, “If God’s plan through all history has been to prepare and fulfill salvation in His Son, on judgment day, why is He not seeking the Evangelical Explosion answer to their first question, ‘Why should I let you into my Heaven?’” That answer is, “You should let me into heaven because Jesus Christ died in my place.” But nowhere is Scripture is eternal judgment based upon acceptance or rejection of Christ.
This morning the answer came, as I was pondering Romans 1:18ff where God says that the unregenerate are “without excuse” in not “honoring” and “thanking” God, in spite of the abundant evidence in the cosmos of His “eternal power and divine nature.” There, God is judging men for their failure to acknowledge what their own minds see. In the passages named here, God is judging men by their own moral standards and found eternally wanting—literally and figuratively. His fairness and equity—indeed his longsuffering—extends far beyond what men themselves would call “reasonable” in both cases.
Mark 4:35-41 Peace! Be still! Insight Into an Idealistic Ontology?
One of the great ontological problems that has plagued philosophers who have favored dualism since Descartes (and before) is the relationship between “thinking substance” and “extended substance,” or more commonly mind (spiritual dimension) and brain (physical body). “Spirit” is immaterial, and “body” is material. How can spirit affect body and vice-versa since they seem to be in different dimensions?
Might this passage be a key? (1) Jesus is peacefully sleeping in what seems to be a violent storm—sufficient that the disciples conclude that their lives are threatened. Jesus seems “at home” in this environment. Why be disturbed about a storm—is it not part and parcel of earthly existence? (2) When awakened, He uses “spiritual” force (words spoken in command) to change dramatically a “physical” situation of immense proportions. Might we say, “Word made material,” as in “Word made flesh?” May we go so far as to say the spirit caused physical effects?
But really, is this a great mystery? God is spirit—immaterial substance. His creation is hypostatized in Himself or from Himself. That is, physical reality is grounded in spiritual reality (the triune God). Scripture seems to demand two “substances”—the physical and the spiritual—the body as the “housing” of the spirit (II Corinthians 5:1-5)? Indeed, do we not see this reality in the great modern debate on the origin of self-consciousness—neurons or mind?
Or, perhaps, as I am beginning to consider (July 2013), physicality is an extension of spirituality—mind—or simply old-fashioned idealism. But not the pantheism of Spinoza nor the blind, crushing dialectic of Hegel’s Absolute, but the personal, purposeful, Creation of the mind of God. Something like the subjective idealism of Berkeley, but with God as the objective-subject. That is, the projection of the mind of God becomes physical reality which is held constant by His omnipotence and omnipresence. For God, there is no “perception,” as God “is” and God’s intuition and knowledge are one and the same immediately. But, take this paragraph, just written, as tentative and an early exploration into this relationship of mind and matter.
Nevertheless, this event in Mark gives us insight into the unity of the physical universe and the spoken word—spirituality becoming the spoken word and physical reality changed dramatically. And, Peter walking on the water by faith, but that passage will await another time.
Luke 20:27-40 Jesus’ Logical Deduction of the Living from the “Dead”
In Luke 20:27-40, Christ destroys the Sadducees by deducing the resurrection from the name of God: “Now even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ For he is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to him.” In the parallel passage inMark 12, Christ says-and all who would limit the role of logic in understanding and explaining Scripture should note it well-”Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God? … You therefore are greatly mistaken.” Christ reprimanded the Sadducees for failing to draw the inescapable logical conclusion from the Old Testament premises: All those of whom God is God are living, not dead; God is God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; therefore Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are living. (Garrett P. Johnson, “The Myth of Common Grace,” here.
Luke 22:19; I Corinthians 11:24 “Do this in remembrance of me” – The tremendous necessity and power of memory
Often, the glory of God is “hidden in plain sight.” While Holy Communion is the greatest “glory” in these two verses, I want to speak of memory. In a dozen or more Chapters of Book 10 of Augustine’s Confessions, he speaks of “The Power of Memory,” “Remembering Abstract Things,” “Memory Is the Soul,” “Mind and Memory,” “Remembering Absent Things,” and several other topics. A few of his comments are these (chapter numbers from Book Ten are cited).
“Even when I am dwelling in darkness and silence, I can draw colors into my memory, if I wish, and distinguish between black and white, and any other colors I will…. Though my tongue is still, and my throat silent, I sing as much as I will…. I distinguish the scent of lilies from that of violets, while smelling nothing.” (VIII)
For what literature is, what skill in argument may be, or categories of questions, whatever I know of such matters, is not in my memory in such a way that I have taken in the image and left out the reality…. or like a passing odor, dispersed upon the wind, leaving it image on the memory which we can capture in recollection. (IX)
In truth, when I hear that there are three kinds of questions: “Does a thing exist? What is it? What is it like?,” I retain the images of the sounds of which these words are composed, and I know that they passed through the air with a noise, and no longer exist…. In my memory, I stored away, not their images, but the things themselves. (X)
These short quotes do not do justice to the many pages in which Augustine richly discussed his concepts of memory, but perhaps they give a flavor that will stir the reader to read Augustine further.
Memory is necessary to simple communication and listening to music. Read the last sentence that I wrote, one word at a time. Suppose that you could not remember “memory” when you came to “is”, and could not remember “necessary” after “memory is,” and so forth. Without memory, there is no thought conveyed by succession of words. Indeed, without memory, one could not “remember” the meanings of words, so a word would only be meaningless symbols on a page.
The same is true or music. Isolated notes would have no more meaning that an isolated pitch, sounded one at a time without accompanying notes. Without memory, music could not exist. There would be no rhythm, melody, or parts. Any musical piece would be a cacophony of isolated sounds.
Indeed, as Augustine said, memory is “The Soul.” I am my memories from the earliest age to memory to the present, and memories form the basis of all my decisions in the future. So, the simple command, “Do this in remembrance of me,” invokes one of God’s greatest gifts, i.e., memory, in the church’s greatest celebration. Reader, exercise your mind and your memory, and project beyond my thought here to the powers of memory as a reflection of the glory of God in celebration.
Luke 23:39-43 – The Thief on the Cross: What Did He Believe?
Faith and belief are central to any complete discussion of philosophy and theology. They are synonyms, one of the idioms of the English language that “faith” has no verb form. (See Faith in Glossary.) Both are usually associated with some sort of “religious” content. However, one of the overlooked dimensions of faith by Christians and non-Christians alike is the dimension of “generic” faith. In the present context we are most interested in the “knowledge” (notitia) element of faith. Perhaps its importance is most focused in these verses. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). The question is, “Did the criminal have the ‘saving faith’ (knowledge) necessary to salvation?”
For sure the penitent criminal was saved, as Jesus declared, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (v. 43). So, how do we reconcile proper “belief” and salvation? Was the notitia of the thief sufficient for salvation? What did the criminal know?
(1) He feared God, as he said to the other criminal, “Do you not fear God?” This man knew that a greater judgment awaited them than the one that they had just experienced in Roman court. It was a strong belief, one that was able to penetrate the excruciating pain and suffering of the cross. He also knew that mocking Jesus would add to their guilt at this final punishment before God.
(2) He knew that Jesus was innocent. “This Man has done nothing wrong” (v. 41). Perhaps he referred only to the crime of which Jesus was accused. Perhaps he referred to Jesus’ entire life. We do not know. However, he knew that he could incur greater punishment before God by mocking Jesus because He was innocent.
(3) He knew that Jesus could “save” him! “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom” (verse 42). Was it wishful thinking? Not likely. There is no doubt or hesitancy in his request. Whether he could read the inscription, “King of the Jews,” that Pilate had placed above Jesus’ head or not, he would have known from the voices and shouts of the crowd that Jesus was condemned for His claim to be a King.
(4) He knew that Jesus had or would have a Kingdom! Here is a man on a cross, experiencing great suffering, facing imminent death, yet able to recognize in Jesus, who faced the same awful prospects that day, as possessing a Kingdom or would someday possess one. This faith contains knowledge and understanding beyond that of the disciples, many of whom had not grasped the clarity of Jesus’ message to this extent. What great faith! What great knowledge and understanding to see beyond the immediate, dire, and seemingly hopeless circumstances.
So, while the thief may not have known the Four Spiritual Laws or the presentation of Evangelism Explosion, he had “saving faith.” He knew that he was justly condemned, facing a worse condemnation by God after death, that Jesus was innocent (a spotless lamb?), that Jesus had great power, not only to establish a Kingdom, but to bring him, a criminal, into that Kingdom. I fear that such knowledge and power of conviction might contrast to the “weak” faith of many professing Christians today with their access to the clarity of the Bible and numerous other “helps” for their study.
There are two final points. (1) Not only is right belief with its notitia necessary for salvation, so is regeneration. Especially, see the Book of John, Chapter 3. (2) No two people or imminent theologians can agree on precisely what is the content of “saving faith.” Certainly, it includes certain specifics about the birth, life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, but there is no precise list. Personally, I think that belief in the entire Bible which has as its central message, the Son of God, is the most important “belief” for the Christian. Through study of This Book, “little” faith can be turned into “great faith.”
For more on belief and faith, see my book.
John 1:1-16 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Prologue to John’s Gospel
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth…. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:1-16, edited, NASB)
John 1:1 asserts a Biblical and God-based epistemology in a blunt and dramatic statement. Verses follow that further illuminate this posited proposition. John Calvin in his commentary on the book of John translates logos as The Speech. Augustine believed that “the true Light which gives light to every man” was the giving of knowledge.
Not only is the so-called problem of epistemology answered, but language theory, as well. The whole of Special Revelation from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 validates the essential nature of communication through language. God has spoken from the “beginning,” “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3), and from God to man when He walked with Adam in the “cool of the evening” (Genesis 3:8).
For a complete book on the subject, see Vern Poythress’ book (allow time for PDF file to load).
John 1:3 “All things were made through Him…”
“All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3) From the ancient Greeks to modern continental philosophy, philosophers have discussed various aspects of “being.” The Greeks used ousia to denote that objects had “being,” “substance” or “essence,” that is, what a thing is in itself. Aristotle focused on the physis of a thing, that is, its nature. John Locke discussed the idea of “substance” and what a human “being” is. Martin Heidegger wrote his major work entitled Being and Time. Transcendence and being continue to be major themes of continental and postmodernist philosophers.
However, John 1:3 virtually destroys such speculative thinking on being, substance, essence, or Kant’s ding an sich. Jesus Christ created all things; as the Creator, He is uncreated—Biblically “begotten.” Thus, there are only two classes of things that exist: God as Trinity and all that Christ created, that is, created things. We can never know what “a thing is in itself,” unless we can know God, and all that we can ever know of Him is what He has revealed. All that we can ever know about a thing is its characteristics. The atomic table is possible because we know that atoms are made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons. But what is a neutron “in itself?” An electron? A proton? What is their essence, substance, being, etc. All that even modern science which has been able to split the atom can manage is to describe their characteristics. Their essence is still unknown and always will be.*
There are profound implications of all material things not having “being.” (1) The whole of speculative philosophy about “being” is just so much nonsense. All that can be said about some thing “being” is that it was created by God with certain characteristics. (2) Science can never know reality because it can only describe, it cannot discern ultimate causes which is the Trinity. Description is not essence; description is not cause. Gravity attracts all material objects because that is the way that God created it, not because of any inherent property in the “substance” of material objects. The sooner that philosophy, especially that done by Bible-believing Christians, recognizes these truths, the sooner an increasing progress will be made in being obedient (ethics) to all that God has commanded: “If you love me, keep my commandments.”
Look soon for a major discussion of “Being” or “being.”
*I wrote this section before I became aware of relational ontology. That is, a thing is defined by its relationship to its own particulars (components) and to other objects. In my opinion, relations is what Heidegger meant by Dasein.
John 1:4-5 “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it”
The reader will want to search other verses for commentary on “light” above and below, as I want to focus on “darkness” here. At first reading, at least for me, one imagines “darkness” as literal darkness—a picture of the brightness of Christ coming into a dark, gloomy, foreboding landscape. But, that is not the metaphor at all! In fact, the verse clearly links “darkness” with “not comprehending.”
If light, the contrast here to darkness, is understanding and insight, then darkness must be a failure to understand and grasp the logos message—“that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31) and the other truths of the New Testament and the entire Bible. As Jesus says elsewhere, “? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? 18 Having eyes, do you not see?” (Mark 8:17-18).
If anyone has ever been in a completely dark place, and alone, one has some grasp of the impact of darkness. And this physical illustration begins to demonstrate the despair and hopelessness that resides in spiritual darkness (a lack of understanding, seeing with the mind’s eye). Jesus also talked about “the blind leading the blind” who fall into a ditch. Blindness of understanding is epistemological and ethical darkness* that destroys one’s earthly life and ends eternity in the “outer darkness.”
*See Romans 1:18 on the “noetic effects of sin.”
John 1:9 “The true Light… which … enlightens every man.”
“There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” (NASB).
“But since the Evangelist employs the general phrase, every man that cometh into the world, I am more inclined to adopt the other meaning, which is, that from this light the rays are diffused over all mankind, as I have already said. For we know that men have this peculiar excellence which raises them above other animals, that they are endued with reason and intelligence, and that they carry the distinction between right and wrong (Ed: ethics) engraved on their conscience. There is no man, therefore, whom some perception of the eternal light does not reach.”
“But as there are fanatics who rashly strain and torture this passage, so as to infer from it that the grace of illumination is equally offered to all, let us remember that the only subject here treated is the common light of nature, which is far inferior to faith; for never will any man, by all the acuteness and sagacity of his own mind, penetrate into the kingdom of God. It is the Spirit of God alone who opens the gate of heaven to the elect. Next, let us remember that the light of reason which God implanted in men has been so obscured by sin, that amidst the thick darkness, and shocking ignorance, and gulf of errors, there are hardly a few shining sparks that are not utterly extinguished.” (From the Commentary on John by John Calvin—bolding is Ed’s)
John 1:12 “But as many as received Him…”
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (NASB) The universal brotherhood of man has long be proclaimed by liberal Christians and secular humanists alike. This verse destroys that false “unity.” The Bible, including the Gospel of John’s Prologue, describes two populations on planet earth: those of the light and those of the darkness. To “as many as received Him, He gave the right to become children of God.” To receive Him is to embrace all that He stands for—all the truth of the Bible or at minimum the theology of the Apostle’s Creed. A rejection of this orthodoxy is a rejection of Christ Himself and a rejection of the brotherhood of His followers. This rejection, then, is an affirmation of being anti-Christian and an identity apart from Christ—the brotherhood of secularists and all other belief systems (both philosophical and religious). All men and women descend from Adam, and all have fallen in Adam (and their own sinfulness). But to “as many as received Him” only belongs the brotherhood of God and of His Christ by the Holy Spirit. This verse (and many others) destroys the notion of the universal brotherhood of man and establishes two brotherhoods: Biblical Christians and non-Christians. Augustine of Hippo, possibly the greatest Christian philosopher, established this identity in post-New Testament history with his City of God and City of Man.
John 3:12 “Earthly and Heavenly Things”
“If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12)
John Calvin in his Commentary on John exegetes:
If I have told you earthly things. Christ concludes that it ought to be laid to the charge of Nicodemus and others, if they do not make progress in the doctrine of the Gospel; for he shows that the blame does not lie with him, that all are not properly instructed, since he comes down even to the earth, that he may raise us to heaven. It is too common a fault that men desire to be taught in an ingenious and witty style. Hence, the greater part of men are so delighted with lofty and abstruse speculations. Hence, too, many hold the Gospel in less estimation, because they do not find in it high-sounding words to fill their ears, and on this account do not deign to bestow their attention on a doctrine so low and mean. But it shows an extraordinary degree of wickedness, that we yield less reverence to God speaking to us, because he condescends to our ignorance; and, therefore, when God prattles to us in Scripture in a rough and popular style, let us know that this is done on account of the love which he bears to us. Whoever exclaims that he is offended by such meanness of language, or pleads it as an excuse for not subjecting himself to the word of God, speaks falsely; for he who cannot endure to embrace God, when he approaches to him, will still less fly to meet him above the clouds.Earthly things. Some explain this to mean the elements of spiritual doctrine; for self-denial may be said to be the commencement of piety. But I rather agree with those who refer it to the form of instruction; for, though the whole of Christ’s discourse was heavenly, yet he spoke in a manner so familiar, that the style itself had some appearance of being earthly. Besides, these words must not be viewed as referring exclusively to a single sermon; for Christ’s ordinary method of teaching — that is, a popular simplicity of style — is here contrasted with the pompous and high-sounding phrases to which ambitious men are too strongly addicted.
Philosophers, even philosophers who are Christians, are often enamored with “ingenious and witty” terms and styles, “lofty and abstruse speculations,” and “high-sounding words,” as opposed to the “low and mean” words of Christ and of Scripture. But “the wisdom of men” is “foolishness” to God, and the “foolishness of God” is true wisdom, knowledge, and truth. See Commentary on I Corinthians 1, 2 below.
