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Posts Tagged ‘hermeneutics’

Biblical Prophecies and Fulfillment: Michael Barrett Series

May 15, 2017 4 comments

The later messages in Michael Barrett’s “Refuting Dispensationalism” series  (see this previous post) consider another of Charles Ryrie’s distinctives of dispensationalism –  literal interpretation of prophecy – with a detailed look at some actual prophetic texts that have been fulfilled, to note some interesting features.  A key point here is that, contrary to the claim made by some, prophecy is NOT “as clear as yesterday’s newspaper.”

  • Prophecies Are Not Clear in the Details

The prophecy in 2 Kings 7:1-2 – Elisha, to the king’s captain who doubted Elisha’s prophecy about food in Samaria, “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it,” had its fulfillment the next day, described in verses 17 through 20.  Yet the prophecy lacked details.  Surely, if the man had known the details, he would have taken steps to prevent its fulfillment!

  • Prophecies Fulfilled, but not Exact Date-Specific

Jeremiah’s prophecy of the 70 years captivity in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:10) also had its fulfillment. About 70 years later, the people did return to the land of Israel.  But what was the starting point?  The deportation occurred in three stages:  605 B.C., 597 B.C. and finally, with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.  Yet if we try to date the 70 years from any of these three points, to the later decree of Cyrus, none of these starting points matches exactly to 70 years.

  • Prophecies Fulfilled, But In Different Ways

Jacob’s last words to his twelve sons, in Genesis 49, includes a prophecy about Simeon and Levi in verses 5-7:

“Simeon and Levi are brothers;
weapons of violence are their swords.
Let my soul come not into their council;
O my glory, be not joined to their company.
For in their anger they killed men,
and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen.
Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce,
and their wrath, for it is cruel!
I will divide them in Jacob
and scatter them in Israel.

The later history of Israel proved the truth of this prophecy.  Yet though we might expect the same outcome for both tribes, the details proved otherwise.  Levi was scattered and not given a portion of land, but in a positive way – the Lord was their portion, they did not inherit a specific piece of land.  Simeon, though, was given land – land that was within the territory of Judah, such that they later lost their specific identity and are infrequently mentioned as a distinct tribe.  One prophecy about both sons and their descendants, meant fulfillment in very different ways.

Along with these interesting observations, in this series Dr. Barrett also provides guidelines for the proper interpretation of prophecies, including explanation of “progressive prediction” or “prophetic telescoping.”  Of particular note, Barrett disagrees with the “double fulfillment” or “multiple fulfillment” view of prophecy; a particular prophecy only has one meaning and thus one corresponding fulfillment; a particular scripture cannot mean one thing and also mean something else.  Yet we can see a progression in the fulfillment of a prophecy.  Isaiah 61:1-2 is a classic example; Jesus quoted verse 1 through the first phrase of verse 2, as being fulfilled at that time (His First Coming); He did not read the rest of verse 2, though – because that part refers to His Second Coming.

Overall I found this series helpful: a good overview of a few key issues identified by Ryrie as distinctives of dispensationalism, and considering specific points of scripture, and examples from scripture as a contrast to these points.

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Study: The Christian and the Moral Law

April 12, 2016 25 comments

The topic of the Law of God and its relationship to the Christian has come up frequently in my recent studies and daily life. Currently in the 1689 Confession Exposition series I’m in chapter 19, the Law of God, and now in the sixth commandment section of the “Ten Commandments” study from Tom Chantry.

Since last week, the blogosphere has been reacting to Stephen Furtick’s recent claim that “God broke the law for love.”  For reference here, I find Tom Chantry’s post the most helpful in response to the overall evangelical celebrity scandal issue.  His post includes links to several other responses, including the most helpful for the issue as this one from the “Mortification of Spin” blog, as well as Tim Challies’ response.

