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:
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

Creationism:

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)

Notes:

  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

https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/ctd.html

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:

Deacon

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.

Elder

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.

Bishop

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.

Overseer

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

Pastor

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.

Congregational

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.

Bishop

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.

Presbyterian

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)

Notes:

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

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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

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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)

Notes:

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:

http://www.christianciv.com/eschatology_bs_Sect1.htm

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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Epistemology, a study on how we receive knowledge

Epistemology, a study on how we receive knowledge by Jack Kettler

In this study we will focus on epistemology, or how we can know things.

The branch of philosophy that deals with the area of knowledge, its source, criteria, kinds, and the relationship between what is known and the one who is knowing it. **

Epistemology is the study of knowledge or how we can know things.

Some quotes about knowledge. Who is correct?

“All we can know is that we know nothing. And that’s the height of human wisdom.” – Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” – Socrates

Are Tolstoy and Socrates correct? Or would you agree with the next two quotes?

“The knowledge of all things is possible” – Leonardo da Vinci

“Let us tenderly and kindly cherish therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.” – John Adams, The Works Of John Adams, Second President Of The United States

Approaches to epistemology:

Empiricism is known as the theory that knowledge comes through sensations. Allegedly, the mind at birth is a blank tablet (tabula rasa) and then man’s mind assimilates knowledge via sensations.

An example of statement on empiricism:

If therefore children and idiots have souls, have minds, with those impressions upon them, they must unavoidably perceive them, and necessarily know and assent to these truths. Which since they do not, it is evident that there are no such impressions. For if they are not notions naturally imprinted, how can they be innate? And if they are notions imprinted, how can they be unknown? To say a notion is imprinted on the mind, and yet at the same time to say, that the mind is ignorant of it, and never yet took notice of it, is to make this impression nothing. – John Lock, Essay, 1.2.12

Rationalism is the epistemological view that in regards to reason or man’s logical powers, would be source of knowledge.

An example of a statement on rationalism:

“All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.” – Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason

Scripturalism is the view that all knowledge must be contained within a system and deduced from its starting principles, in the Christian case, the Bible.

An example of statements on scripturalism:

“The teaching of Colossians 2:3-8 is unambiguous. ALL knowledge (note: not simply knowledge of “religious” matters is to be found in Christ.” – Greg L. Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended

Plus, it can be added:

“And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment.” – The apostle Paul in Philippians 1:9

In this study, we will be using the approach of Scripturalism.

Gordon H. Clark’s entry in the Encyclopedia of Christianity will be helpful for a short text book overview of epistemology:

EPISTEMOLOGY is the study of how knowledge is possible. The Greek philosophers from Thales (585 B.C.) to Democritus (c. 400 B.C.) were unable to complete their cosmological theories because unsuspected problems of knowledge constantly blocked them. The Sophists (425-375) concluded that knowledge is impossible. Plato and Aristotle opposed this skepticism, and ever since epistemology has been the crucial part of philosophy.

One type of epistemology is Rationalism. Plato had a world of Ideas as objects of knowledge because the world of flux could not be grasped. St. Augustine made extensive use of Plato. Aristotle tried to derived knowledge from sense data. Thomas Aquinas followed him in this. In England John Locked tried his own approach on this basis. But the outcome of British empiricism in Hume reverted to skepticism. Later, Kant, therefore, tried to form a base for knowledge in a certain combination of a priori (rationalistic) forms of the mind and sensory experience. This result in a “knowledge” of appearance, but left “reality,” i.e. things-in-themselves, unknowable. Then Hegel erected a grandiose “System,” too complicated to characterize in a few words.

From the middle of the 19th century philosophy has reacted increasingly against Hegel, either violently empirical as in positivism or violently skeptical and irrational as in existentialism. (1)

Thus far:

The only way we can know things truly if it is God speaks in Scripture. In this study, we will see a number of Scriptures that give examples of God’s speaking through creational or general revelation and directly through His Word, i.e., special revelation.

Scriptural epistemology will be looked under two categories, general and special revelation.

General Revelation

General revelation is:

“God’s self-disclosure to all humanity found in the external creation and internal human experience.” *

In the following passages, the reader will see God speaking through His creation. We will look further in depth at one passage in this section.

“And let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth; and it was so.” (Genesis 1:15)

“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.” (Psalm 19:1-3)

“And the heavens shall declare his righteousness: for God is judge himself. Selah.” (Psalm 50:6)

“And the heavens shall praise thy wonders, O LORD: thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints.” (Psalm 89:5)

“And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)

“And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east: and his voice was like a noise of many waters: and the earth shined with his glory.” (Ezekiel 43:2)

“For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

“And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory.” (Revelation 18:1)

Digging deeper into Psalm 19:1:

Psalms 19:1 from Barnes’ Notes on the Bible:

The heavens declare the glory of God, etc.] By which we are to understand not the heavens literally taken, though these with the firmament are the handiworks of God, and do declare the glory of his perfections, especially his wisdom and power; these show that there is a God, and that he is a glorious one: but either Gospel churches, often signified by the kingdom of heaven, in the New Testament; the members of them being heaven-born souls, and the doctrines and ordinances ministered among them being from heaven; and there being a very great resemblance between them and heaven, in the company and communion enjoyed in them; and who declare the glory of the divine perfections, which is very great in the handiwork of their redemption; and who ascribe the glory of their whole salvation to God: or rather the apostles and first preachers of the word, as appears from (Romans 10:18); who were set in the highest place in the church; had their commission, doctrine, and success from heaven; and who may be called by this name, because of the purity and solidity of their ministry, and their constancy and steadfastness in it, and because of their heavenly lives and conversations: these declared the glory of the divine perfections; such as those particularly of grace, goodness, and mercy, which are not discoverable by the light of nature or law of Moses, as, they are displayed in the salvation of men by Christ, in the forgiveness of their sins, the justification of their persons, and the gift of eternal life unto them: they taught men to ascribe the glory of salvation to God alone, Father, Son, and Spirit; they set forth in their ministry the glory of Christ, of his person, and of his offices and grace; and they showed that redemption was his handiwork, as follows: and the firmament showeth his handiwork; for the same persons may be called the firmament, since they that are wise are said to shine as the brightness of it, (Daniel 12:3). These were like to stars in it, and were the light of the world, and declared that redemption is the work which Christ undertook, and came into this world to perform, and which he has finished; his hands have wrought it, and his own arm has brought salvation to him. The Targum interprets the heavens and the firmament, of such persons as contemplate the heavens, and look upon the firmament or air; and so do some other Jewish writers f292. (2)

Special Revelation

Special revelation is:

“God’s self-disclosure in direct, supernatural revelation, disclosing truths, including the good news of salvation that could not be known through general revelation.” *

Special revelation comes exclusively through the Scriptures. Like the previous section, we will look further in depth at a particular passage.

In the previous section, God in Scripture revealed Himself through nature or the creation.

“And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord… And he [Moses] took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people.” (Exodus 24:4, 7)

“Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersover thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou have good success.” (Joshua 1:7-8)

“So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

“Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee against Israel, and against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spake unto thee, from the days of Josiah, even unto this day.” (Jeremiah 36:2)

“And the Lord answered me, and said, write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.” (Habakkuk 2:2)

“And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)

“And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.” (Luke 24:44)

“Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39)

“These were more noble minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:11)

“For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning.” (Romans 15:4)

“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

“How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 3:3-5)

“And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment.” (Philippians 1:9)

“For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” (Colossians 1:9)

“Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, [teaching, preaching] or our epistle [written letter].” (2 Thessalonians 2:15)

“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, [Paul most certainly is including the New Testament writings here] and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:15-16)

“Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, what thou seest, write in a book and send it unto the seven churches.” (Revelation 1:11)

God speaks to us through creation (general revelation) and the Scriptures (special revelation), in which He tells us the good news of the gospel.

Digging deeper into Acts 17:11:

Acts 17:11 from the Matthew Poole’s Commentary:

The Jews of Berea did excel those of Thessalonica, not so much in birth as in disposition: they were not so prejudiced and obstinate; they patiently heard Paul; they seriously thought upon what he had said, and compared it with the Scriptures. And thus God gave them the preparation of the heart; and they brought their empty vessels. No wonder then that the oil of grace ran into them, and filled them. The Jews call their learned men, the sons of nobles; and according to that expression, these Bereans, that had acted so ingenuously and wisely, were said to be more noble.

Searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so: truth dares abide the test; only false wares need a dark shop to put them off in. The Scriptures only are our infallible rule; for they come from God, 2 Timothy 3:16, who cannot lie, Titus 1:2. (3)

Now for some important insights from confessional sources on the true source of knowledge:

The Belgic Confession, Article 2: How God Makes Himself Known to us:

We know Him by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most beautiful book, 1 wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many letters leading us to perceive clearly the invisible things of God, namely, His eternal power and deity, as the apostle Paul says (Rom 1:20). All these things are sufficient to convict men and leave them without excuse. Second, He makes Himself more clearly and fully known to us by His holy and divine Word2 as far as is necessary for us in this life, to His glory and our salvation.

And likewise, Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 1 of the Holy Scripture:

6. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

7. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

In closing, some food for thought quotes:

“A theologian’s epistemology controls his interpretation of the Bible. If his epistemology is not Christian, his exegesis will be systematically distorted. If he has no epistemology at all, his exegesis will be unsystematically distorted.” – Gordon H. Clark, The Incarnation

“To reject revelational epistemology is to commit yourself to defending the truth of autonomous epistemology.” – Greg L. Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended

“The foundation of knowledge is God’s revelation.” – Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith

“There is no environment where man can flee to escape the revelational presence of God (Ps. 139:8).” – Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith

“According to the principle of Protestantism, man’s consciousness of self and of objects presuppose for their intelligibility the self-consciousness of God. In asserting this we are not thinking of psychological and temporal priority. We are thinking only of the question as to what is the final reference point in interpretation. The Protestant principle finds this in the self-contained ontological trinity. By his counsel the triune God controls whatsoever comes to pass. If then the human consciousness must, in the nature of the case, always be the proximate starting-point, it remains true that God is always the most basic and therefore the ultimate or final reference point in human interpretation” – Cornelius Van Til: (DOF 94).

This study did not delve into the critical philosophical problems involving empiricism and rationalism. For a scriptural and philosophical defense of how man’s mind can know things, the reader should consult the next three books.

The reader should consult Ronald H. Nash’s The Word of God and the Mind of Man (3) and his The light of the mind: St. Augustine’s theory of knowledge. (4) These two books explain and develop for the modern reader elements of Augustine’s philosophy in the area of epistemology that is found in his De Magistro. (5) These works deal with the mechanic s of how the Christian receives knowledge into his mind.

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)

Nothing in us caused or merited this supreme act of love on God’s part!

“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)

Notes:

1. Edwin A. Palmer, Ed., Encyclopedia of Christianity, (Wilmington, Delaware: National Foundation for Christian Education, 1968, out of print, typed), http://gordonhclark.reformed.info/files/2015/06/Encyclopedia-13.-Epistemology-typed.pdf

2. Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Psalms, pp. 210-211.

3. Matthew Poole, Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. 3, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), p. 441.

4. Ronald H. Nash, The Word of God and the Mind of Man, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: The Zondervan Corporation, 1982).

5. Ronald H. Nash, The Light of the Mind: St. Augustine’s Theory of Knowledge, (Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 1969).

6. Augustine, De Magistro in Augustine: Earlier Writings, Editor, John H. S. Burleigh, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, MCMLIII).

“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.” (Titus 3:5)

“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 https://carm.org/what-is-the-aseity-of-god

Gordon Clark on the Problems of Empiricism http://scripturalism.com/gordon-clark-on-the-problems-of-empiricism/

The Bible As Truth PDF by Gordon H Clark http://www.trinityfoundation.org/PDF/The%20Trinity%20Review%2000280%20TheBibleAsTruthClark.pdf

Many fine article and sermons on epistemology at: https://www.monergism.com/search?keywords=epistemology&format=All

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The Five Solas and how do we understand them?

The Five Solas and how do we understand them? by Jack Kettler

“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4)

This study is an overview of what are known as the “Five Solas.” How are we saved, who is gets the glory, and what is the believer’s binding doctrinal authority? Prayerfully, these questions will be clarified and answered in this theological synopsis.

Definitions from two sources:

Five Solas

Literally, the “five alones,” the “five Latin phrases (or slogans) that emerged during the Protestant Reformation and summarize the Reformers’ basic beliefs and emphasis in contradistinction to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church of the day “consisting of sola scriptura (scripture alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), sola gratia (grace alone), sola fide (faith alone), and soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone). *

The five Solas are five Latin phrases popularized during the Protestant Reformation that emphasized the distinctions between the early Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church. The word sola is the Latin word for “only” and was used in relation to five key teachings that defined the biblical pleas of Protestants. **

1. Sola Scriptura: “Scripture alone.”

2. Sola Fide: “faith alone.”

3. Sola Gratia: “grace alone.”

4. Solo Christo: “Christ alone.”

5. Soli Deo Gloria: “to the glory of God alone.”

From Scripture:

Sola Scriptura

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

“Knowing this first that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)

Sola Fide

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

“But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for the just shall live by faith.” (Galatians 3:11)

Sola Gratia

“Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24)

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Solo Christo

“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;” (1 Timothy 2:5)

“For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

Soli Deo Gloria

“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

“If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:11)

Comments; Sola Scriptura still at the Center of the Divide and Why:

Some Roman Catholics have alleged that the Bible does not teach Sola Scriptura. Some former Protestants, now Roman Catholic, apologists, have said that Sola Scriptura means “the Bible plus nothing else.” Alleging that the Protestant position is “the Bible plus nothing else” is a straw-man argument and is false. Sola Scriptura means that the Bible is the final court of appeal, not the only court of appeal. To the Roman Catholic, we ask, “Where does the Bible direct God’s people to an outside authority structure such as a ‘sacred oral’ tradition?” The force of this question should not be dismissed. We see that Sola Scriptura is taught all over the face of Scripture and that the traditions of men are condemned by Christ repeatedly. In essence, the critics of Sola Scriptura are saying that the Protestant must accept, as the final authority, whatever is stated by the Roman or Eastern Orthodox Church.

However, if the church is always correct, why did Christ attack the religious authorities of the Old Testament Church? Christ did this using the most forceful terminology, such as hypocrites and vipers. The fact is that sometimes even the church will err in its doctrine. If the Old Testament Church erred, why should anyone deny or be surprised at the fact that the church in the gospel age can and has fallen into error as well? What happens when the church misinterprets the Bible? Can the believer challenge the misinterpretation? As Protestants, we say yes to the last question, but this does not mean by doing so we are disregarding or repudiating the church. It means that we have to test all things in light of Scripture. Testing all things in light of Scripture includes even the rulings and doctrine of the church. If this is necessary, it should be done in humility. The faithful church sees that the Scriptures always stand as the final infallible authority above it. Christ is the head of the church. He speaks through the Scriptures. The faithful church should always be reforming and checking itself in light of Scripture.

How can error creep into the church? The leaders in the Old Testament covenant nation did not want the people to misinterpret and break God’s law. Trying to prevent misinterpretation of Scripture and the breaking God’s law is a worthy goal. Who would want that to happen? To prevent this, the elders of Israel built walls and fences created with man-made regulations to go around God’s law. These man-made laws are found in the Talmud. These additional laws would allegedly keep the people from even getting close to breaking one of God’s laws. Did this work? What were the consequences of this? These man-made laws produced ignorance in Israel regarding God’s law. The traditions of the elders became confused with the word of God. They, in fact, became a significant burden for God’s people. Not only were these traditions of men a burden, but they also made the commandments of God of no effect (Mark 7:13).

Likewise, the Roman Church did not want people to misinterpret Scripture because it is God’s Word. This ostensibly sounds good, since it is wrong and sinful to misinterpret God’s Word, and it would bring judgment upon those who did so. What was the Roman Church’s attempted solution to this possibility of misinterpretation? The Roman Church placed the Bible on its list of forbidden books! If the people did not have the Bible to read, then they would not be able to misinterpret it. The logic may be correct, but it is perverse. Eventually, the people in the Roman Churches were not able to recognize the difference between the church’s laws, traditions, superstitions, and heresies, and the pure Word of God. In fact, these strategies by ancient Jewish leaders and Romanists produced a greater ignorance of the law of God and the Scriptures. These strategies to keep the people of God from breaking God’s law or misinterpreting the Bible were noble on the surface, but in reality are evil, since they produce ignorance among the people of God.

Does the theory of “sacred oral tradition” invalidate the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura? How do we know if sacred traditions are true? Is it because the church says so? How do we know the word of the church regarding a particular sacred tradition is true? Is it because it is in agreement with sacred tradition? If this is the case, then we would seem to be going in a circle.