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world…”
“World” (Greek kosmos) is a very common word used by the Gospel and Epistle writer, “John.” Consider the following: (1) the whole universe of created beings (John 1:10); (2) the inhabitable earth (John 1:10, 1st occurrence; John 16:28); (3) designation of unconverted people (John 15:19); (4) that group of sinners who are so wicked that Jesus does not even pray for them (John 17:9); (5) the elect only (John 1:29, 6:33); (6) those people who have followed Jesus (John 12:19): (7) the whole universe (John 1:10, 2nd occurrence); and (8) the greater part of humanity (John 1:10, 3rd occurrence).
In none of these usages does “world” mean “all” or the “whole” of what is designated. Thus, John 3:16 does not mean the whole world, but those for whom Christ died intentionally and specifically. (These definitions were adopted from Gordon Clark’s First John: A Commentary, pages 48ff.)
There are many other words in Scripture that the simple hermeneutic of “meaning in context” (verse, chapter, book, and whole Bible) could prevent aberrant doctrines and teaching. These words include faith, love, hope, joy, and many others. Several have been addressed on this website—see Glossary and elsewhere.
John 4:24; 6:63; 10:30; 15:26; 16:13; 17:17 Trinity, Word, and Truth: Unity
Jesus Christ as “Word” and “Truth” are well known among Christians who have any familiarity with the Bible. What might not be as well known, or at least held consciously, is that all members of the Trinity have their own personal identity with word and truth. “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
“The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (John 16:13). Other verses could be cited, but these identify the Holy Spirit with “word” and “truth.”
The following verses show the Father’s identity with the same. ““But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me” (John 15:26). “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17). “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30).
These verses clearly show that “word,” “truth” and “spirit” are necessarily and dependently linked with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Of course, logically, this unity is necessarily the case. If all members of the Trinity are omniscient, and the Church has proclaimed this understanding as orthodox since the early centuries of Christianity, then they all know everything that each other knows—which is everything!
John 14:6 “I AM the way, the truth and the life…” A Unity of Subjectivity and Objectivity
Especially since Kant and then with the postmoderns, an intellectual battle has raged between the contribution of knowledge and truth by persons (subjects) and by the real world (objective). In this verse, as representative of the nature of truth in the Bible, one finds a wonderful unity of the two.
Michael Polanyi has posited a vigorous and virtually irrefutable argument of the presence of the subjective in the most objective of sciences: chemistry (his own field), cosmology, and modern physics. (See his book Physical Knowledge.). In fact, modern physics now flirts with, if not crosses over into, the philosophical and mystical. “String theory” is as much a transcendental hope, as it is a valid theory of the coherence of the universe. Evolutionists have posited extraterrestrial travel to account for life on earth. The very idea of a an all-encompassing cosmic “disorder,” called The Big Bang, is a far greater reach than an Organizer. (For more on the “unknowns” of the “hard sciences,” as discussed by a non-Christian, see this article.)
John 14:6 posits truth in a Person. First, all knowledge is personal. Knowledge cannot reside in a non-person. Knowledge in a book or computer storage came from a person and exists for a person. Nothing in the universe pursues knowledge except persons. (Perhaps animals do so in a very limited way.) But the great problem is that every person on earth differs with every other to a varying extent. So, how do we learn true knowledge? (I am ignoring “justified true belief” here because of its complexity. I have dealt with it elsewhere.) While truth resides in Jesus Christ, is there an objective source of truth?
I ask the reader this question, “What knowledge of Jesus Christ do you have that is entirely and completely true?” Of course, the answer is the Bible: God’s revealed mind—His revealed Person—His revealed personal knowledge. And, this knowledge is totally objective. If fact, I would contend that this knowledge is the most objective that is known to mankind. For sure, it came through persons writing it and then choosing the books of the canon, but all under the perfect direction of another Person—the Holy Spirit—another subjective-objective unity.
So, the great philosophical search for an entire and perfect source of objective knowledge ended with the identity of the Biblical canon. That the great problems of the world have not been solved is because very few philosophers (including Christians) have recognized this perfect unity of subjectivity and objectivity. May God increasingly bring His Word forth as objective truth to be applied to our subjective conditions!
John 14:6 (continued) … no man comes to the Father but through me.
“All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3). All things includes the law of noncontradiction—sometimes called the law of contradiction, but noncontradiction more accurately reflects what the term means. The law of noncontradiction states that two antithetical propositions cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense, else they would “contradict” each other, and any meaning of any statement or proposition would be lost.
Jesus limited the way of salvation (“to the Father”) in an absolute sense—”but by me.” The law of noncontradiction absolutely prevents there being another way. Jesus knew logic because he created it. Today, even among Christians in philosophy, there is much discussion of “common ways to God” or salvation. But here, Christ thunders in absolute logic that any consideration of another way of salvation is not possible. In Galatians, more than once, the Apostle Paul thunders that anyone who suggested another way was anathema (accursed). In John 14:6, Christ has made the same curse as did Paul—He just stated it differently.
Simple communication would not be possible without the law of noncontradiction because meaning of words is limited to one meaning in context. If any word had multiple meanings in context, then no definitive understanding would be possible. In this passage, Jesus has used logic to counter any other “way” of salvation. Without logic, indeed, there might be other “ways.” But then there would be nothing—no creation and no persons to sin and then be saved. Thus, logic answer the the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing.” Jesus Christ created particular “somethings.”
Acts 17:22-32 Paul’s Speech to the Athenians
The following is Greg Bahnsen’s own summary of a longer article on this text.
(1) Paul’s Areopagus address in Acts 17 has been found to set forth a classic and exemplary encounter between Christian commitment and secular thinking—between “Jerusalem and Athens.” The Apostle’s apologetical method for reasoning with educated unbelievers who did not acknowledge scriptural authority turns out to be a suitable pattern for our defending the faith today.
(2) Judging from Paul’s treatment of the Athenian philosophers, he was not prepared to dismiss their learning, but neither would he let it exercise corrective control over his Christian perspective. The two realms of thought were obviously dealing with common questions, but Paul did not work to integrate apparently supportive elements from pagan philosophy into his system of Christian thought. Because of the truth-distorting and ignorance-engendering character of unbelieving thought, Paul’s challenge was that all reasoning be placed within the presuppositional context of revelational truth and Christian commitment. The relation “Athens” should sustain to “Jerusalem” was one of necessary dependence.
(3) Rather than trying to construct a natural theology upon the philosophical platform of his opponents—assimilating autonomous thought wherever possible—Paul’s approach was to accentuate the antithesis between himself and the philosophers. He never assumed a neutral stance, knowing that the natural theology of the Athenian philosophers was inherently a natural idolatry. He could not argue from their unbelieving premises to Biblical conclusions without equivocation in understanding. Thus, his own distinctive outlook was throughout placed over against the philosophical commitments of his hearers.
(4) Nothing remotely similar to what is called in our day the historical argument for Christ’s resurrection plays a part in Paul’s reasoning with the philosophers. The declaration of Christ’s historical resurrection was crucial, of course, to his presentation. However, he did not argue for it independently on empirical grounds as a brute historical—yet miraculous—event, given then an apostolic interpretation. Argumentation about a particular fact would not force a shift in the unbeliever’s presuppositional framework of thought. Paul’s concern was with this basic and controlling perspective or web of central convictions by which the particulars of history would be weighed and interpreted.
(5) In pursuing the presuppositional antithesis between Christian commitment and secular philosophy, Paul consistently took as his ultimate authority Christ and God’s word—not independent speculation and reasoning, not allegedly indisputable eyeball facts of experience, not the satisfaction or peace felt within his heart. God’s revelational truth—learned through his senses, understood with his mind, comforting his heart, and providing the context for all life and thought—was his self-evidencing starting point. It was the presuppositional platform for authoritatively declaring the truth, and it was presented as the sole reasonable option for men to choose.
(6) Paul’s appeal was to the inescapable knowledge of God which all men have in virtue of being God’s image and in virtue of His revelation through nature and history. A point of contact could be found even in pagan philosophers due to their inalienable religious nature. Paul indicated that unbelievers are conspicuously guilty for distorting and suppressing the truth of God.
(7) In motivation and direction, Paul’s argumentation with the Athenian philosophers was presuppositional. He set two fundamental worldviews in contrast, exhibiting the ignorance which results from the unbeliever’s commitments and presenting the precondition of all knowledge—God’s revelation—as the only reasonable alternative. His aim was to effect an overall change in outlook and mind-set and to call the unbeliever to repentance by following the two-fold procedure of internally critiquing the unbeliever’s position and presenting the necessity of the Scripture’s truth. Through it all, it should also be observed, Paul remained yet earnest. His manner was one of humble boldness.
The full discussion of Bahnsen’s paper can be found here.
Romans 1:18-32 One of the Great Texts for a Biblical Philosophy
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:18-32, NASB)
Dualism of systems. Reading this passage, one gets the notion of thesis and antithesis. God is the thesis and man the antithesis. God has provided grace (vs. 1-17), yet man continues to want to “do his own thing,” in spite of the clear revelation of God found in nature. God has given—man does not want to accept, but goes his own way. Then, God says, “OK, then, I will take ‘give’ again, but this time “giving them over” to degradation that they would not have experienced otherwise. Man arrives at a worst state when he “heartily approves” of all the gross immorality that man has brought forth.
Grace of God and works. The Apostle Paul has just presented the amazing grace of God in salvation: “the just shall live by faith” (1:17)—faith itself being a grace (gift—Ephesians 2:8-9). This offer of salvation is the absolute antithesis of all other philosophical and religious beliefs which are simply salvation by one’s own efforts—works salvation. The former is the only way to grace, mercy, and peace—the very words of Paul uses in the introduction to his epistles.
Another attribute of God: wrath. Following this grace, God’s wrath is “revealed from heaven” (v. 18). While philosophers may speculate with their arrogant belief in their autonomous thinking, God reveals his wrath. John Murray comments, “Wrath is the holy revulsion of God’s being against that which is the contradiction of His holiness.” (p. 35) He is no sterile, inert, open-minded Person who allows “many approaches to God and salvation.” He has spoken—not just here but “long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). This son said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father by me” (John 14:16). It is not as though Christians have chosen an exclusive way of salvation—Christ Himself declared only one way.
“Since the creation of the world” (v. 20) God has implemented one plan of salvation through “His only begotten Son”—the Second Person of the Trinity. By the first promise to Adam and Eve that Satan’s head would be crushed, through Noah, the Mosaic system, the Kingdom of David, and the Prophets, God has worked this free offer of salvation—free to His people, but infinitely costly to His Son in the Incarnation and the Cross. God has worked the totality of Creation and all history towards His plan of salvation.
And, after this incomprehensibly complex and powerful task, He shows “wrath” that man actively rejects His offer—that philosophers and religions still attempt another way. His “wrath has been revealed from heaven.” This “revealing” is both Natural and Special. While man might attempt to say, “Well, the Bible (Special Revelation) is just a little too much to believe. After all, it was written to the small nation of Israel (Old Testament) and fabricated by enthusiastic followers of the obscure man called Jesus.” Or, “The Bible was never available to me. I lived in a time and place where it was not available to me.” And, amazingly, God allows this argument! But…
Man is condemned by the same natural revelation by which he chooses to seek knowledge. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (v. 20). Aristotle’s natural science caused him to reflect on An Unmoved Mover. By extreme contrast, modern “enlightened” scientists posit anything but God—2000 years “A. D.” and some 1700 years after the agreed-upon Biblical canon. Further, modern man has a far more extensive knowledge of nature than did Aristotle—making him that much more “without excuse.”
What do they see that they reject? The specifics here are “eternal power” and “divine nature.” Apart from Biblical Christianity, philosophers and scientists (modern science was once called “natural philosophy”) have believed that the universe was eternal. Even belief in the Big Bang posits eternality for all the “stuff” that preceded that event. But, the idea of eternity is foreign to man’s experience: from where did the concept of eternality come? “God made it evident to them” (v. 19). Man has an innate capacity to grasp eternity, but he applied that understanding to nature, and not to God. He confused the eternal attribute of the Creator with His Creation..
This power is also seen in the great, system and dynamism of the universe. Today, scientists speak of The Finely Tuned Universe. The conditions for the existence of life, the structure of the atom, and the precise orbits of the planets around the sun are recognized to be an extremely delicate “dance.” With very small changes, any of these systems could collapse, and life would come to a sudden and stark end. Indeed, even the effects of the Fall of Adam and Eve are seen, as this delicate balance is destabilizing and will one day collapse (“the creation was subjected to futility,” Romans 8:20). That is, the system is amazingly complex and stable, but not perfect. So, it is “evident” of both a complex balance and one that is degenerating. The complexity demonstrates the great mind of a Creator, but something has caused damage to the original.
Behind all this complexity and fine-tuning is a power that cannot really be grasped by man. He can only stand in awe of our Sun, much less the galaxies and nebulae of the universe. “God’s power is eminently “evident,” but also His “divine nature.” This attribute is “clearly seen,” “understood” (v. 20), and one that they “know” (v. 21). Further, they know God’s ordinances (rules, precept, commandments, ethics, righteousness, etc—v. 32). This grasp of the “divine nature” has been called the sensus divinitatis. In presenting the Gospel to unbelievers, none hearing it can say that they do not “know” God. Paul proclaimed to the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens (Acts 17), “This unknown God I proclaim to you.” For all their philosophies and myriad religions, these Greeks even had an altar for the true God! Even in this panoply of beliefs, God was and is “clearly known.”
Failure to worship and give thanks. From this evident knowledge, men and women have failed to “glorify” God and “give thanks” to Him (v. 21). A pursuit of mankind, especially since the Greek philosophers, has been to find “happiness.” But, happiness is inescapably linked to worship. The telos (the endpoint, goal) of man is worship of God. “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31). Is there any wonder that modern man is so “unhappy” in the midst of the wonders of technology and prosperity? Is there any other reason that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is almost unrecognizable today?
In America, there is a particular application of not giving thanks. While our forefathers founded Thanksgiving Day to thank almighty God for His provisions, state departments and state education throughout our nation are using the force of law to take this thankfulness to the Biblical God out of the event—“for even though they knew God, they did not … give thanks” (v. 21). God’s wrath will be revealed for this neglect and rebellion.
Disastrous and degrading effects of these causes. (1) Futile in their speculations” (v. 21). In philosophy, the activity of pondering anything metaphysical or supernatural is called “speculation.” One translation of this verse reads “they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like” (NLT). The God of the Bible and the Creator of the Universe has become the “god of the philosophers” or “classical theism”—a sterile idea of power and perfection in some being about whom everyone can agree and not be bothered by any duty to Him. (By bizarre and irrational reasoning, even many Christian philosophers argue for “classical theism.”) Going back to Greek philosophers and happiness, happiness was inseparably linked with episteme—true knowledge—which cannot be obtained without Special Revelation. Thus, the first effect of this denial of God was an irrationality of the intellect which became moral corruption.
(2) “Their foolish heart was darkened” (v. 21). For man to understand what he is and what he is to do, he needs true enlightenment. But in rejecting the worship and thanks of God, he has lost the light. And, this light is not one that he can find on his own. After more than 2500 years, there is no essential agreement among philosophers and there is an enormous plurality of religions. On Mars Hill, Paul said that even though God “is not far from each one of us,” but the unregenerate can only “grope” (Acts 17:27—feel their way in the “dark” without “light”). Man is hopelessly lost in the dark without the “light” of God’s Revelation.
“Foolishness” in the Bible is a far more profound attitude than that which is commonly ascribed to this word. A man is foolish to spend all his time in pursuit of money. A woman is foolish to care so much about her appearance. Governments are foolish to think that they can govern without God. Foolishness is anti-God. “The fool has said in his heart that there is no God.” Foolish ways are the opposite of God’s ways (Proverbs). A fool is a person who has excluded God from his life in every way possible. He is on a downward spiral to destruction and disaster while living in darkness.
(3) “Suppressing the truth in unrighteousness” (v. 18). This process of God-denial is not passive; it is profoundly active and aggressive. It is not as though man has overlooked something. He has actively rejected any idea of God and is working to cover-up anything that could remotely demonstrate God or His requirements of man. He has become an enemy of God and a friend of Satan. He has joined the army that fights against God. “In professing to be wise, they became fools” (v. 22)
(4) “Without excuse” (v. 20). The reader should not miss the compounding of man’s situation under God in these few verses. God has made Himself “clear and evident” in His Creation. He has given a clear God consciousness (sensus divinitatis) to all men. All this evidence comes through natural revelation—man can never claim that he did not receive the Bible, God’s Special Revelation when he has had natural revelation “since the creation of the world.” So, “the wrath of God” (v. 18) in what follows here is justified. The patience and longsuffering of God with man cannot be questioned legitimately. And, what follows is ugly—profoundly ugly!
(5) “They exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures” (v. 22). Instead of participating in the “image of God”—man’s highest nature—he chose the lowest, most base nature—the fleeting and degrading. It gets worse!
(6) “God gave them over” (v. 24, 25—twice stated). Even God’s patience has an endpoint. He does not just allow men and women just to experience the consequences of their sin; he removes much of his restraining influence. (He never removes all his restraint because what he targeted would simply cease to exist!) This removal causes greater evil than man could have achieved with his own efforts.
And, it is here that perhaps lies the most important message for modern society—we are under God’s wrath presently. The rampant presence of homosexuality of both women and men is not of man’s own making, but of “God giving them over.” Our situation is worse because God has removed many restraints from certain men’s thinking and behavior. Thus, the proper understanding of our current perverse culture is not that God will judge us if we do not repent, but that God has judged us already.
