“God is not a man.” Finish it. “What do you mean?”


S. Lewis Johnson, in his lecture XII Bunyan conference (God’s love towards Israel), gives the following advice:

“In reading the Bible pay attention to the connectives, if you want to study the Bible and become expert in the knowledge of the Scriptures one of the things you have to pay attention to is the “for’s” the “therefore’s” the “because’s” on this account various other connectives that connect the sentences of the word of God together that give you the kind of clues that enable you to put one statement with another in proper understanding.”

Recently I heard once again in a discussion on Islam the bit from Numbers 23:19, a favourite of Unitarians (Jews, Moslems and Jehovah’s Witnesses), “God is not a man…” This bit is part of the complete verse, which they either ignore or are ignorant of:

God is not a man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

The conjunction (connecting word) that connects 1. “God is not man,” to 2. “he should lie” in such away that all God is saying is that whereas man is (by nature) a liar, God is not. (The same grammatical point applies to “or a son of man…”). Numbers 23;19 has nothing to do with the nature of God’s being, namely, whether he has a divine or a human nature, or both. Therefore, it’s illegitimate to chop the verse into two chunks and present them as two separate arguments. It’s a bit like slicing up Raphael the Ninja Turtle  and ending up with Picasso. Later, of course, the New Testament does describe Jesus as fully God and fully man. But this is a different context.

In the endeavour to prove that Jesus cannot be God, unitarians milk the teats off the text.


Raphael and Picasso pay attention; God is not a man that he should lie..

Milking the teats off the text: the Rabbinical interpretation of Numbers 23:19.

My Gospel: Much ado about noting


There are fictitious stories and non-fictitious stories. French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur, said that we tell stories because human lives need and merit to be told. Writing stories is one of the noblest employments of the mind and soul. Most good stories aim at knowledge and wisdom. This aim is most evident in life stories: biographies. For many professing Christians, most of the value of Bible stories lies in what they tell them about themselves, not what they tell them about God. Story, writes Leslie Leyland Fields, is all the rage. Everyone pants to tell their personal narrative or to give the Bible a simpler and more relevant plot. Maybe it isn’t such a good idea.” (The Gospel Is More Than a Story: Rethinking Narrative and Testimony). (See The Gospel is more and less than a story).

I’m reminded of Reconstructionist-Reform Judaism (most Jews fall in this category), which sees the Bible as man-made stories that bind the Jewish community together. Actually, it’s much more than about community. In a sense, the Bible is often less than about community; it’s about self.

You yourself, and I myself, says Martyn Lloyd Jones, are our greatest enemies. The 
curse of life is that we are all self-centred. We live for self instead of for God, and thus we are selfish, we are jealous, and we are envious. As Paul puts it, we are ‘hateful, and hating one another’ (Titus 3:3). Why? Because we are out for ourselves. Instead of living 
to God, in worship of Him and to His glory, we have all made ourselves [into] gods.” That’s, at bottom, the meaning of “total depravity”: we have made ourselves gods rather than God’s. (See Kinda Christianity”: The Bible as stories about ourselves; our gods).

Here is the French Jesuit,
Jean-Pierre Causssade, famous among Roman Catholic contemplatives for his 
handbook “Abandonment to divine providence,” Here is an excerpt from Caussade for whom the Gospel is merely “a tiny stream” in comparison to the river that God 
is dying  to pour into you.

The Holy Spirit continues to
carry on the work of our Saviour. While helping the Church to preach the
Gospel of Jesus Christ, He writes His own Gospel in the hearts of the just. All
their actions, every moment of their lives, are the Gospel of the Holy Spirit.
The souls of the saints are the paper, the sufferings and actions the ink. The 
Holy Spirit with the pen of His power writes a living Gospel, but a Gospel that
 cannot be read until it has left the press of this life, and has been published on 
the day of eternity….Teach me, divine Spirit, to read in this book of life. I desire to become Your 
disciple and, like a little child, to believe what I cannot understand, and cannot
see. Sufficient for me that it is my Master who speaks. He says that! He
 pronounces this! He arranges the letters in such a fashion! He makes Himself 
heard in such a manner! That is enough. I decide that all is exactly as He says.
I do not see the reason, but He is the infallible truth, therefore all that He
 says, all that He does is true. He groups His letters to form a word, and 
different letters again to form another word. There may be three only, or six;
 then no more are necessary, and fewer would destroy the sense. He who reads
 the thoughts of men is the only one who can bring these letters together, and
 write the words. All has meaning, all has perfect sense. This line ends here 
because He makes it do so. Not a comma is missing, and there is no
 unnecessary full-stop. At present I believe, but in the glory to come when so
 many mysteries will be revealed, I shall see plainly what now I so little 
understand. Then what appears to me at present so intricate, so perplexing, so
foolish, so inconsistent, so imaginary, will all be entrancing and will delight me
 eternally by the beauty, order, knowledge, wisdom, and the incomprehensible
 wonders it will all display.” (Mystical YOUnion: Do you want God to write a Gospel about you or are you aching to write it yourself?). 