In Eastern Orthodoxy and Romanism, tradition is elevated on a par equal with Scripture. So it needs to be asked: Has God revealed all his revelation now? Otherwise, is the body of revelation, i.e., “sacred tradition” still expanding? If it is still expanding, how long will these alleged traditions continue to expand or grow? If the sacred oral traditions are written down, what becomes of them? Are they now considered to be equivalent to the Old and New Testament writings? If so, why not revise the Scriptures by adding them to the Bible? Is there a sacred book of traditions? Are there commentaries that explain these “sacred traditions”? If so, are these commentaries inspired? Can every-day men read them? Alternatively, do we need a special leader to decipher the meaning?

Does this expanding body of revelations or traditions ever contradict each other? It should be noted that Roman Catholic theology is still evolving because of the influence of these traditions. The development of Mariology is an example of this. One would have to be dishonest to deny that there are contradictions between the different traditions. For example, Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholics have traditions that contradict each other at various points. The role of “feasts,” “fasts,” “festivals,” the “filoque,” “papal claims,” “original sin,” “purgatory,” the “immaculate conception” and the use of “icons” are examples of different, contradictory traditions. Moreover, there is much debate and disagreement upon precisely what some traditions mean in the first place.

The Eastern Orthodox Church first acted on a fundamental principle of Protestantism by breaking with the Roman Church in 1054 over the filoque controversy. The filoque controversy erupted when a Roman Catholic Pope, outside of a church council, changed the Nicene Creed. The fact is, there are serious theological differences between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, which include divisions or factions among themselves, as well as with new age mysticism, liberalism, and outright humanism, manifesting themselves in a variety of ways.

In defense of Protestantism, it needs to be explained how someone may look at the Reformation doctrine of Sola Fide (by faith alone) and say this is not what the Bible teaches. They might say, “The Bible says we are saved by grace.” Yet the Latin phrase that highlights this Protestant doctrine does not even mention grace, it only speaks of faith. Such statements would reveal an appalling amount of ignorance. Sola Fide, or “by faith alone” must be understood in its historical context. The debate that was raging at the time concerned faith as the means through which a person was saved or justified. Both positions had the doctrine of salvation by grace in their formulas.

Although the Roman Church uses the word “grace” in its formulation of justification, their religious sacramental system has subverted the biblical doctrine of grace and turned it into a system of works. The Protestant battle cry was “by faith alone” in contrast to the Roman Church, which was essentially saying “faith plus works.” Understanding the historical circumstances of the debate clears up any misconception about the Protestant use of the formula “by faith alone,” which did not leave out grace at all. Soli Gratia or “by grace alone” went right along with Sola Fide.

The Romanist position essentially said that faith plus works produced justification, which placed a man in a tenuous state of grace. In the Romanist view, a man could fall from this state of grace. The Protestant position in contrast to this said that it was “faith alone” (the result of God’s imputing grace) that produced justification, thus saving a man. If Sola Fide is taken out of its historical context, it can be made to appear to conflict with Scripture. The Latin formula is a phrase drawing attention to the difference between the Protestant and Romanist positions on justification. The Protestant position did not reduce it to “faith only,” minus grace, as the surface meaning of the Latin might appear. An objection like this is nothing more than a clever ‘straw-man’ fallacy that capitalizes on the ignorance of modern readers.

Likewise, the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura, if taken out of its historical context, can be made to appear to be unconvincing. The debate surrounding Sola Scriptura was a debate over ultimate authority. The Roman Church claims that it, the church, was the infallible final court of appeal. If time is taken to study the debate during the Reformation, it is clearly seen that the Protestants were claiming that the Bible the only infallible rule of faith and is the final court of appeal. They were not saying, “The Bible plus nothing else.” An ignorant person in the twentieth century looking at the Latin formula just on the surface may get this impression. If they believe this is the Protestant position, it is the result of their ignorance. To correctly understand the Latin formula used by the men of the Reformation, one must understand the context of the debate at the time.

The Protestants were not claiming that a person was forbidden to use commentaries or to refer to church history, or to have church synods and assemblies to help settle disputes. To illustrate, John Calvin produced a commentary set on the Bible that is still the standard against which all others are measured. Philip Schaff, a noteworthy Protestant historian, wrote a valuable eight-volume church history, a three-volume work on the creeds of Christendom, and edited the thirty-eight-volume church fathers set.

It is beyond dispute that Protestantism has produced a rich tradition of scholarship. Does this violate its stated position? Of course not! The Protestant position is not some simplistic “the Bible plus nothing” theory. Those who allege this are dishonest or ignorant. Since the Scriptures are the Word of God, Protestants have always maintained that there could be no other authority to which they may appeal. It should be noted that Protestants are not against traditions. Reformation Protestants are merely against traditions that are contrary to Scripture. Protestants believe firmly in the church’s role in the interpretation of Scripture. The Regula Fidei or what is known as the ‘Rule of Faith’, guards against the danger of the individual setting himself up as the ultimate interpreter of Scripture.

Radical individualism in the area of interpretation of Scripture is akin to anarchy. It should be noted that the Reformation Protestants strongly condemned the radical individualism of the Anabaptists of their day, which sought to overthrow all authority. The Ecumenical Creeds serve an essential role in understanding the Rule of Faith. In Protestantism, debates on the meaning of Scripture take place in the church. In Reformed Churches, in particular, there are courts of appeal to guard against the possibility of error at any level of the debate. Protestants claim that the Bible is the infallible final court of appeal in settling debates. The Bible being the final court of appeal is the meaning of Sola Scriptura. ***

A Contemporary Restatement of the Solas:

The Cambridge Declaration of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals

Formulated April 20, 1996, by a group of conservative evangelical theologians and pastors, The Cambridge Declaration of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is a call to recover the historic Christian faith. The Five Solas of the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation form the outline of the declaration.

The text

Evangelical churches today are increasingly dominated by the spirit of this age rather than by the Spirit of Christ. As evangelicals, we call ourselves to repent of this sin and to recover the historic Christian faith.

In the course of history words change. In our day this has happened to the word “evangelical.” In the past it served as a bond of unity between Christians from a wide diversity of church traditions. Historic evangelicalism was confessional. It embraced the essential truths of Christianity as those were defined by the great ecumenical councils of the church. In addition, evangelicals also shared a common heritage in the “solas” of the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation.

Today the light of the Reformation has been significantly dimmed. The consequence is that the word “evangelical” has become so inclusive as to have lost its meaning. We face the peril of losing the unity it has taken centuries to achieve. Because of this crisis and because of our love of Christ, his gospel and his church, we endeavor to assert anew our commitment to the central truths of the Reformation and of historic evangelicalism. These truths we affirm not because of their role in our traditions, but because we believe that they are central to the Bible.

Sola Scriptura: The Erosion of Authority

Scripture alone is the inerrant rule of the church’s life, but the evangelical church today has separated Scripture from its authoritative function. In practice, the church is guided, far too often, by the culture. Therapeutic technique, marketing strategies, and the beat of the entertainment world often have far more to say about what the church wants, how it functions and what it offers, than does the Word of God. Pastors have neglected their rightful oversight of worship, including the doctrinal content of the music. As biblical authority has been abandoned in practice, as its truths have faded from Christian consciousness, and as its doctrines have lost their saliency, the church has been increasingly emptied of its integrity, moral authority and direction.

Rather than adapting Christian faith to satisfy the felt needs of consumers, we must proclaim the law as the only measure of true righteousness and the gospel as the only announcement of saving truth. Biblical truth is indispensable to the church’s understanding, nurture and discipline.

Scripture must take us beyond our perceived needs to our real needs and liberate us from seeing ourselves through the seductive images, cliché’s, promises and priorities of mass culture. It is only in the light of God’s truth that we understand ourselves aright and see God’s provision for our need. The Bible, therefore, must be taught and preached in the church. Sermons must be expositions of the Bible and its teachings, not expressions of the preacher’s opinions or the ideas of the age. We must settle for nothing less than what God has given.

The work of the Holy Spirit in personal experience cannot be disengaged from Scripture. The Spirit does not speak in ways that are independent of Scripture. Apart from Scripture we would never have known of God’s grace in Christ. The biblical Word, rather than spiritual experience, is the test of truth.

Thesis One: Sola Scriptura

We reaffirm the inerrant Scripture to be the sole source of written divine revelation, which alone can bind the conscience. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured. We deny that any creed, council or individual may bind a Christian’s conscience, that the Holy Spirit speaks independently of or contrary to what is set forth in the Bible, or that personal spiritual experience can ever be a vehicle of revelation.

