Saturday, December 15, 2012

Rachel Weeping

Once again, we have been assaulted by an incomprehensible act of evil and children have become the target; children my grandson Josiah’s age.  Twenty children and six adults were the tragic victims of a lone gunman who, afterwards, apparently killed himself in a Connecticut elementary school that was worse in the toll of human life than Columbine.  As I write this blog, an investigation is underway and some details are sketchy for the most part but other details emerge, however, no reason for the massacre of children seems forthcoming.

And now, all the pundits will have their say, the airways will be inundated by opinion, newscasters will continue to report to the point of redundancy saying anything to fill the time, psychologist, psychiatrists, and experts in the criminal mind will give their assessment, and, like Columbine and the Aurora movie theater shooting at a “Batman” movie preview and, especially, 9/11, everyone will review it again over and over and over…and over.  They’ll hash over it on issue of gun-control, they’ll make speeches of how terrible it all is using the words, “devastated” and “devastating”, for the umpteenth time.  President Obama made an “emotional” speech with moving words of sympathy, and while I do not deny his sincerity, a couple of teardrops do not seem to adequately convey the genuine depth of the tragedy and loss.

A long time ago, I read a book about sociology.  I think it was “The Naked Ape” by Desmond Morris.  I was not a Christian at the time and it is not a Christian book.  However, I believe it was in there that I read something to the effect that the author is surprised that, upon reading the morning newspaper while eating breakfast, we don’t throw up.

Who fell on their knees and immediately cried with strong weeping when they first heard the news?  Has the love of many gone cold?  Who shared in the misery of those who lost their children?  Who cried for the children and adults who died senselessly?  Who wept for the emotional damage inflicted on the innocent children and staggering adults in that small town in Connecticut?

We say we are one human family, yet we actually do not feel much with others, especially their pain and sorrow.  A couple of teardrops just won’t do.

As Christians, we should be filled with much more of a sense of the sorrow and pain that others go through other than to casually remark, “Oh, my, this is terrible!” while we eat our breakfast.  We say we know Christ Jesus.  Yet, it seems we do not realize that he was a “man of sorrows, filled with grief.”  We read in the Bible that Jesus, the Son of God, wept over what others wept over in what is probably the most profound yet ignored and underrated verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.”  The writer of Hebrews does not say that Jesus dropped a couple of tears over the tragedy of man but “with strong crying and tears” to His Father, and “was heard.”  The Cross is more than God forgiving us.  It is God’s entrance into the depths and utmost experience of human tragedy; it is God taking upon himself more than our sin but also our feelings of deep sorrow and unmitigated pain.
Now it is our turn to enter into His sufferings, that is, that suffering, which he experienced with others; for that is why the apostle Paul calls it the "fellowship of his sufferings" that which he desired to embrace.
A suggestion: Alone at home or when we attend Church this Sunday, let us put our program aside and take the time necessary to enter into the sufferings of those in Connecticut and cry out to God.   In this time of Christmas, Rachel still weeps.
In Connecticut “there was a voice heard, lamentation and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing any comfort, because they are no more.”   ~ Matthew 2:18

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Case of Melancholia

I've a tendency to be depressed.  Although I think that word - depression -  is too strong.  I'd rather use the word, "melancholy".  However, when I looked up "melancholy" in an online dictionary, it seemed to connote even worse things rather than mere depression.  For depression we read things like "sadness; gloom; dejection."  For melancholy, "the condition of having too much black bile, considered in ancient and medieval medicine to cause gloominess and depression."  Even though this is an archaic meaning, bile!  Yucky!

Be that as it may, I'd still rather use the word "melancholy"; it's kind of soothing to say the word.  Besides, "depression" is used with so many negative connotations, too many to suit me...but then again, that's what melancholy is all about, being "negative" (or, so we think).

That's one of the reasons why I don't write too much on my blog concerning my personal life.  I think too much, my mind whirls with this and that in silent conversations with God all day long of things not inclined to being joyful.  If I were honest (and I hope I am being honest), most of my thoughts are complaints, questions, challenges to God.  Not that I nag God or I get into prayerful fisticuffs, but there's so much going on that is not the way it's supposed to be or, as the title of my daughter Sarah's blog suggests, "Not the Way I Planned It" (by the way, if any woman wants encouragement when things don't go exactly as expected, she should read Sarah's blog; it's gritty, funny, yet real, see:; but if you're of the melancholy sort, well, you can finish reading my blog here and check out Sarah's later).

