23 March 2009

Universalism: All means ALL! (Pt 4)

As we continue our brief look at the doctrine of universalism and their belief that God wishes, desires and sets out to accomplish the ultimate salvation of every single human on earth, I now turn attention to some passages that have a definite "limited" scope of redemption. We've already discussed and looked at many misused passages where the Greek word for "all" has a limited scope and meaning, so we know that the original language in these instances are not as far reaching as the universalist would like to imply, but what about some of the more clearer passages that show redemption was intended to be more restrictive?

Let us turn our attention to one of the earliest passages regarding the prophecy of the coming messiah and his promised redemption. Isaiah 53 tells us much about the coming Messiah and the suffering he would do and the ultimate redemption he would accomplish. Now, look closely at the scope of his redemption:
Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
So, we are told he would come, and by his sacrifice, he shall bare the sins of every single human? All? No..., he would bare the sins of many. Looking at the Hebrew word used here for many, which is rab, none of the meanings for this word could be stretched to apply to every single person, it has a limited scope in mind. So, this was the prophesied hope given to Israel. Also, note, in this redemption plan, it is noted that he shall "see his seed." Some may try to argue that we are all God's children, we are all his seed, and therefore this obviously applies to every single person. However it takes little effort to prove otherwise. Flip back to the garden, and God's declaration of the promise of a savior back then.
And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. (Gen. 3:14-15)
So, we have two seeds mentioned, the seed of the women (speaking directly of Jesus and ultimately those that are his) and the seed of the serpent (and ultimately those who are his). We'll come back to this in a moment.

Now, jump back to the Greek Scriptures, and what are we told there? First, we have Joseph being told of his wife's pregnancy, and the angel tells him:
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. (Matt. 1:21)
His people? Not every single person, just those that are his? But aren't all people on Earth the children of God, therefore his people? Obviously not, as we have already seen there are two seed lines. On top of that, we find Jesus later making a distinct delineation between the two lines and their fathers when speaking with some Jewish leaders:
I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father. They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham. Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God. Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. (John 8:38-44)
So, Jesus divides the lines into the children of his Father, and the children of the devil, similar to what we have seen in Genesis.

Jesus divides again using different languages when he speaks of the story of the Good Shepherd, he divides mankind into those that are his sheep and those that are not, and then plainly states:
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11, 15)
...and then he further explains in verses 24 and following what it is he gives to these sheep of his:
Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.
So, if Jesus says he lays his life down for the sheep only...then he tells these Jews that they are not his sheep, and that further, he gives only his sheep eternal life (where are non-sheep promised eternal life?), and again, these men being addressed are plainly told they are not part of the sheep; then how can we twist this to say he laid down his life and paid the price to give every single person in the world, without exception, eternal life? Was Jesus confused about what he was come to do, or was he just lying to them?

In an echo of the passages we looked at in Isaiah, even Jesus himself repeats
Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45)
At another time, when he was establishing the actual new covenant, he states:
For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24)
This of course leads us to look at the same language used later in Matthew, where Jesus' people are again to referred to as the sheep, while the rest are referred to as the goats, when they come to the judgment and are separated:
Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world...“Then he will say to those on his left (the goats), ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels...And these (goats) will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous (sheeps) into eternal life. (Matt. 25:31-46)
So, again, the language of blessing for sheep, and not for others (goats) is evident; so how can we possibly make these things out to say salvation is universally applied to every single member of mankind, and that all will be ultimately given eternal, blessed life?

While there are a couple other stray, seemingly "universal" sounding verses about Jesus dying for the whole world and the like, this part is already too long to jump into that. The Bible can't be promoting both a limited and unlimited scope as truth, and hopefully the evidence we've seen for a limited view has been persuasive enough to cause a further study into these other seemingly universal sounding words. We'll look into those in the next part...Lord willing.

Until then....

19 March 2009

God's Word shall not return void... - OUT OF CONTEXT SCRIPTURE!