As I continue through the lessons in both the 1689 Confession and Ten Commandments series, studying various aspects in some detail, I am especially struck by the shallow and superficial (and just plain wrong) arguments and rhetoric of the New Calvinist / New Covenant Theology group, with its anti-Reformed view of the law.  As just a few examples, from a recent local-church NCT conference and some anti-Tim Challies / anti-covenant theology comments at a blog post:  1) rejection of any type of covenant made with Adam in Genesis 2, because “I don’t see the word covenant there” (really? is the word “Trinity” ever found in the Bible?), 2) dislike of Covenant Theology as “those baby baptizers” (will you ever consider that CT includes a credobaptist version, and decide to meaningfully interact with THAT form of CT?  No, it’s easier to resort to name-calling and broad-brushing about how CT is wrong because they’re baby baptizers…), and 3) the stated claim that the moral law was something that started (and ended) with Moses, and thus the only moral law for Christians is what is stated in the New Testament.

As just an aside on point #3:  I find this hermeneutic, that something can only be true for us in the NT era if it’s explicitly stated or “confirmed” in the New Testament, quite frankly, bizarre.  On the question of premillennialism and Israel’s future, dispensationalists (as well as classic/historic premillennialists) recognize the problem with this NT-priority hermeneutic and its implications: a God who changed His plan and changed His promises and His revelation, such that Old Testament believers did not have the same understanding of scripture as we do.  My problem with the NCT group is doubly-compounded in that they get both parts wrong: they apply the NT-only hermeneutic to the moral law (in agreement with dispensationalism) AND apply the NT-only hermeneutic to the question of Israel, rejecting anything of God’s future plans for Israel.  At least dispensationalists get half of it right; and confessional/CT amillennialists get the other half, about the moral law, correct.

Anyway… here are some interesting points from my studies on this topic:  scriptural considerations for why the Ten Commandments are different from the rest of the Mosaic law.

  1. The Ten Commandments were introduced before the rest of the law. They were given directly from God, literally inscribed by God onto the tablets.  These two tablets alone were placed into the Ark of the Covenant.  The civil and ceremonial laws were not put in the Ark.
  1. The summary content of the Ten Commandments is found in existence prior to Moses, going all the way back to creation.  The creation ordinances contain, at least implied, the basics of God’s moral law.  Marriage as a creation ordinance relates to the 7th commandment (adultery and other sexual sins), as well as the 8th commandment (not to steal another man’s wife) and the 10th commandment to not covet your neighbor’s wife.  Dominion over the earth pertains to the 5th commandment: God’s authority and our authority structure, in families and all of life’s social structures.  The seven day week pattern establishes the matter of a time for worship, which is the essence of the 4th commandment; and implied in the 4th commandment, of the schedule/time for worship, are the first three commandments about Who we are to worship, how to worship Him, and with what attitude.  The other part of the 4th commandment, the six days of labor, was also in place in the garden.  Adam was there to work the garden.  The part about working “by the sweat of the brow” was added after the fall, but work itself began before that.  Related to the labor part of the 4th commandment, comes the 8th commandment again:  work to provide your daily needs, and do not steal.  The 6th commandment is specifically referenced in Genesis 9, in God’s covenant with Noah after the flood, with the institution of capital punishment for murder.
  1. God’s moral law, as codified/summarized in the Decalogue, was always concerned about the heart. It was never just about the mere letter of the law.  Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount was not adding anything to that law, but was expositing and restoring the understanding of the law back to what it had always been–away from the Pharisees’ mistaken notion of an external compliance only.

Note here:  when the Israelites had so apostasized that God ejected them from the land, as described in the later prophets including Jeremiah and Ezekiel, it was their violation of the moral law (what is summarized/codified in the Ten Commandments) that angered God.  In fact, the Israelites in the time of Jeremiah (and even earlier, Isaiah’s day also)  were fully complying with the ceremonial law—in outward form.  It was their outward performance of the ceremonial law, without having the right heart attitude, that was the problem.

