Bible Study Questions and Answers


105. WHO IS THE “TRUE GOD” IN 1 JOHN 5:20b
191. A NOTE ON PSALM 105:18





by Jack Cottrell on Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 3:16pm

QUESTION: What is the spiritual status of the millions of people who have mistakenly followed the false views of baptism, whether in regard to meaning, subjects, or mode? E.g., here is a person who was sprinkled as a baby as a mark of membership in a local church, based solely on the fact that he was born to parents who were already members of that church. That person is now an adult and is actively involved in church activities and sincerely believes that he is a Christian (i.e., saved). What is your assessment of this situation?

ANSWER: I will say first of all that I may have addressed this kind of question in an earlier note. I tend to forget what I have already covered, and am not inclined to dig through all the old files. So I beg my readers’ indulgence if this is repetition. (Much of the following comes from page 373 of my book, “The Faith Once for All,” and page 374 of my book, “Power from on High.”)

First, I unequivocally affirm that the NT consistently and unambiguously teaches that Christian baptism is the immersion of believing, repentant sinners for the purpose of receiving salvation. I have set forth the textual evidence for this in my book,Baptism: A Biblical Study(College Press: 2006 edition). The conclusion (p. 155) sums up what this book accomplishes: “Altogether we have studied twelve separate texts in detail, with references to several others along the way. What is remarkable is not only the fact that theydopresent baptism as the time God has appointed for initially bestowing salvation upon believing, repentant sinners, but also the fact that they areunanimousin doing so. This is not some obscure inference that must be laboriously forced from the fringes of a few texts, but is the central theme of them all! And at the same time, no other meaning emerges to serve in even a secondary role, much less to challenge the one main idea that baptism is for salvation.”

In spite of this clear Biblical teaching, many who have not been thus Biblically baptized, but (e.g.) have been sprinkled as babies, assume that their baptism was sufficient and that they are saved. Others who have observed their lives draw the same conclusion. The main reason for these assumptions is the ongoing presence of Christian commitment and service, and especially the presence of the “fruit of the Spirit” described in Gal. 5:22. Surely, anyone who manifests this fruit must have the indwelling of the Spirit and therefore must be saved!

However, this is not necessarily the case, for two reasons. First, the various virtues listed by Paul—love, joy, peace, and the rest—are in reality thenaturalstate for human beings made in God’s image. Such “righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:24) are part of the original “image of God” which the Creator gave to the human race in the beginning and which is still present in every sinner to some extent. Thus we can expect these virtues—at least some of them, to some degree—to be present in most people. (From the negative side, this is the same reason why we do not findallof the “deeds of the flesh” present inallsinners.)

The second reason why individuals who do not have the Spirit’s indwelling presence can manifest the fruit of the Spirit is that such folks have been convicted of sin, righteousness, and judgment by the Spirit-inspired Word of God (John 16:8-11), and they are making an effort to obey the Word and to lead a virtuous life. They are trying to live according to the Bible, under the knowledge and motivation engendered by Biblical teaching. Those who have thus come under the influence of the Word (Heb. 4:12-13) will be able to bear the fruit of the Spirit to some extent. This explains why OT saints, none of whom had the indwelling of the Spirit (which began on Pentecost), were able to exhibit these virtues.

Thus when anyone seeks to live according to the moral teaching of the Word of God, the Spirit of God is at work in his life. When that person, through free-will effort, becomes more loving, more patient, or more self-controlled, he is under the influence of the Holy Spirit and is thus producing “the fruit of the Spirit.” This doesnotmean that every person who thus bears some of the Spirit’s fruit is saved. It doesnotmean that the Spirit is dwelling within him. He may simply be under conviction through the power of the Word.

Because of the clear teaching of Scripture on baptism itself, I must conclude that only those who have consciously received immersion as a saving work of God can be confident of theirpresentstatus as Christians and as members of the body of Christ. It is, of course, possible that in some cases God has made exceptions and has acted outside his stated plan of bestowing salvation upon believers in immersion; but if so, only He knows about it. We have no right to presume upon God in this respect.

If someone who has not been Biblically baptized is convinced that God has saved him, we may follow this procedure. One, while granting that God may have made an exception, we must insist that no one can know this for sure. Experience (e.g., observations about the “fruit of the Spirit”) can be deceiving (Matt. 7:21-23). Two, we must make sure that the Biblical teaching on baptism is clearly understood and accepted. Three, we must invite the person of unsure status to receive baptism properly, while calling upon God to work upon him and within him whatever works of salvation He has not already worked. See 1 Peter 3:21: baptism is “an appeal to God for a good conscience”; and Acts 22:16: “calling on His name” for salvation is the sinner’s prayer just before baptism.

This sinner’s prayer can be something like this: “Thank you, Father, for salvation through Jesus Christ, and for whatever works of salvation you may already have bestowed upon me. Thank you that I have been able to live under the light and power of your Word. Thank you for showing me the true meaning of baptism as taught in your Word. Though I have not yet done so, I gladly now submit to your command to be baptized for the forgiveness of my sins and for the gift of the Holy Spirit. And I call upon you to give me now whatever aspects of salvation you have not already given me. Thank you so much. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.”

We thus leave it in God’s hands to know about this person’s past; our concern and our confidence are now focused on the present and the future. By submitting to baptism thus, in the Biblical way, a person can now be sure of his present status before God.

But what about those (e.g.) sprinkled as babies who never have the opportunity to learn or do what is right regarding baptism?What will happen to them in the final judgment? I believe we can expect God to judge all persons who have received baptism improperly in the same way that he will judge everyone else, namely, in accordance with theirconscientious response to available light. No one will be condemned for failing to meet some particular requirement as long as he is conscientiously responding to whatever light is available to him (see Rom 4:15). It is obvious that human traditions have seriously distorted and limited the light of Scripture concerning baptism, and many sincere people have responded in good conscience to what light they have. For this reason we may hope to see such people in heaven, while acknowledging that this is solely God’s decision.

This last point does not permit us to give anyone false assurance about his present state of salvation, however; nor does it give us the right to change the clear teaching of Scripture on believers' immersion for salvation. The "available light" principle applies only to future judgment, and it can be applied only by the omniscient God. Only God knows how much light (truth) is “available” (can be known) to any individual, and only God knows whether that individual has responded “conscientiously” to it. For us today, as individuals and as the church of Jesus Christ, our standard is the written Word of God alone. We must continue to believe, proclaim, and apply the clear Biblical teaching about baptism without cowardice and without compromise.

by Jack Cottrell on Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 11:37am

QUESTION: I know of a severely-handicapped person who had a sincere desire to be baptized in the Biblical way, but because of the disability simply could not be immersed. It was decided to put this person under the shower and cover him with water in such a way that he was extremely wet from head-to-toe and had to hold his breath for a time while the water was showered over his face. Those conducting this “baptism” emphasized the importance of the person’s commitment to follow Jesus with all his heart. Was this an acceptable baptism? Is this person saved?

ANSWER: I believe that the New Testament clearly teaches that Christian baptism (immersion in water) is the time when (and the place where) God bestows upon the lost sinner the gift of salvation. This is the point of time when the double cure of grace is received by the lost sinner, through his faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ. This has been God’s plan since Pentecost (Acts 2:38). This is what he expects us to believe, to teach, and to practice. Certainly, in this sense we can say that baptism is necessary for salvation.

This is what all those under the Christian banner believed for the first 1,500 years of the church. It was the Swiss Reformer, Huldreich Zwingli, who in 1523-1525 robbed baptism of its saving significance and createdex nihiloa new meaning for baptism that had nothing to do with salvation. Most Protestants today have followed in his footsteps.

I believe with all my heart that we must follow the teaching of the New Testament rather than Zwingli. However, I believe that it is appropriate and sometimes essential to make a distinction between what isabsolutelynecessary for salvation as compared with what is only relatively necessary. The idea is that even if baptism has been appointed by God as a necessary part of the salvation process in the New Testament age, it still has only a relative necessity and can be dispensed with in extraordinary circumstances. Faith, on the other hand, is an absolutely and inherently necessary condition for salvation. It is conceivable that one could be saved without baptism, but not without faith. For example, in Old Testament times faith was an absolute necessity, but Christian baptism did not even exist in that era.

This distinction (between absolute and relative necessity) has been recognized all through Christian history. The "baptism of blood" and the "baptism of desire" have been accepted as valid substitutes for baptism in water in circumstances where water baptism is physically impossible. "Baptism in blood" refers to martyrdom; it refers to situations in which a person has put his faith in Christ but is martyred for his faith before he has a chance to be baptized. (This possibility was quite prevalent in the early Christian centuries when initial faith and baptism were often separated by lengthy periods of catechetical instruction.) "Baptism of desire" refers toanysituation in which a believing person honestly desires to meet the condition of baptism but is prevented from doing so by unavoidable physical circumstances, e.g., confined to prison, nailed to a cross, pinned down by enemy gunfire, lost in a desert. In such cases it is reasonable to assume that God "takes the will for the deed" and saves a person without baptism, as long as he or she believes on the Lord Jesus Christ.

I believe that this understanding is correct. On this basis, then, I consider the person described in the question above to have received the “baptism of desire”; thus I consider this person to be saved.

In this connection, though, we must be careful to guard against an error that is quite common within Protestantism, namely, a glossing over of the distinction between absolute and relative necessity as it refers to baptism. It is common practice to cite a situation in which water baptism for a believer is impossible (e.g., lost in a desert) and to conclude from such that baptism hasnonecessary connection with salvation at all. That is to say, an example that proves at most that baptism is notabsolutelynecessary is used to prove that it is not necessary even underordinarycircumstances. This is anon sequitur: it does not follow. In any normal situation where water baptism is at all possible, it IS a condition for salvation: "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16).

"The thief on the cross" is commonly misused in this context. In the first place, how the believing thief was saved is irrelevant for the Christian era since he was still under the Old Covenant and since Christian baptism did not even exist yet. In the second place, even if his case were relevant, it would be an example only of the "baptism of desire" (not blood or martyrdom) and would prove only that baptism does not share theabsolutenecessity of faith. It says nothing about what might be required under ordinary circumstances; it cannot be used to negate the New Testament’s clear and abundant teaching that baptism is the time when God bestows salvation. We have “been buried with Him IN BAPTISM, IN WHICH [we] were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God” (Col. 2:12).

(Most of the above material was taken from my book,Baptism: A Biblical Study, from the chapter on Mark 16:15-16.)

by Jack Cottrell on Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 6:28pm

QUESTION: When Jesus washes the apostles’ feet in John 13:1ff., is this just a lesson in humility, or does it have some spiritual significance beyond that? E.g., does the footwashing as Jesus performs it stand for personal cleansing from sin? Is it a figure for baptism? Does the act itself represent Jesus’ service of dying on the cross for the sins of the world?

ANSWER: My initial reaction to this question is that this episode is just a lesson in humility, and that reading anything else into it requires a lot of speculation. But as the football officials sometimes say when one of their calls is challenged, “Upon further review . . . .” Thus what follows is a closer look at John’s record of this event.

The event in question occurs just before the Last Supper, which John chooses not to record since the other gospels have already given three accounts of it. Instead he records an event that had specific reference to Jesus’ band of apostles, who were prone to argue “which of them might be the greatest” (Luke 9:46-48; 22:24-27). Thus in dramatic fashion, because He loved them (John 13:1), He taught them this lesson on humility.

The details of footwashing as an act of hospitality and kindness are well known. It was not a religious ceremony, but simply a tradition of good manners on the part of a host or hostess welcoming guests into his or her home (compare Luke 7:36-50; 1 Tim. 5:10). The roadways were either dusty or muddy, and the footwear was sandals; so guests usually arrived with dingy feet. Thus inside the doorway of most homes sat a container of water, along with a basin and a towel or apron with which to wash and dry the feet.

The important point here is that such footwashing was something done FOR a guest, and was an extremely MENIAL task, done by servants or slaves if these were available. As Gary Burge says, it “was a degrading and lowly task” with specific social implications. “In no way do we find those with a ‘higher’ status washing the feet of those beneath them” (Zondervan’s NIV Application Commentaryon John, 369).

When Jesus and His apostles arrived at the upper room, the landlord from whom it was rented had apparently provided the necessities for footwashing (water, basin, towel/apron). However, there was no host as such. Thus they all went directly to the dining furniture and prepared to eat. There may have been an awkward moment when the apostles looked at one another and wondered which of themselves (if any) would take on the servant’s role. None did. This is when Jesus “got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself” and “began to wash the disciples’ feet” (vv. 4,5).

There can be no question that He was doing this to set an example of humility and humble service for His too-proud disciples. Indeed, when He had completed the task, this was the only lesson He directly drew from the incident and specifically taught to them as a group (vv. 12-17).

However, most interpreters see much more in this episode as a whole. Barclay says we must always look for two meanings in John: the one that lies on the surface, and the one beneath the surface. “In this passage there is undoubtedly a second meaning” (The Gospel of John II,Westminster, 163-164). The second meaning is on the spiritual level, and is found almost altogether in connection with Peter’s resistance to Jesus’ attempt to wash his feet and the conversation that ensued between these two (vv. 6-11).

Down through Christian history and among commentators today, it has been common to interpret Jesus’ statements to Peter as referring to the cleansing from sin that has been made possible through the cross. When Jesus says, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me” (v. 8), He is saying that one must submit to Him for the washing away of sin in order to be saved, or to be a Christian. One must not only let his feet be washed, but must be totally bathed and “completely clean” (v. 10). As Leon Morris says, “In the context it must refer to the washing of the feet. Unless Peter submits to the feet-washing he may not eat with Jesus. But Jesus means more. A literal washing of the feet is not necessary before a man can be a Christian. The words point us to a washing free from sin which only Christ can give. Apart from this a man will have no part in Christ” (The Gospel According to John,Eerdmans, 617).

Because the footwashing obviously involves water, it has also been common to see this event as teaching the necessity of baptism for salvation. Barclay says, “Beyond a doubt there is a reference to Christian baptism here. ‘Unless you are washed,’ said Jesus, ‘you can have no part in me.’ That is a way of saying: ‘Unless you pass through the gate of baptism, you have no part in the Church” (164). He qualifies this, however: “This is not to say that a man cannot be saved unless he is baptized.” Baptism is definitely pictured, though, as “the entry to the Church” (164-165). This has led to a debate about which baptism Jesus means, since only John’s baptism was known at that time. Others, by distinguishing between the complete bath one would take before leaving home and the footwashing one would receive upon arriving at the host’s house (v. 10), see a double reference here: the former to baptism as the initial total cleansing, and the latter to the Lord’s Supper as the on-going cleansing from spiritual “dirt” accumulated after baptism.

I believe that all of this is reading much too much into this event, and into the remarks Jesus makes to Peter in verses 6-11. I cannot see any reference to baptism here, or to “sacramental” theology in general. I do not see anything here that refers specifically to the Christian era, the post-Pentecostal age of the Church. I do agree that Jesus is making a spiritual application of the concept of washing, which is evident in v. 10 when He says to Peter, “You [plural] are clean, but not all of you.” In v. 11 John makes it clear that he is excluding Judas from this statement; this shows He is making reference to spiritual cleanness.

However, in my judgment, I believe Jesus’ main point about spiritual washing applies to the apostles as such, rather than to the church to come. He is talking about His relation to the twelve apostlesat that moment. He says, “You are clean,” i.e., “your hearts are right, you are my true disciples—except for Judas. I have spent three years ‘bathing’ you with truth and grace; you are now ready for your mission. This does not mean you are perfect, of course. What I am doing for you right now by physically washing your feet is equivalent to a spiritual footwashing; I am trying to wash away that dirt of pride that still infects your souls.” This is the application He Himself makes to all the disciples in vv. 12-17.

The only possible spiritual application here that may go beyond this is an analogy between Jesus’ humbling himself to wash the disciples’ feet and His supreme humbling of Himself upon the cross (Philp. 2:5-8). In this analogy with the cross, the main point of comparison is the attitude manifested by Jesus in each case. As Morris says, the footwashing “is a parable in action, setting out that great principle of lowly service which finds its supreme embodiment in the cross” (612). Many see another analogy, namely, between the way the water of footwashing cleanses one’s feet from physical dirt, and the way the cross cleanses the soul from sin. Morris, e.g., says the lesson in humility is not enough. Jesus’ words to Peter, “spoken in the shadow of the cross, have to do with cleansing, that cleansing without which no man belongs to Christ, that cleansing which is given by the cross alone” (613). Burge says that in the footwashing we see “the cleansing work of Jesus,” the “spiritual cleansing on the cross” (370).

I am open to this latter idea, but it is not as clear as I would like it to be. The bottom line for me is that any such symbolic relation between this instance of footwashing and the cross would have to do with the cross as the SOURCE of spiritual cleansing, and not with HOW that cleansing is applied to individuals (e.g., in baptism).

by Jack Cottrell on Friday, September 16, 2011 at 3:26pm

QUESTION:Some interpreters of Acts 2:38 make a big deal of the difference between second person imperative for the verb “repent,” and third person imperative for the verb “be baptized.”My systematic theology professor says that “be baptized,” as third person imperative, is not a command as such but is rather “a strong plea.”His basis is the same usage in Galatians 1:8, where Paul says “let them be accursed,” which is not really a mandatory command to God but a strong plea.What do you think of this approach?

ANSWER:The first thing I think when I read this is that the Zwinglian “faith-only” advocates will go to any conceivable length, no matter how desperate, in order to avoid the clear and straightforward teaching of Acts 2:38 on the connection between baptism and salvation.

The second thing I think of is that this is the second “creative” attempt I have seen to manipulate the form of these two verbs in order to negate what the verse clearly says about baptism.The first is the argument that the verb “repent” is plural, but the verb “be baptized” is singular; therefore only the former can be connected with “for the forgiveness of your [plural] sins.”I explained and refuted this view in a note posted August 15, 2010, called “Answering a False Interpretation of Acts 2:38.”This present question leads me to attempt to do the same with this second argument.
There is no question about the forms of the verbs.One is second person (“you repent”) and the other is third person (“let each one be baptized”), but both are imperative mood.The major use of an imperative verb is to issue a command.Usually the command is positive (“do this”), but sometimes it is negative, i.e., a prohibition (“don’t do that”).It is true that sometimes the imperative mood is used to convey a request, an entreaty, or a plea.This is usually the case in a prayer to God, as in the model prayer, Matt. 6:9-11:“Let your name be hallowed”; “let your kingdom come”; “may your will be done”; “give us our daily bread”; “forgive us our debts.”These are all imperatives, but as prayers to God they are certainly not commands.They are definitely entreaties.

So then, how do we decide whether an imperative is a command or an entreaty?The questioner’sprofessor (above) apparently says it depends on whether the imperative is second person or third person.A second person imperative, such as “repent” in Acts 2:38, is a commandbecauseit is second person.But a third person imperative, such as “let each be baptized” in Acts 2:38, is only a strong pleabecauseit is third person.This is absolutely false.What actually makes the difference between a command and an entreaty is WHO is uttering the imperative, and TO WHOM it is addressed.When an imperative is addressed to one’s superior or to someone of a “higher rank,” it is an entreaty or plea.When an imperative is addressed by the superior to one over whom he has authority, it is a command.It makes no difference whether the form is second person or third person.

In the verses from the model prayer, for example (Matt. 6:9-11), some of the imperatives cited above are third person (e.g., “let your name be hallowed”) and some are second person (e.g., “forgive us our debts”).Since both are addressed to God as prayers, they cannot be commands but must be requests.

Likewise, there are many examples of third person imperatives that are addressed by God (or Jesus) to us his disciples and can by no stretch of the imagination be regarded as mere requests or even as strong pleas.For example, in Matt. 5:16 Jesus says to us, “Let your light shine.”This is a third person singular imperative.So is the formulaic “let him hear” in Rev. 2:7, 11, etc.These are all commands because they are uttered by the one in authority over us, regardless of whether they are second person or third person.

When we apply this to Galatians 1:8 (and 1:9), literally, “let him be a curse,” we should immediately see that this is not a prayer or a plea from Paul to God, but an imperative declaration from Paul in his apostolic authority (speaking FOR God) directed toward the false teacher.I found one commentary that says that here Paul “expresses the wish that God’s judgment will fall upon them” (John R.W. Stott,Only One Way, 24).But this is ridiculous.This is not a mere “wish,” but an imperative imposition of judgment.H.N. Ridderbos is quite correct:this imperative is “not a wish merely, but a solemn affirmation of what certainly shall be” (The Epistle of Paul to…Galatia, 50).

The imperative in Gal. 1:8,9 isesto, 3 person singular imperative ofeimi.Here are four other places in the NT where the identical word is used:Matthew 5:37; 18:17; James 1:19; and 1 Peter 3:3.Here are two NT texts where the same form is used, only in the plural rather than the singular (estosan): Luke 12:35; 1 Tim. 3:12. All one needs to do is take a quick look at these texts, and he will immediately see that this verb form lays a moral requirement on those whom it addresses.These are commandments uttered by Jesus, and by the authoritative authors of Holy Scripture.

How does this apply to Acts 2:38?The data we have seen shows that “repent” being second person while “let each be baptized” is third person is completely irrelevant.Both imperatives are uttered by the same individual, namely, the inspired apostle Peter, who was speaking in the name of God with divine authority, and were both addressed to the same audience.Both imperatives are authoritative commands imposing a moral requirement upon all who heard them then and all who have heard them since.

The imperative “let each be baptized” is parallel in authority to “repent” in every way.It is no less a moral requirement than the command to repent. The change from 2 person imperative ("repent") to 3 person imperative ("let each one of you be baptized") actually makes baptism a MORE EMPHATIC command than repentance. It emphasizes the all-inclusiveness of the requirement: let each one of you--no exceptions, even if you have already been baptized by John--be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins!!!!

5. Can We Cooperate with Christian Groups?
by Jack Cottrell on Wednesday, September 14, 2011 at 9:35pm

QUESTION #1 – “Some parachurch organizations use the 1974 Lausanne Covenant to describe what they believe. What are your thoughts about this?”

QUESTION #2 – “What do you think of the Manhattan Declaration? Have you signed it? How can we cooperate with those whose doctrine is different from ours?”

ANSWER: The former question came today; the latter came some months ago. Each involves the same two issues: (1) Can we endorse the doctrine expressed in these documents? And, (2) can we in good conscience join hands with and stand alongside others who subscribe to these documents?

The Lausanne Covenant was produced by the International Congress on World Evangelization held in Lausanne, Switzerland, in July 1974. The meeting was called by Billy Graham and others, and was attended by over 2,300 evangelicals. The purpose was to explore ways to evangelize the world. The Covenant document is a rather lengthy manifesto challenging all believers to join together in this task.

The Manhattan Declaration was produced in late 2009. It was written mainly by Chuck Colson along with Robert George and Timothy George, and was originally endorsed by about 150 religious leaders from both Protestant and Roman Catholic backgrounds. The signers include very familiar names, such as J. I. Packer, Ravi Zacharias, Wayne Grudem, Don Wildmon, Chuck Swindoll, Al Mohler, Josh McDowell, and James Dobson. Since then nearly a half-million others have signed it, including me.

The point of the Manhattan Declaration is to present a unified voice in defense of three values that are under severe attack in American (and Western) culture: (1) a defense ofthe sanctity of life, in opposition to such practices as abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research; (2) a defense oftraditional marriage, in opposition to such practices as out-of-wedlock births and same-sex marriage; and (3) a defense ofreligious freedom, e.g., in opposition to compelling Christian individuals and groups to violate their consciences in the above matters (e.g., by being forced to hire homosexuals or to arrange adoptions for same-sex couples), or in opposition to laws that prosecute preaching against homosexual behavior as hate speech.

What can we say about the teaching expressed in these documents? Regarding the Manhattan Declaration, I give it my whole-hearted agreement and support, and I can testify as to its importance. That is why I signed it. Regarding the Lausanne Covenant, I cannot do the same. I do applaud its firm commitment to Biblical inerrancy and authority (Section 2), and its rejection of inclusivism and universalism (Section 3). I also applaud its general purpose of calling upon all Christians to take the Great Commission seriously.

I have some serious reservations about the Covenant’s doctrinal perspectives, however. First, it is ambiguous regarding the relative importance of evangelism on the one hand, and socio-political action by the church on the other hand. It affirms “that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty” (Section 5). It does affirm that “evangelism is primary” (Section 6), but this priority is lost in the emphasis on social justice. Second, though it is not prominent, a Calvinistic thread is seen in the statement that “faith in Christ” is the work of the Holy Spirit (Section 14). The idea that faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit is the essence of the “I” in Calvinism’s T-U-L-I-P system, i.e., “irresistible grace.” Third and most disturbing is the obvious endorsement of a faith-only approach to salvation, in the statement that Christ “offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gifts of the Spirit to all who repent and believe” (Section 4). There is no reference to baptism anywhere.

In view of these doctrinal problems, I cannot endorse the Lausanne Covenant, and I would not want any Christian group that I support to endorse it either.

What, then, of the second issue involved here? Both of the documents are “ecumenical,” in a sense. Both are produced by and supported by individuals and groups from across much of the Christian spectrum, including those who hold to (some) serious false doctrines. Can we or can we not join hands with and cooperate with them all, in supporting and applying the teachings of these documents? How can I, for example, be consistent when I endorse one and separate myself from the other?

My “split decision” is based on an important distinction. Whereas the Lausanne group is altogether about salvation and evangelism and faithfulness to the Great Commission, the Manhattan Declaration group is altogether about a defense of the Christian world view as opposed to the secular world view. In reference to the former, I cannot join hands and cooperate in the evangelistic enterprise with those who have a faulty view of how to be saved. But in reference to the latter, I CAN cooperate with any group that is seeking to uphold the Biblical world view, e.g., in apologetical matters such as creation vs. evolution, and in defense of the absolute moral principles given to all human creatures by the Creator. In reference to the latter, I am ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Christian world in general, including Roman Catholics and all sorts of Protestants, in opposition to those who are attacking the Biblical world view.

I will close with a quotation from near the end of the Manhattan Declaration that sums up quite well what it is all about. I recommend that my readers find the website ( ), read the declaration carefully, and click-to-sign. Here is the quote:

“Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.”

by Jack Cottrell on Tuesday, August 16, 2011 at 5:18pm

QUESTION: Is it ever a good idea, or even necessary, for a person to be rebaptized, i.e., baptized a second time?

ANSWER: My approach to this question assumes that sometimes what is considered to be a baptism is indeed a valid baptism, but sometimes it is not. If a person has been baptized once with a valid baptism, there will never be a need for rebaptism.

This is true even if a baptized person has fallen from grace and has now decided to return to the Lord and His church. The Bible itself gives no teaching and no precedent suggesting that a rebaptism is necessary in such a case. The incident that sheds the most light on this issue is the case of Simon the Samaritan sorcerer, in Acts 8:4-24. Verse 13 indicates that Simon had become a true believer and had been validly baptized, as a result of Philip’s preaching and miracles. However, his avarice and ambition led him into serious sin (vv. 17-19). From Peter’s description of his situation (vv. 20-23), it is fair to conclude that he was actually in a fallen-away state, but not without hope. Verse 22 records Peter’s instruction about what Simon must do to be restored to fellowship with God: “Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you” (NASB). There is no reference to any sort of rebaptism; his restoration could be accomplished via repentance and prayer.
This means that the only circumstance that would require a “rebaptism” is a situation in which the person in question was not validly baptized to begin with. This means that it is necessary to have a clear understanding of what constitutes a “valid baptism,” or of what baptism is supposed to be, according to the Bible’s teaching about it. There is general agreement that three criteria must be met for a baptism to be valid. I.e., a valid baptism is one which has been applied in the proper FORM, to a proper SUBJECT, for the proper PURPOSE.

Within Christendom the various approaches to these issues are all over the map. I have my convictions concerning the true Biblical teaching, however; and my explanation here is based upon that.

First, the properformof baptism is immersion in water. “Immersion” (dunking, dipping) is what the Greek wordmeans. Applying the water via sprinkling or pouring simply does not count as a true baptism. In the case of an individual who has not been immersed, he or she indeed must be “rebaptized.” To be precise, though, this would not actually be a REbaptism, since the first “baptism” (by sprinkling or pouring) was not really a baptism in the first place. The immersion would in fact be the person’s first baptism.

Second, the only propersubjectfor baptism is an individual (1) who is old enough and mature enough to understand that he or she is a sinner who is lost and needs salvation; (2) who understands that God is providing that salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus; and (3) who is able to obey the gospel as the understood means of receiving this salvation. This means that infant baptism is always invalid. No one who has had water applied in an infant ceremony has been truly baptized; all such persons need to be “rebaptized.” But as in the previous point, the application of water to the infant (whether by sprinkling or by immersion) is not a real baptism at all. Therefore the immersion of an understanding, repentant believer will be the person’s first actual baptism.

(This was the main point of the so-called “Anabaptists” [‘rebaptizers’] at the time of the Reformation. They did not consider themselves to be rebaptizing at all. When they baptized those who had received only “infant baptism,” they considered this to be these folks’ first and only baptism. Thus they did not like to be called “Anabaptists.” And FYI, the Anabaptists did not insist on immersion.)

The third criterion, i.e. the truepurposeof baptism, is the most difficult to apply. In my judgment the only consistent understanding of Scripture is that baptism isfor salvation. This means, at the very least, that baptism is the point of time when God works the work of salvation in the repentant believer’s heart and life. Certainly anyone who understands this and receives baptism for that purpose will never have to be rebaptized.

But what about an individual who did not have that specific understanding of his or her baptism when the act was performed? What about those who have been taught that the only reason you need to be baptized is “because Jesus commanded it,” or to show others that you are a believer? Does the efficacy of baptism really depend on whether or not the person being baptized has a proper understanding of what is going on?

My conviction is yes. I know that many in Restoration Movement churches routinely accept into member ship anyone who has been immersed as a believer (e.g., any Baptist). I am suggesting, though, that this reveals an attitude of disrespect and nonchalance toward the Bible’s own teaching about this subject, plus a serious lack of concern for the convert’s own spiritual status.

My point is that when we are teaching anyone from a Christian background about how to become a Christian AND how to become a member of a NT congregation, we should do two things regarding the subject of baptism. First, we should clearly teach from the Bible what it says about the meaning and result of baptism. Second, if the individual has had any kind of “baptismal” experience in the past, especially involving immersion as an adult, we should counsel that person to recall and examine what was in his or her heart at the time of that immersion. I would not expect or require such a person to give a detailed, Bible-College-level answer to this question. All I would need to hear would be an affirmative answer to this or a similar question: “When you were immersed, did you understand and believe at that time, that God was doingsomethingtoward your salvation that you could not do for yourself”? The more a person understands, the better; but no one has to be able to articulate the double cure or even mention the term “forgiveness of sins” for the baptism to be valid.

My conviction is based at least in part on Colossians 2:12, which says that you have “been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God” (NASB). The “working of God” to which Paul is here referring includes Christ’s work of atonement and resurrection (see verse 12b), but it also includes the “working” that he is doing in the act of baptism itself, i.e., the work of salvation. Thus baptism involves salvation for those whoare believing that God is working therein.

It is possible for someone to go too far in the direction of “rebaptism,”, e.g., baptizing someone every time that person has a “back-sliding” experience. There are serious reasons to avoid going to an extreme in that direction. On the other hand, I am becoming more and more convinced that there are lots of folks in our churches who have been accepted into membership but who have not been truly baptized and thus who are not really saved, and whose lukewarm discipleship reveals to be the case. We have opened the door to membership to many whose faith-only convictions are destroying the integrity of our congregations; we are immersing many children who are too young to know what is going on beyond the fact that they “really love Jesus.”

If someone comes to me and is troubled in his or her heart about whether or not their original baptism was valid, when viewed under the above criteria, I do not hesitate to recommend that this person be baptized (“again”), for the sake of their own peace of mind if nothing else. I believe we should err on the side of too many “rebaptisms” rather than too few.


by Jack Cottrell on Tuesday, August 16, 2011 at 12:46pm

QUESTION: It seems clear that on the day of final judgment, all works (good and bad) of all people (saved and lost) will be brought up. But if we as Christians are justified by faith apart from a consideration of our works of obedience and disobedience to our law code (Rom. 3:28), and if, even in the moment of our death, we have assurance of our salvation, what then is the PURPOSE of having to face our sins on Judgment Day?

ANSWER: Please refer to the previous note for the Biblical data confirming the fact that each of us will indeed be confronted with all our works, good and bad on Judgment Day. This does raise the question of purpose: WHY is this necessary? And how is this consistent with Heb. 8:12? (I have answered these questions in my book,The Faith Once for All, in chapter 31, “The Final Judgment.” The following is adapted from that.)

It is important to understand thepurposeof the judgment day. One thing is clear: its purpose isnotto determine who will be saved and who will be lost. The omniscient God does not need a final examination of each person's records in order to make such a decision. In fact he foreknew everyone's life history even before the foundation of the world, and had already predestined believers to heaven as a result (Rom. 8:29). But even from man's standpoint, a judgment day is not needed for this purpose. Even before we die, believers in a sense are already judged; in the act of justification God is saying, "No penalty for you!" (see Rom. 8:1, 31-39; Phil.3:9-10; 1 John 4:17; Jude 24). Those who are thus saved by grace are supposed to have an assurance of their saved status. Also, at the point of death a saved person enters the bliss of Paradise and a lost person enters the torment of Hades. At the second coming itself, after the resurrection and transformation, the human race is transported to the scene of the judgment in two waves, the wicked first and then the righteous. Thus the decision as to who is saved and who is lost has already been made before the judgment itself begins.

So what is the purpose of the judgment? For one thing, this event is the occasion for the first formalseparationof the entire company of the saved from the entire host of the lost. While living upon the earth the saved and the lost are mingled together (Matt. 13:30, 47-49). They are separated at death, but at the resurrection are intermingled again. Then the two-stage rapture functions as a prelude to the final judgment, as one band of angels pluck away the lost (Matt. 13:41) and deposit them on the Judge's left hand (Matt. 25:33), while another group of angels rapture the saved (Matt. 24:31) and deposit them at the Judge's right hand (Matt. 25:33). Here at the judgment scene, for the first time, a complete and final separation occurs.

This will also be the occasion for the first publicproclamationof the fate of each individual. When one enters his specific intermediate state at death, this is primarily a private experience. But at the final judgment scene Jesus says to the saved in the presence of all, "Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt. 25:34). Likewise he says to the lost, "Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41; see 7:23).

One could say, however, that such separation and proclamation are not really necessary, i.e., that the final states could be ushered in without them. Thus there must be some deeper purpose for the judgment day, whereby something may be accomplished that God considers to be very important if not necessary. What might this be? The answer may be summed up in one word:vindication. The public examination of every person's deeds will vindicate God's decision regarding each person's eternal destiny. As mentioned above, it will demonstrate God's righteousness and impartiality in judgment. No one will be able to accuse God of being unfair, nor have any basis for complaint about his fate. Everyone will be "without excuse" (Rom. 1:20; 2:1); every mouth will be closed (Rom. 3:19). God will be glorified in his justice because it will be made clear that those who are lost are getting what they deserve, and he will be glorified in his grace because it will be made clear that those who are saved are getting the opposite of what they deserve. "What is therefore central on the day of judgment is not the destinies of individuals but the glory of God" (Anthony Hoekema,The Bible and the Future, 254).

This same rationale for the judgment applies also to the fact that a final judgment according to works will demonstrate God's righteousness in assigning specific degrees of reward and punishment to those who are judged. That different degrees of punishment will be meted out to the lost seems to be the point of Luke 12:47-48, "And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more." Concerning the hypocritical religious leaders of his day Jesus said, "These will receive greater condemnation" (Luke 20:47). He also said that it will be "more tolerable" for some than others "in the day of judgment" (Matt. 11:22-24). This is true because some commandments have greater significance than others (Matt. 22:36-40), some sins are worse than others (Matt. 23:23), and some people have more opportunity than others (Matt. 11:22-24).

The same applies to degrees of reward. In Jesus' parable of the nobleman and his stewards ("the parable of the pounds"), one steward is rewarded by being given authority over ten cities, and another by being given authority over five cities (Luke 19:17-18). In 1 Cor. 3:12-15 "the quality of each man's work" will be tested as with fire. The works of some are equated with gold, silver, and jewels; these pass the test and result in a reward. The works of others are compared with wood, hay, and straw; these fail the test, resulting in salvation without rewards. Greater responsibility results in "stricter judgment" (James 3:1), implying variable rewards. See also Matt. 5:19; 6:19-21; 18:4; 2 Cor. 9:6; see Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology, 1144) for other related texts.

What determines the degree of reward or punishment? Nothing other than the individual's works; this is a main reason for the examination of each person's deeds. Such an examination requires not only the analysis of our good works, but also the full exposure of our sins (Eccl. 12:14; 2 Cor. 5:10). Some believers mistakenly think that their sins will not be brought out on that day, based on Ps. 103:12 and Jer. 31:34 (cited in Heb. 8:12; 10:17). The latter texts say that under the New Covenant God "will remember their sins no more." These texts do not mean, though, that the omniscient God literally forgets about our sins and never mentions them at the judgment; they mean that, thanks to the blood of the New Covenant, he willnever hold them against us again. They will never condemn us, not even on the day of judgment. But theywillbe displayed.

But why is this necessary? Again, from God's perspective it is not necessary; because of his total knowledge of every aspect of our lives, good and bad, he is perfectly able fairly to assign degrees of reward to the saved and degrees of punishment to the lost without a public examination of their works. But again, the issue is the vindication of the righteousness of God. By judging us according to our own works, God's impartiality again is demonstrated; and the degrees of reward and punishment assigned to all are shown to be utterly fair.

We must remember that everyone who reaches heaven will be saved by grace; admission to heaven as such is not related to the extent of one's labor in the kingdom (Matt. 20:1-16). Also, in heaven no degree of reward is literally deserved (Luke 17:10). That God determines to assign such rewards is also a matter of grace, and the various degrees of reward experienced by individual believers are determined by a fair examination of each one's works. What we are not told, however, is exactly HOW these various degrees of reward are assigned and experienced. Many think it will have to do with our relative subjective capacities to enjoy the blessings of eternal life (Hoekema,The Bible and the Future, 264), rather than with differences in our external environment.


by Jack Cottrell on Tuesday, August 16, 2011 at 12:42pm

QUESTION: Some say that Christians will not have to go through the final judgment, based on John 5:24, where Jesus says this: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (NASB, &ff.). Others say, yes, we WILL go through the judgment, but our sins will not be brought up there. They base this on Hebrews 8:12, where God says, “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” What do you think?

ANSWER: I have addressed this question in chapter 31 of my book,The Faith Once for All. The following is adapted from the relevant section there.

On the day of judgment, exactly who and what will be judged? The answer seems to be that on that day,allthe works of all people will be judged. God is described as the "Judge of all" (Heb. 12:23). When Heb. 9:27 says that "it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment," no exceptions are made. God is ready to judge "the living and the dead" (1 Pet. 4:5; see 2 Tim. 4:1), "both the righteous man and the wicked man" (Eccl. 3:17); he will "judge the world" (Rom. 3:6); "all the nations will be gathered before Him" (Matt. 25:32). "We will all stand before the judgment seat of God," says Paul. "So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God" (Rom. 14:10, 12). In 2 Cor. 5:10 also he says, "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ."

We readily accept the idea that the wicked will be judged (Jude 14-15), but some have been misled to think that the righteous will not go through the judgment. Sometimes John 5:24 is interpreted to mean this (see the question above), but this is a false understanding of this verse. The word for "judgment" (krisis) often means anegativejudgment, i.e., "condemnation." The NIV gives the correct sense: whoever hears and believes "will not be condemned" (see Rom. 8:1). But as for the judgment event as such, the universal references noted above ("all," "each one," "the world") clearly include believers. This is especially true of Romans 14:10 and 2 Cor. 5:10, where Paul uses first person plural ("we"), including himself and all Christians. In Matt. 25:31-46 the sheep are judged along with the goats. Certainly, "the Lord will judge His people" (Heb. 10:30). See Jas. 3:1; 1 Pet. 4:17.

Exactly what aspects of our lives will be judged? The answer seems to be,every one of them. The Bible puts a lot of emphasis on the fact that we will all be judged according to ourworks, according to what we have done in this life. Solomon in 2 Chr. 6:30 expresses the expectation that God will "render to each according to all his ways." This language is repeated numerous times in the OT. E.g., God "pays a man according to his work" (Job 34:11); he will "recompense a man according to his work" (Ps. 62:12). God says, "I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds" (Jer. 17:10). In the OT see also Prov. 24:12; Eccl. 12:13-14; Isa. 59:18; Jer. 32:19; Ezek. 33:20.

The NT repeats this truth many times. Jesus says that when he returns in glory he "will repay every man according to his deeds" (Matt. 16:27). Paul says that "the righteous judgment of God" means that he "will render to each person according to his deeds" (Rom. 2:5-6). "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10). The Father "impartially judges according to each one's work" (1 Pet. 1:17). The Messiah promises, "Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done" (Rev. 22:12). In the NT see also Matt.12:36-37; 25:31-46; Acts 10:34-35; 1 Cor. 3:13; Eph. 6;8; Col. 3:25; Rev. 2:23; 20:12.

Special emphasis is put on the fact that even our secret or hidden deeds will be made known, and even the thoughts and motives of our hearts. "God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil" (Eccl. 12:14). Secret piety will be rewarded (Matt. 6:4, 6, 18) and secret sins revealed (Luke 12:2), since "God will judge the secrets of men" (Rom. 2:16). When the Lord comes he "will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts" (1 Cor. 4:5). See 1 Tim. 4:24-25.

By what standard will our works be judged? Quite simply, by the standard of God’s revealed will, whether it be that which is known only through general revelation (Rom. 1:18-32; 2:14-15) or that which is known through special revelation also, i.e., the teachings of Scripture. This standard will be applied to everyone in the same way. Each person will be judged impartially by whatever light is available to him, i.e., in accordance with his conscientious response to available light. This makes it clear that God as a righteous judge is judging impartially, "for there is no partiality with God" (Rom. 2:11). Peter stated it thus: "God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him" (Acts 10:34-35). See Eph. 6:8-9; 1 Pet. 1:17. Indeed, "His judgments are true and righteous" (Rev. 19:2).

The realization that we Christians will have to go through the judgment, and that even our sins will be put on display, is nothing to look forward to; but it should not cause us to fear for our salvation. A close examination of the judgment scene as described in Rev. 20:11-15 show that even though we will be judged according to our works, this should not prevent us from entering the judgment with full assurance of our salvation. Here is what the text says:
"Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire."

Here John seems to say there will be two stages through which all will pass at the final judgment. The first is a judgment according to "the books"; the second is a judgment according to "the book of life" (v. 12). When John says "the books were opened," this refers either to the books in which all men's works are recorded, or to the books that contain the standard by which these works will be judged. In either case, judgment by "the books" is a judgment according to deeds, a judgment to which everyone is subjected (vv. 12-13). Here is where even our sins will come to light.
What is significant, though, is that this works-judgment based on "the books" is not the final word in the judging process! Rather, the final determination of each person's fate is based on judgment according to "the book of life," indeed, theLamb'sbook of life (Rev. 13:8; 21:27). The idea seems to be that, after the first phase of the judgment, the one according to works,no oneis found to be worthy of entrance into heaven. But when the Lamb's book of life is consulted, it is found that some have not trusted in their works but have accepted God's offer of grace; these and these alone are admitted into heaven—not on the basis of their works but on the basis of the blood of the Lamb. But "if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire" (v. 15). In the final analysis this and this alone—not our works—determines who will be in heaven and who will be in hell.

The purpose of the first stage (judgment according to works, even for believers) is related to the degrees of our rewards in heaven (see the next note). But there is another benefit of requiring believers to confront all their works, even their sins, before the final and fully-expected verification of their salvation is announced from the book of life. As a result of this full disclosure and remembrance of our works at the very threshold of heaven, it will be made perfectly plain that theonlyreason we are saved for eternity is because of God's infinite grace and mercy. God's own mercy is thereby glorified, and we will enter heaven with hearts that are overflowing with eternal gratitude and praise to the Redeemer.

(The meaning of Heb. 8:12 will be explained in the next note, “Degrees of Reward in Heaven.”)


by Jack Cottrell on Monday, August 15, 2011 at 1:46pm

QUESTION: A typical translation of Hebrews 12:15a is this, from the NASB: “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God.” The word translated “of” is the Greekapo, which, when followed by the genitive, means “from, away from.” This raises a question concerning the people being addressed: are they not yet within God’s grace, and are thus being warned not to fall short of attaining it or missing out on it? Or are they now within grace, and are thus being warned not to fallaway from it or out of it? The usual meaning of apo would suggest the latter, though most translations seem to assume the former. This is important, since the latter meaning would contradict the “once saved, always saved” doctrine and would support the concept that it is possible for any Christian to fall from grace and be lost.

ANSWER: The key to the right answer to the main question is indeed the issue of WHO is being addressed here. To resolve this issue we must examine not just the immediate context of Heb. 12:15 but also the message of the entire epistle. We call it an epistle or letter, even though it does not bear all the marks of a typical letter of that time. Especially, it does not specifically name either its author or its intended recipients. Thus the question of its recipients must be answered by a careful reading of the letter as a whole.

Those who have done this have come to the general consensus that the “Hebrews” to which the letter was written were an unidentified group of serious-minded Jews who had converted from their Judaism to a sincere Christian faith. For some reason, however, they were now in a position of questioning whether they should have converted, and were seriously considering abandoning their Christian faith and returning to their previous commitment to the Mosaic system of worship. The point of the letter, then, is to show these Hebrew Christians what a terrible mistake it would be to return to Judaism. Since it would involve a rejection of Jesus as their Messiah and Savior, such a return would cause them to lose their salvation.

So the fact is that throughout the entire epistle, there are many warnings and exhortations related to the possible imminent loss of their salvation (e.g., 2:1-3; 3:6-14; 4:1, 11; 6:4-8, 11-12; 10:23, 26-31, 35-39; 12:12-17, 25). Regardless, then, of our interpretation of the one verse, 12:15, the message of the entire letter utterly destroys the false doctrine of “once saved, always saved.” If this doctrine were true, the entire epistlewould be a sham.

With these things in mind, when we turn to the immediate context of 12:15, we must conclude that those being addressed here (as in the entire letter) are Christians who are living within the saving grace of God. We must also conclude that they are being warned that if they follow through on their inclination to abandon Christ and return to Moses, they will indeed be separated from the grace of God and thus lose their salvation.

The question, though is whether the vocabulary and grammar of 12:15a are consistent with such a conclusion. First we may look at the main words. The Greek word translated “miss” (NIV) or “come short” (NASB) or “fail to obtain” (NRSV) ishustereō(from which we get our word “hysteria”). Its early meaning in Greek literature was “to be late, to arrive late” for something, to be left behind and thus to fail. In the NT its basic meaning is to lack something, either by never having achieved it (Matt. 19:20) or by having given it up (Luke 15:14). Thus technically it could be used either for someone who was never included within grace, or someone who fell away from it.

The second word is the one mentioned in the question above, the preposition apo, translated “of” in the NASB (and in some versions not translated at all). It seems to be almost always used with the genitive case, as it is here; so this is not an issue. It basically refers to separation from something, to come out of something or be the result of something. I believe the questioner is correct to say that the use of this preposition favors the view that it is possible to fall FROM grace.

The last relevant term is the word for grace itself, namely,charis. This is the usual word for saving grace, as in Romans 5:2 and Ephesians 2:8, for example. It is also used for many other kinds of grace, such as spiritual gifts (1 Peter 4:10) and spiritual strength (Heb. 13:9). I think it is clear, though, that in Heb. 12:15 it is referring to saving grace.

It also seems that the writer of the letter is referring to a specific aspect of grace in this verse. When he speaks of “coming short of” or “missing” the grace of God, he is speaking specifically of thefinalaspect of our salvation, namely, the attainment of our future glory. The model for our grace-journey is the experience of Israel as delivered from Egyptian slavery and brought ultimately to the Promised Land (see chapters 3 and 4 of Hebrews). We have already been saved; we are on our way to heaven; but some will fall short of that final goal. Parallel to Heb. 12:15 is Heb. 4:1, “Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short [hustereō] of it.”

When we put these words together in 12:15a, we find that the writer of Hebrews is exhorting the wavering Jewish Christians be on guard against the possibility that they may ultimately find themselves left behind [hustereō], separated from [apo] God’s saving grace [charis]. Taken in the context of the book of Hebrews as a whole, those to whom this exhortation is addressed are, at the time of the writing, true Christians; and they are being warned that if they follow through on their developing unbelief, they will become lost.

I close this note with a few thoughts from the commentary by the Lutheran R.C.H. Lenski, one of my favorites: “The calamity ever to be guarded against is first of all ‘that anyone may drop away from the grace of God,’ literally, ‘fall behind’ and thus be separated ‘from the saving grace of God.’ We should say ‘lost the grace of God.’ The picture is that of believers being carried forward to eternal salvation by God’s grace, and instead of being carried forward to heaven like the rest this individual is left standing behind and is thus lost.”

“To have that grace and then to drop away from it is calamity indeed. Yet the readers were in danger of doing this very thing by shrinking from persecution and thus being inclined to think less and less of Christ and again falling in love with their former Judaism.”


by Jack Cottrell on Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 4:44pm

QUESTION: Do you believe that polluting the environment is a sin?

ANSWER: Based on the creation mandate (Genesis 1:26-28), I have to say, definitely, yes. When God created the human race in his own image, He gave us dominion over the earth and everything in it. We have the divine mandate, as stewards acting for the Creator, to subdue the earth and have dominion over it. This is comparable to owning a house and renting it to another family. What is their responsibility toward that house? How do you, the owner, expect them to treat it?

Years ago I wrote two study books called Tough Questions, Biblical Answers(still available from Wipf and Stock). The volume called “Part Two” deals with ethical issues related to justice and government (on the one hand) and life and death (on the other hand). The volume called “Part One” deals with ethical issues related to sexuality and marriage, and also issues related to stewardship and economics. The latter part of the latter volume has chapters titled “Work: Job or Joy?”, “Labor Strikes,” “Leisure,” “Property,” “Capitalism,” “Poverty,” and “Ecology.”

In this very last chapter, the one on “Ecology,” I discuss this whole subject of the “environmental crisis.” By this term I mean pollution of all kinds, as well as the overuse of natural resources. I am not an extremist in either direction, but I believe that every human being is under an ethical obligation to be a wise steward of our environment. My conviction is based not just on pragmatic considerations (i.e., it is to our advantage to take good care of our dwelling place), but primarily on the responsibilities that our Creator has placed upon us as stewards of His property.

We should be careful not to base our ecological concerns on the animistic view of nature that is quite common today, as expressed in very entertaining but pagan fictional stories such asFerngullyandAvatar. We should also be aware of the fact that some have ignorantly tried to blame the Bible itself for the environmental crisis. They do this by interpreting Genesis 1 as a mandate or an excuse to exploit the earth rather than to use it wisely.

(Here I will copy and adapt a few paragraphs from theTQBAvolume mentioned above:) The facts are that the earth was created to serve man, and man is above or over or superior to all the rest of the natural universe. These are clear Biblical teachings; they are not scandalous, nor are they a license for exploitation. Man, being created in the image of God, was appointed to subdue the earth and have dominion over it (Gen. 1:27, 28). There can never be equality between man and nature (despite the “Brother Earth” idea).

But—and this is a crucial point—neither can man every haveabsoluteauthority or “limitless rule” over creation. Man has dominion over the earth, but not sovereignty. God is still the Creator, and He alone is sovereign over His creation—man and nature alike. “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Ps. 24:1).
Thus man does not own the earth, nor is he free to do whatever he chooses with it. Man is only asteward. Hetendsthe earth (cultivates and keeps it—Gen. 2:15), for his own benefit to be sure, but also for the glory of God. We should treat it with care and respect not just for pragmatic reasons (so we won’t destroy ourselves) but because we as stewards will have to answer to the owner some day.

In view of our responsibilities as stewards of the earth we must recognize that itiswrong to pollute our environment, and not just for selfish reasons. Pollution is vandalism of God’s property. It is just as wrong in principle to toss a wrapper or can out a car window as to dump chemicals in a stream.

We must also see that it is wrong to waste the resources placed in our care. They are meant to be used, of course; that is why God included stocks of ores, coal, oil, trees, and animals in and upon the earth. But these resources were not meant to be abused and wasted by planned obsolescence and gluttonous consumption. In this connection we must remember the needs of future generations, and not steal from them just to satisfy our selfish craving for material luxuries (Exod. 20:15).

The bottom line is that “consumerism” is definitely an ethical issue. Godly moderation and careful consumption are matters of right and wrong. The fact that we may have the money to spend does not justify our buying every little trinket or big luxury item that catches our eye. We should buy fewer things and keep them longer. We should practice joint ownership of little-used items such as ladders and certain tools. Small things count: use both sides of writing paper; ride the bus; eat the leftovers; turn off the shower while soaping up; turn out the lights! And do these things not just to save money, but to save the earth!


by Jack Cottrell on Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 6:30pm

QUESTION: If a Christian commits suicide, does he or she automatically go to hell? Doesn’t the Bible say we must confess our sins in order for them to be forgiven? Surely suicide is a sin, but by its very nature it can be confessed only prior to the act. Is that sufficient in order to receive forgiveness for it?

ANSWER: We can certainly agree on some crucial points here: suicide (self-murder) is certainly a very serious sin, being a violation of the sixth commandment; committing any sin makes us guilty before God and worthy of hell; true repentance is definitely necessary as a condition for receiving forgiveness. When we put all these things together, it seems to require that anyone who commits suicide must go to hell. Is this conclusion Biblical?

It is commonly thought that the Roman Catholic Church takes this position, since it has traditionally denied a Catholic funeral and burial to anyone who has committed suicide. Recent Catholic writings have qualified this quite a bit, though. The website of “Catholics United for the Faith” says that the Catholic Church is more lenient on this today than it used to be. Even its past practice of denying a Catholic funeral and burial “was not a judgment on the deceased’s eternal destiny,” and today the Church “better understands the psychological disturbances that may influence a suicide and thus mitigate personal culpability” (­_view.asp?ffID=264). According to theCatechism of the Catholic Church(paragraphs 2282-83), “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary [saving] repentance.”

While I deny the possibility of repentance after death (Heb. 9:27), I believe the point about motivation is important for this issue. If suicide is an individual’s act of defiance against God and a deliberate rejection of his Lordship, as an act of unbelief this may indeed separate the Christian from the grace of God and the hope of heaven. More commonly, though, the sin of suicide is actually an act of desperation and not a deliberate rebellion against God. As with most other specific sins, it does not automatically separate one from the grace of God, even if there have been no specific repentance and confession relating to it.

In many Protestant church circles, especially within the Restoration Movement, the view that underlies the question above—the idea that suicide automatically sends its perpetrator to hell—is based on a wrong approach to a specific passage of Scripture, namely, 1 John 1:9. In the NASB this reads, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is taken to mean that the act of repentant confession of a specific sin is required for the forgiveness of that sin. (It is difficult to think that a confession made before a sin is being made out of sincere repentance, though.)

In my judgment this is a faulty understanding of 1 John 1:9, and is the result of a failure to properly understand the key doctrine of justification by faith. As Christians who live with an ever-present, on-going attitude of faith and repentance, we are in a constantstateof forgiveness. We live as forgiven people, and we do so because of our faith in Jesus, apart from the record of our good works and our sins at any particular time (Romans 3:28). I have discussed this specifically in my book on grace,Set Free. Here is what I said, with some editorial changes:  A failure to understand 1 John 1:9 is a serious roadblock to assurance of salvation. The typical approach to this text assumes that every time we commit a sin, we literally fall from grace. I.e., we lose our salvation status and re-enter the state of lostness. Even though all our previous sins remain forgiven, each time we sin anew—whether it be suicide or anything else—we become guilty for that sin and are condemned to hell for it, unless and until that sin can be forgiven. This is why 1 John 1:9 is so important, because (it is assumed) this text tells us how to get forgiveness for the sins we commit in our ongoing Christian life. If we sincerely confess that specific sin (and pray for its forgiveness), God will graciously forgive that sin and restore us to the saved state again—until we sin yet again, in which case the process must be repeated.
With this understanding of 1 John 1:9, a sincere Christian sees himself or herself as being trapped in a kind of revolving door between the domains of wrath and grace. The cycle is endless: under grace – sin – under wrath – confession – under grace – sin – under wrath – confession – under grace – sin – under wrath – confession – under grace – and on and on. This compromises assurance because it causes the Christian to live in fear that he or she will die after committing a sin and before having the inclination or opportunity to confess it and pray for forgiveness.

What is the solution to this life of fear and uncertainty? Of course, the simplest solution would be: just don’t sin! But few of us (if any) are at this point. We still struggle with sin every day. Since that is the case, we need to see that the solution is:justification by faith! Committing a sin (even suicide), in and of itself, does not separate us from the grace of God! We live our lives, day in and day out, performing good works and bad works (sins), while remaining under the gracious umbrella of justification through our faith in Jesus. Persistence in sin can cause our faith to die, but individual sins are not equivalent to apostasy. As someone has put it, those who are on a ship in the middle of the ocean can fall or jump off the ship and perish; but they can also trip and fall down on the ship, and thus hurt themselves, without falling off the ship. We are under grace, even when we sin.

Contributing to our faulty understanding of justification by faith and of 1 John 1:9 is the common false idea that baptism is for the forgiveness ofpast sins only. This idea says that in baptism our past sins are forgiven like they are being erased from a blackboard; but after that, every time we sin, each new sin is added to the board until some subsequent ritual (such as the sacrament of penance, or the Lord’s Supper, or the confession of 1 John 1:9) gets it erased. This is a seriously false understanding of baptism. Baptism is “for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38) because in that act we enter into anongoing relationshipwith Jesus Christ, a relationship that is equivalent to being constantly covered by his blood in the sense that the “robe of righteousness” (Isa. 61:10) constantly covers our “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). This covering remains secure unless we actually fall from grace by ceasing to believe in Jesus.

What, then, does 1 John 1:9 mean? We learn this by looking at its context, especially the verses that precede and follow it: “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. . . . If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (vv. 8, 10). The problem in both these verses is not sinning as such, butdenying that we have sinned. What is the opposite of denying that we have sinned? Simply put, confessing that wehavesinned. In my judgment this is the point of v. 9: if we confess that we ARE sinners, and in need of God’s forgiveness, he is faithful to CONTINUE to keep us in the state of forgiveness. This is an element of our ongoing repentance. Even if we are not conscious of any recent specific sin, each time we pray we can still confess THAT we are sinners and claim anew God’s promise of justification. (Confession of specific sins is still necessary for the sanctification process, though not for justification.)

This understanding of 1 John 1:8-10 is illustrated and confirmed by Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee is a perfect example of 1 John 1:8, 10; he was conscious only of his perceived goodness and admitted no sins at all. What about the tax collector? What specific sins did he confess? None! In simple humility he prayed, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” But he went home justified (forgiven), whereas the Pharisee did NOT!

Any person who is contemplating committing suicide needs serious help, but the false threat of guaranteed condemnation to hell is not the answer. If it happens anyway, at least those of us who are left behind can grieve without being in despair over their eternal salvation.


by Jack Cottrell on Tuesday, August 2, 2011 at 9:55am

In response to a post by a facebook friend entitled "Faith Is Not A Work," I attached the following comment:

If "works" are defined generically as "things we do," there are two kinds: obedience to law (the commands of our law code) and obedience to the gospel. Paul uses the term "works" for the former, and separates them from justification; he uses "obey the gospel" (Rom. 10:16; 2 Thess. 1:8) for what is necessary to receive salvation, including faith and confession (see context of Rom. 10:16). Faith and confession (plus repentance and baptism) are "things we do" to receive salvation. Thus they ARE works in the generic sense, but not in the Pauline sense. Jesus clearly refers to faith as a work (in the sense of something we do) in John 6:26-29. It all depends on how we define "works." Heirs of the (non-Lutheran) Reformation (both Calvinist and Arminian) have formulated the "sola fide" doctrine based on the Pauline USE of the term "works," but have not followed the Pauline DEFINITION of the term. They have assumed that he is using the term only in the generic sense of "something you do." This has resulted in untold confusion regarding the ordo salutis.

Now, for those who would like to look further into this very important subject, I refer you to my book, "Set Free: What the Bible Says About Grace" (College Press 2009), 261-272. I consider this material to be one of the most important insights I have developed in my entire career as a theologian. I have concluded that one of the greatest stumbling blocks to the true doctrine of salvation (especially the role of baptism) has been the failure to properly define the term "works." A key passage for the proper understanding is Romans 3:26-4:8. (See my commentary on Romans for an exposition thereof.)


by Jack Cottrell on Monday, August 1, 2011 at 1:48pm

QUESTION: There are some who say that Jesus was in no way a substitute for our sins because this is Calvinism. I have your book,God the Redeemer, and have read your chapter dealing with the atonement. I believe that Jesus in some way "took our place" as in Gal. 3:13 (substitution does not have to be used), but I am not a Calvinist and would fight Calvinism rigorously.

Can you offer any more help especially in locating materials that would support Jesus taking our place, but not from a Calvinistic standpoint?

ANSWER: It is true that Reformed theology (Calvinism) consistently teaches the concept of the substitutionary atonement—that Jesus died on the cross to satisfy the wrath of God in our place, as our substitute. It is also true that Reformed theology gives this doctrine some unique twists, such as limited atonement. I.e., it concludes that if Jesus truly died as someone’s substitute, that person cannot help but be saved. So if Jesus died in the place of every human being, the result would have to be universal salvation. Ergo, he must have died only for the elect.

But the idea that the substitutionary atonement, as such, is a Calvinist doctrine is seriously false. It is true that this concept was not dominant and was not well formulated until the Protestant Reformation, but it was not absent from pre-Reformation Christian thought either. One of the most famous works on the atonement was called Cur Deus Homo?[ i.e.,Why Did God Become Man?], written by the medieval theologian Anselm (1033-1109). His explanation of the atonement is called the satisfaction theory, and is not identical with the later Reformed view; but it does clearly assert that Christ satisfied the justice and wrath of God in our place.

The Arminian theologian H. Orton Wiley summarizes Anselm’s view thus: “Sin violates the divine honor, and deserves infinite punishment since God is infinite. Sin is guilt or a debt, and under the government of God, this debt must be paid. This necessity is grounded in the infinite perfections of God. Either adequate satisfaction must be provided, or vengeance must be exacted. Man cannot pay this debt, for he is not only finite, but morally bankrupt through sin. Adequate satisfaction being impossible from a being so inferior to God as man is, the Son of God became man in order to pay the debt for us. Being divine, He could pay the infinite debt; and being both human and sinless, could properly represent men. But as sinless He was not obliged to die, and owing no debt on His own account, He received as a reward of His merit, the forgiveness of our sins” (Wiley,Christian Theology, Beacon Hill Press 1952, II:235-236).
Wiley himself, a leading Wesleyan (Arminian) theologian, includes the concept of substitution in his explanation of the cross, with emphasis on the concept of propitiation (ibid., 229-230). Wiley does not like the way Reformed theology adapted Anselm’s satisfaction view into the Calvinist system, transforming it into what he calls “the Penal Satisfaction Theory” (241ff.). He himself does not abandon “the vicarious expiation,” however (as he calls it, 282ff.). Christ’s vicarious suffering includes “the two ideas of substitution and satisfaction.” Jesus is the “true Representative” of the human race, and “by His death on the cross, He fully propitiates the divine nature, and thereby expiates human sin. Propitiation, therefore, becomes the dominant idea of the atonement”; it is “the dominant note in the Wesleyan type of Arminian theology” (282-284).

Another example of a non-Calvinist who embraces the substitutionary atonement is J. C. Wenger, a leading Mennonite theologian. The Mennonites are descendants of the 16th century Anabaptists, who were the main branch of the continental Protestant Reformation that rejected the Augustinian theology of the Lutherans and Calvinists. They and their Mennonite heirs interpret sin and salvation in light of a human free will that has not been negated by the false doctrine of Total Depravity.

Like many non-Calvinists, Wenger sees the Bible as describing the atonement in several different ways, but among these, “Scripture represents the death of Jesus as substitutionary and vicarious,” as stated in Isaiah 53:4-6. “Jesus died a substitutionary and vicarious death” (Introduction to Theology, Herald Press 1954, 202-203).

Throughout the nineteenth century theological Liberalism was a-forming, beginning with Freidrich Schleiermacher (d. 1834). It was given a tremendous boost by Darwinism, and was launched into the twentieth century by such theologians as Albrecht Ritschl (d. 1889). Thus at the beginning of the twentieth century, traditional orthodox (conservative) Christian belief was under serious attack. Into the fray stepped a group of conservative believers who began to militantly defend what they called “the fundamentals,” i.e., the most basic Christian beliefs that were being denied by Liberalism, but without which Christianity is simply no longer Christianity. There are various lists of what were considered to be “the fundamentals,” but they all included the substitutionary atonement.

The important point here is that this defense of “the fundamentals” was not a Calvinist crusade, nor an Arminian enterprise, nor limited to any other narrow branch of Christian theology. The doctrines being defended as fundamental were not unique to any one group, such as Calvinists; they were doctrines shared by all Bible-believers. Perhaps the most common if not the most memorable list is the “five points of fundamentalism”: the inspiration and authority of Scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and the future visible second coming of Christ. Thus the substitutionary atonement was defended by all forms of conservative Christendom. It was not considered “just” a Calvinist belief.

The most famous polemical writing to come out of this era was a collection of short essays calledThe Fundamentals, millions of copies of which were distributed free by a couple of wealthy believers in 1909. An updated version was published in two volumes in 1958 asThe Fundamentals for Today(Kregel). One chapter on “The Atonement” was originally written by Franklin Johnson, an American Baptist (whether Calvinist or not I cannot discover); it is a thorough defense of the substitutionary atonement (II:341-349). A second chapter, “At-one-ment by Propitiation” (II:351-361) was originally written by Dyson Hague, a conservative Anglican. The latter chapter says, “Christ’s death upon the cross, both as a substitute and as the federal representative of humanity, voluntary, altruistic, vicarious, sinless, sacrificial, purposed not accidental, from the standpoint of love indescribably glorious, not only satisfied all the demands of the divine righteousness, but offered the most powerful incentive to repentance, morality, and self-sacrifice” (357).

Hague says this is “the consensus of all the churches,” i.e., that the cross is “no mere at-one-ment in the Ristschlian sense, but a real vicarious offering; a redemptive death, a reconciling death; a sin-bearing death; a sacrificial death for the guilt and sins of men. His death was the death of the divine victim. It was a satisfaction for man’s guilt. It propitiated God. It satisfied the justice of the Father” (358).

Various individuals and various theological perspectives will undoubtedly present the substitutionary atonement with different nuances, but all agree on the basic point. To say that this belief is aCalvinistdoctrine unfortunately demonstrates considerable ignorance of theology in general.


by Jack Cottrell on Thursday, July 28, 2011 at 4:06pm

QUESTION: Does 2 Corinthians 6:14 mean that Christians are not allowed to marry non-Christians?

ANSWER: The answer to this question must begin with a look at thenatureof marriage. One of the crucial aspects of marriage as described in the Bible is that it is acovenantalrelationship. We conclude this from the way the Bible often compares the husband-wife relationship with the relationship between God and his people. In fact, the relation of God to his people is often described in terms of a marriage covenant. See the following passages: Isa. 54:4-10; Jer. 2:23-25, 31-33; 3:1ff.; 31:31-33; Ezek. 16:8; Hosea 2:19-20; Eph. 5:25ff.; 2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 19:7; 21:2, 9.
The husband-wife relationship must follow this pattern (see Jer. 31:32; Ezek. 16:8-59-62; Mal. 2:14).

This covenant is a mutual vow or mutual commitment to eternal faithfulness. ATo keep a vow . . . means not to keep from breaking it, but rather to devote the rest of one=s life to discovering what the vow means, and to be willing to change and to grow accordingly.@ AThe meaning of the marriage vows finds its deepest resonance . . . in the biblical concept of covenant, in which two parties so bind themselves to one another that the simple maintenance of their relationship becomes the most important and central thing in all life, the basis from which everything else flows@ (Mike Mason,The Mystery of Marriage, 94, 105).

Can such a covenant work? Yes, if made in accordance with the specific form of Christian love calledagape. Marriage is a covenant of love (agape), the caring and self-giving love that seeks not just one’s own happiness but especially and primarily the happiness of the spouse (Eph. 5:25ff.). This is the single most important thing about marriage, and the key to faithfulness. This is true sinceagapeincludes not wanting to HURT, and what would hurt a spouse worse that unfaithfulness?

This covenantal aspect of marriage is the essence of the union that exists on the level of spirit. A covenant is a spiritual union. Can two unbelievers enter into such a covenant union? I believe so. Making a commitment, a covenant, is something human beings can do as creatures made in God’s image. Evenagapeis humanly possible as a result of this image of God within us. So, at least theoretically, two unbelievers can make a mutual commitment or covenant with one another, in the spirit ofagape. We should remember, though, that sin has corrupted the image of God within us, thus distorting those spiritual aspects within us are crucial for this kind of relationship.

It should go without saying that two believers can enter into the covenant union known as marriage, and they can do so with natural, image-of-God abilities that are in the process of being restored to what they were in the beginning (Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:9-10), thanks to the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration and continuing sanctification within us.
But what about the possibility of marriage between a believer and an unbeliever? In my judgment this is something God’s Word prohibits, because of the very nature of marriage and also because of the very nature of the Christian life as contrasted with the life of the unbeliever. I believe this is one of the main applications of Paul’s teaching in 2 Cor. 6:14ff., where he emphasizes the fact that Christians who live within God’s kingdom and God’s covenant havenothing in commonwith unbelievers.

This is a point that was emphasized throughout the Old Testament. Great emphasis was put upon the principle of separation between God’s people and Satan’s people (and ultimately, there are only two groups). See Exod. 34:12-16; Lev. 20:24-26; Deut. 12:30-31; Josh. 24:14-15; Ps. 1:1; Isa. 52:11ff.; Ezra 6:21. Within this context special attention was given to the prohibition ofintermarriagebetween Israelites and pagans. See Exod. 34:16; Deut. 7:2ff.; Josh. 23:12-13; Judges 3:5-8; 1 Kings 11:1-11; Ezra 9:1-2, 10-12; 10:2-12; Neh. 13:23-27; Mal. 2:10ff. (What about Esther? She violated this plain instruction, but was not acting under orders from God. What about Ruth? Naomi’s son violated this instruction by marrying a Moabitess, also within God’s providence but not according to his instruction.)

The key texts for our purposes are 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1 and 1 Cor. 7:39. In the former text Paul says, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Beliel, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?” Their worldviews are different, even opposite; their spiritual perspectives are different, even opposite; the foundations upon which their covenant promises would be made are different, even opposite. This is why Paul says that a widow “is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” Marriage “in the Lord” is the norm for all Christians.
When two unbelievers are married, and one is converted and the other is not, then 1 Cor. 7:12-16 applies. (On this text see John Murray’s book,Divorce, pp. 63-67.)

One of the most difficult questions in this connection is this: Who counts as an unbeliever? Sometimes the answer to this question is easy. Many years ago I had a former student write to me for advice, since one of his church members wanted to marry a Muslim and wanted him to perform the ceremony. I was surprised that he would even entertain the possibility, and proceeded to discourage him from doing so.

Given the divided state of Christendom, however, and given the widespread failure to teach and practice the Biblical “plan of salvation” as it applies to baptism, this question is not always easy to answer. Certainly someone who was sprinkled as an infant and grew up in that kind of denomination is very different from a Muslim or atheist. What shall we do in such a case? I remember hearing long ago, and it has been my policy since, to consider a person to be a Christian (in terms of 2 Cor. 6:14ff. and 1 Cor. 7:39) for the purpose of marriage, only if that person can be accepted as isas a member of your local congregation. This makes me a lot more strict than most, but I try to be consistent in all things.

This leads me to say that if it is wrong for a Christian to marry a non-Christian, then it isjust as wrongfor a minister to perform the ceremony in such a wedding. I advise all ministers to develop a Biblical policy on this issue, and to make it clear to a prospective congregation before being hired that you will not be a part of this kind of wedding. You may not get hired by some churches, but that is better than being hired and getting fired later under ugly circumstances.


by Jack Cottrell on Thursday, July 28, 2011 at 2:26pm

QUESTION: What happens to us when we die? Do believers go directly to heaven at the moment of death? What is the relation between our death, on the one hand; and Christ’s second coming, the resurrection, and the final judgment, on the other hand?

ANSWER: The answers to these questions require a lot more space than is available here. I have discussed them fully in my College Press books,The Faith Once for All(see the final chapters) andBible Prophecy and End Times. Here I can only summarize my approach to these issues.

First, a proper understanding of the afterlife requires that we accept the Bible’s clear teaching that human beings are twofold in essence, i.e., each of us is composed of a physical body and a spiritual soul. When we die, the body and the soul become separated from one another; the body itself enters the state of death, while the soul experiences death but does not itself die. Our dead bodies are usually placed in some sort of grave, which the Bible calls Sheol (OT) or Hades (NT). The crucial issue is what happens to the soul.

Though many disagree, I am convinced that at death the soul (as separated from the body) continues to exist individually, consciously, without a body, and subject to the passing of time. It is thus in a state of waiting, i.e., waiting for the end of theaion(age) of this first (old) creation and for the second coming of Christ. When Christ returns the soul is joined once more to a body in the event called the resurrection of the dead. The replacement bodies for the wicked (the lost) and for the righteous (the saved) will not be the same.

In the interim, or the intermediate state between our death and resurrection, the conscious souls of the wicked are banished to another place also called Hades (Luke 16:23), a term that specifically refers to the realm of the dead, the place where death reigns. The grave is called Hades because it is the receptacle for deadbodies, both of the lost and the saved. This temporary place inhabited by the souls of the deceased lost is also called Hades because these souls are spiritually dead.

The souls of the saved who die, however, do not go to Hades, because they are in a state of spirituallife, not spiritual death. Their temporary post-mortem home is called Paradise (Luke 23:43), where the Jews thought of themselves as being ensconced in Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22) and Christians expect to bide their pre-judgment time in the presence of the Lord Jesus (2 Cor. 5:6-8; Philp. 1:23).

Here are two things we need to know about this temporary place of waiting. First, the Paradise to which our souls are transported when we die is called “heaven,” but it is not thefinalheaven, the “new heavens and new earth,” the new universe in which we will live forever (Revelation 21 & 22). This final heaven does not even exist yet (see 2 Peter 3:8-13). Rather, the heaven to which we go at the moment of death is theangelicheaven, described by John in Revelation 4-5 (see Isaiah 6:1-7). This is part of the created invisible universe (Col. 1:16), the natural home for all angelic creatures. God has established a majestic throneroom in this angelic realm, and he presents himself there at all times to the angels in a permanent theophany (visible form). This throneroom is the center of the Paradise to which our souls are transported at the moment of death.

The second thing we need to know about this temporary place of waiting is that this divine throneroom in the angelic world is the same destinationfor both those OT saints who died before Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, and those Christian saints who die afterwards. Some think the souls of the OT saints were not yet admitted to this “heaven,” but had to wait in a sort of holding pen, called thelimbus patrem(“limbo of the fathers”) until Christ’s death and resurrection. Only then, according to this view, could they actually enter this heavenly throneroom, and they are thought of as accompanying Christ at his ascension and entrance into heaven. This is all fiction, however. The souls of OT saints entered this heaven as soon as they died; they simply did not experience the presence of Christ in that place until his ascension and enthronement. (For these pre-Christian saints, existing in “Abraham’s bosom” would have seemed to be the epitome of glory and bliss.)

Thus in this sense, the soul of every saved person has entered or will enter this angelic heaven at the moment of death, to await the end of this present era. Many have already been waiting there for a long time, and there we will wait in comfortable bliss until the time for the second coming of Jesus.

When the Father initiates the grand event we call Christ’s second coming, Jesus will arise from his place on the throne and will pass through the dimensional barrier that separates the invisible realm of angels from the visible world we inhabit. He will take with him his holy angels as well as the souls of the saved who have been patiently waiting for this moment. This is the time when the dead receive their new bodies, and the living saints are transformed into a glorified body without having to experience death.

Then in our new bodies, we (the just and the unjust alike) are all taken back into the heavenly throneroom for the event called the Final Judgment. While this is taking place, the old physical universe is being replaced by the new heavens and new earth. Once the Judgment Day has been completed, the wicked are consigned to hell in their souls as clothed in their ghastly replacement bodies, and the saved are transported in their souls as clothed in their new glorified bodies to their eternal dwelling place, the new earth surrounded by the new heavens (new universe). There we shall live “happily ever after” in the presence of the glorified Christ, and in the presence of a new theophany of God, parallel to the one he still maintains in the angelic throneroom for the benefit of the angels. See Revelation 21 and 22.


by Jack Cottrell on Wednesday, July 27, 2011 at 4:20pm

Do we have a moral obligation to believe everything the Bible teaches? I will approach this question from two directions. First, I will set forth (here) what the New Testament itselfsaysabout this; then (in a later note) I will answer the question based on thenatureof the Bible.

What does the New Testament say about our responsibility toward its teaching? Here I will survey how it uses the two basic Greek words that are usually translated as “teaching” or “doctrine.” First, let’s see what it says about thedidachē. I am not referring to the early second-century writing usually classified as one of the Apostolic Fathers. Rather, I am referring to the Greek word itself as it appears several times in the NT, which is the onlydidachēthat is relevant to this issue.

From a general and positive perspective, Acts 2:42 says that from its very beginning the church continued steadfastly in “the apostles’ teaching [didachē].” In Titus 1:9 Paul instructs us that the elders of the church must be “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching [didachē; note the definite article,theteaching].” This will enable them to instruct the church in “sound doctrine,” says Paul. In Romans 6:17 Paul thanks God that the Roman Christians “became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching [didachē] to which you were committed” [NASB, here and elsewhere, unless noted].

In all these texts thedidachēis presented as something which God expects us to receive, believe, and put into practice. In Romans 6:17 he says thedidachēis something to which we have been “committed,” or “entrusted” (NIV), or “delivered” (NKJV). Literally, we were “handed over” to this form of teaching. What does this mean? Some believe the concept comes from the world of slavery, the specific image being the occasion when a slave changes ownership and is “delivered over” to a new master. This thought is appropriate in the context, but it should be supplemented by the following idea as well. When we became God’s slaves, he delivered us over to the body of doctrine which he has revealed through his apostles and prophets, and instructed us to conform ourselves to it. This is our job as his slaves, and is in accord with the references to “righteousness” in verses 16 and 18. By shaping our minds and deeds to the pattern or mold of sound doctrine, we achieve the righteousness that is characteristic of slaves of God.
In any case the idea of moral obligation to accept and submit to thedidachēis patently clear.

The other relevant uses ofdidachēspeak negatively of false teaching, which we have a moral obligation to avoid. In Romans 16:17 Paul refers to “the teaching [didachē] which you have learned, and commands us to “keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to” those teachings, and to “turn away from them.” The writer of Hebrews commands us thus: “Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings” [didachē].” In Titus 1:9 Paul says that when elders hold fast to “the teaching,” they will then “be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.”

In these texts we find the counterpart to the above, namely, the moral obligation to be on guard against and to reject any false teaching, i.e., all doctrine that is contrary to the teachings of the Word of God.

In addition to these texts that use the worddidachē, there are several that use its synonym,didaskalia, also in such a way that we are clearly placed under a moral obligation to receive, perceive, and believe the teaching thus indicated.
Most uses ofdidaskaliaoccur in the Pastoral Epistles, where Paul exhorts Christian servants to take heed to their doctrine and praises them for faithfully teaching it. He tells Timothy that when he as a young preacher shares Paul’s teaching with his fellow Christians, he “will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine [didaskalia] which you have been following” (1 Tim. 4:6). He then exhorts Timothy to “pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching [didaskalia]; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Tim. 4:16).

In his letter to Titus, Paul reminds another young preacher that elders have the responsibility to “exhort in sound doctrine [didaskalia]” (1:9). He commands Titus himself to “speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine [didaskalia]” (2:1), and “in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine [didaskalia]” (2:7).

On the other side of the coin, in his letters Paul frequently uses this word in warning us against the dangers of false teaching. In Ephesians 4 he says that one result of becoming spiritually mature is that “we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (4:13). “As a result we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine [didaskalia], by the trickery of men, and craftiness in deceitful scheming” (4:14). In Col. 2:22 he warns us not to conform to “the commandments and teachings [didaskalia] of men.” In 1 Tim. 1:9-10 he warns us against a whole list of specific sins “and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching [didaskalia].” False teachings, he says, are “doctrines [didaskalia] of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). “If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine [didaskalia] conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing” (1 Tim. 6:3-4). Paul condemns those who “will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:3), and those who contradict it (Titus 1:9).

I do not think it is necessary to explain in detail how all of these texts about thedidachēordidaskaliawithout question put us under a moral obligation to learn, believe, and implement the teachings that God has provided for us. If this is the case, I see no alternative to saying that accepting, believing, and implementingfalseteachings is a sin. This applies to whatever subject about which God has spoken, including his instructions about the visible church.

One might ask, though, whether all these texts as cited above actually refer to theBible. Can the words didachē and didaskalia, as used in these texts, be identified with the Bible? Let us consider one other text that refers to the didaskalia, 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching [didaskalia].” In this passage Paul first (verse 15) refers to the “sacred writings” upon which Timothy was nourished in his youth, which must refer to the Old Testament. But then in verse 16 he speaks of “ALL Scripture”—which I believe must refer to the New Testament writings in addition to the OT. We should not forget that Paul refers to a statement recorded in Luke 10:7 as Scripture (1 Tim. 5:18), and that Peter refers to the writings of Paul himself as Scripture (2 Peter 3:16).

In view of Jesus’ promises to empower his apostles with the Spirit of Truth (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:12-15), we should not be reluctant to think of their teachings as “the Word of God.” This is how Paul thought of his own teaching (1 Thess. 2:13). Paul says in Eph. 2:20 that the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (i.e., the NT prophets; see 3:5), which must refer to their teaching, which we have in the form of the New Testament writings.
In a Facebook note that will follow this one, I will again ask the question, do we have a moral obligation to believe everything the Bible teaches? In that second note I will deal with some of the more theological and/or philosophical issues that are involved, but I will come to the same conclusion: whatever is contrary to the teaching of Scripture is false teaching, and it is a sin to embrace false teaching.


by Jack Cottrell on Wednesday, July 27, 2011 at 4:23pm

I wrote an earlier note called “Does It Matter What Church We Attend?” What I said in that note stirred up quite an active discussion, with some responders consigning me to some version of theological (if not literal) Tartarus. That’s OK; I don’t expect everyone to agree with my (always) completely rational and Biblical answers! I do like to avoid being misunderstood or misinterpreted, however. Thus I have chosen to follow up on that note with a two-part essay that addresses the main concern of my critics, i.e., that I pontificated that being a member of a non-Restoration Movement church is a sin. In Part One of this note I cited the Biblical teaching about sound doctrine that leads me to that conclusion. In this note (Part Two of the essay) I will build the same case from a slightly different perspective.
The main question is still this: Do we have a moral obligation to believe (and act upon) everything the Bible teaches? (On the issue of moral obligation in the intellectual sphere, see W. Jay Wood,Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous[IVP, 1998].)

Philosophically, how we answer this question all comes back to what we believe about thenatureof the Bible. Is it the Word of God, or not? By “Word of God,” I mean a clear and understandable communication, in human language, from God’s mind to our minds as human beings. Regardless of how we may explain the mechanics of such communication (in terms of revelation and inspiration), if the Bible is in any way the Word of God in the general sense described here, then my thesis is that we (all human beings) have a moral obligation to receive it as such, to make every effort to understand it, and to conform our lives to it.

This would apply toanysuch communication from God, if there should happen to be any in addition to the Bible. According to the Biblical records, in Bible times such communication came to certain individuals and to certain groups on numerous occasions. Many believe that such communication still occurs outside the Bible, whether it be (e.g.) in the form of tradition, continuing prophetic revelation, or voices in the night. I personally reject any such post-Biblical revelation, but that is a separate issue. For our purposes, whether tradition (e.g.,The Didache) is authoritative is irrelevant.

Of course, if one does not believe there is such a thing as verbal communication from God, the whole issue (“Do we have a moral obligation to believe the Bible?”) is moot. The answer to the question would be an obvious NO. But if we do believe it is such a communication from God, then the answer has to be YES, regardless of what we believe about sola Scriptura.

It is not my purpose here to attempt to establish my belief that the Bible is indeed the Word of God. That is something that is addressed by and established by a branch of study called apologetics, or Christian evidences. I teach a seminary course called “Basic Apologetics,” in which I lay out the case for this belief; but for our purposes here I will assume that the case can be made and that we can approach the Bible as the Word of God in the general sense described above.

If the Bible is indeed the Word of God, then the question arises: What are we supposed to do with it? This depends on the nature of its content. Certainly there are all kinds of writing in Scripture, such as praise to God, prayers to God, promises from God, commands to be obeyed, affirmations of truth to be believed. Here I will focus on the last two. These are encapsulated in the familiar slogan, “The Bible and the Bible alone is our only rule offaithandpractice.” To say that the Bible is our rule of faith means thatanyassertion, statement, or truth-claim that it makes is in fact true, and that we are obligated to believe it. To say that it is our rule of practice means thatanyapplicable instructions concerning conduct have absolute authority, and that we are obligated to obey them. Such instructions may be in the form of commandments, law, examples, or apostolic precedent.

We usually have no difficulty understanding how the latter (law) elements function: God commands; we obey. The biggest problem we have here is determiningwhichcommandments apply to which eras or groups. But we do understand this: if the Bibleisthe Word of God, then the applicable commands or instructionsmustbe obeyed. We have a moral obligation to do so. NOT to obey is what the Bible calls SIN (1 John 3:4).

My thesis here is that, basically, we have a parallel moral obligation to accept thetruthof everystatementin the Bible. Not to accept something—anything—affirmed in Scriptureis a sin. For example, not be accept the Biblical testimony to the deity of Christ is a sin. Not to accept its testimony concerning his virgin birth, his bodily resurrection, his second coming, etc., is a sin. Not to accept the Bible’s teaching that God is a God not only of love but also of wrath is a sin. Not to accept the Bible’s teaching about the purpose of government (as in Romans 13) is a sin. Not to accept the Bible’s teaching about gender roles is a sin.

But here the issue will always be raised, “What if we do not agree on themeaningof the relevant Biblical texts?” This is a serious question, but for our immediate purposes it is irrelevant. If the Bible is the Word of God, then we have a moral obligation to believe everything it affirms—period. The question of what it means is important, but secondary.
Still, it is a question that must now be faced. If we both agree that every affirmation in Scripture is the Word of God, that we have a moral obligation to believe it, and that not to believe it is a sin, then what happens when we disagree about the meaning of a certain affirmation? As dictated by logic, if our two understandings are contradictory, then at least one of them must be wrong. Those who have a wrong understanding and believe that wrong understanding are thereby committing a sin. Most of us understand this when we are talking about certain fundamental doctrines, such as the deity of Christ and his bodily resurrection. But then when we get down to (what are considered to be) less crucial Biblical subjects, such as gender roles and the visible church, many will change their approach altogether. Such things are relegated to “matters of opinion,” and no interpretation is considered to be wrong—and thus sinful.

But are not Biblical statements about such issues just as much the Word of God as is testimony about the deity of Christ? How, then, can our moral obligation to believe their intended meaning just disappear?

This leads me to what I believe is another fundamental fact about the nature of the Bible. If it is indeed the Word of God, then its individual statements haveone specific right meaningwhich we, as creatures made in God’s image, are capable of discerning and are intended to discern—indeed, are obligated to discern. Not to discern that meaning, and thus not to believe it and implement it, is a sin. To say that human beings are incapable of this is to say either that God has failed in his attempt to create us in his image, or that he has failed in his attempt to communicate with us.

I will now apply this to the issue that generated this discussion, i.e., the Biblical teaching about the visible church. Some of the NT teaching about the visible church is in the form of affirmations, or statements about what the church is or is intended to be; some it its teaching is in the form of commands or other types of authoritative instruction (such as examples or apostolic precedent). Sometimes the teaching is a kind of combination of these factors, in that the New Testament describes God’s plan for the church and shows how it was actually implemented by the apostles in the first few decades after Pentecost. In both the Book of Acts and in the Epistles we can see the teaching about church government (e.g., how elders and bishops are the same office, and how each congregation had a plurality of such), about church membership (e.g., how baptism by immersion was always a part of the conversion experience), and about church practices (e.g., how the Lord’s Supper was celebrated each Lord’s Day).

If the Bible is what we accept it to be—namely, the understandable Word of God—then these matters are thetrue teachings about how the visible church was set up by God via the apostles at the beginning. We have a moral obligation to accept these truths about the true nature of the visible church.

An important part of the Biblical testimony is what is called apostolic precedent. Here we must ask another question: Was God working through the apostles or not? Was their foundational work in establishing the church (as we know it in their actual teachings, and in the recorded practices sanctioned by their authoritative approval, e.g., Acts 20:7) intended to establish a pattern for the church for all times? If we believe the Spirit of Christ was truly working through them, then the answer is YES. Thus we have a moral obligation to accept the inspired record of apostolic teaching and leadership. Not to accept it is a sin.

It would thus be true, according to my understanding of the nature of the Bible, that most of the Christian world is “living in sin” on this matter. This seems to be a very harsh judgment. But let us go back to the parallel introduced earlier between believing Biblical truthandobeying Biblical law. Regarding the latter, we all agree that in an absolute sense “there is none righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10). “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). “Fall short” here is present tense; it is an ongoing shortcoming. This is why Paul declares that we are constantly justified by our ongoing faith, not by how well we live up to the requirements of our law code (Rom. 3:28).
For example, part of the NT law code is Romans 13:1, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities.” We have a moral obligation to obey this command, which means we have a moral obligation to obey every “law of the land,” including speed limit laws. Is there anyone reading this whoneverbreaks such laws? We know we should never do so, but we are careless and presumptuous, and usually don’t pay close attention to our speedometers. Here is where we must absolutely trust in Romans 3:28: that we are justified by grace through our faith in Jesus and not by how well we are obeying Romans 13:1. But we still believe that Paul’s command is authoritative, and that it is a sin to break the speed laws; and we are trying to do better.

What applies to Biblical commands also applies to Biblical truth. It is all the Word of God. But who of us even knows everything the Bible says, much lessunderstandsit in its God-intended meaning, consciouslybelievesit is true, and makes a conscious effort to put it into practice? We do indeed have a moral obligation to do all of this, but in this area Romans 3:23 is still true: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” No one has absolutely pure doctrine about any subject, including the visible church, despite our desire to do so. And we should never give up this desire for it, and our pursuit of it! But in the meantime, grace covers our unintentional (and even perhaps willful) false beliefs: we are justified by faith, not by how well we understand all aspects of Biblical teaching.

Here is the parallel: It is true that we are justified by faith, not by the absence of sin in our lives—but our sin is still sin! And it is also true that we are justified by faith, not by the absence of all false beliefs in our lives—but false beliefs are still false!

To say it another way, the grace that covers our doctrinal errors no more relieves us of the moral obligation to pursue doctrinal purity, than the grace that covers our sins relieves us of our moral obligation to pursue absolute holiness.


by Jack Cottrell on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 2:45pm

QUESTION: Is it a sin to attend a church that is not a Restoration Movement church? E.g., Baptist, Presbyterian, inter-denominational?

ANSWER: A couple of years ago (September 2009) I wrote a note explaining the difference between the visible church and the invisible church (just published in the August 2011Restoration Herald). The invisible church is the universal body of Christ, the total number of those who have obeyed the gospel and are thus in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. All who belong to the body of Christ are justified, i.e., free from the guilt and penalty of their sins. No one who is part of the invisible church is completely free from sin itself, though, i.e., completely sanctified (holy). We still live imperfect lives in this imperfect world, and are striving to become more and more holy every day.
Part of becoming more and more holy is identifying and being a member of the true visible church. The visible church is the church whose form and practices can be observed by us human beings. In its ideal form it is the church as described in the New Testament and as God wants it to be—in reference to such things as its organization, doctrine, membership, and worship.

There are many different versions of what the “true” visible church is supposed to look like, and these varied versions are often quite different in significant ways. E.g., some believe that multiple congregations are under the rule or authority of a single church official (such as a bishop—as in Methodism; or a Pope—as in Catholicism), or under an over-arching governing group (such as a presbytery—as in Presbyterianism). On the other hand, some believe that each local congregation is autonomous, i.e., it governs its own affairs and oversees its own members via its local eldership (such as Christian churches and/or churches of Christ).

Also, some believe that the true visible church should serve the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day, while others believe it can be served less often (e.g., once a month, or once a quarter). For another example, some believe that baptism should be applied to infants as a mark of their membership in the local church body, while others believe that the church’s membership should be composed only of older individuals who are able to make a conscious, believing commitment to Christ. In this latter group, some believe that water baptism, even by immersion, is nothing more than a sign of membership in the local congregation, while others believe it is the moment when God acts to bestow salvation upon the repentant believer and adds him or her to the invisible church.

How one approaches and resolves such issues as these determines what one considers to be the nature of the visible church. The question here is this: does it really matter what conclusions we reach on these issues? Does it really matter what form the visible church takes, and what practices it follows and what doctrines it teaches? Is one church as good as another—in God’s sight? How we answer these questions depends on whether we believe the Bible speaks to the various issues mentioned above. Are matters such as church government, frequency of the Lord’s Supper, the subjects of baptism, and the purpose of baptism addressed in Scripture? Does God speak on these issues?

I believe the answer is a clear YES! The Bible speaks on these and other such issues, whether we all agree or not on the answers it gives. What we believe about these aspects of the visible church is derived, rightly or wrongly, from the teaching of Scripture. And if this is so, then it absolutely DOES matter what answers we give to these questions. It means that the proper form and character of the visible church is a matter ofGod’s will. If we do not correctly understand and implement the teaching so Scripture on church government, or on the practice of the Lord’s Supper, then we are in violation of God’s will—i.e., we are guilty of sin. It is a sin to teach and follow false doctrine about anything Scripture teaches, including what it teaches about the visible church.

This means that every faithful Bible-believer must judge whether a particular denomination or local congregation is following Scripture in these matters or not. Some say, “Thou shalt not judge! (Matt. 7:1).” They do not understand that this is a prohibition against judging the eternal fate of individuals; it has nothing to do with judging the truth or falsehood of specific teachings. Titus 1:9, speaking specifically of elders, requires them to judge and teach what is sound doctrine and to warn against its opposite. This is true on all matters about which Scripture speaks, including what it says about the nature and practices of the visible church.

When compared to Scripture, then, we must conclude that some church groups and congregations are NOT the true visible church, because they have the wrong understanding of various Biblical teachings in this area. It is my judgment that the churches of the Restoration Movement (in general) are closer to the New Testament ideal for the visible church than any that can be found today. It is also my judgment that we are thus morally obligated to be a part of that particular fellowship of churches.

