Hermeneutics, approaches to Biblical Interpretation

Hermeneutics, approaches to Biblical Interpretation                                      by Jack Kettler

Definition of Hermeneutics:

Biblical hermeneutics is the art and science of interpreting the Bible. *


Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation. Theologically and biblically speaking, it is the means by which a person examines the Bible to determine what it means. There are different kinds of hermeneutical approaches. The Roman Catholic Church maintains a hermeneutical approach that puts the Roman Catholic Church above the Scriptures. The Protestants put the Scriptures above the church. **

In short, hermeneutics is the division of knowledge that is concerned with the interpretation of the Bible.

The Scripture that is most mentioned when approaching the subject is:

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

Pulpit Commentary deals with this text from Timothy in a forthright way:

Verse 15. – Give diligence to present for study to show, A.V.; handling aright for rightly dividing, A.V. Give diligence. The A.V. “study,” if we give it its proper force, as in the Latin studeo, studium, studiosus, expresses the sense of σπούδασον exactly. Zeal, earnest desire, effort, and haste, are all implied in it (comp. 2 Timothy 4:9, 21; Titus 3:12; 2 Peter 1:10, 15; 2 Peter 3:14). To present thyself (παραστῆσαι, to present); as in Luke 2:22; Acts 1:3; Acts 9:41. In 1 Corinthians 8:8 it has the sense of “to commend,” nearly the same as δόκιμον παραστῆσαι. The rendering, to show thyself, of the A.V. is a very good one, and is preserved in the R.V. of Acts 1:3. Approved (δόκιμον; Romans 16:10; 1 Corinthians 11:19, etc.); one that has been tried and tested and found to be sterling; properly of metals. This, with the two following qualifications, “a workman that needeth not to be ashamed,” and “one that rightly handles the Word of truth,” is the character which Timothy is exhorted to appear in before God. The dative τῷ Θεῷ is governed by παραστῆσαι, not by δόκιμον. A workman (ἐργάτην). How natural is such a figure in the mouth of Paul, who wrought at his trade with Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:3), and was working night and day at Thessalonica, that he might earn his own living! That needeth not to be ashamed (ἀνεπαισχυντον); not found anywhere else, either in the New Testament or in the LXX. Or in classical Greek. Bengel hits the right force of the word when he renders it “non pudefactum,” only that by the common use of the passive participial form (compare ἀνεξιχνίαστος ἀνεξερεύνητος ἀναρίβμητος, etc.), it means further “that cannot be put to shame.” The workman whose work is skimped is put to shame when, upon its being tested, it is found to be bad, dishonest work; the workman whose work, like himself, is δόκιμος, honest, conscientious, good work, and moreover sound and skilful work, never has been, and never can be, put to shame. St. Paul shows how to secure its being good work, viz. by its being done for the eye of God. Handling aright the Word of truth (ὀρθοτομοῦντα τὸν λόγον τῆς ἀληθείας). The verb ὀρθοτομεῖν occurs only here in the New Testament. In the LXX, in Proverbs 3:6, it stands for “he shall direct [or ‘make straight’] thy paths;” and so in Proverbs 11:5. The idea is the same as that in Hebrews 12:13, “Make straight paths for your feet (τροχιὰς ὀρθὰς ποιήσατε).” But this does not at all suit the context. We must look, therefore, at the etymology of the word. Ὀρθοτόμεω must mean “to cut straight,” and, as the apostle is speaking of a good workman, he must be thinking of some work in which the workman’s skill consists in cutting straight: why not his own trade, in which it was all-important to cut the pieces straight that were afterwards to be joined to each other (see ὀρθότομος and ὀρθοτομία)? Hence, by an easy metaphor, “divide rightly,” or “handle rightly, the Word of truth,” preserving the true measure of the different portions of Divine truth. (1)

Does everyone interpret the Bible the same way?

Without going into detail, there are differing schools of interpretive methodology. Some of them are, the allegorical method, the literalistic method, the naturalistic method, Neo-Orthodox interpretations, the redemptive-historical hermeneutic and the grammatico-historical method. This last listed methodology is the principal interpretive method of conservative Protestants.

What is the Grammatico-Historical-Hermeneutical Method?

This method of interpretation focuses attention not only on literary forms but upon grammatical constructions and historical contexts out of which the Scriptures were written. It is solidly in the ‘literal schools’ of interpretation, and is the hermeneutical methodology embraced by virtually all evangelical Protestant exegetes and scholars.

Exegesis, the interpretive Norm:

Exegesis (from the Greek ἐξήγησις from ἐξηγεῖσθαι’ to lead out’) is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially a religious text. Traditionally the term was used primarily for exegesis of the Bible; however, in contemporary usage, it has broadened to mean a critical explanation of any text, and the term “Biblical exegesis” is used for greater specificity. The goal of Biblical exegesis is to explore the meaning of the text which then leads to discovering its significance or relevance.

Exegesis includes a wide range of critical disciplines: textual criticism is the investigation into the history and origins of the text, but exegesis may include the study of the historical and cultural backgrounds for the author, the text, and the original audience. Other analysis includes classification of the type of literary genres present in the text, and an analysis of grammatical and syntactical features in the text itself.

Eisegesis, the Interpretive Danger:

Eisegesis (from Greek εἰς “into” and ending from exegesis from ἐξηγεῖσθαι “to lead out”) is the process of misinterpreting a text in such a way that it introduces one’s own ideas, reading into the text. This is best understood when contrasted with exegesis. While exegesis draws out the meaning of the text, eisegesis occurs when a reader reads his/her interpretation into the text. As a result, exegesis tends to be objective when employed effectively while eisegesis is regarded as highly subjective. An individual who practices eisegesis is known as an eisegete, as someone who practices exegesis is known as an exegete.

Next we will consider an entry from a theological dictionary to get an even better understanding of our topic at hand.


Greek hermeneuo, “to explain, interpret”; the science of Bible interpretation. Paul stated the aim of all true hermeneutics in 2 Tim. 2:15 as “rightly dividing the word of truth.” That means correctly or accurately teaching the word of truth. The apostle boasted that he did not corrupt, or adulterate, the Scriptures (2 Cor. 2:17). A proper hermeneutical approach will enable us to say the same.


Bible interpretation proceeds upon certain presuppositions that yield certain clear principles by which we must explain the word of God.

The Inspiration of Scripture. Behind the human writers of the Bible books is the true author of each, God Himself (2 Tim. 3:15, 16; 1 Pet. 1:16–21).

The Uniqueness of Scripture. As the word of God, the Bible stands entirely apart from all other literature, sacred or secular. For this reason we cannot approach it in the same way we would approach any other book. It is its own interpreter. The principles by which we seek to learn its meaning are those the Bible itself demands or proposes.

The Unity of Scripture. Though composed of 66 parts, the Bible is one book with one divine author. It does not contradict itself. Where we imagine it does, we simply display our lack of understanding of its meaning. Thus we must never interpret any text of Scripture in such a way as to make it contradict another.

The unity of Scripture has other implications. The most obvious feature of the Bible is its division into two Testaments. Any system of interpretation must come to grips with their differences, similarities, and relationship. These matters raise some far-reaching questions, the answers to which will have a strong bearing on our hermeneutics.

The key to answering those questions must be that all Scripture is God’s special redemptive revelation, with the person and work of Christ as its focal point. The progressive nature of this revelation must never be forgotten. Thus, while each Testament throws light on the other, the movement is always irreversibly from the Old to the New. “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second” (Heb. 10:9). The importance of this one-way movement should be clear. There can be no going back to OT shadows that have found their substance in Christ. Those premillennialists who insist that there will be a return to animal sacrifices in the millennium, a view based largely on their interpretation of Ezek. 40–48, fail to hold on to this fundamental principle. A return to animal sacrifices clearly controverts the central message of the book of Hebrews. Any interpretation of an OT prophecy that produces such a conclusion is wrong and must be abandoned. There can be no return to Jewish sacrifices. The religion of the millennium cannot regress from Christianity to OT Judaism.

Not only must the progressive nature of revelation never be forgotten, it must never be abused. That is, it must not become an excuse to deny the plain meaning of OT prophecy, or to replace what the Bible states in the most literal fashion with idealist or spiritualized interpretations. Those who make over to the church all the blessings predicted for Israel while retaining all the curses for the nation (and sometimes both are in the same verse) are abusing the principle of progressive revelation. Those who refuse to see any reference to literal Israel and her future in places such as Zech. 12–14 do the same. This is all the more unreasonable when the language of the prophet plainly aims at describing literal Israel: “Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her own place, even in Jerusalem” (Zech. 12:6).

Principles of Interpretation

The Protestant Reformation called the church back to the Bible and demanded that it pay attention to the plain sense of Scripture. For centuries the fourfold sense of Scripture had all but closed up the meaning and message of the Bible (see Allegory). The Reformers reinstated the literal, or clearly intended, meaning of Scripture as the only legitimate interpretation. This approach depends heavily on a grammatical study of the text and has the invaluable advantage of heeding what is actually written—a procedure which modern schools of hermeneutics have all but given up.

Context. The context of a passage is both immediate and remote. That is, it is in the surrounding verses and chapters of the text being studied, but it is also in related passages in other books, especially by the same writer. The proper understanding of a text is always obtained by seeing it in its context.

Scope. The scope of a passage sets the boundaries of what the writer intends to say or teach in it. This will often be the key to understanding a difficult expression or text. Taking note of the writer’s aim in writing the passage, and setting the text under consideration in its proper place in accomplishing that aim, will help the interpreter grasp its meaning.

Language. Morphology (the form of words), lexicology (the meaning of words), and syntax (the relationship of words in a sentence or clause) are vital to the understanding of any text. The rules of grammar and the Scripture’s usage of language are indispensable to the interpretation of the word.

Figures of Speech. Figures of speech are too often neglected in Bible study. Failure to identify them and give them their natural force often leads to error. E. W. Bullinger’s great work on the subject should be on every Bible interpreter’s bookshelf. It should be noted that figurative language often occurs in passages that demand a literal interpretation. If I say, “Jim ran off like a frightened deer,” I mean that he literally ran off. The presence of the figure simile does not alter the literalness of his running off.

Typology. The Bible identifies certain things, people, and events as typical. That is, beyond their place in OT history they foreshadow the realities of the gospel. The ceremonial rites and laws of Israel portrayed the gospel and have been fulfilled by it. They have therefore a unique place in Bible interpretation, but they must never be used to establish a doctrine that cannot be established by the plain statements of Scripture.

Symbolism. Symbols, especially in prophetic passages, must be interpreted as the Bible itself indicates (e.g., Jer. 1:11–16; 24:1–10; Ezek. 37). And it should be noted that the interpretation of a symbol is literal, not symbolic. For example, when Rev. 17:9 tells us that the seven heads of the beast are seven mountains, the mountains are actual mountains, not a further symbol whose meaning we are left to discover (yet even the acute prophetic scholar B. W. Newton fails to observe this in his treatment of the passage).

Poetry. Poetry has its own peculiarities. Insisting on treating poetry as plain prose will not lead to the Scripture’s meaning but will obscure it. Learning the features of Hebrew poetry will open the word of God in a wonderful way to the careful student.

Historical Interpretation. Scripture is historically and culturally mediated. That is, God dipped His pen in actual history to give us the Bible. He did not drop it complete out of heaven. The historical background of the writer and those whom he addresses will be of real help in establishing his meaning. Here the study of introduction* is important.

However, we must not carry this emphasis on historical setting too far. The Bible is historically and culturally mediated but it is not historically and culturally conditioned, as most modern interpreters insist. By conditioned they mean that it is locked in its own time and place in history, that it is a product of its time, and that its meaning for us depends on our ability to translate its ancient forms (and myths) into a modern equivalent. This has been the general procedure of modern hermeneutical methods.

Rationalist critics employed a grammatical-historical method allied to literary criticism. Their evolutionary view of the history of the religion of the Bible governed their approach.

Liberal critics, following Friedrich Schleiermacher and his consciousness theology,* adopted romanticist hermeneutics to discover, not what the written words of the Bible actually mean, but what they mean for me. In other words, the reader’s response took the place of the writer’s intent.

Martin Heidegger’s early writings led to a school of interpretation that tried to get inside the mind of the writer to discover what he meant. Heidegger’s later writings produced what is called The New Hermeneutic.* This does not try to get inside the writer’s mind but inside his world. The idea is that it is only by understanding the world projected by a Bible book that we can understand it. This is the adaptation of Form Criticism* to hermeneutics.

All these methods do two things. First, they fasten on to something that is in itself a legitimate idea—historical background, the writer’s purpose, the need to apply the message personally—and blow it out of all proportion so as to pervert it. Second, they fail to come to grips with what is actually written.

Dealing with what is actually written is the great task of all true interpretation. That is how the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles dealt with the Scriptures. Any hermeneutical approach that fails here cannot do justice to Scripture. (2)

In closing:

How do we approach the biblical literature? And are there interpretive difficulties?

For example, there are differing views regarding the interpretation of the book of Revelation. Four common views are the historicist (a method of interpretation which associates biblical prophecies with actual historical events), preterist (past fulfillment), futurist (future fulfillment), and the idealist (called the spiritual, allegorical, or non-literal approach) views. The book of Revelation belongs to a class of literature called “apocalyptic.” The Bible uses many literary forms. For instance, the Bible uses genera’s such as; law, historical narrative, wisdom, poetical, gospel, didactic letters, or epistles, predictive, and apocalyptic literature.

What portions of Scripture would be best for binding doctrinal teaching? 

For purposes of this study and using the book or Revelation an example it should be noted that we are dealing with a special genera of biblical literature, namely, “apocalyptic,” and there are a least four major schools of interpretation that involve rather substantial differences, it is probably best not to use these passages from Revelation to build an iron clad case of binding moral doctrine. Instead, we should look to the didactic portions of Scripture. What we know with certainty from the book or Revelation is that Christ is coming again physically at the end of history and the wicked will be judged eternally, and the righteous will inherit eternal life in the presence of the Lamb who is seated at the right hand of the Father.

Confessional Documents as Reformed Hermeneutic:

  1. Confessions delimit church power.

In an age when words, especially words that make truth claims, are always suspected of being part of some manipulative power game, it is perhaps counterintuitive to think of confessions as delimiting the power of the church. Yet a moment of reflection makes it clear that this is exactly what they do. An elder in the church has authority only relative to those matters that the confession defines. Thus, if someone in church declares the Trinity to be nonsense or commits adultery, the elders have both a right and a duty to intervene. Both issues are covered in the Westminster Standards. But if someone wishes to turn up at church wearing a bright yellow suit or decides to become a vegetarian, the elders have no right to intervene. They might have personal reservations about the person’s sense of appropriate dress or wonder how anyone could live without the occasional burger, but it is not the church’s business to address either matter. Indeed, this is what stops churches from becoming cults: clear and open statements about where church authority begins and ends, connected to transparent processes of exercising that authority. (3)

As a primary interpretive rule, Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture!

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)


  1. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Proverbs, Vol. 9, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), pp. 498-499.
  2. lan Cairns, the Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International 2002), pp. 207–210.
  3. Carl Trueman, Why Christians Need Confessions, (Orthodox Presbyterian Church, New Horizons), http://www.opc.org/nh.html?article_id=771

“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

For more study:

* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes: http://www.rebecca-writes.com/theological-terms-in-ao/

** CARM theological dictionary https://carm.org/dictionary-hermeneutics


  1. I. Packer: Hermeneutics and Biblical Theology

Greg Bahnsen: A Reformed Confession Regarding Hermeneutics

Confessional Documents as Reformed Hermeneutic by Edward A. Dowey Jr.

The Journal of Presbyterian History (1997- )

Vol. 79, No. 1, Presbyterians, Polity, and Confessional Identity (SPRING 2001), pp. 53-58

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Apologetics an introduction the defending the Faith

Apologetics an introduction the defending the Faith                           By Jack Kettler

In this study we will look at the general call of the believer to defend the faith. In another study the differing methods of apologetics will be covered. Briefly, regarding the differing approaches to apologetics, there are several recognized methodologies. They are classical apologetics (Thomistic), evidential apologetics (John W. Montgomery), and presuppositional apologetics (Cornelius Van Til). Note: I have only listed one advocate of each methodology for brevity’s sake.

Definition of apologetics:

Apologetics is the theological discipline concerned with explaining and defending the truthfulness of the Christian faith. *

The word “apologetics” is derived from the Greek word “apologia,” which means to make a defense. It has come to mean defense of the faith. Apologetics covers many areas: who Jesus is, the reliability of the Bible, refuting cults, biblical evidences in the history and archeology, answering objections, etc. In short, it deals with giving reasons for Christianity being the true religion. We are called by God to give an apologia, a defense: “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15). **

Apologetics although closely related to the call to evangelize, it is a distinct theological discipline.

How can evangelism be defined?


Is the sharing with non-Christians the message of what Jesus has done to save sinners, and calling them to repent and believe; the faithful delivery of the message of the gospel. *

The following Scriptures are the basis for the call to evangelize:

“Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few;

Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.”  (Matthew 9:37-38)

“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

“And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” (John 10:16)

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)

“But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

“For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:11-15)

In this next selection of Scriptures, we get to the reason for apologetics. This idea is one of methodology. There will be two commentary entries from two passages of Scripture that inform the believer of apologetic methodology.

Scriptural reasons to defend the faith, and how it should be done:

“Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” (Proverbs 26:4-5)

From the Pulpit Commentary we read an explanation of this seemingly contradictory command:

Verse 4. – Answer not a fool according to his folly. Do not lower yourself to the fool’s level by answering his silly questions or arguing with him as if he were a sensible man. Lest thou also be like unto him; lest you be led to utter folly yourself or to side with him in his opinions and practices. Our blessed Saviour never responded to foolish and captious questions in the way that the questioner hoped and desired, he put them by or gave an unexpected turn to them which silenced the adversary. Instances may be seen in Matthew 21:23, etc.; Matthew 22:21, 22; Luke 13:23, etc.; John 21:21, etc.

