Imputational Righteousness

Imputational Righteousness by Jack Kettler

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

In this study, we will look at how our sins (the breaking of God’s law) and real guilt were imputed to Christ in that he experienced God’s judgment on our behalf, and because of this, Christ’s righteousness (keeping the law perfectly) is imputed or transferred to us.

As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical evidence, commentary evidence and confessional support for the purpose of glorifying God in how we live.
Note: These studies arise from my personal Bible studies. I learned long ago to write my studies down to share with others. Some of these studies have very little of my comments. These studies represent my approach to studying a text of Scripture or topic. May God be glorified always!

Definitions from two sources:

A reckoning or crediting of something to a person. Used salvifically, it refers the crediting of the personal guilt or personal righteousness of another, as in the imputation of the sin of Adam to all his descendants, the imputation of the sins of human beings to Christ, or the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to believers. *

Impute, Imputation:
To reckon to someone the blessing, curse, debt, etc. of another. Adam’s sin is imputed to all people (Romans 5:12-21), therefore, we are all guilty before God. Our sins were put upon, imputed, to Jesus on the cross where He became sin on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21) and died with them (Isaiah 53:4-6). Therefore, our sins are forgiven. Understanding imputation is very important. Imputation is the means of our salvation. Our sins were put upon, imputed, to Jesus on the cross. Our sins were “given” to Jesus. When He died on the cross, our sins, in a sense, died with Him. The righteousness that was His through His perfect obedience to the Father in His complete obedience to the Law is imputed, given, to us. In short, our sins were given to Jesus. His righteousness was given to us. Technically speaking our sins were imputed to Jesus. His righteousness was imputed to us. **

From Scripture:

“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:12-21)

“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

From the Pulpit Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:21:

Verse 21. – He hath made him to be sin for us; rather, he made; he speaks with definite reference to the cross. The expression is closely analogous to that in Galatians 3:13, where it is said that Christ has been “made a curse for us.” He was, as St. Augustine says, “delictorum susceptor, non commissor.” He knew no sin; nay, he was the very righteousness, holiness itself (Jeremiah 23:6), and yet, for our benefit, God made him to be “sin” for us, in that he “sent him in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin” (Romans 8:3). Many have understood the word “sin” in the sense of sin offering (Leviticus 5:9, LXX.); but that is a precarious application of the word, which is not justified by any other passage in the New Testament. We cannot, as Dean Plumptre says, get beyond the simple statement, which St. Paul is content to leave in its unexplicable mystery, “Christ identified with man’s sin; man identified with Christ’s righteousness.” And thus, in Christ, God becomes Jehovah-Tsidkenu, “the Lord our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6). That we might be made the righteousness of God in him; rather, that we might become. The best comment on the pregnant significance of this verse is Romans 1:16, 17, which is developed and explained in so large a section of that great Epistle (see 3:22-25; 4:5-8; 5:19, etc.). In him In his blood is a means of propitiation by which the righteousness of God becomes the righteousness of man (1 Corinthians 1:30), so that man is justified. The truth which St. Paul thus develops and expresses is stated by St. Peter and St. John in a simpler and less theological form (1 Peter 2:22-24; 1 John 3:5). (1)

Impute – Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:

[1,,G3049, logizomai ]
to reckon, “take into account,” or, metaphorically, “to put down to a person’s account,” is never rendered in the RV by the verb “to impute.” In the following, where the AV has that rendering, the RV uses the verb “to reckon,” which is far more suitable; Romans 4:6, Romans 4:8, Romans 4:11, Romans 4:22-Romans 4:24; 2 Corinthians 5:19; James 2:23. See ACCOUNT, and especially, in the above respect, RECKON.
[2,,G1677, ellogao[-eo] ]
(the -ao termination is the one found in the Koine, the language covering the NT period), denotes “to charge to one’s account, to lay to one’s charge,” and is translated “imputed” in Romans 5:13, of sin as not being “imputed when there is no law.” This principle is there applied to the fact that between Adam’s trangression and the giving of the Law at Sinai, sin, though it was in the world, did not partake of the character of transgression; for there was no law. The law of conscience existed, but that is not in view in the passage, which deals with the fact of external commandments given by God. In Philemon 1:18 the verb is rendered “put (that) to (mine) account.” See ACCOUNT. (2)

My comments regarding covenantal considerations that help us understand the doctrine of imputation:

Of utmost importance is the question of how man is made righteous or justified before the Holy God of Scripture. Most misunderstandings in this area happen because of a confusion between justification and sanctification. Sanctification is a process that starts once a person becomes regenerate and lasts through the entirety of the Christian life. Justification, in contrast, is a judicial or forensic one-time act of God that involves the pardoning and forgiving of our sins and accepting us as righteous in His sight because of what Christ accomplished for us. Moreover, justification is unequivocal or absolute for eternity. Our sins (the breaking of God’s law) were imputed to Christ in that he experienced God’s judgment on our behalf, and because of this, Christ’s righteousness (keeping the law perfectly) is imputed to us. We are therefore pardoned and counted as righteous for His sake. It is not a legal fiction as some may say; it is a fact in the courts of heaven based upon Christ’s perfect propitiatory sacrifice and accomplishment at Golgotha. The thoughtful reader will notice that there is a double imputation.

In further consideration of a relation and necessary concept, biblical justification involves the Hebrew verb tsayke, to which both the Greek word dikaioun and the Latin justificare refer, and is used in Scripture when dealing with passages on forensic or declared judicial righteousness. As noted, the Hebrew verb is forensic and means to absolve someone in a trial, or to hold or to declare just, as opposed to the verb to condemn and to incriminate. See Exodus 23:7; Deuteronomy 25:1; Job 9:3; Psalms 143:2; Proverbs 17:15; Luke 18:14, Romans 4:3-5; and Acts 13:39. The Scriptures are unequivocal in establishing our justification because of how Christ bore the wrath of God for us (see Romans 4:1-7). Justification does not happen over and over again. Christ’s died once for all of our sins (not just some) and His death was accepted by the Father on our behalf. It is a finished fact!

Also, and of particular importance for this study, is the doctrine of God’s covenantal dealings with man in Scripture and how this explains God’s transactions with man. What is a covenant? In short, a covenant is an agreement or contract between two parties. The word “covenant” is translated from the Hebrew word berith. It means “to cut.” In the Scripture, there are covenants made between men, and there are covenants made between God and man, such as the covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 15:9-18, 17:2.

It should be noted that there are two types of covenants: unconditional and conditional. A conditional covenant obligates both God and mankind to certain responsibilities. In the case of a conditional covenant, God’s promises are contingent upon a man meeting his part of the agreement such as the land promises made with Israel. Historically, Israel was removed from the Promised Land by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, for her unfaithfulness to God’s covenant. By way of contrast, in an unconditional covenant, God obliges Himself to certain expressed responsibilities for the fulfilling of the contract regardless of how man responds. An unconditional covenant is a promise made by God to man that is not contingent upon a man fulfilling any obligation or conditions. Genesis 15:9-18 is a perfect example of this, where we see the cutting of the animals into pieces and God alone walking between the pieces of animals in the form of a smoking furnace and a burning lamp in verse 17, thus guaranteeing the eternal covenant would be fulfilled because of His action. If God did not keep the covenant made with Abraham and ultimately his spiritual descendants in Christ, God is saying that He Himself would be cut in pieces, or bear the judgment for violation of the covenant, which is an impossibility.
Consequently, because of God himself at Calvary bearing the judgment, this makes imputation possible.

Now for a very helpful article on Imputation of Adam’s Sin from the Dictionary of Theological Terms:

First, it describes the transmission of the guilt of Adam’s first sin to his descendants. It is imputed, or reckoned, to them; i.e., it is laid to their account. Paul’s statement is unambiguous: “By one man’s disobedience many were made [constituted] sinners” (Rom. 5:19). Some Reformed theologians ground the imputation of Adam’s sin in the real involvement of all his posterity in his sin, because of the specific unity of the race in him. Shedd strongly advocates this view in his Dogmatic Theology. Others—e.g., Charles and A. A. Hodge, and Louis Berkhof—refer all to the federal headship of Adam. The Westminster Standards emphasize that Adam is both the federal head and the root of all his posterity. Both parties accept that this is so. Thus, the dispute is not whether Adam’s federal headship is the ground of the imputation of his first sin to us, but whether that federal headship rests solely on a divine constitution—i.e., because God appointed it—or on the fact that God made him the actual root of the race and gave the race a real specific unity in him.

The theory of mediate imputation* has never gained acceptance in orthodox expressions of the Reformed Faith.* It is subversive to the entire concept of the imputation of Adam’s sin upon which Paul grounds his exposition of justification by virtue of union with Christ our righteousness (Rom. 5:12–19; 1 Cor. 15:22).

Paul’s statement of the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity is stark: “By [through] one man sin entered into the world, and death by [through] sin; so death passed upon all men, for all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12). In the AV the clause “for all have sinned” may give the impression that Paul’s argument is that all die like Adam because all, like him, have sinned. But this is not the case. His statement is, “Death passed upon all humanity inasmuch as all sinned.” He teaches that all participated in Adam’s sin and that both the guilt and the penally of that sin were transmitted to them. However we explain the mode of that participation—whether on purely federal or on traducianist-federal grounds—the fact of it stands as a fundamental of the Christian revelation. As the Shorter Catechism says, “The covenant [of works] being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity, all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression” (Question 16, emphasis added.)

Imputation of our Sin to Christ and of His Righteousness to Us

Second, imputation has a second major use in Scripture. It describes the act of God in visiting the guilt of believers on Christ and of conferring the righteousness of Christ upon believers. In this sense “imputation is an act of God as sovereign judge, at once judicial and sovereign, whereby He—(1). Makes the guilt, legal responsibility of our sins, really Christ’s, and punishes them in Him, Isa. 53:6; John 1:29; 2 Cor. 5:21; and (2). Makes the merit, legal rights of Christ’s righteousness, ours, and then treats us as persons legally invested with all those rights, Rom. 4:6; 10:4; 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9. As Christ is not made a sinner by the imputation to Him of our sins, so we are not made holy by the imputation to us of His righteousness. The transfer is only of guilt from us to Him, and of merit from Him to us. He justly suffered the punishment due to our sins, and we justly receive the rewards due to His right-eousness, 1 John 1:8, 9” (A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, chap. 30, Q. 15).

The fact of this imputation is inescapable: “By the obedience of one [Christ] shall many be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). The ground of it is the real, vital, personal, spiritual and federal union of Christ with His people. It is indispensable to the biblical doctrine of justification.* Without it, we fail to do justice to Paul’s teaching, and we cannot lead believers into the comfort that the gospel holds out to them. That comfort is of a perfect legal release from guilt and of a perfect legal righteousness that establishes a secure standing before God and His law on the basis of a perfect obedience outside of their own subjective experience.

The double imputation of our sin to Christ and of His righteousness to us is clearly laid down in 2 Cor. 5:21: “He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Hugh Martin’s paraphrase catches the meaning precisely: “God made him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, who knew no righteousness, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” That Paul means us to understand a judicial act of imputation is clear. God did not make Christ personally a sinner. The reference is not to Christ’s subjective experience. He was as personally sinless and impeccable when He was bearing our sins on the cross as He had ever been. What Paul is describing is God’s act of reckoning our sin to Christ so as to make Him legally liable for it and all its consequences. Similarly, while believers are not by any means righteous in their subjective experience, God reckons to them the full merit of Christ’s obedience in life and death (Rom. 5:18, 19). That righteousness, not any attained virtue, is the ground of a believer’s acceptance with God.

Denials of Imputation

Various groups have vehemently denied the doctrine of imputation in one or both of the senses given above.

Pelagian Denials

Pelagianism* is based on the supposition that Adam’s sin was not transmitted either as to its guilt or its corruption. It holds to the error that at birth every one of Adam’s posterity is born with the same sinlessness that he received at his creation.

“Reformed” Denials

The Neonomian* school of Richard Baxter adopted a novel view of justifying faith and of the righteousness by which a believer stands acceptable to God. That view is that faith is obedience to a new law of works and that on the ground of this obedience, God graciously accepts the believer as righteous. Thus, the only reckoning God does in our justification is to look on imperfect obedience as perfect righteousness. What this does for the doctrine of the absolute truth and holiness of God is unimaginable.

Another defection from within the Reformed camp came from the teachings of Jonathan Edwards’ pupil, Samuel Hopkins. Hopkins looked on sin and righteousness in men as nothing more than acts of their own will. He therefore rejected the imputation of Adam’s sin as a ground of condemnation and of Christ’s righteousness as the ground of justification.

A Modernist Denial

According to J. E. Davey, late Principal of Assembly’s College, Belfast, the doctrine of imputation is just “another Form of Transubstantiation.” In his book, The Changing Vesture of the Faith, Davey wrote, “Protestantism has unwittingly done exactly the same thing [as Romanism]. The centre of the orthodox system is a doctrine of atonement resting upon a theory of imputation which is only another form of transubstantiation. Guilt and righteousness are relative terms, which refer to the personal will, and cannot be disassociated from it by any mental jugglery.… These words simply represent states of the consciousness, and are in no sense transferable.”

Davey’s views, propounding a way of salvation almost divorced from what Christ did and attained by a “simple process of change,” are based upon unscriptural notions of guilt and righteousness. He denies any objective reality to them. They are to him mere forms of consciousness. They are to be forgotten, not atoned for. Thus, according to Davey, salvation is accomplished without any imputation of the righteousness of Christ to the believer, without any satisfaction made to divine justice, and without any legal ground for its being established. This is a typical “liberal” gospel, which is not a gospel at all, and can be arrived at only by a wholesale wresting, or ignoring, of Scripture. No more telling commentary on just how vital the doctrine of imputation is to the scriptural scheme of salvation could be given.

Arminian,* Lutheran, and Dispensationalist* Denials. Objections against the orthodox statement of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to believers come also from various evangelicals, including Arminians, some Lutherans, and dispensationalists. Reflecting aspects of the Neonomian view, their argument is usually that “faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:3, 5). That is, faith is regarded as righteousness. However, that is something the text quoted does not say. Faith is counted for or unto righteousness, not as righteousness. Paul is not teaching that God regarded faith as something it was not. Rather he shows that faith is the instrument by which this righteousness is received.