This brings us back to the question at hand. Is it a sin to attend a church that is not a part of the Restoration Movement fellowship? Let me clarify one thing: many local congregations today have historical roots in the Restoration Movement and still fellowship with other Restoration churches, but cannot be considered true visible churches because they have in reality abandoned some of the crucial beliefs and practices that are delineated in Scripture. Nevertheless, a church with Restoration roots will be most likely to be a true visible church.

But what about the “denominational” (Baptist, Methodist, etc.) and inter-denominational churches, as mentioned by the questioner? In my judgment, neither the Catholic church nor any Protestant denomination, as well as most inter-denominational churches, can be considered a part of the true visible church because they have significant deviations from the New Testament pattern for what God wants the church to look like. And yes, it is a sin to be a part of any group that is structured contrary to the will of God, and to support its false teachings and practices with one’s influence and offerings. We should remember, though, that one can still be saved (justified) without being completely sanctified or holy. Those who are a part of a false visible church fall short (Rom. 3:23) in the sanctification aspect of their salvation, even if they are by God’s grace justified.

I would make a distinction, though, between simply attending such a church (to use the language of the questioner), and being an active member thereof. I have attended—even preached for—worship services from many different denominations, for various reasons. But if I have a Biblical alternative, I will never become a member of, e.g., a Baptist church, or a Presbyterian church, or a Methodist church. To do so means, that I will miss the Lord’s Supper on most Sundays, and that my offerings will be used to support false teachings, e.g., about church government and baptism.
What can one do if he or she moves into an area where there are no true (Restoration) visible church congregations? One might choose the denominational church that is closest to the New Testament pattern, which may often be a Baptist or inter-denominational church. (This would be better than no church life at all—the lesser of two evils, so to speak.) Or one might consider driving a longer distance than usual to find a true visible church. (The complaint, “But there’s no church of Christ within twenty miles of where we live!” is not a good excuse!) Or, one might consider starting or helping to start a local congregation that will faithfully conform to the New Testament teaching about what the visible church ought to be.


by Jack Cottrell on Monday, July 25, 2011 at 3:59pm

QUESTION: Some say that the doctrines of Calvinism did not begin with John Calvin, nor even with Augustine (died A.D. 430). Rather, they claim that the TULIP doctrines are present throughout the writings of the church fathers from the beginning. One Calvinist who says this is Michael Horton, in an appendix to his book,Putting Amazing Back into Grace(Baker, 2002). What do you say about this?

ANSWER: I have read a large portion (not all) of the pre-Nicene, Nicene, and post-Nicene fathers, and have done so with my Calvinist and non-Calvinist sensors on full alert. I believe that my conclusion is valid, that the Calvinist TULIP doctrines originated with Augustine and thus were not present in the pre-Augustinian fathers.
I surveyed the texts cited by Horton, and I saw nothing that moves me to change my mind. It is not easy to evaluate the texts that he cites from the church fathers, since he gives no bibliographical data other than a writer’s name and an approximate date. He does not say what English translation he is using, and he seems to have made no attempt to check the translation against the original Greek or Latin version.

I decided to do some checking myself. Under the cited texts that allegedly support “unconditional election,” Horton quotes Clement of Rome, claiming that Clement’s letter was written in A.D. 69 (several decades earlier than most scholars would put it). Part of the quote says, “Seeing then that we are the special elect portion of a Holy God, let us do all things that pertain unto holiness.”

I found this in chapter 30 of Clement’s letter. The Greek says,hagiou oun meris hyparchontes poiēsōmen ta tou hagias mou panta. The fact is that there are no Greek words corresponding to “special elect” in this statement of Clement. The whole concept of election is read into this quotation. Also, we should note that the context of the statement has nothing to do with election.

Another citation from Clement, in support of perseverance of the saints (the P doctrine), is given thus by Horton: “It is the will of God that all whom He loves should partake of repentance, and so not perish with the unbelieving and impenitent. He has established it by His almighty will. But if any of those whom God wills should partake of the grace of repentance, should afterwards perish, where is His almighty will? And how is this matter settled and established by such a will of His?”

I had a very difficult time trying to find the section from which this quote supposedly comes. The closest I saw is in chapter 8. Here Clement cites several OT texts where God declares his desire for wicked Israel to repent, especially using Isaiah 1. Then Clement says, “Desiring, therefore, that all His beloved should be partakers of repentance, He has, by His almighty will, established….” The text ends here; it does not saywhatGod has established; the translation I used adds the words, “these declarations,” i.e., the OT quotations. The Greek text reads:pantas oun tous agapētous autou boulomenos metanoias metaschein estērizen to pantokratorikō boulēmati autou. The “quotation” as cited by Horton does not even come close to what the original is saying. To say that it supports “perseverance of the saints” is pure fantasy; it also ignores the context.

Another ancient document cited several times by Horton is the so-called Epistle of Barnabas, which he dates as A.D. 70 and attributes to “Paul’s sidekick” in the Book of Acts. (Few scholars, if any, agree with this.) He cites this statement from Barnabas as supporting “Human Inability” (i.e., Total Depravity): “Learn: before we believed in God, the habitation of our heart was corrupt and weak.” This translation seems to be correct, but the only thing it establishes is that “Barnabas” believed that the hearts of men aredepraved, which is not the same asTOTALdepravity. The citation thus proves nothing.

Horton says the following quote from “Barnabas” teaches Unconditional Election thus: “We are elected to hope, committed by God unto faith, appointed to salvation.” I could find this statement nowhere in the Epistle of Barnabas. But even if it were there, the description of Christians as “elected” is not Calvinism; this is fairly common NT language. The Calvinist twist is to add the wordunconditional, and there is nothing of this nature in the alleged quote which Horton attributes to Barnabas.

To cite one more quote, Horton says this statement from Barnabas shows that he believed in Irresistible Grace: “God gives repentance to us, introducing us into the incorruptible temple.” This translation seems to be correct, but again, this is saying nothing more than what is affirmed in the Bible, i.e., that God gives to us theopportunityto repent. (See my book,The Faith Once for All, pp. 199-200.) To say Barnabas is hereby affirming the Calvinist doctrine of irresistible grace not only reads too much into the statement; it also ignores the context of it.

It is extremely poor scholarship to lay out a string of quotations, as Horton does, with little documentation, with apparently no checking of the wording against the originals, and with no consideration of the contexts of the statements. It is also important to take account of the overall teachings of these writers, which will put the cited quotations into perspective. E.g., while the church fathers certainly speak of Christians as being “elect” or as being predestined to salvation, it is clear from their overall teaching about the subject that they believed God predestines according to his foreknowledge. (See my earlier Facebook note, “When Did Calvinism Begin,” published in early June 2011.)

As a theological student, when I first read the apostolic fathers, I made notations in the margins of all the passages that contradict the doctrines of Calvinism. The margins of my old Lightfoot edition are full of the letters T, U, L, I, and P, indicating statements that show that these writers did NOT believe in the five points. These are the kinds of statements that Horton’s list ignores.

20. TO JUDGE OR NOT TO JUDGE? That is the Question. 

by Lyndon Christian Church on Friday, July 15, 2011 at 5:10pm

To Judge or Not to Judge? That is the Question.

Matthew 7:1-6 (NIV)

1 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged.

2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3 "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

4 How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?

5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

6 "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.

Some reading my last post may have thought, "It seems awfully judgmental of you to say that some people don't love Jesus. How can you know what's in their heart?" This is a valid question. The most often quoted verse in the Bible appears above, "Judge not lest you be judged" (Matthew 7:1). Do Jesus' words rule out all judgments about others?

If this verse was the only verse in the Bible concerning judgments then one might come to the conclusion that all judgments about others are wrong. Indeed many people treat this as theonlyverse that speaks on judgments partly because they stop reading at the end of verse 1 not realizing that the next 5 verses complete Jesus' immediate thought on the subject. Read verses 2-6 with verse 1 and you will notice that Jesus does not say what many think He says. Instead, what Jesus says is this, "Be careful how you judge others because you will be judged the same way." In Matthew 5:7, Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy." Those who show mercy find that others are merciful with them. Those who show mercy will find that God will be merciful with them too; while those who are quick to criticize others and slow to cut others slack will find themselves in a very uncomfortable situation when they stand before God on Judgment Day (Matthew 6:12; 18:32-34)!

In verses 3-5 of Matthew 7, Jesus redirects the view of the one being critical back to the Criticizer's own shortcomings. "Why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye when you have a PLANK in your own!" Sin blinds us to our own shortcomings. Oftentimes we are critical of others when, at the same time, we have our own pressing problems with which we need to address. Not only that, but I have found that most people cannot pass their own test when it is applied to themselves. In other words, we are quick to hold others to a standard that, not only can we not meet, but we refuse to even try. Thus we want to play by a different set of more lenient rules while holding others to a standard that is much higher. When they fail, we criticize them.Thisis the height of hypocrisy, and Jesus calls it such in verse 5.

All of the previous comments leads us to original question, "It seems awfully judgmental of you to say that some people don't love Jesus. How can you know what's in their heart?" My comments above seem to rule out making judgments about others. Yet Jesus' words in verses 5 and 6 show that this is not the case. Notice that Jesus makes a judgment about critical people who want to play by a different set of rules and even puts words to His thoughts calling them "Hypocrites!" Jesus makes a judgment about certain people based on their actions. In verse 6 He calls certain people "dogs" and "pigs" and gives us a command, "Do not give what is sacred to dogs or throw your pearls before swine." Thus Jesus is commanding us to make judgments about people. In order to obey Jesus' command we must discern who are the "dogs" and "pigs" about which Jesus speaks. How do we do this? By judging people based on their actions. In Luke 6:43-45 Jesus said this:  43 "No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks."
A person's actions and words reveal his or her character. In verse 45 Jesus says that the content of our hearts is shown by our words and actions.

Yet, to comply with Jesus' teaching in our original passage, Matthew 7:1-6, we must make sure we live a life characterized by self-examination and repentance, as well as one that shows mercy and grace. Jesus told us in John 7:24 that we must make judgments but they must be "right judgments" not based merely on appearances. As Jesus' half-brother and the Apostle James wrote, "Be quick to listen and slow to speak and slow to become angry. For the wrath of man does not bring about the righteous life that God desires" (James 1:19-20). We must make judgments, even about people, in order to determine how we want to associate ourselves with certain people (i.e. do I want to date a particular person given their character and the fact that they don't go to church or just be their friend; do I want my son hanging out at the Smith's house when the police are routinely called to their address; etc. . . ). Not only is it impossible not to make judgments about others but it would be foolish not to do so (Proverbs 6:20-35).

Lastly, to claim that it is wrong to judge others is a nonsensical statement. In order to make that claim one must make a judgment: Namely that it is wrong to judge. In other words, to claim that we shouldn't judge others could be worded as follows, "In my judgment, it is wrong to judge." Such claims are self-contradictory and unlivable. Our society would fall apart if there were no judgments made about others (i.e. our legal system is based on the ability to judge others).

We must make judgments about people based on their actions using a reliable standard. God's word, the Bible, is that standard. While the social mores change regularly God's word does not. We must measure our own actions and character against God's word (James 1:22-25). We must make right judgments about others (John 7:24). We must give those in authority the freedom make right judgments as well that are both just and gracious at the same time (1 Corinthians 5:9-12; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11).

21. Every Aspect of Human Nature Is Created byJack Cottrellon Friday, July 15, 2011 at 2:10pm
After preparing my note on “Eternal Hell, Immortal Soul: How Are They Related?” I was motivated to prepare the following note on the fact that human beings are created beings in every aspect of their nature. This material is taken from my book,The Faith Once for All, chapter 6, “The Nature of Man.”

It is very important to understand that a human being is wholly a creature; both body and spirit have been created by God. The doctrine ofex nihilocreation as such is unique to the Bible; therefore the doctrine of man as a created being is unique to Scripture also. In every non-biblical world view at least a part of man is eternal. In materialistic monism all matter is eternal; man is simply one stage in the eternal chance evolution of eternal stuff. In spiritualistic monism (e.g., Hinduism) the body is usually not even regarded as real, and the spirit is a part of or is identical with the eternal divine spirit. Pagan dualism usually regards matter--and thus the body--as real but as evil and temporary, but it regards the spirit as eternal and often divine. Over against all such false doctrines the Bible affirms the full creaturehood of man. Only God is eternal, immortal, and uncreated (John 1:3; Romans 1:25; 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:16).

Despite this clear biblical affirmation, it is not uncommon for sincere Christians to naively assume that the soul or spirit is a divine spark or a little piece of God, and somehow inherently eternal and immortal and even divine. Alexander Campbell has said, "Lord, what is man? Thine own offspring, reared out of the dust of earth, inspired with a portion of thine own spirit." Thus man has "something in common with God"; there is "a divinity stirring within him" ("An Address on Colleges,"Millennial Harbinger, February 1854; College Press reprint, 25:63-64). C. C. Crawford (Survey Course in Christian Doctrine,College Press,I:142-143) has said that man's body "was a divine creation; whereas the spirit that was breathed into it was a divine gift." In Genesis 2:7 God implants a spirit in the body by "stooping down and placing His lips and nostrils to the inanimate form which he had created, and then expelling an infinitesimal portion of His very own essence into it." Stanley Sayers (“Life After Death,”Gospel Light,September 1983, p.132) says that in light of Gen 2:7 the soul must survive death because "you cannot destroy the God-part!"

Others within the broad scope of Christendom say that man was notcreateddivine but will somehowbecomedivine as the climax of the salvation process. This idea is at the heart of Mormon soteriology, and it appears occasionally in more orthodox circles. Texts such as Philippians 3:21 and 1 John 3:2, which say that in the resurrection we will be like Christ, are misapplied to his divine nature instead of to his glorifiedhumannature. Another text says that we become "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4), but this refers to our ethical oneness with God, not a sharing in the divine essence. I.e., we share hiscommunicableattributes such as holiness, love, and patience (see 1 Peter 1:15-16).

The very notion that finite creatures could ever acquire the attributes of infinity is illogical and impossible. Only the transcendent Creator-God is and can be infinite. Creatures should neither desire nor expect to "escape" their finitude, as if this were some kind of unnatural prison. Neither death nor salvation causes us to automatically take on some attribute that belongs exclusively to the infinite Creator. When we die we will not "enter eternity" in the sense that we will no longer be limited by time, nor will we "know fully" (see 1 Corinthians 13:12) by somehow becoming omniscient. We are finite now and will be finite forever.

Divinizing man, either by creation or by salvation, is a most serious false doctrine. It destroys the distinction between God and man, between Creator and creature. It puts man on the same level with God, which is the most basic temptation (Genesis 3:5). It is the height of presumption and arrogance, the epitome of sinful pride. It either debases God or over-exalts man. It destroys the uniqueness of Christ and his incarnation. Nothing of true Christianity remains. See my book,What the Bible Says About God the Creator, pp. 151-154.

To say that the spirit or soul is not divine but nevertheless is inherently immortal is not much better. This idea, too, is pagan, not biblical. It denies the full creaturehood of man and the unique eternality of God. Logically it makes man equal with God, since whatever is eternal is indeed divine: God "alone possesses immortality" (1 Timothy 6:16).
The concept of innate immortality has led to false ideas about eternal punishment. Some have said that God created hell not because divine holiness demands it but because the souls of the wicked are indestructible and have to existsomewherefor eternity. Others have reacted to this error by teaching an even more serious error. They rightly deny the necessary immortality of the soul, but they then declare that this false idea was what led some in the early church to invent the idea of eternal punishment in the first place, a doctrine which they say is not really taught in the Bible. Thus they deny eternal punishment, believing that their refutation of the "immortal soul" doctrine has removed the basis for it. Examples of this approach are Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventists, who deny not just the immortality of the soul but its very existence; and Restoration Movement writers such as Curtis Dickinson, Russell Boatman, and Edward Fudge.

It is true that because the soul is no less created than the body, the whole being is perishable and destructible. The soul is just as capable of being annihilated and returned to non-existence as the body, but this does not mean that itmustdo so. The fact is that the souldoes notpass into non-existence at death or at some later point, and this is simply God's will and plan. Though capable of perishing, the soul does not perish at physical death but continues to exist in the temporary absence of a physical body, nor is the sinner's soul annihilated along with a resurrected body after a finite period of punishment in hell. After the resurrection the reunited body and soul will exist forever either in heaven or hell, not of necessity but by God's choice.

Accepting either the divinity or the necessary immortality of the soul leads to a false contrast between soul and body, with an undue elevation of the importance of the soul as compared with the body. It leads to the idea that the soul or spirit is the only valuable part of man, the only real and authentic part, the only part that counts. It is true that the soul or spirit is relatively more important than the body, since it is the aspect of man that is in the image of God. It is also true that this present body is under the curse of sin and death and must be redeemed (Romans 8:23). But the idea that the body isby naturea temporary, unfortunate expedient, while the soul or spirit isby natureuncreated and eternal, is quite false.

22. Eternal Hell and "Immortal" Soul: How Are They Related? byJack Cottrellon Friday, July 15, 2011 at 12:25pm
QUESTION: Do you know Edward Fudge’s book,The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, now in its third edition (Cascade Books, 2011, 420 pp.; first ed., 1982)? What do you think of it?

ANSWER: Yes, but I confess that I read this book only in its first edition (1982). Like another Restoration Movement author, Russell Boatman, in his bookBeyond Death: What the Bible Says about the Hereafter(author, 1980), Fudge denies that hell involves eternal punishment for the wicked. He defends a form of annihilationism, saying that the wicked are extinguished after they have spent a just period of time in retributive suffering. How long this will last depends on the seriousness of one’s sins. Once this equitable punishment is over, the individual is annihilated.

Like many others Fudge calls this viewconditionalism, meaning that immortality (eternal existence) is conditional and that some will not meet those conditions. Fudge defines the view thus: “The term ‘conditionalist’ is used for the view that the wicked will suffer conscious punishment precisely measured by divine justice but that they finally will perish in hell so as to become totally extinct forever” (The Fire That Consumes,xvi, 1982). He grants that some texts imply “degrees of punishment in proportion to light spurned and opportunity neglected” (ibid., 190). This “period of conscious pain” does not last forever, though, for sinners “will eventually be destroyed forever, both body and soul” (ibid., 202).

I believe this is serious false doctrine, and that the Bible teaches that the suffering of those who are lost will be eternal, though not necessarily in the same degree for all. In this brief note I cannot address all that is involved in this issue, but I will discuss one of the major false premises upon which most annihilationist views are based. This is the assertion that the whole idea of an eternal hell is based on the pagan idea that the human soul is inherently immortal. Once we show from Scripture, they say, that the concept of an immortal (eternally existing and indestructible) soul is false, there is no longer any reason to believe in eternal hell.

My response to this argument is to grant that the Bible indeed does not teach that the human soul (spirit, inner man) has any kind of inherent immortality, but then to show that there isno necessary connectionbetween the soul’s inherent mortality and the issue of whether hell is temporary or eternal. I.e., the Bible does teach that hell is eternal, but this teaching in no way depends on any inherent immortality of the soul. [The following analysis contains material from my book,The Faith Once for All, 582-583.]

As I have explained here, a basic assumption of most annihilationists is that the concept of eternal suffering is dependent upon the inherent immortality of the human soul, which (I grant) is a seriously false pagan idea. But how do annihilationists apply this to the question of the eternality of hell? Specifically, they say that the one view necessarily leads to the other by the following reasoning: the belief that the soul by nature cannot not exist (i.e., is inherently immortal) requires that it spend eternitysomewhere. Since it would not be appropriate for the wicked to spend eternity in heaven, God is forced to create an eternal abode suitable for them, i.e., hell.

But, say the annihilationists, the concept of an inherently immortal soul is anti-biblical, being derived from pagan philosophy. Therefore the idea of the eternal suffering of the wicked is false. In fact, they say, if this pagan idea had not been accepted by post-biblical Christian thinkers, the idea of hell as eternal suffering would never have arisen. For example, Boatman refers to "the doctrine of the innate and irrevocable immortality of the human soul, and corollary postulate: the doctrine that the unredeemed shall be endlessly tormented in hell" (101; see 51-52). Clark Pinnock, also an annihilationist, likewise cites the unbiblical Hellenistic belief in the immortality of the soul as "the real basis of the traditional view of the nature of hell" ("The Conditional View," inFour Views of Hell,ed. W. Crockett,Zondervan 1992, p. 147).

It is true that the concept of the inherent immortality and hence indestructibility of the soul is an unbiblical, pagan idea. The soul is a created entity and is susceptible to annihilation in the same way as any other created being is. Also, it may be true that some Christian thinkers have tied this false idea of the soul to the idea of hell as eternal conscious suffering. But to conclude from this that the latter idea is therefore false is anon sequiturof the greatest magnitude. The bottom line is this: the doctrine of hell as eternal conscious suffering isin no way dependenton the false notion of an immortal soul. The souls of the wicked, along with their replacement bodies, exist foreverbecause God wills it, period. Disproving the inherent immortality of the soul in no way disproves the eternal conscious suffering of the wicked. The argument is at best irrelevant and at worst misleading.

What can we, as Christians, do to avoid giving ground to this annihilationist view? We must stop teaching the false concept that somehow the human soul possesses an inherent immortality and therefore must indeed, by its very nature, existsomewherefor eternity. We must stop ascribing divinity to the human soul, which is, like the body, a created entity and just as subject to annihilation as is the body. I.e., the soul has been createdex nihiloand thus is held in existence by God's will and power, and capable of being annihilated if God had so willed it in the beginning.The fact that the individual soul (spirit) DOES NOT go out of existence is simply because it is God’s creation-purpose that it will consciously exist forever. This is indeed a kind of immortality; but it is acquired by God’s will and gift, and is not inherent.

In other words, by virtue of creation, human beings are "immortal" only into the future, in that Godwillsus to exist for eternity future without pause or intermission. Such immortality, though, is an imparted gift and is not inherent. True immortality, by its very nature, cannot be imparted, in the same way that a created being cannot become uncreated or a finite being cannot become infinite. In fact, the body itself is included in this imparted immortality, and will exist into eternity future with an intermission between the death ofthis present body corrupted by sin and its replacement from the day of resurrection forward into eternity. And in fact, this applies even to the wicked, except their version of the eternally-future body will be unredeemed and unglorified.

The bottom line is that God alone possesses immortality as part of his very nature (1 Tim. 6:16); thus the only inherently immortal essence is God himself. If part of man's very nature is inherently immortal--cannot not exist--then part of man's nature is actually divine, a "little part of God." This would put human beings on the same metaphysical level as God.This would in essence erase the distinction between God and man, which is one of Satan’s most basic temptations.

How does this line of thinking apply to the original question of Fudge’s view that hell is the total annihilation of the lost? It grants that Fudge and others are correct up to this point, i.e., that there is no part of human nature that MUST NECESSARILY (by its very nature) continue to exist forever and is not capable of being annihilated. Thus one cannot use the alleged "immortal" nature of the soul as an argument for the eternality of hell. The flaw in the annihilationist argument, though, is thinking that the possibility that the soul CAN be annihilated is some kind of proof or argument that it WILL be annihilated for the wicked.

Also, focusing the argument on the nature of the soul overlooks the fact that the wicked will also have a resurrected (though not glorified) BODY, to which no one would attribute inherent immortality; and the just punishment for the wicked involves their bodies just as surely as it involves their souls. As far as the nature of hell is concerned, it is just as irrelevant whether the soul is mortal or "immortal" as it is whether the body is mortal or immortal. In neither case does the lack of inherent immortality determine or affect whether hell is eternal or temporary. The latter is simply a matter of God's will, which we can discern via study of Scripture.

23. "Once Saved, Always Saved" -- AGAIN! and AGAIN! and AGAIN! byJack Cottrellon Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 11:48am
The fifth point of the “five points of Calvinism”— the P in TULIP— is the Perseverance (or Preservation) of the saints, more commonly known as “once saved, always saved” (“OSAS”). This doctrine originated with Augustine (died A.D. 430) and is currently believed by millions of both Calvinists and non-Calvinists. On the other hand, those who reject OSAS as a false doctrine call attention to many Biblical texts that seem to teach or imply that believerscanlose their faith and their salvation, e.g., John 15:6; Romans 11:19-22; 1 Corinthians 9:27; Galatians 5:4; Hebrews 3:12; 6:4-8; 2 Peter 2:20-21.
How do OSAS defenders interpret such texts? They approach them in three different ways. One, such texts are said to be hypothetical only. God presents the possibility of falling away as if it could be true, in order to motivate us to holy living; but in reality it can never happen. This is how one of my professors at Westminster Seminary interpreted the whole book of Hebrews. The main flaw with such an approach is that it requires God to be deceptive at best and cruel at worst. This view simply cannot stand close scrutiny.
A second approach is that such texts do not say that a person is losing his salvation as such, but is only losing his heavenly rewards. You still get to go to heaven, but “no crown for you!” The third approach is to say that these texts are referring to persons who were not truly saved to begin with. Such persons profess faith in Jesus but are “Christians” only externally; their hearts are never truly surrendered to Jesus.
In this brief essay I will show that there is absolutely no validity to these last two explanations of persons who appear to have “fallen from grace.” I will call attention to a single English word that is used in three crucial Biblical texts relevant to this subject. This word, in my judgment, by itself completely undermines the whole false concept of OSAS. It is the simple word, “again.” The texts are Luke 15:24; Romans 11:23; and Hebrews 6:6.
The first of these texts occurs in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). This entire parable supports both the concept of a true falling from grace, and a true restoration of the fallen one. It starts with the prodigal son “alive in the Father’s house,” which is equivalent to being a true believer and member of Christ’s church. However, in the next stage the son is (spiritually) “dead in a far country,” having lost everything. He is still the father’s son, but he is a dead son. The final stage of the prodigal’s odyssey finds him “alive again in the father’s arms.” Here is what the father says when his prodigal son repents and returns home: “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (v. 24, ESV).
The key verb here is “alive again,”anazaōin the Greek. Thezaōpart of the verb means “to live, to come to life”; the prefixana- has the force of “again.” The prodigal son, who was spiritually dead, has now become alive AGAIN. This shows two things. He cannot have become aliveagainif he had not already been alive at an earlier time. Also, he cannot have become aliveagainif he were not truly dead in the interim. This one word thus exposes the fallacy of the second and third attempts to explain away the Biblical teaching on a true falling from grace, as set forth above.
The second of the “again” texts is Romans 11:23. This is in the midst of Paul’s analogy of the olive tree, used to explain the transition from the Old Covenant administration to the New Covenant administration of the people of God. The Old Covenant began with its Abrahamic roots and grew into a tree, the branches of which were individuals of the Jewish nation. With the coming of the Messiah, the makeup of the tree was significantly altered as it was transformed into the New Covenant Church. Any of the original branches (individual Jews) who refused to believe in Jesus as the Messiah were broken off of the tree because of their unbelief (vv. 17-20). Any individual Gentiles (branches from wild olive trees) who believed in Jesus were grafted into the now-transformed tree; but Paul warns them that they too will be broken off if they cease to believe (vv. 17-22).
But what about the once-believing Jews who had been broken off because of their unbelief? “And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again” (v. 23, NASB). Here the word “again” is the Greek wordpalin,the standard word for “again, once more, anew.” What does this imply? It shows first that these fallen, broken-off Jews cannot be grafted in AGAIN if they had not been a part of the tree in the first place. Thus the argument, “They were not really saved to begin with,” is shown to be false. Also, it shows that these fallen Jews were really fallen (broken off, separated from the tree), else the word “again” would not apply. Thus the argument, “They were not really lost; they had just lost out on their rewards,” is also shown to be false.
The third “again” text is from the crucial passage in Hebrews 6:4-8. Of course, the entire book of Hebrews presupposes the possibility of giving up one’s faith and falling from grace; the letter seems to be written for the express purpose of persuading some Hebrews (Jews) who had been converted to Christianity from changing their minds and returning to their original state. The passage at hand (6:4-8) shows what a terrible mistake this would be. Verses 4-6 specifically say, “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame” (NASB).
For our purposes the key word again is “again” (Greek,palin) from verse 6, where it is said that for those who “have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.” Is the inspired author here talking about persons who were saved to begin with? He actually goes to an extreme in vv. 4-5 to show that this is so; the descriptions given here can by no stretch of the imagination apply to unbelievers who are only pretending to believe. The statement in verse 6 then makes this even more clear. When the author speaks of renewing them AGAIN to repentance, this means that at one time they would have been in a state of repentance, which is the mind-set of a saved person. Thus they were truly once saved. Also, they could not be REnewed (anakainizō,“to renew, to restore”) AGAIN to repentance unless they had in the interim NOT been in a state of repentance. But this would mean that, after having once repented, they abandoned that repentance and thus became lost.
I believe it is clear that the use of the word “again” in these three texts is a death blow to the false notion of “once saved, always saved.”
[P.S. Can we say, in view of the Greek word in the last two of these three texts, that it is PALIN TO THE RESCUE?]

24. The Paradox of Prayer 

by Jack Cottrellon Monday, June 13, 2011 at 3:20pm


THE PARADOX: If God can do whatever He chooses, and if He really loves us, why doesn’t He answer all of our prayers? Here I will comment on James 5:13-18, and will use this text to help resolve the paradox of prayer.


Verse13 – “Suffering” means any time things are going bad for you in any way. “Cheerful” means any time things are looking good for you in any way. In either case, we should TALK TO GOD about it – either in petition or in praise.

Verse14 – This is very important: the word “sick” can refer tophysical illnessorspiritual weakness. James has BOTH in mind. When elders are called, they first apply oil to the sick person, for medicinal purposes (Isa. 1:6; Luke 10:34; Mark 6:13) and perhaps a symbolic purpose, representing God’s blessing. Themainthing elders do in this situation is pray over the sick, for their healing.

Verse15 – The word for “restore” is the usual word for “save.” Sometimes it means “to heal aphysicallysick person.” But—and this is very important—sometimes it refers to salvation from SINS (see 5:20). There are two kinds of restoration: being “raised up” from the physical illness, and being forgiven of sins.

Verse16 – As in v. 15, the word used here for “healed” can refer to physical healing, OR to spiritual healing from sins (for the latter, see John 12:40; Acts 28:27; 1 Peter 2:24). Sometimes there is a connection between physical sickness and sinful deeds; thus confession of sins is necessary for physical healing.

Verses17-18 – Elijah is an OT hero who prayed some mighty prayers: that God would raise a dead boy to life (1 Kgs 17:22), that God would send fire from heaven to consume an offering (1 Kgs 18:36ff.), that God would stop and start rain in Israel (1 Kgs 17, 18). Why isElijahcitedas an example for us? After all, he was a prophet and a miracle-worker, and we are not! Answer: because he was still JUST A MAN. He had no more inherent power than you or I. The answers to his prayers came from GOD.

25. PART TWO. APPLICATION TO OUR PRAYER LIFE:There are three kinds of prayer.

I. The first kind of prayer is prayers God will NEVER answer. These are prayers contrary to hisnature,and prayers contrary to hispurposes.
A. Prayers contrary to God’s nature, contrary to WHO GOD IS. For example, God is a rational, logical being. He will not answer a prayer to do something that contradicts logic, e.g., a prayer to make a square circle. For another example, it is God’s nature to exist on a time line, with a past and a future. For God, the past is past and the future is future. Thus he will never answer prayers to change the past. Also, God is aholybeing; he cannot do evil. Thus he will not answer prayers that make it easy for us to sin.
B. Prayers contrary to His purposes. Here are three such purposes:
1. E.g., his purpose of CREATION, which includes his purpose of creating beings with free will. When God created us with free will, it was his purpose to make our relationship with him depend on our own free-will choices. Thus, God will NOT answer prayers that require him to violate our free will. Specifically, he will never answer our prayers for the lost that require him toforceorcausea sinner to believe. See Matt. 23:37. Of course, God can and will do all sorts of things thatinfluencea lost person toward faith, without pushing him over the line. So it is still valid to pray for the lost. But in the end, accepting Christ must be the lost person’s own free choice.
2. E.g., his purpose of REDEMPTION. He will never answer a prayer that interferes with his plan to save us from sin and restore us to fellowship with himself (Acts 2:23)—even if that prayer is prayed by Jesus himself (Luke 22:42)!
3. E.g., his purpose of placing the physical world under a CURSE. Once sin entered the world, it was God’s purpose to put a curse upon the entire physical creation: see Genesis 3, and Romans 8:18-22. This curse is summed up in the word DEATH.
a. Christ has laid the groundwork for removing this curse on the physical world, but it will not actually be done until the second coming, via the resurrection of our bodies and the making of the new heavens and new earth.
b. Sickness and death are not natural for human beings, but they are a part of the world as we know it: FALLEN and CURSED.
c. This is why God will not answer prayers that remove this curse ahead of time. (E.g., see Heb. 9:27.) So there is no need to pray that we will NEVER get sick, get old, or die.
d. God may give TEMPORARY relief from the curse: he may heal sickness, ease pain, postpone death, protect from storms. Obviously he does this in answer to some prayers.
e. But note: these areexceptionsto the general purpose of the curse, and we cannot complain if our prayers in this area are not answered. James 5 should be read in this light.
f. Living in this fallen/cursed world is like living on a hillside down which is flowing toward us a steady sea of volcanic lava. We can pray for God to enable us to endure it, or temporarily avoid it, but ultimately it will engulf us. This is part of the fruit of sin.

II. A second kind of prayer is prayers God MAY or MAY NOT answer, according to his choice. [Let us be assured that God has complete sovereignty over the laws of nature. He can “tweak” or manipulate them (as with the weather); he can even suspend or bypass them (as with miracles). Thus:]

A. God can and does sometimes “tweak” the laws of nature in answer to our prayers, so we should always pray. He can cause people to DIE, if he has reason to do so (see 2 Sam. 12). He can RAISE people from the dead, if he has a reason to do so, e.g., Elijah and the widow’s son; Jesus and Lazarus. He can also make sick people well (as King Hezekiah, Isaiah 38; Epaphroditus, Phil. 2:27). Remember: sickness and death are the essence of the curse upon the world because of sin. This curse has beenreversedby the death and resurrection of Jesus, nevertheless it will not beremoveduntil his second coming. BUT – in individual cases – God CAN and sometimes does intervene, and heals, or eases pain, or slows down a killer disease, or gives new insight to doctors, or gives inner peace. Thus we should ALWAYS pray for God to thus intervene. This is one point James 5 is making: the prayer of faith will restore the sick! Sometimes God will answer such prayers, giving temporary and exceptional relief from the curse; so we should never cease offering them up to him.
B. But here is “the paradox of prayer” that continues to haunt us: Even though God is all-powerful and truly loves us, sometimes he will decide NOT to answer such prayers. Why not? Because God always sees abigger picturethan we do, and he knows of an ultimate good that will result from allowing the present course to continue. In a sense it is the same reason why loving parents, even those with unlimited means, do not always grant every request of their children. As the old TV show title rightly said, “Father knows best!” And our heavenly Father knows best of all, since he is indeed all-knowing and all-wise. Thus, sometimes, in His infinite wisdom, God knows that a BETTER purpose will be accomplished by NOT answering our prayers; so we must trust His wisdom.
1. Elijah prayed for God to take his life (1 Kgs 19:4), but God did not answer this prayer!
2. Paul prayed for God to remove his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7-9), but God did not answer this prayer!
3. Garth Brooks has it right: “Sometimes I thank God, for unanswered prayers.”
4. The bottom line is: we must trust the wisdom of God, and trust his promise of Romans 8:28. Thus when we pray, we must always say, “If the Lord wills” (James 4:15).

III. The third kind of prayer is prayers God will ALWAYS answer. Specifically, God always answers asinner’sprayer for personalsalvation.
A. Remember: James is writing about not just physical sickness, but also about the spiritual sickness of sin. The prayers he is talking about are not just prayers for the healing of physical sickness—which God may or may not answer. But he is also talking about prayers for salvation from sin – which God willalwaysanswer when they come from a heart of sincere repentance and faith.
B. God has ALWAYS been willing to answer this prayer: “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” See Joel 2:32; Romans 10:13; Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21.
C. Ananias said to Saul of Tarsus: “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). This “calling on his name” in Christian baptism is the only true and Biblical “sinner’s prayer.”
D. If you are not a Christian, you can pray this prayer RIGHT NOW, and you can SEE it answered with your own eyes, when you meet Jesus in Christian baptism! 1 Peter 3:21 says thatbaptism now saves you, not by washing dirt off your body, but because it is anappeal to God– a prayer to God, a calling upon the name of God – for forgiveness of your sins, and therefore for a good conscience before him!
E.. If you are not yet saved, I guarantee you that there are many people praying for you and for your salvation right now! But God cannot answer those prayers against your own free will. The only prayer for YOUR salvation that God can answer is YOURS. Pray it now!

26. WHEN DID CALVINISM BEGIN? byJack Cottrellon Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 10:58am
QUESTION: I have a question about the historical nature of Calvinism. One of my points with my Calvinist friends has been that you really don't see the doctrines of T-U-L-I-P until Augustine. To me that is compelling stuff. If Paul meant total depravity and all that the way Calvinists believe it, then you would think you would find that in the early church fathers. Do you find that argument compelling? I recently read a blog that basically said the ideas of Calvinism are all throughout the early church fathers. What do you think?

ANSWER: You are definitely correct. None of the five points was present in Christendom until Augustine. Total depravity and its negation of free will are the keystone doctrines of "Calvinism," being the logical starting point for the other four points. I have studied this quite a bit, and have found that the pre-Augustinian church fathers taught the opposite of the five points. Augustine created this system. I think this is a very important point.

I have discussed this briefly in my essay, "The Classic Arminian View of Election," in the book,Perspectives on Election: Five Views, ed. Chad Brand (Broadman & Holman, 2006), pp. 93ff. What follows is from those pages. In accordance with the subject of this book, my comments are focused on the doctrine of predestination.

The classic Arminian view of predestination, in essence, says that the omniscient God foreknew all who would of their own free choice trust in his saving grace; and on the basis of that foreknowledge he predestined them to eternal life. He likewise foreknew all who would not trust him for salvation, and justly predestined them to eternal condemnation. Though this is called "the Arminian view," it has actually been present in Christian thought almost from the beginning.

Philip Schaff observes that up until Augustine, all the Greek fathers "had only taught a conditional predestination, which they made dependent on the foreknowledge of the free acts of men."[1] Some second-century fathers acknowledged God's foreknowledge,[2] with "The Shepherd of Hermas" relating it to predestination in a general way. In explaining why all do not repent, he says that to those whose hearts God "saw were about to become pure, and who were about to serve him with all their heart, he gave repentance; but to those whose deceit and wickedness he saw, who were about to repent hypocritically, he did not give repentance."[3] At about the same time Justin Martyr speaks of the end times as the time when "the number of those who are foreknown by Him as good and virtuous is complete."[4] Equating Scripture with the mind of God, Justin says, "But if the word of God foretells that some angels and men shall be certainly punished, it did so because it foreknew that they would be unchangeably [wicked], but not because God had created them so."[5]

In the third century A.D. Origen strongly defends God's foreknowledge in reference to predictive prophecy, saying that it does not affect free will since it is not causative and implies only the simple futurity of an event, not its necessity.[6] He says that Romans 8:29 shows "that those whom God foreknew would become the kind to conform themselves to Christ by their sufferings, he even predestined them to be conformed and similar to his image and glory. Therefore there precedes a foreknowledge of them, through which is known what effort and virtue they will possess in themselves, and thus predestination follows, yet foreknowledge should not be considered the cause of predestination."[7]

Fourth-century writers affirming this view include Ambrosiaster, who says, "Those who are called according to the promise are those whom God knew would believe in the future."[8] Concerning Jacob and Esau in Romans 9:11 Ambrosiaster says, "Therefore, knowing what each of them would become, God said:The younger will be worthy and the elder unworthy. In his foreknowledge he chose the one and rejected the other."[9] Also, "Those whom God foreknew would believe in him he chose to receive the promises."[10] Another fourth-century writer, Diodore of Tarsus, says God does not show mercy to one and harden another "by accident, for it was according to the power of his foreknowledge that he gave to each one his due."[11]

As Harry Buis notes,[12] even Augustine in his earlier writing shared this thinking before he arrived at what would become known as the Calvinist view. Pelagius and his disciples continued to emphasize the predestination-by-foreknowledge view. Pelagius says, "Those whom God knew in advance would believe, he called."[13] He says Romans 9:15 means, "I will have mercy on him whom I have foreknown will be able to deserve compassion."[14] In the years following the rift between Augustine and Pelagius, the semi-Pelagians rejected Augustine's new deterministic view of predestination and continued to emphasize "a predestination to salvation conditioned on the foreknowledge of faith."[15] For example, John Cassian taught that "God's predestination must be in the light of what He foresees is going to be the quality of our behaviour," as Kelly summarizes it.[16] Commenting on Romans 8:29-30 Theodoret of Cyr (d. 466) says, "God did not simply predestine; he predestined those whom he foreknew." I.e., "those whose intention God foreknew he predestined from the beginning."[17]

[1]Philip Schaff,History of the Christian Church, vol. III,Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), 852.

[2]See "An Ancient Christian Sermon Commonly Known as Second Clement," 9:9, inThe Apostolic Fathers, 2nd edition, tr. J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, ed. and rev. Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), 72: "For he is the one who knows everything beforehand . . . ." The same language is found in "The Shepherd of Hermas," Mandate 4.3.4 (The Apostolic Fathers, 219).

[3]"The Shepherd of Hermas," Similitude 8.6.2 (The Apostolic Fathers, 257).

[4]Justin Martyr, "First Apology," 45,The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I,The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913), 178.

[5]Justin Martyr, "Dialogue with Trypho," 141 (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, I:270).

[6]Origen, "Against Celsus," II.xx,The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. IV,Fathers of the Third Century, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913),440.

[7]Origen,Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Books 1-5, tr. Thomas P. Scheck, vol. 103,The Fathers of the Church(Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America, 2001), 65-66.

[8]Ambrosiaster,Commentary on Paul's Epistles, cited inAncient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament, vol. IV,Romans, ed. Gerald Bray (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998), 233.

[9]Ibid., 250.

[10]Ibid., 235.

[11]Diodore,Pauline Commentary from the Greek Church, in Bray, 261.

[12]Harry Buis,Historic Protestantism and Predestination(Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1958), 9.

[13]Pelagius,Pelagius's Commentary on Romans, in Bray, 237.

[14]Ibid., 255.

[15]Schaff,History, III:858.

[16]J. N. D. Kelly,Early Christian Doctrines, 2nd edition (New York: Harper and Row, 1960), 371.

[17]Theodoret of Cyr,Interpretation of the Letter to the Romans, in Bray, 236-237.


by Jack Cottrellon Friday, June 3, 2011 at 12:07pm

QUESTION: Can you explain “imparted righteousness”?

ANSWER: The real issue here is the distinction between imparted and imputed righteousness, and their relation to salvation, especially as this relates to the definition of justification. This is important because the Bible pictures sinners as being saved by “the righteousness of God” (Rom. 1:17; 3:21-22; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9). I.e., God saves us by transferring his own righteousness to us in some way—by imparting it, or imputing it, or both.

What is “righteousness” as such? Most fundamentally, righteousness means “conformity to a norm,” i.e., to whatever norm is appropriate for that particular entity. Regarding human beings, the norm to which we are supposed to conform is God’s law. To be “righteous” thus means tosatisfy the requirements of the law. Here it is important to see that the law has two parts: commandments and penalties. Thus we as human beings can be righteous in one of two ways: we can satisfy the commandments of the law (=active righteousness), or we can satisfy the penalty of the law (=passive righteousness). One can acquire heaven by the former through perfect obedience to all the applicable commandments of the law. But if we fail to conform to the law in even one of its commands (James 2:10), we then must be “right with the law” (i.e., righteous) by satisfying its penalty, which is hell.

How is this related to “the righteousness of God”? Is there a norm to which God must conform in order to be righteous? In fact, there is, and here is how it works: God is perfectly righteous because at all times his decisions and deeds are in perfect conformity with hisnature. His own nature is the norm for his actions, and he never acts contrary to his nature. He is always faithful and true to himself, which includes a complete faithfulness to his WORD. Part of his Word is his law, including both its commandments and its warnings. God’s perfect righteousness includes the fact that he will always uphold the integrity of the law he has applied to us as his creatures.

In other words, the RIGHTEOUS GOD will always make sure that the requirements of his law are satisfied. God’s own righteousness is glorified when we, his creatures, satisfy the commands of his law. But if we sin (i.e., disobey the law’s commands), God’s righteousness is still satisfied through the application of the law’s penalty (hell) to us as lawbreakers. The problem for God is that ALL human beings are sinners (Rom. 3:10, 23); thus to maintain his own righteousness he must condemn all of us to hell. But he does not want to do this; he created human beings for the very purpose of having eternal fellowship with them. So he has a dilemma: how can he save at least some human beings from the righteous consequences of their sins, and at the same time maintain his own righteousness by upholding the integrity of his law?

The answer is that he transfers his own righteousness to us; and he does this in two ways. These two ways correspond to the two parts of the “double cure” of salvation: justification (on the one hand), and regeneration/sanctification (on the other). Here is where the termsimpartingandimputingenter the picture. Godimpartsrighteousness to us by giving us enabling grace, i.e., by giving us the moral power to obey the law’s commands through his work of regeneration and sanctification. When God’s grace empowers us to live a holy life, this holiness is regarded as having been imparted to us by God because it is his power working within us that enables us to produce it (Phil 2:13).

The imputation of righteousness is very different. Godimputesrighteousness to us by “doctoring the books,” so to speak. As individuals we can think of our lives as being represented before God by a journal that details all of our deeds, both good and bad, and which keeps a running tally of our “account” in terms of what we owe to God. Once even one sin (James 2:10) is entered into this journal, it is recorded that we owe to God the penalty of eternity in hell because of our sin. No good deed that we do is able to counteract this debt, since we already owe to God every act of obedience that we can perform (Luke 17:10). Thus every time we sin, the debt of eternal punishment just gets more intense, with no relief in sight.

So how can any of us be saved? Imputed righteousness to the rescue! Jesus came and lived a perfect life so that he personally would not owe to the Father eternity in hell. This prepared him to step into our shoes, and accept the penalty of eternal hell in our place, or pay the debt of eternal punishment for us. This is his work of propitiation, which is the heart of the substitutionary atonement. For those of us (any sinner) who trust God’s promises and obey the gospel, God transfers Jesus’ payment of the eternal penalty for sin to our account, thus canceling the sin-debt that we owe. This is the essence of imputation: the transfer of Jesus’ satisfaction of the law’s penalty (i.e., God’s passive righteousness) to our journal-account, so that his righteousness is counted as our own. (“Imputation” is actually a bookkeeping term.)

This is the basis for the heart of the grace given to us in the moment of salvation, namely, our justification (which is equivalent to forgiveness of sins). Justification is the declaration of God, in his role as Judge, that we are considered righteous before him, in the sense that he counts our penalty as having already been paid. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1) is the essence of justification. To be justified is to have the Judge make this pronouncement over you: “NO PENALTY FOR YOU!” He does this solely on the basis of imputed righteousness.

Does this mean that imparted righteousness is irrelevant? Not at all! The key here is the distinction between the two parts of the double cure. It is true thatjustificationis received ONLY on the basis ofimputedrighteousness (i.e., the blood of Christ). We are not justified by imparted righteousness (which is basically the same as our works). However, there is more to salvation than being justified (forgiven); there is also the change in our spiritual nature called regeneration (a one-time work of the Holy Spirit in baptism) and sanctification (the ongoing pursuit of holy living through the power of the indwelling Spirit). The Spirit’s work of regeneration and sanctification is the essence of imparted righteousness.


by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, June 2, 2011 at 5:41pm

QUESTION: Did Adam and Eve, in spite of disobeying the divine law, enter heaven?

ANSWER: Let’s take this question a step at a time. First, what heaven are we talking about here? There are at least four kinds mentioned in the Bible. One is the “heavens above,” into which astronauts have entered; but this is probably not the one the inquirer means. Another is the divine heaven, equivalent to the very transcendent essence of God; but no onecanenter this “unapproachable light” (1 Tim. 6:16). A third heaven does not exist yet, namely, the final heaven that will be the eternal dwelling place of the saved. This is actually the new earth segment of the “new heavens and new earth,” which will be brought into existence during the time of the final Judgment. No one enters this heaven until the Judgment is concluded (Rev. 21:1ff.).

The other kind of heaven is what I call the angelic heaven, i.e., the divine throne-room segment of the invisible (angelic) universe (Col. 1:16) in which God presents himself in a perpetual theophany (himself in human-like form, seated on a throne) to his angelic hosts. This is the heaven John entered in Revelation 4:1; it is the heaven into which the souls of the redeemed enter at the moment of their death when their souls are separated from their bodies. The souls of the redeemed reside here until Judgment Day, after which they enter their final heavenly home, the new earth.

So, if Adam and Even at their deaths entered any kind of heaven, it would have been this angelic heaven.

This leads me to ask, though, exactly why the inquirer asked this question. For some, the problem would be: did Adam and Eve enter heaven when they died, or did they have to enter a kind of “holding pen” (sometimes called thelimbus patrem, or limbo of the fathers) and WAIT until Christ died for their sins before they could enter the angelic heaven? Some think thatno onefrom the OT period actually entered into heaven until Jesus literally, historically died on the cross, because they believe that God could not actually forgive their sins until Jesus paid the price for them on Calvary.

If this is the point of the question, my answer would be YES, they entered heaven when they died. The idea that God could not forgive sins prior to the cross is pure fiction. The reality of Christ’s sacrificial atonement was an irrevocable plan of God (Acts 2:23), and God was already distributing its sure benefits from the very beginning of sin. In Paul’s writings, the “poster boy” for justification (i.e., forgiveness) is Abraham (see Romans 4). He is unassailable proof that the souls of the redeemed who died before the cross were fully saved. Thus we have every reason to think that the souls of Adam and Eve (if they were saved at all) entered into the heavenly throne room as soon as they died.

But maybe this is the question: Do we have reason to believe that Adam and Eveweresaved at all, given the fact that they disobeyed God’s command not to eat of the tree of knowledge? My answer is, first of all, that we cannot put ourselves in the place of the Judge; God alone makes this kind of decision. Second, there is no record anywhere in Scripture that they received salvation; so if we think of them as saved, we are definitely making an assumption. On the other hand, there is no Biblical reason to think they were lost, either. Third, the way the question is worded, there is the suggestion that the very fact Adam and Eve disobeyed the divine command makes them unworthy and undeserving of salvation. How can they enter heaven, if they disobeyed God’s command?

But if this is the reasoning behind the question, would we not have to exclude everyone from heaven? Yes, Adam and Eve disobeyed God—but so has every other human being who has ever lived (except Jesus): “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23)! To think that their disobedience disqualified them from heaven condemns all the rest of us, too!

My suspicion, though, is that the inquirer knows that all have sinned. So why should Adam and Eve’s situation be different from ours today? I’m thinking that what raises this question in the inquirer’s mind is the common but erroneous idea that no sinner can be saved without grace, and grace did not begin until Jesus died on the cross. Yes, Adam and Eve sinned. Yes, sinners are unworthy of salvation. Yes, a sinner can enter heaven only through the grace of God. But was God actually distributing his grace in the era before the cross?

Many have decided that he was not. For example, the widely-held belief called dispensationalism originally taught that only the church age is the age of grace. A variation of this became popular in the Restoration Movement. It is found, for example, in the venerable study book calledTraining for Service, published by Standard Publishing. Lesson 6 is about “Three Dispensations,” or three ways God deals with mankind. The Patriarchal dispensation is the “starlight dispensation,” the dispensation of promise. The Jewish or Mosaic dispensation is the “moonlight dispensation,” the dispensation of law. The Christian dispensation is the “sunlight dispensation,” the dispensation of grace. Grace begins to be given in the third or Christian dispensation. “The earthly life and work of Jesus laid the foundation for a new dispensation. His death opened the way for the forgiveness of sins. . . . God now dispenses or gives salvation and blessing by His grace, not because we deserve them. . . . TheChristiandispensation is called thedispensation of gracebecause Christians rely on God’s grace for their salvation” (pp. 32-33).

This suggests that the distinction between law and grace is a matter of historical sequence, with salvation by law applying to the OT era or Mosaic dispensation, and salvation by grace applying only to the New Covenant era or Christian dispensation. I cannot emphasize strongly enough just how WRONG this idea is, and how critical a hindrance it is to a right understanding of grace.

Pay attention: grace did notreplacelaw as a way of salvation. Both have existedside by sideever since sin came into the world. Even if both have not been known or known clearly by everyone, these two ways of salvation have been present since Adam and Eve, throughout the OT era and into this New Covenant age. Today we have a more complete understanding of grace than did OT saints, but here are the facts: The law system (entering heaven on the basis of law-keeping) has been in existence since the Garden of Eden and still exists today, but NO ONE—beforeChrist orafterChrist—has ever been or ever will be saved by law, by law-keeping, or by the law system. The particular lawcodethat any individual has been under or is under is completely irrelevant to the point I am making here.

Also—and here is the point many have not understood—the grace system or way of salvation has been in existence since the Garden of Eden, and ANY pre-Pentecost or post-Pentecost person who has been saved,has been saved by grace. If Adam and Eve were saved, they were saved by grace—in spite of their law breaking. The same applies to Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, and every other OT saint; it also applies to every one of us in the NT era who enters heaven.

So the bottom-line answer to the question is YES. Assuming they were saved at all, Adam and Eve entered the divine throne room into the presence of God to await the final Judgment and their entrance into the new heavens and new earth, in spite of their disobedience to God’s law. I.e., they are no different from any of the rest of us. They were justified (forgiven) by faith, not by how well they obeyed their law code.


by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, June 2, 2011 at 2:24pm

QUESTION: What is the salvation status of the “Pious Unimmersed”?

ANSWER: The question of the salvation status of the pious unimmersed has been a mind-boggling and heart-wrenching issue in the Restoration Movement since its beginning. The reason this question arose was that most of Protestantism since the days of the Reformation had abandoned the Biblical view of baptism as a salvation event and had adopted Huldreich Zwingli’s newly-minted concept of baptism as a visible sign of a salvation status already received. The early Restoration leaders, though, recognized that Zwingli’s new view was not the Biblical view, and for the most part they began to restore the view that baptism by immersion is an integral part of the way in which the sinner receives salvation.

Then as now, whenever we present immersion as a salvation event, we raise the question, “What about those faithful members of denominational groups who have never been Biblically baptized? Are they saved in spite of their failure to obey this aspect of the gospel, or are we saying that they are lost unless they are baptized properly?” In other words, “What is the salvation status of the pious unimmersed?” Below is a summary of how I answer this question.

First of all, we must recognize that the Bible, not church history, is the only authoritative source for our knowledge of the way of salvation and our knowledge of how baptism fits into that process. And the Biblical teaching is this: from Pentecost onward, God’s RULE has been that he bestows the double of cure of grace upon believing, repentant sinners in the act of baptism (immersion). This is what Christendom did in fact believe and teach for the first 1,500 years of its existence. It was not until the Zwinglian innovation of 1523-1525 that a revolution in the understanding and practice of baptism occurred.

If it is the RULE that God bestows grace in the act of baptism, then if he bestows this gift upon some at other times, this would be an exception to the rule. In such a case the exception would be something that only God knows about and something that only he has the right to grant. As a church, our responsibility is to believe and to preach the RULE, not a possible exception.

So what does this say about the salvation status of the “unimmersed,” as we are accustomed to calling them? Here we must draw a distinction between whether they are NOW in a saved state, and whether they will have eternal life in heaven following the Day of Judgment. I believe that in the Day of Judgment, God will not hold anyone accountable for a RULE (command, law) IF that person was truly unable to know it. “Where there is no law, there is also no violation” or transgression (Rom. 4:15). Among other things this must mean “where there is no ability to KNOW the law.” I take this as a general principle that applies not only to the moral law and its law commands, but also to obedience to the gospel commands. I also take it that this is the basic principle according to which God will judge every individual on the Judgment Day.

Someone has said it this way, that in the final Judgment God will judge everyone according to the principle of “conscientious response to available light.” Striving to live conscientiously in accordance with the light of the revelation that is available is what it means to be PIOUS; it is the essence of piety.

Here are two things to remember about this judgment principle. First, ONLY the omniscient God can apply the principle, since only the omniscient God truly knows what “light” of revelation is available to any individual, and since only the omniscient God truly knows if a person’s response to that light is really “conscientious.” Second, this is a principle that God will apply only in the future, only on Judgment Day.

As far as we fallible human beings are concerned in the here and now, we cannot judge any individual’s salvation status according to this principle. We simply have no way of knowing how much light one has, and how conscientious he or she is. Thus we cannot say, one way or the other, whether this or that individual will ultimately be in heaven. This is why it is neither our responsibility nor our ability to judgepeoplein reference to their ultimate salvation. What we CAN know, however, is what the Bible teaches about salvation and about obedience to the gospel, and thus it IS our job to judge truedoctrineand to judge whether others are teaching and following that true doctrine (see Titus 1:9). From a practical standpoint we can have a true understanding of what it means to obey the gospel, and we can pass judgment on whether any given individual has thus obeyed the gospel. Thus we can know whether they are, in this present moment, in a state of salvation or not.

But this is not the same as knowing whether they will ultimately be in heaven or not. I believe that on the Day of Judgment God will determine that many pious individuals that remained unimmersed all their lives were conscientiously following the Word as it had been explained to them and for which they were responsible. But in this lifetime, once such a person does become aware of the true meaning of baptism, he becomes fully accountable for believing it, following it, and teaching it. In this case on the Judgment Day the principle of “conscientious response to available light” will no longer excuse a failure to obey the gospel command of baptism.

Here I will attempt to diagram how I regard the salvation status of three groups of “the pious.” (One should see my previous note, on church unity, where I deal with the visible and invisible church.) These three groups are (1) the piousimmersedin Restoration Movement churches, (2) the piousimmersedin other churches, and (3) the piousunimmersed. The question is, where are they NOW, and where will they be after the Judgment?

NOW, in the NOW, in the Later, in

Piousimmersed, YES YES YES
in R.M. churches

Piousimmersed, NO YES YES
in other churches

PiousunimmersedNO NO YES


by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, June 2, 2011 at 2:22pm

QUESTION: What can we say about the unity of the church as a whole? Can we call Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Roman Catholics, etc., ourbrothers and sistersin Christ?

ANSWER: Everyone who is presently in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ is my brother or sister in Christ. Everyone who has obeyed the gospel has entered into this saving relationship with Christ and is thus my brother or sister in Christ. Obedience to the gospel consists of FAITH (believing the basic facts about Jesus’ person and work, and surrendering one’s present life and future eternity to him in obedient trust), REPENTANCE (hatred of sin in general and one’s own sins in particular, and a commitment to forsake sin and walk in righteousness), CONFESSION (specifically naming Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior, and calling upon him for salvation), and BAPTISM (being immersed into a saving relationship with the Trinity and therein receiving the double cure of salvation). Thus everyone who has believed, repented, confessed, and been baptized is my brother or sister in Christ.

What does this have to do with the “unity of the church”? Here we must remember the distinction between the visible and the invisible church. (See my early FaceBook note on this subject, 9/24/09.) To properly answer this question, we must for the moment forget about denominational groups (Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Disciples of Christ, etc.). These and other such groups are all attempts to “construct” or to “be” thevisiblechurch. At its deepest level, though, the unity of the church has nothing to do with membership within one of these visible bodies. It has to do only with who is and who is not in a saving relationship with Christ. Those who are in this relationship with Christ are all united together in his body, the universal church of Christ, the one and only invisible church. All those who are one WITH Christ (Gal. 3:28) and one IN Christ.

The following is a paragraph adapted from my 9/24/09 article on the visible/invisible church: “The distinction between visible and invisible church raises the question, ‘visible/invisible TO WHOM?’ The answer is, TO MAN, since nothing is invisible to God. We are talking here about the BORDERS of the church. There is such a thing as the church whose borders are invisible to us as human beings. It is simply the universal aggregate of those who are under the blood of Jesus Christ and whose citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). This is the universal body of Christ, of which Paul speaks in Eph. 5:22-33. ONLY GOD KNOWS who is truly a part of this body, since it includes all those who have obeyed the gospel no matter what church affiliation they may have, or whether they have any at all. (Many in these latter situations obviously have sanctification problems, and their relationship with Christ may be perilously tentative.) Also, only God knows which members of any local congregation were never truly converted or may have fallen from grace. Thus the ‘one true church’ is the ‘invisible’ body of Christ whose membership is invisible to finite human observers but infallibly known to God.”

But if the border (membership roll) of the true church is actually invisible to us human beings, how do we KNOW who IS a brother or sister in Christ? Theoretically and absolutely, we cannot know this. But from a practical standpoint, we CAN know this to the extent that we can know who has obeyed the gospel, as described above. But how can we know who has truly believed and repented? After all, these are internal acts. True, but one reason why “confession with the mouth” (Rom. 10:9-10) is a condition for salvation is that this is the initial way that the rest of us can know if a convert has faith and repentance in the heart. The confession is an objective act, as is the baptism that follows. Acting on the presumption of the convert’s sincerity, we accept the one who has thus obeyed the gospel as a sibling in Christ. All who have done so are united in the oneness of God’s family. This is the essence of church unity.

When we speak of the visible church, then, what do we mean? Usually we are referring to the external organization, practices, and teachings of Christian groups who wear the name of Christ. One presupposition of the Restoration Movement is that God’s Word shows us what the visible church issupposedto look like to human observers. Another presupposition is that the denominational groups individually and as a whole are NOT conforming to the visible church as revealed in the apostolic Word. That is why the Campbells, the Stones, the Scotts, and the Smiths tried to re-establish the true visible church (cf. “Christian Churches,” “churches of Christ”), and why they invited the brothers and sisters who had already obeyed the gospel in the existing but faulty groups to “come out from among them” and be a part of a faithful visible body that could be unified on an external level also.

This still leaves us asking if we can call Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics, etc., our brothers and sisters in Christ. The first part of the answer is NO, if we are referring to these denominations as groups, since we know that they do not make converts through the God-appointed means of obedience to the gospel. The second part of the answer is YES, if we are speaking of individual Baptists, Catholics, etc., and if we know that they have indeed obeyed the gospel. But we cannot think of them as brothers or sisters in Christ JUST BECAUSE they are members of a Methodist church or Catholic church etc.

One final note: whether a specific individual is my brother or sister in Christ NOW, is not the same question as whether that individual will ultimately enter into heaven (i.e., will ultimately be saved). This all has to do with the issue of the salvation status of the “pious unimmersed,” which I will address in another note.

31. LOVE WINS, by Rob Bell: A Synopsis of Cottrell's Review 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 1:07pm

QUESTION: What do you think about Rob Bell’s book,Love Wins?

ANSWER: I have just completed writing an analysis of his book. The full analysis is too long to post here on FaceBook, but it can be accessed at . What follows here is a brief synopsis of the more complete analysis and critique, without any page references. See the full version for quotes and references.
Two general conclusions: (1) I foundnot one single redeeming qualityin the book. It has not one shred of value for anyone seeking a Biblical understanding of God, heaven, hell, or anything else. (2) The book sounds very much like classical, early-20th-century Liberalism wearing an Evangelical mask.
THE BIBLE.The Bible is used very selectively and is interpreted very creatively. Attention is drawn to the words, texts, and stories that can be turned toward Bell’s agenda. E.g., he makes much of the literal meaning ofgehennaas a garbage dump (67ff.), and all but ignores the massive amount of Biblical teaching about God’s wrath as such. He transforms “eternal punishment” in Matt. 25:46 into a limited but intense “period of pruning.” He transforms the story of the rich man and Lazarus into a lesson on social justice. He uses the parable of the prodigal son as a metaphor of heaven and hell.
GOD.Bell accepts the common heresy that the essence of God isloveandlove only. This directly affects his interpretation of the work of Jesus, especially the cross. He denies that any one of the many NT view of the cross is necessarily the “correct” or “right” view, but he rejects (and caricatures) the substitutionary, propitiatory view because it pictures the cross as “rescuing” us from God’s wrath. That God islove onlyis the main reason why Bell rejects the traditional view of hell as eternal punishment for unrepentant sinners.Bell obviously does not understand that God’s moral nature is eternally a combination of love and grace on the one side, along with holiness and wrath on the other side (cf. Rom. 11:22).
HEAVEN. What Bell says about heaven is just as seriously wrong as what he says about hell, if not more so. His view can be summed up thus: heaven is mainly a specific way of life we as individuals create for ourselves in the here-and-now world. The traditional view is that heaven is “somewhere else,” but when Jesus talked with people about “going to heaven,” he was telling them how to live—how to “enter life”—now.The heavenly city described in Revelation 21 and 22 is “a new world that God makes, right here in the midst of this one” (112).
Bell’s “new world” sounds almost exactly like the 100-year-old concept of the social gospel: a “post-millennial” kind of world in which social justice in all forms has been realized, because it will be a world in whichlove reigns. It will be pacifist, multiracial, multicultural, “multieverything,” with “staggering levels of diversity.” Israel was intended to be the shining example of this earthly heaven, but failed. Jesus tried to put them back on the road to “social revolution” through the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The point of the story was that even after he died, the rich man was still in hell, because he still thought of Lazarus as his servant (as when he requested that Lazarus bring him some water).
Does Bell believe there will be an actual heaven after we die, and after this world possibly comes to an end? He is quite ambiguous about this, but he is clear that the main thing we have to look forward to is a better future, a transformed future forthisworld. Both the OT and Jesus, Bell says, pointed ahead to “the day when earth and heaven would be one,” the day “when earth and heavenwill be the same place.” “If this sounds like heaven on earth, that’s because it is. Literally.”
HELL. Everything Bell says about heaven, he also says about hell. The traditional concept of hell—as eternal punishment for the wicked imposed by God’s holy justice—is rejected. Hell is reinterpreted mainly as the state of sin and suffering that individuals bring upon themselves (and others)now, in this present life. The prodigal son’s older brother was creating his own hell while everyone else around him was having a party, i.e., experiencing heaven.
For Bell, it is important to see that we create our own hell, because this allows him to attribute hell to God’s love rather than to some imagined divine wrath. If we create our own hell, that is our own free-will choice, and God’s allowing us to exercise our free will, even in this way, is the result of his love. Because God is completely loving and gracious, “we can have all the hell we want.”
Will hell last forever? It does nothaveto. One can repent and “enter life” (heaven) at any time.This is the basic meaning of the “judgment day,” the (figurative) flames of which are purging and corrective. Thus the “flames” usually associated with hell are actually the flames of heaven, designed to change us.
UNIVERSALISM.This leads to the question of universal salvation. Whether this salvation is limited to this restored earth or will somehow embrace a future “new heavens and new earth” is not made clear in this book, but one thing does ring clear throughout, namely, that the door is open for all people ultimately to be saved. Bell’s is the gospel of universalism, or as close to it as one can get without specifically saying so. God has provided universal and unilateral forgiveness, and has promised to restore all people to himself.
Indeed, says Bell, this has been God’spurposefrom the beginning: “God wants all people to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:2). This states God’spurposeas well as hisdesire, and surely God will get what God wants. Love never fails. But what of those who never hear of Christ? It doesn’t matter. “Jesus is bigger than any one religion. . . . He will always transcend whatever cages and labels are created to contain and name him, especially the one called ‘Christianity.’” All people are coming to God through Jesus, even if they don’t know about Jesus. Jesus is present everywhere, like an energy, a spark, an electricity that permeates all things, like “the Force” in Star Wars. He is the sacred power present in every dimension of creation. This is why all people, everywhere, can just “bump into” Jesus, without knowing what or who he is.
POST-MORTEM SALVATION.But what of the many who refuse to go through the hell-to-heaven transformation during this lifetime? It seems that many will pass from this life without the necessary conversion. The rich man, in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, is a model for such a one, namely, one whose heart never embraces social justice in this life. Yet it seems that those who depart this life without accepting God’s love will in some way have continuing opportunities to do so in the “next life,” whatever that is. Throughout Christian history man have believed that after death there will be endless opportunities in an endless amount of time for people to say yes to God. Ultimately the love of God will melt every hard heart. and “God will ultimately restore everything and everybody.”
Bell never declares that this is his own view; he leaves it in the form of questions: “Which is stronger and more powerful, the hardness of the human heart or God’s unrelenting, infinite, expansive love?” Does not 1 Corinthians 13:8 say, “Love never fails”? We may not be able to answer such questions with certainty, but we do have to leave room for the love of God to do what love requires.
Indeed, all the way through the book much of what Bell presents is in the form of questions. This ultimately gives him some “wiggle room” if he wants to deny that he has actually affirmed this or that. The direction which Bell always seems to be leaning, however, is quite clear. The title says it all: LOVE WINS.


by Jack Cottrellon Friday, May 27, 2011 at 11:18am

QUESTION: Not long ago I had your course on “The Doctrine of Grace,” in which you discuss the issue of baptism. Personally, I accepted Christ as my Savior as an adult, but was not immersed until some years later. What was my spiritual status during that interim between my acceptance of Christ and my immersion?

ANSWER: The subject of baptism comes up in several places in my course on grace, but in that course I do not attempt to “set forth the Biblical case” for the doctrine of baptism as a salvation event. I have another course (“The Doctrine of Baptism”) where this is done. I also have written a small book (Baptism: A Biblical Study) to show the exegetical basis for the view that baptism is where salvation occurs. In that book (College Press, 2006 ed., 171pp.) I discuss twelve NT texts: Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; John 3:3-5; Acts 2:38-39; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:26-27; Ephesians 5:25-27; Colossians 2:11-13; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21. These are the passages that have something to say about themeaningorpurposeof baptism.

In the introduction to this book I note that “the main problem underlying the modern confusion on baptism is thus not paucity of Biblical material, but rather ana prioricommitment to certain theological presuppositions. It is so extremely difficult . . . to be objective when we try to interpret the Bible.” But, “with full awareness of the difficulties involved, our goal in this study is to examine the main NT passages on the meaning of baptism as if we were hearing or seeing them for the first time. How would the original hearers of certain key statements have understood them?” My goal in the book “is to let the texts speak as objectively as possible with a minimum of references to theological systems. Our main tools for understanding the texts will be linguistic, lexicographical, and background studies; and the time-honored hermeneutical rule of comparing Scripture with Scripture.”

After exegeting the twelve texts named above, I say this in the book’s conclusion: “What is remarkable is not only the fact that [these passages]dopresent baptism as the time God has appointed for initially bestowing salvation upon believing, repentant sinners, but also the fact that they areunanimousin doing so. This is not some obscure inference that must be laboriously forced from the fringes of a few texts, but is the central theme of them all! And at the same time, no other meaning emerges to serve in even a secondary role, much less to challenge the one main idea that baptism is for salvation.” I also declare that “no one can study these texts objectively and then deny that this is the meaning of baptism, without developing a troubled conscience. And just as baptism itself is an appeal to God for a good conscience, I present this book as an appeal to my friends and brethren to have a clear conscience about baptism. It can be done, if we are willing to listen to the voice of Scripture and to judge our traditions by its clear and pure words alone.”

Getting back to the course on grace, as I say above, I do not attempt in that course to try to "make a case" for my understanding of its meaning. My main concern there is to explain why the reality of salvation by grace does not rule out the idea of baptism for salvation. The two main points I discuss are the shakiness and ambiguity of the "faith only" (sola fidei) concept, and the fallacy of the concept of baptism as a "work" in the Pauline sense.

I would also refer the inquirer to several of my previous Facebook notes: “Is Baptism Essential for Salvation?” (11/19/09); “The Spiritual Status of the Unimmersed” (1/7/10); “Questions about the Essentiality of Baptism” (4/10/10); and "Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation" (8/20/10).

Finally, I noticed on the website yesterday that someone has recently (11/28/10) submitted a review of my bookBaptism: A Biblical Study. No name is attached; the reviewer identifies himself as “ADisciplinedLearner.” Anyone can access this review by looking up my book on that site. However, apologizing for my lack of humility, I will save you the trouble by sharing it with you here:

"During my 57-year lifetime, I have read dozens and dozens of books on the subject of baptism. This is the BEST BOOK I have ever read on the subject! It basically teaches that baptism is the time when a believer in Christ becomes a New Covenant Christian. It demonstrates this truth from the New Covenant Scriptures and shows it to be part-and-parcel of the faith once delivered unto the saints.
"Before I read this book, I was a Baptist pastor for over 25 years. As a Baptist pastor, I passionately preached and profusely wrote against the doctrine of baptismal remission, denouncing and dismissing it as a schismatic 'Campbellite' teaching. Carefully reading this book helped me to see the New Covenant baptismal passages in a brand new light. Today, I am totally convinced that baptism is the occasion when a believer in Christ becomes a New Covenant Christian. I am sure this is what the first New Covenant Christians believed and taught."


by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 9:26pm

I was asked to answer some questions about the relevance of the Bible for today’s (or any) culture. The following is the result.

QUESTION #1 -- Why do you believe the Bible continues to be relevant to our culture today?

MY ANSWER: I believe the Bible is relevant to our culture because it is an unchanging message directed to an unchanging world. The fact that ourcultureis different from those of Bible times doesnotmake it irrelevant for today. Matters of culture are different on the surface; the essence of those things that are crucial does not change: God does not change; the nature of mankind does not change; right and wrong do not change; sin and death do not change; the need for and nature of salvation do not change; our hope of eternal life does not change. These are the main issues addressed by the Bible.

Those who think of the Bible as irrelevant today usually see it as no more than the reflections and observations of the human writers who produced it, i.e., men whose thought processes were bound by their contemporary culture. But when we see the Bible as originating ultimately from God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we know that its perspective and application are unlimited. When God caused the Bible to be written (2 Peter 1:20-21), he intended it to be used by all people in all times (cf. Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 9:9-10; 10:11).

QUESTION #2 -- How do you seek to help students learn and apply biblical truth in ways that are relevant to today's world?

I tell my students that any good lesson or sermon answers two questions: “What’s so?” and “So what?” First, we must present the doctrinal truth as given in the Word of God, the Bible. This is “what’s so,” and it never changes. But then, we must show how this truthappliesto whatever time and place (i.e., culture) in which our audience lives. Understanding this distinction between unchanging principles and variable applications is crucial.

I make every effort to “practice what I preach” by showing how my doctrinal teaching applies to the issues of the day. E.g., when teaching about the nature of human beings, I show how recent scientific experiments with animal behavior and with AI (artificial intelligence) do not nullify our status as unique creatures made in God’s image. When teaching about sexuality and marriage, I show how certain popular forms of birth control are unethical because they may cause the death of a newly-formed baby.

QUESTION #3 -- How does biblical truth apply to disciplines other than the actual study of the Bible itself?

It is important to remember that the Bible is not just a book about “religion,” but is the source of a world view, i.e., the true view ofeverything. I teach theology, which sounds so “religious”; but I define theology as “the study of God, and ofeverything elsein its relation to God.” God speaks to us in the Bible not just as our Savior, but also and even more fundamentally as our Creator. Biblical truth is not just truth about sin and salvation; it is also truth about how to live in this God-created world.

For example, when I teach about sin and salvation in my course on grace, I try to show how the Biblical teaching is important for psychology and counseling. For another example, I have long taught a course on justice and human government. Though “human government” sounds like a secular issue, it simply cannot be properly understood and implemented apart from the foundational Biblical teaching on the subject. Those who say we should never mix religion and politics simply do not understand the world-view aspect of the Bible’s teaching.


by Jack Cottrellon Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 6:00pm




Let’s begin with some history. Inerrancy was the general belief of Christendom from its beginning. In the early second century Clement of Rome (ch. 45) said, “Look carefully into the Scriptures, which are the true utterances of the Holy Spirit. Observe that nothing of an unjust or counterfeit character is written in them.” In the mid-second century Justin Martyr (“Dialogue with Trypho,” 65:2) tells Trypho, if you think you can get me to “say the Scriptures contradicted each other, you have erred. But I shall not venture to suppose or to say such a thing; and if a Scripture which appears to be of such a kind be brought forward, and if there be a pretext [for saying] that it is contrary [to some other], since I am entirely convinced that no Scripture contradicts another, I shall admit rather that I do not understand what is recorded, and shall strive to persuade those who imagine that the Scriptures are contradictory, to be rather of the same opinion as myself.”

Augustine (d. A.D. 430) grants that his own writings, and all writings since apostolic times, may contain errors. But “the authoritative canonical books of the Old and New Testaments” are different. “If we are perplexed by an apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, The author of this book is mistaken; but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood.” “In consequence of the distinctive peculiarity of the sacred writings, we are bound to receive as true whatever the canon shows to have been said by even one prophet, or apostle, or evangelist. Otherwise, not a single page will be left for the guidance of human fallibility” (“Reply to Faustus the Manichaean,” 11:5,Works5:196-197).

In hisJournalsfor July 24, 1776 (vol. 4:82), John Wesley comments on a tract that says the Biblical writers sometimes made mistakes: “Nay, if there be any mistakes in the Bible, there may as well be a thousand. If there be one falsehood in that book, it did not come from the God of truth.”

Such quotations could be multiplied for the first 1,800 years of Christian history, until around 1860, when Darwin’s work sparked open attacks on Genesis. From then on a sharp division began between Liberalism and Conservatism. Liberalism developed into a denial of the supernatural in all things, including the nature of the Bible. Around 1920 Neo-orthodoxy arose as a reaction against Liberalism; it restored belief in the supernatural elements of Christianity, except for the nature of the Bible. Conservatism in the early 20th century took shape as Fundamentalism, and was modified as Evangelicalism around 1950.

Evangelicalism at first continued to believe in inerrancy, but this changed in the 1960s. In 1963 Dewey Beegle wroteThe Inspiration of Scripture(later edition:Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility). He declared he was an Evangelical but denied Biblical inerrancy. Since then the most serious attacks on inerrancy have come from within Evangelicalism.

This same pattern has occurred within the Restoration Movement. Its founders (early 19th century) accepted the standard inerrancy view, but Liberalism entered and took control of most of its colleges and seminaries. Our Bible colleges, including Cincinnati Christian University (1924), were begun as a response to this Liberal takeover, and were originally committed to Biblical inerrancy. The by-laws of Cincinnati Christian University (Cincinnati Bible Seminary at the time) state that every trustee and faculty member must “believe, without reservation, in the full and final inspiration of the Bible to the extent thatfor eachof themit is the infallible Word of God and, therefore, the all‑sufficient rule of faith and life;* in the deity and supreme authority of Christ; in obedience to the Gospel; in edification of the church; and in the restoration of its unity on the New Testament basis.”

At the point of the asterisk*, in the late 20th century this footnote was added: “The term infallible means ‘incapable of error.’ It is the school's position that all scripture, as first written by the authors themselves, was produced under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Scripture is, therefore, the Word of God in written form and is infallible (incapable of error) and inerrant (without error) in its entirety when taken in the original meaning of its authors.”

Also in the late 20th century, by faculty vote the following statement of belief was included in the CBS catalogue: “The faculty members of Cincinnati Bible Seminary believe that all Scripture, as first written by the authors themselves, was produced under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Scripture is therefore the Word of God in written form, and is infallible and inerrant in its entirety when taken in the original meaning of its authors. Thus it is the sole and sufficient rule for faith and practice.” Beginning with the 2000 edition of the catalogue, however, it was removed without a faculty vote and without explanation.

Given the recent history of Christendom and of the doctrine of inerrancy in particular, it is important periodically that we take stock of where we stand on this issue. With the constant pressures from our postmodern, relativist culture, and with the subtle denials and redefinitions being introduced even in once-conservative circles, we can take nothing for granted.


by Jack Cottrellon Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 6:02pm




Does the inerrancy of Scripture still matter? The answer is yes. But what exactly is at stake here? We need to say, first of all, that the issue is not necessarily salvation. One can have saving faith in Jesus without accepting inerrancy, even though there is some inconsistency involved when this happens.

So what is the issue? What are the consequences of denying the inerrancy of Scripture? Specifically, denying inerrancy means that one is affirming that there are errors in the Bible—somewhere. It means that some statements in Scripture are true, and some are false. This means that the task of decidingwhichare true andwhichare false now falls upon each one of us, individually.

This deadly consequence is well illustrated in an account by Donald McGavran ("That the Gospel Be Made Known,"Theology, News and Notes[June 1985], 10-11) He tells of an experience he had as a missionary in India while teaching a men's Sunday school class. The men, he says, "were mostly workers in the mission press with an average education of seventh or eighth grade. My predecessor . . . had been a flaming liberal, a graduate of Chicago Divinity School. He had taught this Bible class for the previous seven years. A turning point in my theological pilgrimage took place one Sunday morning when I asked the class of some fifteen or twenty men, 'When you read a biblical passage such as we are studying this morning, what is the first question you ask?' One of the most intelligent workers in the mission press replied immediately, 'What is there in this passage that we cannot believe?' What he meant, of course, was that when we read the passage about Jesus walking on the water, we know instantly that He could not have done that. Consequently, we must understand the passage as an exaggerated or perhaps poetic account of what happened.”

McGavran concluded, "I had never before been confronted as bluntly with what the liberal position means to ordinary Christians in multitudinous instances. It shocked me, and I began at that moment to feel that it could not be the truth. Despite all the difficulties, I began to feel my way toward convictions concerning the Bible as infallible revelation. It was God's Word. It was entirely dependable. It was the rule of faith and practice of every true Christian."

The issue is simply this: If you reject Biblical inerrancy, HOW will you decide what in the Bible YOU will believe, and what you will reject? You can no longer say that any specific statement in Scripture is TRUE,just becauseit is in the Bible—something Jesus did in John 10:35. Instead, every individual statement in Scripture must now be evaluated and judged for its truth or falsehood by some other criterion, e.g., reason, experience, a mystical sense of being guided by the Holy Spirit.

In the final analysis, if the Bible is not inerrant, then we haveno objective basisfor accepting MOST of what the Bible teaches. Someone may say, “Not so! We can apply human reason—the commonly-accepted rules of evidence.” This may be true up to a point. I.e., we can use historical method to evaluate some of the historical claims in Scripture. Archeological research helps us to evaluate Biblical claims about geographical locations, the times and sequences of events, and the existence and identity of individuals named in the Biblical narratives. See, e.g., Luke 3:1, and similar claims throughout the Book of Acts.

But there are two serious limitations to the use of such reason as a criterion. One, it can be applied to only a small minority of Biblical claims of this nature; there simply are no relevant data for most historical claims. E.g., there is no objective way to individually verify that Jesus actually did most of the things the gospels say he did, or that he actually said the things the gospels say he said. Two, and even more seriously, there is no way to cite rational and historical proof for the great doctrinal claims of Scripture, e.g., the great doctrinal affirmations in such texts as Genesis 1:1; Isaiah 53; John 1:1; John 3:16; and Romans 3:21-31.

So where does the denial of inerrancy ultimately leave us? First, it leaves us at the mercy ofsubjectivity. In the final analysis each of us will decide which Biblical teachings we will accept and which we will reject, based on something inside of us: our own experiences, our own feelings, our own desires, our own subjective judgments about what we deem possible or right or objectionable. Second, it results inrelativism. There will no longer be any such thing as TRUTH in the genuine sense: no more objective, absolute truth, no more sound doctrine, no “place to stand” in order to establish some ideas as true and some as false. There will no longer be any agreed-upon authority, no agreed-upon authoritative source for seeking unity of doctrine.

36. INERRANCY OF SCRIPTURE, PART THREE: EXAMPLE OF WHAT HAPPENS WHEN DENIED by Jack Cottrellon Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 6:04pm




I have said that a denial of inerrancy leaves us at the mercy of subjectivism and relativism. I.e., in the end each of us as individuals will ultimately decide, based on our own subjective inclinations and preferences, what aspects of the Bible we will accept and what we will reject. A good example of this is the book by Stephen T. Davis titledThe Debate About the Bible: Inerrancy Versus Infallibility(Westminster 1977). Here I will give a synopsis of his view.

First, he makes it clear that he denies inerrancy, which he (rightly) defines as claiming that the Bible “containsno errors at all,” e.g., in history, logic, and geography. But that claim “is one that in all humility I cannot affirm,” says Davis (16). “I consider myself an evangelical Christian and yet I do not affirm inerrancy” (18). Instead, he believes the Bible is “infallible,” i.e., “entirely trustworthy on matters of faith and practice” (16).

Later he qualifies this by limiting infallibility only to “matters that arecrucially relevantto Christian faith and practice” (118, italics added). But in the end this means nothing, since he says, “I admit that I am unable to stipulate a clear and infallible criterion to distinguish Biblical passages that are crucially relevant to faith and practice from those that are not” (125). But even if he could do so, it would not make any real difference, since he clearly says that his “faith and practice” distinction “does not necessarily mean that I find notheological errorin the Bible as opposed, say, to scientific or historical error” (125).

In fact, Davis says, it is always possible that the Bible contains errors in any of its claims; the deal is that he has simplynot found any yetin matters (crucially relevant) to faith and practice. “There are historical and scientific errors in the Bible, but I have found none on matters of faith and practice. I do not claima priorithat the Bible is or must be infallible, just that I have found it to be so. Perhaps someday it will be shown that the Bible is not infallible” (115-116). “I am open at any point to the possibility that the Bible is not infallible” (120).

What criteria shall we apply to determine if any given Biblical doctrine is indeed erroneous? His answer seems to be: human reason, i.e., an examination of the available evidence. “The only epistemological credentials a doctrine must have in order to be accepted by evangelicals is that it seem true on the available evidence.” An evangelical accepts “evangelical doctrines . . . simply because they seem true to him.” “I believe B, C, and D because I believe they are taught in the Bible and because I know of no argument or evidence that refutes them.” No Christian can accept a doctrine on the basis of the Bible alone. “He must hold to some other authority or criterion as well. That authority, I am not embarrassed to say, is his own mind, his own ability to reason” (71). A Christian must “acceptwhateverthe Bible says onany subject whatsoeverunless there is compelling reason not to accept it. That is, everything in the Bible is authoritative and normative for the Christian until he comes across a passage which for good reasons he cannot accept. . . . One should reject something that the Bible says only where, having thoroughly examined the problem, in all humility one cannot accept what it says” (75). “I believe that the Bible is or ought to be authoritative for every Christian in all that it says on any subject unless and until he encounters a passage which after careful study and for good reasons he cannot accept” (116).

Despite this ultimate appeal to and apparent dependence on the evidential use of reason, Davis acknowledges “that sin has corrupted all aspects of human personality, including reason, and that reason is not therefore an infallible guide to truth.” But this does not change anything: “Corrupted or not, we have no choice but to listen to and follow the dictates of reason” (72).

Where does this leave Davis regarding his use of the Bible for deciding matters of faith and practice? It leaves him in the bottomless and shoreless sea of doctrinal subjectivity and relativity. To change the metaphor, his feet are “firmly planted in mid-air.” He cites a kindred spirit, Daniel P. Fuller (whose father, Charles P. Fuller, founded Fuller Theological Seminary), who says that regarding doctrinal errors in the Bible, “he has discovered none yet and hopes he never will.” Fuller labors on “despite his clear belief that a discovered error on a revelational matter makes the whole Bible questionable” (42). Likewise, Davis says that he too must decide “whether or not there is compelling reason to reject some Biblical claim. For me this does not occur often, but it does occur occasionally. It has never yet occurred on a matter of faith or practice, and, like Fuller, I hope it never will” (76).

In the midst of all this subjectivity, relativity, and uncertainty, Davis makes his final appeal to the most subjective criterion of all: the inner guidance of the Holy Spirit. “I do affirm the traditional Christian claim that the Holy Spirit guides us into truth, although I do not wish to explore here the question of how this guidance works in relation to Scripture, reason, or any other epistemological authority” (72).

My point here is that Davis is simply accepting the consistent results of denying biblical inerrancy. Of course, many have denied and are still denying inerrancy, but have failed to see the end to which this will logically lead them and their disciples.


byJack Cottrellon Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 6:06pm




I have always been a part of the fellowship called “the Restoration Movement,” and I am still committed to its basic principles. For 43 years I have taught theology at Cincinnati Christian University (which began as The Cincinnati Bible Seminary). Today it is my earnest desire that every one of our students, and this school as such, and the Movement of which it is a part, will stand firm on the traditional belief in the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. It is also my earnest desire that we will see that, as creatures made in God’s image, we have the God-given ability to understand the God-intended meaning of the Bible’s contents.

Unless we can do this, therelativists are right: there is no absolute truth in the world! If the Bible is not the inerrant Word of God, or if we cannot truly understand it, then we haveno place to stand, no firm foundation on which we can take a stand on any belief. Archimedes said: “Give me a place to stand, and I can move the world.” But in this post-modern world of relativism, where the Bible is seen as flawed or at least impossible to understand,there IS no place to stand! As Francis Beckwith has said in the title of one of his books, with relativism we have our “Feet Firmly Planted in Midair.” No wonder so many Christians are reluctant to take a stand on “the BIBLICAL view” of this or that doctrine, or this or that issue. The ultimate result of denying the inerrancy of the Bible is the idea that DOCTRINE DOES NOT MATTER!

But with an inerrant Bible (which we CAN understand), we DO have a place to stand; we have firm ground under out feet; we have no reason to doubt or apologize for our convictions. Standing firm on the Bible as the Word of God, we can boldly affirm and proclaim “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

A classic defense of conservative Christian theology isChristianity and Liberalism, written by J. Gresham Machen originally in 1923 and published in a new edition by Eerdmans in 2009. On page 42 Machen discusses the serious conflict between two branches of the Reformation: Martin Luther and his Lutheran cohorts (on the one hand) and Huldreich Zwingli and his followers (on the other hand). Their disagreement led to serious controversy and a great division between the Lutheran and Reformed branches of the Reformation. Machen remarks, “It is often said that the divided condition of Christendom is an evil, and so it is.” And as Machen saw it, “the calamity was due to the fact that Luther (as we believe) was wrong about the Lord’s Supper.” BUT – “it would have been a far greater calamity if being wrong about the Supper he had represented the whole question as a trifling affair. Luther was wrong about the Supper, but not nearly so wrong as he would have been if, being wrong, he had said to his opponents: ‘Brethren, this matter is a trifle; and it makes really very little difference what a man thinks about the table of the Lord.’ Such indifferentism would have been far more deadly than all the divisions between the branches of the Church. A Luther who would have compromised with regard to the Lord’s Supper never would have said at the Diet of Worms, ‘Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me, Amen.’ Indifferentism about doctrine makes no heroes of the faith.”

Machen’s point is that it is better to be wrong about something, and better even to suffer division for it, than to refuse to take a stand and say, “It doesn’t really matter what view you take.” But this is ultimately where the denial of inerrancy leads. In fact, it leads to an even worse end: when we deny inerrancy, there is no longer any such thing as “a wrong view” about anything.

Does this make us old-fashioned, antiquated, out of touch with the modern world? Maybe. But perhaps there is nothing wrong with this! Jeremiah 6:16 says, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 18:15 adds: “Because My people have forgotten Me, they have burned incense to worthless idols. And they have caused themselves to stumble in their ways, from the ancient paths, to walk in pathways and not on a highway” (NKJV).

My appeal is that we stay on the “old paths” when the winds of change want to sweep us along with the crowd, down the side trails that lead nowhere. This is the mature approach: “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects unto Him who is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:14, NASB).

38. ARE BABIES BORN IN ORIGINAL SIN? byJack Cottrellon Friday, May 6, 2011 at 12:03pm
QUESTION: A friend of mine argues that babies are born in sin. She uses some specific Bible verses for this: Psalm 51:5, Romans 3:23, and Romans 5:12-19. She especially emphasizes Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned . . . .” Since it says “all,” she says it must include babies. Do these texts really teach that babies are born sinful?

ANSWER: I have written quite a bit on this. For Romans 5:12-19, see my commentary on Romans, published by College Press. See also my systematic theology,The Faith Once for All(also College Press), pp. 184-190. This text DOES say that “all” (vv. 12, 18) suffer death and condemnation as a result of Adam’s sin; that this includes babies is shown by v. 14 (“those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam,” i.e., no personal sins). However—and this is a huge “however”—those who see this text as teaching “original sin” miss its main point.

Paul’s point in this text (Rom. 5:12-19) is this:it doesn’t matterwhat consequences the entire human race is subjected to because of the one sin of Adam, because the one redemptive act of Christ (the cross) has in factcanceled,negated, nullified,andcounteractedevery one of those consequences. The main point is not on the power of Adam’s sin, but on the “much more” power (vv. 15, 17) of Christ’s cross. Whatever evils Adam’s sinwould havebrought upon every baby conceived in this world, have been rendered void by Jesus Christ. This applies to babies born before the cross as well as to those born after it.No babyhas been born in original sin; every baby has in fact been born in what I call “original grace.” Babies come into existence in a redeemed state, wrapped in the cocoon of grace; and they remain there until they reach the age of accountability.

Here is how I explain it on p. 185 ofThe Faith Once for All: “In the final analysis it does not matter what content anyone feels compelled to pour into the concept of ‘original sin,’ because Paul's main point is this:whatever the whole human race got (or would have got) from Adam has been completely canceled out for the whole human race by the gracious atoning work of Jesus Christ. Make the Adamic legacy as dire as you want: physical death, total depravity, genuine guilt and condemnation to hell. The whole point of the passage is that Christ's ‘one act of righteousness’ (5:18) has completely intercepted, nullified, negated, canceled, and counteractedwhateverwas destined to be ours because of Adam. All the potential spiritual consequences of Adam's sin are intercepted even before they can be applied. The only consequence that actually takes effect is physical death, and it is countered with the promise of resurrection to eternal life.”

Another text allegedly teaching that babies are born in sin is Psalm 51:5, where David says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” Here is my explanation of this verse, also fromThe Faith Once for All(p. 181-182):

Is David here affirming that he was sinful as soon as he was conceived and born? Several comments are in order. First, there are other ways to understand the grammar of this verse. Strictly speaking, David does not apply the sin and iniquity to himself, contrary to the NIV, which says, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." But he does not actually say, "I was sinful." The prepositional phrases "in iniquity" and "in sin" are used to modify theactof being conceived and theactof being born. It is possible that the sin belongs to the mother. It has been pointed out that "in sin my mother conceived me" is grammatically parallel to "in drunkenness my husband beat me." Another possibility is that the phrases "in iniquity" and "in sin" are meant to describe the pervasiveness of sin in the world into which David was born.

It must be granted, though, that the major theme of the Psalm is David's repentance for his own sins, specifically the sins connected with his lust for Bathsheba. But if the focus in on David'spersonalsins (vv. 1-4), and not on some kind of inherited sin, why does he refer to iniquity connected with his birth (v. 5)? Basically he does so in order to express and confess his awareness of the depth of sin in his heart and the seriousness of his sin with Bathsheba. He is humbling himself before God in figurative language, in the same way that Biblical writers sometimes refer to man as a worm (Ps 22:6; Job 17:14; 25:6; Isa 41:14). This is hyperbole, or exaggeration for emphasis. The same device is used in Ps 58:3, "The wicked are estranged from the womb; these who speak lies go astray from birth." This is not an affirmation of original sin since it is not applied to all human beings; it is an exaggeration intended to insult the wicked and emphasize the depth of their perversity. So with Ps 51:5, which is meant to apply to the repentant David alone.

Even if we should grant that Ps 51:5 is meant to teach some form of universal original sin, it could not be used to support the Augustinian and Catholic versions of this doctrine. The most that could be drawn from it is partial depravity, as in semi-Pelagianism; it neither affirms nor implies total depravity and inherited guilt. [This concludes the citation fromThe Faith Once for All.]