Verse 5. – Answer a fool according to his folly. This maxim at first sight seems absolutely antagonistic to the purport of the preceding verse; but it is not so really. The words, “according to his folly,” in this verse mean, as his folly deserves, in so plain a way as is expose it, and shame him, and bring him to a better mind. Lest he be wise in his own conceit; thinking, it may be, that he has said something worth hearing, or put you to silence by his superior intelligence. (1)

The next passage that we will look at will be followed with a selection by a recognized commentary:

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.” (1 Peter 3:15-16)

Consulting Matthew Poole’s Commentary we find:

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts; exalt him in your hearts, and give him the honour of all his glorious perfections, power, wisdom, goodness, faithfulness, &c., by believing them, and depending upon his promises for defence and assistance against all the evils your enemies may threaten you with.

And be ready always; prepared to answer when duly called to it.

To give an answer; or, to make an apology or defence, viz. of the faith ye profess; the word is used, Acts 22:1 1 Corinthians 9:3.

To every man that asketh you; either that hath authority to examine you, and take an account of your religion; or, that asks with modesty, and a desire to be satisfied, and learn of you.

A reason of the hope that is in you; i.e. faith, for which hope is frequently used in Scipture, which is built upon faith: the sense is: Whereas unbelievers, your persecutors especially, may scoff at your hope of future glory, as vain and groundless, and at yourselves, as mad or foolish, for venturing the loss of all in this world, and exposing yourselves to so many sufferings, in expectation of ye know not what uncertainties in the other; do ye therefore be always ready to defend and justify your faith against all objectors, and to show how reasonable your hope of salvation is, and on how sure a foundation it is built.

With meekness and fear; either with meekness in relation to men, in opposition to passion and intemperate zeal, (your confession of the faith must be with courage, but yet with a spirit of meekness and modesty), and fear or reverence in relation to God, which, where it prevails, overcomes the fierceness of men’s spirits, and makes them speak modestly of the things of God, and give due respect to men; or, fear may be set in opposition to pride, and presumption of a man’s own wisdom or strength; q.d. Make confession of your faith humbly, with fear and trembling, not in confidence of your own strength, or gifts, or abilities.

Having a good conscience; this may be read either:

  1. Indicatively, and joined (as by some it is) to the former verse; and then the sense is: If ye be always ready to answer every one that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, ye shall have a good conscience: or rather:
  2. Imperatively (which our translation favours); q.d. Not only be ready to make confession of your faith, but let your life and practice be correspondent to it, in keeping yourselves pure from sin, and exercising yourselves unto godliness, from whence a good conscience proceeds; here therefore the effect is put for the cause, a good conscience for a good life, Acts 23:1.

That whereas they speak evil of you, &c.; the sense is, that whereas they speak evil of you, as of evil-doers, your good conversation may bear witness for you, confute their calumnies, and make them ashamed, when it appears that their accusations are false, and that they have nothing to charge upon you but your being followers of Christ.

Your good conversation in Christ; i.e. that good conversation which ye lead as being in Christ; viz. according to his doctrine and example, and by the influence of his Spirit. (2)

Now going on to other pertinent Scriptural passages that are relevant to apologetic methodology:

“The heart of the righteous studieth to answer: but the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things.” (Proverbs 15:28)

“Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” (Colossians 4:6)

“In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:25)

When you do evangelism, you are speaking the gospel. In most cases you will begin a dialog with the unbeliever. When mentioning methodology, this involves your point of contact with the unbeliever. As listed above, there different strategies or methodologies in making contact with the non-believer. Since this study is general or an introduction to apologetics, what can we learn from the Scriptures thus far? The takeaway from these passages is to be wise, gentle, winsome, and using soft answers to turn away wrath.

The concluding summary of this overview or introduction to apologetics will be a real delight. The author that we will look at was such an extraordinary world-class apologist, and I will list some of his credentials first.

Greg L. Bahnsen was the scholar-in-residence at the Southern California Center for Christian Studies and an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Southern California, specializing in the field of epistemology (theory of Knowledge). He also received M.Div. and Th.M. degrees from Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. Dr. Bahnsen was the author of numerous books and published articles and was a popular conference speaker. He was also a renowned public debater as evidenced in his interchanges with Muslims, Roman Catholics, Jews, and atheists. A complete list of his over 1,700 audio tapes, videos, articles, and books is available from the Covenant Media Foundation. (See link below)

It will be helpful to get instructions from the book Always Ready by Greg Bahnsen:

18: Summary On Apologetic Method: Chapters 13-17

From the preceding section of studies on apologetic procedure we can now summarize the way in which we ought to go about defending the Christian hope within us:

The Nature of the Apologetic Situation:

  1. The controversy between the believer and unbeliever is in principle an antithesis between two complete systems of thought involving ultimate commitments and assumptions.
  2. Even laws of thought and method, along with factual evidence, will be accepted and evaluated in light of one’s governing presuppositions.
  3. All chains of argumentation, especially over matters of ultimate personal importance, trace back to and depend upon starting points which are taken to be self-evidencing; thus circularity in debate will be unavoidable. However, not all circles are intelligible or valid.
  4. Thus appeals to logic, fact, and personality may be necessary, but they are not apologetically adequate; what is needed is not piecemeal replies, probabilities, or isolated evidences but rather an attack upon the underlying presuppositions of the unbeliever’s system of thought.
  5. The unbeliever’s way of thinking is characterized as follows:
  6. By nature the unbeliever is the image of God and, therefore, inescapably religious; his heart testifies continually, as does also the clear revelation of God around him, to God’s existence and character.
  7. But the unbeliever exchanges the truth for a lie. He is a fool who refuses to begin his thinking with reverence for the Lord; he will not build upon Christ’s self-evidencing words and suppresses the unavoidable revelation of God in nature.
  8. Because he delights not in understanding but chooses to serve the creature rather than the Creator, the unbeliever is self-confidently committed to his own ways of thought; being convinced that he could not be fundamentally wrong, he flaunts perverse thinking and challenges the self-attesting word of God.
  9. Consequently, the unbeliever’s thinking results in ignorance; in his darkened futile mind he actually hates knowledge and can gain only a “knowledge” falsely so-called.
  10. To the extent that he actually knows anything, it is due to his unacknowledged dependence upon the suppressed truth about God within him. This renders the unbeliever intellectually schizophrenic: by his espoused way of thinking he actually “opposes himself” and shows a need for a radical “change of mind” (repentance) unto a genuine knowledge of the truth.
  11. The unbeliever’s ignorance is culpable because he is without excuse for his rebellion against God’s revelation; hence he is “without an apologetic” for his thoughts.
  12. His unbelief does not stem from a lack of factual evidence but from his refusal to submit to the authoritative word of God from the beginning of his thinking.

The Requirements of the Apologist:

  1. The apologist must have the proper attitude; he must not be arrogant or quarrelsome, but with humility and respect he must argue in a gentle and peaceable manner.
  2. The apologist must have the proper starting point; he must take God’s word as his self-evidencing presupposition, thinking God’s thoughts after Him (rather than attempting to be neutral), and viewing God’s word as more sure than even his personal experience of the facts.
  3. The apologist must have the proper method; working on the unbeliever’s unacknowledged presuppositions and being firmly grounded in his own, the apologist must aim to cast down every high imagination exalted against the knowledge of God by aiming to bring every thought (his own, as well as his opponent’s) captive to the obedience of Christ.
  4. The apologist must have the proper goal: securing the unbeliever’s unconditional surrender without compromising one’s own fidelity.
  5. The word of the cross must be used to expose the utter pseudo-wisdom of the world as destructive foolishness.
  6. Christ must be set apart as Lord in one’s heart, thus acknowledging no higher authority than God’s word and refusing to suspend intellectual commitment to its truth.

The Procedure for Defending the Faith:

  1. Realizing that the unbeliever is holding back the truth in unrighteousness, the apologist should reject the foolish presuppositions implicit in critical questions and attempt to educate his opponent.
  2. This involves presenting the facts within the context of the Biblical philosophy of fact:
  3. God is the sovereign determiner of possibility and impossibility.
  4. A proper reception and understanding of the facts requires submission to the Lordship of Christ.
  5. Thus the facts will be significant to the unbeliever only if he has a presuppositional change of mind from darkness to light.
  6. Scripture has authority to declare what has happened in history and to interpret it correctly.
  7. The unbeliever’s espoused presuppositions should be forcefully attacked, asking whether knowledge is possible, given them:
  8. In order to show that God has made foolish the wisdom of the world the believer can place himself on the unbeliever’s position and answer him according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceits; that is, demonstrate the outcome of unbelieving thought with its assumptions.
  9. The unbeliever’s claims should be reduced to impotence and impossibility by an internal critique of his system; that is, demonstrate the ignorance of unbelief by arguing from the impossibility of anything contrary to Christianity.
  10. The apologist should appeal to the unbeliever as the image of God who has God’s clear and inescapable revelation, thus giving him an ineradicable knowledge of God; this knowledge can be exposed by indicating unwitting expressions or by pointing to the “borrowed capital” (un-admitted presuppositions) which can be found in the unbeliever’s position.
  11. The apologist should declare the self-evidencing and authoritative truth of God as the precondition of intelligibility and man’s only way of salvation (from all the effects of sin, including ignorance and intellectual vanity):
  12. Lest the apologist become like the unbeliever, he should not answer him according to his folly but according to God’s word.
  13. The unbeliever can be invited to put himself on the Christian position in order to see that it provides the necessary grounds for intelligible experience and factual knowledge—thereby concluding that it alone is reasonable to hold and the very foundation for proving anything whatsoever.
  14. The apologist can also explain that Scripture accounts for the unbeliever’s state of mind (hostility) and the failure of men to acknowledge the necessary truth of God’s revelation; moreover, Scripture provides the only escape from the effects of this hostility and failure (futility and damnation). (3)

In closing, some quotes to ponder on apologetics:

“While the Church has focused on making church more enjoyable and easier for seekers to transition into…Atheists and other skeptics have become predators of our weak members. They have intentionally sought to weaken and even destroy the faith of Christians. And it is working. While pastors have been avoiding apologetics because of the excuse of not being able to argue people into the kingdom, ill-equipped Christians are being picked off. It does not matter if you enjoy apologetics. You have to decide what you are going to do. You may be able to love people into the church but you cannot love doubt away. You need to do more than fill pews, you need to disciple and equip in such a way that your people will not fall at the first skeptical blog post, documentary or book.” – Stephen J. Bedard (from, Dear Pastor…)

“Ultimately, apologetics points people to our hope, Jesus Himself.  That’s why “we demolish arguments and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).  Objections raised against Jesus must be demolished.  But notice something.  The Bible doesn’t say we demolish people.  Rather we demolish arguments.  Belittling others is not our goal.  Merely winning arguments is not enough.  Instead, we remove obstacles of doubt to Christianity so people can take a serious look at Christ, the only source of hope for this world.  True apologetics is hopeful.” – Bret Kunkle (From the article, What Is Apologetics: Arguing Evangelism)

“Some Christians might be put off by the subject of apologetics, saying that Christianity is a matter of faith and not the intellect. Well, yes, it’s a matter of faith in the end, but we Christians are exhorted to love God with all of our minds, to acquire wisdom as described in the book of Proverbs and to always be prepared to give reasons for the faith and hope we have – provided it’s done with gentleness and respect. Contrary to the beliefs of some, faith in Christ is not blind faith and does not require us to suspend our intellectual faculties.” – David Limbaugh (from, why I wrote ‘Jesus on Trial’)

“The average Christian in the pew is not reading books by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, but their neighbors and coworkers are. I think congregations are putting pressure on churches to equip them better, educate them more and give them opportunities to grow in this area. Churches that have relied in the past on a lifestyle evangelistic approach that lacks intentionality need to be a little more intentional in reaching people and bringing answers to their questions. I’m all for lifestyle evangelism, but I’m also in favor of intentionality, where we seek out opportunities for spiritual conversations and are equipped to explain the gospel and why we believe it.” – Lee Strobel

“Instead of addressing teens’ questions, most church youth groups focus on fun and food.  The goal seems to be to create emotional attachment using loud music, silly skits, slapstick games — and pizza.  But the force of sheer emotional experience will not equip teens to address the ideas they will encounter when they leave home and face the world on their own. A study in Britain found that non-religious parents have a near 100 percent chance of passing on their views to their children, whereas religious parents have only about a 50/50 chance of passing on their views.  Clearly, teaching young people to engage critically with secular worldviews is no longer an option.  It is a necessary survival skill.” – Nancy Pearcey

“The greatest commandment contains both:  “Love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:37).  1 Pet. 3:15 tells us to “always be ready to give an answer but to do this with gentleness and respect.”  Apologetics is not an option for Christians, and we don’t get brownie points for being stupid.  We are commanded to know what we believe and why we believe it.   We are commanded to “demolish arguments” and “take every thought captive to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) – Frank Turek

“In an age in which infidelity abounds, do we observe parents carefully instructing their children in the principles of faith which they profess? Or do they furnish their children with arguments for the defense of that faith? …it is not surprising to see them abandon a position which they are unable to defend.” – William Wiblerforce

“It’s no understatement that the church has done a poor job in teaching our young people that reason and faith are not opposites, and that atheists are far from being on the side of reason…Many kids, however, who grow up huddled in a Christian environment find themselves in the university setting completely unequipped to defend the rationality of the Christian faith against the secular humanist worldview so prevalent on college campuses.” – Chuck Colson

The goal of this study is to help us magnify the Lord God for his marvelous grace that made us children of God through no merit of our own. It is my prayer that this goal has been attained.

“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)


 D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Proverbs, Vol. 9, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), pp. 498-499.

  1. Matthew Poole, Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. 3, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), p. 910.
  2. Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready, (Atlanta, Georgia, American Vision), pp. 77-80.

“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

For more study:

* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes: http://www.rebecca-writes.com/theological-terms-in-ao/

** CARM theological dictionary


Covenant Media Foundation https://www.cmfnow.com/

Courtesy of Rebecca writes – Learn more:

  1. Theopedia: Apologetics
  2. John Frame: Apologetics
  3. John Lennox: What Is Apologetics? (video)
  4. Update: Jamin Hubner: Definitions of Apologetics
  5. Bob Passintino: The Golden Rule Apologetic
  6. Greg Bahnsen: Tools of Apologetics

Related terms:

Apologetics 315: https://apologetics315.com/

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John 3:5-6, a Discussion Regarding Baptism Regeneration

John 3:5-6, a Discussion Regarding Baptism Regeneration                        by Jack Kettler

“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:5-6)

In this study, we will look at word definitions, Greek words from a standard lexicon, commentary evidence, texts that seemingly support baptismal regeneration and a closing doctrinal statement from a confessional source. Like the Bereans of old, take your Bibles and see if these are so.

Definitions of Baptism:

An immersion or sprinkling of water that signifies one’s identification with a belief or cause. In Christianity it is the believer’s identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:4-23). It is done in the name and authority (Acts 4:7) of Christ with the baptismal formula of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). It does not save us (1 Peter 3:21). However, it is our obligation, as believers, to receive it. **

Westminster Shorter Catechism

Question 94

Q: What is baptism?
A: Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,1 doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ,2 and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace,3 and our engagement to be the Lord’s.4

  1. Matthew 28:19. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
  2. 1 Corinthians 11:23. For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread… (see context)
  3. Galatians 3:27. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
  4. Romans 6:3. Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
  5. Romans 6:4. Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Definitions of Baptismal Regeneration:

The belief that baptism is necessary for salvation, and that the act of baptism causes regeneration; or the belief that baptism is the usual means of regeneration. *

The belief that baptism is essential to salvation, that it is the means where forgiveness of sins is made real to the believer. This is incorrect. Paul said that he came to preach the gospel, not to baptize (1 Corinthians 1:14-17). If baptism were essential to salvation, then Paul would have included it in his standard practice and preaching of the salvation message of Jesus, but he did not. (See also Colossians 2:10-11.) For more information on this see Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation? **

Digging deeper from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:

 A-1      Noun   Strong’s Number: g908           Greek: baptisma

Baptism, Baptist, Baptize:

“baptism,” consisting of the processes of immersion, submersion and emergence (from bapto, “to dip”), is used

(a) of John’s “baptism,”

(b) of Christian “baptism,” see B. below;

(c) of the overwhelming afflictions and judgments to which the Lord voluntarily submitted on the Cross, e.g., Luke 12:50;

(d) of the sufferings His followers would experience, not of a vicarious character, but in fellowship with the sufferings of their Master. Some mss. have the word in Mat 20:22, 23; it is used in Mar 10:38, 39, with this meaning.

A-2      Noun   Strong’s Number: g909           Greek: baptismos

Baptism, Baptist, Baptize:

as distinct from baptisma (the ordinance), is used of the “ceremonial washing of articles,” Mar 7:4, 8, in some texts; Hbr 9:10; once in a general sense, Hbr 6:2.


A-3      Noun   Strong’s Number: g910           Greek: baptistes

Baptism, Baptist, Baptize:

“a baptist,” is used only of John the Baptist, and only in the Synoptists, 14 times.

B-1      Verb   Strong’s Number: g907           Greek: baptizo

Baptism, Baptist, Baptize:

“to baptize,” primarily a frequentative form of bapto, “to dip,” was used among the Greeks to signify the dyeing of a garment, or the drawing of water by dipping a vessel into another, etc. Plutarchus uses it of the drawing of wine by dipping the cup into the bowl (Alexis, 67) and Plato, metaphorically, of being overwhelmed with questions (Euthydemus, 277 D).