(7) “Exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural” (v. 26). God has given wonderful “natural function” to men and women. Anyone who has experienced the sexual pleasures that can exist between men and women in marriage knows how incredible that gift is. There are no bad consequences, only good ones—including the bearing of children. But, unnatural acts have consequences that are severe, even deadly. While HIV/AIDS may not be a direct judgment of God, it is certainly a natural judgment of God in his natural order. Homosexual promiscuity greatly weakens the immune system to the extent that organisms, which would not otherwise be a problem, cause serious infectious diseases and death. From this “culture medium,” HIV/AIDS spreads to intravenous drug addicts and the heterosexually promiscuous. (It is a blessing of God that HIV/AIDS is almost entirely restricted to perverse sexual and immoral activities.) The devastation goes far beyond this disease. Male homosexuality has an increased presence of virtually every disease and immoral social and illegal behavior, as well documented by Paul Cameron of the Family Research Institute.
(8) “God gave them over” a third time (v. 28). The situation continues to get worse.
(9) “All unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful” (vs. 29-31). We do not need to go through this list. These thoughts and behaviors are all around us. Just remember that this is a result of God’s active wrath of “giving them over.”
(10) “They … give hearty approval to those who practice them”(v. 32). For a society to be entirely perverse, those in authority must “give approval” to such practices. In a (relatively) righteous society, homosexuals could not “come out.” Rampant sexually transmitted diseases would be eventually limited in their spread. Crimes would be punished, limiting its increase. However, when the officials of society give their approval, the situation just spirals downwards towards moral and structural chaos.
Pause and reflect on these verses. I recommend a reflective and serious study of these verses. There is double and triple evidences and characteristics of what God is saying here. It is certainly relevant to today’s culture—even to some extent among “Christians” and “churches.”
Direct link to “philosophy.” A traditional division in philosophy in philosophy has been epistemology, ontology, and ethics. Their interrelationship is seen in this description from Romans. Where God is not acknowledged as Creator (ontology), thinking (epistemology) becomes “darkened” (irrational), and morals (ethics) become perverse. Consequences extend far beyond the practitioners themselves as society spirals downward. Christian philosophers have a great opportunity to change the situation, but I fear that they are influenced more by secular philosophers, than having a Biblical orientation, and too often make the situation worse rather than better. (See here.)
No morality without “religion”: “Those therefore who would merge religion into morality, or who suppose that morality can be sustained without religion, are more ignorant than the heathen. They not only shut their eyes to all the teachings both of philosophy and history, but array against themselves the wrath of God, who has revealed His purpose to abandon to the most degrading lusts those who apostatize from Him.” (Hodge, 42) How applicable is this message in 21st century in America! For several decades, public schools have attempted to teach morality without religion. And, what do we have—“degrading lusts” in abundance on TV, movies, and even in public parades!!
Seeing the invisible. “Invisible attributes… clearly seen, being understood” is a description of “what is invisible” to the senses to “sight” or “light of the mind.” We use the expression “seeing with the mind’s eye.” So, here Paul says that an understanding of the “invisible” is sight. This sight is more important than seeing the created world with physical sight because the latter does not give explanation of origin—only that the cosmos is there.
While this text does not contain the word “light,” it does have “darkened” which inescapably includes its opposite, “light,” by contrast. Today’s science is a study of “light” in the natural, empirical sense. And, senses include not just seeing with the eyes, but hearing with the ears, smelling with the nose, feeling with the skin and other organs, and tasting with the mouth and nose. But when the Bible uses these senses, it is mostly referring to seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling with the mind. To see is to understand, “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalms 119:105). To hear is to understand truth, “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15). To taste is to understand truth, “O taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). To smell is to understand truth, “For we are the aroma of Christ” (II Corinthians 2:15). To feel is to understand truth, “We looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life” (I John 1:1).
This application is crucial in our “super-sensed” world, as psychology is based upon “how you feel.” Science, the unquestioned “truth” of modernism is based in the senses—what one can see, hear, and observe, including those activities that use instruments to enhance the sense (microscopes, spectrometers, etc.). Love is a feeling. People go to physicians because they “feel” bad, are “anxious,” or are “depressed.” The concern of the Scriptures, however, is to understand with the mind, not to feel. And, one of the insights of philosophy has virtually always been that “sensed” objects must be interpreted by what one believes. So, there is not so much evidence in what we see, feel, hear, or otherwise sense, but our interpretation of it—or “insight” is what is crucial to our understanding. Romans 1:19-32 cannot be understood without that understanding!
Attributes of God revealed in this passage—“his divine nature”: righteousness, creator, patience or longsuffering, grace, mercy, omnipotence and sovereign (working history to his ends), wrath, justice (mercy and wrath together), love, savior, and more.
God’s goodness inherent in θείοτης—“divinity” (v. 20). “Goodness was regarded by many of the heathens as the primary attribute of Deity. Among the Greeks, goodness — τὸ ἀγαθὸν, was the expression by which the Supreme Being was distinguished. And it appears evident from the context that the Apostle included this idea especially in the word θείοτης. (From footnote in Calvin’s commentary.)
God validates the transcendental argument. A transcendental argument is one that moves from physical (sensed) data (phenomenal) to inescapable conclusions about supernatural causes (noumena). “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” God’s “invisible attributes” (noumena) “have been clearly seen… through what has been made” (phenomena). Thus, God Himself has authorized this transcendental argument. The physicalists (materialists, naturalists, atheists, etc.) “are without excuse.” Thus says the Lord.
(Curiously and in self-condemnation, Immanuel Kant in his discussion of phenomena and noumena, did not think that the transcendental argument was valid. It was an antimony—an argument that could be interpreted either way. Here, God says otherwise.)
Evidence of foolishness. “The universal practice of idolatry among the heathen, notwithstanding the revelation which God had made of Himself in his works, is the evidence which Paul adduces to prove that they are ungodly, and consequently exposed to that wrath which is revealed against all ungodliness.” (Hodge, 40)
Murray, John. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans (1968).
John Calvin’s Commentary on Romans found online here.
Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Eerdmans, 14th Printing, April 1980)
Natural law: This passage is “arguably the fundamental text on natural law,” although this theory rejects Scripture as the necessary basis for moral and civil law. See John Frame here.
Romans 1:18 “Who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” Ethics, not epistemology is the problem—the noetic effects of sin
Romans 1:18-23: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
Various philosophers for the past 2500+ years have argued that epistemology or ontology or a combination of the two is the ultimate ground for “knowledge.” However, these verses and much of the Bible argues that the problem of “knowing” is a problem of unbelief or ethics. Epistemology and ontology are then fundamentally moral problems. (I am equating morality and ethics here.)
Natural man does not barely have “knowledge” of God, but a “manifest” knowledge—“clear and distinct,” if you will… “for God has shown it to them” (v. 19). Further, they “clearly see” (“see” means “to know,” as when one says “I see” in solving a problem). They are easily able to make the connection between the “things that are made” with God’s “eternal power and Godhead,” that is, “invisible attributes” of the spiritual realm. By denying knowledge that is “clear” and “manifest,” they are immoral and unrighteous. Their decision is an ethical problem, not an epistemological problem. They compound this immorality by thinking themselves to be wise.
“They are without excuse.” That is, they have more than enough epistemological understanding to “glorify God” and be “thankful” to Him. This lack of excuse connects with every description of Judgment Day in Scripture, e.g. Matthew 25:31-46 and II Corinthians 5:10. God’s righteous judgment will not accept their “unrighteousness” ultimately and finally. Merold Westphal writes relative to Calvin’s opening chapters in his Institutes of Christian Religion:
First, (Calvin) explicitly gives to this problem the same universality that he gives to sin in general. All of us are involved. Second, this is not simply a matter of ignorance or weakness. To emphasize our responsibility, Calvin insists that we “intentionally stupefy” ourselves and have “deliberately turned (our) thoughts away from God.” Finally, the result is not so much a spiritual vacuum as idolatry. We suppress God’s truth by substituting figments of our own imaginations to worship and serve. (Merold Westphal, “Taking St. Paul Seriously: Sin as an Epistemological Category,” in Thomas Flint, Ed., Christian Philosophy (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990)
That ultimately ethics is the issue turns the concerns of epistemology and ontology by philosophers and others into misdirection. Romans, Chapter 1, has declared that man’s problem is not “knowledge” and “origin,” but confessing what he knows “clearly” and “manifestly.” In order to get his epistemology, one must acknowledge “in his heart that there is God” (the opposite of Psalm 14:1).
Addendum: Romans 1 declares that man “clearly” knows. One wonders how Western philosophy might have been different if Rene Descartes had declared that God in Creation was “clear and distinct,” instead of his own cogito (thinking mind)!
Romans 2:15 “Their conscience also bearing witness…
“Their conscience also bearing witness…, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel. Romans 2:15
Karl Menninger wrote Whatever Happened to Sin in 1973 in which he pointed out that “sin” was being eliminated from human life. He did not mean that people were getting more righteous, but that the concept of sin as a moral transgression and failure of responsibility was being lost as a viable concept. Instead, laymen and professionals were making excuses for all kinds of behavior that once were called “sins.” Parents, society, or genes were responsible, but not the individual. Much of this change came in the name of “freedom”—no authority can tell me what is right and wrong. That was almost 40 years ago, and we have progressed downhill since that time.
There are many severe fallouts from those changes, but I will only deal with two. First, the obvious is a degradation of everything in society that is meaningful: personal relationships, marriages, family, education, manners, civility, culture and the arts, etc. The second is less but fuels all the problems that I have named already—that issue is guilt. Man’s greatest problem is guilt—in two ways. (1) Guilt before a holy God results in death. I have already dealt with that issue herein–“You shall surely die….”
(2) Guilt hinders the potential of an individual and claws at his very being. One’s conscience is “bearing witness…accusing or else excusing.” This turmoil is churning on a day by day basis. But, included in that storm is the future that Jesus Christ will judge “the secrets of men” in the day of judgment. I am not talking about “guilt feelings” or even conscious thoughts. I am talking about true guilt caused by the curse of God on the entire human race. This guilt exists whether one feels it or not. It prevents clear thinking; it prevents happiness, joy, and peace; it interferes with all relationships, especially those that are intimate; it can even result in impotence towards any achievement, and even suicide.
This greatest problem of mankind is not even recognized by “professionals” in psychology, psychiatry, child development, social theorists, and philosophy. It is perhaps the most dramatic example of “light and darkness.” Scripture is the light; all others are the darkness. Apart from Biblical revelation and the regeneration of the individual human spirit, this darkness cannot receive any light. Unfortunately, many Christian “professionals” are wrong about guilt because they are wrong on the applicability of Scripture to speak to the human condition. So, this problem is not limited to the human secularists and positivists.
There are only two answers to the problem of guilt. First, a person must be regenerated by the Holy Spirit. Second, he must be a diligent student of Scripture to be sure that “whatsoever is of faith, and not of sin.”
Romans 3:8 “And why not say,“Let us do evil that good may come?”
“One of the most compelling ethical arguments to the natural (fallen) mind is that of teleological ethics: “the end justifies the means.” But there are at least two major problems with this approach. (1) There is no restriction on the means. My family may be starving, and I know that my neighbor has plenty of food. So, to feed my family (“the end”), I may simply steal, or I may even kill my neighbor to accomplish this “good” end. On a gigantically heinous scale, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Tse Tung justified the killing of millions for their own twisted philosophies of “higher ends.”
(2) This verse in Romans that is our focus here, spoken sarcastically, as that by which Paul and others were accused, is categorically against teleological ethics. And in greater argument still, all other Scriptures destroy this ethical approach as Biblical directives are normative ethics—God’s norm—God’s righteousness.
A form of teleological ethics is utilitarianism—whatever act provides the greatest good for the greatest number. The practical problem is, “How does one determine what is ‘the greatest good,’ and how can the harm of the minority be weighed against the ‘good’ of the ‘greater’ number?” How many persons must benefit to fulfill to qualify as “good.” One of the “fewer” who dies by such choices may be the boy who invents a cure for cancer. Several of the “greater” number may be rogues, thieves, murderers, and eventual dictators. But, again Scripture, as the norm of God, destroys utilitarianism.
There is an almost hidden feature of God’s ethics: it will provide the greatest ends and the greatest good for the greatest number simply because only God (in his Sovereignty and foreknowledge) can determine these ends.
Scholars, including Christians, have proposed various systems of ethics. Deontological ethics is focused on duty. Situational ethics calls for action according to the particulars of the situation. Normative ethics instruct “right” actions according to some standard or norm. (This method is concerned in the Euthyphro dilemma discussed below.) Virtue ethics is what the “virtuous” person does or would do in a certain situation. C. S. Lewis in his Abolition of Man names the Tao as a universal standard that even God must obey. Then, there is Kant’s categorical imperative a maxim is determined by what should be applied by everyone everywhere.And, there are many other designations for man’s attempt to determine right and wrong.
John Calvin comments on Psalm 119:105. “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.”
In this verse the Psalmist testifies that the Divine Law was his schoolmaster and guide in leading a holy life. He thus, by his own example, prescribes the same rule to us all; and it is highly necessary to observe this rule; for while each of us follows what seems good in his own estimation, we become entangled in inextricable and frightful mazes. The more distinctly to understand his intention, it is to be noted, that the word of God is set in opposition to all human counsels. What the world judges (to be) right is often crooked and perverse in the judgment of God, who approves of no other manner of living, than that which is framed according to the rule of his law. It is also to be observed that David could not have been guided by God’s word, unless he had first renounced the wisdom of the flesh, for it is only when we are brought to do this, that we begin to be of a teachable disposition. But the metaphor which he uses implies something more; namely, that unless the word of God enlighten men’s path, the whole of their life is enveloped in darkness and obscurity, so that they cannot do anything else than miserably wander from the right way; and again, that when we submit ourselves with docility to the teaching of God’s law, we are in no danger of going astray.
In typical fashion, John Calvin has nailed the human situation. Man (“the world”) has contrived all sorts of “ethics” and “ethical” schemes that are “crooked and perverse” in the “wisdom of the flesh.” He even uses the word, “enlighten,” but in direct contrast to the Enlightenment and which the Psalmist calls “endarkenment” (the area not illuminated by God’s “lamp” and His “light.”
The reader should keep in mind that “law,” as used in this Psalm and throughout Scripture is equivalent to modern use of “ethics.” Psalm 119 uses various synonyms for “law”: “precepts,” “statutes,” “ the way,” “His ways,” “commandments,” “righteous judgments,” “justice,” and others (taken from the NKJV). When Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commandments,” he is only saying what this verse, Psalm 119, and all of Scripture is saying in God’s instructions for mankind. One should also note the inseparability of the character of God as Righteousness and “law.” Thus, these synonyms continue into the New Testament, as one seamless whole.
(These synonyms include ceremonial laws, case laws, and other laws that were exclusive to the nation of Israel. Any discussion about making distinctions between those laws and the ones that remain applicable in the Christian era are far beyond my discussion here.)
Plato through Socrates proposed what is called the Euthyphro dilemma: “Are moral actions (ethics) right because God commands them,” or “Does God command them because they are morally right?” This question is left hanging in the Euthyphro, but the Bible unequivocally states that there is no dilemma. “You shall have no other Gods before me” (Exodus 20:3); “I am the Lord and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:5); any passage that says, “Thus says the Lord”; and others all throughout the Bible.
Divine command theory, voluntarism, and other names are given to Biblical ethics. However, we must not separate ethics from the character of God. Holiness, righteousness, goodness, and justice are among His attributes. Ethics are thus derived from Him and written down in the Scriptures. We err, and we sin, if we seek ethics in any of the ways or means devised by man (including professing Christians) apart from the Scriptures.
All God’s requirements (ethics) of man are summarized in the Ten Commandment which are further elucidated by all the 613 laws of the Old Testament (traditional Jewish number) and (someone has estimated) more than 800 instructions in the New Testament. Since God is One, they are all unified, although one may need to do some study to arrive at Romans 14:23, “Whatever is not of faith (right thoughts and action) is sin. The Bible provides the only system in which there is never any conflict between what is right for the individual, the family, social groups, the church, nations, and international relations. Biblical duty is synonymous with happiness, blessedness (The Beatitudes), health, sanctification, etc.
There is one qualifier for Biblical ethics. There is a form of situational ethics for Christians. The situation does determine which Biblical standards apply. This concept is not situational ethics because God has determined the norms beforehand that are applicable to all situations. For example, in Exodus 22:2-3 a person killed in the act of theft carries no guilt upon the owner of the property, if during darkness. But in daylight the owner can be found guilty of murder. There is the same thief and same property theft, the situation(night vs. day) is different. A modern example would be an ectopic pregnancy which cannot survive and must be removed to save the life of the mother. A pregnancy in utero (where it should be in the uterus) would violate the Sixth Commandment against murder. Both are pregnancies with live human beings, but there are different situations (ectopic vs. in utero).
Biblical ethics does not need a qualifier—the Bible is God’s reflection of His own righteousness for humans to follow. Much more work needs to be done in this area to enlighten God’s people in these times of man-made and virtually “anything goes” ethics.