Solus Christus: The Erosion of Christ-Centered Faith

As evangelical faith becomes secularized, its interests have been blurred with those of the culture. The result is a loss of absolute values, permissive individualism, and a substitution of wholeness for holiness, recovery for repentance, intuition for truth, feeling for belief, chance for providence, and immediate gratification for enduring hope. Christ and his cross have moved from the center of our vision.

Thesis Two: Solus Christus

We reaffirm that our salvation is accomplished by the mediatorial work of the historical Christ alone. His sinless life and substitutionary atonement alone are sufficient for our justification and reconciliation to the Father.

We deny that the gospel is preached if Christ’s substitutionary work is not declared and faith in Christ and his work is not solicited.

Sola Gratia: The Erosion of the Gospel

Unwarranted confidence in human ability is a product of fallen human nature. This false confidence now fills the evangelical world; from the self-esteem gospel, to the health and wealth gospel, from those who have transformed the gospel into a product to be sold and sinners into consumers who want to buy, to others who treat Christian faith as being true simply because it works. This silences the doctrine of justification regardless of the official commitments of our churches.

God’s grace in Christ is not merely necessary but is the sole efficient cause of salvation. We confess that human beings are born spiritually dead and are incapable even of cooperating with regenerating grace.

Thesis Three: Sola Gratia

We reaffirm that in salvation we are rescued from God’s wrath by his grace alone. It is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that brings us to Christ by releasing us from our bondage to sin and raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life.

We deny that salvation is in any sense a human work. Human methods, techniques or strategies by themselves cannot accomplish this transformation. Faith is not produced by our unregenerated human nature.

Sola Fide: The Erosion of the Chief Article

Justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. This is the article by which the church stands or falls. Today this article is often ignored, distorted or sometimes even denied by leaders, scholars and pastors who claim to be evangelical. Although fallen human nature has always recoiled from recognizing its need for Christ’s imputed righteousness, modernity greatly fuels the fires of this discontent with the biblical Gospel. We have allowed this discontent to dictate the nature of our ministry and what it is we are preaching.

Many in the church growth movement believe that sociological understanding of those in the pew is as important to the success of the gospel as is the biblical truth which is proclaimed. As a result, theological convictions are frequently divorced from the work of the ministry. The marketing orientation in many churches takes this even further, erasing the distinction between the biblical Word and the world, robbing Christ’s cross of its offense, and reducing Christian faith to the principles and methods which bring success to secular corporations.

While the theology of the cross may be believed, these movements are actually emptying it of its meaning. There is no gospel except that of Christ’s substitution in our place whereby God imputed to him our sin and imputed to us his righteousness. Because he bore our judgment, we now walk in his grace as those who are forever pardoned, accepted and adopted as God’s children. There is no basis for our acceptance before God except in Christ’s saving work, not in our patriotism, churchly devotion or moral decency. The gospel declares what God has done for us in Christ. It is not about what we can do to reach him.

Thesis Four: Sola Fide

We reaffirm that justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. In justification Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us as the only possible satisfaction of God’s perfect justice.

We deny that justification rests on any merit to be found in us, or upon the grounds of an infusion of Christ’s righteousness in us, or that an institution claiming to be a church that denies or condemns sola fide can be recognized as a legitimate church.

Soli Deo Gloria: The Erosion of God-Centered Worship

Wherever in the church biblical authority has been lost, Christ has been displaced, the gospel has been distorted, or faith has been perverted, it has always been for one reason: our interests have displaced God’s and we are doing his work in our way. The loss of God’s centrality in the life of today’s church is common and lamentable. It is this loss that allows us to transform worship into entertainment, gospel preaching into marketing, believing into technique, being good into feeling good about ourselves, and faithfulness into being successful. As a result, God, Christ and the Bible have come to mean too little to us and rest too inconsequentially upon us.

God does not exist to satisfy human ambitions, cravings, the appetite for consumption, or our own private spiritual interests. We must focus on God in our worship, rather than the satisfaction of our personal needs. God is sovereign in worship; we are not. Our concern must be for God’s kingdom, not our own empires, popularity or success.

Thesis Five: Soli Deo Gloria

We reaffirm that because salvation is of God and has been accomplished by God, it is for God’s glory and that we must glorify him always. We must live our entire lives before the face of God, under the authority of God and for his glory alone. We deny that we can properly glorify God if our worship is confused with entertainment, if we neglect either Law or Gospel in our preaching, or if self-improvement, self-esteem or self- fulfillment are allowed to become alternatives to the gospel.

Call to Repentance and Reformation

The faithfulness of the evangelical church in the past contrasts sharply with its unfaithfulness in the present. Earlier in this century, evangelical churches sustained a remarkable missionary endeavor, and built many religious institutions to serve the cause of biblical truth and Christ’s kingdom. That was a time when Christian behavior and expectations were markedly different from those in the culture. Today they often are not. The evangelical world today is losing its biblical fidelity, moral compass and missionary zeal.

We repent of our worldliness. We have been influenced by the “gospels” of our secular culture, which are no gospels. We have weakened the church by our own lack of serious repentance, our blindness to the sins in ourselves which we see so clearly in others, and our inexcusable failure adequately to tell others about God’s saving work in Jesus Christ.

We also earnestly call back erring professing evangelicals who have deviated from God’s Word in the matters discussed in this Declaration. This includes those who declare that there is hope of eternal life apart from explicit faith in Jesus Christ, who claim that those who reject Christ in this life will be annihilated rather than endure the just judgment of God through eternal suffering, or who claim that evangelicals and Roman Catholics are one in Jesus Christ even where the biblical doctrine of justification is not believed.

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals asks all Christians to give consideration to implementing this Declaration in the church’s worship, ministry, policies, life and evangelism. For Christ’s sake. Amen.

ACE Council Members the ACE council members at the time of the declaration were:

See below ****

In closing:

“Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason-I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other-my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.” – Martin Luther

“Holy Scripture is the highest authority for every believer, the standard of faith and the foundation for reform.” – John Wycliffe

“The existence of the Bible, as a book for the people, is the greatest benefit which the human race has ever experienced. Every attempt to belittle it is a crime against humanity.” – Immanuel Kant

“The Bible is the only force known to history that has freed entire nations from corruption while simultaneously giving them political freedom.” – Vishal Mangalwadi

“It is impossible to enslave, mentally or socially, a Bible-reading people. The principles of the Bible are the groundwork of human freedom.” – Horace Greeley

“Ignorance of the Bible is ignorance of Jesus.” – St. Jerome

“I know not a better rule of reading the Scripture, than to read it through from beginning to end and when we have finished it once, to begin it again. We shall meet with many passages which we can make little improvement of, but not so many in the second reading as in the first, and fewer in the third than in the second: provided we pray to him who has the keys to open our understandings, and to anoint our eyes with His spiritual ointment.” – John Newton

“I want to know one thing, the way to heaven: how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end he came from heaven. He has written it down in a book! Oh, give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be: “A man of one book.” – John Wesley

“I began to read the Holy Scriptures upon my knees, laying aside all other books, and praying over, if possible, every line and word. This proved meat indeed and drink indeed to my soul. I daily received fresh life, light and power from above.” – George Whitefield

“The Bible has always been regarded as part of the Common Law of England.” – Sir William Blackstone

“I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God, and to meditation on it…. What is the food of the inner man? Not prayer, but the Word of God; and….not the simple reading of the Word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and applying it to our hearts.” – George Müller

“The Scriptures teach us the best way of living, the noblest way of suffering, and the most comfortable way of dying.” – Flavel

“The Bible as a book stands alone. There never was, nor ever will be, another like it. As there is but one sun to enlighten the world naturally, so there is but one Book to enlighten the world spiritually. May that Book become to each of us the man of our counsel, the guide of our journey, and our support and comfort in life and in death?”- A. Galloway

“The more you read the Bible, the more you meditate on it, the more you will be astonished by it.” – Charles Spurgeon

“The Bible is the light of my understanding, the joy of my heart, the fullness of my hope, the clarified of my affections, the mirror of my thoughts, the consoler of my sorrows, the guide of my soul through this gloomy labyrinth of time, the telescope went from heaven to reveal to the eye of man the amazing glories of the far distant world.” – Sir William Jones

“The Holy Scriptures are our letters from home.” – Augustine of Hippo

“Let us therefore yield ourselves and bow to the authority of the Holy Scriptures, which can neither err nor deceive.” – Augustine of Hippo

“I exhort and entreat you all, disregard what this man and that man thinks about such things, and inquire from the Holy Scriptures all these things.” – John Chrysostom

“The Bible is worth all other books which have ever been printed.” – Patrick Henry

“Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:12)

“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)

“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/

GotQuestions.org https://www.gotquestions.org/

** https://www.gotquestions.org/five-solas.html

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

https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/ctd.html

And at: https://carm.org/

*** My comments adapted from the book: The Religion that started in a Hat.

CH Spurgeon and the Five Solas of the Reformation https://reasonabletheology.org/ch-spurgeon-and-the-five-solas-of-the-reformation/

The Five Solas of the Reformation by Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D. http://www.fivesolas.com/5solas.htm

**** The ACE council members as the time of the declaration were:

Dr. John Armstrong

Rev. Alistair Begg

Dr. James M. Boice

Dr. W. Robert Godfrey

Dr. John D. Hannah

Dr. Michael S. Horton

Mrs. Rosemary Jensen

Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Dr. Robert M. Norris

Dr. R. C. Sproul

Dr. G. Edward Veith

Dr. David Wells

Dr. Luder Whitlock

Dr. J. A. O. Preus, III

https://www.theopedia.com/five-solas

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Battle of Worldviews

Battle of Worldviews by Jack Kettler © 2018

In this article, my goal is to provide believers with ammunition for the battle against the worldview of non-believers.