It is used in the NT in Luk 11:38 of washing oneself (as in 2Ki 5:14, “dipped himself,” Sept.); see also Isa 21:4, lit., “lawlessness overwhelms me.” In the early chapters of the four Gospels and in Act 1:5; 11:16; 19:4, it is used of the rite performed by John the Baptist who called upon the people to repent that they might receive remission of sins. Those who obeyed came “confessing their sins,” thus acknowledging their unfitness to be in the Messiah’s coming Kingdom. Distinct from this is the “baptism” enjoined by Christ, Mat 28:19, a “baptism” to be undergone by believers, thus witnessing to their identification with Him in death, burial and resurrection, e.g., Act 19:5; Rom 6:3, 4; 1Cr 1:13-17; 12:13; Gal 3:27; Col 2:12. The phrase in Mat 28:19, “baptizing them into the Name” (RV; cp. Act 8:16, RV), would indicate that the “baptized” person was closely bound to, or became the property of, the one into whose name he was “baptized.”

In Act 22:16 it is used in the Middle Voice, in the command given to Saul of Tarsus, “arise and be baptized,” the significance of the Middle Voice form being “get thyself baptized.” The experience of those who were in the ark at the time of the Flood was a figure or type of the facts of spiritual death, burial, and resurrection, Christian “baptism” being an antitupon, “a corresponding type,” a “like figure,” 1Pe 3:21. Likewise the nation of Israel was figuratively baptized when made to pass through the Red Sea under the cloud, 1Cr 10:2. The verb is used metaphorically also in two distinct senses: firstly, of “baptism” by the Holy Spirit, which took place on the Day of Pentecost; secondly, of the calamity which would come upon the nation of the Jews, a “baptism” of the fire of Divine judgment for rejection of the will and word of God, Mat 3:11; Luke 3:16. (1)

From the Pulpit Commentary a thorough analysis of the text John 3:5-6 :

 Verse 5. – Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man (any one) have been born (out) of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. This memorable utterance has been the occasion of much controversy, arising from the contested sanction thus supposed to be given to the opus operatura of baptism, and to the identification of water baptism with Spirit baptism. Expositors have asserted that the rite of water baptism is not merely regarded as the expressive symbol and prophecy of the spiritual change which is declared to be indispensable to admission into the kingdom, but the veritable means by which that baptism of the Spirit is effected. Now, in the first place, we observe that the sentence is a reply to Nicodemus, who had just expressed his blank astonishment at the idea that a fundamental change must pass over a man, in any sense equivalent to a second birth, before he can see the kingdom of God. Our Lord modifies the last clause, and speaks of entering into the kingdom of God rather than perceiving or discerning the features of the kingdom. Some have urged that ἰδεῖν of ver. 3 is equivalent to εἰσελθεῖν εἰς of ver. 5. The vision, say they, is only possible to those who partake of the privileges of the kingdom. But the latter phrase does certainly express a further idea – a richer and fuller appreciation of the authority and glory of the King; just as the “birth of water and of the Spirit” conveys deeper and further thought to Nicodemus, than did the previously used expression, γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν. The first expression was dark in the extreme; the latter pours light upon it. “Birth of water” points at once to the method so frequently adopted in Jewish ceremonial, by which a complete change of state and right before God was instituted by water. Thus, a man who had not gone through the appropriate and commanded lustrations was unfit to present his offering, to receive the benediction sought by his sacrificial presentment; the priest was not in a fit state to carry the blood of the covenant into the holy place without frequent washings, which indicated the extent and defilement of his birth stain. Nicodemus for probably thirty years had seen priests and men thus qualifying themselves for solemn functions. So great was the urgency of these ideas that, as he must have known, the Essenes had formed separate communities, with the view of carrying out to the full consummation the idea of ritual purity. More than this, it is not improbable that proselytes from heathen nations, when brought into covenant relation with the theocratic people, were, at the very time of this conversation, admitted by baptismal rites into this privilege. To the entire confusion of Pharisee and Sadducee, John the Baptist had demanded of every class of the holy people “repentance unto remission of sins,” a demand which was accepted on the part of the multitudes by submitting to the rite of baptism. The vastly important question then arises’ – Did John by this baptism, or by any power he wielded, give to the people repentance or remission of sins? Certainly not, if we may conclude from the repeated judgment pronounced by himself and by the apostles after him. Nothing but the blood and Spirit of Christ could convey either remission or repentance to the souls of men. John preached the baptism of repentance unto remission, but could confer neither. He taught the people to look to One who should come after him. He sharply discriminated the baptism with water from the baptism of the Spirit and fire. This discrimination has been repeatedly referred to already in this Gospel. Thus the Fathers of the Church saw distinctly that there was no regenerating efficacy in the water baptism of John, and the Council of Trent elevated this position into a canonical dogma. It is most melancholy that they did not also perceive that this judgment of theirs about the baptism of John applied to water baptism altogether. Christ’s disciples baptized (not Christ himself, John 4:2) with water unto repentance and remission; but even up to the day of Pentecost there is no hint of this process being more than stimulus to that repentance which is the gift of God, and to the consequent pardon which was the condition of still further communication of the Holy Spirit. The great baptism which Christ would administer was the baptism of Spirit and fire. The references to the baptism of the early Church are not numerous in the New Testament, but they are given as if for the very purpose of showing that the water baptism was not a necessary or indispensable condition to the gift of the Holy Ghost. Cornelius and his friends received the sacred bestowment before baptism. The language of the Ethiopian ennuch shows that he had received the holy and best gift of Divine illumination and faith before baptism. Simon Magus was baptized with water by Philip, but was in the gall of bitterness and un-spirituality. There is no proof at all that the apostles of Christ (with the exception of Paul) wore ever baptized with water, unless it were at the hands of John. Consequently, we cannot believe, with this entire group of facts before us, that our Lord was making any ceremonial rite whatsoever indispensable to entrance into the kingdom. His own reception and forgiveness of the woman that was a sinner, of the paralytic, and of the dying brigand, his breathing over his disciples as symbolic of the great spiritual gift they were afterwards to receive, is the startling and impressive repudiation of the idea that Christian baptism in his own name, or, still less, that that ordinance treated as a supernaturally endowed and divinely enriched sacrament, was even so much as referred to in this great utterance. But the entire system of Jewish, proselyte, and Johannine baptisms was in the mind of both Nicodemus and Christ. These were all symbolic of the confession and repentance, which are the universal human conditions of pardon, and, as a ritual, were allowed to his disciples before and after Pentecost, as anticipatory of the great gift of the Holy Spirit. No baptism, no “birth out of water,” can give repentance or enforce confession; but the familiar process may indicate the imperative necessity for both, and prove still more a prophecy of the vital, spiritual transformation which, in the following verse, is dissociated from the water altogether. Calvin, while admitting the general necessity for baptism, repudiates the idea that the rite is indispensable to salvation, and maintains that “water” here means nothing different or other than “the Spirit,” as descriptive of one of its great methods of operation, just as “Holy Spirit and fire” are elsewhere conjoined.

Verse 6. – That which hath been born of the flesh, is flesh. Σάρξ is not the physical as opposed to the spiritual or immaterial. nor is σάρξ necessarily sinful, as we see from John 1:14, but as it often appears in John’s writing and Paul’s, σάρξ is the constituent element of humanity as apart from grace – humanity (body, intellect, heart, conscience, soul, spirit) viewed on its own side and merits and capacity, without the Divine life, or the Divine supernatural inbreathing. The being born of the flesh is the being born into this world, with all the privations and depravations, evil tendencies and passions of a fallen humanity. Birth into the theocracy, birth into national or ecclesiastical privilege, birth that has no higher quality than flesh, no better germ or graft upon it. Simply produces flesh, humanity over again. When the Logos “became flesh,” something more than and different from ordinary traduction of humanity took place. Destitute of any higher birth than the birth of flesh, man is fleshly, psychical, earthly, σαρκικός ψυχικός χοι’κός (Romans 7:14-25), and, more than that, positively opposed to the will and grace of God, lashed with passions, defiled with debasing ideas, in enmity against God. Hence the birth “from the Spirit” is entirely antithetic to the birth from the flesh. That which hath been born of the Spirit, is spirit. There is a birth which supervenes on the flesh-be-gotten man, and it is supernaturally wrought by the Spirit of God. As in the first instance, at man’s creation, God breathed into man the breath of life, and by that operation man became a living soul; so now the new birth of man is wrought in him by the Spirit, and there is a new life, a new mode of being, a new bias and predomimating impulse. “A spiritual mind which is life and peace” has taken the place of the old carnal mind. He is “spiritual,” no longer “psychical,” or “carnal,” but able to discern the things that are freely given to him. The eye of the spirit is opened, unsealed, the τὰ τοῦ πνεύματος are revealed to him (1 Corinthians 2:12-16; 1 Corinthians 3:1-5). The reference to “birth of water” is not repeated, because the birth from water is relatively unimportant, and of no value apart from the Spirit-change of which it may be a picture, or even a synonym. More than that, the Spirit-birth, the Divine operation, is the efficient cause of that which, under the form of a human experience, is called μετάνοια. The human metanoia, rather than the new birth, is the great burden of our Lord’s public address, as recorded in the synoptic Gospels. In both representations the same fact, the same condition and state of the human consciousness, is referred to. In “repentance,” however, and in the moral characters which are the several preliminaries to the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, a change is declared necessary for the constitution and inauguration of the kingdom of heaven. This change is there viewed from the standpoint of human experience, and urged in the form of a direct appeal to conscience. In this discourse to Nicodcmus the same change is exhibited on its Divine side, and as one produced by the Spirit of God. In the Sermon on the Mount “meekness,” “poverty of spirit,” “mourning,” “hunger after righteousness,” “purity of heart,” the spirit of forgiveness and long suffering, are the moral conditions of those minds and hearts which would become the city of God and the light of the world (Matthew 5:1-12). On this occasion, when addressing the learned rabbi, Christ sums all up in the demand for a birth from the Spirit – a new and spiritual recommencement of life from the Spirit of God. The clause found in the Vetus Itala and the Syriac, quia Deus spiritus est, et de Deo natus est, is a gloss sustained by no Greek manuscript authority. Thorns here quotes two interesting passages from Philo, 1:533, 599, where the νοῦς is spoken of as given to man from above, and where the supremacy of the spiritual over the fleshly is made the only guarantee of admission into the world of spirit. But Philo obviously meant the intellectual rather than the moral element in human nature, and prized the ascetic process rather than the supernatural regeneration. (2)

Article on Baptismal Regeneration from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:

bap-tiz’-mal re-jen-er-a’-shun: As indicated in the general articles on BAPTISM and SACRAMENTS, the doctrine ordinarily held by Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Methodists, and also by Low-Church Episcopalians, differs from that of the Roman and Greek churches, and of High-Church Anglicans, in its rejection of the idea that baptism is the instrumental cause of regeneration, and that the grace of regeneration is effectually conveyed through the administration of that rite wherever duly performed. The teaching of Scripture on this subject is held to be that salvation is immediately dependent on faith, which, as a fruit of the operation of the Spirit of God in the soul, already, in its reception of Christ, implies the regenerating action of that Spirit, and is itself one evidence of it. To faith in Christ is attached the promise of forgiveness, and of all other blessings. Baptism is administered to those who already possess (at least profess) this faith, and symbolizes the dying to sin and rising to righteousness implicit in the act of faith (Ro 6:1-23). It is the symbol of a cleansing from sin and renewal by God’s Spirit, but not the agency effecting that renewal, even instrumentally. Baptism is not, indeed, to be regarded as a bare symbol. It may be expected that its believing reception will be accompanied by fresh measures of grace, strengthening and fitting for the new life. This, however, as the life is already there, has nothing to do with the idea of baptism as an opus operatum, working a spiritual change in virtue of its mere administration. In Scripture the agency with which regeneration is specially connected is the Divine “word” (compare 1Pe 1:23). Without living faith, in those capable of its exercise, the outward rite can avail nothing. The supposed “regeneration” may be received–in multitudes of instances is received–without the least apparent change in heart or life.

The above, naturally, applies to adults; the case of children, born and growing up within the Christian community, is on a different footing. Those who recognize the right of such to baptism hold that in the normal Christian development children of believing parents should be the subjects of Divine grace from the commencement (Eph 6:4); they therefore properly receive the initiatory rite of the Christian church. The faith of the parent, in presenting his child for baptism, lays hold on God’s promise to be a God to him and to his children; and he is entitled to hope for that which baptism pledges to him. But this, again, has no relation to the idea of regeneration through baptism. James Orr (3)

Examination of Texts that seemingly support baptismal regeneration:

John 3:5: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

Calvin rejected a reference to baptism here, and proponents of baptismal regeneration are hard put to explain a reference to Christian baptism by Christ to Nicodemus long before Pentecost and the institution of the NT church. We may understand the expression “born of water and of the spirit” as a hendiadys. There is no article in the Greek text which reads simply “water and spirit.” Hendiadys is a figure of speech in which two nouns connected by and are used instead of one noun and an adjective. The second noun has the force of a superlative or emphatic adjective. In John 3:5 the meaning is, therefore, “spiritual water.” This is essentially the same conclusion Calvin reached. He saw water and spirit as signifying the same thing.

Would “spiritual water” have conveyed anything to Nicodemus? Assuredly it would. He was well aware of the waters of separation (Num. 19) and the cleansing waters specifically associated with obtaining “a new heart” and receiving God’s Spirit (Ezek. 36:25–27). The Lord Jesus was showing him that these had to be understood as references, not to sacramental ablutions, but to the activity of the Holy Spirit. Paul follows the same line of thought in Eph. 5:26, “the washing of water by the word.”

Mark 16:16: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”

While the importance of baptism as the expected public acknowledgment of Christ as Saviour is clear here, it is obvious that the thing that is so essential to salvation that its absence invariably damns a man is faith. Those who trust Christ should not fail to be baptized and those who are baptized must ensure that they do indeed have saving faith. Without it their baptism can do nothing to save them.

Rom. 6:4–6: “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.”

There is no reference to water baptism here. The reference is to real, not professed or sacramental, incorporation into Christ. The baptism is spiritual, as in 1 Cor. 12:13. It is the action of the Holy Spirit actually putting us into saving union with Christ.

Titus 3:5: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.”

The washing of regeneration is literally “the laver of regeneration” which is explained by the following phrase, the “renewing of the Holy Ghost.” There is no mention of baptism. The laver is to be spiritually understood. The OT tabernacle and temple had their lavers. Here we learn that their true import was that they pointed to the renewing work of the Holy Spirit. That is the laver of regeneration, not water baptism.

Acts 2:38: “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

Campbellites are so confident that this text teaches their baptismal regeneration dogma that they at times style their gospel The Acts 2:38 Gospel. The entire argument hinges on the force of the preposition for. The Greek word is eis and it usually means “to, unto.” Therefore, we are told, baptism is “unto the remission of sins.” Remission follows baptism; it does not precede it.

That is the claim. But is it true? It is not The Greek preposition eis has a much wider meaning than “unto” in the sense of “with a view to.”

Matthew 3:11 is clearly a parallel passage. John the Baptist said, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance.” Here again unto is eis. On the Campbellite interpretation of Acts 2:38 the repentance would have to follow the baptism. But did not those who came to be baptized by John receive baptism because they had already repented? The preposition eis here does not indicate the order the Campbellites infer in Acts 2:38, but the opposite.

Take another example. In Matt. 12:41 we read, “The men of Nineveh … repented at [eis] the preaching of Jonas.” If the Campbellite interpretation of Acts 2:38 here, Matt. 12:41 would be saying that the Ninevites repented in order to obtain the preaching of Jonah. Clearly that was not the case. They repented because they had already received it.

And that is the force of eis in Acts 2:38. Baptism for (eis) the remission of sins is baptism at, or in connection with the remission received through repentance and faith.

1 Peter 3:21: “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

It is almost universally asserted that this text plainly attributes some saving action to baptism (even if it is only symbolic or declarative). However there are serious objections to this view.

First, the Greek text has nothing corresponding to “the like figure whereunto even baptism doth now save us.”

Second, as the text now reads, baptism is the antitype of the waters of the flood. But Noah was not saved by water but from water. In what way then is his salvation from the flood typical of our salvation by Christ in baptism?

Let us consider these points.

The Greek of v. 21 reads, ho kai hemas antitupon nun sozei. The first question is, What is the antecedent of ho, “which”? Our translation practically ignores it, but really refers it to the hudatos, “water,” of v. 20. On this basis the literal rendering would be: “Which (water) even (or also) us the antitype now saves.”

Robert Nevin in Misunderstood Scriptures suggests that a better answer to the question of an antecedent to which would be “the Spirit,” v. 18, by which Christ preached to the sinners of Noah’s day (v. 19). That would yield the translation, “Which (or who, the Holy Spirit) now saves us, the antitype (of Noah and his family) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

This is the natural force of the word order of the Greek text and so far makes perfect sense. If this is the correct translation then we must start a new sentence with, “Baptism is not the putting away of the filth of the flesh (i.e., of sin’s defilement) but the seeking or appeal of a good conscience toward God.”

It is clear, whether we follow the common English version or this suggested translation, that baptism cannot cleanse away sin. It is a testimony or an appeal of a purified conscience to God on the merits of the work of Christ. In other words, baptism declares that our trust for salvation is not in baptism but in Christ who died and rose again.

Another possible view of 1 Pet. 3:21 makes water the antecedent of the relative which. In this view baptism is a reference to the death and judgment-bearing of Christ so that vv. 20–22 would then mean:

“The longsuffering of God waited, the ark having been prepared, in which few, that is eight souls were saved through and out of water (the instrument of God’s judgment). Which (water shows us how) baptism (another emblem of the judgment of God on sin) now saves us the antitype (of those saved in the ark): it is not the putting away of the filth of the flesh (sin) but the appeal (or demand) of a good conscience (one cleared from guilt) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is now at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been subjected unto Him.”

If we adopt this treatment, the reference to baptism is a reminder of Christ’s bearing the wrath of God against our sin just as the ark bore it in the days of the flood.