Proof of the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness

Faith is counted unto believers for righteousness. The question is, “Whose righteousness?” It certainly is not our own. The Bible makes it clear that it is Christ’s (1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21).

Two Kinds of Words in Romans 5:18, 19. The Bible also makes it clear what it means by Christ’s righteousness. The terms Paul employs in Rom. 5:18, 19 are exact. R. C. H. Lenski draws attention to the -ma and the -is endings in this text: “Therefore as by the offence (paraptoma) of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness (dikaioma) of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification (dikaiosis) of life. For as by one man’s disobedience (parakoe) many were made [constituted] sinners, so by the obedience (hupakoe) of one shall many be made [constituted] righteous” (The Interpretation of Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Romans).

The significance of the -ma and the -is endings should not be overlooked. Paul has been piling up nouns with the -ma ending, six of them in verse 16 (dorema, “gift,” krima, “judgment,” katakrima, “condemnation,” charisma, “free gift,” paraptomata, “offences,” dikaioma, “justification”). In every case the -ma ending indicates not only the action but its effect: dorema is the gift with its effect; krima is the judgment result or verdict; katakrima is the adverse judgment result or verdict; charisma is the gift of grace and its effect; paraptomata means many falls with their results; dikaioma is righteousness with its result, namely a verdict of acquittal or justification on the ground of righteousness.

In contrast, the -is ending emphasizes the thought of action. Additionally, parakoe and hupakoe denote respectively the action of disobeying and obeying. With all this in mind, we are in a position to grasp the full significance of Paul’s statement. Adam’s paraptoma (v. 18) means his offence and its effects leading to katakrima, a verdict of judgment on all men. Even so by the dikaioma of Christ, or His justification because of His righteous actions, the charisma, or gracious gift, brought for all men a dikaiosis, an action declaring them righteous. The ground of these verdicts is stated in verse 19. By Adam’s act of disobedience, many were constituted sinners. By Christ’s action of obedience, many are constituted righteous.

Christ’s Personal Righteousness Imputed. The point Paul makes about our justification is vitally important: God declared Jesus Christ righteous on the basis of His personal righteousness. He declares believers righteous, not on the ground of any personal righteousness, but on the ground of the righteous action of Christ in His obedience. The entire action of Christ in obeying God, including what theologians term His active obedience as well as His passive obedience (i.e. , His obedience both in His life and in His death), is the ground of God’s verdict of justification on the believer. The claim that the Bible does not teach that Christ’s active obedience was vicarious, or that His personal obedience is imputed to us to constitute us legally righteous before God, is patently groundless. In the one place where the NT formally and extensively deals with the ground of our justification (Rom. 5:12–19), these truths are carefully expounded.

Further Textual Proof. Other texts carry the same message. As God “made him [Christ] to be sin for us,” so He made us “the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). This signifies a legal imputation, not a moral infusion, of righteousness. The “righteousness of God in him” is the righteousness God has provided. And where may we find it? “In him,” not in our works, or even in our faith. By faith we receive Christ as our righteousness, but we must never locate the merit of our justification in our act of faith. No action of ours, even our believing, is perfect. Thus no action of ours, even our believing, can be the ground of our justification, which demands a perfect righteousness. It is Christ who “is made unto us righteousness” (1 Cor. 1:30). Thus with Jeremiah we properly call Him Jehovah Tsidkenu, “the Lord our Righteousness” (Jer. 23:6).
Consequences of the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness

The truth of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness has important consequences for the believer’s assurance and serenity. The latter is discussed in contrast with a psychological counterfeit of it under Self-esteem.*

Understanding Imputation Yields Assurance. As long as Christians keep dissecting their own faith to see if they “really” believed, felt enough penitent emotion, prayed the right prayer, or have performed to a sufficiently high standard, they will destroy assurance. There is no perfection in the best we have done or can do. And yet assurance demands a perfect foundation on which to rest. We have that foundation in the perfect righteousness of Christ, which God has made over to the account of every believer. He who believes in Christ stands before God’s judgment bar as if he personally had rendered the perfect obedience of the Lord Jesus. We are in Him; He is the head and we are the body. The head suffered for the body’s sin; the body receives all the reward of the head’s righteousness.

This doctrine will have far-reaching effects in the life of the believer. It will set him free to serve the Lord in love. This is the essence of Christian liberty. As J. Gresham Machen long ago pointed out, this is the liberty from having to establish our own righteousness before God, or having to do something to gain His acceptance. Christ has done all that. Now we serve, not to be justified, but because we are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).

Understanding Imputation Leads to Holiness. Some imagine that the doctrine of free justification and imputed righteousness takes away the motive for holiness and leaves a believer free to sin. Paul answers that objection with a simple question: “How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Rom. 6:2)—rather, “How shall we who died to sin live any longer therein?” That is, we died in Christ and rose again in Him (v. 4), and that is the strongest motive for holiness we can have. (3)

Westminster Catechism on justification and how this explains the doctrine on imputation:

Question 33 – What is justification?

Answer 33.) Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins,(1) and accepteth us as righteous in his sight,(2) only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us,(3) and received by faith alone.(4)
(1) Romans 3:24-25, 4:6-8;
(2) 2 Corinthians 5:19, 21;
(3) Romans 5:17-19;
(4) Galatians 2:16; Philippians 3:9;

In closing, a summation of imputation from the Illustrated Bible Dictionary:

Imputation is used to designate any action or word or thing as reckoned to a person. Thus in doctrinal language (1) the sin of Adam is imputed to all his descendants, i.e., it is reckoned as theirs, and they are dealt with therefore as guilty; (2) the righteousness of Christ is imputed to them that believe in him, or so attributed to them as to be considered their own; and (3) our sins are imputed to Christ, i.e., he assumed our “law-place,” undertook to answer the demands of justice for our sins. In all these cases the nature of imputation is the same (Romans 5:12-19; Compare Philemon 1:18 Philemon 1:19). ***

“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)


1. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, 2 Corinthians, Vol. 19, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 126.
2. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Iowa Falls, Iowa, Riverside Book and Bible House), pp. 583-583.
3. Cairns, Alan, Dictionary of Theological Terms (Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International, 2002), pp. 187-190.

“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:

For more study:

* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes:

** CARM theological dictionary
And at:

*** M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain, copy freely.

Imputation by B B Warfield

Justification by an Imputed Righteousness by John Bunyan…/Justification.Im…/Entire.Book.html

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Christ Our Prophet, Priest and King

Christ Our Prophet, Priest and King                                        by Jack Kettler

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

When we talk about Christ holding the office of prophet, priest, and king in the New Covenant administration, we inevitably have to look back to the Old Covenant administration to see how the God’s people in the past looked forward to the Messianic hope that was developing along three lines, which ultimately was completed with the Son of David, the Messiah holing all three prophetic offices.

Believers in the Old Covenant looked forward to a prophet like Moses, a perfect high priest, and a coming king to rule over Israel forever.

As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, commentary evidence and confessional support for the purpose of glorifying God in how we live.

Definitions from two sources:

Threefold offices of Christ:

Christ’s mediatorial work through which he accomplishes salvation seen as his fulfilling the duties of the offices of prophet, priest and king. *

Offices of Christ:

Jesus also occupies three main offices: Prophet, Priest, and King. In other words, Jesus functions and/or has functioned in these offices. **

These Messianic offices were anticipated in the Old Covenant:

The Messianic Prophet is seen in: “The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken.” (Deuteronomy 18:15)

The Messianic Priest is seen in: “The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4)

The Messianic King is seen in: “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” (Psalm 2:6)

Scriptural passages that support the Threefold offices of Christ:

From Scripture, Christ as a Prophet:

“A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.” (Acts 3:22-23)

From the Pulpit Commentary on Acts 3:22-23:

Verse 22. – Moses indeed said for Moses truly said unto the fathers, A.V. and T.R.; the Lord God for the Lord your God, A.V. and T.R.; from among for of, A.V.; to him shall ye hearken for him shall ye hear, A V.; speak for say, A.V. Moses indeed said. Peter now verifies his assertion about the prophets in the previous verse by quoting from Moses, and referring to Samuel and those that came after. A prophet, etc. The quotation is from Deuteronomy 18:15-18. That this was understood by the Jews to relate to some one great prophet who had not yet come, appears from the question “Art thou that prophet?” (John 1:21), and from the saying of the Jews after the miracle of the loaves and fishes, “This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world” (John 6:14; John 7:40). St. Peter here teaches that that prophet was none other than Christ himself, who was like unto Moses in the fullness of the revelation given unto him, in his being a Mediator between God and the people, in being the Author of a new law – the law of faith and love, in building a new tabernacle for God to inhabit, even the Church in which he will dwell for ever and ever (see Hebrews 1:1, 2).

Verse 23. – Shall be for come to pass, A.V.; shall not hearken to for will not hear, A.V.; utterly destroyed for destroyed, A.V. Utterly destroyed. The Greek ἐξολοθρεύω οξξυρσ frequently in the LXX. for the Hebrew phrase,” cut off from his people” (Genesis 17:14); but in Deuteronomy 18:19, the phrase is quite different, “I will require it of him.” St. Peter here gives the sense, not the ipsissima verba, and thereby marks the extreme gravity of the sin of unbelief (see John 3:18). (1)

From Scripture, Christ as a Priest:

“Even he shall build the temple of the LORD; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” (Zechariah 6:13)

From Matthew Poole’s Commentary on Zechariah 6:13:

Even he shall build: the promise is repeated to settle the Jews in the assured expectation of the thing.

The temple of the Lord; your material temple as type, and the spiritual temple as antitype.

He shall bear the glory of both kingly office and priestly, the glory of both those crowns shall abide on him, the only person worthy of it.

He shall sit; which speaks both his royal magnificence and the perpetuity of it.

And rule; though he shall have many attendants and officers, yet he shall rule, give laws, distribute rewards, and punish offenders.

Upon his throne; his by birth, by donation, by purchase, and by conquest, his most undoubtedly by best right.

He shall be a priest; the great High Priest, to offer the great sacrifice to God, to make reconciliation, to intercede for his people: this is that meant by the crowns set on thy head, O Joshua.

The counsel of peace shall be between them both; the peace made for God’s people shall rest upon these two, the kingly and priestly office of Christ: by his priestly office he shall make their peace with God, by his kingly office he shall deliver them from spiritual enemies; by priestly operation he shall expiate our sin, by the power of his kingly office he shall extirpate sin; as Priest he makes, as King maintains, peace; purchase as a Priest, protect as a King. (2)

“Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made a high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.” (Hebrews 6:20)

From Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on Hebrews 6:20:

  1. The absence of the Greek article requires Alford’s translation, “Where. As forerunner for us (that is, in our behalf), entered Jesus” [and is now: this last clause is implied in the ‘where’ of the Greek, which implies being IN a place: ‘whither’ is understood to ‘entered,’ taken out of ‘where’; whither Jesus entered, and where He is now]. The “for us” implies that it was not for Himself, as God, He needed to enter there, but as our High Priest, representing and introducing us, His followers, opening the way to us, by His intercession with the Father, as the Aaronic high priest entered the Holiest Place once a year to make propitiation for the people. The first-fruits of our nature are ascended, and so the rest is sanctified. Christ’s ascension is our promotion: and whither the glory of the Head has preceded, thither the hope of the body, too, is called. We ought to keep festal day, since Christ has taken up and set in the heavens the first-fruit of our lump, that is, the human flesh [Chrysostom]. As John Baptist was Christ’s forerunner on earth, so Christ is ours in heaven. (3)

From Scripture, Christ as a King:

“Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” (Psalm 2:6)

“Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt.” (John 12:15)

“Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords.” (1 Timothy 6:15)

From Barnes’ Notes on the Bible on 1 Timothy 6:15:

Which in his times he shall show – Which God will reveal at such times as he shall deem best. It is implied here that the time is unknown to people; see the notes on Acts 1:7.

Who is the blessed and only Potentate – God, who is the ruler over all. The word used here – δυνάστης dunastēs – means one who is “mighty” Luke 1:22, then a prince or ruler; compare Acts 8:27. It is applied here to God as the mighty ruler over the universe.

The King of kings – Who claims dominion over all the kings of the earth. In Revelation 7:14, the same appellation is applied to the Lord Jesus, ascribing to him universal dominion.

Lord of lords – The idea here is, that all the sovereigns of the earth are under his sway; that none of them can prevent the accomplishment of his purposes; and that he can direct the winding up of human affairs when he pleases. (4)

The next entry is a good survey on the topic of the threefold offices of Christ.

From The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge:

JESUS CHRIST, THREEFOLD OFFICE OF: A phrase connoting the functions of Christ as prophet, priest, and king.

Historical Survey.

