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What does the Bible say? Volume 1

What does the Bible say? Volume 1


In this multi volume series, “What does the Bible say,” the focus will be on difficult and perplexing portions of Scripture such as, Jephthah’s vow, did he sacrifice his Daughter? In addition, essential doctrines of the Bible will be covered to provide the believer Scriptural reasons for believing teachings such as, Heaven, Hell, Sin and what is the gospel, along many other important topics.

A teaser, coming in Volume 2:

  1. Who are the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:4?
  2. The spirits in prison mentioned in 1 Peter 3:19, who are they?

In this book at a glance:

Chapter One: What is Heaven?

Chapter Two: Will animals be in heaven?

Chapter Three: Not to Seethe a Kid in his mother’s milk, a study in Compassion

Chapter Four: Hell, what the Bible says

Chapter Five: Is Hell Eternal? A Bible Study

Chapter Six: Sin, what is it? A Bible Study

Chapter Seven: Jephthah’s vow, did he sacrifice his Daughter?

Chapter Eight: Propitiation, what is a Propitiatory Sacrifice?

Chapter Nine: Praying the Lord’s Prayer, is it a vain repetition?

Chapter Ten: Railings on one’s Roof Top, Why?

Other books by the author

The Religion That Started in a Hat

The Five Points of Scriptural Authority: A Defense of Sola Scriptura

 1 Corinthians 15:29 Revisited: A Scriptural based interpretation

Christian Apologetics in the marketplace of ideas

Studies in Soteriology: The Doctrines of Grace Magnified

Doctrinal Disputations

The above books can be ordered at Jack

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What is the sin that leads to death in 1 John 5:16?

What is the sin that leads to death in 1 John 5:16?                           By Jack Kettler

“If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.” (1 John 5:16-17)

This a challenging text, which has led to much speculation as to the meaning. Does this text refer to a Christian?

While lengthy, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible interacts with the differing points of view on this text from 1 John, and because of this the Barnes’ Notes entry is beneficial:
“If a man see his brother sin a sin … – From the general assurance that God hears prayer, the apostle turns to a particular case in which it may be benevolently and effectually employed, in rescuing a brother from death. There has been great diversity of opinion in regard to the meaning of this passage, and the views of expositors of the New Testament are by no means settled as to its true sense. It does not comport with the design of these notes to examine the opinions, which have been held in detail. A bare reference, however, to some of them will show the difficulty of determining with certainty what the passage means, and the impropriety of any very great confidence in one’s own judgment in the case.

Among these opinions are the following. Some have supposed that the sin against the Holy Spirit is intended; some that the phrase denotes any great and enormous sin, as murder, idolatry, adultery; some that it denotes some sin that was punishable by death by the laws of Moses; some that it denotes a sin that subjected the offender to excommunication from the synagogue or the church; some that it refers to sins, which brought fatal disease upon the offender, as in the case of those who abused the Lord’s Supper at Corinth, (see the notes at 1 Corinthians 11:30); some that it refers to crimes committed against the laws, for which the offender was sentenced to death, meaning that when the charge alleged was false, and the condemnation unjust, they ought to pray for the one who was condemned to death, and that he would be spared; but that when the offence was one which had been really committed, and the offender deserved to die, they ought not to pray for him, or, in other words, that by “the sin unto death,” offences against the civil law are referred to, which the magistrate had no power to pardon, and the punishment of which he could not commute; and by the “sin not unto death,” offences are referred to which might be pardoned, and when the punishment might be commuted; some that it refers to sins “before” and “after” baptism, the former of which might be pardoned, but the latter of which might not be; and some, and perhaps this is the common opinion among the Roman Catholics, that it refers to sins that might or might not be pardoned after death, thus referring to the doctrine of purgatory.

These various opinions may be seen stated more at length in Rosenmuller, Lucke, Pool (Synopsis,) and Clarke, “in loc.” To go into an examination of all these opinions would require a volume by itself, and all that can be done here is to furnish what seems to me to be the fair exposition of the passage. The word “brother” may refer either to a member of the church, whether of the particular church to which one was attached or to another, or it may be used in the larger sense which is common as denoting a fellow-man, a member of the great family of mankind. There is nothing in the word, which necessarily limits it to one in the church; there is nothing in the connection, or in the reason assigned, why what is said should be limited to such a one. The “duty” here enjoined would be the same whether the person referred to was in the church or not; for it is our duty to pray for those who sin, and to seek the salvation of those whom we see to be going astray, and to be in danger of ruin, wherever they are, or whoever they may be. At the same time, the correct interpretation of the passage does not depend on determining whether the word “brother” refers to one who is a professed Christian or not.

A sin which is not unto death – The great question in the interpretation of the whole passage is, what is meant by the “sin unto death.” The Greek (ἁμαρτία πρὸς θάνατον hamartia pros thanaton) would mean properly a sin which “tends” to death; which would “terminate” in death; of which death was the penalty, or would be the result, unless it were arrested; a sin which, if it had its own course, would terminate thus, as we should speak of a disease “unto death.” Compare the notes at John 11:4. The word “death” is used in three significations in the New Testament, and as employed here might, so far as the word is concerned, be applied in any one of those senses.

It is used to denote:

(a) literally, the death of the body;

(b) spiritual death, or death “in trespasses and sin,” Ephesians 2:1;

(c) the “second death,” death in the world of woe and despair.

If the sin here mentioned refers to “temporal” death, it means such a sin that temporal death must inevitably follow, either by the disease which it has produced, or by a judicial sentence where there was no hope of pardon or of a commutation of the punishment; if it refers to death in the future world, the second death, then it means such a sin as is unpardonable. That this last is the reference here seems to me to be probable, if not clear, from the following considerations:

(1) There is such a sin referred to in the New Testament, a sin for which there is forgiveness “neither in this life nor the life to come.” See the notes at Matthew 12:31-32. Compare Mark 3:29. If there is such a sin, there is no impropriety in supposing that John would refer to it here.

(2) this is the “obvious” interpretation. It is that which would occur to the mass of the readers of the New Testament, and which it is presumed they do adopt; and this, in general, is one of the best means of ascertaining the sense of a passage in the Bible.

(3) the other significations attached to the word “death,” would be quite inappropriate here.

(a) It cannot mean “unto spiritual death,” that is, to a continuance in sin, for how could that be known? And if such a case occurred, why would it be improper to pray for it? Besides, the phrase “a sin unto spiritual death,” or “unto continuance in sin,” is one that is unmeaning.

(b) It cannot be shown to refer to a disease that should be unto death, miraculously inflicted on account of sin, because, if such cases occurred, they were very rare, and even if a disease came upon a man miraculously in consequence of sin, it could not be certainly known whether it was, or was not, unto death. All who were visited in this way did not certainly die. Compare 1 Corinthians 5:4-5, with 2 Corinthians 2:6-7. See also 1 Corinthians 11:30.

(c) It cannot be shown that it refers to the case of those who were condenmed by the civil magistrate to death, and for whom there was no hope of reprieve or pardon, for it is not certain that there were such cases; and if there were, and the person condemned were innocent, there was every reason to pray that God would interpose and save them, even when there was no hope from man; and if they were guilty, and deserved to die, there was no reason why they should not pray that the sin might be forgiven, and that they might be prepared to die, unless it were a case where the sin was unpardonable. It seems probable, therefore, to me that the reference here is to the sin against the Holy Spirit, and that John means here to illustrate the duty and the power of prayer, by showing that for any sin short of that, however aggravated, it was their duty to pray that a brother might be forgiven. Though it might not be easy to determine what was the unpardonable sin, and John does not say that those to whom he wrote could determine that with certainty, yet there were many sins which were manifestly not of that aggravated character, and for those sins it was proper to pray.

There was clearly but one sin that was unpardonable – “there is a sin unto death;” there might be many which were not of this description, and in relation to them there was ample scope for the exercise of the prayer of faith. The same thing is true now. It is not easy to define the unpardonable sin, and it is impossible for us to determine in any case with absolute certainty that a man has committed it. But there are multitudes of sins which people commit, which upon no proper interpretation of the passages respecting the sin which “hath never forgiveness,” can come under the description of that sin, and for which it is proper, therefore, to pray that they may be pardoned. We know of cases enough where sin “may” be forgiven; and, without allowing the mind to be disturbed about the question respecting the unpardonable sin, it is our duty to bear such cases on our hearts before God, and to plead with him that our erring brethren may be saved.

He shall ask. That is, he shall pray that the offender may be brought to true repentance, and

may be saved. And he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. That is, God shall give life, and he shall be saved from the eternal death to which he was exposed. This, it is said, would be given to “him” who offers the prayer; that is, his prayer would be the means of saving the offending brother.

What a motive is this to prayer! How faithful and constant should we be in pleading for our

fellow-sinners, that we may be instrumental in saving their souls! What joy will await those in heaven who shall see there many who were rescued from ruin in answer to their prayers! Comp. See Barnes “Jas 5:15,” See Barnes “Jas 5:19.”

There is a sin unto death. A sin, which is of such a character that it, throws the offender beyond the reach of mercy, and which is not to be pardoned. See Mark 3:28, 29. The apostle does not here say what that sin is; nor how they might know what it is; nor even that in any case they could determine that it had been committed. He merely says that there is such a sin, and that he, does not design that his remark about the efficacy of prayer should be understood as extending to that.

I do not say that he shall pray for it. “I do not intend that my remark shall be extended to all sin, or mean to affirm that all possible forms of guilt are the proper subjects of prayer, for I am aware that there is one sin which is an exception, and my remark is not to be applied to that.” He does not say that this sin was of common occurrence: or that they could know when it had been committed; or even that a case could ever occur in which they could determine that; he merely says that in respect to that sin he did not say that prayer should be offered. It is indeed implied in a most delicate way that it would not be proper to pray for the forgiveness of such a sin, but he does not say that a case would ever happen in which they would know certainly that the sin had been committed. There were instances in the times of the prophets in which the sin of the people became so universal and so aggravated, that they were forbidden to pray for them. Isa 14:11, “Then said

the Lord unto me, Pray not for this people for their good;” Isa 15:1, “Then said the Lord unto me, though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be toward this people; cast them out of my sight, and let them go forth.” Comp. See Barnes “Isa 1:15.”

But these were cases in which the prophets were directly instructed by God not to pray for a people. We have no such instruction; and it may be said now with truth, that as we can never be certain respecting any one that he has committed the unpardonable sin, there is no one for whom we may not with propriety pray. There may be those who are so far gone in sin that there may seem to be little, or almost no ground of hope. They may have cast off all the restraints of religion, of morality, of decency; they may disregard all the counsels of parents and friends; they may be sceptical, sensual, profane; they may be the companions of infidels and of mockers; they may have forsaken the sanctuary, and learned to despise the sabbath; they may have been professors of religion, and now may have renounced the faith of the gospel altogether, but still, while there is life it is our duty to pray for them, “if peradventure God will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth,” 2 Tim 2:26. “All things are possible with God;” and he has reclaimed offenders more hardened, probably, than any that we have known, and has demonstrated that there is no form of depravity, which he has not the power to subdue.

Let us remember the cases of Manasseh, of Saul of Tarsus, of Augustine, of Bunyan, of Newton, of tens of thousands who have been reclaimed from the vilest forms of iniquity, and then let us never despair of the conversion of any, in answer to prayer, who may have gone astray, as long as they are in this world of probation and of hope. Let no parent despair who has an abandoned son; let no wife cease to pray who has a dissipated husband. How many a prodigal son has come back to fill with happiness an aged parent’s heart! How many a dissipated husband has been reformed to give joy again to the wife of his youth, and to make a paradise again of his miserable home!” (1)

A contemporary evaluation of this text will be helpful from Simon J. Kistemaker: 
“16. If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that.

  17. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

  We should never limit our prayers to personal needs. Rather, as brothers and sisters in the Lord, we need to exercise our corporate responsibility to pray for each other. Especially when we notice a brother (or sister) committing a sin, we should pray to God for remission.

  16. If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. 17. All wrongdoing is a sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

  John recapitulates his teaching on sin. He has conveyed this teaching in every chapter of his epistle (1:7–9; 2:1–2, 12; 3:4–6, 8–9; 4:10). Now he speaks of sin and death, of prayer and life, and of wrongdoing and remission.

      a. Sin

  “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death.” When John writes “brother” in his epistle, he means a fellow believer. Whenever a member of the Christian community notices that a brother is falling into sin, he should pray to God on his behalf (compare James 5:20).

  John distinguishes between “a sin that does not lead to death” and “a sin that leads to death.” In this passage, he mentions the first kind three times and the second only once. He clearly implies that praying for the sinner who commits “a sin that does not lead to death” is the intent of his writing.

  What is the meaning of the word death? In addition to 5:16, where it occurs three times, the word appears twice in 3:14: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” John is not thinking of physical death. Rather, he is referring to spiritual death. He contrasts death with eternal life (3:15) to set apart the believer, who possesses this life, from the person who denies that Jesus is the Son of God (2:22–23) and who hates the believer (3:13).

  Who, then, commits the sin that leads to death? The person who rejects Jesus as the Christ and who does not love the believer commits this sin. He does not share in the fellowship of the Father and the Son (1:3), and is excluded from eternal life (4:12). He left the Christian community because he did not really belong to it (2:19). He had been a pretender.

      b. Prayer

 Although a believer commits sin (2:1), he does not practice the sin that leads to death. If a brother sins, John counsels, the community ought to ask God to “give him life.” That is, God will forgive his sin and restore him to fellowship. John knows that in the Christian community many believers fall into sin. He uses the plural and writes, “I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death.”

 Should the Christian community pray for the person who commits “a sin that leads to death”? John does not call this person a “brother.” Writes John, “I am not saying that [the believer] should pray about that.” In these words, we hear the echo of Jesus’ voice when he prayed for his followers, “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours” (John 17:9). The false teachers whom John opposes in his epistle “have gone out into the world” (4:1), because “they are from the world” (v. 5). These teachers have directed their false doctrines against the believers, have been disruptive in the Christian community, and have demonstrated their hatred against the church (compare 2 John 7). Therefore, John adds his personal advice not to pray for them. Note that 5:16 is the only passage in this epistle that has the personal pronoun I.

      c. Comfort

 “All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.” John calls attention to the seriousness of sin. “Sin is lawlessness” (3:4) and is always an affront to God. In fact, in the sight of God, sin is a transgression of his law and the person who “stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking” the whole law (James 2:10).

 But not every sin leads to death. When a believer transgresses God’s law, he does not deny the sonship of Christ and hate the church. Moreover, God stands ready to forgive his sin. John teaches that “if we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). God forgives sin when the sinner confesses and fellow Christians pray for him, for “God will give him life.”

