The Noetic Effects of Sin

The Noetic Effects of Sin by Jack Kettler

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

In this study, we will look at the biblical teaching regarding noetic effects of sin. What does this mean? What are the implications for counseling and apologetics?

As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical evidence, commentary evidence, and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live. May God be glorified always!

Noetic effects of sin:

“The negative effect of sin on the minds and thinking of humankind, causing the reasoning ability of fallen humanity to be corrupted, especially degrading the understanding of spiritual things; also called the noetic effects of the fall.” *

Noetic effect of sin:

“The noetic effect of sin is the effect upon the mind. The Greek word for “mind” is “nous.” Therefore, ‘noetic’ deals with the mind, or the rational aspect of the person. This effect means that our reasoning abilities are no longer pure and proper all the time. But, it does not mean we will always reason improperly. We can think rationally, use mathematics, make proper judgments, etc. But, as is obvious, there are many false religions in the world that are believed and defended intellectually. So, the noetic effect of sin upon the mind most assuredly manifests itself in the belief of false gods, false Christ, false gospels, etc.” **

From Scripture:

“Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Romans 1:21)

“Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.” (Ephesians 4:18)

From Calvin’s Commentary on Romans 1:18-23:

18. For [42] revealed, etc. He reasons now by stating things of a contrary nature, and proves that there is no righteousness except what is conferred, or comes through the gospel; for he shows that without this all men are condemned: by it alone there is salvation to be found. And he brings, as the first proof of condemnation, the fact, — that though the structure of the world, and the most beautiful arrangement of the elements, ought to have induced man to glorify God, yet no one discharged his proper duty: it hence appears that all were guilty of sacrilege, and of wicked and abominable ingratitude.

To some it seems that this is a main subject, and that Paul forms his discourse for the purpose of enforcing repentance; but I think that the discussion of the subject begins here, and that the principal point is stated in a former proposition; for Paul’s object was to teach us where salvation is to be found. He has already declared that we cannot obtain it except through the gospel: but as the flesh will not willingly humble itself so far as to assign the praise of salvation to the grace of God alone, Paul shows that the whole world is deserving of eternal death. It hence follows, that life is to be recovered in some other way, since we are all lost in ourselves. But the words, being well considered, will help us much to understand the meaning of the passage.

Some make a difference between impiety and unrighteousness, and think, that by the former word is meant the profanation of God’s worship, and by the latter, injustice towards men; but as the Apostle immediately refers this unrighteousness to the neglect of true religion, we shall explain both as referring to the same thing. [43] And then, all the impiety of men is to be taken, by a figure in language, as meaning “the impiety of all men,” or, the impiety of which all men are guilty. But by these two words one thing is designated, and that is, ingratitude towards God; for we thereby offend in two ways: it is said to be asebeia, impiety, as it is a dishonoring of God; it is adikia, unrighteousness, because man, by transferring to himself what belongs to God, unjustly deprives God of his glory. The word wrath, according to the usage of Scripture, speaking after the manner of men, means the vengeance of God; for God, in punishing, has, according to our notion, the appearance of one in wrath. It imports, therefore, no such emotion in God, but only has a reference to the perception and feeling of the sinner who is punished. Then he says that it is revealed from heaven; though the expression, from heaven, is taken by some in the sense of an adjective, as though he had said “the wrath of the celestial God;” yet I think it more emphatical, when taken as having this import, “Wheresoever a man may look around him, he will find no salvation; for the wrath of God is poured out on the whole world, to the full extent of heaven.”

The truth of God means, the true knowledge of God; and to hold in that, is to suppress or to obscure it: hence they are charged as guilty of robbery. — What we render unjustly, is given literally by Paul, in unrighteousness, which means the same thing in Hebrew: but we have regard to perspicuity. [44]

19. Inasmuch as what may be known of God, etc. He thus designates what it behoves us to know of God; and he means all that appertains to the setting forth of the glory of the Lord, or, which is the same thing, whatever ought to move and excite us to glorify God. And by this expression he intimates, that God in his greatness can by no means be fully comprehended by us, and that there are certain limits within which men ought to confine themselves, inasmuch as God accommodates to our small capacities what he testifies of himself. Insane then are all they who seek to know of themselves what God is: for the Spirit, the teacher of perfect wisdom, does not in vain invite our attention to what may be known, to gnoston; and by what means this is known, he immediately explains. And he said, in them rather than to them, for the sake of greater emphasis: for though the Apostle adopts everywhere Hebrew phrases, and v, beth, is often redundant in that language, yet he seems here to have intended to indicate a manifestation, by which they might be so closely pressed, that they could not evade; for every one of us undoubtedly finds it to be engraven on his own heart, [45] By saying, that God has made it manifest, he means, that man was created to be a spectator of this formed world, and that eyes were given him, that he might, by looking on so beautiful a picture, be led up to the Author himself.