1 Peter 3:21 cannot justly be made a witness for the theory of baptismal regeneration. As Nevin long ago remarked, “The doctrine of baptismal regeneration is not of Christian but of Pagan origin. It had a prominent place in the ancient Babylonian mysteries” (Nevin, p. 227). It has no place in Christian theology. (4)

From the New Testament Commentary by William Hendriksen on John 3:5-6:

  1. Jesus answered, I most solemnly assure you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. The key to the interpretation of these words is found in 1:22. (See also 1:26, 31; cf. Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16) where water and Spirit are also found side by side, in connection with baptism. The evident meaning, therefore, is this: being baptized with water is not sufficient. The sign is valuable, indeed. It is of great importance both as a pictorial representation and as a seal. But the sign should be accompanied by the thing signified: the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit. It is the latter that is absolutely necessary if one is to be saved. Note, in this connection, that in verses 6 and 8 we no longer read about the birth of water but only about the birth of the Spirit, the one great essential.

Now it is true that the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit is not finished until the believer enters heaven. In a sense, becoming a child of God is a life-long process (see 1:12), but in the present passage the initial cleansing implied in the implantation of new life in the heart of the sinner is meant, as is evident from the fact that we are taught here that unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot even enter the kingdom of God. (For the meaning of kingdom of God see on 3:3.)

  1. Great stress, accordingly, is placed on the fact that physical birth (see on 1:13) does not give one any priority in the sphere of salvation. Hence, Jesus continues, That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (For the various meanings of the term flesh in the Fourth Gospel, see on 1:14.) One could paraphrase as follows: sinful human nature produces sinful human nature (cf. Job 14:4, “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one.” Cf. also Ps. 51:5). The Holy Spirit produces the sanctified human nature. (5)

In closing:

The Reformed view is concisely put by the Westminster Confession of Faith:

“Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the parry baptized into the visible Church, but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life: which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in his Church until the end of the world.… Although it be a great sin to condemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it, or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated” (chap. 28, sec. 1, 4).

The goal of this study is to help us magnify the Lord God for his marvelous grace that made us children of God through no merit of our own. It is my prayer that this goal has been attained.

“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)


 E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Iowa Falls, Iowa, Riverside Book and Bible House), pp. 88-89.

  1. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, John, Vol.17 , (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), pp. 114-116.
  2. Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. “Definition for ‘Baptismal Regeneration,’” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (ISBE), (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, 1915), p. 397.
  3. Cairns, Alan, Dictionary of Theological Terms (Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International, 2002), pp. 58–62.
  4. William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, John, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, 1984), p.134.

“To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

For more study:

 * For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes: http://www.rebecca-writes.com/theological-terms-in-ao/

** CARM theological dictionary





Baptism and John 3:5 by Matt Slick https://carm.org/baptism-and-john-35

Baptism by A. A. Hodge http://www.the-highway.com/Baptism_Hodge.html

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Liturgy, what is it, and is it connected to worship?

Liturgy, what is it, and is it connected to worship?                                        By Jack Kettler

In the study of liturgies, you will come across such terminology as “Low Church” and “High Church.” The term “Low Church” is usually referring to an open spontaneous service along with no prescribed order for the worship service, whereas “High Church” would refer to Anglican worship that emphasizes the clerical or priestly, and ceremonial components in worship along with using prescribed prayers such as the Book of Common Prayer.

Liturgy in Eastern Churches confines itself to the sanctioned worship service and partaking of the Eucharist. The Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom is the most celebrated liturgy in the Byzantine Rite. The main liturgical component of the Roman Church would be the Mass, with the Eucharist and its accompanying sacramental system.

In this study, we will look at the idea of liturgy and how it works out in the pattern of worship in Presbyterian and Reformed Churches. Using the definition of a “Low Church” liturgy listed above, Presbyterian and Reformed Churches do not fit into this category. Reformed Church services are anything but spontaneous. And they are certainly not lacking in a prescribed order for the worship service. In this study, we will look the idea of a “Biblical Church Liturgy.”

Word Definitions:

Liturgy: An established or customary pattern for a public religious service. It may include prescribed content for readings and prayers, and/or designated times for hymns, responsive readings, scripture readings, prayers, the Lord’s Supper, and teaching, etc. *

Liturgy: is a set of prescribed practices used in public worship. Liturgies can be very detailed and lengthy or very short.  It is a pattern and custom used in church services.  Some are detailed and some are not.  Some require people to stand up and kneel at certain times after recitations of various scriptures or confessions of faith.  Other liturgies are very simple where people are more spontaneous within a broader pattern of a service. **

A layman’s short definition: A Christian liturgy is a pattern or structured order for worship used by a local church congregation or a denomination on an ongoing basis. There is nothing inherently wrong with the word liturgy. What every believer should be concerned is, is the liturgy biblical.

Liturgy is principally about worship. What exactly is worship?

Worship: The obligation to respond to God’s character and actions by giving Him honor, glory and obedience; also used specifically of a church’s public activity of glorifying God together by means of instruction, confession, prayer, singing, and participation in the Lord’s Supper. *

Worship: The obligation of God’s creation to give to Him all honor, praise, adoration, and glory due Him because He is the holy and divine creator. Worship is to be given to God only (Exodus 20:3; Matthew 4:10). Jesus, being God in flesh (John 1:1; Joh 1:14; Colossians 2:9), was worshipped (Matthew 2:2; Mat 2:11; Mat 14:33; John 9:35-38; Hebrews 1:6). **

From Scripture, a pattern that we see that informs us of what constitutes worship:

  1. The reading of the Word of God, and preaching of the Word of God in worship:

“And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

“Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.

Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” (1 Timothy 4:13-16)

  1. Prayer in worship:

“And said unto them, it is written, my house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” (Matthew 21:13)

“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” (Ephesians 6:18)

  1. Tithes and offerings in worship:

“Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.” (Malachi 3:8-9)

“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” (Matthew 5:17)

Does fulfil mean to cancel? In common parlance, “fulfilled” simply means your order has been processed and shipped. If the order cannot be fulfilled, one solution is to cancel it.

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” (Matthew 23:23)

Jesus stated that tithing is something that should not be abandoned when He said: “and not to leave the other undone.”

  1. Singing in worship:

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Colossians 3:16)

  1. The observance of the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in worship:

“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:41, 42)

“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

  1. Discipline in worship:

“For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” (1 Corinthians 11:29-30)

Church discipline is another component of true worship. A church that does not practice church discipline, is in danger of allowing the improper administration of the sacraments or guarding against unbiblical preaching.

The above Scriptures establish a pattern of what happened during a meeting of God’s people.

This Scriptural pattern involves:

  • The reading of the Word of God, and preaching of the Word of God
  • Prayer
  • Singing
  • Tithes and Offerings
  • Biblical administration of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
  • Discipline

Digging deeper, from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:

Worship, Worshiping

A — 1: προσκυνέω

(Strong’s #4352 — Verb — proskuneopros-koo-neh’-o)

“to make obeisance, do reverence to” (from pros, “towards,” and kuneo, “to kiss”), is the most frequent word rendered “to worship.” It is used of an act of homage or reverence (a) to God, e.g., Matthew 4:10 ; John 4:21-24 ; 1 Corinthians 14:25 ; Revelation 4:10 ; 5:14 ; 7:11 ; 11:16 ; 19:10 (2nd part); 22:9; (b) to Christ, e.g., Matthew 2:2,8,11 ; 8:2 ; 9:18 ; 14:33 ; 15:25 ; 20:20 ; 28:9,17 ; John 9:38 ; Hebrews 1:6 , in a quotation from the Sept. of Deuteronomy 32:43 , referring to Christ’s Second Advent; (c) to a man, Matthew 18:26 ; (d) to the Dragon, by men, Revelation 13:4 ; (e) to the Beast, his human instrument, Revelation 13:4,8,12 ; 14:9,11 ; (f) the image of the Beast, Revelation 13:15 ; 14:11 ; 16:2 ; (g) to demons, Revelation 9:20 ; (h) to idols, Acts 7:43 .

Note: As to Matthew 18:26, this is mentioned as follows, in the “List of readings and renderings preferred by the American Committee” (see RV Classes of Passages, IV): “At the word ‘worship’ in Matthew 2:2, etc., add the marginal note ‘The Greek word denotes an act of reverence, whether paid to man (see chap. Matthew 18:26) or to God (see chap. Matthew 4:10)’.” The Note to John 9:38 in the American Standard Version in this connection is most unsound; it implies that Christ was a creature. J. N. Darby renders the verb “do homage” [see the Revised Preface to the Second Edition (1871) of his New Translation].

A — 2: σέβω

(Strong’s #4576 — Verb — sebomaiseb’-om-ahee)

“to revere,” stressing the feeling of awe or devotion, is used of “worship” (a) to God, Matthew 15:9 ; Mark 7:7 ; Acts 16:14 ; 18:7,13 ; (b) to a goddess, Acts 19:27 . See DEVOUT, No. 3.

A — 3: σεβάζομαι

(Strong’s #4573 — Verb — sebazomaiseb-ad’-zom-ahee)

akin to No. 2, “to honor religiously,” is used in Romans 1:25 .

A — 4: λατρεύω

(Strong’s #3000 — Verb — latreuolat-ryoo’-o)

“to serve, to render religious service or homage,” is translated “to worship” in Philippians 3:3 , “(who) worship (by the Spirit of God),” RV, AV, “(which) worship (God in the spirit);” the RV renders it “to serve” (for AV, “to worship”) in Acts 7:42 ; 24:14 ; AV and RV, “(the) worshipers” in Hebrews 10:2 , present participle, lit., “(the ones) worshiping.” See SERVE.

A — 5: εὐσεβέω

(Strong’s #2151 — Verb — eusebeoyoo-seb-eh’-o)

“to act piously towards,” is translated “ye worship” in Acts 17:23 . See PIETY (to show).

Notes: (1) The worship of God is nowhere defined in Scripture. A consideration of the above verbs shows that it is not confined to praise; broadly it may be regarded as the direct acknowledgement to God, of His nature, attributes, ways and claims, whether by the outgoing of the heart in praise and thanksgiving or by deed done in such acknowledgment. (2) In Acts 17:25 therapeuo, “to serve, do service to” (so RV), is rendered “is worshiped.” See CURE, HEAL.

B — 1: σέβασμα

(Strong’s #4574 — Noun Neuter — sebasmaseb’-as-mah)

denotes “an object of worship” (akin to A, No. 3); Acts 17:23 (see DEVOTION); in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 , “that is worshiped;” every object of “worship,” whether the true God or pagan idols, will come under the ban of the Man of Sin.

B — 2: ἐθελοθρησκία

(Strong’s #1479 — Noun Feminine — ethelothreskeia[-ia] — eth-el-oth-race-ki’-ah)

“will-worship” (ethelo, “to will,” threskeia, “worship”), occurs in Colossians 2:23, voluntarily adopted “worship,” whether unbidden or forbidden, not that which is imposed by others, but which one affects.

B — 3: θρησκεία

(Strong’s #2356 — Noun Feminine — threskeiathrace-ki’-ah)

for which see RELIGION , is translated “worshiping” in Colossians 2:18 .

Note: In Luke 14:10, AV, doxa, “glory” (RV), is translated “worship.” (1)

The Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) provides the structure and content of Worship in Presbyterian and Reformed Churches:

We can only approach God on his own terms, not only for salvation, but also in worship. The Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) is the doctrine that everything of religious significance in worship must be prescribed in Holy Scripture, either explicitly or by good and necessary consequence, such that “whatever is beside the Word of God is against the Word of God. Put another way, “in God’s worship there must be nothing offered up to God but what he hath commanded, whatsoever we meddle within the worship of God, it must be what we have a warrant for out of the Word of God.” Ultimately, the Regulative Principle of Worship is nothing more than the specific application of Sola Scriptura, that Scripture alone is the sufficient rule of faith and life, to worship.

What is the Scriptural basis for the Regulative Principle?

The regulative principle in early covenant history is closely tied to the example of the Levitical priesthood as is primarily seen in the book of Leviticus and other portions of Scripture, along with God’s punishment for its violation.

Consider the following examples:

Strange Fire or worship condemned:

“And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.” (Leviticus 10:1-2)

Uzzah’s error punished:

“And they set the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah: and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drave the new cart. And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab which was at Gibeah, accompanying the ark of God: and Ahio went before the ark. . . . And when they came to Nachon’s threshing floor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God.” (2 Samuel 6:3-7)

Man-made worship condemned:

“And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart.” (Jeremiah 7:31) See also, Jeremiah 19:5.

“And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring: that ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God.” (Numbers 15:39-40)

What about the New Testament, are there examples of these same types of warnings and judgements?

In the book of Acts, we see death for deception in charitable giving:

“But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? And after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.” (Acts 5:1-11)

Damnation for unworthy participation in the Lord’s Supper:

“For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” (1 Corinthians 11:29-30)

These warnings are serious and are why many historic Christian fellowships practice some form of guarded or closed communion. An open communion may be complicit allowing people to sin publically by making a false profession of faith when partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Partaking of the Lord’s Supper or communion is a public act of faith. The Church should guard against profane acts of worship.

God is very specific:

Unauthorized or man-made worship is condemned and even punishable by death. While it is admitted that it is out of the norm for God to execute sinners today like the examples above, nevertheless God still brings about spiritual judgments for violation of the Regulative Principle as evidenced by Paul’s warning to the Corinthian Church by participating in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner.

A Scriptural liturgy:

The next a citation is an example of a liturgy that takes serious the commands and warnings on what God requires in corporate worship.

John Calvin’s liturgy:

The Order of Public Worship in Calvin’s Congregation at Strassburg was as follows:

Invocation and Call to Worship

The Confession of Sin (Prayer) and a Brief Absolution (which would oftentimes include the 10 commandments).

Reading of the Old Testament / New Testament

Psalm Sung

Pastoral Prayer / Prayer of Illumination

The Word of God Preached (The Sermon)

Prayer of Intercession and Application ending with the Lord’s Prayer (a prayer for the people by the minister).

Psalm Sung


Calvin’s Alternate Order of Worship for Communion:

Call to worship

Confession of Sin / Absolution

The Ten Commandments (sung) (In Calvin’s preparation of a metrical tune)

Psalm (sung)

The Word Read from the OT or NT

Prayer for Illumination

Preaching of the Word Sermon

Prayer of Intercession

Apostle’s Creed (sung) (In Calvin’s preparation of a metrical tune)

The Lord’s Supper

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Psalm (sung) or Song of Simeon (sung)

Blessing (2)

Westminster Confession of Faith’s 21:1 directory for public worship:

“The acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited to his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture (Exodus 20:4-6; Deuteronomy 4:15-20; 12:32; Mat 4:9-10; 15:9; Acts 17:25; Col 2:23).”

DIRECTORY for the Publick Worship of God:

The Preface.

Of the Assembling of the Congregation.

Of Publick Reading of the Holy Scriptures.

Of Publick Prayer before the Sermon.

Of Preaching of the Word.

Of Prayer after Sermon.

Of the Sacrament of Baptism.

Of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

Of the Sanctification of the Lord’s Day.

Of the Solemnization of Marriage.

Of the Visitation of the Sick.

Of the Burial of the Dead.

Of Publick Solemn Fasting.

Of the Observation of Days of Publick Thanksgiving.

Of Singing of Psalms.

An Appendix touching Days and Places of Publick Worship.

In closing:

A Modern day Presbyterian Order for a Worship Service:

Call to worship

Response to the call – Psalm

Prayer of invocation and Lord’s Prayer

Scripture reading

Psalm of response

Prayer of intercession

Tithes and offerings

Preaching of God’s Word

Psalm of response


This order of public worship is taken from the Westminster, CO Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA).

The goal of this study is to help us magnify the Lord God for his marvelous grace that made us children of God through no merit of our own. It is my prayer that this goal has been attained.

“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)


  1. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Iowa Falls, Iowa, Riverside Book and Bible House), pp. 1247-1248.
  2. Philip Schaff, Schaff’s, History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity, The Swiss Reformation 87: The Liturgy of Calvin, (AP&A Publishers, Eight Volumes in 3), pp. 176-178.

“To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

For more study:

* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes: http://www.rebecca-writes.com/theological-terms-in-ao/

** CARM theological dictionary


The Scriptural Regulative Principle of Worship by G. I. Williamson http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/the-scriptural-regulative-principle-of-worship.php

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Traducianism, or Creationism and the Origin of the Soul

Traducianism, or Creationism and the Origin of the Soul                                                                                  by Jack Kettler

The Origin of the Soul

This study will focus on a long standing theological debate. All I can promise is, this study will not settle it. With that said, it is certainly an issue that should be studied. This study is in regards to the origin of the human soul. Every Christian believes that ultimately God is the creator of the human soul. The area of disagreement is if God supernaturally creates a new soul at conception or is the human soul like the body is generated from the parents.

In this study there will be two brief definitions, followed by a positive presentation for the idea that the soul like the body is generated from the parents. And then, a negative presentation that disagrees and argues for the special creation of souls at the time of conception. Both presentations are from respected Reformed theologians. There will be brief comments in closing and links for further study.

Traducianism is the teaching about the origin of the soul, and how souls are propagated along with the bodies by generation and are transmitted to the children by the parents


Holds that God creates a new soul supernaturally for each child conceived.

Lutheran theology usually follows Traducianism. Roman Catholicism holds to an immediate or creationism view of the soul. Most Reformed and Presbyterians would be in the creationism camp. There are exceptions as will be seen from the positive article in defense of Traducianism.

A Positive View of Traducianism from a Reformed Theologian:

Theories of the Mode of Man’s Creation

Three theories have been formed of the mode of man’s creation: (1) preexistence, (2) traducianism, and (3) creationism.