From the earliest times Jesus has been recognized as the representative of a twofold and yet unitary theocratic function, as king and priest. The spiritual kingdom of the Messiah has its foundation in the sacrifice of his life (Matt. xvi. 16-25, xx. 25-28). This thought may be traced from the second century to the time of the Reformation. But as early as Eusebius a threefold office is ascribed to Christ that of prophet, priest, and king, and this is traceable to Jewish sources. The view of a threefold office, however, did not suppress the tradition of a twofold office, although the three designations of Christ were always used separately. Among the medieval theologians, Thomas Aquinas approaches closely the conception of Eusebius since he speaks of legislator, sacerdos, and rex, but with him this is merely a mechanical division, and Thomas makes no further use of the threefold scheme. The Evangelical doctrine followed in the beginning the tradition of a twofold office (cf. the works of Luther and the older Evangelical catechisms). Calvin added the prophetic office as a third function, and his conception of the doctrine of Christ’s work became the basis for its treatment in Reformed theology and soon also in Lutheran theology. As prophet the Messiah brings the full light of intelligence and thus becomes the fulness and consummation of all revelations. As king of a spiritual and eternal kingdom he not only brings his people external and passing aid, but equips them especially with the gifts for eternal life and guards them against their enemies. As priest Christ secures to his people by his atonement and vicarious suffering the blessing that God deals with them not as judge, but as gracious father. In accordance with these principles Calvin emphasized the truth that communion with God is found in Christ’s living personality and in life communion with that personality. In the Heidelberg Catechism (Questions 31 and 32) the thought of Calvin received a finished form and found a large circulation. The orthodox followers of Calvin, however, attempted both to explain the full content of the Messianic person from three points of view, and to analyze the act of salvation in its historical development according to the threefold scheme, thus not easily escaping the mistaken assumption that Christ had become first prophet, then priest, and finally king. It became the custom to deprive Christ of his royal function in the state of humiliation and of the prophetical function in the state of exaltation. Against this mechanical tendency, Cocceius opened new and fruitful points of view by returning to the living material of the Bible. The usual order of the offices of Christ seemed to him justified in so far as the dignity of Christ rose in the growing mind of the people, from the state of a prophet to that of a king. But in reality, be states, Christ’s priesthood must be put in the first place, since even before time he mediated between his Father and the people; then follow the royal and prophetic offices. The first office is that through which Christ acquires his people; the second that through which he keeps them; and the third that through which he leads them to the knowledge and love of the king. This double consideration would have resulted in an organic and simultaneous union of the offices in the living personality, even if Cocceius had not expressly added that the entire mediatorial act lasted until the end of days.

The Roman catechism also teaches the threefold office of Christ.

In Lutheran Theology.

In Lutheran theology the doctrine was adopted only at a late period. Melanchthon had not left to the school of theology which followed him a uniform system as Calvin had left for Reformed orthodoxy. The interest in the individual reception of justification drew attention from an all-sided objective observation of Christ and his gifts. There was even a tendency to reduce the twofold office of Christ to a single function. According to Melanchthon and Hesshusen, Christ is before everything priest; even as king he exercises essentially priestly functions. Selnecker seems to have been the first who used the formula of a threefold office, but his exposition is governed also by the priesthood of Christ, to which the two other offices are related like introduction and conclusion. Others again, like Gerhard, tried to identify the priestly and prophetical offices. Hemming and Nicohlus Hunnius taught that the office of the king was supreme and that it comprehended the other two functions. Everywhere the same concentration upon one point is found. In the meantime, however, Hafenreffer and especially Gerhard had directed their attention to the idea of a threefold office as advocated by Eusebius and Calvin. Gerhard not only used the new expression, but tried to prove that only the sum of the three offices offers the fulness of Christ’s benevolent gifts. In the regnum potentiae he found a specific function for the royal office. Since the middle of the seventeenth century, after the old Melanchthonian scheme of dogmatics had been replaced by an objective and historical arrangement of the material, there was room for a coherent representation of the work of Christ, which was systematized according to the threefold office. There was a reaction of the old Lutheran sentiment in 1773 when Ernesti criticized the reigning doctrine because he could not see why the clear and sufficient designation of the work of Christ as satisfaction should be obscured by metaphorical phrases. Moreover, he was of the opinion that the different offices were not clearly separated from each other, so that one title might justly cover all of them. Other dogmaticians after him raised similar objections on the ground that neither the prophetical nor the royal office stands upon equal footing with the priestly office, but that both point to the atonement which is included in it. But the majority of recent dogmaticians adhere to the scheme of a threefold office. Schleiermacher took the lead in this tendency by attempting the successful proof that the three offices in their indissoluble union completely define and circumscribe the character of redemption as accomplished by Christ. With the exclusion of the prophetic office, he holds, the clear consciousness of the believer would be superseded by a magical mediation of salvation. Without the royal office, there would be lacking the relation of the individual believer to a community. Finally, the absence of the priestly office would rob foundation of Christ of its religious content.

Interpretation and Significance of the Doctrine.

The doctrine of Christ’s threefold office represents the redeemer as the fulfiller of all Old-Testament prophecies and thus of all needs of the human being. Everything that Israel expected of its future salvation had concentrated itself more and more in the hope of the Messiah, “the anointed of God” (John i. 41, iv. 25). He was thought of as the king who was to restore the glory of David’s kingdom. In the course of time the prophet, who as successor of Moses was never to be wanting among God’s people (Deut. xviii. 15), became identical with the Messiah (John vi.14-15). The third office is reflected in the picture of the Mesaiah in Isa. liii. God’s people can feel themselves secure only when all conflict of the theocratic offices is excluded by unity and every blessing of salvation is to be found in one single person (Heb. vii. 23 sqq.). There was a longing especially for the solution of the frequent historical conflict between kingdom and priesthood (I Sam. ii. 35; Zech. vi. 12 sqq.). A priest-king after the manner of Melchizedek was hoped for (Ps. cx. 4). All these elements were combined in the idea of the Messiah who was to possess the spirit of God in many-sided fulness and as the power of a comprehensive redeeming activity (Isa. xi. 1 sqq., lxi. 1 sqq.; cf. Luke iv. 18 sqq.; John iii. 34). The anointing with the spirit mentioned in these passages has the significance of the anointing of kings, priests, and to a certain extent also of prophets in so far as they were endowed with the charismata. By confessing Jesus as Christ, the Christian congregation expresses that it finds in him the performer of all activities which secure salvation to the people of God. Jesus is king (Matt. xxi. 5, xxvii. 11), prophet (Matt. xxi. 11; Luke vii. 16), and high priest (Heb. ii. 17, iii. 1). The scheme of the threefold office permits of arranging the Biblical material in its original connection, as it belongs to a complete representation of the person of Christ. Its systematic value becomes evident only from the proof that for the fulfilment of the Messianic activity there is necessary nothing more and nothing less than the functions designated by it. The three offices of prophet, priest, and king correspond to the needs of the moral education of man and of his connection with human society and the surrounding world. If the activity of Christ on earth were restricted to atonement, it would not be possible to speak of the perfection of the human being in connection with Christ. It is a matter of course that in every moment of his earthly and heavenly activity Christ exercises at one and the same time all his offices. Socinianism claims for the entire activity of Christ on earth only the prophetical office in order to reserve the other functions as faint ornaments’ for the state of exaltation (Racovian Catechism, 191 sqq., 456 sqq.). The permanent union and simultaneous exercise of the three functions do not exclude, however, a fixed aim, namely, the kingdom. To this as the organizing purpose of the whole points before everything the Biblical basis of the formula, the starting-point and essential content of the Messianic office is royal dominion over and for God’s people, the peculiar modification of which is described by the other titles.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: For history of the doctrine consult: H. L. J. Heppe, Dogmatik des deutschen Protestantismus im 16. Jahrhundert, pp, 209 sQq. 222 sqq. Gotha 1857 idem, Dogmatik der evangelisch-reformirten Kirche, Elberfeld, 1861; A. Schweizer, Glaubenslehre der evangelisch-reformirten Kirche, vol, ii., Zurich, 1847 H. Schmid, Dogmatik der evangelisch-reformirten Kirche, Frankfort, 1876: A.

Ritsehl, Die christliche Lehre von der Rechtfertigung und Vershnung, i. 520 sqq. iii. 394 sq., Bonn, 1882-83, Eng. transl., of vol. i., Edinburgh, 1872. For exposition of the doctrine consult the literature under DOGMA, DOGMATICS; WESTMINSTER ASSEMBLY. (5)

 The value of this next section utilizing the Westminster Shorter Catechism along with scriptural proofs will be seen immediately. The Shorter Catechism is designed for teenagers and young adults in Reformed Churches. The catechism teaching method uses questions and answers. The questions and answers function as a powerful memorization technique.

 Westminster Shorter Catechism Of Christ’s Offices:

Question 23 – What offices doth Christ execute as our Redeemer?

Answer 23.) Christ, as our Redeemer, executeth the offices of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation. (1)

(1) Acts 3:21-22; Hebrews 12:25; 2 Corinthians 13:3; Hebrews 5:5-7, 7:25; Psalm 2:6; Isaiah 9:6-7; Matthew 21:5; Psalm 2:8-11;

Question 24 – How doth Christ execute the office of a prophet?

Answer 24.) Christ executeth the office of a prophet, in revealing to us, by his word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation. (1)

(1) John 1:18; 1 Peter 1:10-12; John 15:15, 20:31;

Question 25 – How doth Christ execute the office of a priest?

Answer 25.) Christ executeth the office of a priest, in his once offering up of himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice,(1) and reconcile us to God,(2) and in making continual intercession for us.(3)

(1) Hebrews 9:14, 28;

(2) Hebrews 2:17;

(3) Hebrews 7:24-25;

Question 26 – How doth Christ execute the office of a king?

Answer 26.) Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, (1) in ruling (2) and defending us, (3) and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies. (4)

(1) Acts 15:14-16;

(2) Isaiah 33:22;

(3) Isaiah 32:1-2;

(4) 1 Corinthians 15:25; Psalm 110:1-7;

In closing:

The Threefold Office of Christ by R. C. Sproul:

“One of the great contributions to a Christian understanding of the work of Christ is John Calvin’s exposition of the threefold office of Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King.1 As the prophet of God par excellence, Jesus was both the object and subject of prophecy. His person and His work are the focal point of Old Testament prophecy, yet He Himself was a prophet. In Jesus’ own prophetic statements, the kingdom of God and His role within the coming kingdom are major themes. A principal activity of a prophet was to declare the Word of God. Jesus not only declared the Word of God, He is Himself the Word of God. Jesus was the supreme Prophet of God, being God’s Word in the flesh.

The Old Testament prophet was a kind of mediator between God and the people of Israel. He spoke to the people on behalf of God. The priest spoke to God on behalf of the people. Jesus also fulfilled the role of the great High Priest. The Old Testament priests offered sacrifices regularly, but Jesus offered a sacrifice of everlasting value once for all time. Jesus’ offering to the Father was the sacrifice of Himself. He was both the offering and the offerer.

Whereas in the Old Testament the mediating offices of prophet, priest, and king were held by separate individuals, all three offices are held supremely in the one person of Jesus. Jesus fulfilled the messianic prophecy of Psalm 110. He is the one who is both David’s descendant and David’s Lord. He is the Priest who is also the King. The Lamb who is slain is also the Lion of Judah. To gain a full understanding of the work of Christ we must not

  1. Calvin, Institutes, bk. II, 1:425-429.

View Him merely as a prophet, or as a priest, or as a king. All three offices are perfectly fulfilled in Him.


  1. Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and was Himself a prophet.
  2. Jesus was both Priest and sacrifice. As Priest, He offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin.
  3. Jesus is the anointed King of all kings and Lord of all lords.

Biblical passages for reflection:

Psalm 110

Isaiah 42:1-4

Luke 1:26-38

Acts 3:17-26

Hebrews 5:5-6” (6)

“And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” (Revelation 1:5)

In this passage from Revelation, we see all three offices of Christ. Let’s consider John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible on this passage:

“And from Jesus Christ, Who, though the second Person in the Trinity, is mentioned last, because many things were to be said of him; and who is described in all his offices: in his prophetic office,

the faithful witness; as he is of his Father, of his mind and will, with respect to doctrine and worship; of his truth and faithfulness in his promises; and of his love, grace, and mercy, to his chosen; and of himself, of his true deity, proper sonship, and perfect equality with the Father; of his Messiahship, and of salvation through his obedience, sufferings, and death; and of all truth in general, to which he has bore a faithful testimony [prophetic office] several ways, in his ministry, by his miracles, at his death, and by the shedding of his blood to seal it; by his Spirit since, and by the ministers of his word: he is described in his priestly office be

the first begotten of the dead: being the first that rose from the dead by his own power, and to an immortal life; for though some few were raised before him, yet not by themselves, nor to live for ever, but to die again. Moreover, he is the firstfruits of the resurrection, the pledge and earnest of it, as well as the efficient cause and exemplar of it. This character supposes that he died, as he did, for the sins of his people; and that he rose again from the dead, as he did, for their justification; and that he rose first as their head and representative, and opened the way of life for them. And he is described in his kingly office, for it follows,

and the Prince of the kings of the earth: which is not to be understood figuratively of the saints, who have power over sin, Satan, and the world, through the efficacious grace of Christ, and of whom he is Prince or King; but literally of the kings and princes of this world, over whom Christ is King and Lord, who receive their crowns and kingdoms from him, and rule by him, and are accountable to him, as they one day must be. Next follows a doxology, or an ascription of glory to him,

unto him that hath loved us; his own, his people, his church, his chosen, and who are given him by his Father; these he has loved with an everlasting and unchangeable love, with a love of complacency and delight, which passes knowledge, and will never end: and which he has shown in espousing their persons, undertaking their cause, assuming their nature, and in nothing more than in giving himself for them as a propitiatory sacrifice, or in dying and shedding his precious blood for them, as is next expressed:

and washed us from our sins in his own blood; [priestly office] which shows that these persons were loved before washed; they were not first washed, and then loved, but first loved, and then washed. Love was the cause of washing, and not washing the cause of love; hence it appears that they were in themselves filthy, and unclean through sin; and that they could not cleanse themselves by anything they could do; and that such was the love of Christ to them, that he shed his precious blood for them, which is a fountain opened, to wash in for sin, and which cleanses from all sin. This is to be understood, not of the sanctification of their natures, which is the work of the Spirit, but of atonement for their sins, and justification from them by the blood of Christ, whereby they are so removed, that they are all fair, and without spot. It is afterwards said, that these same persons are made priests; and it may be observed, that the priests were always washed, before they performed their service, as such (n). The Alexandrian copy and the Syriac and Arabic versions read, “and hath loosed us from our sins in”, or “by his blood”; that is, from the guilt of them, which was bound upon them.” (7)

“These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.” (Revelation 17:14)

“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)


  1. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Acts, Vol. 18, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 95.
  2. Matthew Poole, Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. 3, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), pp. 999-1000.
  3. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 1413.
  4. Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, 1 Timothy, p. 3942.
  5. Philip Schaff, Editor, The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. VI: (Christian Classic Ethereal Library PDF), pp. 174-176.
  6. C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christians Faith, (Wheaton, Illinois, Tyndale House Publishers, 1992), p. 85-86.
  7. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Revelation, 9 Volumes, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, pp. 10-11.