For more on Biblical ethics, see Biblical Ethics in Medicine which has general principles, as well as some specifics on medicine.
Romans 3:11 Calvin on the “Greatness” of Philosophers
In his commentary on Romans 3:11, John Calvin states, “for empty is the man in whom there is not the knowledge of God, whatever other learning he may possess; yea, the sciences and the arts, which in themselves are good, are empty things, when they are without this groundwork.” What does this statement say about the “greatness” of philosophers who do not acknowledge God and His Word as the ground for their being able to do philosophy? What more does it say about Christians in philosophy who ground their thinking without recourse to God’s Special Revelation!
Romans 8:20, 22 The creation was subjected to futility… (and) groans and labors with birth pangs…
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (Romans 8:20-22).
In accordance with God’s plan, when Adam fell into sin he dragged down the creation with him. As God said to the man, “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Genesis 3:17). The result was not that man must learn to take care of the earth and cooperate with it in order to bring forth sustenance from it. Rather, God said that the earth would now resist the man, so that the man must subdue the earth to take from it what he needs (v. 18). Then, after a while the man would die and his body would return to the earth (v. 19). When two parties struggle under God’s curse, neither comes out as the winner. Since that time the whole creation had been groaning for liberation right up to the time of Paul, and it has continued its groaning until now because what it longs for still has not arrived.
Thus long before creation became polluted with plastic bottles, it was polluted with sinners, with non-Christians. It groans not because it longs to be rid of factories and skyscrapers, but to be liberated from the bondage and decay that came upon it because of sin. That day is marked by the revelation of the sons of God, that is, when God shall definitively vindicate his people and complete their adoption by the redemption of their bodies, or the resurrection of the saints. Its liberation is bound up with the salvation that Christians enjoy, or with “the glorious freedom of the children of God.” The corollary to this is that creation yearns to be rid of the non-Christians, so that the meek shall inherit the earth. (Vincent Cheung, here)
Cheung’s commentary here is well stated, but he goes on to condemn Christians who are concerned about and active for the environment, instead of preaching the Gospel and exegeting Scripture. However, I see that concern for the environment is consistent with the Creation Mandate and the broad scope of the Kingdom of God. A great example is The Cornwall Alliance which is also a model for all organizations that would profess and actively pursue “subduing the earth” and “ruling over it,” which includes unnecessary harm and maximal productivity within a Biblical structure.
The Creation… the whole universe… no life on other planets. One can deduce that this passage in saying that “the creation” was subjected to futility because of man’s sin by God’s curse. “The creation” includes the whole universe. Thus, if the whole universe is inseparably linked to man’s (lack of ) obedience, then there cannot be other soul-bearing beings in the universe. If there were other such souls, then their eternal destinies would not be linked to their own wills, but to the wills of men on earth. They would be a dependent race of men without their own responsible condition under God.
Romans 14:23 “Whatever is not from faith is sin”
Sometimes, some of the most important Bible verses are sort of “hidden away,” as only a part of a verse and a small part of a chapter. Romans 14:23 is one such verse. Whatever is in our thoughts, speech, and actions that is not “from faith” is sin! How many of these situations do we have each day—hundreds, if not thousands. How can they all be “from faith?”
First, one has to know what faith is. I have worked on this definition for some 20 years. Faith is the disposition to say or act in a particular way according to some knowledge (understanding) with an expected outcome which may or may not happen, as Reality or Providence unfolds. In a non-religious (generic) sense, I plan a trip on faith based upon knowledge of where I want to go, how to get there, what I will need for travel, how much time it will take, etc. When I act on this knowledge, there are many things that may prevent the trip happening at all: car breakdown, closed highways, family emergency, etc., etc. These unforeseen events may be from inadequate knowledge or unforeseen events (Reality, that is, God’s Providence). What we want to avoid is disasters that come from poor knowledge or entire ignorance.
Biblically, the knowledge that must enter a decision is knowledge of the Bible. Herein is the central teaching of this verse. Decisions must be made from any and all knowledge in the Bible that pertains to that particular matter! The Bible contains hundreds, if not thousands, of instructions and principles that apply to every situation that one faces on planet earth. Thus, an extensive knowledge of Scripture is required to fulfill the intent of this verse. Do you have that extensive knowledge? If not, you need to make a concrete plan by which to learn it.
Now, God does not expect us to know the Bible comprehensively early in our Christian lives. Thus, he gives us mature believers, preachers, teachers, books, CDs/DVDs, and now the Internet. These can be consulted, and should be, both for insight and for certainty that one has made right decisions according to God’s Word.
Please do not miss the import of this verse—all our thoughts, words, and actions that are not from faith (a knowledge of Scripture) is sin. Of course, we can never achieve this goal perfectly—but far and away, our problem lies with a poor breadth and depth in our knowledge and understanding of Scripture more than a lack of perfection.
Reader, what is your plan to fulfill this verse? Do you have a plan? Are you daily unaware of the application of Scripture to your many decisions? Then, this verse condemns your thoughts, words, and deeds. Make your plans today to rectify your ignorance of Scripture so that “everything is of faith and thus righteous!”
For more on what faith is and how to understand it better, see the comments herein on Hebrews 11:6 and my book on faith, Without Faith It Is Impossible to Please God..
Additional note added later. This verse has important philosophical implications, as well. All actions are based upon faith (see above definition) whether that faith is religious in the common use of that word or whether one’s faith is agnosticism, atheism, or humanism (or any other –ism). This verse should force one to be certain, perhaps not absolutely certain, but certain to the extent that one is willing to wager one’s life, health, estate, and eternity on this belief (or beliefs). Further, one should be so certain that he would be willing to wager the entire human race both now and for eternity.
Dear readers, the import of this verse is that faith is not light matter… it is the weightiest of matters. Thus, we must search all available resources to have considerable, substantial, knowledgeable certainty to lead ourselves and others into future events. The Reformation (at least in the Westminster Confession of Faith) had it right. The final arbiter is the individual conscience, not a priest, the church, or any council—the individual conscience before God. What higher tribunal could there be? Romans 14:23 is a serious matter—the most serious of matters!
I Corinthians, Chapters 1-2 Concentrated Epistemology: The Wisdom of God vs. Wisdom of the World and Its Philosophers
Until this week (January 9, 2010), I had thought of the book of I Corinthians as a “practical” book, that is, one that addresses the schismatic and immoral practices of those in Corinth. But the first two chapters have within them some of the most concentrated occurrences of words that are foundational to an epistemology. Of course, this foundation (see “foundation” in I Corinthians 3) would be expected for such a tumultuous congregation—only on a solid foundation can such confusion be grounded and set right. (The reader can use various online Greek-English Interlinear texts which is only what I have done here. I used the NASB for English equivalents.)
Logos is best known in John 1:1 as “Word” (see above), appears seven times in Chapters 1, 2 and is variously translated as “speech,” “word,” and “message.” Sophia is translated “wisdom” and appears 19 times. Its opposite “foolishness” (stem, moira) appears 5 times. Derivatives of gnosis or “knowledge” appears 6 times. Other words that occur once or only a few times are translated such as “testimony” (evidence), revelation, informed, meaning, clever, preaching, proclaiming, mystery, speaking, see and hear (understand), heart, teaching, faith, and mind. All these are words that concerning thinking and judgment.
There are some interesting links and contrasts. Opposing “Spirit” or “spiritual” (stem, pneuma—appears 9 times) are “natural,” fleshly,” “worldly,” “wisdom of this age,” “natural” (see I Corinthians 15), and “weakness.” “Power” (dunamis—occurs 3 times) is associated with right-thinking and Biblical wisdom. (I leave the reader to work on that association.) I Corinthians 3 discusses the “foundation in Jesus Christ.” Chapters 1 and 2 have clearly and exhaustively revealed what that foundation is: Biblical understanding and wisdom that is “the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:16—see immediately below).
I understand that I have introduced complex issues in these few paragraphs. An exposition of these two chapters would be book-length. But the way to end divisions and give moral directions is clearly laid here—that of careful Biblical understanding—a foundation for one’s epistemology. We should all investigate these matters more thoroughly, and these chapters call us to that task.
The following are direct quotes from Gordon Clark’s commentary on I Corinthians.
1:18 “For the word of the cross…” Here, again is the Greek logos. If it can barely mean “cleverness of speech” in the previous verse, it can mean nothing else here but the doctrine of the Atonement. Paul does not object to doctrine, argument, or theology; he strenuously objects to some teachings, certain arguments, and other systems of theology.
“For the word of the cross is nonsense to those who perish, but to us what are saved, it is the power of God.”
One should not fail to see that this statement contains two elements. The devout Christian loves to speak of the Word (logos) of life; and indeed, New Testament theology brings life. However, there is also the other and darker side. The Word of the cross not only brings life to some; it brings death to others. So Paul says in II Corinthians 2:16, that the Gospel is also a smell of death unto death to the lost…. Since these people are dead in sin, they regard the Gospel as nonsense (foolishness, falsehood, lies, a false reality—Ed added)….
(A whole paragraph left out here.)
Since these people are dead in sin, they regard the Gospel as nonsense.
v. 19 The previous verse contrasts the opinion of the unregenerate that the Gospel is nonsense with what the Christian knows to be true, that is, the power of God, as Romans 1:16 also says. In the present epistle, Paul defends his statement in 1:18 by giving 1:19 as his reason. “For it is written, I shall destroy the wisdom of the wise and I shall set aside the intelligence of the intelligent.” The Old Testament establishes the point. Paul has quoted from Isaiah 29:14. Isaiah of course was referring to false prophets and unbelieving Jews. Paul also applies the quotation to the Jews in 1:22, but he extends it to the Gentiles in 1:23. Verse 21 applies to both Jews and Gentiles.
v. 20 “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the cooperative investigator of this world? Has not God mad nonsense of the world’s wisdom?”
Inasmuch as the exponents of nondoctrinal and anti-intellectual Christianity (if one must call it Christianity) sometimes appeal to this section, it is pertinent to point out that Paul does not disparage doctrine and wisdom. He attacks this worldly wisdom. Secular education is his target. The reason follows.
v. 21 “For since in the wisdom of God, the world by its wisdom did not know God, God decided to save believers by the nonsense of the Gospel.”
Note that God foreordained pagan philosophy and Jewish apostasy for the purpose of blinding their eyes and hardening their hearts. The course of secular culture was no haphazard development. It was by the wisdom of God in controlling history that the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Greek philosophers could not know God. By this time, divine wisdom, God ordained the salvation of the elect to be accomplished by the preaching of a doctrine the nonelect call nonsense.
- 22“Whereas the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom…”
When Paul speaks of the Jews as asking for signs, he may have had in mind something more pertinent than Gideon’s fleece and other Old Testament incidents. One may suppose that Christ’s miracles had lost all value in their eyes because Jesus had been crucified. The therefore ask for new signs. Well, the apostles showed them signs. Paul can hardly mean to disparage the apostolic miracles. Similarly, he may not have condemned the Greek desire for wisdom. The trouble was that as the Greeks did not succeed in achieving divine wisdom, so too the Jewish preference for signs was futile. Remember that Father Abraham told the rich man in hell, when he asked that Lazarus be sent to warn his brother, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rise from the dead.”
There is another minor puzzle in these verses: why should Paul speak so much about wisdom to the Corinthians—and in the first century, too? Both time and place contribute to the puzzle. The great philosophic achievements of Greece had taken place three hundred years previously, not in Corinth, but in Athens. Even Megara showed more love of wisdom than Corinth. Corinth was a business city with no pretense of education. The Puzzle ca be somewhat dissipated by recalling the phrase in 1:2, “in every place.” Paul was addressing others in addition to the citizens of Corinth, and as for the golden age of Greece being three hundred years past, there were still some epigoni who lamely tried to preserve the tradition.
- 23-24“… we on the other hand proclaim Christ crucified, a scandal to Jews, nonsense to Gentiles. But to the elect themselves, both Jews and Greeks, [we proclaim] Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God”
Although the usual translation of the first four words in verse 24 is “Gut to them who are called,” the English phrase does not seem to preserve the intensive sense of the Greek pronoun. Goodwin’s Greek Grammar, (article 989), says of the pronoun, autos, “In all cases it may be an intensive adjective pronoun, himself, … themselves, (like ipse).” Goodwin gives examples, not only in the nominative, but also in the dative plural, thus a phrase parallel to our text: “ep’ autois tois aigilaois, on the very coasts.” This intensive sense heightens the contrast between the elect and the nonelect Jews and Greeks. It is the elect, themselves, as contrasted with those whom God did not call, who find Christ to be the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Very frequently, the New Testament presents doctrinal material in an indirect way. The first chapter of John directly and in some detail teaches the deity of Christ, but while Paul in Romans argues directly on the doctrine of justification by faith, as also in Galatians, it can probably be said that he never argues for the deity of Christ. That Christ is God is always or usually presupposed. Here, the phrase “the power of God and the wisdom of God” is used in direct opposition to secular opinion and Jewish prejudice. Indirectly, it assumes the deity of Christ. Who, but God, Himself, could possibly be God’s own wisdom and power?
- 25“Because….” Here is the reason, perhaps, not for the preceding verse all by itself, but for the line of thought from 1:18 on. “Because the nonsense of God [God’s moronicstupidity] is wiser than men, and God’s weakness is stronger than men.”
- 26Without a major break in the subject matter, the following verses are a paragraph to complete the argument. The first verb may be taken as indicative or imperative. If indicative, 1:26 is a simple statement of a reason; if imperative, a hortatory nuance is added. “For you see you election, brethren, that ….” Here again is the doctrine of election. The Corinthians can look around and see that in general God called “not many wise according to the flesh, not many powerful, not many noble.” It is important to note that God does not call everybody
- 27Since the previous verse speaks of wise men, powerful men, and men of noble birth, one would expect Paul to continue, “But God chose the morons (!) of the world to put the wise to shame.” This seems all the more likely because the wise is also masculine. As a matter of fact, however, Paul does not write “moronic people,” but “moronic things,” so that the accurate translation is the familiar one, “but God chose the foolish things of the world in order to shame the wise [masculine plural], and God chose the weak things of the world in order to shame the strong [things: neuter plural].
Just why Paul uses neuter nouns here instead of masculine is hard to say. The difficulty increases in the following verse
- 28Here, the neuters continue, and in fact, there are no more masculines: “And God chose the ignoble [things] of the world and the despised [things], nonexistent things, in order to destroy [abolish, nullify] the things that exist.
Yet, just as the masculine “well born” (eugeneis) has to refer to human beings, what else can “ignoble,” without a distinguished family, of no kind of race, even though neuter, refer except to human beings
Possibly the best suggestion is that the neuter has a more general connotation than the masculine. Particularly, in the case of ignoble and despised, an English-speaking Christian would normally use masculines. Jesus chose Galileans whom the Pharisees despised. Yet the next phrase shows how deliberately Paul chose neuters: “things that do not exist.
This phrase may be in apposition to the ignoble and despised, or it maybe the last additional item of the list. In the interest of neuter generality, it seems better to take is as apposition. The Galileans and Corinthian Christians are of such a low class that in the eyes of high society, they just do not exist.
- 29The complicated sentence, begun at 1:26 concludes here with the main purpose clause: “in order that no flesh would boast before God.” The reason God did not elect and did not call many people of worldly importance, but mainly restricted his call to peasants, business men, and low born, was to humble mankind, and as the next two, the last two verses of the chapter say, to exalt the grace of God and the work of Christ.
- 30“Of him,” of God, not of yourselves, “you are in Christ Jesus….” It is not because of any decision of ours that we are Christians. We are regenerate because of God’s electing choice. See the comments on verses one, four, and nine.
“… who became.” The NAS has the best translation. Became is hardly is made, as the KJ has it; nor was made, as in the ARV; nor made in the RSV; but became. The verb is late Doric form.
“… became the wisdom for us from God…” Of course, Christ is the eternal wisdom of God: He never became such, but He became wisdom for or to us, in time, by His atoning work.
Now to get the verse in its entirety: “Oh him you are in Christ Jesus, who became wisdom for us from God, both righteousness and holiness and redemption.”
The relationship among these things that Christ became to us is not quite clear. The first difficulty is the number of items. Are there four? Or are there only three: wisdom, righteousness, and holiness, considered as one, and redemption? To answer this, another question must be asked. By righteousness does Paul mean subjective ethical activity, I which case it would be identical to holiness, or odes Paul mean the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to us, in which case righteousness and holiness would be separate items? A third question is, how does redemption fit into either of these possibilities? The Greek conjunction may throw some light on this. Wisdom is the first on the list, then the double conjunction te kai indicates that righteousness and holiness are more closely connected than they would be with the simple conjunction kai. However, since te kai can join opposite concepts or connected, though different concepts (Heb. 5:1), gifts and sacrifices; Acts 1:1, to do and to teach; Acts 8:12, men and women; and just above 1:24, Jews and Greeks), the grammar does not require righteousness and holiness to be synonymous. There is a distinct possibility that Paul means imputed righteousness and subjective holiness.