My daughter's kind of laugh at my demonstrations of melancholia...

like reciting one of my favorite Bible verses: "It is better to go in the house of mourning rather than into the house of feasting"...

or, suggesting to my grandchildren, Josiah and Ella, a DVD to watch like "the Jim Elliot Story" or "The Perpetua Story" about Christian martyrs (these cartoon DVD's are excellent to teach children about the cost paid  by some for their faith in Christ, see:  Of course, let me not neglect to say that Josiah is 6 and Ella is 5 years old (a little to young to learn about persecution, you think?)...

or, how about the time when Sarah and Amy were little girls I walked them through a cemetery talking about death and how we will all someday die (of course, not long afterwards, Clare, their Mom, died).  And that wasn't the first time I talked to them about death...

or, how about just now when after receiving a phone call from Sarah who, visiting in New York, tells me she's driving by the house I grew up in, 106 Grattan St., in Brooklyn.  She explains how it now looks and I shared with her a few tidbits of when I was a child, like where stood the corner grocery store (the prices of each item we bought was added up on a brown paper bag - without a calculator) and the candy store where I bought all my comics (I once had all the #1's of Marvel comics like Spiderman, X-men, Hulk, Fantastic Four, Submariner, etc.).  After we hung up, I cried...literally cried...recalling childhood memories, especially of my parents (now both deceased).

How about a few examples of my melancholia in relation to my faith in God?

Sometimes I'll go to pray and feel like it's not worth the effort since I'm not really trusting God to answer and end up just sitting on my chair.  Other times, I'll go to read my Bible or books on theology and then just lay back on my chair and say to God, "What the heck am I doing?  Is this all relevant to me?"  I feel as if all I read has nothing to do with me.

God seems to have a hard time pleasing those who oftentimes succumb to melancholy moments. 

A few months ago I needed a job and prayed, 

"God, if you don't get me a job by the end of the month, I'm not going to have the finances necessary to pay the bills.  But even more important than that, I cannot give to ministries like Voice of Martyrs and Care-Net, two ministries that concern me the most.  Yet, if you want me to go without my needs being met, if you want me to eventually give my dogs to be put down, lose my home, and wander the streets, fail to take care of Celia, my wife, (who can always find someone else to live with), which would, nevertheless, be very embarrassing to a person who believes God shall 'supply all your needs according to his riches' (I realize You're not concerned about being embarrassed so I guess I'll need to learn humility via embarrassment on my own), well, I leave it up to you.  Whatever you think is best.  But, just so you know, you may look bad; not me.  It's your reputation at stake, not mine."

The very next day I received a call from an employment agency (note: I received maybe one or two calls for jobs too far away to take them in the 5 months prior to this one) for a job 12 minutes away and in the first Friday of the next month I started working.  God is the God of the Last Minute.

But, now I tell God, "Please, give me time to read and study your Word.  I come home so tired and things that need to be done get in the way.  This job is stealing all my time away."

Of course, when I do get the time, I waste it away watching a movie, or sitting at my desk wondering what I should read (too many books makes decision-making harder).  If I do start to read or go to pray, my eyes and body miraculously get heavy and I need to stop and rest and end up falling asleep.

So now I get into my "What's the Use?" mode and, too discouraged to do anything, I do nothing.

Through a google group I received an email that a member's newborn child is very sick and they're requesting prayer.  I email that I will pray.  Then, I go to pray in a "What's the Use?" mode.  My mind has no vision of the child recovering.  I cannot conjure up the faith to believe God will heal the child.  All my heart believes in is that the child will not make it.

I receive another email notifying me that the newborn has died...and I cry.  I cry because the child did not live, because the parents must be heartbroken, because neither child nor parent will have the opportunity to experience the joys of knowing each other like I know my daughters, Sarah and Amy.  I cry because God grieves over one's death.  And I cry because I failed to pray and to pray effectively with the faith that obtains the answer.

Whatever God is doing in the world, He's not doing it here and He seems to have counted me out.

I oftentimes remember an old Motown song, which lyrics are:

"I want to go outside in the rain.
It may sound crazy but
I want to go outside in the rain.
Once the rain starts falling on my face
No, you won't see a single trace
Of these tears I'm crying
Because of you I'm crying
Don't want you to see me cry;
Let me go, let me go, let me go,
Go outside in the rain."

So, with such a flimsy faith as I possess, the least I am able to do is rehearse the psalmist's line:
"Why are you cast down my soul,
     why disquieted within me?
Have hope in God;
     I will yet praise Him,
     my ever-present help, my God." 
It may not be exactly the kind of faith that stops the mouth's of lions, moves mountains, or heals the sick, but it's all I have; and if those past examples in Scripture of saints who trusted God experienced a faith that "against hope believed in hope", maybe...just maybe...if I lay out my heart to God just the way it is, without pretension - with all its melancholia - God might decide to grace me with the kind of faith Jesus possessed, that faith which obtained healing for others, His own resurrection from the dead, and in the end makes sorrow and sighing to flee away.

Psalm 42:12

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Swordfight: "kosmos" in John 3:16

The “Greek Experts Themselves” Disagree with Kielar

On YouTube there is a 3 part video series entitled, “Does John 3:16 Refute Calvinism?  (Part 2 of 3)”, taught by Mark Kielar and presented by LanesCh (see:

My concern is the first 37 seconds where Mr. Kielar makes the claim that...