 Doctrinal Considerations in 5:16–17

The Old Testament makes a distinction between unintentional and intentional sin. When a person sins unintentionally, he is forgiven when the priest makes atonement for him. However, the person who sins intentionally blasphemes the Lord, despises his Word, and breaks his commands. “That person must surely be cut off,” says God (Num. 15:31; also see vv. 22–31).

 Even though John distinguishes between two types of sin in verses 16 and 17, allusions to similar teachings in the Old Testament are entirely absent. We should listen to what John has to say and interpret his message in the historical and theological context of his day.

 The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, by contrast, exhorts his readers not to turn away from the living God and uses examples and precepts from the Old Testament to strengthen his admonition. Says he, “Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:28–29; also consult 6:4–6).

Greek Words, Phrases, and Constructions in 5:16

 ἐάν—this is a conditional sentence of the future more vivid type: the aorist subjunctive ἴδῃ (from ὁράω, I see) in the protasis and the future indicative αἰτήσει (he will ask) in the apodosis. The aorist signifies single occurrence.

 ἁμαρτάνοντα—the present active participle denotes continued action. It is followed by the noun ἁμαρτίαν (sin) as the cognate accusative that repeats the content of the verb.

 μή—the negative particle with an implied participle expresses condition or prohibition. The negative particle in verse 17 is οὐ (not).

 δώσει—although grammatical syntax requires that the subject of this verb be the same as that of αἰτήσει, the meaning of the verbs demands that the one who prays is the believer and the one who gives life is God.

 ἐρωτήσῃ—the aorist subjunctive from ἐρωτάω (I ask, request) is in a clause that indicates indirect command. In this verse, the verb ἐρωτάω is the same as the verb αἰτέω.” (2)

 Additional Scriptures:

 “But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the LORD; and that person shall be cut off from among his people.” (Numbers 15:30 NASB)

 “While it is said, today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.” (Hebrews 3:15)

 “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” (Hebrews 10:26 ESV)

 In closing:

 After reviewing Barnes and Kistemaker’s comments, it is reasonable to conclude that John is speaking of the sin of unbelief at the time of death and is not speaking of a Christian.

 There is no second chance:


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

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


 1.      Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, 1 John, Vol 3. p. 4888-4892.

2.      Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, James and 1-111 John, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, 1986), pp. 362-365. 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 several books defending the Reformed Faith. One is titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Other titles can be found at Jack

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Notable Quotes and the dangers of Pietism

Notable Quotes

“A public-school system, if it means the providing of free education for those who desire it, is a noteworthy and beneficent achievement of modern times; but when once it becomes monopolistic it is the most perfect instrument for tyranny which has yet been devised. Freedom of thought in the Middle Ages was combated by the Inquisition, but the modern method is far more effective.’ (1923) – John Gresham Machen

“Unless we put Medical Freedom into the Constitution, the time will come when medicine will organize into an undercover dictatorship….to restrict the art of healing to one class of men and deny equal privilege to others, will be to constitute the Bastille of Medical Science. All such laws are un-American and despotic and have no place in a Republic…The Constitution of this Republic should make special privilege for Medical Freedom as well as Religious Freedom.” – One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence was Dr. Benjamin Rush, a doctor, educator, and politician.

“If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes. Then you must start painfully again, and you cannot put on a new culture ready-made. You must wait for the grass to grow to feed the sheep to give the wool out of which your new coat will be made. You must pass through many centuries of barbarism. We should not live to see the new culture, nor would our great-great-great-grandchildren: and if we did, not one of us would be happy in it.” – T. S. Eliot

“In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand-fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956

“If we as Christians do not speak out as authoritarian governments grow from within or come from outside, eventually we or our children will be the enemy of society and the state. No truly authoritarian government can tolerate those who have real absolute by which to judge its arbitrary absolutes and who speak out and act upon that absolute.” – Francis A. Schaeffer

“If there is no final place for civil disobedience, then the government has been made autonomous, and as such, it has been put in the place of the living God.” – Francis A. Schaeffer

That is why:

“Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.” – John Knox

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

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

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

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

Now for a classic article on the dangers of pietism:

Francis A. Schaeffer “The abolition of truth and Morality  

The basic problem of the Christians in this country in the last eighty years or so, in regard to society and in regard to government, is that they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals.

They have very gradually become disturbed over permissiveness, pornography, the public schools, the breakdown of the family, and finally abortion. But they have not seen this as a totality — each thing being a part, a symptom, of a much larger problem. They have failed to see that all of this has come about due to a shift in world view — that is, through a fundamental change in the overall way people think and view the world and life as a whole. This shift has been away from a world view that was at least vaguely Christian in people’s memory (even if they were not individually Christian) toward something completely different — toward a world view based upon the idea that the final reality is impersonal matter or energy shaped into its present form by impersonal chance. They have not seen that this world view has taken the place of the one that had previously dominated Northern European culture, including the United States, which was at least Christian in memory, even if the individuals were not individually Christian.

These two world views stand as totals in complete antithesis to each other in content and also in their natural results —including sociological and governmental results, and specifically including law.

It is not that these two world views are different only in how they understand the nature of reality and existence. They also inevitably produce totally different results. The operative word here is inevitably. It is not just that they happen to bring forth different results, but it is absolutely inevitable that they will bring forth different results.

Why have the Christians been so slow to understand this? There are various reasons but the central one is a defective view of Christianity. This has its roots in the Pietist movement under the leadership of P. J. Spener in the seventeenth century. Pietism began as a healthy protest against formalism and a too abstract Christianity. But it had a deficient, “platonic” spirituality. It was platonic in the sense that Pietism made a sharp division between the “spiritual” and the “material” world — giving little, or no, importance to the “material” world. The totality of human existence was not afforded a proper place. In particular it neglected the intellectual dimension of Christianity.

Christianity and spirituality were shut up to a small, isolated part of life. The totality of reality was ignored by the pietistic thinking. Let me quickly say that in one sense Christians should be pietists in that Christianity is not just a set of doctrines, even the right doctrines. Every doctrine is in some way to have an effect upon our lives. But the poor side of Pietism and its resulting platonic outlook has really been a tragedy not only in many people’s individual lives, but in our total culture.

True spirituality covers all of reality. There are things the Bible tells us as absolutes which are sinful — which do not conform to the character of God. But aside from these the Lordship of Christ covers all of life and all of life equally. It is not only that true spirituality covers all of life, but it covers all parts of the spectrum of life equally. In this sense there is nothing concerning reality that is not spiritual.

Related to this, it seems to me, is the fact that many Christians do not mean what I mean when I say Christianity is true, or Truth. They are Christians and they believe in, let us say, the truth of creation, the truth of the virgin birth, the truth of Christ’s miracles, Christ’s substitutionary death, and His coming again. But they stop there with these and other individual truths.

When I say Christianity is true I mean it is true to total reality—the total of what is, beginning with the central reality, the objective existence of the personal-infinite God. Christianity is not just a series of truths but Truth — Truth about all of reality. And the holding to that Truth intellectually — and then in some poor way living upon that Truth, the Truth of what is — brings forth not only certain personal results, but also governmental and legal results.

Now let’s go over to the other side — to those who hold the materialistic final reality concept. They saw the complete and total difference between the two positions more quickly than Christians. There were the Huxleys, George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), and many others who understood a long time ago that there are two total concepts of reality and that it was one total reality against the other and not just a set of isolated and separated differences. The Humanist Manifesto1, published in 1933, showed with crystal clarity their comprehension of the totality of what is involved. It was to our shame that Julian (1887-1975) and Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), and the others like them, understood much earlier than Christians that these two world views are two total concepts of reality standing in antithesis to each other. We should be utterly ashamed that this is the fact.

They understood not only that there were two totally different concepts but that they would bring forth two totally different conclusions, both for individuals and for society. What we must understand is that the two world views really do bring forth with inevitable certainty not only personal differences, but also total differences in regard to society, government, and law.

There is no way to mix these two total world views. They are separate entities that cannot be synthesized. Yet we must say that liberal theology, the very essence of it from its beginning, is an attempt to mix the two. Liberal theology tried to bring forth a mixture soon after the Enlightenment and has tried to synthesize these two views right up to our own day. But in each case when the chips are down these liberal theologians have always come down, as naturally as a ship coming into home port, on the side of the nonreligious humanist. They do this with certainty because what their liberal theology really is is humanism expressed in theological terms instead of philosophic or other terms.

An example of this coming down naturally on the side of the nonreligious humanists is the article by Charles Hartshorne in the January 21, 1981, issue of The Christian Century, pages 42-45. Its title is, “Concerning Abortion, an Attempt at a Rational View.” He begins by equating the fact that the human fetus is alive with the fact that mosquitoes and bacteria are also alive. That is, he begins by assuming that human life is not unique. He then continues by saying that even after the baby is born it is not fully human until its social relations develop (though he says the infant does have some primitive social relations an unborn fetus does not have). His conclusion is, “Nevertheless, I have little sympathy with the idea that infanticide is just another form of murder. Persons who are already functionally persons in the full sense have more important rights even than infants.” He then, logically, takes the next step: “Does this distinction apply to the killing of a hopelessly senile person or one in a permanent coma? For me it does.” No atheistic humanist could say it with greater clarity. It is significant at this point to note that many of the denominations controlled by liberal theology have come out, publicly and strongly, in favor of abortion.

Dr. Martin E. Marty is one of the respected, theologically liberal spokesmen. He is an associate editor of The Christian Century and Fairfax M. Cone distinguished service professor at the University of Chicago divinity school. He is often quoted in the secular press as the spokesman for “mainstream” Christianity. In a Christian Century article in the January 7-14, 1981, issue (pages 13-17 with an addition on page 31), he has an article entitled: “Dear Republicans: A Letter on Humanisms.” In it he brilliantly confuses the terms “being human,” humanism, the humanities and being “in love with humanity.” Why does he do this? As a historian he knows the distinctions of those words, but when one is done with these pages the poor reader who knows no better is left with the eradication of the total distinction between the Christian position and the humanist one. I admire the cleverness of the article, but I regret that in it Dr. Marty has come down on the nonreligious humanist side, by confusing the issues so totally.

It would be well at this point to stress that we should not confuse the very different things which Dr. Marty did confuse. Humanitarianism is being kind and helpful to people, treating people humanly. The humanities are the studies of literature, art, music, etc. — those things which are the products of human creativity. Humanism is the placing of Man at the center of all things and making him the measure of all things.

Thus, Christians should be the most humanitarian of all people. And Christians certainly should be interested in the humanities as the product of human creativity, made possible because people are uniquely made in the image of the great Creator. In this sense of being interested in the humanities it would be proper to speak of a Christian humanist. This is especially so in the past usage of that term. This would then mean that such a Christian is interested (as we all should be) in the product of people’s creativity. In this sense, for example, Calvin could be called a Christian humanist because he knew the works of the Roman writer Seneca so very well.2 John Milton and many other Christian poets could also be so called because of their knowledge not only of their own day but also of antiquity.

But in contrast to being humanitarian and being interested in the humanities Christians should be inalterably opposed to the false and destructive humanism, which is false to the Bible and equally false to what Man is.

Along with this we must keep distinct the “humanist world view” of which we have been speaking and such a thing as the “Humanist Society,” which produced the Humanist Manifestos I and II (1933 and 1973). The Humanist Society is made up of a relatively small group of people (some of whom, however, have been influential — John Dewey, Sir Julian Huxley, Jacques Monod, B. F. Skinner, etc.). By way of contrast, the humanist world view includes many thousands of adherents and today controls the consensus in society, much of the media, much of what is taught in our schools, and much of the arbitrary law being produced by the various departments of government.

The term humanism used in this wider, more prevalent way means Man beginning from himself, with no knowledge except what he himself can discover and no standards outside of himself. In this view Man is the measure of all things, as the Enlightenment expressed it.

Nowhere have the divergent results of the two total concepts of reality, the Judeo-Christian and the humanist world view, been more open to observation than in government and law.

We of Northern Europe (and we must remember that the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and so on are extensions of Northern Europe) take our form-freedom balance in government for granted as though it were natural. There is form in acknowledging the obligations in society, and there is freedom in acknowledging the rights of the individual. We have form, we have freedom; there is freedom, there is form. There is a balance here which we have come to take as natural in the world. It is not natural in the world. We are utterly foolish if we look at the long span of history and read the daily newspapers giving today’s history and do not understand that the form-freedom balance in government which we have had in Northern Europe since the Reformation and in the countries extended from it is unique in the world, past and present.

That is not to say that no one wrestled with these questions before the Reformation nor that no one produced anything worthwhile. One can think, for example, of the Conciliar Movement in the late medieval church and the early medieval parliaments.3 Especially one must consider the ancient English Common Law. And in relation to that Common Law (and all English Law) there is Henry De Bracton. I will mention more about him in a moment.

Those who hold the material-energy, chance concept of reality, whether they are Marxist or non-Marxist, not only do not know the truth of the final reality, God, they do not know who Man is. Their concept of Man is what Man is not, just as their concept of the final reality is what final reality is not. Since their concept of Man is mistaken, their concept of society and of law is mistaken, and they have no sufficient base for either society or law.

They have reduced Man to even less than his natural finiteness by seeing him only as a complex arrangement of molecules, made complex by blind chance. Instead of seeing him as something great who is significant even in his sinning, they see Man in his essence only as an intrinsically competitive animal, that has no other basic operating principle than natural selection brought about by the strongest, the fittest, ending on top. And they see Man as acting in this way both individually and collectively as society.

Even on the basis of Man’s finiteness having people swear in court in the name of humanity, as some have advocated, saying something like, “We pledge our honor before all mankind”4 would be insufficient enough. But reduced to the materialistic view of Man, it is even less. Although many nice words may be used, in reality law constituted on this basis can only mean brute force.

In this setting Jeremy Bentham’s (1748-1842) Utilitarianism can be and must be all that law means. And this must inevitably lead to the conclusion of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (1841-1935): “The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience.”5 That is, there is no basis for law except Man’s limited, finite experience. And especially with the Darwinian, survival-of-the-fittest concept of Man (which Holmes held) that must, and will, lead to Holmes’ final conclusion: law is “the majority vote of that nation that could lick all others.”6

The problem always was, and is, what is an adequate base for law? What is adequate so that the human aspiration for freedom can exist without anarchy, and yet provides a form that will not become arbitrary tyranny?

In contrast to the materialistic concept, Man in reality is made in the image of God and has real humanness. This humanness has produced varying degrees of success in government, bringing forth governments that were more than only the dominance of brute force.

And those in the stream of the Judeo-Christian world view have had something more. The influence of the Judeo-Christian world view can be perhaps most readily observed in Henry De Bracton’s influence on British Law. An English judge living in the thirteenth century, he wrote De Legi bus et Consuetudinibus (c. 1250).