This interpretation is thoroughly Pauline, but it still leaves unsolved the order of the four items. Redemption, if it refers to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, as might be inferred from 1:17-18, should precede imputed righteousness and subjective holiness. Of course, wisdom is appropriately first, since none of the others would have occurred unless God had decided that it was wise to put such a plan into effect. With this in mind, it is possible to understand the last three times as examples of God’s wisdom. This fits the order of conjunction very well: Christ became wisdom to us, namely, righteousness, holiness, redemption, all three. The grammatical point is that te kai can be used with three items.
Now, finally, there is a reasonable explanation why redemption can stand last. Remember that redemption was not actually completed on the cross. To be redeemed is to be redeemed both from the penalty and the power of sin (cf. Eph. 1:14 and 4:30; especially Titus 2:14; and perhaps Heb. 9:12). Hence the completion of redemption can be the future climax of this list.
- 31Continuing the sentence and concluding the chapter: “that as it is written, Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” Tow verses above there were two purpose clauses: God selected nonexistent things in order to destroy the existent things, in order that no flesh should boast. Man has no cause for boasting about his accomplishments, for it is of God that we are in Christ. This purpose is now repeated to close the chapter. The expression, however, is a condensed quotation from Jeremiah 9:24, and Paul retains it in its imperative form: “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.
Excursus on Wisdom
Colossians 2:3 says that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ. In this verse, the words wisdom and knowledge can be taken as synonyms. But I Corinthians 12:8, the final mention of wisdom in that epistle after a break since 3:19, is hard to interpret unless one assumes a difference between wisdom and knowledge: “To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for his advantage. For to one through the Spirit is given [a, or the] word of wisdom, and to another a word of knowledge according to the same Spirit, [and] to another faith….” Of course faith is given to all Christians; and no doubt knowledge and wisdom are somehow connected because they are both expressed in words, in a logos: a discourse, sermon, or argument of wisdom and a discourse, sermon, or argument of knowledge. But since these two are in an enumeration of nine gifts of the Spirit, the two phrases can hardly be taken as completely synonymous.
What this distinction is has caused confusion among the commentators. A frequently made distinction is that wisdom refers to practical arguments and knowledge consists in theoretical understanding. H. A. W. Meyer, however, makes wisdom an elementary grasp of Christian doctrines, whereas knowledge is a deep and thorough elaboration of their connections. Much to one’s surprise, Meyer then infers that wisdom (the elementary grasp of Christian doctrines) continues throughout the Parousia, but knowledge (the profound elaboration of their relationships) ceases (13:8). Surely, this view, or, at least this conclusion has less to recommend it than the former does.
Charles Hodge makes the almost impossible suggestions that wisdom is the inspiration given to the apostles alone, and knowledge is the ability of lesser teachers to understand apostles’ writings. The reason this seems impossible is the fact that I Corinthians 13:8 says that knowledge shall be abolished or made of no effect. Since the ability of lesser teachers to understand the apostles’ writings continues to the present day, the time prophesied must be Parousia. But is it not strange that the lesser teachers should lose their ability to understand the Scriptures by reason of Christ’s return? One would expect them to understand better. There is something, however, that has already been abolished: viz., apostolic inspiration. But 13:8 does not say that “wisdom” (Hodge’s inspiration) shall be abolished; it says the “knowledge” will become of no use.
This is sufficient to cast doubt on Hodge’s distinction between wisdom and knowledge. It is not sufficient as an explanation of 13:8. Under any imaginable condition, it hardly seems possible that knowledge should be abolished. The following verses can be taken to imply that partial knowledge will be abolished because full knowledge supervenes. Indeed, Paul almost seems to say that human knowledge will equal God’s, for “now I know in part, but then I shall know to the same extent that I was known” [by God?]. Hodge rather evades the difficulty in this verse, but in any case, it does not bear on the main topic here, which is the meaning of knowledge and wisdom.
It may be that, in spite of first impressions, the distinction between wisdom and knowledge is not too sharp. One notes that the third gift mentioned in 12:7-10 is faith. True, the popular connotations of wisdom, knowledge, and faith differ. People often contrast faith with knowledge. Yet this contrast is absent from the N.T. Faith and knowledge can be considered identical, or, at least, faith is one kind of knowledge; viz., a knowledge of theology, not a knowledge of botany. Perhaps then the terms wisdom and knowledge refer only to a difference of degree, in which case the similarity would be basic. Unfortunately, I Corinthians 12:7-10 does not give any explanation. Whatever information can be had must come from the first three or four chapters of the epistle. To them we now turn.
Whom does Paul address in his first epistle? His second epistle expressly mentions the church at Corinth with all the saints that are in the whole of Achaia. The first epistle too seems directed, not merely to the several congregations in the city of Corinth, but to other congregations also, “in every place,” presumably every place in Greece. At least two verses in the first three chapters, if they do not require this inference, make better sense if so understood. The reference to Greeks in general and not just Corinthians in 1:22, and as well the wherever and whenever of 3:3-4, give some small support to the assumption of a wider public. The first of these two references is the better for this purpose because at first sight, it seems strange that Paul has so much to say about wisdom and knowledge to the Corinthians. Corinth was not Oxford; it was Liverpool. Hence, when he says in 1:22 that the Greeks seek after wisdom, he may have had Athens in mind. The Corinthians mostly sought after money and pleasure.
Nevertheless, at the time of Paul’s writing wisdom and knowledge were appropriate subjects because (as Paul says immediately after the signature, address and blessing) God had enriched them “in all utterance and all knowledge.” The translation “utterance” is poor. It is better put: “in every doctrine and in all knowledge.” Meyer agrees with the KJ translation in his phrase “aptitude for speech”; and Beza wanted to translate logō as glossolalia. Both are mistaken. Logos means doctrine, reason, thought. This fits with the next term knowledge. It is not an unusual term in Paul’s writings, or in the NT as a whole. In one place Paul uses this idea, if not always the word, five times in two verses (Ephesians 1:17-18). Similarly, II Peter 1:2, 3, et passim emphasizes knowledge.
Since American Christendom (used in a loose sense), including even the semi-conservative enclaves, has little of the emphasis, one must, in order to understand First Corinthians, rediscover the NT stress on knowledge. Paul here thanks God that the Corinthians have been made rich in all doctrine and knowledge in proportion to their growing assurance of the truth of the Gospel witness.
The apostle’s remarks on wisdom and knowledge arise through his discussion of certain schisms or divisions that were occurring in the church. Led by undependable teachers, four sects had developed. Each claimed allegiance to a prominent leader: Paul, Apollos, Peter, and even Christ. To head off this development, Paul calls upon them all to “say the same thing, and to be joined together in the same mind and in the same opinion.” Whatever visible actions the schisms generated, such as holding separate meetings, electing new officers, and whatever else one can imagine from a knowledge of later church history, schism is not essentially an organizational division. The source of the difficulty in Corinth lay in what the people said and thought; that is, their opinions were the center of the evil. Therefore, Paul wants them to think alike and compose their intellectual disagreements.
It should go without saying that Paul, Apollos, and Peter, not to mention Christ, had not initiated these divisions. Apollos and the two apostles agreed in doctrine: they said the same thing, and they had the same mind. Paul says the writer of the epistle makes it very clear that he had done nothing to cause the present disturbance. His earlier abstention from administering the sacrament of baptism (except to three or four persons) turns out to be a fortunate circumstance, for had he shown a zeal to baptize, some might have said he baptized in his own name rather than in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Paul had spent his whole time preaching the gospel, “not in wisdom, or word, that the cause of Christ should not be made empty” (1:17).
This is the first occurrence of the word wisdom (sophia) in the epistle. The phrase is sophia logou. Ordinarily translated as “wisdom of word” (the plural words in the KJV and ARV is incorrect, and the RVS substitutes an interpretative paraphrase), it can equally well be translated as “wisdom of doctrine,” argument, definition or formula. The phrase with its several possible meanings presents a difficulty. The context has a good deal to do with baptism. Paul expressed satisfaction that he had baptized so few and hence could not be charged with substituting the doctrine of the deity of Paul for the deity of Christ. Could it be that Paul now adds, “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel, not in the wisdom of a baptismal formula …?” Logos can mean formula; hence this interpretation is grammatically possible. It also fits in with the context. Though most commentators would no doubt reject this interpretation, it nonetheless seems superior to making the phrase mean “polished eloquence.” Sophia would be a queer term to denote ornate style. Furthermore, the immediately preceding contrast between baptism and the Gospel, would be balanced by the contrast between rhetorical flourish and plain, sincere speech. This not only makes a poor balance; it is ruled out by the explicit mention of the cross of Christ. Hence “wisdom of word” must refer to some thesis or doctrine, some intellectual judgment, other than the doctrine of the Atonement. This other doctrine could just possible be the doctrine of baptism.
Although the interpretation “baptismal formula” fits in nicely with the preceding contrasts, the following paragraph suggests or even fixes a different interpretation. The idea of baptism drops out. It must be regarded as entirely parenthetical. This leaves the previous reference connected solely with the rise of schism. Thus, the interpretation begins with the new idea of the cross of Christ in 1:17, to be explained in 1:18-25. The parenthetical break in continuous development has the disadvantage to be borne, for the thought of the following paragraph is quite clear.
Instead of the formula for baptism, 1:18 takes up the idea of the cross of Christ and proceeds directly to the doctrine of the Atonement. This must be noticed, for a careless reading might mislead the reader in another direction. He might conclude from the phrase “not with wisdom of doctrine” that Paul proposes a nondoctrinal anti-intellectual religion. Does not Paul here condemn all logous (doctrines)? Of course, he does not. The following verses must be regarded as the interpretation or explanation of the short phrase in 1:17; and this explanation centers on the doctrine of the Atonement.
This doctrine is nonsense (moria) to the reprobate; it is the “power of God” to the elect. As the Apostle says also in II Corinthians 2:16, the savor of his knowledge is not only from life to life, but also a savor from death to death. He confirms this idea in 1:19 by quoting or adapting Isaiah 19:14, “the wisdom of their wise men shall be hid.” (Paul merely substitutes “I shall set aside” for the LXX “I shall hide.”) In Isaiah the language applies to the Jewish people. Therefore, the idea cannot be narrowly restricted to the Greeks. Verse 20 connects the wise man and the scribe—clearly a Jewish reference. True, in 1:22 “the Greeks seek after wisdom.” This extends the meaning of Isaiah, but with all the references to wisdom in the O.T., Paul’s thought is not limited to Greek philosophy, to Plato and Aristotle, about whom the Corinthians traders knew so little.
It should be made clear at once that Paul does not disparage wisdom and argument. He certainly teaches that neither scribal pedants nor “cooperative investigators” of this world ever brought anyone to God. These two groups thought that the Atonement was nonsense. Here can be found the source of Tertullian’s contrast between Jerusalem and Athens. Their principles have nothing in common. But, just as Tertullian did not on this ground despise close reasoning—his arguments prepared for and almost arrived at the Athanasian position—so here Paul condemns only the wisdom of this world, and neither the wisdom of God nor the doctrine of the Atonement. Paul does not support anti-intellectualism. It was the wisdom and intricate plan of God that prevented the world from knowing God by its own wisdom. God fore-ordained pagan philosophy and Jewish disputes for the purpose of blinding the eyes of the reprobate and hardening their hearts. He made their wisdom nonsense. But, far from teaching anti-intellectualism, Paul even here in this paragraph, and more clearly elsewhere, commends the wisdom of God. This wisdom is Christ, here called Sophia rather than Logos. Therefore, Paul preaches the doctrine of the Atonement.
At this point, with the mention of Tertullian, one might consider what the Apostle Paul thought of Aristotle’s cosmological argument for the existence of god. Nothing in the text shows that that he had ever read Metaphysics, book Lambda. Hence the exegete is limited to conjecture. Thomas Aquinas held that Paul proleptically declared valid Thomas’ restatement of Aristotle. From the present paragraph, one would suppose that Paul regarded it as nonsense. It is strange therefore that some Christians who speak vigorously against the wisdom of this world and deprecate what they call “human logic,” also are strenuous defenders of the cosmological arguments and think that the truth of God should be proved true by secular investigations.
Insofar as Paul’s words can be applied to Aristotle, 3:20 would be even a clearer repudiation of philosophical speculation about God. Using the term dialogismous (reasonings, deliberations) the verse says, “The Lord knows that the arguments of the wise are futile.” Christian apologetes therefore would do well to repudiate the scholastic futility of so-called “natural theology.” They should desist from attempts to prove God’s existence and to describe his nature on the basis of empirical observations.
Verses 1:25 and 27 speak of weakness. God has not called many men of fleshly wisdom, nor many powerful, nor many well born. That this does not disparage wisdom as such, follows from the fact that Paul does not disparage power and good birth, as such. He considered his own lineage and birth (II Cor. 11:22, Rom. 11:1) a most fortunate inheritance; and his counting it as loss in comparison with Christ does not invalidate its advantage any more than his submission to the thorn in the flesh makes sickness preferable to health. In this passage Paul might have referred to wealth—indeed, wealth might be included in the ideas of powerful and well born. Now, wealth can be and often is a barrier to heaven. Yet the Bible does not condemn Abraham and Job. Thus, as these advantages are not condemned, as such, neither should Paul be understood to disparage wisdom, learning, or knowledge. This thought in no way contradicts the express statements that God chose what the world regarded as nonsense to shame the wise man, and the weak to shame the strong, and the ignoble to shame the well born. (Whether “things that do not exist” is an apposition with the ignoble and weak, or is in addition to them, and if in addition, what they are, is difficult to say. The omission of kai in P 46, Aleph, A et al. against Aleph 3, B, C3 et al. would favor apposition and would make very good sense.)
The chapter ends by saying either that Christ became three things in our case, viz., (1) wisdom, (2) righteousness and holiness, and (3) redemption; or that Christ became a wisdom that consists of two parts, viz., (1) righteousness and holiness and (2) redemption. The exact meaning is not very clear, but the grammatical construction hardly permits the interpretation that Christ became four things. At any rate wisdom is not despised.
That this wisdom is not a personal encounter as Soren Kierkegaard and Emil Brunner describe it has already been indicated by the phrase, “the doctrine of the cross” (1:18). In a peculiar sense Kierkegaard himself requires a man to have a certain amount of intelligence in order to become a Christian. He holds that a man must understand doctrine x, must understand doctrine y, and must understand that x contradicts y. Then, the man must throw away all his intelligence, sacrifice his intellect, and believe both parts of the contradiction. Brunner also teaches that the Bible is self-contradictory. He argues that the doctrine of election is illogical; if we drew inferences from it, we would conclude that God is not love. One cannot have logic and a loving God, too. Hence, says Brunner, since the Bible teaches election, it is consistently inconsistent. Calvin, as opposed to the Bible, is logical and must be repudiated. His mistake was to think that theology is concerned with intelligible truth (ensichtige Vernunftswahrheit). Brunner further says that God and the medium of conceptuality (Befrifflichkeit) are mutually exclusive. None of this sounds like Paul. His denunciation of worldly wisdom is no invitation to believe contradictions.
To return now to the text itself, 2:1 says that Paul did not come preaching the mystery of God in superiority of word or wisdom. (Mystery is found in p 4[apparently], the original Aleph A, C, and a few other MSS. Message is found in the third hand of Aleph, B, four other uncials, and a long list of cursives.)
If anyone prefers message to mystery, the point of the present article becomes easier to substantiate. Otherwise, the writer must show that mystery is nothing “mysterious,” but simply a proposition that cannot be discovered through natural theology, but must be revealed by God. The reason is that instead of depending on Aristotle or Aquinas, Paul decided to confine his message to the doctrine of the Atonement. This is borne out in 2:4 and 5, where the contrast between divine words and wisdom and human words is made explicit. “My argument and my preaching,” says Paul, “were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of spirit and power in order that your faith should not be [grounded] I human wisdom but in divine power. (The textual problem here is one of the worst in the NT. Counting variations of variations, there are about a dozen readings. The need not be discussed here, for all have the same general sense. Note the use of a term in logic. Apodeixis means: showing forth, making known, display, achievement [the latter two meanings seem to be found mainly in the time of Herodotus and neither before nor after.)
The contrast is clearly not between rationality and irrationality, but between human wisdom and divine wisdom. The pietists incline to the contrast between an intelligible message versus the power of the Spirit. They fail to give adequate attention to the fact that the power of the Spirit functions in the argument or doctrine (logos) and the message preached (kerygma). Paul’s contrast lies between divine truth and false opinions based upon natural theology, not between truth and nonrational power.
“We speak wisdom,” writes Paul: and if wisdom is preached, proclaimed, or spoken, wisdom must consist of intellectual propositions expressed in intelligible language. These truths are mysteries, i.e., secrets that God did not tell the pagans. He kept these secrets hidden from the rulers of this world. So says the OT. Then come two or three verses that the pietists and mystics so lamentably misunderstand. The introductory words come from two passages in Isaiah. “What the eye did not see and the ears did not hear and did not enter man’s heart, i.e., those things that God prepared for those who love him, * God revealed to us (emphasis on to us) by the Spirit.” The next words, the second half of 2:10, identifies these secrets as “the deep things of God.”
*At this point a comma makes better grammatical construction than does a period.