This point can also be seen in the Pentateuch, in God’s application of the moral law to the Israelites and their civil law.   Immediately after the giving of the Decalogue in Exodus 20, comes Exodus 21 with an interesting, detailed section of laws for Israel’s government.  Exodus 21:12-36 contains specific laws regarding cases where one person  is killed by another – application of the sixth commandment —  and distinction is made between killings done where the one person meant harm to the other, versus truly accidental deaths, including the provision of the cities of refuge which a person who had killed another could flee to—before the avenger of blood killed the man, and for the priest to judge the situation.  Understood throughout this section is that Israel would need a system of courts and judges, and that they would need to be able to investigate a crime and its circumstances.  This investigation would need to involve considering motives:  the motives and thoughts of the person who had killed another, as this is necessary information for determining if a death was accidental, or a case of what we would call 1st or 2nd degree murder.

The above is but a sampling, of scriptural issues to consider regarding the question of the moral law: what it was in the Old Testament era, and why it is God’s unchanging moral law from creation–and not something “only for Israel and the Mosaic administration” and thus no longer relevant to Christians in the New Testament age.

More next time:  the different usages/meanings of the term “law” in the New Testament.

 

Classic Premillennialism: Andrew Bonar’s “Redemption Drawing Nigh”

April 29, 2015 10 comments
Andrew Bonar

Andrew Bonar

In my ongoing study of historic premillennialism, here is another classic premillennial work from one of the covenantal premillennialists, Andrew Bonar (1810-1892, youngest brother of Horatius Bonar) – perhaps best known today for his biography of his friend and fellow Scotsman, Robert Murray M’Cheyne.

Redemption Drawing Nigh, A Defense of the Premillennial Advent was published in 1847. Its availability today is limited: through Google Play, which also has a PDF downloadable file. However, the PDF file is not of the OCR/text type (only image). No kindle book files exist, nor any print used copies from Amazon or other sites. Thankfully, the reading through Google Play is of good quality, and brings out the now-forgotten treasures from Andrew Bonar.

Similar to other works from the 19th century on this topic (as for instance J.C. Ryle), Bonar begins with consideration of the overall question of the Second Coming: why we should be interested in it, and what benefits it brings to the growing Christian. He bolsters his case with quotes from a then-contemporary antimillenarian scholar who likewise agreed regarding the importance of considering Christ’s Second Advent. Bonar also shows his mastery of scripture, with a chapter citing many oft-ignored references to the Second Coming (general references not specific to the millennial era), with several interesting references from the Old Testament –the Psalms, Proverbs, the Prophets, and even from the Song of Solomon (seen typologically as about Christ, the traditional/historic view of that book).

Later chapters deal more in-depth with topics still relevant today, including great quotes about hermeneutics and affirming the literal hermeneutic—and what that hermeneutic actually means.  So far the book is interesting, with strong emphasis on the importance of this doctrine (premillennialism and the Second Coming generally), references to the future of Israel, and insights on the Christian life and holiness.

A few excerpts to share:

 Holiness is “living soberly,” or occupying the position which a calm consideration of our gifts shows us to be fitted for; “righteously,” regarding our neighbor’s rights, loving him as ourselves; “godly,” regarding God’s demands, living in fellowship with Him. But even this, done under the motive of “grace,” is not all. Along with all this, a truly holy man sits loose to the world and longs for glory. … Uneasy at every remaining imperfection, troubled by every unattained degree of grace, vexed at a low state of feeling, the man who walks on the highway of holiness is ever looking forward into the bosom of the future— beyond even death, which only brings partial deliverance—to “that blessed hope.” This unceasing regard to the Lord’s Coming is surely one scriptural ingredient in all real holiness.

 

It is not enough that the lesson itself is Divine, we must also have a Divine instructor; not only a sharp sword, but an Almighty hand to wield it. It is so with respect to this doctrine of the Lord’s Coming. It may be learnt by carnal men as any other piece of knowledge; and it may be received and assented to by spiritual men among the other articles of their creed. But there is a spiritual reception of it which is the effect of the Holy Ghost’s teaching. As in conversion we need resurrection-power—the same power that raised up Jesus—to remove the barriers in our soul that hid a full salvation from our view; so ever after, when any new truth of a spiritual nature is to be taught us, it seems declared to us (Phil. 3: 15) that we need the very same power to remove the scale that blinded us to it.

and, on the topic of hermeneutics, the primary meaning and its application to us:

Let the man not be lazy and easy-minded in the things of God. Let him not say, “O it will do well to let the Assyrian stand as an Algebraic sign for ‘our spiritual enemy.’” Let him rather take the words literally, as referring to some national Jewish event yet future; and then let him say, “But he who is able to be Israel’s peace in that day, may well be mine now!”