Preexistence teaches that all human souls were created in the beginning of creation and before the creation of Adam. Each individual human soul existed in an antemundane state and is united with a human body by ordinary generation. This theory found some support in Plato’s speculations respecting intuitive knowledge as the relics of a preexistent state of the soul. Some of the Jewish rabbinic schools adopted it, and Origen endeavored, unsuccessfully, to give it currency in the Christian church. Muller, in his work entitled Sin, has revived it in a modified form. He assumes, not an antetemporal but a supratemporal state, in which the soul existed and the origin of sin occurred. The fall of man was not in a time before time, but is timeless. This is virtually the same as Kant’s conception of sin as a noumenon or thing in itself, which is always time-less and spaceless, in distinction from a phenomenon, which always occurs in space and time. Philippi (Doctrine 3.96) contends that Mtiller’s view is virtually that of preexistence. The propagation of the body still leaves the ego preexistent.

Preexistence confines the idea of species to the body. As this is propagated, it is derived out of a common physical nature. The body, consequently, cannot be older than that physical human nature which was created on the sixth day. The spirit, on the other hand, was created prior to the sixth day. The human spirit is purely individual, like that of an angel. (See supplement 4.1.1.)

Traducianism applies the idea of species to both body and soul. Upon the sixth day, God created two human individuals, one male and one female, and in them also created the specific psychico-physical nature from which all the subsequent individuals of the human family are procreated both psychically and physically. Hase (Hutterus redivivus 79) represents this theory as having been adopted by Tertullian, Augustine, and the elder Protestant divines, in the interest of the stricter theory of original sin. Hagenbach (55, 106) says that Tertullian was an earnest advocate of traducianism; that Augustine and Gregory the Great express themselves doubtfully and “with reserve respecting creationism”; and that “traducianism was professed not only by heterodox writers like Apollinaris, but by some orthodox theologians like Gregory of Nyssa.” The writer in the Middle Ages who maintains traducianism with most decision is Bishop Odo of Cambray. His treatise entitled Original Sin has received little attention even from the historians of doctrine, though it is marked by great profundity and acumen.

Neander (1.615) describes the traducianism of Tertullian in the following terms:

It was his opinion, that our first parent bore within him the undeveloped germ of all mankind; that the soul of the first man was the fountain head of all human souls, and that all varieties of individual human nature are but different modifications of that one spiritual substance. Hence the whole nature became corrupted in the original father of the race, and sinfulness is propagated at the same time with souls. Although this mode of apprehending the matter, in Tertullian, is connected with his sensuous habits of conception, yet this is by no means a necessary connection.

This last remark of Neander is important. Bellarmine claims Augustine as a creationist. Melanchthon and Klee reckon him among traducian-ists. Gangauf says that he was undecided. Delitzsch (Biblical Psychology 7) asserts that he was wrestling with the subject all his life. Luther, according to Delitzsch, was at first inclined to traducianism, being urged by Bugenhagen, but afterward distinguished the creation and infusion of the soul into the body as the second conception, from the first bodily conception. Smith (Theology, 168) asserts that “traducianism, on the whole, has been the most widely spread theory.” (See supplement 4.1.2.)

Turretin (9.12.6) remarks as follows respecting the traducian view:

Some are of opinion that the difficulties pertaining to the propagation of original sin are best resolved by the doctrine of the propagation of the soul (animae traducem); a view held by not a few of the fathers and to which Augustine frequently seems to incline. And there is no doubt that by this theory all the difficulty seems to be removed; but since it does not accord with Scripture or with sound reason and is exposed to great difficulties, we do not think that recourse should be had to it.

Maresius (De Marets), a Calvinistic theologian whose opinions had great weight, speaks as follows respecting traducianism:

Although Augustine seems sometimes to have been undecided (fluctuasse aliquando) respecting the origin of the soul; whether it is by immediate creation or by propagation; he is fixed in the opinion that original sin cannot be transmitted otherwise than by propagation. And he is far more inclined (hugepronior) to the last mentioned doctrine, nay, to speak truly, he constantly held it (constanler retinuit), in order to save the justice of God; because it is difficult to show the justice of infusing a soul newly created and destitute of sin and having no guilt of its own into a vitiated body, by whose concupiscence and lust it is stained and burdened, is exposed to many and great evils in this life, and condemned to everlasting punishment hereafter (Augustine, Letter 28.137; Concerning the Soul; and Jansenius, Concerning the State of Nature 1.15). This was the opinion of Apollinaris and of nearly all the Western divines in Jerome’s day and is defended by Mamixius, Sohnius, and Combachius, truly great divines of our communion; to which, if this were the place to lay down the statements, I should not be much disinclined (valde alienus). (Maresius, Elenc-tic Theology, controversy 11)

Charnock (Discourse 1), after remarking that wisdom and folly, virtue and vice, and other accidents of the soul, are not propagated, adds: “I do not dispute whether the soul were generated or not. Suppose the substance of it was generated by the parents, yet those more excellent qualities were not the result of them,” that is, of the parents. Hooker (Ecclesiastical Polity 2.7), also, speaks doubtfully: “Of some things, we may very well retain an opinion that they are probable and not unlikely to be true, as when we hold that men have their souls rather by creation, than propagation.” (See supplement 4.1.3.)

Creationism confines the idea of species to the body. In this respect, it agrees with the theory of preexistence, the difference relating only to the time when the soul is created. Creationism and preexistence both alike maintain that the human soul is individual only and never had a race-existence in Adam. The creationist holds that God on the sixth day created two human individuals, one male and one female, and in them also created the specific physical nature from which the bodies of all the subsequent individuals were procreated, the soul in each instance being a new creation ex nihilo and infused into the propagated body.

Hase (Hutterus redivivus, 79) represents this view as having been favored by Aristotle and adopted by Ambrose, Jerome, Pelagius, Bel-larmine, and Calixtus. Hagenbach (106) mentions as advocates of creationism Lactantius, Hilary, and Jerome and remarks (173) that this theory gained gradually upon traducianism in the Middle Ages. John of Damascus, Anselm, and Aquinas were creationists. Heppe (Reformed Dogmatics, 12) says that the Lutheran theologians almost without exception adopted traducianism, while the Reformed divines with very few exceptions maintained creationism. Creationism has been the most common view during the last two centuries.

The choice must be made between traducianism and creationism, since the opinion that man as to his soul existed before Adam has no support from revelation. The Bible plainly teaches that Adam was the first man; and that all finite spirits existing before him were angels.

The question between the traducianist and the creationist is this: When God created the first two human individuals, Adam and Eve, did he create in and with them the invisible substance of all the succeeding generations of men, both as to the soul and body or only as to the body? Was the human nature that was created in Adam and Eve simple or complex? Was it physical solely, or was it psychico-physical? Had the human nature in the first pair two sides or only one? Was provision made for propagating out of the specific nature deposited in Adam individuals who would be a union of body and soul or only a mere body without a soul?6

The question, consequently, between the parties involves the quantity of being that was created on the sixth day, when God is said to have created “man.” The traducianist asserts that the entire invisible substance of all the generations of mankind was originated ex nihilo by that single act of God mentioned in Gen. 1:27, by which he created “man male and female.” The creationist asserts that only a part of the invisible substance of all the generations of mankind was created by that act, namely, that of their bodies; the invisible substance which constitutes their souls being created subsequently by as many distinct and separate creative acts as there are individual souls. (See supplement 4.1.4.)

Traducianism and creationism agree with each other in respect to the most difficult point in the problem, namely, a kind of existence that is prior to the individual existence. The creationist concedes that human history does not start with the birth of the individual man. He does not attempt to explain original sin with no reference to Adam. He maintains that the body and physical life of the individual is not a creation ex nihilo in each instance, but is derived from a common physical nature that was originated on the sixth day. In so doing, the creationist concedes existence in Adam, to this extent. But this race-mode of human existence, which is prior to the individual mode, is the principal difficulty in the problem, and in conceding its reality as to the body the creationist carries a common burden with the traducianist. For it is as difficult to think of an invisible existence of the human body in Adam as to think of an invisible existence of the human soul in him. In reality, it is even more difficult; because the body of an individual man, as we now know it, is visible and tangible, while his soul is not. And an invisible and intangible existence in Adam is more conceivable than a visible and tangible.

In discussing either traducianism or creationism, it is important to define the idea of substance. The term, in this connection, does not imply either extension or figure. It is taken in its etymological and metaphysical sense to denote that entity which stands under phenomena and is the base for them. As in theology, the divine “substance” or nature is unextended and formless yet a real entity, so in anthropology, the human “substance” or nature is without extension and figure yet is a certain amount of real being with definite and distinguishable properties (Shedd, Theological Essays, 135-37).

So far as the mental or psychical side of the human nature is concerned, when it is said that the “substance” of all individual souls was created in Adam, of course nothing extended and visible is implied. The substance in this case is a spiritual, rational, and immortal essence sim-ilar to the unextended essence of God, in whose image it was made ex nihilo. And so far as the physical and corporeal side of man is concerned, the notion of “substance” must be determined in the same manner. That which stands under, that which is the substans of the corporeal form and phenomena, is an invisible principle that has no one of the geometrical dimensions. Physical life, or the animal soul, though not spiritual and immortal like the rational soul, is nevertheless beyond the reach of the five senses. It occupies no space; it is not divisible by any material instruments; it cannot be examined by the microscope. In speaking therefore of the primary created “substance” of the human body, we must abstract from the notion everything that implies figure and extension of parts: “The things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Heb. 11:3). The visible body is constituted and built up by an invisible vitality. Neither the cell nor protoplasm nor the “ether” of Carus (Physiology 1.13) nor any visible whatever can be regarded as the substans of the body, as the vital principle in its pri-mordial mode. These are all of them extended and objects of sensuous perception. They are the first form, in which the primarily formless physical life embodies itself. They each presuppose life as an invisible. In thinking, therefore, of the “substance” of all individual bodies as having been created in Adam, we must not with Tertullian and others think of microscopic atoms, corpuscles, or protoplasm; but only of the unseen principle of life itself, of which these are the first visible organization.

Modern physiology (Haeckel, Creation 1.297) describes the human egg as one one-hundred-twentieth of an inch in diameter, so that in a strong light it can just be perceived as a small speck, by the naked eye. This egg is a small globular bladder which contains all the constituent parts of a simple organic cell. These parts are (a) the mucous cell substance or protoplasm, called the “yolk”; (b) the nucleus or cell kernel, called the “germinal vesicle,” which is surrounded by the yolk (this nucleus is a clear glassy globule of albumen about one six-hundredth of an inch in diameter); and (c) the nucleolus, the kernel speck or “germinal spot” (this is enclosed and surrounded by the nucleus and is the last phase of visible life under the present microscope). This nucleolus is not the invisible life itself in its first phase, as immediately created ex nihilo. This “germinal spot” is only the first hardening, as it were, of the invisible into visibility. It is life in this form; whereas, in the beginning, as created in Adam, physical life was formless and invisible. (1)

A Negative View of Traducianism and a Positive view of the immediate special creation of the human soul by a Reformed Theologian:

Francis Turretin, the Scholastic Reformer explains how the soul is created.

Thirteenth Question: The Origin of the Soul

Are souls created by God, or are they propagated? We affirm the former and deny the latter.

  1. Although there are various opinions of theologians and philosophers about the origin of the soul, yet principally there are two to which the others can be referred: one asserting the creation, the other the propagation, (traducem) of the soul. The former holds all souls to have been immediately created by God and by creating infused; thus to be produced from nothing and without any preexisting material. The latter, however, maintains that souls are propagated. The former is the opinion of almost all the orthodox (with many of the fathers and Scholastics). The latter is embraced by the Lutherans. Tertullian was the author of propagation (traducis) in Treatise on the Soul (ANF 3:181-235), whom the Luciferians and many of the Latins followed. Augustine suspends his judgment (epechei) on this point and, although often discussing the question, still would not determine anything about it (cf. Letter 166 “To Jerome” [FC 30:6-31]; Letter 190 “To Optatus” [FC 30:271@881; The Retractions 1.1 [3] [FC 60:9@101). He testifies that “he still did not know what was to be held” (ibid. 2.82 [561 [FC 60:244; PL 32.653]).
  2. Those who believe in propagation do not all think and speak together. Some hold the soul to be propagated from the semen of the parents and produced from the potency of matter. But this is rejected by most as less likely because if it de, pended upon the virtue of the semen, it would also be corporeal and subject to corruption. Others hold it to be from the soul of the father by propagation, yet in a manner inscrutable and unknown to us (Martinius, Miscellanearum Disputationum, Bk. 3, isp. 7 [1603], pp. 541-42). Others maintain that the soul of the father procreates the soul of the son from a certain spiritual and incorporeal seed (as Timothy Bright). Finally, others (the more common opinion) think the soul is propagated by the soul, not by a decision and partition of the paternal soul, but in a spiritual manner, as light is kindled by light (so Balthasar Meisner and most Lutherans).

III. However, we endorse the creation of the soul: (1) from the law of creation; (2) from the testimony of Scripture; (3) from reasons. (1) From the law of creation, because the origin of our souls ought to be the same as of the soul of Adam; not only because we ought to bear his image (1 Cor. 15:47, 48), but also because his creation (as the first individual of the whole species) is an example of the formation of all men (as the wedlock of our first parents was an example for the rest). But the soul of Adam was created immediately by God, since “he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7). Thus it is evident his soul was not produced from potent material, but came to him extrinsically through creation and was infused into the body by the breath of God himself. Nor ought it to be objected that we cannot argue from Adam to ourselves because the same thing might be said of the origin of the body (which nevertheless is not the case, since ours is generated from seed, while that of Adam was created from the dust of the earth). Although there may be a disparity by reason of the efficient cause on account of the diversity of the subjects (because as the body is elementary and material, it can be produced by man through generation; but the soul, being immaterial and simple, cannot spring from any other source than God by creation), yet with respect to the material cause a comparison may rightly be made. For as the soul of Adam was created out of nothing, so also are the souls of his posterity; and as his body was formed of the dust of the earth, so also our bodies from seed (which itself also is earthly and material). Therefore the mode of action with respect to Adam was also singular, yet the nature of the thing is the same in both cases. This is confirmed by the production of Eve herself whose origin as to the body is described as from a rib of Adam, but of the soul no mention is made. Hence it is plainly gathered that the origin of her soul was not different from that of the soul of Adam because otherwise Moses would not have passed it over in silence (his purpose being to describe the origin of all things). And Adam himself would have mentioned this origin, yea he would have declared it specially; he would have said not only “this is bone of my bones,” but “soul of my soul” (Gen. 2-23). This would have set forth more strongly the bond of wedlock, which should be not only in the bodies, but also in the souls. Finally, if Adam’s soul and ours had a different origin, they could not be said to be of the same species because his was from nothing. Ours, however, would be from some preexisting material wholly dissimilar.

  1. Second, from the testimony of Scripture, in which God is spoken of as the author and Creator of the soul in a peculiar manner distinct from the body: “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” (Ecc. 12:7). Here a manifest difference is marked between the origin and the destruction of the body and the soul. The one is said to return to the dust (whence it was taken); the other, however, to return unto God (who gave it). Therefore since the body returns thither whence it had its origin, so also the soul. This is more clearly confirmed by the fact that God is said to “give the spirit” (which cannot be understood of the common giving by concourse with second causes). For he also gives the body itself no less than the soul because he is the first cause of both (nor would he well be said by antithesis [kat’antithesin] to have given the spirit). Rather this is understood concerning the proper and peculiar mode of origin (which does not belong to the body). Nor ought it to be said that this is to be referred to the first creation of Adam. The scope, the words and circumstances of the text prove that it treats of the ordinary birth and destruction of men. Accordingly their bodies return to the dust (i.e., to the earth) whence they were taken, while their spirits return unto God, the judge, who gave them (either for glory or for punishment).
  2. “The word of the Lord, which stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him” (Zech. 12:1). Whence a multiple argument is drawn for the creation against the birth of the soul (psychogonian). (1) He is said to form the spirit of man within him; therefore he ought to produce it immediately without the intervention of man. (2) The formation of the spirit is joined with the stretching out of the heavens and the founding of the earth, as of the same order and grade. Therefore since the former two are works of omnipotence, made immediately by God and without second causes, so the last ought to be also. Nor can this be referred to the mediate production of God because thus man would be admitted to a participation of causality, which the text does not allow (since it asserts the production of the soul as well as that of the heaven and earth to be peculiar to God). However, this is falsely restricted to the first production of man since it ought to be extended equally to all. Hence when it speaks of the production of the soul elsewhere, the Scripture does not use the singular (as if referring to the one soul of Adam), but the plural (Ps. 33:15; Is. 57:16). But man here is not taken individually for Adam, but specifically for any man.
  3. “We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (Heb. 12:9). And Peter calls him in a peculiar manner a “faithful Creator of souls” (I Pet. 4:19). In Num. 16:22, God is called ‘the God of the spirits of all flesh.’ So too Is. 57:16: “For I will not contend forever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made.’ Now why should God be called “the Father of spirits” in contradistinction to “the fathers of the flesh” unless the origin of each was different? And yet if souls are propagated, the parents of the body and the soul should be the same. Indeed “the flesh” here cannot signify the old man or inborn corruption because then it would not be opposed to spirits (pneuniasi) in the plural, but to spirit (pneumati) in the singular. Rather it designates the body, and they are called ‘fathers of the flesh” who generate the flesh. So the word “spirit” ought not to be referred to spiritual gifts (which are not treated of here), but to the other part of man opposed to the body. Nor can the omission of the pronoun hamon (with respect to the flesh) be a hindrance because it is to be repeated apo koinou (since he speaks about the same according to the principles and origin of the diverse parts). Hence in Num. 16:22, he is called “the father of the spirits of all flesh” (i.e., of all men). Again he cannot be called “the Father of spirits” mediately, as he is called “the father of the rain” (job 38:28) because he is its author (although not immediately). Thus the antithesis between the fathers of the flesh and the father of spirits would not stand, and the force of the apostolic exhortation to afford greater obedience to God than to earthly fathers would fall. Nor if the concourse of God is not excluded from the production of the flesh (although attributed to earthly fathers because he is the universal first cause), ought the concourse of man in the production of the spirit to be excluded (because he is the particular second cause).