Too frequently a pietist will use these verses to maintain a position directly contradictory to what the verses say. For example, Dr. A. W. Tozer published a sermon that Dr. Aiken Taylor strangely thought excellent enough to reprint in the Presbyterian Journal (February 11, 1970), a periodical supposedly devoted to the principles of the Westminster Confession. Dr. Tozer is not an advocate of natural theology. He stands at the opposite extreme, an opponent not only of natural theology, but of revealed theology, as well. His sermon, entitled, Revelation is Not Enough, is basically a repudiation of the text, the words, the theology of the Bible, and a plea in favor of something to be found between the lines or behind the text. In fact he claims that the difference between a fundamentalist who accepts what the Bible says and believers in the Deity of Christ and a modernist who rejects the message of the Bible and denies the doctrine of Creation is insignificant in comparison with the difference between the acceptance of the Biblical text and the search for something beyond and beneath the inspired written words.
Dr. Tozer’s defense of mysticism (and he himself accepts this designation) is partly an exposition of John’s Gospel and partly an appeal to the present passage in Corinthians. (Compare my The Johannine Logos, 2nd Edition, pp. 74-86.) As to this letter, he quotes beginning at the material from Isaiah. He even includes the words, “God has revealed them (in my opinion, the deep things of God) unto us.” But he does not quote, and fails to take into account, and presumably denies that these deep things are precisely the argument, the proclamation, of verse 4, the knowledge of verse 12, and the spoken spiritual (words) of verse 13. What Paul here commends; Dr. Tozer dismisses as “the dead body of truth.” Now, to do Dr. Tozer justice, one must acknowledge that he says some good things about the Bible, and even recommends memorization. But these good things are not nullified by his explicit acceptance of mysticism.
In opposition to mysticism, Paul has asserted that God revealed to us His secrets concerning the crucifixion of Christ. These secrets are the various intelligible propositions that compose the doctrine of the Atonement. Paul then, somewhat unnecessarily as some might think, defends the ability of the Spirit to make such a revelation on the ground that the Spirit is privy to all God’s thoughts. What is more germane to the present subject is the added idea in 2:11 that no one by natural theology can know the thoughts of God. A man has this knowledge only by revelation. Now, we Christians have received “the Spirit from God in order that we might know those (theological theses) which God has graciously given us. These are the doctrines we speak, not in didactic words of human wisdom, but in the didactic (words) of the Spirit, explaining spiritual (matters) in spiritual (words).”
This passage shows clearly that spiritual matters can be explained in words. The words themselves are spiritual. The are also didactic. They are the words Paul spoke, and, we may add, wrote. All this fits in nicely with verbal inspiration, but is far removed from inexpressible, nonverbal, mystic experiences.
(So this passage. Someone may wish to mention another passage, II Corinthians 12:2, which sounds very much like mysticism. If it were, it would even so not be normative for other Christians. They would not be compelled to go behind the text and ascend to the third heaven. This would be even less a requirement for salvation than a repetition by everyone or anyone of Paul’s experiences on the road to Damascus. However, these considerations are unnecessary, for II Cor. 12:2ff is not mysticism. Verse 4 uses the word unspeakable or inexpressible and mystics may take what delight they can in this word. But how words (rhemata) can be inexpressible, let the mystics explain. The translation, however, is poor. Arreta is not inexpressible. Souter gives: “not to be uttered (because too sacred), secret. Liddell and Scott give: “unspoken… that cannot be spoken… not to be spoken… unutterable… horrible… shameful to be spoken…” In classical Greek, the word frequently had an evil meaning inappropriate in the context of II Corinthians. This context indicates which of all these meanings is to be chosen. What was revealed to Paul in this vision consisted of words (rhemata). They were arreta, not because it was an irrational emotional upset, but because they were not lawful (exon) to be spoken. Exon means lawful or permissible. They were divine secrets, which Paul could (no doubt) easily understand; but God commanded him not to tell these secrets to other Christians. The whole revelation is verbal and rational.)
The psychical man does not receive the (doctrines) of the Spirit of God. This does not deny that he understands them. Before his conversion, Paul understood very well what the Christians meant by calling Christ Lord. Very probably he understood it better than most Christians did. But he did not receive it as true. It was foolishness to him; even more it was blasphemy. It could have been neither, unless he had understood it. Therefore, when 2:14 says “the psychical man … cannot know” the divine doctrines, it is using the verb know as true. That this is the meaning is clear from the reason given for it: “for they are spiritually evaluated.”
Parenthetically, and perhaps repetitiously, one notes that this intensive use of the verb to know undermines the alleged distinction between gnosis and epignosis, for in this verse the heightened sense of know is expressed with the simple, not the compound, verb.
Then, in three lines the chapter ends with the assertion, “We have the mind of Christ.” It does not say that we have the emotions of Christ. The “punch line” of the chapter, its climax, its last word, is a word of intellectualism, intelligibility, knowledge, and understanding. “We have the mind (noun) of Christ.”
To complete the list, the only other instance of the word sophia in I Corinthians is 3:19. It adds no new thought. Once again it confirms the conclusion that the arguments of Aristotle, Hegel, and Wittgenstein are no more than foolishness. This conclusion includes the application to those who try to base the truth of God’s Word on the secular or so-called scientific investigations of history and archeology. Nothing in Paul suggest that the work of “cooperative investigation” (1:20) is more certain or reliable than the wisdom of God. Is it not strange that any evangelical, for whom sola Scriptura is the formal principle of theology, should try to base the truth of Scripture on the conclusions of Dr. Albright and Miss Kenyon? For Paul revelation is self-authenticating. Athens, Oxford, and American universities have nothing in common with Jerusalem.
7/3/2020… last entry
I Corinthians 2:14 “But we have the mind of Christ.”
“The bald assertion that we have the mind of Christ is the refutation of all pietistic, nondoctrinal, anti-intellectual, antitheological ‘Christianity.’ It is undoubtedly true that we do not have all the mind of Christ and that we need more instruction, but it is indubitably true that the doctrines already received are Christ’s mind. What we think and what Christ thinks (in these cases) are identical. Our concepts are not inadequate concepts (granting, of course, that we lack other of Christ’s concepts), nor are they analogical or similar concepts. They are indeed Christ’s concepts, His own mind, the very wisdom of God.” (Gordon Clark, First Corinthians—Commentary, page 45)
There is today a great emphasis and almost endless discussion on “interpreting the text.” Rightly so—as long as “truth revealed” is not lost in the process. Jesus stated, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” No one may negate in any way that we possess “the truth.” That position is necessarily foundational to Christianity and to those who believe it. The truth is found in God’s Revelation—The Holy Bible. Whatever disagreements that we have about interpretation (and there are many), we can never lose sight that God has given us truth. This proposition also necessarily implies that we can understand it, because it “will make us free.” “We have the mind of Christ”—and nothing can disprove or refute that grand assertion.
I Corinthians 3:11: The Foundation for “No creed but Christ”
A large number of Christians and denominations claim, “No creed but Christ.” There are serious misunderstandings about this phrase. I grant that their intent is highly praiseworthy: Christ in all that makes Him unique in Trinity and the salvation of souls is central to their belief system. However, there is nothing to be known about Christ other than what is said in the Scriptures. Therefore, the truth of the Bible is prior to any knowledge of Christ. We know nothing of Christ other than what is said in the Scriptures, and all that is said of Christ there is said in propositions—sentences that posit knowledge (truth). Christians who are concerned about being pious sometimes do not like discussions about Christ as “propositions,” but linguistically and logically, nothing that is true of Christ can be said in any other way.
Here we come to the verse cited, “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 3:11). This statement is another way of saying what the Holy Spirit revealed to Peter, “On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Also, all the truth of Christ is the “cornerstone” (I Peter 2:6-7).
In epistemology, all systems are built on a foundation—a first principle, basic belief, starting point, presupposition, and all the other names that are synonymous with one’s most basic proposition. Christ is not actually the first principle—the truth of Scripture is. However, the central focus of Scripture is unquestionably the Second Person of the Trinity. But one could even say that Christ and the Scripture are One: “In the beginning was the Word (logos)… and the Word was God” (John 1:1).
The desired pietism of the “no creed” statement is impossible to defend the Christ in every necessary way, but the propositions are perfectly adequate. The degree to which this pietistic attempt fails is the failure of Christianity to be true. This position is no small matter, but strikes at the very survival of the Christian faith.
There are several other problems with “No creed but Christ.” (1) All translations of the Bible are creeds because they must be translated from the Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic into one’s own vernacular language. (2) All translations must be selected from all the surviving manuscripts. (3) There are numerous creeds of Christ of which many are false: Jehovah’s Witness, Mormonism, Islam, Marcianism, Manicheanism, etc. To choose among these, one must have a “creed” by which to choose a creed about Christ. (4) The statement, “No creed but Christ” is itself a creed, a performative contradiction of the statement itself.
However, sufficient refutation of this creedal “no creed” has been made here. While epistemology, philosophy, linguistics, and logic can be misused and misapplied, in this formulation they demonstrate this disastrously false claim.
I Corinthians 6:1-8 Going before Pagan judges… not!
1 Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? 3 Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? 4 If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? 5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? 6 But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers! 7 Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated? 8 No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren!
A recurring theme of Scripture, one that I try constantly to emphasize, is that there are only two systems of belief and that they starkly contrast with one another: (1) the Biblical system and (2) all others. Too often, especially today, the church has not lived this contrast, but virtually reflected the culture around her. Modern Christians are quick to condemn the Corinthians to whom Paul addressed this letter with their sexual promiscuity, eating meats, idolatry, abusing The Lord’s Supper, etc. But on this issue we are as guilty as there were.
The message of this passage is clear. First, we are not to be so touchy and thin-skinned, but to suffer wrongs, rather than take our brother or sister to court. “Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated? No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren!” (verses 7-8) I, for one have rarely done that, have you? God through Paul commands us to do so.
Second, it compounds our sin to go before pagan judges. God has given us His instructions in Scripture by which to judge; the pagans make up law from whatever customs, declaration, or legislation that has happened within their culture without reference to the Bible. God even gives special gifts of knowledge and wisdom (I Corinthians 12) in the Church for the exercise of this function. For example, civil courts today allow for “no-fault” divorce. In Biblical justice, there is always fault. With two sides to every issue, a judge has to decide (1) who has the higher Biblical right (perhaps both are equally right or wrong), and (2) whether that right is sufficient for divorce. He may even refer the case back to the Church for counseling and resolution and not judge for divorce! (The only two sins for which divorce may be granted by the Church are adultery and desertion.)
All these directives are not to say that going to civil court is wrong. Paul appealed to Caesar in his trial before Festus. But, here again, God has provided instruction. If the Church judges that the accused is guilty of sins for which excommunication is necessary (Matthew 18:17; I Corinthians 5:5, 9), then that person is declared a pagan and may be taken to civil court.
I Corinthians 8:1 “Knowledge Puff Up”
“Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (I Corinthians 8:1, NASB). The KJV says, “Knowledge puffs up.” It is beyond reasonable comprehension how often this verse has been used to limited one’s Biblical education. As such, this passage is an excellent illustration of (1) a necessary hermeneutic and (2) love.
How does one reconcile this admonition that knowledge makes “arrogant,” and all the other exhortations throughout the New Testament to increase one’s knowledge: “to prove what the will of God is” (Romans 12:2, NASB), “to have the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:16—see following here), “the rich knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (II Peter 1:2), “for life and godliness through the rich knowledge of the one who called us” (II Peter 2;1), and many, many more—not to mention all those exhort us to wisdom (a synonym for knowledge).
Well, first, is the hermeneutic—context. There are several levels. “Love puffs up” is not an isolated sentence, but is part of a larger sentence. The context is also the paragraph and chapter in which it appears, as well as the book (I Corinthians), and then the whole Bible.
It is the immediate hermeneutic (context) that the second illustration is seen. The whole verse is balanced: knowledge without love is what puffs us. That is, one can greatly increase one’s Biblical, theological, and philosophical knowledge without love—the practical application of instruction to our families, neighbors, our church, and our world. (See I Peter 3:8 following here for more explanation. Also, see I Corinthians, Chapter 13.) There is a real sense in which one cannot have enough knowledge of all that the Bible teaches about God and our needed obedience to the Two Great Commandments: to love Him and our neighbor (the entire world as it presents ourselves to it). That knowledge just needs to be practically implemented.
The Christian faith is a rational, logical, detailed, and coherent system, so all verses, and particularly parts of verses (as “knowledge puffs up” is), must be placed within that system (context). Yes, this system rests on faith—“I believe in order to understand” (Augustine)—but then it must be worked into a coherent system. Otherwise, Christians will be tripped up in their understanding, as often happens with this verse in isolation from that system.
I Corinthians 9:25 “Be temperate in all things”
The sentence is “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things.” A consistent theme in philosophy from Plato, and before, to modern times has been concern for happiness and “the good.” In God’s world, these are only found in temperance (moderation). So often the focus of both Christians and non-Christians is what God restricts. Some even say that God just does not want us to have any fun. Actually, the exact opposite is true: God wants to give us His “good” which is always the best. One could say that the only restriction is that we must “get the good” according to his rules.
Fulfillment in sexuality is one of the central themes of modern culture. The truth is that God wants everyone to have the greatest sexual experience possible. Have we forgotten that God designed sex? Have we recently read the extreme joy of the Song of Solomon? Contrary to contrived history, the Puritans were a lusty bunch. One wife complained to the church that her husband was not performing to her satisfaction! The key is sexuality within marriage! Interestingly, there are two large surveys by a leading women’s magazine that show that women find more sexual fulfillment in marriage that those that are unmarried.
How about food? I struggle with gaining weight, so for the last few years I have learned to eat only the foods that I enjoy, to eat them in smaller bites, and smaller quantities. I am enjoying food more! I don’t have the uncomfortable feeling of being bloated, having heartburn, guilt of eating too much, and large food bills. I feel better and have more energy.
I could go on about money, relationships, possessions, hobbies, exercise, entertainment, alcohol, etc. etc. All these are not bad in themselves unless they are overdone and then they are worshipped. God has given us all great things to enjoy… temperately. In temperance, we get all the blessings and none of the evils. And, a final “good” that may not be recognized here is the first part of this verse that temperance is necessary to “compete for the prize.” That is, to achieve the “greatest good” in this life and reward in heaven cannot be achieved without temperance. The successful athlete is the one who competes hard, but moderating his life to achieve the “prize.”
I Corinthians 10:20 “Gentiles sacrifice to demons”
“Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread. Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?” (I Corinthians 10:14-22)
Demons are intimately intertwined with Greek philosophy.
(In) a very early form of Greek popular religion … one such daimon is attached to a person at birth and determines, for good or evil, his fate…. Socrates is at least partially in the archaic religious tradition when he speaks of his “divine something” that warns him to avoid certain actions…. notable is Socrates’ constant use of the word or synonym “divine sign”…. The idea of the daimon as a kind of “guardian angel” is still visible in Plato, although there is an attempt to escape the fatalism implied in the popular belief…. At one point Plato himself identifies (this daimon) with the soul…. (The notion) of the daimon as an intermediary between the Olympians (Olympian gods) and mortals, is also present in Plato…. This position had a great vogue among the later transcendentalists of both the Neopythagorean and Platonic variety…. Plutarch had a highly developed demonology, and with his typical religious conservatism he traces the cult of these intermediaries back to oriental and primitive Greek sources.” (F. E. Peters, Greek Philosophical Terms, 33-34)
Of particular note is the concept of eudaimonia which is translated “happiness” or “human flourishing.” That is, the achievement of these ends is dependent upon “good” daimons. Happiness is a central theme of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. In various twists and turns, these daimons and eudaimonia continued into the Roman Empire and early centuries of Christianity.
In the Gospels demons are encountered repeatedly by Jesus, giving them a greater reality than ever before, even though they were found in the Old Testament (mostly by other words, such as gods or idols). But the inspired Apostle Paul states that Gentiles (Greeks and Romans) of his day “sacrifice to demons.” Quite clearly, and virtually unarguably, demons are the fallen angels of Satan’s army.
Among many modern Christian philosophers, there is an overt friendliness, even to giving credibility to the “happiness” of the Greek philosophers. While the gods of the Greeks and Romans may have had multiple origins, and may not all be instances of demon worship, this statement of Paul should be sufficient warning to necessarily categorize these entities as dangerous and viciously opposed to God’s Kingdom. Those who get too close to the fire are going to get burned!
I Corinthians 13:13 The Relationship of Hope and Faith
“Hope is nothing else than perseverance in faith For when we have once believed the word of God, it remains that we persevere until the accomplishment of these things. Hence, as faith is the mother of hope, so it is kept up by it, so as not to give way.” (John Calvin, Commentary on I Corinthians 13:13)
Faith is an epistemological position, also known as fideism, dogmatism presuppositionalism, basic belief, etc. As breadth, depth, and understanding of knowledge is the only way to have mature faith, the same is true for hope, as a sort of synonym or postulate of faith.
But, also remember that love is “the greatest of these.”
II Corinthians 4:6 Hebrew, Greek, and Roman Cultures Were Looking for The Christ
“For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
The Hebrews symbolized as an Ideal, for example, “We have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:2) and “In your light we see light” (Psalms 36:9)—hope in their Messiah whom they did not recognize. The Greeks were ultimately concerned with “knowledge” with their episteme (epistemology) and ginosko (knowledge). The Romans were concerned with “glory,” as in Edgar Allen Poe’s “The grandeur that was Greece and the glory that was Rome.” All these peoples were actually searching for their highest ideals and hopes that are found in Jesus Christ, as defined by this one verse!