The Assertion Made

“The Greek experts themselves, Strong, Thayer, and so on…specifically cite John 3:16 as an example of when kosmos or ‘world’ is referring to ‘believers only’.”

Kosmos is the Greek word translated “world” in our English Bibles in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world (kosmos) that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (NASB).

Clarification of My Argument

Let’s first begin with what I am not arguing:
  • I am not arguing that kosmos has various nuances of meanings.
  • I am not arguing for any particular doctrinal system of belief.
Rather, I am challenging the assertion made by Kielar that the Greek experts define kosmos as "believers only" when referencing specifically John 3:16. 

I argue that:
  • The Greek experts neither define “world” as having reference to “believer’s only” nor cite John 3:16 as an example of such a definition.
  • On the contrary, wherever John 3:16 is cited it is concerning a definition or reference that clearly contradicts the Kielar's assertion.

My Objection as Follows

A.   A look at the language references Mr. Kielar specifically mentioned shows that his assertion is incorrect:
  1. The New Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon: (coded under Strong’s #2889) p.357, point #5 reads - “the inhabitants of the earth, men, the human race” citing John 3:16.  No definition of “believers only” is found or even implicated.
  2. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance: #2889 for John 3:16, “the world (in a wide or narrow sense, incl. it’s inhab., lit. or fig.)”.  No definition of “believers only” is found or even implicated.
B.   Two other reputable language resources disprove Kielar:
  1. New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology: vol.1, p.524-525, states the meaning of “kosmos in the inclusive sense of “world” under three connotations: (1) the universe, (2) as earth, and (3) humanity, “the place and object of God’s saving activity” (p.524).  Respecting the Gospel of John in particular, it states that the predominant meaning of kosmos is “the world of men…under different aspects.”  No definition of “of believers only” is found or even implicated.
  2. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament: vol.5, p.50, “The world (ton kosmon).  The whole cosmos of men, including Gentiles, the whole human race.”  No definition of “believers only” is found or even implicated.
Failure to Perform Proper and Thorough Research

Apparently, Kielar’s erroneous assertion seems to demonstrate a failure to properly and adequately research the issue to verify just how scholars in NT Greek define kosmos, especially in relation to its appearance in John 3:16.  If one would carefully research the issue, he would find that:
  1. The definition for kosmos, which Kielar claims as defined by all the “Greek experts”, is actually found verbatim not by any NT Greek scholar or resource but in a Bible “study” by Calvinist, A.W Pink.  As you can see when accessing the link, the definition shown on a computer in the video reads the same as what Pink states in his “study”, word for word and verse for verse (see: htm
  2. On the Youtube video, Kielar attempts to substantiate his claim by showing a copy of what may be mistaken to be Thayer’s or Strong’s since it is not made clear as to what is the resource being used.  As far as I have been able to discover, Kielar obtained his information regarding kosmos from only one source, an electronic “language” resource, which uses Pink's definition of kosmos under the subheadings of 8a[i] and 8b.  If I am correct, this is available in the eSword as Strong’s Enhanced Concordance distributed by Logos and is not necessarily put together by a NT Greek scholar.  Apparently, this online source (as shown in the video) follows Thayer’s list of definitions for kosmos.  However, Pink's definitions are added without warrant and are not Thayer's original entry.
  3. Thayer does not cite John 3:16 under definition #8 but under definition #5, where we read, “the inhabitants of the earth; mankind”.  There is no numbered definition listed as “8b: believers only” (or 8a for that matter).  To verify, you can view Thayer’s original list of meanings for kosmos here:  Scroll down to the "Thayer's Lexicon (Help)" box  and click underneath where it reads, "Click Here for the Rest of the Entry".
  4. This definition “of believers only” for kosmos is not found in any of the various and many reputable Biblical language lexicons, dictionaries, and Biblical resources in book form, at least, that I have in my library.  It seems to be only in the electronic “lexicon” alone mentioned above. Unfortunately, this electronic resource is found in many online Bible Study web sites and it's definition for kosmos, as here argued, is assumed correct without question by many believers.[ii]  A NT Greek scholar advised that any serious study of the Bible should not be conducted via electronic resources,[iii] since those who make them can easily manipulate the information in support of any theological bias they may hold.
  5. It should be noted that once the Blue Letter Bible website was informed of the erroneous entry, they deleted it off their website: and compare it with this website:  In a personal Email to me, an administrator for the BLB stated, "I reviewed the remarks of yourself and [name of Greek scholar] and consulted with Brandon, another of our team members, and we've come to agree with you that the 'of believers only' doesn't belong in the lexicon entry for kosmos."

Contrary to the assertion made in the video, “the Greek Experts”, whom Kielar mentions, do not refer to or define kosmos as “believers only”and with specific reference to John 3:16 as an example of such usage either explicitly or implicitly.