Hermeneutics: The More Literal Your Understanding, the More Spiritual Your Condition

January 23, 2015 2 comments

Lately I have been reading through past issues of the Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony’s “Watching and Waiting” quarterly newsletter (back to 2012), and find the following quote very insightful, a concise expression of many truths regarding hermeneutics and our Christian walk:

The antithesis of ‘spiritual’ is ‘natural.’ The antithesis of ‘literal’ is ‘figurative.’ We believe that these are important distinctions which God’s people should understand clearly. We would contend that the more literal you are in your understanding of God’s precious Word, the more spiritual is your state. We have always understood that God means what He says and says what He means. When a person puts a figurative interpretation on the words of Scripture (and calls it a spiritual interpretation) it is possible to make the Bible say anything. That is exactly what the modernist and liberal theologians love. — James Payne; quote in Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony “Watching & Waiting,” (Jul-Sept. 2012)

So well said, a very good point applicable to all biblical teaching – prophecy and many other areas. Certainly in discussion of doctrine with other believers, we can see a scale of relative degrees of literal understanding; many believers are inconsistent in their hermeneutics. Here is a list of several non-salvific doctrines, which some people interpret literally while others spiritualize/allegorize (“a figurative interpretation … and calls it a spiritual interpretation”). This is not an exhaustive list, and certainly it could be expanded to minor doctrines, such as whether one believes Jesus used literal wine – or spiritualized (figurative) to mean a non-alcoholic variation.

  • Creation (the beginning)
  • Eschatology (millennial views)
  • Israel in the purpose of God (including future)
  • The “Sabbath principle” of one day of seven set aside (Lord’s Day Observance)
  • Existence and purpose of Old Testament Israel (spiritualized by NCT that they never were a believing people but only a “type” of New Testament believers)

The quote from Payne notes the scale with a range — “the more literal….” — as well as the logical consequence of non-literal hermeneutics: that it is possible to make the Bible say anything. Here we also see the reason why the literal person is more spiritual: the root of trusting God in His promises, that God really “means what He says and says what He means.”

From my own admittedly small sample, of fellow believers in my daily life, I have observed the outcome of what Payne so well describes, including extreme cases of believers who spiritualize all five doctrines above. Many believers are inconsistent, taking a literal understanding of some doctrines but not of others; the common ground provides a basis for fellowship in that we at least agree upon some teachings. Calvinist dispensationalists typically will affirm four out of five of the above list (excepting the Sabbath principle), though even there some groups, such as the “Institute for Creation Research” also teaches that idea. Though many of today’s confessional Reformed Baptists reject premillennialism and a future purpose for Israel, yet — in keeping with overall Reformed Protestant teaching (only they have forgotten the premillennialism of the original Reformed including many of the Westminster Divines) and in contrast with today’s NCT Calvinist Baptists, affirm three of the five (creation, the Sabbath principle and the basic unity of God’s people: that the Mosaic economy really did include actual believers and that Israel really did receive the covenant promises).