“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:

For more study:

* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes:

** CARM theological dictionary

And at:


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The Federal Headship of Adam and Christ

The Federal Headship of Adam and Christ by Jack Kettler

In this study, we will look at Adam, the first man and head of the fallen race of mankind. Then we will consider Christ Jesus, the head of the redeemed race of mankind. In theology, this is known as covenantal or specifically, federal headship. What exactly did Adam do by sinning? How did it influence mankind? What did Christ in His redemptive work accomplish as the head of His redeemed people?

As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, commentary evidence and confessional support for the purpose of glorifying God in how we live.

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

Definitions from two sources:

Federal Headship:
The position of Adam and Christ as heads of a people whom they represent, with Adam representing the whole human race in the fall, and Christ representing those who are united to him through faith, so that God judges the whole human race to be guilty sinners in Adam, and judges all believers to be righteous in Christ.. *

Federal Headship, in a broad sense, is the position that the male represents his descendants. In the case of Adam, he was the federal head of mankind in that he represented mankind in the fall. We were “in him,” in his seed. When he fell, we fell “in him.” Likewise, Jesus is our federal head in salvation. He represented his people on the cross. 1 Cor. 15:22 says, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” **

Scriptural passages that support the doctrine of federal headship:

The primary text is found in Romans 5:12-19. What does this passage say? This passage speaks about the fall, and of man’s guilt, caused by Adam for his descendants. Then in a striking parallel, the passage speaks of Christ’s redemption for His people. Christ and Adam are both federal heads.

“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. But not as the offense, so also is the free gift. For if through the offense of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offenses unto justification. For if by one man’s offense death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” (Romans 5:12-19)

General Introductory Comments:

These passages teach the connection between Adam’s sin and the human race. Adam as the covenantal or federal head of the human family brought sin to his descendants. This is proved by the fact that death now reigns in the world. The apostle teaches that “all sinned,” or all were made or constituted sinners because of their real shared guilt in Adam’s sin. Bringing sin and death to the human race in which Adam was the first man is known as “original sin.”

As a result of Adam’s sin, we all come into the world with a fallen nature. Because of our sinful natures, we make sinful choices. This original sin, with which we are all born, manifests itself throughout our lives in actual sins which violate God’s law, both in sins of commission (active transgression of God’s law) and omission (lack of conformity to God’s law). In other words, we can say, in Adam, all have sinned and as a result, in Adam, all have died.

These passages also speak of Christ’s work for the many who will be made righteous. The parallels between Adam as a covenantal head and Christ as a covenantal or federal head are remarkable.

It will be helpful to get some additional commentary information on several key passages in regards to the doctrine of federal headship from the Romans selection in chapter five. The commentary entries will explore what Christ has done for the head of His people in contrast to Adam.

Romans 5:12 from Matthew Poole’s Commentary:

“From this verse to the end of the chapter, the apostle makes a large comparison between the first and Second Adam, which he joins to what he had said by the causal particle wherefore: q.d. Seeing things are as I have already said, it is evident, that what was lost by Adam is restored by Christ. This verse seems to be lame and imperfect; the reddition is wanting in the comparison; for unto this, as by one man sin entered into the world, there should be added, so by Christ, &c. But the reddition, or second part of the comparison, is suspended, by reason of a long parenthesis intervening to Romans 5:18, 19, where the apostle sets down both parts of the comparison.

By one man: viz. Adam.

Objection. Eve first sinned, 1 Timothy 2:14.

Answer. He is not showing the order how sin first entered into the world, but how it was propagated to mankind. Therefore he mentions the man, because he is the head of the woman, and the covenant was made with him: or, man may be used collectively, both for man and woman; as when God said: Let us make man, & c.

Sin; it is to be understood of our first parents’ actual sin, in eating the forbidden fruit; this alone was it that affected their posterity, and made them sinners, Romans 5:19.

Entered into the world; understand the inhabitants of the world; the thing containing, by a usual metonomy, is put for the thing contained.

And death by sin; as the due reward thereof.

Death here may be taken in its full latitude, for temporal, spiritual, and eternal death.

And so death passed upon all men; seized upon all, of all sorts, infants as well as others.

For that all have sinned; others read it thus, in which all have sinned, i.e. in which one man; and so it is a full proof that Adam was a public person, and that in him all his posterity sinned and fell. He was our representative, and we were all in him, as a town or county in a parliament man; and although we chose him not, yet God chose for us.

The words ef’ w are rendered in which, in other places, and the preposition epi is put for en; see Mark 2:4 Hebrews 9:10: and if our translation be retained, it is much to the same sense; for if such die as never committed any actual sin themselves, (as infants do), then it will follow that they sinned in this one man, in whose loins they were: as Levi is said to have paid tithes in Abraham’s loins, Hebrews 7:9.” (1)

Romans 5:15 from Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers:

(15) “Now comes the statement of the contrast which extends over the next five verses. The points of difference are thrown into relief by the points of resemblance. These may be, perhaps, best presented by the subjoined scheme:—

Persons of the action.

One man, Adam.

One Man, Christ.

The action.

One act of trespass.

One act of obedience.

Character of the action viewed in its relation to the Fall and Salvation of man.

The great initial trespass or breach of the law of God.

The great accomplished work of grace, or the gift of righteousness.

Persons affected by the action.

All mankind.

All mankind.

Proximate effect of the action.
Influx of many transgressions.

Clearing away of many transgressions.

Ulterior effect of the action.



The offence.—Perhaps rather, trespass, to bring out the latent antithesis to the obedience of Christ. (Ellicott.)

One . . . many.—Substitute throughout this passage, “the one,” “the many.” By “the many,” is meant “mankind generally,” “all men.” Dr. Lightfoot quotes Bentley on the importance of this change: “By this accurate version some hurtful mistakes about partial redemption and absolute reprobation had been happily prevented. Our English readers had then seen what several of the Fathers saw and testified, that the many, in an antithesis to the one, are equivalent to all in Romans 5:12, and comprehend the whole multitude, the entire species of mankind, exclusive only of the one.” “In other words,” Dr. Lightfoot adds, “the benefits of Christ’s obedience extend to all men potentially. It is only human self-will which places limits to its operation.”

Much more.—Because God is much more ready to exercise mercy and love than severity, to pardon than to punish.

The grace of God, and the gift by grace.—The grace of God is the moving cause, its result is the gift (of righteousness, Romans 5:17) imputed by His gracious act to the many.” (2)

Romans 5:15-19 from Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary:

5:15-19 “Through one man’s offence, all mankind are exposed to eternal condemnation. But the grace and mercy of God, and the free gift of righteousness and salvation, are through Jesus Christ, as man: yet the Lord from heaven has brought the multitude of believers into a more safe and exalted state than that from which they fell in Adam. This free gift did not place them anew in a state of trial, but fixed them in a state of justification, as Adam would have been placed, had he stood. Notwithstanding the differences, there is a striking similarity. As by the offence of one, sin and death prevailed to the condemnation of all men, so by the righteousness of one, grace prevailed to the justification of all related to Christ by faith. Through the grace of God, the gift by grace has abounded to many through Christ; yet multitudes choose to remain under the dominion of sin and death, rather than to apply for the blessings of the reign of grace. But Christ will in nowise cast out any who are willing to come to him.” (3)

Another biblical text that provides important information about federal headship is in Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 15:22: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. “ From the Pulpit Commentary:

Verse 22. – “As in Adam all die. All of us partake of Adam’s nature, and are therefore liable to the death which that nature incurred as the law and condition of its humanity. In Christ shall all be made alive? It is St. Paul’s invariable habit to isolate his immediate subject; to think and to treat of one topic at a time. He is not here thinking directly and immediately of the resurrection in general. In this verse, writing to Christians who are “in Christ,” he is only thinking and speaking of the resurrection of those who are “in Christ.” That any can be nominally “in Christ,” yet not really so, is a fact which is not at present under his cognizance; still less is he thinking of the world in general. In other words, he is here dealing with “the resurrection of life” alone, and not also with the “resurrection of judgment” (John 5:26-29). Still, as far as his words alone are concerned, it is so impossible to understand the phrase, “shall all be made alive,” of a resurrection to endless torments, that his language at least suggests the conclusion that “the principle which has come to actuality in Christ is of sufficient energy to quicken all men for the resurrection to the blessed life” (Baur, ‘Life of St. Paul,’ 2:219).” (4)

This headship principle is illustrated in the book of Numbers and book of Acts:

Achan’s sin was exposed in Numbers 32:23. God commanded that Achan and his entire family and all his belongings be destroyed for this sin that is Achan’s sin. In this example, Achan was acting as the covenantal or federal head of his posterity. Korah’s rebellion in Numbers 16 is another example of this principle. Possibly, another instance in the New Testament is the case of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts chapter 5 lying and stealing from God’s representatives, the apostles.

John Gill, one of the great Puritan divines, provided an excellent overview of the federal headship of both Adam and Christ.

Selections from Of Christ as the Covenant Head of the Elect by John Gill:

5. “Christ, in the everlasting covenant, engaged in the name of his people, to obey and suffer in their stead; and accordingly he did both in time, as their Head and Representative. He obeyed the law, and fulfilled all righteousness, not as a single individual of human nature, and for himself, but as the federal Head of his people, as representing them; “That so the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us”, says the apostle, (Rom. 8:4) that is, in the elect of God, they being considered in Christ their Head, when he became the fulfilling End of the law for righteousness unto them; and so they were made, or accounted, the righteousness of God “in him” their Head, (Rom. 10:4; 2 Cor. 5:21) in like manner as he in their name engaged to suffer for them; so in time he suffered in their room and stead, as their head and representative; insomuch that they may be truly said to suffer with him; they were all gathered together, recollected in one Head, “in Christ”, and sustained and represented by him when he hung upon the cross, and are said to be “crucified with” him (Eph. 1:10; Col. 2:12).

6. In consequence of Christ’s covenant engagements and performances, when he rose from the dead, he rose not as a private Person, but as a public Person, as the head and representative of all those for whom he obeyed and suffered; and therefore they are said to be quickened and raised together with him, as they were then also justified in him, when he himself, as their Head and Surety was (Eph. 2:5, 6; Col. 3:1; 1 Tim. 3:16). Yea, Christ is also gone to heaven, not only as the Forerunner of his people, but as their Head and Representative; he has taken possession of heaven in their name, appears in the presence of God for them, and represents them, as the high priest did the children of Israel, in the holy of holies; and hence they are said to be made to sit together in heavenly places “in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6).

7. The federal headship of Christ, may be argued and concluded from Adam being a federal head and representative of all his natural offspring; in which he was “the figure of him that was to come”, that is, Christ; for it was in that chiefly, if not solely, that he was a figure of Christ; at least, that is the chief, if not the only thing the apostle has in view, (Rom. 5:14) as appears by his running the parallel between them, as heads and representatives of their respective offspring: Adam, through his fall, conveying sin and death to all his natural descendants; and Christ, through the free gift of himself, communicating grace, righteousness, and life to all his spiritual seed, the elect, the children his Father gave him: and hence these two are spoken of as the first and last Adam, and the first and second man; as if they were the only two men in the world, being the representatives of each of their seeds, which are included in them (1 Cor. 15:45, 47).

Now, as Christ stands in the relation of an Head to the elect, he has all things delivered into his hands; in honour to him, and in love both to him and them, and for their good; God has given him to be “Head over all things” to the church, (Matthew 11:27; John 3:35; Eph. 1:22) all persons and things are under his command, and at his dispose, to subserve his interest as Head of the church; even angels and men, good and bad, and all things in heaven and in earth; all power therein to protect and defend his people, and to provide for them; all fulness of grace, and the blessings of it to supply them; the government of the church, and of the world, is on his shoulders, who represents them; and therefore their persons, grace, and glory, must be safe in him; the covenant, and all its blessings and promises, are sure in him, the Head and Representative of his people in it.” (5)

Some additional information on federal headship from the respected Evangelical Dictionary of Theology:

“…In the latter half of Romans 5, Paul teaches that the entire human race is summarized in the two Adams. The first Adam was the federal head of the race under the covenant of works; the second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the federal head of all believers under the covenant of grace. Thus, as the sin of Adam was legally and effectively our sin, so the obedience of Christ is legally and effectively the righteousness of all believers. The federal relationship in which Adam stood to the race was the ground of the imputation of his guilt to them and the judicial cause of their condemnation. And the law that condemned them could not justify them unless an adequate reparation should be made for the wrong done, a reparation they were incapable of making because of the corruption they inherited from Adam as their natural and federal head. To provide their salvation, the needed reparation had to be made by another who was not of federal connection with Adam and therefore was free from the imputation of his guilt. Federal theology represents these requirements as being met in Christ, the second Adam, in whom a new race begins. God had entered into covenant with him, promising him the salvation of all believers as the reward of his obedience. But the obedience required of him as the federal head of his people was more than the mere equivalent of that required of Adam. His representative obedience must include a penal death. And thus his resurrection victory is also the victory of the new humanity that has its source in him….” (6)

The Westminster Confession of Faith is in harmony with other reformed confessions on the topic of headship. For example, see The London Baptist Confession 1689: – Chapter 6: Of the Fall of Man, Of Sin, And of the Punishment Thereof.

Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter VII on the federal headship of Adam and Christ:

Section I.—The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him, as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.

Section II.—The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.

I. That God entered into a covenant with Adam in his state of innocence, appears from Gen. ii. 16, 17: “The Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” Here, indeed, there is no express mention of a covenant; but we find all the essential requisites of a proper covenant. In this transaction there are two parties; the Lord God on the one hand, and man on the other. There is a condition expressly stated, in the positive precept respecting the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which God was pleased to make the test of man’s obedience. There is a penalty subjoined: “In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” There is also a promise, not distinctly expressed, but implied in the threatening; for, if death was to be the consequence of disobedience, it clearly follows that life was to be the reward of obedience. That a promise of life was annexed to man’s obedience, may also be inferred from the description which Moses gives of the righteousness of the law: “The man that doeth these things shall live by them,” – Rom. x. 5; from our Lord’s answer to the young man who inquired what he should do to inherit eternal life: “It thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments,”—Matt. xix. 17; and from the declaration of the apostle, that “the commandment was ordained to life.”—Rom. vii. to. We are, therefore, warranted to call the transaction between God and Adam a covenant. We may even allege, for the use of this term, the language of Scripture. In Hos. vi. 7 (margin), we read, “They, like Adam, have transgressed the covenant.” This necessarily implies that a covenant was made with Adam, and that he violated it.