Bracton, in the stream of the Judeo-Christian world view, said:

And that he [the King] ought to be under the law appears clearly in the analogy of Jesus Christ, whose vice-regent on earth he is, for though many ways were open to Him for his ineffable redemption of the human race, the true mercy of God chose this most powerful way to destroy the devil’s work, he would not use the power of force but the reason of justice. 7,8

In other words, God in His sheer power could have crushed Satan in his revolt by the use of that sufficient power. But because of God’s character, justice came before the use of power alone. Therefore, Christ died that justice, rooted in what God is, would be the solution. Bracton codified this: Christ’s example, because of who He is, is our standard, our rule, our measure. Therefore power is not first, but justice is first in society and law. The prince may have the power to control and to rule, but he does not have the right to do so without justice. This was the basis of English Common Law. The Magna Charta (1215) was written within thirty-five years (or less) of Bracton’s De Legibus and in the midst of the same universal thinking in England at that time.

The Reformation (300 years after Bracton) refined and clarified this further. It got rid of the encrustations that had been added to the Judeo-Christian world view and clarified the point of authority—with authority resting in the Scripture rather than church and Scripture, or state and Scripture. This not only had meaning in regard to doctrine but clarified the base for law.

That base was God’s written Law, back through the New Testament to Moses’ written Law; and the content and authority of that written Law is rooted back to Him who is the final reality. Thus, neither church nor state were equal to, let alone above, that Law. The base for law is not divided, and no one has the right, to place anything, including king, state or church, above the content of God’s Law.

What the Reformation did was to return most clearly and consistently to the origins, to the final reality, God; but equally to the reality of Man — not only Man’s personal needs (such as salvation), but also Man’s social needs.

What we have had for four hundred years, produced from this clarity, is unique in contrast to the situation that has existed in the world in forms of government. Some of you have been taught that the Greek city states had our concepts in government. It simply is not true.9 All one has to do is read Plato’s Republic to have this come across with tremendous force.

When the men of our State Department, especially after World War II, went all over the world trying to implant our form-freedom balance in government downward on cultures whose philosophy and religion would never have produced it, it has, in almost every case, ended in some form of totalitarianism or authoritarianism.

The humanists push for “freedom,” but having no Christian consensus to contain it, that “freedom” leads to chaos or to slavery under the state (or under an elite). Humanism, with its lack of any final base for values or law, always leads to chaos. It then naturally leads to some form of authoritarianism to control the chaos. Having produced the sickness, humanism gives more of the same kind of medicine for a cure. With its mistaken concept of final reality, it has no intrinsic reason to be interested in the individual, the human being. Its natural interest is the two collectives: the state and society.


Humanist Manifestos I and II (New York: Prometheus Books, 1973).

This must not be confused with the humanistic elements which were developing slightly earlier in the Renaissance. Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revel! Co., 1976), pp. 58-78.

See How Should We Then Live?, pp. 40 and 109.

See Will and Ariel Durant’s book, The Lessons of History (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1968), pp. 84-86.

American Law Review, XIV, (1880), p. 233.

Harvard Law Review, XL, (1918).

Henry De Bracton, Translation of De Legi bus et Consuetudinibus (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard-Belknap, 1968).

See James L Fisk, The Law and Its Timeless Standard (Washington: Lex Rex Institute).

See Will and Ariel Durant’s The Lessons of History, pp. 70-75.


Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer is widely recognized as one of the most influential Christian thinkers of the day. He is the author of twenty-two books which have been translated into twenty-five foreign languages, with more than three million copies in print.

Dr. Schaeffer has lectured frequently at leading universities in the U.S. and abroad. With his wife, Edith, the Schaeffers founded L’Abri Fellowship, an international study center and community in Switzerland with branches in England, The Netherlands, Sweden, and the U.S.

Among Dr. Schaeffer’s most influential books are The God Who Is There, Escape From Reason, He Is There and He Is Not Silent, and The Mark of the Christian. His two most recent books — How Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (written with Dr. C. Everett Koop) — have also been produced as major film series. Whether in books, films or the work of L’Abri, Dr. Schaeffer has proclaimed a common theme — the uncompromising Truth of historic, biblical Christianity and its relevance for all of life.

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Are Christians forbidden to take an oath or vow?

Are Christians forbidden to take an oath or vow?                                          By Jack Kettler

“Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, yea, yea; nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than this cometh of evil.” (Matthew 5:33-37 KJV)

“But I say to you, do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God.” (Matthew 5:34 ESV)

It certainly appears from the above Scriptures that taking an oath or vow is forbidden. Are there other Scriptures that modify or clarify this seeming injunction against oaths? If and oath and vow are forbidden, this would present a problem for marriage and church membership vows. It would also be problematic in legal proceedings; the witness must swear an oath of truthfulness on a Bible. As in many studies, lexical and commentary entries will be consulted along with additional Scriptures.

Strong’s Lexicon:

“To swear

ὀμόσαι (omosai)

Verb – Aorist Infinitive Active

Strong’s Greek 3660: A prolonged form of a primary, but obsolete omo, for which another prolonged form omoo is used in certain tenses; to swear, i.e. Take oath.”

Of particular interest is verse 34, where Jesus says, “But I say unto you, Swear not at all…” Seemingly, this is a ban upon oaths and vows. As previously asked, are marriage vows, church membership vows, U.S. citizenship oath now forbidden?

Biblically speaking:

Oath: An oath is a solemn promise made to another party in which God is called upon to act as a witness and judge. See Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 10:20; Jeremiah 4:2; Chronicles 6:22-23

Vow: A vow must not be made to any creature but to God alone. Vows should be made and performed with the most conscientious care and faithfulness. See 1 Corinthians 7:2; Matthew 19:11

The apostle Paul made a vow:

“After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow.” (Acts 18:18 ESV)

Back to the seeming prohibition of oaths in Matthew 5:34. If this passage does prohibit oaths, it would be in contradiction to:
 “And Moses spake unto the heads of the tribes concerning the children of Israel, saying, this is the thing which the Lord hath commanded. If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.” (Numbers 30:1–2)

 At this point, commentary citations will be helpful:

 Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers is helpful in understanding the seeming conflict in Scripture:  “(34) Swear not at all.—Not a few interpreters, and even whole Christian communities, as e.g. the Society of Friends, see in these words, and in James 5:12, a formal prohibition of all oaths, either promissory or evidential, and look on the general practice of Christians, and the formal teaching of the Church of England in her Articles (Art. xxxix.), as simply an acquiescence in evil. The first impression made by the words is indeed so strongly in their favour that the scruples of such men ought to be dealt with (as English legislation has at last dealt with them) with great tenderness. Their conclusion is, however, it is believed, mistaken: (1) Because, were it true, then in this instance our Lord would be directly repealing part of the moral law given by Moses, instead of completing and expanding it, as in the case of the Sixth and Seventh Commandments. He would be destroying, not fulfilling. (2) Because our Lord himself answered, when He had before been silent, to a solemn formal adjuration (Matthew 26:63-64), and St. Paul repeatedly uses such forms of attestation (Romans 1:9; 1Corinthians 15:31; 2Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 1:20; Philippians 1:8). (3) Because the context shows that the sin, which our Lord condemned, was the light use of oaths in common speech, and with no real thought as to their meaning. Such oaths practically involved irreverence, and were therefore inconsistent with the fear of God. The real purpose of an oath is to intensify that fear by bringing the thought of God’s presence home to men at the very time they take them, and they are therefore rightly used when they attain that end. Practically, it must be admitted that the needless multiplication of oaths, both evidential and promissory, on trivial occasions, has tended, and still tends, to weaken awe and impair men’s reverence for truth, and we may rejoice when their number is diminished. In an ideal Christian society, no oaths would be needed, for every word would be spoken as by those who knew that the Eternal Judge was hearing them.

(34-35) Neither by heaven; . . . nor by the earth; . . . neither by Jerusalem.—Other formulæ of oaths meet us in Matthew 23:16-22; James 5:12. It is not easy at first to understand the thought that underlies such modes of speech. When men swear by God, or the name of Jehovah, there is an implied appeal to the Supreme Ruler. We invoke Him (as in the English form, “So help me God”) to assist and bless us according to the measure of our truthfulness, or to punish us if we speak falsely. But to swear by a thing that has no power or life seems almost unintelligible, unless the thing invoked be regarded as endowed in idea with a mysterious holiness and a power to bless and curse. Once in use, it was natural that men under a system like that of Israel, or, we may add, of Christendom, should employ them as convenient symbols intensifying affirmation, and yet not involving the speaker in the guilt of perjury or in the profane utterance of the divine name. Our Lord deals with all such formula in the same way. If they have any force at all, it is because they imply a reference to the Eternal. Heaven is His throne, and earth is His footstool (the words are a citation from Isaiah 66:1), and Jerusalem is the city of the great King. To use them lightly is, therefore, to profane the holy name, which they imply. Men do not guard themselves either against irreverence or perjury by such expedients.” (1)

Another commentary selection will be helpful:

Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary:
“5:33-37 There is no reason to consider that solemn oaths in a court of justice, or on other proper occasions, are wrong, provided they are taken with due reverence. But all oaths taken without necessity, or in common conversation, must be sinful, as well as all those expressions which are appeals to God, though persons think thereby to evade the guilt of swearing. The worse men are, the less they are bound by oaths; the better they are, the less there is need for them. Our Lord does not enjoin the precise terms wherein we are to affirm or deny, but such a constant regard to truth as would render oaths unnecessary.” (2)  
Oaths in the Biblefrom encyclopedia .com:

“The custom of swearing, or taking oaths, that is, of putting a curse on oneself if what is asserted is not true or if a promise is not kept, has always been widespread among all people who believe either in the magical power of such self-maledictions or in the avenging justice of a deity who punishes those who swear falsely. This article is concerned with the taking of oaths as mentioned in the Bible.

In the Old Testament. Anthropomorphically, God Himself is often presented in the Old Testament as taking oaths, especially in regard to His covenant [see covenant (in the bible)]. Thus, “he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Gn 50.24) to make their descendants a great nation and to give them a special land (Gn 22.16–18; 26.3–4; 35.12). He renewed this sworn promise to Moses (Dt 1.8). Later, “the Lord swore to David a firm promise” [Ps 131 (132).11] of an everlasting posterity and rule [Ps 88 (89).4–5, 36–37] and an eternal priesthood [Ps 109(110).4]. It is these promises that are reaffirmed by the prophets (Jer 33.21–22; Mi 7.20). Besides these oaths that promise great blessings, there are the oaths that threaten with punishment the Israelites who revolted in the desert (Nm 14.28–35).

Whether men swore by God explicitly (Gn 21.23; Jos 2.12) or implicitly (Gn 42.15; 1 Sm 1.26), an oath was a serious matter (Ex 20.7), for the oath always involved a conditional or contingent curse. Moreover, the oath was ever regarded as a sign of loyalty to God (Dt 6.13; Is 48.1), and therefore a false oath was basically a profanation of God’s name (Lv 19.12; Ex 20.7). Oaths were employed both in judicial matters and in a variety of everyday affairs. Thus oaths were taken to certify the truth of an utterance and to pledge fidelity to one’s word (1 Sm 14.44; 20.13; 25.22; 2 Sm 3.9; Gn 25.33; 47.31); to ascertain the guilt of a person suspected of a crime, e.g., in the trial by ordeal (Nm 5.16–28); and to ratify an alliance (Gn 21.24, 26, 31) or a friendship (1 Sm 20.16–17).

In the New Testament. It is only in the New Testament that the oaths made by God in the Old Testament attain their perfect fulfillment: by sending the Messiah God has been faithful to “the oath that he swore to Abraham our father” (Lk 1.73), His promise to David has been fulfilled by Christ’s Resurrection (Acts 2.29–35), and it is God’s solemn oath that ratifies Christ’s eternal priesthood and guarantees the reality and efficacy of the New Covenant (Heb 7.21, 25).

Respect for oaths seems to have been carefully preserved by the ancient Israelites, but by the time of Christ’s coming the Pharisees had distorted this traditional respect through their casuistry. Christ energetically attacked these legalistic abuses, demanding absolute sincerity of his disciples (Mk 23.16–22). He proclaimed a new ideal: “But I say to you not to swear at all” (Mt5.34). St. James restates this teaching: “Let your yes be yes, your no, no” (Jas 5.12). Yet Christ did not absolutely abolish or condemn the use of the oath; His demand set the Christian ideal, but did not rule out the possibility of an oath on certain occasions. Thus, e.g., St. Paul often employed oath formulas in order to testify to the truth of his assertions (Rom 1.9; 9.1; 2 Cor 1.23; 11.31; Gal 1.20).

Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 1656–58. j. pedersen, Der Eid bei den Semiten (Leipzig 1914). s. h. blank, “The Curse, Blasphemy, the Spell, and the Oath,” Hebrew Union College Annual 23.1 (Cincinnati 1950–51) 73–95. f. horst, “Der Eid im AT,” Evangelische Theologie 17 (1957) 366–384.” (3)

Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for their abuse of oaths:

“Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.” (Matthew 23:16-22)

In particular, the Pharisees used oaths to escape their duty to God:

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

Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter XXII. Of Lawful Oaths and Vows:
“I. A Lawful oath is a part of religious worship, (Deu 10:20); wherein, upon just occasion, the person swearing solemnly calleth God to witness, what he asserteth, or promiseth, and to judge him according to the truth or falsehood of what he sweareth, (Exd 20:7; Lev 19:12; 2Co 1:23; 2Ch 6:22-23).

II. The name of God only is that by which men ought to swear, and therein it is to be used with all holy fear and reverence, (Deu 6:13). Therefore, to swear vainly, or rashly, by that glorious and dreadful Name; or, to swear at all by any other thing, is sinful, and to be abhorred, (Exd 20:7; Jer 5:7; Mat 5:34-37; Jam 5:12). Yet, as in matters of weight and moment, an oath is warranted by the Word of God, under the new testament as well as under the old, (Hbr 6:16; 2Co 1:23; Isa 65:16); so a lawful oath, being imposed by lawful authority, in such matters, ought to be taken, (1Ki 8:31; Neh 13:25; Ezr 10:5).

III. Whosoever taketh an oath ought duly to consider the weightiness of so solemn an act, and therein to avouch nothing but what he is fully persuaded is the truth, (Exd 20:7; Jer 4:2): neither may any man bind himself by oath to anything but what is good and just, and what he believeth so to be, and what he is able and resolved to perform, (Gen 24:2-3, 5-6, 8-9). Yet it is a sin to refuse an oath touching anything that is good and just, being imposed by lawful authority, (Num 5:19, 21; Neh 5:12; Exd 22:7-11).

IV. An oath is to be taken in the plain and common sense of the words, without equivocation, or mental reservation, (Jer 4:2; Psa 24:4). It cannot oblige to sin; but in anything not sinful, being taken, it binds to performance, although to a man’s own hurt, (1Sa 25:22, 32-34; Psa 15:4). Nor is it to be violated, although made to heretics, or infidels, (Eze 17:16, 18-19; Jos 9:18-19; 2Sa 21:1).