VII. Third, the same thing is proved by arguments from reason. The soul is propagated by generation, either from both parents or from one only; either as to its totality or only as to a part. But neither can be said. Not the former because thus two souls would coalesce into one and be mingled. Not the latter, for if from one (either the father or the mother only) no reason can be given why it should be propagated by the one rather than by the other (since both parents are equally the principle of generation). If the whole is propagated, then the parents will be without it and so will be deprived of life. If a part, it will be divisible and consequently material and mortal. Nor can it be reasonably replied here that neither the whole soul nor a part of it is propagated, but a certain substance born of the soul and (as it were) an immortal seed of the soul. For it is taken for granted that there is a seed of the soul by which it either generates or is generated; yet such a seed cannot be granted (which does not fall from the soul), and therefore proves it to be material and divisible.

VIII. Again, all modes of propagation are pressed by the most serious difficulties; nor can they be admitted without overthrowing the spirituality of the rational soul. Not the first, which is held by those who consider the soul to be produced from the power of seed so that it is begotten with the body. For the effect cannot (in the total genus) be more noble than its cause; nor can things corporeal and elementary be so elevated as to produce a spiritual and rational thing. If generated from seed, with the seed also it will be corrupted. Men and brutes would have the same origin and consequently the same destruction. Not the second, which is held by those who think the soul of the son to be from that of the father in a manner inscrutable and unknown by us. This entangles rather than unfolds the matter. For the father produces the son either from some preexistent matter or from none; not from none because he would thus create; not from some because either it would be the corporeal substance of a seed (which has just been proved to be false) or it would be a certain spiritual substance of the soul (which again cannot be said). This is true because that spiritual substance is made either from the whole soul of the father or from a part only. Not from the whole because thus the soul of the father would vanish and be converted into that spiritual seed. Not from a part because thus the soul of the father would be divisible into parts, and because that substance is corruptible and perishes in the very instant the soul is produced. But then it will no longer be a spiritual or incorruptible substance. Thus it would follow that there are two spirits in the begotten man: the soul of the son and the spiritual substance from which his soul was produced. Besides, it is repugnant to the nature of seed for it to remain after the generation of the thing (because it ought to be transmuted into what springs from the seed).

  1. Not the third even though it may seem preferable to others. They hold that it is said to be propagated not by alienation, but by communication (as when light is kindled from light without any division of the other). (1) But the communication made of one and the same thing and without any alienation occurs only in an infinite and not in a finite essence (in which the same numerical essence cannot be communicated to another, but a similar only is produced). (2) The soul of the son cannot be produced from that of the father; neither terminatively (because the terminus a quo perishes, the terminus ad quem being produced), nor decisively (because the soul is without parts [ameristos]), nor constitutively (because the soul of the father is not a constitutive part of the soul of the son). (3) The similitude of the light does not apply. Besides the fact that the flame and candle are corporeal substances (while here the subject is a spiritual), it is certain that light is produced from the potency of the material. Nor can it be kindled without a decision of fiery particles transmitted from the lighted to the extinguished torch (which cannot be said of the soul).
  2. Since, therefore, the opinion of propagation labors under inextricable difficulties, and no reason drawn from any other source forces us to admit it, we deservedly embrace the option of creation as more consistent with Scripture and right reason. This was also evidently the opinion of most of the heathen philosophers themselves. Hence the following expression of Zoroaster according to Ficinum: “You must hasten to the sunlight and to the father’s sunbeams: thence a soul will be sent to you fully enslaved to mind” (Chre speudein se pros to phaos, kai pros patros augas Enthen epemphthe soi psyche! polyn hessamenif noun, Theologia Platonica de immortalitate animorum 10 [1559], p. 160). Aristotle asserts that “the mind or intellect, and that alone enters from without, and is alone divine” (ton noun thyrathen epeisienai kai theion einai monon, Generation of Animals 2.3.27-28 [Loeb, 170-711). Cicero says, “No origin of the soul can be found upon earth for there is nothing in the soul mixed and concrete that seems to be or born from the earth and made…. Thus whatever that is which perceives, knows, wishes and flourishes, is heavenly and divine and on that account must necessarily be eternal” (Tusculan Disputations 1.66 [Loeb, 76-791).
  3. God is said to have rested from all his work (Gen. 2:2), not by retiring from the administration of things, but by ceasing from the creation of new species or individuals (which might be the principles of new species). Thus he works even now (Jn. 5:17) by administering the instituted nature and multiplying whatever was; not, however, by instituting what was not. Now the souls which he creates every day are new individuals of species already created.

XII. Although the soul is not propagated, the divine blessing given at first (Gen. 1:28) does not cease to exert its power in the generation of men. For God always cooperates with the generators and the generation, not only by preserving man’s prolific power, but also by infusing the soul into the disposed body.

XIII. It is not necessary in order that man may be said to generate man that he should generate all natures or essential parts of the compound. Otherwise, the blessed virgin did not beget true God and man. Rather it suffices that he prepares and works up the material and renders it fit for the introduction of form and attains the union of the soul with the body (by which man is constituted in his being as man and is made such a physical compound). For generation tends to the compound, not however to the production of both parts. As man is said to kill a man (who dissolves the union of the soul with the body although he does not even touch the soul), so man generates man because he joins together those parts from which man springs although not a soul-begetter (psychogonos). Nor ought he who generates the whole man to be forthwith the producer of the whole of man.

XIV. Adam can be said to have begotten man after his own image, although he did not produce the soul. The cause of the similitude is not the propagation of the soul, but the production of bodies of the same temperament with the parents. For from the different temperament and humors of the body, different propensities and affections are also born in our souls.

  1. When souls are said to have “gone out of the loins of Jacob” (Gen. 46:26), they are not understood properly, but synecdochically for the “persons” (a most usual manner of expression with the Scriptures). Moreover, there was no need that Jacob should contribute anything to the production of these souls. It suffices that he concurred to their conjunction or subsistence in the body mediately or immediately. Therefore they are said to have gone out, not as to being or substance simply, but as to subsistence in the body and union with it.

XVI. Although Christ was no less in Abraham (according to the flesh) than Levi (who was tithed in his loins, Heb. 7:9-10*), it does not follow that Levi was in him according to his soul (so that the soul of Levi was propagated and that a distinction may be preserved). Rather Levi (with respect to person) was in Abraham according to seminal mode and the natural powers of the father and mother (from whom he was to be born). But Christ was in him only as to the human nature with regard to the mother; not, however, as to his divine nature and person. Thus his person could not be tithed; but as a superior he tithed Abraham and blessed him in Melchizedek (his type), not as man, but as the Mediator, God-man (theanthropos), performing a kingly and priestly office.

XVII. The propagation of original sin ought not to cause a denial of the creation of souls and the adoption of propagation because it can be sufficiently saved without this hypothesis (as will be demonstrated in its place). Although the soul is not materially from Adam (as to substance), yet it is originally from him as to subsistence. And as man is rightly said to beget man (although he does not beget the soul), so an impure progenerates an impure, especially (the just judgment of God intervening) that by which it was established that what he had bestowed upon the first man, he should at the same time have and lose for himself as well as his posterity. Now although it is curious to inquire and rash to define why God infuses a soul tainted with sin and joins it to an impure body, it is certainly evident that God did not will (on account of the sin of man) to abolish the first sanction concerning the propagation of the human race by generation. Thus the order of the universe and the conservation of human nature demanded it. (2)

In closing:

I would have to say if pinned down for an answer that I would be in the creationism camp. But I would also say that I am unsettled to a degree. Both positions have seemingly strong arguments as well as problematic issues. With modern theologians such as Gordon H. Clark and Jay Adams holding to Traducianism, gives me pause before dismissing it. See links below for their articles.

Critics of Traducianism will say holding this position will create a problem for holding to the doctrine of “original sin.” Possibly, but in the case of Gordon Clark who was a rigid logician, it makes me think that this objection does not hold up. If Clark thought that Traducianism necessitated abandoning “original sin,” he would never have embraced it. If you have familiarity with Clark’s writings, you will understand the point I am making.

This is an issue that probably will not be solved this side of heaven. Next, a couple of problems associated with each position are noted.

A problem with Traducianism is that it is unclear how an incorporeal soul can be produced from another soul.

A weakness of the Creationists view is that God is repeatedly creating new souls. For example, in the book of Genesis 2:2-3, it seems clear that God is finished with creation.

The goal of this study is to help us magnify the Lord God for his marvelous grace that made us children of God through no merit of our own. It is my prayer that this goal has been attained.

“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)


  1. William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, (Phillipsburg, N.J., Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Third addition: 1 vol. edition, 2003), pp. 430-434.
  2. Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol 1, (Phillipsburg, N.J., Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1992), pp. 477-482.

“To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

For more study:

* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes: http://www.rebecca-writes.com/theological-terms-in-ao/

** CARM theological dictionary


Traducianism by Gordon H. Clark http://www.trinityfoundation.org/PDF/The%20Trinity%20Review%200026a%20Traducianism.pdf

Traducianism by Jay Adams http://www.nouthetic.org/blog/?p=210

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Ecclesiology, a study of the Church

Ecclesiology, a study of the Church by Jack Kettler

This study on ecclesiology is an overview of differing views. Ecclesiology comes from the Greek words ecclesia (church or assembly) and ology (study of) and speaks of the study of the church. In addition, this overview will briefly look at church offices or officers and the types of church government or polity.

Ecclesiology can be defined as:

The study of the Christian church, its structure, order, practices, and hierarchy. **

Church Polity:

Ecclesiastical polity is the operational and governance structure of a church or of a Christian denomination. It also denotes the ministerial structure of a church and the authority relationships between churches. Polity relates closely to ecclesiology, the study of doctrine and theology relating to church organization. ***

Common Church Offices and word origins from Strong’s Concordance:


Strong’s Concordance

diakonos: a servant, minister

Original Word: διάκονος, οῦ, ὁ, ἡ
Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine; Noun, Masculine
Transliteration: diakonos
Phonetic Spelling: (dee-ak’-on-os)
Definition: A deacon is one who executes the commands of another. For example, it could be a master, a minister. In addition, a deacon is someone assigned by the church, and cares for the poor and distributes the money collected for them.


Hebrew word for elder:

Strong’s Concordance

zaqen: old

Original Word: זָקֵן
Part of Speech: Adjective
Transliteration: zaqen
Phonetic Spelling: (zaw-kane’)
Definition: elders

New Testament

Strong’s Concordance

presbuteros: elder

Original Word: πρεσβύτερος, α, ον
Part of Speech: Adjective
Transliteration: presbuteros
Phonetic Spelling: (pres-boo’-ter-os)
Definition: The main governing and teaching group in a church in the New Testament; also called pastors, overseers, bishops.


Strong’s Concordance

episkopos: a superintendent, an overseer

Original Word: ἐπίσκοπος, ου, ὁ
Part of Speech: Noun, Masculine
Transliteration: episkopos
Phonetic Spelling: (ep-is’-kop-os)

Definition: (used as an official title in civil life), overseer, supervisor, ruler, especially used with reference to the supervising function exercised by an elder or presbyter of a church or congregation.


Strong’s Concordance

episkopos: a superintendent, an overseer

Original Word: ἐπίσκοπος, ου, ὁ
Part of Speech: Noun, Masculine
Transliteration: episkopos
Phonetic Spelling: (ep-is’-kop-os)
Definition: (used as an official title in civil life), overseer, supervisor, ruler, especially used with reference to the supervising function exercised by an elder or presbyter of a church or congregation


Strong’s Concordance

poimén: a shepherd

Original Word: ποιμήν, ένος, ὁ

Part of Speech: Noun, Masculine

Transliteration: poimén

Phonetic Spelling: (poy-mane’)

Definition: a shepherd; hence met: of the feeder, protector, and ruler of a flock of men.

Types of Church governments:

Congregationalist polity, frequently known as congregationalism, is a structure of church authority in which every local church congregation is independent or you could say, ecclesiastically autonomous. Each autonomous congregation would be governed by pastors, elders and deacons. Individual churches are free to join a larger association, but the larger association would have no binding ecclesiastical authority over a participating autonomous member congregation. The following flow chart will be helpful.


Episcopal polity is a hierarchical form of church structure in which the principal local authorities are called bishops. Churches with an episcopal polity are governed by bishops, their authority is seen in the dioceses, conferences or synods. The local church is governed by a rector or parish priest. In Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, there are patriarchs and cardinals that are above the local bishops and priests. The next chart will illustrate the model.


Presbyterian (or presbyteral) polity is a method of church structure characterized by the rule of presbyters, or elders. Each local church is governed by a body of elected elders usually called the session or consistory. In Presbyterian polity there is a distinction between teaching elders (pastors) and ruling elders. In addition, in Presbyterian polity there are three church courts for settling theological disputes. They are the Local Church, the Presbytery (regional church) and the General Assembly (national church). The next chart will be useful in visualizing this.


Hierarchical polity: Some groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons describe their polity as hierarchical. In practice, such church polities are comparable to an episcopal polity, but often have a much more complex system of authority. They usually have titles like president or overseer and have less opportunity to question the authorities.

Old Testament verses that deal with rule by elders:

“Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared unto me, saying, I have surely visited you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt.” (Exodus 3:16)

“And the LORD said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee.” (Numbers 11:16)

“Then the elders of the congregation said, how shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing the women are destroyed out of Benjamin?” (Judges 21:16)

“Then the king of Israel called all the elders of the land, and said, Mark, I pray you, and see how this man seeketh mischief: for he sent unto me for my wives, and for my children, and for my silver, and for my gold; and I denied him not.” (1 Kings 20:7)

“Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.” (Proverbs 31:23)

The Pulpit Commentary on Numbers 11:16:

Verse 16. – And the Lord said unto Moses. The Divine dignity and goodness of this answer, if not an absolutely conclusive testimony, are at least a very strong one, to the genuineness of this record. Of what god, except the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was it ever witnessed, or could it have been ever imagined, that he should answer the passionate injustice of his servant with such forbearance and kindness? The one thing in Moses’ prayer which was reasonable he allowed at once; the rest he passed over without answer or reproof, as though it had never been uttered. Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel. That the number seventy has a symbolic significance in Scripture will hardly be denied (cf. Exodus 1:5; Daniel 9:2, 24; Luke 10:1), although it is probably futile to affix any precise meaning to it. Perhaps the leading idea of seventy is fullness, as that of twelve is symmetry (see on Exodus 15:27). The later Jews believed that there were seventy nations in the world. There is no reason, except a reckless desire to confound the sacred narrative, to identify this appointment with that narrated in Exodus 18:21, sq. and Deuteronomy 1:9, sq. The circumstances and the purposes appear quite distinct: those were appointed to assist Moses in purely secular matters, to share his burden as a judge; these to assist him in religious matters, to support him as a mediator; those used the ordinary gifts of wisdom, discretion, and personal authority; these the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. It is more reasonable to suppose that these seventy were the same men that went up into Mount Sinai with Moses, and saw the God of Israel, and ate of the consecrated meal of the covenant, about a year before. Unless there was some decisive reason against it, an elder who had been chosen for that high religious privilege could hardly fail to be chosen on this occasion also; an interview with God himself, so mysteriously and awfully significant, must surely have left an ineffaceable stamp of sanctity on any soul at all worthy of it. It would be natural to suppose that while the present selection was made de novo, the individuals selected were personally the same. Compare note on chapter Numbers 1:5, and for “the elders of Israel” see on Exodus 3:16. Whom thou knowest to be elders of the people, and officers over them. On the officers (Hebrew, shoterim), an ancient order in the national organization of Israel, continued from the days of bondage, see Exodus 5:6. The Targ. Pal. paraphrases the word shoterim by “who were set over them in Mizraim.” The Septuagint has here πρεσβύτεροι τοῦ λαοῦ καὶ γρυμματεῖς αὐτῶν, words so familiar to the reader of the Greek Gospels. The later Jews traced back their Sanhedrim, or grand council of seventy, to this appointment, and found their eiders and scribes in this verse. There was, however, no further historical connection between the two bodies than this – that when the monarchy failed and prophecy died out, the ecclesiastical leaders of the Jews modeled their institutions upon, and adapted their titles to, this Divinely-ordered original. (1)

New Testament verses that deal with rule by elders:

“And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present.” (Acts 21:18)

“For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre.” (Titus 1:7)

“Therefore, an elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife, stable, sensible, respectable, hospitable to strangers, and teachable.” (1 Timothy 3:2, NIV)

“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:” (1 Peter 5:1)

“And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.” (Revelation 4:4)

Calvin on 1 Peter 5:1:

1. The elders by this name he designates pastors and all those who are appointed for the government of the Church. But they called them presbyters or elders for honor’s sake, not because they were all old in age, but because they were principally chosen from the aged, for old age for the most part has more prudence, gravity, and experience. But as sometimes hoariness is not wisdom, according to a Greek proverb, and as young men are found more fit, such as Timothy, these were also usually called presbyters, after having been chosen into that order. Since Peter calls himself in like manner a presbyter, it appears that it was a common name, which is still more evident from many other passages. Moreover, by this title he secured for himself more authority, as though he had said that he had a right to admonish pastors, because he was one of themselves, for there ought to be mutual liberty between colleagues. But if he had the right of primacy he would have claimed it; and this would have been most suitable on the present occasion. But though he was an Apostle, he yet knew that authority was by no means delegated to him over his colleagues, but that on the contrary he was joined with the rest in the participation of the same office. (2)

The following article on Church Government will be supportive in understanding various distinctives in ecclesiology.

Church Government Briefly Considered Greg L. Bahnsen:

An Inescapable Issue

Questions about how the church ought to be governed are not hot topics of conversation in American Christianity. You don’t hear much about the subject or read of it in the latest religious magazines. Positions which people take on the issues which are in vogue, however, are often strongly influenced by their view of church government (whether they know it or not).