But what about the person who takes a “spiritual” interpretation of all five of the above doctrines? Payne’s analysis seems especially “spot-on,” as it is this person who comes across as being very natural-minded in general life and attitude toward the scriptures. From the sample of people I know in this category: the plagues described in Revelation are the result of man’s technology (nuclear and/or chemical war instead of God’s wrath similar to His mighty acts in the book of Exodus); great reliance on man’s medical science to provide miracle drug cures (a correlation to their equal emphasis on man’s knowledge for old-earth creation ideas)– here reflecting the mindset of a person who does not really understand “God means what He says and says what He means.” What does it say about someone (in this category) who quips a reversal on a common saying: “most of us are too earthly minded to be of any heavenly good” (an assertion I would dispute; one may speak for himself, but should not assume that others really think in the same terms and thus conclude that most others are really “too earthly minded”)? Again this correlates to Payne’s observation: those who (in many doctrinal areas, not just one or two) put a figurative interpretation (the opposite of literal) and call it spiritual, are really making the Bible say anything — and showing tendencies toward modernist, liberal theology.

 

Hermeneutics and Old-New Testament Revelation

September 22, 2014 Leave a comment

In my recent studies — different aspects of covenant theology, NCT, the law and types of antinomianism — I have noted one interesting aspect of hermeneutics and continuity/discontinuity between the Old and New Testament, a common element in two unrelated teachings that challenge the clarity and sufficiency of the Old Testament for OT saints: 1) full “replacement theology” and amillennialism with the NT revelation changing the meaning of the Old Testament land and literal kingdom promises; and 2) “doctrinal antinomianism” that teaches that Christ gave new law in the Sermon on the Mount, law that was unknown to Old Testament saints and that “expanded” the original meaning beyond a supposed “legalistic and ceremonial-only understanding”.

Premillennialists have rightly pointed out this hermeneutical problem with the spiritualized re-interpretation of what the Old Testament described regarding a future literal kingdom of God upon the earth, in which Israel as a nation would play a role (along with a few other nations specifically mentioned, ref. Isaiah 19:23-25), and a literal future restoration of the people of Israel to the land promised to Abraham in Genesis. As Paul Henebury has observed, “this maxim would mean that Christians without the NT – and there were many of them in the First Century – could not comprehend the scripture they had – the OT.”

Interestingly enough, a similar issue comes up in articles discussing antinomianism as contrasted with the Reformed/covenantal view of the moral law (that Christ came to fulfill the law, and that meant restoring it to its original high level, from the lower level that the Pharisees had reduced it to). Note that here I am specifically addressing the “full” teaching of “New Covenant Theology” in its extreme view that places a sharp division between the Old and New Testaments, rejecting any understanding of true moral law pre-Christ, such that very few people pre-Christ were saved (the prophets and the few godly kings), and whose adherents even declare (as seen recently in an online discussion group for NCT) how unimportant the Old Testament is and that for evangelism they are now only using the New Testament. (Really?! But how did the apostles evangelize, per the book of Acts?  They used the only Bible they had, the Old Testament. They proclaimed Christ from the Old Testament scriptures, proving that the promised Messiah was Jesus of Nazareth.)

If the “law of Moses” was really a more primitive type, strictly legalistic, ceremonial and civil, with no true moral intent — and Christ actually gave “new law” that was not known in the OT — then how does one explain the true faith and spirituality of OT saints, such as the psalmists, including their descriptions of delighting in God’s law and desiring to do His law (Psalm 119 and elsewhere)? Further, to suggest that people before Christ did not have the full revelation of God’s law, also contradicts the many Old Testament passages that make it clear that all along, even then, God delighted more in their obedience and their heart attitude, than in sacrifices; sometimes even God declared that He hated their ceremonial feasts and sacrifices, because they were not done from a sincere heart motivation. Reference Hosea 6:6, “For I desire steadfast love (mercy) and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings,” also Samuel’s words to Saul in 1 Samuel 15:22, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” But if Christ somehow added to the law, that which was not known before He came, that also means that the Old Testament believers had a different method of salvation and did not have the same basic belief in the same God as we New Testament believers. Also according to this idea, the Old Testament saints were inferior in quality; and we could call them hypocrites for their appearance of showing great love for God and His law and their great devotion to God: since the OT law did not really require that of them and it had not even yet been revealed to them.