Note: This idea and content came from one of Ravi Zacharia’s talks here.
Galatians 5:1“It was for freedom that Christ set us free!”
One of the great debates among philosophers and theologians is “free will.” Perhaps lost in this debate is the concept of freedom. This verse in Galatians explodes into a profound description of the Gospel and of law! Of course, the whole of Galatians is about law, and it is in this context that this verse erupts into a principle that is both particular and universal—an ultimate expression of the one and the many—individuality and community—the essence of love. Perhaps, both the particular and the universal may summed us as “harmony” or “peace” with oneself and one’s community–both secular and spiritual (the church).
What is freedom? Freedom is best expressed negatively because its positive features are virtually limitless in their potential. My working definition is that freedom is the lack of hindrance to a thing or person to fulfill its nature. But, let’s dig deeper. What is a nature—Greek phusis? Nature is what a thing or person is created by God to be, that is, how it is to function in His universe. Let us start with simple objects. Iron, as ore, sits in the ground and seems to be free, but it is encumbered with all sorts of contamination and no purpose to its existence. Dug up, smelted, and purified the iron may be the Golden Gate Bridge, railroad tracks that stretch from one end of a continent to the other, or simply the straight pins that a seamstress uses to hold her sewing materials together. When, then, is iron most free?
I remember reading somewhere that Michelangelo saw the images in the marble from which he carved them. He just “set them free” from the surrounding marble. When were these images most free? When is a train most free? When it is bumping across the countryside where it will only travel a few feet before bogging down or when it is “riding the rails” at 60 miles per hour or more?
I have a little King Charles Cavalier Spaniel. As a creature in the wild, she might seem most free, but she would likely not last a day due to starvation and predators. Even outside with us, she is on a leash–but a leash protects her from cars which she does not understand will kill her in an instant. She is most free within the closed doors of our home and on a leash where her freedom is a defined role of her existence in which she is free to be our companion and safe from dangers that are common to small dogs.
Ah, what about human beings? What did the Apostle Paul mean by Galatians 5:1? Well, the great discussion of this book of the Bible is about law, slavery (bondage), and “another gospel” (“anathema” or cursed). Too many readers contrast law and freedom or law and grace, and law and slavery. In so doing, they miss entirely the great concept of freedom in this verse and in this New Testament book. We get an idea from the above examples. Iron ore is most free when it is structured according to the laws of nature and design. Michelangelo’s marble is most free for its highest end when it found its fullest expression in its carved image. My little spaniel is most free within the “rules of the house” and the extent of her leash.
Mmmm… does this application of law does not seem to be consistent with the theme of Galatians? Are not law and freedom opposite? Dear readers, this link is the central message of Galatians: freedom is impossible without the laws of a thing’s nature being fully applied There are two strong arguments to be made here. (1) Freedom for a person in the Biblical sense is unified with the freedom of all things: to find their highest fulfillment in the fullest expression of their nature—the laws by which God created them to function.
(2) There is the problem of freedom of the individual vs. that of the community—the classical “one and the many” dilemma. True freedom must be freedom for all—but true freedom cannot limit the freedom of others. Rousseau, Marx, and Hegel wrote about the freedom of the individual virtually without restraint. We see the result of their “freedom” in the bloody and chaotic French Revolution, the pogroms and poverty of Russian communism, and the Blitzkriegs and gas houses of the Nazis. By contrast, the government of the United States was most consistently founded upon Biblical law of any nation in history. While not perfect, one has only to look at America’s fruits to see the possibility of the freedom brought about by “the law of nature’s God.”
(3) Now, is it possible to understand the freedom of Galatians in this context of freedom, law, and fulfillment? Is not the message of Galatians freedom from law? Are we not under grace and not under law? I have traversed material things, animals, and civil law to demonstrate that law is necessary to the freedom of Galatians which is the freedom of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Perhaps, some comments about regeneration will help here. This “new birth” is analogous to human birth as Nicodemus understood clearly (John 3). From the moment of its birth to maturity, the child is being educated or instructed or taught law—the rules of being human in a family and in society. Would one expect the “new born” of God not to need education, instruction, and law? Again, the nature of man, as in all nature, necessitates this governance. To be “free” in the liberal sense is to have no direction or instruction at all—a totally wild and purposeless thing!
The great nature of the Gospel and its contrast to any other religion is its “giveness”—grace freely given—free to its recipients (but, at great cost to the Son of God). So, centrally and essentially, man can contribute nothing but nothing to satisfy God’s requirement of perfection for salvation. This ability for man to give anything towards his own salvation is the anathema of Galatians. Expressed another way, this book is concerned with any merit that man may achieve with God—any action that obligates God to any man in any way. This obligating of God is the essence of legalism—being “under the law” (Galatians 5:18). Thus, Paul’s concern here is that one might follow the law and expect to merit or obligate God because of his works. Law, then, becomes synonymous with merit or any contribution towards one’s salvation—before or after regeneration . The letter of the law is not the problem, but what man expects from God because he has fulfilled the law (at least in his own mind—man can never perfectly fulfill the law). Such expectation is fulfilling the “letter of the law,” instead of the “spirit of the law” (Romans 7:6).
Legalism is also our making ourselves obligated to the law—being under the law as a burden to obey. We find our freedom in freely following the law. Love is freely obeying Jesus’ commandments (John 14:15).
Thus, the law retains its place as instruction for the new and growing regenerate person, as well as its necessity to fulfillment to a thing’s nature. The law per se fails in any contrast with grace. The law becomes instruction for those under grace; the law becomes “the perfect law of freedom” (James 1:25). The law becomes the means “to know the truth and the truth (to) make you free” (John 8:32). The law is in effect “till heaven and earth pass away” (Matthew 5:18). Those who “teach” and do not “break these commandments” (law) are “great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19). The Scriptures never deprecate nor nullify the law. Therefore, there must be unity of grace and law.
The key question is, “How is the young (or growing or old) Christian to know what are his instructions: how is he or she to think and to act as a Christian?” Law in the Bible is simply instruction—read all the synonyms of law in Psalm 119 to get an idea of what Biblical law is. We moderns confuse the idea of civil law—the power and force of government—with God’s law which is instructional and directive—“Your word (law) is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). Of course, there are the case laws of the Old Testament, but they are simply practical applications of civil law with appropriate sanctions.
- I. Packer inBaker’s Dictionary of Theologyunder “Freedom” states.
“The theological idea of freedom thus comes to mean, on the one hand, deliverance from all created forces that would prevent men from serving and enjoying their Creator, and on the other, the positive happiness of living in fellowship with God in the place where He is pleased to bless. It is a free gift of grace, bestowed on those who serve God according to His covenant (Ed—law). The condition of freedom from bondage to the created is therefore bondage (Ed-following law) to the Creator. Freedom is God’s gift to his own slaves. This is the essence of the Biblical concept.” (I have bolded corresponding words to my own text here.)
The answer to the first question of the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession of Faith is ultimate, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Jesus obeyed God “even to death on the cross” (Philippians 2:8). Obeyed—obedience is doing the instructions of another—instructions by those in authority are laws. We gain no merit with God for obedience, although he chooses to reward good works—but rewards are not gained merit—we cannot claim that God is obligated to give us anything, because He is perfectly free. Even God’s freedom is limited by His own law—that of justice, righteousness, and all His attributes. God’s freedom is His own nature—He is most free when He is consistent with that nature. Even God is not “free” to do anything that He wants—He must act freely within His own nature. Thus, if we love God, we will “keep His commandments” (John 14:15). We keep His law, not out of obligation, but freely because that is how we love Him.
Love (good works) is freedom in the law: “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10). To paraphrase, “freedom is the fulfillment of the law.” To misunderstand the use of Biblical law is to misunderstand the Good News—the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To be under law is to attempt to obligate and obtain merit with God. To be set free from the law is to love one’s neighbor by fulfilling the law. Galatians pronounces anathema the rejection of the law as instruction for New Testament believers, not the law (love) itself. (For more on the subject of love and law, see II Peter 3:8 below.)
To illustrate the broad and central nature of freedom and law, I have listed here the synonyms and associated terms—not all—that would be a long list!
Synonyms: peace, law, love, good works, righteousness and justice, free will, anti-slavery, Kingdom of God (Kingdom of Heaven), Heaven, opposite of Hell, ultimate being, community and individuality, a truly “civil” society, happiness, blessedness (Beatitudes), fruits of the Spirit, sanctification, responsibility, joy, obedience, etc.
Ephesians 1:11 “Christ works all things according to the counsel of His will”
What is” is “what ought to be.” From the standpoint of total predestination, the consistent and logical position of those theologically Reformed (Calvinists, Presbyterians, Puritans, etc.), any object, event, or situation that “is” or “occurs” was planned by God from “eternity past.” Now, I am not presenting this proposition as a means to understand ethics. Biblical ethics is the norm that we are to pursue in society and civil law—it is the God-given standard by which we are to live. In that sense, the naturalistic fallacy applies, “What is” is not necessarily “what ought to be.” The “is” of America’s laws that allow abortion is not “what ought to be.”
However, “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). The conflated attributes of omnipotence and holiness (righteousness, good, goodness, justice) allow no evil (from God’s perspective) in the universe. “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). “You will keep in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you” (Isaiah 26:3). All that “is” is indeed how He has planned time and eternity.
There is one caveat. I strongly believe what I have just said, but my ability to live at peace within this scenario is beyond my ability. I am never at perfect peace, and I doubt that you are either. Soli Deo gloria.
Note: My tag, “supernatural truth,” opposes the “naturalistic fallacy,” which is the idea that “what is” is not “what ought to be,” or that there is no “ought” from an “is.” “Transcendental ethic” links ethics to God’s perspective, rather than earthly-oriented man. From God’s perspective, all events are “good,” because He is perfectly righteous. Whatever He does is just and good.
Ephesians 4:17-24 The Total Life Re-orientation of Regeneration and Sanctification – Metaphysics, Epistemology, and Ethics
This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of[d] the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24)
Regeneration is a central and necessary theme of salvation. As such, there are many verses that could be used to refer to this event. For example, regeneration is variously designated in the New Testament, as resurrection (Galatians 2:20), renewal (Titus 3:5—Greek anakainosis), born from above (John 3:3), transformation—renewed mind (Romans 12:2), new birth (Matthew 19:28, Titus 3:5—Greek palingenesis), life in Christ (Galatians 2:20), repentance (Matthew 18:3), baptism (“washing,” Titus 3:5), new creature (II Corinthians 5:17), of water and the spirit (John 3:5), circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:29), new heart—new spirit—heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:25-27), and others that I have overlooked in this brief survey.
There are a few points to be made here. (1) Regeneration is the beginning of sanctification—a total re-orientation of one’s thinking and behavior. It is so radical that one who does not love Christ, love His Word in serious Bible study, love His people in vibrant Christian community in a local church, and earnestly strive to keep His commandments, may rightly be challenged whether they are indeed a Christian. (2) It is the work of the Holy Spirit who operates where, and in whom, He chooses (John 3:8). As in natural birth, the recipient is passively changed. However, once changed, the vigorous life of sanctification, just described, begins. (3) Thus, regeneration is the powerful change that begins sanctification.
There is much more to regeneration that I have introduced here. Interested readers can read more about it from the following references.
The Centrality of Regeneration, Faith, and Sanctification in a Biblical Epistemology
Regeneration: Born-Again, Born from Above
Colossians 2:3 In (Christ) Are Hidden All the Treasures of Wisdom and Knowledge
“The word thesauroi can mean either a storehouse (a treasury) or its contents. Since here the noun is plural, the idea of contents fits better.
Some commentators wish to read in which instead of in whom. The neuter receives some support for the masculine in whom is hidden. But there is greater support for the masculine in whom, i.e., in Christ. First, the word Christ immediately precedes the relative phrases; second, the great Christological section places more emphasis on Christ than on the mystery; third, it is not true that all the treasures of wisdom are contained in the mystery, but rather the mystery and all other knowledge is contained in Christ.
Some of the older and more imaginative theologians try to distinguish between wisdom and knowledge. One of them makes wisdom refer to divine matters and knowledge to human affairs. Equally unfortunate is Lightfoot’s explanation:
While gnosis is simply intuitive, sophia is rationcinative also. While gnosis applies chiefly to the apprehension of truths, sophia superadds the power of reasoning about them and tracing their relations.
More sober, but equally wrong is to refer wisdom to morality and knowledge to science or academic philosophy. As a matter of fact, philosophy, during the last two centuries B.C., and the first two of our era, was mainly ethical; but this indicates the center of interest, and not the meaning of the word. Contrary to Eadie, Calvin has our approval when he fails to find much difference in meaning between the two words and explains their occurrences as literary emphasis.
Instead of so much stress being laid on the effect of Gnosticism or other Greek religions on the Colossians, it is better to note how Pauls’ message applies to the Jews. Although information relative to the Jewish population in Colosse is as sparse as that relating to Gnosticism, to whom, more than to the Jews, can all this be refutation of one point of view? It was the Jews who had to be convinced that Jesus was the Messiah and that the Messiah was no mere man or even angel, but God on high.
This theme had to be drummed into the ears and minds of some three hundred bishops also in A.D. 325, and none of these was either Gnostic or Jew. This theme failed to win acceptance by Servetus and Socinus at the time of the Reformation. This theme too was the object of attack by the New England Unitarians. It is therefore a theme that should, in every time and place, be promulgated with vigor. Nevertheless, there are places and times, when, because the main doctrine is not contested, the second point of importance needs more emphasis.
This second point is that Christ is the storehouse of all wisdom and knowledge. The reference here is not to pseudo-science, “scientism,” or atheism, for people in this camp need the main message. The reference is to professing evangelicals. At the present time, there is a recrudescence of pietism, so-called nondoctrinal Christianity, a religion of pious—supposedly pious—feelings, and anti-intellectual dependence on emotions. Since God will not permit his church and his gospel to be extinguished, such falsehood will fail and the truth will prevail. God accomplishes this through human means, and these means are faithful preachers of Paul’s letter to the Colossians.
To return for a final moment to modern science, one notes that the word all implies that science is neither wisdom nor knowledge. Knowledge, in its objective sense of truth, never changes. Science has always been changing, with an ever increasing acceleration. Hence, there is no truth in physics and chemistry. But for more on this point, see The Philosophy of Science, by the present author.”
All the commentary on this verse above is quoted from Gordon Clark’s Commentary on Colossians
Colossians 2:8 Do Not Be Taken in by Pagan and Jewish Philosophies
“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” (Colossians 2:6-10).
“Sometimes this verse is used to discourage Christians from studying philosophy…. whether or not … Tertullian’s famous phrase, ‘What does Jerusalem have to do with Athens?’ (is quoted). It should be noted that Tertullian advocated a (particular) philosophy; and strange to say, it was a materialistic philosophy. If Tertullian had studied more philosophy, he might have avoided materialism. (Dualism of the material and spiritual is the Biblical position—Ed.) In fact those Christians who know little logic and less philosophy are precisely the ones who are most apt to be deceived by persuasive fallacies. As a nontheological layman can be deceived by Jehovah’s Witness or some other heretical theory, so a person whose mind is formed by current opinion does not know the sources of his ideas and therefore dilutes what little Bible he knows with themes from Hegelianism, Logical Positivism, or more usually in the present decades (1970s-1980s), Existentialism. (In the early decades of the 21st Century, these philosophies would be empiricism and post-modernism—Ed.) … (The people whom Paul was writing to, as well as those today) followed, or at least they were in danger of following, of being carried away as prey by, the traditions of men.”
Following these statements in Colossians: Another Commentary on an Inexhaustible Message, Gordon Clark goes on to present a case that the “philosophy” which Paul was here concerned about was not Greek, but Jewish! Clark then quotes Josephus (Antiquities, 18,1, 2), “The Jews had for a great while three sects of philosophy peculiar to themselves, the sect of the Essenes, and the sect of the Sadducees, and the third sort of opinions was that of those called Pharisees….” Also, the use of “traditions” in the Biblical text suggests a Jewish rather than a Greek background.
Elsewhere, Clark has stated that one’s hermeneutics (how one understands and interprets the Bible) is almost entirely dependent upon one’s view of epistemology. Thus, if one does not know the various epistemologies that are possible, then one cannot know how he interprets the Bible. Two dominant philosophies of the 21st century have already been mentioned here—empiricism and post-modernism. If you do not know these in some detail, then you will not know how the modern worldview is developing, and worse, you will not know how you are affected by those philosophies!
Can secular and religious philosophies corrupt Christians—certainly! But the means by which to avoid such corruption is to know sound Biblical theology (for example, the Westminster Confession of Faith or Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology) and at least the rudiments of the major epistemologies within pagan religions and philosophies. Corruption arises because of ignorance about Biblical theology and understanding, not these pagan influences per se.