Everyone has some notion about how the church should be governed—about who should make decisions, what procedures should be followed, the kind of authority that characterizes those decisions or procedures, etc. Just suggest that things be done your way in the church, and you will find out soon enough that others have their own ideas too!

Who determines how the church’s contributions should be spent? When should we have a church dinner? Who should preach next Sunday? What should be expected in his (her?) preaching? How does the church pursue reconciliation between offended brothers? How are disputes between disagreeing parties resolved? Who should administer baptism? When? How? Who in particular makes sure the sick are visited or the needs of the elderly are met? Is there any voting involved in answering these questions? Who qualifies to vote on them? Practical questions like these and others cannot be avoided.

An Important Issue

You will hear people say, without much reflection, that the government of the church is a relatively trivial matter, not something over which loving Christians should worry or argue. But then on the other hand, if you take a hard look around you at what actually happens in various churches, you will notice that the most prevalent reason why people get upset and leave a congregation is not really because of doctrinal differences, but is tied in one fashion or another to the way that congregation was governed or disciplined (or not disciplined). People get fed up, disputes are not peacefully resolved, regular oversight and counseling are not pursued, congregations argue and divide—all because the biblical blueprint for government and discipline has been ignored.

Because many churches have not heeded the Scriptures with respect to government and discipline, the history of the Christian church reveals abuses and disappointments in the administration of church affairs— from despotic unity to democratic chaos.

The question of how the church should be governed, then, is indeed important, whether ignored by modern believers or not. Today’s indifference to issues of church government is at odds with the attitudes of the New Testament church. Just read its early history (Acts) and its correspondence (epistles). During the early history of the church, for example, Luke found it relevant to relate that the money contributed to the church was under the control of its overseers (Acts 4:35). Later in Acts 15, Luke records a significant account of how the early church resolved a doctrinal dispute by convening a general assembly of its elders—and then authoritatively publishing their decision for the whole church (vv. 22-29).

The author of Hebrews made an explicit point of exhorting believers to submit to the authority of their leaders as those who watch for their souls (13:17). Christ in Revelation 2:2 commended the Ephesian church for disciplining the congregation. John wrote that all churches should do likewise (2 John 10-11), especially with respect to false teaching.

If the church is to emulate the New Testament pattern, Christians simply cannot deny or ignore the importance of oversight in the life, activities, and affairs of the church.

Who, then, should have this oversight and leadership? Any biblical answer must begin by stating that Jesus Christ is the Head of the church, its Lord and Savior (Eph. 1:22-24; 5:23-24: Col. 1:18). Ultimately, He is the one who governs and disciplines His church. All other authority in the church is delegated from Him and is, for that very reason, not to be ignored.

How does Christ direct and govern His church? After all, He is not bodily present to make decisions and give audible guidance. Moreover, special divine revelation is not provided every time we wish to visit the sick, resolve a dispute, determine questions of doctrine or buy a light bulb for the church office.

Three Patterns of Church Government

How does Jesus Christ, the supreme authority in the church, govern the day-to-day details of His body? Through the history of the church we have seen the development and constant reappearance of three basic patterns of church government: episcopalianism, congregationalism, and presbyterianism.

Episcopalianism (or “prelacy”) is the rule of the church by monarchial bishops. That is, one man may govern those under him (whether members or other elders), and he need not be chosen by the people to be their leader, but can be appointed by a higher agency. Authority thus rests in the one human priest at the top (a pope or archbishop), is then communicated to his subordinates, and extends from there over all of the congregations.
Congregationalism (or better: “independency”) is the rule of the church by every member and the independence of every congregation from all others. Authority now rests with the many at the bottom. Technically speaking, for any given decision which the church may make, every member within the congregation has the same authority as every other; ruling boards are simply an administrative convenience (whose decisions can by overthrown by the congregation as a whole). Moreover, no individual congregation is subject to external jurisdiction; associations of churches are voluntary and have no independent power over the internal affairs of their member churches.
Presbyterianism is the rule of the church by multiple, elected elders—not the dictates of one man, nor those of the whole congregation. These elders must be chosen by the people from among themselves (men to whom they are willing to vow submission), but also examined and confirmed by the present governing board of elders in the congregation or regional body of elders (the presbytery).

All congregations are connected with each other under the jurisdiction of the presbytery, and all presbyteries are connected under the jurisdiction of the “general assembly” of elders from the entire church—thus allowing a system of graded courts for the purposes of appeal and redress of errors made in subordinate ruling bodies.

The Biblical Pattern

Christ directs his church through the Scriptures, His own self-revelation and authoritative guidance. Let me offer here a brief summary of the biblical material which I believe is relevant to determining how Christ would have His church governed. The Bible is not silent on this matter.

There is no distinction between “elders” and “bishops” (Titus 1:5-7; Acts 20:17, 28); these represent the same office and order.
Each congregation and center of leadership is to have a plurality of elders (Acts 14:23; 20:17; Phil. 1:1), not one-man rule.
These elders have oversight of the church (Acts 20:28; I Pet. 5:2-3) and are thus responsible to rule the congregation (I Tim. 3:5; 5:17; I Thess. 5:12; Heb. 13:7, 17, 24). They judge among the brothers (cf. I Cor. 6:5) and, in contrast to all the members, they do the rebuking (I Tim. 5:20). Christ calls them to use the “keys of the kingdom” to bind and loose (Matt.16: 19; 18: 18; John 20: 23)—these keys being the preaching of the gospel (I John I: 3), administering of the sacraments (Matt. 28:19-20; I Cor. 11: 23ff.), and the exercise of discipline (Matt. 18:17; I Cor. 5:1-5).
The elders are assisted in their ministry by “deacons” who give attention to the ministry of mercy (Phil. 1:1; Acts 6:1-6; cf. I Tim. 3:8-13).
The office-bearers in the church are nominated and elected by the members of the congregation (e.g. Acts 6:5-6), but must also be examined, confirmed and ordained by the present board of elders (Acts 6:6; 13: 1-3; I Tim. 4: 14).
Members of the church have the right to appeal disputed matters in the congregation to their elders for resolution, and if the dispute is with those local elders, to appeal to the regional governing body (the presbytery) or beyond that, to the whole general assembly (Acts 15). The decisions of the wider governing bodies are authoritative in all the local congregations (Acts 15:22-23, 28, 30; 16:1-5).

In my opinion, the spectacular mega-churches of our day are rarely governed in the way mentioned in point 3 above. Points 1 and 2 do not comport with the practice of those churches with episcopalian patterns of rule (Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, etc.). Points 5 and 6 are neglected by independent congregations (Baptists, Fundamentalist Bible churches, etc.). It is in the essentials of presbyterian government, found today in various Reformed churches that we find the above biblical points coming to their best expression. (3)

Dr. Bahnsen, before his death was scholar in residence at the Southern California Center for Christian Studies, is a member of the pastoral staff of Bayview Orthodox Presbyterian Church of Chula Vista, California. This article originally appeared in Antithesis, which has ceased publication.

In closing:

In addition to Dr. Bahnsen’s observations in his above article and in particular his section, “The Biblical Pattern,” and after looking at the above entries from the Strong’s Concordance, the reader will have noticed the same thing, i.e., the almost synonymous connection between elder and bishop. It can be said that the terms elder, bishop and pastor are commonly used interchangeably in the New Testament. And as the Apostle Peter said:

“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:” (1 Peter 5:1)

Although being as Apostle of Christ, Peter did not elevate himself above his fellow elders.

Also, below are links to the most excellent studies on the Biblical Qualifications for Elders and Deacons by Archibald Alexander Allison.

The goal of this study is to help us magnify the Lord God for his marvelous grace that made us children of God through no merit of our own. It is my prayer that this goal has been attained.

“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)


1. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Numbers, Vol.2., (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 109.

2. Greg Bahnsen, Church Government Briefly Considered, Extracted from Ordained Servant vol. 4, no. 1 (January 1995)

3. John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Volume XXII, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House Reprinted 1979), p. 143- 144.

“To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

For more study:

* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes: http://www.rebecca-writes.com/theological-terms-in-ao/

** CARM theological dictionary

*** Church Polity: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecclesiastical_polity

Biblical Qualifications for Elders by Archibald Alexander Allison: http://www.opc.org/OS/html/V3/4e.html

Biblical Qualifications for Deacons by Archibald Alexander Allison, Part one: http://www.opc.org/OS/html/V6/1b.html

Part two http://www.opc.org/OS/html/V6/2c.html

Part three http://www.opc.org/OS/html/V6/3a.html


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Eschatology, a study of the future

Eschatology, a study of the future by Jack Kettler

This study on eschatology is simply an overview of differing views. This study is done to promote charity among brethren. There are people of good faith that can be described as conservative orthodox who hold to differing views of eschatology. If your eschatology leads you to deny the physical return of the Lord Jesus Christ or deny the eternal punishment of the wicked, you are in danger. The millennial views surveyed below necessitate neither of these errors.

Eschatology can be defined as:

The study of what the Bible says about final things (or last things), including personal last events like individual death and the intermediate state; and corporate or general last events like the return of Christ, the final judgment, the millennial kingdom, etc..*

Another description:

The study of the teachings in the Bible concerning the end times, or of the period of time dealing with the return of Christ and the events that follow. Eschatological subjects include the Resurrection, Resurrection, the Rapture, the Tribulation, the Millennium, the Binding of Satan, the three witnesses, the Final Judgment, Armageddon, and The New Heavens and the New Earth. In the New Testament, eschatological chapters include Matthew 24:1-51; Mark 13:1-37; Luke 17:1-37, and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17. In one form or another most of the books of the Bible deal with end-times subjects. But some that are more prominently eschatological are Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Joel, Zechariah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, 2 Thessalonians, and of course Revelation. (See Amillennialism and Premillennialism for more information on views on the millennium.). **

Old Testament verses that deal with future events:

“And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days.” (Genesis 49:1)

“And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.” (Isaiah 2:2)

“The anger of the LORD shall not return, until he have executed, and till he have performed the thoughts of his heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it perfectly.” (Jeremiah 23:20)

“But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.” (Daniel 12:4)

“Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the LORD their God, and David their king; and shall fear the LORD and his goodness in the latter days.” (Hosea 3:5)

“But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it.” (Micah 4:1)

New Testament verses that deal with future events:

“Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28)

“Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.” (1 Corinthians 4:5)

“For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.” (1 Thessalonians 4:15)

“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” (2 Timothy 3:1)

“Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.” (Hebrews 1:2)

“Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts.” (2 Peter 3:3)

“Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.” (1 John 2:18)

“How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts.” (Jude 1:18)

Does the Old Testament the term “the last days” refer to the physical end of the world and second coming of Christ, or to the end of the Old Covenant order that God made with Israel? Are there different ways to understand the terminology “last days,” “latter days” or “last times” depending upon the context and relevant redemptive historical covenantal distinctives?

The following article will be helpful in trying to answer this question:

Last Day(s), Latter Days, Last Times

There are problems with the terminology of “the latter days” in that, for example, the King James Version quite often refers to “the latter days,” an expression not found in modern translations. Further, it is not always clear whether “the latter days” means a somewhat later period than that of the writer or the latest times of all, the end of the world. There are also expressions that locate the day being discussed in the time of the speaker. Care is needed as we approach the passages that use these terms.

There is another problem in that in modern times we find it difficult to think that the New Testament writers were living in “the last times.” Centuries have gone by; how could their times be the last times? We should be clear that the scriptural writers did not always use the terms in the same way as we would naturally do. For them the supremely great event had taken place in the coming of Jesus Christ into the world to effect the salvation of all believers. This was not just an event in history; it was the event. Because of what Christ had done everything was altered. From then on, however long it would be until God intervened and set up the new heaven and the new earth, people were living in “the last times.” The days in which it is possible for people to put their trust in Jesus Christ and to enter into the fullness of the salvation he has brought about differ from all the days that went before. They are days of opportunity, days when people can put their trust in the crucified, risen, and ascended Lord and enter into the salvation he won for sinners.

Present Happenings. The writer to the Hebrews tells his readers that “in these last days he (God) has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:2), and Peter says that Christ “was revealed in these last times for your sake” (1 Peter 1:20). In such passages the meaning clearly is that something has happened in recent times that is in sharp contrast to what occurred in earlier ages. Or in similar expression may look to the future of the recipients of the message, as when we read, “in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him” (Deut. 4:30), or in the reminder to the hearers that God gave them manna in the wilderness “to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you” (Deut. 8:16).

The point of such passages is to make it clear that God is at work in the passage of time here and now. His people are to bear in mind that in what happens in their lives and in the world around them God is working out his purposes. In this spirit the psalmist prays, “Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life” (Psalm 39:4), and in Proverbs we find that receiving instruction is the path to being wise in “the latter end” (19:20). Contrariwise Babylon is blamed for not remembering “the latter end” (Isa 47:7). By taking heed of what God is doing, his people will be strengthened in their faith and better able to appreciate the significance of the times in which they live. It is important that God’s people are never alone and that they will discern the outworking of the divine purposes if only they have eyes to see.

Future Happenings. Quite often “last” or “latter” is used of times other than the end of all things. The prophets could speak of a “day” when the Lord would act, sometimes in punishment of evil, sometimes in bringing blessing. Especially important are passages that speak of “the last day(s), “which point to the future but without being specific. In such passages it may mean “later in the present scheme of things,” that is, later in the life of a person or, more often, later in the history of the world. For the former use we might notice the warning in Proverbs that a misspent life means that you will groan “at your latter end” (Prov. 5:11). For the other use Jacob summoned his sons to tell them what would happen to them “in the latter days” (Gen 49:1). This clearly refers to the distant future, but not to the end of the world. So with Moses’ prophecy that after his death Israel would turn away from the right with the result that evil would befall them “in the latter days” (Deut. 31:29). We might say something similar about Daniel’s prophecy of things that would happen “in the latter time of wrath” (Dan 8:19 ; the references to the kings of Media, Persia, and Greece show that there is a reference to what we would call antiquity, not the end of the world ). Hosea looks forward to the Israelites coming trembling to the Lord “in the latter days” (3:5).

So also Jeremiah looks forward to people understanding the working of the divine wrath “in the latter days” (Jer. 23:20; 30:24). He also looks for blessing in those days, for the Lord will restore Moab (48:47) and Elam (49:39). We usually look for blessing on Israel, and it is interesting that Jeremiah sees the divine blessing as coming also on these Gentile nations. Similarly Daniel says that God has shown Nebuchadnezzar what is to happen in “the latter days” (2:28; for other examples of his use of the expression, see 8:23; 10:14; 11:29).

In the New Testament it is not so much a question of what will happen to nations, as of the way God will work out his purpose in the affairs of the church and of individual believers. Peter says that the coming of the Holy Spirit on the infant church fulfilled a prophecy of what would happen “in the last days” (Acts 2:17). In the same spirit we notice a statement in Hebrews: Christ “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself” (9:26). The great events concerning the coming of the Savior and the establishment of salvation are linked with “the last days.” So also is the opposition of evil to all that is good. In those days “The Spirit clearly says that some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Tim 4:1). There is a sense in which the church has always lived in “the last days.”

The Final Situation. The major topic in Jesus’ teaching was “the kingdom of God.” Sometimes this appeared as a present reality, sometimes as a future happening. The most significant feature is that it is intimately connected with Jesus himself; he could tell his hearers that the kingdom was there, among them, in his coming (Luke 17:21). In one sense the kingdom awaited the distant future; in another the coming of Jesus meant that it was already there. The appearance of Jesus was the decisive happening; it changed everything.

The New Testament makes it clear that the coming of Jesus Christ was the critical event. His atoning death was God’s final answer to the problem of human sin and once that had been accomplished nothing could be the same again. For our present purpose the important thing is that Jesus ushered in a new state of affairs. He wrought the atonement that made it possible for sinners to be forgiven and to enter God’s kingdom and to be fitted to take their part in God’s final kingdom. That gives a different quality to all time after the coming of Jesus, and the scriptural writers bring this out by referring to all that is subsequent to the coming of Jesus as “the last times” or the like.

Sometimes the New Testament speaks of the end of all things as though it were very near and sometimes there seems to be a long interval. We must bear in mind that “with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8). It is not always easy to be sure whether a passage is speaking of the end of this world and its affairs or of something that will happen prior to that. We should exercise due caution as we approach difficult passages. But what is abundantly clear is that God is working his purpose out and that this involves a final state of affairs in which his will be perfectly done.

Sometimes the scriptural writers look beyond the present system to the final state of affairs when they use the “latter days” terminology. This happens in a wonderful passage in both Isaiah and Micah in which these prophets look forward to the Lord’s house as being established above the hills and of many nations as coming to it to find God’s teaching so that they may walk in his ways ( Isa 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-5). A very different picture is given in Ezekiel’s prophecy that in “the latter days” Gog, the chief prince of the forces of evil, will come against Israel and be defeated (chaps. 38-39). This is not to be thought of as a contradiction of the former passages. There are other references both to final bliss and to the final rebellion of the forces of evil. It means that in the end all evil will be decisively overthrown and God’s kingdom established forever.

That there will be an upsurge of evil in the last days is made clear by a number of passages. Sometimes this relates to the daily life of the believer, as when Jesus says, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matt 10:22). But evil will be more widespread than that, for “There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud” (2 Tim 3:1). “In the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires” (2 Peter 3:3). In the Olivet discourse there is difficulty in being sure whether some of the items refer to the life of the believer set in the midst of the ungodly or whether they refer to the end time, but there is surely a reference to the end when Jesus says, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13). This will be the point also of his explanation of a parable, “The harvest is the end of the age” (Matt 13:39). Similarly Peter speaks of salvation as “ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). We should notice here the references to “the seven last plagues” (Rev. 15:1; 21:9) which point to troubles in the last times.

