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

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

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

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

Definitions from two sources:

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

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

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

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

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

Scriptural passages on God’s Preceptive Will:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scriptural passages on God’s Decretive Will:

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

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

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

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

“God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” (Acts 17:24)

The Pulpit Commentary on Deuteronomy 29:29:

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

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

The Will of God by Charles Hodge

A. The Meaning of the Term.

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

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

B. The Freedom of the Divine Will.

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

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

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

C. The Decretive and Preceptive Will of God.

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

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

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

D. Antecedent and Consequent Will.

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

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

E. Absolute and Conditional Will.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Westminster Shorter Catechism:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In closing:

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

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

Would any believer disagree with this?

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

For more study:

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

** CARM theological dictionary https://carm.org/dictionary-hermeneutics
https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/ctd.html

To see Scriptural proofs the Westminster Confession on the Ten Commandments and application go to:
http://www.reformed.org/documents/wsc/index.html…

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

thereligionthatstartedinahat.com

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The Will A Study of Volitions in light of the Fall

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

Definition of Volition:

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

Definition of the free will of man:

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

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

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

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

  1. Is the will fallen or free?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider another Mormon leader on free will:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

De Servo Arbitrio

On the Bondage of the Will (BOW)

1525 A.D.

Martin Luther

Selections:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The second Protestant theologian:

Selections from Freedom of the Will, by Jonathan Edwards:

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

Part I. Section I.

Concerning the Nature of the Will.

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

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

Part I. Section II.

Concerning the Determination of the Will.

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

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

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

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

Part I. Section IV.

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

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

Part I. Section V.

Concerning the Notion of Liberty, and of Moral Agency.

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

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

Part II. Section IV.

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

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

Part II. Section V.

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

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

Theological implications and Scriptural conclusions:

The book of Romans tells us the following:

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

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

The apostle Peter confirms this when he says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

For more study:

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

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

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

Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will:

http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/pdf/luther_arbitrio.pdf

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Hermeneutics, approaches to Biblical Interpretation

Hermeneutics, approaches to Biblical Interpretation                                      by Jack Kettler

Definition of Hermeneutics:

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

Hermeneutics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does everyone interpret the Bible the same way?

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

What is the Grammatico-Historical-Hermeneutical Method?

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

Exegesis, the interpretive Norm:

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

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

Eisegesis, the Interpretive Danger:

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

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

HERMENEUTICS

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

Presuppositions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Principles of Interpretation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In closing:

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

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

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

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

Confessional Documents as Reformed Hermeneutic:

  1. Confessions delimit church power.

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

For more study:

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

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

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

  1. I. Packer: Hermeneutics and Biblical Theology

Greg Bahnsen: A Reformed Confession Regarding Hermeneutics

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

The Journal of Presbyterian History (1997- )

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

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Apologetics an introduction the defending the Faith

Apologetics an introduction the defending the Faith                           By Jack Kettler

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

Definition of apologetics:

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

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

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

How can evangelism be defined?

Evangelism:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consulting Matthew Poole’s Commentary we find:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Having a good conscience; this may be read either:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18: Summary On Apologetic Method: Chapters 13-17

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

The Nature of the Apologetic Situation:

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

The Requirements of the Apologist:

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

The Procedure for Defending the Faith:

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

In closing, some quotes to ponder on apologetics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

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

For more study:

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

** CARM theological dictionary

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

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

Courtesy of Rebecca writes – Learn more:

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

Related terms:

Apologetics 315: https://apologetics315.com/

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

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

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

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

Definitions of Baptism:

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

Westminster Shorter Catechism

Question 94

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

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

Definitions of Baptismal Regeneration:

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

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

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

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

Baptism, Baptist, Baptize:

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

(a) of John’s “baptism,”

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

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

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

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

Baptism, Baptist, Baptize:

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

See WASHING.

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

Baptism, Baptist, Baptize:

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

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

Baptism, Baptist, Baptize:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article on Baptismal Regeneration from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:

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

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

Examination of Texts that seemingly support baptismal regeneration:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us consider these points.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In closing:

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

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

For more study:

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

** CARM theological dictionary

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

BAPTISMAL REGENERATION DELIVERED ON SUNDAY MORNING,

BY THE REV. C. H. SPURGEON

http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols10-12/chs573.pdf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Word Definitions:

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

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

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

Liturgy is principally about worship. What exactly is worship?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Prayer in worship:

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

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

  1. Tithes and offerings in worship:

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Singing in worship:

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Discipline in worship:

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

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

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

This Scriptural pattern involves:

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

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

Worship, Worshiping

A — 1: προσκυνέω

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

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

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

A — 2: σέβω

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

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

A — 3: σεβάζομαι

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

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

A — 4: λατρεύω

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

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

A — 5: εὐσεβέω

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

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

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

B — 1: σέβασμα

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

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

B — 2: ἐθελοθρησκία

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

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

B — 3: θρησκεία

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

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

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

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

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

What is the Scriptural basis for the Regulative Principle?

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

Consider the following examples:

Strange Fire or worship condemned:

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

Uzzah’s error punished:

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

Man-made worship condemned:

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

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

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

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

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

Damnation for unworthy participation in the Lord’s Supper:

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

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

God is very specific:

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

A Scriptural liturgy:

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

John Calvin’s liturgy:

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

Invocation and Call to Worship

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

Reading of the Old Testament / New Testament

Psalm Sung

Pastoral Prayer / Prayer of Illumination

The Word of God Preached (The Sermon)

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

Psalm Sung

Benediction

Calvin’s Alternate Order of Worship for Communion:

Call to worship

Confession of Sin / Absolution

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

Psalm (sung)

The Word Read from the OT or NT

Prayer for Illumination

Preaching of the Word Sermon

Prayer of Intercession

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

The Lord’s Supper

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Psalm (sung) or Song of Simeon (sung)

Blessing (2)

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

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

DIRECTORY for the Publick Worship of God:

The Preface.

Of the Assembling of the Congregation.

Of Publick Reading of the Holy Scriptures.

Of Publick Prayer before the Sermon.

Of Preaching of the Word.

Of Prayer after Sermon.

Of the Sacrament of Baptism.

Of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

Of the Sanctification of the Lord’s Day.

Of the Solemnization of Marriage.

Of the Visitation of the Sick.

Of the Burial of the Dead.

Of Publick Solemn Fasting.

Of the Observation of Days of Publick Thanksgiving.

Of Singing of Psalms.

An Appendix touching Days and Places of Publick Worship.

In closing:

A Modern day Presbyterian Order for a Worship Service:

Call to worship

Response to the call – Psalm

Prayer of invocation and Lord’s Prayer

Scripture reading

Psalm of response

Prayer of intercession

Tithes and offerings

Preaching of God’s Word

Psalm of response

Benediction

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

For more study:

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

** CARM theological dictionary

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

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

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Traducianism, or Creationism and the Origin of the Soul

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

The Origin of the Soul

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

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

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

Creationism:

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

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

A Positive View of Traducianism from a Reformed Theologian:

Theories of the Mode of Man’s Creation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thirteenth Question: The Origin of the Soul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In closing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

For more study:

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

** CARM theological dictionary

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

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

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

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