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Bible Details Matter

August 21, 2009 Leave a comment

Regular Bible Study and repeated readings of the Bible really help with understanding scripture and its meaning and context, and increase our ability to discern truth and error in the teachings of our pastors/teachers. Consider the following example from my recent readings.

2 Thessalonians 3:17-18 (ESV): ” I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.”

The previous day I had read chapter 2, which begins thus:
2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 (ESV): Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.

It is clear from these verses, and the rest of 2 Thessalonians 2, that someone had sent a forged letter claiming to be from Paul, in which they claimed a false doctrine: that the day of the Lord has come. The reason for Paul’s closing comment in 2 Thess. 3:17 is also clear: his original handwritten letter had some distinguishing feature by which the Thessalonians could recognize his writing as compared to a forgery. As John MacArthur remarked, Paul must have had a unique signature that was not easy to duplicate.

All of this is so straightforward, so why do I even bring it up? Something as simple as this can be twisted to teach something completely unrelated, as I have seen from a not-so-solid pastor. Twice in the last fifteen years he has preached through the book of Hebrews, and both times he began his series with an “introduction” message that included many great “proofs” for authorship by the apostle Paul. One of the “proofs” he cited is that Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 3:17-18, said “this is the sign …. it is the way I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all,” and in the book of Hebrews the author closes the letter with the same phrase “Grace be with you all.” This pastor then proceeded to show many examples (even having the congregation actually turn their Bibles to each of these passages) where Paul closed his letters with that same phrase “Grace be with you all,” and also showed how the non-Pauline epistles did not end with that same phrase. In the pastor’s thinking, Paul’s comment to the Thessalonians that “this is the way I write” is directly connected with the next sentence “Grace be with you all.” Therefore, any epistle that ends with that same phrase, including the book of Hebrews, must be showing Paul’s special mark of authenticity.

Obviously this pastor completely missed the seemingly obvious point of 2 Thessalonians chapters 2 and 3. Paul’s concern was to show the Thessalonians some physical way to distinguish his letters from that of a forgery. The closing phrase “Grace be with you all” could just as easily be put into a forged note as into a real note, and the words themselves say nothing as to the genuineness of Paul’s authorship. After all, I know many people who sign their letters with “In Christ,” or “Regards,” but does that mean that all such letters were written by the same person? As to the authorship of the book of Hebrews, I’ll go with John MacArthur’s and S. Lewis Johnson’s teaching on this: we don’t know who wrote Hebrews, but it was not Paul. S. Lewis Johnson made an interesting point here, in a brief reference to the topic: the style of writing of Hebrews is very different from Paul’s letters, and this is much more clear in the original Greek texts. (From which it is also safe to infer that the above pastor doesn’t know Greek, at least not that well; and considering that he is self-taught, never went to seminary, that too makes sense.)

I don’t know the Greek language, but as a layperson who studies God’s word (in my own language, English) I can study it for its context and meaning, and along the way discern whether what a pastor-teacher says agrees with what the Bible says in its context, its meaning. Some examples of such discernment are of course easier than others, and the pastors that demonstrate many obvious errors (as with the pastor cited above) easily prove themselves to be poor teachers and even false teachers. Of course we can all find something we don’t agree with, or some factual error. I’ve even found a few factual errors, in the use of certain sermon examples / illustrations, from John MacArthur and S. Lewis Johnson; though in these the error was with the illustration itself and not related to any actual biblical teaching. After all, all teachers are only human and without perfect knowledge; but some are much closer to the truth than others.

The Rebellion of the Young, Restless, Reformed

August 11, 2009 Leave a comment

I’ve been reading through and enjoying the eschatology blog series at HipandThigh (Fred Butler) and similar articles from Expository Thoughts (Matt Weymeyer, Caleb Kolstad, and others), and have updated my blog articles page with links to all these articles. Fred Butler wrote some good rebuttals to Sam Waldron, who so objected to John MacArthur’s 2007 Shepherd Conference message that he published his own book, and has since written many more articles dealing with the basics of Eschatology. Now that I’ve listened to 112 messages from Jim McClarty, plus S. Lewis Johnson’s 37-part series, plus reading through various online articles at pretrib.org and elsewhere, most of what is addressed in these blogs is familiar material.