20. Since his invisible things, [46] etc. God is in himself invisible; but as his majesty shines forth in his works and in his creatures everywhere, men ought in these to acknowledge him, for they clearly set forth their Maker: and for this reason the Apostle in his Epistle to the Hebrews says, that this world is a mirror, or the representation of invisible things. He does not mention all the particulars which may be thought to belong to God; but he states, that we can arrive at the knowledge of his eternal power and divinity; [47] for he who is the framer of all things, must necessarily be without beginning and from himself. When we arrive at this point, the divinity becomes known to us, which cannot exist except accompanied with all the attributes of a God, since they are all included under that idea.

So that they are inexcusable. It hence clearly appears what the consequence is of having this evidence — that men cannot allege anything before God’s tribunal for the purpose of showing that they are not justly condemned. Yet let this difference be remembered, that the manifestation of God, by which he makes his glory known in his creation, is, with regard to the light itself, sufficiently clear; but that on account of our blindness, it is not found to be sufficient. We are not however so blind, that we can plead our ignorance as an excuse for our perverseness. We conceive that there is a Deity; and then we conclude, that whoever he may be, he ought to be worshipped: but our reason here fails, because it cannot ascertain who or what sort of being God is. Hence the Apostle in Hebrews 11:3, ascribes to faith the light by which man can gain real knowledge from the work of creation, and not without reason; for we are prevented by our blindness, so that we reach not to the end in view; we yet see so far, that we cannot pretend any excuse. Both these things are strikingly set forth by Paul in Acts 14:16-17, when he says, that the Lord in past times left the nations in their ignorance, and yet that he left them not without witness (amarturon,) since he gave them rain and fertility from heaven. But this knowledge of God, which avails only to take away excuse, differs greatly from that which brings salvation, which Christ mentions in John 17:3, and in which we are to glory, as Jeremiah teaches us, Jeremiah 9:24

21. For when they knew God, etc. He plainly testifies here, that God has presented to the minds of all the means of knowing him, having so manifested himself by his works, that they must necessarily see what of themselves they seek not to know — that there is some God; for the world does not by chance exist, nor could it have proceeded from itself. But we must ever bear in mind the degree of knowledge in which they continued; and this appears from what follows.

They glorified him not as God. No idea can be formed of God without including his eternity, power, wisdom, goodness, truth, righteousness, and mercy. His eternity appears evident, because he is the maker of all things — his power, because he holds all things in his hand and continues their existence — his wisdom, because he has arranged things in such an exquisite order — his goodness, for there is no other cause than himself, why he created all things, and no other reason, why he should be induced to preserve them — his justice, because in his government he punishes the guilty and defends the innocent — his mercy, because he bears with so much forbearance the perversity of men — and his truth, because he is unchangeable. He then who has a right notion of God ought to give him the praise due to his eternity, wisdom, goodness, and justice. Since men have not recognized these attributes in God, but have dreamt of him as though he were an empty phantom, they are justly said to have impiously robbed him of his own glory. Nor is it without reason that he adds, that they were not thankful, [48] for there is no one who is not indebted to him for numberless benefits: yea, even on this account alone, because he has been pleased to reveal himself to us, he has abundantly made us indebted to him. But they became vain, [49] etc.; that is, having forsaken the truth of God, they turned to the vanity of their own reason, all the acuteness of which is fading and passes away like vapor. And thus their foolish mind, being involved in darkness, could understand nothing aright but was carried away headlong, in various ways, into errors and delusions. Their unrighteousness was this — they quickly choked by their own depravity the seed of right knowledge, before it grew up to ripeness.

22. While they were thinking, etc. It is commonly inferred from this passage, that Paul alludes here to those philosophers, who assumed to themselves in a peculiar manner the reputation of wisdom; and it is thought that the design of his discourse is to show, that when the superiority of the great is brought down to nothing, the common people would have no reason to suppose that they had anything worthy of being commended: but they seem to me to have been guided by too slender a reason; for it was not peculiar to the philosophers to suppose themselves wise in the knowledge of God, but it was equally common to all nations, and to all ranks of men. There were indeed none who sought not to form some ideas of the majesty of God, and to make him such a God as they could conceive him to be according to their own reason. This presumption I hold is not learned in the schools, but is innate, and comes with us, so to speak, from the womb. It is indeed evident, that it is an evil which has prevailed in all ages — that men have allowed themselves every liberty in coining superstitions. The arrogance then which is condemned here is this — that men sought to be of themselves wise, and to draw God down to a level with their own low condition, when they ought humbly to have given him his own glory. For Paul holds this principle, that none, except through their own fault, are unacquainted with the worship due to God; as though he said, “As they have proudly exalted themselves, they have become infatuated through the righteous judgment of God.” There is an obvious reason, which contravenes the interpretation which I reject; for the error of forming an image of God did not originate with the philosophers; but they, by their consent, approved of it as received from others. [50]

23. And changed, etc. Having feigned such a God as they could comprehend according to their carnal reason, they were very far from acknowledging the true God: but devised a fictitious and a new god, or rather a phantom. And what he says is, that they changed the glory of God; for as though one substituted a strange child, so they departed from the true God. Nor are they to be excused for this pretense, that they believe that God dwells in heaven, and that they count not the wood to be God, but his image; for it is a high indignity to God, to form so gross an idea of his majesty as to dare to make an image of him. But from the wickedness of such a presumption none were exempt, neither priests, nor statesmen, nor philosophers, of whom the most sound-minded, even Plato himself, sought to find out some likeness of God.