II. That this covenant was made with Adam, not only for himself, but also for all his natural posterity, is a doctrine which has met with much opposition. It is denied by Pelagians and Socinians, who maintain that he acted for himself alone, and that the effects of his fall terminated upon himself. Arminians admit that the whole human race is injured by the first sin, but at the same time controvert the proposition, that Adam was their proper representative. This truth, however, may be easily established. The Scripture represents Adam as a figure or type of Christ,—Rom. v. 14; and wherein does the resemblance between them consist? Simply in this, that as Christ was a federal head, representing all his spiritual seed in the covenant of grace, so Adam was a federal head representing all his natural seed in the covenant of works. In 1 Cor. xv. 45, 47, the one is called the first Adam, the other, the last Adam; the one the first man, the other the second man. Now, Christ was not the second man in any other sense, but as being the federal head or representative of his seed; and, therefore, the first man must have sustained a similar character, as being the federal head or representative of all his natural posterity. The extension of the effects of Adam’s first sin to all his descendants, is another strong proof of his having represented them in the covenant made with him. That he has transmitted sin and death to all his posterity, is clearly taught in the 5th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans; and unless his public character, as a representative in the covenant, be admitted, no satisfactory reason can be assigned why we are affected by his first sin in a way that we are not affected by his subsequent transgressions, or the transgressions of our more immediate progenitors. We know that “the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father” (Ezek. xviii. 20); and had Adam been merely a private person, his sin could have affected us no more than that of our immediate parents. The conclusion is inevitable,—that in the covenant of works, our first parent not only acted for himself, but represented all his natural posterity.

In closing:

For those who may be struggling with this teaching about federal headship. Consider the following question.

If you deny original sin and the federal headship of Adam, how can you maintain, Christ’s headship over His people? The parallels in Romans chapter five between Adam and Christ although opposites are inescapable.

“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)


1. Matthew Poole, Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. 3, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), p. 494.
2. Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, Romans, Vol.2, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 225.
3. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson), p. 1791.
4. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, 1 Corinthians, Vol. 19, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 487.
5. John Gill, A Body of Doctrinal Divinity, (New York, New York, Andesite Press), pp. 343-344.
6. Walter A. Elwell, Editor, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, “Federal Theology” (Grand Rapids Michigan, Baker Book House, 1984), p. 413.

“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:

For more study:

* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes:

** CARM theological dictionary
And at:

To see Scriptural proofs the Westminster Confession on the Ten Commandments and application go to:…

Federal Headship on The Dividing Line with James White

An Objection against the Imputation of Adam’s Sin to his Posterity Web Page by Jonathan Edwards…

Romans 5:12-21 – Adam, Christ, and Justification, Part 2 a Web Page by John Piper…/adam-christ-and-justification…

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The Will of God, what is it and how can we know it?

The Will of God, what is it and how can we know it? By Jack Kettler

In this study, we will seek to understand God’s will for man and in particular what is known as His preceptive or revealed will, and then His decretive or hidden will. When we understand God’s will for us, it leads us to a proper response to His will on our part. As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, commentary evidence and confessional support for the purpose of glorifying God in how we live.

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

Definitions from two sources:

Preceptive will: God’s revealed law or commandments; what God has declared that we should do. Also called revealed will, moral will, will of command, expressed will, or signified will. *

Decretive will: is that will of God by which He purposes or decrees whatever shall come to pass, whether He wills to accomplish it effectively (causatively), or to permit it to occur through the unrestrained agency of His rational creatures1; the plan of God which contains everything he has determined to bring to pass. Also called sovereign will, secret will, or will of God’s good pleasure.*

The Preceptive will: of God is the will of God for man. For example, God wills that man does not sin, that we do not lie, do not steal, etc. It is the will of God for man that is revealed through his Law (Exodus 20:1-17) where God is concerned with man following his precepts. It is also the will of God for us to be holy, repent, love, etc. (1 Pet. 1:16; Acts 17:30; John 13:34) **

Decretive will: of God is that which is God’s sovereign will that we may or may not know, depending on whether or not God reveals it to us. The decretive will is God’s direct will where he causes something to be, he decrees it. For example, God has caused the universe to exist as well as Christ’s incarnation. **

God’s preceptive will is His revealed will and is seen predominantly in His law or commandments. His revealed will is in distinction, from His decretive or secret will. God’s decretive will is which by He brings things to pass thru His sovereign decrees.

Scriptural passages on God’s Preceptive Will:

“And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go. And thou shalt say to Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn: And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn.” (Exodus 4:18-23)

“Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people. Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD. And I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake.” (2 Kings 20:5, 6)

“Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)

“For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matthew 12:50)

“Jesus saith unto them, my meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” (John 4:34)

“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17)

“Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” (Acts 2:23)

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:2)

“Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart;” (Ephesians 6:6)

“For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.” (1 Thess. 4:3-6)

“Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

“For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.” (1 Peter 3:17)

“And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” (I John 2:17)

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible makes some relevant comments on Matthew 12:50:

“For whosoever shall do the will of my Father, This is not to be understood of a perfect obedience to the will of God, revealed in his righteous law; for since this cannot be performed by any mere man, no one could be in such a spiritual relation to Christ: but of the obedience of faith to the will of God, revealed in the Gospel; which is to believe in Christ, and have everlasting life; see John 6:40. This is the will of Christ’s Father,

which is in heaven, and which is good news from heaven, to sinners on earth; and which Christ came down from heaven to do, and to declare to the children of men: such as “hear the word of God and do it”, as Luke says, Luke 8:21 that is, hear the Gospel, understand and believe it, and become obedient to the faith of it; these are in this near manner related to Christ, evidentially and openly, as well as those who were now present:

the same is my brother, and sister, and mother; as dear to me, as such are to those, to whom they stood thus related in the flesh: and these natural relations serve to convey some ideas of that relation, union, nearness, and communion, there are between Christ and his people; all these relative characters may be observed in the book of Solomon’s Song, to which our Lord may be reasonably thought to have respect; see Sol 3:11.” (1)

Scriptural passages on God’s Decretive Will:

“The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)

“But he is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth.” (Job 23:13)

“The counsel of the LORD standeth forever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.” (Psalm 33:11)

“The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand.” (Isaiah 14:24)

“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.” (Acts 17:24)

The Pulpit Commentary on Deuteronomy 29:29:

“Verse 29. – By secret things, here, some understand “hidden sins,” which are known only to God, and which he will punish (Targum Jon.); but the meaning rather is, things in God’s purpose known only to himself: these things, it is affirmed, belong to him, are his affair, and may be left with him. On the other hand, the things revealed are the things made known by God to man in his Word, viz. his injunctions, threatenings, and promises; and with these men have to do. This verse is by some regarded as part of the answer given to the question of ver. 24; but others regard it as a general reflection added by Moses by way of admonition to his previous discourse. This latter view is the more probable, and the scribes may have had this in their mind when they distinguished the words, unto us and to our children, by placing over them extraordinary points , in order to emphasize them, though by many this is regarded as a mere critical notation, indicating a various reading (Buxtorf, ‘Tiberias,’ 1. c. 17, p. 179; Havernick, ‘Introd.,’ p. 281; Bleek, ‘Einleit,’ p. 799).” (2)

Now for an expansive exposition on God’s will from one of the great systematic theologians:

The Will of God by Charles Hodge

A. The Meaning of the Term.

If God is a spirit He must possess all the essential attributes of a spirit. Those attributes, according to the classification adopted by the older philosophers and theologians, fall under the heads of intelligence and will. To the former, are referred knowledge and wisdom; to the latter, the power of self-determination, efficiency (in the case of God, omnipotence), and all moral attributes. In this wide sense of the word, the will of God includes: (1.) The will in the narrow sense of the word. (2.) His power. (3.) His love and all his moral perfections. In our day, generally but not always, the word “will” is limited to the faculty of self-determination. And even the older theologians in treating of the will of God treat only of his decrees or purposes. In their definitions, however, they take the word in its wide sense. Thus Calovius56 says, “Voluntas Dei est, qua Deus tendit in bonum ab intellectu cognitum.” And Quenstedt defines it as “ipsa Dei essentia cum, connotatione inclinationis ad bonum concepta.”57 Turrettin says, the object of the intellect is the true; the object of the will, the good. Hence it is said, that God wills Himself necessarily, and all things out of Himself freely. Although the word seems to be taken in different senses in the same sentence, God’s willing Himself means that He takes complacency in his own infinite excellence: his willing things out of Himself, means his purpose that they should exist. Although the theologians start with the wide definition of the word, yet in the prosecution of the subject they regard the will as simply the faculty of self-determination, and the determinations themselves. That is, the power to will, and volitions or purposes. It is altogether better to confine the word to this it’s proper meaning, and not make it include all the forms of feeling involving approbation or delight.

God then as a spirit is a voluntary agent. We are authorized to ascribe to Him the power of self-determination. This the Bible everywhere does. From the beginning to the end, it speaks of the will of God, of his decrees, purposes, counsels, and commands. The will is not only an essential attribute of our spiritual being, but it is the necessary condition of our personality. Without the power of rational self-determination we should be as much a mere force as electricity, or magnetism, or the principle of vegetable life. It is, therefore, to degrade God below the sphere of being which we ourselves occupy, as rational creatures, to deny to Him the power of self-determination; of acting or not acting, according to his own good pleasure.

B. The Freedom of the Divine Will.

The will of God is free in the highest sense of the word. An agent is said to be free, (1.) When he is at liberty to act or not to act, according to his good pleasure. This is liberty in acting. (2.) He is free as to his volitions, when they are determined by his own sense of what is wise, right, or desirable.

Freedom is more than spontaneity. The affections are spontaneous, but are not free. Loving and hating, delighting in and abhorring, do not depend upon the will.

God is free in acting, as in creating and preserving, because these acts do not arise from the necessity of his nature. He was free to create or not create; to continue the universe in existence or to cause it to cease to be. He is free also in keeping his promises, because his purpose so to do is determined by his own infinite goodness. It is indeed inconceivable that God should violate his word. But this only proves that moral certainty may be as inexorable as necessity.

C. The Decretive and Preceptive Will of God.

The decretive will of God concerns his purposes, and relates to the futurition of events. The preceptive will relates to the rule of duty for his rational creatures. He decrees whatever he purposes to effect or to permit. He prescribes, according to his own will, what his creatures should do, or abstain from doing. The decretive and preceptive will of God can never be in conflict. God never decrees to do, or to cause others to do, what He forbids. He may, as we see He does, decree to permit what He forbids. He permits men to sin, although sin is forbidden. This is more scholastically expressed by the theologians by saying, A positive decretive will cannot consist with a negative preceptive will; i. e., God cannot decree to make men sin. But a negative decretive will may consist with an affirmative preceptive will; e. g., God may command men to repent and believe, and yet, for wise reasons, abstain from giving them repentance.

The distinction between voluntas beneplaciti et signi, as those terms are commonly used, is the same as that between the deeretive and preceptive will of God. The one referring to his decrees, founded on his good pleasure; the other to his commands, founded on what He approves or disapproves.

By the secret will of God, is meant his purposes, as still hidden in his own mind; by his revealed will, his precepts and his purposes, as far as they are made known to his creatures.

D. Antecedent and Consequent Will.

These terms, as used by Augustinians, have reference to the relation of the decrees to each other. In the order of nature the end precedes the means, and the purpose of the former is antecedent to the purpose of the latter. Thus it is said, that God by an antecedent will, determined on the manifestation of his glory; and by a consequent will, determined on the creation of the world as a means to that end.

By Lutherans and Remonstrants these terms are used in a very different sense. According to their views, God by an antecedent will determined to save all men; but, foreseeing that all would not repent and believe, by a subsequent will He determined to save those who he foresaw would believe. That is, He first purposed one thing and then another.

E. Absolute and Conditional Will.

These terms, when employed by Augustinians, have reference not so much to the purposes of God, as to the events which are decreed. The event, but not the purpose of God, is conditional. A maw reaps, if he sows. He is saved, if he believes. His reaping and salvation are conditional events. But the purpose of God is absolute. If He purposes that a man shall reap, He purposes that he shall sow; if He purposes that he shall be saved, He purposes that he shall believe. Anti-Augustinians, on the other hand, regard the purposes of God as conditional. He purposes the salvation of a man, if he believes. But whether he believes or not, is left undetermined; so that the purpose of God is suspended on a condition not under his control, or, at least, undecided. A father may purpose to give an estate to his son, if he be obedient; but whether the son will fulfil the condition is undetermined, and therefore the purpose of the father is undecided. It is, however, manifestly inconsistent with the perfection of God, that He should first will one thing and then another; nor can his purposes be dependent on the uncertainty of human conduct or events. These are questions, however, which belong to the consideration of the doctrine of decrees. They are mentioned here because these distinctions occur in all discussions concerning the Divine Will, with which the student of theology should be familiar.

In this place it is sufficient to remark, that the Greek word qe,lw, and the corresponding English verb, to will, sometimes express feeling, and sometimes a purpose. Thus in Matt. xxvii. 48, the words eiv qe,lei auvto,nare correctly rendered, “if he delight in him.” Comp. Ps. xxii. 8. It is in this sense the word is used, when it is said that God wills all men to be saved. He cannot be said to purpose or determine upon any event which is not to come to pass. A judge may will the happiness of a man whom he sentences to death. He may will him not to suffer when he wills him to suffer. The infelicity in such forms of expression is that the word “will” is used in different senses. In one part of the sentence it means desire, and in the other purpose. It is perfectly consistent, therefore, that God, as a benevolent Being, should desire the happiness of all men, while he purposes to save only his own people.