The only way I see to correct the statement is to either:
  • Show exactly where these “Greek experts themselves”, especially Thayer and Strong, “cite Jn 3:16 as an example of when kosmos or world is referring to ‘believers only’.”
  • Retract the whole statement in question and provide a correction.[iv]
Refusing to do either would necessarily turn the question Kielar posed back to him: If we can’t trust Mark Kielar's definition here, why would we trust him elsewhere?

[i] Although my focus is on 8b, the definition for kosmos shown under 8a is also untenable according to a NT Scholar via personal email correspondence.
[ii] I have contacted some web sites informing them of the erroneous definition included in the Greek lexicon provided by their website.  Only one website responded, researched it, and concluded that there is no warrant for it and removed that particular definition (“8b. believers only”) from their copy of the electronic language resource.
[iii] This was actually the opinion of a Logos administrator and Bible scholar who did not like the lexicon portion of eSword and would rather remove it from their software.
[iv] I have emailed Kielar informing him of his error.  He refuses to acknowledge it and insists what he states is accurate and true.  From my perspective, it is one thing to mistakenly disseminate wrong information and another thing to dismiss correction once received and continue to knowingly advance the error; and, of course, it is still another thing to advance what you have convinced yourself is true when in reality it is false.  The former is to be deceiving, the latter is to be deluded.

Friday, July 27, 2012

On Alleged Misconceptions in Reformed Theology

The White Horse Inn (see: has provided access to the "Resurgence" website where Dr. Horton alleges 5 misconceptions about Reformed Theology (see:

I'm not sure that what Horton asserts as myths or misconceptions are in fact such when certain considerations are noted relative to each of the points he makes.