Time for another episode of...OUT OF CONTEXT. This one is probably pretty obvious to most people who know their Bible, but I am amazed at how many times I have still heard people throw this phrase out and attempt to use it in a manner that was never intended. The scenario usually goes something like this. A group has gathered in some evangelistic effort, and in the "pre-game" discussion, whether in prayer or just in the spirit of getting the juices flowing for action, the people are prompted to speak boldly, and are assured to have faith in whatever transpires, for they know that God's Word will not return void, but will accomplish something.

Now, there is nothing really wrong with such a statement, as we know that the Word of God usually does have some effect, whether good or bad, on whomever hears it. It is the basis and Scriptural support for such a statement that is erroneously used in most cases. It has been said and passed on, and repeated so often, that most people these days do not even know the reference, or what is actually said. The reference comes from Isaiah 55:11, but just a simple cursory reading is almost enough to clear up the misuse, but putting it back into the context even more so:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
So the thrust of what is being said here is that when the Lord says something, when he sends forth his word, when he sets forths his word to do something, it will be done and will in no way be thwarted or return unto him void.

So while we can stand firm on a belief that the Word of God is indeed powerful, using this verse as some kind of blanket assurance or defense that no matter how we put God's Word out there, it will work, as is commonly done, is to offer false assurance and is a mishandling of Scripture.

I did not have to look far after a quick Google search on this phrase, to find posts that misused it. As expected, one such post used it as a blanket statement for all of Scripture, and especially the words of Christ, in saying:

This verse along with many others in the bible explain the fact that Jesus power is everywhere. He does not have to be present for you to receive His Gift. His Grace and His word is sufficient to deliver all that you need. In other words if Jesus said it, then it is so and whatever you ask in his name, so shall you have. Once the word of the Lord is sent out, it will not return void.

This is a spiritual truth that many believers have used over the years, by memorizing and saying the words of Jesus, many have been healed of afflictions, many have overcome some of the most dire circumstances imaginable...

You must release the power of Jesus within you and through you when confronting the dangers of this satan filled world. His word as given to us in the Bible will never, ever return void and unfulfilled. You can bank on that revelation for eternity.
It just pays to stop and examine any such "pet" verses we may find always on the tip of our tongue. Take a quick look at the context of the Scripture, to make sure we are not using things out of context to say something we want, rather than what it is actually saying.

View Other "Out of Context" Verses

15 March 2009

The Third Commandment: Abusing God's Name?

I really need help here, because I am always in the presence of people who are breaking the third commandment. Secular and Christian alike. You might ask how are Christians breaking the third commandment, or better yet, what is the third commandment. This is the third commandment "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain." Exodus 20:7.

How is this commandment broken? The most obvious answer is when people get angry and say the Lord's name in a really bad way, which I will not mention here. This is not what I am talking about. Most people realize that is wrong. What I am talking about is the subtle ways that people do this all the time.

Just so we understand exactly what this commandment is about, it is helpful to define the word vain. One of the definitions is this "without real significance, value, or importance; baseless or worthless." Another definition is "senseless or foolish".

When we use the Lord's name in a senseless or foolish way, or in a way that is not even referring to Him, we are using His name in vain. Here is the main example; "OH MY G--". I hear this all the time from people I work with, to people at church. I hear it everywhere I go, on TV, the radio, the internet. The more it is said, the more people think nothing of God, it is like He doesn't exist or hear us. The sad thing is that people say this and do not even know what they are saying, and God's name has become something that is foolish to us or insignificant. My children especially have a hard time because they hear it so much, yet they know they can not say it themselves. Sometimes I am afraid they will slip and say it anyway, it is so common.

How can our society ever have a high view of God, when we take His name in vain so much.

This is the problem I have; how do I nicely tell people who do this, especially when they are Christians, that they are breaking His commandment. I struggle with this all the time, I do not know the best way to tell people to stop. How should my kids tell their neighborhood friends to stop, does anyone out there have any good ideas? If anybody out there is reading this, and can help, please post a comment and let me know. Thanks.... this bothers me so much, it is kind of like fingernails on a chalkboard everytime I hear it.