The following article was written after a recent online debate about worldviews and what a worldview can tell us. Many Christians who are active in witnessing for the Christian faith have experienced similar encounters. Hopefully, the believers who read this will relate to what is shared and benefit from it. There will be some repetition of thought to drive home the points made. Sometimes in debates, points need to be repeated and reemphasized.

This recent debate started when I challenged the legitimacy of a prostitute/porn person’s character who has been in the news lately and has filed a defamation of character lawsuit. I simply asked, what character? My post then started a lengthy thread that went on for a week, both day and night. I was interacting with several individuals.

I was challenged regarding my standard for making the judgment about the prostitute/porn person’s character. I was upfront and responded by saying the Bible was my standard. This was met with ridicule. I subsequently asked the detractors, what basis they had for judging my criteria and also asked what their criteria were for condemning mine were since they too were making judgments. No intelligent response was given. Some ad hominem replies were directed my way.

I asked the detractors to identify their worldview, was it Materialism? Non-Christian mysticism? Eastern philosophy? Empiricism? Rationalism? Irrationalism? UFOology, space beings or gods from a different planet? Again no response was forthcoming. I asked the detractors whatever their worldview was to provide me an explanation how their worldview could substantiate the use of logic and ethics. Counter responses were nothing more than begging the question.

The detractors were outraged that I could even ask such a question about their worldview. For them, the use of logic and talking about ethical positions seemed self-evident, at least to them anyway. I have never said that non-Christians do not use logic or ethics I have said their worldview does not provide any justification for such activities.

The detractors made adamant statements that my judgment was wrong. Based on what standard were they referring to I asked? No response was given. I was just wrong, was the standard reply. It was interesting that these non-Christian detractors were using absolutist assertions within an unnamed worldview structure. If the unnamed structure provided the authentication for logic and ethics, then fine. If the unnamed worldview was Materialism, for example, it has no basis for making such a claim. Materialism is starting from rocks or matter. What can you arrive at starting with rocks? Rocks or matter do not speak. It can be said unequivocally, material or matter is silent!

A common problem for Non-Christians as noted is that they are notorious for using absolutist terminology when their worldview precludes it. You cannot function without absolutes, yet most non-believers are inconsistent in their denial of biblical absolutes. They do so when saying that it is wrong to murder or steal. So the non-believer inconsistently appeals to absolutes when their system excludes it. This will be fleshed out more as we proceed. The detractors also manifested elements of atheism and agnosticism. Both atheism and agnosticism will be scrutinized as we proceed.

For example, most Christians have encountered the following self-refuting assertions from encounters with nonbelievers along with our rejoinders:

“Only knowledge that can be empirically verified is true.” Can you empirically verify that statement?

“There are no absolute truths.” Is that statement true?

“All truth is relative.” Is the supposed truth you just asserted relative?

“You should be skeptical of everything.” Should we be skeptical of that statement?

“You ought not to judge.” Is that a judgment you just asserted?

We can say, it problematic for non-believers, when they assert moral absolutes and omniscient statements within the framework of a materialistic system that does not allow absolutes. When a finite man without biblical authority asserts moral absolute omniscient statements, it is indefensible. Likewise, it should be correspondingly noted the absurdity of atheism’s claim when asserting, “There is no God.” The absurdity is this; it is impossible to prove a universal negative. And furthermore, when the atheist asserts that “there is no God.” When using the second question of the Socratic technique, “how do you know that?” reveals rather quickly the failure of this unverifiable claim. The detractors at one point said it was the Christian God who did not exist. I wished them the best in trying to prove that universal negative also.

With that, we can dismiss the non-believer’s demand for verification, which they always demand of Christians. Incredibly, the agnostic claims for himself ignorance concerning the existence of God. It should be noted that this claim of ignorance is not an argument against the existence of God. Rather, it is a sign of epistemological bankruptcy and what could be described as a deficiency of knowledge.

Problems with the non-Christian’s demand for verification:

“Modern science boldly asks for a criterion of meaning when one speaks to him of Christ. He assumes that he himself has a criterion, a principle of verification and of falsification, by which he can establish for himself a self-supporting island floating on a shoreless sea. But when he is asked to show his criterion as it functions in experience, every fact is indeterminate, lost in darkness; no one can identify a single fact, and all logic is like a sun that is always behind the clouds.” (1)

In the debate when it was asserted the Christian God did not exist, the detractors taking on the characteristics of omniscience. In this online debate, I put forth a positive presentation of a Christian worldview. I quoted some of best apologists whose writings can be assessed online.

For example, on Scripturalism, the following is a paraphrase or summation of the Christian’s starting principle by Gordon H. Clark:

Scripturalism (all knowledge must be contained within a system and deduced from its starting principles, in the Christian case, the Bible). (Yellow highlighting for emphasis mine)

An irrefutable conclusion that can be reached from this principle:

The Bible contains the Christian’s starting principles or presuppositions. God speaks to us in the Scriptures (special revelation) with human language utilizing logically structured sentences in which He tells us the difference between right and wrong. Consequently, the strength of the Christian worldview is seen by the impossibility of the contrary. The impossibility of the contrary can be asserted because as of this day, no non-Christian anywhere has shown how their worldview can account for the use of science, logic, and ethics.

Now it can be said, that philosophers of the stature of Plato and Aristotle tried to account for ethics within their worldview. For example, Plato tried to ground truth in the world of ideas. The world of ideas interpreted the temporal world of Plato’s forms. The temporal forms were imperfect replicas of the eternal, perfect ideas. One problem he ran into was perfect dung and filth existing in the world of ideas. Did Plato and Aristotle succeed in developing and justifying an ethical system in their worldview? Has anyone heard of an appeal to a body of Platonic or Aristotelian ethical laws lately? Biblical ethics, on the other hand, has undergirded the Western legal system and are with us today. Has anyone heard of the 10 Commandment, not to murder, steal, bear false witness, and commit adultery and rights of appeal? I rest my case.

Why is the un-believer unable to articulate a coherent theory of knowledge? Because as said, the non-Christian worldview has no basis or explanation for the use of science, logic, and ethics. The non-Christian uses logic and talks about ethics. They do so without justifying or demonstrating how their worldview can account for these things. In other words, as said, they beg the question. And mind you, when you point out this question-begging on their part, you will experience many ad hominem attacks which serve as a smoke-screen to cover-up the bankruptcy of their worldview. Also, the non-Christian steals from the Christian worldview that can explain and justify the use of such things to attack the Christian’s presuppositions. When informing the non-believer of their theft, get ready for emotional responses or ad hominem attacks.

The next two references caused the detractor’s a particular amount of emotional excitement.

Gordon H. Clark: The Axiom of Scripture:

“Every philosophic or theological system must begin somewhere, for if it did not begin it could not continue. But a beginning cannot be preceded by anything else, or it would not be the beginning. Therefore every system must be based on presuppositions (Require as a precondition of possibility or coherence. Tacitly assume to be the case) or axioms (An accepted statement or proposition regarded as being self-evidently true). They may be Spinoza’s axioms; they may be Locke’s sensory starting point, or whatever. Every system must therefore be presuppositional.

The first principle cannot be demonstrated because there is nothing prior from which to deduce it. Call it presuppositionalism, call it fideism, names do not matter. But I know no better presupposition than “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the word of God written, and therefore inerrant in the autographs.