Fred Butler makes an interesting observation in reference to his own story and that of others, as to why so many Reformed Christians are puffed up on amillenialism and quick to denounce the dispensational premillenial view:

It seemed as though many of them were like me: Raised in a non-Calvinistic, fundamentalist church whose leadership never really taught anything theological at all, let alone Calvinism. Those were doctrines I had to learn on my own from pastors I heard on the radio or read in books I had to obtain personally. At any rate, many of my restless young Calvinist friends came to embrace Calvinism because they, like myself, saw the doctrines clearly taught in scripture.

But, with this embracing of Calvinism came a total overhaul of their entire theological worldview, including the complete abandonment of a dispensational perspective and premillennialism as an eschatological system. …even though some of these dear folks say they are biblically convinced of a non-dispensational, non-premillennial point of view, from what I read on their blogs and at times discussed with them in person, I saw their change in eschatology as a final “rebellion” as it were against the non-Calvinistic churches where they were first saved and nurtured. In other words, if these churches were wrong about the doctrines pertaining to salvation, they had to be equally mistaken about eschatology. Thus, it was believed a more Reformed view of eschatology had to be embraced in place of the errant dispensational premillennialism.

In response to this rebellion, Fred also adds this important reminder (emphasis mine):

I am for theological reform along all areas of doctrine; but I am not of the opinion I have to become either amillennial or postmillennial in my eschatology, or even adapt amillennial hermeneutics when it comes to the interpretation and application of prophetic literature, in order to be “completely reformed.” I think R.K. McGregor-Wright stated it well when he wrote,

It’s important that we as Protestants who take sola Scriptura seriously, not treat patterns of doctrine, especially the reformed tradition of theology that we have learned so much from, as a “package deal.” In fact, “reformed theology” as we find it in the literature, is no such thing. Reformed theology is a particular tradition of understanding emanating from the Reformation, not an exclusive system of divine truth that cannot itself be altered. No theology has the same status as Scripture, and no confession of faith has the same finality as the Word of God written. All theologies are the results of human effort, and they partake of the failures and partial successes of the men and women who have contributed to them down through the years. They are traditions, not additional revelations. Reformed theology is itself reformable today for the same reason catholic theology was reformable in the sixteenth century. The controlling principle of sola Scriptura still applies, Calvin or no Calvin. (The Premillennial Second Coming: A brief defense, pg. 1, unpublished paper).

Having come to a premillenial understanding from a different background, I had not been aware of this “rebellion” among the “young, restless, reformed” crowd. However, I can clearly see this trait in several individuals I know. It explains the attitude of the young Indian missionary to India, whose financial connections to Arminian churches were cut-off after he came to understand the Doctrines of Grace. Recently he has been traveling around and visiting many “Sovereign Grace” churches to create a new network of missionary support. I was rather put-off, though, when he made a special point of declaring that he had also abandoned the dispensational premill eschatology, that he now realized that all that stuff was fantasy. It also explains the attitude of one person at my church, who apparently was previously taught and adhered to dispensationalism, but now will consider every other option except the futurist premillenial view. This rebellion even accounts for the local pastor’s anti-dispensational attitude. Though he’s not among the “young” crowd, he too was taught the dispensational view as a young person in an arminian-type church, later came to understand Calvinism, and now, though he still has his old Scofield Bible, outright rejects dispensational eschatology.