POINT #1.  First, (a) Horton first points out that “Calvin didn’t teach anything unique that you can’t find, for example, in Augustine or Luther." However, he made no mention to the Church Fathers before Augustine. Horton should have established if what Calvin taught were also the teachings of the Early Church during the 400 prior to Augustine. If not, then would not Calvin's teaching, thereby, be unique?
(b) It seems more is implied by the term "Calvinism", especially when the claim is made that "Calvinism is the Gospel" (a phrase coined by Spurgeon if I am correct). Unless Horton dares claim that the teachings of Calvinism are at every point in absolute agreement with the Bible, is this not putting man-made interpretations or traditions, at least, equal to if not above the authority of Biblical revelation?
(c) Calvinists seem to suggest that they alone teach "the doctrines of grace." Do the Reformed, especially Horton, really believe that Arminianism is not consistent with Biblical revelation for their teaching to be identified also as "doctrines of grace"? If not, it is Horton who entertains misconceptions about Arminianism.  If not, then how can one believe that Calvinists are being honest when they say that they believe Arminians are genuine believers?
Second, unfortunately, while affirming grace, it seems Calvinist teaching inspires an unconscious pleasure in affirming the sinfulness of believers, their state under grace as sinners (who are identified in the Scriptures as being under the law and slaves to sin) rather than as saints, and their powerlessness to overcome sin (e.g. the position Calvinists have taken on Rom 7), which effectively downplays the Biblical concept of grace (and, of course, Reformed are not the only ones to make that error).  Is it possible that any perceptions others may have that Reformed exhibit “puffed up pride” be the result of an unconscious pride in being humble on the part of the Calvinist?
Third, the perception that Reformed/Calvinists are "impatient, know-it-all, and harsh," is not entirely out of place with certain Calvinists, with the majority whom I have dealt with. In my experience, they have been quick to judge my character, insult my intellect (rather than gently correct my misunderstandings, if any), and make clear implications regarding the end of my spiritual destiny. Of course, this cannot be true in general but it is true in the majority of my discussions with Calvinists.
I'm not trying to suggest all Calvinists are arrogant but only that some have given the impression of holding up, if not Calvin, the teachings of Calvinism, at least, equal to, if not Christ, Biblical revelation.
POINT #2.  First, it seems that a denial of the allegation made that "men are robots" stems from Calvinists double-think. As Horton claims, it takes too much space here to discuss this issue, so let me just briefly say, if teachings like those suggested in the WCF 5:1-4 are not equivalent to the way a robot is programmed, it is not made clear how in Calvinist teaching men cannot be perceived as robots. Although there may be the admission that men have free will, their teachings, logically followed and “free will” properly defined, contradict such an admission.
Second, that "We exist for [God's] purposes" and Jesus "is the Lord and Savior of the world" does not seem to lend any escape from the allegation that "men are robots".
Third, the assertion that "grace is the work of the Triune God in freeing us", as far as Calvinistic doctrine is concerned, is misleading. Calvinism teaches that God determines every action of every creature, even sin, specifically and wholly; nothing happens and no man acts apart from God's decree. As such, this purported "freedom" is nothing but the inevitable movements of divine decree. Man is “free”, whether it is to righteousness or sin, ultimately to do only as God decreed he will do. How that “freedom” is explained by self-contradictory assertions is, from my perspective, double-think.  As such, Reformed affirmations of man’s possessing free-will are illusory.
In light of Calvinist theology teaching divine absolute, exhaustive, and minute control of all Creation, it is not to be wondered why non-Calvinists perceive Calvinists to teach that men are robots (in more than just "a sense").
POINT #3.  First, in my opinion, Calvinism, although affirming divine grace and love, effectively denies these essential saving attributes of God and, in addition, makes the Cross of Christ ancillary and not foundational to salvation. It does so by the Calvinistic teaching that salvation is first and foremost on the basis of divine decree in election and predestination.
Second, what contributes to the perception that Calvinism is "making people cold toward living in a pious and holy way", is the fact that it effectively teaches that it is not divine love but an arbitrary divine decision, which determines who is to be saved and who is to be damned.
The BCF, art.16, also reads: "He is merciful in withdrawing and saving from this perdition those whom he, in his eternal and unchangeable counsel, has elected and chosen in Jesus Christ our Lord by his pure goodness, without any consideration of their works. He is just in leaving the others in their ruin and fall into which they plunged themselves."
Again, double-think is the process that makes claim to the above propositions; for how can it be construed as "merciful" if it is solely by an "unchangeable counsel" that certain men are saved? And, how can it be construed as deserving that certain other men chosen for damnation if it is absolutely "without any consideration of their works"?  Furthermore, how can the sinner have "plunged themselves" when in both cases, their sinning and their damnation, have been decreed on the basis only of God's decision to do so?
POINT #4.  First, it can be legitimately argued that the reason why the apostle Paul "erupt[s] in praise" is because he understood the doctrines Horton mentions other than on the basis of Calvinistic presuppositions that were introduced more than 400 years after the formal inauguration of the Messianic community of Christ-followers.
Second, that “salvation belongs to the LORD” is not denied but enthusiastically affirmed. However, what is argued is whether or not Calvinism has properly represented the manner by which that "salvation belongs to the Lord", especially if Calvinists assert that in all points Calvinist teaching accurately reflects, without error, the message of the Gospel.
Regarding sections three to five under the 4th point, I will not question any Calvinist's piety. However, it is interesting that the assertion is made that "Reformed piety  [i.e. Calvinism] embraces the world" when Calvinists cannot agree whether or not God's grace and love extends genuinely to the all men.
In any case, I hope the Calvinists' affirmation of their own mission to the world affirms the reality that there are other communities and denominations of Christians (non-Calvinists, e.g. Pentecostals, Arminians, Charismatic, and, in my opinion, even Catholics) who affirm a piety that reaches out to embrace the whole world - specifically, all men without exception - for Christ's sake; this mission is not the sole province of the Calvinists assemblies.
POINT #5.  First, if election according to Calvinism is true" (a) there are those left in their sins to the effect that there is "no point to evangelism" as it will have no direct effect upon the hearing by the damned or the saved since it is by the divine decree considered "before the foundation of the world", which, apart from preaching, orders the giving or withholding of grace and faith, thereby rendering means superfluous and practically ineffectual and unnecessary. In other words, the elect believe to salvation not directly because they have believed the Gospel but because God has decreed to give them faith to believe; the non-elect are damned, not because they do not believe the Gospel but because God withholds faith to believe and hardens their heart. It is not the preaching that is effectual for the divinely desired results but an arbitrary divine act founded on an arbitrary divine decree.
Simply put, in Calvinism the basis of a sinner's faith is not the sacrifice of Christ to forgive but in God having elected them for salvation.
Second, such assertions Horton here makes has the appearsance of arrogance if it implies that only the Reformed are vanguards and exerted large influence for missions, ignoring the commendable efforts of non-Calvinists like the Pentecostals, attributed as being the fastest growing Christian community world-wide.
In addition, as commendable as the Calvinist missionary impetus is, they are shown not strangers to persecuting others if certain historical writings are trustworthy, see:
" thy light shall we see light." - Psalm 36:9

In particular, "The Council of Dort, led entirely by Reformed Calvinists, completely rejected all five Arminian articles. A persecution of Arminians even to death ensued. Of the Arminian defendants, John Wesley wrote, 'some were put to death, some banished, some imprisoned for life, all turned out of their employments, and made incapable of holding any office, either in Church or State.' Rome's wrath had previously fallen upon the Protestant Reformers at the Council of Trent. But, when the once-persecuted Reformed Protestant Church obtained political power themselves, they became the persecutors. They behaved precisely like Rome, killing and persecuting Christians who dared express a theology contrary to the new Protestant state Church. This behavior of the Calvinists was not an isolated incident. Calvin himself had people put to death in Geneva for having the gall to disagree with his theology." 
Further, it is noted that "The Reformers themselves...e.g., Luther, Beza, and especially Calvin, were as intolerant to dissentients as the Roman Catholic Church."

It seems that one of the reasons for the 2nd Great Awakening under Charles G. Finney was due to the Reformed churches Calvinistic teachings, which dulled the "evangelistic impulse" for a time.