Something is amiss in this mystical effusion, namely, the belief that besides the “Gospel” proper, which for Caussade means the scriptures, there is another Gospel, a Gospel for you and for me. It seems quite possible that God takes copious notes on each individual’s story, but should we call that individual story another Gospel, even if we mean it metaphorically? The word of God in the scriptures “is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16). The focus of Christians should not be on the memorable, momentous “Gospel” God is writing about their lives, but on the historic remarkable life of Jesus Christ. 

Owing to the fact that Caussade is both a Roman Catholic and a contemplative, and a Jesuit,  it comes as no no surprise he writes in such an imaginative way; the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius Loyola’s “Exercises” (in imagination) are famous among Roman Catholics. Caussade’s drift seems  to be that unless the Gospel story is faithful to “my story,” it has little significance. Martin Luther would execrate such chutzpa. Many modern Lutherans would do likewise. There are other Lutherans, however, who would love Caussade’s idea of one person, one Gospel – a typical postmodern pursuit. For example, Walter Brueggemann does not consider theology and Bible interpretation a matter of certainty but of fidelity; fidelity to 1. the “divine office of creative imagination” (Ignatius Loyola?) and 2. to the “other.” 

For Brueggemann any interaction between 1. certitude, which he considers limited because it is restricted to a single meaning (univocity) and 2. fidelity, should be discarded. We should rather, as Jacques Derrida says, remain open to “an unlimited number of contexts over an indefinite period of time,” and thus to unrestricted interaction between suffering persons desiring to tell their personal stories. The biblical story for the imaginative is about always departing never arriving, unless it arrives at the front door of my singular story. (The postmodern pursuit: Always departing, never arriving). There are many Lutherans, thankfully, who have not taken this postmodern turn.

Compared to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, our “Gospel” is much ado about nothing. If you don’t agree stop singing those silly songs, “It’s not about me Lord, it’s all about you-hoo-hoo-hoo.” Who again?




KJV or NASB? Of by and through and one less all to fight Arminians over

In the KJV Ephesians 3:9-10, I read:
9 And to make all (men) men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: 10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.

Re verse 10: I’m not so hot on 17th century English. I can’t make head or tail of verse 10. Who is intended to know the wisdom of God, the principalities or the church. All the other English translations on Bible Hub have “through the church.” That makes sense. Here is the New American Standard Bible (NASB):

9 so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.

If that is not enough to madden King Jamesophiles, the NASB, in contrast to all other English translations on Bible Hub, follows the Alexandrian Greek text, it seems, by omitting “all” in verse 10.

10. and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things.

Whoopee for Alexandria, ’cause that’s one less “all’ to fight Arminians over.

Have to now “select all” in my word processor and paste it into WordPress. Bye y’aaahhhhl.

James White’s Greek: Trip over your letters and destroy the world

First a little linguistics. The science of linguistics distinguishes between competence and performance. Competence refers to knowledge of a language, and performance to its use. Sometimes a competent language user may – aware or unaware – slip on his performance of sounds, spelling, grammar or vocabulary. The difference between a competent and incompetent language user is that the former, when becoming aware, can correct the mistake. The incompetent person. In contrast, cannot corect the mistake, which means that he doesn’t know the language (adequately). If, therefore, a person makes a mistake in writing or speaking, we should not conclude that the person is incompetent, namely, doesn’t know how the language works. The mistake might be a performance slip, and not an indication of incompetence.

On his “Dividing Line” yesterday, James White was in telephonic conversation with Ijaz Ahmed. One of the issues dealt with was the incident where White had slipped up in quoting from memory an excerpt of biblical Greek. Ijaz Ahmed had previously posted the following graphic and article on his blog

james white greek 1

The day after James White’s debate with Br. Zakir Hussain (details here, audio stream here, or right click ‘save as’ to download here), James released an article conceding to his clear ineptitude, inability to respond to well founded research and lack of basic comprehension skills. By basic I mean not being able to find a word and correctly identify its meaning, even after having used a computer to search for it (even though he’s a self claimed expert on the Greek language). I really must question not only his basic comprehension skills, but his lazy and hypocritical attitude as well. Ask a 3 year old Muslim to recite 7 ayat from Surah Fatihah and they would be able to do so with perfect pronunciation (tajweed), which I can demonstrate as being possible here and here, ask James White to repeat something he’s done several thousand times and he can’t.” 

Ijaz Ahmed’s understanding of how language works is parlous. “Reciting” sounds or letters by itself is not what is meant by knowing a language. And so, reciting them well does not mean the reciter knows the language well. Indeed the reciter might not have the foggiest idea. That little three-year  old Muslim hasn’t, of course, a clue what’s tripping off his tongue. This is true of the majority of Muslim adults as well because although they can recite Arabic, they don’t have a clue about Arabic grammar or what the words mean. Think parrots. The difference between a parrot and human “reciters” is that parrots don’t have minds; well, not human minds. But, says many Muslims, that doesn’t matter, because the sounds (phonemes) and the letters (graphemes) have a power in themselves to bring you closer, if not to Allah, to submission to Allah’s will.