Finally, what about the “all” in Romans 3:23? Since “all” have sinned, does this not include babies? No. Sometimes the Greek word “all” (pas) refers simply to all who are in a certain category, a category that is defined or limited by the very action attributed to the “all.” The "all" in Romans 3:23 is already defined in v. 22, which speaks of "all who believe." I.e., Paul here is speaking only of those who are capable of believing; thus the "all" in v. 23should likewise be taken thus: "all who are capable of sinning have sinned."

This kind of contextual limitation of the word “all” is seen many times in the NT. E.g., Matt. 2:3 says that “all Jerusalem” was troubled. No one would think of applying this to babies; it clearly means, “All who were capable to understanding Herod’s mood were troubled.” In Matt. 10:22 Jesus tells his disciples that they “will be hated by all.” This clearly does not apply to babies, but only to those who are capable of hating. Matt. 12:23 (NIV) says that “all the people were astonished.” Again, this can apply only to those old enough to be capable of astonishment. Matt. 21:26 says that “all regard John as a prophet.” Babies cannot form such opinions. We are commanded to preach the gospel to “all creation” (Mark 16:15), i.e., "preach the gospel to all who are capable of understanding and receiving it." No one would insist that Mark 16:15 means that the gospel must be preached to infants and small children.

Many other verses could be cited, e.g., John 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:10; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 4:13; Heb. 13:4; 1 Peter 5:5. In these verses the actions attributed to the "all" are things that only older people can do:believe in Jesus, be in mental agreement and unity, believe, attain unity in faith and knowledge, hold the marriage bed in honor, be humble toward one another. In all these verses, the subject again is "all," but no one would insist that little children must be included therein. This is likewise the only rational way to understand Romans 3:23: “All who are capable of sin have sinned.” There is no intent to include babies in the “all.”


byJack Cottrellon Monday, May 2, 2011 at 8:50pm

QUESTION: Mark 1:4 says that John’s baptism was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Now, if those baptized by John had their sins forgiven there, how can John’s baptism be any different from the Christian baptism that began on the Day of Pentecost? Also, if people could receive forgiveness through John’s baptism, then why did Jesus have to die on the cross?

ANSWER: There are two questions here; we will take the second one first. Let’s grant for the moment that John’s “converts” received forgiveness in connection with his baptism. Does that mean that they actually received forgiveness “through John’s baptism”—as if John’s baptism were the source or basis of that forgiveness, thus making the cross superfluous? No. The baptism itself would be only theoccasionfor the forgiveness of sins; thebasisfor that forgiveness would still be the sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ.

Some have falsely concluded and taught that no sins were literally and fully forgiven until Jesus’ sacrifice was completed on the cross. Only from that time on could sins be actually forgiven; before then a repentant sinner’s forgiveness was “put on hold,” and all sinners were kept in a kind of “holding pen” (called thelimbus patrem, or “limbo of the fathers”), awaiting the great historical event that would make their forgiveness possible. Following Jesus’ crucifixion they were finally forgiven and allowed to enter Paradise with Jesus.

This is simply not true. OT saints were fully forgiven at the time when they met the conditions specified for that forgiveness. If faith was the specified condition, as with Abraham, then Abraham was forgiven (justified, counted righteous) when he believed (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3). If John’s baptism was such a condition, then those thus baptized were fully forgiven. The only way God could dispense forgiveness prior to the cross was on the basis of what He in his “predetermined plan and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23) knew was going to happen on the cross. Those who may have wondered how a righteous God could be forgiving sins in the OT era had their doubts and misunderstanding removed by the cross itself. There on Calvary God displayed Jesus publicly as a propitiation, and thus demonstrated HOW He was able to “pass over the sins previous committed” (Rom. 3:25), i.e., before the cross. Any gift of divine forgiveness, whenever bestowed and upon whatever occasion bestowed, absolutely requires the death of Jesus on the cross for its possibility.

But this takes us to the second question worded above, namely, if those baptized by John had their sins forgiven in that act, then how is John’s baptism any different from Christian baptism? First, I don’t think it is splitting hairs to note that the Bible does NOT make a direct connection between John’s baptism and forgiveness of sins. In Mark 1:4 it is described as “a baptism ofrepentance,” and the repentance is “for the forgiveness of sins.” The baptism of Acts 2:38, on the other hand, is directly connected with forgiveness: “be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.” In each case the word “for” translates the Greekeis, which in this case means “unto” in the sense of “for the purpose of.” Thus in John’s case the repentance is for the purpose of forgiveness; in Acts 2:38 the baptism is for the purpose of forgiveness. Thus I conclude that while Christian baptism is for forgiveness, John’s baptism was not.

What, then, is the purpose of John’s baptism? Everything about John's ministry, including his baptism, must be understood in the light of his role asforerunner, as the one who was to prepare the way for the Messiah. Thus his baptism must be seen as in some way preparing for Christ—the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (See Mal.3:1; Matt. 11:10; Luke 1:17; Acts 19:4.) John’s mission and baptism werepreparatory, thustemporary.

Just how did John's baptism function thus? It marked out a community of people who were alerted to the coming of the Messiah and ready for his appearing. Those baptized by John were the REMNANT of that day (Isa. 10:20-22; Zeph. 3:11-13; Rom. 9:27-28; 11:4-5), the "Israel within Israel" (Rom. 9:6), a true pre-Messianic community. These are the ones who looked for their Messiah in hope, free from fear of any judgment he would bring. Those joining this remnant community thus entered into a state of eschatological self-consciousness. I.e., they knew themselves to be poised on the threshold of the new age, the Messianic age. This means that John's baptism itself had an eschatological significance. John's baptism functioned as a kind ofinitiatoryrite, marking one'sentranceinto this community—an informed, spiritual community.

Preparation for entrance into such a community involved real moral change in the form ofrepentance, and not justritualcleansing. This made John’s baptism different both from the OT rituals and from circumcision. It was very similar to the prophets’ exhortation to “cleanse or circumcise your hearts.” John's baptism had an intrinsic, intentional symbolic relation to this inner moral cleansing, and thus to forgiveness of sins. It was a baptism "unto [eis] repentance" (Matt. 3:11) or “of repentance” (Acts 19:4); a "baptism of repentance unto [eis] the forgiveness of sins" (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3). See Luke 1:76-77.

Actually we cannot be dogmatic as to whether it was only a public expression of this required inner change, or a required occasion for receiving the necessary forgiveness. In my judgment, however, it was the former, in which case it would be similar to a modern “rededication.” In either case receiving John's baptism marked one as a "true believer," as part of the "Israel within Israel" (Rom. 9:6). It took a person as far as he could go in the Old Covenant era, thus placing him in the “starting gate” for the New Covenant and gospel preaching.

John's baptism may be considered a true antecedent or forerunner of Christian baptism, but it must not beequatedwith Christian baptism as if it had thesame meaningas the latter. In Acts 19:1-7, those baptized with John's baptism had to be rebaptized. One of the main reasons why this was so was that the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit was given only from Pentecost on, and was given in Christian baptism (John 7:37-39; Acts 2:38). Another reason is that John’s baptism, unlike Christian baptism, could not be related to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, since these events had not happened yet. This latter point is probably why John’s baptism, unlike Christian baptism, was not directly related to forgiveness; only the latter is a baptism into His death (Rom. 6:3-4) and thus into contact with His forgiving blood.


by Jack Cottrellon Monday, May 2, 2011 at 5:46pm

QUESTION: In your book,Set Free! What the Bible Says About Grace(pages 216-217), you say that baptism is a "new condition" for salvation. Was there any custom of baptism among the Jews, or any other people, prior to its introduction by John the Baptist? I know that the Jews practiced purification rites where they immersed themselves in water. Was this a shadow of salvation baptism to come?

ANSWER: Lots of water ceremonies and baptism-like ceremonies existed around the time of the early first century and maybe before. Several pagan religions practiced initiation rites involving a kind of baptism, particularly in the Hellenistic mystery religions. Examples include the Dionysian mysteries; the worship of Attis; Mithraism; the Eleusinian mysteries; and the worship of Isis and Osiris. (Attis-worship and Mithraism involved a taurobolium, i.e., being drenched in a bull’s blood.) Some liberal critics have suggested that Christian baptism was ultimately copied from one or more of these, but the idea is ludicrous.

Others have suggested that Biblical baptism (especially John’s baptism) may have been derived from one of two kinds of baptism practiced among Jews. One is the ceremony of Jewish proselyte baptism. At least by the first century A.D. the Jews were actively seeking Gentile converts (Matt. 23:15; Acts 2:10; 6:5). At some point, in addition to requiring (male) converts to be circumcised, the Jews began to require a baptismal ceremony. This required the proselyte to stand nude in the water while being instructed in the law. Two or three teachers and witnesses taught him from the law and questioned him as to his sincerity and understanding of what he was doing. Then he immersed himself. (The baptistery was required to hold a minimum of 60-100 gallons of water.)

What did this baptism mean? It was a rite ofpurification. If Jews themselves could become unclean at times, then it is only natural that GENTILES would be regarded as inherently unclean and that some form of cleansing ceremony would be thought of in connection with their joining the covenant people. “That a gentile would need purification before he entered the commonwealth of Israel was an axiom of Jewish thought” (Flemington, 16). Also, most agree that it was also aninitiationrite, ushering the proselyte into the covenant community and admitting him into the ranks of the chosen people. As part of this ceremony a proselyte'swhole familywas baptized, including infants. Thus the whole family was considered to be a part of the covenant people.

One problem with the idea that proselyte baptism may have influenced Biblical baptism is that we do not know for sure when this practice began. Some say it was already being done prior to Biblical baptism; others say it is post-Christian. The fact is that the first RECORD of the practice is post-Christian, in the latter first century. It is of course possible that the practice itself existed earlier than this, but there is no real evidence of it.

The more serious problem, of course, is that this practice of Jewish proselyte baptism is not derived from the Old Testament and is not based on divine revelation. It is altogether a man-made institution. But John’s baptism was of divine, not human, origin. John the Baptist testifies that God sent him to baptize in water (John 1:33), and Jesus challenged the authority of the Jewish leaders with this question: “The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” (Matt. 21:25). The implied answer is obviously the former. Thus if Biblical baptism was somehow based on or derived from this man-made Jewish baptism, then Biblical baptism is not really a divine institution and has no binding force, either as a practice as such or with regard to any of its details.

This same criticism applies to the theory that John’s baptism was derived from a baptismal practice of the Jewish sect known as the Essenes, inhabitants of the Qumran community from whom the Dead Sea Scrolls came. In this community, after a day’s work, the members gathered together for their daily ritual bath—a self-immersion in the Dead Sea, followed by a sacred meal. This baptism had neither an initiatory nor a moral significance, but was a purification ceremony in the sense of the OT washings. This ceremonial cleansing made them fit to partake of the holy meal. Some speculate that John the Baptist had some early connection with Qumran. But again, this contradicts the NT testimony that John’s baptism is of divine origin, and is not based on any water ceremony of human origin.

My conclusion is thatnothingoutside the Bible has any connection whatsoever with Biblical baptism, either that of John or Christian baptism.

Is there anything in the OT itself that points ahead to, or prepares the way for, or is a type of NT baptism? The only things that qualify as such an antecedent for NT baptism are the ritual purification ceremonies (washings, lustrations). The Mosaic Law prescribed the application of water, sometimes mixed with the blood of sacrificed animals, for purification from ritual uncleanness. It is very likely that the water of cleansing pointed forward to baptism. See Heb. 6:1-2 (baptismos); Heb. 9:10 (baptismos); Heb. 10:22 (plain water). In this last passage the allusion is to the OT washings in which water was mixed with blood. Under the New Covenant the water and the blood are always separated: ourheartsare spiritually “sprinkled” with the blood of Christ, and ourbodiesare literally “washed, bathed” [Greek,louō] in plain water unmixed with sacrificial blood.

None of these OT cleansing ceremonies, however, had the same meaning as NT baptism. One could argue that the purpose of such ceremonies was similar to the purpose of John’s baptism, but there does not seem to be any inherent or deliberate connection. It is true that they seem to be an intentional type of Christian baptism; but even so, they were designed to lead to ceremonial cleanness only, not to moral and spiritual purity and thus to salvation.

In the OT there definitely were conditions for salvation. Salvation from sin has always required faith and repentance, i.e., faith in God’s promises to take away sin and guilt, and repentance toward God for sinning against his laws. Even a kind of confession is specified as a condition in Joel 2:32: whoever calls upon the name of Yahweh will be saved. (See Paul’s application of this to Jesus in Romans 10:8-17.)

The bottom line is that there is no practice preceding Christian baptism, either in the OT or in extra-Biblical sources, that can be considered to be a God-appointed condition for salvation equivalent to Christian baptism. Not even John’s baptism falls into this category. Thus we conclude that the baptism introduced on the Day of Pentecost is a new condition for salvation.

41. Did Jesus' Power To Work Miracles Come from the Holy Spirit? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 12:14pm

QUESTION: I have a question about Jesus' ability to perform miraculous deeds. Do you think that He had this ability of His own accord, or did He need the Spirit's empowerment to be able to do such things while on earth? Is this a "false choice" question? I know that Jesus surrendered some of His divine prerogatives (Phil. 2:5ff.), but He certainly didn't cease being God.While on earth, though, did He need the Spirit's empowerment to do such wonders, or could He have done these miraculous events of His own accord? The Old Testament prophets (e.g., Elijah) and the New Testament Apostles absolutely needed the Spirit's enablement and empowerment to work a miraculous deed, but did Jesus?

ANSWER: I have taught a seminary course on the Holy Spirit for several decades, but I always “skipped over” the question of how the Spirit was related to the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. I did not explore this question in depth until I wrote my large book on the Holy Spirit (College Press 2007),Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit. Quite frankly, I was somewhat surprised by what I learned about this from a careful study of the gospel records. Before this I had not noticed how dependent Jesus was on the power of the Spirit. (The following material comes from this book, pp. 136-137, 147-148.)

Scripture says that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1). To what end? What were the purpose and result of such filling? All agree that its main purpose, after the pattern of the Spirit’s OT work, was to empower Jesus for his ministry, or to equip him with those gifts necessary to fulfill his mission. In this respect the difference between Jesus’ filling and the filling of OT leaders thus was not qualitative butquantitative. This seems to be confirmed by John 3:34, “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure.” The key statement is the latter part of the verse, “for God gives the Spirit without limit” (NIV). The KJV translates it thus: “for God giveth not the Spirit by measureunto him,” i.e., unto Jesus. The words “unto him” are not in the original; but the “preferable” understanding is as the KJV has it, that “the Father gives the Spirit to the Son without measure” (Leon Morris,The Gospel According to John, 1971:246-247).

What does this mean? Abraham Kuyper says it means that the Holy Spirit endowed Christ’s “human nature with the glorious gifts, powers, and faculties of which that nature is susceptible.” And in terms of John 3:34, “he lacked nothing, possessed all; not by virtue of His divine nature, which can not receive anything, being the eternal fulness itself, but by virtue of His human nature, which was endowed with such glorious gifts by the Holy Spirit” (The Work of the Holy Spirit, 1966:94-95). I agree: the purpose for Christ’s being filled with the Holy Spirit was the empowerment of hishumannature for his mission.

Jesus’ ministry was characterized and energized by “the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14; see Acts 10:38). This relates especially to his kingly ministry, i.e., to his role as the Messianic King who came to establish his authority over all things. This has particular relevance to his purpose of overthrowing the devil’s usurped dominion and establishing his own eternal kingdom in its place (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13).

The Holy Spirit’s role in Christ’s kingly mission is clearly stated in reference to Christ’s work of casting out demons, something he did throughout his ministry. On one occasion he cast out a demon that was causing a man to be blind and mute (Matt. 12:22). His enemies accused him of doing so by the power of Beelzebul, i.e., Satan (vv. 23-24). Jesus refutes this charge (vv. 25-27) and then declares, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (v. 28). This is in effect exactly what he was claiming to be doing; he was binding the strong man (the devil) and was plundering his domain (v. 29). In doing so he was fulfilling that part of the Isaiah 61 prophecy for which the Spirit of the Lord had anointed him, “to set free those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18b).

Jesus says he is doing this “by the Spirit of God.” In Luke 11:20 he says the same thing, only here he says he is casting out demons “by the finger of God.” In the OT “the finger of God” is a symbol of his mighty power (Exod. 8:19; 31:18; Ps 8:3); here it is a symbol of “the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14). As Dale Moody says, “The Spirit came to Jesus . . . at his baptism to enable him to invade the demon-infested dominion of Satan and deliver those in bondage” (Spirit of the Living God, 1968:36). Also, “By the power of the Holy Spirit poured out on him after his baptism, Jesus bound the Strong One, Satan, so now his underlings are unable to stand before the Stronger One, Jesus” (ibid., 40). When Jesus shared his Spirit-given power over Satan’s kingdom with his disciples, he shared their joy in seeing people delivered from Satan’s clutches (Luke 10:17-21). “At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit,” Luke says (v. 21).

Can we assume that this same “power of the Spirit” that energized Jesus to cast out demons was the source of his power to perform miracles in general? This is inferred by many. Building upon Matt. 12:28, R. A. Torrey says, “Jesus Christ wrought His miracles here on earth in the power of the Holy Spirit” (The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, 1910:260). Edwin Palmer reasons the same way. Beginning with Matthew 12:28 he says, “Here again, we see clearly that at times Jesus performed miracles, not by the Father nor because he as man received supernatural power from the second Person of the Trinity, but because the Holy Spirit had given him the gift to do so” (The Person and Ministry of the Holy Spirit, 1974:71). “It was the Holy Spirit who was really the author of those miracles, even if they were done through Jesus” (ibid.). John F. Walvoord, though, thinks it is going too far to attributeallJesus’ miracles to the power of the Spirit. Sometimes this was the case, but only because Jesuschoseto do it that way. At other times, Walvoord says, the power came from his own divine nature (The Holy Spirit, 1991:97-98).

The questioner is probably right, that we should avoid a “false choice” here. Probably, Jesus used his own divine power to work miracles, but in cooperation and coordination with the power of the Holy Spirit within him. However we answer the question, the power that enabled Christ to perform his kingly ministry was divine power, and at least some of it was the result of his being filled with the Spirit.

42. Our Authority: Scripture or Experience? 

byJack Cottrellon Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 3:40pm

QUESTION: How do we know God is in control? We say, during tough times, that “He is on the Throne." But the question always haunts us: “If God is really in control, why is the world in such a mess? Why are all these bad things happening in my life?” How can we be sure He is really reigning over all things?

ANSWER: How we answer this is the ultimate test of whether we really believe the Bible is our final authority or not, rather than our own experience being our final authority.

I have been thinking a lot about this point recently, after having read an article by Luke Timothy Johnson called “Homosexuality and the Church” (Commonweal,June 6, 2007, online). Johnson is trying to explain why he rejects the Bible’s clear condemnation of homosexual behavior. He realizes that “something sacred is at stake,” namely, “the authority of Scripture.” He does not do what many try to do, namely, reinterpret the Biblical passages against homosexualism. “The exegetical situation is straightforward,” he says; “we know what the text says.” So how can we justify “standing in tension with the clear commands of Scripture”?

Johnson’s answer is that we have to recognize that there is another authority that is higher than the authority of the Bible, namely, our own experience: “I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality . . . .”

What we are experiencing, he says, is the continuing working of God in the lives of individuals, giving us new insight into his will. “We are fully aware of the weight of scriptural evidence pointing away from our position, yet place our trust in the power of the living God to reveal as powerfully through personal experience and testimony as through written texts.” If there is a conflict, “then trust and obedience must be paid to the living God rather than to the words of Scripture.”

Now, I want to explain that I am not at this point discussing the issue of homosexualism, and I do not cite this material from Johnson for that purpose. I am using it rather to illustrate the fact that each one of us, at some point in our lives, has to decide what is going to be our ultimate authority on all issues. At its deepest level, this decision usually boils down to a choice between either the Bible as the inspired and authoritative Word of God, or our own experience. Here “experience” means the circumstances with which we have been confronted in our lives and which have affected us in very personal ways.

Many of life’s circumstances are neutral and even positive, and do not involve any real tension with Biblical teaching. It is easy to accept the Bible’s authority in such cases. But for all of us, there are other circumstances that affect us in negative ways, situations that seem to conflict with the Bible’s teaching, and which shake the foundations of our (up to that point) comfortable convictions and assumptions. These present us with the crisis of authority. Shall we continue to submit to whatever the Bible says, because we still accept it as the inspired and inerrant Word of God? Or shall we abandon that foundation on the grounds that it is no longer consistent with our life’s experiences?

The circumstances that present this crisis of authority may be different for each of us. For L. T. Johnson, it may have been the fact that one of his daughters was a lesbian. For others, it may be the widespread presence of evil in the world in general, such as suicide bombings or devastating earthquakes producing tsunamis; or it may be a particularly jolting personal experience such as one’s child being killed by a hit-and-run driver, or one’s wife dying of cancer, or one’s house burning to the ground. These are the kinds of situations that can raise the questions given above, namely, how can we be sure God is really in charge or in control of the world? How can we be sure that he is on the throne?

The fact is this: if we were to base our answer solely on the circumstances which we have experienced or of which we are aware, we would probably find it very difficult to believe in a sovereign, loving Creator-God who is fully in control of his creation. How can God be in control, in view of (for example) my son's death, my wife's cancer, my house burning down, or the Japanese tsunami?

In the final analysis, we simply have to decide whether to allow such circumstances to point us to a negative answer, or whether to accept the testimony of Scripture: “The LORD reigns!” (1 Chr. 16:31; Ps. 93:1-2; 96:10; 97:1; 99:1; Isa. 52:7). “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Ps. 103:19). He is the “great King over all the earth” (Ps. 47:2). He is “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). Regarding my personal testimony, I decided long ago that my final authority in all things is the Bible; thus I accept this clear, unequivocal Biblical teaching concerning God’s absolute sovereignty over all things.

I admit that there are times when I must believe thisin spite ofmy own experiences. But in such cases I take refuge in God’s promise: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). After I wrote my book on God’s providence (What the Bible Says About God theRuler), I prepared a Scripture index for it. When it was completed I found that I had quoted Romans 8:28 more often than any other Biblical text (15 times).

Two other Biblical teachings must be kept in mind as we are trying to come to grips with the many negative situations which we encounter every day. First, we must remember Paul’s teaching in Romans 8:18-23, that the whole universe is presently under a curse until the New Heavens and New Earth are born (Rom 8:18ff.). This explains why even in the world of nature many things happen that are in fact not “natural,” i.e., not a product of the world as God originally created it. These “unnatural” things include tsunamis, disease, and human death. If we did not understand how these things came to be present in the world, their presence might indeed raise questions about God’s Lordship. But when we see them in the light of the curse of Genesis 3, and realize that they are unnatural and also temporary, we see that they are not a threat to the divine sovereignty.

Second, it is also important to remember that God's sovereign decision to create free-will beings lies behind the abundance of sin in the world (see my chapter on the problem of evil inGod the Ruler). Mankind’s misuse of the blessed gift of free will (especially the original trespass of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden) is the source of many of the negative experiences that raise questions about God’s being in control.

I will mention one last point relevant to such questions. As I interpret it, the very last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, was written for the very purpose of driving home this very point: "God is in charge!"—in spite of all the seeming evidence to the contrary. The various sections of the book, in sequence, present symbolic descriptions of the kinds of circumstances that challenge the authority of God, and each section raises the question: “Who’s in charge here?” But each time, in section after section, the emphatic answer is set forth: “God is in charge!” The whole point of this last Biblical book is to comfort us in the face of negative experiences of all kinds. (See my book,The Faith Once for All, pp. 488-94.)

43. A Sort-Of Philosopy of Teaching byJack Cottrellon Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 9:41pm
I have been a professor of theology for nearly 44 years. I have had a lot of time to think about the best way to “teach Bible doctrine” to my students. Long ago I decided that the best method is to communicate (by lecture) what the Bible itself teaches, subject by subject. This is similar to how sermons are preached, except in the classroom we are able to welcome student questions and input.

Over these years I have heard my share of criticism for using this method of teaching, sometimes from other teachers. “Teachers like Cottrell just spoon-feed the students,” says the critic. “He tells the students WHAT to think; I, on the other hand, tell them HOW to think.”

Of course, therearecourses that can tell you “how” to think. If you, the student, are looking for courses that tell you how to use your reasoning powers to examine evidence and evaluate truth claims in order to judge them to be true or false; if you are looking for courses that tell you how to use and interpret the Bible – such are available. You could take courses in epistemology and logic; in the Bible area you could take a course in hermeneutics. I deal with epistemological issues in my course on basic apologetics.

But by the time you get to most of my courses, I assume that youalready knowHOW to think, how to use reason and logic, how to evaluate evidence and arguments, how to use language to communicate ideas. I believe most teachers assume this, despite their claim to be teaching “how to think.”

Now, let’s get something straight. When you come to one of my classes, do NOT make the mistake of assuming that, if I am not going to tell you HOW to think, then I am going to tell you WHAT to think, as if I intend to spoon-feed you, or indoctrinate you, or dictate to you what you must believe. Just because I have no intent of telling youhowto think, this does not mean that I will am intending to tell youwhatto think. It is naïve to think that these are the only two choices a teacher has. (This is an example of that pesky fallacy called the “false choice.”)

Sometimes a teacher who claims to be telling studentshowto think is actually doing no more than setting forth the main views on a particular subject, without personally advocating or defending one of those views. Thus the student is left to evaluate the possibilities and to make up his or her own mind as to which is the best alternative. In my judgment, it is extremely naïve to assume that such a method is equivalent to “teaching the student how to think.” I also think it is not fair to the students for a teacher to withhold from them the fruit of his or her own study of the issues.

So what IS the best way to teach? Here is my conclusion; this is how I do it: I will not tell you HOW to think, nor will I tell you WHAT to think. I follow this third option: in my courses I will attempt to explain the main issues and the main approaches to these issues. Then I will tell you, the student, WHATITHINK is the best approach to any given issue. I will tell you what I think are the true or best answers to crucial questions about the Bible and about Bible doctrine (theology and ethics), and I will tell you WHY I think these are the best answers. You, the student, are under no obligation to agree with me. You do not have to accept my views, even to get a good grade in the course. You only have tounderstandwhat I am saying, and this is what examinations are intended to evaluate. (Your exam answers will assume the principle of FEPO: “For Exam Purposes Only.”) I do expect you to use your own reasoning powers tounderstandandevaluatewhat I say. The conclusions you come to are your own business.

For the purpose of my (non-apologetics) courses, I am assuming or presupposing thefull inspiration and authority of the Bible. Some are critical of this, calling it “circular reasoning” or “begging the question.” This is not the case, however. When I assume in a doctrine course that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, I am notblindlypresupposing this, without considering the evidence both for and against it. Examining the evidence for this, however, is the business of apologetics and is covered in other courses. For the purposes of theology and ethics courses, we must begin where apologetics leaves off. Most of my courses thus assume that I have already judged that the evidence is sufficient to prove the divine inspiration of the Bible and thus the validity of the Biblical world view.

Having accepted the full inspiration and authority of the Bible, we must necessarily take anabsolutistrather than arelativistapproach to truth. For example, what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit, or about sexuality and marriage, is taken to be the final word on the subject and to be applicable to all people in all times. Thus every human being is under a moral obligation to accept what the Bible says as true and right on these (and all other) subjects.

If this view of the Bible is true, then it does not matter what YOU think, or what I think. What matters is what GOD thinks, as revealed to us in his inspired Word.

But even if we accept God’s Word as inspired and absolutely true, someone may still question whether it is possible for us finite mortals to objectively study the Bible and actually discern “what God thinks” about this or that subject. Is this possible? YES! Otherwise God has failed in his desire, purpose, and effort to communicate this (“what He thinks”) to us in his Word. If someone says we can never besurethat we know what the Bible “really says” about any given subject, this is not just a humble recognition of the limitations of finitehumanability; it is actually an attack onGod’sability to communicate even with finite creatures.

The bottom line is that we should not be reluctant to come to firm convictions about the truth or falsehood of specific theological positions, or the ethical rightness or wrongness of specific kinds of human behavior. Nor should we be reluctant to confidently communicate these convictions to others. This is true not just of seminary teachers, but of preachers as well.

44. If Jesus Is God, Why Did He Not Know the Time of His Second Coming? 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 4:04pm

QUESTION: If Jesus is part of the Godhead, i.e., if he is the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, why did he not know the dates and times suggested in Matt. 24:36 and Mark 13:32?

ANSWER: Matt. 24:36 says concerning the day of the second coming, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” Mark 13:32 is the parallel passage affirming the same thing. Here it is specifically said that God the Son, in his incarnate state, did not know the time of this specific future historical event. The fact that God is omniscient, however, means that his knowledge is infinite or unlimited. He knows everything, including every detail of the future of his creation. The latter is called his foreknowledge. God is omniscient by nature; he cannot NOT know everything, including the future. Does this mean, then, that Jesus is not divine?

Here it is important to distinguish between the content of knowledge as such, and one’s consciousness of the things that he knows. God not only knows everything; he is always conscious of all that he knows. Not only is the content of his knowledge all-inclusive; but also, all of that data is constantly in the forefront of his consciousness. God has no “subconsciousness,” as it were. Here is a major difference between God and all created persons, including angels and human beings. We as creatures are by nature finite or limited; this applies to our knowledge. No human being is omniscient or all-knowing. Even the most brilliant and learned human beings know a limited or finite amount of facts. But there is another way in which our knowledge is finite, namely, we are actually fully conscious of only one thing at a time (or possibly two). Everything we know is stored away in our “memory banks”; what we are actually thinking about at any given time is dependent upon our circumstances. What does this mean?

For one thing, the content of our consciousness is sometimes determined by the data being fed into our brain via our physical senses. That is, we are thinking about a certain song because that’s what is on the radio or playing on one’s iPod at the moment. Most of the time, however, we are thinking about a particular thing because wewillto do so. This is part of what we mean bymemory. When we “remember” something, we are willing it to rise from our subconscious storehouse of data into our consciousness. Most of the things we “know” are actually thus stored away, awaiting a stimulus of some kind—such as an act of will—to bring them to the level of conscious thought. For example, I can ask you a question right now, the answer to which is something you no doubt know on the subconscious level, but which you may not have actually thought about for months or years. Here is the question: What is your mother’s maiden name? or, What is your mother-in-law’s maiden name? This is the kind of data we can usually just will into our consciousness. Such an act of will is what we use when we are taking a final exam—though it does not always work! That is another example of the finiteness of our knowledge, of course.

This distinction between God’s constant and complete consciousness of all things, and the human limitation of being conscious of just one thing at a time, helps to explain what Jesus said about his lack of knowledge of the time of the second coming. We will never fully understand all that was involved in the incarnation of God the Son as the God-man Jesus of Nazareth, but we do know that the exercise of some of his divine attributes became limited through that event (Phil. 2:6-7). He was not actually stripped of any such attributes, but he voluntarily surrendered the full use of them in this incarnate state. This obviously included his omniscience.

But how could Jesus, if he was truly God, NOT be omniscient? The answer possibly lies in the distinction between divine consciousness and human consciousness, as explained above. My speculation is that one of the results of the incarnation was that the consciousness of Jesus was limited as that of any human being, in that he only thought about one thing at a time, with the option of changing the content of his consciousness as he so willed. Of course, being God and therefore omniscient, his knowledge was still infinite in the sense that he had infinite data stored in his “memory banks,” so to speak. He thus had all knowledge at his command and could will it into his consciousness whenever he so desired. For example, he could know the contents of any man’s heart (Mark 2:8), and he could know the future when he chose to do so (John 13:21, 38).

But there was at least one thing that Jesus chose NOT to will into his consciousness, namely, the time of his second coming. This was without doubt by design, and it is important that we were told this limitation. When Jesus said he did not know the time of the end, and that no one but the Father knows it, that means that it is futile to search the gospels for hidden messages concerning when that end might come. God does not want us to know that detail, because he wants us at every moment to be ready for it.


by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 4:47pm

QUESTION: Why do so many denominations serve the Lord’s Supper only once a month?

ANSWER: Most Protestant churches do not acknowledge any definitive New Testament teaching on how often to take the Lord's Supper. Even in the Restoration Movement we recognize that there is no specific command to celebrate the Supper every week; our choice to do so is at best an inference.

That said, I think it is a very GOOD inference, and one that I believe can be defended as the will of God. I.e., to some degree we believe that what is called "apostolic precedent" has the authority of a command. We infer that the practices of the early church, under the leadership of the apostles, had the APPROVAL of the apostles. Certainly the approval of the apostles is a better guide for our church practices today than our own fallible human ideas.

How does this lead to the weekly Lord’s Supper? Acts 20:7a says, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them” (ESV). Here, we understand “the first day of the week” to mean “the first day of EVERY week.” We understand “the first day” to mean Sunday. We understand “break bread” to mean the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. We understand the phrase “TO break bread” to mean “FOR THE PURPOSE OF breaking bread.” Thus Luke seems to be asserting the fact that the Christians in Troas came together every Sunday for the purpose of taking the Lord’s Supper.

When we apply the principle of apostolic precedent to this text, the fact that the church was meeting on the first day of the week "to break bread" implies that the apostles TAUGHT the early Christians to meet every Sunday to take the Lord's Supper. That this means the first day of EVERY week is a natural understanding of the phrase, just as the fourth commandment, "Remember the Sabbath day" (Exod. 20:8), was meant to refer to EVERY Sabbath Day—a point no one denies.

But for the Protestant world in general, the lack of a specific command means that we can use our own judgment as to how often the Supper should be celebrated. Some have decided that once a month is appropriate; others do so once a quarter (every three months). Some have even decided that once a year is sufficient, since the Jews celebrated the Passover Feast only once a year. To me, it is quite clear from both the New Testament and from early Christian writers that the early Christians met every Sunday. Since this is the case, it is simply unbelievable that they would do so without incorporating into their services or meetings the one thing that Jesus himself personally instituted for his disciples.


by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 6:00pm

QUESTION: The New Testament speaks of God as “choosing” or “electing” us, and Christians are called “the chosen ones” or “the elect.” This sounds like determinism, or Calvinism. How can such language be reconciled with free will?

ANSWER: The main verb for “choose” iseklegomai; the adjective (as in “chosen ones”) iseklektos; the noun (‘the chosen”) iseklogē. The words “elect,” “chosen,” and “predestined” carry similar connotations. A main point is that this language is used in different contexts with different applications. It does not always have to do with salvation, i.e., “chosen for salvation.” I will explain these different applications.

First of all, Jesus as the incarnate Son of God is called “My Son, My Chosen One” by the Father (Luke 9:35; see Isa. 42:1; Matt. 12:18; 1 Peter 2:4,6). His redemptive work was both predestined and foreknown (Acts 2:23; 4:28; 1 Peter 1:20). Obviously the second person of the Trinity was chosen not for salvation but for service, nor was he chosen against his own will.

Second, as with Jesus, when used of human beings sometimes the language of election refers to being chosen forservice, not for salvation. God decides to use certain individuals to play specific roles in his program of redemption. To create the nation of Israel God chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Neh. 9:7; Rom. 9:7-13). He chose Moses (Ps. 106:23) and David (Ps. 78:70; 139:16) among others. He even chose certain Gentile rulers to help carry out his purpose for Israel, e.g., Pharaoh (Rom. 9:17) and Cyrus (Isa. 45:1).

Calvinists and determinists in general usually have completely misunderstood Paul’s point about election in Romans 9. They see God’s election of the individuals named here, and of the nation of Israel as such (see below) as referring to unconditional election to salvation. This is totally wrong. The point is election to service, as I show in my commentary on Romans.

Calvinists make a similar mistake regarding election language when used of the Apostles. E.g., Jesus says of the Apostles, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). Calvinists continually cite this as proof for their doctrine of unconditional election to salvation, when Jesus is actually referring to his choice of these men, even Judas the betrayer, for key roles of service, not for salvation. See Luke 6:13; John 6:70; 13:18; 15:19; Gal. 1:15-16.

Third, the language of election is sometimes used in the Bible not for individuals as such but for groups, usually the nation of Israel. In this case, again, the election in view is to service and not to salvation. See Deut. 7:6; 14:2; 1 Chron. 16:13; Acts 13:17. This nation was chosen specifically to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. This corporate election for service had no necessary connection with the salvation of any particular Israelite. This is Paul’s main point in Romans 9—a point which is usually missed completely by Calvinists. In this section of Romans Paul is defending God’s sovereign right to unconditionally choose either individuals (such as Pharaoh) or groups (such as Israel) for roles of service without being bound to guarantee their salvation.

In a similar way the language of election is also used of God’s new elect body, the new Israel, the church. While not strictly parallel to OT Israel, in this age the church as a body is now God’s chosen people (1 Peter 2:9); and this election is in part an election to service. When Peter here describes the church as a “chosen race,” he adds this purpose for the choosing: “that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” Thus in terms of service, whereas Israel was elected for preparation, the church is elected for proclamation.

Fourth, the language of election is sometimes applied to groups in the sense of election to salvation, but in a very special way. Here the Bible speaks of a group as being chosen or predestined for salvation, not in the sense that every individual in the group will be saved, but in the sense that the group is chosen as the category of individuals to whom God is pleased toofferhis gift of salvation. This is the key to understanding Paul’s treatment of predestination in Ephesians 1:1-14. His main point is not the predestination of individuals to salvation, but the predestination of all theJewsas anation, and then the predestination of all theGentilesalso, to be a part of his chosen people. However, he is not here speaking of every individual Jew nor of every individual Gentile as the object of predestination to salvation, but of God’s choice to make salvationavailabletoboth groupsand to unite both groups into one body, the church (see Eph. 2:11-16; 3:1-10).

A key to this understanding is how Paul’s use of “we” and “you” in Ephesians 1 refers to “we Jews” and “you Gentiles.” In this passage Paul identifies himself with the Jews, whom he calls “the first to hope in Christ” (v. 12). In the first part of the chapter he dwells on God’s purpose for the Jews as a nation: how God chose them (“us”) before the foundation of the world, how he predestined them to adoption as sons, how he offered them the gospel of grace first (see Rom. 1:16). It should be noted that the references to predestination in Ephesians 1 are strictly speaking of the predestination of thenationof Israel, not of individual believers. Paul’s main emphasis up through v. 12 is on God’s purpose for the Jews (“us”). But then in the next verses he begins speaking in the second person, “you,” i.e., you Gentiles. In v. 12 he says that “we who were the first to hope in Christ” were used to the praise of his glory, but now “you also” have been brought into the sphere of salvation “to the praise of His glory.” This is the theme he continues to develop, then, in chapters two and three especially.

The use of election language in this sense is also seen in some passages allegedly referring to repentance and faith as “gifts of God.” E.g., Acts 5:31 speaks of Christ as the one who grants repentance to Israel, while Acts 11:18 says God has granted repentance to the Gentiles. The point is not that God grants actual faith and repentance to every member of the nation of Israel nor to every Gentile. The point is simply that God has made theopportunityto believe and repent available to bothgroups. This is the way in which God is said to have chosen both groups for salvation, i.e., he has made salvation available to individuals within the groups. 


by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 6:04pm

In part one of this essay, I said that the Biblical language of election is used in several different senses or applied in several different ways. In that part, I explained the first four such ways: (1) the election of Jesus as the incarnate God the Redeemer; (2) the election of individuals to service, e.g., the patriarchs and the apostles; (3) the election of groups (especially Israel) to service; and (4) the election of groups as categories of individuals to whom God offers his gift of salvation, specifically the Jews and the Gentiles.

Now, fifth and finally, the language of election (predestination) is sometimes used in the Bible to refer to the fact that God has indeed chosen or predestinedsome individualstosalvation. Both Calvinists and non-Calvinists recognize this, of course. The difference between these groups is not that the former believes in predestination while the latter does not. No, the key difference lies in the fact that the former (Calvinism) believes that such election isunconditional, while the latter (non-Calvinists) believes that it isconditional. In TULIP, the Calvinist acronym for its doctrines of sin and salvation, the “U’ stands for “unconditional election.” The key word here is “unconditional.”

When Calvinists say that God chooses individuals unconditionally, they mean that in eternity past he surveyed in advance the entire future sinful human race and chose to save some while allowing the rest to remain unsaved and go to hell. They also mean that God does this without any regard whatsoever to any responses the chosen individuals have made to God’s announced conditions for salvation. Indeed, there ARE no such announced conditions for being thus chosen. From our perspective, the election is arbitrary; and we have no say in it at all.

The non-Calvinist approach is just the opposite of this. It has three main points. First, Goddoeschoose (predestinate) some individuals to be saved. The language of election or choosing is definitely applied to us as individuals (see Rom. 16:13). We are “the elect,” the ones chosen by God. See, e.g., Matt. 24:22, 24, 31; Mark 13:20, 22, 27; Rom. 8:33; Col. 3:12; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1-2; Rev. 17:14.

The second point is that our election isconditional. I.e., God specifies in advance what conditions a sinner must meet in order to be chosen for salvation. In this New Covenant age these conditions, as clearly taught in the NT, are faith, repentance, confession, and baptism. (See my book,The Faith Once for All, chs. 19, 20, for an explanation of these as conditions for salvation.) These actions are decisions we must make in order to be chosen by God for salvation. Faith and repentance are not gifts which God bestows arbitrarily upon some sinners while passing others by. Ephesians 2:8 does NOT say that faith is the gift of God; Greek grammar does not allow this interpretation (seeThe Faith Once for All, 200). Nor should Acts 13:48 be translated as saying that “as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (NASB). The verb here istasso, and it should be taken in themiddle(reflexive) voice, not passive. I.e., “as many as turned themselves toward eternal life believed.”

The bottom line is that some choose to meet these conditions, and some do not. The Bible says emphatically that God wants all people to be saved (1 Tim. 2:2-4; 2 Peter 3:9), a fact that is clearly inconsistent with the whole idea of the unconditional election of onlysometo salvation. The Bible also clearly says that not everyone is willing to meet the conditions God specifies in order to be among the chosen. Jesus said these words over Jerusalem: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” But in spite of Jesus’ own earnest desire (“I wanted”), he sadly acknowledges—“and you were unwilling” (Matt. 23:37). Jesus wanted to choose them, but they did not want to be chosen.

This is how we must understand texts such as John 5:21, which says that “the Son also gives life to whom He wishes.” In general he wishes to give life to all sinners, but Scripture makes clear that he will actually give life or salvation only to those who do those things he has specified as conditions for receiving it. These conditions are part of the gospel, through which God draws all men unto himself (see John 6:44, 65; 12:32). The word of the gospel draws ALL who hear it, but some resist its drawing power. God calls and draws sinners unto himself, but this calling and drawing are universal and resistible, not selective and irresistible (contrary to Calvinist teaching).

The third point is that God from eternity past in his foreknowledge has already foreseen who will and who will not meet his gracious gospel conditions by obeying his gracious gospel commands. (On the concept of obeying the gospel, see Rom. 10:16; 2 Thess. 1:8.) Based on this foreknowledge, in eternity past those whom he foreknew would meet these conditions were predestined to be with him in glory for eternity future. See Rom. 8:29; 2 Thess. 1:9; 1 Peter 1:1-2. God did not predestine anyone to believe and repent. Heforeknewthat they would believe and repent along with obeying the other gospel commands, and as a result he predestined them to final salvation.

Those who want to see more detailed discussions of these points should consult my published works thereon:What the Bible Says About God the Ruler(originally College Press, 1984; now Wipf and Stock), especially chapters 4-5, 8-9;What the Bible Says About God the Redeemer(originally College Press, 1987; now Wipf and Stock), pp. 389-399, “Is Grace Conditional or Unconditional?”;The Faith Once for All(College Press, 2002), ch. 19, “Conditions of Salvation”; ch. 20, “Baptism”; and ch. 22, “Predestination”; my essay on “The Classical Arminian View of Election,” ch. 3 inPerspectives on Election: Five Views(Broadman & Holman, 2006); and my commentary on Romans (College Press, 2-vol. ed., 1996, 1998; 1-vol. condensed ed., 2005), especially the comments on Rom. 8:28 and on ch. 9.

48. Can a Christian Who Falls Away Ever Become Saved Again? 

byJack Cottrellon Tuesday, December 28, 2010 at 5:48pm

QUESTION: I understand that a true, saved believer can “fall from grace” and become lost; but can such a person ever return and become saved again? Does not Hebrews 6:4-6 suggest that a person who falls away can never again be saved?

ANSWER: The idea that a fallen-away sinner can never again be saved has brought much anguish to many sincere people. It is also a false doctrine, one that is based mainly on a seriously-false translation of the passage named here, Hebrews 6:4-6. I have written about this in my systematic theology,The Faith Once for All(pp. 382-383), which I will now repeat here:

The fact that the NT teaches the possibility (and in some cases the actuality) of falling from grace raises the question: is it possible for one who loses his salvation ever to be restored thereto? Many say this is not possible. If a saved person abandons or loses his salvation, for whatever reason, it is impossible for that person ever to be saved again. This conclusion is usually based on Heb. 6:6, which says of fallen ones that "it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame." This seems to be an unequivocal locking of the door to salvation to anyone who voluntarily forsakes Christ.

In my judgment, however, this is a seriously false conclusion, based on a false interpretation and translation of Heb. 6:6 (see v. 4 in the NIV). This verse, rightly understood, doesnotteach that it is impossible for a fallen person ever to return. The main affirmation in the verse is indeed "it is impossible to renew them." The key to understanding this, however, is the two modifying participles, "crucifying again" and "putting to open shame." How a participle is related to the main verb is always a matter of interpretation, since there is no connecting word (such as "since") in the Greek text. Sometimes a participle states thecauseof the action of the main verb. That is how most translators interpret the two participles in Heb. 6:6; hence theyaddthe word "since." This leaves the impression that it is impossible—period—to renew fallen ones to repentance, and that is because they have crucified Christ to themselves again and put him to an open shame.

This interpretation of the participles must be vigorously rejected, however. Their relation to the main verb is not causal buttemporal, i.e., they state a time frame in which the action of the main verb is true. This is true for two reasons. First, they arepresentparticiples, notaorist(past) participles. Since present participles generally refer to action that is contemporaneous with (rather than action that precedes) the main verb, it is much better to connect them with the main verb with words such as "while" or "as long as" (as the NASB and NIV footnotes allow). Thus the meaning of the verse is somethingvery differentfrom what appears in most translations. It is saying that the impossibility is conditional, i.e., it is impossible to renew the fallenas long asthey continue to crucify Christ to themselves again and put him to an open shame.

The second reason why these participles should be interpreted in this temporal sense ("while, as long as") is that other Scripture supports the possibility that the fallen may be restored. The clearest such text is the one that addresses the fate of those Jewish branches on the olive tree that were broken off because of their unbelief (Rom. 11:20). It cannot be doubted that at least some of these were Jews who once had a sincere faith in Yahweh as he was known from OT revelation and who were thus in a saved state, but who when confronted with the gospel of Christ chose to reject him and thus became unbelievers and were broken off from the tree. Of these Paul says, "And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again" (Rom. 11:23). If they will restore their own faith, God will restore them to his grace.

Another text that gives support to the possibility of restoring the fallen is the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). The story of the prodigal is often taken as having at least a secondary application to the work of evangelism. I.e., the prodigal is pictured as a lost sinner who experiences conversion. When interpreted on this level, however, it is much more reasonable to regard it as parallel to a believer who falls away and is then restored. In the parable the son is first pictured as beingalive in his father's house. This represents the believer in the state of grace. Then the son is pictured as beingdead in a far country,representing a believer's free choice to allow his faith to die. Finally the son is shown to bealive again in his father's arms, indicating that a fallen believer can be restored to grace again. Verse 24 says the son "has come to lifeagain," showing he was once alive, then dead, then alive again.

In view of these considerations it is tragic that most Bible versions mistranslate Heb. 6:6 and thus close the door of hope to the fallen.

How does the restoration of a fallen believer take place? Romans 11:23 shows that he must not remain in unbelief but must again begin to believe in the saving work of Jesus. Also, Acts 8:9-24 may properly be regarded as an actual instance of a believer, Simon the former sorcerer, who fell from grace and is then instructed by Peter torepentandprayin order to be received into grace again (v. 22).


by Jack Cottrellon Friday, November 19, 2010 at 2:55pm

QUESTION: Is it "necessary," or is it just "tradition," to use grape juice (or wine) for communion? Is "fruit of the vine" (Matt. 26:29) limited to thegrapevine, or is any juice allowed? Someone told me they went to a church that used cranberry juice, because they got a deal on it at the store! What do you think?

ANSWER: Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper [LS] during the yearly Passover feast (Matt. 26:17ff.), which God established for Israel on the night of the tenth plague upon Egypt (Exod. 12). Only three things are specified to be consumed in this feast: a roasted lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs (12:8). Special emphasis is placed on the lamb’s being “without blemish” (12:5; see Lev. 22:17-25), and on the complete absence of leaven (12:14-20). The use of wine or grape juice is neither commanded nor prohibited.

The Passover feast eaten by Jesus and his apostles had at least two elements not mentioned in Exodus: (1) something like gravy in which to dip the bread (Mark 14:24; John 13:26), and (2) “the fruit of the vine” (Matt. 26:29; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:18).

Several questions may be raised about our own practice of the LS. First, what kind of “fruit” was “the fruit of the vine”? Was it grapes? Second, if “the fruit of the vine” was a grape product, was it fermented? Third, how meticulous should we be in imitating the details of the final Supper and incorporating them into our LS practice today?

Regarding the first question, there is little doubt that “the fruit of the vine” refers to something related to grapes. The Greek word for “vine” isampelos, which refers not to some generic fruit-bearing plant but to one that bears a specific kind of fruit, i.e., grapes. See James 3:12 (ESV): “Can … a grapevine [ampelos] produce figs?” Of course not! See also Rev. 14:18, where the vine (ampelos) is specifically said to produce grapes. The related word,ampelōn, is almost always taken to mean “vineyard.”

Regarding the second question, was the juice of the grape fermented or not? Fermented grape juice of course is wine. It should be noted that the common Greek word for wine isoinos; it is used nearly three dozen times in the NT. However, this was NOT the word used by Jesus when he referred to the beverage used at the Last Supper. Instead of saying, “I will not drink wine again etc.,” he said, “I will not drink again of thisfruit of the vineetc.” (Matt. 26:29). This phrase is used in no other context in the NT. Jesus seems to deliberately use “fruit of the vine” in place of “wine.”

To me, this strongly suggests that the cup at the Last Supper contained unfermented grape juice, not fermented wine. This is consistent with the strong ban on leaven (an agent of fermentation) in connection with the Passover and the seven days of celebration that followed. Wine is simply fermented or “leavened” grape juice, a liquid counterpart to leavened bread.

The purpose of excluding leaven from the Passover celebration is not specifically explained, but it is probably parallel to the requirement that the Passover lamb be “without blemish.” Apart from the practical implications for the Israelite worshipers, the unblemished lamb was ultimately the type or forerunner of the sinless Savior, our true Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7). The absence of blemish and the absence of leaven represent the moral perfection of Christ and the absence of physical corruption in his body (Acts 2:27). Thus the rationale for the use of grape juice instead of wine is ultimately Christological.

Some argue that it would be impossible to preserve unfermented “fruit of the vine” from the grape harvest (late summer, early fall) until the Passover (early spring). This does not seem to be the case, however. “Means for preserving grape-juice were well known: Cato,de Agri CulturaCXX has this recipe: ‘If you wish to have must (grape-juice) all year, put grape-juice in an amphora and seal the cork with pitch; sink it in a fishpond. After 30 days take it out. It will be grape-juice for a whole year” (The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, ed. Merrill C. Tenney, p. 895). Also, reconstituted grape juice can be produced by soaking raisins in boiling water.

This leads us to the third question, namely, how closely must our present practice of the LS conform to our best understanding of the original Supper? Here I believe we must distinguish between matters of form and matters of content (i.e., between the circumstances and the essence of the Supper). Formal matters include physical factors such as place (upper room), posture (reclining around a low table), and utensils (one cup). Such things are not part of the essence of the Supper and do not have to be duplicated.

The real essence of the LS lies in the emblems as such and in what we do with them. We “eat the bread” and we “drink from the cup.” What we eat and what we drink lie at the heart of it all. Thus I believe we should do our best to come as close to the original elements as possible. This is why many make a special effort to use only unleavened bread to represent Christ’s body, and why (I believe) we should make such an effort to use plain grape juice to represent Christ’s blood.

This is similar to how we followapostolicprecedent in other matters of our public worship, as I explained in a recent note. I.e., if there is a precedent set in the Bible in the area of practice (worship practices, especially), we should follow that if at all possible. In the present case, we are honoringChristologicalprecedent. The Apostle Paul reminds us that it is theLord’stable (1 Cor. 10:21) and theLord’sSupper (1 Cor. 11:20). It is notourtable, noroursupper, to redesign and reinvent according to our own judgment or whim.

Thus my conclusion is that it isconditionallynecessary to use grape juice in the LS, i.e., on the condition that nothing else is available. Sometimes we may not have a choice as to the elements, in which case a substitution of something like cranberry juice for grape juice, or a substitution of soda crackers for unleavened bread, is acceptable as better than no elements at all. Though I would certainly not make it a test of fellowship, I would strongly urge all believers to use unleavened bread and unfermented grape juice regularly in the LS. To use pizza and cola because that is standard kids’ fare, or to use whatever can be purchased most cheaply at the grocery story, is something I would never consider. Such a casual approach ignores the deep theological meaning of the LS as such and of the elements themselves in their original setting.

50. Can a God of Love Be a Jealous God? 

by Jack Cottrellon Saturday, November 6, 2010 at 5:29pm

QUESTION: If God is love, why does He say He is a jealous God?

ANSWER: One of the biggest mistakes made in reference to God’s nature is to assume that LOVE is His primary attribute, the one over-arching, all-inclusive attribute that must somehow include all other attributes. This false presupposition seems to underlie this question, i.e., isn’t jealousy somehow inconsistent with love? How can love express itself in jealousy?

One of my main theses with reference to God is that there is no ONE, over-arching attribute of which everything else must be an expression. With reference to His moral attributes, there are TWO main and co-equal attributes that are very different but not inconsistent. These two basic sides of His moral nature are Hisholinessand Hislove. Because God is holy, He is jealous and wrathful in the presence of sin; because He is love, He is merciful, patient, and gracious toward sinners. His jealousy is thus an expression of His holiness, not His love.

Here I will explain the attribute of jealousy by providing an excerpt from my book,The Faith Once for All, pp. 93-94. (See my book,What the Bible Says About God the Creator, pp. 409‑416, for a more complete explanation.)

The holiness of God when provoked by sin sometimes springs forth in the form ofjealousy. In the second commandment Yahweh declares, "For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God" (Exod. 20:5). "You shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God" (Exod. 34:14).

Both the OT and the NT words for jealousy refer to an intense feeling of zeal or ardor, a fervor of spirit, a zealousness, a jealousy, even a jealous anger. But we must not think of God's jealousy as a petty spite or envy directed toward some other deity whose legitimate worshipers He covets. Rather, when jealousy is attributed to God, the background always seems to be His relationship with His people understood figuratively as a marriage relationship. Like a husband, God is jealous with a "godly jealousy" (2 Cor. 11:2) for both the welfare of His spouse and for the maintenance of her exclusive devotion toward Himself. And what is the major threat to both? Idolatry! Thus the biblical references to God as a jealous God most often appear in a context condemning idolatry. This connection is seen in Exod. 20:5 and Exod. 34:14, cited above. See also Deut. 6:14‑15, "You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you, for the LORD your God . . . is a jealous God" (see Deut. 4:22‑24; 29:17‑20). In Deut. 32:21 the Lord declares, "They have made Me jealous with what is not God; they have provoked Me to anger with their idols." See Josh. 24:19‑20; Ps. 78:58; 1 Cor. 10:22.

False gods provoke God to jealousy because they are rivals to His exclusive claim to Godhood and to His exclusive right to the devotion of His creatures. This is where the concept of the marriage relationship enters. Those who are led astray by false gods are being unfaithful to their rightful spouse; idol worshipers are guilty of spiritual adultery or harlotry. See Num. 25:1‑2; Jer. 5:7; Ezek. 16:17; 23:25‑27. Just as any husband would be hurt and indignant because of his wife's unfaithfulness, the holy God is provoked to jealousy when His people go after other gods. The heart of this attribute is seen in Isa. 42:8, "I am the LORD, that is my name; I will not give my glory to another, nor my praise to graven images." As the only true God, he declares, "I will be jealous for My holy name" (Ezek. 39:25).


by Jack Cottrellon Saturday, November 6, 2010 at 2:07pm

QUESTION: Regarding NT teaching on church worship, I have a question about how apostolic precedent relates to singing praises as an act of public worship. Regarding apostolic precedent, you have said, “Since the apostles were the primary authoritative teachers in the early church, we accept the practice of these acts of worship [‘musical praise, prayer, the Lord’s Supper, and giving’], as perpetually binding upon the church by the authority of apostolic precedent” (Cottrell,The Faith Once for All,pp. 449-450). Now, most church music scholars grant that the apostles and the early church sanga cappellain a world where instruments abounded. So, if you agree that the apostolic church sanga cappella,why do you believea cappellasinging is NOT
perpetually binding upon the church by the authority of apostolic precedent?

ANSWER: This is a very perceptive question. I see apostolic precedent as inherent in the essence of the apostolic task andapostolic authority.Jesus appointed the apostles to carry out the task of establishing the church. The church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20, ESV). The prophets in this case are the NT prophets (Eph. 3:5), who along with the apostles were recipients of new revelation for this NT era. Jesus specifically promised the apostles that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth necessary for their tasks (John 16:12-13). The gift of apostles is of first importance in the church (1 Cor. 12:28). In addition to being able to give authoritative teaching from God, they exercised a general authoritative leadership in all matters regarding the church.

This general authoritative leadership applies not only to the apostles’ specific teachings as recorded in the Bible. It also applies to early church practices that are recorded in the Bible (especially Acts) that obviously have the approval of the apostles, and which would appear to have been the result of apostolic teachings given orally to the early church but not specifically recorded in Scripture. Such practices are regarded as authoritative, on the basis on this concept of “apostolic precedent.” I.e., the precedent set by the early church, under the guidance of the apostles, is authoritative for our current way of “being the church.”

One aspect of apostolicprecedence that must be emphasized, however, is itsconnection withBiblicalauthority. I.e., if the apostles instructed the early church regardinga practicethat was intended to be perpetual in the church, we must conclude that the Bible will have recorded that precedent. If nothing is mentioned in the Bibleone way or the other abouta particular activity, then we have no basis forassuming that the rule ofapostolic precedent applies to it. If something is specifically mentioned, though, I take that as "precedential" (to coin a word). This would apply, e.g., to the specification of the first day of the week as the time forgathering to take the Lord's Supper (Acts 20:7). But if nothing at all is mentioned about an activity, either as practiced or as omitted, there is no precedent either way. This is the essence of silence. "Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent." I.e., we cannot insert a rule where the Bible has none.

This would apply to a host of things, including the use of a musical instrument in worship, plus just about everything I am aware of that is used in thea cappellaworld asa basisof division. In my judgment, on the one hand, since the NT is silent about whether the early church used instruments in their musical worship, we cannot say one way or the otherif they did or not. It is a fallacy to declare that they did not, in view of the fact that it is not mentioned specifically either way. But on the other hand, even if weassume that the early church did NOT use instruments in their musical worship, we still cannot apply the rule of apostolic precedentin this casesince such omission is not specifically mentioned in the Biblical records. I.e., there is no text that says or implies, "The Christians in Antioch [or wherever] sang worship songs without using an instrument." As an analogy, there is no text that says or implies, "The Christians in Antioch did not sit down- while singing worship songs." If nothing is said about a practice one way or the other, it is wrong (in more ways than one) to try to apply apostolic precedent to it.

I have pointed out elsewhere that there is actually no clear NT reference to a Christian assembly engaged in congregational singing, either by command or by example. Most texts that mention singing, e.g., Eph. 5:19; Heb. 13:15; Acts 16:25, do not clearly refer to an assembly. The only text that clearly connects musical praise with an assembly is 1 Cor. 14:26, but this does not seem to refer tocongregationalsinging. This probably includes 1 Cor. 14:15 also.

52. More on Remarriage after a Non-Biblical Divorce 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, October 15, 2010 at 4:12pm

QUESTION: You have said that in a new marriage after a non-Biblical divorce, the new spouses initially commit the sin of adultery, but that this is not an on-going sin. The new marriage is a valid marriage, and the husband and wife are not “living in adultery,” even though Matt. 19:9 uses the present tense for “commits adultery.” Therefore this marriage should not be broken up so that this couple may attempt to return to their original spouses. But does not the Greek present tense portray an action that is continuous and occurring in present time? Does not Greek grammar point in this direction? Thus would not such a marriage be an ongoing, habitual sin? Did not John the Baptist rebuke Herod for this very thing: “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18)? Did not the Israelites in Ezra 9, 10 have to put away their foreign wives after returning from captivity?

ANSWER: Let’s deal with the issue of the Greek present tense first of all. As a general rule, present tense refers to action that is occurring in the present, as opposed to past tense (aorist, imperfect) which refers to action in the past, and future tense which of course refers to action that will occur in the future. This is not always the case, however. Even in narratives, sometimes the present tense is used for past events. See, e.g., Mark 1:12, 21, 30, 37, 38, 40, 41, 44; 2:3 etc.; John 13:5, 6 etc. This is just a Greek idiom.

Various examples of the use of present tense for one-time actions can be found in the NT. Occasionally, after Jesus had made a claim to deity, the Jewish leaders declared, “This man blasphemes!”—using present tense for a specific past event (Matt. 9:3; Mark 2:7; John 10:36). These leaders also complained that Jesus’ disciples “do not wash their hands when they eat” (Matt. 15:2). Such hand-washing would not be considered as a continuous act. These same leaders asked Jesus, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” (John 2:18). Such a sign would be a single event, but “show” is present tense. Concerning Judas’ imminent betrayal, Jesus said, “Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed [present tense]” (Matt. 26:24).

Also, the present tense is quite often used for a specific KIND of one-time event, but not a specific incident of that kind of event. It refers to a category of action, with this connotation: “In such-and-such a circumstance, this is what happens.” E.g., “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down [present tense] and thrown [p.t.] into the fire” (Matt. 7:19). “No one puts [p.t.] a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment” (Matt. 9:16; see also v. 17). “The evil one comes and snatches away [p.t.] what has been sown in his heart” (Matt. 13:19). “Just as the weeds are gathered [p.t.] and burned [p.t.] with fire, so will it be at the close of the age” (Matt. 13:40). “For in the resurrection they neither marry [p.t.] nor are given in marriage [p.t.]” (Matt. 22:30).” The good shepherd lays down [p.t.] his life for the sheep” (John 10:11; see vv. 10, 12).

These last examples are the type of statement found in Matt. 19:9: “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery [present tense].” This is a general statement about a kind of action; it is not referring to a specific event. Matthew 5:32; Mark 10:11, 12; and Luke 16:18 are the same. In all of the passages cited above, the present tense does NOT refer to continuing, ongoing action. This is simply not a uniform implication of the present tense.

What’s the deal, then, with John the Baptist’s condemnation of Herod Antipas’s union with Herodias? The fact is that Herodias was married Herod Philip (actually one of her relatives) when Herod Antipas met her and decided he wanted her for his wife—which required that he put aside his present wife, Aretas (daughter of an Arabian king). Whether any attempts at legal divorces were made is uncertain, but Herod Antipas and Herodias did begin living together in a kind of marriage. This is the union that John the Baptist denounced, which led to his death (Matt. 14:3-12; Mark 6:17-29; Luke 3:19-20).

We should be clear that John the Baptist’s denunciation of Herod’s marriage could have been for any number of reasons, but the problem was not simply that he was “divorced and remarried.” When John said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18), he was referring to a specific prohibition in the Law of Moses (Lev. 18:16; 20:21). These verses forbade any man to marry his sister-in-law (his brother’s wife) while that brother was still alive. If the brother died childless, then the man was supposed to marry the widow in order to raise up children in his brother’s name (the law of levirate marriage, Deut. 25:5). But Herod Philip was still alive, and he already had a child with Herodias—Salome by name. Thus Herod Antipas’s marriage to Herodias was clearly unlawful in terms of the Mosaic Law. We cannot read any more into it than this.

In Ezra 9 and 10 the situation in view is of another kind entirely. Here the descendants of the southern tribes that had been in Babylonian exile for several decades have now returned to their homeland and are trying to restore their commitment to life and worship according to the Law of Moses. One big problem was that while these exiled Jews had been living in Babylon, many had intermarried with pagan women, “so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands” (Ezra 9:2). The law that was broken in this case was not the general law governing marriage and divorce as such, but the specific commandment of God that the Jews were NOT to intermarry with pagans. This is specifically stated in Exod. 34:11-16; Deut. 7:1-4. The original law had to do with the pagan inhabitants of the Promised Land: “You shall not intermarry with them, . . . for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods” (Deut. 7:3-4). The principle applies to intermarriage with any pagans. This is the specific law that Ezra laments had been broken (Ezra 9:10ff.). The priests had even narrower standards for their marriages (Lev. 21:7, 13-14), yet many of them also had intermarried with pagan women (Ezra 10:18ff.). Thus these chapters from Ezra are simply not related to the issue of whether divorced individuals may remarry and whether their new marriages are legitimate.

My original explanation, then, still seems to be valid and Biblical. After an unbiblical (and therefore sinful) divorce (i.e., one not based on either sexual immorality or abandonment), the initial sexual union in a subsequent remarriage does involve the sin of adultery. But this is the final severance of the original marriage, which has already ended legally; and the new marriage is now the only one that exists. The spouses involved in this new union are not “living in adultery”; breaking up the new marriage would not only be a bad idea—it would be just plain wrong.

53. The Preterist View of Christ's Second Coming 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 10:51am

QUESTION: Can you give a brief evaluation of the view of the end times known as preterism?

ANSWER: Preterism is a particular approach to prophecy concerning the end times. Some preterist views are more moderate than the more popular one, which I will discuss here. The following material is mostly from my book, “The Faith Once for All,” pp. 541-543.

The prefix "preter-" means "beyond," and in a grammatical context it refers to the past, as in "past tense." In eschatology "preterism" is the view that, from our perspective, everything related to the second coming of Jesus is in the past. Now, most theologians agree that some events that can be called eschatological are in the past, e.g., the resurrection of Jesus. The view I am presenting here is usually qualified as full, consistent, hyper, or radical preterism. Advocates of this view include James S. Russell, David B. Curtis, John Noe, Max King, and John Bray.

The dominant version of preterism says that everything—EVERYTHING—associated with the second coming of Jesus happened in A.D. 70, in connection with the destruction of Jerusalem as an act of judgment on OT Israel. This includes the antichrist, the man of sin, the second coming of Jesus, the rapture, the resurrection, and the judgment day. Everything predicted in Matt. 24 and in the book of Revelation (which is dated c. A.D. 65) was fulfilled at that time (says preterism).The only way to affirm this, of course, is to say that many of the prophecies were fulfilled not literally or visibly but spiritually. Jesus' return was not visible (Noe, “Top Ten Misconceptions About Jesus’ Second Coming,” 29-43). Curtis says that when Christ came (in A.D. 70), "he literally, yet spiritually, gathered those that were alive to be caught up in the kingdom with Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ spiritually returned with the believers to the earth, to ever be with them. This was a spiritual event that was visibly manifest in the destruction of Jerusalem" ("The Rapture—Physical or Spiritual?" accessed online). The "resurrection of the dead" happened in A.D. 70 when Christ emptied Hades and took the saved to heaven in "heavenly" bodies; they will experience no further resurrection (Noe, “Shattering the ‘Left Behind’ Delusion,” 59-86). The old "heaven and earth" was the world of Old Covenant Judaism; in A.D. 70 it was replaced by a new "heaven and earth," or the New Covenant world (Noe, “Beyond the End Times,” 223-264). The world we now live in will never be destroyed; it will just continue on without end, with its death and evil enduring forever (ibid., 41-66; Noe, “Top Ten,” 51-52).

A basic rationale for the preterist view is the desire to take seriously the various biblical texts that speak of Jesus' coming as "near" and has happening "soon." Since God's Word never lies, all these texts must have been literally fulfilled within a short time after they were written. At stake is the trustworthiness of God's Word (Noe, “End Times,” 99-109; Curtis, "Inspiration and the Second Coming of Christ," accessed online). And since some of the "imminent return" texts seem to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, we can then conclude that all references and events related to the second coming were fulfilled at that time.

At this point I will offer a brief critique of the preterist view. First, it is to be commended for wanting to take the Word of God seriously in every respect. Also, it is to be commended for understanding that much biblical prophecy is figurative, or that it is fulfilled spiritually in spiritual realities rather than in physical realities. Because of this insight preterists are able to offer thoughtful critiques of dispensational premillennialism; see Noe's book, “Shattering the >Left Behind= Delusion.”

However, I conclude that preterism pushes the spiritualization of prophecy to an extreme. Denying the visible components of the Parousia, including Christ's own presence (see above), the attending angels, and the resurrected and transformed bodies of the saints, simply cannot be reasonably squared with the biblical data. The "spiritual bodies" of those who are raised are much more like the physical bodies we have now than the spiritual essences of angels. Jesus speaks of the resurrection as people coming forth from their tombs (John 5:28-29). The more we spiritualize our resurrection bodies, the more we must spiritualize Christ's own resurrection, in view of the correspondence between them (Phil. 3:20-21; 1 John 3:2). Curtis' point about 1 John 3:2 illustrates this. He says that "we will see Him just as He is" means we will see him spiritually, not physically. I.e., we will see him as loving, kind, gentle, and merciful ("Rapture").

I also conclude that preterists are in many ways guilty of the same kind of errors found in dispensationalism. Especially, just as dispensational premillennialists tend to apply many prophecies to the second coming that were actually fulfilled in the first coming, so do preterists wrench many prophecies and statements away from what happened at the first coming and likewise apply them to their version of the second coming. Here are some examples:

(1) Our union with Christ in death, burial, resurrection, and enthronement (as in Eph. 2:6-7; Col. 2:12-13; 3:1-3) is not fully experienced until the "rapture" occurred in A.D. 70 (Noe, “Delusion,” 105-111). Thus "post-A.D.-70 Christians have a tremendous advantage over pre-A.D.-70 Christians. After A.D. 70 we have the fullness of salvation-resurrection reality" (ibid., 87).

(2) According to preterists, A.D. 70 was a key date for the establishment of the kingdom. Noe says the only kingdom the NT knows about is the one "Jesus announced and ushered in during His earthly ministry, and consummated in 70 A.D." (“Top Ten,” 47-48). This ignores the significance of Christ's ascension and its connection with Pentecost as the key events for the establishment of the kingdom (Dan. 7:13-14; Matt.10:23; 16:28; Acts 2:32-36).

(3) Preterists say the destruction of Jerusalem was necessary for us to know that Christ's atonement and thus our own salvation are complete. He had "to appear 'a second time'"--i.e., in A.D. 70--"to show that his sacrifice had been accepted." Otherwise "we can't know for sure if our sins are fully forgiven" (Noe,“End Times,” 192). This gives the destruction of Jerusalem--an event not even recorded in Scripture--the evidentiary significance the Bible gives the resurrection (Rom. 1:4; 4:25; 1 Cor. 15:12-19).

(4) One of the most serious examples is the idea that the Old Covenant and the role of Judaism in God's plan were set aside not at the time of Christ's death but at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This is seen in Curtis' statement that "the old covenant was taken away in A.D. 70" ("Rapture"). Noe says, "After the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, all separation between God and his people was thereby removed" (“Delusion,” 104). This in effect denies the reconciling power of the blood of Christ, and Paul's specific teaching that the blood of Christ had already brought both Jews and Gentiles near to God at the time he wrote Ephesians 2:11-22, for "through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father" (Eph. 2:18). The Old Covenant was fully set aside (Matt. 27:51) and the New Covenant established (Luke 22:20) when Christ died. A.D. 70 had nothing to do with it.

I will sum up this point with the general critical observation that preterism is guilty of magnifying and exalting a very limited historical event, one that has a relatively marginal significance in Scripture, to the status of a cosmic redemptive event with eternal significance. The centrality and gravity bestowed upon the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem is completely out of proportion to its treatment in the Bible. Yes, Jesus' Olivet discourse addresses Jerusalem's fate, but even then most of his teaching about this event is in the form of instructions to his followers on how to understand it and cope with it and be saved physically from its horrors. For the Jews themselves it is described simply as "days of vengeance" (Luke 21:22). The awesome universal saving significance attached to it by preterists is without any biblical foundation, and is completely unlike the global event which the Bible pictures the second coming to be (e.g., Matt. 24:30; Acts 17:31; Rev. 1:7; 6:14-17).

It should also be noted that the biblical texts that refer to the second coming as "near" or happening "soon" do not require that Christ's return be within the lifetime of those contemporary with Jesus, as preterists claim. All these texts are perfectly consistent with a still-future Parousia (see “The Faith Once for All,” 540-541).

Wayne Jackson refers to this radical preterism (the "A.D. 70 doctrine") as "quite heretical" and "radically unorthodox" (“The Menace of Radical Preterism,” 2, 5). I agree that it is, both in content and in method. Regarding the latter it reminds me of a book I saw several decades ago called “I Found an Elephant in the Bible.” I do not remember what caused the author to begin looking for an elephant in the Word of God; but once he began looking for it, he found it literally everywhere. For preterists A.D. 70 is the elephant.

54. When Was Satan Created? 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, October 8, 2010 at 2:50pm

QUESTION: When do you think Satan was created? Some say that since God created ALL things within the six days of creation described in Genesis 1, this means that all angelic beings must have been created within this time frame, probably on the sixth day. Is there any basis for this idea?

ANSWER: The answer, of course, depends on who Satan, demons, and angelic beings in general are. As to his identity, the first point to emphasize is that Satan is indeed a created being, and not some eternally-existing evil force that has a kind of quasi-equality with God. He does not share divine attributes with God, such as infinity, omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience (including foreknowledge of the future).

The second point is that he is a part of the invisible (spiritual) creation mentioned in Col. 1:16, which embraces all angelic beings. Thus he shares the same attributes that apply to all angelic beings, namely, he is finite (as are all created things); he is spiritual in essence, and thus invisible to human eyes; he is a personal being, made in God’s image; he possesses supernatural power; and he is immortal, i.e., designed by God to exist forever, once he has been created.

The third point is that Satan is a part of the group of angels who sinned (2 Peter 2:4), and is actually the leader of these rebellious spirits. His one-on-one contest with Michael the archangel in Jude 9, and his position as leader of the demonic force that opposed Michael in Rev. 12:7, suggest that prior to his fall he too was an archangel (chief angel, an angel of the highest rank).

Now we may get back to the question, when was Satan created? It is important to see that he was not created AS SATAN, but as a good angel, a highest-ranking angel. God does not create evil beings. He creates beings with free will (such as the human race) who can use their free will to do evil things, but everything he creates is good when it is created. This applies to angels, even to the angels who used their free will to commit sin. This includes the devil. Thus he BECAME Satan after he was created.

When, then, were the angelic hosts as such created? The fact is that there is no clear Biblical data that can help us answer this question. We can mostly speculate. One thing we do know is that there is no Biblical reason to think they had to be created during the six days of creation in Genesis 1. This is because Genesis 1 is describing the origin of the VISIBLE universe only (see again Col. 1:16). Genesis 1:1 specifies this limitation by saying, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This phrase, “the heavens and the earth,” refers ONLY to this material universe. “Heavens” is not the angelic or spiritual realm; it is the universe that surrounds the earth. IF the angelic world was created during this time frame, the Bible is mostly silent on the point. (See the paragraph after the next one, though.) There is no reason to think that somehow these two universes are so inseparably linked that they must have been created at the same time.

The more tantalizing question is, when did the angelic FALL happen? The only sure references we have to this event are 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6. Some also think Isa. 14:12-17 and Ezek. 28:12-19 refer to Satan’s fall, but we can’t be sure of this. It is possible they are sarcastic references to the evil king of Babylon. Others think Luke 10:18 and Rev. 12:7ff. are references to Satan’s original fall, but it is much more likely that these passages are alluding to Christ’s personal defeat of the devil and his fallen-angel forces (the demons) during the time of His earthly ministry. The significance of the conflict between Christ and Satan, and of Christ’s decisive defeat of Satan via his death and resurrection, cannot be overemphasized.

The one sure marker we have for both the creation and fall of Satan is Genesis 3. Because of Satan’s role in the temptation of Eve, we know for sure that he had already been created and had already fallen into evil before this time. In my judgment both of these things had already taken place even before Genesis 1:1, before this world was made. Scripture testifies that the devil has been a murderer and a sinner "from the beginning" (John 8:44; 1 John 3:8). I take this to be the beginning of this universe. I.e., even when this universe was coming into being, the devil was already a murderer and a sinner.

Even if we cannot know for sure about Satan’s past, it is much more important that we know about his future. We know that he and his minions have already been defeated by Jesus Christ in the flesh (Heb. 2:14; Rev. 12:7ff.; 20:1-3), and that his final condemnation and doom are sure (Matt. 25:41; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). May Christ the Victorious One be praised!

55. Can the Guilty Party Remarry after Divorce? 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, October 8, 2010 at 1:03pm

QUESTION: In a Christian marriage which dissolves due to marital unfaithfulness, is the guilty party not allowed to remarry? And would this be the case even if the guilty party under the leadership of the elders tried everything possible to save the marriage? In view of 1 Cor. 7:9, would remarriage in such a case—even if it is a sin—be the “lesser of two evils”?

ANSWER: First, let’s get this straight: 1 Cor. 7:9 does not apply to this issue in the way you seem to suggest. Paul does NOT say, “It is better to REmarry than to burn IN HELL.” The “burn” here does not refer to burning in hell as a penalty for sin, but to being “aflame with passion” (ESV), i.e., to be constantly wrestling with unfulfilled sexual desire. Thus Paul is not talking about the “lesser of two evils” here. Even if it is a divorced person that is facing this dilemma, 1 Cor. 7:9 may indeed apply, but NOT in the sense of the lesser of two evils.

The reason why this is so is this: remarriage after a Biblically-based divorce is NOT an evil, i.e., a moral evil or sin, even for the guilty party. There is NO REASON why the guilty party after a divorce may not remarry, as I will now explain.

First, if sexual immorality and abandonment are grounds for divorce, they are also grounds for remarriage as such. The "except" clause in Matt. 5:32, 19:9 applies both to divorce and to remarriage. In these cases, the marriage bond no longer exists in God’s sight. Sexual immorality and abandonment, finalized by a legal divorce, sever the marriage bond. Both parties are now in a single state and free to remarry.

On the subject of remarriage as such, I recommend a book by Guy Duty called “Divorce and Remarriage.” Also, in his book, “Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible,” Jay Adams discusses 1 Cor. 7:27-28a, where Paul says, “Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you should marry, you have not sinned.” Here are Adams’ comments (pp. 84-85): “1. The word translated ‘released’ in both instances is the same word, ‘luo.’ 2. To bereleasedfrom a wife in the second instance must mean what it does in the first or the intended contrast that is set up would be lost. 3. It is plain that divorce is in view in both instances. Clearly, when Paul says that one must notseekto be released from a wife he doesn’t mean by death! The release in view can mean only one thing—release by divorce. So too, the release in the second instance must refer to release from the bonds of marriage by divorce (N.B., to be ‘released’ is the opposite of being ‘bound’ to a wife). 4. Paul allows for the remarriage of those released from marriage bonds (i.e., divorced) even in a time of severe persecution when marriage, in general, is discouraged (v. 28). 5. And, to boot, he affirms that there is no sin in remarrying.” “It is most important, then, to understand that the position of those who hold that under no circumstances whatever may a divorced person remarry, is totally unwarranted. This passage is fatal to that view; the Scriptures plainly contradict it when they affirm the opposite. There can be no doubt about it, the Bible allows the remarriage of some divorced persons . . . .”

But the main question here is, WHO is allowed to remarry? Adams says “SOME divorced persons,” suggesting that some are NOT allowed to remarry. I disagree. Now, most would grant that the innocent party can remarry. (Note: the term “innocent party” applies only if there is a valid Biblical grounds for divorce. “Innocent” implies a situation involving such a Biblical grounds.) But what about the GUILTY party? The common idea is that this wretched person must not be allowed to remarry! But the fact is that the guilty party ALSO is allowed to remarry. The old marriage bond is severed; the old marriage no longer exists. Those who deny the guilty party the right to remarry usually do so on an emotional basis rather than on a Biblical basis. There simply is no Biblical reason for such a denial. (See John Murray,Divorce, pp. 99ff.)

None of the above applies in the case of a non-Biblical divorce. If there are no Biblical grounds for divorce, then a legal divorce in itself does not sever the marriage bond before God, and NEITHER party is actually divorced and the marriage has not really ended in God’s sight. Thus neither party is allowed to remarry another, until one or the other of the original couple becomes guilty of sexual immorality.

To explain further, since in this case the marriage is not really dissolved in God's sight, the first spouse who enters into a sexual relationship (either via remarriage or outside of marriage) commits adultery and thus breaks the marriage bond (according to Matt. 19:9) AFTER the legal divorce. This is then a secondsin, in addition to the sin of groundless divorce as such. If this happens through another marriage, then the other party in that new marriage also commits adultery (Matt. 5:32; Luke 16:18). If anyone is the victim of a legal yet unscriptural divorce, then the one who initiated this divorce is implicated in the adultery which occurs if the unwilling partner remarries first (Matt. 5:32). This is all true EVEN if the remarrying person has become a Christian since his or her divorce! Becoming a Christian does not break a marriage bond! (I have found that in the area of ethics, nothing is more complicated than trying to sort out all the possible scenarios caused by divorce.)

Once a sexual relationship has been entered by one of the separated spouses (within or without another marriage), the other spouse is then free to remarry without guilt, since the original marriage bond is then truly broken. Any marriage which occurs after even an unscriptural divorce is thus a VALID marriage, since the original marriage bond is now broken. Such new marriages are the only ones that exist. Any attempt to "return to one's original spouse" would only compound the adultery.

The first to enter such a new marriage after an unscriptural divorce is initially guilty of adultery; but since a new marriage is thus begun, he or she does not CONTINUE to "live in adultery.” It is a one-time sin, not an on-going one. The resulting marriage is a valid marriage. This is parallel to the sin committed when a Christian marries a non-Christian. (The present tense in Matt 19:9 [“commits adultery”] does not imply “continues to commit adultery.”)

56. Divorce and Church Leadership 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, October 8, 2010 at 11:00am

QUESTION: What is the meaning of the expression, “one-woman man” (“mias gunaikos andra”), as it applies to elders and deacons, in 1 Timothy 3:2, 12 and Titus 1:6? This phrase is often translated, “the husband of one wife.” Does it mean that a divorced man can never hold one of these church offices?

ANSWER: There are several different views of this phrase. Some have said that it simply requires than an elder be married. (I will speak only of elders, understanding that the phrase is used of deacons, too.) It is true that the Greek word for “man” (“anēr”) can also mean husband, but this would be a strange expression to use for that purpose. There are ordinary Greek words for “married.” Also, the same expression in reverse is used in 1 Tim. 5:9 of widows, where the meaning is no doubt “a one-man woman.”

Another view is that it forbids an elder to be or have been involved in polygamy. But there is no evidence that polygamy was ever a problem in the church; there are no other references to it in the NT. Thus a special prohibition here seems unnecessary. The parallel expression for women 1 Tim. 5:9 is against this, since polygamy on the part of a woman (polyandry) was practically unheard of anywhere.

A third view is that the phrase forbids an elder to be or have been remarried after his wife’s death. This is quite unlikely, since the NT suggests that remarriage after widowhood is not wrong or tainted in any way. Widows are counseled to remarry (but only to other Christians): 1 Tim. 5:14; 1 Cor. 7:39. Marriage itself is presented as a godly, positive state: Matt. 19:4-6; Heb. 13:4; 1 Tim. 4:3.

The most common interpretation is that this phrase forbids an elder to be or have been divorced. Certainly God intends that marriage be lifelong and that divorce not be considered, but He has said that certain circumstances do legitimize divorce (sexual immorality by one’s spouse, Matt. 19:9; desertion by an unbelieving spouse, 1 Cor. 7:15). Therefore, since divorce and remarriage are not always wrong, what would be the basis of this prohibition for church leadership?

Those who hold this view give two answers. One, if a man has been involved in a sinful divorce, the prohibition has a moral basis. Two, even if a man has been innocently involved in a divorce, he is prohibited from holding office on the grounds of expediency. Concerning the latter, sometimes a thing which is not wrong in itself is nevertheless not expedient, i.e., it may be undesirable because of circumstances beyond the control of the parties involved. See 1 Cor. 6:12; 8:1-13; Rom. 14:13-23; Lev. 21:17-23. Thus there may be circumstances which in themselves do not involve sin and guilt, but which make it best for a man not to hold a church office. Divorce, even on a Biblical basis, is such a circumstance, according to this view.

I do not personally hold this view, for these reasons. If divorce is the main issue here, why is divorce itself not specifically mentioned? There are perfectly good Greek words available meaning “divorce”: “apoluō” (Matt. 5:31-32; 19:3, 7-9) and “apostasion” (Matt 5:31; 19:7). Also, even if the problem here is divorce, the specific expression used would seem to focus more on the fact of remarriageafterdivorce than on the divorce itself (see the emphasis on “one”). Thus divorce itself would not be specifically excluded, but only remarriage—which would make a man the husband oftwowives. If he remained unmarried after the divorce, he would still be the (former) husband of just one wife. We have already seen in the previous point, however, that there is no stigma attached to remarriage as such. Finally, the nature of Biblical marriage and divorce is such that a person is never truly married to more than one spouse at a time. If a person is married at all, it is to only one spouse at that time. So the requirement seems superfluousunlessit is forbidding marriage to more than one spouseever. But in this case it would be ruling out widowers who remarry as well as divorced persons who remarry. But again, this would mean that only remarriage is the disqualifying factor—a view that does not seem compatible with the Bible’s high view of marriage, as discussed in the previous point.

This leaves the final view of the prohibition, which I endorse, namely, that it requires an elder to be thoroughly committed to God’s pattern for sexuality and marriage, both in his mind-set and in his life-style, whether he be single, married, widowed, divorced, or remarried. The literal translation of the expression is “a ONE-woman man” or a “ONE-wife husband.” This is the actual word order, with the intended emphasis being on the word ONE.

Thus the elder must be a man who is an example of sexual purity and marital fidelity. “The emphasis is on ONE wife’s husband, and the sense is that he have nothing to do with any other woman. He must be a man who cannot be taken hold of [the literal meaning of “above reproach”] on the score of sexual promiscuity or laxity.” “A man who is not strictly faithful to his one wife is debarred” (R.C.H. Lenski’s commentary, 580-81). He must be a man of unquestioned morality, entirely true and faithful to his one and only wife (Wm. Hendriksen’s commentary, 121). This understanding fits 1 Tim. 5:9 very well, also.

The bottom line is that this prohibition would not necessarily exclude those who had been divorced (and even remarried) BEFORE they became Christians for whatever reasons, but who have now fully embraced God’s will for their sexuality and marriage. Sins related to divorce and remarriage are no worse than other pre-Christian sins and are just as forgiven as any others. “The bulk of the membership from which the elders [in the early church] had to be chosen had come from paganism.” Few would have been free from the taint of sexual vice (Lenski, 580).

Neither would this necessarily exclude the innocent party in a divorce AFTER one has become a Christian. If the man has remained fully committed to God’s will for marriage, he is still a “one-woman man” despite the unfaithfulness of his wife. If a man has been the GUILTY party in a post-conversion divorce, then he is excluded from office, at least until he has demonstrated true repentance and a firm commitment to the Biblical nature of marriage. In my judgment it is possible for a man to reach this point.

In all of this, the law of expediency would apply and may yield varying results in different places or even in different cases in the same place. There may be times and places in which it is best for even a Biblically-divorced man not to hold a church office. Expediency considers such things as (a) the attitude of the contemporary society toward divorce in general; (b) the need to uphold and to teach the Biblical ideal in the best possible way; (c) the responsibility to present no occasion for stumbling where weaker church members are concerned; and (d) the congregation’s attitude toward and acceptance of her leaders.

57. Is Genesis One a Poem? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 5:15pm

QUESTION: I showed a video by Rob Bell to my youth group. In the video Bell says that Genesis 1 is a poem written to set up the Sabbath. Some parents objected to my showing the video. They assume that since Bell says Genesis 1 is a poem, he must be saying that it is not an actual historical account of creation. What do you think? Could this crucial passage be poetry? And if it is, how does this affect our interpretation of it?

ANSWER: I have not seen the Bell video, so I am not sure what he is implying when he affirms that Genesis 1 is poetry. I am sure that some people make this claim as a not-so-subtle way of denying that this creation account is historical truth. I don’t know if that is Bell’s agenda or not. If his purpose is to provide an excuse for rejecting the factual claims of Genesis 1, that is his business. The important point, however, is this: even if one could show that Genesis 1 is poetry, that in itself is NOT a sufficient reason for saying that it cannot therefore be historical in nature.

I am not sure whether this chapter is poetry or not. But even if it is, this would merely be a judgment about its form, not necessarily its content. Poetry as a form of literature can serve the purposes of both truth and fiction. Some of the world’s greatest literary works are fictional poems, e.g., Edmund Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene,” John Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” Dante Aligheiri’s “The Divine Comedy,”, Homer’s “The Odyssey” and “The Iliad,” and the anonymous “Beowulf.” Some of these poetic works may have an historical core or premise, but are fleshed out in symbolic or allegorical details that are pure fiction. (Some poems nothing but fiction, of course, e.g., “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” by Clement Moore.)

On the other hand, historical events can well be written in poetic form without sacrificing the truth or facticity of those events. Examples of this are harder to find, since poets do have a tendency to take liberties with some of the details as they compose. We could cite “The Battle of New Orleans” by Thomas English, or “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Paul Curtis’ “The Holy Infant” is more simple and to the point. No one claims infallibility for such poets, of course.

What is more important is that we can turn to the Bible’s own book of poetry, the Psalms, and find poetic descriptions of historical events. For example, Psalm 22 includes a wonderfully prophetic picture of the scene at Calvary, told as being from the lips of the crucified Christ Himself (see vv. 12-21). That His enemies are described poetically as bulls (v. 12) and dogs (16, 20) does not affect the historicity of the description one bit. Another example is Psalm 104, which is a marvelous poem about God's work of creation and providence; it is packed with information and doctrinal truth in poetic imagery. Exodus 15 may also be cited as another example, one that celebrates the Israelites’ crossing of the Red Sea and the destruction of their enemies.

There are good reasons to doubt that Genesis 1 is meant to be poetry, even in its form. When you compare it with the acknowledged Biblical (historical) poems just mentioned, you can see an obvious contrast in the language. Genesis 1 has no flowery imagery; it presents itself as a simple, straightforward recitation of facts. (For stark contrast, one should compare it with the so-called Babylonian creation myth, the astonishingly-gross “Enuma Elish.”) In any case, when anyone raises the kind of question with which we began above, we should simply explain that the following are two different issues: (1) whether Genesis 1 is a poem; and (2) whether the factual claims of Genesis 1 are true or false. One can accept the former without implying the latter. Whether Bell is doing this or not, I do not know.

58. Salvation and "the Church of Christ" 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, October 1, 2010 at 12:13pm

QUESTION: Is it true that only members of the Church of Christ will be saved?

ANSWER: The answer to this question depends on what is meant by “the Church of Christ.” To clarify what I mean, I will first distinguish between the “church universal” and local congregations. The church universal is the worldwide body of Christ, the total number of people who are under the saving blood of Jesus. Paul often uses the word “church” in this sense, especially in Ephesians 5:22-32. Here he says that Christ is “the head of the church” and “the Savior of the body” (v. 23), and that “the church is subject to Christ” (v. 24). He says that “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (v. 25). Christ’s goal is “to present to Himself the church in all her glory” (v. 27). Christ “nourishes and cherishes” the church (v. 29), His own body, of which we are members (v. 30). “I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church,” says Paul (v. 32).

In this beautiful description of Christ’s relation to the church, it should be clear that Paul is not talking about any one local congregation or any one visible church group that has a post office address or membership roll. He is talking about the “one body” (Eph. 4:4), “the household of God, which is the church of the living God” (1Tim. 3:15). This universal body of Christ is composed not of groups of people but of individuals—indeed, all individuals who have surrendered to the Lordship of Christ and have accepted his offer of salvation. This is “the Church of Christ” in its purest and most specific form. So in answer to the question above, YES, only members of the Church of Christ in this sense will be saved.

It is true, though, that sometimes the group known as the Restoration Movement refers to itself as “the Church of Christ” (and sometimes “the churches of Christ,” and sometimes “the Christian Church”). Many individual congregations within this group are called “churches of Christ.” This is what the questioner was probably referring to, namely, must an individual be a member of such a “Church of Christ” in order to be saved? The answer to this question is NO. By saying this, though, I am not putting any kind of “stamp of approval” on denomination churches and congregations, as I will now explain.

Here is where another distinction becomes very important. Many are aware that I often refer to what is called the “double cure” of grace, i.e., the two distinct aspects of salvation which the Redeemer bestows upon the willing sinner in the very moment when that sinner becomes saved. The first aspect of this double cure is justification or forgiveness of sins, which means that the sinner’s entire debt of eternal punishment has been canceled through the application of the blood of Christ, and he or she is now officially in a saved state. Being justified (100 percent forgiven) is like having a ticket to heaven in your possession.

But in that saving moment God also bestows a second aspect of salvation upon the sinner, namely, the inward change worked by the Holy Spirit upon the soul called regeneration, resurrection from spiritual death, spiritual circumcision, the new creation, and being born again. This is accomplished through the “gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38), which is the Holy Spirit Himself coming to dwell within our lives and bodies to empower us for the lifelong sanctification process.

Here is a crucial point: receiving the first part of the double cure means that we are 100 percent forgiven of all our sins as long as we continue to trust in Jesus’ atoning death for our sins. Thus we are continually in a saved state. However, receiving the second part of the double cure does NOT make us 100 percent GOOD. It simply means that we now have the power for growing in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18), i.e., becoming more and more holy throughout our lives (1 Peter 1:15-16). We may begin our Christian lives being 35 percent holy, and after a couple of years we may have become 48 percent holy. In our mature years we may achieve 82 percent holiness! (Only God knows the real numbers.) The point is that we should be growing more and more day by day, year by year.

The crucial point, though, is this: whether an individual is “saved” or not, in the sense of being sure of going to heaven if death or the second coming should occur, depends on the FIRST part of the double cure—being 100 percent forgiven by the blood of Christ. Being “saved” in this sense does NOT depend on what percent good or holy one may be. We are all still sinners, and are all still growing.

How does this apply to the original question above? Like this: Everyone who is JUSTIFIED (100 percent forgiven) by the blood of Christ by that very fact is a member of the universal “Church of Christ.” How does one become thus justified? By “obeying the gospel” (Rom. 10:16; 2 Thess. 1:8). The gospel imperatives that must be obeyed in order to be saved are these simple conditions for salvation: believe in Jesus, repent of your sins, confess your commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior, and be baptized into the saving union with Him. EVERYONE who has done these things is a member of the universal church or body of Christ, no matter what their denominational or local church affiliation may be.