F. The Will of God as the Ground of Moral Obligation.

The question on this subject is, whether things are right or wrong, simply because God commands or forbids them? Or, does He command or forbid them, because they are right or wrong for some other reason than his will? According to some, the only reason that a thing is right, and therefore obligatory, is, that it tends to promote the greatest happiness, or the greatest good of the universe. According to others, a thing is right which tends to promote our own happiness; and for that reason, and for that reason alone, it is obligatory. If vice would make us happier than virtue, we should be bound to be vicious. It is a more decorous mode of expressing substantially the same theory, to say that the ground of moral obligation is a regard to the dignity of our own nature. It makes little difference whether it be our own dignity of our own happiness, which we are bound to regard. It is self, in either case, to whom our whole allegiance is due. Others, again, place the ground of moral obligation in the fitness of things, which they exalt above God. There is, they affirm, an eternal and necessary difference between right and wrong, to which God, it is said, is as much bound to be conformed as are his rational creatures. (3)

Life applications or the specifics of keeping God’s revealed will:

From the Scriptures above and commentary, the believer knows that he or she is to do God’s will. What are the specifics exactly? In the second definition of God’s preceptive will, it said that we are not to lie. This is specific. Some other examples would be, giving to the poor, doing evangelism, visiting the sick, attending public worship, etc. Thankfully when going through the Westminster Catechism on the Ten Commandments, there are many specifics outlined. This will be seen in the questions regarding what is required in each commandment. God’s law is where we learn the standard for His holiness.

Someone may ask, why is it important to know the source or standard of morality, to answer this, consider the following quote:

“The moral absolutes rest upon God’s character. The moral commands He has given to men are an expression of His character. Men as created in His image are to live by choice on the basis of what God is. The standards of morality are determined by what conforms to His character, while those things which do not conform are immoral.” – Francis A. Schaeffer

“Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good…For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.” (Romans 7:12, 14)

From The Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q. 39. What is the duty which God requireth of man?
A. The duty which God requireth of man, is obedience to his revealed will.

Q. 42. What is the sum of the Ten Commandments?
A. The sum of the Ten Commandments is, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbor as ourselves.

Q. 43. What is the preface to the Ten Commandments?
A. The preface to the Ten Commandments is in these words, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

Q. 44. What doth the preface to the Ten Commandments teach us?
A. The preface to the Ten Commandments teacheth us, that because God is the Lord, and our God, and Redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all his commandments.

Q. 45. Which is the first commandment?
A. The first commandment is, Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Q. 46. What is required in the first commandment?
A. The first commandment requireth us to know and acknowledge God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify him accordingly.

Q. 47. What is forbidden in the first commandment?
A. The first commandment forbiddeth the denying, or not worshiping and glorifying, the true God as God, and our God; and the giving of that worship and glory to any other, which is due to him alone.

Q. 48. What are we specially taught by these words before me in the first commandment?
A. These words before me in the first commandment teach us, that God, who seeth all things, taketh notice of, and is much displeased with, the sin of having any other God.

Q. 49. Which is the second commandment?
A. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

Q. 50. What is required in the second commandment?
A. The second commandment requireth the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in his Word.

Q. 51. What is forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The second commandment forbiddeth the worshiping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in his Word.

Q. 52. What are the reasons annexed to the second commandment?
A. The reasons annexed to the second commandment are, God’s sovereignty over us, his propriety in us, and the zeal he hath to his own worship.

Q. 53. Which is the third commandment?
A. The third commandment is, Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

Q. 54. What is required in the third commandment?
A. The third commandment requireth the holy and reverent use of God’s names, titles, attributes, ordinances, Word, and works.

Q. 55. What is forbidden in the third commandment?
A. The third commandment forbiddeth all profaning or abusing of anything whereby God maketh himself known.

Q. 56. What is the reason annexed to the third commandment?
A. The reason annexed to the third commandment is, that however the breakers of this commandment may escape punishment from men, yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment.

Q. 57. Which is the fourth commandment?
A. The fourth commandment is, remember the sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservent, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Q. 58. What is required in the fourth commandment?
A. The fourth commandment requireth the keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his Word; expressly one whole day in seven, to be a holy sabbath to himself.

Q. 59. Which day of the seven hath God appointed to be the weekly sabbath?
A. From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian sabbath.

Q. 60. How is the sabbath to be sanctified?
A. The sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days;[145] and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.

Q. 61. What is forbidden in the fourth commandment?
A. The fourth commandment forbiddeth the omission, or careless performance, of the duties required, and the profaning the day by idleness, or doing that which is in itself sinful, or by unnecessary thoughts, words, or works, about our worldly employments or recreations.

Q. 62. What are the reasons annexed to the fourth commandment?
A. The reasons annexed to the fourth commandment are, God’s allowing us six days of the week for our own employments, his challenging a special propriety in the seventh, his own example, and his blessing the sabbath day.

Q. 63. Which is the fifth commandment?
A. The fifth commandment is, Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

Q. 64. What is required in the fifth commandment?
A. The fifth commandment requireth the preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals.

Q. 65. What is forbidden in the fifth commandment?
A. The fifth commandment forbiddeth the neglecting of, or doing anything against, the honor and duty which belongeth to everyone in their several places and relations.

Q. 66. What is the reason annexed to the fifth commandment?
A. The reason annexed to the fifth commandment is, a promise of long life and prosperity (as far as it shall serve for God’s glory and their own good) to all such as keep this commandment.

Q. 67. Which is the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment is, Thou shalt not kill.

Q. 68. What is required in the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment requireth all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.

Q. 69. What is forbidden in the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor, unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto.

Q. 70. Which is the seventh commandment?
A. The seventh commandment is, Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Q. 71. What is required in the seventh commandment?
A. The seventh commandment requireth the preservation of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech, and behavior.

Q. 72. What is forbidden in the seventh commandment?
A. The seventh commandment forbiddeth all unchaste thoughts, words, and actions.

Q. 73. Which is the eighth commandment?
A. The eighth commandment is, Thou shalt not steal.

Q. 74. What is required in the eighth commandment?
A. The eighth commandment requireth the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others.

Q. 75. What is forbidden in the eighth commandment?
A. The eighth commandment forbiddeth whatsoever doth, or may, unjustly hinder our own, or our neighbor’s wealth or outward estate.

Q. 76. Which is the ninth commandment?
A. The ninth commandment is, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

Q. 77. What is required in the ninth commandment?
A. The ninth commandment requireth the maintaining and promoting of truth between man and man, and of our own and our neighbor’s good name, especially in witness-bearing.

Q. 78. What is forbidden in the ninth commandment?
A. The ninth commandment forbiddeth whatsoever is prejudicial to truth, or injurious to our own, or our neighbor’s, good name.

Q. 79. Which is the tenth commandment?
A. The tenth commandment is, Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.

Q. 80. What is required in the tenth commandment?
A. The tenth commandment requireth full contentment with our own condition, with a right and charitable frame of spirit toward our neighbor, and all that is his.

Q. 81. What is forbidden in the tenth commandment?
A. The tenth commandment forbiddeth all discontentment with our own estate, envying or grieving at the good of our neighbor, and all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his.

In closing:

Praise God for the significance and value of His commandments! When looking at the questions what is required in the commandments, we are not talking about law keeping for salvation, simply doing God’s will. If we do God’s will: “For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matthew 12:50)

Nearly every verse in Psalm 119 acclaims some part of God’s law. Psalm 119 is an ode to God’s law and every believer should agree and pray along with the Psalmist.

Would any believer disagree with this?

“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)


1. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Matthew, 9 Volumes, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 369.
2. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Deuteronomy, Vol. 9, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 449.
3. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing), pp. 402-406.

“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:

For more study:

* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes:

** CARM theological dictionary

To see Scriptural proofs the Westminster Confession on the Ten Commandments and application go to:…

What Is the Will of God and How Do We Know It? By John Piper…/what-is-the-will-of-god-and-h…

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The Will A Study of Volitions in light of the Fall

The Will A Study of Volitions in light of the Fall                                   By Jack Kettler

Definition of Volition:

A noun – the faculty or power of using one’s will.

Definition of the free will of man:

The ability to make one’s own decisions as to what one will do, choosing as one pleases in light of one’s own sense of right and wrong and the inclination one feels; the ability to make willing choices that have real effects. Sometimes called free will. *

Freedom of self-determination and action independent of external causes. **

Are these two definitions regarding free will biblical? Do they take into account the fall of mankind into sin? What about internal causes such as the sinful, fallen nature of man? Can the sinful internal will of man change how he responds to external temptations or causes?

Consider the following questions when studying the will of man and his fall into sin:

  1. Is the will fallen or free?


  1. Is man dead in sin except for the will?


  1. Has sin changed the will? If so, in what way?


  1. If man’s will is free, was man’s fall into sin only partial?


  1. The will of man, chooses, does the fall into sin change the choices that are made?


  1. Can a fallen man’s will choose righteousness? If so, how can a man be said to be fallen or dead in sin?


In the view of some, man is not really spiritually dead. Man, according to some popular beliefs, just needs an opportunity and a little help. He can recognize his condition, and call for help. When help comes and assistance is provided, man can climb up a ladder out of the problem that faces him.

Unfortunately, much that passes for correct teaching on man’s will is complete prideful nonsense. What about the Mormons view of man’s will? I am using Mormon teaching on the topic as a discussion ploy to stimulate consideration.

Are the Mormon leaders correct in their view of free will?

Former Mormon leader, Joseph F. Smith provides some interesting information on this subject:

“Let us illustrate: A man walking along the road happens to fall into a pit so deep and dark that he cannot climb to the surface and regain his freedom. How can he save himself from his predicament? Not by any exertions on his part, for there is no means of escape in the pit. He calls for help and some kindly disposed soul, hearing his cries for relief, hastens to his assistance and by lowering a ladder, give to him the means by which he may climb again to the surface of the earth. This was precisely the condition that Adam placed himself and his posterity in.” (1)

The first man, Adam, according to Mormonism, is aware of his condition and is able to cry for help. When the ladder is lowered down to him, he can climb out of the pit. Is this the condition of fallen man that is outlined in Scripture? Of course not. This is simply a form of humanism or works for salvation. This view of man’s condition was also known as Pelagianism. Pelagius was a British monk. Man in this system essentially saves himself by following the example of Christ using his free will. In the early church, Pelagianism was condemned as heresy during the fourth century through the theological debates with St. Augustine of Hippo.

Consider another Mormon leader on free will:

Former Mormon apostle, LeGrand Richards explains his understanding of human free will:

“Thus all nations and people have free agency and, according to their choice, the Lord will do unto them…. If all men are not saved, it will be because they, in the exercise of their free will, do not accept his gift of grace.” (2)

Richards believes that man, though unsaved, has the power within himself to exercise his free will. If a man does not do this then he will not be saved. The thoughtful reader should see that if the will is free, there is an ability in man to help save himself.

These two quotations from Mormon leaders seem to be consistent with much modern-day evangelicalism. In contrast, the historic Protestant view teaches that man is spiritually dead and unable to call for help or even recognize his condition until regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

The Scriptures that are most cited when approaching the subject of mankind’s fall and its effects are:

“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Genesis 2:17)

“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5)

“Behold, he putteth no trust in his saints; yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight. How much more abominable and filthy is man which drinketh iniquity like water?” (Job 15:15-16)

“The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Psalms 14:2-3)

“Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalms 51:5)

“Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” (Ecclesiastes 8:11)

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)

“But we are as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)

“Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.” (Jeremiah 13:23)

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

“The good man is perished out of the earth: and there is none upright among men: they all lie in wait for blood; they hunt every man his brother with a net. That they may do evil with both hands earnestly, the prince asketh, and the judge asketh for a reward; and the great man, he uttereth his mischievous desire: so they wrap it up. The best of them is as a brier: the most upright is sharper than a thorn hedge: the day of thy watchmen and thy visitation cometh; now shall be their perplexity.” (Micah 7:2-4)

“There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

“And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)

“Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” (John 6:53)

“As it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there in none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

“But we had the sentence of death in ourselves that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:9)

“And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” (Ephesians 2:1-3)

Do the above Scriptures leave room for a partial fall of man? Is there a part of a man still untouched by sin?     

We will survey two well-known Protestants who expound the normative view on the topic of man’s will or volition. Is it free or in bondage to sin? Note: Protestants are not saying the will does not choose. If a man is fallen, does his fallen nature change his choices? When a man is redeemed and given a new nature and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, does this new reality effect man’s choices differently?

The first Protestant theologian will be Martin Luther. See link below to get a PDF copy of Luther’s book Bondage of the Will. Luther nailed a copy of his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. Without Luther, the Protestant Reformation may never have happened. Some of Luther’s questions in the 95 Theses dwelt with the question if the will was free or enslaved. Luther’s position that is expounded below are some excerpts from Bondage of the Will.

Martin Luther’s view of man’s will is seen in his response to the Roman Catholic Desiderius Erasmus’ promotion of free will in his Diatribe against Luther at the request of Pope Leo X.