As with Muslims, so with Jews, specifically non-Israeli Jews. ”When I was called to the bima (platform), relates Avram Yehoshua from the US,  to read the haftara portion (the portion of Scripture from the Prophets that the bar Mitzva boy reads), I chanted it melodically and without mistake. The only problem was that I had no idea what the Hebrew words meant or what I was doing, except that today I would ‘become a man.’ 

In passing, I wonder whether the Muslims didn’t get the idea from medieval rabbis that the Arabic letters and sounds in the Quran having divine properties. 

In his his “Handbook of Rabbinical Theology: Language, system, structure”(Brill Academic Publishers, 2002), Jacob Neusner says “The saying of the words [of the Mishnah], whether heard meaningfully by another or not, is the creation of the world?” Jacob Neusner and the grammar of rabbinical theology (5): the creativity of the rabbinical mind.” The explanation of such an unintelligible statement (to those outside traditional Judaism) is found in the Kabbalah, a core text of the Oral Torah. According to the Kabbalah, the very individual sounds (phonemes)/letters (graphemes) of the Torah contain deep meanings independent of the meanings of the words they spawn. Rabbi Glazerson, in his Philistine and Palestinian” (1995) says: The deeper significance of the letters and words is discussed extensively in the literature of Kabbalah. It is a subject as wide as all Creation. Every single letter points to a separate path by which the effluence of the divine creative force reaches the various sefirot (”spheres”) through which the Creator, Blessed be he, created His world,”

And Moshe CordoveroHalachah [Jewish law] obligates the reader to read the weekly portion, twice in the original Hebrew and once in the Aramaic translation, and this includes even seemingly meaningless place names (underlining added) such as Atarot and Divon (Bamidbar 32:3 Numbers” 32:3)…The spiritual concept of each and every letter contains a glorious light, derived from the essence of the sefirot [spheres]…each letter is like a splendid palace, containing and corresponding to its spiritual concept. When one of the letters is pronounced aloud, the corresponding spiritual force is necessarily evoked…these spiritual forces inhere not only in [the vocalized letters] but also in their written forms.” Moshe Cordovero’s Pardes Rimonim [Garden of Pomegranates] , Sha’ar Ha-Ottiot [Gate of Letters], Chapter 1).   (See my Letters of Hebrew fire – the depth and death of meaning). 

White, stumbled over his Greek letters, and that, says Jiad, I mean Ijad, makes him no NT scholar. We can be thankful though that he was speaking Greek, not Hebrew (or Quranic Arabic?), and so the world did not come to an end.

The postmodern pursuit: Always departing, never arriving

In his review of Matthew Levering’s “The Theology of Augustine: An Introductory Guide to His Most Important Works,” Carl Trueman describes the postmodernist’s penchant for pursuing truth in the hope of not finding it.

“Augustine [however] was cut from different cloth. For him, it was not the pursuit of truth or some nebulous ‘journey’ which was the important thing; it was finding and resting in truth, real truth, God’s truth. Thus, he spent much of his early life pursuing that truth, through education, through Manicheeism and through neo-Platonism; it was only when he found Christianity and came to rest in God himself that he found the truth, beauty, and the fulfillment that comes from the same. That is not the secular mindset. Indeed, when I played Augustine in a debate with Bertrand Russell last Christmas, I was struck by how my antagonist found Augustine’s claim to have discovered truth to be so obnoxious; is it coherent, I thought, to characterize the good life as the pursuit of truth, rather than the discovery of truth? How can the best life be located in seeking truth and yet never finding it? Is it not the truth of the end point which gives the pursuit its value? And yet the restlessness of this secular mentality would seem to be no different to aesthetic of our post-evangelical arrivistes who seem to believe it is better to be always traveling than ever to arrive.” (Review of Carl Trueman).

A while back, I was in conversation with a friend who said this about Jacques Derrida’s view of truth and a Messiah:

The question of the messiah seems eternally interesting. Derrida opined that the point about having a messiah is the promise, the hope, the aspiration, NOT that (he) comes. So what’s the deal with having a messiah who’s arrived? There’s a question for you. Where is the mystery once he’s exposed and had his say?”

Michael Patton, an evangelical Calvinist, sympathises with postmodernists. He believes that since there is nowadays much greater exposure to different cultures and religions through travel and the internet, people become more confused, and consequently don’t know whether (my summation of Patton’s message) they’re a Christian Arthur or an agnostic Martha. Here is Patton:

“I have a deep sympathy toward the confusion that postmodernism has brought about. The global culture that has been created in the last 50 years has caused us to change our perspectives on many things. The internet, world news, and globalization of culture has made it less likely that people can stay sheltered in a naive understanding of truth, religion, and morality even if they are right. The ever changing currents in science, exposure to world religions, fractures in the family unit, divisions in Christianity, and subjective change in personal beliefs and certainty have caused Christians to question the reliability of any source of truth. People are suspicious, disillusion, bewildered, and uncertain.” (M. Patton, “Would the real emerger please stand up”).

Patton, in his “Understanding the Postmodern Mind and the Emerging Church” distinguishes between “hard” and “soft” postmodernists:

“Hard postmodernists would see truth as being relative to the time, culture, or situation of the individual. In other words, truth does not exist beyond the thoughts of the subject. For example (and let me dive right in!), homosexuality, to the hard postmodernist, is right or wrong depending upon the person’s situation.”