14 March 2009

Book Review: The Promise of His Coming (Peter Leithart)

I recently finished reading Peter Leithart's short (only 105 pages), but power packed overview/commentary on 2 Peter and found it to be packing a lot more than I had anticipated considering it's size.

Not only does it do an excellent job at explaining the first century context and fulfillment of the book, but he even spends some time doing a good job at defending the authenticity and authorship of the book; an added bonus I was not expecting in this short treatise.

He writes this overview from a purely Preterist interpretation, seeking to prove the events discussed were indeed relevant and came to pass during the lifetime of the first century audience it was written to. The book could be divided into five main discussion, which he refers to as his "Knock Down Arguments" and are as follows:
Knock Down Argument #1:
Peter wrote his second letter on the theme of the coming of Jesus, which he says was also a theme of his first letter, which is 1 Peter. Since 1 Peter's teaching about the "coming" of Jesus highlights its imminence, 2 Peter must be dealing with the same looming event.
Knock Down Argument #2:
Peter defends the reliability of the promised coming of Jesus by reference to the Transfiguration. In each of the Synoptics, this event is connected immediately with a prophecy of Jesus' "coming" within the lifetime of some of His disciples, a prophecy filled out in the Olivet Discourse. Peter's argument from the Transfiguration makes best sense if he is using it to support this prophecy. Thus the "coming" that Peter insists will happen is an event that Jesus said would take place in the first century.

Knock Down Argument #3:
Peter says explicitly that the destruction of false teachers is coming "soon." Their destruction is the same event as the destruction of the present heavens and earth, the "day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men" (3:7). If the destruction of false teachers was near when Peter wrote, so also was the destruction of the heavens and earth and the coming of a new heavens and earth.

Knock Down Argument #4
Peter responds to mockers who doubt the promise of Jesus' coming because time has passed without any sign of the Parousia. If there were no time limit on the original prophecy, then the mockers would have no grounds for their mockery and no way to attract converts to their skeptical views. Therefore, the original prophecy must have included a time limit, a terminus ad quem, and that time limit must have been the lifetime of the apostles.

Knock Down Argument #5:
For the mockers, the passing of the "fathers," the apostles and their associates, casts doubt on the truth of Jesus' promise to come in power. This objection has weight only if Jesus had in fact promised to come before the "fathers" passed from the scene. Thus the prophecy in dispute in 2 Peter 3 promised a "coming" within the apostolic generation. The prophecy Peter says will be fulfilled is a prophecy about Jesus' coming within the generation.
One by one, he pounds and punches holes in the futurist position, until finally, the futurist argument has no leg to stand on.
The only small section which I found was weak, was his dealing with the angels of 2 Peter 2:4, where he takes the lineage of Seth view over the actual historically understood angelic presence view. This should be understandable considering the lengthy discussion I already had on this issue in prior blog posts (see postings starting HERE). Even with that disagreement aside, this has got to be one of the best looks at 2 Peter I have seen, especially considering the size of the work as mentioned.
The only other slightly odd comment I found relating to this book, was the description on the back cover, which states:
In this study, Peter Leithart offers a preterist reading of the epistle, arguing that it describes first-century events rather than the end of history. At the same time, he maintains orthodoxy, avoiding hyper-preterism and affirming both the real future return of Christ...
Maybe I missed it the first time around, or maybe I misunderstand what a hyper-preterist view would be on 2 Peter, but aside from his simply denying a hyper-preterist position in the early chapter, the book itself never seems to address how his view on this epistle would in anyway differ from the "hyper" position's view on it. Leithart's plain words at the open of chapter three seem to be exactly what the "hyper" view would hold on this topic:
By this point, I hope I have made a plausible case that Peter's entire letter is about a set of prophecies that Peter expected to be fulfilled during the readers' lifetimes.
So aside from just drawing a distinction in his overall eschatological view from the other view, I do not see how this statement has any plausible relation to the discussions or conclusions in this book itself. Not a big point, but the back cover led me to believe the book might contain some kind of attention given as to how his conclusions would differ from the "hyper" position on this epistle, which it did not.