Colossians 2:9 “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily”
This verse is the essence of the Incarnation which was the ultimate anthropomorphism—God appearing in human form. In the Old Testament, Christ, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, often appeared as the Angel of the LORD. For example, after one such visitation, Samson’s father, Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, because we have seen God!” (Judges 13:22) He feared for his life, not because he thought that he had seen an angel, but because he had “seen God.”
Having grown up with the idea of the Incarnation, both modern pagans and Christians in the West hardly pause at the idea. Sometimes, however, the powerful idea of the Incarnation is stated by someone, such as Soren Kierkegaard, who called it “absurd” and “a contradiction.” (By these striking terms, he was not refuting its reality, but demonstrating its conflict with common human experience. Contrary to many modern Christian existentialists, He had an orthodox Lutheran view of Scripture and theology.)
This verse illustrates the power in a similar, if not more powerful, manner. All the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ’s body! Because Jesus denied knowing the hour of His Second Advent, we know that He was not omniscient as a human, so what does it mean by the “fullness?” It means that “I and the Father are one,” “He who seen me has seen the Father,” and that He forgave sins (Matthew 9:5). Any and every attribute of God could be found in the earthly Christ in some form. What He is and was in his essence, ego, or person as the 2nd Person of the Trinity was found in His body. He was a contradiction to those Greek philosophers who had developed the idea of a Logos as some metaphysical something to give unity, substance (hypostasis), and permanence to the constant change of the universe. “The logos became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
The Incarnation is one of those events that we cannot fully understand except that God was “fully” (pleroma) in Christ’s body. Let us elevate our wonder and worship at its reality, and its contradiction of metaphysical and physicalist claims by pagan, and sometimes, “Christian” philosophers.
Note: I give credit to Gordon Clark in his Commentary on Colossians and to Geoff Gleason, pastor of Cliffwood Presbyterian Church for certain thoughts presented here.
II Thessalonians 3:10 “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.”
The context of this verse is the following, II Thessalonians 3:7-12:
7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, 9 not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us.
10 For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. 11 For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. 12 Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.
There are two directions for my focus here. The first is theological and categorical; the second is literal and a balance to “charity”: a conclusion based upon the first. I have just returned from a conference where one of the featured talks was a new investigation into a much hackneyed subject: Christians should give to the poor, virtually to the extent that we have no more than they do. Ronald Sider wrote Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, first published in 1977. But, giving to the poor has been a major theme from loosely scriptural evangelicals to the liberation theology of communists and socialists in Central and South America.
Now, evangelicals are certainly to be generous, probably beyond what most of us give. But there are balancing themes in Scripture. This focus is theological and categorical, or perhaps better stated as “systematic.” The theology and ethics of the Bible must be systematic, and this verse illustrates that need. Jesus commanded the Rich Young Ruler to give all that He had to the poor, but He did not command Nicodemus to the same extent. He noted the Poor Widow who “gave all that she had,” but chastised Judas when Mary anointed His feet with expensive perfume, instead of giving its worth to the poor. Jesus’ instructions were not to give indiscriminately, but to give according to all his commandments. A systematic approach prevents the false dominance of one theme over against another.
This verse in II Thessalonians is one “on the other side.” There is a responsibility for those who can work to work! I will let John Calvin in his commentary on this book speak here:
The blessing of the Lord is upon the hands of him that laboreth, it is certain that indolence and idleness are accursed of God. Besides, we know that man was created with this view, that he might do something. Not only does Scripture testify this to us, but nature itself taught it to the heathen. Hence it is reasonable, that those, who wish to exempt themselves from the common law, should also be deprived of food, the reward of labor. When, however, the Apostle commanded that such persons should not eat, he does not mean that he gave commandment to those persons, but forbade that the Thessalonians should encourage their indolence by supplying them with food.
It is also to be observed, that there are different ways of laboring. For whoever aids the society of men by his industry, either by ruling his family, or by administering public or private affairs, or by counseling, or by teaching, or in any other way, is not to be reckoned among the idle. For Paul censures those lazy drones who lived by the sweat of others, while they contribute no service in common for aiding the human race. Of this sort are our monks and priests who are largely pampered by doing nothing, excepting that they chant in the temples, for the sake of preventing weariness.
Well, the reader can do his or her own Bible study which may take several years since I have heard one estimate that there are over 2000 verses on economics in the Bible. Only a systematic approach, however will bring justice to all that God has to say on the subject.
Hebrews 2:13-15, 9:27 “Fear of death … the judgment”
“Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Hebrews 2:14-15).
“And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” Hebrews 9:27
Certainty of knowing (epistemology) has always been a conscious goal of many or most philosophers throughout history. There are basically three theories of epistemology: empiricism (induction, scientific method, experience), rationalism (reason, foundationalism, coherentism), and faith (dogmatism, authoritarianism, fideism). Within these three, there are almost as many theories as there are philosophers.
But the greatest certainty by whatever route one arrives at it— is death. Those advanced in age see their friends, family members, and associates die of various causes. Parents sometimes see their children die “before their time.” The obituaries carry thousands of those from around the world who died from yesterday to today. As one ages, he sees stark evidence of “dying” as body parts sag, diseases increase, interests wane, and strength weakens. People have several pets in a lifetime that always die. Death is all around us, immediate, and certain—absolutely certain.
The writer of Hebrews confirms this certainty, “It is appointed for men to die once…” But, to the stark reality of death is added… “after this the judgment.” Judgment? What and by whom? Judgment is by the only one who can give life…true life… Jesus Christ (Matthew 25). Further, the writer of Hebrews says that men know of this judgment: “who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (2:14).
What does this certainty and fear of death say about philosophers? They have not dealt with their greatest certainty and fear. What does death and judgment say about all the modern “academies of higher learning” with their myriad of both classical, esoteric, and eclectic subject matter? What does the Bible (God) thus say about all “experts” in whatever field of study? No wonder God calls man’s epistemologies and all forms of knowledge—foolishness. That which they call foolishness—the cross of Christ (I Corinthians 1)—is the only means to life and avoidance of condemnation in judgment. Who is the fool?
So, where are the wise men (philo-sophy—lovers of wisdom) of any age? Indeed, where are the Christian philosophers who make death the greatest certainty and focus of their epistemology, instead of the death-avoiding philosophies of the pagans? Was ever there a more profound illustration of a greatest truth being “hidden in plain sight?” I think not.
Hebrews 11:3 The empirical is predicated upon the invisible
“By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). Christians are often deluded with the pronouncements of science. For example, the majority of Christians who teach and practice psychology have degrees from secular universities. They “believe” that psychology explains and directs how souls (Greek psuche) should be understood and directed. However, Hebrews 11:3 states clearly that both body and soul are predicated upon the spiritual dimension. Only the Bible can speak to the spiritual realm because it is invisible, that is, non-empirical.
I have spoken here only to one specific area, psychology, but this verse covers all areas of science, including the “hard sciences.” The proof on a human level is Gödel’s theorems in mathematics (the “hardest” science) in which “proofs” are limited to one’s choice of systems. This choice precedes physical evidence and is thus a metaphysical (ontological or cosmological) choice—a belief or faith.
Hebrews 11:6 “Without faith it is impossible to please God”
Apart from love (below), there may be no more greater misunderstanding and wrong thinking than faith. (The words “belief” and “believe” have an equivalent, univocal meaning.) The first problem is to think that faith, because it is central to Biblical teaching, is some special “faculty” of the mind that is only concerned with the religious. However, “generic” faith has exactly the same function as Biblical faith (except when faith is denoted as “the faith,” the entire teaching of the Bible about Christianity, as in “the faith once delivered”). I do not think that one can grasp Biblical faith until one understands generic faith. The following links will give you that understanding.
Faith in the Bible and in Everyday Life
What Is Faith? From many philosophers and Christians
Simply, faith is the decision to act, based upon some form of knowledge, with an expected, but not entirely certain outcome—whether that outcome happens depends upon Reality. (For more on this definition, see the “Faith in the Bible… link above.) If one does not act, then one does not have faith; that is, one has knowledge without faith. To say that “I believe (for example) that I should study my Bible more, and not to do it, is not truly to believe your statement in the first place.
Thus, Biblical faith is acting on one’s knowledge of Scripture. The more one knows of Scripture, the better one is able to act on faith. There is no “whelming from within, ” somehow conjuring some force inside oneself to cause God to act according to what we desire to happen, for example, to be healed, to get a job, or to find a spouse.
The second mistake is to overlook that a special gift of faith is given to some (I Corinthians 12:9). It is a gift to expect God to act in frequent, miraculous ways. George Muller is perhaps the best example of this gifting. All Christians cannot have faith the way that he did; only those so gifted.
The third mistake is to think that we can obtain “miraculous” gifts simply by asking. Jesus said to several that He healed, “Go you way, your faith has made you whole (healthy).” The “knowledge” part of the definition of faith (above) is the specific and particular knowledge that that person would be healed in that particular time and place. It was knowledge imparted by God Himself. We are free to pray for that knowledge, but we always must end our prayers with “nevertheless, Your will be done” (The Lord’s Prayer). For more on this subject, see the section “Faith to Move Mountains” in Kinds and Degrees of Faith.
I am baffled at the best theologians, much less educated Christians, who do not understand these dimensions. Many people have been harmed trying to “have enough faith” to be healed or to achieve some other end. Or, they have “acted on faith,” only to experience financial disaster or other failure. Study, study, study… until you understand faith. I have given you the “knowledge” so to do.
P.S. If you have gone to the above references, you will know that I have a book on faith online. I also have hard copies available if you email me email@example.com.
James 1:17 “No variation or shadow of turning”
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17). With all the “human” references to God (anthropomorphisms), especially in the Old Testament (Exodus 31:14; II Samuel 24:16; Jeremiah 26:19—and many more), it is understandable that some Christians think that God changes His mind. Consistently, they even think that He has emotions. But the attributing of emotion to God has roots in modern, secular psychology which many Christians have accepted without the application of logic to Biblical truth. (They have even carried this distortion into love, as an emotion. See “Love Covers a Multitude of Sins below.)
The history of “emotion,” however, is central here. The Oxford Dictionary gives the meaning of the Latin root as the adjective “of action.” Its French origin means “to move out.” Definitions 1, 2 and 3 are listed as obsolete. The fourth definition is “Any agitation or disturbance of mind, feeling, passion; any vehement or excited mental state.” Of importance here is “disturbance of mind.” Readers can easily identify with this latter meaning, as the “disturbance” present in the feelings of anxiety, worry, fear, frustration, sadness, and anger.
There are major Biblical and philosophical considerations here. (1) If God knows the future (foreknowledge), then He can never be surprised. That is, He can never experience emotion. (2) More strongly and Biblically, He is Sovereign—He has planned everything that has ever happened and will happen. Over these events both great and small, He has no worries, fears, or frustrations (anger). (3) Being omnipotent, He controls all forces that could ever shake Him, i.e., cause a “disturbance of mind” in any way. (4) The future that He has planned, regardless of one’s eschatology, cannot be implemented unless He controls all things. (5) The salvation of believers is not guaranteed if this control is not real.
This verse negates that there is the most minute, infinitesimal chance that God could be ever be affected by anything or anyone. Thus, God has no emotions! He has no shadow of turning. The Westminster Confession of Faith has it right—God has no passions (Chapter II.1). Christians may squirm, protest, wonder, and attempt to explain otherwise, but this verse (and many others, e.g., Hebrews 13:8). That God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresence precludes any emotions (feelings, sensations, perceptions, palpitations, etc). The argument is solid, regardless of the emotions and protests that this proposition may provoke. Many readers will no doubt protest or wonder how to fit this understanding into their belief system, but for God to be God, this position is inescapable.
James 2:19 Even the demons believe––and tremble!
“You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe––and tremble!” James 2:19
This verse is puzzling and fraught with misinterpretations. But, like many verses in Scripture, paying attention to what the verse actually says is a way to avoid confusion, and a solid principle of hermeneutics. There is only one belief in the context: monotheism. Anything beyond that explicit proposition is speculation and conjecture. However, it may be helpful to explore the reasons for so much misunderstanding of this simple text.
(1) Belief always leads to action (where the belief affects one’s person—see below). We see evidence of this connection in v. 17, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” The action of saving faith in the Christian sense (about which this context is clear) is the “good work” of clothing and feeding “brothers and sisters” with these needs (v. 15). (Faith and belief are synonyms. There is only one Greek stem, pist-, for the noun and verb in the New Testament which may be translated according to grammatical and narrative rules, as “faith,” belief,” or “believe.” Unfortunately, English does not have a verb form of “faith.”) Thus, the specific action of faith here are those two charitable works.
The mechanism of faith is the same whether in saving faith or generic faith (below). Does the faith of the demon have a “good work?” Yes, he has a work, but not a good one—he trembles for fear of this God of whom he has understanding. Faith that has a personal element always leads to action. This passage has demonstrated the actions of Christian believers and of demons. However, for one to believe that Paris is a great city in France does not affect one personally (unless one is going there). So, there is no resulting “action” or “work.” (Perhaps, one might postulate that giving the correct answer to a question in school about the geographic location of Paris might be considered an action or “work.”)
But maybe there is a little more to the demons’ knowledge of God than simple monotheism which alone could be vague and remote, like Paris to a person in America. They “tremble.” Trembling means fear, and fear is a belief that harm might come in some form. We know a little of what Satan and other demons might know of God and his plan that might cause this reaction.
Apparently Satan really believed that Job would curse God…. he did not believe in the perseverance of the saints…. Possibly Satan believed the promise he himself made to Eve…. (and) that he might tempt Christ to sin. If he had believed (the latter action) impossible, why should he have tried three times? Therefore there must be a good bit of the Bible that devils do not believe (in the way that Christians do—Ed). (Gordon Clark, What Is Saving Faith, Trinity Foundation, 2004 edition, p. 153)
(2) Faith is common and generic in every decision that a person makes every day. I “believe” that my alarm clock will go off for the time that I set it. I believe that my car will get me to my destination. I believe that my candidate will be best in the office for which he is running. I believe that my employer will pay me at the end of the month. For every decision and action, there is a belief. The process is inescapable. In this way, as I have demonstrated, demons also believe.
(3) The process of belief and action is the same for generic belief, as for saving faith. Now, “saving faith” here includes the act of belief at the moment of conversion and all subsequent acts in sanctification that occur for the rest of one’s life. There is no mystery to the mechanism of faith. Once this “how” is understood, the mystery of faith is removed. This removal is of great importance to Christians. How can a person have “enough” faith to be healed? He cannot. God must give him or her the knowledge that they will be healed, as He did those to whom he said, “Go! Your faith has made you whole.”) Such special (implanted) knowledge was directly given by God. The same is true of having “enough” faith “to move mountains.” He must give that knowledge.
But He has given us the knowledge of His mind for our life. The object of faith must be the revealing of God’s knowledge to His people in the Scriptures. This object is the knowledge of faith, or notitia, as academicians like to say. This knowledge is common to all Christians—it is virtually the only current knowledge for faith. There is no real need with the detailed revelation in Scripture. Scripture is the norm—the normal and almost exclusively means by which God makes available and gives knowledge to His people. Implanted knowledge is miraculous and can by no means be caused by man’s actions, including prayer.
Well, a short verse has opened up a much longer discourse—one that may have brought more questions than answers. I invite readers to read a current essay* that I have written that will explain in much greater detail. Also, I have book available online, Without Faith It Is Impossible to Please God. There is no greater understanding needed for modern Christians than to understand Biblical faith!
*Towards a More Complete Understanding of Biblical Faith and Its Powerful Impact on a Theory of Epistemology
I Peter 4:8 Love Covers a Multitude of Sins
I Peter 4:8 “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”
This verse is often used to counter Jesus’ commands in Matthew 5:23-24 and Matthew 18:15-17 that believers who have offended the other should immediately go and get the matter reconciled. From Matthew 5:23, the importance of the matter supersedes worship. But I Peter 4:8 can be re-translated using Jesus own words in another place. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Thus, love is keeping Jesus’ (all of God’s) commandments of the Old and New Testaments.
Thus, I Peter 4:8 is re-translated, “Above all, keep fervent in ‘keeping all of God’s commandments’ towards one another, because ‘keeping all of God’s commandments’ covers a multitude of sins.”
It is strange that God has provided the precise mechanism for disagreements and hurts between brethren in the verses cited of Matthew 5 and 18, yet Christians still look for excuses not to go. He even provided for others to be involved should the two offending parties not be reconciled on their own (Matthew 18:16-17). I have shown by substituting Jesus’ own definition of love in I Peter 4:8 that that verse cannot be used to avoid the “going.” If fact that verse, as correctly translated here, actually says the opposite. “Love is the fulfillment of the commands to ‘go’ to each other. This method is that of the “peace-making” of the Beatitude, “Blessed are the peace-makers for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).
Now, who are you at odds with? “Go, now, quickly.” Apart from not knowing some basic doctrines (Hebrews 6:1-3), there is no greater problem in the church today. Love is the fulfillment of the law. Or perhaps better to add an attitude of mercy, Love is the sacrificial fulfillment of all the “laws” of God. “I will not give to the Lord (or to my “neighbor”) that which costs me nothing” (II Samuel 24:24).
See I John 4:18: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” There is no fear because one knows that he has loved, that is, kept the law. There is nothing to fear from God when one is obedient to Him.