Some closing words from J.C. Ryle regarding the Old Testament and its importance (from his commentary on Matthew 5):

Jesus came to fulfill the predictions of the prophets, who had long foretold that a Savior would one day appear. He came to fulfill the ceremonial law, by becoming the great sacrifice for sin, to which all the Old Testament offerings had ever pointed. He came to fulfill the moral law, by yielding to it a perfect obedience, which we could never have yielded – and by paying the penalty for our breaking of it with His atoning blood, which we could never have paid.

Do not despise the Old Testament under any pretense whatsoever. Let us never listen to those who bid us throw it aside as an obsolete, antiquated, useless book. The religion of the Old Testament is the embryo of Christianity. The Old Testament is the gospel in the bud. The New Testament is the gospel in full flower. The saints in the Old Testament saw many things through a glass darkly. But they all looked by faith to the same Savior and were led by the same Spirit as ourselves.

Also, beware of despising the law of the Ten Commandments. Let us not suppose for a moment that it is set aside by the gospel or that Christians have nothing to do with it. The coming of Christ did not alter the position of the Ten Commandments in the least. If anything, it exalted and raised their authority (Romans 3:31). The law of the Ten Commandments is God’s eternal measure of right and wrong. By it, is the knowledge of sin. By it, the Spirit shows men their need of Christ and drives them to Him. To it, Christ refers His people as their rule and guide for holy living. In its right place it is just as important as “the glorious gospel.” It cannot save us. We cannot be justified by it. But never, never let us despise it. It is a symptom of an ignorant and unhealthy state of religion when the law is lightly esteemed. The true Christian “delights in God’s law” (Romans 7:16-20).

Hermeneutics and Presuppositions: The 144,000 In Revelation

June 20, 2013 15 comments

A popular Reformed preacher has recently taught through Revelation (an amillennial view), and several of his fans have shared  excerpts from his teaching, agreeing with and saying how great his teaching is.  Looking at the specific “points” made by this preacher, though, I am reminded of S. Lewis Johnson’s observations nearly twenty years ago, that in our day so few people really know their Bibles and are thus more easily led astray.

Now for a look at one excerpt, what has been said with reference to the 144,000 in Revelation 7 (and Revelation 14):

If the 144,000 spoken of in Revelation is an actual number then, we have a problem, because the Bible says all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, rather the 144,000 is a symbolic number of ALL the Elect (saved and sealed by Jesus Christ) of both Jews and Gentiles and are found spotless in the Lamb Jesus Christ His Perfect Bride….if we take the 144,000 literally then one must conclude that there are actually 144,000 who are virgins, and as the text says they are blameless, which is a serious problem because we have all sinned.

Right away several problems can be noted in these two statements.  First is the “root problem” presupposition, that the description of 144,00 in Revelation 7 must be about soteriology and specifically saying something concerning the doctrine of election.  But let the text speak for itself, and Revelation 7 reads as a (future) narrative event, describing the calling of a specific group of saved individuals, during a future event.  (Thus it belongs in the category of eschatology, the doctrine of last things — not soteriology.)  Nothing in the Revelation 7 and 14 texts says: a) that these 144,000 are the only people ever saved; b) that these 144,000 are the only Elect; or even c) that they are supposed to be representative of the elect.

The passage itself, in Revelation 7:13-14, explains the meaning of this scene (the 144,000 followed by the multitude):    Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?”  I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.

Revelation 7 and 14 are describing narrative events that occur during the Great Tribulation, a particular time period (yet future to our day) often described by the prophets in the Old Testament by several terms: the time of Jacob’s Trouble (Jeremiah 30:7), the Day of the Lord, Daniel’s 70th week, the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24; also reference Deuteronomy 4:30).  Here we note also that Revelation is a book that relies heavily on Old Testament understanding, with many, many allusions to Old Testament texts.  So we look at all of scripture and what it has to say concerning a certain future time period (and there are many such texts especially in the Old Testament but also references to it in the New Testament), and see that Revelation is also describing this future time period.  Revelation is a narrative text that sometimes uses symbolic language, not a book explaining soteriology through the use of symbols.