Does that mean that the latter point is irrelevant, i.e., that it does not matter what one’s denomination or local church affiliation is? NO. I am convinced for many reasons that every saved person, as a matter of his or her sanctification, MUST be a member of a local congregation that is following the NT instructions for what such a congregation should be like. And as I understand it, at the present time, Restoration Movement churches—“churches of Christ” and Christian churches—are the local congregations that are closest to the NT pattern for such a group. This means that members of other groups (e.g., Catholic, Methodist, Baptist) may be JUSTIFIED (saved in this sense) IF they have obeyed the gospel (as explained above). But their continuing membership in a denominational church is a flaw in their SANCTIFICATION. If they want to grow in grace and knowledge, and become more pleasing to Jesus Christ, they should unite with a local congregation that is following the NT pattern.

59. Is Everything "the Will of God"? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 9:07pm

QUESTION: Our pastor says that everything is God’s will. Is this true? How can we understand “God’s will”?

ANSWER: To know what your “pastor” means when he says that “everything is God’s will,” I would have to know if he is a Calvinist or not. Let me explain.

The NT words for “will,” as used in the context of “God’s will,” can mean one of three things: desire, purpose, or permission. In view of this variety of connotations, it is indeed correct to say, EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS IS THE WILL OF GOD. But two different people can make this same assertion, and mean two entirely different things by it.

First, when a Calvinist makes this statement, he means that everything that happens is God’s will in the first two senses if the word “will,” namely, “desire” and “purpose.” Calvinists begin with the concept of an “eternal decree.” I.e., before anything else happens, God draws up in His mind a detailed, meticulous blueprint that includes everything that will ever happen within the creation He is about to bring into existence. In this sense the blueprint is comprehensive. Also, everything in the blueprint (decree), whether in the realm of nature or in the realm of human actions, is there by God’s sole choice. He is the only one who has any say about it, any input into it. We human creatures have NOTHING to do with it; the decree is completely unconditioned by anything outside of God. Whatever is in the decree is there because God WANTS it to be there, period. This includes all human actions and apparent decisions. Thus everything that happens is the will of God in the sense that He DESIRES it.

This eternal decree is also described as efficacious, or causative. I.e., whatever takes place in our world happens because it was in the decree, period. God put it there because he wants it to happen, and because it is His eternal purpose to MAKE it happen. That is what world history is: God turning His eternal decree into reality. Thus everything that happens is the will of God in the sense that it is part of His PURPOSE. And if it is His purpose, He will make sure that it happens. Whatever happens is desired by God, purposed by God, and in the end caused by God. Out of this system we get the common belief that “everything happens for a reason,” or “there’s a purpose for everything.”

One Calvinist says that God has a “predetermined plan” for everything. “It is that which WILL HAPPEN. It is inevitable, unconditional, immutable, irresistible, comprehensive, and purposeful…. It includes everything—even sin and suffering. It involves everything—even human responsibility and human decisions” (J. G. Howard, “Knowing God’s Will,” Zondervan 1976, p. 12). Another says that “the final answer to the question why a thing is and why it is as it is must ever remain: ‘God willed it,’ according to his absolute sovereignty” (H. Bavinck, “The Doctrine of God,” Eerdmans 1951, p. 371).

In my judgment the above approach to “the will of God” is entirely false. SOME things happen because God desires and purposes them, but not everything. It is especially important to know that the word “will” can also mean “permit, allow.” When we understand this we can truly say that EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS IS THE WILL OF GOD, but not in the same sense!

Of course God does decree or purpose some things to happen, especially things relating to creation and redemption. The cross, for example, was predetermined (Acts 2:23). But because God created this world to be inhabited by free-will creatures, most things that happen in it are not purposed by God but rather PERMITTED by Him. God desires us free-will creatures to do many things that we do not do (e.g., 2 Peter 3:9), and He desires us NOT to do many things that we do (commit sins, especially). Thus His will in the sense of “desire” does not always happen. But even in these kinds of cases, whatever happens does so ONLY because God PERMITS it to happen.

James 4:13-15 clearly identifies this aspect of the divine will: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’” Here, “if the Lord wills” means “if the Lord permits” in the same sense as Acts 18:21 and 1 Cor. 4:19 (see Rom. 1:10; 15:32; 1 Peter 4:19). The point is that God COULD PREVENT anything that is about to happen if He should choose to do so; and sometimes, according to His purposive will, He does just that (Luke 12:20).

But in most cases he wills to ALLOW it to happen according to our own plans and choices, thus allowing our free choices to determine our own destinies. Still, even when God is PERMITTING such things to happen as the result of our own wills, He is willing them to happen in the sense that he is permitting them to happen. So even these things are the will of God—but NOT in the sense that He is purposing or causing them. They are the result of his permissive will only.

So—what does your pastor mean when he says that “everything is God’s will”? If he means that God has decreed everything and is causing everything according to His own eternal purpose, this is not Biblical. But if he means that some things are God’s will in the sense that he purposes and causes them, but other things are God’s will only in the sense that He permits them, then he is correct. The latter is the Biblical view.

[Some Calvinists say that some things (usually sins) happen only because of God’s permissive will, but the concept of true permission is incompatible with the eternal decree to which they are committed. Calvinists thus must always redefine permission until it is meaningless or contradictory. More than once I have heard Calvinists use the expression “efficacious permission”—an obvious contradiction of terms.]
For more details on the content of this note, see my book, “What the Bible Says about God the Ruler,” chapter 8, “The Will of God” (pp. 299-329).

60. Describing God 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 4:10pm

QUESTION: How would you describe God?

ANSWER: I appreciate the questioner’s wanting me to "describe God," but I must confess that a thorough answer to this question requires an answer that would be much too large for a brief piece like this. In the early 1980s I set out to answer this question by writing a book on "What the Bible Says About God." Before I finished, I had three large volumes totaling 1,500 pages. Originally published by College Press, they are still available from Wipf and Stock Publishers: “What the Bible Says About God the Creator,” “What the Bible Says About God the Ruler” (on the subject of providence), and “What the Bible Says About God the Redeemer.” When I wrote my systematic theology, "The Faith Once for All" (College Press) in 2002, I included a shorter answer to the question as chapter 3: "The Nature of the Creator-God" (pp. 67-99).

In the chapter just mentioned, I divided twenty-five attributes of God into four main categories, and gave a brief explanation of each one. Here I will explain those four categories, and explain the attributes included in each of them even more briefly.

I. The first category is GOD’S NONRELATIONAL ATTRIBUTES. These explain the essence of God as He exists in Himself. I.e., the expression and meaning of these attributes do not depend upon the existence of created beings and God’s interrelationships with them. They are true of God and are understandable apart from any connection with creation.

A. God is SPIRIT. This means He has life and personhood; He is a living, personal being. Being “composed of” spirit, He is also nonmaterial and invisible. See John 4:24. B. God is SELF-EXISTENT. This is also called His “aseity.” It means that His being is not derived from anything outside of Himself. He is self-sufficient, inherently immortal, indestructible, and independent. See Exodus 3:14; John 5:26; 1 Tim. 6:16. C. God is ONE. This includes the unity of simplicity, which means God is not composed of parts and His essence is indivisible. It also includes the unity of simplicity, meaning He is the only true God. See Deut. 6:4; 1 Cor. 8:4. D. God is THREE. This is the Trinity: He is three persons who share one essence or substance. This does not mean there are three gods, but three distinct centers of consciousness who are eternally equal in essence and authority. Each person within the Trinity takes on distinct roles in the working out of redemption. See Matt. 28:19; 1 Peter 1:2. E. God is INFINITE. This means He is not limited in any of His attributes, contrary to the inherent limitations of created beings. E.g., He is not limited by time and space; His power and knowledge are not limited. The only thing that limits God is His own nature; He cannot do things that are contrary to His nature. F. God is ETERNAL. This is true in a quantitative sense. He has existed from eternity past and will by nature continue to exist into eternity future. He has no beginning and no end. See Psalms 90:2; 102:25-27. Also, this is true in a qualitative sense. Though He is not completely timeless, His consciousness is not limited by time; He has perfect knowledge of the past and the future. See Isaiah 40-48. G. God is RIGHTEOUS. This means that God is always true to Himself; all His actions are perfectly consistent with every aspect of His nature. He is self-consistent and faithful to His word. See Psalms 129:4; 145:17. H. God is IMMUTABLE. This means that God does not and cannot change in His nature, character, and purposes. See Psalm 102:25-27; Malachi 3:6. He does change, however, in His mental states (e.g., emotions) and in His activities, especially in the sense that He genuinely reacts to what goes on within His creation.

II. The second category is GOD’S ATTRIBUTES AS SEEN IN HIS RELATIONS WITH CREATURES AS SUCH. These are attributes that become manifest once God has brought the creation into existence.

A. God is TRANSCENDENT. This means He is distinct from and different from all created beings, both in His very essence and in the way in which He exists. His essence is “beyond” that of any creature, not in a spatial sense but in a metaphysical sense. In Biblical terminology, God is HOLY in an ontological sense. As the only uncreated being, He is set apart or separated from all creatures. See Exodus 15:11; Isaiah 6:3. B. God is SOVEREIGN, which means He has absolute lordship over all creation. As Creator He owns all things, and thus has inherent authority and power to do whatever He wishes with His creatures. This does not mean that He causes all things; it means He is in control of everything that takes place. See Psalms 47:2,8; 103:19. C. God is OMNIPOTENT, or all-powerful. This is a major aspect of His infinity: His power is unlimited. He can do whatever He chooses, except for things that are inconsistent with His own nature. He is “God Almighty.” See Gen. 17:1; Jer. 32:17. D. God is WISE. Wisdom is the ability to choose the best possible end, and then to choose the best possible means of achieving that end. This applies to God’s choices in creation, providence, and redemption. If we believe that God is all-wise in his sovereign control of all things, we will have complete trust in Him. See Rom. 8:28; 11:33; 16:27. E. God is GOOD. This means He is the standard of excellence and perfection; that He is always morally good; that He is desirable (Psalm 34:8); and that He is kind and benevolent toward His creatures. See Matt. 5:43-45; 1 Tim. 6:17. F. God is OMNISCIENT, meaning that He is infinite in His knowledge. He knows everything there is to know; He knows it perfectly; and He is always conscious of all He knows. He has perfect knowledge of the past, the present, and the future. See 1 John 3:20; Isaiah 46:9-10). G. God is OMNIPRESENT. This is what it means to say that He is infinite or unlimited by space. He is not three-dimensional; His infinite being is always present to every point of space at all times. In this metaphysical sense we can never be separated from God’s presence. See Psalm 139:7-10. H. God is IMMANENT. This means that He is not only present TO every point of space; He is also present WITHIN our space. He is not “outside” our universe (a false understanding of transcendence); He is always with us and near us. See Psalm 34:15; Acts 17:27-28. I. God is GLORIOUS. This refers to His infinite significance, the totality of His perfections, the fullness of His deity compressed into a single concept. He displays His glory in all His works. See Psalm 19:1; 148:13; Isaiah 6:3.

III. The third category is GOD’S ATTRIBUTES AS EXPRESSED IN HIS RELATIONS WITH FREE-WILL CREATURES, not just creation as such. Here we are thinking of His relationships with human creatures who have and use the gift of free will, apart from our identity as sinners.

A. God is HOLY. This is not His ontological holiness, or separation (apartness) from the creation itself, but His ethical holiness, i.e., His separation (apartness) from everything sinful or morally evil. This is His perfect moral excellence, including His own moral purity and uprightness as well as His absolute opposition to and hatred of all sin. Because God is holy, He demands holiness in His creatures as well. See Job 34:10-12; 1 Peter 1:15-16. B. God is LOVING. This includes both AGAPE love, or His genuine and infinite care and concern for our well-being; and also His genuine AFFECTION or lovingkindness toward us. We may define his love as His self-giving affection and selfless concern that lead Him to actively seek the happiness and well-being of His image-bearing creatures. See Psalm 119:64; John 3:16; 1 John 4:8.

IV. The last category is GOD’S ATTRIBUTES MANIFESTED IN HIS RELATIONS TO SINNERS. These are attributes known to us especially in the way God responds to sinners. They are basically the outflowing of the two previous attributes: because God is holy, He is jealous and wrathful in the face of sin; because He is love, He is merciful, patient, and gracious toward sinners.

A. God is JEALOUS. Against the threat of false gods and idols, like a loving husband, God is always zealous to protect the well-being of His people and to preserve our exclusive devotion toward Himself. He is provoked to jealousy when His people go after other gods. See Exodus 20:5; 34:14; 2 Cor. 11:2. B. God is WRATHFUL. Wrath is an essential part of God’s nature; it is the way His holiness responds to sin. It is the natural and inevitable and eternal recoil of the all-holy God against all that is unholy. Its result is vengeance and retribution in the form of deserved punishment, ultimately in hell. See Isaiah 63:3-4; Rom. 1:18; Heb. 12:29. C. God is MERCIFUL. The God of wrath is also the God of mercy. Mercy is the love of God as directed toward mankind in our sin-caused pain, suffering, need, misery, and distress. It means that God hurts because we hurt. It is his sense of compassion that causes Him to want to deliver us from suffering apart from any consideration that we may actually have brought it upon ourselves by our own sin. See Rom. 11:22; 2 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 2:4. D. God is PATIENT, or longsuffering. This means that He withholds our deserved punishment in order to give us the opportunity to repent and be spared. He exercises delay and restraint in the execution of His wrath, simply because He loves us. See Exodus 34:6; Isaiah 48:9; 2 Peter 3:9. E. God is GRACIOUS. Grace as an attribute of God is the most extreme expression of His love when that love comes face to face with sin. It is His willingness and desire to forgive and to accept the inner in spite of his sin, and to give the sinner the very opposite of what he deserves. It is His infinite desire to give sinners this gift of forgiveness even though they deserve His wrath and even though it costs Him the cross. See Psalm 103:8-12; Rom. 3:24-26.

61. Divorce and 1 Corinthians 7:15 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, September 29, 2010 at 10:13pm

QUESTION: I have some questions about the meaning and application of 1 Cor. 7:15, which says, “But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace” (NKJV). First question: If the unbeliever leaves, and the believer is not bound, does that give the believer the freedom to secure a divorce and then marry a committed Christian? Second question: A Christian is married to a person who begins abusing him or her, perhaps associated with drinking or using drugs. In this kind of situation, is the Christian ever justified in securing a divorce and then marrying a committed Christian? When Jesus says “except for marital unfaithfulness” in Matthew 19:9 (NIV), does abusing one’s mate constitute “marital unfaithfulness”?

ANSWER: Many have assumed that Matthew 19:9 states the only legitimate (Biblical) basis for divorce. Here Jesus says, “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (NKJV). Here Jesus says that “sexual immorality” is a valid ground for divorce and remarriage. The Greek word isporneia, which is translated variously as “fornication” (KJV), “immorality” (NASB), “unchastity” (NRSV), “marital unfaithfulness” (NIV), and “sexual immorality” (NKJV). It has almost always been interpreted as referring to adultery. Thus adultery is a legitimate grounds for divorce.

Many, including myself, understand that the Apostle Paul, with divine authority, introduces a new valid, Biblical basis for divorce in 1 Cor. 7:15 (quoted in the question above). This takes account of a new kind of situation that arose once the church began to spread via missionary and evangelistic activity, namely, the existence of a marriage in which one spouse is a believer and the other one is not. This is a circumstance Jesus (“the Lord,” 1 Cor. 7:10,12) did not address during his earthly ministry, but Paul now with full apostolic authority gives us God’s will on this matter. Where such a marriage exists (e.g., through the conversion of one spouse but not the other), Paul says the believing spouse must continue to live with the unbeliever as long as the latter is willing to continue that arrangement (1 Cor. 7:12-14).

In verse 15, however, Paul says that if the unbelieving spouse does not want to continue the marriage, the believing spouse is (morally) free to agree to a dissolution of the marriage. The Christian spouse is “not under bondage” is such a case. This “bondage” refers to the marriage bond in the sense of being bound by God’s law of marriage to one’s spouse (see v. 27; see Rom. 7:2). Abandonment frees the believing spouse from that bond. Thus in answer to the first question above, my answeris YES: if such abandonment occurs, the believer is free to consent to a divorce or even to pursue divorce proceedings, and then is free to be remarried (to a Christian, of course).

However, regarding the second question above, I do not believe 1 Cor. 7:15 applies to this kind of scenario. There is no suggestion of abandonment here, nor is it specified that the abuser is an unbelieving spouse. The questioner brings Matt. 19:9 into this picture, asking if Jesus’ reference to “marital unfaithfulness” might include such abuse. The answer here is also NO. The word Jesus uses in Matthew isporneia, or sexual immorality in particular. The translation "marital unfaithfulness" is too general;porneiaspecifically has to do with sexual misconduct. It is a general term that does refer to adultery, but is not limited thereto. It could include such things as child sexual abuse, incest, homosexual behavior, and even pornography addiction. One could possibly argue that if the marital abuse includes marital sexual abuse such as marital rape, then such abuse could be counted asporneia.

Is there no relief, then, for a spouse who is enduring severe mistreatment? In reference to the second kind of scenario given in the query above, I would apply 1 Cor. 7:10-11. Here v. 10 says a wife must not leave her husband, but then v. 11 says "But if she does depart"--indicating that v. 10 is not absolute and may allow for a separation or even divorce in the kind of abuse situation described above. BUT here is the qualification: even though leaving under these circumstancesmay involvea divorce,a remarriage is not allowed ("she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband").

I know this sounds unfair (the “remain unmarried” part), but in a world of sin many things that happen to us because of others' sins are unfair, e.g., being injured or having one’s child killed by a drunk driver, losing one’s job because of another person’s lies, being robbed of one’s life savings by a conniving crook, or being deprived of spousal support because the spouse committed a crime and is in prison. We must be careful not to resort to “situation ethics” in such difficult circumstances, or to make exceptions to God’s stated rules on our own authority.

62. The Medium of Endor (1 Samuel 28) 

by Jack Cottrellon Saturday, September 25, 2010 at 2:09pm

QUESTION: What’s the deal with King Saul’s visit to the spiritist at Endor, recorded in 1 Samuel 28:3-25? Did not God forbid all association with diviners, witches, and spiritists (mediums)? Why did He allow this incident?

ANSWER: You are correct to say that God has forbidden consulting with anyone claiming occult knowledge, occult power, or contact with the dead (Deut. 18:9-14 and many other places). This prohibition is still in force (e.g., sorcery is condemned as a work of the flesh, Gal. 5:20). Occult knowledge includes all forms of ESP, reading omens of any kind, and attempting to divine (predict) the future. Occult power includes all forms of witchcraft, sorcery, and spell-casting. Those who claim to contact the dead are known as spiritists or mediums.

God forbids our consulting anyone who practices these occult arts because it constitutes a lack of faith in God’s own providential care for His people. It is a rejection of the sufficiency of His word and of His grace. Also, God forbids this because such consultation opens one up to the danger of becoming demonized. Some have mistakenly assumed that God detests these things because they are so phony and fraudulent. It is true that some who claim such powers are charlatans and deceivers, but it is also true that some who practice these forbidden arts do have supernatural powers. These powers are derived from demonic spirits who have succeeded in invading these persons’ lives and bodies and are using them as tools of Satan. Those who consult with these demonized people in order to benefit from their satanic powers may themselves become demonized.

The Israelites were all well aware of God’s prohibition of such practices. Even King Saul “had removed from the land those who were mediums and spiritists” (1 Sam. 28:3). At least that was his policy; however, he knew that some were still around. Thus when he was desperate for some advice in the face of the Philistine threat, he instructed his servants to find a medium. They knew where one was (vv. 4-7). Saul then disguised himself, sought the woman, and asked her to conjure up the prophet Samuel (who had recently died).

What happened next, as recorded in 1 Samuel 28, is that Samuel really did appear and speak directly with King Saul. Saul was afraid of the threatening Philistine armies, and pleaded with Samuel to “make known to me what I should do” (v. 15). Samuel confirmed Saul’s awareness that Yahweh had rejected him, and told him that in the ensuing battle Israel and Saul would be conquered and that Saul himself would die (v. 19).

The first question that arises as we read this narrative is this: was Saul sinning by consulting this medium? The answer is a definite YES, and Saul himself knew it (see vv. 3, 9). If this is the case, this raises another question: how do we explain the phenomena of Samuel’s appearance and his message to Saul? Samuel seems to be speaking to Saul with divine authority. Indeed, he predicts the events that were going to happen the next day (v. 19), and God’s word makes it clear that only God knows the future (see Isaiah 40-48). Thus we conclude that God is speaking through this apparition of Samuel. Does this mean that God is somehow endorsing or approving of Saul’s action of consulting a medium, contrary to His own stated prohibition of it?

The answer to this latter question is NO. The inquirer’s query (above) is worded thus: “Why did God ALLOW this incident?” But “allow” is the wrong word. God did NOT “allow” this incident. Rather, He TOOK OVER the whole process and CAUSED the appearance of Samuel, and used him in his role as prophet to speak a message of judgment to Saul.

It is clear that Samuel’s appearance was NOT what the medium expected (vv. 11-12). Mediums in fact do NOT contact “spirits of the dead.” There do seem to be men and women who are successful in their efforts to contact “the spirit world,” but the ones who communicate with them are not spirits of the dead, but demonic spirits who are deceiving the medium and those consulting the medium. Also, mediums who succeed in contacting “spirits” seldom if ever conjure up an actual three-dimensional person (as in the case of Samuel). Rather, the medium goes into a trance, and the demonic spirit speaks through the medium’s vocal apparatus. But that is not what happens here in 1 Samuel 28. The person of Samuel himself appears, and the medium is clearly shocked. This was not her doing, but God’s.

(We should not think that Samuel here was “raised from the dead” in the sense that all believers will be raised at the second coming of Christ. He was, however, given a three-dimensional form just for this occasion, as were Moses and Elijah at Christ’s transfiguration, Matt. 17:3.)

The main idea is that God sovereignly decided to intervene in Saul’s quest by taking over the process and using it for his own holy purposes. Rather than its being a divine approval of spiritism, it is rather an act of judgment upon this evil practice and an act of judgment especially upon King Saul. Gleason Archer, an Old Testament scholar, says this: “It would seem that God chose this particular occasion and setting to give His final word to the evil king who had once served His cause with courage and zeal. No scriptural basis for spiritism is furnished by this episode, nor for necromancy—both of which are sternly condemned as abominations before the Lord (Deut. 18:9-12; cf. Exod. 22:18; Lev. 19:26,31; 20:6,27; Jer. 27:9-10)” (from Archer’s “Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties” [Zondervan 1982], 181).

63. Baptism and Original Sin 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, September 3, 2010 at 4:31pm

QUESTION: How does baptism relate to original sin?

ANSWER: To answer this question we must first begin with the fact that the NT teaches that baptism is a salvation event. I.e., it teaches that baptism is the point of time when God bestows the double cure for the problem of sin. In that moment God takes away the GUILT of sin by uniting us with Jesus Christ’s atoning death. This is called “baptism for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38). Also in that moment God begins the process of healing us from the DISEASE of sin by giving us the gift of the Holy Spirit (also Acts 2:38). This is the gift of “living water” promised by Jesus in John 7:37-39. When the Holy Spirit enters, the sinful soul that was “dead in trespasses and sins” is “made alive” in an act of “regeneration and renewing” (Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13; Titus 3:5). These things happen “in baptism,” says Paul (Col. 2:12). This is why Peter can say that baptism now saves us (1 Pet. 3:21).

Second, we must acknowledge that this is the understanding of baptism that appears in all Christian writings throughout the second century A.D. and into the third century and beyond. For example, Justin Martyr (around A.D. 150) said this: “We have learned from the apostles this reason” for baptism, i.e., “in order that we…may obtain in the water the remission of sins.” He also says that new converts “are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated,” because “they then receive the washing with water.” Here he cites John 3:5. (This is from his “First Apology,” paragraph 61.)

The Christian writer Tertullian, in a sizable treatise specifically on baptism written a little after A.D. 200, says the same thing. He opens the essay with these words: “Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life.” Though baptism is a physical act, its “effect is spiritual, in that we are freed from sins” (from chapters I and VII).

Third, we must also understand that about this time (around A.D. 200) some Christians were beginning to believe that infants are indeed born with a weakened and sickly spiritual nature as the result of Adam’s sin. There is no evidence that such an idea existed before then. Tertullian is the first to mention it, more in the form of questioning it than affirming it. The idea continued to be taught for the next couple of centuries in this mild form, i.e., an inherited state of spiritual sickness. The idea of original sin as inherited total depravity and condemnation to hell was not introduced until Augustine, in the early fifth century.

In any case, once some Christians began to believe in original sin in any form, they immediately concluded that infants ought to be baptized. The logic is simple: baptism is for the purpose of taking away sin; infants have a form of sinfulness because of Adam; therefore we must apply baptism to them to take away this “original sin.” In fact, Tertullian’s treatise shows that some Christians were already beginning to advocate infant baptism for this reason. This is how the whole practice of infant baptism began, and from that point on it continued to spread. Given the NT teaching of baptism as a salvation event, it was inevitable that when Christians began to believe in original sin, they would also begin to baptize their infants—even though the NT itself never mentions such a practice.

But WHY is there no mention of infant baptism in the NT itself? Because there is also no doctrine of original sin there!! Many have thought that Paul teaches such a doctrine, especially in Romans 5:12-19. And certainly in this text Paul affirms that Adam’s sin had potentially disastrous effects upon the whole human race. What most fail to recognize, though, is that Paul’s main point in these verses is that WHATEVER Adam’s sin WOULD have brought upon his descendants, such consequences have been completely removed and canceled out by the atoning death of the second Adam, Jesus Christ. Thus no one is actually born in a state of original sin of any kind. Instead, every infant is conceived and born in a state of having-been-redeemed from that awful fate. I.e., every child comes into the world not under original sin but instead under original grace. (See my book, “The Faith Once for All,” ch. 9; and my commentary on Romans, on 5:12-19.)

The Wesleyan doctrine of prevenient grace is similar to what I have explained above, but it does not go far enough. It still leaves children coming into the world afflicted with a partial depravity or spiritual sickness, similar to the view that arose in the early church around A.D. 200. I do not believe that Romans 5:12-19 leaves any room for ANY residual effects of Adam’s sin. Thus I believe that infants are born pure, free, and innocent—not by nature, but by the application of the original grace of Jesus Christ. Since this is the case, there is absolutely NO reason to baptize infants, unless one completely rejects the NT teaching about the meaning of baptism and creates a totally new meaning for it, one that is applicable to infants no matter what spiritual condition they are born in. (This is what Huldreich Zwingli did in A.D. 1523-1525, of course.)

Someone has asked if this prevenient grace or (more accurately) this original grace began to be applied only from the time of Christ’s atonement, i.e., only AFTER the death of Jesus on the cross. The answer is NO, it began to be applied as soon as sin entered the human situation in the days of Adam himself. Even Adam’s own children were born under Christ’s original grace. The bottom line is that NO child has ever been or will ever be born is a state of original sin. Paul’s whole point in Romans 5:12-19 is this, that no matter how strong and pervasive were the potential effects of Adam’s sin, the actual effects of Christ’s atonement are MUCH MORE effective and powerful. (See the “much more” in Rom. 5:15, 17.) Any attempt to make the application of the second Adam’s atoning work less effective than the awful consequences of the sin of the first Adam (as, e.g., in the Calvinist’s attempt to apply the former only to the elect) negates the whole point Paul is making in this passage.

How, then, does baptism relate to original sin? In Biblical terms there is no relation whatsoever, because there is no such thing as original sin in the first place. Baptism is still for the forgiveness of sins and the healing of the sin-sick nature, but this is not necessary and is not even meaningful until a child reaches the age of accountability and becomes responsible for his or her PERSONAL sins. That is when baptism is needed. The person who is forgiven and made alive “in baptism” (Col. 2:12-13) is being delivered from the consequences of HIS OWN trespasses and sins, not the one sin of Adam. (See the parallel passage in Eph. 2:1, 5: you were “made alive together with Christ” [v. 5] when “you were dead in YOUR trespasses and sins,” PLURAL [v. 1]. Our need for baptism arises from our many personal sins, plural, not from Adam’s one sin.)

(As a postscript, I believe it is proper to speak of the NT as teaching BELIEVERS’ baptism, as does everyone who rejects infant baptism. But I think it is also necessary to speak of SINNERS’ baptism, i.e., a baptism intended to be applied to those who are still under the condemnation and depravity of their own personal sins, and in which God’s grace works to take these conditions away.)

64. Who Are the "Cowardly" in Revelation 21:8? byJack Cottrellon Thursday, August 26, 2010 at 12:50pm
Question: In Revelation 21:8, why is "cowardly" in the list of people that will not enter heaven? What does this word mean? What is John getting at?

Answer: This well-known verse says, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (ESV, throughout). Thus it seems clear that the “cowardly” indeed will not enter heaven.

Who are the “cowardly”? The Greek word is “deilos,” which is from a family of words that occur only rarely in the NT. This is the adjective; it is found here in Rev. 21:8 and in the parallel accounts in Matt. 8:26 and Mark 4:40. These texts are reporting the incident where Jesus and His disciples are in a boat in a great storm, and the disciples cry out, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” Jesus rebukes them thus: “Why are you afraid [deilos], O you of little faith?” (Matt.), or “Why are you so afraid [deilos]? Have you no faith?” (Mark).

The noun “deilia” is used just once, in 2 Tim. 1:7, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear [deilia] but of power and love and self-control.” The verb “deiliao” is also used just once, in John 14:27b, “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid [deiliao].”

The basic meaning of the adjective thus is cowardly, fearful, timid, fainthearted. In these and in Christian writings in general the word does not refer to specific and usually mundane fears such as fear of water, fear of spiders, fear of heights, or fear of speaking in public. Rather, the word is used in a context of persecution, where one has to choose between taking a stand for Jesus and denying faith in Him. C. Spicq says this: “When Rev. 21:8 places the fainthearted and the unbelieving in the lake of fire, it has in view Christians during times of persecution who, out of a fear of suffering, renounce their faith. It is a commonplace that human courage and cowardice are revealed in the face of death” (“Theological Lexicon of the NT,” Hendrickson 1994, I:301).

In effect, then, such cowardice is similar to or even the same as unbelief. Rev. 21:8 lists the cowardly and the faithless together. In the texts of Matthew and Mark, Jesus equates the disciples’ fear with a lack of faith. The issue is whether we will continue to trust in Jesus and in God’s sustaining power even in the face of persecution and death.

God’s people have always been commanded to live boldly and not to be afraid of our enemies. As Moses exhorted the Israelites in reference to their physical enemies, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deut. 31:6). And God kept His promises: “He led them in safety; so that they were not afraid, but the sea overwhelmed their enemies” (Psalm 78:53). David exhibits this spirit of boldness: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).

This attitude of boldness, courage, and faithfulness is the point of Rev. 2:10, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (ESV). “Be faithful unto death” surely can mean simply “Hold on to your faith as long as you live.” But it can also mean, as someone has said, “Keep believing in Jesus even if it kills you.” J. B. Phillips translates it, “Be faithful in the face of death.” The Weymouth NT says, “Be faithful to the End, even if you have to die.” In this kind of situation, as the first part of Rev. 2:10 shows, the cowardly are those who renounce their faith in Jesus in order to avoid persecution and even martyrdom. (See Matt. 20:28.)

The bottom line is that this cowardice that condemns one to hell is the opposite of continuing to confess the Lordship of Jesus in the face of trials. Making the “good confession” that Jesus is Lord is necessary for salvation (Rom. 10:9-10). We must continue to make this confession throughout our Christian lives, especially when our faith is challenged. It is well known that the early Christians were often forced to make a choice between pagan gods (such as Caesar) and their Christian faith. Those who held fast to their faith in Jesus through the power of the indwelling Spirit were the opposite of the cowardly. In 1 Cor. 12:3 Paul speaks of this contingency and of the necessity of trusting in the power of the Spirit to remain faithful: “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (ESV).

Even today, in some anti-biblical cultures such as communism and Islam, Christians sometimes have to choose between cowardice and courage at the risk of their very lives. As of now, in the American culture, we have not yet come to this; but Christians are often called upon to take more subtle risks for Christ’s sake. Sometimes we must choose between faithfulness on the one hand, and such things as social popularity and acceptance, the respect of the intelligentsia, good grades in a college science course, or even our job. May we be faithful in these relatively small things now, so that we may be prepared to confess Jesus as Lord even in the worst of circumstances.

65. "Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?" Questioning the Question 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, August 20, 2010 at 5:49pm

"Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?"

QUESTION: A brother has written expressing his dismay upon discovering that his church's preacher and many of its elders do not see baptism as related to salvation, appealing, e.g., to the thief on the cross and to the hypothetical new believer lost in the desert. One elder is quoted as saying, "You will never get me to believe you have to be baptized to get to heaven." Another elder cited a quote from Hicks and Taylor's book, "Down in the River To Pray," thus: "God seeks hearts who seek Him, and God transforms people who seek him. God is not the supervisor of technicalities (baptism) who denies mercy to those who seek him but have mistaken his rituals through ignorance, weakness or other non-rebellious circumstances. God values transformed life above all else. We must not deny mercy to those whose transformed lives God values simply because they have not conformed to our understanding of a divine ritual. God values a transformed life more than He values baptism." This brother asked for my input, and I wrote the following.

ANSWER: I have already given my "input" on this question many times, especially in my book on baptism ("Baptism: A Biblical Study," new ed. 2006) and in ch. 20 of my systematic theology, "The Faith Once for All." Still, upon reading your thoughtful letter, I came to some conclusions that might be helpful to you in your ongoing discussions on this matter. On the one hand, I take it that you are defending the view that baptism is necessary for salvation, and that you would answer NO to the question you have worded thus: "Scripturally speaking, is there salvation outside of baptism for the forgiveness of sins?" On the other hand, your antagonists seem to be defending the common Zwinglian, denominational faith-only view, as stated by your still-Zwinglian-at-heart elder: "You'll never get me to believe you have to be baptized to get to heaven."

My "input" here may surprise you, because I suggest that these two approaches present us with a false choice in the sense that, strictly speaking, neither position is correct. Let me explain. First, baptism cannot be an ABSOLUTE necessity for salvation, in the same sense that faith and repentance (for example) are necessary. Here are four categories of people who (I believe) will be saved without baptism.

ONE. Infants, or those who have not reached the age of accountability. This applies in both the Old Covenant and New Covenant ages. All human beings from the moment they come into existence in the womb are under the original grace of God because of the sacrificial death of Jesus. This original grace automatically negates any spiritual effects of Adam's sin and puts all newly-formed individuals in a saved (redeemed) state, whether they be conceived and born in a Christian household or not. No infant baptism is necessary in order to secure children in this saved state. This is the teaching of Paul in Romans 5:12-19; see my commentary on Romans for this.

TWO. Old Testament saints, or all believers in Yahweh who lived before the beginning of the New Covenant on the Day of Pentecost. There was no requirement for baptism as a salvation event anywhere until Pentecost. Nothing in the Law of Moses is comparable to Christian baptism; John's baptism is not comparable to it. To cite the thief on the cross as proof that baptism is not necessary for salvation in this New Covenant age shows considerable ignorance of the distinction between the two covenant ages. Christian baptism, with its salvation content, did not begin until Acts 2 and the Day of Pentecost.

THREE. Those living in the NT era, who know about the requirement to be baptized, but who through no fault of their own are physically unable to be baptized before they die. For its first fifteen hundred years Christendom in its various forms believed and taught that baptism is the time when the double cure of salvation is received. But there was also a general recognition that those who truly desired baptism but were literally prevented from receiving it (e.g., by Roman authorities who sent them to martyrdom) were considered to have received the "baptism of desire" as an acceptable substitute for the real thing. This is comparable to a man lost in the desert who comes to faith and wants to be baptized but dies before it is possible. I have no trouble believing that God can (and does) make an exception for such a person on the requirement for baptism. The problem is that our faith-only friends want to make this possible exception into the new rule: baptism thus cannot be considered as necessary for ANYONE. This is a terrible logic. (I have discussed this briefly in "Baptism: A Biblical Study" [2006], pp. 27-28, in the chapter on Mark 16:16).

FOUR. Those living in the NT era who through no fault of their own never come to know about the requirement to be baptized for salvation, but who are sincerely doing the best they can to live a life of submission to Jesus as Savior and Lord. It has rightly been said that at the final judgment God will judge every one of us according the principle of CONSCIENTIOUS RESPONSE TO AVAILABLE LIGHT. Many people, even in the context of Christendom, are through no fault of their own in complete darkness about the NT's teaching that baptism is a salvation event; they are the victims of centuries of false teaching. Nevertheless they are in their hearts conscientiously submitting to the light they do have about Jesus. If so, even if not immersed for forgiveness of sins in this life, I believe God will accept them on the Day of Judgment based on this principle. (I have briefly set forth this explanation of "conscientious response to available light" in my book, "The Faith Once for All," in the chapter on baptism, p. 373.)
The serious mistake by faith-only sympathizers is to assume that WE can apply this same principle to any individual today, in our discernment of who is or who is not a Christian and in our judgment of who is or who is not saved NOW. This is a terrible mistake. ONLY GOD knows how much light is truly available to any individual, and ONLY GOD knows whose response to that light is truly conscientious. Here is the point: in this life, and in our own preaching of the gospel, we must proclaim and apply the rule that is written clearly in Scripture: Christian baptism is the moment of time when a sinner receives the double cure of salvation. Therefore we must consider all who have not received Christian baptism as being legitimate objects for our evangelistic endeavors. Whether God accepts them on the Day of Judgment is His business. Even if we believe that there is a good chance that He will do so, we cannot usurp the role of the omniscient Judge and waive the baptism requirement for present Christian fellowship.
I believe this is what Hicks and Taylor are wrongly doing in making "transformed lives" the mark of salvation while relegating baptism to the category of "technicalities" and "rituals." They are wrong to say that "God values transformed life above all else," especially "more than He values baptism." The fact is that God values His own TRUTH (about any subject, including baptism) more than He values transformed lives or anything else produced by our puny efforts.
As in the case of the third category above, anyone who from God's viewpoint falls into this fourth category will be an exception to the clearly stated NT rule, that baptism is the time when salvation is received. We have no right to make such a possible exception into a new rule, a rule that denies everything the NT actually says is the purpose and result of baptism.

I have said that the two sides of this debate as formulated above are a false choice. I have just explained why the statement, "Baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation," is false. But on the other hand, I most emphatically declare that the other side also is false, i.e., the Zwinglian notion (begun about A.D. 1523-1525) that water baptism is definitely NOT the time when salvation is received by the sinner. The fact is that EVERY New Testament reference to the meaning of baptism identifies it as a salvation event. This is the way it was introduced on Pentecost and the way it is explained throughout the NT. This is the way we must present it to sinners (as in Acts 2:38); this is how we must continue to teach it to baptized Christians (as in Rom. 6:1-4; Col. 2:12; 1 Pet. 3:21, e.g.). This is the view any true church must stand for. See my book on baptism for an explanation of the twelve NT texts that clearly teach this meaning of baptism.

In conclusion, I suggest that we are in fact asking the wrong question when we word it thus: "Is baptism absolutely necessary for salvation?" The exceptions noted above show that the honest answer to this question is NO, but this then is wrongly assumed to leave the door open for faith-onlyism (Zwinglianism). It does no such thing. Thus I believe it is better to ask the question this way: "Exactly what does the Bible SAY are the meaning, purpose, and result of Christian baptism?" When we come at the issue from this direction, we must conclude that the NT clearly teaches that sinners must be baptized in order to receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the only way we have any right to teach it. To deny, twist, or dilute this clear NT teaching, on the basis of possible exceptions that can be sorted out only by God, destroys the integrity of the gospel and of the church, and puts the eternal destiny of sinners in grave danger.

66. "Religion" vs. a Relationship with God 

by Jack Cottrellon Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 1:23pm

QUESTION: What do you think of this statement? – “Religion is a worthless, man-made idea; but having a relationship with God means discovering the satisfaction in Him to be so great that it grants you the WILLINGNESS to turn away from sin.”

ANSWER: Whether this statement is valid or not depends first of all on how you are defining "religion." In its most generic definition, religion IS one's relationship with whatever is considered to be deity. If this is the starting point, then the answer would be that most religions are worthless, man-made ideas, but the CHRISTIAN religion is not, since part of its very purpose is to put us into a relationship with God that has the effect described here.

Also, "having a relationship with God" is a rather ambiguous concept. It would depend on what kind of relationship you are talking about. Any relationship with God that bypasses Jesus Christ is unacceptable, as is any relationship that omits the Holy Spirit. The only relationship that can actually accomplish what is affirmed in the above statement is that relationship received when one obeys the gospel according to the teachings of the New Testament.

Within the context of Christianity it is fairly common to distinguish between "religion" and "Christianity." Those who make this distinction do usually define religion as man-made ideas about how man can work his own way into acceptance by God. Christianity, on the other hand, is God's provision for accepting us through the work of Jesus Christ. The statement above can be considered true in this context, and with the qualifications in the previous paragraph. I have discussed this in my book, "Set Free! What the Bible Says about Grace," pp. 28-30. The following is adapted from these pages:

Most recognize that there are two distinct ways of relating to God. Some have described these two opposing ways as the contrast between RELIGION and CHRISTIANITY. In a widely-used little book called “How To Be a Christian Without Being Religious,” first published about 1970, Fritz Ridenour popularized this distinction. At first glance, one might think, “This sounds great! No more religion! No more prayer, church attendance, Bible reading, all those ‘religious’ things! And I can still be a Christian!”

But this is not the point. When Ridenour uses the word “religious,” he is not thinking about religion in the general sense of “doing religious things,” or things done in conscious worship of and service to God. These are all still necessary. He is using it in a more specific sense, i.e., a religious activity is something one does for the specific purpose of working his way into the presence of God, for the purpose of earning and deserving God’s blessings. It has to do not so much with the activity itself, but with the motive and goal one has for engaging in such activity. Ridenour’s point is that Christianity is different from all world religions and all “religious” activity, because it focuses not on our works as ways of making ourselves right with God, but on God’s works through Jesus Christ whereby he makes our relationship with him possible.

In his original introduction to “How To Be a Christian Without Being Religious,” Ridenour explains it this way: “Christianity is more than a religion, because every religion has one basic characteristic. Its followers are trying to reach God, find God, please God through their own efforts. Religions reach up toward God. Christianity is God reaching down to man. Christianity claims that men have not found God, but that God has found them. To some this is a crushing blow. They prefer religious effort—dealing with God on their own terms. This puts them in control. They feel good about ‘being religious.’ Christianity, however, is not religious striving. To practice Christianity is to RESPOND to what God has done for you.”

The reason I discuss this (in my book on grace) is that anyone who is burdened by a merely “religious” relationship with God, whether in reality or in perception only, will have a weak or even nonexistent assurance of his or her salvation. To one who has the mindset of religion, how can he ever be sure that he has climbed high enough on the mountain of holiness to be acceptable to God? There will always be doubts.

For those who want to dig further into this subject, the distinction between Christianity and religion was emphasized by Karl Barth in his “Church Dogmatics” I/2 (T. & T. Clark, 1956). In section 17 of this volume Barth expounds upon "The Revelation of God as the Abolition of Religion" (pp. 280-361). By “revelation” he is referring primarily to Jesus Christ as the one true revelation of God. Another influential writer who spoke of “religionless Christianity” was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, especially in his “Letters and Papers from Prison” (English tr. 1953). See also Jacques Ellul, in “Living Faith” (Harper 1983): “The opposition between religion and revelation can really be understood quite simply. We can reduce it to a maxim: religion goes up, revelation comes down” (129). This last quote sounds a lot like Ridenour, but these writers do not necessarily mean exactly what he is saying. See Leon Morris, “The Abolition of Religion: A Study in ‘Religionless Christianity’” (London: Inter-Varsity, 1964).


by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 5:03pm


QUERY: First Corinthians 15:29 says, “Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?” What is Paul saying here? It does not seem to fit with everything else the Bible teaches about personal salvation.

ANSWER: What does not seem to “fit” here is the supposed implication that an individual’s personal choices during this lifetime are not necessarily the measure of whether or not that person will be eternally saved or lost. The passage is seen as suggesting that a person can die in a lost state, yet can be ultimately saved anyway IF someone who is still living submits to baptism on his or her behalf. This would be a kind of “baptism by proxy,” and it is a vital part of the Mormon religion.

There are some immediate problems with this concept. For one thing, it conflicts with the teaching of Hebrews 9:27, which seems to rule out any idea of post-mortem salvation. This passage says that “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” This does not leave any room for a change of salvation status based on something that happens after death.

Another problem is that this idea gives baptism a power that goes way beyond Biblical teaching. The NT does teach that Christian baptism is a salvation event, in the sense that God performs the works of salvation at that moment (justification and regeneration—the double cure). But baptism itself has no power to produce these saving results. More significantly, not even God bestows salvation in the baptismal event unless the person being baptized has true faith and repentance, and has confessed Jesus as Savior and Lord. But Paul says nothing here about someone “believing” for the dead, and “repenting” for the dead, and “confessing” for the dead—without which baptism for the dead would be useless. Some think this problem is solved by assuming that the dead have the gospel preached to them and thus have the opportunity to believe, repent, and confess. This is based, however, on a false view of 1 Peter 3:19. Hebrews 9:27 still applies.

The biggest problem with this approach is the assumption that whatever practice Paul is referring to in this verse, he is somehow ENDORSING it. That is simply not the case. The main point of this whole section of the letter is to establish the importance of the reality of the resurrection of Jesus as well as the reality of our own personal resurrection from the dead at the second coming (see esp. vv. 12-19). In vv. 29ff. Paul is saying that some of our own choices and activities show that in fact we DO believe in the resurrection. In vv. 30-32 he says that his own faith in the resurrection is obviously exhibited by his willingness to submit to persecution from the enemies of Christ. Why would he do this if there is no resurrection? Also, it seems to be a fact that some people were being baptized for the dead (v. 29). But if there is no resurrection from the dead, why would people do such a thing? Such a baptism would be futile. This is an "ad hominem" argument. Paul is not himself endorsing such motivation, nor is he saying that such a baptism is valid. He is simply pointing out the inconsistency of being thus baptized and at the same time denying the resurrection.

The point is that we do not HAVE to know exactly what the “baptism for the dead” was all about, since it is NOT being taught as something we in fact ought to do. Still, it may be the case that such baptism was indeed being practiced (despite its invalidity as a proxy event), and many have speculated as to what it involved. If one is so inclined to join in this speculation, the first thing to decide is the meaning of the preposition “hyper,” translated “for” in the phrase “FOR the dead.” It is usually taken as meaning “on behalf of” or “in the place of.” This is a valid and common meaning when the word is followed by a genitive case noun or substantive, as it is here; and most interpretations follow this understanding.

For example, one reader submits the following pagan practice as a possible source for this practice among the Corinthian Christians: “Just north of Corinth was a city named Eleusis. This was the location of a pagan religion where baptism in the sea was practiced to guarantee a good afterlife. This religion was mentioned by Homer in 'Hymn to Demeter' 478-79. The Corinthians were known to be heavily influenced by other customs. After all, they were in a large economic area frequented by a great many different people. It is probable that the Corinthians were being influenced by the religious practices found at Eleusis where baptism for the dead was practiced.” To say that this is “probable” is quite a stretch, but we can agree that it is possible. Still, it is quite speculative.

In my judgment, what the Corinthians were actually doing is better reflected by another connotation of the word “hyper.” This preposition can also mean "about, concerning" (says my Arndt & Gingrich lexicon). That makes the most sense to me here: some of the Corinthians are being baptized “concerning, with reference to, or in relation to” believing loved ones who had died. I.e., some individuals were themselves being baptized and becoming Christians, in part at least from the motivation of the promise of being reunited with loved ones who had become Christians and had since died. As Murray J. Harris sums up this view, “converts to Christianity were having themselves baptized in order to be united with their departed relatives and friends at the resurrection” (“Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament,” in volume 3 of “The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology,” Zondervan 1978, p. 1208).

Paul is not necessarily endorsing such a motivation for becoming a Christian. He actually makes no comment on it one way or the other. His point is simply this: if there is no resurrection from the dead, such a baptism is futile.

[This is actually my second time to answer this question. Here is part of my first answer, published sometime around October 2009: “Paul’s main point is to show why it is so important to believe in the resurrection of the dead, i.e., in the resurrection of the body at the second coming. Believing in the resurrection is a vital part of our faith, he says. Otherwise, why would someone possibly be baptized (i.e., become a Christian) in the hope of someday seeing again Christian loved ones who have already died (“the dead”)? I.e., to be baptized “for the dead” means to become a Christian in the hope of someday being reunited with dead loved ones who themselves were Christians.

“I am not completely satisfied with this interpretation. E.g., this translates the word “hyper” (“for”) in the sense of “in reference to” or “with regard to” or “in relation to,” which is a bit awkward. Also, it suggests that some are baptized for a questionable motive—to see loved ones again. But the presence of this personal (somewhat selfish) motive—the desire to see loved ones again—does not mean this is the ONLY motive for being baptized. Even so, it is difficult to exclude personal motives altogether; surely all of us were baptized at least in part for the purpose of being saved. If this is appropriate, then surely the motive of wanting to be reunited with deceased Christian loved ones cannot be objectionable as such.]

68. Is There a Difference Between Soul and Spirit? 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, July 2, 2010 at 5:02pm

QUESTION: Can you explain to me the difference between soul and spirit? I know the word “soul” is used in different ways, and means life or living being; and I know we have a spirit by means of which we relate to God (in prayer, worship, etc.). I know that they are connected but are not the same—so what is the difference?

ANSWER: It is important first of all to distinguish between the WORDS “soul” (Heb. nephesh; Grk. psyche) and “spirit” (Heb. ruach; Grk. pneuma) on the one hand, and the metaphysical ENTITY or aspect of human nature to which these words apply, on the other hand.

In both the OT and the NT the words translated “soul”—nephesh and psyche—have three major connotations, only ONE of which refers to the spiritual side of our metaphysical nature. In some contexts these words refer to the whole person or individual or self, and not to just one part of his or her nature. An OT example is Gen. 2:7, which says that God’s breathing into the nostrils of the clay figure was the means by which the latter became a living “nephesh,” namely, a living individual or living person. The reference here is not to just one part of the person, but to the person as such. A NT example is Rom. 13:1, which says that every “psyche” must be subject to governing authorities. Here the word applies to the whole person, not to any one part of the person.

A second connotation of the words usually translated “soul”—nephesh and psyche—is the characteristic or attribute of LIFE as such as possessed by any living individual. This does not refer to the person as such, nor to any metaphysical part of the person; but to the life or livingness present in that person (or animal). See Lev. 17:14; Matt. 6:25; John 10:11; 15:13.

The third connotation of these words is that the nephesh or psyche is an aspect of man’s metaphysical nature, or part of the stuff out of which we are made. It applies to our SPIRITUAL nature, as distinct from our PHYSICAL nature. E.g., Ps. 63:1 says, “My soul [nephesh] thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you” (ESV); see Ps. 84:2. This meaning is clearly seen in Matt. 10:28, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul [psyche]. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul [psyche] and body in hell.” Rev. 6:9 speaks of the souls [psyche] of martyrs who exist without their bodies in the angelic heaven in the presence of God.

Note carefully: neither of the first two connotations is relevant to our question here. We must be aware of them, however; and we must be careful to discern when these connotations are present so that we do not apply such verses to the metaphysical question. Many false theological conclusions have been drawn by applying texts where nephesh or psyche refers to the PERSON rather than to the SPIRITUAL PART of the person.

Now the question is this: what is the relation between that part of our nature called the SOUL in this third sense, and the part of our nature called the SPIRIT (e.g., Luke 23:46; Acts 7:59; 1 Cor. 2:11; Heb. 12:23)? Here is the bottom line: THEY ARE THE SAME THING; THERE IS NO DISTINCTION BETWEEN THEM. Human beings are made of TWO kinds of metaphysical stuff: physical and spiritual. The former is called “body,” “flesh,” and “outer man”; the latter is called “spirit,” “soul,” “heart,” and “inner man.” The soul IS the spirit. This view of man is called (anthropological) dualism, and sometimes dichotomy. It is the Biblical view.

It is commonly believed, though, that man is three parts (trichotomy), with the soul and the spirit being distinguished. I have concluded that this is false. The Bible overwhelmingly speaks of human beings as composed of two parts (see “The Faith Once for All,” 138-140), and the same spiritual activities are applied to our spiritual nature whether it is called “soul” or “spirit.” I.e., where “soul” and “spirit” are referring to a part of man's nature, they are synonymous and interchangeable. For example, both terms are used to refer to that part of man that survives death, i.e., the disembodied element in the intermediate state: soul (Matt. 10:28; Rev. 6:9; 20:4), spirit (Heb. 12:23). Both terms are used for that part of man that departs at the moment of death: soul (Gen. 35:18; 1 Kgs. 17:21), spirit (Ps. 31:5; Luke 8:55; 23:46; Acts 7:59; Jas. 2:26).

This interchangeability is also seen in the fact that the highest spiritual activities of man are experienced by both the soul and the spirit (see John Murray, “Writings,” II:25-27). This is significant because for most trichotomists, man's spirit is supposed to be THE seat of God-consciousness and spiritual experience (such as prayer and worship), with the soul being the seat of baser passions. But this distinction is not found in the Bible. For example, religious sorrow or spiritual grief is attributed to Jesus' spirit (Mark 8:12; John 11:33; 13:21) and his soul (Matt. 26:38; John 12:27). See Ps. 77:2-3. Also, in poetic parallelism Mary expresses spiritual joy and praise to God in both her soul and spirit (Luke 1:46-47). Contrary to the lower position trichotomy usually gives to the soul, the Bible pictures it as the subject of the highest exercises of devotion toward God. "At night my soul longs for You, indeed, my spirit within me seeks You diligently" (Isa. 26:9). In Phil. 1:27 Paul exhorts us to stand firm in one spirit and strive together with one soul (psyche). Love for God, the highest virtue, comes from the soul (Mark 12:30). Hope is an anchor for the soul (Heb. 6:19). We should obey God's will from the soul (psyche, Eph. 6:6).

John Laidlaw says that such passages as these "render it impossible to hold that 'spirit' can mean exclusively or mainly the Godward side of man's inner nature, and 'soul' the rational or earthward. The terms are parallel, or practically equivalent, expressions for the inner life as contrasted with the outer or bodily life" (“The Biblical Doctrine of Man,” 90).

But what about the biblical passages that seem to teach trichotomy? These are actually very few (mainly Gen. 2:7; 1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 4:12), and may be readily understood in harmony with dualism (see “The Faith Once for All,” 141-142).

In recent theological discussion, the difference between dichotomy and trichotomy does not receive much attention, and I do not make a big deal of it since not much is at stake here. The biggest problem is that some people waste a lot of time combing Scripture for a perceived distinction between soul and spirit, and trying to apply this distinction to all sorts of human activities. The much bigger issue is the distinction between dichotomy or DUALISM on the one hand, and anthropological MONISM on the other. The tendency today, even among many evangelicals, is to deny the existence of a true spiritual aspect in human beings and to limit us to body only. This is a really serious false doctrine and must be vigorously opposed.

69. What About Rewards in Heaven? 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, July 2, 2010 at 3:17pm

QUESTION: The Bible teaches we are not saved BY our works, but saved FOR good works (Eph. 2:9-10). We do not earn our salvation; rather, we are to view heaven itself as a gift and not as a reward. But since we will be judged according to what we have done (2 Cor. 5:10), will there not be differing rewards? And would it not thus be proper to say we EARN such rewards? What is the nature of these rewards?

ANSWER: You are correct to distinguish between heaven itself and the rewards allotted to those who will inhabit heaven. Heaven as such is a free gift of God’s grace to saved sinners, a gift that is not just undeserved but is in fact the opposite of what we deserve. No amount of good works can offset our sins and somehow make us worthy of heaven. Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16) makes this clear. Those who work in the vineyard twelve hours, nine hours, six hours, three hours, and even just one hour all receive the same blessing by God’s free choice.

On the other hand, Jesus tells another parable that pictures those in heaven as receiving different degrees of blessing, according to the relative intensity of their earthly labors. This is the parable of the “pounds” or “minas” [from the Greek “mna,” a unit of money], found in Luke 19:11-27. Here the master of the household gives ten of his servants a mina each, and commissions them to use the money in a way that shows a profit. At the time of accounting one servant reports that he has multiplied his mina tenfold; the master rewards him by giving him “authority over ten cities.” Another reports that his mina has earned five more; the master says, “You are to be over five cities.” This clearly shows that those in heaven will be honored on different levels according to their works. [The rest of this note is adapted from pp. 557-558 of my book "The Faith Once for All," in the chapter on the final judgment.]

Another text that teaches degrees of rewards is 1 Cor. 3:12-15, which says "the quality of each man's work" will be tested as with fire. The works of some are equated with gold, silver, and jewels; these pass the test and result in a reward. The works of others are compared with wood, hay, and straw; these fail the test, resulting in salvation without rewards. Also, greater responsibility results in "stricter judgment" (Jas. 3:1), implying variable rewards. See also Matt. 5:19; 6:19-21; 18:4; 2 Cor. 9:6.

What determines the degree of reward or punishment? Nothing other than the individual's works; this is a main reason for the examination of each person's deeds on the Judgment Day. Such an examination requires not only the analysis of our good works, but also the full exposure of our sins (Eccl. 12:14; 2 Cor. 5:10). Some believers mistakenly think that their sins will not be brought out on that day, based on Ps. 103:12 and Jer. 31:34 (see Heb. 8:12; 10:17). The latter texts say that under the New Covenant God "will remember their sins no more." These texts do not mean, though, that the omniscient God literally forgets about our sins and never mentions them at the judgment; they mean that, thanks to the blood of the New Covenant, he will never hold them against us again. They will never condemn us, not even on the day of judgment. But they will be displayed.

We must remember that everyone who reaches heaven will be saved by grace; admission to heaven as such is not related to the extent of one's labor in the kingdom (Matt 20:1-16). We do not earn our way into heaven. But do we in some way EARN the rewards themselves? Based on Luke 17:7-10, I conclude that no degree of heavenly reward is literally deserved or earned. In the parable the slave-owner (representing God) issues commands to his slave (representing us); when the slave obeys the commands, the owner does not even say “thank you” to him, since he is only doing what he ought to do anyway. What this teaches us is that even a perfect person would be unworthy of rewards, since he would only be doing what it is his duty to do. Thus the fact that God determines to assign such rewards at all is also a matter of grace, with the various degrees of reward experienced by individual believers being determined by a fair examination of each one's works.

What is the nature of these rewards? The fact is that we are not told exactly how these various degrees of reward are assigned and experienced. Many think it will have to do with our relative subjective capacities to enjoy the blessings of eternal life (Anthony Hoekema, “The Bible and the Future,” 264), rather than with differences in our external environment. As far as I am concerned personally, I never really think about what these rewards will be, or even the fact that there will be rewards. I will be content just to reach heaven, where the things that really matter will be shared equally by all. (In terms of a couple of old gospel songs, I can sing with equal gusto, “I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop,” and “Just give me a cabin in the corner of Glory Land”!)

70. Can Non-Christians Do Good Works? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 5:49pm

QUESTION: It would seem that non-Christians can not do any truly good or meritorious acts without the grace of Christ. But does this mean that everything they do is sinful? Romans 14:23 says that whatever is not done in faith is sin. But what about the acts of self-sacrifice that non-regenerate people perform, such as the firefighters who gave their lives on 9/11, or parents who give of themselves for their children? Are all of those acts sinful since they are not done in faith?

ANSWER: It is a mistake to think that any act is either 100% sinful or 100% righteous. Our deeds are more complex than that. I often say that every act has both an outside and an inside. The outside is what other people can see. ANYONE can do a good work that is good on the outside (such as the acts of self-sacrifice mentioned above). Such acts are good externally when compared with God's law. E.g., two people individually could each give $10,000 to the local church. On the outside they are equal. But it is the INSIDE of a deed that makes the difference. Of the two, the inside is the more important.

What do we mean by the “inside” of a work? This refers to things such as the motivation of the work, and the goal intended to be accomplished thereby—things which only God can see (1 Sam. 16:7; Luke 16:15). Sinners (non-Christians) can do deeds that are good on the outside, but they will always be sinful on the inside because they are not done in faith (Rom. 14:23), nor to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31), nor in the name of Jesus Christ (Col. 3:17).

The problem is that even Christians are usually guilty of the same kind of sin: doing works that are good on the outside but that fall short on the inside. This often takes the form of hypocrisy—something for which Jesus condemned the Pharisees (Matt. 23:25-27). But even sincere Christians are far from perfect in these inward matters. One may think he is keeping all of God's commandments because he is not conscious of "doing anything wrong." But Rom. 3:23 says we all fall short (present tense) of the glory of God. I think this refers even to the best Christian's inner life. None of us has perfect love, perfect faith, perfect motivation. This is why perfectionism is a shallow doctrine.

The difference between non-Christians and Christians is not that the latter do perfect works and the former do sinful works. ALL do sinful works (i.e., fall short) to some degree. The difference is that Christians have accepted the grace of God, by which the blood of Christ FORGIVES all our shortcomings, and non-Christians have not.

71. Why Was Jesus Filled with the Holy Spirit? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 4:56pm

QUESTION: Why was Jesus filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:22; 4:18; John 3:34)? Is it possible that Jesus received the Holy Spirit at His baptism in much the same way WE receive the Holy Spirit at our baptism (Acts 2:38), for the same reason?

ANSWER: The relation between Jesus and the Holy Spirit is an interesting but somewhat elusive subject. I have discussed it in quite some detail in my book, “Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit” (College Press, 2007), in chapter 4, "The Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ," pp. 127-153. Within that chapter is a section called "The Holy Spirit and Jesus' Baptism," pp. 138-142.

The most important thing to understand here is this: there is NO CONNECTION WHATSOEVER between the meaning or significance of Jesus' baptism, and the meaning and significance of Christian baptism. This applies especially to the way the Holy Spirit is related to both baptisms. The reality of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit did not begin until the Day of Pentecost; there was no such thing as the indwelling prior to Acts 2 (see John 7:37-39). John's baptism (the category to which Jesus' baptism technically belonged) had no connection at all with this Pentecostal gift. It is quite possible that Jesus was filled with the Spirit "without measure" at his baptism, but this filling is not related at all to the Acts 2:38 gift. The way in which Jesus was "filled with the Spirit" (see John 3:34, KJV; see “Power from on High,”136) was NOT the indwelling, which is empowerment for holy living, but the empowerment for service which existed throughout the OT age and still exists in the NT era (in what we call "spiritual gifts").

But why did Jesus need the Holy Spirit at all, since he himself was divine? I address this question in the conclusion to my chapter on “The Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ” in my book “Power from on High,” which is as follows:

Whatever were the relationships among the persons of the Trinity prior to creation, prior to the incarnation, and prior to Pentecost, in their works in relation to the world and especially in relation to redemption these divine persons have taken upon themselves relationships that did not necessarily exist in their eternally preexistent state. One type of relationship that the persons of the Trinity assumed in their creative and redemptive purposes was a relationship of authority and submission. Since this kind of relationship was assumed (voluntarily entered into) by the Trinitarian persons, it implies no inequality in their essence, authority, and power.

The incarnation itself is a major example of how these assumed relationships of authority and submission take shape in the course of God’s working out of the redemptive plan. In the incarnation the eternal, divine Logos became a human person, Jesus of Nazareth. The result was that this unique person has two natures: a fully divine nature, and a fully human nature.

In his divine nature, Jesus is fully God, with all the attributes of God in place. In the incarnation he did not lose or surrender any of his divine essence or attributes. But this raises a serious question: if Jesus was fully divine, why did he need to be filled with the Spirit? The answer is, because he was also fully human, and for the purposes of his redemptive mission his human nature had to be fully operative. For this to be the case, in his divine-human personhood as Jesus of Nazareth, God the eternal Logos voluntarily placed himself in the role of a servant to God the Father. As Jesus of Nazareth he submits himself to the Father’s will and authority. (See Cottrell, “The Faith Once for All,” 255-257.)

Also, in order to allow his human nature to be fully operative, in his incarnation Jesus voluntarily surrendered or suspended the use of at least some of his divine attributes. (This is the point of Phil. 2:6-7.) He came to earth as a man; he was born, he grew up, and he lived among men as a man. But what he needed to accomplish as the Messiah required more than human nature by its own resources can achieve. However, rather than using his own divine nature for his earthly ministry, he used the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. Christ indeed assumed a dependence upon the Holy Spirit, not for his holy living, but for his supernatural works. As Bruce Ware says, “Although Jesus was fully God, as a man he chose to rely not on his own divine nature but on the power of the Spirit” (“Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” Crossway 2005, p. 91).

How was his dependence on the Spirit different from OT prophets, priests, and kings? The difference is not qualitative, but quantitative. This is the point of John 3:34. The uniqueness of Christ’s mission required that the Father give him the Spirit without measure, to empower and equip him for this mission. If this is indeed the main way the Spirit worked in the life of Jesus, and I believe it is, we must not try to draw too many parallels between the Spirit in Jesus’ life and the Spirit in our own lives as Christians.

72. Is Baptism an Act of Obedience to a Command? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 3:00pm

QUESTION: In your book “Baptism: A Biblical Study” you say, “The Bible never treats baptism as a work of law or as a simple act of obedience in response to a command” (p. 139, 2006 ed.). Did not Christ command His disciples to go and make disciples, baptizing them (Matt. 28:19)? When the Jews asked Peter on the day of Pentecost, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37), did he not command them to “be baptized” (2:38)? Was not their baptism thus an act of obedience to a command?

ANSWER: First, the only command in Matt. 28:19 is to the APOSTLES (and by extension, to all Christians as they carry out the Great Commission). This is not a command to sinners to “be baptized.” We often hear it said that one reason to be baptized is because Jesus commanded it. The fact is that in the red-letter portions of the Gospels, Jesus NOWHERE commands anyone to be baptized. He gives us significant teaching about the nature of baptism, but the only place where his teaching takes the grammatical form of a command (actually, a participle) is when he commissions Christians to baptize others.

Acts 2:38 is a different story, however. Here the Apostle Peter does command those seeking salvation to “be baptized.” Though Peter is cited as the author of this command, we know that he was speaking through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who in turn was passing along the further teachings of Jesus himself: see John 16:12-15. In view of this John passage, we must conclude that everything taught by the apostles was actually the teaching of Jesus; so in this sense we can say that Jesus is the author of the command to be baptized. This is just a technicality, though. Whether taught by Jesus during his earthly ministry, or taught by him through apostles as inspired by the Spirit, the truth and authority of the teaching is the same. Thus we have here in Acts 2:38 a divinely-given, Christ-originated command to be baptized.

So – how can I say (in the above quotation) that the Bible never treats baptism as “a simple act of obedience in response to a command”? The easy answer is that baptism is MUCH MORE than “a simple act of obedience,” one that is equivalent, e.g., to always telling the truth, honoring one’s parents, and taking the Lord’s Supper. It is rather a very complex event in which not only the human subject is doing something, but also in which God himself is working the double cure of salvation.

The more complete answer, though, is found in the fact that there are actually TWO KINDS of commands, and thus two kinds of obedience to commands. This distinction is found especially in the writings of the Apostle Paul. On the one hand, Paul speaks of WORKS OF LAW (Rom. 3:20, 28; Gal. 2:16), which are acts of obedience to one's law code, or the commandments that govern our day-by-day lives before God. (This is what Paul means by “works” in other texts also, such as Eph. 2:9.) This should be shouted from the housetops: the word “LAW” in this crucial phrase is NOT the Law of Moses as such. (In the phrase “works of law” in these passages, there are NO definite articles. It is “works of law,” not “THE works of “THE law.”) The “law” in this phrase includes EVERY law code as applied to individuals and groups at any time in world history. The law code of the Jews from Moses to Christ was indeed the Law of Moses, but the law code that applies to all human beings (even Jews) in this Christian era is especially the aggregate of all the moral and religious requirements authoritatively revealed through the NT Scriptures. We perform “works of law” whenever we do what is required to “be holy” as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). Paul’s point about such works of law is that, since all are sinners, NO ONE can be saved (justified) by how well we obey our law code, since salvation under the law system requires perfect obedience to all law commandments that apply to us (i.e., our law code). We are still obligated to obey them, of course, simply because God is our sovereign Creator, Lawgiver, and Judge. The fact that we cannot be saved thereby is irrelevant as far as our obligation to obey such commandments is concerned. (See Rom. 6:1ff.)

The other kind of command is GOSPEL commands, which are God’s instructions to sinners on how to be saved, i.e., how to become saved and how to stay saved. Obedience to these gospel commands is NOT in the category of “works of law” (obedience to law commands), but is rather what Paul calls OBEDIENCE TO THE GOSPEL. The first such reference is in Rom. 10:16, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel.” (Many English translations sadly mangle this simple phrase.) Here Paul is explaining why God is rejecting the majority of individual Jews: they have refused to obey the gospel! Obedience to the gospel is necessary for salvation. The other reference is in 2 Thess. 1:8, which says that at his return Jesus will inflict vengeance (on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” Clearly, those who do not obey the gospel are lost.

It is critical to make this distinction between the two kinds of commands and the two kinds of obedience. Salvation is at stake. No sinner can be saved BY “works of law,” i.e., by living a holy life. One of the biggest problems in Christendom is the constant but futile pursuit of salvation via the vain effort to be “good enough.” On the other hand, no sinner can be saved WITHOUT “obedience to the gospel.” How does this apply to our present question? Simply thus: baptism is not a work of law, but an act of obedience to the gospel—as are repenting of one’s sins (Acts 2:38), and believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior and confessing him as such (Rom. 10:9-10). We must avoid the hermeneutical error of isolating any of these passages from the others.

Thus baptism is an act of obedience to a command—a gospel command, not a law command. As such it is related only to the other gospel commands (believe, repent, confess). It is absolutely NOT in the category of the commands we are obligated to obey AFTER we become Christians. It is NOT our “first act of obedience” now that we are Christians. It is rather our LAST act of obedience as unsaved sinners, the act that ushers us into our saving relationship with Jesus.

I go into more detail on this in my book, “Set Free! What the Bible Says About Grace” (College Press, 2009), ch. 13, “Baptism and Grace.” See also “The Faith Once for All,” chs. 19-20, “Conditions of Salvation” and “Baptism.”

73. Did Jesus Go to Hell To Pay for Our Sins? 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 5:38pm

QUESTION: Recently I heard a man say, "Jesus went to hell so you wouldn't have to." Where does this idea come from? Didn’t Jesus imply that he was going to Paradise when he died (Luke 23:43)? Does it not border on blasphemy to say that Jesus went to hell to pay for our sins? His atoning blood is what paid for our sins, not His suffering three days in hell "so we wouldn't have to." Have you heard of this before?

ANSWER: There is much confusion on this point. The venerable Apostles’ Creed affirms that “He descended into hell” (Latin, descendit ad inferna). Many take that at face value without questioning it—but not the 1989 United Methodist Hymnal, which simply omits this line. Another modern version changes the line to “He descended to the dead” (which is a possible implication of the Latin infernus, “the nether world, the lower regions”). The Bible itself seems to lend support to the idea that Jesus entered hell, especially in the King James translation of Psalm 16:10, “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell.” Peter refers to this verse in Acts 2:31, saying of Christ “that his soul was not left in hell.” 1 Peter 3:19 adds that Jesus “went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison,” which is often taken to mean that Jesus entered hell and preached to its inhabitants. And Eph. 4:9 adds that “He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth” before his ascension into heaven.

The phrase “He descended into hell” was a late addition to the series of creeds that ultimately became the Apostles’ Creed, appearing a couple of times in the fourth century A.D. and added to the final form in the eighth century (Schaff, “Creeds of Christendom,” 2:53-54). There is no real authority in the Creed, of course. But what about the Bible passages? Do they give support to this idea? No! The statements in Psalm 16:10 and Acts 2:31 have nothing to do with hell, the place of eternal punishment for the lost. The OT word is “sheol,” and the NT word is “hades.” These words CAN mean the place where the souls of the wicked reside between death and judgment, but this is only a prelude to hell itself. These words also CAN mean the grave, as the receptacle of the dead bodies of both the saved and the lost. It is clear that this is the meaning in Psalms and Acts, where the words refer to the grave where Jesus was buried. God did not abandon Jesus after he died and was buried in the grave; he did not allow Jesus’ body to “suffer decay” in Joseph’s tomb. (The word “soul” in Psalm 16:10 does not refer to Jesus’ human spirit, but to Jesus as such, Jesus the individual or the whole person. “My soul” = “me.”)

In Eph. 4:9 “the lower parts of the earth” may also refer simply to the grave as representing Jesus’ death, which in his earthly sojourn was the low point or nadir that preceded his marvelous exaltation via his resurrection/ascension (see Phil. 2:8-9). Eph. 4:8 does not refer to Jesus’ entering the realm of the dead in order to finally escort the patient OT saints into Paradise with him. The “host of captives” in that verse are Satan and his demons, which Jesus conquered via his death and resurrection and which are represented here as a column of defeated and shackled enemies being led in a victory march home by the conquering hero (see Psalm 24:7-10). In any case there is nothing in Eph. 4:9 about hell.

First Peter 3:19 is a difficult verse, and it is the only one that can plausibly be taken to mean that Jesus after his death had some kind of contact with the spirits of the wicked dead. If it means this, there is still no reference here to Jesus’ entering hell to pay for our sins. First, this is not the hell of eternal punishment; at most it is hades, a kind of prison where the souls of the wicked dead await the Judgment. Second, the verse does not say WHEN Jesus visited this place; it could have been during the time his body was in the grave, or it could have been during the 40 days between his resurrection and ascension. Third, the purpose of this visit was not redemptive in any sense. He did not go there to suffer punishment of any kind; he went to make an announcement. The verb translated “made proclamation” is kerusso, “to announce, to proclaim.” It is not euangelizo, “to announce good news, to preach the gospel.” Jesus is there to announce his victory over all his enemies and to seal them in their lost state forever. (There is no hint here that Jesus is offering these lost souls one last opportunity to repent and be saved.)

So, is there no truth at all to the idea that “Jesus went to hell so we wouldn’t have to”? Actually, this is just a poor way of expressing what is the most glorious truth in the universe, that “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3). Paul refers to this work of Jesus as an act of REDEMPTION and of PROPITIATION (Rom. 3:24-25; see 1 Pet. 1:18-19; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). These words embody the full implication of the substitutionary atonement, the idea that Jesus took our place on Calvary, suffering and dying as our substitute, enduring the fullness of the wrath of God that we actually deserve (2 Cor. 5:21). I often express it like this: Jesus suffered the equivalent of eternity in hell for the whole human race. Jesus came to earth not just to suffer the wounds of physical death on the cross in our place; he came to absorb and endure and suffer the unimaginable agony of divine wrath, not just in his body but also in his human soul, and especially in his divine nature itself. I believe this infinite spiritual suffering began in Gethsemane, when Jesus “began to be sore amazed” (Mark 14:33, accurately translated by the KJV). He was “amazed, astonished” at the weight of eternal hell that began to descend upon him there. And it continued in its full intensity until Jesus finally breathed his last and uttered those blessed words, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). It was not what happened AFTER Jesus died that removed God’s wrath from us, but what happened BEFORE.

No, Jesus did not “go to hell” in any literal sense. Rather, HELL CAME TO HIM! By consensus among the persons of the Trinity from the beginning of our time (Acts 2:23; 1 Pet. 1:20), the eternal Logos in the person of Jesus of Nazareth was made “to be sin on our behalf” (2 Cor. 5:21), and became the target of the full force of the hellish wrath of God—so we wouldn’t have to!! Because his divine nature participated in this suffering, it was indeed “eternal” or infinite in intensity, and thus was equivalent to a finite individual’s spending the eternal future in the literal hell. Indeed, it was equivalent to such a fate for the entire human race.

This means for all who accept him as Lord and Savior, “there is now no condemnation” (Rom. 8:1); there is no eternal suffering, there is no hell! As justified sinners God does not treat us “just as if we had never sinned”; rather, he treats us “just as if we had already paid the penalty of hell,” thus satisfying the requirements of his holy justice forever. This is what it means to say “Christ died for our sins,” and that he is our “propitiation through faith in His blood” (Rom. 3:25, Holman CSB). GLORY!

74. What Is the Nature of Free Will? 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 11:09am

QUESTION: Many (usually Arminians) argue that without free will in a significant (libertarian) sense, i.e., the ability to choose between good and evil, human actions would not be worthy of praise or blame. Thus in order to preserve moral responsibility, human beings must have free will in the libertarian sense—the freedom of opposite moral choice. But is this consistent with the freedom of God Himself, whom we assume to be the ultimate model for freedom? The following are said to be true of God:
1. God is surely the freest being in the universe. He is free to do whatever he pleases (Psalm 115:3), and all his choices are surely praiseworthy.
2. Yet, God must necessarily do only what is good; he cannot do anything that is morally wrong. Why? Because his nature is perfectly and infinitely holy, and God cannot act contrary to his nature. (This latter point is an implication of his righteousness.)
3. This means that God’s choices are BOTH determined (necessary) AND free (thus worthy of praise).
The conclusion usually drawn from these considerations—usually by Calvinists—is this: true freedom cannot be defined in the libertarian sense. This allows Calvinists to say that human choices (decisions, actions) are both sovereignly determined by God AND free. What are your thoughts on this?

ANSWER: My first thought is that the Bible nowhere specifically discusses and defines “free will.” Our conclusions on this subject are inferences and implications from related biblical teachings. My second thought is that there is no biblical reason to think that God's freedom, however it is defined, can be used as a model or analogy for human free will as we possess it during this earthly lifetime. My third thought is that “free will” actually must be defined in two different ways, both of which are libertarian and both of which are valid.

Let me explain the two different forms of free will. One is the “power of opposite choice”; the other is the “power of different choice.” The former is usually equated with the libertarian concept of free will. The “opposite choice” in this case is actually the power of opposite MORAL choice, or the ability to choose between right and wrong, the ability to choose to sin or not to sin. The latter is simply the ability to choose among various options without any accompanying moral implications. It is the freedom to select one course of action from a list of many possible choices. This kind of freedom is usually overlooked.

In both senses the choice is FREE if it involves the ability to choose among options (not necessarily opposites) without that choice’s being fixed or determined by some power outside the person’s own will. This latter aspect is what causes both kinds of free will to be called libertarian.

How does this apply to God? In my judgment, God’s freedom (free will) is a true freedom even though his nature does not allow him to choose to do evil. God is not free in the sense of being able to choose between moral opposites, but he is free in the significant sense of being able to choose among an infinite number of possibilities in regard to what he decides to do. In this sense we usually define God’s work of creation as a “free act,” a free choice that he did not HAVE to make: “For You created all things, and because of YOUR WILL they existed, and were created” (Rev 4:11). See my book, “God the Creator,” pp. 117-128. Also, God’s decision to create a universe with free will beings was his free choice. This ability of God to choose among various options is related to the fact that TIME is a part of his nature (he exists on an eternal timeline), which means that God can “think new thoughts” in the sense of making new decisions concerning his own future actions. (See my essay on “God and Time,” in “Evangelicalism and the Stone-Campbell Movement,” ed. W. R. Baker, especially p. 78.) The idea that God’s decisions are determined or necessary is a complete fiction. His nature LIMITS what choices he can make, but does not DETERMINE the choices he does make.

How does the two-fold nature of free will apply to us as human beings? In my judgment, we are designed to experience BOTH kinds of freedom. In this lifetime we possess both the ability to choose between moral opposites and the ability to choose among different options. Both are true freedoms, with the former being what most people call “libertarian” freedom. This power of opposite choice is necessary during this lifetime, because this period of our existence is a kind of “trial period,” a time of probation, as it were, which will determine our eternal status. This aspect of our freedom has no parallel in God’s nature, but was probably also the condition of angels in their initially-created existence (also probably a probation period, ending after 2 Peter 2:4). The fact that this kind of freedom is not patterned after God’s freedom is no reason to deny its reality. To think otherwise is a serious fallacy.

Once we die, this freedom of opposite moral choice will be removed from our nature, and from that point on we will possess only the ability to choose among different options, exactly after the pattern of God’s freedom (except our choices will always be finite). We will no longer be able to sin, having been perfected in our sanctification and having been truly made holy as God is holy (Heb. 12:23; 1 Peter 1:16). (Those who believe in “once saved, always saved” assume that this change begins partly as soon as one becomes saved in this life, but good biblical exegesis shows that this is not true.)

Two main sources of confusion on this issue are (1) the assumption that free will can be libertarian in only one sense, and (2) the assumption that God’s freedom must be the pattern for human freedom in every sense. There is no biblical basis for either assumption. God’s own freedom is a true libertarian freedom, and so is ours, both now and forever.

75. The Church and Social Justice 

by Jack Cottrellon Saturday, May 22, 2010 at 4:29pm

QUESTION: I'm growing increasingly concerned over the emphasis on the concept of "social justice" in the church. Does the church have a divine mandate to address the needs of the downtrodden, the poor, and the suffering? How is this related to our mandate to preach the gospel? Did not Jesus himself feed the hungry and heal the sick? What is the proper place of benevolent ministries such as food pantries, medical missions, and disaster relief?

ANSWER: I have discussed these issues in my book, “Tough Questions, Biblical Answers, Part Two,” in chapters 2 and 4; and in the chapter on “The Righteousness of God” in my book, “What the Bible Says About God the Redeemer,” pp. 183-186 & 240-242. Several key distinctions are primary. First, we must distinguish between the two sides of God’s moral nature, i.e., his holiness of the one hand (which includes justice), and his love on the other hand. Second, we must distinguish between the God-given purpose for the church on the one hand, and the God-given purpose of government on the other hand. Third, we must distinguish between the responsibilities of the church AS CHURCH, and the responsibilities of individual members of the church not only as Christians but as citizens of the human society.

Confusion on who is responsible for correcting social ills stems largely from a failure to distinguish between the purpose of government and the purpose of the church. As I understand it, the Bible teaches that civil government is supposed to uphold and enact the demands of God’s HOLY nature to the world, including especially the enforcement of JUSTICE for all its citizens. This is accomplished through the protection of the rights of individuals (as the end or goal of governmental activity), and through the punishment of those who violate such rights (as the means of accomplishing this goal). A crucial point is that it is NOT government’s job to PROVIDE us with everything we have a right to; government is simply supposed to protect our right to attain and possess those things.

The purpose of the church, on the other hand, is to represent God’s loving and gracious nature to the world, as embodied in the gospel of salvation. The function of the church AS CHURCH is to proclaim the gospel of God’s grace, to win the lost, and to bring converts to spiritual maturity in a context of acceptance and love. Becoming directly involved in matters of social justice is NOT the church’s mandated job or mission, though it should encourage its members (who are also members of society in general) to become so involved.

Here is how I describe the differences in my “Tough Questions” book: “A. The PURPOSE for which government exists is to maintain temporal law and order; the purpose for which the church exists is to provide spiritual salvation. B. The PRINCIPLE by which government operates is justice; the principle by which the church operates is grace. C. The POWER by which the state accomplishes its purpose is force; the power of the church is love.” In other words, “government must see that justice prevails, while the church tries to change the world through love.”

In many circles today it is typical to see these roles reversed. “Some well-meaning but misguided churchmen are declaring that the church’s main task is the establishment of justice throughout the world. Likewise many are saying that all governmental policies, programs, and decisions must be determined by the love-ethic of Jesus as taught in Matthew 5:38-48.”

Where does this leave us with regard to the question of the church’s role in matters of social justice (or injustice)? In chapter 4 of the “Tough Questions” book I distinguish three (actually four) views on this issue. First, some say the church’s ONLY mission is social action. This is mainly the approach of liberal churches (e.g., the Disciples of Christ) who have rejected basic biblical teachings about sin and salvation and eternal life, and for whom the only meaningful reason for their existence it to try to change the quality of life on this earth. Individual evangelism is irrelevant; changing society is all that’s left.

Second, some say the church should NEVER engage in social action, but should focus entirely on evangelism. This is typical of churches that tend to be more conservative or fundamentalist.

Third, others say that BOTH evangelism and social action are necessary parts of the church’s mission. Some of these—whom I usually characterize as “left-wing evangelicals”—say that both of these tasks are equally important, with each being independent of the other and justified in its own right. As Ron Sider says, there is no hint “that Jesus considered healing sick people any less important than preaching the Good News. He commanded us BOTH to feed the hungry AND to preach the Gospel.”

The other version of this third view is the one I support, namely, that evangelism and social work are both necessary but are not equal partners in the church’s agenda. The church does have a responsibility to provide for its own who are in need (brotherhood benevolence; see Acts 2:44-46; 4:34-35; 6:1-6; 11:29-30; 1 Cor. 16:1-3; Gal. 6:10; 1 John 3:17-18), and it must act as the Good Samaritan did in cases of emergency (occasional benevolence, Gal. 6:10 again). But in addition to these, I believe that the church must be directly involved in relieving the misery and suffering of mankind in general, as a MEANS of accomplishing its primary task of evangelism (evangelistic benevolence). By meeting people’s needs in the name of Jesus, we lay the groundwork for preaching the gospel. This should be done in the local community through such things as food pantries and community service days; and it should be done on mission fields through schools, hospitals, orphanages, and disaster relief. Such works of love should not be seen as ends in themselves, but as a means of opening the doors of people’s hearts to hear the Word.

To say that Jesus’ ministry put equal emphasis on healing the sick and preaching the gospel is a distortion of the Bible. Jesus’ miracles of healing the sick and feeding the hungry were a MEANS of pointing to Himself as the one who saves us from our sins. (The purpose of all miracles is to give evidence of the miracle-worker’s truth-claims.) E.g., Jesus healed the paralytic let down through roof “so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:10). The things we can do in the areas of social action may not be this dramatic, but there are many things we can and should do in the name of Christ that will draw sinners to him for salvation.


by Jack Cottrellon Saturday, May 22, 2010 at 3:08pm

QUESTION: What kinds of activities will we be engaged in when we get to heaven?

ANSWER: To answer this question, I have selected some paragraphs from chapter 32, “Heaven,” of my book, “The Faith Once for All.” Here I divide our activities in heaven into physical, mental, and spiritual.

Regarding the PHYSICAL, what about activities that give us physical pleasure in our present lives, i.e., eating, drinking, and sex? This question is neither irrelevant nor irreverent, for these are normal and good activities in this life. Concerning eating and drinking, in Rev 19:7-9 heaven is represented as a wedding feast; and Isa 65:21 says, "They will also plant vineyards and eat their fruit." The water of life and the tree of life suggest that eating and drinking will still be natural. Revelation 7:16 says there will be no hunger or thirst there. Is this because we will always have all we want to eat and drink, or simply because eating and drinking will no longer be necessary? If the latter is the case, then the tree of life and the water of life are just symbols of "never-ending and totally satisfying refreshment by the Spirit" (John Gilmore, “Probing Heaven,” 116). There really is no biblical basis for ruling out literal eating and drinking, however.

We do have a biblical reason for thinking there will be no sexual relations in heaven, though. Jesus' answer to the Sadducees' question in Matt 22:23-33 implies that husband-wife relationships of all kinds will be transcended in heaven: "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven" (v. 30). Since sexual relations are intended for marriage only, this seems to exclude them from our new-earth relationships. This does not mean, however, that our new bodies will necessarily be genderless (see C. S. Lewis, “Miracles,” 165-166; Gilmore, ch. 13, "Sex in Heaven?").

Millard Erickson raises the question, "If there is to be no eating nor sex, will there be any pleasure in heaven?" He rightly answers "that the experiences of heaven will far surpass anything experienced here," as indicated by 1 Cor 2:9 (NIV), "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (“Christian Theology,” 1998, 1239-1240). Gilmore (84) says it well: "Glorified bodies will, doubtless, involve glorious action and enormous enjoyment. It would seem that some form of the pleasures of sight, sound, touch, and (less so) taste will be part of the new earth."

Some may think we will not be engaged in any kind of physical activities, since heaven is supposed to be a place of “rest.” It is true that we may think of eternal life as in some sense a state of rest, just as the promised land was a gift of rest for the Israelites (see Heb 3:18-4:11). But this is rest from toil and mental stress, not rest from activity, nor even rest from work. Adam and Eve had plenty of work assigned to them before sin's curse turned it into toil (Gen 3:17-19). With the curse removed from the new earth, we can engage once more in a variety of activities without toil and stress.

Thus we should note that heaven will not be rest in the sense of an absence of productive activity; it will not be just "endless rows of hammocks" (Gilmore, 176). Nor will our only activity be singing praises to God, as is perhaps some angels' prerogative (Rev 4:8), since what angels do is not necessarily what we will do. In fact, on the new earth we will not be rubbing shoulders with angels, because they will still be in their own invisible universe while we are in our new visible one.

Nor should we expect to be bored with our heavenly activities, even though we will be engaged in them forever. A main reason for this is that our new life will be one of endless MENTAL challenges to grow in our knowledge and understanding not only of God but of the new universe. Being finite even in our new bodies, we will never have "perfect knowledge" (contra Erickson, 1235). There will be a new universe to probe and to explore, indeed, to conquer, in reference to its potential for science and the arts. Here we will finally be able to do justice to the original cultural mandate (Gen 1:28), wherein the human race was commanded to subdue and rule over the earth. When Rev 5:10 says that the saved will be "a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth" (see Rev 21:24; 22:5), this does not mean that we will rule over people, but over the new universe itself.

Gilmore sums this up well: "Heaven, if anything, is perfected action: doing more, doing it better; and having more space in which to do it. We contend that heaven is pell-mell, reflective exploration and not occupied with immobile contemplations" (73). "Adventures in the kingdom of heaven await the ransomed church" (84). The new universe "requires a magnificent full-scale active life in the habitation, use, and governing of the new earth by those who are part of the blissful eternal state" (87). But if one wants to rest, he will surely be able to do so!

Because God's very presence will be made visible to us in a permanent theophany, and because Christ himself will be there, the most enticing and the most satisfying of our heavenly activities will be SPIRITUAL in nature, i.e., worship and communion with Jesus and the Father. Revelation 7:9-10 pictures the multitude of the redeemed standing before the throne and before the Lamb, singing praises to God and the Lamb. This will not necessarily be constant, but it will be regular.

Finally we may mention the opportunity of getting to know all of God's saints from all ages and all parts of the globe. The 144,000 in Rev 7:4-8 probably represent symbolically the total saved from OT Israel, while the Christians from the NT era are represented in Rev 7:9 as "a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues." Here unity and diversity are combined in a way that provides an opportunity for unlimited fellowship.

77. Love or Truth? A False Choice! 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 8:09pm

REQUEST: I am a student at one of our prominent Bible colleges, pursuing a preaching degree. Often when I have a conversation with a student or even some of the professors, it seems that the general mindset is mostly a postmodern way of thinking. It seems as if everyone is very passionate about such things as evangelism, loving others, and reconstructing the church, but has very little concern for doctrine and truth. Do you have any advice for my situation?

REPLY: Thank you, Brother, for your heartfelt concern. It is very disheartening, of course, to hear a report like this about a Bible college that has long had a reputation for being firm and sound in the faith. The sad thing about it is that such trends are everywhere. You are blessed to be able to discern what is going on, and to be able to analyze it and be concerned about it. I encourage you to continue to stand firm on the importance of truth and sound doctrine.

What your friends there need to understand is that engaging in things like evangelism and loving others is like building houses on sand if they lack the firm foundation of Biblical truth to undergird them. I will recommend a couple of books that might help you: "Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation to Postmodern Times," by Millard Erickson et al. (Crossway 2004); and "Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications," by D. A. Carson (Zondervan 2005).

For quite some time I have been challenging audiences to answer this question: “Which is more important: LOVE or TRUTH?” Most are surprised when I give my answer (based on Matt. 22:37-40): LOVE is more important than TRUTH! However, I immediately proceed to say that we must always be on guard against the temptation to choose between them, as some attempt to do. Ephesians 4:15 exhorts us to speak the truth in love; these must always be tied together. In fact, my basic thesis is this: you can’t have genuine love without truth. Stated more precisely, YOU CANNOT TRULY LOVE WITHOUT LOVING TRUTH. Here I will summarize the three points that show this is so.

First, you cannot LOVE GOD without loving truth. The greatest commandment, of course, is to love God, including loving him with our minds (Matt. 22:37-38). This is the reason why we must love truth. We cannot separate any person from his words. God has indeed spoken (Heb. 1:1-2). Thus if we truly love God, we must love the words he has spoken; his words are a part of him, and his words are TRUTH (John 17:17). Thus we cannot love God without loving truth. To love truth is to love God himself.

Anyone who thinks the idea of loving truth is strange should read all of Psalm 119. Over and over David speaks in such terms: “Your word is very pure; therefore Your servant loves it” (v. 140). “Your law is truth” (v. 142); “O how I love Your law!” (v. 97). “All Your commandments are truth” (v. 151); “I love Your commandments” (v. 127). “I love Your testimonies” (v. 119); “I love Your precepts” (v. 159). To love truth means to take delight in it (vv. 16, 70, 111, 162, 174). I.e., truth is beautiful; knowing truth is an aesthetic experience! Also, to love truth is to desire it, to seek it, to cling to it (vv. 11, 31, 40, 45, 94, 131). To love truth also means to hate falsehood (vv. 63, 104, 128). When you love the truth of God’s Word, you cannot help but be angry at those who oppose it and ridicule it and work to suppress it! When you love truth, you will get upset when it is not acknowledged and believed. Standing up for truth is standing up for God himself; we love truth because we love God.

Second, you cannot LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR—the second greatest commandment (Matt. 22:39)—without loving truth. I too have heard Christian workers say, “I don’t have time to wrestle with all these doctrinal problems; I just want to concentrate on winning and helping people! Let’s not worry about doctrine; let’s just help people.” This, of course, is a false choice. A parallel would be a would-be doctor who says, “I don’t have time to study my textbooks and journals; I just want to help people!” This is ridiculous, of course; only a doctor who knows about the physical realities of diseases and cures can really help anyone. Likewise, Christian workers cannot really help people unless they know the TRUTH about spiritual realities. Do you really want to set people free from sin and darkness and the devil? Jesus said, “You will know the TRUTH, and the TRUTH will make you free” (John 8:32).

We want to save those who are lost, certainly. But why are they lost? First and foremost, because they have allowed themselves to be deceived by the devil in reference to God, sin, and salvation. They have exchanged the truth of God for a lie (Rom. 1:25). They have listened to false teachers who have come “with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive THE LOVE OF THE TRUTH SO AS TO BE SAVED” (2 Thess. 2:10). How can we expect the lost to love and accept the truth so as to be saved, if we who are trying to win them do not love the truth?