In all these cases, what I see is that they really never understood what they were taught, and they did not (and still don’t) have a good grasp of the Bible itself and what it says, except in a broad overview way. Instead they put great emphasis on studying creeds and the Church Fathers (especially Augustine) and the Reformers, falling into Dan Phillips’ number one of the “25 stupid reasons for dissing dispensationalism,” that “it isn’t cool to be dispensational.” Yes, that too reflects an immature, rebellious attitude of one more interested in man’s opinions than God’s.

God’s word is quite clear on the matter, and the more I read and study my Bible, the clearer it is. My eschatology begins at Genesis 12 (and as I listen to SLJ’s “Genesis” series I’m now up to Genesis 12) and continues strong throughout the OT and continues loud and clear in the NT. But those who uphold their amillenial and preterist ideas must of necessity put man’s ideas and man’s theological systems before the word of God. The only way to come up with such ideas is when one imposes that “system” onto a text rather than reading the Bible at face value in the normal way of reading a text, according to the literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutic.

The Salvation of Babies Who Die

August 11, 2009 Leave a comment

(For more thoughts on this topic, see my more recent blog post here.)

I’ve been following the recent blog discussion, started at Challies.com, regarding the salvation of infants who die. The faithbyhearing blog article includes a link to John MacArthur’s two-part message regarding this topic. I have now finished listening to these two messages, which were very helpful and very solid in reference to what the Bible has to say on the matter, which is more than I had realized.

For me this topic is more academic: I’ve not personally experienced the loss of an infant or young child. I’ve known a few cases, such as a friend who 15 years ago gave birth to a stillborn daughter, and that Christian woman still regrets the loss though accepts that this child is with the Lord. I recall a pastor years ago who was uncertain, but held hope based on God’s character, that our God is merciful. My more recent reference point is a pastor with many other errors (Hugh Ross creation, amillennialism, preterism, heavy emphasis on spiritualizing and allegorizing texts and skimming the details), who on this issue has not openly stated it, but tends toward the Tim Challies viewpoint of damnation for infants who die. In a conversation regarding the matter, his main point was the guilt of the young children, to compare them to snakes and even baby snakes. The baby human is sinful and will manifest its sinfulness if given time to grow up, just as surely as the young snake will manifest its deadliness. As I now reflect further on the matter, and considering this pastor’s other errors, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. It’s the same heartless attitude that allows him to compare human sinners to disgusting roaches, and to declare that people’s young children really “are just brats.” Yes, human sinfulness is a very vile thing, but I’ve never heard John MacArthur or other biblically grounded teachers describe sin in such terms (such a description instead, I suspect, relates more to his old-earth attitude of animal death and suffering for billions of years).

In my recent general readings, I’ve noted Spurgeon’s clear view that all babies who die are with the Lord; and now MacArthur’s view, and really it does make a lot of sense and with good biblical reference. (My only exception to what MacArthur said was his reference to C.S. Lewis’ “The Last Battle.” That story has nothing to do with the salvation of babies; those who die in the train crash are those who were school-age children in the earlier books, and in “The Last Battle” are grown, in their late teens.) As Todd at FaithByHearing noted, the real issue isn’t the young child’s sin and guilt before God; we all are in that condition, and we all are saved completely by God’s grace, and even our salvation does not involve us in any way. The real issue is God’s grace and mercy, that which He extends to those who die while in a condition of being unable to comprehend, unable to rebel against God. As MacArthur points out in reference to Romans 1, the lost are “without excuse.” Dead infants are “with excuse.” Likewise, at the Great White Throne judgment of the damned, the lost are judged by their works, their deeds. Infants (though guilty sinners with the curse of original sin) do not have any deeds to be damned for. If an infant were in hell, it may realize that it is suffering and in torment, but it would not understand why it is suffering. All the lost, at the final judgement, do understand why they are suffering.