Now to the second statement:  “if we take the 144,000 literally then one must conclude that there are actually 144,000 who are virgins, and as the text says they are blameless, which is a serious problem because we have all sinned.”  In the first place, what is so difficult to understand about the idea that 144,000 individuals are virgins?  Even in Jesus’ day there were eunuchs (Matthew 19:12), some of whom had made themselves so “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”

But moving on to the next phrase:  the text says they are blameless, which is a serious problem because we have all sinned. Here again familiarity with the Bible and its usage of the term “blameless” must be considered.  A brief search through an online Bible reveals that the following individuals (all humans, who sinned) were described as “blameless”:

Clearly the Bible uses the term “blameless” in a different way than supposed by the teacher who thought of “blameless” as meaning sinless perfection.  Yet the Bible consistently uses the term blameless as meaning something else: our conduct and righteous living as redeemed sinners, the elect of God.  Other passages attest that God looks for and supports “those whose heart is blameless toward Him.” (2 Chron. 16:9).  Several of the Psalms speak of the righteous one, the saved sinner, as blameless, indicating that – even though indeed all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – God does look upon His saints as blameless; see, for instance, Psalm 15:2; Psalm 19:13; Psalm 37:18,37. Psalms 101 and 119 consider the “way that is blameless” and those whose way is blameless.”  This pattern continues in the New Testament, where again we are exhorted to righteous living and conduct, to be blameless.  The apostles were blameless in their conduct toward the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 2:10), and one of the tests for deacons in the church is that they be blameless (1 Timothy 3:10).

How appropriate S. Lewis Johnson’s statement (from his 1 Corinthians series) regarding the state of the church today, as seen in so many examples such as this one:

In evangelicalism, it’s much easier today for evangelicals to be led astray by false doctrine.  I personally believe that the reason is that evangelicals are not reading the Bible much these days.  They are not really studying the Bible much.  Sometimes they are reading books about the Bible, but a lot of times they are just attending evangelical services.  And therefore they are not themselves involved in the study of the Scriptures and pondering the words that are found in the Scriptures.

“Protestant Purgatory”? Confusion Regarding Regeneration and the Holy Spirit

March 28, 2013 14 comments

(Yes, it’s just a nickname, ‘Protestant Purgatory’… not actual purgatory, though something with the similar feature of a third “holding place” pre-Calvary.  Moving along to the main issue of this post: people who think Regeneration equals Permanent Indwelling of the Holy Spirit.)

A recent online discussion brought out something quite strange: Christians who actually believe the “Protestant Purgatory for Old Testament Saints” myth, the idea that the Old Testament saints were not regenerated (since they did not have the Holy Spirit indwelling) and did not go to heaven but to “Abraham’s Bosom,” a type of purgatory holding place until Calvary, at which time Christ moved them to heaven.  It turned out that this idea (at least the second part, about the OT saints not going to heaven) comes from a particular teacher of Internet and Youtube popularity; his teaching (link provided by the person in this discussion who believes this) can be found here.

The reasoning for this idea, as presented in the discussion, included emphasis on Luke 16, the parable/story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, along with other questionable ideas such as that the Old Testament never used the term “born again,” and thinking (without scriptural reasoning) that the disciples themselves were not saved and no different from unbelievers before Christ’s Resurrection/Pentecost.

As a friend later observed, “I think the problem is a faulty understanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit throughout the Bible and the history of redemption. It is not correct to say that only those who have the dwelling of the Spirit can be regenerated, because we are not saved by the dwelling of the Spirit; but we have the dwelling because we have been saved (or regenerated).”

Surely such confusion and error is a symptom of today’s “Youtube generation” and an evangelical community not grounded in the scriptures. Scanning through S. Lewis Johnson sermons on the topic of regeneration and the post-Pentecost indwelling of the Holy Spirit, for instance, I find that he stated, casually in passing reference: Now the Old Testament says that believers were regenerated, and so we have to answer, “Yes the Old Testament says believers were regenerated.” “Were the Old Testament believers indwelt by the Holy Spirit permanently?” Now personally I have to reply, “No.”  But he didn’t go through the OT scriptures to prove it, just assuming that everyone understood this.  John MacArthur likewise makes passing reference to this as a fact, as in his two part lesson about the salvation of infants that die: there are only two places a soul can go when it dies, either into the presence of the Lord (heaven) or away from God’s presence (hell).