In John’s Gospel there is also the thought that God will take care of his own in those troubled times. Jesus repeatedly said concerning those the Father “has given” him that he will “raise them up at the last day” (John 6:39 John 6:40 John 6:43 John 6:54). John is the only New Testament writer to use the expression “the last day,” an expression that points to Jesus’ activity right to the end of time. It also makes it clear that Jesus’ care for his own extends right through time to the ushering in of the final state of affairs. On the negative side, the person who rejects Jesus and his teaching will find that that teaching “will condemn him at the last day” (John 12:48).

That evil will continue to the end is clear, as many passages testify. There are problems, such as the difficulty of being sure what parts of Jesus’ discourse on the Mount of Olives toward the end of his earthly life refer to the destruction of Jerusalem and what to the end of the world. But he makes it clear that, while his followers will hear of “wars and revolutions” which must happen, “the end will not come right away” (Luke 21:9). Believers will encounter troubles throughout this world’s history and this will persist right to the very end. Peter can speak of “the end of all things” as “near” (1 Peter 4:7). The coming of Christ means that salvation is now made available and this transforms all things. But the New Testament writers were clear that this was but the prelude to God’s final state of affairs and that, in the perspective of eternity, that final state was not far off. Then believers will enter into the fullness of “eternal life” (Rom 6:22-23).

Very important is the fact that the final, great day will see the triumph of God. This is foreshadowed in the Old Testament, for example, in the great passage in which Job says, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God” (Job 19:25-26). There are problems in this passage but plainly there is the clear expectation of God’s final triumph. Before Jesus was born the angel told Mary that the child she was to bear “will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:33). And in his great passage on the resurrection Paul says that Christ will come with “those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power” (1 Cor. 15:24). The apostle goes on to speak of the raising of the dead in a different form, one in which they will be “imperishable” (v. 52). Again and again the New Testament brings out the truth that when Jesus returns all evil will be defeated and the redeemed will know the fullness of everlasting life.

For the New Testament writers the coming of Jesus Christ into the world to bring about our salvation was the decisive happening in the entire history of the world. That set in motion the train of events that would bring about the salvation of sinners and eventually see the setting up of God’s kingdom, as Revelation makes so clear. This did not mean that all evil would immediately disappear; both the New Testament writings and Christian experience make it plain that evil continues. But the important thing from the Christian point of view is that the saving work of Christ has altered everything. Sin has been decisively defeated and believers have already entered into salvation. However long or short a time it will be before the end of this world as we measure time, we are living in the last times as the New Testament writers understand it.as Leon Morris. See also Day; Day of the Lord, God, Christ; Second Coming of Christ. (1)

For those coming from a Pre-Millennial Dispensational point of view, what has been said in the above article is not liberalism. Unfortunately, there are some Christians who have never been exposed to different views of eschatology. Hopefully, the following definitions and chart will be helpful.

Four Views on the Millennium:

For starters, the word millennium does not appear in the Bible. Revelation 20:2 is where we read about the period of a “thousand years,” which means millennium.

Approaches to the book of Revelation:

There are differing views regarding the interpretation of the book of Revelation. Four common views are the historicist (a method of interpretation which associates biblical prophecies with actual historical events), preterist (past fulfillment), futurist (future fulfillment), and the idealist (called the spiritual, allegorical, or non-literal approach) views. The book of Revelation belongs to a class of literature called “apocalyptic.” The bible uses many literary forms. For example, it uses genera’s such as; law, historical narrative, wisdom, poetical, gospel, didactic letters, or epistles, predictive, and apocalyptic literature.

In light of the fact that we are dealing with a special genera of biblical literature, namely, “apocalyptic,” and there are a least four major schools of interpretation that involve rather substantial differences, it is probably best not to use one passages from Revelation 20:2 to build an iron clad case of binding eschatological doctrine. Instead, we should look to the didactic portions of Scripture like the apostolic epistles.

Pre-Millennial: The belief that the Second Coming of Christ occurs before the millennium, which is a literal 1000 years. The resurrection of Christians occurs at the beginning of the millennium, the resurrection of the unsaved at the end of the millennium.

A-Millennial: The belief that the Second Coming occurs at the end of history, like postmillennialism, but there is no earthly millennium. The millennium is purely spiritual, applying only to heaven and the Church.

Post-Millennial: The belief that the Second Coming of Christ occurs after the millennium. There is an increase in the spread of God’s rule in every area of life during the millennium (a figurative concept referring to the entire New Testament age).

Dispensational Pre-Millennialism: The belief that history is divided into several distinct dispensations, or ages in which God relates to mankind in a different way. The most important distinction is between Israel’s Age of Law on the one hand, and the Church’s Age of Grace on the other. Dispensationalism is pretribulationist and premillennial. The Church Age ends and God’s plan for Israel resumes when the Church is raptured at the beginning of the Tribulation. The millennium is Israel-centered: It rules over all other nations and animal sacrifices are performed in the Temple as in the Old Testament. ***

After a number of years as a young Christian, I became frustrated by date setting regarding Christ’s return and the timing of the rapture. This led me to a broader study of eschatology. To my surprise, there were differing views on eschatology. After studying different views, I am sure that we should not falsely judge those who hold differing opinions. If you deny the physical return of the Lord Jesus Christ, this is heresy.

Please, brothers and sisters, have charity towards those who have a different view of eschatology! The next article will be extremely helpful in this regard.

Christ’s Return and the Westminster Confession of Faith by Gordon Clark:

No one knows the date of the Day of Judgment nor that of Christ’s return. Yet some people have foolishly attempted to set the date. What is more possible, though it has given rise to divergent views, is the attempt to list in chronological order the various events that immediately precede, accompany, and follow Christ’s return.

The Confession [Westminster Confession of Faith] has very little to say on Christ’s return. Its last chapter gives a relatively full account of the judgment, but only in the last few phrases of Section III. Is Christ’s return mentioned at all? Yet it would seem that there is more material in the New Testament on this subject than on the identification of the Pope as the antichrist. Historically this lack of balance is understandable; but theologically it is unfortunate. Because the struggle with Rome centered on justification by faith and the sole authority of the Bible, the order of events concomitant with the Second Advent was not a matter of discussion. Calvin, for example, though he wrote commentaries, wrote none on Revelation.

For the last hundred years, however, the details of eschatology have evoked a great deal of interest. Before World War I there was a theory widespread that the Gospel would permeate the world that nearly everyone would accept Christ, that therefore a millennium of righteousness would be introduced, after which epoch Christ would return to earth. This is the theory called postmillennialism. David Brown, last century, wrote The Second Advent in its defense. This seems to have been the view of St. Augustine also, as may be seen in the City of God, Book 22, last chapter, where he speaks of an age of rest following the present age but preceding the resurrection and the eternal state.

In this century postmillennialism is not so popular. One reason for its decline in popularity is the disillusionment caused by two World Wars. The Christian missionary enterprise in Asia seems to have been a failure; Africa may go communist; and the moral collapse in the United States is no harbinger of a righteous society. If the Bible really predicts a rule of righteousness ushered in by the ordinary preaching of the Gospel before Christ returns, such an epoch must be located in the far distant future, contrary to devout hopes for an early advent. Of course, too, Scriptural material is used to convince us that there will be little or no faith on earth when Christ returns.

Premillennialism is a second view of the Lord’s return. It is simply that the course of history continues with its wars and rumors of wars, getting no better and very likely worse, until Christ comes in flaming fire to take vengeance on them that obey not the Gospel, and to set up a millennial kingdom of righteousness. This view was held by such scholars and exegetes as Alford and Zahn.

Dispensationalism is a species of premillennialism that has attracted more attention than the scholarly views of Alford and Zahn. In addition to the idea that Christ comes to initiate the millennium, Dispensationalism teaches that Christ comes again twice rather than once: he comes secretly and then seven years later he comes publicly. It also denies the doctrine of the covenant and holds that some men have been saved and other men will be saved apart from the sacrifice of Christ. Further, Dispensationalism teaches that the Reformation, instead of being the greatest spiritual awakening since the apostles, is represented by the church at Sardis in Revelation 3:1 and was an epoch of deadness and works that are not perfect. Obviously the present writer is a little less than enthusiastic about such a view; but what is particularly peculiar is this: even if some of the dispensational details should be true, how can people that honor the Bible put such tremendous emphasis on these details, while at the same time they pay little or no attention to some of the much more important doctrines? For a critical analysis of Dispensationalism we suggest 0. T. Allis’ Prophecy and the Church.

Because Dispensationalism has brought premillennialism into disrepute in some quarters, there is renewed interest in a third view, Amillennialism. This is the simple view that there is no millennium at all. Christ just comes and heaven ensues. The amillennialists claim that the Westminster Confession favors them, though one researcher asserts that the Westminster divines were postmillenarians. The Confession itself asserts neither the postmillennial or premillennial view. Nor does it assert Amillennialism. In the Larger Catechism there are phrases about a general resurrection that do not favor premillennialism. But whether the authors of the Confession individually accepted one view or another, they refrained in the Confession from either asserting or denying a future millennium.

The Reformers were in general opposed to premillennialism. Just as in the early church some people interpreted Christ’s death as the payment of a ransom to the devil, and so, illogically, brought the idea of ransom itself into disfavor with later liberal theologians; so too the extravagances of the chiliasts or millenarians in early Protestant times brought the premillennial idea into disfavor. The Westminster divines, however, were wise in avoiding a choice among these views: the subject was not ready, nor is it yet ready, for creedal determination. Loraine Boettner, whose book The Millennium is one fourth a defense of postmillenarianism and two thirds an attack against premillenarianism, makes a notable statement on page one, which ought to be reaffirmed by advocates of all three views:

“Each of the systems is therefore consistently evangelical, and each has been held by many able and sincere men. The differences arise, not because of any conscious or intended disloyalty to Scripture,”

But, may I add, because there are disagreements in exegesis.

Because there is much interest in and study of the subject at present, a few considerations and a little exegesis will be here appended. Of the three views the denial of a millennium seems least tenable. The Bible in four consecutive verses explicitly mentions a period of a thousand years. Further, the passage refers to conditions on earth rather than in heaven because during the period Satan cannot deceive the nations as he formerly did, and after the period he deceives them again. This period of time may come before or after Christ’s return, and the accompanying events may be in one order or another, but the Bible definitely predicts such a period in history.

Nor is it true that the idea of a millennium is found only in Revelation 20. The designation a thousand years is found only there, but predictions of a future rule of righteousness are frequent. For example, Psalm 72 says, “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea . . . his enemies shall lick the dust . . . Yea, all kings shall fall down before him, all nations shall serve him.” Another familiar example is Isaiah’s prophecy about a time when the nations shall beat their swords into ploughshares and learn war no more. Such passages as these ill accord with the denial of a millennium of righteousness.

If, now, the Scripture predicts a millennium, obviously Christ must return either before it or afterward. Of these a reason or two may be mentioned for preferring premillennialism. First, to return to the Book of Revelation, if this book allows any place at all for Christ’s return, it is chapter nineteen. An amillenarian interpretation that would deny any reference to Christ’s return, other than Revelation 22:7, 20, would be an incredible interpretation. It is impossible to believe that the Apocalypse never refers to the greatest of all apocalyptic events. The dispensational view that Christ returns between chapters three and four is a wild, unsupported speculation. Accordingly, if Christ’s return is mentioned in chapter nineteen, it comes before the thousand years of chapter twenty.

It is often objected that the book of Revelation is highly figurative and that therefore we must be guided by the literal passages in the other books. This is a sound principle. But regardless of how figurative it is, and how doubtful many of its identifications may be, the points mentioned are as clear as any literal language could make them.

After these positive considerations it may also be noted that objections to premillennialism often sound peculiar to the ears of its advocates. Without extending the discussion unmeasurably, overlapping objections by four gentlemen may be offered as samples.

The Lutheran theologian I.A. Dorner argues that premillennialism disparages the Gospel in that the victory of Christianity is not secured by what God has already given, but depends on events other than preaching. If this objection were sound, it would rule out Christ’s return altogether, and the resurrection of the saints as well, for these events are not the effects of preaching. Dorner, fortunately, is not consistent and does not use his objection to deny these events.

The Baptist theologian A. H. Strong, who explicitly puts the millennium before Christ’s coming, argues that the premillennial interpretation of Revelation 20 requires a literal, physical resurrection of the saints, whereas I Corinthians 15:44,50 “are inconsistent with the view that the resurrection is a physical resurrection …” This is a strange argument, for Strong himself says, “The nature of Christ’s resurrection, as literal and physical, determines the nature of the resurrection in the case of believers” (Systematic Theology, Vol. III, pp. 1008, 1011, 1012, 1018).

Charles Hodge also uses the same odd argument and contends that there cannot be a literal resurrection when Christ returns, after which the saints dwell on earth and share the glories of Christ’s reign here, because “flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God” (Systematic Theology, Vol.111, p.843). But Christ in his glorified body walked on earth.

A. A. Hodge insists that the view is Jewish in origin and Judaizing in tendency. But, we recall, the idea of the Covenant is also Jewish in origin, and the Confession does not disguise its dependence on the Old Testament along with the New. In fact, so far as an alleged Judaizing tendency is concerned, the fault of many premillenarianisns, which fault we do not condone by any means, is rather an antinomianism that sharply contrasts with the legalism of the Judaizes.

It is no doubt true that the dispensationalists deny the present kingship of Christ and contradict the teaching of Ephesians on the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the Church, the body of Christ. But arguments against a heretical sect are irrelevant when applied to a view that is free from these unscriptural positions.

Now, finally, much is made of the Scriptural scheduling of many events at the return of Christ, and the conclusion is then drawn that all these events are simultaneous. But the Scripture does not speak of the coming of Christ in the ordinary English sense of an arrival. The Greek word is Parousia, and it means presence, rather than coming. It is used in pagan literature to denote a king’s tour of inspection. During the tour many things can happen at different times, and yet all are “at” his presence. Hence it cannot be insisted upon that all that occurs at Christ’s Parousia must be simultaneous. Various events can be placed at various times during the span of the millennium.

There is one advantage, however, that so-called Amillennialism has over the nineteenth century form of postmillennialism. By the assertion that there is no reign of righteousness in the far distant future, only after which Christ can return, Amillennialism allows us to hope that Christ will return soon.

This blessed hope, as the first few paragraphs of this chapter indicated, sustains one’s equilibrium and equanimity under the intolerable moral and political conditions of this century.

Peoples that have not emerged from savagery have a vote in the United Nations and help in their irresponsible way to control our lives. Communistic Russia was granted several votes in that unfortunate organization, but the United States has only one. Delivering China from the terror of Chiang Kai Chek to the beneficent rule of the Reds can be explained only as insanity sent by God to punish a disobedient people. Within the United States, republican government is breaking down under the impact of mob demonstrations. And the college population wallows in liquor and lewdness.

The world is very evil; the times are waxing late.

Be sober and keep vigil; the Judge is at the gate:

The Judge that comes in mercy, the Judge that comes in might,

To terminate the evil, to diadem the right.

We look forward to and hope for the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ, when he shall have dominion from sea to sea, when his enemies shall lick the dust, when all kings shall fall down before him and all nations serve him. Even so come, Lord Jesus. (2)

As Clark noted in the above essay, the Westminster Confession of Faith is guarded and circumspect in regards to what is considered confessional, i.e., required for a profession of faith.

Westminster Confession of Faith; Chapter 33 – Of the Last Judgment:

Section 1.) God hath appointed a day, wherein He will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ,(1) to whom all power and judgement is given of the Father.(2) In which day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged,(3) but likewise all persons that have lived upon earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds; and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.(4)

(1) Ac 17:31 (2) Jn 5:22, 27 (3) 1Co 6:3; Jude 6; 2Pe 2:4 (4) 2Co 5:10; Ecc 12:14; Ro 2:16; Ro 14:10, 12; Mt 12:36, 37


Section 2.) The end of God’s appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord; but the wicked who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power. (1)

(1) Mt 25:31 to the end; Ro 2:5, 6; Ro 9:22, 23; Mt 25:21; Ac 3:19; 2Th 1:7-10


Section 3.) As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin; and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity:(1) so will He have that day unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be prepared to say, Come Lord Jesus, come quickly, Amen. (2)

(1) 2Pe 3:11, 14; 2Co 5:10, 11; 2Th 1:5-7; Lk 21:7, 28; Ro 8:23-25 (2) Mt 24:36, 42, 43, 44; Mk 13:35-37; Lk 12:35, 36; Rev 22:20

Food for thought quote:

“Eschatology is not just a discussion of “last things” or signs of the end. The question of last things is tied to our basic understanding of how to read the Bible. I believe the Bible is a Christ-centered book, and that a truly biblical eschatology must be centered around the person and work of Jesus Christ.” – Kim Riddlebarger

The goal of this study is to help us magnify the Lord God for his marvelous grace that made us children of God through no merit of our own. It is my prayer that this goal has been attained.

“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)


1. Walter A. Elwell, Editor, Baker, Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 2, (Grand Rapid, Michigan, Baker), pp. 1310-1311.

2. Gordon H. Clark, What Do Presbyterians Believe? (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 1965), pages 268-273.

“To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

For more study:

* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes: http://www.rebecca-writes.com/theological-terms-in-ao/

** CARM theological dictionary

*** Additional definitions of millennial views from Christian Civilization by Mike Warren: http://www.christianciv.com/eschatology_bs_Sect1.htm

A good summary of the different millennial views: https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/mill.cfm

All Millennial Views https://www.monergism.com/topics/eschatology/all-millennial-views

A Comprehensive introduction to the Four Views on the Millennium by Mike Warren:


Order this next book to see eschatological debates should be handled with professionalism and charity.

The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views

by Robert G. Clouse (Editor), George Eldon Ladd (Contributor), Anthony A. Hoekema (Contributor), Herman A. Lloyt (Contributor), Loraine Boettner (Contributor)

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