These points are brought, not to impugn the Reformed Calvinistic tradition, but to show that along with the Calvinists' "evangelistic impulse" there may be the impulse to persecute and behave arrogantly towards non-Calvinists. Of course, this can be true of any Christian community.

My main concern is that Horton's assertions seem to imply the denial of non-Calvinist efforts at reaching the world of men for Christ.

Third, regarding Horton's "difficult[y] to imagine how Reformed faith and practice could be charged with killing community", see above.

The Calvinistic teaching, taking to its logical conclusion, can very well destroy the "faith and practice" of any Christian community, as demonstrated in the history of the Protestant persecution and revivals under Charles G. Finney as very briefly mentioned above.

The truth of the matter is, as I see it, Calvinists’, in general, seem to practice their faith unconsciously in contradiction to Reformed teaching. For example, although only the elect are saved, nevertheless, they preach to all men as if all men are elect; or, although believing that sinners have no libertarian free will, they preach as if every sinner has the ability to repent, and as if their preaching is what will cause a sinner to repent (thank God for small favors).

Finally, I pray that we, as followers of Messiah Jesus, reform and are being reformed by the Word of God into accurate moral reflections of the divine image through the experiential knowledge, if not an accurate intellectual knowledge, that is grounded through faith solely on the grace demonstrated in the Cross of Christ. For I believe it is better to own both a deep conviction and lively practice that is faithful to God in the Spirit of the revelation of the Cross of Christ.

"...a workman that needeth
not to be ashamed." - 2 Timothy 2:15

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Swordfight: "all" in 1 Timothy 2:4

Is White Right?

Under discussion is a critique of Dr. James White’s comments made on his Blog (see here) regarding Dr. Roger Olson’s book with particular and sole reference to 1 Tim 2:4.

Preliminary Remarks

Before I engage White’s Blog to Dr. Olson’s interpretation of 1 Tim 2:4 in his book, Against Calvinism, allow me to say:

1.  The Bible is not some sort of Gnostic literature whereby only the initiated are able to comprehend it's meaning.

2.  Biblical revelation speaks plainly of things that pertain to salvation and everyone is given the ability to understand it.  I do not deny there are certain subjects “hard to understand.” Nevertheless, with respect to salvation, divine revelation is sufficient and plain.

3.  While, admittedly, I am no scholar, it should be observed that being a scholar is no guarantee of freedom from error.  Even “experts in the field” may arrive at wrong conclusions.

4.  White’s Blog and the section on 1 Tim 2:4 in his book (The Potters Freedom), seems to argue on the basis of what he sees is the logic of the text in context as opposed to what he consider is the logical absurdity of the opposing view (e.g., p.140 on an “Ephesian phone book”).  He does not appear to provide a thorough and in-depth exegesis.

My observations are not to prove that White’s conclusion is erred but only that there are valid and serious challenges even from an non-scholarly point of view.

The Text

"...rightly dividing the word of truth."  - 2 Timothy 2:15
"First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgiving, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.  This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.  For this [reason] I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.  Therefore, I want men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension” (NASB Updated Edition).

White’s Contention
White argues in his blog that the “context [of 1 Timothy 2:4] had specifically referred to kinds or groups of men.  Olson ignores this. It is actually absurd to think that Paul was exhorting Timothy to pray for “every person without limit” when he said that prayer should be made for ‘all men’.”  After making comparing verses 1 and 4 in the Greek, White continues, “If Paul expected Timothy to take ‘all men’ in verse one as meaning ‘every person without limit, then why did he immediately place a categorical limitation on his words?  That is, he defines ‘all men as classes or kinds of men by speaking of kings and those in authority. But if ‘all men already had the meaning Olson demands that it has, why would Paul do this since Timothy would already understand that Paul is saying that prayers should be made for every single human being on the face of the earth?  Indeed, are we to assume that not only where the prayer meetings in Ephesus to include, by name, every single individual in the city, but every single individual living on the planet at that time?  No wonder folks fell asleep during those meetings! Of course, this only shows the absurdity of the position Olson tells us we must adopt. And, it follows naturally, that if the ‘all men of verse one is to be taken categorically and not individually, then this is the immediate context of the use of ‘all men, in verse four as well” (emphasis mine).

My Statement of Disagreement

I take the plain meaning of 1 Tim 2:1,4,5-6 as it is translated in English to refer to all men, none excluded.  My reasons are as follows:

A Broad Look at 1 Tim 2:4

1.   If White’s interpretation that “all” in 1 Tim 2:4 refers to all classes, kinds, or groups of men, then how are we to understand the "all” in verse 2: “all in authority”?  If White is to be consistent, then “all” here cannot mean every individual who has governmental authority but those kinds, classes, or groups of authority, which obviously makes no sense.  However, if White states that “all” in verse 2 means all individual persons of authority, on what basis can he change the meaning of “all” here to mean something different from the same Greek word translated “all” in verse 4?