V. A vow is of the like nature with a promissory oath, and ought to be made with the like religious care, and to be performed with the like faithfulness, (Isa 19:21; Ecc 5:4-6; Psa 61:8; Psa 66:13-14).

VI. It is not to be made to any creature, but to God alone, (Psa 76:11; Jer 44:25-26): and, that it may be accepted, it is to be made voluntarily, out of faith, and conscience of duty, in way of thankfulness for mercy received, or for the obtaining of what we want, whereby we more strictly bind ourselves to necessary duties; or, to other things, so far and so long as they may fitly conduce thereunto, (Deu 23:21-23; Psa 50:14; Gen 28:20-21, 22; 1Sa 1:11; Psa 66:13-14; Psa 132:2-5).

VII. No man may vow to do anything forbidden in the Word of God, or what would hinder any duty therein commanded, or which is not in his own power, and for the performance whereof he hath no promise of ability from God, (Act 23:12, 14; Mar 6:26; Num 30:5, 8, 12-13). In which respects, popish monastical vows of perpetual single life, professed poverty, and regular obedience, are so far from being degrees of higher perfection, that they are superstitious and sinful snares, in which no Christian may entangle himself, (Mat 19:11-12; 1Co 7:2, 9; Eph 4:28; 1Pe 4:2; 1Co 7:23).”

 In closing:

In modern times, abuse of an oath may take the form of “I swear on my mother’s grave.” This reduces an oath to something frivolous and brings God into the oath as a witness.

 Oaths and vows are not categorically forbidden in Scripture. In Matthew 5:33-37, the believer is warned not to make a rash oath or the misuse of oaths and vows.

 Therefore, oaths and vows taken with carefulness and truthfulness are not forbidden in New Testament times.

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

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


 1.      Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, Matthew, Vol.15, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 165.

2.      Matthew Henry, Complete Commentary, Matthew, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers,), p. 633-634.

3.      Oaths in the Bible from encyclopedia. com 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:

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What does it mean when God says He creates evil in Isaiah 45:7?

What does it mean when God says He creates evil in Isaiah 45:7?              By Jack Kettler

“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7 KJV)

Isaiah 45:7 Cross-reference Scriptures:

Exodus 9:16; Psalm 135:6; Daniel 4:35; Proverbs 16:4; Romans 9:19-21; Romans 11:22

A passage like Isaiah 45:7 causes some to stumble. How is it to be understood when God says He creates evil? Is evil the same as a calamity? Does this mean he is the author of sin? Commentary entries, lexical entries, and theological expositions will be surveyed in order to answer the starting question.

Consulting the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, we learn:
“7. form … create—yatzar, to give “form” to previously existing matter. Bara, to “create” from nothing the chaotic dark material.

light … darkness—literally (Ge 1:1-3), emblematical also, prosperity to Cyrus, calamity to Babylon and the nations to be vanquished [Grotius] … Isaiah refers also to the Oriental belief in two coexistent, eternal principles, ever struggling with each other, light or good, and darkness or evil, Oromasden and Ahrimanen. God, here, in opposition, asserts His sovereignty over both [Vitringa].

create evil—not moral evil (Jas 1:13), but in contrast to “peace” in the parallel clause, war, disaster (compare Ps 65:7; Am 3:6).” (1)

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown commentators attempt to differentiate evil with moral evil using the following passage, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” (James 1:13) There is some merit to their argument; however, a non-believer will unlikely be impressed.

From Strong’s Concordance:

bara’: choose

Original word: בָּרָא

Part of Speech: Verb

Transliteration: bara’

Phonetic Spelling: (baw-raw’)

Definition: to shape, create

From Strong’s Lexicon:

And create

וּב֣וֹרֵא (ū·ḇō·w·rê)

Original Word: בָּרָא (bara‘)

Conjunctive waw | Verb – Qal – Participle – masculine singular

Strong’s Hebrew 1254: 1) to create, shape, form 1a) (Qal) to shape, fashion, create (always with God as subject) 1a1) of heaven and earth 1a2) of individual man 1a3) of new conditions and circumstances 1a4) of transformations 1b) (Niphal) to be created 1b1) of heaven and earth 1b2) of birth 1b3) of something new 1b4) of miracles 1c) (Piel) 1c1) to cut down 1c2) to cut out 2) to be fat 2a) (Hiphil) to make yourselves fat


רָ֑ע (rā‘)

Adjective – masculine singular

Strong’s Hebrew 7451: adj 1) bad, evil 1a) bad, disagreeable, malignant 1b) bad, unpleasant, evil (giving pain, unhappiness, misery) 1c) evil, displeasing 1d) bad (of its kind-land, water, etc) 1e) bad (of value) 1f) worse than, worst (comparison) 1g) sad, unhappy 1h) evil (hurtful) 1i) bad, unkind (vicious in disposition) 1j) bad, evil, wicked (ethically) 1j1) in general, of persons, of thoughts 1j2) deeds, actions n m 2) evil, distress, misery, injury, calamity 2a) evil, distress, adversity 2b) evil, injury, wrong 2c) evil (ethical) n f 3) evil, misery, distress, injury 3a) evil, misery, distress 3b) evil, injury, wrong 3c) evil (ethical)

Two examples of how (rā‘) is used from the Englishman’s Concordance:

Genesis 6:5

HEB: לִבּ֔וֹ רַ֥ק רַ֖ע כָּל־ הַיּֽוֹם׃

KJV: [was] only evil continually.

INT: of his heart only evil every continually

Genesis 8:21

HEB: לֵ֧ב הָאָדָ֛ם רַ֖ע מִנְּעֻרָ֑יו וְלֹֽא־

NAS: heart is evil from his youth;

KJV: heart [is] evil from his youth;

INT: heart of man’s is evil his youth not

As the lexical entries have noted, evil, rather than a calamity, is the best translation into English. Some translators may have used the word calamity to tone down its effect on some readers of Scripture. If this is so, it is sad not to use the best word. Being sensitive to people’s emotions should have no place in the translation of Scripture.

Continuing with the dilemma some people may have with God creating evil:

What about the tragedies of earthquakes, tidal waves, and the Black Death in medieval Europe? Does the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown distinction between evil and moral evil work solve this apparent dilemma? In addition, the idea known as free will is brought in to soften the quandary. The free will argument says God limits Himself by giving humanity free will. Evil is the result of humanity’s choices. Many Christians believe these two possibilities are a solution to God’s seeming problem creating evil in Isaiah 45:7.

However, do these two possibilities work? Men making bad choices do not cause earthquakes and tidal waves. A non-believer could still believe that the senseless loss of life is evil because God allowed it. The free will argument does not work in light of God’s creative decrees and foreknowledge. God had foreknowledge that man would sin and could have chosen not to create. As will be seen, there is a much better solution to the seeming dilemma of Isaiah 45:7.       

Philosopher and theologian Gordon H. Clark has some extended comments on Isaiah 45:7 are helpful, and the reader should read the three entries carefully:
“Surely, Isa. 45:7 is the most frequently misunderstood verse in all the Old Testament, paralleled only by Rom. 9:11-13 in the New. The KJ reads, “I make peace and create evil.” The RSV says, “I make weal and create woe,” Incidentally it is strange that those who dislike the

KJ because of some archaic wording here use the word weal, unfamiliar as it is in contemporary speech. In the NAS the verse is, “Causing well-being and creating calamity,” This could mean that God causes inflation and depressions in the business cycle. Well, he does; but this is not what the verse means. Instead of well-being, peace is the better term because the context concerns peace with God. There is no reference to economics: the skies do not pour down gold and silver, but righteousness. The earth does not produce crops, but salvation. Though Cyrus was to be a political ruler, the theme is not national independence. Verses 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, ff., show clearly that the peace envisioned is peace with God.

Now, if the peace of the passage is righteousness and favor with God, the “evil” cannot be mere calamity, such as drought and hurricanes, but it must be the enmity between God and man. The locus of the chapter is sin and salvation, not pestilence and poverty.

Such also is the meaning of the word pretty much throughout the Old Testament. The Hebrew word is Ra. It occurs more than a hundred times in the Old Testament. In addition to the translation evil, various verses use adversity, affliction, harm, sorrow, and trouble. What kind of harm or trouble there is must be determined by the context. Since it would be difficult to separate all these kinds into sharply distinct varieties, it is better to canvass the material from Genesis to Malachi, rather than to attempt a logical division. One advantage of this basically chronological procedure is that the account cannot be charged with any premature bias in the exposition. Of course, someone might charge bias because not all the numerous instances are listed; but few people want to be so deluged with information.

The first occurrences of the term ra in the Old Testament are Gen. 2:9, 17. Both verses speak of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” This does not mean that the tree was not good to eat, as if it were chemically poisonous. Eve clearly saw that the fruit was “good for food” (3:6). The remainder of the account shows that the evil consisted in an act of rebellion against God. The evil was sin. Genesis 3:25 as well as 3:6 supports this point.

Genesis 6:5 says that “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.” In this verse the word wickedness, and the word evil, are both ra. How could anyone dare to reduce this to an ambiguous “calamity”? The same remark applies equally to Gen. 8:21. The word means sin.

Not all the cases of ra mean sin. Genesis 19:19 seems to refer to an attack by a wild beast, a fatal fall from a precipice, or possibly death by thirst. One must determine the meaning of doubtful cases by the context and as a background by the more common usage.

In Gen. 37:2, Joseph brought to his father “their evil report.” Just what this evil was is not clear. There is no mention of any calamity that had befallen the brothers. What follows speaks of jealousy, not physical injuries. It is just possible that Joseph brought to his father news of some matters of which his father’s wives had complained about.

Genesis 37:20 mentions an evil beast; and this is repeated in 37:33.

By the time of Gen. 44:4 Joseph had become secretary of agriculture, if not prime minister, of Egypt. According to his plan he accuses his brethren of having “rewarded evil for good.” This is an accusation of theft. The evil was a sin. The evil in Gen. 44:34 is death or at least great depression. In 47:9 Jacob addresses Pharaoh: “few and evil have the days of the years of my life been.” Jacob was of course no young man. Instead of his days having been few, he was 130 years old. I take it therefore that the term evil, like the rest, is part of the etiquette required of a subject who has to address a high ruler.

Shortly after, in Gen. 48:l6, Jacob is on his death bed, giving his blessings to Joseph’s two sons. He says, “The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads.” In his lifetime Jacob had faced some physical dangers, but here he speaks of redemption. Now, one does not usually speak of being redeemed from having been defrauded in one’s first marriage; and although he was ‘saved’ from starvation, we do not say he was redeemed from starvation. Jacob, rather, is talking about the “God before whom my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, did walk.” The subject matter is God’s covenant with Abraham (15, 16) and God’s plan to bring that family into the promised land four hundred years later.

“And when Joseph’s brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us and certainly requite us all the evil which we did to him.” In a loose sense Joseph’s being imprisoned by Potiphar was a calamity; but the anticipated hatred had to do with the sins of the brothers. Evil here means sin. Indeed, verse 17 speaks of trespass and sin, then of evil, and finally trespass again. So also verse 20.

Since the misrepresentation of Isa. 45:7 derives chiefly from a non-scriptural presupposition relative to what God can and cannot do, rather than from textual exegesis, a discussion in order to be thorough would have to examine all the verses. The reader is invited and urged to do so. But so long as this discussion lists some of the verses which non-reformed theologians use in their avoidance of the full Biblical position, it may conveniently omit all of Exodus, include some of Numbers and Deuteronomy, and skip over many others. A careful student can easily find the omitted instances of ra.

The term occurs in Num. 11:15; in 14:27, 35, 37; in 20:5 and 32:13. In the first of these references the KJ translates it wretchedness. Moses contrasts his wretchedness with “favor in thy sight.” This wretchedness may include the physical and mental burdens of welding a horde of slaves into an organized society. But the favor he asks is to be cleansed from his sins and that God may kill him forthwith and receive him into heaven.

Numbers 14:27 refers to the Israelites as an evil congregation. It is God who calls them evil, and the evil is their murmurings against God. That is, the evil was sin. The same idea recurs explicitly in 14:35, implicitly in 14:37, for the evil report was a denial of God’s omnipotence.

The evil in Num. 20:5 includes thirst and starvation, which would indeed be a calamity; but it is also the background of sin and rebellion from verses 2, 3, and 4. As clearly as anywhere evil means sin in Num. 32:13. It says that “the Lord’s anger was kindled against Israel … that had done evil in the sight of the Lord.” Now, if only calamity were meant, the Lord might be expected to show compassion rather than anger. No, the ra was sin against God. Sin and anger are in the next verse also. So much for Numbers.

Unless I have missed one or two, Deuteronomy has sixteen instances of the word ra. Chapter one, verses 35 and 39, very obviously speak of sin, for God was “wroth” and “angry,” though the little children were too young to distinguish good from evil. In 4:25 ra refers to idolatry, which God will punish in his anger. Punishment is no doubt a calamity, but the evil was sin. The evil diseases of Egypt in 7:15 are also calamities; whether these diseases were the result of sin or only of natural causes, the text does not say. The evil of 13:5 is bad theology. Capital punishment is the penalty. Similarly, the evil of 17:7 and 12 is a transgression of the covenant, particularly idolatry, and “that man shall die and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel.” The evil of 19:19, 20 is perjury. Rebellion against parents, gluttony and drunkenness are the evils of 21:21. In the next chapter, 22:14, the sin is the defamation of a wife’s character, continued in verse 19. Verse 22 concerns adultery; and verse 24 distinguishes between rape when people are near enough to hear a cry for help, and rape where no cry could be heard. Chapter 24:7 is a case of theft.

At this point it may be well to return to Genesis and quote a few verses where ra is translated otherwise than by the English evil. Genesis 31:52 has harm. It is part of a treaty between Laban and Jacob. The harms seem to be mostly a theft of sheep and an insult to Laban’s daughters as Jacob’s wives. At least theft is a sin. The evil in Gen. 44:29, called sorrow, would be Jacob’s death, if Benjamin were harmed as Joseph was supposed to have been. The harm of Num. 35:23 is an unintentional homicide, that is, a fatal accident. In such a case the agent did not seek the victim’s harm. The harm in II Kings 4:41 is accidental poisoning. No sin seems to be involved. This is one of the few verses where ra seems totally separated from sin. In Prov. 3:29

ra is translated evil and in 3:30 it is harm. The evil is clearly some sin in 3:29, and harm is only a bit less clear in 3:30.

Naturally the Psalms often mention ra. Psalm 10:6 tells us that “The wicked … hath said in his heart … I shall never be in adversity.” This sound like calamity, and maybe the wicked man thought so; but the context includes covetousness, irreligion, cursing, deceit, and fraud.