“Soft postmoderns are different than hard postmoderns. In general they are suspicious of all truth claims. Their suspicion, however, is not rooted in a denial of the existence of truth, but a denial of our ability to come to terms with our certainty about the truth. In other words, the soft postmoderns believe in the existence of objective truth, but deny that we can have absolute certainly or assurance that we, in fact, have a corner on this truth. To the soft postmodernist, truth must be held in tension, understanding our limitations. We can seldom, if ever, be sure that we have the right truth. Therefore, there is a tendency to hold all convictions in limbo.”

What is so postmodern about rejecting the revelation of an other-worldly destination? Wasn’t that the “Enlightenment’s” claim to fame two centuries or so ago? The Lord Jesus Christ’s view is that if you pursue, you discover. For a Calvinist, the initial pursuing of truth is not done by you but by God, who grants you the desire to pursue both natural and supernatural truth. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit–fruit that will last…” (John 15:16). The Bible has a centre, an “arriving” (salvation), a destination, a final destination, which can only be attained through revelation.

To return to the interminable indeterminable departure lounge and the Messiah. There is Derrida, again, sitting on his suitcase again. Did Derrida really want to find the Messiah? And if he didn’t want to, was it because, once found, the Messiah would no longer be of any value. Is it true – as my friend (above) says – that Derrida believed that “the point about having justice or a messiah is the promise, the hope, the aspiration, not that justice or the Messiah comes;” because “what’s the deal with having a messiah who’s arrived? Where is the mystery once he’s exposed and had his say?” As the TV “Discovery Channel” puts it: “If we had all the answers, there’d be nothing left to discover. Ignorance is bliss.” Go on finish it off: “and it’s folly to be wise.” Sure if you mean the wisdom of man:

…when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, ESV).

Most “educated” people are soft postmodernists: although they believe that objective truth exists, they say no one can be sure what it is. André Gide, a hard postmodernist advised the softies: “Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it?” Only someone who doesn’t believe in (objective) truth talks like that.

The question is, how does one do science or literature (tone poems excluded) without a coherent, stable reality? Indeed, how can one have an intelligent conversation if words and thoughts keep toppling into one another? Scientists and all those blessed with noggins seek to know what’s going on, not only in their heads, but also in the world– theologians too. Everybody – including Derrida – hopes, if not believes, that Truth exists. And a messiah? Is Derrida waiting for a messiah? If so, what kind of messiah? “Derrida’s Messiah is not a person but an opening of experience.

What’s the deal with having a messiah who’s arrived? Where is the mystery once he’s exposed and had his say?” (My friend’s question above). It is unremarkable that sinful man would ask such a question? Undergirding this question is perhaps not the fear that a Messiah, a Judge, exists, neither the conviction that Truth can never be found. What such a question implies is rather the chutzpa (hubris) that nothing higher than man has the right to exist, for man is the measure of all things. Satan asks Adam “Did God really say?” (Genesis 3:1). And therein lies the genesis of the question “What’s the deal with having a messiah who has arrived – unless he’s arrived at another departure lounge?” (The deconstruction of Messiah).

Aristotle believed that virtue was the means to life’s goal, which is happiness. Virtue strives for happiness and the good, the good of all. Indeed, Aristotle’s happiness (and Plato’s for that matter) IS the good. In Aristotle, every human life has a departure and a destination; the reason why you travel is – surely – to arrive at a specific place. That place, for Aristotle, is here, in this world. Since the 19th century, the place to find happiness hasn’t changed, but what has changed since the “Enlightenment” is that its all about departing and no more about arriving unless arriving at another departure lounge. Enlightenment, modern style: Bums on suitcases, all packed and ready to leave for the next departure lounge

And what about the Victorian postmoderns? – always departing never arriving. Here is Martyn Lloyd Jones:

The Victorians said,’To travel hopefully is better than to arrive.’ Stuff and nonsense. If that were true no one would get married, they’d say courtship is better than marriage. But you see this is the sort of phrase that fascinates people and it sounds so wonderful. Ah, they say, we don’t want any of your Christian evangelical dogmatic certainty. We are seekers after truth,we like the great quest after reality. There was no such thing as the knowledge of truth; that was the nonsense they talked, based on nothing but sheer ignorance.” (Martyn Lloyd Jones’ sermon,“By faith, Abraham”).

What about our own postmodern generation? Should we like, Michael Patton, sympathise with them or should it be a plague on both their houses! For both the soft and the hard say “we don’t want any of your Christian evangelical dogmatic certainty.” (Lloyd Jones above). The “Christian” postmodern generation is epitomised in the “Lutheran” theologian Walter Brueggemann for whom theology and Bible interpretation is not a matter of certainty but of fidelity; fidelity to 1. the “divine office of creative imagination” and 2. to the “other.”