This book is readily available in both paperback and audio book format through the Apologia Book Shoppe (unless you feel the need to support the large monster stores like Amazon.com...lol).

06 March 2009

Universalism: All means ALL! (Pt 3)

Let us look now at the covenantal aspects that some of these universalism interpreters seem to be totally missing. I am going to keep this really simple, and will be assuming most readers already understand much of this (in other words, time and space will not be given to expound or defend this very deeply).

The Old Testament tells us of God's dealing with his people; a special people chosen out of all the nations. A small group in comparison to many nations, but a group in which God showed special treatment to. They had the oracles and sacraments of God; they had his laws, his words, he special blessings (and cursings). They were HIS people unlike any other nation.

God had this special relationship with them, and established what is known as the Covenant, with them. They lived under the blessings of this Covenant, and received things that no other people received from God. One of the promises God gave to his people was that of a Messiah. A savior who would come and set them free. They, the people of God, this small group of people, were given a special promise of redemption by their creator, that no other nation was promised.

When this savior came upon the scene, he came first and foremost to his people; that was his mission, to his people, the covenant people of God (Matt. 15:22-24). His mission was to them, as their Messiah. He collected and taught the twelve, and then sent them only out to these same covenant people (Matt. 10).

Sure, this is painting with broad strokes, but I am trying to keep it simple, since that is what is required here. Sure, I know the promise of the Gentiles coming in was prophesied, and the eventual divorce and destruction of God's once covenant people had already been foretold (Deut. 32, Isaiah 65-66, etc.); but for now, the playing out that was going on at the time of Jesus, was the Messiah reaching out to HIS chosen and covenanted people.

So, his mission was limited to that of the nation that was God's covenanted people. He was their savior, he had come for them, and he sent forth apostles to them for their repentance. The focal point of Jesus' ministry while he was here, was to those covenanted people of God.

The Jews likewise had in their mind that it was them and them alone who God was for. Even the Apostles, who knew who Jesus was, were still under the impression he was there solely to bless and save the Jews. Those who converted from the Jewish ways to become followers of Jesus, likewise thought he was solely concerned with his covenanted people of old. We know even Peter had some issues with this, and had a hard time when Paul was called into the scene to be the preacher unto the Gentiles.

This is (or should be) common knowledge to those reading the Bible. This is the culture and understanding of those living at that time. The Jews were IT when it came to a relationship with the creator, the Gentiles were NOT. So, you have these preachers (the Apostles) now burst on the scene with claims that not only was Jesus the sacrifice and savior of the Covenant people, but that this salvation was also now being offered to those outside the old covenanted people. The gospel went to the Jews first, then to the Gentiles (Rom. 1:16). A hard pill to swallow as a Jewish man of that time frame.

So, with this understanding in your hand now, and I hope the universalists can get their head around this historical truth; is it so hard to understand that when it is proclaimed by a teacher that "Jesus died for all," it was not a declaration of Jesus' sacrifice being for every single member of mankind, but that it was a direct address to, a direct attack against, the idea that if Jesus was the Messiah (as many of these former Jews fully believed now), that his sacrifice was not simply only for the Jews as they still tended to think, but that he had died for...you guessed it..."all manner of men," both Jews AND Gentiles. They had to be taught and convinced that now, in this gospel age, the old ways of Judaism were quickly passing away, and that salvation was being offered to all men everywhere, all types of men, not just the Jews. Again, a hard pill to swallow, but the reality that needed to be preached.

That is why in part one I could declare (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) that I AM a universalist also. I believe that the gospel message went from being for one small group of the world's population, to now being declared to be applicable to all of mankind...all manner of men everywhere, and not just the Jews any longer. The gospel and sacrifice was for all...in it's proper understanding as we have seen.