Psalm 27:5 reads, “In the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion.” Now, the trouble seems to be injuries inflicted by enemies, and verse 12 mentions cruelty; but the safety besought from God is at least mainly spiritual. Palm 94:13 is less clear: “Blessed is the man whom thou chasteneth … that thou mayest give him rest from the days of adversity until the pit be digged for the wicked.” One could suppose that the adversity is purely physical, or with mental apprehension, but the other side of the coin is wickedness and iniquity. Psalm 107:26, 39 have the business entrepreneur lifted up on the sea to heaven and then dropped down to the depths: “their soul is melted because of trouble.” This is a good verse to use, if one wishes to eradicate sin from ra. But perhaps the entrepreneur had forgotten God because it is in their trouble that they cry out to him for help. In 107:39, the word is affliction. Just what this is the verse does not say.

Doubtless those who would rid ra of sin would quote Eccl. 7:14. Adversity is contrasted with prosperity. Even so, God sends the adversity. We now skip to Jer. 2:27, 48:16, and 51:2. In the first of these references, ra is translated trouble; but the subject matter is idolatry. The second reference says, “The calamity [not ra] of Moab is near to come, and his affliction hasteth fast.” The affliction, I take it, is punishment for sin. Of course those who disagree with my main contention will point out that punishment is not sin. The background, however, is. Jeremiah 51:1, 2 say, “Thus saith the Lord, Behold I will raise up against Babylon … and shall empty her land, for in the day of trouble they shall be against her round about.” This could be a reference to Belshazzar’s feast, where he praised the gods of gold and silver, as he used the sacred vessels from the temple in Jerusalem, while the army of Darius the Mede was surrounding the city.

Lamentations 1:21, in English, uses the word trouble. But note that in the previous verse “my bowels are troubled, mine heart is turned within me, for I have grievously rebelled.” Ordinarily we do not think of Jeremiah as having grievously rebelled against God. Presumably Jeremiah is identifying himself with and speaking for Jerusalem.

It is true that some of the verses quoted, and others not quoted, can by a sharp separation be confined to the penalty for sin so as to purge the term ra from any sinful connotation. This, I believe, is an excessive separation. But let such verses be so. That ra frequently means sin is indisputable. In Zeph. 3:15 the evil which they shall not see any more is identified with speaking lies and a deceitful tongue; its opposite is, not doing iniquity, rejoicing with all their heart, and absence of fear because the Lord is in the midst of thee.

For a final verse, not particularly climactic, Zech. 1:15 says that God is “sore displeased with the heathen,” and the rest of the verse, though puzzling, seems to say that God’s slight displeasure at first was increased as the heathen “helped forward the affliction.” The NEB translates it, “For I was a little angry, and they helped, but with evil intent.” The RSV, which I never trust, has “they furthered the disaster.” So does the NAS. Though the verse may be puzzling, it seems clear enough to me that the heathen increased their sinning. One could hardly say that God’s displeasure increased simply because their calamities increased. Indeed, God would be pleased by such an increase.

This list of quotations is far from exhaustive, however exhausting. One must note, however, that the list does not exclude verses, which are seemingly inconsistent with the conclusion to be drawn. In any case, concordances are at the disposal of nearly every reader, where he can search the Scriptures and see whether these things are so. One good source is the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament by Harris, Archer, and Waltke, Vol. II, p. 854, #2191, a, b, c. Now we can return to the misunderstood verse with which we started, and draw our conclusion.

The verse says, “I make peace and create evil.” Since there are a few verses where ra seems not to include sin, one cannot assert right off that here it means sin. If statistics alone could settle the problem, one would have to decide for sin. But many theologians are deeply predetermined to deny sin and favor physical calamities, such as earthquakes and war. But in war, if not in earthquakes, one side and sometimes both sides have committed sins.

The Scofield Bible makes a desperate attempt to rule out sin by a device, which I would call deceptive. Scofield’s note on Isa. 45:7 is, “Heb. ra, translated ‘sorrow,’ ‘wretchedness,’ ‘adversity,’ ‘afflictions,’ ‘calamities,’ but never translated sin. God created evil only in the sense that He made sorrows, wretchedness, etc., to be the sure fruits of sin.”

The first point, but not the most important, is the submerged logical fallacy that if ra is never translated sin it cannot mean sin. But beyond this, the phrase “never translated sin” is interesting, very interesting, precisely because it is true. To make such a statement responsibly, one must have examined every one of its instances in the Old Testament. There are over one hundred instances before one finishes I Kings. There is easily another hundred before the end of Proverbs – and these figures do not include those cases where ra is translated sorrow, adversity, or calamity. Yet note that Scofield’s statement is all-inclusive: “God created evil only in the sense that He made sorrow … to be the sure fruits of sin.”

No man of even ordinary intelligence can fail to see that in most cases ra means sin. True enough, ra is never translated sin. This true, but utterly irrelevant, observation gives the impression that ra never means sin. But of course Scofield did not dare say so, for he knew it was not true.” (2)

 God and Evil in Religion, Reason, and Revelation by Gordon H. Clark:

 Is God the cause of sin? Gordon Clark replies:

“Let it be unequivocally said that this view certainly makes God the cause of sin. God is the sole ultimate cause of everything. There is nothing independent of him. He alone is the eternal being. He alone is omnipotent. He alone is sovereign. Not only is Satan his creature, but every detail of history was eternally in his plan before the world began; and he willed that it should all come to pass….” (3) (p. 237- 238)

Clark referencing the Westminster Confession of Faith and saying that God is the cause of sin. Does this mean he is “the author of sin?”

Clark speaks of “first and secondary causation” and “God is the ultimate cause of everything, including sin, but he is not the “author” (immediate cause) of sin. (4)

“God is neither responsible nor sinful, even though he is the ultimate cause of everything.” (5)

“As God cannot sin, so … God is not responsible for sin, even though he decrees it.” (6)

“The sinner therefore, and not God, is responsible; the sinner alone is the author of sin. Man has no free will, for salvation is purely of grace; and God is sovereign.” (7) (p. 241)

 The Evil Argument by Gordon H. Clark:

 “The Problem of Evil” by Hupert P. Black attacks a subject that should receive much more attention than it does … Dr. Black is to be commended for writing on a subject many short-sighted Christians prefer to avoid. Nevertheless … [his argument] is unacceptable because it contradicts Scripture.

 The author tries to defend divine omnipotence. God can do anything but he limits himself by giving man freedom. Whatever small value this may have relative to omnipotence, it has no bearing on God’s goodness. Can God be good if he grants man freedom, knowing ahead of time what terrible evils man will commit? If God were good, he would not have made such a man …

 Further, the appeal to freedom completely ignores the tragedies of earthquakes in California and Peru, tidal waves in East Pakistan, and the Black Death in medieval Europe. God can control nature, can’t he? … [But] the author contradicts the doctrine of creation ex nihilo in his statement, “God’s power is not limited by natural events that thwart his will but is relative to actual occasions in the sense that they provide the conditions for the exercise of his creative power.” This sentence not only makes God’s acts of creation dependent on a prior existing nature, but also asserts that nature thwarts God’s will. Apparently, God cannot prevent tidal waves and earthquakes. The sentence quoted begins by saying that God’s power is not limited, but it ends by nature thwarting God’s power. Gordon Clark, Professor of Philosophy” (8)

 In closing:

 In the above essays, Professor Clark explains how believers do not need to be troubled by the Isaiah 45:7 passage. Clark solves this ostensible dilemma by utilizing the argument of first and secondary causes or, said another way, the immediate and ultimate causes. The distinction between evil and moral evil and the free will argument provide no solution. The moral versus evil argument is arbitrary, and the free will argument does not answer the question prior to the actual creation.    

 When God in the councils of His will, determined to create humanity and the world, knew that sin would enter in, and determined to create nonetheless. It is inescapable that God allowed sin into the creation; consequently, He is a remote cause but not the author of sin. Therefore, God has not sinned.

 Everything God does is right because He does it:

 “And in very deed for this cause have I †raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.” (Exodus 9:16)

 “The Lord is righteous in all his ways and holy in all his works. The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth. He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him: he also will hear their cry, and will save them. The Lord preserveth all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy. My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord: and let all flesh bless his holy name for ever and ever.” (Psalm 145:17-21)

 “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” (Ephesians 1:5–6)

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

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


 1.      Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 568.

2.      Gordon H. Clark, Desultory New Testament Curiosities, his essay, along with two others, was submitted by Gordon Clark to Allen Guelzo of the Reformed Episcopal Seminary for inclusion in the latter’s book, Ambitious to Be Well Pleasing.

3.      Gordon H. Clark, Religion, Reason, and Revelation, (Jefferson, Maryland, Trinity Foundation, 1986), pp. 237-238.

4.      Gordon H. Clark, Religion, Reason, and Revelation, (Jefferson, Maryland, Trinity Foundation, 1986), p. 239.

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. and other titles by Mr. Kettler are available at

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What is Abraham’s Bosom?

What is Abraham’s Bosom?                                                     By Jack Kettler

“So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried.” (Luke 16:22 NKJV)

What is “Abraham’s bosom”? Is it a literal place? Does it still exist today? Is “Abraham’s bosom” in “Paradise?” Are there two areas in Hades, one for the unrighteous and torment and another “Paradise,” a place of rest for the righteous? A Biblical encyclopedia and three commentary entries will be consulted.

From the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:
Abraham’s Bosom

booz’-um (kolpos Abraam; kolpoi Abraam): Figurative. The expression occurs in Lu 16:22-23, in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, to denote the place of repose to which Lazarus was carried after his death. The figure is suggested by the practice of the guest at a feast reclining on the breast of his neighbor. Thus, John leaned on the breast of Jesus at supper (Joh 21:20). The rabbis divided the state after death (Sheol) into a place for the righteous and a place for the wicked (see ESCHATOLOGY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT; SHEOL), but it is doubtful whether the figure of Jesus quite corresponds with this idea. “Abraham’s bosom” is not spoken of as in “Hades,” but rather as distinguished from it (Lu 16:23)–a place of blessedness by itself. There Abraham receives, as at a feast, the truly faithful, and admits them to closest intimacy. It may be regarded as equivalent to the “Paradise” of Lu 23:43. James Orr” (1)

 The encyclopedia entry classifies the parable in Luke as figurative. The encyclopedia also notes that the two corresponding places in the parable, rest and torment, are in the same place. If this is true, “Abraham’s bosom” is not in Hades.

 From the classic Pulpit Commentary on Luke 16:22:  “Verse 22. – And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. At last kind death came, and relieved Lazarus of his sufferings. His dismissal, as might have been expected, preceded that of the rich man; for he was enfeebled by a deadly disease. We must not, of course, press too much the details we find in parables; still, from our Lord’s way of speaking of the great change in the cases of both Lazarus and Dives, it would seem as though there was absolutely no pause between the two lives of this world and the world to come. The rich man evidently is pictured as closing his eyes upon his gorgeous surroundings here, and opening them directly again upon his cheerless surroundings there. Lazarus is described as being borne at once into Abraham’s bosom. Indeed, some interpret the words as signifying that the body as well as the soul was carried by angels into Paradise. It is; however, better, with Calvin, to understand the expression as alluding only to Lazarus’s soul; of the body of the pauper nothing was said, as men probably contemptuously, if not carelessly, buried it with the burial rites, which such homeless, friendless ones too often receive. The place whither the blest Lazarus went is termed “Abraham’s bosom.” This term was used by the Jews indifferently, with “the garden of Eden,” or “under the throne of glory,” for the home of happy but waiting souls. The rich man also died, and was buried. There is a terrible irony here in this mention of burial. This human pageantry of woe was for the rich man what the carrying by the angels into Abraham’s bosom was for Lazarus – it was his equivalent; but while these empty honours were being paid to his senseless, deserted body, the rich man was already gazing on the surroundings of his new and cheerless home. After the moment’s sleep of death, what an awakening!” (2)

 Before Christ’s atoning work:

 From Luke 16:22-26, it can be concluded that after death, there is a separation into two separate places. “Hades,” where the unrighteous go after death, and “Paradise” or “Abraham’s bosom,” the place of respite for the righteous. The two places, divided as it were by a great chasm, and could not be spanned by the inhabitants on either side. 

 Is “Abraham’s Bosom” still a reality after Christ’s atoning work? Since the Pulpit commentary references Calvin, his thoughts will be helpful.

 John Calvin’s comments on this are significant:

 “It will perhaps be asked, is the same condition reserved after death for the godly of our own day, or did Christ, when he rose, open his bosom to admit Abraham himself, as well as all the godly? I reply briefly: As the grace of God is more clearly revealed to us in the Gospel, and as Christ himself, the Sun of Righteousness, (Malachi 4:2,) has brought to us that salvation, which the fathers were formerly permitted to behold at a distance and under dark shadows, so there cannot be a doubt that believers, when they die, make a nearer approach to the enjoyment of the heavenly life. Still, it must be understood, that the glory of immortality is delayed till the last day of redemption. So far as relates to the word bosom, that quiet harbor at which believers arrive after the navigation of the present life, may be called either Abraham’s bosom or Christ’s bosom; but, as we have advanced farther than the fathers did under the Law, this distinction will be more properly expressed by saying, that the members of Christ are associated with their Head; and thus there will be an end of the metaphor about Abraham’s bosom, as the brightness of the sun, when he is risen, makes all the stars to disappear. From the mode of expression which Christ has here employed, we may, in the meantime, draw the inference, that the fathers under the Law embraced by faith, while they lived, that inheritance of the heavenly life into which they were admitted at death.” (3)

 Calvin refers to “Abraham’s bosom” and “Christ’s bosom” to be synonymous. Therefore, Hades or Sheol is distinct from “Paradise” or “Abraham’s bosom.”

 An additional contemporary commentary entry by William Hendriksen on Luke 16:22-26:  “22. In course of time the beggar died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died, and he was buried.

The beggar’s misery ended at last. He died. Whether he was also buried is not even mentioned. If there was a real burial, it must have been so obscure and dismal that it better be passed by in silence. On the other hand, what happened to the soul of Lazarus is all-important. He—for man’s soul or spirit is the real person—was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.

Two expressions here merit special attention:

First of all the angels. According to Scripture


Attendants of Christ (2 Thess. 1:7), their exalted Head (Eph. 1:21, 22; Col. 2:10).

Bringers of good tidings concerning our salvation (see on Luke 2:14; 24:4–7; Acts 1:11; 1 Tim. 3:16).

Choristers of heaven (Luke 15:10; 1 Cor. 13:1; Rev. 5:11, 12).

Defenders of God’s children (Ps. 34:7; 91:11; Dan. 6:22; 10:10, 13, 20; Matt. 18:10; Acts 5:19; 2 Thess. 1:7–10; Rev. 12:7), though the latter outrank them and will judge them (1 Cor. 6:3; Heb. 1:14).

Examples in obedience (Matt. 6:10; 1 Cor. 11:10).