For Brueggemann, the Lutheran, any interaction between 1. certitude, which he considers limited because it is restricted to a single meaning (univocity) and 2. fidelity, should be frowned upon. We should, therefore, be open, as Jacques Derrida says, to “an unlimited number of contexts over an indefinite period of time,” and thus to unrestricted interaction between suffering persons desiring to tell their personal stories. For Brueggemann and Derrida, and all postmodernists (who believe there is no metaphysical centre, no fixed structures), there exists no such entity as Being, no such entity as essence, no such thing as a True story, but only suffering beings telling their true-ish stories, which are the only stories that ultimately matter. So, the only Lutherans who understand suffering and love are the postmodern ones.

All of us in our natural state live in “a sort of diaboliccd trance, wherein the soul traverseth the world; feeds itself with a thousand airy nothings ; snatcheth at this and the other created excellency, in imagination and desire ; goes here and there, and every where, except where it should go. And the soul is never cured of this disease, till overcoming grace bring it back, to take up its everlasting rest in God through Christ : But till this be, if man were set again in Paradise, the garden of the Lord ; all the pleasures there would not keep him from looking, yea, and leaping over All human beings in our natural state live in “a sort of diabolical trance, wherein  the soul traverses the world; feeds itself with a thousand airy nothings ; snatcheth at this and the other created excellency, in imagination and desire ; goes here and there, and every where, except where it should go. And the soul is never cured of this disease, till overcoming grace bring it back, to take up its everlasting rest in God through Christ : But till this be, if man were set again in Paradise, the garden of the Lord ; all the pleasures there would not keep him from looking, yea, and leaping over the hedge a second time.”

(Thomas Boston: “Human nature in its four-fold state of primitive integrity, subsisting in the parents of mankind in paradise; entire deprivation in the unregenerate; and consummate happiness or misery in all mankind in the future state.”)

In conclusion, each generation is responsible for the lies they tell the next. Yet, those who feed on those lies are also responsible – and no social or psychological or theological system can make that biblical truth disappear. At the same time, it is right that Michael Patton has sympathy for postmodernists, for who desires anyone to be always departing and never arriving; worse, lost? Inexorably, God has decreed it so. Yep, unlike (Mike) Patton, and unlike the General, I’m a, a, a, a Jewish Calvinist.

Must pack.

The Calvinist Robot and the Arminian Zombie: Grammars of coming to faith.


Grammar police

Grammar police (Photo credit: the_munificent_sasquatch)

The term “grammar” has its origin in the Greek word for “letter,” gramma. “Grammar” used to be restricted to language, but no more. There’s now a grammar of all sorts of odds and togs, for example, a “grammar of fashion”: The larger the ‘vocabulary’ of someone’s closet, the more creative and expressive the wearer can be. If you were to attend Stanford University, you could dig into the “grammar of cuisine,” and slaver over such fare as “The structure of British meals.”And, if you are one of those who thinks deeper, there’s the grammar of the genetic code. (“Code” in linguistics is a another name for “grammar”). The reason why we can use the term “grammar” in so many diverse contexts is because the “grammar” of a system is simply the structure of interrelationships that undergirds that system, showing how things fit together into a coherent whole. (See Jacob Neusner and the Grammar of Rabbinical Theology (Part 2): What is grammar?)

In this article, I examine the grammatical relationships within Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and THAT not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”


 When monergism/calvinism is contrasted with synergism/arminianism, what first comes to mind is God’s role and man’s role in coming to faith. The calvinist says that man plays no cooperative or contributive role in coming to faith, while the arminian says that man cooperates with God by turning his heart to God, that is, exercises his will to come to faith. In this regard, the favourite word in arminianism is “whosoever,” (John 3:16), which in the original Greek simply means “the one who” and not “the one who wills.” In calvinism, God first regenerates the sinner and then gives the sinner the gift of faith, while in Arminianism, regeneration follows the sinner’s acceptance of God’s offer of salvation.  “Doesn’t Jesus command me (John 3), “You must be born again?” Yep. “Well, I did what he said I must do, I borned again.” Faith, for the Arminian is something the believer does, not something God gives, as calvinism maintains. 


 Michael Horton reports that 85% of evangelicals in America haven’t a clue what justification is about. And moi? Let me try: justification is basically rightstanding with God. “Justification” is a forensic term, which has nothing to do with microscopes and solving crimes, but with absolving crimes, in biblical language, forgiving sin. But much more than forgiveness: reconciliation with God and given the righteousness of Christ. Two core biblical texts about justification are:

 (2 Corinthians, 5:21)

 “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of (in rightstanding with) God” .

 Romans 3:19 – 28

[19] Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. [20] For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

[21] But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—[22] the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: [23] for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, [24] and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, [25] whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. [26] It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

[27] Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. [28] For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

 The “righteousness” in 2 Corinthians 5:21 “we might become the righteousness of (in rightstanding with) God” and in Romans 3:22 “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” should not be equated with what is commonly called “sanctification” (becoming holy), The quip “I know I am justified; now I must focus on the job of sanctificationis, at best, simplistic. There are two kinds of “sanctification”; the first occurs when we become Christians (born again and receive the gift of faith):

 “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2).

The second kind of sanctification is illustrated in Ephesians 2:10:

[8] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.(Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV).