I now offer the following theory, for what it’s worth. Admittedly it is based on an extremely small sample, and so I’m not being completely serious here, perhaps a little facetious, yet I still see some truth in the following. Those who reject the idea of salvation for infants who die, tend to also be those who like to spiritualize and allegorize much of the Bible, those who tend to skim over the scriptural details, and end up as amillenialists and preterists. The same group (again I speak generally) that would deny a future salvation for Israel, that would deny God’s promises and electing grace to Israel, who say that the Jews lost their salvation on the basis of works and thus inherit the curses while the Church receives salvation on the basis of election and now inherits the blessings — are the same people who would deny God’s grace and salvation to infants, to those incapable of consciously accepting or rejecting God.

  • C. H. Spurgeon: future for Israel, and salvation for all infants
  • John MacArthur, and like-minded bloggers: future for Israel, and salvation for all infants
  • Tim Challies, and like-minded bloggers: amillenialist, no future for Israel — damnation for infants
  • The nameless local pastor (and a few others at the same church): amillenialist, no future for Israel — uncertainty and likely damnation for infants
  • John Calvin: amillenialist; partial infant salvation: elect infants and non-elect infants
  • Martin Luther: amillenialist; partial salvation: only for those infants who are baptized before death

“Whenever You’re Speaking To Me”

August 5, 2009 Leave a comment

The title here is from a Don Francisco song, with the following joyous lyrics:

There’s nothing I’ve heard that compares with your word,
the strength in it can set me so free.
There’s joy deep inside, that can’t be denied,
Whenever you’re speakin’ to me.

Every day as I spend time in God’s word (which nowadays means reading a set of 12 different chapters, about 40 minutes each day) I continue to find great encouragement to keep pressing on in the Christian walk. When so often I feel discouraged, and long for the rapture to be away from this wicked world, I find the strength to carry on. When on Sunday afternoon I was especially bothered about the local pastor’s disparaging remarks regarding premillennial eschatology (such as a passing comment that, oh, the book of Revelation contains a lot of symbols, it can’t be taken too seriously), the reading time again refreshed my spirit, to continue on with hope in God’s final deliverance.

The following are specific examples from recent readings (day 142). I read, as in today’s reading from Luke 8, of the Gadarene demoniac freed from demons, longing to go with Jesus; Jesus did not let him, but instead told him to go and tell others what God had done for him. In the same chapter I read of the fearful disciples on the boat, while Jesus slept in the storm, and then Jesus calmed the storm. I read in Hebrews 11 and 12 of the great saints of old, and the example they give to us, for holy living. The holy living theme continues in Titus 1, a place of wickedness much like today’s world, and yet Titus had to remain in that situation to put it in order, to do the work of God in a dark world. I read in the historical books (Joshua 8, 2 Kings 3) of mighty ways in which God delivered His people and brought victory against Israel’s enemies. Isaiah 6 shows the full awesomeness and glory of God, a scene similar to that of many others in the Bible who reacted with great fear at seeing a glimpse of the holy God. Amos 9 tells of judgement to come, as well as great deliverance for God’s people Israel in the final days after the great tribulation. Then (list 12) Revelation 7 tells of the vast number of peoples who will be saved in that last day, the 144,000 Israelites and the uncounted multitude from every nation, who come out of the great tribulation.

Spurgeon spoke of the great blessings that come from knowing God and how through that we grow in our faith:

“Every believer understands that to know God is the highest and best form of knowledge; and this spiritual knowledge is a source of strength to the Christian. It strengthens his faith. Believers are constantly referred to in the Bible as people who are enlightened and taught by the Lord; they are said to “have been anointed by the Holy One,”1 and it is the Spirit’s peculiar office to lead them into all truth, so that they might grow in their faith. Knowledge strengthens love as well as faith. … Knowledge also strengthens hope. … Knowledge supplies us with reason for patience.

Like Don Francisco, I can sing:

‘Cause like the rain from the sky on a thirsty land,
Your word brought life to a dying man.
From desert to garden,
condemnation to pardon,
and all of the praise goes to You!

and

With Your spirit inside and Your Word as my guide,
I’ve got a sense of direction so strong.