Friends of the redeemed, constantly watching over them, deeply interested in their salvation, and rendering service to them in every way, including executing the judgment of God upon the enemy (Matt. 13:41; 25:31, 32; Luke 15:10; 16:22; 1 Cor. 4:9; Gal. 3:19; 2 Thess. 1:7; Heb. 1:14; 1 Peter 1:12; Rev. 20:1–3).

Next, Abraham’s bosom. The fact that Lazarus was by the angels carried to Abraham’s bosom certainly proves that he had been true to his name. While on earth he had placed his trust in God as his Helper, and now God had ordered the angels to take his soul to Paradise. He who had yearned to receive crumbs and scraps is now reclining at heaven’s table, where a banquet is being held. Moreover, to recline in Abraham’s bosom, as the apostle John was going to recline in the bosom of Jesus, indicates special favor, as has been shown in connection with Luke 14:7; see on that verse. See also John 1:18. We should not forget, in this connection, that Abraham is regarded in Scripture as being not only the great patriarch (Heb. 7:4) but also the father of all believers (Rom. 4:11).

The rich man also died and was buried. It must have been a splendid burial. Note the meaningful contrast: nothing is said about the beggar’s burial; on the other hand, nothing is here said about the rich man’s soul, as to what happened to it at the moment of death.

B. In the Hereafter

23, 24. And in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes. He sees Abraham afar off, and Lazarus by his side. And he cried out and said, Father Abraham, take pity on me and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.

A few matters stand out:

a. The rich show-off is pictured as being in Hades. The popular view, according to which the term Hades in the entire New Testament is the abode of all the dead, believers and unbelievers, is certainly incorrect. As far as the Gospels are concerned the following is true:

In the present parable Hades is clearly the place of torments and of the flame. It is hell. So also hell may well be the correct rendering of Hades in Matt. 11:23 and in Luke 10:15, for there Hades is sharply contrasted with heaven, and should probably be understood in the figurative sense of thorough ruin. In Matt. 16:18 the thought may well be that not even all the demons streaming forth out of the gates of hell will ever be able to destroy Christ’s true church.

b. The condition of the dead and the communication between them is represented here in very literal, earthly terms, so that a vivid impression is created. It should be clear, nevertheless, that much of what is here conveyed cannot be interpreted literally. For example, we read about the lifting up of the eyes, of seeing people afar off, of a finger and of a tongue, even though we have been told that the rich man had been buried.

This does not take away the fact, however, that certain definite truths concerning the life hereafter are conveyed here, one of them being that the departed ones are not asleep but fully awake; another, that some are saved, others are suffering.

c. If all this is understood, it will have become clear that the one great truth here emphasized is that once a person has died, his soul having been separated from his body, his condition, whether blessed or doomed, is fixed forever. There is no such thing as a “second” chance. Therefore opportunities to help those in need and, in general, to live a fruitful life to the glory of God should be seized now.

These preliminary remarks should guard us against taking literally what was never meant to be so interpreted.

With all this in mind, note that the rich man of the parable is here represented as being in torment, a condition which is not relieved by the fact that in the distance he sees Abraham and Lazarus by his side. Very respectfully he now addresses the arch-patriarch as “Father Abraham,” and asks him to take pity on him. Such pity he, the rich man himself, had never shown when he had the opportunity to do so. He requests that Abraham dispatch Lazarus, so that the latter, having dipped the tip of his finger in water, might cool the sufferer’s tongue. “I am in agony in this flame,” he adds.

Note the word flame. That hell is a place of fire or of the flame is the language of Scripture throughout (Isa. 33:14; 66:24; Matt. 3:12; 5:22; 13:40, 42, 50; 18:8, 9; 25:41; Mark 9:43–48; Luke 3:17; Jude 7; Rev. 14:10; 19:20; 20:10, 14, 15; 21:8). This fire is unquenchable. It devours forever and ever.

Yet, hell is also the abode where darkness dwells. For some it is the place of “outer darkness” (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). It is the region where the evil spirits are kept “in everlasting chains under darkness” (Jude 6; cf. Jude 13).

But if hell is a place of fire, how can it also be a place of darkness? Are not these two concepts mutually exclusive? Well, not always necessarily. For example, by means of a certain form of radiation people have been seriously burned even though when it happened they were in a dark room, Nevertheless, it is advisable not to speculate. Everlasting fire has been prepared “for the devil and his angels,” yet these are spirits. It should be sufficient to conclude from all this that such terms as fire and darkness should not be taken too literally. Each in its own way indicates the terrors of the lost in the place from which there is no return.

Note that the rich man’s character has not changed any. He still views Lazarus as his servant, and is not a bit ashamed to ask for a favor from the very person who never received a favor from him! Also, he expects Abraham to send Lazarus, even though he, the show-off, never tried, during his life on earth, to imitate Abraham’s faith.

25, 26. But Abraham answered, Son, remember that during your lifetime you received in full your good things, and similarly Lazarus (received) the bad things. Now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a vast chasm has been fixed, in order that those who want to cross from this side to you would not be able to do so, and that those who would pass over from there to us would (also) not be able.

Abraham answers in a friendly manner, even calls him “son,” for the rich man has called Abraham “father.” Besides, is not the sufferer a child of Abraham, biologically speaking?

In his answer Abraham intends to indicate that for two reasons the request cannot be honored: to grant it would be (a) improper and (b) impossible.

It would be improper, contrary to the requirements of justice—“During your lifetime you received … your good things; that is, those things you considered good, namely, being dressed in purple and fine linen, and living in dazzling splendor day in, day out. Those matters were first on the list of your priorities.” Implied is: to help poor Lazarus and, in general, to live a life of being useful to your fellow men and of glorifying God was not at all your aim. Now, then, you receive what is coming to you. On the other hand, Lazarus received the bad things, not his bad things. He did not bring them upon himself. (On the contrary, he was true to his name.) Now he is being comforted and this, again, is as it should be.

It would also be impossible. Abraham tells the doomed man that there is a vast chasm, a yawning gorge—a typically Palestinian figure, for the country where this parable was spoken has many of these ravines (see the note on 16:26 on page 789)—separating the lost from the redeemed. Crossing over from one side to the other is, therefore, forever and absolutely impossible. This is a very graphic and unforgettable symbolical representation of the irreversibility of a person’s lot after death. The chasm was intended for rendering crossing over impossible.” (4)

 In closing:

 “Abraham’s Bosom” is now emptied of all the inhabitants after Christ’s atonement and resurrection. “Abraham’s Bosom” still has a figurative and metaphorical value of an expression. Its expression is now synonymous with Heaven itself. Now the souls of the righteous go immediately to Heaven with Christ awaiting the resurrection of their bodies.

 After the Crucifixion, Jesus went to the place of torment for the unrighteous (“By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison.” (1 Peter 3:19) This is why the Apostle’s Creed says: “descended to hell.” Then Christ went to “Abrahams’s bosom” to bring the righteous into the heavenly kingdom with the Father.

 Jesus is at the right hand of the Father:
“Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come. And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” (Ephesians 1:20–23)

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

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


 1.      Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), p. 22.

2.      H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Luke, Vol. 16, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 66-67.

3.      John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Luke, Volume XV1, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House Reprinted 1979), p. 186.

4.      William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, Luke, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, 1984), pp. 783-786. 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. and other books by the author are available at: 

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What does Jesus mean in Luke 17:21?

What does Jesus mean in Luke 17:21?                                                     By Jack Kettler

“Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo there! For, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21 KJV)

“Nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17:21 ESV)

What does within or in the midst of you mean? First, it will have to be determined what the kingdom of God is.

The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology says regarding the kingdom of God:
“The kingdom comes through the ministry of Jesus and the preaching of the gospel in all the world. It is both the reign and the realm of God for, although in the present age the locus of the kingdom in the world is diffuse, it is defined by the presence of Jesus at the right hand of the Father. It is both present and future until its consummation at Jesus’ return. It is also at least one possible theme by which biblical theology can be integrated. It is the focus of both creation and redemption: God’s plan of redemption is to bring in a new creation. The entire biblical story, despite its great diversity of forms and foci, is consistent in its emphasis on the reign of God over his people in the environment he creates for them.” (1)

 A classic commentator, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible on Luke 17:21 is representative:  “Lo here! or, Lo there!” When an earthly prince visits different parts of his territories, he does it with pomp. His movements attract observation, and become the common topic of conversation. The inquiry is, where is he? Which way will he go? And it is a matter of important “news” to be able to say where he is. Jesus says that the Messiah would not come in that manner. It would not be with such pomp and public attention. It would be silent, obscure, and attracting comparatively little notice. Or the passage may have reference to the custom of the “pretended” Messiahs, who appeared in this manner. They said that in this place or in that, in this mountain or that desert, they would show signs that would convince the people that they were the Messiah. Compare the notes at Acts 5:36-37.

Is within you – This is capable of two interpretations.

1. The reign of God is “in the heart.” It does not come with pomp and splendor, like the reign of temporal kings, merely to control the external “actions” and strike the senses of people with awe, but it reigns in the heart by the law of God; it sets up its dominion over the passions, and brings every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

2. It may mean the new dispensation is “even now among you.” The Messiah has come. John has ushered in the kingdom of God, and you are not to expect the appearance of the Messiah with great pomp and splendor, for he is now among you. Most critics at present incline to this latter interpretation. The ancient versions chiefly follow the former.” (2)

 A contemporary exposition on the Kingdom Of God by O. Palmer Robertson:  “The kingdom associated with the coming of Jesus is intimately connected with the promised kingdom of the old covenant that God made with Israel. In the beginning of his gospel, Luke indicates that the Lord would give Jesus “the throne of his father David,” and that his rule over the house of Jacob (Israel) would never end (Luke 1:32-33). Clearly Jesus’ kingdom would have continuity with the covenants of old.

The kingdom of God as presented in Luke’s gospel would be realized progressively. The coming rule of the Messiah had been prophesied earlier, but it actually began only after the ministry of John the Baptist. It was only after the time of John that the good news of the kingdom was being preached (Luke 16:16). Furthermore, the least in the kingdom of God was to be viewed as greater than John (7:28). Jesus declared that he had come to proclaim the good news of the presence of the kingdom (4:43; 8:1). He passed on to his disciples the same privilege of announcing the arrival of the kingdom of God (9:2, 60; 10:9, 11). If the question arose as to whether the kingdom was only “near” or actually had come, Jesus made the point quite explicitly: “The kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:21 NASB). The presence of Jesus establishes the present reality of the kingdom of god. IF the king has come, the kingdom must be present.

At the same time, the kingdom in an important sense had not yet come. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come” (Luke 11:2), which implied that the kingdom remained to be fully realized. As he approached the end of his ministry, Jesus taught his disciples about the signs that would mark the coming of the kingdom (21:31). He would not eat or drink with his disciples again until the kingdom had come (22:16, 18), which implies that the full realization of the kingdom of God is still in the future.

The kingdom that Jesus brought should not be understood as belonging exclusively to the ethnic descendants of Israel. Although this point is not stressed in Luke’s gospel, it is nonetheless a part of Jesus’’ teaching. While the people of Israel had the privilege of witnessing the ministry of Jesus, many of them would be thrown out of the kingdom of God. At the same time, “people will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:28-29; cf. Matt. 8:8-12). This teaching about the universal scope of the kingdom fits right into the programmatic realization of the kingdom as reported in the book of Acts.

So the message of Jesus about the kingdom of God as recorded in Luke’s gospel helps to explain the experience of Christ’s rule as reported in the book of Acts. This kingdom would represent the realization of the covenant promises given to the patriarchs in general and David in particular. It would come into its fullness in stages. Eventually it would encompass the Gentile nations spread all across the earth.

Luke’s gospel also anticipates the distinctiveness of God’s kingdom in Acts by emphasizing the role of the Holy Spirit in the ministry of Jesus. Because the Holy Spirit came upon Mary, the “holy one” born of her would be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35). John characterized Jesus’ ministry as a baptizing in the Holy Spirit, and so Jesus began his ministry by being baptized in the Spirit himself (3:16, 22). Only Luke indicates that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” as he was led into the wilderness to be tested as the second Israel, and only he notes that Jesus returned triumphantly after his temptation “in the power of the Spirit” (4:1, 14). Only Luke records Jesus’ opening sermon in Nazareth, where he claimed to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy by having the Spirit of the Lord upon him (4:18). Only Luke states that Jesus was “full of joy through the Holy Spirit: (10:21). Only Luke records Jesus’ announcement that the Father would give the Holy Spirit to those who asked him (11:13.)

Luke’s distinctive emphasis on the working of the Spirit in the life and ministry of Jesus provides a natural basis for understanding the central role of the Spirit in the messianic kingdom as it comes to light in the book of Acts. If Jesus was made holy by the Spirit, his people will become holy by the same Spirit. If he was baptized in the Spirit at the beginning of his ministry, then they may expect to have the same experience. If he was led by the Spirit, preached in the Spirit, and ministered in the power of the Spirit, then would not the citizens of his kingdom experience similar manifestations of the Spirit? OF course, the uniqueness of Christ must be maintained. But since he had experienced these manifestations of the Spirit, the citizens of his kingdom could also expect to participate in the workings of the Spirit.” (3)

 Palmer continues:     “The term kingdom occurs only six times in Acts after the initial question of the disciples. But the distribution of these references is significant. At each critical moment in the narrative, reference is made to the coming of the kingdom: when the power of the gospel is displayed in Samaria (Acts 8:12), when Paul provides an explanation for the suffering of believers at the end of his first missionary journey (Acts 14:22), during the three months and the additional two years of his ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19:8, 10; 20:25), and after he finally arrives in Rome (Acts 28:23, 31). At each of these new stages in the advancement of the gospel, reference is made to the presence of the kingdom of God.” (4)

 In closing:

 The reader is encouraged to look again at Barnes’ notes on Luke 17:21, where it is said concerning the kingdom of God, “Is within you – This is capable of two interpretations.” Both of Barnes’s examples are plausible, whether in the regenerate heart or a new dispensation with the advent of the Messiah’s reign. Moreover, it is possible that both interpretations are accurate. There is no inherent conflict in affirming both.     “The kingdom of God is the rule of an eternal sovereign God over all creatures and things (Psalms 103:19; Daniel 4:3). The kingdom of God is also the designation for the sphere of salvation entered into at the new birth (John 3:5-7).” – Monergism web site

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

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


 1.      Graeme Goldsworthy, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, (Downers Grove, Illinois,   IVP Academic), p. 620.

2.      Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Luke, Vol. p. 916.

3.      O. Palmer Robertson, The Israel of God: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing), pp. 123-125.

4.      O. Palmer Robertson, The Israel of God: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing), p. 137.   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. Other books by Mr. Kettler @

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The Christian spiritual warfare and the use of the mind

The Christian spiritual warfare and the use of the mind                               By Jack Kettler

Spiritual warfare as a Christian is inescapable. How does this warfare take place? Christianity is a rational religion, meaning it is not divorced from the use of the mind or intellect. The use of the mind is a result of man being an image-bearer of God. Hence, the warfare that takes place involves the use of the mind.