 In short, “sanctification is used, in its widest sense, as descriptive of the whole process, originating in regeneration, by which depraved men are restored to a conformity to God’s moral image” (William Cunningham. “Justification” in Historical theology Vol 2 : a review of the principal doctrinal discussions in the Christian church since the apostolic age, 1863).

 In Roman Catholicism, “justification” embraces the whole process of salvation: regeneration, faith, works – purgatory (if you’re not a “saint”) – glorification. Protestant Christians, by and large, are in agreement that justification is by grace alone through faith alone. Protestants are divided into monergists and synergists. In monergism, God alone is involved in a sinner’s justification – the calvinist view). In synergism, God and the sinner cooperate in the sinner’s justification – the arminian view. So, monergists are calvinists, and synergists are arminians (after Jacob Arminius 1560 – 1609). A calvinist view of justification is that God sovereignly regenerates sinners freeing their will from the bondage of their sin nature, planting in them the desire to be reconciled with God, and thus enabling them to stretch out their hands to receive the gift of faith. They have become right with God (reconciled) – justified. An arminian says that God offers degenerate sinners the gift of faith, and no sinner has lost his or her ability to choose God, and so sinners are free to accept or reject the gift of faith. If they desire to accept it, they become regenerated and thereby justified. It follows logically that such a sinner must have something better in himself or herself than the sinner who rejects the gift of faith. Most arminians would deny that they have anything good in themselves.

 Grammar in the Bible

 In Ephesians 2 we read:

 [1] And you were dead in the trespasses and sins [2] in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—[3] among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. [4] But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—[6] and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, [7] so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. [8] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

 I repeat verse 8, our key text: [8]“ “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves (your own doing); it is the gift of God.”

 The demonstrative pronoun that refers to both grace and faith. The letters of Paul (as with the whole New Testament) were written in Greek. So, it would be necessary in any decent exegesis to go to the original language. And so, a crafty devil or advocate would not be satisfied with a translation, for if they were, they’d be(come) calvinists. I say this because most Christians don’t know Greek and don’t care to know it, yet they believe the translated text in their language is correct. They are right to believe the translations because – unless you are a King James Onlyest – most translations (there are one or two icky exceptions in English)– in any language – do a good job.

 Calvinists are accused of turning people into robots because they maintain that everyone who comes to eternal life is predestinated to it, that is, appointed to it (Acts 13:48). They’re also accused, in their exegesis, of logical and grammatical gyrations. The calvinist argues that grace alone brings a person to faith. Here is a typical arminian commentary of “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8):

 (My italics)

 “God, in creation, could have made man as some automated robot who could never fail but to please Him. Praise God, in His wisdom He chose us fallen sinners, who through faith can be cleansed of sin and be found worthy in His sight. We are still sinners but sinners saved by grace. Grace alone saves. Salvation is the gift, but it must come by us putting our faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.” (Do Unbelievers Really Just Not Understand the Gospel?)

 This person has indicated no rejection of the English version of Ephesians 2:8. The grammar of the verse indicates that the demonstrative pronoun “that” points back to the entire previous sentence, unless otherwise qualified (restricted). So in verse 2:8, if the writer wants to restrict the pointer “that” to grace (which saves) but not to faith (which saves), he would have written “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that GRACE (which saves you) is not of your doing; it is the gift of God.” The implication of this sentence would then be that faith is of your own doing (“putting our faith” – the writer above).

Before I move on to the Greek of this verse, Sometimes a writer/speaker mentions several items but can only retain in short term memory (Freud’s “preconscious”) the last thing he wrote/spoke. So, when he says “that” he is, in his mind, pointing back to at least the last thing (the immediate antecedent) he wrote, which in our verse is “faith”: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”

All English translations of this verse illustrate the grammatical rule that the demonstrative pronoun that in Ephesians 2:8 automatically refers to, at the least, its immediate antecedent, which in Ephesians 2:8 is the noun “faith.” So, “that not of yourselves must refer to “faith.”

The Greek Arminian

The arminian is like the atheist: the atheist says there is no God, so no matter how staggering the complexity of the universe, we’re here ain’t we, so the only explanation is that we must have randomly evolved from the slime . The arminian says, the Holy Spirit is a gentleman; he doesn’t want robots, he wants someone to come to Jesus freely using the greatest human attribute we have: our freedom to love. This (to use a demonstrative pronoun pointing back – to the whole sentence, of course) is at best confused.

No, no, says the arminian, let’s go to the Greek.” Ok then, you appealed to the Greek, so to the Greek you shall go.

 τῇ γὰρ χάριτί ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι διὰ τῆς πίστεως καὶ τοῦτο οὐκ ἐξ ὑμῶν θεοῦ τὸ δῶρον

 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and THAT not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”

 tē gar FOR chariti BY GRACE este YOU sesōsmenoi HAVE BEEN SAVED dia THROUGH pisteōs FAITH kai AND touto THAT ouk NOT ex OF umōn YOURSELVES theou to dōron (it is a) GIFT OF GOD.