So much could be said in response to this error/myth, but for a summary of the obvious hermeneutical and doctrinal problems here:

1) Does anyone else (among the scholars and Bible teachers) teach this idea?  The “checking principle” of hermeneutics demands humility on the part of anyone teaching a unique interpretation, that perhaps his interpretation is wrong.  Actually, it turns out that this idea (OT saints went to some holding area) is a “fictitious and fabulous” error of the papists, denounced later by Protestants such as (18th century) John Gill (Spurgeon’s predecessor, covenantal premillennialist and high Calvinist) (reference his commentary here).  Which makes one wonder why any 21st century Protestant Calvinist would teach an error from the Catholics of old.

2) Excessive focus on a parable and drawing strong doctrinal support from such a text.  Also this approach to God’s word ignores the whole body of teaching concerning the history of redemption and the nature of salvation and regeneration as taught throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments.

3) Teaches the idea of purgatory, a non-biblical idea, and a non-biblical different “truth” for Old Testament times: a third place for the soul/spirit to go, rather than the two places of biblical Christianity (into the presence of God or away from God), this third place of limbo, a holding area or purgatory for all people who died before Calvary.

Expanding on point two above, the body of teaching concerning redemption, salvation and regeneration, S. Lewis Johnson in this message explains the logical necessity of regeneration:

regeneration is needed for three reasons. First, because of the condition of humanity, we are naturally dead. We are alienated and enemies. We are blind. We are hardened. We are slaves of sin. We are ignorant. The Bible says that if we have not been born again, that we are really of the devil, and so that the condition of humanity is sufficient to make very plain to us, the necessity of regeneration if we expect to enjoy the presence of God some day.

Regeneration is also needed because of the character of holiness; that sin separates us from a holy God, and because God is a holy God, he cannot have fellowship with sin, and we are dead in sin. And so the holiness of God separates us from him, and we need regeneration, a new birth. We need to become a new creation. And finally, regeneration is needed because of the character of heaven itself. In the Bible, we are told in the Book of Revelation that “there shall not enter into heaven anything that defileth.” Heaven is not like earth, and consequently, if we are to enter into heaven, we must be pure. Therefore, we need a new birth. We cannot enter into heaven, dead in sin. We cannot enter into heaven the slaves of sin. We cannot enter into heaven in any way touched by sin. What we need is a perfect righteousness and a perfect holiness, and that can only come to us through a new birth, and a consequent justification of life.

That believers before the Cross were regenerated and not the same as natural man is obvious.  Jesus’ words to Nicodemus make clear that to be born-again was a present reality, and something that Nicodemus, as a teacher, was expected to have known. If no one was regenerated with a new heart before the Cross/Pentecost, Nicodemus would have had a very good excuse for not knowing this.  That Nicodemus should have known this also makes clear that the Old Testament taught the same as the New, that believers of all times were given a new heart and that they went to be with the Lord at their death, same as with us in the Church age.  God’s word is also quite clear on where Enoch and Elijah went, that they were raptured and taken into the presence of God (heaven); to say they went instead to some other “holding place” until Christ’s death is unscriptural and ridiculous.

Matthew 16:17 tells us that flesh and blood had not revealed to Peter his understanding (that Jesus was the Christ), “but my Father who is in heaven. Throughout the Old Testament God chose and elected His leaders and prophets.  Daniel was one beloved by the Lord (Daniel 10:19).  Numbers 11:29 and Deuteronomy 29:4 point out that God did put His spirit on some individuals. The Deuteronomy text points out to the unbelieving people that “the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear,” which in context is a clear contrast between the great numbers of unbelievers and the relative few including Moses, Joshua and Caleb, who had been given a heart to understand.