If the axioms of other secularists are not nonsense, they are nonetheless axioms. Every system must start somewhere, and it cannot have started before it starts. A naturalist might amend the Logical Positivists’ principle and make it say that all knowledge is derived from sensation. This is not nonsense, but it is still an empirically unverifiable axiom. If it is not self-contradictory, it is at least without empirical justification. Other arguments against empiricism need not be given here: The point is that no system can deduce its axioms.

The inference is this: No one can consistently object to Christianity being based on an indemonstrable axiom. If the secularists exercise their privilege of basing their theorems on axioms, then so may Christians. If the former refuse to accept our axioms, then they can have no logical objection to our rejecting theirs. Accordingly, we reject the very basis of atheism, Logical Positivism, and, in general, empiricism. Our axiom shall be that God has spoken. More completely, God has spoken in the Bible. More precisely, what the Bible says, God has spoken.” (2)

“Logically the infallibility of the Bible is not a theorem to be deduced from some prior axiom. The infallibility of the Bible is the axiom from which several doctrines are themselves deduced as theorems. Every religion and every philosophy must be based on some first principle. And since a first principle is first, it cannot be “proved” or “demonstrated” on the basis of anything prior. As the catechism question, quoted above, says, “The Word of God is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify Him.” (3)

Back to my comments on the online debate:

In the recent debate, the charge against my position was that of circular reasoning. I pointed out that this only holds water if non-believer can explain how the non-Christian position, namely, starting with oneself as an authority ending with oneself as an authority could escape the same charge. My opponents never articulated a response to my counter charge. When you start with your self-authority and end with as the final criterion, how is this not circular?

The next four citations also received no responses.

Epistemological problems for the non-believer raised by Cornelius Van Til:

“If he [the unbeliever] is asked to use his reason as the judge of the credibility of the Christian revelation without at the same time being asked to renounce his view of himself as ultimate, then he is virtually asked to believe and to disbelieve in his own ultimacy at the same time and in the same sense.” (4)

“If we first allow the legitimacy of the natural man’s assumption of himself as the ultimate reference point in interpretation in any dimension we cannot deny his right to interpret Christianity itself in naturalistic terms.” (5)

Van Til notes how the non-believer is caught in an impossible contradiction.

Cornelius Van Til speaking of Agnosticism says:

“[Agnosticism] is, in the first place, psychologically self-contradictory upon its own assumptions. Agnosticism wants to hold that it is reasonable to refrain from thorough epistemological speculations because they cannot lead to anything. But in order to assume this attitude, agnosticism has itself made the most tremendous intellectual assertion that could be made about ultimate things. In the second place, agnosticism is epistemologically self-contradictory on its own assumptions because its claim to make no assertion about ultimate reality rests upon a most comprehensive assertion about ultimate reality. . . . the alternative is not between saying something about ultimate reality or not saying anything about it, but that the alternative is rather between saying one thing about it or another. Every human being, as a matter of fact, says something about ultimate reality.

It should be noted that those who claim to say nothing about ultimate reality not only do say something about it just as well as everybody else, but they have assumed for themselves the responsibility of saying one definite thing about ultimate reality. They have assumed the responsibility of excluding God. We have seen again that a God who is to come in afterward is no God at all [i.e. a God that is not sovereign over all existence – M.W.]. Agnosticism cannot say that it is open-minded on the question of the nature of ultimate reality. It is absolutely closed-minded on the subject. It has one view that it cannot, unless its own assumption be denied, exchange for another. It has started with the assumption of the non-existence of God and must end with it. Its so-called open-minded attitude is therefore a closed-minded attitude. The agnostic must be open-minded and closed-minded at the same time. And this is not only a psychological self-contradiction, but an epistemological self-contradiction. It amounts to affirmation and denial at the same time. Accordingly, they cancel out one another, if there is cancellation power in them. . .

Incidentally, we may point out that, in addition to being psychologically and epistemologically self-contradictory, the agnostic is morally self-contradictory. His contention was that he is very humble, and for that reason unwilling to pretend to know anything about ultimate matters. Yet he has by implication made a universal statement about reality. He therefore not only claims to know as much as the theist knows, but he claims to know much more. More than that, he not only claims to know much more than the theist, but he claims to know more than the theist’s God. He has boldly set bare possibility above the theist’s God and is quite willing to test the consequences of his action. It is thus that the hubris of which the Greeks spoke so much, and upon which they invoked the wrath of the gods, appears in new and seeming innocent garb.” (6)

Van Til goes on to say:

“We must point out that reasoning itself leads to self-contradiction, not only from a theistic point of view, but from a non-theistic point of view as well… It is this that we ought to mean when we say that we reason from the impossibility of the contrary. The contrary is impossible only if it is self-contradictory when operating on the basis of its own assumptions has been stated. The various opposing posts have not once articulated a coherent theory of knowledge. If so, send a copy a previous post where my challenge asking for any worldview to provide a justification or basis for language, logic, ethics or science that has been met or explained. To this challenge, there has been nothing but dodges or additional assertions or accusations.” (7)

Problems for Materialistic Empiricism:

A popular contemporary form of empiricism that derives from John Locke is known as the theory that the mind at birth is a blank tablet (tabula rasa) and then assimilates knowledge through sensations. This theory could be called the “blank mind theory” of knowledge.

The Positivist School boldly asserted as its starting principle that they would only accept what can be verified empirically. The positivists would accept a statement like “some cars are red,” because this could be verified empirically. A color-blind person would have to take this statement by faith. A statement like “God exists” would be rejected since God cannot be brought into a science laboratory and inspected. Once upon a time, someone asked, “How does the positivist school verify its starting principle empirically?” With that question, the empirical, positivist school collapsed. There are still those who promote elements of this philosophically discredited theory, not realizing that in doing so they have become an irrationalist, or guilty of inexcusable ignorance. Positivism collapsed because, as in all non-Christian philosophy, it contains its own internally self-refuting contradiction. This positivist contradiction is in the same category as with those who assert “there is no truth.” Supposedly, this assertion is true. Many non-Christians hold to a materialistic, atheistic worldview.

Another big problem for materialistic empiricism:

Empiricism historically argues that knowledge comes through sensations in the following order: (a) sensations, (b) perceptions, (c) memory images, (d) and the development of abstract ideas. In this system of interpretation, perceptions are inferences from sensations. How does the empiricist know valid from invalid inferences? Given this uncertainty, how can the empiricist be sure of anything, let alone what type of matter he may be trying to examine?

Problems for Materialist Rationalism:

Many are not epistemologically self-conscious, including some Christians, and therefore are unaware that they have presuppositions, which govern their interpretations. In particular, fallen a man generally refuses to acknowledge that he has presuppositions and that his presuppositions govern interpretations of matter or anything else. Too many, what is put forward as evidence and interpretation seems self-evident; but in reality is nothing more than a subjective evaluation. Escaping from subjectivity is no easy task. Does non-believing philosophy enable man to get beyond his subjectivity? Can non-believing man’s rationalism (reason alone using logic) save him? Can the laws of logic within the framework of a non-believing worldview accomplish this? How can they, since the laws of logic cannot even be explained or justified within the framework of this philosophy?

For example, where did these laws of logic come from? Are they universally interpreted in the same way? The laws of logic within the framework of non-belief are nothing more than a philosophical construct, which ends up collapsing into irrationality. The rational man, in other words, has no basis for his rationalism. The earlier statement “matter is silent” should be understood in contrast to a statement that God is not silent. This second assertion is the Christian solution to obtaining knowledge. God has spoken through the Scriptures to mankind. We have a biblical foundation for seeking knowledge and obtaining it. God-given revelation is objective. Ungodly men reject biblical revelation; they suppress the truth that God has revealed to them through creation (Romans 1:18). God has spoken in the Scriptures, i.e., God’s special revelation to man concerning what is required of him. The suppression of God’s revelation by fallen man is evidence of his epistemological rebellion (Romans 1:18-20). Again, we can ask the non-Christian, what standard are you using, identify your worldview and its basis for predication? *

In addition to numerous philosophical problems regarding fallen man’s interpretation, it should be clear that matter or material has nothing to say within the framework of non-believing philosophy. What could it say? Within this framework, material or matter is ultimately an accident and therefore meaningless. In addition to this problem, all men have a priori commitments, which are at work and from which truth or falsity is deduced. The question is not does man have a priori commitments, but what are they? Do these commitments acknowledge God in the reasoning process? If one starts with non-Christian premises, it is impossible to arrive at the biblical truth. For a conclusion to be valid it cannot contain information not stated in the premises. The non-believer cannot have accurate knowledge because his presuppositions, starting premises, or axioms, which govern interpretations, are false.

Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit. (Proverbs 26:5)

One Johnny come lately to the debate person started off by accusing me of being of a moron. To this I replied, you started off with an ad hominem, and since you started with this rudimentary logical fallacy, maybe you are the moron.

The One and Many Problem:

The “One and Many Problem” is another dilemma for non-believers. Is reality ultimately one or many? If reality is ultimately one, this can manifest itself as communism. If reality is ultimately many, this can lead to political anarchy. Eastern philosophy comes down on the side of the one. And consequently, has never produced a system guaranteeing individual rights. Communism answered the question as noted in favor of the one or s total state and it likewise never produced any protection for property rights or individual freedom.

The Christian worldview, on the other hand, has produced a balance of individual freedoms and a basis for the state and church authority. This is accomplished because of the doctrine of the Trinity. The Christian God is the ground and explanation of all reality. God is one and yet more than one, with a plurality of persons within the one God. Politically and religiously this manifests itself by giving due authority to the state or church and a proper place for individual rights and the basis for appealing abuses of the state or church. The reader should see The One and the Many: Studies in the Philosophy of Order and Ultimacy by R.J. Rushdoony.

In closing:

In essence, fallen man has erected a closed system. His system is closed to God. He does not allow God to speak. Since man rejects the Creator, he has nothing within his closed system that he allows to speak with ethical certainty. He is left to himself. As long as fallen man excludes the biblical God from his system, he cannot know anything with certainty. The non-believer’s thought has no basis for absolutes. He has plenty of arbitrary social conventions. If there are no absolutes there can be no meaning attached to anything since everything could be said to be true and not true at the same time, which is unacceptable nonsense.

Thus, fallen man is left with an endless matter, unintelligible sensations, or his atheistic apostate reason. This is the bankruptcy of atheistic, materialistic humanism. It is only the Christian that has a rational basis for knowledge. This is because we allow God to speak to us in creation and Scripture. The non-Christian will not allow room for the God of the Bible to speak in their system. Their system is closed to God’s revelation. Our system is not closed like the non-Christian. The Bible tells us about general revelation and man’s requirement to worship the creator. The Bible tells us the specifics on how to worship the creator. It is only because we have biblical, i.e., God’s revelation that an intelligent conversation on these matters can be carried on.

It would be impossible to have a discussion about these concepts without God’s special revelation the Bible since biblical revelation is where the concepts appear. Clearly, without special revelation, there would be no discussion of ethics, science, and logic with any certainty. As a quick aside, what about Islam and its moral code? Does this contradict what I have just argued for regarding the Christian worldview as the only worldview that can account the preconditions of knowledge? No, I would say that Islam is essentially a Christian heresy. This means the Islamic worldview has stolen and corrupted the biblical ethical code. This is similar to universal flood stories that appear in the ancient literature. The Babylonian flood story, for example, is simply a corruption of the biblical account.

Philosophically unbelief vacillates between two positions of knowing and not knowing. These two opposite poles of allegiance constitute a never-ending dilemma, thus revealing the futility of non-Christian epistemology. Does any of this affect the non-believer? No, the philosophy of non-belief presses on irrationally, certain of its uncertainty, oblivious of the self-refuting contradiction being advanced. To illustrate, for example, some non-believers claim absolutely that there are no absolutes. The philosophy of non-belief contradicts itself when it claims not to know (uncertainty, agnosticism) and to know (certainty, atheism). Both atheism and agnosticism are two sides of the same coin. Fallen man’s contradictory uncertainty and certainty are manifestations of his epistemological and ethical rebellion against God.

“For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” (Romans 1:20-22)

Notes:

1. Cornelius Van Til, Christian-Theistic Evidences, (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1978), pp. 147-48.

2. Gordon H. Clark, In Defense of Theology, (Fenton, Michigan, Mott Media, Inc. Publishers, 1984), pp. 31-33.

3. Gordon H. Clark, What Do Presbyterians Believe? (Phillipsburg, New Jersey, Presbyterian and Reformed 1985), pg. 18.

4. Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, ed. Scott Oliphint, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian & Reformed 1955), p. 107.

5. Cornelius Van Til, The Defense Of The Faith, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian & Reformed), p. 93.

6. Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company 1970), pp. 213-214.

7. Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970), p. 204.

8. Jack Kettler, many of my comments are adapted from Appendix One and Two from the book, The Religion That Started in a Hat.

* My comments in the above article should NOT be understood as being original with me. I am indebted biblically and philosophically for the above comments to Francis A. Schaeffer, Gordon H. Clark, Ronald H. Nash, Cornelius Van Til, Greg Bahnsen and R.J. Rushdoony! I have attempted to re-state the biblical and philosophical genius of the above named!

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

“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)

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:

The Gordon H. Clark Foundation http://gordonhclark.reformed.info/

The Trinity Foundation http://www.trinityfoundation.org/

Alpha & Omega http://www.aomin.org/

CARM https://carm.org/

Cornelius Van Til information http://www.vantil.info/bycategory.html

Van Til Diagrammed

http://www.christianciv.com/VT_Diagrammed.html

* Predication: attaching a predicate to a subject; hence, making an assertion. Van Til says that only the Christian world view makes predication possible.

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Aseity, a study in God’s Incommunicable Attributes

Aseity, a study in God’s Incommunicable Attributes by Jack Kettler

The incommunicable attributes of God are those that belong to God alone. For example, such attributes as omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence are incommunicable. These attributes are distinct from God’s communicable attributes such as knowledge, creativity, love, forgiveness. Man can share in the communicable attributes whereas the incommunicable attributes, he cannot.

In this study we will focus on God’s Aseity. How can aseity be defined?

God’s perfection whereby he is self-sufficient, self-existent and independent, existing “from himself”; his possession of life in himself so that he needs nothing from anything outside of himself, but rather is the source and sustenance of everything that exists.*

The aseity of God is His independent, self-existence. It is another word for His non-contingency. If God is self-existent and depends on nothing else for His being, then He is necessarily without cause and eternal. **

Aseity comes to English from the Latin. God’s aseity is the attribute of independent self-existence. God’s eternality (never-ending, everlasting) and immutability (unchangeable) are connected to His aseity. God’s existence has no source other than itself. God is not dependent on any part of creation for His existence. Before the creation of the space time universe, God had existence. He is self-existent!

From Scripture, God’s Aseity is seen in the following verses:

“And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” (Exodus 3:14)

“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.” (Psalm 90:2)

“Thy throne is established of old: thou art from everlasting.” (Psalm 93:2)

“I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days: thy years are throughout all generations. Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands.” (Psalm 102:24-25)

“Art thou not from everlasting, O LORD my God, mine Holy One? We shall not die. O LORD, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction.” (Habakkuk 1:12)

“For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself.” (John 5:26)

“Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)

“God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.” (Acts 17:24-25)

“For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)

“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” (Revelations 4:11)

An Old Testament passage from Barnes’ Notes on the Bible on Psalms 93:2 we learn:

Thy throne is established of old – Whatever might occur, the throne of God was firm. That could not be moved. It had been set up from all eternity. It had stood through all the convulsions and changes which had occurred in the universe; and it would stand firm forever. Whatever might change, that was immovable; and as long as that is unchanged we have a ground of security and hope. Should “that” be moved, all would be gone. The margin here is, as in Hebrew, “from then:” but it means “of old;” from the most ancient times; that is, from the period indicated by the next clause, “from everlasting.”

Thou art from everlasting – From all eternity; thou hast always existed; thou art ever the same Psalm 90:1. (1)

A New Testament passage from Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers on John 5:26 we learn:

(26) Hath he given to the Son.—Better, gave He to the Son also.