 Both “grace” and “faith” are of the feminine gender, but touto “that” is neuter (Demonstrative Pronoun, NEUTER singular nominative or accusative case of οὗτος). Here is an arminian exegesis of Ephesians 2:8:

 “At a certain graduation ceremony, recounts Gordon Clarke, I heard a seminary president misinterpret this verse. His misinterpretation did not succeed in ridding the verse of the idea that faith is the gift of God, though that was presumably his intention. He based his argument on the fact that the word faith in Greek is feminine, and the word that in the phrase, “and that not of yourselves,” is neuter. Therefore, he concluded, the word (touto) cannot have faith as its antecedent. The antecedent, according to this seminary president, must be the whole preceding phrase: “For by grace are you saved through faith.” Now, even if this were correct, faith is still a part of the preceding phrase and is therefore a part of the gift. Taking the whole phrase as antecedent makes poor sense. To explain that grace is a gift is tautologous. Of course, if we are saved by grace, it must be a gift. No one could miss that point. But Paul adds, “saved by grace, through faith,” and to make sure he also adds, and that, that is, faith, is not of yourselves. But what of the president’s remark that faith is feminine and that is neuter? Well, of course, these are the genders of the two words; but the president did not know much Greek grammar. In the case of concrete nouns, for example, the mother, the ship, the way, the house, the relative pronoun that follows is ordinarily feminine; but what the president did not know is that abstract nouns like faith, hope, and charity use the neuter of the relative pronoun. As a matter of fact, even a feminine thing, a concrete noun, may take a neuter relative (see Goodwin’s Greek Grammar). The moral of this little story confirms the original Presbyterian policy of insisting upon an educated ministry. Here was a seminary president distorting the divine message because of ignorance of Greek – or, more profoundly, as I have reason to believe from some of his publications, because of a dislike of divine sovereignty.” (Is Faith the Gift of God in Ephesians 2:8? By Jack Kettler).

Say, however, that an arminian concedes that touto does refer to both 1. “faith” and 2. faith is not of ourselves – 100% a gift from God, he will nevertheless maintain that this does not mean that God rams this gift down a person’s throat; we still must exercise, he says, the other precious gift, the one he was born with, his free will to love God, which God not only respects but insists is His ordained decree of how salvation should be done. This means that God is merely offering the gift of faith; we still have to let God, the arminian reasons, do what He desires us to do; dare I say “dying for us to do?” Knock, knock, knock, please let me in! Contrast this knocking on the door of hearts with: “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure? ( Isaiah 46:9-10:9).

 Hebrew translations of Ephesians 2:8

 In this last part, I examine a few Hebrew translations of Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of your own doing; it is the gift of God” (New American Standard Bible). Here is the Sar Shalom translation

 כִּי־בַחֶסֶד נוֹשַׁעְתֶּם עַל־יְדֵי הָאֱמוּנָה וְלׂא מִיֶּדְכֶם הָיְתָה זּׂאת כִּי־מַתַּת אֱלׂהִים הִיא׃

 Kee (kiy)-vachesed nosha’tem al-y’dey ha-emuna v’lo meeyed’chem haiytah zot kee-matat elohiym hee (hiy).

 Literal translation: For by grace you have been saved through the hand of faith, and not by your hand was that [and that was not by your hand/your doing], because a gift of God it (is).

 The Salkinson-Ginsburg translation is a 19th Century Hebrew translation of the Greek Bible. 1876

 כִּי־בַחֶסֶד נוֹשַׁעְתֶּם עֵקֶב אֱמוּנַתְכֶם וְלֹא מִיֶּדְכֶם הָיְתָה זֹּאת לָכֶם כִּי־מַתַּת אֱלֹהִים הִיא׃

For by grace (חֶסֶד chesed MASCULINE) you (plural) have been saved due to ( עֵקֶב ikev) your faith (אֱמוּנָה emunah FEMININE) and not by your hand, this/that (זֹּאת zot FEMININE

SINGULAR) was not to (from) you because a gift of God was it ( הִיא hee/hiy FEMININE SINGULAR)

 I like the idiom (not) “through (by) the (your) hand” (of faith) in both these translations. Grace (chesed) is masculine, and faith (emunah) is feminine. (the sexual connotations I leave to the esoteric imagination).

In Hebrew, there are masculine and feminine nouns but no neuter nouns as exist in Greek (and German). The Greek neuter touto “that” translates as זֹּאת zot feminine singular), and “it” (in “because a gift of God was it) translates as הִיא hee/hiy feminine singular). It seems that the Hebrew translation is pointing back to “faith” alone (אֱמוּנָה emunah feminine singular). If the

Hebrew translation wanted to make it clear that it was referring to both grace (masculine) and faith (feminine), it could have done so by translating touto “that” by ha’eleh “those” (are not of yourselves). Perhaps the translators thought that everbody knows that grace is obviously free.

No Christian would disagree that all grace is from God whether the grace be 1 Arminian grace -. “prevenient” grace (“coming before” [faith]), which is enough to make you aware that God is knocking at your door in his attempt to save you – or 2. Calvinist grace – sufficient to save. How can anyone believe that it is not sufficient to save! Easy, if you’re a human.

In passing. The word grace comes from Latin gratis (free). Now if only there were no neuter nouns in Greek, Arminius would still be a calvinist. But, naturally, (natural) man has something else up his liberal sleeve – his “free” will (to love God).