What is the Scriptural proof that man is an image-bearer of God?

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27 ESV)

Relevant to this study, Francis Schaeffer says regarding God’s image in man:
“…Nothing is to be autonomous from God. The inward areas of knowledge, meaning, and values and the inward area of morals, are bound by God as much as the outward world. As the Christian grows spiritually he should be a man who consciously, more and more, brings his thought-world as well as his outward world under the norms of the Bible.” (1)

According to Schaeffer, man’s image consists of “knowledge, meaning, and values… are bound by God.” In other words, man has the innate ability for moral and rational cognizance.

The following Scriptural warnings to be on guard prove that the mind must be involved:

“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:3 NKJV)

“O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called.” (1 Timothy 6:20)

“By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (2 Timothy 1:14 ESV)

Guard the good deposit.” What was the good deposit Paul speaks of in 2 Timothy 1:14?

“Parallel with the thought just expressed is that contained in verse 14: That precious (or: excellent) thing which was entrusted to you guard through the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.
The ‘precious deposit’ is, of course, the gospel, taken in its widest sense (see 1 Timothy 6:20). It consists of ‘the sound words’ which Timothy has heard from Paul (see the preceding verse, 13). It is precious or excellent because it belongs to God and results in his glory through the salvation of those who accept it by sovereign grace. Again (as in 1 Timothy 6:20), Timothy is urged once for all to guard this deposit. He must defend it against every attack and never allow it to be changed or modified in the slightest degree.
But since the enemy is strong and Timothy is weak, Paul very wisely adds the thought that this guarding cannot be done except ‘through the Holy Spirit who dwells within us,’ that is, within Paul, Timothy, all believers (Romans 8:11). Timothy, then, should hold on to the pure gospel, the sound doctrine, as Paul has always done.” (2)

Summarizing Hendriksen, it can be said: 

The faith or good deposit is to be protected. The protection is done by guarding, contending, which means to avoid profane babbling and fraudulent science. The intellect is used to distinguish truth and error.

It can be concluded that the intellectual and spiritual aspects of this warfare are unified and not contradictory.  

 Be on guard, because deceivers, false prophets, false apostles, savage wolves, and others trying to draw away disciples after themselves shall come to ravage the Church:

 “And the LORD said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds.” (Jeremiah 14:14 ESV)

 “Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:30)

 “For I know this that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.” (Acts 20:29)

 “For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” (Romans 16:18)

 “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:13 ESV))

 “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?” (Galatians 3:1)

 “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 5:6 NKJV)

 “Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words.” (Colossians 2:4 NKJV)

 “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

 “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.” (1 Peter 2:1)

 “Be sober; be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 NKJV)

 “By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.” (2 Peter 2:3 NKJV)

 “I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.” (1 John 2:26 ESV)

 In conclusion:

 Common to all of these warnings, as an example, the bewitching of the Galatians typified and involved the believing of lies. The lies were brought by various deceivers, in which the apostles were aptly described in the warning passages above. As in the case of the Galatians, Paul’s reproof was necessary because of the lack of scrutiny on their part of the doctrine of the Judaizers.

 The model example:

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

 Paul, the apostle, explains it best:

 “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5 NKJV)

 That is why the Christian must:

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

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


 1.      Francis Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent, (Westchester, Illinois, Crossway Books), p. 82.

2.      William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, Thessalonians, Timothy and Titus 1984, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, 1984), p. 237. 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:

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Reformed Dogmatics Five Volumes Geerhardus Vos

Reformed Dogmatics Five Volumes A Review by Jack Kettler

Reformed Dogmatics Five Volumes 

Geerhardus Vos, Gaffin, Richard B., Translator and Editor

Publisher: Lexham Press, Bellingham, WA

Author’s Bio:

Theologian, author, and Professor of Biblical Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, Geerhardus Johannes Vos, was born in March 1862 at Heerenveen, Netherlands. A prolific author, Vos’s published writings include articles, essays, reviews, poems, and biblical-theological studies on both Old and New Testament topics. The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God (1903) and his analysis of Pauline theology, The Pauline Eschatology (1930), remain two of his most important works. Vos’s approach to the theology of the Old and New Testaments was published in 1948 as ‘Biblical Theology.’ John Murray, the professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, considered Geerhardus Vos to be the most incisive exegete in the English-speaking world of the twentieth century.

What others are saying:

“This translation of Vos’ Dogmatick is the last link in access to his magnificent oeuvre. English readers will now be able to match the Princetonian’s commitment to historic Reformed doctrinal orthodoxy with his pioneering work in redemptive–historical biblical theology. The interaction is refreshing as well as pace–setting. Kudos to publisher and translator alike for undertaking this project.” James T. Dennison Jr., Academic Dean and Professor of Church History and Biblical Theology, Northwest Theological Seminary

“Like books, people can become classics. Great in their day, but richer and more fulfilling with time. Not yet a classic, Vos never-before-published Reformed Dogmatics is more like a lost Shakespeare play recently discovered. There seems to have been a flurry in recent years of systematic theologians writing with an eye for biblical theology. With this series we now have a biblical theologian writing a systematic theology. Thanks to Lexham Press for giving us such a long-awaited but impressive access to this much-discussed gem.” Michael Horton, Professor of Theology and Apologetics, Westminster Seminary California

Other works by Vos:

·         Biblical Theology

·         Pauline Eschatology

·         The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews

·         Grace and Glory

·         Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation  

·         The Kingdom of God and the Church

A Review:

The Volume titles are essential to understand the scope of this work:

Volume One: Theology Proper

Volume Two: Anthropology

Volume Three: Christology

Volume Four: Soteriology

Volume Five: Ecclesiology, The Means of Grace, Eschatology

To repeat John Murry’s comments that Geerhardus Vos one of the most incisive exegetes in the English-speaking world of the twentieth century. It can also be said that the same is true of Vos’ Five Volume Reformed Dogmatics. It is a towering work of theology, and worthy of being called a systematic theology. Even for the lay reader, Vos’ work in the Reformed Dogmatics is comprehensible. The layout of this work is brilliant, with numbered sections and lettered subsections make working through the material very easy. In addition, Vos uses a catechetical method of questions and answers in his Reformed Dogmatics, making the work unique.     

In Volume One on Theology Proper, Vos grounds the knowability of God in Scripture:
“1. The Knowability of God

1. Is God knowable?

Yes, Scripture teaches this: “that we may know the One who is true” (1 John 5:20), although it also reminds us of the limited character of our knowledge (Matt 11:25).

2. In what sense do Reformed theologians maintain that God cannot be known?

a)   Insofar as we can have only an incomplete understanding of an infinite being.

b)   Insofar as we cannot give a definition of God but only a description.

3. On what ground do others deny God’s knowability?

On the ground that God is All-Being. They have a pantheistic view of God. Now, knowing presumes that the object known is not all there is, since it always remains distinct from the subject doing the knowing. Making God the object of knowledge, one reasons, is equivalent to saying that He is not all there is, that He is limited.

4. What response is to be made against this view?

a)   The objection that this view presents stems entirely from a philosophical view of God, as if He were All-Being. This view is wrong. God is certainly infinite, but God is not the All. There are things that exist, whose existence is not identical with God.

b)   It is certainly true that we cannot make a visible representation of God because He is a purely spiritual being. But we also cannot do that of our own soul. Yet we believe that we know it.

c)   It is also true that we do not have an in-depth and comprehensive knowledge of God. All our knowledge, even with regard to created things, is in part. This is even truer of God. We only know Him insofar as He reveals Himself, that is, has turned His being outwardly for us. God alone possesses ideal knowledge of Himself and of the whole world, since He pervades everything with His omniscience.

d)   That we are able to know God truly rests on the fact that God has made us in His own image, thus an impression of Himself, albeit from the greatest distance. Because we ourselves are spirit, possess a mind, will, etc., we know what it means when in His Word God ascribes these things to Himself” (1)

 The catechetical nature of Vos’ work is seen right at the beginning of his work. Each volume has a helpful question page number index. Because of this among many reasons makes Vos’ dogmatics immensely useful.

 In Volume Two, Vos, in a systematic approach, delves into the nature of man. But, unfortunately, many Christians buy into a view of humanity known as trichotomy. Vos exposes this as an example of Greek philosophical paganism infiltrating Christian theology and refutes it decisively.

 In Volume two on Anthropology, again one sees the catechetical nature of Vos’ work:  “1. The Nature of Man

1. According to Holy Scripture, of what does the nature of man consist?

The Scripture teaches:

a)   That man consists of two parts, body and soul.

b)   That the soul is a substance.

c)   That it is a substance distinct from the body.

2. How does Scripture teach these truths?

Not so much explicitly as by assuming and presupposing them everywhere. More specifically:

a)   In places like Gen 3:19; Eccl 12:7.

b)   In places that depict the body as clothing, a tabernacle (2 Cor 5:1).

c)   In all the places that teach that the soul exists and acts after death.

3. What does God’s word teach concerning the relationship between soul and body?

This is a mystery. The following, however, is certain beyond all doubt:

a)   The union between them is a life-unity. The organic life of the body and the life of the soul are not in parallel. Only on the presence of the soul in the body does the possibility rest that the organic bond of the latter is maintained.

b)   Certain conditions of the body are dependent on the self-conscious acting of the spirit; others are independent of this.

c)   Some functions of the soul are bound to the body; others can be done independently of the body.

d)   In antithesis to Materialism, Idealism, occasionalism, etc., one may call this realistic dualism. It is most closely connected with some of the principal doctrines of the Bible.

4. What does one mean by trichotomy?

The doctrine that man does not consist of two but of three specifically different parts, namely:

a)   πνεῦμα, animus, the principal and most noble part; “the spirit” to which the capacities of reason, will, and conscience belong.

b)   ψυχή, anima, the soul, the principle of animal, bodily life that ceases to exist with death. Animals also have a ψυχή.

c)   The body, σῶμα, considered solely as matter.

5. What are the principal objections against this trichotomy?

a)   It is philosophical in origin (Pythagoreans, Plato) and rests on a disparaging of the body and a one-sided elevation of the nonmaterial existence of man. Because one fails to appreciate the organic bond between body and soul, the functions with which the soul works within the body must be detached from the soul and viewed as a third, independent principle. This motif is completely unbiblical and anti-Christian. Christianity wants a redemption of the body as well as of the soul.

b)   Genesis 2:7 shows how God created man consisting of two parts: dust of the earth that was first inanimate, and spirit blown into it, through which man became a living soul.

c)   Scripture nowhere uses the terms רוּחַ and נֶפֶשׁ, πνεῦμα and ψυχή, arbitrarily, but where they are in contrast that contrast is not the trichotomic one given above but an entirely different one. רוּחַ, πνεῦμα, spirit, is the principle of life and movement in man, and is that insofar as it enlivens and moves the body. That, according to philosophical terminology, should be called ψυχή. Hence, according to Scripture, the animals have that just as well as man. This, of course, in no way means that there is no specific difference between a human spirit and an animal soul but simply informs that by רוּחַ the principal feature is expressed that is the higher principle common to man and animals, namely the enlivening and moving of the body. To indicate the distinction between the animals and the human soul, the Scripture has used other words (“heart,” etc.). So, one sees how Scripture and philosophical terminology are diametrically opposed to each other.” (2)

 As seen from the above citation and repeating a previous comment slightly differently, the Hellenistic philosophy behind trichotomy is demolished by Vos as he uses Biblical, logical arguments effectively.  

 Volume Three on Christology is rich in content concerning the person, nature, and role of Christ:  “3. Person and Natures

1. As a result of the meaning of these different names, what can already be established provisionally concerning the person of the Mediator and His natures?

a)   That He is truly God. We found that included:

1.   in His name Jesus;

2.   in the name Lord and the absolute sovereignty expressed by that;

3.   in the name “Son of God,” insofar as that also has an official meaning and is synonymous with Messiah.

b)   That He is truly man. This is implied:

1.   in the official name Christ, since at least equipping for an office can only take place in His human nature;

2.   in the name “Son of Man.”

c)   That in these two natures He is anointed to three offices, as is clear from the name Christ.

d)   That for exercising His work as Mediator, He had to pass through a state of humiliation as well as a state of exaltation, as is to be derived from the names “Servant of the Lord,” ‘Son of David.’” (3)

 In this short citation, one sees Christ magnified, and the two natures of Christ explained and defended.

 In Chapter Five of Volume Four on Soteriology. In forty-four numbered sections, Vos’ explanation and defense of the Protestant doctrine of Justification is one of the best to found anywhere.

 As an example, the reader will be treated to section one:    “5. Justification

1. What words are used in Scripture for the concept of “justification,” and what can be derived from this usage for the doctrine to be treated now?

a) The Hebrew term is hitsdiq, hitsdiq, which in by far the most cases means “to declare judicially that someone’s status is in agreement with the demands of justice.” “For I will not justify the godless” (Exod 23:7). “If there is a dispute between men and they come for judgment that the judges decide between them, they shall declare righteous the one who is righteous and condemn the one who is unrighteous” (Deut 25:1). “Those who justify the godless for a gift and deprive the righteous of their righteousness” (Isa 5:23). “He who justifies me is near” (Isa 50:8). The pi‘el forms of the verb can have the same meaning, tseddeq, tseddeq (cf. Jer 3:11; Ezek 16:50–51). That the meaning of the word is strictly judicial and nothing else appears most clearly from Proverbs 17:15: “The one who justifies the godless and the one who condemns the righteous are both indeed an abomination to the LORD.” Were one now to maintain that here “justify” means “to change someone into an upright person by infusing good qualities,” one would then get the result that to make an evil person into a good one is an abomination to God.

When, in a few places, the concept includes more than “to declare just,” these are exceptions to the rule. And even then, the meaning is not simply synonymous with “to make good, holy” but means, rather, “to place in such a condition that a judgment of justification can be pronounced.” That is, it is not the changing of disposition in itself that is designated “to justify,” but rather the changing of disposition with an eye to a judicial pronouncement, whereby that change is taken into consideration and credited. This is the case in Daniel 12:3: “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above, and those who justify many like the stars forever and ever.” Here the term is used of the instrumentality of the ministers of the gospel by which those who hear them come to be in a state of justification, that is, believing, whereupon God can pronounce on them His verdict of justification. Similarly, Isaiah 53:11: “By his knowledge shall my servant, the righteous one, make many righteous, for he shall bear their iniquities.” Here “justify” is certainly more than “declare just.” It means to bring about everything that is necessary to make possible such a declaration of righteousness. The Servant of the Lord does this by His suretyship, and in doing that, He justifies. Usually, however, it is God the Father as judge, who, pronouncing the verdict, justifies; who, taking note of a status of righteousness—whether as one’s own or by imputation—announces the corresponding status.

b) The New Testament word is dikaioun. This also means “to let justice take place by a formal declaration,” “to declare just or righteous.” For example, “the tax collectors justified God” (Luke 7:29)—that is, they acknowledged God to be righteous, as having the right that was due Him. “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘Who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:29). The meaning here is, “to present someone as dikaios [righteous, just].” The passive has the meaning of “to be presented or known as dikaios.” “For by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt 12:37). In extrabiblical Greek dikaioun can mean “to pronounce a just verdict on someone,” both in a good as well as a bad sense: (1) for the evildoer, punishment; (2) for the one who does good, reward. In the New Testament, however, the word is used exclusively for acquittal—thus, in a good sense, never in a bad sense for condemnation to punishment. This is also already the case in the Septuagint.