De Servo Arbitrio

On the Bondage of the Will (BOW)

1525 A.D.

Martin Luther


(iv) Of the necessitating foreknowledge of God (614-618)

It is fundamentally necessary and healthy for Christians to acknowledge that God foreknows nothing uncertainly, but that He foresees, purposes, and does all things according to His own immutable, eternal and infallible will. This bombshell knocks “free-will” flat, and utterly shatters it; so that those who want to assert it must either deny my bombshell, or pretend not to notice it, or find some other way of dodging it. Surely it was you, my good Erasmus, who a moment ago asserted that God is by nature just, and kindness itself? If this is true, does it not follow that He is immutably just and kind? That, as His nature remains unchanged to all eternity, so do His justice and kindness? And what is said of His justice and kindness must be said also of His knowledge, His wisdom, His goodness, His will, and the other Divine attributes. But if it is religious, godly and wholesome, to affirm these things of God, as you do, what has come over you, that now you should contradict yourself by affirming that it is irreligious, idle and vain to say that God foreknows by necessity? You insist that we should learn the immutability of God’s will, while forbidding us to know the immutably of His foreknowledge! Do you suppose that He does not will what He foreknows, or that He does not foreknow what He wills? If he wills what He foreknows, His will is eternal and changeless, because His nature is so. From which it follows, by resistless logic, that all we do, however it may appear to us to be done freely and optionally, is in reality done necessarily and immutably in respect of God’s will. For the will of God is effective and cannot be impeded, since power belongs to God’s nature; and His wisdom is such that He cannot be deceived. Since, then His will is not impeded, what is done cannot but be done where, when, how, as far as, and by whom, He foresees and wills…

I could wish, indeed, that a better term was available for our discussion than the accepted one, necessity, which cannot accurately be used of either man’s will or God’s. Its meaning is too harsh, and foreign to the subject; for it suggests some sort of compulsion, and something that is against one’s will, which is no part of the view under debate. This will, whether it be God’s or man’s does what it does, good or bad, under no compulsion, but just as it wants or pleases, as if totally free. Yet the will of God, which rules over our mutable will, is changeless and sure – as Boetius sings, “Immovable Thyself, Thou movement giv’st to all;” and our will, principally because of its corruption, can do no good of itself. The reader’s understanding, therefore, must supply what the word itself fails to convey, from his knowledge of the intended signification – the immutable will of God on the one hand, and the impotence of our corrupt will on the other. Some have called it necessity of immutability, but the phrase is both grammatically and theologically defective. (pp. 80-81, BOW)

(v) Of the importance of knowing that God necessitates all things (618-620)

I would also point out, not only how true these things are (I shall discuss that more fully from Scripture on a later page), but also how godly, reverent and necessary it is to know them. For where they are not known, there can be no faith, nor any worship of God. To lack this knowledge is really to be ignorant of God – and salvation is notoriously incompatible with such ignorance. For if you hesitate to believe, or are too proud to acknowledge, that God foreknows and wills all things, not contingently, but necessarily and immutably, how can you believe, trust and rely on His promises? When He makes promises, you ought to be out of doubt that He knows, and can and will perform, what He promises; otherwise, you will be accounting Him neither true nor faithful, which is unbelief, and the height of irreverence, and a denial of the most high God! And how can you be thus sure and certain, unless you know that certainly, infallibly, immutably and necessarily, He knows, wills and will perform what He promises? Not only should we be sure that God wills, and will execute His will, necessarily and immutably; we should glory in the fact, as Paul does in Romans 3:4 – “Let God be true, but every man a liar”, and again, “Not that the word of God has failed,” and in another place, “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are His.” In Titus 1:2 he says: “Which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began”… If, then, we are taught and believe that we ought to be ignorant of the necessary foreknowledge of God and the necessity of events, Christian faith is utterly destroyed, and the promises of God and the whole gospel fall to the ground completely; for the Christian’s chief and only comfort in every adversity lies in knowing that God does not lie, but brings all things to pass immutably, and that His will cannot be resisted, altered or impeded. (pp. 83-84, BOW)

(ix)That a will which has no power without grace is not free (635-638)

You describe the power of “free-will” as small, and wholly ineffective apart from the grace of God. Agreed? Now then, I ask you: If God’s grace is wanting, if it is taken away from that small power, what can it do? It is ineffective, you say, and can do nothing good. So it will not do what God or His grace wills. Why? Because we have now taken God’s grace away from it, and what the grace of God does not do is not good. Hence it follows that “free-will” without God’s grace is not free at all, but is the permanent prisoner and bondslave of evil, since it cannot turn itself to good. This being so, I give you full permission to enlarge the power of “free-will” as much as you like; make it angelic, make it divine, if you can! – but when you add this doleful postscript, that it is ineffective apart from God’s grace, straightway you rob it of all its power. What is ineffective power but (in plain language) no power? So to say that “free-will” exists and has power, albeit ineffective power, is, in the Sophists’ phrase, a contradiction in terms. It is like saying “’free-will’ is something which is not free” – as if you said that fire is cold and earth hot. Fire certainly has power to heat; but if hell-fire (even) was cold and chilling instead of burning and scorching, I would not call it “fire”, let alone “hot” (unless you meant to refer to an imaginary fire, or a painted one). Note, however, that if we meant by “the power of free-will” the power which makes human beings fit subjects to be caught up by the Spirit and touched by God’s grace, as creatures made for eternal life or eternal death, we should have a proper definition. And I certainly acknowledge the existence of this power, this fitness, or “dispositional quality” and “passive aptitude” (as the Sophists call it), which, as everyone knows, is not given to plants or animals. As the proverb says, God did not make heaven for geese! It is a settled truth, then, even on the basis of your own testimony, that we do everything of necessity, and nothing by “free-will”; for the power of “free-will” is nil, and it does no good, nor can do, without grace. It follows, therefore, that “free-will” is obviously a term applicable only to Divine Majesty; for only He can do, and does (as the Psalmist sings) “whatever he wills in heaven and earth” [Psalms 135:6]. If “free-will” is ascribed to men, it is ascribed with no more propriety than divinity itself would be – and no blasphemy could exceed that! So it befits theologians to refrain from using the term when they want to speak of human ability, and to leave it to be applied to God only. They would do well also to take the term out of men’s mouths and speech, and to claim it for their God, as if it were His own holy and awful Name. If they must at all hazards assign some power to men, let them teach that it be denoted by some other term than “free-will”; especially since we know from our own observation that the mass of men are sadly deceived and misled by this phrase. The meaning which it conveys to their minds is far removed from anything that theologians believe and discuss. The term “free-will” is too grandiose and comprehensive and fulsome. People think it means what the natural force of the phrase would require, namely, a power of freely turning in any direction, yielding to none and subject to none. If they knew that this was not so, and that the term signifies only a tiny spark of power, and that utterly ineffective in itself, since it is the devil’s prisoner and slave, it would be a wonder if they did not stone us as mockers and deceivers, who say one thing and mean another – indeed, who have not yet decided what we do mean! Since, therefore, we have lost the meaning and the real reference of this glorious term, or, rather, have never grasped them (as was claimed by the Pelagians, who themselves mistook the phrase) why do we cling so tenaciously to an empty word, and endanger and delude faithful people in consequence? There is no more wisdom in so doing then there is in the modern foible of kings and potentates, who retain, or lay claim to, empty titles of kingdoms and countries, and flaunt them, while all the time they are really paupers, and anything but the possessors of those kingdoms and countries. We can tolerate their antics, for they fool nobody, but just feed themselves up – unprofitably enough – on their own vainglory. But this false idea of “free-will” is a real threat to salvation, and a delusion fraught with the most perilous consequences. If we do not want to drop this term [“free-will”] altogether – which would really be the safest and most Christian thing to do – we may still in good faith teach people to use it to credit man with “free-will” in respect, not of what is above him, but of what is below him. That is to say, man should realize that in regard to his money and possessions he has a right to use them, to do or to leave undone, according to his own “free-will” – though that very “free-will” is overruled by the free-will of God alone, according to His own pleasure. However, with regard to God, and in all that bears on salvation or damnation, he has no “free-will”, but is a captive, prisoner and bondslave, either to the will of God, or to the will of Satan. (pp. 104-107, BOW)

(x) Of God preached and not preached, and of His revealed and secret will (684-686)

As to why some are touched by the law and others not, so that some receive and others scorn the offer of grace that is another question, which Ezekiel does not here discuss. He speaks of the published offer of God’s mercy, not of the dreadful hidden will of God, Who, according to His own counsel, ordains such persons as He wills to receive and partake of the mercy preached and offered. This will is not to be inquired into, but to be reverently adored, as by far the most awesome secret of the Divine Majesty. He has kept it to Himself and forbidden us to know it; and it is much more worthy of reverence than an infinite number of Corycian caverns! Now, God in His own nature and majesty is to be justify alone; in this regard, we have nothing to do with Him, nor does He wish us to deal with Him. We have to do with Him as clothed and displayed in His Word, by which He presents Himself to us. That is His glory and beauty, in which the Psalmist proclaims Him to be clothed [Ps. 21:5]. I say that the righteous God does not deplore the death of His people which He Himself works in them, but He deplores the death which He finds in His people and desires to remove from them. God preached works to the end that sin and death may be taken away, and we may be saved. “He sent His word and healed them” [Ps. 107:20]. But God hidden in Majesty neither deplores nor takes away death, but works life, and death, and all in all; nor has He set bounds to Himself by His Word, but has kept Himself free over all things. The Diatribe is deceived by its own ignorance in that it makes no distinction between God preached and God hidden, that is, between the Word of God and God Himself. God does many things which He does not show in His word, and He wills many things which he does not in His Word show us that He wills. Thus, He does not will the death of a sinner – that is, in His Word; but He wills it by His inscrutable will. At present, however, we must keep in view His Word and leave alone His inscrutable will; for it is by His Word, and not by His inscrutable will, that we must be guided. In any case, who can direct himself according to a will that is inscrutable and incomprehensible? It is enough simply to know that there is in God an inscrutable will; what, why, and within what limits It wills, it is wholly unlawful to inquire, or wish to know, or be concerned about, or touch upon; we may only fear and adore! So it is right to say: “If God does not desire our death, it must be laid to the charge of our own will if we perish”; this, I repeat, is right if you spoke of God preached. For He desires that all men should be saved, in that He comes to all by the word of salvation, and the fault is in the will which does not receive Him; as He says in Matt. 23:37 “How often would I have gathered thy children together, and thou wouldst not!” But why the Majesty does not remove or change this fault of will in every man (for it is not in the power of man to do it), or why He lays this fault to the charge of the will, when man cannot avoid it, it is not lawful to ask; and though you should ask much, you would never find out; as Paul says in Romans 11: “Who art thou that repliest against God?” [Romans 9:20]. (pp. 169-171, BOW)

(vi) Of the hardening of Pharaoh (711-714)

This is why Moses generally repeats after each plague: “And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, so that he would not let the people go; as the Lord had spoken” [Exodus 7:13, 22; 8:15; 9:12]. What was the point of: “As the Lord had spoken”, but that the Lord might appear true, as having foretold that Pharaoh should be hardened? Had there been in Pharaoh any power to turn, or freedom of will that might have gone either way, God could not with such certainty have foretold his hardening. But as it is, He who neither deceives nor is deceived guarantees it; which means that it is completely certain, and necessary, that Pharaoh’s hardening will come to pass. And it would not be so, were not that hardening wholly beyond the strength of man, and in the power of God alone, in the manner that I spoke of above: that is, God was certain that He would not suspend the ordinary operation of omnipotence in Pharaoh, or on Pharaoh’s account – indeed, He could not omit it; and He was equally certain that the will of Pharaoh, being naturally evil and perverse, could not consent to the word and work of God which opposed it; hence, while by the omnipotence of God the energy of willing was preserved to Pharaoh within, and the word and work that opposed him was set before him without, nothing could happen in Pharaoh but the offending and hardening of his heart. If God had suspended the action of His omnipotence in Pharaoh when He set before him the word of Moses which opposed him, and if the will of Pharaoh might be supposed to have acted alone by its own power, then there could perhaps have been a place for debating which way it had power to turn. But as it is, since he is impelled and made to act by his own willing, no violence is done to his will; for it is not under unwilling constraint, but by an operation of God consonant with its nature it is impelled to will naturally, according to what it is (that is, evil). Therefore, it could not but turn upon one word, and thus become hardened. Thus we see that this passage makes most forcibly against “free-will” on this account that God, who promises, cannot lie; and, if He cannot lie, then Pharaoh cannot but be hardened. (pp. 211-212, BOW)

(xviii) Of the comfort of knowing that salvation does not depend on ‘free-will’ (783)

I frankly confess that, for myself, even if it could be, I should not want “free-will” to be given to me, nor anything to be justify in my own hands to enable me to endeavor after salvation; not merely because in face of so many dangers, and adversities, and assaults of devils, I could not stand my ground and hold fast my “free-will” (for one devil is stronger than all men, and on these terms no man could be saved); but because, even were there no dangers, adversities, or devils, I should still be forced to labor with no guarantee of success, and to beat my fists at the air. If I lived and worked to all eternity, my conscience would never reach comfortable certainty as to how much it must do to satisfy God. Whatever work I had done, there would still be a nagging doubt as to whether it pleases God, or whether He required something more. The experience of all who seek righteousness by works proves that; and I learned it well enough myself over a period of many years, to my own great hurt. But now that God has taken my salvation out the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him. “No one,” He says, “shall pluck them out of my hand, because my father which gave them me is greater than all” [John 10:28-29]. Thus it is that, if not all, yet some, indeed many, are saved; whereas, by the power of “free-will” none at all could be saved, but every one of us would perish. Furthermore, I have the comfortable certainty that I please God, not by reason of the merit of my works, but by reason of His merciful favor promised to me; so that, if I work too little, or badly, He does not impute it to me, but with fatherly compassion pardons me and makes me better. This is the glorying of all the saints in their God. (pp. 313-314, BOW)

(xix) O faith in the justice of God in His dealings with men (784-786)

You may be worried that it is hard to defend the mercy and equity of God in damning the undeserving, that is, ungodly persons, who, being born in ungodliness, can by no means avoid being ungodly, and staying so, and being damned, but are compelled by natural necessity to sin and perish; as Paul says: “We were all the children of wrath, even as others” [Eph. 2:3], created such by God Himself from a seed that had been corrupted by the sin of one man, Adam. But here God must be reverenced and held in awe, as being most merciful to those whom He justifies and saves in their own utter unworthiness; and we must show some measure of deference to His Divine wisdom by believing Him just when to us He seems unjust. If His justice were such as could be adjudged just by human reckoning, it clearly would not be Divine; it would in no way differ from human justice. But inasmuch as He is the one true God, wholly incomprehensible and inaccessible to man’s understanding, it is reasonable, indeed inevitable, that His justice also should be incomprehensible; as Paul cries, saying: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” [Romans 11:33]. They would not, however, be “unsearchable” if we could at every point grasp the grounds on which they are just. What is man compared with God? How much can our power achieve compared with His power? What is our strength compared with His strength? What is our knowledge compared with His wisdom? What is our substance compared with His substance? In a word, what is all that we are compared with all that He is? If, now, even nature teaches to acknowledge that human power, strength, wisdom, knowledge and substance, and all that is ours, is nothing compared with the Divine power, strength, wisdom, knowledge and substance, what perversity is it on our part to worry at the justice and the judgment of the only God, and to arrogate so much to our own judgment as to presume to comprehend, judge and evaluate God’s judgment! (pp. 314-315, BOW) (3)

The second Protestant theologian:

Selections from Freedom of the Will, by Jonathan Edwards:

Jonathan Edwards is considered the greatest of the American Puritan theologians and philosophers. Some remember him for his sermon: “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.” Edwards had a remarkable talent for learning and was intensely interested in questions not only theology but of science, philosophy, and psychology. Edwards was the third president of Princeton University. He was a theologian and yet a profound philosopher. Perhaps, one of America’s greatest philosophers.