2.  If “kinds or groups of men” are meant, nevertheless, it can still be understood to refer to all men without limit within each group rendering White’s argument moot.  For example, as Mounce’s Dictionary, p.12, under “all”, states when “pas in the plural” is used, its stress is “not so much on each individual within the group as on the group as a whole.  For example, in 1 Cor. 15:22 Paul writes, ‘For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.’  His emphasis here is on two ‘all’ groups: the ‘all’ group that dies because of Adam’s sin (i.e., every single human being) and the ‘all’ group that lives in Christ (those who believe in him)” (emphasis his).  The point here is that in each group, no person is excluded.  Therefore, even if the emphasis is on classes, kinds, or groups in 1 Tim 2, nevertheless, every single person within that group is to be included; no one is excluded; no limitation is implied (see also Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol.17, p.41-44).

3.   Within the context, Paul mentions only one or two classes or kinds of men, “kings and all who are in authority.” Unless one wants to place a “categorical limitation” to Paul’s reference in vs. 2 and 4 to “kings and all those in authority” as the only objects of prayer (v.1) and salvation (in the parallel v.4), Paul intends to include all men without limit or exception.

White seems to suggest that prayer should not be for individuals but for classes and kinds, limiting for whom prayer ought to be made as individuals.  For example, White seems to say that the apostle invites us to pray not for Congresswoman Pelosi but for all Congress men and women in general, something like, “Dear Lord, please save our U.S. congressional leaders (of course, only those whom you have chosen and in your predetermined time).” I agree we may not, for all practical purposes, be able to pray for each of them by name in one prayer meeting, let alone every living person on earth by name. However, what is to stop us from praying for as many individuals as practically possible by name and to include all men in general?

If classes or kinds of men and not all men individually are meant in verse 1, then are our prayers to be rendered under such a "categorical limitation", for only all classes or kinds of men and not “on behalf of all men” as individuals? That seems to be what White suggests when he asks, “Indeed, are we to assume that not only where (sic) the prayer meetings in Ephesus to include, by name, every single individual in the city, but every single individual living on the planet at that time?"

Obviously there are limitations to how far we can practically exercise prayers for all men. Nevertheless, the intended universal nature of the apostle’s injunction cannot be minimized to assume the exclusion of any individual and, thereby, understand its practice in a way that assumes limitations on the objects of prayer. Whether the apostle had or had not on his mind every person in the known world of his time who existed, excluding or including those beyond the borders of the known world, is irrelevant. The fact is that his injunction to pray was meant to exclude no one. As the RSV translates, “prayers…be made for everyone.”

4.  White asks if Paul meant “every person without limit, then why did he immediately place a categorical limitation on his words?  That is, he defines ‘all men’ as classes or kinds of men by speaking of kings and those in authority”.  If that’s the case, Paul must be placing a “categorical limitation” on the phrase “all” (same Greek word as in v.4) who are in authority” (v.2); he must then be referring to kinds, groups, and classes of authority.  If not, White is arbitrarily defining “all” according to and in support of his theological presuppositions.  Otherwise, why would “all” in v.2 be defined differently from “all” in v.4 and 6, and the parallel, v.1?

Paul is not making a “categorical limitation” but is simply and appropriately listing examples – specifically kings and, in general, those in authority – of those for whom the Church ought to especially pray given the political climate at his time (cf. IVP Bible Background Commentary, p.610).  As Martin Glynn, a member of the Society of Evangelical Arminians noted, “Paul is talking about authority in terms of saving a larger number of persons by converting leaders. So, if we pray for the emperor to be saved, and then he is, it will allow the gospel to spread easier.” 

Engaging the Context of 1 Timothy 2:1-6

1.  In 1 Tim 4:10, we read of Paul’s affirmation of God as the “Savior of all men, especially believers.”  He is not limiting God’s role as Savior of “all men” by inserting, “especially believers”.  He is merely noting the fact Christ died for all men (Jn 3:16; 1 Jn 2:2) in order that they might obtain salvation but the effects of His saving work are applied only on the condition of “whosoever believes”.

2.   1 Tim 1:15 – “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.”  Cf. 1 Tim 4:10; Rom 3:10-23; 5:12, “all [men] sinned”; 2 Cor 5:14-15.

3.  Again, in 1 Tim 1:15, “sinners” cannot refer only to certain classes or kinds of men or have a “categorical limit”.  If all men are affirmed as sinners or all men in every group and kind are sinners, then all men “without limit” are contemplated as those for whom Christ came into the world to save, whether it is every individual or every individual within every group and kind.  That only believers are effected is besides the point here made, which is that Christ died for all men as sinners (cp. 2:4,6; 4:10).  The atonement rendered by Christ has universal intention.