This leads us right back to our look at one of the universalist's scriptures we discussed...let us see how, in context, this is exactly what Paul was also saying here in 1 Timothy 2:1-8:
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all (types of) men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all (types of) men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all (types), to be testified in due time. Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity. I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.
Paul makes it a special point to note that he has been called to be an Apostles unto the Gentiles, again, letting them know that the message and promises are no longer to be thought of as strictly applying only to the single group of God's original covenant people, but now the message, hope, redemption and promises are for all (types of) men.

Paul is in no way saying that God was wishing for every single solitary member of the human race to be saved, as that would be contradictory to so many other passages...some of which we will look at in the next section.

Jump on over to PART 4

03 March 2009

Universalism: All means ALL! (Pt 2)

OK, picking up where I left off the other day, let us delve into the original languages some; something most universalist promoters I have talked to do not like to do, or deny what is being said. Either they are trying to be dishonest to the text to fit their position, or they are just not wanting to admit that the English translation can only mean what it means in English as we use it today.

There are two main root words that are usually used and translated in some form of the English term all. Anyone with an interlinear Bible, Strong concordance, or electronic Bible program would have no problem quickly looking this up:

The first of these words is Strong's number 3650 - holos

In the KJV, it has been translated "all" 65 times, "whole" 43 times, "every whit" 2 times, and "altogether" 1 time

The meaning is listed as - all, whole, completely and would be more of what we would consider a word for all-inclusive, the whole of something.

The second word is Strong's numbered 3956 - pas

In the KJV, this one has been translated "all" 748 times, "all things" 170, "every" 117 times, "all men" 41 times, "whosoever" 31 times, "everyone" 28 times, "whole" 12 times, "all manner of" 11 times, and "every man" 11 times.

The meaning of this word is two-fold:

When used in the context of an individual:
1a) each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything

When used in reference to a large number, or collectively (of a group, etc.):
2a) some of all types

So, in a nutshell, holos would mean whole, all-inclusive, the whole of what ever is the topic; pas would depend on what the topic is, but in the case of speaking of a large number or group, is speaking of part of them, all-types of the group; not all-inclusive or every single one, but a selection of them. Now, with the original understanding in hand, let us go examine some of the usages in Scripture. Let us start where we left off in part one, and put one of those verses I used to the test:
And Jesus went about all (holo) Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of (pas) sickness and all manner of (pas) disease among the people. (Matt. 4:23)
So, we have both words used here, "holo" meaning whole, meaning he did go throughout all of the land, but did he heal every single disease and sickness in the place? No, the word "pas" tells us he healed all kind and types of them, but not every single one without exclusion. Let us look at the very next verse for an example of translation confusion for those not knowing the original word and usage:
And his fame went throughout all (holo) Syria: and they brought unto him all (pas) sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them.
Again, both words are used, but the English translates slightly different, even though the same root words are used in the same manner. He was known throughout the entire, whole land of Syria, and they brought to him "pas" - speaking of a large group of people - so "all types" or "all manner of" sick people; not every single sick person without exception.

There are so many numerous examples I could use, but for the sake of brevity, I will stop with these examples (look further, here are just a few more, Matt. 14:35; 24:14; 26:56; Mark 12:33; 12:44).

Lets turn back to one of the key passages the universalists like to toss around, which is 1 Tim. 2:4, which states about God "Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." But now, let us put it back into it's context and look closer:
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 1-4)
God wills for all men to be saved...and you guessed it, every single use of "all" in these series of verses in pas. How are we to understand the use of pas here; look at the context, he is talking about groups of people...kings...and all those in authority; therefore pas refers to "all manner" of these men, and not every single solitary one of them. So a more proper rendering of this verse would be (in summary), "pray for kings and those in authority, for God wills for all manner of men to be saved (even the rulers, in other words). Hmmmmmmmm.

The few verses that follow and finish up this section of Paul's address are even more revealing, bringing this entire section into more understanding from a covenantal standpoint, but I will save that for next time.

Continue to part 3