Part I. Section I.

Concerning the Nature of the Will.

It may possibly be thought, that there is no great need of going about to define or describe the Will; this word being generally as well understood as any other words we can use to explain it: and so perhaps it would be, had not philosophers, metaphysicians, and polemic divines, brought the matter into obscurity by the things they have said of it. But since it is so, I think it may be of some use, and will tend to greater clearness in the following discourse, to say a few things concerning it.

And therefore I observe, that the Will (without any metaphysical refining) is, that by which the mind chooses anything. The faculty of the will, is that power, or principle of mind, by which it is capable of choosing: an act of the will is the same as an act of choosing or choice… (p.4)

Part I. Section II.

Concerning the Determination of the Will.

By determining the Will, if the phrase be used with any meaning, must be intended, causing that the act of the Will or choice should be thus, and not otherwise: and the Will is said to be determined, when, in consequence of some action, or influence, its choice is directed to, and fixed upon a particular object. As when we speak of the determination of motion, we mean causing the motion of the body to be in such a direction, rather than another.

The Determination of the Will, supposes an effect, which must have a cause. If the Will be determined, there is a Determiner. This must be supposed to be intended even by them that say, The Will determines itself. If it be so, the Will is both Determiner and determined; it is a cause that acts and produces effects upon itself, and is the object of its own influence and action…

It is sufficient to my present purpose to say, it is that motive, which, as it stands in view of the mind, is the strongest, that determines the will. But may be necessary that I should a little explain my meaning.

By motive I mean the whole of that which moves, excites, or invites the mind to volition, whether that be one thing singly, or many things conjunctly. Many particular things may concur, and unite their strength, to induce the mind; and when it is so, all together are as one complex motive. And when I speak of the strongest motive, I have respect to the strength of the whole that operates to induce a particular act of volition, whether that be the strength of one thing alone, or of many together. (p.5-6)

Part I. Section IV.

Of the Distinctions of Natural and Moral Necessity, and Inability.

To give some instances of this moral Inability. — A woman of great honor and chastity may have a moral Inability to prostitute herself to her slave. A child of great love and duty to his parents, may be thus unable to kill his father. A very lascivious man, in case of certain opportunities and temptations, and in the absence of such and such restraints, may be unable to forbear gratifying his lust. A drunkard, under such and such circumstances, may be unable to forbear taking strong drink. A very malicious man may be unable to exert benevolent acts to an enemy, or to desire his prosperity; yea, some may be so under the power of a vile disposition, that they may be unable to love those who are most worthy of their esteem and affection. A strong habit of virtue, and a great degree of holiness, may cause a moral Inability to love wickedness in general, and may render a man unable to take complacence in wicked persons or things; or to choose a wicked in preference to a virtuous life. And on the other hand, a great degree of habitual wickedness may lay a man under an Inability to love and choose holiness; and render him utterly unable to love an infinitely holy Being, or to choose and cleave to him as his chief good. (p.11)

Part I. Section V.

Concerning the Notion of Liberty, and of Moral Agency.

The plain and obvious meaning of the words Freedom and Liberty, in common speech, is the power, opportunity, or advantage that any one has, to do as he pleases. Or in other words, his being free from hindrance or impediment in the way of doing, or conducting in any respect as he wills….

What has been said may be sufficient to show what is meant by Liberty, according to the common notions of mankind, and in the usual and primary acceptation of the word: but the word, as used by Arminians, Pelagians, and others, who oppose the Calvinists, has an entirely different signification. — These several things belong to their notion of Liberty. 1. That it consists in a self-determining power in the Will, or a certain sovereignty the Will has over itself, and its own acts, whereby it determines its own volitions; so as not to be dependent, in its determinations, on any cause without itself, nor determined by anything prior to its own acts. 2. Indifference belongs to Liberty in their notion of it, or that the mind, previous to the act of volition, be in equilibria. 3. contingence is another thing that belongs and is essential to it; not in the common acceptation of the word, as that has been already explained, but as opposed to all necessity, or any fixed and certain I connexion with some previous ground or reason of its existence. They suppose the essence of Liberty so much to consist in these things, that unless the will of man be free in this sense, he has no real freedom, how much soever, he may be at Liberty to act according to his will. (p.11-12)

Part II. Section IV.

Whether Volition can arise without a Cause, through the activity of the nature of the soul.

Let us suppose, as these divines do, that there are no acts of the soul, strictly speaking, but free Volitions; then it will follow, that the soul is an active being in nothing further than it is a voluntary or elecive being; and whenever it produces effects actively, it produces effects voluntarily and electively. But to produce effects thus, is the same thing as to produce effects in consequence of, and according to its own choice. And if so, then surely the soul does not by its activity produce all its own acts of will or choice themselves; for this, by the supposition, is to produce all its free acts of choice volutarily an electively or in consequence of its own free acts of choice, which brings the matter directly to the forementioned contradiction, of a free act of choice before the first free act of choice.— According to these gentlemen’s own notion of action, if there arises in the mind a Volition without a free act of the Will to produce it, the mind is not the voluntary Cause of that Volition; because it does not arise from, nor is regulated by, choice or design. And therefore it cannot be, that the mind should be the active, voluntary, determining Cause of the first and leading Volition that relates to the afffair. — The mind being a designing Cause, only enables it to produce effects in consequence of its design; it will not enable it to be the designing Cause of all its own designs. The mind being an elective Cause, will enable it to produce effects only in consequence of its elections, and according to them; but cannot enable it to be the elective Cause of all its own elections; because that supposes an election before the first election. So the mind being an active Cause enables it to produce effects in consequence of its own acts, but cannot enable it to be the determining Cause of all its own acts; for that is, in the same manner, a contradiction; as it supposes a determining act conversant about the first act, and prior to it, having a causal influence on its existence, and manner of existence…

Part II. Section V.

Showing, that if the things asserted in these Evasions should supposed to be true, they are altogether impertinent, and cannot help the cause of Arminian Liberty; and how, this being the state of the case, Arminian writers are obliged to talk inconsistently.

So that let Armninians turn which way they please with their notion of liberty, consisting in the Will determining its own acts, their notion destroys itself. If they hold every free act of Will to be determined by the soul’s own free choice, or foregoing free act of Will; forgoing, either in the order of time, or nature; it implies that gross contradiction, that the first free act belonging to the affair, is determined by a free act which is before it. Or if they say, that the free acts of the Will are determined by some other art of the soul, and not an act of will or choice; this also destroys their notion of liberty consisting in the acts of the Will being determined by the will itself; or if they hold that the acts of the Will are determined by nothing at all that is prior to them, but that they are contingent in that sense, that they are determined and fixed by no cause at all; this also destroys their notion of liberty, consisting in the Will determining its own acts. (p.18) (4)

Theological implications and Scriptural conclusions:

The book of Romans tells us the following:

Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? (Romans 6:16)

Verse fourteen of this chapter says of those in Christ that we are no longer under the dominion of sin. We were the servant or slaves of sin. We yielded ourselves to sin because this was the inclination of our fallen nature. We are now the servants of righteousness and no longer the slaves of sin. Our innate, sinful natures have been supernaturally changed.

The apostle Peter confirms this when he says:

“…that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature…” (2 Peter 1:4)

The believer now has a new nature. We still make choices or decisions. Since we have a new nature, our desires have been changed. We are now slaves of righteousness.

Both the non-believer and the believer make choices, but they are determined by either a corrupt nature or a changed, divinely regenerated nature. The will of man can only be said to be free if it is understood that this freedom is always in accord with the desires of man’s nature. The believer is now a new creation in Christ. We follow Christ because we love Him and want to please Him. The Holy Spirit lives in the believer and guides us and convicts us to do what is right according to the Scriptures.

When a person chooses Christ, one must ask, why did the person do this? Was it his decision on his own, apart from God’s action? Or, does man act or choose for Christ as a result of God changing his heart by the power of Holy Spirit? The Scripture declares that unbelievers are spiritually dead (not just sick) and have hearts of stone. Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, changes our heart of stone into a heart of flesh. As was said, unbelievers are spiritually dead before Christ quickens us or makes us alive. We are raised from the dead when Christ regenerates us. Regeneration enables saving faith and happens before we can exercise saving faith. Regeneration proceeding faith is Scriptural logical deduction or said another way, a good and necessary consequence.

Remember, we were the servants or slaves of sin. We yielded ourselves to sin because this was the inclination of our fallen nature. We are now the servants of righteousness and no longer the slaves of sin. Our sin natures have been changed. As the apostle, Peter tells us that “ye might be partakers of the divine nature…” (2 Peter 1:4). The believer now has a new nature. We still make choices or decisions. But since we have a new nature, our desires have been changed through the inward work of the Holy Spirit. We are now slaves of righteousness (though not yet perfectly) by His grace.

And finally, both the non-believer and the believer make choices, but those choices are determined by either a corrupt nature or a changed, regenerated nature. The will can only be said to be free if it is understood that this freedom is always in accord with the desires of man’s nature. It can be said that the will is bound in its original sin nature, yet free through the redeeming power of Jesus. The believer is now a new creation in Christ. We follow Christ because we love Him and want to please Him. The Holy Spirit lives in the believer and guides us and convicts us to do what is right according to the Scriptures.

In closing; Protestant Confessional sources on man’s will:

 Thirty-Nine Articles, X: “The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith, and calling upon God. Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.”

Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 8: “Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness? Indeed we are; except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.”

Belgic Confession, XIV: “… we reject all that is taught repugnant to this, concerning the free will of man, since man is but a slave to sin; and has nothing of himself, unless it is given from heaven. For who may presume to boast, that he of himself can do any good, since Christ saith, No man can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him? Who will glory in his own will, who understands, that to be carnally minded is enmity against God? Who can speak of his knowledge, since the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God? In short, who dare suggest any thought, since he knows that we are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves, but that our sufficiency is of God? And therefore what the apostle saith ought justly to be held sure and firm, that God worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure. For there is no will nor understanding, conformable to the divine will and understanding, but what Christ hath wrought in man; which he teaches us, when he saith, without me ye can do nothing.”

Canons of Dordt, III/IV: 3: “Therefore all men are conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, incapable of saving good, prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage thereto, and without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, they are neither able nor willing to return to God, to reform the depravity of their nature, nor to dispose themselves to reformation.”

Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 9 – Of Free Will.

Section 1.) God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that it is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined, to good or evil. (1)

(1) Mt 17:12; Jas 1:14; Dt 30:19.


Section 2.) Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom and power to will and to do that which was good and well-pleasing to God; (1) but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.(2)

(1) Ecclesiastes 7:29; Ge 1:26. (2) Ge 2:16, 17; Ge 3:6.


Section 3.) Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation;(1) so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good,(2) and dead in sin,(3) is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.(4)

(1) Ro 5:6; Ro 8:7; Jn 15:5. (2) Ro 3:10, 12. (3) Eph 2:1, 5; Col 2:13. (4) Jn 6:44, 65; Eph 2:2, 3, 4, 5; 1Co 2:14; Tit 3:3, 4, 5.


Section 4.) When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He freeth him from his natural bondage under sin, (1) and by His grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good;(2) yet so as that, by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly nor only will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil. (3)

(1) Col 1:13; Jn 8:34, 36. (2) Php 2:13; Ro 6:18, 22. (3) Gal 5:17; Ro 7:15, 18,19,21,23.


Section 5.) The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to do good alone in the state of glory only. (1)

(1) Eph 4:13; Heb 12:23; 1Jn 3:2; Jude 24.

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


  1. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 1, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1990), pp. 126-127.
  2. LeGrand Richards, A Marvelous Work And A Wonder, (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book Co. 1978), p. 345, 347.
  3. Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, (Old Tappan, New Jersey, Fleming H. Revell Company) pp. 80-81; 83-84; 104-107; 169-171; 211-212; 313-314; 314-315.
  4. Jonathan Edwards, The Works Of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 1, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishing), pp. 4-6; 11-12; 18.

“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:

For more study:

* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes:

** CARM theological dictionary

Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will:

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Hermeneutics, approaches to Biblical Interpretation

Hermeneutics, approaches to Biblical Interpretation                                      by Jack Kettler

Definition of Hermeneutics:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Does everyone interpret the Bible the same way?

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

What is the Grammatico-Historical-Hermeneutical Method?

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

Exegesis, the interpretive Norm:

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

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

Eisegesis, the Interpretive Danger:

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Principles of Interpretation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In closing:

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

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

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

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

Confessional Documents as Reformed Hermeneutic:

  1. Confessions delimit church power.

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

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

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


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

“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:

For more study:

* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes:

** CARM theological dictionary

  1. I. Packer: Hermeneutics and Biblical Theology

Greg Bahnsen: A Reformed Confession Regarding Hermeneutics

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

The Journal of Presbyterian History (1997- )

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

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Apologetics an introduction the defending the Faith

Apologetics an introduction the defending the Faith                           By Jack Kettler

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

Definition of apologetics:

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

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

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

How can evangelism be defined?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consulting Matthew Poole’s Commentary we find:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Having a good conscience; this may be read either:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18: Summary On Apologetic Method: Chapters 13-17

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

The Nature of the Apologetic Situation:

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

The Requirements of the Apologist:

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

The Procedure for Defending the Faith:

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

In closing, some quotes to ponder on apologetics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

For more study:

* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes:

** CARM theological dictionary

Covenant Media Foundation

Courtesy of Rebecca writes – Learn more:

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

Related terms:

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