Third, you cannot LOVE THE BROTHERHOOD (1 Peter 2:17) without loving truth. The “brotherhood” is the church in general, the body of Christ universal—not just our own local congregation. To LOVE the brotherhood, “agape” style, means to CARE about what is happening in our churches and in our fellowship in general. That means we must care about our brotherhood’s lack of emphasis on truth and sound doctrine. Why does this matter? Because part of the church’s divinely-given mission is to preserve and proclaim the truth. As Paul says, “the church of the living God” is “the pillar and support of the truth” in the world (1 Tim. 3:15). See 2 John 1-4; Jude 3.

To be sure, we must also and always promote church growth, unity, and evangelism; but without a foundational and parallel emphasis on truth, the results will be counterfeit. We are being deceived by the widespread lie that if a doctrine is not necessary for salvation, it is just a matter of opinion and thus it does not matter what you believe about it. But I say, if that were really true, the Bible might as well be about one hundredth of its actual size, or even smaller. Why has God given us his Word if its true meaning is irrelevant? I believe that many Christian workers are sacrificing the truth—even the truth about salvation—on the altars of idols such as bigger churches and ecumenical respectability.

The bottom line is this: you cannot truly love without loving truth. “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3).

78. What Is the Gift of Apostles? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 6:47pm

QUERY: One of the “spiritual gifts” is the gift of “apostles” (1 Cor. 12:28-29; Eph. 4:11). Some believe this gift continues today. How do you understand this gift?

ANSWER: Most of the following material comes from my book, "Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit" (College Press, 500pp.), pp. 406-407.

Apostles are named in two of Paul’s four lists of spiritual gifts: in Eph. 4:11, and twice in 1 Cor. 12:28-30. They are named first in each list. The word “apostle” (Greek, “apostolos”) comes from a common Greek verb, “apostello,” which means “to send, to send out, to send on a mission.” In a generic sense an apostle is anyone sent on a mission, such as the three men (Titus and two others) whom Paul sent to Corinth to facilitate the offering he was collecting for the poor in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8:23); also Epaphroditus, sent by the church at Philippi to minister to Paul’s needs (Phil. 2:25); and Jesus himself, sent from heaven to be our Savior (Heb. 3:1).

The word “apostle” is linguistically equivalent to our word “missionary,” and is probably used in that sense of “Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 13:2-4) in Acts 14:4, 14, and of Andronicus and Junias in Rom 16:7. Some think that the spiritual gift of apostleship today refers to anyone thus “sent forth to preach the message of the cross,” or “church-planting missionaries.” This is possible, but highly unlikely. This function is more likely included in the gift of evangelists.

It is almost certain that the gift of apostles refers to the office of apostle, i.e., to the men chosen by Jesus Christ to be his personal representatives in establishing the church following his ascension. These are “the twelve apostles” (Matt. 10:2), commonly referred to simply as “the twelve” (with Judas being replaced by Matthias, Acts 1:26), to which was added the apostle Paul (2 Cor. 12:11-12; Gal. 1:1, 17). When Paul says in 1 Cor. 12:28 that “God has appointed in the church, first apostles,” he is saying that this gift is of first importance. It is also the most comprehensive gift, since apostles seem to have been given other gifts as a part of their calling, e.g., prophecy, teaching, administrations (involving their general authoritative leadership), tongues, and miracles (2 Cor. 12:12).

It is also quite clear that the gift of apostles was a temporary gift, intended only for the foundational era of the church universal (Eph 2:20). The existence of this gift is limited by the conditions laid down for the choosing of Judas’ successor in Acts 1:21-26, i.e., it was necessary for an apostle to have been a direct witness of the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ (or at least to have witnessed the risen Christ, as did Paul, Acts 9:1-6). Some argue that all the spiritual gifts mentioned in the NT are still given today, but this inherent limitation upon those who are qualified to be apostles shows that we are justified in distinguishing between temporary and permanent gifts (see Thomas Edgar, “Satisfied by the Promise of the Spirit” [Kregel 1996], 53-63).

79. May Women SPEAK in Church? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 5:35pm

QUESTION: In view of 1 Timothy 2:12, are women forbidden to serve communion in a church service? Is a female song leader allowed? Can a woman lead prayers in a church service? Does this verse not say that a woman must “remain quiet”? Does not 1 Cor. 14:34 say that “women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak”?

ANSWER: Here I have combined several questions into one, namely, what limitations does the New Testament place upon women’s roles in the church? As I understand it, the only text that limits the activity of women in the church today is 1 Tim. 2:12, where Paul says, “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.” This basically says that women are not permitted to do two things: they cannot teach Christian doctrine to Christian men, and cannot exercise authority over Christian men (as in the offices of apostles and elders). (1 Tim. 3:15 shows that in this letter Paul is discussing what should be done within the context of the church.) For more detail about this verse see my book, “The Faith Once for All,” 431-440; and my book, “Feminism and the Bible,” 313-327.

Though it goes against a very entrenched tradition in Restoration churches, I do not believe women serving communion violates either of these prohibitions. This is a role of service, purely and simply. Here are two cautions, however. First, as with all permissible activities, the rule of expediency must be applied (see my commentary on Romans 14). I.e., even though it may be right in itself, we must always ask if it might cause harm to weaker brethren and thus to the church itself. In such a case it should be delayed until sound teaching can be done on the subject, showing why it is consistent with Biblical teaching. Second, giving the communion meditation is quite different from serving the emblems. The former usually involves teaching and thus falls under the first prohibition in 1 Tim. 2:12, while the latter does not.

Regarding leading singing and leading prayers in a church service, my opinion is that neither of these activities constitutes teaching Christian doctrine or exercising authority. We should not confuse “leading” in these contexts with “exercising authority.” Authority gives a person the right to tell others what to do, in the sense that the latter have a moral obligation to obey (e.g., Luke 6:46; Eph. 6:1; Heb. 13:17). This is not happening in leading singing or in leading prayer.

But what about the teaching that women must “remain quiet” and “keep silent”? Does not Paul specifically say that “they are not permitted to speak”? Here it is important to see that the Greek words in 1 Tim. 2:11-12 and in 1 Cor. 14:34 are different. In 1 Tim. 2:12 the word is “hesuchia,” which does NOT mean “be silent” (contrary to the NIV translation), but to have a quiet, submissive demeanor or attitude. This same word is used also in verse 11, “Let a woman QUIETLY [with a quiet spirit] receive instruction.” Thus this passage does not forbid women to speak in a church service.

But what about 1 Cor. 14:34? Here the Greek word for “keep silent” is “sigao,” which DOES mean literal silence; and the Greek word in the phrase “not permitted to speak” is “laleo,” which is the ordinary word for oral speaking or talking. However, the context of the verse shows that Paul is referring to a specific kind of speaking, namely, the public use of the miraculous spiritual gifts of speaking in tongues and prophesying. In apostolic times women had such gifts and could use them outside the public assembly, (1 Cor. 11:5; compare v. 18), but not in the assembly or church service as such. That is the point of 1 Cor. 14:34; see 1 Cor. 14:26-33, where the word “laleo” is used three times for this special kind of speaking. (This prohibition would apply, of course, only as long as the special gifts existed in the church.)

80. The Age of Accountability and Baptism 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 4:25pm

QUESTION: Have you written anything that particularly addresses the age of accountability and the baptizing of children? I have heard many discussions lately concerning: “Is the child not accountable one moment and then accountable the next? Must the child reach the state in which he is lost, for whatever length of time, before he can be baptized? Must he go out of the kingdom in order to come back into it again?” What do you think?

REPLY: On the age of accountability as such, see my book, “The Faith Once for All,” pp. 189, 191-2, 366. Paul discusses it from his own perspective in Romans 7:7-12; see my commentary on Romans for that passage. Also, I wrote a FaceBook note earlier on this general subject (around October 30, 2009).

This inquirer asks, "Is the child NOT ACCOUNTABLE one moment and then ACCOUNTABLE the next?" The answer to this question is YES. That is the whole point of the concept of “the age of accountability.” Children begin life in the womb under the redemptive power of the grace of Jesus Christ. Because of his representative status, Adam’s sin WOULD have engulfed every human being in the consequences of his first sin, including depravity and condemnation from conception onward (Romans 5:12-19). However, by God’s design the atoning work of Jesus Christ totally counteracted the power of Adam’s sin. Thus instead of being born in some form of “original sin” of whatever severity, every child is born (as it were) wrapped in the protective cocoon of “original grace.” This is the main point of Romans 5:12-19. All children are thus born pure, free, and innocent. In their early years they are NOT ACCOUNTABLE for the wrong things they learn to do; they are in a saved state thanks to the original grace of Jesus Christ. They are not accountable because of their lack of understanding of God, law, and sin. A key verse in Romans 4:15, “But where there is no law, there also is no violation.” Law itself, of course, is everywhere; this verse must mean “where there is no UNDERSTANDING of law.”

In Romans 7:9 Paul says, “I was once alive apart from law.” This was the time when he was still under original grace; the law’s curse did not apply to him. But then he says, “But when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died.” In my commentary I say that this statement “refers to the coming of the commandment into the consciousness of the child, the time when he first understands its full significance as a commandment OF GOD with eternal condemnation for disobedience.” With the coming of this understanding, the child’s protective cocoon of original grace disappears, and he enters the state of spiritual death (“and I died”).

Thus the main element in attaining the age of accountability is when a child comes to understand what it means to be living under a divine law code and thus to be responsible for breaking God's law and to be under the penalty of hell. This is a transition that occurs in the life of every child who lives long enough, no matter what kind of home or religious environment he is born into and reared in. A child growing up in a Christian home, of course, has a great advantage, since he is exposed not only to God’s law but also to the gospel of Jesus Christ. But here is a crucial point: knowing who Jesus is, loving Jesus, wanting to follow Jesus -- such things have nothing to do with the age of accountability. These attributes are wonderful and lead to salvation, but they are a response to the GOSPEL; whereas the age of accountability is a consciousness of how one is related to the LAW. Gospel responses (including baptism) must follow the consciousness of law and sin in order to have any genuine meaning.

This is why we do not (or SHOULD not) baptize a child until he reaches the age of accountability, in spite of the difficulty of discerning when that moment occurs in a particular child’s life. If we truly believe that baptism is "for the forgiveness of sins" (Acts 2:38), then it is meaningless to baptize someone who is already in a state of forgiveness—which children are, as long as they are under original grace. To entertain the idea that a child can be baptized before the age of accountability means that we would have to come up with some other reason or rationale for baptism as such, which opens the door to adopting the Zwinglian faith-only approach to baptism and ultimately leads to infant baptism itself.

81. Are Sinners "Begotten" to New Life Before Being "Born Again" in Baptism? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 3:17pm

QUESTION: What do you think about the analogy that the work of the Holy Spirit before baptism is similar to that of the gestation period in the birth of a baby? This is the idea that the seed of the Word of God begins to produce spiritual life as soon as the sinner believes and repents. As that seed develops and grows, and as changes begin to occur in the attitudes and actions of the individual, he or she is regarded as being already spiritually alive or regenerated. Then at baptism the person is “born,” or formally becomes a member of God’s family.

ANSWER: I have answered this question in my book on the Holy Spirit, “Power from on High” (College Press, 2007), pp. 257-261. The bottom line is that this analogy is without foundation in Scripture and contradicts other descriptions of the salvation event (especially regeneration). It ultimately undermines the NT teaching on baptism. The following explanation is from the book just named.

A view of salvation occasionally espoused in the Restoration Movement may be called the “life-before-birth” view. This approach focuses on the concept of regeneration as a new birth, and proceeds to expand the analogy into a two-step process. The contention is that if regeneration is parallel to physical birth (John 3:3-5), then it must be preceded by an act of begetting in which a seed is planted and immediately initiates new life, which continues to grow until the time of birth. In reference to regeneration this act of begetting is identified with the planting of the seed of the Word (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). When the Word is believed, the new life begins. Thus the convert is already spiritually alive when he is “born of water” in Christian baptism.

Alexander Campbell himself lays the groundwork for this idea in his explanation of regeneration: “The Spirit of God is the begetter, the gospel is the seed; and, being thus begotten and quickened [made alive], we are born of the water. A child is alive before it is born, and the act of being born only changes its state, not its life. Just so in the metaphorical birth. Persons are begotten by the Spirit of God, impregnated by the Word, and born of the water” (“Christian System,” 173). “Begetting and quickening necessarily precede being born” (179). “Birth itself is not for procuring, but for enjoying, the life possessed before birth” (233).

Many have followed Campbell’s reasoning on this point, often applying it in ways Campbell never intended. In an article called “How To Be Born Again,” Orrin Root distinguishes these elements in the process of physical birth: 1) sperm; 2) conception; 3) prenatal development; and 4) birth itself. In spiritual rebirth these correspond to 1) the gospel; 2) belief; 3) repentance and commitment; and 4) baptism. At point two—conception—“a new life begins.” Another writer makes a similar distinction between begetting and birth: “The new nature of the redeemed man is begotten by the Spirit of God. Then when the Father has regenerated the life, birth follows at the baptismal waters. Life is begotten by the Father; the birth at baptism brings that new life into a new relationship in the kingdom of Christ.” Another says, “Physically a person must be alive before birth in order to be alive after birth; otherwise he will be stillborn. So spiritual life in us is originated by faith through hearing the preaching of the good news of Jesus. . . . So a person who is ‘born again’ has spiritual life conceived in him when he believes in Jesus as Messiah, Savior, and Lord. He is born of water when he is baptized into Christ; that is, the birth process is completed.”

A common application of this idea is the identification of unimmersed believers as “brothers yet unborn.” One writer says, “In preparation for the physical birth there must be the implanting of seed that fertilizes the prepared egg cell. From that point on the new life is in process of becoming.” Now, “the spiritual process is very much the same. The word of God must be planted in the heart.” This leads to faith and repentance, and ultimately to birth itself in Christian baptism. But since Ananias referred to Saul as “Brother Saul” even before he was baptized (Acts 22:13), we should think of unimmersed believers as “brothers yet unborn.” [This writer overlooks the fact that Jews often referred to their fellow Jews as “brethren,” whether Christians or not. This occurs often in Acts.]

What do I think about this idea? I reject it completely. For one thing, it is an unwarranted extension of the metaphor of birth. In dealing with figures of speech, we must resist the ever-present temptation to go beyond the point being made in the text. The figure of the new birth, as applied especially to baptism (John 3:5), in itself represents the significant turning point in a person’s life. This is the single point of the analogy: that which happens as a result of the water-and-Spirit moment is like a new birth. To speculate on some pre-baptismal begetting or conception or embryonic life is to go beyond the metaphor and even to obscure its main point.

A second problem with this approach is that it singles out just one metaphor and, by expanding its application, places it in conflict with other metaphors of regeneration. The idea of new birth is only one of several figures that represent the Spirit-wrought change in our inner being; others are new creation, circumcision, and resurrection from the dead. None of these lends itself to being expanded into a multiple-step process. This is especially true of the resurrection metaphor. Up until the moment of resurrection there is nothing but death—a spiritually-dead self (Eph 2:1, 5), followed by the redemptive death of that dead self (Rom 6:1-6). There is no “pre-life life.” Speculation about a faith-induced “life before birth” is simply not in harmony with the parallel metaphors for regeneration. (First Peter 1:23 does not speak of an act of begetting that is distinct from the new birth in John 3:3-5. The same root word is used in both passages: “gennao” [John] and “anagennao” [Peter]. The reference to the seed of the Word in 1 Pet 1:23 does not make this speak of a separate act equivalent to begetting. The word used in James 1:18, “apokueo,” means specifically “to be born.” James thus says we are BORN through the Word.)

The most serious problem with this view is that it separates the making-alive work of the Spirit from the point where the Bible says it happens, namely, Christian baptism. See John 3:5; Romans 6:1-6; Colossians 2:12-13; Titus 3:5.

82. Is Body Augmentation Moral? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 12:02pm

QUESTION: Is it morally wrong for an actor, actress, or model to undergo body augmentation (for example: breast implants, collagen injections, face lifts) for the primary purpose of maintaining or advancing their career? Correspondingly, is it wrong for professional athletes to take legal (not illegal) performance-enhancing substances solely to improve their game? These two issues have been in the news lately, and I can't seem to find a satisfactory explanation addressing them. (I understand that procedures to heal injuries and correct deformities are permissible.)

ANSWER: Let's start with easy examples of "body augmentation," or procedures that alter our bodies physically. Sometimes we may be tempted to think, “Well, this is the way God made me. If I change anything, I would be going against His will.” But people of both genders regularly shave off unwanted hair, cut their nails, and have their head-hair cut or dyed. We do these things usually without considering them to be moral issues. We do all sorts of things to our teeth (e.g., straightening, whitening), often for purely cosmetic purposes. Some things might be done for health purposes, such as mole removal; but sometimes this is for cosmetic purposes also. In these and in many other ways, we do not simply “let nature take its course.”

Thus with regard to the items mentioned in the above question, such as breast implants and face lifts, whether done for job purposes or not, we cannot say that they are inherently wrong. This does not mean that they are always right, however. Moral issues are definitely involved, though these are usually on a secondary level. For example, is a particular procedure done for the purpose of deceiving? Is it simply a matter of vanity or conceit? Is it bad stewardship of money? Does it involve immodesty, i.e., is the purpose to flaunt one’s sexuality and to incite lust? Does it endanger one's health? These and other such questions definitely should be raised, and should be answered honestly by anyone considering such a procedure. We as friends and spiritual advisors of such folks can help them to conscientiously answer these questions, but we cannot answer them for other people and should not stand in judgment upon them.

This same approach would apply to questions about legal performance-enhancing substances. I.e., we regularly partake of such things as caffeine and energy drinks or energy bars. When an athlete progresses to some of the more exotic substances or practices, like human growth hormone, steroids, and blood doping, then the kinds of questions listed in the previous paragraph must definitely be asked—especially the question about endangering one’s health. When one is participating in sports organizations or contests that have rules about such usage, it is always wrong to go against these rules.

83. Will There Be Sexual Activity in Heaven? 

by Jack Cottrellon Saturday, April 10, 2010 at 10:02pm

QUERY: I have a question about whether or not there will be sex in Heaven. I really DO honestly wonder about it. One friend cited C.S. Lewis. What is your opinion on the subject?

ANSWER: I have dealt with this subject briefly in my book, “The Faith Once for All,” in chapter 32, “Heaven” (on pp. 567-68). I understand our final heaven, our eternal abode, to be the new heavens and the new earth of 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1, where we will live in our new and eternal bodies (Romans 8:23). Thus there will definitely be a physical or material aspect to our eternal life, which I summarize briefly thus:

Some of the most striking aspects of the physical life and environment of the new earth have to do with what will not be there. One, there will be no darkness, "no night there" (Rev. 21:25; 22:5), "for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb" (Rev 21:23). Thus there is no need for the sun or moon or for lamps (Rev. 21:25; 22:5). That there is no darkness means we will have nothing to fear and nothing to hide.

Two, there will be no danger there, nothing to threaten our peace and safety. This is symbolized in God's promise that on the new earth, "the wolf and the lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like an ox; and dust will be the serpent's food. They will do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain" (Isa. 65:25). This is also the reason why "there is no longer any sea" on the new earth (Rev. 21:1); to the ancients the sea was a source of jeopardy and peril.

Third, there will be no physical discomfort in heaven: no hunger, thirst, or excessive heat (Rev. 7:16) and no pain (Rev. 21:4). These are representative of discomforts of all kinds.

Fourth and most significantly, "there will no longer be any death" (Rev. 21:4). In earlier prophecy God suggested that in the new universe death will simply be irrelevant (Isa. 65:20, 22), but in his more complete and final revelation he indicates that it will be removed altogether. The curse of death as Adam's legacy upon the race (Gen. 2:17; 3:19) will be gone. Those in resurrection bodies "cannot even die anymore" (Luke 20:36).

Stated positively, the greatest physical glory of heaven is the everlasting, never-ending life that will be bestowed upon us. Even now we have the spiritual aspect of that life, but then it will empower our bodies as well (Rom. 6:23; 8:10-11). An environment where life reigns instead of death is marked by the presence of "springs of water of life" (Rev. 7:17; 21:6), "a river of the water of life" (Rev. 22:1, 17), and the tree of life in a variety of forms (Rev. 2:7; 22:2, 14). We will live forever in imperishable, immortal bodies (1 Cor. 15:42, 53-54) that are not subject to pain or discomfort.

What about activities that give us physical pleasure in our present lives, i.e., eating, drinking, and sex? This question is neither irrelevant nor irreverent, for these are normal and good activities in this life. Concerning eating and drinking, in Rev. 19:7-9 heaven is represented as a wedding feast; and Isa. 65:21 says, "They will also plant vineyards and eat their fruit." The water of life and the tree of life suggest that eating and drinking will still be natural. Revelation 7:16 says there will be no hunger or thirst there. Is this because we will always have all we want to eat and drink, or simply because eating and drinking will no longer be necessary? If the latter is the case, then the tree of life and the water of life are just symbols of "never-ending and totally satisfying refreshment by the Spirit" (John Gilmore “Probing Heaven,” Baker 1989, p. 116). There really is no Biblical basis for ruling out literal eating and drinking, however. (The fact that Jesus ate after his resurrection [Luke 24:43] tells us nothing about our new-earth bodies, since Jesus did not have his glorified resurrection body until his ascension.)

We do have a Biblical reason for thinking there will be no sexual relations in heaven, though. Jesus' answer to the Sadducees' question in Matt. 22:23-33 implies that husband-wife relationships of all kinds will be transcended in heaven: "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven" (v. 30). Since sexual relations are intended for marriage only, this seems to exclude them from our new-earth relationships. This does not mean, however, that our new bodies will necessarily be genderless (see C. S. Lewis, Miracles, Macmillan 1960, pp. 165-166; Gilmore, ch. 13, "Sex in Heaven?").

Millard Erickson raises the question, "If there is to be no eating nor sex, will there be any pleasure in heaven?" He rightly answers "that the experiences of heaven will far surpass anything experienced here," as indicated by 1 Cor. 2:9 (NIV), "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (Christian Theology, Baker 1998, pp. 1239-1240). Gilmore (p. 84) says it well: "Glorified bodies will, doubtless, involve glorious action and enormous enjoyment. It would seem that some form of the pleasures of sight, sound, touch, and (less so) taste will be part of the new earth."

84. Questions About the Essentiality of Baptism 

by Jack Cottrellon Saturday, April 10, 2010 at 9:24pm

QUESTION: An individual asked me some questions about baptism, and I would love to hear your response. Here are the questions: (1) If we are justified through faith (Rom 3:27—4:8) how are we justified in baptism? And (2) what about the man in the desert who is incapable of being baptized? Will he be lost, even if he has a genuine faith? I responded to the latter question by saying this is a rare case and that these types of situations are in God's hands, nevertheless the Bible still teaches baptism as essential to the salvation process. He then responded by saying that my response was inconsistent, i.e., if baptism is truly essential then I should be consistent and say that anyone who is not immersed for the remission of sins will go to hell. He then went on to say that there are no hypothetical scenarios that rule out faith, which in his mind is the only requirement for salvation. What are your thoughts?

REPLY: The first thing to keep in mind is that sound exegesis and rational thinking will usually not convince those who are committed to the Zwinglian version of “sola fidei” (“by faith alone”). They are under the sway of what may be called “the tyranny of the paradigm.”

The answer to the first question is in the very language that is used, namely, the difference between the two prepositions in the phrases, “THROUGH faith” and “IN baptism.” The Bible is clear that we are justified “through” or by means of faith, and NOT by means of baptism. On the one hand, faith is the means by which we reach out and receive the gift of justification (which is the same as forgiveness). On the other hand, in this New Covenant age, baptism functions primarily as the time or occasion when faith receives this gift. That is why Colossians 2:12 specifically distinguishes between the two phrases: “IN baptism,” but “THROUGH faith.” Martin Luther, who is usually credited with recapturing the “sola fidei” concept of salvation, taught very emphatically that baptism is the time when salvation is received, while advocating that it comes by means of faith alone. Modern Protestants, who have generally adopted Zwingli’s radical and innovative revision of baptismal doctrine, have forgotten this original distinction between MEANS and OCCASION. They have transformed “faith as the only MEANS of justification” into “faith as the only CONDITION for justification,” without realizing how different these ideas are.

Regarding the second question, when we say that baptism is essential or necessary for salvation, it is important that we distinguish between an absolute, inherent necessity (on the one hand), and an appointed, designated necessity (on the other hand). We should acknowledge that faith and baptism do not have the same kind of necessity as far as salvation is concerned. Faith is inherently necessary for salvation, since this is the natural act of submission to and dependence upon the One who is the source of salvation. Salvation is a gift that must be received, and faith is the empty hand with which we grasp that gift.

Baptism, though, does not have that kind of necessity. If it did, baptism would have been specified as a salvation condition in Old Testament times, as it is now in New Testament times. But this is not the case. Baptism is a necessary condition in these NT (post-Pentecostal) times simply because God has so appointed or designated it to be such. For good (not arbitrary) reasons, God has appointed baptism by immersion as the moment of time when he will bestow forgiveness (justification) and the indwelling of the regenerating & sanctifying Holy Spirit upon the believing, repenting sinner. This is not a matter of inherent necessity, but is simply God’s sovereign decision. This is why God is able to make exceptions to this condition if circumstances require it.

Another reason why faith and baptism are different kinds of conditions, permitting hypothetical scenarios that excuse one from baptism but not from faith, is that baptism is a physical condition while faith is an inward condition, one that is met solely within the heart and mind. All sorts of circumstances can be imagined that make immersion in water a physical impossibility for a new convert, but none of these would make it impossible for a responsible individual to surrender his or her heart to Jesus in faith.

I have dealt with this point in my book, “Baptism: A Biblical Study,” on pp. 27-28. Here I say that one reason for the omission of baptism in the second half of Mark 16:16 is the distinction between what is ABSOLUTELY necessary for salvation as compared with what is only RELATIVELY necessary. The idea is that even if baptism has been appointed by God as a necessary part of the salvation process in the NT age, it still has only a relative or designated necessity and thus can be dispensed with in extraordinary circumstances. The only absolutely and inherently necessary condition for salvation is faith; thus it alone is mentioned in the second clause of Mark 16:16. It is conceivable that one could be saved without baptism, but not without faith.

This distinction has been recognized all through Christian history. The "baptism of blood" and the "baptism of desire" have been accepted as valid substitutes for baptism in water in circumstances where water baptism is physically impossible. "Baptism in blood" refers to martyrdom; it refers to situations in which a person has put his faith in Christ but is martyred for his faith before he has a chance to be baptized. (This possibility was quite prevalent in the early Christian centuries when initial faith and baptism were often separated by lengthy periods of catechetical instruction.) "Baptism of desire" refers to ANY situation in which a believer honestly desires to meet the condition of baptism but is prevented from doing so by irremediable physical circumstances, e.g., confined to prison, nailed to a cross, pinned down by enemy gunfire, lost in a desert. In such cases it is reasonable to assume that God "takes the will for the deed" and saves a person without baptism, as long as he believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. (That can only be God’s decision, of course.)

In this connection we must be careful to guard against an error that is quite common within Protestantism, namely, a glossing over of the distinction between absolute and relative necessity as it refers to baptism. It is common practice to cite a situation in which water baptism for a believer is impossible (e.g., lost in a desert) and to conclude from such that baptism has NO necessary connection with salvation at all. That is to say, an example that proves at most that baptism is not ABSOLUTELY necessary is used to prove that it is not necessary even under ORDINARY circumstances. This is a “non sequitur”: it does not follow. In any normal situation where water baptism is at all possible, it is a condition for salvation: "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved."

"The thief on the cross" is commonly misused in this context. In the first place, how the believing thief was saved is irrelevant for the Christian era since he was still under the Old Covenant and since Christian baptism did not even exist yet. In the second place, even if his case were relevant, it would be an example only of the "baptism of desire" (not blood or martyrdom) and would prove only that baptism does not share the ABSOLUTE necessity of faith. It says nothing about what might be required under ordinary circumstances; it cannot be used to negate the clear and simple affirmation in the first clause of Mark 16:16.

85. 1 Corinthians 1:17 and the Importance of Baptism 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 3:19pm

QUESTION: I have heard some use 1 Corinthians 1:17 to diminish the importance of baptism, or to say that baptism isn't essential for salvation because Paul seems to put so little emphasis on it. What would be your response?

ANSWER: When this text is rightly interpreted in its total context, it actually shows just the opposite of this. In fact, this text underscores the unique importance of baptism, and makes it clear that it cannot be considered to be just another good work. Here is what this passage says (1 Cor. 1:10-17, NASB):

“Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ would not be made void.”

A biased or superficial reading might lead one to think that Paul is here demoting baptism to the ranks of insignificant duties or even optional acts. After all, he thanks God that he baptized only a few people (vv. 14, 16), and says that his own commission was not to baptize but to preach the gospel (v. 17). But this is an incomplete and distorted reading of the passage for several reasons.

First, it ignores the REASON why Paul is glad he baptized only a few, as stated in v. 15: "so that no one would say you were baptized in my name." Why is this significant? Because in the early church baptism was SO IMPORTANT that the human agent who did the baptizing often was made the object of special allegiance rivaling the worship of Christ and leading to factions within the church (see vv. 12-13). This danger was even more acute if the baptizer had an inherent prominence or authority, as did Peter, Paul, or Apollos. Paul is glad he baptized only a few so that the circle of his converts could not use this as a means of setting themselves apart from other Christians. His reasoning presupposes the IMPORTANCE of baptism, not its unimportance.

Second, Paul's commission (v. 17) could not be materially different from that spoken by Christ in Matthew 28:19-20. Though Paul's own specific task was to preach the gospel, this was not to be SEPARATED from baptism. It simply means that he did not have to do the baptizing PERSONALLY; he could leave that part of the commission to his co-workers, thus avoiding the potential for division. He obviously assumed that all his converts (and indeed all Christians) had been baptized, since he often referred to their baptism in his teaching (see Rom. 6:3ff.; Gal. 3:27). Paul emphasizes the priority of his preaching since preaching ALWAYS takes precedence over baptizing in the sense that it must always come first. Without preaching, there would not even be any faith (Rom. 10:14); and without faith, there would be no baptism in the first place.

Third, Paul's extensive teaching in other passages on the important meaning of baptism would not be consistent with the view that he is denigrating baptism in this passage.

Finally, such a view contradicts the main lesson about baptism to be learned from 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, namely, that it is considered to be important enough to be listed in the most exclusive of company. Verse 13 says, "Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" Here we see three things to be considered by those who are in danger of dividing the church through their secondary allegiances to human leaders. (a) The church is Christ's body. When you divide the church, you divide his very body. Do you want to be guilty of such an offense? (b) It was CHRIST who was crucified for you; it was Christ who performed the deed that purchased the church with his own blood. Don't put me (Paul) on this exalted level with Christ; I have not redeemed you. (c) You were baptized into the name of CHRIST, not Paul. Don't attach any human name to this act (baptism) which relates you to the one head of the church.

The point is this: why should Paul bring up the subject of baptism at all, especially in conjunction with the momentous events of the crucifixion of Christ and the potential division of the body of Christ, if it were not among the most vital and serious aspects of the very existence and life of the church? How could he so forcefully and in the same breath remind them of who was crucified for them and of the name in which they were baptized, if baptism were not in some sense worthy of such a conjunction?

[Most of this note is taken directly from my book, “Baptism: A Biblical Study” (2 ed., College Press, 2006), pp. 12-14.]

86. The One True God vs. False Gods

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 1:31pm

QUERY: The first of the ten commandments says, "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3, ESV), or “no other gods besides me.” Also, God is often called El Elyon or “God Most High.” Why is this terminology used if these false gods do not exist? Do these gods exist, with God (Yahweh) just being at the top of a hierarchy of deities? Are the false gods demons? Or are they simply statues that never did anything supernatural?

ANSWER: There is definitely a Biblical basis for equating pagan idols with demons, based on 1 Cor. 10:19-20, “What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons” (ESV). This is simply a matter of Satanic deceit, though, with pagans THINKING their idols are true deities when in fact they are not. Satan is called “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), but he occupies this status only in his own mind. There are no other beings who are true deities. The transcendent Creator-God of the Bible is the only being in the category of “God.” He alone is the Creator; everything else is in the category of creature (Rom. 1:25). This is why he is called “the LIVING God” (Psalm 42:2; 1 Tim. 4:10). See my book, “What the Bible Says About God the Creator,” chapter 8, “The Living God,” for more on this theme.

It is true that pagan deities were usually represented by statues made of wood or stone or precious metals, but the Bible never puts such idols into the category of true deities. The Bible rather mocks all such attempts to identify these lifeless chunks of wood or metal as “gods.” Jer. 10:14 says, “Every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols, for his images are false, and there is no breath in them” (ESV). These “gods of wood and stone” are “the work of human hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell” (Deut. 4:28, ESV). “Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good” (Jer. 10:4, ESV).

I believe the language of the first commandment is simply driving home this point, i.e., “Do not try to put any humanly-devised or man-made so-called deity into the same arena with the one-and-only true and living God, Yahweh!” That he is “God Most High” means that he is above ALL things, the “King of kings and Lord of lords.” It is a title of exaltation. Such language was never meant to grant the actual existence of any false gods. The bigger picture about this is shown in Psalm 96:3-5 -- "Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens" (ESV). There is a play on words here: "the GODS of the peoples" is the common word 'elohim (literally, "gods"), and the word for "WORTHLESS IDOLS" is 'elilim, which literally means NOTHINGS. I.e., the pagans THINK that the objects of their devotion are ‘elohim--gods, when really they are ‘elilim--nothings! They are nobodies; they are nothings; they don’t exist at all!

87. How Do Calvinists Explain 2 Peter 3:9? 

by Jack Cottrellon Saturday, April 3, 2010 at 5:04pm

QUESTION: Calvinists believe in the total depravity of all human beings, which means that no one is able to respond to the gospel in faith and repentance. This requires the belief in unconditional election, which means that God unilaterally chooses to save some sinners but not others. He does this by bestowing upon the chosen ones his irresistible gift of grace, in the form of regeneration, faith, repentance, and justification—all at the same time. He COULD do the same thing for every sinner, but simply has chosen not to do so. My question is this: in view of this scenario, how does the Calvinist handle 2 Peter 3:9, which declares that God is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (NIV)? But if he CAN save all people but simply chooses not to, this sounds as if he does not WANT to save everyone. Is this not a contradiction of 2 Peter 3:9?

ANSWER: Yes, it certainly SOUNDS like a contradiction, but the Calvinist has an explanation for it. The basic explanation is this: God has TWO wills, one that is hidden or secret or mysterious, and one that is revealed to everyone. In many cases God’s secret will determines that something will happen that is contrary to his revealed will.

God’s secret will is called his decretive will because it is equivalent to his eternal decree, by which in eternity past he foreordained and predetermined every single thing that will ever come to pass. This eternal decree or decretive will is comprehensive (universal, all-inclusive), efficacious (causal, determinative), and unconditional (not influenced by anything outside himself). The Calvinist J. G. Howard has summed it up: “Scripture teaches us that God has a predetermined plan for every life. It is that which WILL HAPPEN. It is inevitable, unconditional, immutable, irresistible, comprehensive, and purposeful. It is also, for the most part, unpredictable. It includes everything—even sin and suffering. It involves everything—even human responsibility and human decisions” (from his book, “Knowing God’s Will,” p. 12). Gary Friesen says this is God’s exhaustive, sovereign will by which “He is the Ultimate Determiner of everything that happens” (“Decision Making and the Will of God,” p. 202).

What this means is that on the level of this secret or decretive will, those who perish in hell do so because (on this level) God WANTS or WILLS them to be lost. But at the same time, on the level of his revealed will (as in 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Timothy 2:4), God declares that he “WANTS all men to be saved” and “everyone to come to repentance,” while “NOT wanting anyone to perish.” Indeed, it must be acknowledged that God extends the OFFER of salvation to all: “And whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Rev. 22:17); and “whoever believes in him shall not perish” (John 3:16). But in view of the secret, decretive will of God, which is obviously selective when it comes to salvation, even many Calvinists have difficulty with this “free offer of the gospel.” Thus they must appeal to the TWO levels of God’s will.

Two of my professors at Westminster Theological Seminary, John Murray and Ned Stonehouse, wrote a small booklet called “The Free Offer of the Gospel,” trying to explain the apparent hypocrisy in offering the gospel freely to all men while knowing that God has predetermined that some will not and cannot respond to it. They say, “It would appear that the real point in dispute in connection with the free offer of the gospel is whether it can properly be said that God DESIRES the salvation of all men.” Citing a Calvinist document that affirms such desire, the authors explain that “in predicating such ‘desire’ of God,” the document was dealing with “not the decretive or secret will of God, but the revealed will” (p. 3).

Murray and Stonehouse grant that there are Biblical texts that express “the will of God in the matter of the call, invitation, appeal, and command of the gospel, namely the will that all should turn to him and be saved. What God wills in this sense he certainly is pleased to will. If it is his pleasure to will that all repent and be saved, it is surely his pleasure that all repent and be saved. Obviously, however, it is not his decretive will that all repent and be saved. While, on the one hand, he has not decretively willed that all be saved, yet he declares unequivocally that it is his will and, impliedly, his pleasure that all turn and be saved. We are again faced with the mystery and adorable richness of the divine will. It might seem to us that the one rules out the other. But it is not so. There is a multiformity to the divine will that is consonant with the fullness and richness of his divine character, and it is no wonder that we are constrained to bow in humble yet exultant amazement before his ineffable greatness and unsearchable judgments. To deny the reality of the divine pleasure directed to the repentance and salvation of all is to fail to accept the witness borne by such a text as this to the manifoldness of God’s will and the riches of his grace” (pp. 20-21).

The authors conclude thus: “We have found that God himself expresses an ardent desire for the fulfillment of certain things which he has not decreed in his inscrutable counsel to come to pass. This means that there is a will to the realization of what he has not decretively willed, a pleasure towards that which he has not been pleased to decree. This is indeed mysterious, and why he has not brought to pass, in the exercise of his omnipotent power and grace, what is his ardent pleasure lies hid in the sovereign counsel of his will. We should not entertain, however, any prejudice against the notion that God desires or has pleasure in the accomplishment of what he does not decretively will” (p. 26).

How shall we evaluate this attempt to explain the inconsistency between God’s so-called decretive will and his revealed will? We certainly can accept the idea of “mystery” and “multiformity” in God’s will. What we are asked to accept here, though, goes far beyond mystery and manifoldness. In this Calvinist explanation we are dealing, plainly and simply, with contradiction. A basic law of logic (and logic is grounded upon and derived from God’s own nature) is the law of non-contradiction. This law says that no statement can be both true and not true, in the same sense, at the same time. But the Calvinist says that it IS God’s will that all the lost be saved, and it is NOT God’s will that all the lost be saved. Assigning the first desire to one level of God’s will and the second to another level of his will does not remove the contradiction: it is the same God in both cases, and the desire is sincere in both cases. The same God decrees things to happen that he does not desire to happen, things that are the opposite of what he desires.

The problem here is that if God is free to transcend the laws of logic (i.e., to go against his own nature) in this one area, how can we trust anything he says about anything else? What is left of Titus 1:2, which says that God “cannot lie” (NASB)? Or of Paul’s declaration in Romans 3:4, “Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, ‘That You may be justified in Your words, and prevail when You are judged’” (NASB)?

88. What's the Big Deal about God's Giving His Son? 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, April 2, 2010 at 5:30pm

AN INQUIRER says someone asked him these two questions, and he wasn’t sure how to answer.

FIRST: “Why should God be so ‘stressed out’ about giving His ‘only begotten Son’? If He is God, couldn’t He just make more?” When I saw this question, my first thought was something like “What an idiot! If this guy is serious, this shows how utterly shallow his understanding of God and salvation must be.” But I will set down a few thoughts anyway. In the first place, in one sense, it is true that the omnipotent God could become incarnate in whatever number of human beings he might choose, if that were necessary. But that speculative scenario totally ignores the real context of the giving of his only Son.

Thus in the second place, NO, God could NOT “just make more” sons. The “giving” of His “only Son” (only-begotten Son, one and only Son) was a necessary aspect of a specific plan of God for which such an option of “just making more” was meaningless. This “giving” was part of the division of labor among the three persons of the Trinity for the purpose of accomplishing the redemption of sinners. The Son’s role in this plan was a one-time-only project. God the Son submitted himself to God the Father, became a human being, and did what was necessary to bring about salvation. There was no risk of failure, no “what if he fails?” contingency plan, involving the potential sending of Son #2, etc. What the one-and-only Son had to do was already predetermined “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23, ESV).

My “in the third place” leads to the second question asked of my inquirer:

SECOND: “What’s the big deal about it being so hard for God to give up his Son, when he knew that three days later everything would be all right again?” What this question reveals is how little this person really knows about the gospel. Specifically, he does not understand what the Father was giving the Son FOR or TO, or what the Son was going to have to go through in order to accomplish salvation for the world. “What’s the big deal” about the incarnation and the resultant propitiation? The Father was giving his Son so that the latter could put himself in the place of sinners and absorb into himself all of the just and righteous wrath of God deserved by sinners, and thus enable God to FORGIVE sinners without violating his own justice (see Romans 3:26). The sheer amount of agony and suffering Jesus would have to go through, known ahead of time by the Father, is something no parent would ever want to wish upon his or her child. Just to be a part of this plan, and to witness what his “only Son” had to go through, also brought untold agony upon the Father himself. THIS IS THE BIG DEAL about this plan of redemption. NO WONDER neither the Father nor the Son would want to go through it twice.

[To explain this further, I am mostly copying the following material from my book, “What the Bible Says About God the Redeemer,” pp. 514-515.] One major form of theism denies that God ever suffers and even that he CAN suffer. This is the false doctrine of God’s impassibility (inability to suffer), which is based on a faulty view of his immutability (unchangeableness). A right understanding of the true nature of God includes the possibility of his suffering, indeed, the NECESSITY of his suffering in order to accomplish our salvation from sin.

God began to suffer as soon as sin was a reality, and perhaps from the time he foreknew the reality of sin. But the climactic suffering of God took place in connection with his work of redemption, as that was accomplished through the substitutionary death of the incarnate Logos, God the Son. This divine suffering took two forms. First, the divine nature of Christ himself suffered when he took our sins and our penalty upon himself on the cross. The incarnate Christ had two natures, divine and human; but he was only ONE PERSON, one center of consciousness. Whatever experiences passed through the consciousness of Jesus of Nazareth passed through the consciousness of God the Son. When Jesus experienced suffering and death on the cross, God the Son experienced suffering and death. "Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered" (Heb. 5:8). Particularly poignant was "the pain of his God-forsakenness" (H. Berkhof; see Matt. 27:46). In its full reality, though, God the Son suffered the full equivalent of eternity in hell for the whole human race. Only through this unimaginable agony could he truly be the actual substitutionary atonement for all mankind.

The second form of divine suffering connected with the cross was the suffering of God the Father, the real pain he endured in sending his own Son to die on the cross. His own Son! This is how Romans 8:32 puts it: "He . . . did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.” One point must be made clear. In reference to the cross, the Father did not suffer WHAT the Son suffered, but BECAUSE the Son suffered. He was not experiencing the agonies of Calvary; only God the Son was experiencing those. The Father rather was experiencing the agonies of a FATHER as he watched his only begotten and only beloved Son go through an ordeal unlike anything eternity had ever seen or will ever see again.

In summary, the Son suffers the eternal wrath of the Father upon sin, and the Father suffers to see his Son having to endure it. THIS is the “big deal” of the incarnation, of the death of Jesus on the cross, and of Good Friday.

89. Should the Emblems of the Lord's Supper Be Taken by Christians Only?

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, April 2, 2010 at 12:11pm

QUESTION: Our small group has been discussing communion, and what it means when we partake of the Lord's Supper each week. We were always taught that you do not partake of communion until you are a baptized believer. Does that come from Scripture or from tradition? Does “partaking in a worthy manner” (1 Cor. 11:27) mean that you must first be able to understand baptism and its meaning?

ANSWER: I take it that your main question is whether only Christians (baptized believers) are supposed to receive the emblems of the Lord's Supper. The answer is yes, the Supper is for believers only. There is no specific Biblical statement to that effect, but by implication the Supper has meaning only for Christians. When Jesus instituted the Supper, saying of the cup, “Drink from it, all of you” (Matt. 26:27), he was speaking only to his disciples (apostles). When the church began on the Day of Pentecost, it was only the (approximately) 3,000 baptized believers who devoted themselves to “the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:41-42). Only those who already partake of the benefits of Christ’s broken body and shed blood can meaningfully partake of the bread and the cup which memorialize them (1 Cor. 10:16). Only those who are a part of the “one body” should partake together of the “one bread” (1 Cor. 10:17).

When Jesus instituted the Supper, he said, "Do this in remembrance of Me" (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24-25). This “remembrance” has two applications. First, it means “Do this as a MEMORIAL to Me.” I.e., when we take the LS we are proclaiming the Lord's death (1 Cor. 11:26) to the world; we are raising a monument in honor of His atoning work on Calvary. We are declaring to everyone that we believe Jesus died for our sins and that He alone is our hope of eternal life. Only a Christian can meaningfully participate in such a memorial service. For a non-Christian to lift up the cross in such a manner is hypocritical. We cannot sincerely proclaim to others that Christ died for our sins if we have never personally put our “faith in His blood” (Rom. 3:25, NIV) and received its benefits into our own lives.

The second application of “Do this in remembrance of Me” is this: “Do this in order to keep the MEMORY of Jesus' death for your sins alive in your own mind.” I.e., do this on a regular basis so that you will not forget that Jesus' sacrifice is the only reason you are saved. Do this to keep your personal "faith in His blood" STRONG. Your faith is what keeps you justified or forgiven; you need regular participation in the LS to keep your faith from dying. Thus it is clear that taking the emblems of the Supper is meaningful only for someone who is a believer, someone who is already saved. Part of the "remembering" that we do in the LS is remembering that we personally were (spiritually) "sprinkled with His blood" (1 Peter 1:2) when we were (physically) washed with pure water in our baptism (Heb. 10:22). Again, this means nothing to an unbeliever or to someone who has never been baptized. The point is not so much understanding what baptism means in and of itself, but understanding what it means to be saved by the blood of Jesus Christ (which happens in baptism).

Those in charge of the communion service should make it clear through oral announcement or through an explanation in the bulletin that the emblems are intended only for members of the body of Christ. I grew up in a Christian Church (in Minorsville, KY). One of the elders who gave the communion meditation on a regular basis would always say prior to the serving of the emblems, “We neither invite nor debar” anyone to partake or from partaking. (This is good Restoration Movement terminology.) The main point of this qualification is to say that you do not have to be a member of this local congregation to join with us in the communion service; all Christians (baptized believers) should feel welcome to participate based on their own understanding of their personal salvation status.

That statement, however, should never be intended to leave the impression that the Supper is for anyone who chooses to partake, whether Christian or not. Under no circumstances should non-Christians be encouraged to partake of the emblems. Most non-Christians understand that this part of the service is not for them, so this is usually not a problem. Gentle reminders may sometimes be needed, though. On the other hand, if a non-Christian does partake, this is not something to be agitated about, since such partaking will not make the non-Christian any more lost than he or she already is.


by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 4:59pm

QUERY: I am having a discussion with a dispensationalist friend about God’s promises to the Jews. (I have also been reading what you say about this on pp. 463-470 in your book, "The Faith Once For All,” in the chapter on “Interpreting Biblical Prophecy.”) My question pertains to Amos 9:14-15, which speaks of Israel as never having to leave their land again. My friend says this applies to Israel of today. What is the meaning of these verses for us today? Have these promises been fulfilled, or do they still apply to the physical Jews?

ANSWER: In Amos 9:14-15 (ESV), God speaks thus of Israel: “‘I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them,’ says the LORD your God.”`

What does this mean? In the first place, it is unlikely that this promise of restoration (beginning in v. 11) applies to physical Israel AT ALL. But if it does, it must be under these conditions. 1) It would be referring to the restoration of the Jews who were taken captive (by God’s plan) by the nations of Assyria and Babylon. Since there was actually no general restoration of those taken by the Assyrians, it would have to refer mainly to the restoration of the southern tribes from Babylon in 536 B.C., who were allowed to return to their homeland by Cyrus (see the book of Ezra). Thus the prophecy as it might apply to OT Israel would indeed already have been fulfilled. It has nothing to do with modern Jews.

2) But what about the promise that “they shall never again be uprooted out of the land”? Of course, if this were intended to imply an eternal, never-ending possession of the land of Canaan by the physical Jews, then the promise failed, since the Jews as a unified people went long centuries in the Christian era without having control of this land. So (granting for the moment that the promise was meant to apply to the physical Jews), would this mean that God failed to keep his promise? No, because the fact is that MANY Old Testament promises to Israel are worded in the language of perpetuity (“never,” “forever”), but were intended to apply to Israel ONLY to the end of the Old Covenant era, at which time Israel as a special people and nation would no longer exist. [Most of the following three paragraphs are from my book, “The Faith Once for All,” pp. 465-66.]

This limit on the promises to Israel is illustrated and demonstrated by the way the OT uses the Hebrew word ‘olam (often translated “forever”), e.g., when God promised Abraham that Canaan would be the "everlasting possession" of Abraham's descendants. Some take this to mean that the land of Palestine still belongs to the Jews today and will be their homeland forever. This is an erroneous idea and is based on a faulty English translation of the Hebrew word ‘olam. Though this word sometimes carries the connotation of "eternal," it often means no more than "age-lasting" or "until the end of the age," namely, the OT age.

This is especially true of OT statements about things related to Israel. God's provisions for the life and religion of Israel were not meant to endure forever. Here is a list of some other things about Israel that are described with the same Hebrew word (‘olam) and which obviously were intended to become obsolete when the Old Covenant ended: circumcision as a covenant sign, Gen. 17:13; the Passover feast, Exod. 12:24 (see 12:14, 17); Sabbath observance, Exod. 31:16-17; the Day of Atonement, Lev. 16:29, 31; the Aaronic priesthood, Exod. 40:15; the priests' clothing, Exod. 28:43; the priests' portion of the sacrifices, Exod. 29:28 (see Lev. 6:18); the priests' washings, Exod. 30:21; the bread of the Presence, Lev. 24:8; the candlestick, Exod. 27:21; Solomon's temple, 1 Kgs. 8:13 (see 9:3); and the Levites as custodians of the ark of the covenant, 1 Chr. 15:2 (see 23:13).

From this list it should be clear that the word `olam does not necessarily mean "everlasting." Regarding things having to do with Israel, it means only "as long as the Old Covenant age lasts." Thus Israel's right to claim Canaan as her own possession ended along with all other Old Covenant practices and privileges. If Amos 9:14-15 applies to physical Israel, its fulfillment began in 536 B.C. and ended when the Old Covenant itself was set aside with the death of Jesus in A.D. 30. There is actually no longer a “my people Israel” in the physical sense.

But in the second place, it is quite clear that the main application of this Amos text is to the NEW Israel, the Israel of the New Covenant age, namely, the church. The church is now God’s CHOSEN people (1 Peter 1:1-2; 2:4-10). Amos’s language is figurative; he uses physical imagery to refer to the spiritual blessings that God has been pouring out upon his New Covenant Israel ever since Pentecost. It indicates that this NEW Israel, the Church, will be God’s chosen people forever from that time forward. There will be no restoration of physical Israel to this position of privilege.

The reason we can say this with confidence is the fact that the earlier verses in Amos 9 (vv. 11-12), which are in continuity with vv. 14-15, are cited in Acts 15:15-17 as a prophecy that was fulfilled with the establishment of the church as a combination of remnant Jews and Gentile converts. The OT Jews who first heard Amos’s prophecy would not have understood this, but they would not have understood the possible initial fulfillment in the restoration from Babylon, either. According to 1 Peter 1:10-12, the prophets themselves—the ones who delivered Messianic prophecies—did not understand what they were talking about, because “they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.”

91. Does 1 Cor. 2:14 Support Calvinism? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, March 25, 2010 at 6:38pm

QUESTION: What is your exegetical take on 1 Cor. 2:14? This is a favorite Calvinist proof text, as you know. Do you believe "psuchikos" [“natural”] is about nonbelievers or carnal Christians? What is the overall point of the passage?

ANSWER: 1 Cor. 2:14-16 (NASB) reads, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.”
(What follows here is adapted from my book, “Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit,” from the section refuting the doctrine of illumination.)

What shall we say about 1 Cor. 2:14-16? These verses are almost always cited as teaching illumination, and as affirming the need for it based on the total depravity of the unsaved. The key point is the contrast between the “natural man,” who “cannot understand” the things of the Spirit, and the “spiritual” man, who CAN understand them. The usual interpretation is that the “natural man” is the totally-depraved, unregenerate person, and the “spiritual” man is the one who has been regenerated and enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Thus this passage is also used to prove the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity and the need for irresistible grace, both of which are key essential doctrines of Calvinism.

This is a serious misunderstanding of these verses that is based on a complete ignoring of the context in which they appear. Here Paul is addressing the divisions in the Corinthian church (see 1:10ff.), which were related in part to excessive loyalty to specific individuals, including Paul himself (1:12). In addressing this problem Paul attempts to put his own place in Christ’s kingdom into proper perspective. In so doing he finds it necessary to defend his apostolic authority against his critics (4:3-5; 9:1ff.), while at the same time humbly admitting that he possessed no great earthly talent or charisma or claim to fame (2:1-5). His apostolic authority rested not on human wisdom and great oratorical ability, but solely on the fact that the message he spoke was received from God.

Paul declares that his message is the hidden wisdom of God that has been shrouded in mystery (2:7), a wisdom that cannot be discovered and known by natural means (2:8-9). But Paul and God’s other inspired spokesmen knew this wisdom, because God revealed it to them through the Holy Spirit (2:10a), who alone knows the things (Greek, “ta”) that are in the mind of God (2:10b-11). This is the very same Spirit of God that we have received, says Paul, so that WE (apostles) may know these things (“ta”) that are hidden (2:12). These are the things we have spoken to you, in words taught to us by the Spirit himself (2:13).

(In these first chapters of 1 Corinthians, Paul uses first person (I, we) to refer to inspired apostles and prophets who received revelation and spoke inspired messages from the Holy Spirit. He uses second person (you) to refer to the Corinthians and Christians in general. This is VERY important.)

The next three verses (2:14-16) are a continuation of Paul’s defense of his apostolic authority. He is not a natural man, but a spiritual man, he says. The designation “natural man” has nothing to do with moral qualities; it is not a synonym for sinful, depraved, or unregenerate. (The NIV translation, “the man without the Spirit,” is inexcusably misleading.) This phrase refers rather to one who is limited to merely natural or human abilities and resources, as contrasted with one who is endowed with the Holy Spirit and his supernatural gifts of revelation and inspiration. A natural man does not have access to “the things” (“ta”) of the Spirit of God (2:14a). “The thoughts of God” in 2:11 (NASB, NIV) are literally “the things [“ta”] of God”; these are “the things [“ta”] freely given to us [apostles] by God” (2:12).

A natural man—one without revelation from the Spirit—“cannot understand” these things (2:14b). The word translated “understand” is “ginosko.” But “understand” is not a good translation here; the more usual meaning, “know,” is much better. I.e., the natural man cannot KNOW the kinds of things I am revealing to you. The issue is not whether he can understand them, but whether he is even aware of them. Paul says he cannot know them, i.e., he is not aware of them. Why not? Because only the Holy Spirit KNOWS (“ginosko”) the things (“ta”) of God (2:11). These secret things can be discerned only by the Holy Spirit, and by those to whom the Spirit has revealed them, i.e., the “spiritual” man in 2:15a. Paul is such a “spiritual” man, endowed by the Spirit with revealed knowledge and with the words by which to speak it. Thus you cannot sit in judgment on me, says Paul (2:15b; “appraise” in the NASB). Why not? Because I am speaking words which ultimately come from the mind of Christ himself! Only if you, too, have such access to the mind of Christ can you sit in judgment on me (2:16; see 4:3-5).

These verses (2:14-16) thus follow directly upon the flow of thought in 2:1-13. The content of verses 10-13 interprets the content of verses 14-16. There is nothing here about total depravity, and nothing about the necessity for the Spirit’s regeneration of sinners through irresistible grace, and nothing about his illumination of Christians. Paul applies it all to himself in the concluding words of 2:16: “But we have the mind of Christ” (“WE” meaning himself and other inspired apostles and prophets).

92. Is Baptism a Sacrament? 

by Jack Cottrellon Saturday, March 13, 2010 at 9:55am

QUESTION: Is baptism a sacrament?

ANSWER: The short answer is NO, because there is no such thing as a sacrament. From a Biblical perspective, the category of “sacraments” does not exist.

From an historical perspective, though, quite early in Christian history the Latin term “sacramentum” was used to translate the Biblical (Greek) word “mysterion,” or “mystery.” Since in the NT a “mysterion” refers to divine truths hidden to man, the word began to be used for sacred things in general, especially those with mysterious and profound meanings. Since the Latin word “sacramentum” usually meant “a sacred oath or pledge taken before God,” this term also was adopted as referring to sacred things as such.

From the third century onward, some Christian writers called baptism a sacrament, but they also applied it to other religious rituals such as anointing with oil and the Lord’s Supper. In the Middle Ages the number of “sacred things” regarded as sacraments varied from writer to writer. Peter Damian (died 1072) listed 12; Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153) had 10; Hugh of St. Victor (d. 1141) named 30 items. These “sacraments” included footwashing, the use of holy water, the ordination of priests, and the application of ashes on Ash Wednesday.

Peter Lombard (d. 1164) was among the first to limit the list to the seven present Roman Catholic sacraments. The Florentine Council (1439) made this list official, and the Council of Trent (1545-1563) reaffirmed it. Thus an official and specific category of ceremonies was created.

One of the main targets of the Protestant reformers was the Catholic sacramental system; see Martin Luther’s treatise on “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church” (1520). The only sacraments they retained were baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which are still practiced by practically all Protestant churches today.

In light of NT teaching it is obviously right for the church to continue to practice baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But in my judgment the Reformers erred in retaining the very CATEGORY called “sacraments,” whether that category is seen as having seven or two members. It is an artificial, man-made category and has no Biblical foundation—even if we use the label “ordinances” instead of “sacraments.”

To assume there is such a category naturally leads to the need for a common definition or description that will apply to and be shared by all members of the category. Some (notably Zwingli) have attempted to define the category based on the ancient meaning of the Latin word “sacramentum,” namely, an oath, pledge, or covenant. There is absolutely no Biblical justification for applying the meaning of this Latin word to the Christian practices usually called “sacraments.”

Others have defined the so-called sacraments by applying the meaning of either baptism or the Lord’s Supper to both ceremonies, which has led to doctrinal disaster. Luther, who understood the true meaning of baptism in the NT, applied that strong meaning to the Supper in a sense. Zwingli, who mostly understood the true meaning of the Supper, applied that weaker meaning to baptism as well. The latter has had devastating consequences for the modern Protestant doctrine of baptism, since most Protestants follow Zwingli here.

Even in the Restoration Movement, since baptism (until recently at least) has been seen as being for the forgiveness of sins, some have tried to apply this meaning to the Lord’s Supper as well. Baptism is thus seen as the time of forgiveness for all sins up to that point, and the weekly Supper is seen as the time of week-by-week forgiveness for sins committed after baptism. Even more unfortunately, some have weakened the doctrine of baptism by assuming a parallelism between the two ceremonies and reading the meaning of the Supper into baptism.

Similarly, sometimes the assumption that baptism is one of a category of things leads to a questioning of immersion as the only valid form of baptism. I.e., if we feel free to change the details of the communion service (e.g., many cups instead of one cup, leavened bread for unleavened), why can't we substitute sprinkling for immersion? In 1 Cor. 10:14ff. the unity of the body of Christ is symbolized by the common partaking of ONE loaf and ONE cup, but (usually for health reasons) the “one cup” is replaced by many cups, and the “one bread” is replaced by zillions of little “chiclets.” Thus, according to Henry Webb, “we have consciously altered the Biblical form and blanched away some of the Biblical symbolism of one of the sacraments. This is difficult to harmonize with our insistence of Biblical form in the case of Baptism…. I am still searching for an adequate explanation as to why Biblical symbolic meaning is so critically important in the one case and so conveniently dispensable in the other.” (Webb, “A Brief Historical Survey of Sacramental Theology,” 1975 NACC Forum)

An immediate explanation is that the comparison is faulty to begin with. The items are not parallel. Immersion vs. sprinkling has to do with the very ACTION of baptism, not its DETAILS. The ACTION of the Lord's Supper is eating and drinking—which we do not change. We still eat and drink the elements. A change parallel to immersion-to-sprinkling would be to pour the cup out on the floor, or to burn the bread. (We DO make changes in the DETAILS of baptism already, e.g., by using indoor baptisteries.)

The main point, though, is this: why should we think it is proper to argue from Lord's Supper practices to baptism practices in the first place, as if whatever is true of one must be true of the other? Only because of the false assumption that these belong to a common category! The fact is that baptism is a unique event with its own meaning, and the same is true of the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is baptism, and the Lord’s Supper is the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is what the NT says it is, and so is the Supper. That’s all we need to know.

93. Who Are the "Elect Angels" in 1 Timothy 5:21? 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 4:51pm

QUERY: Today I came across 1 Timothy 5:21, which refers to "the elect angels." This seems to say that angels are elect. How does this tie in with elect humans in regards to Calvinism? Are there any verses that say that angels had/have free will and made their own decisions?

ANSWER: We know relatively little about angels in general, but we do know that there is an invisible and a visible creation (Col. 1:16), which probably refer to this physical universe in which human beings are the primary inhabitants, and the spiritual universe in which angels are the primary inhabitants. We also know that some of the angels sinned (2 Peter 2:4), just as our original human beings sinned, which implies that they had free will, just as human beings do. Thus just as human beings are divided into two categories—the saved and the lost, so it seems that there are two categories of angels: those who sinned and those who did not. This gives us reason to think that there are some parallels between angels and human beings, and this may enable us to make some inferences about angels based on what we know about human beings.

How does this apply to the question of the “elect angels” in 1 Timothy 5:21? It seems reasonable to think that the general truths about election as it applies to human beings may also apply to angels. Here I will suggest two such truths. First, regarding human beings, election (very closely related to predestination) is of two kinds: election to service, and election to salvation. Regarding the former (election to service), God chooses certain individuals or groups to fulfill particular functions within his overall plan of salvation. He chose individuals such as Abraham, Moses, Pharaoh, David, and Paul for specific roles in his plan. He also chose the nation of Israel, as a nation, to play a starring role in this plan. It may be (we can only speculate here) that the “elect angels” are selected angelic beings that God chose for specific acts of service related to His working with human beings.

Second, regarding human beings, God has elected (predestined) some to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29), which means that he has chosen them to participate in Christ’s glorified resurrection state marked by the reception of a glorified body on the day of resurrection, a body just like the one Jesus has now (Romans 8:23; Philippians 3:21). Romans 8:29 makes it very clear that this predestination to glory is based on God’s foreknowledge of something about the individuals in this category. The best understanding here is that those sinners whom God foreknew would meet the conditions for salvation were designated ahead of time to share in Christ’s glory. These are the ELECT human beings, as contrasted with those whom God foreknew would NOT meet these conditions. God does not arbitrarily choose some sinners to become saved while leaving the rest to perish for eternity, apart from any free-will choices on our part.

In my judgment we can assume that God’s decisions about all the angels he created are the same as with human beings. Since some angels sinned (2 Peter 2:4), we infer that all angels originally had free will and could individually choose to submit to God or to rebel against Him. Some (now identified as Satan and his demons) chose to rebel, and the rest did not. Since God’s foreknowledge would apply to his angelic creation just as it applies to our human creation, we infer that God FOREKNEW those angels who would not sin against Him, and would thus CHOOSE (elect) them to a confirmed state of sinlessness for eternity. In this sense the ELECT angels (chosen according to divine foreknowledge) in 1 Timothy 5:21 would simply be the entire category of holy angels, or angels who did not use their free will to sin against God in the first place. They are his “elect angels,” in contrast to the angels who sinned, in the same sense that believers in Christ are “the elect” among human beings, in contrast with the entire category of unrepentant and lost sinners.

In his commentary on this verse, R. C. H. Lenski says, “The word EKLEKTOI, which is here applied to angels, is certainly to be understood in the same sense as when it is applied to God’s ‘elect’ among men. It is plain that the angels who kept their own principality (Jude 6) are referred to. Like the elect among men, they are God’s own forever. We find no other meaning for the word when it is applied to angels” (p. 687).

94. Were Old Testament Saints Truly Forgiven? 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 2:35pm

QUESTION: I have heard it said that God could not truly forgive sins until Jesus died on the cross; therefore the Old Testament saints were in a real sense “put on hold” and were not actually forgiven and allowed into Paradise until after Jesus died. Until that time, according to this view, they were in a kind of neutral “holding pen,” or state of limbo called the “limbus patrem,” the “limbo of the fathers,” where (as one writer says) “the just of the old covenant were in ‘Abraham's Bosom’ waiting for the gates of heaven to be opened by Christ's sacrifice.” What do you think of this view?

ANSWER: This idea is false. It is based in part on a false understanding of Romans 3:25, which says that Christ’s cross was a propitiation that shows “God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (ESV), or “left the sins committed beforehand unpunished” (NIV). The “former sins” in this passage are sins committed in OT times, prior to the cross. The issue is whether God could truly forgive such sins, even for repentant and believing sinners, since the basis of that forgiveness—Christ’s sacrifice on the cross—was not yet a reality. Under such circumstances, how could a righteous God forgive sins and leave them unpunished?

In my commentary on Romans 3:25 I explain it thus, that the only basis upon which sins may indeed be forgiven is the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ; and it was upon this basis that God did forgive sins even in the OT era, even before the historical event of the atonement had occurred. It was absolutely certain that the cross WOULD occur (Acts 2:23); thus God freely dispensed its benefits before the fact. An analogy is a person who knows his paycheck is going to be deposited tomorrow, so he writes checks on it today, knowing the funds will be there when the checks reach the bank.

The problem Paul is addressing in this verse was not God’s ability to forgive pre-cross sins as such, but the appearance this gave as to God’s violating his own righteousness or justice in doing so. But, says Paul, any doubts concerning the integrity of God’s justice that were thus raised are completely dispelled by the actual event of the cross, which was a public event presented before the whole world.

Some think the meaning of the word “paresis” in Romans 3:25 (translated “passed over” or “left unpunished”) falls short of full forgiveness. Whether that is true or not is irrelevant, since saying the sins were passed over does not DENY that they were fully forgiven; it is simply stressing the main consequence of that forgiveness. But in fact, we know from other texts that forgiveness was a reality in OT times. Paul’s main paradigm for justification (i.e., forgiveness) in Romans itself is Abraham (see ch. 4). See also the quote from David in Rom. 4:7-8. There is no basis for the idea of a “limbo” for OT saints until Christ came, or for the idea that the sins of OT saints were just “rolled back” until the time of the cross.

What, then, does Ephesians 4:8 mean when it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men”? Some have taken this “host of captives” to refer to the OT saints who have finally been released from their state of limbo and allowed to enter Paradise. A much better understanding, though, is that the “host of captives” are Satan and his demonic angels, who have just been soundly defeated through Christ’s death and resurrection, and who are (figuratively) being led in chains as Christ’s captives in His triumphal victory march into heaven. (Cf. the binding of Satan in Rev. 20:1-3, which happened as the result of Christ’s redemptive work accomplished during his first coming. Cf. Matt. 12:29.)

As a follow-up to the above discussion, someone has asked about Isaiah 22:14, where the LORD Almighty says, “Till your dying day this sin will not be atoned for” (NIV). What is this sin? If God was forgiving sins in OT times, why was this sin not forgiven? How can any sin not be atoned for? And how does this compare with Isaiah 27:9, “By this, then, will Jacob’s sin be atoned for, and this will be the full fruitage of the removal of his sin” (NIV)? To what does the first “this” refer, and how does it atone for Jacob’s guilt? How can anything outside the cross atone for sin’s guilt?

My reply is thus: First, regarding Isaiah 22:14, the reason for the declaration of nonforgiveness (“this iniquity shall not be forgiven you,” literally, “shall not be atoned for”) is the people’s attitude of nonrepentance as expressed in vv. 12-13. Verse 12 says God called on them to repent, but verse 13 says they continued in their sinful revelry. This is always true: no forgiveness without repentance. Second, regarding Isaiah 27:9, this is addressed to the nation of Israel as a whole, not to any individual or individuals within Israel. It has to do with God’s dealing with Israel as a nation. Because of their national idolatry and sinfulness, God punished them (with temporal, not eternal, punishment) by sending them into captivity first in Assyria then in Babylon. This is the point of verse 8. Then he says in verse 9 that this time of captivity has been ample punishment for “Jacob,” i.e., the nation of Israel. The time spent in captivity is what “atoned” for their national sin. “By this” refers to their time in captivity. Remember that Isaiah is talking here about punishment during this life, and about redemption for the nation of Israel; he is not talking about eternal punishment and atonement for individuals as such.

95. Were Old Testament Saints Truly Forgiven? 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 2:35pm

QUESTION: I have heard it said that God could not truly forgive sins until Jesus died on the cross; therefore the Old Testament saints were in a real sense “put on hold” and were not actually forgiven and allowed into Paradise until after Jesus died. Until that time, according to this view, they were in a kind of neutral “holding pen,” or state of limbo called the “limbus patrem,” the “limbo of the fathers,” where (as one writer says) “the just of the old covenant were in ‘Abraham's Bosom’ waiting for the gates of heaven to be opened by Christ's sacrifice.” What do you think of this view?

ANSWER: This idea is false. It is based in part on a false understanding of Romans 3:25, which says that Christ’s cross was a propitiation that shows “God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (ESV), or “left the sins committed beforehand unpunished” (NIV). The “former sins” in this passage are sins committed in OT times, prior to the cross. The issue is whether God could truly forgive such sins, even for repentant and believing sinners, since the basis of that forgiveness—Christ’s sacrifice on the cross—was not yet a reality. Under such circumstances, how could a righteous God forgive sins and leave them unpunished?

In my commentary on Romans 3:25 I explain it thus, that the only basis upon which sins may indeed be forgiven is the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ; and it was upon this basis that God did forgive sins even in the OT era, even before the historical event of the atonement had occurred. It was absolutely certain that the cross WOULD occur (Acts 2:23); thus God freely dispensed its benefits before the fact. An analogy is a person who knows his paycheck is going to be deposited tomorrow, so he writes checks on it today, knowing the funds will be there when the checks reach the bank.

The problem Paul is addressing in this verse was not God’s ability to forgive pre-cross sins as such, but the appearance this gave as to God’s violating his own righteousness or justice in doing so. But, says Paul, any doubts concerning the integrity of God’s justice that were thus raised are completely dispelled by the actual event of the cross, which was a public event presented before the whole world.

Some think the meaning of the word “paresis” in Romans 3:25 (translated “passed over” or “left unpunished”) falls short of full forgiveness. Whether that is true or not is irrelevant, since saying the sins were passed over does not DENY that they were fully forgiven; it is simply stressing the main consequence of that forgiveness. But in fact, we know from other texts that forgiveness was a reality in OT times. Paul’s main paradigm for justification (i.e., forgiveness) in Romans itself is Abraham (see ch. 4). See also the quote from David in Rom. 4:7-8. There is no basis for the idea of a “limbo” for OT saints until Christ came, or for the idea that the sins of OT saints were just “rolled back” until the time of the cross.

What, then, does Ephesians 4:8 mean when it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men”? Some have taken this “host of captives” to refer to the OT saints who have finally been released from their state of limbo and allowed to enter Paradise. A much better understanding, though, is that the “host of captives” are Satan and his demonic angels, who have just been soundly defeated through Christ’s death and resurrection, and who are (figuratively) being led in chains as Christ’s captives in His triumphal victory march into heaven. (Cf. the binding of Satan in Rev. 20:1-3, which happened as the result of Christ’s redemptive work accomplished during his first coming. Cf. Matt. 12:29.)

As a follow-up to the above discussion, someone has asked about Isaiah 22:14, where the LORD Almighty says, “Till your dying day this sin will not be atoned for” (NIV). What is this sin? If God was forgiving sins in OT times, why was this sin not forgiven? How can any sin not be atoned for? And how does this compare with Isaiah 27:9, “By this, then, will Jacob’s sin be atoned for, and this will be the full fruitage of the removal of his sin” (NIV)? To what does the first “this” refer, and how does it atone for Jacob’s guilt? How can anything outside the cross atone for sin’s guilt?

My reply is thus: First, regarding Isaiah 22:14, the reason for the declaration of nonforgiveness (“this iniquity shall not be forgiven you,” literally, “shall not be atoned for”) is the people’s attitude of nonrepentance as expressed in vv. 12-13. Verse 12 says God called on them to repent, but verse 13 says they continued in their sinful revelry. This is always true: no forgiveness without repentance. Second, regarding Isaiah 27:9, this is addressed to the nation of Israel as a whole, not to any individual or individuals within Israel. It has to do with God’s dealing with Israel as a nation. Because of their national idolatry and sinfulness, God punished them (with temporal, not eternal, punishment) by sending them into captivity first in Assyria then in Babylon. This is the point of verse 8. Then he says in verse 9 that this time of captivity has been ample punishment for “Jacob,” i.e., the nation of Israel. The time spent in captivity is what “atoned” for their national sin. “By this” refers to their time in captivity. Remember that Isaiah is talking here about punishment during this life, and about redemption for the nation of Israel; he is not talking about eternal punishment and atonement for individuals as such.

96. Are "the Days of Our Lives" Planned or Set by God? 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, February 12, 2010 at 1:06pm

INQUIRY: Have all the days of our lives already been planned or set by God? If God has “set” the days for our lives, does our free will change that? E.g, when a baby is aborted, does that change the days God had originally set for that life? When we abuse our own bodies (e.g., via smoking, drinking, over-eating), does that change the days He had set for us? Or has He somehow worked that into His plan?

REPLY: It is very commonly believed that God does indeed have a set plan for each individual’s life. There are two versions of this idea. One is the Calvinist view, which says that God from all eternity has already predetermined (predestined) “whatsoever comes to pass,” including every detail of every person’s life. We have no real choice in the matter. If there is an abortion, or if we harm our health through smoking or over-eating, that is simply part of what God has preordained will take place. That IS his “set plan.”

J. G. Howard, in his book, “Knowing God’s Will—and Doing It!” (Zondervan 1976), says it this way: “Scripture teaches us that God has a predetermined plan for every life. It is that which WILL HAPPEN. It is inevitable, unconditional, immutable, irresistible, comprehensive, and purposeful. It is also, for the most part, unpredictable. It includes everything—even sin and suffering. It involves everything—even human responsibility and human decisions” (p. 12). Even people who are not Calvinists sometimes assume that something like this is true. We commonly hear things like: “Everything happens for a reason.” “There’s a purpose for everything.” After the New Orleans Saints won the 2010 Super Bowl, winning quarterback Drew Brees exulted, “I’m just feeling like it was all meant to be.”

This is simply not true. God has NOT predetermined everything that will happen. He created human beings with free will, and He tells us in His Word what choices He wants us to make. But He does not make our choices for us; that would go against His purpose to create free-will beings in the first place. He does not set or plan our days for us. Via his permissive will He allows us to make our own choices, even those that go against His commands and desires. Because of His omniscience God FOREKNOWS all the choices we will make with our free wills, and He pre-plans His own responses to these choices; but He does not cause us to do anything.

But did not David praise God that, while he was still in his mother’s womb, “Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Thy book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Psalm 139:16)? Did God not say of Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5)? Did not Paul testify that God had set him apart, even from his mother’s womb (Gal. 1:15)? Yes, through His foreknowledge and His providential intervention in the lives of these men (see Acts 2:23), God did indeed have a plan for them and a set purpose for their lives. But we should not presume that the same is true for every life; we have no warrant for universalizing these remarks that were made about certain specific individuals whom God prepared for special roles in His redemptive plan.

The second version of this idea that God has a set plan for each person’s life says that God has an IDEAL plan all worked out for each individual, but He leaves it up to us to DISCOVER what that ideal plan is and to IMPLEMENT it ourselves. This applies to major decisions, such as our choice of spouse, or vocation, or college; and some think it applies to every decision we make every day, such as our choice of what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, and what route to take to work. Since God does not tell us what His plan for us is, many conscientious people agonize over whether they have made the right decisions or have missed out on God’s will on a particular thing.

Though this is not as serious an error as Calvinism, it is still an erroneous approach to the question of whether or not we are conforming to God’s “set plan” for our lives. Apart from the relatively few individuals in Bible history whom He selected for special roles in His redemptive plan, God does not actually have an individual, unique, specific “set plan” or “ideal plan” for each person. He has a GENERAL plan for all of us, as revealed in His inspired Word, the Bible. This plan is embodied in the law codes that apply in specific eras in history. His plan is for each of us to be holy, as He is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). Our New Covenant law code tells us how to accomplish this. We call this His preceptive will, and it applies equally to everyone. His general plan for all of us also includes his desire that all would be saved (Matt. 23:37; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).

Even though God WANTS all of us to do all these things, He does not cause us to do them. He leaves it up to our own initiative to study His Word and discover His commands and His desires for us, which are the same for everyone. He also leaves it up to our free-will choices as to whether we will conform our lives to His will in these matters.

But what about the decisions that are not directly covered by His revealed will, such as whom to marry and what vocation to pursue and what car to buy? Two comments are in order. First, in His preceptive will revealed in Scripture, there are GENERAL PRINCIPLES we are obligated to apply that are relevant to most decisions we will ever have to make. E.g., regarding marriage, God’s Word teaches that we must keep sex within marriage, that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that Christians should marry Christians. Regarding what to cook for supper, God’s Word teaches that one should provide for his family (1 Tim. 5:8) and provide the food that will promote good health and life (and thus not break the sixth commandment).

My second comment is this. Though God has drawn some general boundaries that apply to most matters, as long as we stay within those boundaries, God DOES NOT CARE what specific choices we make. As long as we fulfill His general requirements for our lives, most of the specific decisions DO NOT MATTER. God has no “set will” or “set plan” for the specific person we should marry, for example. As long as we stay under the umbrella of teachings such as those mentioned above, we may marry whomever we choose (and whoever will have us!).

(For a more complete discussion of this, see my book, “God the Ruler,” the chapter on "The Will of God.")

97. Is It Necessary To Be a Member of a Local Church? (I) 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 6:35pm

INQUIRY: I have a friend who has gone to college and has stopped meeting together with a church. Her argument has been that "you don't need the church to have God,” and “you don't need to 'go to church' to have God." She still studies and reads on her own, but how can I explain to her that she needs to connect with the local body? She recently started going to a denominational Bible study, and so she has been counting that as “church.” But this is obviously not the same as being a part of the ekklesia. How can I explain to her that she really NEEDS to be a member of a local church?

REPLY: It is definitely the case that EVERY Christian has an obligation and a need to be a vital part of a local congregation of Christ’s church. God’s people are often compared with sheep (see Psalm 23), and sheep need shepherds for their safety and well-being. Though Jesus is our “Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4), he has appointed the elders of each local congregation—each congregation being a flock of sheep—to be the shepherds who are responsible for our well-being. Paul commanded the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:17) to “be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He has purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). Peter exhorts the elders to “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Peter 5:2).

We “sheep,” on the other hand, are commanded thus: “Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17). Here we see that not only are the shepherds (elders) responsible FOR us sheep, but also that we sheep are responsible TO the elders for our behavior and life-style. Just as the elders must give an account to God for how well they do their job as shepherds, so also must we Christians give an account of our lives to these leaders. All of us need to be held accountable; this is a form of spiritual discipline. Church attendance is one thing we are accountable for, since we are warned against “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some” (Heb. 10:25).

Not to be a part of a local church and thus under the care of shepherds is therefore an act of direct disobedience to God’s commands; it is an act of rebellion against God’s authority, and against the authority of our Chief Shepherd himself. It is also an act of arrogance, since one is assuming that he or she does not NEED the help and guidance of spiritual leaders, and does not NEED to be held accountable to anyone. It is also an act of recklessness, in which one is closing his or her eyes to the many sources of spiritual danger that threaten us in this world (and especially in college!). When Paul was addressing the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, he warned them to “be on guard,” because “savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (vv. 28-29).

Sheep not only need shepherds; they also need the support and protection that come from being part of a large group. We have all heard the aphorism that there is “safety in numbers.” We have seen nature films where predators stalk large herds of antelope or wildebeests, waiting for one member of the group to wander off by itself where it can be taken down, killed, and eaten. Similarly, Christians who try to “go it alone” are easy prey for our “adversary, the devil,” who “prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

If we are not willing to accept our identity as sheep, and to abide by God’s instructions to us on how to be a part of a local flock under the care of elders, then we do not really belong to Jesus. Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). Can we say we are following Jesus if we do not listen to His voice as he speaks to us in His Word?

98. Is It Necessary To Be a Member of a Local Church? (II) 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 6:37pm

THE ISSUE: Is church necessary? Do we need to be a part of a local congregation in order to live a Christian life and be pleasing to God? In a previous note I answered this question with a firm YES, from the perspective of the Biblical teaching that God’s people are compared to a flock of sheep who especially need shepherds. Here I will continue to show that church membership is not optional but is in fact NECESSARY, by presenting a series of interlocking propositions.

THE ARGUMENT: All of the following propositions are based on specific Biblical teaching. If we want to be truly obedient to God’s Word, then we must be a part of His church.

The first proposition is this: You cannot live as a genuine human being without HONORING GOD. This is part of what it means to be a human being, and not just an animal. Only human beings are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28), and thus have the ABILITY to honor their Creator. True, the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), but not consciously. All created beings are a testimony to the power and majesty of God (Rom. 1:20), but only human beings have a conscious knowledge of God as their Creator and a personal ability to “honor Him as God” and “give thanks” (Rom. 1:21).

This is the main thing that makes us different from animals. I have seen animals in church services. I preached in an outdoor service in the Yucatan Peninsula, where chickens hunted bugs in the aisles and under the benches of the worshipers. Dr. David Grubbs tells of preaching for an outdoor service near a river in Africa, where there were 173 in attendance: 170 people and 3 hippos. I think I can safely say that the chickens and the hippos were not there to worship God! I have also seen animals voraciously enjoy the bountiful food provided by God for their sustenance. Bees and hummingbirds take nectar from flowers, and dogs gobble down pieces of meat or cheese. But only human beings know what James 1:17 means, and only human beings pause to say “Thank you, God,” before eating.

The point is that when we do not honor God, we are putting ourselves on the same level as animals. Thus to truly live as human beings, we MUST honor God. “In all your ways, acknowledge Him” (Prov. 3:6). “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6).

The second proposition is this: You cannot truly honor God without HONORING JESUS CHRIST. Many people give great honor to false gods, which is idolatry. Many people who know a little bit about the Bible and about Christianity give allegiance to some “higher power” or to “the man upstairs,” and think this is all they need. The problem is that the true God, the God of the Bible, is specifically the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot honor the true God without also honoring his Son, Jesus. God has so testified: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; hear Him!” (Matt. 17:5). We can come to God ONLY through Jesus. Jesus says, “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. . . . I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:1, 6). Most significantly, Jesus says, “For not even the Father judges any one, but He has given all judgment to the Son, in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:22-23). See 1 Tim. 2:5.

Saving faith is not just a general faith in a divine being, but is faith in the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. The only God we really know is the God of the Bible, the God who is inseparable from Jesus. If you say you can honor God without honoring Jesus, what “god” is that? Where did you get your information about him? Any such deity is an idol, a human invention, in which there is no salvation.

The third proposition is this: You cannot truly honor Jesus Christ without BELONGING TO HIS CHURCH. Here we get to the heart of the present issue, i.e., the idea that we can honor God, and even honor Jesus Christ, without being a part of “the church.” Many will say, “I can believe in Jesus and be a disciple of Jesus without all that church stuff.” But here again we must ask, what “Jesus” is that? Where did you get your information about him? The only real Jesus is the Jesus of the Bible, and the Jesus of the Bible is inseparable from his CHURCH. The real Jesus has said, “Upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it” (Matt. 16:18). The real Jesus is “the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body” (Eph. 5:23). The church is the object of Christ’s love; he “gave Himself up for her,” i.e., for the church (Eph. 5:25). The church is what “He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). Thus only those who are a part of HIS CHURCH are under Christ’s headship and are saved by his blood.

Note that I have said here that we cannot truly honor Jesus without belonging to HIS church. Some “churches” use that word as a deliberate parody of the church of the Bible. I saw an ad in a newspaper for “The North Texas Church of Freethought: A Fellowship of Unbelievers.” In another paper I saw an article about the “First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church.” Madelyn Murray O’Hare started “Poor Richard’s Church.” Other groups even within Christendom use the name “church” in a sincere effort to follow Jesus, but their faith and practice deviate from the pattern of the true church found in the New Testament. If you want to truly honor Jesus, you must be a part of a local congregation that is true to the NT teaching in the closest possible way. It is not true that “one church is as good as another.”

In summary: You cannot live as a genuine human being without honoring God; you cannot honor God without also honoring Jesus Christ; and you cannot honor Jesus Christ without belonging to His church.

99. Why We Need the Church (III) 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 6:42pm

THE ISSUE: Why is the church necessary? Why is membership in a local church necessary? Here I am continuing a theme from two previous notes which were titled “Is It Necessary To Be a Member of a Local Church?” I and II. In those notes my answer was YES. Here the answer is still YES, but I have changed the title somewhat because I am looking at the concept of “need” in a different light. Here I am saying that we need the church, because there are OTHER things we need as human beings that only the CHURCH can provide.

THE ARGUMENT: We need the church because only the church is the source of some other things all human beings need. These things are reflected in the practices instituted in the church from its very beginning by the apostles in Jerusalem. Immediately following Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2:14-36, three thousand people were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38, 41). These people constituted the first church of Jesus Christ. And the very first thing said about this church is this: “And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). I have asked myself, “Why THESE four things?” The answer seems to be that these four practices provide FOUR MAIN ITEMS that everyone needs, thus:

ONE. We need the church because we need TRUTH, which is found in THE APOSTLES’ TEACHING. Some things are true but irrelevant to most of us (e.g., a duck-billed platypus is an egg-laying mammal). Other truths are necessary for our physical well-being (e.g., the answer to the question, “What’s causing that nagging pain in my right side?”). Still other truths give the answers to what may be called the ultimate questions of life: “Is there a meaning to my existence? Is there a God? What does this God think of me? How does he want me to live? What happens when I die? Will there be a judgment day? How can I have a happy eternity?” These are the kinds of questions we really NEED the answers to. The answers to these questions are the truth Jesus had in mind when he said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

Where can we find this truth? NOT in the secular world, especially with its postmodern rejection of the very concept of truth; and NOT in the various false religions of the world. The fact is that the only place we can find this ultimate and necessary truth is in the WORD OF GOD, and (for this New Covenant age) especially in the APOSTLES’ TEACHING. Jesus promised his apostles that after he returned to heaven he would send the Holy Spirit, and “He will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). Their teaching would be God’s Word, and God’s Word is truth (John 17:17).

This is why we need the church, because any church that is doing its job is a church that is based on the Word of God and is teaching the Word of God—a church that is continuing steadfastly in “the apostles’ teaching.” Paul says that the church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20), which refers to their inspired teaching. The church is not only built on the foundation of truth, but is itself the foundation of truth in the lost and dying world. See 1 Tim. 3:15, where Paul says that the “church of the living God” is “the pillar and support of the truth.” The church today must consciously be holding high the banner of truth in this relativist world. BIBLE DOCTRINE (i.e, teaching) must be the backbone of all church activities, so that the church can be the source of needed truth for the world.

TWO. We need the church because we need LOVE, which is found in the FELLOWSHIP provided by the church. The need for love is stronger for most of us than any other felt need. The Beatles were wrong to say “Love is ALL you need,” but it is definitely needed. The lack of love in certain orphanages (e.g., in Romania) has resulted in severe psychological and developmental problems in these children. But where can the needed love be found? It can be found superficially in some non-Christian human relationships, but Christians cannot have true fellowship with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14-15). The really true love can be found only in the church, which is held together by AGAPE love, which is an unselfish and genuine concern for the well-being of others. The church not only speaks truth, but it speaks the truth IN LOVE, and thus builds itself up in love (Eph. 4:15-16).

This love, this agape, is the foundation and the main ingredient of the FELLOWSHIP of which Acts 2:42 speaks. The Greek word is “koinonia,” which means “close relationship, communion, sharing,” i.e., sharing in activities together and sharing our possessions with others who need them. (On the latter, see Acts 2:44-45.) Many churches have “fellowship halls,” where activities are held that enable Christians to share in one another’s lives. We NEED the love that is expressed in these ways. We need to feel ourselves to be a part of this loving, caring family called the church. The church must thus be known not just as the pillar and support of truth, but also as a place of warmth, friendliness, fellowship, and caring. Without this, the truth will not be heard.

THREE. We need the church because we need HOPE, which is found in the “BREAKING OF BREAD.” The best understanding of this is that the “breaking of bread” is the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7), which magnifies the fact of Christ’s atoning death, which is the only source of our hope for eternal life. We all need something to hope for, a sense of peace about the future and especially about eternity. This world simply cannot provide any basis for such hope. Science strives to lengthen this life, but has no way to give us hope for life after death. The only basis for such hope is through faith in Christ as the one who has died for our sins and has arisen from the dead, and who has thus conquered all our enemies, including sin and death. On the rock-firm reality of this saving work he has built his church, and the forces of death cannot overpower it (Matt. 16:18).

This is why we need the church, because a main element in the life of the church is the Lord’s Supper, which helps us remember what Christ has done for us and thus keeps our faith and hope strong. Thus, even though death and judgment are certain (Heb. 9:27), we do not fear them. This is why we continue steadfastly in the Lord’s Supper, joyfully and confidently proclaiming the Lord’s death until he returns to take us to glory (1 Cor. 11:26).

FOUR. We need the church because we need POWER, which is found in PRAYER. There are all kinds of power in the world (many in ever-diminishing supply): electric power, natural gas power, gasoline and diesel power, atomic power. All of these sources of power provide us with comfortable lives in this world, but we could actually (although miserably!) survive without any of them. But the power without which we cannot survive is found only in God: the power to conquer sin, and the power to be prepared for death and the judgment. Such power is accessed through PRAYER, in which we (like Paul) pray “to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:16). We CAN pray by ourselves, in solitude, and are commanded to do so (Matt. 6:5-6); but we are also to pray together as a church, through which great and unbelievable things may be accomplished (see Acts 12). If the OT temple was a “house of prayer” (Matt. 21:13), the spiritual house which is the church (1 Peter 2:5) should be all the more so. Here is where all believers can and should be able to “plug in” to the greatest source of power we can imagine.

Here, then, is why we need the church: we need truth, love, hope, and power; and the only place we can find these in satisfying and effective ways is in the church, with its apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer.


by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 2:14pm

INQUIRY: The question has been raised about the necessity of home communion. If Christian brothers and sisters cannot attend a regular Sunday service, is it essential that the Lord’s Supper be taken to them in their homes or in the hospital or wherever they may be? Is there some “sacramental” blessing bestowed in the taking of communion that they will miss if communion is not taken to them?

ANSWER: This inquiry raises the question of WHY we take the Lord’s Supper in the first place. Some have mistakenly concluded that a new convert receives forgiveness for all his PAST sins in Christian baptism, and that the purpose of the weekly Lord’s Supper is to provide forgiveness for sins committed AFTER baptism throughout the rest of his life. Under this scenario, all sins committed during the previous week are forgiven by taking the Lord’s Supper. If one misses the Sunday communion, his sins are not forgiven and he is in danger of dying in an unsaved state. In such a situation, we can see why home communion would be desired and essential.

This is a seriously mistaken view, however, of both baptism and of the Supper. Regarding baptism, it is a serious error to think that baptism is for the forgiveness of past sins ONLY. In baptism, the repentant believer enters into a STATE of forgiveness, i.e., into a saving relationship with Jesus, in which ALL our sins are forgiven and continue to be forgiven as long as we continue to trust in the saving blood of Jesus. This is what it means to be “justified [forgiven] BY FAITH apart from works of law” (Rom. 3:28). What matters is that our faith continues to be strong.

This means that the Lord’s Supper does NOT bestow forgiveness of sins. A believer in Jesus is just as much forgiven (namely, 100%) one minute BEFORE taking the Supper as he or she is forgiven one minute AFTER taking the Supper. What, then, is the personal benefit of taking communion? The main point is that it helps to keep our faith alive and strong. Though we are justified or forgiven by our continuing faith, this faith must be exercised and nourished so that it will not grow weak and ultimately die (James 2:17). The Lord’s Supper (“the breaking of bread”) is one of the main spiritual exercises which keep our faith strong (Acts 2:42). It is a frequent (weekly) reminder that our assurance of salvation rests upon Jesus alone, and especially upon his dying for our sins. (There are, of course, other purposes for taking the Lord’s Supper; but this is the main PERSONAL benefit.)

Thus if one regularly obeys the commandment of “not forsaking our own assembling together” (Heb. 10:25), and as such regularly receives the emblems of the Lord’s Supper, then unavoidably missing a Sunday service (and thus the Supper) does not cause us to enter an unsaved state. On the other hand, in cases of prolonged sickness or genuine inability to attend services regularly, it is a matter of expediency to have the Supper taken to such shutins at home or in a nursing home. This is not a salvation issue as such, but a way of strengthening and nourishing their faith so that their relationship with Jesus can be maintained—which of course IS a salvation issue.

The bottom line is that those who are shutins do indeed benefit from home communion, and the church should be glad to provide it if requested. Of course, communion as such is a Biblical ordinance and an essential practice of the New Testament church, in view of the "words of institution" at the Last Supper. WHERE one takes it on the Lord's Day is not the crucial issue, though the expectation is that all Christians will meet around the Lord's table on the Lord's Day with other Christians as they are able.

101. Does Col. 1:15 Say That Jesus Is a Created Being? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 5:11pm

QUESTION: Do NT references to Jesus as “firstborn” (e.g., Col. 1:15) and “begotten” (e.g., Heb. 5:5) imply that he is a created being?

ANSWER: It is true that the human aspect of Jesus of Nazareth, and thus the human being, Jesus of Nazareth, had his beginning (came into existence for the first time) in the womb of Mary when the angel’s promise in Luke 1:35 was fulfilled. In that same moment the divine aspect of Jesus, namely, the second person of the Trinity, the eternally-existing Logos, entered into a relationship with the human aspect in the event we call the INCARNATION (John 1:14). Thus technically one could speak of the human Jesus as being “begotten” (metaphorically) by God the Father, and as being Mary’s “firstborn” son (Luke 2:7). It is unlikely, though, that texts such as Col. 1:15 and Heb. 5:5 are referring to this event. Since the full nature of Jesus is both human and divine, it is impossible to understand such texts as implying that Jesus Christ is a “created being.”

Careful exegesis of the passages in question also shows this to be true. Hebrews 5:5 is quoting Psalm 2:7, where God the Father as the Great King says to the Messiah (v. 2) at the event of his inauguration as co-King (v. 6), “You are My Son, today I have begotten You.” Some think this refers to some eternal “begetting” event, on the basis of which they posit an “eternal sonship” relation between the Father and the Son (and thus an eternal subordination of the Son to the Father). I disagree strongly with this interpretation. I believe the Apostle Paul shows us what the “today” in Psalm 2:7 is referring to when he quotes this in Acts 13:33 as referring to Jesus’s RESURRECTION from the dead. He says that God fulfilled his promises to the patriarchs “in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘You are My Son; today I have begotten You.’” This is what Heb. 5:5 is referring to. Jesus is thus the (first-)begotten FROM THE DEAD.