Dikaioun is a term whose soteriological meaning comes to its full rights in Paul. From Romans 4:5, it is evident that we have to do here with a judicial pronouncement and not with a transforming act. “But to him who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” This is no less evident from the terms that are the antithesis of “justify.” For example, Romans 8:33–34: “It is God who justifies. Who is the one who condemns?” From Romans 4:5, it is also evident that justification does not depend on the condition of the person himself, but on what is imputed to him by grace.

Here, too, a few texts are produced that appear to deviate from this normal usage. These are principally Revelation 22:11, “The one who does wrong, let him still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, let him still be filthy; and the one who is righteous, let him still be justified; and the one who is holy, let him still be sanctified.”1 For “let him still be justified,” the Textus Receptus has dikaiōthētō. Since Bengel it is fairly common to read dikaiosynēn poiēsatō eti, “let him do more righteousness” (so, too, Wescott and Hort). Here, then, justification is not spoken of as a transforming action by which a person gradually makes himself more and more righteous, but of the exercise of righteousness in life.

First Corinthians 6:11 is also a passage to which appeal is made to prove the ethical meaning of dikaioun. There we read, “Such were some of you; but you are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” It is said that here justification is presented as occurring through the Spirit of God, and from this it should then be evident how “justify” is synonymous with “sanctify.” But that here, too, that justification cannot simply be equivalent to “sanctify” is apparent from the fact that this concept immediately precedes, and the apostle cannot have wanted to say the same thing twice. Nor does the fact that the Spirit justifies prove anything, for besides the fact that He is certainly the creator of justifying faith and the one who applies justification to the conscience, one need not have “by the Spirit of our God” refer to justification. It can refer exclusively to “you are washed, you are sanctified.” The apostle apparently alludes in this text to baptism, in which justification is signified and sealed “in the name of Christ.”

A third passage appealed to is Titus 3:5–7: “He has saved us, not because of works of righteousness that we had done but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he has poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we, being justified by his grace, might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” It is said that here the rich outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which effects regeneration and renewal, is presented as the cause of justification because “so that” is in the text. We respond: Here, “so that” ought not to be connected with “poured out,” but with the preceding, “he has saved us.” And furthermore, the clause does not have in view “being justified,” but reads, “so that after having been justified [that is, after having received the right of inheritance], we [actually] would become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (4)

 Keep in mind, the above citation is just the start of Vos’ defense of Justification.

 Volume 5: Ecclesiology, The Means of Grace, Eschatology is the final volume in this set. The following citation is from chapter three on “The Means of Grace,” in which Vos’ continues his masterful exposition of central theological issues that set the Reformed Faith apart from other branches of Christianity.   “3. Word and Sacraments

1. In how many senses can one speak of grace?

In three senses:

a) As an attribute of God. Then in a broader sense grace is unmerited favor and in a more specific sense, that favor toward sinners. This grace has no means by which it is induced or brought about. It chooses and creates its own means. The entire plan of salvation, not excluding the Mediator, is a fruit of this grace.

b) As an objective gift in Christ. In Him as the exalted Mediator is found the basis of all manifestations of favor granted to the sinner. From His fullness we have all received grace for grace [John 1:16]. The means by which this grace was obtained and brought about are found in the satisfaction of the Savior.

c) As a subjective action in us. Everything that happens in us or to us as the outworking of the attribute of God and the gift of grace in Christ is called grace in the specific sense of the word. And this third grace is in view when we speak of the means of grace. There are certain instruments by which God wills for us to come to know and to apply His favor residing in Christ. These are means connected with the communication of grace. Grace is hereby taken in its widest sense, so that it is not limited to effectual, seeking, or regenerating grace, but includes everything that happens subjectively in or below our consciousness.

2. What follows when we understand the word “grace” in the expression “means of grace” in this way?

A certain indefiniteness that makes it difficult for us at a first glance to delineate sharply the concept of the means of grace. Everything that God uses as a means in order to show me any unmerited favor and by which He acts for my good then becomes a means of grace. There is common grace and special grace. But what serves for receiving and granting the former must also count as a means of grace. What occurs in the sphere of God’s providence cannot be excluded. Through the particular circumstances of life, God can act on me, and it is grace from Him when He does this. However, one senses that we cannot let the expression depend on this indefinite sense. The concept, taken so generally, would lose its theological significance for us.

3. In what way can one place some limits on this generalization?

a) By showing that many of these things that one would like to call means of grace, in the widest sense, are not such in an independent way and by virtue of their own content, but only through the connection into which they are brought with instrumentalities that are the proper means of grace. One or another experience that I have in my life can certainly be used by God to strengthen the life of grace in me, but it could not do this by itself. It does this only because it brings me anew into contact with the Word of God and has as its consequence a new application of that Word to my life. It is therefore not a means of grace in the proper sense.

b) By saying that not every connection with preparatory grace or with common grace makes something a means of grace, but only the specific connection with the regenerating, effectual, converting, justifying, sanctifying grace of God. Said more succinctly: its connection with the beginning and the continuation of special grace. If something is not connected with that in one way or another, it may not be called a means of grace.

c) By saying that something must be linked with the gracious working of God not just incidentally on a single occasion but that it must be the regular, ordained means that accompanies that working. The means of grace are constant, not exceptional.

If we accept these three conditions, then it appears that they only apply to the Word of God and the sacraments. These two are the only means of grace in the narrower sense.

4. Is the concept “means of grace” (media gratiae), so understood, valued equally by all?

No, varying value is attributed to it. There are those who deny all ordered working of grace, who compare it to the blowing of the wind, in which man can discover neither a law nor a norm. Grace is then tied to nothing—neither to the church nor to office, neither to Word nor to sacrament. It comes and it goes, just as God wills it (mystics).

Others go less far but will not acknowledge an organic connection between inward grace and outward means. The former works, according to them, not unrestrained and arbitrarily but nonetheless completely controlled by its own secret law, as life that spreads and proliferates in a certain sphere (the Ethical theologians). Still others will have grace bound completely to the means, and then in different ways. In the first place, one can identify it with the natural significance of the means. The Word of God then works, for example, through its reasonable, moral content, convincing and admonishing (Rationalists). One can also let it flow into the outward means in a supernatural way, so that they actually cease being natural means but change into something higher, so that, for example, in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper bread and wine become flesh and blood, or the water of baptism washes away sin ex opere operato, “through the worked work” (Roman Catholics). Finally, one can bind grace completely to its means in a secret manner, so that it does remain distinguished from these means but still occurs nowhere separated from them (Lutherans).

The Reformed doctrine of the means of grace may never be confused with any of these views.” (5)

 The weightiness of the theology seen in the above quotation should spur the reader on, seeking purity and preciseness in understanding the doctrine of the sacraments.

 In conclusion:

 Hopefully, these citations from the Five-Volume set will convince the reader of the value of acquiring the Reformed Dogmatics by Vos. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. most certainly needs to be complimented on his work editing and translating this magnificent work into English. The translation is fresh and immensely readable.        


 1.      Geerhardus Vos, Translated and Edited by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Reformed Dogmatics, Volume One, (Lexham Press, Bellingham, WA), pp. 1-2.

2.      Geerhardus Vos, Translated and Edited by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Reformed Dogmatics, Volume Two, (Lexham Press, Bellingham, WA), pp. 1-2.

3.      Geerhardus Vos, Translated and Edited by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Reformed Dogmatics, Volume Three, (Lexham Press, Bellingham, WA), p. 20.

4.      Geerhardus Vos, Translated and Edited by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Reformed Dogmatics, Volume Four, (Lexham Press, Bellingham, WA), pp. 133-136.

5.      Geerhardus Vos, Translated and Edited by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Reformed Dogmatics, Volume Five, (Lexham Press, Bellingham, WA), pp. 77-79.

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

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

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

The Five Points of Scriptural Authority: A Defense of Sola Scriptura

1 Corinthians 15:29 Revisited: A Scriptural based interpretation

Christian Apologetics in the marketplace of ideas

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Are Christmas trees a violation of Jeremiah 10:3-4?

“For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers that it move not.” (Jeremiah 10:3-4)

The above passage from Jeremiah 10:3-4 is routinely misinterpreted. It is common to have this passage cited as a warning not to have Christmas trees. The problem that jumps from the text is that the Hebrew wording does not support the notion of a tree itself being set up as an idol. The tree must be read into the text in which is an anachronism.
“An anachronism is a chronological inconsistency in some arrangement, especially a juxtaposition of persons, events, objects, or customs from different periods.” – Wikipedia

 The insights of the Pulpit Commentary are noteworthy in understanding the text:  “Verse 3. – The customs of the people. “People” should, as usual, be corrected into peoples – the heathen nations are referred to. The Hebrew has “the statutes;” but the Authorized Version is substantially right, customs having a force as of iron in Eastern countries. It seems to be implied that the “customs” are of religious origin (setup. 2 Kings 17:8, where “the statutes of the heathen” are obviously the rites and customs of polytheism. For one cutteth a tree, etc. This is intended to prove the foregoing statement of the “vanity,” or groundlessness, of idolatry. The order of the Hebrew, however, is more forcible, for as wood out of the forest one cutteth it, viz. the idol.

Verse 4. – They deck it… that it move not. The close resemblance of this verse to Isaiah 40:19, 20, Isaiah 41:7 will strike every reader. “Move” should rather be totter.” (1)

 According to the Pulpit Commentary, the Hebrew is best understood “as wood out of the forest one cutteth it.” For that reason, the passage is not talking about setting up an actual tree, but cutting wood from a tree to be used as an idol. In reality, a block of wood is taken and carved into an idol from which parts of it are then overlaid with silver or gold.

 The entry from Brown-Driver-Briggs on עֵץ֙ concurs with the Pulpit Commentary:

2 (approximately 175 times; approximately 120 times plural, to denote pieces [or articles] of wood)

a. wood, as material; for building, 2 Kings 12:13 (+ אַבְנֵי מַתְצֵב), 2 Kings 22:6 2Chronicles 34:11 (both + id.), Nehemiah 2:8 +; עֲצֵי שָׁ֑מֶן 1 Kings 6:23,31,33 compare 1 Kings 6:32; עֲצֵיגֹּֿפֶר Genesis 6:14 (Noah’s ark), עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים Exodus 25:5,10 20t. Exodus (of tabernacle and its furniture; all P) Deuteronomy 10:3; מִגְדַּלעֵֿץ Nehemiah 8:4; מוֺטִת עֵץ Jeremiah 28:13 (in figurative; opposed to בַּרְזֶל ׳מ); כְּלִיעֵֿץ article of wood Leviticus 11:32; Leviticus 15:12; Numbers 31:20, compare Numbers 35:18 (all P). Hence

b. עֵצִים = articles of wood Exodus 7:19 (P; “” אֲבָנִים), 1 Chronicles 29:2; so עֲצֵי בְרוֺשִׁים 2 Samuel 6:5 (but see בְּרוֺשׁ near the end); specifically הָעֵץ = helve of axe Deuteronomy 19:5; עֵץ חֲנִית(וֺׅ 1 Samuel 17:7 Qr (Kt חֵץ) = 1 Chronicles 20:5; 2 Samuel 21:19; 2 Samuel 23:7; עֲצֵי הָעֲגָלָה 1 Samuel 6:14 (i.e. wood of which cart was made), עֲצֵי הָאֲשֵׁרָה Judges 6:26; especially timbers of a house Zechariah 5:4; Habakkuk 2:11; Leviticus 14:45, of a city 1 Kings 15:22 2Chronicles 16:5; Ezekiel 26:12; עֵץ of pole on which bodies of slain (criminals and others) were exposed (perhaps originally trees) Genesis 40:19 (E), Joshua 8:29 (twice in verse); Joshua 10:26 (twice in verse); Joshua 10:27 (all J E), Deuteronomy 21:22,23; late (in Persian) used for executing criminals (? by hanging = gallows), תָּלָח עַלעֵֿץ Esther 2:23 8t. Esther.

c. of idols, עֵץ וָאֶבֶן Deuteronomy 4:28; Deuteronomy 28:36,64; Deuteronomy 29:16; 2 Kings 19:18 = Isaiah 37:19; Ezekiel 20:32, compare Jeremiah 2:27; Jeremiah 3:9; Habakkuk 2:19; so עֵץ alone Hosea 4:12; Isaiah 40:20, of. Isaiah 44:19; Isaiah 45:20; אֲשֵׁרָה כָּלעֵֿץ Deuteronomy 16:21.

d. (fire-) wood Joshua 9:23, 27 (J), Joshua 9:21 (P), Deuteronomy 19:5; Isaiah 30:33 +, read עֵצִים also Ezekiel 24:5 (for ᵑ0 עצמים) Bö Ew Sm Co Berthol Toy; especially for sacrifices 1 Kings 18:23 (twice in verse) +, Genesis 22:7, 9 (twice in verse); Leviticus 1:7 6t. Leviticus (all P), 2 Samuel 24:22 “” 1 Chronicles 21:23, +; עֲצֵי עוֺלָה Genesis 22:3, 6 (P).

e. עֵץ (הָ)אֶרֶז cedar-wood, used in purifications Leviticus 14:4,6,49,51,52; Numbers 19:6 (all P).

f. מִּשְׁתֵּי הָעֵץ Joshua 2:6 woody-flax, i.e. flax on the stalk. — Jeremiah 10:8 Gie proposes הֶבֶל מֹעֲצֹתָו for ᵑ0 הֲבָלִים עִץ הוּא. — מֹאֶסֶת כָּלעֵֿץ Ezekiel 21:15 is dubious, Sm proposes מָאֵסְתָּ כָלעֵֿץ, Co מֹאֲסֵי כָלעֹֿז, Berthol וּמְנַסֵּף כָּלעַֿז; SiegfKau Toy leave untranslated. (2)

Jeremiah 10:3-4 describes what men do. Moses tells why not to do it:

 “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness [of any thing] 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.” (Exodus 20:4-6)

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


 1.      H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Jerimiah, Vol. 11. (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 268.

2.      The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius, Hebrew English Lexicon, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers), p. 781.
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. Christian Apologetics in the market place of ideas Paperback at,

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