A Look at Some Free Bible Software

August 4, 2009 Leave a comment

I recently discovered two great, free bible programs: e-Sword and TheWord. These programs have actually been around for awhile; I started hearing about e-Sword on some Christian message boards, and since have downloaded and tried them out.

Both programs have a basic program which includes KJV and basic functionality, and many optional modules to add additional Bible versions, commentaries, dictionaries and more. E-Sword appears to have more overall modules, including several available for a small fee in addition to the many free modules. TheWord does not have any maps yet, though I noticed it has a category for that in the download section; no doubt they will add map modules in the future. In both cases, the free modules are often public domain material, such as Spurgeon devotionals, Matthew Henry commentary and Scofield reference notes.

TheWord has an importer utility that can import and convert e-Sword modules. However, it only works with earlier versions of e-Sword. The current version of e-Sword, version 9 (just released this May), has its databases completely redone in new formats. Also, earlier versions of e-Sword apparently had the ability to show Bible text in paragraph format, in addition to the verse-line format. That feature was accidentally omitted from the current version, and when I inquired about it, they acknowledged this mistake and said it would be added back to the next version.

Paragraph format text, along with footnotes and the “headers” included in a translation, are important features to me, and for this TheWord is the winner. TheWord allows you to display the text in either verse-line or paragraph format. You can also adjust the settings to show the footnotes at the bottom of the chapter, or in-stream at the verse, or as numbers that show the footnote when you move your mouse over the number. TheWord also displays the text with many small blue-colored links throughout — cross-references based on similar words and/or ideas in some other part of the Bible. These also display in pop-up windows when I move my mouse over the link.

E-Sword has one great feature, but the lack of paragraph formatted text makes it of limited value. The “bible reading plan” option allows you to create one or more “reading plans.” You can define each reading plan to all of the Bible, or any specific books. The default option is one chapter a day, though you can change it to other time periods. Using this feature, I was able to set up 12 reading plans, one for each list I read in my modified Horner Bible Reading plan. When you select each list from the drop-down, it shows the full text for the first day’s chapter. A check-box at the top of the screen allows you to mark a reading as completed, so the next day when you access the list, it shows the correct chapter. (Obviously it helps to set up the reading plan when you actually start reading the chapters. In my case, I was in the middle of several of the lists, and it takes quite a bit of time to go through each day’s reading and “check it off” to get to where I’m actually reading.)

Given the format limitations of E-Sword, however, I found an even better way to quickly access my 12 daily readings in TheWord. I already have an Excel file “calendar” that lists all the chapter readings. A one-time save to CSV format, then loading the CSV file into Wordpad and removing the commas, gives a basic text file with each day’s readings, line by line. With TheWord running in another window, I just go into the wordpad file, and highlight and copy each scripture reference on the schedule — for instance, highlight “Isaiah 1” and copy to clipboard. TheWord displays a pop-up window in Wordpad (or whatever program you’re using to copy to the clipboard), with the full text displayed, and a link to “go” to the full view in TheWord. It only takes a few seconds to highlight, copy, then click “go” and I’m reading the full chapter, with my paragraph formatting, in TheWord. I also maximize the text window for easier reading.

TheWord also has a way to import text files (stored in rtf format), and create book entries from these. I tested it out with the transcripts from some S. Lewis Johnson messages, one message per file. Each file (transcript) is considered a chapter in the “book” and you can easily link to any of the chapters, or search for text anywhere in the book. Once the first few chapters of the book are setup, you can easily modify the chapter names, and add new chapters anywhere in the sequence. So if one had the time and desire, with TheWord you could add all of SLJ’s transcripts (or any other pastor or book series transcripts available online) as various books (each book having all the transcripts in a sermon series), to have all of the material easily accessible and searchable.

TheWord is available for free download at: http://www.theword.gr