The language of Jesus as “firstborn” is also used of his resurrection, when he is called “the firstborn of the dead” (Rev. 1:5) and “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18). This is also the meaning of Rom. 8:29, where he is called “the firstborn among many brethren.” I.e., he was the first to receive a glorified human nature, but not the last. All the redeemed will in the end receive a glorified body like his (Rom. 8:23; Phil. 3:21), thus becoming conformed to his (glorified) image and being welcomed into the glorified family of God in which he is the elder brother (Rom. 8:14-23; Heb. 2:10-17). See also 1 Cor. 15:20, where the risen Jesus is called “the first fruits of those who are asleep,” i.e., dead.

This does not fully explain Col. 1:15, though, where Jesus is called “the firstborn [prototokos] of all creation.” This cannot be a reference to the NEW creation (begun in his resurrection), since v. 16 is clearly referring to the original creation of all created reality. However, Jesus (God’s “beloved Son,” v. 13) cannot be a part—even the first part—of these created things, since v. 16 clearly says that “BY HIM all things—ALL things—were created.” He cannot be both the Creator of all things and one of the created things. This is similar to John 1:3, which says of the eternal Logos, “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” I.e., everything that has come into being (i.e., has been created, that has a beginning) came into being THROUGH the Logos. This means he himself cannot be among those things that have come into being. Rev. 5:11-14 also clearly separates Jesus the Lamb of God from the category of created things, since “every created thing” is pictured as worshiping the Father and the Lamb alike.

So in what sense is Jesus the “firstborn of all creation”? The answer is that the term “firstborn” (prototokos) carries another connotation besides priority in time; it also is used of priority in rank or hierarchy. (In this regard it is similar to the Greek word “arche,” which can mean both “beginning” and “ruler.”) The latter seems to be its intended meaning in Col. 1:15. When we examine the full context (vv. 13-20), we see that it is filled with references to Christ’s rulership, headship, and superiority over all things. Verse 13 refers to his Kingdom. Verse 16 pictures him as being the Creator of and thus superior to all created “thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities.” Verse 17 says “He is before (“pro”) all things”; the word “pro” signifies not just priority in time but also in rank. In verse 18 he is the “head of the body, the church.” Contra feminist propaganda, the word “head (kephale) means “ruler, leader, one in authority.” All in all “He Himself will come to have first place in everything” (v. 18).

The NIV reflects this understanding when it translates Col. 1:15 as saying that Jesus is the “firstborn OVER all creation.” That this is the correct meaning is seen in v. 16, which gives the REASON why Jesus is the “prototokos” over all things: “For [“hoti,” because] by Him all things were created.” It would make no sense to say he is the first created being because he created all things. But it makes perfect sense to say he is the RULER of all creation because he himself is its CREATOR.

Wilhelm Michaelis’s essay on “prototokos” in the Kittel-Friedrich “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament” (6:878-879) says that even in Col. 1:18 the word indicates more than priority in time. Here it “carries with it a reference to the superior rank and dignity of Christ,” with the word “arche” (translated “beginning” but also meaning “ruler”) in the same verse pointing in the same direction. Likewise “prototokos” in 1:15 “supports a hierarchical understanding. As Christ from all creation bears the rank of a prototokos in relation to every creature, so He does also and especially as the risen Lord.” Michaelis says that 1:15 and 1:16 together show that “Christ is the Mediator at creation to whom all creatures without exception owe their creation.” Hence “firstborn of all creation” “does not simply denote the priority in time of the pre-existent Lord. If the expression refers to the mediation of creation through Christ, it cannot be saying at the same time that He was created as the first creature.” The only possible meaning is that “firstborn of all creation” means “the unique supremacy of Christ over all creatures as the Mediator of their creation.”

102. The "Not a New Convert" Rule for the Eldership byJack Cottrellon Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 10:58am
QUERY: Paul left Titus in Crete to “appoint elders in every city as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). But where would he be able to find someone who was “not a new convert,” as 1 Tim. 3:6 requires?

ANSWER: The history of the churches on the island of Crete, including Paul’s relationship with them, is largely a matter of speculation since there is no reference in the Book of Acts to the Apostle’s missionary work there. Acts 27 shows that Paul may have touched there as he was being transported to Rome as a prisoner, but this cannot be the incident Paul mentions in Titus 1:5 when he says he left Titus in Crete.

Since the Book of Acts ends with Paul in prison at Rome, it is generally assumed that at the end of that two-year period (Acts 28:30) he was released and was able to do more evangelistic traveling before he endured a second imprisonment, which ended in martyrdom. His itinerary during this interim between imprisonments is not known, but during that time he probably did visit Crete for a period of preaching and teaching, at the end of which he left Titus on the island that he “might set in order what remains, and appoint elders in every city as I directed you” (Titus 1:5).

The question is this: how could Titus do this without appointing elders that were new converts, contrary to 1 Tim. 3:6? The main thing to keep in mind is that there is a lot we simply do not know about the history of the churches on Crete. We cannot assume that there were no churches there until Paul and Titus visited the island. We know from Acts 2:11 that there were devout Jews present on the Day of Pentecost, who heard Peter’s gospel message; it is reasonable to assume that some of these were among the 3,000 converts on that day (Acts 2:41). It may well be that many of these returned to Crete and planted churches there. We do not know this for sure, of course.

Something else we do not know is the amount of time Paul himself spent on the island before departing and leaving the work of the church in Titus’ hands. Much of the time he spent there would no doubt have been devoted to teaching both old Christians and new converts, bringing them to spiritual maturity at an accelerated pace. We also do not know how much time passed between Paul’s departure and the writing of the letter to Titus. The main point is that we should not assume that all of this happened at once, or within a month’s time or even six months’ time. There would be time for limited growth and maturing, at least time enough to see who the natural leaders were among the Christian men in the churches there.

In American culture, where “church” has been present for centuries, we are accustomed to seeing young men become converted, spend years serving in other capacities, and through such service show themselves to be worthy of the office of elder. We have “time” to let the testing process be drawn out. However, in missionary situations where churches are being planted for the first time, “new converts” may be a relative term. I heard the missionary Max Ward Randall talk about his work of planting new churches in many African villages, where the gospel had not been heard before. Many times almost entire villages would be converted. He advised the new churches to select from the men who had been converted the ones who were already proven to have leadership ability and who were already respected as such by the people. (See the instructions in Numbers 11:16, which I know is not an exactly parallel situation.)

103. What Is the Salvation Status for the Unevangelized? 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 4:52pm

QUERY: Is there hope for those who have never heard the Gospel?

ANSWER: Paul’s main point in the first section of Romans (1:18-3:20) is that no one can be saved by the law system, because everyone is a lawbreaker and stands condemned by the rules of that system. In 1:18-32 he applies this even to the Gentiles (those who have never been exposed to special revelation, and who thus know God only through the general revelation of nature and of the law written on their hearts [2:14-15]).

Does this mean the Gentiles will be a special case on the Judgment Day? Paul’s answer is an emphatic NO! The Gentiles (heathen) are NOT a special case. They too are judged and condemned by the law of God, because they DO have law. They do know the law of God as given through general revelation, and they have sinned against it; thus “they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20)! Why? “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks” (1:20-21). Every Gentile is thus without a doubt under the wrath of God (1:18).

What group today would be parallel to the Gentiles about whom Paul is speaking here? With all his emphasis on general revelation, I believe that the members of the world’s population in any era that correspond to Paul’s “Gentiles” are those who know God through general revelation only, who have not been exposed to specially-given revelation of any kind, whether it be law or gospel. We sometimes call them the “unevangelized” or the “unreached” or the “heathen.”

Many Christians today, without having thought the issue through Biblically, have just assumed that the “heathen” will be saved since they have never had a chance to hear the Gospel. Their sentiment is this: “Surely God will not condemn someone for not believing in Christ if that person never even HEARD of Christ.” Such folks, however, need to pay closer attention to the specific teaching of Scripture on the issue. Paul’s whole point in Romans 1:18-32 is that the heathen are in a hopeless state as long as they have only general revelation. Other Scriptures show us that salvation comes only through faith in the Redeemer, Jesus Christ; and that knowledge of him comes only through special revelation. In the NT salvation and eternal life are always connected with knowing Jesus and believing in Jesus (e.g., John 3:16-18; John 17:3; Acts 16:31).

The risen Christ’s “great commission” to Paul (Saul of Tarsus) clearly shows us that the unevangelized of the world are in a state of lostness. He tells Paul that he is being sent to the Gentiles, “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:18). This declares or at least implies that the Gentiles have closed eyes (spiritual blindness), are in darkness (a symbol of falsehood), are under the dominion of Satan, do not have forgiveness of sins, have no inheritance in glory (heaven), and are not a part of the “set-apart” (sanctified) ones. The only thing that can set them apart is to have faith in Jesus.

In Eph. 2:12-13 Paul describes the pagan status of the Ephesian Christians before they were converted: “Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” The words “no hope,” “without God,” and “far off” are clear and decisive. Later in Ephesians Paul declares that Gentiles live “in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart” (4:17-18). Their ignorance is willful, growing out of the hardness of their heart; and it causes them to be excluded from the life of God.

In Romans 10 Paul explains why so many Jews are lost. The only way to be saved, he says, is to confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead (10:9). After thus identifying Jesus as Lord, he quotes Joel 2:32, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (10:13). But the only way anyone can know Jesus as Lord and thus believe on him and call upon his name, in order to be saved, is this: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?... So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (10:14-17).

The conclusion is that the heathen have hope only IF someone takes them the gospel and they accept it. We have no Biblical reason to think they will be saved in any other way. The implication of all of these texts, especially Romans 1:18-32, for the necessity of missions is obvious. As long as the heathen remain heathen (without special revelation), they will be judged and condemned by their law code. Whether they are judged and saved by grace depends upon our obedience to the Great Commission and their acceptance of the gospel.

But what about the question cited above in defense of the automatic salvation of the heathen: “But how can God condemn someone for not believing in Jesus, if that person never even HEARD of Jesus?” This question misses the whole point. It is based on a false assumption, namely, that not believing in Jesus is the reason for this condemnation. But this is not the case. The heathen are NOT condemned for “not believing in Jesus.” They are condemned rather for BREAKING GOD’S LAWS. I.e., they are not judged (either for salvation or condemnation) in relation to that of which they are ignorant, but only in relation to that of which they have knowledge.

(Anyone who actually thinks this way—that the heathen without the gospel are automatically saved—should be adamantly opposed to all missions work. As long as the heathen never hear of Christ [the argument goes], they will be saved by default. But if we take the gospel to them and they reject it, they lose that salvation status. Usually a lot more pagans who hear the gospel reject it than accept it. Thus in the end a lot more people will be in hell because of missionary work than there would have been without it. I guess Jesus just did not understand this when he gave us the Great Commission!)

[The above is taken mainly from my book, “Set Free! What the Bible Says About Grace,” 145-154. One should also see my commentary on Romans 1:18-32.)

104. Modalism: An Heretical View of the Trinity 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 3:59pm

QUERY: I have a question about modalism. I know the early church condemned it as a heresy, but is it serious enough to be a threat to one’s salvation? What is the Biblical evidence against it?

REPLY: Traditional, orthodox Christian faith says Jesus Christ is not only equal with the Father; he is also distinct from the Father in that he is a separate, distinct person, i.e., a separate center of consciousness with his own distinct thoughts, emotions, and actions. This point seems more than obvious to most Christians; but occasionally, in a misguided effort to explain the Trinity, some have embraced a seriously false view called modalism. From its earliest known forms in the late second century, modalism seems to have been a serious attempt to account for God's threeness while emphasizing his oneness. Thus it may be called a particular view of the Trinity, albeit an heretical one. H. O. J. Brown (“Heresies,” 99) says that this is "the most common theological error among people who think themselves orthodox," mainly because "it is the simplest way to explain the Trinity while preserving the oneness of God." But, as Brown says, "unfortunately, it is incorrect."

Modalism is basically the view that in his inner nature there are no distinctions within God, threefold or otherwise. However, in his external relationships with his creatures, God assumes different modes in which to make himself known and accomplish his purposes among men. In its original form the contention was that in the Old Testament era God revealed himself as Father; then he became incarnate as the Son; finally, after Jesus' ascension, God relates to his creatures as the Holy Spirit. Thus these modes of relationship are successive, not simultaneous. It should be noted that viewing the Trinity this way allows one to say that Jesus as God the Son was fully divine, and that the Holy Spirit is also divine. The problem is that the Father, Son and Spirit are not really distinguished from one another. In their true being they are one and the same person, a person who assumes different modes in his outward relationships to his creatures. God the Father is God the Son, who also is God the Holy Spirit.

The best known early modalist was Sabellius in the early third century; thus the view is sometimes called Sabellianism. In more recent times varying versions of this view are found mainly in modernistic religion, but also in certain conservative circles such as Oneness Pentecostalism. Modalism also appears from time to time within the Restoration Movement.

All forms of modalism must be rejected as seriously false doctrine. This view simply cannot do hermeneutical justice to the many, many passages of Scripture which speak of Father, Son and Spirit together, not only alongside each other but interacting with one another. Sometimes all three persons are described together, and sometimes just two of them, but the implication is the same: the relationship or interaction is real and not just a charade. Luke 1:35 is an example: "The angel answered and said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.'" The most natural explanation is that both the Father (Most High) and the Spirit were involved in the incarnation of the Son. Another example is the baptism of Christ, where Father, Son and Spirit are described as simultaneously being involved in different ways: "And the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, 'You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased'" (Luke 3:22). Here the Father speaks to the Son in direct address. If this is not one person speaking to another, then the narrative or even the act itself is deceptive. The same applies to the many occasions when Jesus addressed the Father in prayer (e.g., Luke 22:42; 23:34; John 11:41-42; 17:1-26). Jesus' teaching concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit in John 14-16 is a welter of double-talk if Father, Son, and Spirit are not distinct. For example, Jesus said, "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper" (John 14:16; see also John 14:26; 15:26). The same applies to the record of the fulfillment of this promise in Acts 2; see especially 2:33.

Many other passages are robbed of their natural meaning by modalistic presuppositions. The following examples will suffice: "Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says,… 'Behold, I have come…to do Your will, O God'" (Heb. 10:5, 7). "I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, 'You are My Son, today I have begotten You'" (Ps. 2:7). "The LORD says to my Lord: 'Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet'" (Ps. 110:1). "But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone" (Mark 13:32). "And the Word was with God" (John 1:1). "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son" (John 3:16). "God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts" (Gal. 4:6). "I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne" (Rev. 3:21). "Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb" (Rev. 7:10).

Many other passages could be cited, but these are enough to show that Father, Son and Spirit are distinct persons who exist simultaneously and interact with one another.

H. O. J. Brown points out that modalism not only leaves us with hermeneutical chaos, but also raises serious doubts about the reality of the works of redemption themselves. "Logically," he says, "modalism makes the events of redemptive history a kind of charade. Not being a distinct person, the Son cannot really represent us to the Father" (99). He is thinking of the reality of the substitutionary atonement, where the Father "made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf" (2 Cor. 5:21), where God set Jesus forth publicly "as a propitiation" (Rom. 3:24-25; see also Isa. 53:6, 10). He is thinking of the reality of Christ's role as a mediator between us and the Father (1 Tim. 2:5-6), as our intercessor with the Father (Heb. 7:25; see 1 John 2:1). Brown is surely correct: these vital works of redemption lose all their meaning in a modalistic view of Christ's relation to the Father.

Above I called this a “seriously false doctrine,” and indeed it is. This raises the question of whether someone who believes this false view can be saved. In my judgment the answer is yes, since it does not include a denial of the divine nature of Jesus (as in Arianism, e.g.). The implications of the view are serious enough, though, that anyone who holds it should not be accepted as a teacher, leader, or officer in the church.

(Most of the above is taken from my book, “The Faith Once for All,” 254-255. More detail is given in my book, “What the Bible Says About God the Redeemer,” 141ff.)

105. Who Is the "True God" in 1 John 5:20b? 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 10:06pm

QUESTION: I am trying to understand 1 John 5:20, which says (NASB), “And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding, in order that we might know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This [“houtos,” “this one”] is the true God and eternal life.” Specifically, can you tell me who the “houtos” is in the last sentence? Is John here identifying Jesus as “the true God”?

ANSWER: Yes, I believe that “this one” (“houtos”) does indeed refer to Jesus, and that John is here identifying Jesus as “the true God.” The basic reason for this conclusion come from a fundamental rule of Greek grammar, namely, that the antecedent for a relative pronoun such as “houtos” will normally be the matching noun that immediately precedes it. “Houtos” is masculine singular; the immediately preceding nouns, “His Son” and “Jesus Christ,” are both masculine singular. Thus it is natural to think that “this one” (“houtos”) is referring to “His Son Jesus Christ.”

Another reason for saying that “houtos” refers to Jesus is that the predicate of the sentence identifies the “houtos” as “TRUE God.” In the earlier part of the verse the same adjective for “true” [“alethinos”] is twice used specifically for Jesus. John says first that the Son of God (Jesus) has come and has given us understanding so that we might know “the true one.” How do we know this “true one” is referring to Jesus? Because of the very next clause: “and we are in the true one.” The phrase “in the true one” is identical to the next phrase, “in His Son Jesus Christ.” These phrases are in apposition to one another; there is no “and” linking them. The NIV has it right when it says “And we are in him who is true—EVEN in his Son Jesus Christ.” Thus in the verse itself, Jesus is specified as the one who is TRUE. This helps identify Jesus as the “TRUE God” in the latter part of the verse.

The last reason for saying that “houtos” refers to Jesus is that the “houtos” who is the “true God” is also “eternal life.” And whom does this letter identify elsewhere as “eternal life”? Jesus! In 1 John 1:1 the Son is identified as “the Word of Life,” and verse 2 says “the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the ETERNAL LIFE, which was with the Father and was manifest to us.” There is no question here that Jesus is the one identified as “eternal life.” Thus in 1 John 5:20, the “eternal life” should also refer to Jesus. Thus in the sentence, “This is the true God and eternal life,” since the second predicate (“eternal life”) most likely refers to Jesus, the first predicate (“true God”) must also refer to him, since there is only one subject for the verb, namely, “this one.”

The conclusion is that this verse identifies Jesus as truly divine in nature. This is simply consistent with many other verses in John’s writings, and in the Bible as a whole.

106. What Does 1 John 1:9 Mean? 

by Jack Cottrellon Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 12:42pm

QUERY: You have said that a faulty understanding of 1 John 1:9 is a roadblock to a proper understanding of grace and a genuine sense of assurance. Please explain what 1 John 1:9 means.

ANSWER: I have done this in my book, “Set Free! What the Bible Says About Grace” (pp. 314-316). The following is mostly from that source:

A main roadblock to assurance is a faulty understanding of 1 John 1:9. This familiar text reads, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The typical approach to this text assumes that every time we commit a sin, we literally fall from grace. I.e., we lose our salvation status and re-enter the state of lostness. Even though all our previous sins remain forgiven, each time we sin again we become guilty for that sin and are condemned to hell for it, unless and until that sin can be forgiven. This is why 1 John 1:9 is so important, because (it is assumed) this text tells us how to get forgiveness for the sins we commit in our ongoing Christian life. If we sincerely confess that specific sin (and pray for its forgiveness), God will graciously forgive that sin and restore us to the saved state again—until we sin again, in which case the process must be repeated.

With this understanding of 1 John 1:9, a sincere Christian sees himself or herself as being trapped in a kind of revolving door between the domains of wrath and grace. The cycle is endless: under grace – sin – under wrath – confession – under grace – sin – under wrath – confession – under grace – sin – under wrath – confession – under grace – and on and on. How does this compromise assurance? Because it causes the Christian to live in fear that he or she will die after committing a sin and before having the inclination or opportunity to confess it and pray for forgiveness.

What is the solution to this life of fear and uncertainty? Of course, the simplest solution would be: just don’t sin! But few of us (if any) are at this point. We still struggle with sin every day. Since that is the case, we need to see that the solution is: JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH! Committing a sin, in and of itself, does not separate us from the grace of God! We live our lives, day in and day out, performing good works and bad works (sins), while remaining under the gracious umbrella of justification through our faith in Jesus. Persistence in sin can cause our faith to die, but individual sins are not equivalent to apostasy. As someone has put it, those who are on a ship in the middle of the ocean can fall or jump off the ship and perish; but they can also trip and fall down on the ship, and thus hurt themselves, without falling off the ship. We are under grace, even when we sin.

Contributing to our faulty understanding of justification by faith and of 1 John 1:9 is a false teaching related to baptism, namely, the common idea that baptism is for the forgiveness of PAST SINS ONLY. This says that in baptism our past sins are forgiven like they are being erased from a blackboard; but after that, every time we sin, each new sin is added to the board until some subsequent ritual (such as the sacrament of penance, or the Lord’s Supper, or the confession of 1 John 1:9) gets it erased. This is a seriously false understanding of baptism. Baptism is “for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38) because in that act we enter into an ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ, a relationship that is equivalent to being constantly covered by his blood just as the “robe of righteousness” (Isa. 61:10) constantly covers our “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). This covering remains secure unless we actually fall from grace by ceasing to believe in the atoning blood of Jesus.

What, then, does 1 John 1:9 mean? We learn this by looking at its context, especially the verses that precede and follow it: “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. . . . If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (vv. 8, 10). The problem in both these verses is not sinning as such, but DENYING that we have sinned. What is the opposite of denying that we have sinned? Simply put, confessing that we HAVE sinned. In my judgment this is the point of v. 9: if we confess that we ARE sinners, and in need of God’s forgiveness, he is faithful to CONTINUE to keep us in the state of forgiveness. This is an element of our ongoing repentance. Even if we are not conscious of any recent specific sin, each time we pray we can still confess THAT we are sinners and claim anew God’s promise of justification. (Confession of specific sins is still necessary for the sanctification process, though not for justification.)

This understanding of 1 John 1:8-10 is illustrated and confirmed by Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee is a perfect example of 1 John 1:8, 10; he was conscious only of his perceived goodness and admitted no sins at all. What about the tax collector? What specific sins did he confess? None! In simple humility he prayed, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” But he went home justified (forgiven), whereas the Pharisee did not.

107. The Ten Commandments of Grace 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, January 15, 2010 at 3:49pm

This note is a follow-up on my earlier note, “Grace, Law, and the New Covenant.” In my teaching about grace I make it quite clear that I believe traditional Restoration Movement thought comes up quite short on this subject in many ways. Certain concepts that are deeply rooted in Restoration tradition are in fact significant barriers to a right understanding of grace. I have tried to sum them up very briefly in a list that I call “The Ten Commandments of Grace.” All of these points are explained more fully in my book, “Set Free! What the Bible Says About Grace” (College Press, 2009). This list is on p. 115 of that book.


ONE. Thou shalt not limit “law” in the crucial phrase “works of law” (Rom. 3:20, 28; Gal. 2:16) to the Law of Moses, as if the point of grace is that we are justified by obedience to NEW Testament commandments rather than obedience to OLD Testament commandments.

TWO. Thou shalt not identify the “law” with which grace is contrasted (especially in Rom. 6:14) as a law CODE (a list of commandments to live by, especially the Law of Moses) rather than as the law SYSTEM (attempting to be saved by obedience to one’s law code).

THREE. Thou shalt present the “plan of salvation” as GRACE rather than as LAW (i.e., rather than as a law code by which we are saved). In the latter case it is a “plan of slavation,” not a plan of salvation.

FOUR. Thou shalt distinguish between works of law (Rom 3:28) and obedience to the gospel (Rom. 10:16; 2 Thess. 1:8) – both of which are “works” in the generic sense of “something you do.” And, thou shalt explain that baptism is not only a work of GOD, but also a work of MAN in the latter sense (obedience to the gospel) – as is faith itself (John 6:26-29).

FIVE. Thou shalt not substitute Galatianism for grace, i.e., thou shalt not represent the sinner as being initially saved by grace, but kept saved by works.

SIX. Thou shalt neither teach nor imply that salvation is based on one’s personal righteousness rather than on the righteousness of God in Christ.

SEVEN. Thou shalt not reject the validity of assurance of salvation.

EIGHT. Thou shalt distinguish between the two parts of the “double cure”: (1) justification or forgiveness, to take away sin’s GUILT; and (2) regeneration/sanctification, to take away sin itself.

NINE. Thou shalt not represent baptism as being for the remission of PAST sins only.

TEN. Thou shalt not assume (because of a faulty understanding of 1 John 1:9) that every personal sin
separates a Christian from the grace of God, and that the thus-fallen Christian remains in an unsaved, unforgiven state until he confesses the sin and prays for forgiveness.

108. What About Capital Punishment? 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, January 15, 2010 at 2:13pm

QUESTION: Can you provide some information on capital punishment?

ANSWER: I have a chapter on this subject in my book, “Tough Questions, Biblical Answers, Part Two” (first published by Standard Publishing, then College Press, now Wipf & Stock). Here I will summarize the relevant Biblical data.

God established capital punishment in Genesis 9:6 when he set forth the principle, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.” That this refers to killing is shown by v. 5, which says that “from every man’s brother I will require the life of man.” That this is an ordinance of God and not just an affirmation of man’s natural thirst for revenge is also seen in v. 5, where GOD is the one who REQUIRES “the life of man.” It is also seen in the rationale given at the end of v. 6, “for in the image of God He made man.” This shows why murder is so heinous and why capital punishment is required: the murderer destroys the life of a creature made in God’s own image. Human life is thus so special that whoever murders another person forfeits his own right to live; this is the just punishment for his awful crime.

The Law of Moses specifies the death penalty not only for murder (Exod. 21:12-14) but also for a large number of other crimes, e.g., kidnapping (Exod. 21:16), adultery (Lev. 20:10), incest (Lev. 20:11-12, 14), homosexual acts (Lev. 20:13), cursing God (Lev. 24:10-16), and striking or cursing a parent (Exod. 21:15, 17). Some find it odd that the Mosaic Law can require the death penalty for such acts while at the same time forbid killing in the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exod. 20:13, KJV). The reason for this confusion is that the sixth commandment does not actually SAY, “You shall not KILL.” This is a bad translation; the Hebrew word actually means “You shall not MURDER,” as most modern translations (even the NKJV) correctly have it. Murder is the deliberate, unlawful taking of innocent human life. Capital punishment is the judicial taking of guilty human life.

The fact that the death penalty is so prominent in the Mosaic Law shows that it cannot be inherently wrong. This is also shown by the statement of the Apostle Paul in Acts 25:11, when he was on trial in Festus’ court: “If, then, I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die.” Here the Apostle indicates that there ARE some crimes that are “worthy of death,” and he was willing to accept the death penalty if he were actually guilty of one of them. Of course, he was not; thus he appealed to Caesar.

Some object to the death penalty because they believe that a God of love would never condone such a brutal act. They emphasize that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and that we are commanded not only to love our neighbors (Matt. 22:39) but also our enemies (Matt. 5:43-48) in imitation of our loving God. It is true that God is love, but to think that God is love ONLY is a most serious false doctrine and leads to all kinds of ethical perversions. God is indeed love, but “our God is a consuming fire” as well (Heb. 12:29). This is the fire of God’s wrath, which is how his holy nature responds to sin. There are TWO sides to God’s moral nature, i.e., his love on the one hand and his holiness on the other hand (see my book, “What the Bible Says About God the Redeemer”). We simply cannot ignore His holy nature and the reality of His holy wrath. As Paul says in Romans 11:22, “Behold then the kindness and severity of God.” It is God’s holy nature that requires that sinners be punished.

Some object to the death penalty in this New Covenant Era because they believe (mistakenly) that Jesus instituted a new form of ethics as contrasted with that of the pre-Christian era and the Law of Moses. They appeal to the Sermon on the Mount, especially to Matt. 5:38-48. They assume that the “eye for an eye” principle (vv. 38-39) has been set aside. This is a false understanding of the Sermon on the Mount, however. Here Jesus is NOT contradicting or setting aside portions of the moral law (e.g., Matt. 5:21, 27), but he is pointing out how the Jewish leaders had falsely interpreted and falsely applied these laws and principles. For example, the “eye for an eye” principle, cited three times in the Mosaic Law (Exod. 21:23-25; Lev. 24:19-20; Deut. 19:21), was always a principle of justice that was to be applied in a court of law. The Rabbis, however, cited it as an excuse for personal revenge. When Jesus commands us AS INDIVIDUAL, PRIVATE CITIZENS not to apply this principle (thus taking the law into our own hands), he is NOT forbidding civil government to continue to apply it.

Some think we cannot make this distinction between what individuals can do and what governments can do, especially in this New Covenant age; but the teaching of the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:17—13:7 shows otherwise. In 12:17ff. Paul echoes what Jesus said in Matt. 5:38ff.: “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone…. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MIND, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord.” Then immediately (13:1-4) the Apostle explains that God has established civil government as His earthly agent for executing His own wrath and vengeance upon evil-doers in this lifetime: “For it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (13:4). What we cannot do as individuals, God has appointed civil government to do. The reference to the sword includes the government’s right to use the death penalty as needed.

Is the death penalty a deterrent? It SHOULD be: “If you do what is evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword for nothing.” See also the logical response to the application of the death penalty under the Law of Moses: “And all Israel shall hear of it and fear” (Deut. 21:18-21; see also Deut. 17:12-13; 19:15-21.) This happens, though, only when the sentence is applied justly, swiftly, and consistently. See Eccl. 8:11: “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.” In the final analysis, however, the death penalty is warranted whether it deters further evil or not. As with the penalty for any crime, the main reason for the punishment is RETRIBUTION, not deterrence and not rehabilitation. The criminal is punished, sometimes with death, because he DESERVES it. In the words of Romans 13:4, it is a matter of wrath and vengeance—the wrath and vengeance of God Himself.

109. Grace, Law, and the New Covenant 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 11:40pm

QUESTION: What is the connection between the New Covenant and the “grace system,” to which you refer in your book, “Set Free! What the Bible Says About Grace” (pp. 50-51)? I have been taught by Restoration Movement teachers that grace is a New Covenant reality, i.e., that the New Covenant has replaced the Old Covenant with its legal requirements, and that we are now saved under the New Covenant by grace. In other words, to be under the New Covenant is synonymous with being saved by grace; the New Covenant and the “grace system” in some sense are identical. But you seem to be saying that the New Covenant is a law code and not soteric. How can this be? Because the New Covenant contains information about Jesus, sin, and salvation, I find it intellectually difficult NOT to equate the New Covenant with the grace system, and to assign some “soteric” value to the New Covenant. Can you clarify this issue for me?

ANSWER: My friend, there is quite a bit of confusion here, but I will TRY to clarify the matter! First, let’s divide history into the pre-Christian and the Christian eras. The Christian era began, generally speaking, at Pentecost; that is when the New Covenant [NC] replaced the Old Covenant [OC]. Everything before Pentecost is pre-Christian. Then, let’s divide the pre-Christian era into the pre-Mosaic and the Mosaic eras. In the time before Moses, God dealt with individuals on an ad hoc basis (e.g., Adam & Eve, Noah, Abraham). In the time from Moses to Christ’s redemptive work (death, resurrection, ascension, enthronement, outpouring of the Holy Spirit), the Old Covenant was in force.

The OC is the formal arrangement through which God related to and by which he governed his chosen people, the Jews, during the Mosaic era. The NC is the formal arrangement through which God relates to and by which he governs or administers his chosen people, the church, during this Christian era. The instrument by which God exercised this government in the OC era was the canonical Old Testament Scriptures [OT], as they accumulated between Moses and Malachi. The instrument by which God exercises his government in the NC era is the canonical New Testament [NT]. DO NOT equate the Old COVENANT with the Old Testament SCRIPTURES. The OT contains the OC, but also much more. Likewise the New COVENANT must not be equated with the New Testament SCRIPTURES, since it is also much more. Yes, the NT Scriptures contain information about Jesus, sin, and salvation; but so did the OT Scriptures (with Jesus being referenced in prophecy)!

Now, how does all this relate to LAW and GRACE? First, when Paul (especially in Romans) refers to “law,” sometimes he means a law CODE or list of commandments which God the Creator requires his creatures to obey, totally apart from any issues of salvation. Some of these commandments apply to all people in all ages; they are called “the moral law.” Some are unique to the OC, and are the elements of the Law of Moses that applied only to the Jews under that covenant arrangement. Others are unique to the NC era. Thus the Jews were under the Mosaic Law Code, or the Old Covenant Law Code (the moral law plus their unique commandments); we today are under the New Covenant Law Code (the moral law plus our unique commandments). When the NC replaced the OC, the NC Law Code replaced the OC Law Code. This is the sense in which the OC and the Law of Moses (as a Law Code) have been abrogated or set aside.

But sometimes when Paul refers to “law,” he means something quite different from a law code as such. He means instead the law as a SYSTEM OF SALVATION, in contrast with GRACE as a system of salvation. He means this especially in Romans 6:14-15, when he says that “you are not under law but under grace.” Here “law” does NOT refer to ANY law code as such, including the Mosaic Law Code. Here Paul is saying that we are not under law AS A WAY OF SALVATION; rather, we are under grace AS A WAY OF SALVATION. To be under the law system of salvation is to be in a situation where you are counting on your obedience to you law code to make you right with God. The law system (which is quite valid) says you can be right with God by complete obedience to the law code that applies to you (the Mosaic Law Code, if you are a Jew living under the OC; or the NC Law Code, if you are living in this NC era). The problem is that this is only a theoretical possibility, since Paul’s whole point is that NO ONE HAS complete obedience to his law code (Rom. 3:9-20, 23), therefore no one can actually be right with God based on this system of salvation. The difference between law code and law system may be understood thus: everyone is under a law code (even those who are saved by grace); but only some of these are also under the law system (attempting to gain heaven by how well they obey their law code) and are therefore doomed to hell, since the law system cannot save sinners.

The gospel message is that God has provided another way or system of salvation, namely, GRACE. This system of salvation says that we are justified by faith in God’s promises, not by how well we obey our law code (Rom. 3:28). Everyone saved by grace still has a law code to obey; but obedience to this law code is not how we BECOME saved, nor is it how we STAY saved. “You are not under law” does NOT mean “You are not under a law code”; it means “You are not under law as a way of salvation.” Grace as a way of salvation does NOT replace ANY law CODES; it is simply God’s wonderful alternative to trying to be SAVED by obedience to one’s law code. Salvation by grace comes only through Jesus’ redemptive death on the cross; God offers sinners forgiveness of sins (justification) based on that substitutionary death.

Now here is the crucial point: this choice between two ways of salvation—the law system or the grace system—has NOTHING to do with any of the historical or covenantal divisions outlined above! These two salvation systems transcend the historical and covenant distinctions. These two salvation systems—law and grace—existed side by side from the moment sin began in the Garden of Eden. They constitute the only two ways a person may be “right with God,” or enter heaven. The choice between them was available to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, and to the children of Israel; this choice is still available to us living today. The tragic fact, though, is that because of the universality of sin, no one can and will in fact be saved by the law system. Anyone who has ever been saved and who ever will be saved, will be saved by the grace system. Abraham was saved by grace. Moses was saved by grace. Elijah was saved by grace. John the Baptist was saved by grace (etc.). Grace did not begin with the NC; it was being freely bestowed throughout the pre-Christian era to all who accepted God’s offer of forgiveness in faith and repentance. Though Jesus had not yet died, his redemptive death was a foreknown and predetermined event (Acts 2:23); and God was already dispensing its results before the fact (Rom. 3:25).

I hope I have explained as succinctly as possible that there is NO sense in which grace as the only way of salvation for sinners can be equated with or limited to the New Covenant or the NC era.

110. What Is the Trinity? 

by Jack Cottrellon Monday, January 11, 2010 at 8:50pm

QUERY: I have a relative who is a Jehovah’s Witness. He accepts that Jesus is the son of God but denies that he (Jesus) is God. How would you explain the triune God?

ANSWER: For details, see chapter 3 of my book, “What the Bible Says About God the Redeemer” (pp. 117-174). Here I will summarize a section of my book, “The Faith Once for All” (pp. 70-73):

God is ONE, but he is also THREE. He is one and three at the same time. This is the doctrine of the Trinity. There is no biblical term that actually means "trinity"; e.g., this is not the connotation of the KJV word "Godhead" nor of the Greek terms which it represents. We do find the CONCEPT of the Trinity in Scripture, however.

Exactly what is this concept? The classical Christian doctrine is usually summed up thus, that God is three persons who share one essence or substance. A "person" is a thinking, willing center of consciousness. That God is THREE persons means that within the one divine nature are three individual centers of consciousness. Each of the persons is fully conscious of himself as distinct from the other two and as existing in eternal interpersonal relationship with the other two. We call these three persons the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Though they are three, these persons are nevertheless one God. Whatever the concept of the Trinity means, it does not mean that the essence of God is somehow divided into three distinct units. Also, whatever the concept of the Trinity means, it does not mean that there are three separate Gods; this would be tritheism.

Within the context of the Trinity, that God is ONE means that the three centers of consciousness share one and the same divine essence or being or substance. This is not just saying that they share the same KIND of essence (which they do), but that they also share the same specific essence. To say that Father, Son, and Spirit are one in essence means that the totality of divine substance, the whole of "whatever it is to be God," belongs to each of them. The main implication of this is that each is equally divine. In whatever sense the Father is divine, so also are the Son and the Holy Spirit. All the attributes of divinity belong equally to each of the three. It cannot be otherwise, since they share the same essence.

Upon what is the doctrine of the Trinity based? It is derived only from the special revelation of the Bible, and generally not from the OT but from the NT. The OT has some hints of the Trinity, but only in the NT does the doctrine of the Trinity become an inescapable conclusion.

The one specific fact that makes it impossible for us to avoid the doctrine of the Trinity is the NT teaching about the deity of Christ. If Scripture did not portray Jesus as both distinct from the Father and yet as himself God in the flesh, the question of the Trinity may never have arisen. The same is true to a lesser extent of the Bible's portrayal of the Holy Spirit as a divine person.

In addition to the teaching about the deity of Jesus and of the Spirit are several passages linking the three persons together in a formula like way that emphasizes their essential equality. The baptismal formula in Matt. 28:19 is the most well known and most influential of these: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." Another is the benediction in 2 Cor. 13:14, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all." See also 1 Cor. 12:4-6 and 1 Peter 1:2. All of these passages show that Christians are redemptively related not just to an abstract deity but to the three persons who are the one true and living God.

Other trinitarian texts are Rom. 15:30; 1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Cor. 1:20 21; Gal. 4:6; Eph. 2:18; 3:14 17; 5:18 20; 1 Thess. 5:18 19; 2 Thess. 2:13; Titus 2:13; 1 John 4:13 14; Jude 20 21; Rev. 1:4 5.

Is God's threeness something that manifests itself as he relates to the world, or is it a real aspect of God in himself? Actually it is both, as Christians have long affirmed. It is mainly seen, though, in the various relationships and works of the different persons of the Trinity toward the world. For example, God the Father foreknows and chooses (Rom. 8:29; 1 Pet. 1:1 2). The Father also sends the Son and the Spirit; he is never the one sent (John 5:37; 14:26; 20:21). On the other hand, only God the Son became incarnate, lived among us as a human being, died on the cross, was raised from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of the Father as our only High Priest and mediator. In turn, God the Spirit is responsible for regenerating and sanctifying work (1 Pet. 1:1 2), beginning on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38). He also is the agent of inspiration (2 Pet. 1:21), including speaking in tongues (Acts 2:4).

But in addition to the distinct redemptive works through which the three divine persons relate themselves to the world, the threeness of God also exists in the divine essence in and of itself totally apart from such relationships. This is called the ontological Trinity. This intra divine threeness is the basis for satisfying and loving relationships among the three persons from and for all eternity.

We must be on guard against heretical denials of the doctrine of the Trinity. Some deny the oneness of God and affirm polytheism. This is common among pagan religions, and is true of Mormonism and the original Armstrongism. Others deny the threeness of God, saying there is only one truly divine person. An example is fourth century Arianism, which taught that Jesus is not truly God but is a created being. Jehovah's Witnesses are modern day Arians. Another denial of God's threeness is any form of unitarianism, which says there is only one divine person. One kind of unitarianism is called modalism, which says that in his inner nature there are no distinctions within God. Only in his external relations with his creatures does God assume different modes or roles in order to make himself known and accomplish his purposes among men. These modes are successive, not simultaneous. E.g., In OT times the one divine person revealed himself as Father; then he became incarnate as the Son; now he relates to his creatures as the Spirit. A modern example of modalism is the "Oneness movement" among certain Pentecostal bodies, also known as the "Jesus only" Pentecostals.

The doctrine of the Trinity is filled with mystery. That God is one and three at the same time is beyond our ability to understand completely. We should never think it is absurd or contradictory, however. That would be true only if we think that God is one and three in the same sense. But this is not the case. He is ONE in one sense, i.e., one essence; and he is THREE in another sense, i.e., three persons.

111. What Is the Meaning of the "Baptism in Fire" in Matthew 3:11? 

by Jack Cottrellon Monday, January 11, 2010 at 5:38pm

QUERY: You have discussed both baptism in water and baptism in the Holy Spirit, but what is the “baptism in fire” mentioned in Matt. 3:11 and Luke 3:16?

ANSWER: In both of these texts John the Baptist says that when the Messiah comes “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” The main issue is whether the fire baptism is the same as or separate and distinct from the Spirit baptism. Will Jesus give just one baptism, “in Spirit and fire”? Or will he give two baptisms, baptizing some in Spirit and others in fire?

Many say the latter. They see John as implying that his audience was divided into two groups: those who would accept the Messiah and be saved, and those who would reject him and be lost. The Messiah will immerse those who accept him in the Holy Spirit, and he will immerse those who reject him in fire, i.e., in the fiery judgment of hell. The main evidence for this view is the immediately-following reference to the process of separating the wheat from the chaff, after which “He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:17; see Matt. 3:10, 12). I personally held to this view until I wrote my book on the Holy Spirit, “Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit” (College Press, 2007). [The contents of this note are based on pp. 303-305 of this book.]

Others say that the baptism “in the Holy Spirit and fire” is just one baptism. They see Christ’s baptism “in the Holy Spirit and fire” as a single saving event. Alfred Plummer, in his ICC commentary on Luke, states his preferred view: “More probably the [fire] refers to the illuminating, kindling, and purifying power of the grace given by the Messiah’s baptism. . . . The purifying of the believer rather than the punishment of the unbeliever seems to be intended” (p. 95). I came to accept this view during the course of writing the book mentioned above.

That the Messianic baptism in fire is the same as the Messianic baptism in the Holy Spirit makes sense only if one accepts the idea that all those saved in the New Covenant era (since Pentecost) receive the baptism in the Spirit, which is indeed the view that I strongly defend. Thus John the Baptist is saying that the coming Messiah will baptize all who become Christians BOTH with the Holy Spirit AND with fire. These are in reality not two different things; the latter is simply an aspect of the former.

The strongest argument for this view is the grammatical construction of the phrase “in the Holy Spirit and fire.” Here there is only one preposition (Greek, “en”; English, “in”) governing the two objects, “thus most naturally indicating one baptism composed of two elements” (Larry Chouinard, College Press NIV commentary on Matthew, p. 71). The rule of Greek grammar that applies here is that if one preposition has two objects, the objects are either the same or very closely related. If anyone thinks that such a grammatical “rule” may not be absolute and binding, he should remember that John 3:5 has the exact same construction, i.e., “unless one is born of [“ek”] water and Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.” Many use the single-preposition rule in John 3:5 to show that we cannot separate being born of the Spirit from being born of water (i.e., baptism). If we appeal to the rule in John 3:5, consistency requires us to apply it the same way in Matt. 3:11 and Luke 3:16.

If indeed the one baptism applied by the Messiah is a “baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire,” then it is clear that the “fire” is the fire of purification and purging from sin, which is part of the very essence of the Spirit’s saving work of regeneration and continuing sanctification. Fire is not always a symbol of judgment and wrath. Malachi 3:2-3 says, “For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness.” In Zech. 13:9 God says, “I will bring the third part through the fire, refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested.” (See also Isa. 4:4; 6:6-7; 1 Peter 1:7.) We can also remember the purifying fire that will cleanse the universe of everything sinful and thus “regenerate and renew” it in the end times (2 Peter 3:7-13; see Matt. 19:28). In like manner, when the Holy Spirit regenerates the sinner, the “baptism in fire” purifies the soul by putting to death the old man of sin (Rom. 6:1-6) and making way for new life in the Spirit. The indwelling Spirit then continues to purify us by empowering us to put to death the sinful deeds of the body (Rom. 8:13).

112. What Is the "One Baptism" in Ephesians 4:5? 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, January 8, 2010 at 10:20pm

A RECENT QUESTION: Does 1 Cor. 12:13 teach that water baptism or Spirit baptism brings a sinner into union with Jesus Christ? What about Gal. 3:27 - is it water or Spirit baptism? What is the ONE baptism of Eph. 4:5?

MY REPLY: Though some (such as mid-Acts dispensationalists) deny it, water baptism has been the church’s practice from its beginning on the Day of Pentecost. (We cannot infer this from John’s practice of baptizing in the Jordan River, since John’s baptism and Christian baptism are NOT the same thing.) The baptism Jesus commanded in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19) must be water baptism, since he commanded his disciples to administer it. Water is specifically mentioned in connection with baptism in Acts 8:36 and 10:47. Paul personally baptized some of his converts (1 Cor. 1:14-16), which shows that this baptism was with water.

It is also true that every Christian has been baptized in the Holy Spirit, as 1 Cor. 12:13 says: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” In chapter 8 of my book on the Holy Spirit, “Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit” (College Press, 2007), I show that Holy Spirit baptism, as promised by John the Baptist and by Jesus, is the same as the universal promise of the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39). I also show that it has no necessary connection with speaking in tongues, contrary to the Pentecostal and Charismatic view, and contrary to the traditional “two-episode” view (Pentecost and Cornelius) which is popular in the Restoration Movement.

The conclusion is that every Christian has been baptized in water, and has also been baptized in the Holy Spirit. Thus it appears at first as if each of us has experienced two baptisms. How then can Paul assert in Eph. 4:5 that one of the unifying foundational pillars of the church is that we have just “one baptism”? The only reasonable and biblical answer is that water baptism and Spirit baptism are not two separate baptisms, but simply two aspects or two sides of a single act. The “one baptism” in Eph. 4:5 is the convert’s baptism in water, which is also at the same time baptism in the Holy Spirit. As an analogy, in the same verse Paul asserts that Christians have but “one Lord,” and we know that he has two natures: human and divine. Likewise the one baptism has two sides: human and divine, physical and spiritual, water and Spirit. This is consistent with John 3:5, which says we are “born of water and the Spirit.” Heb. 10:22 likewise says that we have had “our hearts [=spirits] sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” The 19th century Restoration scholar Moses Lard says, “At the instant when the body is immersed in water,… the immersion of the human spirit takes place in the Holy Spirit. The inner man is then immersed as well as the outer, [the former] in Spirit, [the latter] in water” (“Baptism in One Spirit into One Body,” ín “Lard’s Quarterly,” I, March 1864).

Why is it, then, that most of the Protestant world, contrary to Paul’s clear statement in Eph. 4:5, assumes and teaches that there are actually TWO separate baptisms in a Christian’s experience, one a baptism in the Spirit and the other a baptism in water? Because they are under the sway of Zwingli’s new doctrine of baptism, created in A.D. 1525, which totally separated water baptism from conversion and salvation. Zwingli is the actual originator of the modern “faith only” approach to salvation, which says that the sinner is saved the moment he believes, which is also the time when Spirit baptism occurs. Then at some later time water baptism is applied as a testimony to the salvation that has already been received.

So, if modern Protestants distinguish two entirely separate acts called baptism, which one is in view in Eph. 4:5? The most common answer is that this verse refers to Spirit baptism. As Alfred Martin says, “The one baptism is undoubtedly the baptism of the Holy Spirit” (“The Wycliffe Bible Commentary,” Moody 1962, p. 1310). Merrill Unger declares that Paul, “in speaking of the ‘one baptism’ in Ephesians 4:5, is speaking of Spirit baptism” (“Baptism and Gifts of the Holy Spirit,” Moody 1974, p. 33). The idea that this verse refers to water baptism, he says, “teeters perilously on the precipice of the error of baptismal regeneration” (ibid., 118). Once these folks have separated Spirit baptism (the saving event) from water baptism (the subsequent testimony), they then proceed to identify every NT text that connects baptism with salvation as a reference to Spirit baptism only. They usually do this with texts such as Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:3-5; Col. 2:12; and obviously 1 Cor. 12:13.

This approach is, of course, in direct contradiction with the simple affirmation of Paul in Eph. 4:5 that there is ONLY “one baptism.” In opposition to this false approach, we must recognize that whenever the NT speaks of Christian baptism, it is speaking of the one event that combines baptism in water with baptism in the Holy Spirit. My conclusion to the section on this subject in my book, “Power from on High,” is as follows (pp. 330-331): “We must stop dividing the one baptism into two events; it is one event with two distinct aspects. Also, we must stop dividing the biblical texts about baptism into two separate lists, i.e., one with references to water baptism and the other with references to Spirit baptism. There is only one Christian baptism. Whenever baptism is mentioned in the NT in the context of the church, it is WATER baptism; and it is also SPIRIT baptism.”

113. What Is the Spiritual Status of the Unimmersed? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 7:09pm

ANOTHER SERIOUS QUESTION: We know some very spiritual individuals who have never been immersed into Christ but who are living very dedicated, Spirit-filled lives. We agree that they should be immersed as the New Testament teaches, but are we to think about their present spiritual status? Are they saved or not?

MY REPLY: This is an extremely difficult and delicate situation, and making a negative judgment in this case is certainly one of the hardest things a spiritual leader will ever be called on to do. But one of the things we have to settle in our own minds is this: what is the ultimate standard or criterion of truth? If we conclude that THE BIBLE is that standard, then we must have the courage to follow it consistently. On the other hand, if we conclude that PERSONAL EXPERIENCE is the criterion of truth, then we can go pretty much wherever we want to on this issue and many others, regardless of what the Bible says. (One may want to consider Matt. 7:21-23.)

I have had to face this question before, in a pastoral situation. We had a Seminary student from Egypt who had been “baptized” as an infant and who had been active in his Presbyterian-type church all his life. He was a very spiritually-minded young man, and gave every appearance of bearing the fruit of the Spirit. As a sincere student of the Word, he came to understand the true Biblical teaching on baptism and decided that he must be immersed into Christ for the forgiveness of his sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. I personally baptized him thus, and we followed the steps outlined in the second paragraph of the selection below, taken from p. 373 of my book, “The Faith Once for All.” At his baptism I prayed a prayer with him something like this: “Thank you, Lord, for this young man’s life, and for allowing him to be born and reared in a family that honors Jesus, and for his own personal desire to live as a Christian. Thank you, Lord, for everything you have already done for him, especially in reference to his salvation. Only you know for sure what that may have been. But he has now seen that the New Testament clearly promises forgiveness and the indwelling Spirit in the act of baptism as that act is received in faith and repentance. Thus, so that he can be sure of his salvation status with a certainty that is based on your Word and not on his own experience, he is now submitting to baptism on the Bible’s own terms. As he is being baptized, we are calling upon you to do for him now whatever you have not already done for him in this regard. Having thus obeyed your Word, we leave the past in your hands, and look to the future with confident hope.”

The following is the excerpt from “The Faith Once for All,” 373, that discusses this further:

This raises the question, what is the spiritual status of the millions of people who have mistakenly followed the false views of baptism, whether in regard to meaning, subjects, or mode? This is a very difficult question and cannot be thoroughly answered in the brief space available here. In general, though, we may answer it in two steps.

First, in view of the clear teaching of Scripture on the subject, we must say that only those who have consciously received immersion as a saving work of God can be confident of their present status as Christians and as members of the body of Christ. It is, of course, possible that in some cases God has made exceptions and has acted outside his stated plan of bestowing salvation upon believers in immersion, but we have no right to presume upon God in this respect. If someone who has not been biblically baptized is convinced that God has saved him, we may follow this procedure. One, while granting that God may have made an exception, we must insist that no one can know this for sure. Experience can be deceiving (Matt 7:21-23). Two, we must make sure that the biblical teaching on baptism is clearly understood and accepted. Three, we must invite the person of unsure status to receive baptism properly, while calling upon God to work upon him whatever works of salvation he has not already worked. Only then can a person be sure of his present status before God.

Second, with regard to the future, in the final judgment we can expect God to judge all persons who have received baptism improperly in the same way that he will judge everyone else, namely, in accordance with their CONSCIENTIOUS RESPONSE TO AVAILABLE LIGHT. No one will be condemned for failing to meet some particular requirement as long as he is conscientiously responding to whatever light is available to him (see Rom. 4:15). It is obvious that human traditions have seriously distorted and limited the light of Scripture concerning baptism, and many sincere people have responded in good conscience to what light they have. For this reason we may hope to see such people in heaven.

This last point does not permit us to give anyone false assurance about his present state of salvation, however; nor does it give us the right to change the clear teaching of Scripture on believers' immersion for salvation. The "available light" principle applies only to future judgment, and it can be applied only by the omniscient God. For us today, as individuals and as the church of Jesus Christ, we must continue to believe and proclaim the clear Biblical teaching about baptism without cowardice and without compromise.

114. Is Infant Immersion a Valid Baptism? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 6:59pm

Is Infant Immersion a Valid Baptism?

A SERIOUS QUERY: In our congregation we accepted a member by transfer upon his testimony that he had been previously immersed. We have only recently discovered that he was indeed immersed, but as an infant in a Greek Orthodox church. He assumed that this was sufficient; and no one is questioning the genuineness of his faith or his salvation, because he is certainly displaying the fruit of the Spirit. But now that we have the facts, we are not sure what to do. Should this man be immersed now, as an adult? He is reluctant to have this done, because he feels he would be dishonoring his parents, who had him immersed as an infant. He also believes that since he has both been immersed and has come to sincere faith, the sequence of the two events should not matter. Any thoughts?

MY REPLY: First of all, it is asserted that this person is displaying the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), with the assumption that this implies that he has the indwelling of the Spirit, which implies that he is saved. This is not a valid assumption. I have addressed this issue in my book on the Holy Spirit, “Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit” (College Press, 2007, pp. 374-375). I have recently posted a note on this specific issue, in which I have cited this material; so I will not address it here.

The bottom line here is that infants are simply not viable candidates for baptism, whether the water is applied via immersion or sprinkling. In Scripture baptism is always presented as a volitional choice by one who is a sinner and who is old enough to truly repent and believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord. Baptism is thus the same kind of event as marriage or voting. An infant cannot get married, nor can an infant vote, by the very nature of these acts. It is thus with baptism. Also, in Scripture baptism is always presented as a salvation event, in which a sinner receives God’s saving grace. But the fact is that infants are ALREADY under God’s grace, i.e, the ORIGINAL GRACE of Jesus Christ that has negated the damning effects of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:12-19). On original grace, see my commentary on Romans at this passage, and see my systematic theology, “The Faith Once for All,” ch. 9. A child remains in this cocoon of original grace until he or she reaches the age of accountability. Thus there is no reason to attempt to baptize an infant.

Actually, the question is not whether an infant SHOULD be baptized, but rather, CAN an infant be baptized? Certainly, water can be applied to the child, but there is more to baptism than the application of water. The fact is that an infant CANNOT be baptized. Concerning the man in question, if his infant immersion is the extent of his baptismal experience, then he has not actually been baptized.

I am sure that you know that the Restoration Movement has always stood for believers’ baptism and opposed infant baptism. This belief, shared by the Reformation Anabaptists and by modern Baptists, has been decisively argued and settled. I will not rehearse the NT evidence here. If you accept this man’s baptism, and his Christian status on the basis of it, then you will have to accept for membership all sincere people who were baptized in any fashion as infants, and even all sincere people who have never been baptized at all in any fashion. In other words, you must opt for what is called “open membership,” one of the main issues that divided the conservative Christian churches from the Disciples of Christ in the early 20th century. The issue is not just immersion vs. sprinkling, but also the validity of infant baptism as such. You cannot ignore the latter point and limit this issue to the former point.

Regarding the argument that repudiating the infant immersion would be dishonoring one’s parents, thus disobeying the fifth commandment (Exod. 20:12) and Eph. 6:1, this assumes that this man’s (and all) parents are infallible and never disagree with or contradict the clear teaching of Scripture. This argument, if applied consistently, could be used to justify any sort of immoral or incorrect behavior. The Bible assumes that even sincere convictions of human beings may be in conflict with the Word of God. That is why the Apostle Peter lays down the clear principle, “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29). This principle certainly applies in this case.

Does the sequence of immersion and faith matter, as long as one has done both? I say again that in Scripture, the sequence is always faith/repentance, then baptism. And there is a reason for this sequence, namely, that membership in the NT people/family of God is by means of one’s personal choice rather than by physical birth. This is a major difference between the Old Covenant people (Israel) and the New Covenant people (the Church). One became a member of the OC people by physical birth; one becomes a member of the NC people by spiritual rebirth (John 3:3-5), which requires faith (John 1:12). You may want to consider the order of faith, baptism, and salvation as set forth in Colossians 2:12, which says you have “been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God.” If you study this carefully, you will see that the act of baptism results in burial and resurrection with Jesus only when entered into with faith in your heart.

In answer to the question whether this man should be immersed now, as an adult, my answer is an unequivocal YES. How we must then regard his past spiritual status will be addressed in my next note.

115. Can a Person Display the FRUIT of the Spirit without the INDWELLING of the Spirit? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 6:56pm

QUESTION: I have seen a good many unimmersed persons living pious lives and apparently displaying the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). How can a person produce the fruit of the Spirit without being baptized and receiving the indwelling of the Spirit?

MY REPLY: I have addressed this issue in my book, “Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit” (College Press, 2007, pp. 374-375). The following is quoted from that source.

A question that often arises is whether a person who does not have the INDWELLING of the Holy Spirit can bear the FRUIT of the Spirit. Some folks become confused because they know individuals who have not obeyed Acts 2:38, which connects receiving the Holy Spirit with baptism, and yet who exhibit aspects of the Spirit’s fruit. The reason for this confusion is the false assumption that none of these kinds of fruit can be present in a person’s life unless he has the indwelling of the Spirit. One cannot draw such a conclusion from Gal 5:22-23.

There are two reasons why individuals who do not have the Spirit’s indwelling presence can still manifest, to a degree at least, the fruit of the Spirit. First, the various virtues listed by Paul—love, joy, peace, and the rest—are in reality the NATURAL state for human beings made in God’s image. Such “righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:24) are part of the original “image of God” which the Creator gave to the human race in the beginning. This image includes an innate knowledge of God’s basic moral laws (Rom. 2:15). One of the effects of sin is that this image, including these virtues, has been damaged and marred. This does not mean, however, that it is completely destroyed. Every sinner still possesses vestiges of the image, to a degree that depends on how much of himself he has yielded to the power of sin. Thus we can expect these virtues—at least some of them, to some degree—to be present in most people. (From the negative side, this is the same reason why we do not find ALL of the “deeds of the flesh” present in ALL sinners.)

The second reason why individuals who do not have the Spirit’s indwelling presence can manifest the fruit of the Spirit is that such folks have been convicted of sin, righteousness, and judgment by the Spirit-inspired Word of God (John 16:8-11), and they are making an effort to obey the Word and to lead a virtuous life. They are trying to live according to the Bible, under the knowledge and motivation engendered by biblical teaching. Those who have thus come under the influence of the Word (Heb. 4:12-13) will be able to bear the fruit of the Spirit to some extent. This explains why OT saints, none of whom had the indwelling of the Spirit, were able to exhibit these virtues.

Why, then, does Paul call this list of virtues in Gal. 5:22-23 “the fruit of the Spirit”? We must remember that there are two aspects of the Spirit’s sanctifying work: he sanctifies indirectly through the WORD, and directly through his indwelling presence. When anyone seeks to live according to the moral teaching of the Word of God, the Spirit of God is at work in his life. When that person, through free-will effort, becomes more loving, more patient, or more self-controlled, he is under the influence of the Holy Spirit and is thus producing “the fruit of the Spirit.” This does NOT mean that every person who thus bears some of the Spirit’s fruit is saved. It does NOT mean that the Spirit is dwelling within him. Though this is a widespread assumption, it is completely false and unwarranted.

We must be careful to avoid a fallacy in logic here. Just because “all A is B,” this does not mean that “all B is A.” I.e., that “all who have the indwelling of the Spirit will produce his fruit” does not necessarily imply that “all who produce his fruit have the indwelling of the Spirit.” Some in the latter group may simply be under conviction through the power of the Word

So what advantage does the Christian have in his efforts to produce the fruit of the Spirit? The answer should be obvious. The Christian has NOT ONLY the knowledge and power of the Word working in his heart, BUT ALSO the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit himself, who is able to directly energize our wills and to empower us to produce this fruit far beyond what our unaided efforts could achieve. This does not eliminate struggle in our efforts to become virtuous, but for those who are serious about fruit-bearing it eliminates the fear of defeat. That is why we can affirm that “all who have the indwelling of the Spirit will produce his fruit.”

In the final analysis, then, the PRESENCE of the fruit of the Spirit as listed in Gal. 5:22-23 is not an infallible sign that a person has the indwelling of the Spirit, but the ABSENCE of this fruit is a likely sign that the Spirit is NOT present.

116. What Is the Best Time for Baptism? 

by Jack Cottrellon Tuesday, December 29, 2009 at 10:55am

A RECENT QUESTION: We have had a number of baptisms lately during the week, i.e., not on Sunday. We keep our water warm and tell people we can do baptisms any time, when they have come to that decision, and will arrange for someone to be baptized on, say, Wednesday at 10 A.M. Of course, Sunday baptisms are always welcomed and encouraged, and we've had a number of those too. But my question is, is there a Scriptural reason to prefer having baptisms on Sunday during the morning service as opposed to other times of the week? I realize in Acts they were baptized immediately as soon as they believed, so I can see that baptism at any time can be good. But what about a "preference" for having them on Sundays?

MY REPLY: In my judgment, the answer to this question is directly related to the PURPOSE of baptism. By far, the New Testament shows that baptism is the time God has appointed to bestow salvation upon the believing, penitent sinner. Every NT text that directly or indirectly refers to the meaning of baptism, when honestly exegeted, shows this to be so. (See my book, “Baptism: A Biblical Study.”) This means that the main point of baptism is that it is a personal saving encounter between the repentant sinner and God. It is the time or occasion when God meets the sinner and bestows upon him or her the blessings of salvation, the double cure of grace, and the benefits of the saving work of Jesus Christ.

Because of its character as a salvation event, baptism SHOULD NOT BE DELAYED. Once the sinner has believed and repented, followed by a confession of faith that calls upon the name of the Lord, he or she should meet the Lord in the baptismal waters as soon as possible. This was indeed the precedent set by the early church (Acts 8:36; 10:47; 16:33). Ananias’ words to the anguished Saul say it all: “And now why do you wait?” (Acts 22:16, ESV). It is good to have witnesses, but it is not essential (cf. the Ethiopian eunuch, Acts 8:35-39). In truth, only three persons are required for baptism: the baptizer, the sinner, and God.

Of course, this is not how it usually is within most Protestant churches, and increasingly even within our Restoration Movement churches. When I was a child we seldom had conversions at all, including baptisms, except during the annual two-week revival meetings in the summer months. (This made it easier to baptize in the creek or pond, to be sure!) In many denominational groups, baptisms are scheduled for certain Sundays of the church calendar year, such as Easter. Even in our own churches we often schedule “decision days.” We often postpone baptism until Sunday, even if the decision was made on the previous Monday. We may even wait until certain relatives can be present, even if that takes several weeks. I have noticed with considerable horror that several Christian church websites invite inquirers to call the church office and schedule a convenient Sunday for their baptism.

What is the origin of this abandonment of the NT precedent of baptizing converts “immediately” (Acts 16:33), and of the assumption that baptisms should be conducted only on Sunday as part of the church service? In modern times at least, this change can be traced back to the Reformer Huldreich Zwingli’s revisionist view of baptism, which he created ex nihilo in A.D. 1523-1525. Zwingli boldly repudiated the 1500-year view that baptism is for salvation, and substituted a completely new view of the PURPOSE of baptism. (This is explained thoroughly in my doctoral thesis, “Covenant and Baptism in the Theology of Huldreich Zwingli,” Princeton Theological Seminary 1971, summarized as “Baptism According to the Reformed Tradition,” which is chapter 2 in the book “Baptism and the Remission of Sins,” ed. David W. Fletcher, now published by Hester Publications, Henderson, TN.)

Zwingli patterned his new view of baptism after the meaning of the ancient Latin word “sacramentum” (“oath, covenant”) and after the meaning of circumcision in the OT. He taught that a person who has already been saved is baptized as a covenant sign, i.e., as a sign that he or she is already a member of the covenant people of God. It is an oath or pledge of allegiance that one will live faithfully for the Lord. The key question is this: FOR WHOSE SAKE does the believer submit to baptism and thus receive this sign of the covenant? For Zwingli the answer was simple: one receives baptism NOT for his own sake or for God’s sake, but for the sake of the Christian congregation. Here are his words: “For baptism is given and received for the sake of fellow-believers, not for a supposed effect in those who receive it.” It is “not given as a sign to those who receive it, but for the benefit of other believers” (for documentation and other such quotes, see my chapter in the Fletcher book, pp. 58ff.).

Tragically, Zwingli’s new view was adopted (via John Calvin) by most Protestants. Baptism is no longer seen as the meeting point between God and the sinner, but as the time when the new Christian announces, proclaims, declares, confesses, demonstrates, expresses, or gives evidence of his faith in Jesus to the Christian congregation. This language has been increasingly adopted by Restoration churches. Thus baptism has become a “church ritual” or “church ceremony” done for the sake of the congregation as such, rather than the climactic event of the individual’s personal journey to salvation, i.e., the sinner’s last act of obedience to the gospel. This is the reason it is usually incorporated into a Sunday church service, and why it may be postponed until any given Sunday.

I would strongly encourage all of us to abandon our nonchalance regarding the time of baptism, and to return to the apostolic sense of its urgency. We must baptize according to the need of the individual, not according to the church calendar.

117. Was It Possible for Jesus To Sin? 

by Jack Cottrellon Sunday, December 27, 2009 at 4:54pm

THE QUESTION IS OFTEN ASKED, could Jesus have sinned? We know that in fact he DID not sin (John 8:46; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 John 3:5; Heb. 4:15), and we know that he was TEMPTED to sin (Heb. 2:18; 4:15). But was it actually possible for him to sin? (I have addressed this question briefly in my book, “The Faith Once for All,” pp. 228-229. I am reproducing that discussion below.)

MY REPLY: A question that often arises concerning Jesus' sinlessness is whether or not it was POSSIBLE for him to sin. This question cannot be answered with certainty. Many assume that he could have sinned since he was truly human; others (including myself) reason that he could not sin since he was truly God. What complicates the issue is that, although he had two natures (human and divine), Jesus was just one person with one center of consciousness and one will. His sinlessness therefore was just as much an accomplishment of his human nature as his divine nature.

Those who aver that Jesus could have sinned use two basic arguments. One, Heb. 4:15 say that he was "tempted in all things as we are." If he was not able to sin, then the temptation would not have been real and similar to ours. Two, if he was unable to sin, then his value as an example for our own holy living is negated. What is the use of trying to follow "in his steps" (1 Peter 2:21-22) if his sinless steps were the result of a divine nature that we do not share?

In my judgment, even if Jesus could have sinned, this cannot be established by these two arguments, since they are not conclusive. That Jesus was truly tempted cannot be denied (Matt. 4:1-11; Heb. 2:18; 4:15), and he surely felt the force of the temptations whether he could have succumbed to them or not. As Joseph Stump says, we can subject pure gold to the most extreme test, all the while knowing it will stand the test because we know it is pure gold. The test is no less real, even if the result is not in doubt.

Likewise, that Jesus' sinless life was in some sense an example for us cannot be denied (Matt. 11:29; 16:24; John 13:15; Eph. 4:20; Phil. 2:5; 1 Peter 2:21-22). But this does not imply that Jesus lived a sinless life just for the purpose of providing us with an example, i.e., just to show us that it could be done. This is in fact a false notion, and is an aspect of the Christological fallacy. Jesus did not come for the purpose of showing us how to live a sinless life but to be the sacrifice for our sins. Some aspects of his life, e.g., his attitude of unselfishness (Phil. 2:5), do provide us with an example; but the crucial aspects of his life are those things that are unique about him and that we cannot imitate, e.g., the incarnation itself (Phil. 2:6-7), his atoning death (Phil. 2:8), and his efficacious resurrection and victorious enthronement (Phil. 2:9-11).

The fact that Jesus' life was an example for us at all is actually incidental to the main purpose of both his incarnation and his sinlessness. In particular, the sinlessness of Jesus' life was necessary so that he could be an acceptable sacrifice for our sins. He was "a lamb unblemished and spotless" (1 Peter 1:19) who "offered Himself without blemish to God" (Heb. 9:14). If he had committed even the least sin, he would have been a guilty sinner (James 2:10). In such a case he could not be our Savior, but would himself need a savior.

118. Two Questions about Free Will 

by Jack Cottrellon Sunday, December 27, 2009 at 4:20pm

TWO RELATED QUESTIONS: One reader has asked whether those who are saved still have free will in heaven. Another has asked a related question: how could Jesus be fully human and not be able to choose to sin? (This latter question assumes that Jesus could not sin, a view that I espouse.)

MY REPLY: The common assumption of these two questions is that a certain kind of free will is part of the essence of humanness. The free will assumed here is the ability to choose between opposites, without that choice’s being fixed or determined by some power outside the person’s own will. The important point is that our present freedom includes the ability to choose between good and evil. Based on Biblical teaching about human existence in this world, we must say that human beings do indeed have such free will in this earthly life.

At this point, though, I will raise a question that I do not think has been given enough attention: does the fact that human beings have such free will in this earthly life require that we must ALWAYS have it in order to be fully human? Is such free will truly part of the ESSENCE of humanness? This is sometimes just taken for granted, and this assumption gives rise to the above questions. But here I choose to use my own free will (!) to challenge this assumption. I regard this kind of free will to be a necessary aspect of our EARTHLY life as human beings. It is part of the nature of our earthly life as a probationary period, with the choices we make during this segment of our existence determining whether or not we are eternally saved or lost. But this does not require that human beings must ALWAYS have free will, in the sense described above.

Thus in answer to the first question above, the saved in heaven will indeed have freedom, but not free will in the sense of being able to choose to sin. When God perfects the saints (at death, even before the final heaven—Heb. 12:23), and confirms them in their holiness, they will no longer be able to sin. We will be confirmed in holiness as free creatures that have already demonstrated (by our free acts) our preference and desire for that state. In our final state we will be as spiritually pure and beautiful as a holy bride dressed for her wedding (Rev. 19:8). We will live forever in a completely glorified state, unable to sin again. But we will be fully human, and will still have a kind of freedom. In fact, we will never have been MORE human, or MORE free.

And in answer to the second question above, Jesus did not HAVE to be able to choose to sin in order to be truly human. True humanness, and true human freedom, does not require this ability. (Whether Jesus COULD have sinned is another question, and must be decided on other grounds. See my next note.)

True humanness without the ability to choose sin has two important analogies. The first is God himself, who is free to do whatever he pleases: “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3, ESV). He is free, yet he cannot sin (Job 34:10-12; James 1:13). This is the kind of freedom we will have in heaven. Second, we must infer that all angels originally had free will in the same probationary sense that human beings now do; some used their free will to choose sin (2 Peter 2:4), but some did not. Those who did not choose to sin appear to be now confirmed in their holiness, in the same way we will be in heaven.

119. Sunday: The Church's Special Day 

by Jack Cottrellon Saturday, December 26, 2009 at 10:44pm

SOMEONE HAS ASKED, “How do we get Sunday as a holy day?” I.e., why do we keep Sunday as the church’s special day, rather than Saturday? And why should the church gather for corporate worship on Sunday, rather than on Friday or Saturday? Is there something special about Sunday?

MY ANSWER: Sunday is indeed the church’s special day, and has been so since Jesus arose from the dead. This is so because world history is divided into two main epochs, the dividing point being the death and resurrection of Christ. By his redemptive work Christ divided history in two senses.

FIRST, history is divided in terms of COVENANT. This has to do with God’s relation to his special people—first Israel, then the Church. God related to Israel (the Jews) in terms of the first or old covenant, the one given through Moses and recorded in Exodus through Deuteronomy. Under the old covenant the special day was the Sabbath Day, which was our Saturday (Exodus 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-15). The main purpose of the Sabbath day was to honor God for redeeming the Israelite nation from Egyptian bondage. The main means of so honoring God was to rest from all labor, in contrast with their former life of slavery: “On [the Sabbath] you shall not do any work . . . . You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deut. 5:14-15, ESV). The choice of the SEVENTH day as the Jews’ day of rest was appropriate, because that was the day God rested from his work of creation (Gen. 2:1-3; Exodus 20:11).

The fact is, though, that we as Christians are living under a NEW and DIFFERENT covenant, one established by Jesus through his death and resurrection (Jer. 31:31-34; Luke 22:20; Heb. 8-10). Under the New Covenant the FIRST day of the week is the Church’s special day. We do not keep this special day by resting, because our deliverance was not from physical labor but from slavery to sin and death. Rather, we set aside this day for the purpose of celebrating Jesus Christ and his mighty work of redemption. It is a day of celebration, not a day of rest.

In the New Testament (the New Covenant Scriptures) the Sabbath commandment is the only one of the Ten Commandments that is not repeated in some way. It is no longer binding on the people of God (Col. 2:16). It is an OLD covenant requirement, and Christians live under the NEW covenant. But this is not the whole story—

SECOND; history is divided in terms of CREATION. Until the death and resurrection of Christ the entire world (not just the Jews) was living only under the regime of the first or old creation as described in Genesis 1. However, through his redemptive work Jesus inaugurated a NEW CREATION, a new sphere of existence within which the people of God now live and now serve him. Many will point to Gen. 2:1-3, as cited in Exodus 20:11, as evidence that Sabbath (seventh-day) keeping is not just an Old Covenant requirement but a creation ordinance and thus permanently binding. But the New Testament makes it clear that Jesus Christ began not only a new COVENANT, but also a whole new CREATION (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:10).

This new creation began specifically with the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the redemptive event in which Jesus himself became “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18, ESV), “the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29, ESV). His resurrection was on the first day of the week—Sunday (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). The first day of the week was appropriate because his resurrection was not the conclusion of something (the old creation) but was the beginning of something NEW—the NEW CREATION. Thus we are not surprised that the Apostles led the early church to gather to celebrate the Lord’s redemptive work on the FIRST DAY of the week—Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2.

The earliest Christian writers testify that Sunday, the first day of the week, was the church’s special day because it was the day of Christ’s resurrection. Ignatius (early 2nd century), in his letter to the Magnesians (paragraph 9) says that “those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death.” The Epistle of Barnabas (early or mid-second century), paragraph 15, says that God has told Christians, in effect, “I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead.” Justin Martyr (mid-second century), in his First Apology, chapter 67, says: “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read,” followed by preaching, prayer, and the Lord’s Supper. “But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.”

It seems to me that making all days the same, as if Friday or Saturday were just as appropriate a day of Christian remembrance as Sunday, denies or ignores the transition from old to new covenant and especially from old to new creation. (On Romans 14:5, see my commentary on Romans. The reference is not to the days of the week, but to the various special days set apart under the Old Covenant.)

120. Thoughts on Judas' Field 

by Jack Cottrellon Saturday, December 26, 2009 at 7:39pm

AN INQUIRER HAS ASKED about the field purchased with Judas’ thirty pieces of silver, and how to harmonize the data about it in Matthew 27:3-10 and Acts 1:18-19. The following is my reply.

In Matthew, Judas tries to return the 30 pieces of silver which he was paid for betraying Jesus, but the priests (hypocritically) refused it. Judas threw the money into the sanctuary, and went and hanged himself (no details are given). The priests gathered up the money, which technically still belonged to Judas since they had refused to take it back; they used Judas’ money to buy the Potter’s Field. “For this reason” the field became known as the “Field of Blood,” i.e., since the money which bought it was the “price of blood.” I.e., it was the money Judas took to betray Jesus to his death.

In the Book of Acts, the author Luke gives some further details about Judas’ death and about the “Field of Blood.” He says that “this man [Judas] acquired a field with the price of his wickedness” (NASB). The Greek word for “acquired” is “ktaomai,” which is sometimes translated “bought” (NIV). This latter translation leaves the impression that Judas himself actually purchased the field before he died. This is not the intended meaning, however. The word “ktaomai” often means “get, obtain, gain, acquire.” This is Luke’s point. Speaking with heavy irony (and maybe sarcasm), Luke is saying something like this: “Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, and all he got for his money was a field where his own death took place” (and maybe where he was buried). He did not actually make the purchase, but his money was used for that purpose. In that sense Judas “acquired” the field. (It’s like this message on many souvenir T-shirts: “My parents went on a cruise and all I GOT [acquired] out of it was this lousy T-shirt.”)

The order of events seems to be this: (1) Judas tried to return the money, was rebuffed, and threw down the coins anyway. (2) In remorse Judas hanged himself from a tree, but his rope broke and he fell onto some rocks, the fall rupturing his stomach. Whether this happened before or after his (attempted) strangulation is not known. (3) The priests took Judas’ money and bought the very field where his death occurred, for the purpose of burying strangers. Perhaps Judas himself was buried there, but we are not told.

Luke adds another detail concerning the name of the field. Matthew says it was called “the Field of Blood” (probably by the priests themselves) because the money used to buy it was “blood money.” But after the details of Judas’ death became known, the general population had another reason to call it “the Field of Blood.” Thus this nickname for the field had a double meaning.

121. Tips for Preparing Lord's Supper Meditations byJack Cottrellon Saturday, December 26, 2009 at 7:36pm
QUERY: Can you give some suggestions on how to prepare meditations for the Lord’s Supper? I hear many meditations that somehow do not seem to relate to the subject at hand.

MY REPLY: It is important that the meditation have just ONE MAIN IDEA, and that this idea be related in some way to the CROSS or DEATH of Christ. It is also important that the meditation be brief (usually no more than four or five minutes).

In preparing meditations, we must remember the PURPOSE of the Lord's Supper: "Do this in remembrance of Me" (Luke 22:19). The Supper is a "remembrance" in two senses. First, it is a MEMORIAL, an act of worship (praise, honor, thanksgiving) directed toward Jesus Christ to glorify him. Second, it is a means of REMEMBERING, an act of edification directed inward to strengthen our faith. In this latter sense, the Supper does not convey forgiveness for sins; we are justified (forgiven) 24/7 through our faith in Jesus. Rather, we should see the Supper as a weekly recharging of the batteries of our faith.

Thus the Lord’s Supper is a MEANS by which both kinds of “remembrance” take place. First, through the Supper, our faith holds up the cross. Second, through the Supper, the cross holds up our faith.

The purpose of a meditation, then, will be either to help people to worship God and honor Jesus for dying on the cross, or to help people to renew and strengthen their own faith. To best accomplish these purposes, the TONE of the meditation should be serious, with humor being very light and fleeting, if used at all.

How does one select an idea for a meditation? One may use the passages of Scripture that speak specifically of the Lord's Supper: Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 1 Cor. 11:23-29. However, one does not have to base a meditation on one of these texts. There are three main themes that occur throughout the Bible which may guide a meditation: (1) the CROSS or death of Jesus: the fact and its meaning; (2) our own FAITH in the cross: the fact and its result; and (3) the COMMUNION SERVICE itself: its elements and actions.

Here I will give two lists of possible SUB-THEMES upon which a meditation may focus. First, here are some sub-themes regarding the cross, and our faith in the cross: the cross itself, the act of crucifixion, nails, the spear, the crown of thorns, wounds, Christ’s body, blood, Christ’s blood specifically, the power of his blood, suffering, tears, sacrifice, death, substitution, redemption, propitiation, atonement, the obedience of Christ, the resurrection, the wrath of God, the grace of God, the love of God, our love for God, sin, forgiveness, the idea of a gift, life, assurance of salvation, spiritual warfare, spiritual growth, nearness to God, Christ as High Priest, Christ as Lamb of God, Christ as bread of life, Christ as man of sorrows, Christ as Good Shepherd. Of course, when using such themes for a Lord’s Supper meditation, they should always be related in some way to Christ’s death for our sins.

Second, here are some sub-themes related to the communion service as such: communion with Christ, communion with others, the presence of Christ, the physical elements of the service (the cup, the juice, the bread), the process of eating and drinking, feasting, Sunday (the Lord’s Day), weekly observance, memory, memorials, thanksgiving, joy, confession, self-examination, sins, repentance, tears (ours), proclamation, faith, rest, OT precedents. Again, when using such themes for a meditation, one should always tie them to Christ’s death for our sins.

What are some sources for specific ideas or themes? It goes without saying that the Bible is always our primary source, both the Old Testament and the New Testament. But one should not overlook hymns and books of poems. Also, one’s experiences may be used, especially as a basis for testimony. One can also use a meditation to refute false ideas about the Supper.

Remember: whatever the specific idea, it must in the end POINT TO THE CROSS, either to honor the
Savior's death or to strengthen personal faith.

122. My Book about the Ten Commandments 

by Jack Cottrellon Saturday, December 26, 2009 at 7:29pm

So far in my lifetime God has enabled me to write 20 books (“Set Free! What the Bible Says About Grace” being the last one). My first book was a small one (95 pp.), published by Standard Publishing in 1973, on the subject of the Ten Commandments. Its title was “His Way.” It is no longer in print in English, though it is published in the Polish and Spanish languages. About two years ago (Jan. 2008), on the occasion of a reprint edition of the Polish version, I was asked to prepare a new preface for it. I thought it might be of interest to my readers; so here it is:

I am pleased that my little book, “His Way,” is being published again in the Polish language, this time with the title “The Ten Commandments: How To Understand Them Today.” I first wrote this book about 35 years ago (1973) in English. It was based on a course I had been teaching at Cincinnati Bible Seminary called “Personal Ethics.”

Some may find it surprising that a book written so long ago, in another language for another culture, could still be useful today for modern Polish-speaking Christians. The reason it is still relevant, of course, is because its subject matter (the Ten Commandments), and though originally given around 35 HUNDRED years ago in yet another language and culture, is still as applicable and as needed today as ever.

These commandments are the heart and soul of God’s will for his people, and (except for the Sabbath commandment) are intended to form the backbone of His moral law for human beings in all times and places.

One reason these commands transcend all cultural, temporal, and language barriers is that they are general in nature, and as such are able and intended to be adapted to specific conditions and problems whenever and wherever they arise. For example, even since 1973, many new ethical issues have sprung up as the result of the now-ubiquitous use of computers and the internet. The Ten Commandments, however, are still the norm: computer porn is forbidden by the seventh commandment, computer fraud by the eighth commandment. The first commandment warns us not to make computers and computer games our god, and the tenth commandment warns us not to covet all the stuff so easily obtainable from internet sites.

These commandments, especially as interpreted for us by Jesus and the New Testament Scriptures, are still a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105). May this little book help to lead many along the path of righteousness illuminated thereby.

123. Is Multiculturalism Wrong? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, December 24, 2009 at 3:40pm

A RECENT INQUIRY: I was surprised to see you include multiculturalism in the category of (possible) wicked precursors to the second coming of Jesus in your book, “The Faith Once for All,” p. 534. One of my professors teaches that multiculturalism is a matter of social justice and human dignity, as in the case of the civil rights movement. This sounds like a good thing. Why do you associate it with wickedness?

MY REPLY: This question refers to my discussion of the “the nature of the last days,” according to Scripture, in “The Faith Once for All,” pp. 532ff. Here I describe three main characteristics of the end times. First, it will be a time of great FALSEHOOD. Second, it will be a time of great WICKEDNESS. Third, it will be a time of PERSECUTION. Are we in such a time? Concerning this issue I defend a concept I call “deliberate ambiguity.” I.e., the Biblical teaching about the precursors of the second coming is ambiguous enough to allow every age to identify world conditions that may possibly qualify as signs of the imminent return of Jesus. In the book I list various such contemporary elements that could well be indicators that his return will be soon. One such element is the prevalence of the idea of multiculturalism.

But here we must acknowledge that this term itself is somewhat ambiguous. If by "multiculturalism" one is referring (1) to the CIVIL right (but not necessarily the MORAL right) of all cultures to express their beliefs and traditions in their own unique ways, and (2) to every person's responsibility to respect that right, then I can accept what some call multiculturalism. Even if I seriously disagree, e.g., with the way some Muslim cultures treat women, or the way those in Hindu culture “worship” cows, I cannot physically force such cultures to change these beliefs and practices. I must acknowledge and tolerate their existence. This does not mean that I have to approve of them, however, and it does not prevent me from trying to convince them that these practices are wrong.

When I use the term "multiculturalism," however, I am referring to the common idea that there are NO elements within any given culture that can be legitimately criticized and considered to be wrong; and that all cultures must be respected, accepted, and tolerated as equally valid at all levels--including their religions and their beliefs as such, especially their views of God and salvation. Under such conditions all attempts to proselytize are considered to be wrong. As I am using it in this latter sense, multiculturalism is just another form of relativism, i.e., a denial of the concept of absolute truth. I see relativism in general as one of Satan's most effective and most destructive tools, and its dominance in recent decades may well be a sign that we are living in the "end times" when the "doctrines of demons" will prevail (1 Tim. 4:1). To the extent that one's concept of multiculturalism embraces relativism, to that extent it is Satanic.

124. Is It Wrong To Eat Blood (Acts 15:29)? 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, December 16, 2009 at 3:46pm

A RECENT QUESTION: Does Acts 15:28-29 forbid the eating of blood? In our culture cooked blood is one of our dishes and is very popular. What is the point here?

REPLY: Acts 15:28-29 is part of the letter sent out to Gentile Christians by the Jerusalem council, for the purpose of reducing conflict between Gentile Christians and Christians from the Jewish background. These verses read, “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell” (ESV).

The question is whether these prohibitions are intended to be universal and permanent, or whether they are situational, i.e., applying only to the Gentile Christians in the context of the above-mentioned conflict. What makes the former conclusion difficult is that at least one of the forbidden things is shown elsewhere in the NT to be a matter of opinion, i.e., not wrong in itself but something that should be avoided if it causes weaker brothers to stumble. I am referring here to the first item, eating meat sacrificed to idols. In Romans 14, 1 Cor. 8, and 1 Cor. 10:23-33, Paul declares that this is not wrong for those who have “knowledge,” i.e., who understand that idols are nothing. This seems to show that these four things are not forbidden here because they are a part of the moral law as such and are always wrong. This conclusion is also warranted by the fact that there are many things that are obviously always wrong from the standpoint of the universal moral law (e.g., lying, stealing) that are NOT included in this list.

But on the other hand, it is true that one of the prohibitions (against sexual immorality or fornication; Greek, “porneia”) IS obviously part of the universal moral law (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:12-20; Col. 3:5). This cannot be just a matter of opinion.

Thus we must ask, WHY are these four items, including the reference to “blood,” listed together here as things that the Gentile Christians must avoid? The best answer is that these are activities (1) for which Gentiles as such were particularly noted, and (2) which were especially offensive to the Jews. Thus in the interest of church unity (unity between the Gentile Christians and the Jewish Christians), the former are told to be especially careful to avoid these four things, even the ones that were not wrong in themselves. They were to do so in the spirit of love (Rom. 14:15), respecting the conscience of weaker brethren.

Why were the Jews specifically offended by these four things which they associated with the Gentile culture? Sexual immorality is always wrong, and the Jews would always be opposed to it based on the seventh commandment; but this was a sin that was especially rampant among the Gentiles. Thus it was incumbent upon the Gentile Christians to try extra hard to avoid it. For the monotheistic, Yahweh-worshiping Jews, no sin was worse than idolatry; thus eating meat that was taken from a sacrifice offered to idols would be greatly repulsive to them, even if there is nothing inherently wrong therewith. Thus the Gentiles should avoid such meat, in the interests of unity.

But why include the eating of blood and of something strangled (thus retaining its blood in its flesh) in the list of prohibitions? These were things forbidden to Jews by the Law of Moses (see Lev. 3:17; 7:26-27; 17:10, 14; 19:26; Deut. 12:16, 23), but are they still forbidden for Christians? No. The Law of Moses was part of the Old Covenant that was set aside by Christ and replaced by the New Covenant. Thus these prohibitions no longer apply. These practices are in the category of eating meat offered to idols: They were especially offensive to the first-century Jews, and the Gentile Christians were told to avoid them in the interests of love and of church unity. The same rule would apply today in any culture where eating blood is (wrongly) understood to be a grave sin. If there is no such danger of its causing serious disruption in the church, then this practice, as merely a matter of opinion today, can be engaged in without sin.

Some try to avoid the difficulty of explaining this prohibition by following a textual tradition that takes the reference to blood to mean SHEDDING blood (i.e., murder) rather than EATING blood. This is not the preferred explanation, though. It does not really fit the context of Jewish-Gentile disunity.

On this text, and on the matter of eating blood specifically, I recommend the commentary on Acts by R. C. H. Lenski. (He has an excellent commentary set on the entire NT.) Here is his conclusion regarding the inclusion of blood and things strangled in the list of prohibitions: “James mentions these two points because the Jewish Christians were especially sensitive regarding them. They, too, knew that these points of the law were abrogated but they still felt a horror of eating blood or any meat that had retained the blood. The Gentile Christians were asked to respect this feeling and thus from motives of brotherly love, and from these alone, to refrain from eating blood and meat that still had its blood” (616).

125. HOW Should One Study the Bible? 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, December 11, 2009 at 6:30pm

A FOLLOW-UP QUESTION: How can a Christian who has no formal training in Bible backgrounds and Bible languages get the most out of studying the Bible? An earlier note addressed the question of WHY study the Bible; now the question is, what are some practical suggestions on HOW to study the Bible?

MY REPLY: We acknowledge that Bible study is not necessarily easy; that’s why it is called a “spiritual DISCIPLINE.” It takes discipline and effort to pursue it. Here are some suggestions on how to do this. First, arrange a specific time and place for such study. Not everyone will arise at 4 a.m. and study the Bible for two hours before breakfast, like a few hardy souls I have known. But we should begin with at least a half hour or one hour per day, or on most days. This does not necessarily have to be the same time on each day. By setting a definite schedule ahead of time, we can identify the particular time slot on any given day when there are least likely to be distractions.

Second, what version or translation of the Bible should be used? Actually I believe that in doing serious Bible study one should have several versions on hand, one for the primary focus of study and the others for consultation and comparison. Although no English translation of the original Hebrew and Greek texts is perfect, some are better for study than others, for various reasons. The main consideration is to use a version that is as comfortably close to the original texts as possible.

This being said, I would recommend that one’s primary version for study be either the New American Standard Bible (NASB) or the English Standard Version (ESV). These translate the original texts more precisely and are closer to the wording and meaning of the original texts than most. Other versions for secondary comparison can include the New King James Version (NKJV), the New International Version (NIV), and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). Versions that are paraphrases, such as Today’s English Version, the New Living Translation, and The Message, can be occasionally consulted but cannot be depended upon for serious study.

Third, it’s okay to focus on those portions of the Bible that are more relevant to Christian living today. All Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable in some way for our spiritual lives, but not all Scripture is equally profitable. Bible books such as Leviticus, 1 and 2 Chronicles, and Lamentations, while not being ignored, need not be high on our list of priorities. Those near the top should include Genesis, Psalms, Proverbs, the Gospels, Acts, and the New Testament epistles.

Fourth, the actual procedure for study should begin with prayer—not a prayer for God to REVEAL the meaning of a passage to our minds, but a prayer that God will enable us to use all our thinking processes (analysis, logic, memory) in the most accurate and beneficial ways. There should also be a prayer for wisdom on how to apply the passage to our lives (James 1:5).

The next step is to read the day’s text several times from the primary Bible version, and to compare it with some of the other versions if there is time. Next, I recommend that one have on hand some basic reference works which can be consulted before, during, or after the reading of the text itself, as needed. What reference works may be used? Sometimes a student of the Word asks which “study Bible”—a Bible with introductory notes and brief explanatory comments—should be used. My basic answer is: do not use any of them. There are so many choices, many with a specific doctrinal agenda; thus often the notes cannot be trusted doctrinally. If one simply must have a study Bible, I recommend the “ESV Study Bible,” published by Crossway, as long as the student stays on guard against its Calvinism and faith-onlyism.

I actually prefer a very fundamental study tool, “Halley’s Bible Handbook.” It gives a brief introduction to each Bible book, and a brief summary of the main points of each chapter in the Bible. Also, one should have on hand a Bible dictionary—preferably one published by Moody, Zondervan, or Baker. A Bible concordance (Young’s, or Strong’s) can help one to find other texts using the same words as the text being studied. (Modesty ALMOST prevents me from recommending that a copy of my systematic theology, “The Faith Once for All,” be on hand for consultation [using the table of contents and indexes] regarding the general Biblical teaching on specific subjects addressed by the studied text. I said ALMOST.)

The key to successful Bible study is to develop a real LOVE for the Bible. To work on this, I recommend a continuing reading and study of Psalm 119, David’s 176-verse hymn of praise to God’s Word, and his expression of his own love for it.

126. Why Should a Christian Study the Bible? 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, December 11, 2009 at 6:27pm

QUESTION: Why should a Christian STUDY the Bible?

ANSWER: Someone might say, “I read my Bible every day!” But is simply reading the Bible the same as Bible STUDY? Not necessarily. Bible study certainly involves careful reading of Scripture, but it is more. In Bible study we are not just reading the text of Scripture. We are also asking two basic questions about the text: (1) What does it mean? I.e., when the original writer (e.g., Moses, David, Matthew, or Paul) wrote this text, exactly what point was he trying to make? (2) What does it mean TO ME? How can I apply this to my life, so that my life will be somehow changed by it? To answer such questions, one must not only read the Bible, but think about it as well. “Thinking about” something the Bible says is sometimes called “meditation” (see Psalm 1:2; 119:15, 97).

But the question is, WHY should a Christian do this? Why should anyone WANT to study the Bible (i.e., read it AND meditate on it)? Here are two main reasons.

The first reason is because of what the Bible IS, namely, the very words of God. The words of Scripture are in a real sense words that God himself has spoken to us. When the Psalmist David spoke of the inspired Scriptures available to him, he called them God’s Word (Psalm 119:9, 11, 16, 103, 105). Jesus referred to Old Testament Scripture as “the Word of God” (Mark 7:13; see John 17:17). Paul refers to the Old Testament as “the oracles of God” or “the very spoken words of God” (Rom. 3:2; see Heb. 5:12). In 2 Tim. 3:16 Paul affirms that “all Scripture is inspired by God.” “All Scripture” includes both the Old and New Testaments. The term “Scripture” refers to words that are written. “Inspired by God” means literally “breathed out by God,” as the English Standard Version (ESV) properly translates it.