Here is Elias Hutter’s Hebrew translation from his polyglot Bible (1599-1600); a very rare and wonderful book.

hutter eph 2 8 hebrew

For by-grace are-ye-saved through-faith (feminine singular); and-that (femininine singular) not-at-all of-yourselves: because gift-of God it (feminine singular). Very similar to the English and the other two translations in the picture (Spanish and French). In the French translation, foi “faith” and grace ”grace” are both feminine, while cela ”that” has no gender, which fulfills the same role as the Greek touto”that,” pointing back to both grace and faith.

Conclusion (Concussion)

Two of the Hebrew translations above of Ephesians 2:8 used the expression (not by your) hand, meaning (not of yourselves). This is where confusion, on the part of the arminian, may lurk. He may protest that surely the sinner is not a robot; surely he has to receive/accept the gift – with outstreched hands. And he is absolutely right. Recall the differences between calvinism and arminianism discussed at the beginning: A calvinist view of justification is that God sovereignly regenerates sinners freeing their will from the bondage of their sin nature, planting in them the desire, and thus enabling them to stretch out their hand to receive the gift of faith. They have become right with God (reconciled). An arminian says that God offers the degenerate sinner the gift of faith; sinners are free to accept or reject the gift. If they accept it, they become regenerated and thereby justified. So, an arminian thinks that he can desire to love God, that he can accept the gift of faith while in his degenerate state. He will say he is not that degenerate; there is still enough life left to stretch out a hand.

So, both the arminian and the calvinist stretch out their hands to God receive the gift of faith; the difference between them is that for the calvinist, a person is dead in sin and thus must first be made alive to stretch out his hand. For the arminian, a person is not dead but merely deadish and so still has enough life in him to exercise his freedom to choose God. It looks like a toss up between a calvinist robot and an arminian zombie. All I can say is, eish! I was deadISH (Hebrew ish איש man”), and now I’m alive.

“The Reformers did not ascribe to faith, in the matter of justification, any meritorious or inherent efficacy in producing the result, but regarded it simply as the instrument or hand by which a man apprehended” (William Cunningham).

[8] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10).

By grace through the instrument of faith. By, through, God. We are justified by faith alone but faith that is not alone. What’s that? Verse 10 tells us that salvation does not consist only of regeneration and faith but also of works that God prepared for his children that they should walk in them. It is not works that reconcile us to God; it is justification that does that. Justification occurs at at regeneration, which is the moment we receive the gift of faith, which is also the moment that we are saved. So we are saved/have been saved (justification and sanctified), we are being saved (good works – further sanctification) and we will be saved, that is, glorifed with Christ.

Related articles

Peter; forgive sins? Perish the thought

(This is a follow-on from The Roman Catholic Church’s dogma of binding and loosing sin)

The Roman Catholic dogma of “Confession,” as with all its dogmas, is based on the mother of all dogmas, the infallibility of Peter, whom they claim to be their first pope, and its sister dogma, the “Apostolic succession.” The Roman Catholic Church authorises its priests to forgive/absolve sins. In this regard, John 20:23 is one of the RCC’s texts: “If YOU forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if YOU withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

The Roman Catholic interpretation is that these were all or some of the 11 APOSTLES. Let us back up to verse John 20:19:

[19] On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the DISCIPLES were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” [20] When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. [21] Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” [22] And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. [23] If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

The RCC position is based on the view that these disciples were the Apostles only. But why should this be so? Because this power resides in the Apostolic succession through Peter. So, to have disciples who are not Apostles in the room (in John 20:19-23 above) would not be good for the RCC.

I turn to Luke 24, the episode when two disciples meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus and to what happened when they returned to Jerusalem to tell other disciples what they had seen and heard:

33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven AND THOSE WHO WERE WITH THEM GATHERED TOGETHER, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread…44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

So, in the room with Jesus were the 11 Apostles as well as OTHER disciples. The upshot: the idea that “disciples” in John 20:19-23 meant more than just Apostles is extremely cogent.

To return to John 20:23, the passage can only mean this: “Now, says S Lewis Johnson, notice the force of the perfect passive. So, what does this mean then?

“Whosoever sins ye forgive, they shall have been forgiven to them; and whosoever sins ye retain, they shall have been retained.” Well, when it’s all put together, the statement is simply this; the church has not been given the authority to forgive sins. She has been given the authority to proclaim forgiveness to the believing and judgment to the unbelieving. And as long as the church is faithful to the word of God, her pronouncements do simply reveal what has already been determined in heaven. In other words, God has set forth the conditions by which forgiveness, and by which no forgiveness may take place. And therefore, the decisions that count are made in heaven, not upon the earth.” (S L Johnson, Basic doctrine, “The forgiveness of sins”).

The Apostle Peter, leader of the twelve, was without doubt Primus inter pares, first among equals. Peter, however, never ever said anything at all like “Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti” (I absolve/forgive you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” What does Peter say to Simon the sorcerer? “Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee” (Acts 20:8).

Peter; forgive sins? Perish the thought, but hopefully not those who entertain the thought.