4.  In 2:5-6, Paul reaffirms Jesus’ role as the Savior of all men as sinners.  In verse 5, he asserts Christ as mediator between “God and men” (RSV: “between God and humankind”), and that mediation is between God and men as sinners, or “all men” for “all have sinned”.  No “categorical limitation” is suggested; no individuals are excluded.  In verse 6, Christ is viewed as the “ransom for all”, namely men as sinners (v.5), that is, all men without limit (if all men without limit are sinners).  Of course, the word “men” is omitted from v.6, however, it is assumed that “all” refers to “men” mentioned in v.5.

5.  In 2 Tim 2:24, the Church is exhorted to “be gentle to all (same Greek word use in 1 Tim 2:4)”, by implication, men whether believer or unbeliever.  Are we to be gentle only to certain groups, classes, or kinds of men (e.g. kings and those in authority) or all men without exception?

Challenges from Theological Study Resources

White also attempts to support his argument on the basis of the Greek language.  However, looking to theological study resources to determine the validity of White’s argument, I find it unconvincing.

If his argument and conclusions are correct, why are there so many competent scholars who challenge his interpretation of 1 Tim 2:4 as “all men without limit”, that is, the human race, rather than "all classes of men"?  I would think that many scholars, especially of the Calvinistic persuasion, would agree with White’s assessment of the text.  However, such is not the case, for example:

1.   “…God wants all men to know the truth and that Christ gave his life for all mankind” (J.N.D Kelly, Black’s NT Commentary, p.60; emphasis his).

2.   God “is willing that all should be saved by believing…Our prayers ought to include all, as God’s grace includes all” (Jamieson, Faussett, Brown, A Commentary, vol.3, part 3, p.484; his emphasis).

3.   “We must also pray for all men, for the world of mankind in general” because “God will have all men to be saved…he has a good will to the salvation of all” (Matthew Henry Commentary, vol.6, p.811f; emphasis his).

4.   “This statement is in accord with John 3:16 and with the declaration in 2 Corinthians 5:14,15 that Christ died for all.  Salvation has been provided for all…” (Ralph Earle, Expositors Bible Commentary, vol.11, p.358).

5.   “This passage cannot mean, as many have supposed, that God wills that all kinds of men should be saved, or that some sinners of every rank and class may be saved…” (Barnes’ Notes on the NT, 1 vol., p.1134).

6.   “From hence our Savior’s commission and command is universal…he excludes no people, no person…” (Matthew Poole’s Commentary, vol.3, p.777).

7.    “The scope of the prayer is universal including all kinds of sinners (and saints)” (Robertson Word Pictures, vol.4, p.567).

8.   “Prayer to God for all is acceptable to him, because he wills the salvation of all…willeth, marking a determinate purpose” (Vincent Word Studies, 4:218).

9.   “The universality of the grace is grounded in the unity of God…One divine purpose for all implies one God who purposes…As the one God, so the one mediator implies the extension of the saving purpose to all” (Ibid,. vs.5, p.218).

10.   “The literal Greek is, ‘who willeth all men’...marks a determinate purpose…It is possible for all men to be saved, because over them are not many Gods…but one only” (Wuest Word Studies, p. 40f).

11.   Finally, to my knowledge, no Bible versions support White’s interpretation, e.g., NRSV, NASB, NIV, NET, TEV, CSB, ESV, NEB, Tyndale, Moffat, Fenton, Lamsa, Cassirer, Schonfield, etc.

None of the above Bibles or theological resources suggest there is a “categorical limitation on [Paul’s] words” that would require a meaning that does not apply universally to mankind.  However, they do affirm that “all men” means exactly how it reads, “all men”, that is, “all men without limit”; none excluded.  Furthermore, “all men” is meant whether or not one understands the text to speak of all men as individuals or as individuals within kinds, groups, or classes.

Challenges from the Church Fathers

The Church Fathers also challenge White when they contemplate Biblical revelation as demonstrating God’s intent in salvation to be for “all men without limit” as follows:

1.   “For God is a lover of mankind ‘and will have all men to be saved…’.” (Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol.1, p.80).

2.   “…the Father of all wished His Christ for the whole human family to take upon Him the curses of all…in order that by His stripes the human race might be healed…” (Dialogue of Justin with Trypho, ibid., p.247).

3.   “He destroys no one but grants salvation to all” (Clement of Alexandria, Fathers, vol.2, p. 575).

4.   “…the blood of Christ…has set the grace of repentance before the whole world” (Clement of Rome, ibid., vol.1, p.7).

Although more might be said, I must end here with a couple of brief comments.

Concluding Remarks

White’s comments regarding the mediation of Christ seems (a) based upon his own eisegetical presuppositions; (b) to betray an erroneous understanding of the Biblical view regarding Jesus’ mediation; and (c) a misunderstanding of the Arminian view of the atonement.

Dr. Olson’s “simplistic interpretation” of the text might be simply because he follows the plain meaning of the text, which seems to require no interpretive gymnastics to understand it.

Appendix: Further Resources

"O Lord, teach me..."  - Psalm 119:11