Though the words of Scripture (in the original Hebrew and Greek text) were actually written down by human beings, these men were under the influence of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21). This means that whatever they wrote was either revealed to them directly by the Holy Spirit, or otherwise had the Spirit’s stamp of approval. Thus whatever they wrote was TRUE (John 17:17), namely, without error (John 10:35). How could we NOT want to study such writings as these?

The second reason why we should want to study the Bible is because of what the Bible DOES. The first thing it does is that it gives us food for our souls. We are all well aware of the necessity of food for keeping our bodies alive and well. In like manner the Bible—the Word of God—is food for the soul, including milk or simple teachings for new Christians and meat or solid food for more mature Christians (see Heb. 5:11-14; 6:5; 1 Peter 2:2). Just reading the Bible is more like smelling food than actually eating it. STUDYING the Bible is like chewing on it, swallowing it, and digesting it. Only in this way does the food of God’s Word keep us alive, make us strong, and help us grow.

Another thing the Bible does is that it gives us instructions about how to live. Whenever we buy a complicated new product, it comes with an instruction manual. Reading and following that manual is the only way to use the product safely and successfully. No product is more complicated than a God-created human being, and thankfully the Creator has provided us with the Bible as an instruction manual to show us how to live successfully for eternity. This is what David means when he declares that God’s Word “is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). “How can a young man keep his way pure?” he asks. “By keeping it according to Your word” (Psalm 119:9). Likewise Paul describes this purpose of the Bible when he writes, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

How can we hope to function properly in this life and to ultimately live forever, if we ignore our God-given instructions on how conduct ourselves now?

The third thing the Bible does is that it gives joy to our hearts when we truly accept it and study it as God’s own words to us. For someone who is physically separated from a loved one, nothing brings more joy than a message from that one—a “love letter,” as it were. The Bible in a real sense is our packet of love letters from God, the one who loves us dearly (John 3:16) and whom we love with all our hearts (Matt. 22:37; 1 John 4:19). Since God is not physically with us, the Bible as his very words to us is the most concrete form of his presence among us. How can we ignore these expressions of his love? We should echo the words of David, “Your testimonies . . . are the joy of my heart” (Psalm 119:111); “I rejoice in Your word” (Psalm 119:162).

127. Should Non-Members Participate in Leading Our Church Services? 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, December 4, 2009 at 11:27am

A RECENT REQUEST: Please give me your thoughts regarding individuals serving in the body (church) who have not understood and/or obeyed the Biblical Gospel. Do you think that such individuals should be singing and/or playing instruments (some being paid) during the traditional Sunday worship services – with the idea that this is a form of “service evangelism”? Should those that have not obeyed the gospel due to ignorance, reluctance and/or defiance serve alongside those that have followed the Biblical pattern? Please do not limit your response to the music ministry as I only used that as an example. I have spent some time searching for Scriptural precedents and would appreciate any further teaching on this that you might provide.

MY REPLY: In short, I believe that the ONLY ones participating in any way in our worship, teaching, and evangelism ministries should be immersed believers who are preferably members of our own congregation or at least verifiable members of a similar congregation (the latter in the case of visiting teachers, preachers, etc.).

Based on 2 Cor. 6:14ff., I believe our relationships with others fall into two categories: brotherly or family fellowship, and redemptive friendship. I can have the former only with fellow immersed believers. Based on a study of what the NT teaches about church assemblies in the apostolic era (see below), I believe that worship services should be in the former category. In the service we should be united by the "ones" of Eph. 4:4-6; We are joining together as one body constituted as such via one faith and one baptism, worshiping one God and serving one Lord through one Spirit, confident of our one hope of eternal life together. (See Acts 2:42.)

A main reason why we are lax in this matter (including many congregations I am quite familiar with) is that the musical aspect of our worship often assumes the character of performance if not downright entertainment, so that what matters most is external talent. Another reason is the popularity of the "seeker sensitive" mentality, which sees the content of our assemblies as mainly addressing non-members. In such a context, involving non-members in worship activities becomes a kind of evangelistic tool; but this is self-defeating because it leaves the impression that the non-member is already "one of us."

The whole seeker-sensitive concept goes directly against almost all of the NT's teaching about church assemblies and their purpose. See my book, “The Faith Once for All,” chapter 26: "The Church: Its Assemblies." When you examine everything the NT has to say about church assemblies, there is almost nothing about any believer-to-unbeliever contact. It is all believer-to-believer, believer-to-God, and God-to-believer. This does not mean that we should be insensitive to any unbelievers who are present; indeed, we should seek and welcome as many of them as possible. But I believe that what will make the church, and the gospel as such, truly attractive to them is not our blending in with them and minimizing the differences between "us" and "them," but our fervent and sincere example of what makes the church DIFFERENT from the unbelieving world.

128. Does Jesus Have "the Same Body" from Birth Throughout Eternity? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, December 3, 2009 at 12:47pm

AN INTERESTING QUERY: I was just reading a Christmas message by Leith Anderson, and I'm not completely sure about it. He says, "Never think that [Christ’s] body was only for the one generation from Bethlehem's manger to Calvary's cross. This was permanent. God became human forever. . . . It was the same body that ascended up into heaven and is there now. It is the same body that the Bible predicts, and Jesus promises, will come back to earth again. It is the same body he will wear forever and ever through all of eternity." Now, Paul says that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 15:50). Yet Anderson's claim seems to suggest that Jesus' flesh-and-blood body does inhabit that kingdom. Is it important whether or not he has that same body?

MY REPLY: Without the full context, I cannot be sure what Anderson means by “the same body.” It may be that he is using this as shorthand for “the same human nature,” i.e., the same identity as Jesus of Nazareth. This is certainly the point of his statement, “God became human forever.” With this I agree. When the Logos began his existence as the human person, Jesus, at the incarnation, he was committed to continuing to exist as that human being forever.

However, the actual wording of the brief excerpt from Anderson suggests something else, i.e., that since the incarnation the human person Jesus of Nazareth has had and will eternally continue to have just ONE AND THE SAME BODY. The wording implies—no, affirms—that the body that lay in the manger, hung on the cross, ascended into heaven, is seated on the heavenly throne, will be worn by Jesus at his second coming, and will be his for eternity “is the same body.”

This of course is simply not true. Jesus of Nazareth has actually already had TWO bodies. The first was the body supernaturally formed in Mary’s womb in the event usually called the virgin birth, but which was more precisely the virgin conception. This body continued to develop as any human body is supposed to do, and grew into manhood and ultimately died on the cross. Concerning what happened next, I disagree with most Bible interpreters. Most assume that sometime between his burial in Joseph’s tomb and his emergence from that tomb on resurrection Sunday, Jesus’ body became transformed into his new, glorified, eternal body, i.e., the one that is now seated at the Father’s right hand in the heavenly throne room. I believe otherwise. I believe that, for evidential purposes, the body that came out of the tomb was the SAME BODY that was buried there, and which had been miraculously preserved and raised from the dead. This body was identical with the one that died, down to the nail-prints and spear wound. This continuity was necessary so that there would be no doubt that the risen Christ was indeed the same Jesus that the witnesses had known before his death.

What first started me thinking about this was John’s testimony in 1 John 3:2, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” Now, the Bible is clear that OUR glorified resurrection bodies will be modeled after the body Jesus NOW has: “[Jesus] will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory” (Phil. 3:21). But John saw Christ in his body several times after the resurrection, yet he says “it has not appeared as yet what we will be.” Only when Jesus returns will we see his new body, and our new bodies will be just like it! (During his 40 days of post-resurrection appearances, Jesus did a number of miraculous things with his old body [Mark 16:12; Luke 24:16, 31, 36; John 20:19, 26]; but he did not need a new body to do these things.)

I have concluded that Jesus’ old, original, crucified, and raised-up body was supernaturally transformed into his new, perfected, glorified, and eternal body at some point during his ascension into the cloud of God’s presence as recorded in Acts 1:9. He entered that cloud in his old body, and came out “on the other side,” in the heavenly throne room, in his new body. This is the body to which Paul refers in Phil. 3:21. It is the body Stephen saw (Acts 7:55), the body John saw (Rev. 4:6), the body every eye will see at the second coming (Rev. 1:7), and the body in which Jesus will be seated on the judgment throne in the final judgment (2 Cor. 5:10). Most significantly, it is the body Jesus our Redeemer will have for eternity as he joins us in our final heaven, where he will live with us forever upon the redeemed earth (part of “the new heavens and the new earth”). Upon the new earth God the Father will manifest himself to us in a new and permanent theophany (Rev. 21:3, 5, 22; 22:3); and the divine-human person, the eternal Logos incarnated as Jesus of Nazareth, will dwell among us in his (like ours) glorified human body. In Revelation John mentions several times the Savior’s presence with us in his persona as “the Lamb” (7:17; 21:22-23; 22:1, 3).

It is indeed important to see that Jesus does not have the same identical body from the manger on throughout eternity, because his human experience in this regard is the pattern for his spiritual siblings, the rest of God’s glorified family. In our own heavenly existence we shall be “conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn [from the dead—Col. 1:18] among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). I cannot speak for everyone, but I know for sure that I myself do not want to live for eternity in my present body!! (A corollary of all this is that in heaven we shall NOT know Jesus “by the print of the nails in His hands,” since his perfected, glorified body—like ours—will contain no traces of sin’s curse upon it.)

129. Fully God and Fully Man: The Incarnation and Philippians 2:5ff. 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 11:13pm

QUERY: We speak of the dual nature of Christ, i.e., His divinity and His Humanity; and how when He walked upon the earth, He was fully God and fully man. This raises the question of Philippians 2:6-7, which says that “although He existed in the form of God,” He “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” How can we reconcile the idea that the incarnate Christ was fully God, if in His human form He “laid aside his 'equality' with God?”

MY RESPONSE: This text does indeed say that the eternally pre-existing Logos, in his prehuman state, was fully divine. However, it does NOT say that the Logos LAID ASIDE his equality with God when he became a human being. I have explained the words of this passage in my book, “The Faith Once for All,” in chapter 13, on “The Person of Christ.” The following excerpt is from pp. 248-249:

In Phil. 2:6 two phrases are applied to the pre-existent Christ: "in the form of God" and "equality with God." The word for "form" is “morphe.” Sometimes in English we used the word "form" to represent the outward, non-essential, changeable aspects of something, as opposed to its essence or content. But that is definitely not the connotation of “morphe.” This Greek word actually refers to the intrinsic, essential nature of a thing, its unchanging essence. It refers to the sum of those characteristics that make a thing precisely what it is. Thus that Jesus existed in the “morphe” of God means that in his prehuman state he possessed all the attributes of deity, all the intrinsic characteristics that make God GOD. The other expression is parallel to this: he existed in a state of "equality with God." This phrase "expresses the God-equal existence of our Lord Jesus Christ in His prehuman state, and He has this condition of existence because He is very God from all eternity" (George Lawlor, “When God Became Man” [Moody 1978], p. 61). His deity is complete.

Paul's main point in this text has to do with the Logos' preincarnate state of mind or attitude toward his equality with God, an attitude we are exhorted to emulate (v. 5). Exactly what was this attitude? He "did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped." "A thing to be grasped" translates “harpagmos,” which occurs only here in the NT. It is from the verb “harpadzo,” meaning "to steal, to seize, to snatch up, to take away forcefully." This is why the KJV says he "thought it not robbery to be equal with God." But robbery is not the point. Here the noun refers to an act of grasping or clutching. Thus it could mean that the Logos did not consider his equality with God a thing to be grasped after, since it was already his by nature. The contextual emphasis on the attitude of the Logos suggests another meaning, though. I.e., he did not consider his status of equality with God as something to be selfishly guarded or clutched or clung to, but he was willing to set it aside in some sense in order to accomplish salvation for lost mankind. Herein lies his exemplary unselfishness.

As a result of his unselfish attitude, the Logos "emptied Himself" (v. 7). The verb here is “kenoo,” which means "to empty, to make void." This is related to the noun “kenosis,” which, though not found in the NT, is usually used in discussion of this verse. What does it mean to say that the Logos "emptied Himself"? One major approach, represented especially by 19th-century kenosis theology or kenotic theology, is that in the incarnation the Logos emptied himself of some or all of his divine attributes. He "laid aside his deity," or at least divested himself of certain metaphysical attributes such as omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. As the TEV translates it, "He gave up all he had." The result is that the incarnate Logos is less than fully God. Such a view is, of course, impossible, because it requires the rejection of certain basic attributes of God, especially his unity of simplicity and his immutability (see Cottrell, “God the Creator,” 35-37). It also contradicts Heb. 13:8, as well as Col. 2:9. The latter says that in Christ Jesus "all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form." Lawlor rightly says (p. 89), “Thus it is impossible for Christ to cease to be God, to divest Himself of any or all of His attributes, to empty out of Himself His essential nature, or even to exchange it for another, at any time. The self-emptying must conform with this fact; hence, it does not, cannot, teach that our Lord surrendered, laid aside, exchanged, emptied out, or divested Himself of His deity or of any part of it.”

What, then, does it mean to say that the Logos "emptied Himself"? Basically it has to do with function, not essence. Though the Logos continued to be equal with God in his nature, as the incarnate Son of God he voluntarily laid aside the prerogatives, privileges, and advantages of deity and chose instead to experience the limitations of human life, even in the role of a servant. He did not selfishly insist on his "rights" as a divine being. He did not cling to the glories and luxuries of his divine status. Instead the unselfish Prince volunteered to live as a pauper (2 Cor. 8:9). As Lawlor puts it, he did not give up "the possession of the divine attributes, nor entirely their use, but rather the independent exercise of those attributes" (p. 85). As the KJV says, he "made himself of no reputation." He "made himself nothing" (NIV).

How did he do this? Not by SUBTRACTING something from his divine nature, but by ADDING something to it, i.e., by "taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men" (v. 7). He added to it not just the full human nature of Jesus of Nazareth, but also the subordinate role of a servant who was unselfishly willing to go to his death on the cross for our salvation (v. 8). As Lawlor says, "Our Lord Jesus Christ, in becoming man, entered into the experience of human limitation, human weakness and impoverishment, human dependence, and human subjection. This was in singular contrast with the glory and plenitude He possessed in the form of God" (p. 82). But through all of this, "He did not thrust aside and renounce his Godhead"; "He never ceased to be God" (pp. 80, 82).

130. Must Deacons Have Children? 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 4:43pm

A RECENT QUERY: I was recently nominated at my home church to serve as a Deacon. However, my wife and I have no children and we do not see any in the near future. But 1 Tim. 3:12 says, “Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.” Having no children of my own leaves me with a lack of life experience when dealing or ministering to other Christians with families. What should I do? Should I accept the nomination?

MY REPLY: I appreciate your conscientiousness on this issue. You must follow your conscience, even if there may be more than one way to answer your question. My own conviction is that this verse is not an absolute requirement that deacons must have children. I take it to mean thus: "Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and (if they have children) good managers of their children and their own households." Having children would be the usual and normal circumstance in that day and to a lesser extent even today, and I think the qualifications address the usual and normal circumstances. I don't think this qualification is intended to insure that all deacons must have experience in dealing with children, since the main tasks of deacons (as far as we know) do not include family counseling. The point is to insure integrity in all matters, including one’s home life. My judgment is that if you are content with how you measure up with the other qualifications, I would not let this one factor stand in my way.

131. Divorce, Remarriage, and Church Offices 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 2:50pm

ANOTHER QUESTION ON DIVORCE: How does Scripture apply to a man who was married and divorced as a non-believer, then has married again as a believer? How this would apply to his qualifications for church leadership as defined in 1 Timothy 3:2, 12?

MY ANSWER: If a man was BIBLICALLY divorced as a non-believer, then he was morally free to remarry (regardless of who was the guilty party), either before or after becoming a Christian. Thus his present marriage is the only legitimate and valid marriage, and he should do all he can to preserve and nurture it.

If the man was married and UNBIBLICALLY divorced as a non-believer, then he was not morally free to remarry until something happened to truly break the marriage bond (i.e., sexual activity by either party, or remarriage by the other party). A legal divorce per se does not break the marriage bond, and—this is very important—becoming a Christian does not break the marriage bond. Thus, if there was no sexual activity after the divorce by either party, and if the spouse was not remarried, then the man was not morally free to remarry; and when he did remarry (even as a Christian), he committed a sin. Both he and his new wife should sincerely repent of the sin committed by beginning the new marriage, accept and be at peace with God’s forgiveness, and then put all of this in the past. The new marriage is now the only legitimate and valid marriage, and should be preserved and nurtured. The new couple is NOT "living in adultery."

How does this relate to the qualification for elders and deacons, that a man must be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2; see v. 12)? In my judgment this qualification is not about whether a man has been divorced and remarried; it is about his present (not his pre-Christian) understanding of and commitment to God’s teaching about and purpose for marriage. Literally the qualification is that he must be a “one-woman man” (“mias gunaikos andra”). I.e., he must (now) be thoroughly committed to God’s original purpose for marriage as a life-long, exclusive covenant relationship between one man and one woman; and his present marriage must be a solid testimony to that commitment.

132. Divorce and Remarriage in Light of 1 Cor. 7:10-16 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 12:38pm

QUESTION: I am trying to help two believers who are in marriage counseling. She wants a divorce, but he does not. He wants to know what he is supposed to do if she divorces him. I told him that the Scripture that applies best to this situation is 1 Cor. 7:10-15. I suggested that even though she claims to be a believer, she is making a lifestyle choice that is contrary to God’s Word and therefore acting as if she is an unbeliever; so I think this text would apply. She is the one sinning in wanting the divorce, not him. Even so, he should try to do all he can to save the marriage, but he can no more keep her from leaving (because of free-will) than God could keep us from rejecting His offer of salvation. I am still not sure how this would affect remarriage. So here are my questions:
(1) Is 1 Cor. 7:10-15 applicable to a believer (acting as an unbeliever) who wants to divorce another believer (who doesn’t want the divorce)?
(2) What should I say to the latter about remarriage? Does he need to wait until she remarries (or has sexual intimacy with another man) before he could initiate another relationship?

MY REPLY: The situation you describe is heart-breaking. In all my years of teaching and writing on ethical issues, I have found the subject of divorce and remarriage to be the most complicated. In answer to your first question, it is not possible to consider the deserting spouse (1 Cor. 7:11) to be transformed from a believer into an unbeliever by the act of desertion alone. This goes against my best understanding of grace and of what is involved in falling from grace. One sin does not separate a believer from Christ. All of us are still sinners in many ways. If, as a result of counseling by pastoral leadership, the deserting spouse clearly accepts the fact that she is sinning but displays a rebellious "I don't care" attitude, this might be construed as a rejection of the Lordship of Christ, which is a major component of unbelief.

In answer to your second question, I believe the original marriage bond is not broken until one of these two conditions occurs: desertion, as in 1 Cor. 7; or sexual immorality (porneia), as in Matt. 19:9. This is true even if a legal divorce has been granted. This means that the first of the ex-spouses who engages in sexual activity (either within a new marriage or not) actually breaks the bond. From that point on either party is free to remarry without (further) sin. The innocent party (in this case the husband) is indeed the victim of his selfish wife's selfish choice, and must remain unmarried until one of these things occurs. That's my best understanding.

FOLLOW-UP QUESTION: I ran across this quote on the subject: “Scripture presents two clear violations of the marriage covenant (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6): desertion (which violates the command to “bond”) and adultery (which violates the command to be “one flesh”); breaking of these are legitimate grounds for divorce (and thus remarriage). Where there has been no such rupture, remarriage after divorce is not an option. When possible, however, reconciliation is the ideal.” Now, if I read this correctly, it seems that the writer is saying that if one marriage partner chooses to leave the marriage and not to reconcile (i.e., desertion), then that partner would be in violation of the marriage covenant and would thus create a legitimate divorce in God’s eyes, leaving the other partner with a clear conscience for remarriage. Would you agree with this?

MY REPLY TO THE FOLLOW-UP: The writer is correct that desertion is a valid grounds for divorce (AND remarriage). In this quotation, however, what the writer omits is that Paul's instruction about this in 1 Cor. 7 specifies that the deserting spouse is a NON-BELIEVER. You have to ask yourself, why does he limit this to a non-believer? Is he saying that this grounds does not apply if the deserting spouse is a believer? This is how I have always taken it.

133. Patriotic Songs in the Church? 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, November 27, 2009 at 4:14pm

HERE IS A RECENT REQUEST: I am wrestling with whether or not it is okay to sing patriotic songs during the church service. I personally do not want to sing anything doctrinally unsound. So far I find it difficult to find any patriotic song that is doctrinally correct. For instance, in “God Bless America,” I mainly have trouble with the pledging allegiance part: "Let us swear allegiance to a land that is free.” I can see the idea of the song being a prayer, but I have trouble with swearing allegiance to anything but to God. It seems as if we are making America a false idol.

Also, songs like “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” and “America the Beautiful” seem to be praising the USA, not God. In the latter, the line that says "and crown thy good with brotherhood" may portray to some that if you are good you will gain entry into heaven.

I have never had a problem honoring veterans or anything like that; I am just concerned that on “patriotic” Sundays we may come close to taking much of the focus off of God.

MY COMMENTS: First, you must follow your conscience in this matter, as in all others. Even if you have a moral conviction about something that is in reality a matter of opinion, you must still be true to your own convictions, without judging others on the issue. See Paul’s instructions on this in Romans 14 (and see my commentary on Romans for my explanation of this chapter).

Second, here are some considerations that may help you with your concerns. For one thing, I sometimes have problems with the specific wording of a particular hymn. In such cases, I feel free to substitute words or phrases that are doctrinally correct. E.g., in “To God Be the Glory,” a line says, “The vilest offender who truly believes, THAT MOMENT from Jesus a pardon receives.” This is clearly a faith-only assertion, and I simply will not sing it. I sing instead the words, “The vilest offender who truly believes, WILL SURELY from Jesus a pardon receive.” If I were leading the singing and using this song, I would use it as a teaching moment and have everyone sing the line with the new words.

For another thing, on the subject of patriotism in general, it is important to make a distinction between the land or country as such, and the government that is in power over it. I do love America the beautiful, and I pray that God will bless it. It is a marvelous country, one of the best in the world, no matter what government may be in charge at any particular time. I can love the country and hate its government. I can fight for my country and oppose its government at the same time. When I sing about America, I am thinking only of the country.

A third consideration is that we should distinguish between absolute allegiance and relative allegiance. Our only absolute, unconditional allegiance or loyalty is to God. This does not mean that we cannot “swear allegiance” or have loyalty and commitment to other things on other levels. The word “allegiance” simply means “loyalty.” My Webster’s unabridged says it is “loyalty or devotion to some person, group, cause, or the like.” E.g., I have loyalty to my alma mater, Cincinnati Bible Seminary. I have loyalty to my family, and to my church. I can swear my allegiance or loyalty to any of these. Likewise I can swear my loyalty to my country. None of these objects of my loyalty takes the place of God, though, who alone receives my absolute, unconditional loyalty. See Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men”—when we have to make a choice between them.

Another consideration is that it is of course possible for any of these lesser objects of loyalty to become an idol; this is simply something against which all of us must always be on guard. We can see glimpses of this in the slogan, “My country, right or wrong.” I do not see singing patriotic songs as a form of idolatry, though. We can “praise” our country, i.e., call attention to its bounty and blessings, without the word “praise” having any religious connotations. For example, see how the Psalms praise the land of Israel or the city of Jerusalem, e.g., “Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion in the far north, the city of the great King” (Ps. 48:2; see vv. 12-13).

One last thought, about “crown thy good with brotherhood.” Relax. I cannot see how anyone would make a connection between this line and salvation by works.

134. "A Church That Fits" 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, November 27, 2009 at 2:52pm

HERE’S A RECENT REQUEST: I'd like your comments on the following: "Find a church that fits. Do not go into Christ's Church and expect to change it to fit you. People of faith need others of like faith to worship with in order to grow and seek a relationship with God. Find a church that fits, so together you can better seek God's purpose for your life." This was written in a church's newsletter, and it has caused quite an uproar.

MY REPLY: This statement is ambiguous because it can be taken in different ways. It calls to mind the familiar distinction between “matters of faith (or essentials)” and “matters of opinion.” If the writer of the statement is talking about matters of opinion, i.e., items for which there is no Biblical affirmation or mandate, the statement has some validity. If the cultural flavor of a local congregation is not to your liking but is satisfactory to its current members, you have no right to challenge its practices with a divisive attitude just to try to bring it into conformity with your opinions. This can apply to the music issue. If a particular congregation is happy with its style of music and does not want to change, and you do not like that music style, then it would indeed be best to “find a church that fits” your preferences in that area.

The biggest problem with this approach, though, is those situations where there is no alternative within a reasonable distance. Sometimes, in general areas where only one faithful New Testament congregation exists, a family may be required to drive a considerable distance in order to accommodate their preferences; and in some cases there may be nothing really available. The temptation in such an instance is to begin attending a denominational church congregation, one that teaches false doctrine but has the preferred music style. I have two comments about this kind of situation. First, it is better to endure bad music than to support false doctrine. Second, there is no excuse for the leadership of any congregation to ignore the preferences of some in the congregation if some kind of compromise can possibly be reached.

But there is another way to take the original statement above. It is possible that its author is speaking not of matters of opinion, but matters of faith, i.e., doctrinal affirmations of Scripture. This interpretation is suggested by the reference to “others of like faith.” If this is the intention of the statement, then I seriously object to its relativistic or pluralistic implications. In this case it would be implying that “one church (or denomination, or faith) is as good as another,” and that we should not desire that any of them should change. We should just join the one that is closest to our own beliefs and not be judgmental about any others. This I cannot accept.

In “matters of faith and practice,” the acceptability of a church or congregation is not determined by whether or not it FITS ME, but whether or not it “fits” or measures up to the teachings of the Bible, the Word of God. A church that does not “fit” the Biblical pattern does not really “fit” any human being. What should be “causing an uproar” among us is the fact that so many of our preachers and teachers and scholars have become so indifferent toward sound doctrine that they are almost completely tolerant of any sincere belief, no matter how unbiblical.

135. Baptism and Calling on His Name 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, November 27, 2009 at 12:55pm

QUESTION: Is it possible to correlate the Scripture that exhorts us to "call upon the name of the Lord" with 1 Peter 3:21, where Peter says that baptism is our "appeal" to God? In other words, is the exhortation to call upon the name of the Lord, in essence, baptism?

MY REPLY: The closest thing to an exhortation to call upon the name of the Lord is Acts 22:16, where Ananias addresses the repentant Saul of Tarsus, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” There are four verb forms here. Two are imperatives: “get yourself baptized” and “wash away your sins.” Two are aorist participles, indicating action that PRECEDES that of the main verbs. Thus the meaning is something like this: “Having arisen, and having called upon His name, get yourself baptized and wash away your sins.”

The act of “calling on the name of the Lord” is mentioned in Joel 2:32, “And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the LORD [Yahweh] will be delivered.” This is quoted in Acts 2:21, “And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord [kurios] will be saved.” In this context the “Lord” is Jesus; see vv. 34-36. Joel is also quoted in Rom. 10:13, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord [kurios] will be saved.” Again it is clear that Jesus is the “Lord” upon whose name we must call (Rom. 10:9). From all these texts it is more than clear that the purpose of calling on his name is a cry or prayer for salvation. This must be the meaning in Acts 22:16, too.

Thus we see in Acts 22:16 that Saul is instructed to do four things: (1) to arise, (2) to call upon the Lord Jesus for salvation, (3) to get himself baptized, and (4) to wash away his sins. The sequence is quite clear and logical, and it must not be tampered with. Saul is kneeling, reclining, or sitting, and thus must first arise in order to be immersed. Second, he must call upon the Lord’s name for salvation, which is the essence of the confession in Rom. 10:9, “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.” Third, he must be baptized, which in Acts 22:16 is middle voice, usually taken in the sense of “get yourself baptized” (not “baptize yourself”). Last, he is instructed to wash away his sins, which of course he himself does not and cannot do, except in the sense that following the previous three instructions will lead to this result.

Based on Acts 22:16, where “having called on His name” is an aorist participle, usually indicating action that precedes the action of the main verb (here, “get baptized” and “wash away”), I cannot say that the “calling on His name” and baptism are equivalent. Even if the participle were present tense, indicating action that is happening at the time of the main verb, this would not necessarily be the case. One could be calling on His name WHILE being baptized. The fact that Rom. 10:9 says that confessing Jesus as Lord is something done orally (“with your mouth”) shows, I think, that the calling on His name must be more than just the act of baptism as such.

But when we correlate Acts 22:16 with 1 Peter 3:21, I think it is fair to say that baptism is PART OF the sinner's calling on the name of the Lord (as in Acts 22:16). In 1 Peter 3:21 the apostle says that baptism saves us because it is “an appeal to God for a good conscience.” The Greek word “eperotema” most certainly in this verse means “appeal, prayer” (NOT pledge or response). Thus we can think of baptism as a prayer to God for a good conscience. “The person who submits to baptism is by that very act calling upon God to do what he has promised to do in that moment. Baptism saves because it is the prayer of the human heart crying out to God for spiritual cleansing by His grace” (Cottrell, “Baptism: A Biblical Study,” 2 ed., 2006, p. 150).

These two verses (Acts 22:16 and 1 Peter 3:21) must always be considered together. They both show us the saving significance of baptism, and they show us that baptism and calling on the Lord’s name OVERLAP. I.e., baptism IS calling on the Lord's name, but it is also more. And calling on the Lord's name IS baptism, but it is also more.

136. Can Satan Cast Out Satan? 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, November 27, 2009 at 11:31am

A RECENT QUESTION: By what authority did those in Matthew 7:21-23 and Luke 9:49 apparently succeed in removing demons apart from Christ, if it is also true that "Satan cannot cast out Satan" as the Lord said?

MY REPLY: In Matthew 7:22-23 Jesus says, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” From what Jesus says in v. 23, it is clear that these people are not Christians. Also, from what he does NOT say, it may be concluded that the claims of these people in v. 22 are true: they really did prophesy, do miracles, and cast out demons. I.e., he never said their claims were false. But how could they do these things if they are not Christians?

I have concluded that they do these things from the deceptive power of Satan. Satan can empower miracles (Matt. 24:24; 2 Thess. 2:9), even by people who THINK they are doing them in Jesus’ name. All three of these activities (prophesying, which is a general term that can include tongue-speaking, Acts 2:17; working miracles, such as healing; and casting out demons) can be Satanic in origin.

But how is this consistent with what Jesus says in Matt. 12:26? In response to the Pharisees’ accusation that He was casting out demons by Satan’s power (v. 24), Jesus responds that this would make Satan be fighting against himself, which is self-defeating (v. 25). “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand?” (v. 26). Jesus goes on to reveal that he is casting out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 28).

How may we resolve this apparent contradiction? First, the Name of Jesus in itself, representing the power and authority of Jesus, is powerful enough to force demons to leave a person, even if the one using that Name is not a true believer. That may be the case in Luke 9:49-50; see also the incident involving the seven sons of Sceva in Acts 19:13-17, where the Name of Jesus exerts power over an evil spirit in an unexpected way.

Second, there apparently were Jewish exorcists who had some success in casting out demons apart from using the Name of Jesus (Matt. 12:27; Acts 19:13). As Jews, they would be evoking the Name and power of Yahweh as He was known through Old Testament revelation. Thus it is possible that the ones of whom Jesus speaks in Matt. 7:22-23 began as Jewish exorcists and then began to use the Name of Jesus in their exorcisms without ever surrendering their lives to Christ.

There is a third consideration, however, that I believe is the best explanation of the problem here. One thing we learn, both from Scripture and from Christians who have been involved in deliverance ministry, is that there is a hierarchy of authority within the realm of demons. Satan himself is the chief demon or chief fallen angel (Matt. 12:24); he was probably an archangel before he sinned (cf. Jude 9; Rev. 12:7, where Satan seems to be equal in authority with Michael). See Mark 9:29, and Paul’s frequent use of the “principalities and powers” terminology when referring to demons (e.g., Eph. 1:21; Col. 2:15).

What this means is that some demons are more powerful than others, and can address the weaker ones with orders that must be obeyed. For example, missionaries have testified that witch doctors possessed by powerful demons can indeed drive weaker demons out of the bodies of people who come to them for help with some kind of problem. How is this consistent with Matt. 12:26, though? The answer is provided by one of the first modern evangelical experts on demonology, Kurt Koch. He testifies that in his wide experience with occultic and demonic situations, he observed many cases where Satanic power apparently helped a victim of Satan’s wiles (e.g., provided healing), but there was always a catch, or a trade-off. He may deliver an afflicted person from a demon that is causing one kind of problem, but that person always develops some other kind of problem later. I can’t remember Koch’s exact terms here, but I think he calls this something like the “law of compensation.” I.e., Satan never does something for nothing.

Thus, when Jesus suggests that Satan cannot “cast out Satan,” he is referring to TRUE deliverance where Satan’s minions are TRULY cast out. Any situation where demons are driven out of a person by Satan’s own power (as probably in Matt. 7:22) is actually a FALSE deliverance, i.e., one that is temporary or is an exchange for an even greater oppression by the devil.

137. What About Tithing? 

by Jack Cottrellon Monday, November 23, 2009 at 11:25pm

THE QUESTION: Does the Bible say anywhere that all of one’s tithe has to go to the local church, or can it go to other organizations?

MY REPLY: First, I have some reservations about the view that the tithe is a requirement in this NT era (see below). But assuming for the sake of the question that the tithe is the standard, I will answer thus: nowhere does the NT say that all of our offering (10% or otherwise) must go to the local congregation. In fact, much of Paul's writing about giving has to do with the offerings he collected on his missionary journeys to take to Jerusalem for benevolent purposes (see Rom. 15:25-27; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8 & 9). This is in fact the bulk of the NT teaching on giving.

I do believe, however, in view of the local church's great need, and also in view of the fact that we do support many missionaries in other places with our local giving, that the greatest portion of our giving should go to the local church. I also believe, in view of the fact that some people are very naive about who would be worthy recipients of non-local giving, that anyone who wants to give part of his or her tithe to a non-local organization ought to seek the wisdom and guidance of the missions committee or some other knowledgeable leader as to the worthiness of that organization. Too often we have well-meaning people sending their offerings to Calvinist or faith-only ministries, or even to quasi-secular organizations.

(On a personal note, a large portion of my family giving goes directly to mission groups of all kinds all over the world. After teaching for 40+ years, I have a lot of former students who are new church planters, missionaries, Bible college teachers, etc.; very often they solicit funds from their old teachers!)

FOLLOW-UP QUESTION: But does not the OT practice of tithing mean something? Did not the practice of tithing precede the Law of Moses? Should it not then be our model for determining our giving as a NT church? Should we not use the tithe as a gauge for the “least we could do,” i.e., as our “minimum” benchmark, while taking into consideration 2 Cor. 8:8, where God is testing the sincerity of our love for him and the desire to do MORE than what is expected? Is that not a valid way of looking at it?

REPLY: In many ways this makes perfectly good sense. Though the tithe was part of the Law of Moses (Deut. 14:22ff.), which no longer applies in this NT era, it is true that the tithe actually preceded the Mosaic Law (Gen. 14:30; 28:22; Heb. 7:4-10). Does this not mean, then, that it transcends the Mosaic Law and covenant distinctions? Not necessarily. Other practices that preceded Moses’ Law and were sanctioned by it are not considered binding in the NT era, e.g., the levirate marriage (Gen. 38:8ff.; Deut. 25:5-10), and the consecration of the firstborn (Exod. 13:1-16; Num. 18:14-19). Thus without specific apostolic instruction or sanction, I cannot conscientiously bind the tithe on Christians today.

Some may cite Jesus’ words in Matt. 23:23 as NT sanction for tithing: “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others [ESV].” The problem here, though, is that Jesus speaks these words to Jewish leaders who were still under the Law of Moses, where the tithe was still an obligation.

For determining the amount of one’s giving, I start with 1 Cor. 16:2, which instructs that one should give "as he may prosper" (NASB) or "in keeping with his income" (NIV). In this I find the principle of PROPORTIONAL giving, i.e., that giving should not be a random and variable amount, but that each one should determine a specific percentage and stick to it, with the percentage increasing as income increases. I agree that the OT concept of tithing (10%) should be the guideline or benchmark at which we begin. After all, if it was good enough for God's people in the OT, it should be even better for his people in the NT era. My only point is that we cannot make this a law or rule (i.e., part of our law code), since it simply is not included in any instructions on giving in the NT. If someone who is jobless and barely making ends meet says 5% is as much as they can spare, I will not put a guilt trip on them.

138. God Hates Sin AND the Sinner 

by Jack Cottrellon Monday, November 23, 2009 at 11:24pm

A RECENT QUESTION: We have all heard the saying, "God loves the sinner but hates the sin." But is that the whole story? Would it be fair to say, at least as far as the unbeliever is concerned, that God both loves the sinner and hates the sinner?

MY REPLY: I have answered this question in my book, “What the Bible Says About God the Redeemer,” in the chapter on “The Holiness of God,” in the discussion of wrath. Here is the relevant excerpt (pp. 286-87):

Sometimes we hear that God hates the sin but loves the sinner. This is not true. A. H. Strong (“Systematic Theology,” p. 290) observes that God both hates and loves the sinner at the same time: “hates him as he is a living and willful antagonist of truth and holiness, loves him as he is a creature capable of good and ruined by his transgression.” In other words, God hates the sin, and he also hates the sinner. "You hate all who do iniquity. You destroy those who speak falsehood; the LORD abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit" (Ps. 5:5-6). This and many other passages show that God's hatred is directed against the PERSON who sins and not just the sin itself. Sometimes just a general category is mentioned. "Everyone who acts unjustly is an abomination to the LORD your God," says Deuteronomy 25:16. "The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence His soul hates" (Ps. 11:5). The seven things that God hates in Proverbs 6:16-19 include "a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers." He also hates "the perverse in heart" (Prov. 11:20), "everyone who is proud in heart" (Prov. 16:5), and whoever justifies the wicked or condemns the righteous (Prov. 17:15). Other passages describe God's hatred for specific persons. Leviticus 20:23 speaks of God as abhorring or loathing the Canaanites. Sometimes his hatred is directed against Israel. When the Lord saw their idolatry, "He was filled with wrath, and greatly abhorred Israel" (Ps. 78:59). "I have come to hate her," he says (Jer. 12:8; cf. Hosea 9:15). He also hated Esau (Edom), says Malachi 1:3 (cf. Rom. 9:13).

We must not take these passages lightly. To be hated by the holy God is a terrible, terrifying thing. The Old Testament word translated "to hate" expresses “an emotional attitude toward persons and things which are opposed, detested, despised and with which one wishes to have no contact or relationship. It is therefore the opposite of love. Whereas love draws and unites, hate separates and keeps distant. The hated and hating persons are considered foes or enemies and are considered odious, utterly unappealing” (G. Van Gronigen, “Theological Wordbook of the OT,” Moody 1980, II:880). Could anything be more terrifying than to hear God say, "I hate you"?

Nevertheless, we must remember that God hates the sinner AND LOVES THE SINNER at the same time! This is what I call a “terrible tension” within the nature of God, a tension that can be resolved ONLY by the incarnation of God the Son and his propitiatory sacrifice of himself on the cross. In Christ’s death as our substitute, both God’s wrath against sinners and his love for sinners are perfectly expressed and fulfilled.

139. Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation? 

by Jack Cottrellon Monday, November 23, 2009 at 11:22pm

A READER HAS ASKED the straightforward question, “Is baptism essential for salvation?” My straightforward (but qualified) answer is this: “Under normal circumstances, since the Day of Pentecost, YES.” In my book, “Baptism: A Biblical Study” (College Press, 2 ed., 2006) I have shown that the 12 NT texts that say anything at all about the purpose of baptism all testify to its saving significance. Water baptism is clearly described as the time or occasion during which God bestows salvation upon the one being baptized. Honest exegesis can yield no other conclusion.

By “baptism” I mean the immersion of a believing, repentant sinner into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. This is immersion in water, which is at the same time an immersion into the Holy Spirit. The separation of the ONE BAPTISM (Eph. 4:5) into two separate acts (first in Spirit, later in water) is a false doctrine begun by Huldreich Zwingli about A.D. 1525.

I say “since the Day of Pentecost” because that is when Christian baptism was first introduced, i.e., by the Apostle Peter in Acts 2:38. The act of baptism draws its saving significance from the completed work of Jesus Christ (finalized by his ascension ten days before Pentecost) and from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost itself.

John’s baptism is parallel to Christian baptism only in form (i.e., as immersion), not in meaning and purpose (see Acts 19:1-7). No conclusions about Christian baptism can be drawn from John’s baptism or from Jesus’s baptism (since he was baptized by John, and since his baptism was unique to his own purposes). The fact that the thief on the cross was not baptized with Christian baptism is totally irrelevant, since that was pre-Pentecost.

What do I mean by “under normal circumstances”? Two things. First, “normal circumstances” assumes that water baptism is physically possible. It is conceivable that a sinner may understand that baptism is where God has promised to save him and may sincerely desire to be baptized, but is unavoidably prevented from doing so by his circumstances. In such a case, Christians through the ages have trusted God to “take the will for the deed,” and have considered the person to have received a “baptism of desire.” See my “Baptism” book (p. 27): “’Baptism of desire’ refers to ANY situation in which a believer honestly desires to meet the condition of baptism but is prevented from doing so by irremedial physical circumstances, e.g., confined to prison, nailed to a cross, pinned down by enemy gunfire, lost in a desert.”

As further explained in the same book (pp. 27-28): “In this connection we must be careful to guard against an error that is quite common within Protestantism, namely, a glossing over of the distinction between absolute and relative necessity as it refers to baptism. It is common practice to cite a situation in which water baptism for a believer is impossible (e.g., lost in a desert) and to conclude from such that baptism has NO necessary connection with salvation at all. That is to say, an example that proves at most that baptism is not ABSOLUTELY necessary is used to prove that it is not necessary even under ORDINARY [normal] circumstances. This is a non sequitur: it does not follow. In any normal situation where water baptism is at all possible, it is a condition for salvation: ‘He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved’ (Mark 16:16).”

Second, “normal circumstances” means that the sincere believer has had a genuine opportunity to understand the true Biblical teaching about baptism and has conscientiously acted upon that knowledge. The problem here is that there is so much false doctrine about baptism that is innocently accepted as truth (e.g., sprinkling instead of immersion) that many sincere believers THINK they have “done the right thing” with baptism when in fact they have not. Even though these folks cannot be accepted now as members of the body of Christ (since we finite beings cannot know their hearts), it is possible that they may finally be saved anyway, as I have explained in my book, “The Faith Once for All,” p. 373:

“In the final judgment we can expect God to judge all persons who have received baptism improperly in the same way that he will judge everyone else, namely, in accordance with their CONSCIENTIOUS RESPONSE TO AVAILABLE LIGHT. No one will be condemned for failing to meet some particular requirement as long as he is conscientiously responding to whatever light is available to him (see Rom 4:15). It is obvious that human traditions have seriously distorted and limited the light of Scripture concerning baptism, and many sincere people have responded in good conscience to what light they have. For this reason we may hope to see such people in heaven.”

“This last point does not permit us to give anyone false assurance about his present state of salvation, however; nor does it give us the right to change the clear teaching of Scripture on believers' immersion for salvation. The ‘available light’ principle applies only to future judgment, and it can be applied only by the omniscient God. For us today, as individuals and as the church of Jesus Christ, we must continue to believe and proclaim the clear Biblical teaching about baptism without cowardice and without compromise.”

140. More on the Christological Fallacy 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, November 11, 2009 at 5:11pm

I. HERE ARE REFERENCES to the Christological fallacy taken from my systematic theology, “The Faith Once for All.” The first is from the section on “The Normative Source for Theology” (pp. 24-25): The WHOLE Bible is our norm for theology, and not just the life and teachings of Jesus. It was never Jesus' purpose simply to be a source and norm for truth, knowledge, ethics, or theology. The main purpose of Christ's incarnation and work was to redeem mankind from sin through the atonement and resurrection. This is contrary to a serious but common fallacy (the "Christological fallacy") that says that Christ's primary purpose was to be a unique source of doctrinal truth. Such an error leads to a "What Would Jesus Do?" approach to ethics. It leads to seriously erroneous statements such as this: "If Christ is truly to be preached, then every doctrine and ordinance of the faith must be dependent on Him, His nature, character, and deeds, for meaning." Or the following: "If you have a theology, let it be Jesus. If you want someone to guide you in your conduct toward others, let it be Jesus." To avoid such errors we must not think that the red-letter sections of the gospels have some unique significance for theology. The entire Bible is God's inspired and authoritative word.

II. THE FOLLOWING IS FROM THE SECTION on “The Importance of Theology” (p. 33): One objection to theology arises from a misunderstanding of the common Restoration slogan, "No creed but Christ." An article by this title in “Christian Standard” (8/18/74, 8) says, “The test of orthodoxy today should not be what a man thinks about the creation of the world, the doctrine of original sin, the resurrection of the dead, congregational cooperation, instrumental music, charismatic gifts, the eldership, or the millennium. If we follow the examples of Christ and the apostles, we can only ask what a man thinks of Christ. . . . ‘Not what, but WHOM!’”

Other such comments from articles in “Christian Standard” include the following: "We are committed to Christ, not doctrine." "Faith is directed not to Scripture but to Christ." "Truth is personal, not doctrinal." "Our faith is in a person--Jesus the Christ--not in a series of propositions." As a would-be preacher put it, "The ONLY essential is that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God. EVERYTHING else is up for grabs."

Contrary to such ideas, the only valid application of this slogan is that no man-made theological system or statement of faith can be elevated to a norm for truth or a requirement for salvation. The slogan was surely not meant to exclude systems or summaries of faith--even creeds--when these are used only as teaching instruments and means of bearing witness to the truth. (See Charles Gresham, "Creeds, Statements of Faith, Practical Wisdom," Restoration Herald, March 1991, 1, 4, 8.) Also, we must beware of the Christological fallacy when trying to implement this slogan.

III. THIS QUOTATION IS FROM A SECTION on “Forms of Revelation” (p. 48): Two important cautions must be observed regarding the incarnation as revelation. First, the main purpose for the incarnation was redemption, not revelation. Jesus came to redeem sinners; the accompanying revelation was secondary to this main work. Interpreting Jesus primarily as a revealer of God leads to the serious error of the Christological fallacy. Second, even though Jesus is the highest form of revelation, he is not the only revelation, nor is the incarnation as such the final revelation. God reveals himself in many ways, from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22. Other revelation from God is just as authoritative as that given by the incarnate Christ. In summary, we should not limit Jesus= work to revelation, and we should not limit revelation to Jesus.

IV. THIS FINAL SELECTION from “The Faith Once for All” is from the section of the sinlessness of Jesus (p. 229): That Jesus' sinless life was in some sense an example for us cannot be denied (Matt 11:29; 16:24; John 13:15; Eph 4:20; Phil 2:5; 1 Pet 2:21-22). But this does not imply that Jesus lived a sinless life just for the purpose of providing us with an example, i.e., just to show us that it could be done. This is in fact a false notion, and is an aspect of the Christological fallacy. Jesus did not come for the purpose of showing us how to live a sinless life but to be the sacrifice for our sins. Some aspects of his life, e.g., his attitude of unselfishness (Phil 2:5), do provide us with an example; but the crucial aspects of his life are those things that are unique about him and that we cannot imitate, e.g., the incarnation itself (Phil 2:6-7), his atoning death (Phil 2:8), and his efficacious resurrection and victorious enthronement (Phil 2:9-11).

141. The Christological Fallacy 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, November 11, 2009 at 4:29pm

QUESTION: What is the "Christological fallacy"?

REPLY: One of the most serious threats to sound doctrine is something I call "the Christological fallacy." It is a fallacy because it places Jesus in a role he was never intended to fill. How does it do this? It makes Jesus the SOURCE and/or NORM for all doctrine. Why is this a serious threat to sound doctrine? Because trying to look at everything through Christological lenses distorts our understanding of some if not all of the most crucial truths that we must live by.

This is a very difficult subject to talk about, because to some people it surely must seem like some kind of attack upon Jesus. It sounds almost unchristian to say something like "Jesus is NOT the source and/or norm for all doctrine." But I assure you that this is not unchristian or impious in any way. We do not dishonor Jesus when we let him be and do those things for which the Eternal Logos, God the Son, became Jesus of Nazareth. Rather, we dishonor him when we try to make him into something he was never intended to be.

Exactly what IS the Christological Fallacy? It is the attempt to make Jesus into an epistemological principle, or to interpret his life and work primarily in terms of the KNOWLEDGE they convey to us, or to make him THE basic norm for truth.

Another way to say this is that the Christological fallacy seeks to interpret Christ's purpose in terms of REVELATION. Revelation is an epistemological concept. It is a source of knowledge or truth. The Christological fallacy thus asserts that the main purpose of the incarnation was to reveal something to us. Christ came to show us something, or tell us something. EXAMPLE: Some years ago a church in Custer, WA, wrote to Standard Publishing to explain why they were no longer going to use Standard’s Sunday School curriculum for children: “As a church we have opted to try another curriculum that perhaps will be more in line with the doctrine of our church. We believe that Jesus came to be an example for us to follow and did not operate as the Son of God, but rather as he called himself, the son of man. Man had fallen so far from his original position that Jesus’ life was a real contrast and example of what God wanted man to be like. Yes, Jesus is special—He died and rose from the dead for us. He went to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to live in us so that we might BE like Him.”

This fallacy identifies the revelation that comes through Christ (rather than the Bible as a whole) as the PRIMARY and NORMATIVE source of our knowledge of God and his will. Some who hold to this fallacy accept other forms of revelation, but they say Jesus is the normative revelation, the basic norm for truth by which all other alleged truth must be judged. This is the concept of "the canon within the canon": even the rest of the Bible must be judged by the life and teachings of Jesus. Some go further and say that Jesus is the ONLY revelation (e.g., Karl Barth).

This is a distorted view of Christ and his purpose. It presents a portrait of Christ that is out of focus. The proper portrait is very different. Revelation was indeed ONE of the purposes for which Christ came. (See John 1:9, 17; 14:9; 18:37; Heb. 1:2.) It is indeed proper to say that the incarnate Christ, during the time of his earthly ministry, was the highest FORM of revelation this world has ever known. Thus we properly speak of Jesus as PROPHET, indeed, one greater than Moses himself (Deut. 18:18; Heb. 3:3).

But revelation was not Christ's primary work, much less his only work. REDEMPTION was. See Matt. 20:28; Rom. 3:24-25; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Phil. 2:5-8; 1 Tim. 1:15. Christ came as a remedy for SIN, not for ignorance as such. In medical terms, what he provided for us was medicine or even surgery, and not just eye-glasses.

God's primary means of revelation for us today is the BIBLE. The Bible is revealed knowledge from God and about God--but not just God in his role as Redeemer, i.e., as the incarnate Christ. The Bible is God's word to us--the word of the Creator to us as creatures, as well as the word of the Redeemer to us as sinners. Whatever revelation has come to us from Jesus of Nazareth falls within the broader scope of the total revelation of the Bible. As Redeemer, Christ is unique; as Revealer, he is not. His revelation, as grand as it is, is just part of a larger package (the Bible) that has just as much authority and is just as much a source and norm for sound doctrine as anything that comes from Jesus specifically.

From the above discussion it should be clear that the Christological fallacy leads to a false view of the Bible as such; it distorts many doctrines, especially the doctrine the atonement; and it distorts ethics in many ways, e.g., by providing a false basis for pacifism.

142. Women, Quietness, & Silence: 1 Tim. 2:12 & 1 Cor. 14:34 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, November 11, 2009 at 2:41pm

A RECENT QUESTION: In your book “The Faith Once For All" you say that "hesuchia" in 1 Timothy 2:12 does not mean "be silent" (as the NIV translates it), but that it means to have a quiet demeanor or attitude. I was wondering if the word "sigao" in 1 Cor. 14:34 has a different meaning; and if so, what is Paul saying there? Also, how does this fit in with 1 Cor. 11:5, where a woman is pictured as praying and prophesying?

MY REPLY: This question refers to Paul’s instructions to women in 1 Tim. 2:11-12, which says (in the NASB, 1995), “A woman must quietly [“en hesuchia”] receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet [“en hesuchia”].” Here is my comment on v. 12 in “The Faith Once for All” (p. 438):

“Hesuchia does not mean ‘be silent’ (as the NIV translates it), but to have a quiet demeanor or attitude. Apparently this was an important point for Paul, because he gives the same instruction in v. 11, ‘Let a woman quietly receive instruction.’ Thus Paul opens and closes this two-verse instruction to women with an emphasis on a quiet spirit. This suggests that the Ephesian women did have a problem that Paul is addressing here, namely, that they were dutifully learning Christian doctrine but were not doing so in quietness and submission (v. 11). Rather, they were seeking to use their knowledge in an improper way, i.e., in teaching and having authority over men. This would explain Paul's emphasis on a quiet, submissive attitude.”

In 1 Cor. 14:34 Paul says something that sounds similar: “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.” How is this different from 1 Tim. 2:12? Here Paul is talking specifically about church assemblies, and he is talking about the use of the spiritual gifts of prophecy and tongues in the assembly (see vv. 20-33). Also, the word for “keep silent” is different; here he uses “sigao,” which means literal silence, “do not speak.” The point is that even if a woman has the gift of prophecy or tongues, she is not to exercise it in the assembly.

But how is this consistent with 1 Cor. 11:5, where women are pictured as “praying and prophesying”? This seems to refer to a woman’s use of the gifts of praying in tongues and prophesying, but in private devotions or small groups, not in the public assembly. I base this conclusion on 1 Cor. 11:17-18, where Paul’s instructions for conduct in public assemblies seem to begin. Here he says “when you come together as a church,” and says “in the first place.” Thus in the prior discussion (including 11:5), he does not seem to be speaking of the assembly. In chapter 14 it is clear that he is speaking of the assembly. SO: even though some women had the gifts of prophecy and tongues (11:5), they were not to use those gifts in the assembly (14:34).

143. Are We Justified by Christ's Death, or by Faith? 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, November 11, 2009 at 1:41pm

QUERY: Are we justified by Christ’s death, or by our faith in Christ?

ANSWER: Both are involved, but in different ways. Romans 5:9 says we are “justified by his blood,”and Romans 3:28 says that “one is justified by faith.” Justification (equivalent to forgiveness of sins) is God’s declaration that he accepts us as righteous before the law, in the sense that our debt of eternal punishment has been canceled. To be justified means that God, in his role as Judge, looks at us and declares, “NO PENALTY FOR YOU!” See Rom. 8:1.

How is it possible for God to justify us, i.e., to simply set aside the penalty of eternal hell, which in all justice we deserve? Because Jesus died on the cross as our substitute, accepting the penalty of divine wrath in our place. We do not have to pay this penalty, because Jesus has paid it for us. So when God declares, “No penalty for you!”, he is righteous or just in doing so because of the cross (Rom. 3:26). I.e., Jesus’ death on the cross is the BASIS or GROUND for our justification. This is the meaning of Rom. 5:9.

The fact is that Jesus’ atoning death actually paid the penalty for EVERY human being’s sins, but not everyone receives the gracious gift of the cancellation of this debt, i.e., not everyone is justified. Why not? Because God has laid down specific conditions for receiving the gift. One of these conditions is the MEANS by which the gift is received, which is where faith comes in. God gives justification only to those who exercise “faith in his blood” (Rom. 3:25). Faith is the empty hand with which the sinner must reach out and accept the gift. This is what it means to be “justified by faith” (Rom. 3:28 and elsewhere).

To summarize, we are justified by the death of Christ as its BASIS, and we are also justified by faith as the MEANS by which we receive it.

I should also note that there are other conditions for receiving justification besides faith. When the Bible speaks of “justification by faith,” it is specifying that faith is THE MEANS for receiving justification. But the NT also specifies that baptism is the OCCASION for receiving justification in this New Covenant age. “Means” is one kind of condition; “occasion” is another kind of condition. Many make the mistake of equating the concepts of means and conditions.

144. Recommendations for Studying Greek 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, November 11, 2009 at 12:56pm

A RECENT REQUEST: I could use some help regarding resources for studying Greek. I have noticed that some texts reflect some rather liberal views of the Word of God. Someone recommended Walter Bauer's "A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature," University of Chicago Press, 1979. Is this one OK? Can you recommend a Greek NT, and any other basic resources that might be essential?

MY REPLY: I am not an expert on Greek, so I passed this request along to someone I trust who teaches Greek here at CCU, namely, Scott Lloyd, who is also one of our knowledgeable librarians. He said I could post his answer on FaceBook, thus:

SCOTT LLOYD SAYS: Dr. Cottrell asked me to make some recommendations for NT Greek resources. First of all, the first year Greek grammar that I use here at CCU is called “Learn to Read New Testament Greek,” by David Alan Black. It is a helpful, concise introduction to the basic grammatical knowledge and vocabulary that a student needs in order to start reading the Greek NT. Another helpful book, but much less concise, is “The Basics of Biblical Greek,” by William Mounce. For second-year (advanced) students, there is a helpful companion book to Mounce’s book called “Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics,” by Daniel Wallace. Wallace’s book is designed to broaden the student’s knowledge of Greek syntax.

Every serious student of Greek needs a lexicon, and the one mentioned above is definitive for studying NT Greek. It is now available in a new (3rd) edition (2000). Like any reference work, it should be used critically and not in isolation from other resources. Nevertheless, it is a valuable companion for helping the student understand the meaning of the words used in the NT.

The Greek NT I recommend for students is “The UBS Greek New Testament: A Reader’s Edition.” It is based on the 4th edition of the UBS Greek New Testament, which in turn uses the Nestle-Aland eclectic text. The nice feature of this Reader’s Edition is that it has a running dictionary at the bottom of each page, which defines every word used less than 30 times in the NT. This facilitates reading since the student does not need to consult a separate dictionary as frequently.

If you find yourself needing to refresh your knowledge of English Grammar while studying Greek grammar, there is a helpful book by Gary Long called “Grammatical Concepts 101: Learning Greek Grammatical Concepts through English Grammar.” This can serve as a useful companion to either of the first-year texts mentioned above.

Those adept with information technology may wish to consider the purchase of a good computer program like Bible Works or Logos. A good original-languages Bible study software program will provide the Greek NT itself, plus many helpful supplementary tools. The books mentioned above can be purchased in electronic form and added as modules to the basic software.

One more thing: if you really want to learn Greek for yourself, you don’t want to become too reliant upon a bunch of reference tools at the beginning of your journey. It is tempting to let those tools do your thinking for you rather than trying to figure it out for yourself. A Greek NT, a good first-year grammar or two, a lexicon, and a good teacher, and you’re ready to begin your journey.

145. Did Jesus Go to Hell When He Died (1 Pet. 3:18-19)? 

by Jack Cottrellon Sunday, November 8, 2009 at 5:31pm

I HAVE HAD A COUPLE OF INQUIRIES about 1 Peter 3:18ff., which says: “He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago.” What does this mean? Did Jesus somehow “go to hell” after he died on the cross? If so, is this part of his atoning work? Or does it mean that he went and preached to the lost souls in Hades in order to offer them the same chance to repent that he now offers us?”

IN REPLY, here are the facts as I see them: 1. The atoning work of Christ was finished at the moment of his death (see John 19:30). His main suffering for sin was not just in his human nature (body and spirit), but mainly in his divine nature. Beginning in Gethsemane and continuing up through the moment of his death, Jesus was experiencing the fullness of the Father’s wrath in our place. Especially in his divine nature, he was suffering the equivalent of eternity in hell for the entire human race. He did not have to “go to hell” for this to happen.

2. At the time of Christ’s death and following, hell itself, as the eternal destiny of Satan, his demons, and lost human beings (Matt. 25:41), was not even in existence yet. The same is true of the eternal home of saved human beings (the new heavens and new earth). Both of these eternal abodes will be unveiled after the final judgment.

3. Jesus never “descended into hell” as such. The KJV of Acts 2:27, 31 (based on Psalm 16:10) says “that his soul was not left in hell,” but this is just a bad translation. The word in Psalm 16:10 is “sheol,” not hell; and in Acts, it is “hades,” not hell. In this context these words mean “the grave,” which receives the dead bodies of both the lost and the saved. The idea of these verses is that Jesus’ BODY would not remain in the grave, but would rise from the dead.

4. At death the bodies of most human beings are put into a grave, i.e., into one kind of “hades.” At the same time the souls (i.e., spirits) of the lost go to another place also called “hades” (Luke 16:23); the souls (spirits) of the saved go not to “hades” but to Paradise (Luke 23:43).

5. “The spirits in prison who disobeyed” (1 Peter 3) are the spirits of the lost in “hades”. That Jesus preached or “made proclamation to” these spirits does NOT mean that he preached the gospel to them in order to give them (another) chance to be saved. The word “preached” here is NOT “preached the gospel,” but simply “proclaimed, announced.” The point is that Jesus announced to his enemies that he was indeed triumphant over them, in the spirit of Revelation 1:18.

6. The only way to read a “second chance” preaching of the gospel into 1 Peter 3:18 is to assume that 1 Peter 4:6 is talking about the same event, but I am convinced that this is not the case. In the latter verse Peter says that the gospel was preached (this is a different Greek word) to those who have died, but he does not say that it was preached to them AFTER they died. As I understand it, he is talking about Christians who heard the gospel and believed it and who are now dead. They (like Christians still living) are “judged according to the flesh” by wicked men who persecute and blaspheme God’s people (see 1 Peter 2:12; 3:16, 18; 4:1-2) even to the point of martyrdom, but “according to the spirit” they are living for God and with God. The point of 1 Peter 4:1-6 is to give comfort to those Christians who are suffering persecution. It has nothing to do with giving a first or second chance to the wicked dead.

7. For further information on the intermediate state, heaven, and hell, see my book, “The Faith Once for All,” chs. 29, 32, 33.

146. Heb. 6:4-8 and "Once Saved, Always Saved" 

by Jack Cottrellon Saturday, November 7, 2009 at 12:02pm

A RECENT QUERY: “We are doing a study in Hebrews and this week chapter 6 rears its ugly head regarding eternal security. I know that I have at least 2 with a strong Calvinistic background in my class, and we will be addressing the ‘once saved, always saved’ problem. Any thoughts?”

MY REPLY: In my book, “The Faith Once for All,” I have a whole chapter on the subject of assurance of salvation (ch. 21). In this chapter I give a strong refutation of the “once saved, always saved” doctrine. Included therein is the following analysis of Heb. 6:4-6 (pp. 379-380):

An even clearer teaching on the reality of falling from grace is Heb 6:4-8. Actually the entire letter to the Hebrews is based on the fact that such a fall is possible. The letter is apparently being written to Jews (i.e., Hebrews) who had become Christians, but who are now thinking they had made a mistake and are seriously considering abandoning their Christian faith and reconverting to Judaism. The theme of the entire letter is the danger and the foolishness of such a decision. If this decision is not possible, then the whole book of Hebrews is a sham. It is filled with warnings against turning away from Jesus Christ, the only source of salvation (2:1-3; 3:12-14; 4:1, 11; 10:26-39; 12:25).

The clearest such warning is Heb 6:4-8. On the one hand, here the writer is without doubt speaking of those who are truly saved, since they possess five characteristics of the saved state. 1) They are "enlightened," i.e., they possess true knowledge and understanding of the gospel. 2) They "have tasted of the heavenly gift," the gift of salvation in general (Eph 2:8-9). 3) They "have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit," having drunk the living water (John 7:37-39; 1 Cor 12:13). [“Partaking” refers to the real possession of something; see Heb. 2:14; 3:1, 14.] 4) They "have tasted the good word of God," having believed and received its promises. 5) They have tasted "the powers of the age to come," referring to the already-experienced resurrection from spiritual death (Eph 2:5; Col 2:12-13), in anticipation of the future redemptive resurrection of the body.

The use of the word "taste" (geuomai) in these verses does not imply a tentative, aborted sampling of salvation in contrast with actual eating or consuming. (See Heb 2:9, where the same word is used for Christ's tasting death on the cross.) It is used rather to contrast the real but incomplete salvation experienced in this life with the fullness of salvation to be received in glory, in the same sense that the present gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit is but a pledge or down payment of the full inheritance that is to come (2 Cor 1:22; Eph 1:13-14).

The fact that those to whom this passage speaks are true Christians is also shown in the statement that, if they fall away, "it is impossible to renew them again to repentance" (v. 6). To speak of REnewing them AGAIN to repentance indicates that they were once in a state of repentance, indicative of salvation.

On the other hand, it is also clear that this passage warns against the reality of becoming truly lost, as opposed to simply losing one's rewards. Verse 6 warns against becoming "fallen away," a state devoid of repentance and hostile to Christ. The fallen one's life yields "thorns and thistles"; it is "worthless [adokimos] and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned" (v. 8; see John 15:6).

Passages such as these are completely contrary to the "once saved, always saved" idea. They cannot be explained away as referring only to people who were never saved in the first place, nor can they be reduced to the loss of rewards rather than of salvation of such. Nor can we say that they are merely hypothetical warnings, by which God motivates us to remain faithful by threatening us with a scenario that in actuality could never occur. [I had a Calvinist professor at Westminster Seminary who explained Hebrews this way.] Such a ploy would be deceitful and cruel, and is unworthy of our gracious and loving Savior.

147. What Is the Age of Accountability? 

by Jack Cottrellon Saturday, October 31, 2009 at 2:22pm

QUERY: How can we tell when a child reaches the “age of accountability”?

ANSWER: The word “accountability” raises two questions: a) Accountable FOR WHAT? and, b) Accountable TO WHOM? The obvious answers are: accountable FOR SIN, and accountable TO GOD. Thus the age of accountability is that point when a child comes to the understanding that he or she is a sinner before God and faces the penalty of eternal punishment.

The key word is “understanding.” For there to be sin, four things are necessary: (1) the existence of law; (2) the existence of a Creator-God as the source of the law; (3) created free-will beings who are responsible for keeping the law; and (4) a knowledge of and understanding of that law on the part of these beings. Once a child understands the essence of this combination of things, he or she is accountable to God and under condemnation.

Paul summarizes the process of reaching this understanding in Romans 7:7-12 (NIV). He says that “apart from law, sin is dead,” and that he himself was “alive apart from law” (vv. 8-9). This describes his status before accountability. Sin was dead in his consciousness, i.e., it was not a factor in his relation to God. As a child he was alive to God, in a state of original grace and in a right relation to God. But then, “the commandment came” (v. 9), especially the commandment “Do not covet” (v. 7). This means it came into his consciousness as a command of God having eternal condemnation for disobedience. The result is stated in v. 9: “sin sprang to life, and I died.” I.e., sin came to life in his heart, and he died spiritually (Eph. 2:1). That was when he crossed the line into accountability.

Thus the key to the age of accountability is the child’s understanding of his sin as a violation of God’s law. NOTE: THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT: it has no necessary connection to the child’s knowledge of Christ. Just because a child knows about Jesus and loves Jesus does not mean he or she has reached the age of accountability. A right understanding of law and sin MUST PRECEDE true conversion and a proper response to the gospel.

All of this is directly related to the question of when a child is ready to be baptized. We must not forget that baptism is the moment when God has promised to bestow salvation FROM SIN. Unless a child understands that he or she is a lost sinner, the immersion in water will be meaningless. I am deeply concerned to see many children coming for baptism apparently lacking this understanding. Years ago I was in the audience when a little girl about six years old answered the invitation. The minister asked her why she wanted to be baptized. In her sweet childish voice she intoned, “Because I love Jesus.” A couple of weeks ago a church newsletter reported that two children had been added by baptism. One said that he made the decision “because he wanted to show that he believes in God.” The other said she decided to be baptized “because she wants Jesus in her life.” These answers leave me wondering if these children had really crossed the line of which Paul speaks in Rom. 7:8-9; and if they had, I am left wondering if they really understood the Biblical significance of their baptism.

148. Does Silence Mean Prohibition or Permission? 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, October 28, 2009 at 1:12pm

AN INQUIRY ABOUT MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS: “I grew up in a non-instrumental church of Christ. Now, however, I do not believe it is against God's will to have instruments in worship. But those at my home church make a good point in that instruments are not mentioned in the New Testament. I have also heard that instruments were not used in the early churches and were only introduced later. What do you think about this argument?”

MY REPLY: It is granted that the NT does not mention instruments in public worship. The real issue, then, is this: what is the significance of such SILENCE? Non-instrumentalists claim that silence means prohibition. This is patently false. Silence is the essence of what we mean by "matters of opinion." Everything comes down to this difference on how the silence is interpreted.

THE INQUIRER CONTINUES: “In reference to interpreting silence, I have heard it said that those who interpret silence to mean permission are too liberal. What do you say to that? Could you articulate a similar silence in the New Testament that Churches of Christ would take to mean permission?”

MY FURTHER REPLY: On the idea that “silence means permission” is liberalism, this is a use of the term “liberalism” that is limited to the churches of Christ and is not at all equivalent to how others use it. In Christendom as a whole, "liberalism" is any view that rejects the inspiration and authority of the Bible. That does not apply at all in the context of the argument over silence, which is solely a matter of hermeneutics, i.e., how to INTERPRET the Bible, not a matter of the NATURE of the Bible.

The idea that silence means permission is the very essence of two of the traditional Restoration slogans. One of these slogans is "In essentials, unity; in opinions, liberty; in all things, love." The whole point of the concept of opinions is that these are things on which the Bible is silent, and therefore are permissible. The second slogan is "Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent." The point of the latter half of this slogan is this: In a matter where the Bible is silent, we should not make up any RULES about it one way or the other. The churches of Christ have done the very opposite of this. They say in a matter where the Bible is silent, the RULE is that it should not be practiced. Thus they have SPOKEN where the Bible is silent.

The New Testament is similarly silent about a whole host of issues other than the musical instrument, and the churches of Christ argue among themselves as to whether they should be forbidden or not. Since the Bible is silent about Sunday school, some say it is prohibited; but others say it is OK. Since the Bible is silent about Sunday school LITERATURE, some say it is prohibited; but others say it is OK. Since the Bible is silent about individual communion cups, some say they are prohibited; others say they are OK. Since the Bible is silent about non-congregational singing (solos, choirs), some say they are prohibited; others say they are OK. Since the Bible is silent about orphanages, some say they are prohibited; others say they are OK. The number of such items is quite long. Prof. R. J. Kidwell said once that he had accumulated a list of around 30 such things about which the Bible is silent, where some churches of Christ folks say they are prohibited while others say they are permitted.

149. Is Faith a Gift? 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, October 28, 2009 at 11:44am

A RECENT QUERY: “I came across a church website that says (slightly abbreviated): ‘We share the values of the Reformation, the five “Alones”:
●Christ Alone: We believe that Jesus Christ was, is and always will be fully God (Hebrews 13:8) and that he became fully human, taking the very nature of a man (Philippians 2) and that he came to show us what God the Father is like; when you see Jesus you see God the Father (John 14:9).
●Grace Alone: Our relationship with God starts with His grace, continues by His grace and ends with His grace. (Philippians 1:6)
●Faith Alone: We are set free (saved) through faith in Jesus Christ, and that faith is a gift of God which is motivated by his grace! (Ephesians 2:8, 9)
●Scripture Alone: The Bible is the infallible, inerrant Word of God and it is our first and final authority in all matters of faith and life (2 Timothy 3:16). Our goal is to teach what the Bible teaches on every topic.
●To the Glory of God Alone: For the Christian, life is not separated into sacred and secular. All of life is to be lived under the Lordship of Christ (1 Cor. 10:31).
What do you think about this, especially the third point? Does Eph. 2 say that faith is a gift of God?”

MY REPLY: This is a common and fairly accurate summary of Reformation teaching. The “Christ Alone” section is somewhat perverted, though, since the main Reformers would certainly not have limited Christ’s purpose by saying simply “that he came to show us what God the Father is like.” They would have rightly said that Christ’s purpose was to die and rise again to save us from our sins. Putting the emphasis on Christ’s revealing activity rather than his redeeming work is what I call the “Christological fallacy.” It leads to all kinds of serious problems. (See my book, “The Faith Once for All,” pp. 24-25.)

The inquirer, though, asks specifically about the “Faith Alone” section. This “faith-onlyism” (a view of salvation that denies that baptism is a salvation event) is very typical of the Lutheran and Calvinist streams of Reformation thinking. I have critiqued this concept in general in an outline called “The Tyranny of the Paradigm,” available thus: . Watch for an essay based on this outline in the 2010 Christian Standard “Reflections” series.

“Faith-onlyism” is held by both Calvinists and many non-Calvinists. The specific element of the above “Faith Alone” statement that is Calvinistic is the assertion that faith is a gift of God, based allegedly on Ephesians 2:8-9. Calvinists (and all Augustinians) believe that all persons are totally depraved, with a total inability to respond in faith to the gospel. Thus God must choose (via unconditional election) whom he will save (via irresistible grace). In the moment of irresistible grace, the Holy Spirit first regenerates the sinner, and then bestows upon him the gift of faith. Eph. 2:8 is used as a main proof-text for this latter point.

The bottom line is that the rules of Greek grammar completely rule out this interpretation of Eph. 2:8. See this quote from “The Faith Once for All,” p. 200: “Some mistakenly conclude that Eph 2:8 says faith is a gift: ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.’ This is disproved, though, by the rules of Greek grammar. The Greek word for ‘faith’ (pistis) is feminine in gender; the pronoun referring to the gift (‘that,’ touto) is neuter. If the pronoun were referring back to faith, it too would be feminine in form. (There is no word in the Greek corresponding to the pronoun ‘it.’) This verse actually shows that faith is NOT a gift, since grace and faith are carefully distinguished. We are saved BY grace, as God's part; but THROUGH faith, as our part, as distinct from the grace given. Faith is not a gift of grace and the result of regeneration; it is a response to grace and a prerequisite to regeneration.”

150. What Is Baptism for the Dead? 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, October 21, 2009 at 4:44pm

QUERY: What is your interpretation of the baptism of the dead?

MY ANSWER: This question refers to Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:29, “Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?” What does Paul mean? I begin by citing one of my best commentaries on First Corinthians (F. W. Grosheide): “Vs. 29 is one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament. Interpretations abound but no one has succeeded in giving an interpretation which is generally accepted.”

One thing most Christians agree on is that Paul is NOT referring to the Mormon practice of baptizing living persons in the place of unsaved dead persons, as if such vicarious baptisms can actually provide forgiveness of sins for an unsaved dead person.

I will not attempt to list all possible interpretations (this would take a book), but will simply explain what I think is the best understanding. Paul’s main point is to show why it is so important to believe in the resurrection of the dead, i.e., in the resurrection of the body at the second coming. Believing in the resurrection is a vital part of our faith, he says. Otherwise, why would someone possibly be baptized (i.e., become a Christian) in the hope of someday seeing again Christian loved ones who have already died (“the dead”)? I.e., to be baptized “for the dead” means to become a Christian in the hope of someday being reunited with dead loved ones who themselves were Christians.

I am not completely satisfied with this interpretation. E.g., this translates the word “hyper” (“for”) in the sense of “in reference to” or “with regard to” or “in relation to,” which is a bit awkward. Also, it suggests that some are baptized for a questionable motive—to see loved ones again. But the presence of this personal (somewhat selfish) motive—the desire to see loved ones again—does not mean this is the ONLY motive for being baptized. Even so, it is difficult to exclude personal motives altogether; surely all of us were baptized at least in part for the purpose of being saved. If this is appropriate, then surely the motive of wanting to be reunited with deceased Christian loved ones cannot be objectionable as such.

This is my best understanding.

151. Acts 22:16 and Baptism 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, October 21, 2009 at 3:00pm

A RECENT INQUIRY: Some Bible versions [e.g., Holman Christian Standard Bible] are translating Acts 22:16 as, "Be baptized and wash away your sins BY calling on his name." This is different from other versions and can be construed differently in meaning. Can the Greek be translated that way? What is the more accurate translation? And, does the ending relate to what's happening in baptism or is it a separate action? Thanks for your input.

MY REPLY: It is true that a Greek participle can have an instrumental meaning ("by"), as in Matt. 27:4, "I have sinned BY betraying innocent blood." So, this is grammatically possible in Acts 22:16. Is it an acceptable translation? Does it matter? I will make two comments.

First, even if this is the proper translation, this would not change the relation between baptism and salvation. The two main verbs in the sentence, which are imperatives, are "get yourself baptized AND [kai] wash away your sins." They are joined with kai into a single event. The aorist participle, "having called on his name," modifies both of the main verbs equally. The same thing is true in Acts 2:38, where "repent AND be baptized" are two imperatives joined by kai, with the prepositional phrase "unto [eis, “for the purpose of”] the forgiveness of sins" modifying both equally. Thus interpreting the participle instrumentally in 22:16 would not connect it ONLY to the second imperative (“wash away your sins”) and not also to the first one (“get yourself baptized”).

Second, I would oppose the instrumental translation in 22:16 ("by calling on his name") on theological grounds. Translating it this way would be equivalent to saying that our sins are washed away BY something WE do, i.e, by our confessional prayer of calling on the name of the Lord. This would be salvation by works, a violation of grace. (This is the very same reason I reject the common translation in 1 Peter 3:21, that baptism saves us because it is a PLEDGE [eperotema] of a good conscience--i.e., because of something WE are doing therein. This again would link salvation to OUR works. See my chapter on this verse in my book, “Baptism: A Biblical Study.”) Thus the best understanding of this participle in Acts 22:16 is still simply temporal, namely, "HAVING CALLED on his name." I.e., having humbly called upon [prayed for] God to keep his promise (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21), get yourself baptized and wash away your sins. This is similar again to 1 Peter 3:21, where the word eperotema is best understood not as a pledge but as a request, appeal, or prayer. See my chapter on this verse in the baptism book.

152. What About Halloween? 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, October 21, 2009 at 2:37pm

A RECENT QUESTION: What are your views on Christians and Halloween? I know most Christians are fine with it, but I am not sure if it is a day Christians should take part in. Please let me know what you think.

MY REPLY: I have several objections to Christians participating in anything overtly related to Halloween. First, Halloween is literally a witchcraft holiday. I never thought much about it until I did a lot of research on witchcraft for a course on the occult. When you look into it in some depth, you find that witchcraft, or wicca, is a very serious ancient and modern religion. It has four main holidays, Halloween being the most significant. Its roots lie in a pre-Christian pagan celebration known as Samhain, in which a main point was to seek protection from the spirits of the dead who roamed about on that night to cause trouble. The connection of Halloween with witchcraft and Samhain is clear enough; I want no part of anything that celebrates witchcraft ideas. (One could learn a lot by googling these words.)

Second, probably because of the above background, everything about Halloween calls attention to and glorifies DEATH: ghosts, tombstones, skeletons, etc. In Scripture death is an enemy, not something to celebrate or treat as a joke. The gospel is about life.

Third, on an ethical basis, I object to the whole idea of “trick or treat.” I know it is sort of a game, one that is understood even by those who hand out the candy and stuff. But the very concept of “trick or treat” is a form of extortion: “Give me a treat, or I will play a trick or prank on you.” (This also has roots in the Samhain practices.) When my own kids were young, I did not allow them to go trick-or-treating. This did not make me popular. I am glad for all the alternatives that churches provide today, such as the “Trunk ’n Treat” programs.

153. The Wonders of Christmas -- 1 Timothy 1:15 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, October 16, 2009 at 12:03pm

This note sheds some light on a previous note, "Can Christians Be Called Sinners?" Also, this note is not addressing any specific issue. It is just a Christmas devotional thought. It also works as a sermon outline!]


To children,Christmas abounds with wonders. How can reindeer fly? How does Santa know if they’ve been good or bad? How can he visit the whole world in one day? How can a fat man come down skinny chimneys? How can he hold all the cake and cookies set out for him in every household?

Maybe we will never solve such mysteries, but as we get older we learn the TRUE wonders of Christmas. Paul sums these up in 1 Timothy 1:15: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost.”

I. The wonderful FACT of Christmas is that “Christ Jesus came into the world.” Amid all the holiday travel and present giving and family gatherings, we must not lose sight of this central fact. This is what makes Christmas CHRISTmas.

That Christ Jesus came into the world is not just a fact, but a WONDERFUL fact, a fact filled with wonder, a cause for astonishment, and a miracle! The birth of Jesus was a miracle because the baby born in Bethlehem that night was GOD HIMSELF, taking on a human identity. The Eternal Creator and Lord of the universe presented Himself as a newborn infant. This makes all those Santa Claus mysteries look like kindergarten stuff!

Think about it. Here is the omniscient One—crying and cooing and unable to talk. Here is the omnipotent One—helpless and dependent and needing His diaper changed. Here is the Creator of all food—taking milk from Mary’s breast. Here is the omnipresent One—lying in a manger in a stable in a small town in a pint-sized country on a tiny hunk of rock and dirt in one corner of the cosmos He created. What a wonder!

II. Our text also states the wonderful PURPOSE of this event: Christ Jesus came into the world “to save sinners.”

Christmas teaches us valuable lessons about love and joy and peace, but its real purpose is more specific: Jesus came to save sinners from the consequences of their sin. The ultimate consequence, of course, is to suffer the eternal wrath of God in hell. Jesus came to save us from this by taking this wrath upon Himself through His death on the cross.

Here is the greatest wonder of Christmas—not just that Christ came into the world, but that He came ANYWAY, knowing what He would have to go through before He could leave it! He knew He would have to die, and He knew it would not be an ordinary death. He knew He would experience the equivalent of eternity in hell for all human beings. But still he came, in a sense walking straight into the jaws of hell to save us from it. What a wonder!

III. The last wonder is the wonderful CONFESSION: Christ came to save sinners, “of whom I am foremost.”

One’s personal celebration of Christmas is often governed by external circumstances. Some think Christmas is ruined by poverty: no money, no presents, no Christmas. Others think it is ruined by being alone or away from home: no family, no loved ones, no Christmas. For others, personal sickness or tragedy robs the season of its meaning: “My father just died. How can I think of Christmas?”

Actually you need only one thing to have a meaningful Christmas. You can be poor, alone, sick, or in sorrow, but your Christmas will still be filled with meaning if you realize and confess that YOU ARE THE SINNER CHRIST JESUS CAME TO SAVE!

When you make this confession, you know the real reason for Christmas. We often hear that Jesus is “the reason for the season.” Not so. SINNERS—you and I—are the reason for the season.

Most people have lost the true meaning of Christmas because they have no consciousness of being sinners before God. Thus they miss the point of Christmas altogether. As Christians, though, we know who we are. We are sinners—indeed, the foremost of sinners. But thanks be to God, because of Christmas, we are SAVED sinners. What a wonder!

154. Can Christians Be Called "Sinners"? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, October 15, 2009 at 9:38pm

THIS IS A RECENT REQUEST (edited): “Someone asked me if it is OK to call a Christian a sinner. The one who asked seemed to think it is not. He reasons that the Bible refers to Christians as Overwhelming Conquerors, Saints, those who have the Righteousness of God in Christ, etc. So how can it be OK for a Christian to be called a Sinner and a Saint at the same time? Is this not a contradiction?”

MY REPLY: This is simply a matter of semantics. It depends on how one is defining the word "sinner," and what it is being used in contrast with. If one decides to reserve the word "sinner" for those who are in the unsaved state, in contrast with saints, that's OK with me. But he cannot insist this is the ONLY valid use of the term. Unless one believes that all saved people are perfectly holy and never commit sins after conversion, it is hardly possible to claim they are not sinners. If we sin, we are sinners (cf. Rom. 7:14-25). The contrast between saved and lost then becomes, we are FORGIVEN or JUSTIFIED sinners, while the lost are UNFORGIVEN sinners. One might consider Rom. 3:23, which says that all have sinned and "fall short of the glory of God" (present tense). The present tense suggests that the "falling short" is a present condition, not just a past state. Also, remember that the very definition of justification is that it means we are DECLARED righteous, not MADE righteous. For the rest of our lives on earth there will be a difference between how God looks at us through the blood of Jesus Christ, i.e., as righteous; and how we actually are, namely, in the process of becoming more and more holy but still falling short.

155. Are Exorcisms Miraculous? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, October 15, 2009 at 4:34pm

THE FOLLOWING QUESTION comes in response to my note, “Why Demonic Works in a Christian Context?” In this note I affirm the cessationist view of miraculous spiritual gifts, i.e., the Holy Spirit is not giving miraculous gifts to Christians today. The suggestion below is that modern-day exorcisms are evidence that miraculous gifts from the Spirit are still present, since exorcisms are “supernatural by nature.”

HERE IS THE QUESTION: “What of those that currently cast out demons, especially in third world countries where missionaries speak of current infestations and subsequent exorcisms? Any exorcism is supernatural by nature and must a gift of God using Matthew 12:22-37 as precedent.”

MY REPLY: I am very much aware of present-day “exorcisms,” which occur not only in third world countries but in every area of the world. My good friend Grayson Ensign (now deceased) had a powerful and extremely beneficial deliverance ministry that began in Cincinnati; long before he died he told me that he had helped deliver over 300 people from demonic spirits. (By the way, I teach a seminary course called “Demonology.”)

The above question seems to assume that since all deliverance events are “supernatural,” those who “cast out demons” must have a spiritual gift from the Holy Spirit and a MIRACUOUS gift at that. Thus miraculous spiritual gifts must still be present. The fallacy of the argument is the assumption that casting out demons is in the category of miraculous gifts. First, let us note that “supernatural” is not the same as “miraculous.” All miracles are supernatural, but not all supernatural events are miraculous. Herein lies the difference between miracles as such, and another work of God called special divine providence (sdp, as distinct from general providence). [See my book, “God the Ruler,” for a discussion of all these works of God.] An example of the latter is answer to prayer. When we pray for God to do something in our world, and when he answers that prayer, his intervention is always supernatural but seldom miraculous. I.e., it is a work of sdp. The main difference is that in miracles, natural law is violated; in sdp it is not. We see this distinction in God’s healing of the sick. Jesus healed miraculously. Today we pray for the sick to be healed (James 5:13ff.), and God heals them providentially, in answer to our intercessory prayer.

This same distinction applies to casting out demons. This can be either miraculous, as in the case of Jesus in Matt. 12:22ff. And elsewhere; or it can be a providential answer to intercessory prayer, as in the case of the Jewish exorcists (Matt. 12:27; Acts 19:13). This is how all responsible modern-day deliverance ministers understand their work. Brother Grayson Ensign was a cessationist, and yet had a very needed deliverance ministry. One should read the works of Neil T. Anderson, especially “The Bondage Breaker,” to understand deliverance as God’s providential answer to intercessory prayer.

Those in deliverance ministry insist that what they do does not require any special gift from the Holy Spirit; any mature Christian can do it. Robert Peterson, a missionary to Borneo who wrote “Are Demons for Real?” [emphatically, yes], says, “It [is] essential . . . to realize that all Christians of whatever race or position in the Church have equal rights before God and that God is not limited in His choice of believers to do battle with the foe. The Scriptures make it plain that the work of exorcising demons is not a special gift God has imparted to select believers, but that demons must obey any victorious Christian so long as the conditions are met. Exorcism depends on our position in Christ and not a particular gift” (p. 79).

Note also that in the four lists of spiritual gifts in the NT (Rom. 12:1ff.; Eph. 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:7-11, 28-30), exorcism is never mentioned.

Thus the reality of modern-day demonization, and of modern-day “exorcisms,” does not contradict the cessationist view of Spiritual gifts.

156. Good Fruit from the "Unbaptized" 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, October 15, 2009 at 3:25pm

QUESTION: “The idea of the visible and invisible church was a mystery to me until I read your book ‘Baptism: A Biblical Study’ (ch. 8). This includes the idea that only God knows who is truly justified. I was wondering though, how we can explain the tremendous fruit by such scholars of the day that don't believe and have not been baptized for the forgiveness of sin, e.g., John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, and Norman Geisler.”

MY REPLY: This is not an easy question, but let me suggest two things. First, the nature of the Bible is such that any human being has the potential of being able to understand its truth and set forth sound doctrine based upon it. This is true because we are all made in the image of God for the very purpose of fellowship and communion with God. That God reveals himself to us in human language is a main factor in that purpose. The whole point of the Bible is that human beings are intended to read it and understand it. It is not some kind of mystical volume with some secret key to understanding that is possessed only by saved people. Thus even unsaved people who are truly seeking to understand the Bible, and who are striving to be objective, can formulate a lot of good solid Bible doctrine. Among those who are unsaved, some are more motivated than others to search the Scriptures with a sincere desire to please God. Men like MacArthur, Sproul, and Geisler, even if they are unsaved (which I am not affirming), would certainly fall into this category. Sometimes, even those who do not accept the full inspiration and authority of the Bible are able to understand it better than some who do accept its full authority, since they have no pet doctrines they can defend only by twisting Scripture. E.g., when I was writing my book on God the Creator, the two authors I cited most often were Emil Brunner and Langdon Gilkey, neither of which was an Evangelical Bible-believer.

Second, though men such as MacArthur, Sproul, and Geisler have indeed produced a lot of “tremendous fruit” in terms of Bible exposition, theology, and apologetics, they have also produced a lot of rotten, wormy fruit by propagating some serious false doctrine and influencing many to accept it. E.g., all are ardent defenders of the Zwinglian concept of “sola fidei” (faith alone), dismissing baptism from the salvation process. MacArthur and Sproul are also strong Calvinists; no defender of Calvinism today is more evangelistic for this cause than R. C. Sproul. Thus I would guess that as many people have been led astray by such men as have been influenced toward God by them.

We should make every effort to learn all we can from such scholars, while filtering their works through the Bible itself. Augustine (another name in the same mold) is credited with advancing the “gold from Egypt” concept. I.e., when the Israelites escaped from Egyptian slavery, God providentially touched the hearts of the pagan Egyptians and made them willing to share their wealth with the departing Israelites. Thus we should be willing to accept true ideas from any source. The gold is valuable, no matter where it comes from.

157. Why Demonic Works in a Christian Context? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, October 15, 2009 at 12:36pm

A SERIOUS QUESTION (edited), asked in a good spirit: “At the end of chapter 15 in “The Faith Once for All” you affirm that miraculous gifts from the Holy Spirit were temporary and are not being given today. What most concerns me is your statement that miraculous or supernatural phenomena today, which many take to be miraculous gifts from the Holy Spirit, actually are demonic in origin. It also concerns me that during the Cane Ridge meetings 1000's of people had wonderful exercises and all revealed or spoke and gave GOD the glory. So, could you explain to me the reasoning on how this is a tool of the devil if ultimately God is receiving the glory?”

MY REPLY: First, may I suggest that anyone who wants to interact with me on my views of this subject should read my works on the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit: A Biblical Study” (c. 125 pp.), or especially “Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit” (c. 500 pp.). The above issues are addressed in great detail.

Second, here are three things I accept as facts: (1) I am deeply committed to the cessationist view of miraculous Spiritual gifts. These “partial” gifts have ceased, now that the “complete thing”—the completed New Testament—has come (1 Cor. 13:8-10). (2) But I am also very much aware that miraculous or supernatural phenomena occur regularly in our time in certain Christian contexts, especially in Pentecostal and Charismatic circles. (3) I am also quite convinced that demonic spirits are very active in the world today, and that they can empower individuals to do miraculous things (2 Thess. 2:9). Now, if one accepts all three of these affirmations, the logical conclusion is that the miraculous phenomena occurring even in the Christian contexts are from Satan.

Third, such a conclusion is not at all impossible or unbiblical. In fact, it is actually REQUIRED by Jesus’ teaching in Matt. 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” Note: these people were doing miraculous things: performing miracles, and prophesying (a term that includes speaking in tongues in Acts). There is no indication that their claims were false. Also, they were doing these miraculous things IN THE NAME OF JESUS, i.e., in a Christian context. But they could NOT have been doing them through the power of God, because Jesus declares “I never knew you.” Whence, then, comes such power? The only reasonable answer is: from demonic spirits.

Fourth, when such people speak and act through demonic power in Christian circles, are they not saying and doing things that bring glory to God? Why would Satan be involved, if “ultimately God is receiving the glory?” We should note first of all that not everything said and taught and “prophesied” in such circles brings glory to God. Much falsehood is usually involved. Second, remember that the devil’s main work is deception (John 8:44). Deception by its very nature involves lies that SEEM to be true (see 2 Cor. 11:13-15), e.g., by being perpetrated in a Christian context by people who think they are following Jesus (calling Him “Lord, Lord”). Third, the devil is quite willing to produce some good works (e.g., to empower people to heal the sick in the name of Jesus, or to reinforce a person’s piety by enabling him to speak in tongues) if that can ensnare more people to accept his lies. I use the analogy of playing checkers: one strategy is to give up one of your checkers if it puts you in a position to catch two or even three of your opponent’s checkers. Satan is a master of this strategy. (I cannot speculate as to how this strategy might have been involved at Cane Ridge.)

I recommend to all the following book: John MacArthur, “Charismatic Chaos.”

158. The Levirate Law and Ruth 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, October 15, 2009 at 11:09am

HERE’S A QUESTION: “We're studying Ruth in our SS class. I need some insight into the Levirate law. Did this cause a man to commit polygamy? Was it only the firstborn son who belonged to the dead brother/relative? If so, why is Boaz mentioned as Obed's father?”

MY FEEBLE ATTEMPT TO ANSWER: This sort of question drives me to my handy Bible dictionaries, from which I have gleaned a few facts. First, “levirate” has nothing to do with Levi; this word comes from a Latin word for “brother-in-law,” namely, “levir.” Second, this practice did not necessarily originate within the chosen family; “it has been found to exist in many Eastern countries, particularly in Arabia and among the tribes of the Caucasus.” Its first mention in the Bible is Gen. 38:8, in reference to Onan, where it is sanctioned by God as applying to his people. It was incorporated into the Law of Moses in Deut. 25:5-10.

Did it cause a man to commit polygamy? The answer would seem to be yes, since no exception is given in the case of a living brother who may already be married. But in those days, polygamy was tolerated by God on the same ground that he tolerated divorce, i.e., “because of the hardness of your heart” (Matt. 19:8). (That latter part is my speculation.)

According to Deut. 25:6, it does seem that only the first-born son from the new marriage was named for the dead brother and became his heir. The actual father would still be responsible for raising this child, though, and any others that came from this new union. For all practical purposes he is part of the living brother’s family. For genealogical purposes, Boaz is Obed’s father.

In the case of Boaz, Obed, and Ruth, we should note that this situation is not strictly governed by the law of Levirate marriage, but is actually pursued more in line with the law of property redemption as found in Lev. 25:23-25. The following is taken from the ESV Study Bible, p. 476, commenting on the book of Ruth:

“The book of Ruth describes two legal institutions combined in one practice (which the Law of Moses does not require), namely, property redemption by a near kinsman and the ‘levirate’ marriage. Property redemption by a relative assured that land would not remain in perpetuity outside the family (see Lev. 25:23-25). Levirate marriage (from Latin levir, ‘husband’s brother’) involves a childless widow marrying her husband’s brother to provide an heir for the dead husband . . . . Differences in Ruth, as compared with these laws, reflect customs applicable to particular circumstances. Boaz, a close relative (but not the closest), redeemed the property (Ruth 4:9), married Ruth (4:10, 13), and fathered Obed (4:13, 17), who became heir to the property of the deceased.”