Life in himself.—The Son has spoken of the dead hearing His voice and living, but this giving of life to others can only be by one who has in himself an original source of life. This the Father has, and this the Son also has. To the Son in His pre-existent state it was natural, as being equal with the Father. To the Son who had emptied Himself of the exercise of the attributes which constituted the glory of that state (comp. again Philippians 2:6 et seq.), it was part of the Father’s gift by which He exalted Him exceedingly, and gave Him the name which is above every name. It was, then, a gift in time to One who had possessed it before all time, and for the purposes of the mediatorial work had relinquished it. It was a gift, not to the Eternal Son, but to the Incarnate Word. (2)

From Herman Bavinck we learn more about aseity:

“We begin our discussion of God’s attributes, therefore, with aseity or independence, a fact more or less recognized by all humans in the very definition of “God.” If God is to be truly God, he must be sufficient unto himself. He is dependent on nothing, he needs nothing; rather, all that exists depends on him. He is the only source of all existence and life, of all light and love, the overflowing fountain of all good (Ps. 36:10; Acts 17:25), the Alpha and the Omega who is and who was and who is to come (Isa. 41:4; 44:6; 48:12; Rev. 1:8). He is the perfect, highest, the most excellent being, “than whom nothing better can exist or be thought.” All being is contained in him. He is a boundless ocean of being. “If you have said of God that he is good, great, blessed, wise or any other such quality, it is summed up in a single word: he is (Est). Indeed, for him to be is to be all these things. Even if you add a hundred such qualities, you have not gone outside the boundaries of his being. Having said them all, you have added nothing; having said none of them, you have subtracted nothing.”32 Roman Catholic and Reformation theologians follow this Scholastic affirmation, with the Reformed eventually coming to prefer the term “independence” over “aseity.” While aseity only expresses God’s self-sufficiency in his existence, independence has a broader sense and implies that God is independent in everything: in his existence, in his perfections, in his decrees, and in his works. Accordingly, while in the past theologians mostly used the name YHWH as their starting point, in later years God’s independence occurs most often as the first of the incommunicable attributes.33 We must conceive of God’s independence not only as God having being from himself but also as the fullness of being, the inclusion of other perfections. They are given with the aseity itself and are the rich and multifaceted development of it. It is this attribute that vividly and plainly marks the immeasurable distinction between the Creator and creature. There is, nevertheless, a weak analogy in all creatures also of this perfection of God. Pantheism, indeed, cannot acknowledge this, but theism stands for the fact that a creature, though absolutely dependent, nevertheless also has a distinct existence of its own. Implanted in this existence there is “a drive toward self-preservation.” Every creature, to the extent that it shares in existence, fears death, and even the tiniest atom offers resistance to all attempts at annihilating it. Again: it is a shadow of the independent, immutable being of our God.” (3)

In summary of our studies on God’s incommunicable attributes, the reader will benefit immensely from the following:

The Divine Attributes by Gordon H. Clark

ATTRIBUTES, THE DIVINE. The divine attributes are, in the language of ordinary conversation, simply the characteristics or qualities of God. As water is wet and fire hot, so God is eternal, immutable, omnipotent, just, holy, and so on. Perhaps these divine characteristics are quite numerous; but usually it is only the more comprehensive terms that are discussed.

Beneath this simplicity lurk some of the most intricate problems and some of the most futile discussions ever attempted by theology. Taking their start from Aristotle’s confused theory of categories, theologians have analyzed God into an unknowable substratum, called his substance or essence, on the surface of which lay the knowable attributes, much like a visible coat of paint on a table-top that could never be seen or touched. Luther and Calvin made a great advance when they buried this scholastic rubbish, though it has been dug up more than once since.

ASEITY is a barbarous Latinism to indicate God’s absolute independence. He depends a se, on himself. He is self-existent. Sometimes, on the assumption that every reality must have a cause, God has been said to be the cause of himself. In this case he would also have to be the effect of himself; but the terms cause and effect must be stretched beyond any ordinary meaning, if only a single reality is in view. It would be more intelligible to say that God is the necessary Being — a phrase used in the ontological argument for God’s existence. In some imaginary polytheistic system there might be several self-existent beings and no creation ex nihilo; but in its biblical context the aseity of God and the doctrine of creation are inseparable. Certainly creation ex nihilo presupposes God’s self-existence.

The ETERNITY of God also seems to be involved in his aseity. The two appear to be in reality the same thing. If God does not exist in virtue of some external cause, but is self-existent, he could not have come into being; for it is inconceivable that a pure nothing should suddenly generate a self-existent God. Furthermore, if time is a function of the created mind, as St. Augustine said, or a function of moving bodies, as Aristotle taught, and is therefore an aspect of the universe, it follows that God transcends temporal relationships.

IMMUTABILITY follows upon aseity and eternity. Time and change are together denied of God. “They shall be changed, but thou are the same” (Heb. 1:12). If self-existence should change, it would become dependent existence; eternity would become time; perfection imperfection, and therefore God would become not-God. Cf. Num. 23:19, Ps. 33:11; Mal. 3:6; James 1:17.

INFINITY is hardly different from the preceding. Infinite means unlimited. What is self-existent must be unlimited. Infinite has sometimes meant indefinite or imperfect, from which is has been concluded that an infinite God could not have the limitation or definiteness of personality. This ancient usage is not what is intended. God is not the vague “boundless” of Anaximander; he is thoroughly definite. Etymology to the contrary, his definite attributes are in-finite. Nothing limits his power, wisdom, justice, and so on.

OMNIPOTENCE means that God can do all things. See the entry on GOD. Sophistic objections are sometimes brought against divine omnipotence by raising pseudo-problems. Can God create a stone so heavy that he cannot lift it? Can God draw a square with only three sides? These questions involve self-contradictions, are therefore meaningless, and set no real problem. With omnipotence should be joined sovereignty. God is the Supreme Being.

OMNIPRESENCE, Ubiquity, and Immensity refer to God’s relation to all space. To put it simply, God is everywhere. Cf. Ps. 139:7. Instead of saying God is everywhere in the world, it might be better to say that everywhere in the world is in God; for “in him we live and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). The difficulty is that God is not an extended, spatial being; God is a Spirit; and the preposition in cannot be used in its spatial sense. There are non-spatial senses: note the second in in the preceding sentence. Omnipresence therefore means that God knows and controls everything. It hardly differs from omnipotence.

OMNISCIENCE means that God knows all things. Why should he not? He made all things and decided their history. He works “all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:11).

Theologians have argued whether these attributes are really distinct and differ in God, or only seem different to us. Both positions have been defended. Some theologians have tried to straddle the question by saying that the attributes are not really different, nor merely apparently different to us, but are virtually different. It is hard to attach a meaning to such a vague expression. The short account above might suggest that the attributes are not only the same in God, but with a little thought they appear to be the same to us too.

Distinguished from these previous attributes, sometimes awkwardly named the natural attributes, is a second set called the moral attributes: WISDOM, JUSTICE, HOLINESS, GOODNESS, and the like. Neither group has a logical principle of derivation, and therefore there is no fixed number. The moral attributes are not too easily defined, but are better described by the scriptural passages that refer to them. With respect to wisdom one might cite: “The Lord is a God of knowledge” (I Sam. 2:3); and “His understanding is infinite” (Ps. 147:5). As for justice: “All his ways are judgment, a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he” (Deut. 32:4); and “to declare at this time his righteousness, that he might be just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). Holiness is sometimes thought of as a synonym for justice and righteousness; it has also been given a root meaning of separate, from which the inference has been drawn that holiness is not an “attribute” but an effect of the attributes: the attributes separate God from all else.

At first sight these moral attributes seem more distinguishable among themselves than the natural attributes are, and still more distinguishable from the natural attributes. Yet justice is easily interpreted as a particular form of wisdom, and this merges with omniscience. Similarly righteousness is an expression of God’s sovereignty in maintaining the divine legislation, and this is an exercise of power and knowledge. The unity of the attributes therefore is a thesis that cannot be thoughtlessly dismissed. (4)

In closing, John 8:58 has much to say about Christ’s aseity. A short entry from Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary captures this perfectly:

58. Before Abraham was, I am—The words rendered “was” and “am” are quite different. The one clause means, “Abraham was brought into being”; the other, “I exist.” The statement therefore is not that Christ came into existence before Abraham did (as Arians affirm is the meaning), but that He never came into being at all, but existed before Abraham had a being; in other words, existed before creation, or eternally (as Joh 1:1). In that sense the Jews plainly understood Him, since “then took they up stones to cast at Him,” just as they had before done when they saw that He made Himself equal with God (Joh 5:18).

hid himself—(See on [1814]Lu 4:30). (5)

God is self-existent as the Scriptures declare:

“They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.” (Psalms 102:26-27)

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)

Nothing in us caused or merited this supreme act of love on God’s part!

“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)

Notes:

1. Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Psalms, Vol. 5 p.1514.

2. Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, John, Vol.1, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 419.

3. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker), pp. 186-187.

4. Everett F. Harrison, ed., Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House. 1960), pp. 78-79.

5. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 1047.

“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.” (Titus 3:5)

“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 https://carm.org/what-is-the-aseity-of-god

The Aseity (Self-Existence) of God https://www.monergism.com/topics/god%E2%80%99s-attributes/aseity-self-existence-god

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