159. The Cane Ridge Phenomena 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 5:29pm

I RECEIVED THIS QUESTION: One of the first events in the history of the Restoration Movement was the Cane Ridge [KY] Meeting in the early 1800s, where about 20,000 people gathered for revival. During this revival many strange and possibly frightening activities took place, described as “exercises” in various forms. Witnesses describe people fainting, barking, dancing, laughing, and ultimately “jerking.” This last exercise involved individuals with feet planted on the ground moving in strange ways, making large 180-degree “jerks,” i.e., touching the forehead and then the back of the head to the ground without moving their feet. It is said that even women jerked so hard that their hair made the sound of a bull whip. What do you make of this event? Barton Stone seems to have been particularly troubled by these events but ultimately concludes that because the result was faith in Christ there was nothing to be feared. What do you think?

MY REPLY: I have not done a really detailed study of the Cane Ridge phenomena, but what I have become aware of leads me to believe that there was demonic activity involved. Some of the phenomena have modern equivalents in Charismatic contexts, e.g., fainting could be similar to being “slain in the (s)pirit,” and so-called “holy laughter” is a fairly common modern “exercise.” Things like this could have psychological explanations, but some of the other things, especially the “jerking,” appear to be supernatural, defying natural law. In general, I hold the view that the Spirit does not give miraculous gifts to Christians after the apostolic age (see my books on the Holy Spirit). But I acknowledge that truly supernatural (even miraculous) events take place in certain Christian contexts today (such as Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement). The only explanation for such events, I believe, is that those who exhibit them have been inadvertently taken over by demonic spirits, and are producing such miraculous activities through demonic power (see 2 Thess. 2:9). At least some of the Cane Ridge exercises seem to come within this range.

What many people do not realize is that such practices can occur within a Christian context. See Matthew 7:21-23. Here Jesus says that many who have cast out demons, have prophesied [which includes tongue-speaking], and have worked miracles EVEN IN HIS NAME will be lost because they are outside the will of God. Thus I would want to distance myself from Cane Ridge, even though we are historically connected with it. From my point of view, nothing in the Restoration Movement as such is “untouchable.” Our Movement may have begun IN SPITE OF Cane Ridge, not because of it. “The Bible and the Bible alone is our only rule of faith and practice.” This is still a basic principle.


by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 10:39am

AN INQUIRER WRITES: “We are studying prayer in our small group. I remember a conversation that came up in one of our classes in Bible college. Since Jesus has already died for our sins, do we ask for forgiveness in a prayer, or do we simply just thank God for having already forgiven us of our sins? Do we make a request or just say ‘Thank you’?”

MY REPLY: First, you would not say it this way: “Since Jesus has already died for our sins, do we ask etc.?” You would say it thus: “Since by God’s grace we have already been justified through our faith in Jesus (i.e., since we have already received the gift of forgiveness), do we ask etc.?” The crucial point is not exactly that Jesus has already died for our sins, but that we have already received the benefit of that death in our baptism.

Second, we do continue in that state of forgiveness 24/7 by continuing to acknowledge our need for it and by continuing to trust in his saving death for us. We do not lose that forgiveness simply by committing a sin or sins (see below); we lose it by giving up our faith in him.

Third, it is more precise to thank God for his ongoing gift of forgiveness than to ask him for the gift. Acts 22:16 teaches that the sinner accepting Jesus for the first time should enter baptism praying for God to bestow the gift of forgiveness. Ananias exhorts Saul of Tarsus (later Paul the Apostle) thus: “Having arisen, and having called upon His name, get yourself baptized and wash away your sins.” This is the literal translation. “Washing away sins” in this context is the same as forgiveness. “Calling on his name” (see Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21) is a prayer for forgiveness.

Fourth, it is perfectly appropriate to pray that God will CONTINUE to apply the atoning blood of Christ to us. Such a prayer is an ongoing acknowledgement of our sin and of our continuous need for forgiveness.

Fifth, a large element of this last prayer is praying that God would strengthen us to KEEP OUR FAITH IN CHRIST STRONG, since our faith is what keeps us in the forgiven state.

Sixth, we do not lose our salvation each time we sin, thus do not need to utter a new prayer for forgiveness of that specific sin in order to be restored to the saved state. First John 1:9 is not talking about the confession of a specific sin in order to be forgiven again; it is talking about the ongoing confession THAT we are sinners as a condition for STAYING forgiven. (This is like an ongoing state of repentance.) This is in contrast with the person in 1 John 1:8,10, who DENIES THAT he is a sinner. In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector, the Pharisee is the person in 1 John 1 8, 10; the tax-collector is the person in 1 John 1:9.

161. Ananias and Sapphira: Saved or Lost? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 9:38pm

HERE’S AN INTERESTING QUESTION: “We are working through the book of Acts in our Sunday School class, and last week discussed Ananias and Sapphira. The question which hung a few of us was: ‘Did they go to heaven when they were struck dead?’ Most of us felt, assuming they were born again believers, they did. If all it took to banish a born again believer to Hell was sinning at the moment of death, Grace would seem less ‘graceful.’”

MY REPLY: I vote with the majority here. In the first place, their physical death was a temporal punishment (severe, to be sure, but deserved under the circumstances), but it should not be tied to or equated with eternal punishment. Second, contrary to a widespread fallacy, an individual sin (except for the sin of unbelief) does not necessarily separate us from the grace of God. It is possible to fall from grace, but this is a drastic step and should not be equated with individual sins. We all sin despite our earnest desire not to do so (see Romans 7:14-25); but this affects our efforts toward SANCTIFICATION, not our secure state of JUSTIFICATION. See chapter 4, “Grace as a Double Cure,” in my recent book on grace, “Set Free! What the Bible Says About Grace” (College Press). (Also in this book, see pp. 303ff. on falling from grace.)

Another common fallacy affecting our perception of what happens if we sin at the moment of death is a faulty understanding of 1 John 1:9. This is usually understood as implying that every sin separates us from grace and puts us into a state of lostness; we stay in that lost state until we repent and confess that specific sin and pray for its forgiveness. But if we die after sinning and before confessing, we have been taught to assume we will go to hell. But this is not what 1 John 1:9 means. Rather, John is saying that a continuing confession of the fact that we ARE SINNERS (i.e., a repentant heart) is part of what keeps us within the grace of God. See again my book, “Set Free!”, pp. 314-316, for a fuller explanation of why this is the correct understanding of this verse.

This gives us a whole new perspective on suicide, also.

162. "The Spirit's Sword": Resisting Temptation Through the Word 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 8:48pm


Part of the “full armor of God” is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:13, 17). An old hymn speaks of “overcoming daily with the Spirit’s sword.” The question here is this: how can we use the Word of God most effectively in our battle against temptation? For one thing, we must SEEK, KNOW, BELIEVE, and LOVE the truth of God's Word. We know that when Jesus was tempted, he quoted Scripture (Matt. 4:1-11). Only an intimate familiarity with the Bible will enable us to do the same. When temptation assails us, by knowing Scripture we can quote a relevant passage and picture ourselves as holding it between us and Satan like a ready sword. At the same time we must believe that God's Word is truly powerful enough to defeat the devil, being confident like Luther that "one little word shall fell him." We must remember the imagery of Revelation 19:15, where Jesus is pictured as victoriously confronting His foes with a sharp sword coming out of His mouth.
It is indeed important to know and believe the truth, but something more is necessary to ward off temptation. These are exercises of the intellect, but temptation is an onslaught against the will. We can strengthen our wills to resist temptation only when we have developed a deep LOVE for the truth (2 Thess. 2:10). Loving the truth is really no different from loving God Himself. To love God "with all your mind" (Matt. 22:37) means to love his Word and hold it dear, and to want to honor Him by obeying it not just outwardly but from your heart (Rom. 6:17). To love God's truth means to passionately embrace it, and to bind it to your very life and self. It means to make it such a vital and inseparable part of your very own being that you would rather die than go against it, that you would rather pluck out your eyes or cut off your hands than to use them to disobey God's Word (Matt. 5:29-30).
We can cultivate our love for God's Word by reading it and studying it, not just as an academic duty but as a devotional exercise. Both are important, but we must remember that these are two different things. All Scripture can be read devotionally, but some parts, such as the Gospels and the Psalms, lend themselves to this purpose more readily than others. Especially useful is a frequent reading of Psalm 119, which dwells on the Psalmist's deep love for God's Law. See vv. 1-5, 20, 35, 40, 44, 47, 72, 97, 103-104, 111-112, 127, 131.
Loving God's Word is a protection against temptation because it is impossible to really love the Word without at the same time hating evil (Rom. 12:9). Because he loved God's Law, said the Psalmist, he hated every false way and everyone who did not keep His Word (Ps. 119:104, 128, 158). "I hate and despise falsehood, but I love Your law" (Ps. 119:163).
Hating evil comes not only from knowing and meditating upon the laws and commandments of God's Word, but also from knowing and embracing its gospel message. When we know that Christ died for our sins, and when we really understand what that means—that He actually suffered the equivalent of eternity in hell, that He actually took upon Himself the penalty that we deserve because of our sins—if this does not make us hate our sins, nothing will. There is truly POWER in the blood of the Lamb: not just power to take away the guilt and penalty of our sin, but power to take away our LOVE for sin and to replace it with a hatred for sin that will repel temptation before it gets close enough to entice us.

163. Is 1 Tim. 2:12 a Concession to Culture? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 5:07pm

THIS IS A FOLLOW-UP to my recent note on women preachers. One respondent asks,

“Would it not be appropriate to acknowledge the cultural context of Paul's writing? Paul was writing in a time when it was culturally inappropriate to do as Paul said. However, in a cultural setting that would accept a woman's wisdom and speaking ability, wouldn't it be acceptable to allow a woman to preach?

“I mean in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul says that it is disgraceful for a woman to pray with her head uncovered, but we do not take this literally. Many women pray with their head uncovered. However, it seems to me that Paul was saying this in cultural context. It would offend people, at that time, if a woman did not have her head covered, just as it would have offended people for a woman to speak in a church. Would you not take that into consideration?”


It is true that some aspects of apostolic instruction are culturally sensitive, as with the head-coverings (see my recent FaceBook note, “Head Coverings in 1 Corinthians 11:1ff.”). In 1 Timothy 2 the references to lifting holy hands in v. 8 and to certain kinds of attire in v. 9 are probably reflections of certain cultures. However, there are general ethical and spiritual teachings which cannot be just adaptions to the culture, such as praying per se (v. 8) and dressing modestly (v. 9). On which side of this fence does Paul’s instruction about “women preachers” fall? To say it is somehow culturally determined seems to fly directly in the face of Paul’s own rationale for the prohibition as stated in vv. 13-14, i.e., the order of creation.

Those who try to explain Paul’s prohibition as a concession to the Ephesian culture usually depict that culture as repressive of women. E.g., one Bible college president said, “Maybe the missing link here is in the cultural situation in the Mediterranean world at that time. Women in general were not allowed to speak publicly, especially to men, because for the most part, they had not been educated, and so had nothing helpful to contribute to the corporate meeting. And the forward woman was viewed as being coarse.” An avowed feminist put it thus: “Most women at the time were ignorant, illiterate and strangers to any form of education.”

The problem here is that such statements are mere assumptions, not based on any solid research into the “Mediterranean world” of Paul’s day. The fact is that the pagan culture of Ephesus at that time was replete with women religious leaders, so much so that what Paul is teaching does not make concessions to that culture (as this argument alleges), but actually goes AGAINST what was allowed by the culture. The notion of women in leadership as being "culturally inappropriate" at that time and place is one of the many myths surrounding this subject. See, e.g., Albrecht Oepke’s article on “gune” [woman] in Kittel’s “Theological Dictionary of the NT” 1:776-89. See also Manfred Hauke, “Women in the Priesthood” (Ignatius 1988), 340-343, 401-402. (Citations from these authors are given in my book, "Feminism and the Bible," 319-21.)

Also, on this same point, I recommend a forth-coming book by a non-instrumental churches of Christ brother, Bruce Morton, called "Deceiving Winds," published by 21st Century Christian (which has just announced that this book has gone to press). It is a thorough study of the historical and cultural background of Ephesus as it affects several of Paul's writings. The book is especially relevant on this issue.

After reviewing the facts about the culture, one could best argue that the PRESENCE of female teachers and priestesses in the pagan world was the very reason why Paul gave his specific instruction AGAINST such practices in 1 Tim. 2:12. Pagans may allow these things, but God does not.

164. The Bible: Revealed, Inspired, or Both? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:57pm

A RECENT QUESTION: “I'm going through ‘The Holy Spirit’ with a church group right now. I realize that not all of the Word is given to us through special revelation. Would it be fair to say, however, that technically all of Scripture is revealed since revelation is both specific and general?”

MY REPLY: First let me refer you to my book, “Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit” (College Press, 2007, 506pp.), which has a long chapter on “The Holy Spirit and the Bible” (pp. 47-95). This chapter discusses the Holy Spirit and the ORIGIN of the Bible (which is where your question enters), the HS and our UNDERSTANDING of the Bible (which has a long critique of the false doctrine of illumination), and the HS and the TRUTH of the Bible.

I also have a smaller book on the HS: “The Holy Spirit: A Biblical Study” (College Press, 131p., pb), which is good for leading small groups. It has ten chapters plus study questions. Every member of the study group can have a copy of the small volume, while YOU, the TEACHER, can use the larger volume!

In answer to your question, if you are asking whether some of the Bible is the product of special revelation while some of it is the product of general revelation, the answer is No. General revelation by definition does not apply to the Bible at all. It is the non-verbal revelation that appears in the created universe (Psalm 19:1-6; Acts 14:17; Romans 1:18-21) and that is written on the heart (Romans 2:14-15). It is called general revelation because it is available to all of the human population in general.

All revelation found in the Bible is special revelation, since by definition special revelation (verbal or non-verbal) is that which is given by God at a specific time in history to specific individuals or specific groups. Much such revelation was given by God to the authors of the books of the Bible at specific times in history, who then wrote this revelation down as Scripture and thus passed it along to all of the human population. Though it is now available to all people, this Biblical revelation is still special revelation because the original acts/events by which it was given to the Bible writers were very specific regarding time and recipients.

If only some parts of the Bible are revealed, does this mean that the non-revealed parts are not necessarily true and not authoritative? Not at all. Though only some parts of the Bible are revealed, ALL parts of the Bible (both its revealed parts and unrevealed parts) are INSPIRED by God, i.e., written down under the direct supervision of the Holy Spirit. Thus every part—every word—of Scripture has the divine “stamp of approval,” and is thus completely trustworthy and authoritative (it its original form). What makes the Bible authoritative and inerrant is not its character as revelation, but the fact that it is “God-breathed,” i.e., “inspired by God” (2 Tim. 3:16). Because of inspiration, we can speak of the whole Bible as being “the Word of God,” or even “the words of God” (Rom. 3:2).

165. Women Preachers 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:21pm

A RECENT REQUEST: “I have a question about women preaching. I have always been taught that this is the man's job. I guess what I do not understand is how some people feel so strongly one way about this issue, and others feel so strongly another way, but both feel that they are doing God's will? Where do you draw the line?”

MY REPLY: I draw the line where Paul draws it in 1 Timothy 2:12 – “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.” This is the only verse in the Bible that actually does draw a line between what a woman can and cannot do in the church today. The two things she cannot do are: (1) teach Bible doctrine to Christian men, and (2) exercise authority over Christian men. The former rules out women as preachers, and as teachers of adult Bible classes where men are present; the latter also rules out women as elders. Any other tasks that actually involve either of these two things would also be ruled out. I discuss this passage in some detail in my book, “The Faith Once for All,” pp. 431-440.

With the line drawn at this point, there are obviously relatively few things that a woman is prohibited from doing in the church; dozens of functions and tasks fall on the unprohibited side of the line.

The above is the more or less traditional view of the subject of gender roles. Those who feel strongly that this view should be maintained usually do so because of a strong commitment to the authority of the Word of God. Those who take the opposite view (defending women preachers, teachers, and elders) may indeed accept the Bible’s authority, but they have also been strongly influenced by the feminist or egalitarian elements in modern culture, which elevate what they call “women’s experience” to a level of authority higher than Scripture itself. (See my out-of-print book, “Feminism and the Bible,” for an explanation of this point.)

This commitment to the authority of “women’s experience,” which is basically the FEELING that women should be able to do whatever men can do, has generated a decades-long effort to REINTERPRET all the Bible texts about gender roles, including 1 Tim. 2:12. In my judgment these attempts at reinterpretation have abandoned the normal rules of hermeneutics and have produced blatantly false interpretations of the relevant Bible texts. See my two major books that examine and expose this faulty feminist hermeneutic: “Gender Roles and the Bible: Creation, the Fall, and Redemption” (College Press, 319pp.); and “Headship, Submission, and the Bible: Gender Roles in the Home” (College Press, 334pp.).

I consider this crusade to reinterpret these gender texts to be a good example of the false use of scholarship that Soren Kierkegaard was addressing in the quote from him that appeared in one of my recent notes entitled, “Is God Really Our Lord?”

166. "Once Saved, Always Saved" & Luke 8:13 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 2:20pm

A RECENT REQUEST: “I have been debating a Calvinist over necessary perseverance, and I was wondering your view on Luke 8:13. Do you believe this describes a true believer or a false believer? The Calvinist is arguing that Jesus shows that if someone falls away from the faith, they were never saved to begin with. He believes that his arguments for eternal security rise and fall based on the four soils of Jesus' parable. If you could offer any advice or input, I would greatly appreciate it.”

MY REPLY: Your Calvinist adversary has chosen a very weak redoubt if he is attempting to defend “once saved, always saved” based on the parable of the sower. Jesus very clearly states that only the first soil (the roadway) did NOT produce faith when the seed fell upon it (Luke 8:12). These only hear, but “will not believe and be saved.” (He does not specifically state one way or the other whether the third and fourth soils produced faith; but it is obvious that the fourth one did, and the third probably did, too.) He also clearly states that the second (rocky) soil DID produce faith: “they believed for a while” (v. 13). In verse 12 Jesus specifically connects believing with salvation. Thus it is proper to conclude that the believers in v. 13 (the rocky soil) were saved for the period of time when they believed. Otherwise Jesus is using the word “believe” in two different senses in these two connecting verses, which would be unnecessarily confusing. The fact is that there is absolutely no basis for the distinction between a “true believer” and a “false believer.” A person is either a believer or not a believer. Only the false presupposition that one who is truly saved cannot lose his salvation causes anyone to try to make this distinction.

Please consult my book, “The Faith Once for All,” ch. 21, “Assurance of Salvation,” for a concise refutation of the “once saved, always saved” doctrine (pp. 375ff.). The strongest passage against this false idea is Romans 11:17-24 (esp. v. 22). In this passage Paul is addressing the Gentile Christians (wild olive branches) that have been grafted into the church (the post-Pentecostal olive tree) along with believing Jews. He says in v. 20 that (you) Gentiles “stand by your faith,” i.e., they are a part of the tree by trusting in God’s kindness (v. 22). This can only be a true faith; they are obviously true believers. But then in v. 22 he says if they do not continue in God’s kindness, they will be cut off from the tree. I.e., they now have true faith, but they can lose it and be lost. See my commentary on Romans for further comments on this passage.

167. Head Coverings in 1 Corinthians 11:1ff. 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, October 2, 2009 at 4:30pm

What about Head-coverings in 1 Cor. 11:5-6?

AN INQUIRER ASKS for a word or two about women wearing head coverings, especially in light of 1 Corinthians 11:5-6.

FIRST OF ALL, I refer everyone to my book, “Headship, Submission and the Bible: Gender Roles in the Home” (College Press, 2008). See especially ch. 20. The main point of this section of Paul’s letter is male headship, with the principle stated in v. 3: “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” The verses that follow show the OT support for this principle, as grounded in creation.

In reference to head coverings, there is a distinction between the unchanging fact of male headship, and the changing or relative cultural expressions of it. I.e., in different cultures male headship is symbolized by different practices. To engage in these practices shows acceptance of the principle; to violate these practices shows a rebellion against the principle. In Paul’s day the practice that showed acceptance of male headship was that women covered their heads in worship, and men did not.

This is seen in verses 7-10, which say: on the one hand, a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but on the other hand, because the woman is the glory of man, she ought to wear a symbol of male authority on her head.

Most agree that the head covering was what symbolized male headship in that culture. In other cultures, other practices may symbolize the unchanging principle and should be followed. In the U.S. today head coverings mean nothing one way or the other. The one practice that has over the years symbolized male headship seems to be the woman’s taking on her husband’s last name after marriage. The fact that many married women today are keeping their own last name or are forming hyphenated last names may be indicative of a growing rejection of this Biblical principle.

Again I refer my readers to the web site of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, i.e., : click on Resources, and type “head coverings” into the search block near the top right corner of that screen. Quite a few references will appear.

168. Head Coverings in 1 Corinthians 11:1ff. 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, October 2, 2009 at 4:30pm

What about Head-coverings in 1 Cor. 11:5-6?

AN INQUIRER ASKS for a word or two about women wearing head coverings, especially in light of 1 Corinthians 11:5-6.

FIRST OF ALL, I refer everyone to my book, “Headship, Submission and the Bible: Gender Roles in the Home” (College Press, 2008). See especially ch. 20. The main point of this section of Paul’s letter is male headship, with the principle stated in v. 3: “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” The verses that follow show the OT support for this principle, as grounded in creation.

In reference to head coverings, there is a distinction between the unchanging fact of male headship, and the changing or relative cultural expressions of it. I.e., in different cultures male headship is symbolized by different practices. To engage in these practices shows acceptance of the principle; to violate these practices shows a rebellion against the principle. In Paul’s day the practice that showed acceptance of male headship was that women covered their heads in worship, and men did not.

This is seen in verses 7-10, which say: on the one hand, a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but on the other hand, because the woman is the glory of man, she ought to wear a symbol of male authority on her head.

Most agree that the head covering was what symbolized male headship in that culture. In other cultures, other practices may symbolize the unchanging principle and should be followed. In the U.S. today head coverings mean nothing one way or the other. The one practice that has over the years symbolized male headship seems to be the woman’s taking on her husband’s last name after marriage. The fact that many married women today are keeping their own last name or are forming hyphenated last names may be indicative of a growing rejection of this Biblical principle.

Again I refer my readers to the web site of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, i.e., : click on Resources, and type “head coverings” into the search block near the top right corner of that screen. Quite a few references will appear.

169. Depravity: Total, Partial, or None at All? 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, October 2, 2009 at 3:27pm

Does Scripture Teach TOTAL, PARTIAL, or NO Depravity?

A QUESTIONER ASKS, what Scriptures disqualify (I take this to mean disprove) Total Depravity in human beings? And if Total Depravity is ruled out, does that mean we are PARTIALLY depraved?


Depravity as such has to do with the sinfulness of our human nature, i.e., having a nature that has been infected with sin like the body can be infected with disease. It means having a sinful, evil, spiritually diseased or dead nature. The first issue is WHETHER a sinner’s nature is even depraved at all. (1) Pelagians (those who agree with Pelagius—lived late 4th, early 5th centuries) would typically say no one ever has a depraved or sinful NATURE. (2) Non-Pelagians believe in depravity but are divided into two categories: semi-Pelagians, who say all human beings have a PARTIALLY depraved nature; and Augustinians, who say all have a TOTALLY depraved nature. I am a non-Pelagian on this, since I believe it is clear that sinners have a sinful, depraved, evil nature. (See my book, “The Faith Once for All,” 195-197.)

The second issue is HOW the sinner’s nature becomes depraved. Most say that the sinful nature is part of the condition called “original sin” that is inherited by or imputed to every human being as the result of Adam’s sin. The other possibility is that depravity is an acquired condition, the result of the individual’s succumbing to temptation and committing personal sins. The main Scripture that is relevant to this issue is Romans 5:12-19. Augustinians and semi-Pelagians typically say this text teaches that all human beings are born in original sin as the result of Adam’s sin. I deny this interpretation of this text, and argue instead that it teaches ORIGINAL GRACE—that any consequences of Adam’s sin that WOULD have come upon all are in reality removed from all by the atonement of Jesus Christ. No one is actually born with any spiritual consequences of Adam’s sin. (See “The Faith Once for All,” 181-190; see my Romans commentary on this text.)

Putting these two paragraphs together, I believe that every human being does actually ACQUIRE a depraved nature, as one result of personal sins.

The third and last issue is TO WHAT DEGREE does a person become depraved? Here I argue strongly against total depravity and for partial depravity. The key difference is this: those who believe in total depravity say that sinners have a total inability (lack of free will) to believe and repent in response to the gospel call. This requires God to unconditionally choose whom he will save, and then to bestow upon these chosen ones the irresistible gift of regeneration, with subsequent gifts of faith and repentance. On the other hand, those who believe in partial depravity say that no matter how evil sinners may be, they all have the ability to make a free-will choice to accept the gospel.

In “The Faith Once for All” (pp. 197-200) I show that Bible texts that supposedly teach total depravity (e.g., Rom. 8:7-8; John 6:44) do NOT do so, and that other Bible texts specifically disprove total depravity. The main example of the latter is Colossians 2:12, which says a sinner is buried and raised up with Christ in baptism THROUGH FAITH in the working of God. Remember: the total depravity advocate says that regeneration must precede faith; until he is regeneration he is not able to believe. But in this passage, regeneration (i.e., dying and being raised up with Jesus, see v. 13) comes THROUGH faith, which means that faith must precede regeneration. This is a death blow to total depravity.

Our spiritual history includes this sequence: because of original grace, we are born with no depravity; through personal sin we acquire partial depravity; through a free-will choice we accept God’s double cure of grace, the second part of which begins to heal our depraved nature; in our eternal state our depravity is completely removed. At no point are we totally depraved.

170. The Difference between the Authority and the Applicability of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16) 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, October 2, 2009 at 11:45am

ONE OF MY READERS sent the following (edited) query:

In your book, “Set Free: What the Bible Says About Grace,” you say that Paul’s assertion that “we are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14-15) means that we are not under the law SYSTEM of salvation. It does NOT mean, however, that we are no longer under a law CODE, i.e., a list of commandments we are obligated to obey. You say that everyone is always under some law code. You also say that the Law of Moses “has been replaced with another law code, i.e., the law commandments that are included in the New Covenant Scriptures.” My question now is this: How does this work in the context of 2 Timothy 3:16? This verse says that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.”


2 Timothy 3:16 definitely refers to “all Scripture,” including both Old and New Testaments. Verse 15 refers to the “sacred writings” which Timothy had learned since childhood, which would have been the OT writings. Then in v. 16 Paul expands the scope of his reference to ALL Scripture, which would include the New Covenant inspired writings. Even Paul’s own writings were being referred to at this time as Scripture; see 2 Peter 3:15-16, where Paul’s letters are compared with “the rest of the Scriptures.”

The main point of 2 Tim. 3:16 is that all Scripture is “theopneustos,” or “God-breathed,” i.e., “breathed out by God” (sometimes translated “inspired by God”). The main point is that the ultimate origin of all Scripture is God; thus all Scripture—OT and NT—is the WORD of God, and thus absolutely trustworthy (inerrant) and authoritative. Thus the Law of Moses (the Mosaic law code) was and still is absolutely trustworthy and authoritative, as is everything in the NT Scriptures, including its New Covenant law commandments.

There is a difference, however, between AUTHORITATIVE and APPLICABLE. The authority of all parts of Scripture never changes; it will always represent the mind of God and will always be absolutely true. But some parts of Scripture will not always APPLY, in the sense that their commands will not always be binding, in view of the change from Old Covenant administration to New Covenant administration. In particular, the Mosaic law code ceased to APPLY—it ceased to be binding as a code of conduct—when Christ’s death established the New Covenant; but it did not cease being the authoritative Word of God.

171. Is Biblical Inspiration a Proof of Calvinism? 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 4:27pm

SOMEONE HAS WRITTEN about a “Calvinist challenge,” thus: “I wanted to pass along a challenge a Calvinist has thrown down. My answer, thus far, has been that Scripture is silent on the ‘mode’ of inspiration, leaving the Calvinist with the same conundrum. I wondered if you might have a further thought on the following challenge:”

“How is it that God inspired the Scriptures in such a way that every word—indeed, every jot and tittle—was what He determined? Every standard evangelical definition of inspiration would emphatically insist that God used the personalities, vocabularies, intellects, and learning of the individual authors—and we completely agree. Let's also stipulate that He did not employ dictation (except in a few cases where this is expressly stated). Yet the product was still determined sovereignly by God. The words are avowedly His words (2 Peter 1:21; 1 Corinthians 2:13). So how did this miracle occur?

“I say you cannot answer that question without embracing the very essence of the Calvinist position regarding God's sovereignty and human free will.” [So says the challenger.]


In my book “What the Bible Says About God the Ruler” I show the clear distinctions among THREE different ways God works in the world: general providence, special providence, and miracles. (See also “The Faith Once for All,” 119-125.) The "Calvinist challenge" (above) seems to equate Biblical inspiration only with the category of miracles, which is shown by the emphatic use of the terms “miracle” and "determined." My understanding of inspiration is that every jot and tittle of the Bible is APPROVED rather than determined. Every word is approved by God and thus bears his guarantee of truthfulness and his authority. Only the dictated parts would be produced by a process equivalent to miracles (and thus determined). Other parts are produced by a process equivalent to special providence, as in God's life-long preparation of certain individuals to be Biblical authors, or in his raising certain thoughts and memories to the writers’ minds. Still other parts are produced by a process equivalent to general providence, in that they are the authors' own thoughts and feelings (as in many Psalms, or in Paul's list of greetings in Rom. 16), which are subject to God's PERMISSIVE WILL only. But since God’s permissive will implies his right and ability to PREVENT any about-to-happen product of a writer’s pen from actually being written (e.g., a factual error), even that part of Scripture produced under his permissive will (i.e., general providence) has his approval. This shows how the Bible can be fully inspired and authoritative without saying that its every letter is “determined sovereignly” by God. The free will of the authors is still operative under general providence and special providence. Thus the so-called "Calvinist challenge" proves to be quite toothless.

172. Forgiveness in the Old Testament 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 3:34pm


In your Romans commentary (Vol. I, p. 264) you say that the sins of OT saints were not just "rolled back" until Jesus' crucifixion, but that the certainty of Jesus' propitiatory sacrifice enabled God to forgive the sins of OT saints even during the OT era. What, then, is Isaiah referring to when he says in 22:14: "Till your dying day this sin will not be atoned for." What is the sin? Why was it not forgiven during their time? How can any sin not be atoned for?

Also Isaiah says later in 27:9: "By this, then, will Jacob's guilt be atoned for, and this will be the full fruitage of the removal of his sin." What is the "this" referring to? How does that atone for Jacob's guilt? How can anything outside the cross atone for guilt of sin? What does a "full fruitage" mean in regard to removal of sin?


These are very perceptive questions. Regarding Isaiah 22:14, the reason for the declaration of nonforgiveness (“this iniquity shall not be forgiven you,” literally, “shall not be atoned for”) is the people’s attitude of no repentance as expressed in vv. 12-13. Verse 12 says God called on them to repent, but v. 13 says they continued in their sinful revelry. This is always true: no forgiveness without repentance. Regarding Isaiah 27:9, this is addressed to the nation of Israel as a whole, not to any individual or individuals within Israel. It has to do with God’s dealing with Israel as a nation. Because of their national idolatry and sinfulness, God punished them (with temporal, not eternal, punishment) by sending them into captivity first in Assyria then in Babylon. This is the point of v. 8. Then he says in v. 9 that this time of captivity has been ample punishment for “Jacob,” i.e., the nation of Israel. The time spent in captivity is what “atoned” for their national sin. “Through this” means through their time in captivity. Remember that Isaiah is talking here about temporal punishment and redemption for the nation of Israel, not eternal punishment for individuals as such.

173. Are We Arminian, Pelagian, or Whatever? 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 2:47pm

HERE IS ANOTHER QUESTION: How does the Restoration Movement compare with Calvinism and Augustinianism? I am assuming that we are of an Arminian persuasion, but I would flatly deny the doctrine of total depravity and original sin, which many Arminians claim to believe. So, does that make me a Pelagian or semi-pelagian?


Not all Arminians affirm total depravity and original sin. Even those who say they do (mostly Wesleyan Arminians) have a device called "prevenient grace" that nullifies the total depravity for all people and enables all to respond to the gospel with free will. I define an Arminian as anyone who accepts (significant) free will, i.e., who believes that any sinner can respond positively to the gospel message (via faith & repentance) without the selective, irresistible gift of enabling grace posited by Calvinists as the answer to total depravity.

Pelagianism vs. semipelagianism need not be brought into the discussion. A Pelagian is someone who believes that there are NO spiritual effects coming upon the human race as the result of Adam's sin, especially no eternal condemnation and no spiritual depravity of any sort. A semipelagian believes there is no eternal condemnation that comes upon the race through Adam, but everyone does receive from Adam a partially depraved nature. Either view qualifies as Arminian. Alexander Campbell was a semipelagian; see his book “The Christian System,” chapters 5-7. On the question of Adamic sin I take a view that I call "original grace," which is the opposite of original sin. This view is explained in my “Faith Once for All” and in my commentary on Romans 5:12-19. As a result my view qualifies as Arminian.

I realize that many say that anyone who denies original sin and total depravity is not a true Arminian, and is indeed a Pelagian. Thus, because of the ambiguity of these terms, I find it to be clearer if I just say that I am a "non-Calvinist." People read their own interpretations into “Arminian” and “Pelagian.” The key issue is significant free will. It does not matter what Arminius himself believed, or Pelagius, or John Wesley. Each has his own nuances. The only crucial thing for the difference between Calvinists and non-Calvinists (or “Arminians”) is whether a sinner, upon hearing the gospel, has the ability to respond to it without having to be irresistibly caused to do so.

174. Thomas Campbell's Declaration & Address 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 11:34am

ANOTHER RECENT QUERY: What is your opinion of the relevance or validity of Proposition 6 in Thomas Campbell’s “Declaration and Address,” which reads thus:

6. That although inferences and deductions from Scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God's holy word, yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of Christians farther than they perceive the connection, and evidently see that they are so; for their faith must not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power and veracity of God. Therefore, no such deductions can be made terms of communion, but do properly belong to the after and progressive edification of the Church. Hence, it is evident that no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have any place in the Church's confession (from “Historical Documents Advocating Christian Union” [Chicago: Christian Century Co., 1904], p. 110).


A lot depends on how Thomas Campbell [TC] is defining his terms. I begin with the distinctions that I made in a presentation on faith and opinion at a recent CRA Bible conference. If "matters of faith" means "essential for salvation," and if that is what TC means by "their faith," i.e., their SAVING faith, and if that is what he means by "terms of communion" and "the church's confession," then I agree with him. In this case, as I see it, the basic essentials (for salvation) are few—in particular, the Biblical teaching about the person and work of Jesus (deity, death & resurrection) and about how to be saved. Also, the essentials for salvation are the same as the terms of communion; the latter are neither more nor less than the former.

This leaves EVERYTHING ELSE SCRIPTURE SAYS, whether directly or by inference/deduction, as non-essential for salvation. But here is an extremely important point: though the rest is not essential for salvation, it is nonetheless authoritative truth which OUGHT to be believed by every Christian. I.e., we have a MORAL OBLIGATION to believe EVERYTHING Scripture says. Thus I am not comfortable with the language "not formally binding upon the consciences" of those who cannot see the connections.

Inferences and deductions are part of the process of reasoning, a process that is built into human beings by virtue of our being made in God's image. Our powers to reason are patterned after God's infallible, infinite reasoning nature. I think it is misleading to call "inferences and deductions" simply "the wisdom of men." True reasoning is godly wisdom (James 3:15-17), for God has bestowed this ability upon us (though necessarily in a finite way). It is also too much of a generalization to excuse men from believing such inferences and deductions on the basis that they do not perceive or see the connection. This is so because so much of what we perceive or see or believe is not the result of our intellect but of our will. Sometimes people do not perceive such deductions, not because it is beyond their reasoning power, but because they do not WANT to see them. See Romans 1:18ff. It is a matter of hardness of the heart (Eph. 4:18).

Either way, however, i.e., whether one CAN not or WILL not see the connections, such refusals to accept inferred truth in matters of non-essential (for salvation) doctrine do not condemn a Christian and should not hinder fellowship. In such cases a person is saved (justified) in spite of his false beliefs, just as all Christians are saved (justified) in spite of their sins (Rom. 3:28). Truth is still truth, however, and should always be sought and taught as such. What is not essential for justification is still essential for sanctification.

In cases where inferred truth is not accepted, I believe God will apply the principle of judgment called "conscientious response to available light." Only in this sense are such truths not BINDING on the conscience. I think TC is clear in his affirmation and defense of truth and sound doctrine even in inferred matters, since he calls them "the doctrine of God's holy word" and since he says they should be taught for the church's edification. There is no comfort in TC for those who are saying today that if it is not necessary for salvation, it is "just your opinion" and it does not matter what you believe about it. I see this attitude itself as a “doctrine of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1).

(All the above remarks are extemporaneous and do not follow any certain logical order.)

175. Martin Luther on Immersion 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 10:45am

A RECENT QUESTION: Was Martin Luther himself immersed? The question came up at church yesterday in a discussion about Martin Luther's high view of baptism.

MY REPLY: I do not know the answer to your question. I do know that Luther strongly defended the practice of immersion. E.g., in his treatise, "The Babylonian Captivity of the Church," printed in “Three Treatises” (Fortress 1960), he says, "The second part of baptism is the sign, or sacrament, which is that immersion in water from which it derives its name, for the Greek 'baptizo' means 'I immerse,' and 'baptisma' means, 'immersion'" (186). "It is therefore indeed correct to say that baptism is a washing away of sins, but the expression is too mild and weak to bring out the full significance of baptism, which is rather a symbol of death and resurrection. For this reason I would have those who are to be baptized completely immersed in the water, as the word says and as the mystery indicates. Not because I deem this necessary, [!!!] but because it would be well to give to a thing so perfect and complete a sign that is also complete and perfect. And this is doubtless the way in which it was instituted by Christ. The sinner does not so much need to be washed as he needs to die, in order to be wholly renewed and made another creature, and to be conformed to the death and resurrection of Christ, with whom he dies and rises again through baptism" (191). "Baptism swallowed up your whole body and gave it forth again" (192). Here he gives three reasons for immersion: 1) This is what the Greek word means. 2) Only immersion truly portrays physically what is happening spiritually at that time. 3) This is what Jesus himself instituted. In the face of these overwhelmingly convincing reasons, how he can in the same breath say that this is not necessary is completely infathomable. It is an example of how irrational we can become at the temptation of Satan and his demons (1 Tim. 4:1).

176. Are Demons Active Today? 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 10:28am


QUESTION ABOUT DEMONS: Where does the Church of Christ (nondenominational) stand on the issue of demonic activity in modern times? Does demonic possession exist only in Catholic lore and legend, or does our fellowship also believe in its possibility, but not enough to ever really mention it? If you could refer me to any reputable reading on the matter, I’d be deeply appreciative.

MY REPLY: There is no unanimity on this issue within Restoration Movement circles today. In earlier times, including my student days, the tendency was to deny modern-day demonic activity. Ever since the occult "came out of the closet" in the late 1960s, I believe the tendency has shifted in the other direction. Ever since the early 1970s I have taught that demons are very active in the world today, and that even Christians can be demonized. I have a brief section on this in my book, "The Faith Once for All" (ch. 8). I believe in this very strongly. In fact, I teach a one-credit course on Demonology in our seminary curriculum; it is required for those in the counseling program. Also, I am teaching a ten-week Wednesday-night series on this subject in my local church (Bright Christian Church, Bright, IN). For reading on the subject, you could see Ben Alexander's work, including his book, "Out from Darkness" (revised ed., 1993). He is a converted spiritist and has first-hand experience with modern demon activity. He denies that demons can be present in Christians, though; I disagree with him on this. Non-Restoration authors I recommend are Merrill Unger, C. Fred Dickason, and Neil Anderson. A Restoration author who denies modern demonic activity is Wayne Jackson from the Apologetics Press. See his “Demons: Ancient Superstition or Historical Reality?” in AP’s periodical, “Reason and Revelation” (April 1998). I believe his arguments are faulty, though.

177. Thoughts on 1 Cor. 14:34 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, September 25, 2009 at 10:03pm

A RECENT REQUEST ASKS, “Could you point me to some literature regarding Paul's intent with his comment in 1 Corinthians 14:34 and what we are to make of it today? I am just now beginning a study on this and wanted a place to begin. Also, what is your take on this text?”

MY REPLY: The place to begin on this or any similar text is at this web site: . This is the site for a scholarly evangelical non-feminist organization (for which I am on the board of directors) called Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. When the web site comes up, find the white search block in the upper right corner and type 1 Cor 14:34 ; then click go. A long list of on-site materials citing this verse will appear; the first one is very good. You can search through the rest as time allows.

My take on the verse is that Paul is here prohibiting women from using their supernatural spiritual gifts of prophecy and speaking in tongues in the Christian assembly (but not in private). This is part of the overall instruction on how to use such gifts in the assembly “properly and in an orderly manner” (v. 40). Verses 26-33 give other rules about such speaking and silence; v. 34 is just a continuation of instructions on how to use these gifts. For further such instructions, the women are told to ask their husbands at home (v. 35).

One clue pointing to this meaning is that the word for “speak” in vv. 34-35 is “laleo,” which is the same word used in the previous verses for speaking in tongues and prophesying: vv. 27, 28, 29. Also, the word for “keep silent” in v. 34 is the same used in vv. 28, 30. The word is “sigao,” which means literally not to speak. This is different from the word used in 1 Tim. 2:11-12, which is “hesuchia,” which means “quietness,” i.e., in a quiet manner. There is no prohibition against women speaking in the assembly as such.

First Corinthians 11:5 allows women to prophesy and speak in tongues; however, this verse is not about the assembly, but is about private use of the speaking gifts. Verse 11:18 shows that Paul begins to speak about problems in the assembly at that point.

That women are prohibited from using these speaking gifts in the presence of men is probably related to the creation order set forth in 1 Cor. 11:5, that in general “the man is the head of a woman.” See my lengthy discussion of this verse in my book, “Headship, Submission and the Bible” (College Press, pb., 334p), chs. 20-22. (For a shorter version, go to the CBMW web site and type my name in the search block; then click on the second resource that shows.)

Other non-feminists take slightly different approaches, as does the author of the first resource under the CBMW site given above. The general conclusion is usually the same, though.

If one believes (as I do) that the Holy Spirit is not giving such supernatural speaking gifts (tongues, prophecy) to anyone today, men or women, then this verse, 1 Cor. 14:34, will have no application at all today. (My reasons for rejecting such supernatural gifts today are set forth in my books on the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit: A Biblical Study” (College Press, pb, c. 120pp.), chs. 8-10; and “Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit” (College Press, hb, c. 500pp.) ch. 11.

178. "Common Grace" in Calvinism 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, September 25, 2009 at 11:15am

A STUDENT WRITES, “Calvinists talk about ‘common grace.’ The idea seems to be that whatever joy we experience in this life is attributed to God's grace. I don't remember you mentioning this in Doctrine of Grace. Do you agree with this notion?”

MY REPLY: Not all Calvinists see eye-to-eye on the “common grace” concept. One of my Westminster Seminary professors, Cornelius Van Til, was its main defender. I do mention this concept in my grace course but do not dwell on it. See the section on “The Scope of Grace.” In my book on grace (“Set Free! What the Bible Says About Grace”) see pp. 166-167. This view says there are two kinds of grace: saving grace, which is the irresistible grace given only to the elect; and common grace, which is simply God’s good will toward his creation and which is experienced by all human beings in common (thus the name COMMON grace). This would include the blessings of God’s general providence such as rain and sunshine (Matt. 5:45) as given to just and unjust alike, and the rain and fruitful seasons that fill even the pagans’ hearts with food and gladness (Acts 14:17). This common grace is totally different from saving grace, however, and has nothing to do with the salvation of the elect.

Experiencing common grace has a lot to do with the eternal damnation of the reprobate, however. As its advocates explain it, the more common grace the reprobate receive, the more of God’s goodness they are guilty of rejecting; and the more goodness they reject, the greater is their damnation in hell. I challenged Professor Van Til on this point, saying that it is hardly proper to call it GRACE when its main result for the reprobate is to increase their eternal punishment. He did not appreciate my comments.

In class I acknowledge that the Biblical terms translated “grace” sometimes have broader meanings than saving grace; e.g., CHARIS has the general meaning of “a gift” or “a gift that brings joy”; sometimes it is used for gifts that do not include salvation as such. My preference is to reserve the English word “grace” for the saving grace that comes through Jesus Christ.

179. The Visible and the Invisible Church 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 9:50pm

Visible and/ or Invisible Church?

HERE IS ANOTHER QUESTION recently received:

“In a lesson on the Protestant Reformation Roger Chambers makes the claim that the invisible church, as Calvin, Zwingli, and even Augustine viewed it, is a ‘myth.’ Chambers says that their view was that the 'real' church was the invisible church, mainly because they looked around and saw the visible church as being so corrupted. This is why, when Protestant literature speaks of the 'real' church, or invisible church, they use the words 'Christian' or 'Church of Christ'; but then when they speak of the visible church, it doesn't really matter what you call it—Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, etc.—because that's not the real church. Chambers does say in a sense there is an invisible church but not as the Protestants view it. He says the genius of the Restoration Movement is that its leaders said the visible church was just as 'real' as the invisible church. If it is real in the abstract, why can't it be physically real as well? Chambers’ argument from Scripture is that the church was always local in Scripture. The local church ‘is’ the church, and not some abstract idea. Do you agree with this view?”

MY REPLY: I will not try to comment on the Reformation or modern Protestant view, but I will state my view. In the Restoration Movement it is quite common to dismiss the idea of an invisible church, which is in a way the opposite of the “Protestant” view described above. I agree with Chambers, that there is a real invisible church and a real visible church.

The distinction between visible and invisible raises the question, “visible/invisible TO WHOM?” The answer is, TO MAN, since nothing is invisible to God. As applied to the church, this means that the BORDERS of the church are visible/invisible to human observers. There is such a thing as the church whose borders are invisible to us as human beings, i.e., the universal aggregate of those who are under the blood of Jesus Christ and whose citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). This is the universal body of Christ, of which Paul speaks in Eph. 5:22-33. ONLY GOD KNOWS who is truly a part of this body, since it includes all those who have met the conditions for salvation no matter what church affiliation they may have, or whether they have any at all. (Many in these latter situations have sanctification problems, obviously.) Also, only God knows who may have membership in a local congregation but who is not truly converted. This is the “invisible” church only in the sense that such membership is invisible to finite human observers. (Thus I do not agree that the church is always “local” in Scripture.)

180. Sons of God and Daughters of Men in Genesis 6 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 5:44pm

Sons of God and Daughters of Men in Genesis 6

I HAVE RECEIVED this inquiry: “A member of my church has grabbed onto some strange teaching that all centers on the interpretation of Genesis 6, that the ‘sons of God’ are fallen angels and that the giants in the land are half man, half demonic beings basically, and that the ‘seed of Satan’ still exists today. He weaves this together with lots of Scriptures that include in the end a certain view of biblical prophecy. Can you help?"

MY REPLY: Recommended resources are Merrill Unger, “Biblical Demonology,” pp. 45-52 in the edition I have; and C. Fred Dickason, “Angels: Elect and Evil,” pp. 157ff., 222-225 in my edition. I can’t shed any light on the real identity of the nephilim, but I can say with confidence that they are NOT the offspring of angels (alleged to be the “sons of God” in Gen. 6:2, 4), and human women. In the OT this distinction between sons and daughters is sometimes used to refer to the good guys vs. the bad guys (Exod. 34:16; Num. 25:1). Thus many believe that in Gen. 6:2 the writer is saying that the godly descendants of Seth (Gen. 4:25) began to intermarry with the ungodly descendants of Cain. Keil & Delitzsch, in their commentary on this verse, say, “This description applies to the whole human race, and presupposes the intercourse of marriage of the Cainites with the Sethites” (“The Penteteuch,” I:127).

The idea that the “sons of God” are angelic is an old view and was found among the Jews around the time of the NT. A Jewish apocryphal writing called “The Book of Enoch” (some parts as early as the second century b.c.) says, “Wicked spirits came out of the body of them (i.e., of the women), for they were generated out of human beings, and from the holy watchers (angels) flows the beginning of their creation and their primal foundation. The spirits of heaven—in the heaven is their dwelling, and the spirits begotten upon earth—in the earth shall be their dwelling. And the spirits of the giants will devour, oppress, destroy, assault, do battle, and cast upon the earth and cause convulsions” (Merrill Unger’s version of Enoch, “Biblical Demonology,” 46).

I believe this view (that the “sons of God” are angelic and that they impregnated human women with continuing results) cannot be true. First, it is metaphysically impossible for angels to impregnate human women. [We should note that angels do not sexually reproduce among themselves: Matt. 22:30.] The main reason for this is that angels (fallen or unfallen) are composed of non-material spirit, and human women (for reproductive purposes) are composed of material flesh. For a woman to become pregnant, male sperm is necessary. Under no circumstances can angelic beings somehow turn into material stuff or be transformed into a real material body that can produce material sperm. Nor can angelic beings simply create some kind of sperm ex nihilo; creation ex nihilo is something only God can perform. Angels can perform miracles; thus one might say these “sons of God” miraculously caused pregnancies without male sperm (as in Mary’s virgin conception). But the product would be wholly human, not a hybrid or combination of angel and human.

Second consideration: even if such unnatural beings were conceived and born (which I deny), the flood would have destroyed them all, so that none would be surviving today. Indeed, the whole purpose of the flood was to destroy the product of the marriages between “sons of God” and “daughters of men,” whatever this product was. To say that such a “seed of Satan” still exists today would be to say that God’s purpose for the flood failed. That is an attack on God himself.

181. To Whom Should We Pray? 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 4:00pm

I received this question from a FaceBook friend: “To whom should we pray? Jesus says we are to pray, ‘Our Father who art in heaven’ (Matt. 6:9). He also says if we ask HIM anything, he will do it (John 14:14). The final prayer of the Bible is made to the Son: Rev. 22:20. Is this a big issue?”

FOR MY ANSWER, I will copy a couple of paragraphs from my book, “God the Redeemer” (p. 171), from the chapter on the Trinity.

The Trinity has an important place in our worship. In addition to the occasional references to "Father, Son and Holy Ghost" in our hymns, our prayers are distinctly trinitarian even if we are not specifically conscious of it. Typically, following Jesus' example and teaching (Matt. 6:9), we pray TO "our Father who art in heaven," and we pray THROUGH Jesus' name (John 16:23-24). At the same time the Holy Spirit strengthens us and clarifies our thoughts when we are struggling in prayer (Rom. 8:26; Eph. 6:18). Although it has broader applications, Ephesians 2:18 sums up the roles of the Trinity in our prayers: "For through Him [Jesus] we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father."

This helps to answer the question, to whom should our prayers be addressed? Some advocate praying directly to Jesus, citing as precedents the "maranatha" prayer of I Corinthians 16:22 ("Our Lord, come!") and Revelation 22:20 ("Come, Lord Jesus"). Robert Crossley suggests that one might begin his prayer time "by asking the Holy Spirit for his help, that you may be enabled to concentrate and to pray effectively in line with God's will." But the Biblical examples regarding prayer to Christ are scant and specialized to say the least, and non-existent in reference to the Holy Spirit. In my opinion it is best to follow the almost universal Biblical practice of praying to the Father. This in no way demeans the full deity of the Son and the Spirit. It simply respects the reality of the economic Trinity [i.e., the “division of labor” among the persons of the Trinity, so to speak] as discussed earlier, i.e., the fact that Father, Son and Spirit have different roles in their redemptive relationships with their creatures. When we pray to Jesus instead of through him, it obscures the uniqueness of his glorious role as high priest and mediator between us and the Father (I Tim. 2:5; Heb. 4:14-16). Also, Crossley's suggestion that we pray directly to the Spirit for strength is contrary to Paul's command that we pray to the FATHER "that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man" (Eph. 3:16; cf. 3:14).

182. A wrong view of law and grace

 byJack Cottrellon Friday, September 18, 2009 at 2:42pm

TODAY I RECEIVED the following (edited) inquiry:

“In a Bible study, a member asked me about (I can't recall the exact names, but I believe she said) ‘star, morning and evening’ dispensations. I don't recall the exact terms. A previous minister had taught on these dispensations. I know he is a Premillennial Dispensationalist. Is this part of dispensational theology, or am I forgetting something? I can't find any reference to these in the Bible, and neither could I find them in your book, ‘The Faith Once for All.’"


In this view the three “dispensations” are starlight, moonlight, and sunlight. In the Christian Church context this language is probably not learned from premillennial dispensationalism; I'm not sure if these folks use it. The one place I have seen it is in a very widely used study booklet from Standard Publishing called “Training for Service: A Survey of the Bible,” Student Handbook, by Orrin Root (rev. Eleanor Daniel, 1983). It is from lesson 6, “Three Dispensations.” The terminology is applied thus: the starlight dispensation is the Patriarchal age, the age of promise; the moonlight dispensation is the Mosaic era, the age of law; the sunlight dispensation is the Christian era, the age of grace.

In my course on grace I use this as an example of one of the FALSE ideas of grace that permeate the Restoration Movement, i.e., that the distinction between law and grace is a matter of historical sequence, with salvation by law applying to the Old Covenant era and salvation by grace applying only to the New Covenant era. I describe this view and give a longer quotation from the booklet in my new book on grace, “Set Free! What the Bible Says About Grace” (College Press). Then I make this comment: “I cannot emphasize strongly enough just how WRONG this idea is, and how critical a hindrance it is to a right understanding of grace” (p. 111). And then I explain why it is false. (Perhaps your Bible study group would profit from a study of “Set Free!”)

I do not refer to this view or to this booklet in “The Faith Once for All.”

183. Bibliography on Homosexualism 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 4:34pm

A FaceBook friend asked for suggestions re books on both sides of the homosexual question (same-sex attraction). Here is such a list, with notations. Double-asterisk means they are especially recommended. J.Cottrell

BAILEY, Derrick Sherwin. Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition. London: Longman, Green and Co., 1955. An early revisionist view of Biblical teaching, defending homosexual behavior.

BAKER, Don. Beyond Rejection: The Church, Homosexuality and Hope. Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1985. The story of a Christian homosexual who asked for his church's help, and how they responded.

BALCH, David L., ed. Homosexuality, Science, and the Plain Sense of Scripture. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000. Balanced.

**CONSIGLIO, William. Homosexual No More: Practical Strategies for Christians Overcoming Homosexuality. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1991. Valuable for counseling. Traditional view.

DAVIES, Bob; and Lori Rentzel. Coming Out of Homosexuality. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1994.

**DeYoung, James B. Homosexuality: Contemporary Claims Examined in the Light of the Bible and Other Ancient Literature and Law. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2000. Excellent, traditional.

DOBSON, James. Marriage Under Fire: Why We Must Win This War. Sisters, OR: Multnomah Press, 2004. I.e., the war against same-sex marriage. Traditional.

GLASER, Chris. The Word Is Out: The Bible Reclaimed for Lesbians and Gay Men. San Francisco: Harper, 1994. 365 daily meditations that reinterpret the Bible as pro-homosexual: "a joyous celebration of lesbian and gay spirituality," say the publishers.

JONES, Stanton L.; and Mark A. Yarhouse. Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church's Moral Debate. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000.

JORDAN, Mark D. The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997. Pro-homosexual.

**KENNEDY, D. James; and Jerry Newcombe. What’s Wrong with Same-Sex Marriage? Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004. Traditional

MAZZALONGO, Michael, ed. Gay Rights or Wrongs: A Christian's Guide to Homosexual Issues and Ministry. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1995. Restoration Movement, traditional.

McNeill, John J. The Church and the Homosexual. 3 ed. Boston: Beacon Press, 1988. A gay liberal Catholic defends homosexual relationships by reinterpreting Scripture.

McNeill, John J. Taking a Chance on God: Liberating Theology for Gays, Lesbians, and Their Lovers, Families, and Friends. Boston: Beacon press, 1989. Says Scripture and tradition support loving relationships between homosexuals.

MYERS, David G.; & Letha Scanzoni. What God Has Joined Together? A Christian Case for Gay Marriage. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005. (The 2006 pb. ed. omits the question mark from the title, and changes “A” to “The.”) Liberal “evangelicals.”

**NICOLOSI, Joseph; and Linda Ames Nicolosi. A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002. Traditional.

**SATINOVER, Jeffrey. Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996. Challenges the claim that homosexuality is an inherent condition.

SCANZONI, Letha; and Virginia R. Mollenkott. Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? A Positive Christian Response, revised and updated ed. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1993 (1978). Two "evangelical" writers reinterpret Scripture in order to justify certain homosexual relationships. An example of the widespread capitulation to modern culture.

**SCHMIDT, Thomas E. Straight and Narrow? Compassion and Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1995. Traditional.

SCROGGS, Robin. The New Testament and Homosexuality. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1984. Revisionist view of Biblical teaching. Pro-homosexual.

SIKER, Jeffrey S., ed. Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1994.

SOARDS, Marion L. Scripture and Homosexuality: Biblical Authority and the Church Today. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1995. Says it is not consistent with the will of God as revealed in Scripture.

SPRIGG, Peter; and Timothy Dailey, eds. Getting It Straight: What the Research Shows About Homosexuality. Washington, D.C.: Family Research Council, 2004. Scientific, sociological, and medical data – in defense of the Biblical view.

**SPRINGETT, Ronald. Homosexuality in History and the Scriptures: Some Historical and Biblical Perspectives on Homosexuality. Washington, D.C.: Biblical Research Institute, 1988. A very good study by a Seventh-Day Adventist. Responds to the current attempts to reinterpret the Bible as not condemning all homosexual relationships.

STOTT, John. Same-Sex Partnerships? A Christian Perspective. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998. Traditional.

WHITE, James and Jeffrey D. Niell. The Same Sex Controversy: Defending and Clarifying the Bible’s Message about Homosexuality. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2002. Traditional.

**WOLD, Donald J. Out of Order: Homosexuality in the Bible and the Ancient Near East. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997. Traditional.

184. Are we justified by Christ's LIFE or by his DEATH--or both? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 12:29pm

HERE IS ANOTHER QUESTION I received recently:

“I have been following a discussion on a Calvinist blog re: the ‘active obedience’ view of the atonement. I read your section in ‘The Faith Once for All’ [p. 323], wherein you call this a ‘serious error.’ I'd be interested to know why this is such a serious error, i.e. what it in fact might lead to. Thanks for any help.”

HERE IS MY REPLY: I usually speak of Christ’s “active RIGHTEOUSNESS” rather than “active obedience,” but I think these are close enough in meaning that we won’t quibble about it. Also, I see this as a view of justification, not of the atonement as such. I.e., is our justification grounded on Christ’s active righteousness, his passive righteousness (=the atonement), or both?

In this discussion it is assumed that God justifies sinners by imputing to us the righteousness (obedience) of Jesus. But Jesus’ righteousness is usually distinguished as (a) his ACTIVE righteousness, namely, his perfect, life-long obedience to the law code that applied to him as a human being; and (b) his PASSIVE righteousness, i.e., his submission to death on the cross as our substitute. (The latter is the atonement.) Which of these accomplishments of Jesus is imputed to our account as the ground for God’s justifying us?

Most Reformation-oriented Christendom says that BOTH aspects of Christ’s righteousness are imputed to us for justification. Some are very adamant about it and suggest that if one does not accept this view, the whole Christian gospel somehow is diminished. I do seriously disagree with this. In my judgment ONLY the PASSIVE righteousness (obedience) of Jesus is imputed to us: not his “doing,” but only his “dying.” Here are some reasons why I take this view.

ONE. Romans 5:18 specifically says that we are justified by Christ’s “one act of righteousness.” This can only be the cross. To claim that this refers to his entire life ignores the contrast that is being made with Adam’s ONE trespass, not with Adam’s whole life. See my commentary on Romans, re this verse: “What is this ‘one act of righteousness’? No doubt it means the atoning death of Jesus on the cross. Many try to expand this ‘one act’ so that it includes Jesus’ entire sinless life (e.g., Hendricksen, I:182; Cranfield, I:289). But Christ’s life as a whole hardly qualifies as ‘one act.’ More importantly, the comparison here is between ONE sinful act and ONE righteous act. To say that the latter includes the whole life of Christ compromises the comparison and forfeits the whole point of this passage (Dunn, I:283).” I came to this conclusion in the early 1960s while I was a student at Westminster Seminary, contrary to what was being taught in the classroom.

TWO. Jesus’ parable of the unprofitable servant in Luke 17:7-10 shows that even if any human being could live a perfect life, he is doing only what it is his DUTY to do; therefore there is no “extra merit” [profit] that can be used to cancel out sin—either for ourselves or for someone else. (See my book on grace, “Set Free!”, ch. 5.) Jesus was indeed a human being in every sense of the word, and thus under absolute obligation to live a perfect, sinless human life FOR HIS OWN SAKE. When he did indeed live his perfect life, he was only doing what he ought to have done; there were NO EXTRA MERITS from his perfect life that could be imputed to anyone else to offset their sins. This does not make his perfect life irrelevant for our justification, though. Only because he was perfect in his own active righteousness could he qualify to offer himself as an atoning sacrifice to bring justification to others.

THREE. There is absolutely NO NEED to impute both kinds of righteousness in order for justification to be made possible. To do so would be redundant, or overkill. The imputation of Christ’s passive righteousness (his propitiatory sacrifice) to us is ALL THAT IS NEEDED for God to justify us, i.e., cancel our debt of punishment in hell. If “Jesus paid it all,” then we are now accepted into fellowship with God and given the gift of eternal life by that fact alone. What more can be added by imputing to us Christ’s perfect life? On the other hand, if Jesus’ perfect life can be imputed to us for our justification, this too would be sufficient. But if that is the case, then it would be cruel and unnecessary for God to require Jesus to die on the cross also.

FOUR. Nowhere are we Christians spoken of and treated as if we are PERFECT, as if we had never sinned; we are spoken of and treated as if we are SINNERS who have been FORGIVEN. There is therefore now no condemnation (Rom. 8:1)—not because we are considered sinless, but because Jesus has already suffered that condemnation in our place. When God the Judge looks at us repentant, believing sinners and justifies us, he is saying to us “NO PENALTY FOR YOU”; he is not saying “NOT GUILTY.” Being justified does not mean God treats me “just if I’d never sinned,” but “just if I’d already paid my penalty.”

The inquirer wants to know why I think the “active obedience” view is such a “serious error.” The main reason is that it does not conform to the facts as revealed in Scripture, as seen above. I do not think those who hold to this false view are thereby led into serious doctrinal compromises in other places; that’s why I don’t make a very big deal of it.

185. How can 1 Kings 15:5 say that David sinned only in the case of Uriah? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 10:44am

An inquirer asked about 1 Kings 15:5, which reads (in the ESV), “David did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.” Verse 3 could also be noted, which says that David’s heart was “wholly true to the LORD his God.” This seems to say that David never sinned except in this one incident. But what about, e.g., the fact that he had multiple wives? And what about 2 Sam. 24:10, where David confessed that he had “sinned greatly” when he numbered the people? How can these texts be reconciled?

When I first read this question, my mind turned immediately to a subject that I have dealt with in my book, “God the Redeemer” (pp. 201ff.), namely, the distinction between man’s ABSOLUTE righteousness and his RELATIVE righteousness. The Bible affirms both. On the one hand, it denies that anyone is righteous in an absolute sense: “None is righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10). I.e., when compared with God’s own perfect holiness, no human being measures up (Rom. 3:23). But on the other hand, countless times the Bible refers to human beings who are righteous. This is true especially in the OT, where the righteous are constantly contrasted with the wicked. They are considered righteous because in a relative sense—i.e., relative to the wickedness of the wicked—they ARE righteous. They have a measure of piety and good works, of trust in and dependence upon God, that makes it proper for them to be called righteous—in comparison with the wicked. (See my full discussion of this in “God the Redeemer.”)

My judgment is that it is in this relative sense that David is described as having a heart that was “wholly true to God,” and as not turning aside from God’s commands except in the case of Bathsheba and Uriah. This Bathsheba incident was the one outstandingly grievous sin in his life, as shown by God’s judgment in killing the baby and by David’s inspired writing of Psalm 51. All his other sins paled in comparison with this one, so it is specifically mentioned in 1 Kings 15:5. Take this sin out of the picture, and David was indeed a kind of “super God-fearer,” especially in contrast with the wicked kings such as are mentioned in 1 K. 15:1-3.

One should also note that the main emphasis regarding David’s piety is that his HEART was right before God (1 Kings 11:4; Acts 13:22). I.e., one can have a strong, heart-felt desire to obey every one of God’s commands, yet slip on some of them. See Rom. 6:17; 7:13-25. This is the main point with David: in his heart he did not turn aside from any of God’s commands (except in the Uriah situation) in the sense that he fully desired to be completely obedient to God. This is seen in the very fact that once he realized that he HAD sinned against God, his heart was filled with repentance—as in 2 Sam. 24:10. This very confession is evidence that his heart was not turned aside from God.

Just because questions like this arise often in the course of our ministries, I recommend that every Christian worker have a copy of a book such as Gleason Archer’s “Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties” or Norman Geisler’s “When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook of Bible Difficulties.” Here I will close by citing Geisler’s remarks on this very passage, 1 Kings 15:5:

“The statement in question is by no means a pronouncement of David’s virtual sinlessness for several reasons. First of all, it is a general and true characterization of David’s life. Just as Job was not sinless, but was called ‘blameless and upright’ (Job 1:1), even so David’s life was without major fault. Second, this commendation of David is not absolute, but relative to all the sins Abijam had committed (cf. 1 Kings 15:1, 3). David did, with one major exception, ‘that which was right in the eyes of the Lord’ (v. 5). Third, even when he sinned, he did what was right, namely repented immediately when confronted by God (cf. 2 Sam. 12:1ff and 1 Chron. 21:8). Fourth, the exception clause (‘except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite’) is not found in many manuscripts of the OT, including the Vatican Ms. Without it, the point that this was only a general commendation of David has even stronger force. Fifth, the phrase ‘had not turned aside’ indicates that God is speaking of the generally steadfast direction of David’s life, not every specific sin in it. This would account for why David’s other sins are not mentioned, since they did not turn him from the generally forward direction of his life in serving the Lord to this point.”

186. Jehovah's Witnesses and the Deity of Christ 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 5:42pm

AN INQUIRER laid the following scenario before me, asking for some advice:

""I had a visit from a Jehovah’s Witness today. He claims Jesus is not God. He cites John 1:1 from his JW bible -- "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god." (The NASB does not include the article "a".) Is the insertion of the “a” a deliberate attempt to serve their purpose; or what?

""He quoted Colossians 1:15 as meaning that Jesus was a created being with no attempt to connect that verse with verse 18. He also claimed that Jesus did not forgive sins in the New Testament and that Jesus did not equate Himself with God the Father in the New Testament.

""I was unsuccessful in the attempt to dissuade him of these views. Is the attempt worth the effort? What is your advice in these matters?""

HERE IS MY ADVICE. First, I have found it very difficult to persuade JWs to renounce their false view of Christ or any other of their false doctrines. A main reason for this is that they have been thoroughly indoctrinated regarding all the objections that are usually thrown at them, and they have rehearsed answers for almost anything you will say. Thus I am not surprised at your last paragraph. You ask, is it worth the effort to try? In most cases I would say no, it is not worth the effort.

If you think there is any hope and want to continue, I would not spend a lot of time on John 1:1. We used to quote a rule of Greek grammar called “Colwell’s rule,” which said that a Greek noun that comes BEFORE the copulative verb is definite even if it does not have the article. This is not regarded as a firm rule any more. The bottom line for John 1:1 is that grammatically it COULD be “The Word was A God,” if this were warranted by Scripture as a whole. However, it COULD ALSO BE “The Word was God,” as it is usually translated in most non-JW contexts. The JW is wrong to say that it CANNOT be the latter and HAS to be “a god” just because there is no definite article. In fact, the JW bible itself translates John 1:6, “There arose a man that was sent forth as a representative of God.” But in the Greek, there is no definite article before “God” here, either; but the JWs translate it as “God,” contrary to their argument about 1:1. The same is true in vv. 12, 13, 18, etc.

Scripture as a whole, of course, shows that John 1:1 SHOULD be translated "The Word WAS GOD."

To say Jesus did not forgive sins ignores the clear testimony otherwise in Mark 2:9 (his miracle is performed to prove this very point); to say Jesus did not equate Himself with God the Father ignores John 5:23, which says that whoever does not honor the Son JUST AS (Greek, “kathos”) he honors the Father, does not honor the Father either. Jesus did not object when Thomas confessed him as “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

I refer you to my theology book, “The Faith Once for All,” to the section on the Deity of Jesus (pp. 231-246). See especially the section, “Jesus Is Identified with Jehovah” (240-241), where I show how OT texts that specifically speak of YAHWEH (Jehovah) are cited in the NT as referring to Jesus (e.g., Isaiah 40:3 & Matt. 3:3; Mal. 3:1 & Matt. 11:10; Psalm 102:25-27 & Heb. 1:10-12; Joel 2:32 & Acts 2:21, 36 & Rom. 10:9, 13).

To me the clearest testimony to Jesus’ deity is found throughout the Book of Revelation (FOFA, 239-40). E.g., Rev. 5:8-11 pictures the heavenly hosts as giving explicit worship to the LAMB: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (v. 12). Then comes perhaps the most irrefutable evidence of the deity of Christ in all Scripture, as “every created thing” (a category in which Christ is NOT included) offers worship to the Father AND to the Lamb identically: “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever” (v. 13). This text makes a clear distinction between Jesus and “every created thing.” Now, the only beings who exist are either uncreated, divine beings (i.e., GOD); or created beings (Rom. 1:25). So if Jesus is not in the category of created beings, he has to be in the category of God.

Even if JWs themselves will not listen to such testimony, we need to educate our own people so that they themselves will not be deceived into doubting Jesus’ divine nature.

187. What about Norman Geisler's Systematic Theology? 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 3:51pm

Someone asked me for my opinion of Norman Geisler’s four-volume systematic theology.

My opinion of Geisler in general is that he is a much better apologist than theologian. I like his works in the area of apologetics quite a bit and have made use of them often. I don’t agree with him on some things, e.g., his attempt to explain the presence of evil in the world (without evil we could not appreciate the good). Still, I don’t use any of his apologetics works as textbooks; the one best book for an apologetics text is William Craig, “Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics.”

In the area of theology, though, I think Geisler is sometimes in over his head. I came to this conclusion when I read his book “Chosen but Free,” in which he attempts to refute Calvinism but winds up with a confusing amalgamation of the Calvinist and Arminian views. (He calls himself a Calminian.) It was pretty bad.

I have not done a lot with his big four-volume work on systematics. Of course, a lot of it is standard evangelical theology, and one can learn from it. (I have the first three volumes, but have not sprung for the fourth one.) But there are other more trustworthy evangelical systematic theologies, especially Millard Erickson and Wayne Grudem (but watch out for Grudem’s Calvinism, premillennialism, and charismatic leanings). (If my objectivity could overcome my modesty, I would recommend my own systematic theology, “The Faith Once for All,” College Press, c. 600pp.)

One place where Geisler and I have interacted is with regard to the doctrine of salvation. When Geisler was writing his volume on salvation, he called me with a question (we are sort of friends). He wanted the names of some Restoration Movement books or authors that spelled out the traditional RM “plan of salvation,” i.e., faith/repentance/confession/baptism. The only thing I had immediately at hand was my own “Faith Once for All” (see chs. 19-20), so I told him about it.

I never thought much about it; but when his book came out, I found that he used my material as an example of this (to him) “false doctrine of salvation” as found in the RM. Especially, he ripped me up one side and down the other for violating the (to him) infallible doctrinal principle of “sola fide,” or faith only. I thought his exegesis of various texts was poor, and I know for sure that he misrepresented me in a number of ways.

The only place I have tried to respond to his view on this is in an informal presentation I gave on the CCU campus a couple of years ago called “The Tyranny of the Paradigm.” It can be found on the following website: . I have also incorporated this material in some of my “Reflections” articles that I am writing for publication in “Christian Standard” sometime toward the end of next year.

The bottom line is that I would not spend my money on the set.

188. Origin of the name "Hebrew" 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 3:09pm

Someone asked about the origin of the Hebrew term used for the Hebrew people. I take it that the question is about the term “Hebrew” itself, not “Jew” or “Israelite.” The best way to answer such a question is to look in a good Bible dictionary. The following is simply taken from the Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, ed. Merrill F. Tenney; and Unger’s Bible Dictionary.

In the Bible the name “Hebrew” is applied to Abraham and his descendants through Jacob, and is equivalent to “Israelite.” One explanation for the origin of the term is that it is from the word “Habiru,” found in documents from the 15th and 14th B.C., a name which along with Semitic equivalents refers to “wandering peoples greatly restricted as regards financial means and without citizenship and social status.” This name applied to many nomadic peoples. “In Egypt, the Israelites were reduced to a lowly position and later moved about in the wilderness. Conceivably they could, therefore, have been known as ‘Hebrews’” (i.e., “Habiru,” or poor wandering people). (As applied to the Jews, though, the name actually originated hundreds of years earlier, thus:)

Another possibility is that “Hebrew” can be traced to Eber, the father of Peleg and Joktan (Gen. 10:24-25; 11:12-16). Eber was a “prominent Semitic progenitor” and an ancestor of Abraham (Gen. 10:21-22). “The first person in the Bible called a Hebrew is Abram (Gen. 14:13).”

Still another possibility is that the name “is derived from the Hebrew root ‘to pass over’ and has reference to ‘a land on the other side,’ as the dweller [east] of the Euphrates might think of Canaan. So in Gen. 14:13, “Abram the Hebrew” may be “Abram who crossed the river,” i.e., the Euphrates. However, the possible equating of the Hebrews and the Habiru might suggest that the Hebrews were ‘those who crossed over’ in the sense of trespassing, i.e., ‘trespassers.’”

The bottom line is that no one knows for sure what the origin and significance of the name “Hebrew” are. The above suggestions are speculative; one of them may well be the correct explanation. One good thing, though, is that nothing is really at stake with regard to this issue.

189. Government's Role in Health Care 

by Jack Cottrellon Friday, September 11, 2009 at 12:37pm

I recommend the reading of an essay on "The Ethics and Economics of Health Care", by John W. Robbins, found at . Here is a story included in that essay:

Now let me turn from the New Testament to American history with a story about Congressman Davy Crockett from his biography, The Life of Colonel David Crockett.

Crockett, as a member of the House of Representatives, once voted to give $20,000 to the homeless victims of a fire in Georgetown. One of Crockett’s constituents, Horatio Bunce, told Crockett he would not be voting for him in the coming election because of that vote.

Crockett objected, “Certainly nobody will complain that a great and rich country like ours should give the insignificant sum of $20,000 to relieve its suffering women and children, particularly with a full and overflowing treasury.”

Mr. Bunce proceeded to explain why the vote was wrong:

It is not the amount, Colonel, that I complain of; it is the principle. In the first place, the government ought to have in the treasury no more than enough for its legitimate purposes.... The power of collecting and disbursing money at pleasure is the most dangerous power that can be entrusted to man. While you are voting to relieve one, you are drawing money from thousands.... If you had the right to give anything, the amount was simply a matter of discretion with you, and you had as much right to give $20,000,000 as $20,000. If you have the right to give to one, you have the right to give to all; and as the Constitution neither defines charity nor stipulates the amount, you are at liberty to give any and everything which you may believe, or profess to believe, is a charity, to any amount you may think proper. You will very easily perceive what a wide door this would open for fraud and corruption and favoritism, on the one hand, and for robbing the people on the other.

No, Colonel, Congress has no right to give charity. Individual Members may give as much of their own money as they please, but they have no right to touch a dollar of the public money for that purpose....There are about 240 Members of Congress. If they had shown their sympathy for the sufferers by contributing each one week’s pay, it would have made over $13,000. There are plenty of wealthy men in and around Washington who could have given $20,000 without depriving themselves of even a luxury of life. The Congressmen chose to keep their own money, which, if reports be true, some of them spend not very creditably; and the people about Washington, no doubt, applauded you for relieving them from the necessity of giving what was not yours to give.

So, you see, Colonel, you have violated the Constitution in what I consider a vital point. It is a precedent fraught with danger to the country, for when Congress once begins to stretch its power beyond the limits of the Constitution, there is no limit to it, and no security for the people.

190. Does God Have a Sense of Humor? 

by Jack Cottrellon Thursday, September 10, 2009 at 10:13am

One facebooker wonders (questions) whether God has a sense of humor. This could be taken in different ways. If one means, is he a comedian or joke-teller or practical joker, the answer is probably NO. If one means (as another facebooker puts it), does he have a sense of irony as some answers to prayer seem to suggest, the answer is a definite PROBABLY. If one means, does he ever do or experience something akin to human laughter, the answer is certainly YES.

Some think they detect humor in some of Jesus' interactions with others as recorded in the Gospels, e.g., Elton Trueblood's "The Humor of Christ." If you google "humor of Christ" or "humor of Jesus," you will find lots of references. Specific references to God laughing are Psalms 2:4; 37:15; 59:8; but these refer to the laughter of scorn or scoffing, not true humor. The rebellion and wickedness of sinners is not humorous, but it IS ridiculous--as if they think they can get away with it, or "put one over on God" thereby. On the other hand, Luke 15:10 says when a sinner repents there is JOY in the PRESENCE of the angels. It does not say the ANGELS as such are rejoicing (though they no doubt are), but someone in their PRESENCE. Who is in their presence? GOD. It is God who rejoices when a sinner repents, and his rejoicing must include at least a smile!

191. A Note on Psalm 105:18 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, September 9, 2009 at 5:50pm

A friend writes: “I was listening to a tape of Joyce Meyers. She read from her Bible Ps. 105:18, which is referring to Joseph. Her version said this: "The iron entered into his soul." I tried to look it up in my Bible and that version didn't imply that meaning. Mine says ....his neck was put in irons.
Now, I checked on Blue Letter Bible, and the only versions that listed it the way Joyce Meyers read it, is Young's Literal Translation and Darby Translation. I guess I am asking, which one is correct? It seems more of the translations we use every day do not translate it like the above version. There seems to be a much deeper meaning when it says 'the iron entered his soul'.” Thanks for any direction you can give me.

My reply: Go with this translation, "He was put into irons." From what I can find out, the IRON does not enter into HIM (his soul), but HE enters into the IRON. I.e., he is put into irons. A standard commentary on Psalms says that the translation "the iron entered into his soul" is contrary to the grammar of the statement, "the word for 'iron' being masculine, while that for 'soul' is, like the verb, feminine." I would point out that the sense that "he was put into irons" is consistent with the general form of Hebrew poetry called "Hebrew parallelism." I.e., in a couplet like v. 18, the two parts are generally synonymous. The translation "The iron entered into his soul" seems to be totally unrelated to the first part of the verse. I don't know why the NIV and other versions use "his neck." The fact is that the Hebrew word translated "soul" and "neck" is NEPHESH, which has 3 main meanings: (1) life; (2) soul/spirit; and (3) the person. Young/Darby/Meyers are going with the second translation, which is OK in other contexts, but not here. The best sense here is the third, "the person as such, the whole person, the person himself." That fits with the grammar, with the poetic parallelism, and with the best contextual meaning of the word. The New American Standard Bible (1995) says it right: "They afflicted his feet with fetters, He himself was laid in irons." (The KJV says "He was laid in iron"; the NKJV says "He was laid in irons.") The idea of iron entering into one's soul is a deep and lovely idea and probably was true for Joseph; and I'm sure Meyers was trying to teach from it some spiritual lesson about courage and resolve and determination and faithfulness. However, that is simply not what this text says.

192. "Once Saved, Always Saved????" 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, September 9, 2009 at 5:00pm

Someone told me that he is in discussion with an elder in a local church who is caught up in the "once saved, always saved" doctrine. He asked if I can give some help. On this subject I recommend an OP book by Guy Duty, "If You Continue"; and Robert Shank's "Life in the Son." I also have dealt with it a bit in my "The Faith Once for All," in the chapter on "Assurance of Salvation," and in my new book on grace, "Set Free! What the Bible Says About Grace," in ch. 15. Below are a couple of pages from this last reference:

The conditionality of staying saved is clearly affirmed in numerous passages. John 8:31 says, “So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.’” The key word here, and in the following texts, is IF: “if you continue.” Here Jesus speaks to those who were already believers, and declares that CONTINUING in his word—continuing to believe his teaching—is a condition for true discipleship. This clearly implies that it is possible for believers to stop believing and to cease being disciples.

The conditional nature of staying saved and the possibility of a believer becoming lost are clearly taught in John 15:1-6. Here Jesus is discussing those who are already truly in a saved state; they are branches that are “in Me” (v. 2), fully attached to the life-giving vine. But Jesus exhorts these branches to “abide in Me” (v. 4), clearly implying that whether we abide or remain in the vine is our own responsibility. Verse 6 clearly shows that it is possible for one to choose NOT to abide in Christ: “If anyone does not abide in Me . . . .” If anyone makes this choice, two things follow. First, the one who does not abide in Christ (i.e., ceases to believe) “is thrown away as a branch and dries up.” The expression “thrown away” is “eblethe exo,” literally, “thrown outside.” He was at one time inside—inside the church, inside the love of God, inside the circle of grace; but now he is outside, excluded from grace, as the result of his own initiative, not God's. Second, those who choose to stop believing and who are thus excluded from grace are finally condemned to hell: “They gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned” (see Matt 13:40-42). This is not equivalent to 1 Corinthians 3:15, where one's WORKS are subjected to the test of fire, thus affecting only the believer's reward. Here the excluded branches themselves—the fallen ones—are burned.

A similar text that clearly shows the conditional nature of staying saved is Romans 11:17-22. (See my Romans commentary on the text.) Here the original olive tree represents OT Israel, with the natural branches standing for the Jews; and the present version of the olive tree represents the church, with the combination of natural and engrafted branches standing for Jews and Gentiles who have become believers in Christ. In explaining this analogy Paul makes two points that totally disprove the “once saved, always saved” doctrine. First, when the natural branches (the Jews) were confronted with the gospel and then refused to accept Jesus as their Messiah and Lord, “they were broken off for their unbelief” (v. 20). Even if they were true believers in Yahweh and in a saved state prior to hearing the gospel, by virtue of rejecting Christ they became unbelievers—they “fell” (v. 22)—and thus were rejected by God and lost their salvation. Second, for the Gentiles who became believers and were grafted into the olive tree, Paul warns them to remain faithful, “for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God's kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off” (vv. 21-22). The final responsibility for staying saved clearly belongs to the believer: “IF YOU CONTINUE in His kindness.” The result of not continuing is made very clear; “otherwise you also,” like the unbelieving Jews, “will be cut off.”

Another such passage is 1 Corinthians 15:1-2, "Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.” Here Paul speaks to those who have known the gospel facts concerning Jesus (vv. 3-4), who have received them (past tense), who are standing in them (present tense), and who are saved by them (present tense). Surely he is speaking of those who have truly “believed” (v. 2). But Paul clearly says that continuing in this saved state is conditioned on continuing to hold fast to these facts, or continuing to trust in the saving work of Jesus for salvation: “if you hold fast.” If you do not hold fast, your past faith and your present faith will mean nothing; that faith will be “in vain.”

A similar text is Colossians 1:21-23. Verse 21 describes the Colossians’ (and every Christian’s) former state: “formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds.” Verse 22 then relates our present and future states. We are “now reconciled,” i.e., no longer aliens and enemies, but in a saved state because of our faith in the gospel (v. 23). Our future is the full sanctification and deliverance from sin that characterizes heaven: “in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.” But whether we reach that final salvation is clearly conditioned upon whether we continue to believe in Jesus Christ. Verse 23 states this condition unequivocally: “if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel.” The unavoidable implication is that we may choose NOT to “continue in the faith,” and may allow ourselves to be “moved away from the hope of the gospel.” Such a contingency would not be the result of a lapse in God's protection, nor the triumph of an enemy power; it would simply be the individual's exercise of his God-given free will.

The passages just discussed uniformly emphasize the conditionality of staying in a saved state: “if you continue . . . if anyone does not abide in me . . . if you continue . . . if you hold fast . . . if indeed you continue.” Even though now you are truly saved, if you do not continue to hold on to Jesus with true faith, you will be truly lost.

This understanding is greatly reinforced by a number of texts that specifically affirm the reality—either potential or actual—of falling away from the saved state into a state of lostness. In Romans 11:22 Paul speaks of the Jews who became unbelievers as “those who fell,” and he says that any Christian who does not continue to trust in the provisions of God's grace “will be cut off.” In the former case the lostness is actual, and in the latter case it is potential; but in both cases it is real.

In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 the Apostle Paul says that it is possible to run in a race and still lose and not receive the prize (v. 24). Some think this means that undisciplined believers (vv. 25-26) will simply lose their rewards, but not their salvation as such. Verse 27, however, shows this is not the case: “But I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” The alternative to finishing the race is to be “disqualified” (“adokimos”). In every other NT use of this word, it refers to the state of lostness, not to a loss of rewards. Paul is indeed saying that even he could lose his salvation if he does not persevere in the race unto the end.

In addressing the Judaizers in Galatians 5:4, Paul specifically affirms that they “have been severed from Christ” and “have fallen from grace.” This is clearly a state of lostness, which was preceded by a state of salvation. They could not have been severed from Christ unless they at one time were joined to him; they could not have fallen from grace unless they at one time had been standing in it (Rom. 5:2).
In 2 Peter 2:4 we are told that angels who sinned are “reserved for judgment,” i.e., lost and destined for hell. We must assume that all angels were originally created holy and in a right relationship with God, also that all were created with the free will to remain holy or to rebel against God and become lost. In this chapter Peter uses the "angels who sinned" as an analogy for Christian teachers who stray into heresy and wickedness, and thus lose their salvation (vv. 1-3, 9-19). That these teachers at one time were true believers is seen in v. 15, which says they have FORSAKEN the right way and “have gone astray.” This is especially seen in vv. 20-22, where these false teachers are described as earlier having “escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (v. 20), and as having “known the way of righteousness” (v. 21). Thus they have experienced three states: lost, saved, and lost again, just as “a sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire” (v. 22). The bad news is that “the last [lost again] state has become worse for them than the first” [original] lost state (v. 20). Without doubt this passage refers to specific individuals who actually fell from grace and lost their salvation. They are “twice dead,” as Jude 12 (NIV) says.

An even clearer teaching on the reality of falling from grace is Hebrews 6:4-8. Actually the entire letter to the Hebrews is based on the fact that such a fall is possible. The letter is apparently being written to Jews (i.e., Hebrews) who had become Christians, but who are now thinking they had made a mistake and are seriously considering abandoning their Christian faith and reconverting to Judaism. The theme of the entire letter is the danger and the foolishness of such a decision. If this decision is not possible, then the whole book of Hebrews is a sham. It is filled with warnings against turning away from Jesus Christ, the only source of salvation (2:1-3; 3:12-14; 4:1, 11; 10:26-39; 12:25).

The clearest such warning is Hebrews 6:4-8. On the one hand, here the writer is without doubt speaking of those who are TRULY SAVED, since they possess five characteristics of the saved state. 1) They are “enlightened,” i.e., they possess true knowledge and understanding of the gospel. 2) They “have tasted of the heavenly gift,” the gift of salvation in general (Eph. 2:8-9). 3) They “have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit,” having drunk the living water (John 7:37-39; 1 Cor. 12:13). 4) They “have tasted the good word of God,” having believed and received its promises. 5) They have tasted “the powers of the age to come,” referring to the already-experienced resurrection from spiritual death (Eph. 2:5; Col. 2:12-13), in anticipation of the future redemptive resurrection of the body.
The use of the word “taste” (“geuomai”) in these verses does not imply a tentative, aborted sampling of salvation in contrast with actual eating or consuming. (See Heb. 2:9, where the same word is used for Christ's TASTING DEATH on the cross.) It is used rather to contrast the real but incomplete salvation experienced in this life with the FULLNESS of salvation to be received in glory, in the same sense that the present gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit is but a pledge or down-payment of the full inheritance that is to come (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13-14).

The fact that those to whom this passage speaks are true Christians is also shown in the statement that, if they fall away, “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance” (v. 6). To speak of REnewing them AGAIN to repentance indicates that they were once in a state of repentance, indicative of salvation.

On the other hand, it is also clear that this passage warns against the reality of becoming TRULY LOST, as opposed to simply losing one's rewards. Verse 6 warns against becoming “fallen away,” a state devoid of repentance and hostile to Christ. The fallen one's life yields “thorns and thistles”; it is “worthless [“adokimos”] and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned” (v. 8; see John 15:6).

Passages such as these are completely contrary to the “once saved, always saved” idea. They cannot be explained away as referring only to people who were never saved in the first place, nor can they be reduced to the loss of rewards rather than of salvation of such. Nor can we say that they are merely HYPOTHETICAL warnings, by which God motivates us to remain faithful by threatening us with a scenario that in actuality could never occur. Such a ploy would be deceitful and cruel, and is unworthy of our gracious and loving Savior.

193. "Second Work of Grace" 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, September 9, 2009 at 4:08pm

I HAD A REQUEST about Wesleyanism: “The Wesleyan church believes there are two forms of grace. I don’t understand this. Their doctrine is similar to the Christian Church. Can you help me understand this?”


Wesleyanism includes those groups growing out of John Wesley’s teaching: Methodist churches, Holiness churches, and many Pentecostal churches. This theological school is similar to the Christian Church (Restoration Movement) in one main way: it is non-Calvinist, or Arminian; it accepts truly free will in human beings. In many other ways it is very different from the Christian Church.

The main way Wesleyanism differs from most other Protestant groups is in its view of the two works of grace. (The request speaks of two “forms” of grace. That is not the usual terminology.) The Wesleyan speaks of the FIRST “work of grace,” and the SECOND “work of grace.” The first work of grace is the gift of salvation, including justification and perhaps regeneration, given at conversion. This happens when the sinner chooses to believe and repent. (Water baptism is not necessarily involved.) At this moment the person becomes saved and begins to live under the grace of God, but something is still lacking. That which is lacking has to do not with justification, but with sanctification. There is an initial sanctification bestowed at conversion, but according to Wesleyanism God has a great deal more in store for the convert. This “something more” is the SECOND work of grace.

This second work of grace is thought of as full sanctification or entire sanctification, and some interpret this as the ability to live above sin from that moment on. This is a kind of perfectionism. The initially-saved Christian is encouraged to seek this second work, but he has no control over when it will be bestowed. When God decides the time is right, the Holy Spirit bestows this gift on the seeker. This moment has come to be known as the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is the main mark of Holiness churches. In Pentecostalism this baptism of the Holy Spirit became associated not just with holiness but especially with miraculous gifts such as tongue-speaking.

Basically, there is no Biblical basis for such a “second” work of grace, a point that has been well established by Frederick Dale Bruner in his book, “A Theology of the Holy Spirit” (Eerdmans 1970). I have a brief discussion of this view in my large book on the Holy Spirit, “Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit” (College Press, 2007). See the index entry, “second work of grace.” My view is that the double cure of grace is received at conversion, after faith and repentance and specifically during baptism. There is only ONE baptism in Christian experience (Eph. 4:5), which includes both baptism in water and baptism in the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13) in one event. From this point on the believer is completely justified, and continues to become more and more holy (sanctified) as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). There is no “second” crisis experience in this life resulting in a significant bump up to complete holiness. After death, our spirits are “made perfect” (Heb. 12:23).

194. Calvinism Summarized 

by Jack Cottrellon Wednesday, September 9, 2009 at 3:16pm

Someone writes, “I have been following the modern reformed church for some time now as a means for modeling a church plant. I see great success in converts and in the growth and life of the church through modern reformed preaching and practices (not to be confused with emergent church). The one thing I am struggling with is [how to] pick between the theological schools of thought called Calvinism and Arminianism. Can you clarify the key differences, or point me to a book that would be helpful but as minimally biased as possible? I feel like no matter which side you choose, it should not cause division in the church; so I would just like to see both sides equally and go from there. Another question: could you compare and contrast propitiation and expiation?

My brief answer:

FIRST OF ALL, you seriously underestimate the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism if you think you can choose between them and not “cause division.” The only way you could do this is to think that doctrinal truth is not very important. Among those who believe the Bible is the Word of God, there could not be greater opposites than Calvinism and Arminianism (or non-Calvinism). They have very different views of God, man, sin, salvation, and baptism. Wherever the two are doing church work together, one or the other is making serious compromises (maybe both are).

THE MOST SERIOUS CONTRAST regards the nature of the sovereignty of God. Calvinists say that God is truly sovereign only if he is the ultimate CAUSE of every single thing that happens. The result is that human beings CANNOT have a genuinely free will. Whenever Calvinists affirm “free will,” they are using a redefined version of it called “compatibilism.” I.e., free will is redefined in such a way that it is compatible with this omnicausal view of sovereignty. In such a case the will is not truly free. So if you want to hold to a concept of truly free will, you simply cannot be a Calvinist. True Biblical sovereignty means that God CONTROLS everything, which is not the same as CAUSING everything. (I have discussed this in my book, “What the Bible Says About God the Ruler,” and in my essay, “The Nature of the Divine Sovereignty,” in the book “The Grace of God, the Will of Man,” ed. Clark Pinnock.)

NEXT IS THE CONTRAST between the two views of sin and salvation, which for Calvinists are summed up as the “five points of Calvinism,” known as T-U-L-I-P.

The T stands for Total Depravity. In addition to denying truly free will in all human beings as the result of their view of divine sovereignty, Calvinists also believe that as the result of Adam’s sin every human being is born totally depraved, the essence of which is the bondage of the will. I.e., even if there USED to be truly free will, ever since Adam it no longer exists. What this means specifically is that NO ONE is able to respond in faith to the preaching of the gospel. There is a total inability to choose to accept God’s offer of salvation. This means NO ONE can be saved without the following:

The U stands for Unconditional Election. Since no human being is able to choose God, if anyone at all will be save, God must do the choosing. In fact, according to Calvinists, this is exactly the way it happens. From pre-creation eternity God already elected (chose, predestined) certain specific individuals who would come into existence in the future created universe. He elected them UNCONDITIONALLY, i.e., he did not say something like, “Whoever believes in Jesus will be chosen.” No conditions must be met; in fact, because of total depravity, even if God DID lay down certain conditions, no one would have the free will to meet them. So in the end God alone decides which human beings will become believers and have eternal life. That means God alone also decides which human beings will suffer in hell for eternity.

The L stands for Limited Atonement. I.e., Jesus actually dies on the cross for the ELECT ONLY. Since God is pre-programming all of human history, and is personally selecting certain individuals for salvation, he knows ahead of time just how much suffering Jesus will have to endure on the cross. Jesus does not die for the non-elect.

The I stands for Irresistible Grace. Since sinful human beings have no truly free will, there can be no sincere offer of salvation (via evangelism and preaching) to human beings in general. NO ONE has the ability to respond to the gospel. But God has chosen to save some, and Jesus has died for that limited number. So how is salvation actually bestowed on that person? By a sovereign, irresistible, efficacious changing of the selected sinner’s heart by a secret, inner working of the Holy S