The madness then here noticed, is, that all attempted to make for themselves an image of God; which was a certain proof that their notions of God were gross and absurd. And, first, they befouled the majesty of God by forming him in the likeness of a corruptible man: for I prefer this rendering to that of mortal man, which is adopted by Erasmus; for Paul sets not the immortality of God in opposition to the mortality of man, but that glory, which is subject to no defects, to the most wretched condition of man. And then, being not satisfied with so great a crime, they descended even to beasts and to those of the most filthy kind; by which their stupidity appeared still more evident. You may see an account of these abominations in Lactantius, in Eusebius, and in Augustine in his book on the city of God. (1)

Calvin on the Sensus Divinitatis or the sense of divinity:

“That there exists in the human mind and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity [sensus divinitatis]. This we take to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead.” (2)


Closely related to the sensus divinitatis is the Imago Dei or the image of God:

In Christian theology, the Imago Dei, Latin for the image of God refers to the stamp of God placed upon humankind. A man is an image bearer of God. In the fall, this image is marred.

As Calvin has explained in his comments on Romans 1:18-23 and on the sensus dvinitatis, fallen humankind even though fallen in sin, have an awareness of God’s presence or knowledge of Him. Sinful men suppress this knowledge. A fallen man is not neutral. Understanding this about fallen men has implications for biblical apologetics and biblical counseling. This innate knowledge in the fallen man becomes a point contact as the believer approaches the non-believer.

In the area of counseling, this is approach is nouthetic counseling or biblical counseling. Nouthetic counseling breaks with non-Christian phycology, and Christian non-believer influenced phycology.

In the area of apologetics, this approach is presuppositional apologetics. Presuppositional apologetics presents the Christian religion from the Bible and defends it against opposition by means of exposing the logical fallacies or specifically the reductio ad absurdum of non-Christian worldviews, and consequently, establishes the biblical worldview as the only worldview that can account for a consistent sense of reality.

Presuppositional apologetics exclusively argues for the biblical God, and not just the existence of some kind of god or a simple theism devoid of any content. An example of theism without content would be Aristotle’s prime mover. Aristotle’s prime mover is nothing more than a philosophical construct. In contrast, the God of Holy Scripture reveals His characteristics in His written Word.

Confessional support from the Canons of Dordt the Noetic Effects of Sin:

The Third and Fourth Main Points of Doctrine

Article 1

The Effect of the Fall on Human Nature

Man was originally created in the image of God and was furnished in his mind with a true and salutary knowledge of his Creator and things spiritual, in his will and heart with righteousness, and in all his emotions with purity; indeed, the whole man was holy. However, rebelling against God at the devil’s instigation and by his own free will, he deprived himself of these outstanding gifts. Rather, in their place he brought upon himself blindness, terrible darkness, futility, and distortion of judgment in his mind; perversity, defiance, and hardness in his heart and will; and finally impurity in all his emotions.

Article 2

The Spread of Corruption

Man brought forth children of the same nature as himself after the fall. That is to say, being corrupt he brought forth corrupt children. The corruption spread, by God’s just judgment, from Adam to all his descendants – except for Christ alone – not by way of imitation (as in former times the Pelagians would have it) but by way of the propagation of his perverted nature.

Article 4

The Inadequacy of the Light of Nature

There is, to be sure, a certain light of nature remaining in man after the fall, by virtue of which he retains some notions about God, natural things, and the difference between what is moral and immoral, and demonstrates a certain eagerness for virtue and for good outward behavior. But this light of nature is far from enabling man to come to a saving knowledge of God and conversion to him – so far, in fact, that man does not use it rightly even in matters of nature and society. Instead, in various ways he completely distorts this light, whatever its precise character, and suppresses it in unrighteousness. In doing so, he renders himself without excuse before God.

In closing:

As noted, a man suppresses this knowledge of God, yet it remains the best point of contact for evangelism and discipleship by appealing to this sensus divinitatis using biblical theology that replicates this approach along with the converting power of the Holy Spirit.

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

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


1. John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Romans, Vol. XIX, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House Reprinted 1979), pp. 67-74.

2. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Westminster Press), p. 43-44.

“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. He served as an ordained ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He worked in and retired from a fortune five hundred company in corporate America after forty years. He runs two blogs sites and is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at:

For more study:

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

** CARM theological dictionary

*** Reformed answers


The Myth of Neutrality…/the-myth-…/

How to Respond to Scripture-Rejectors

R. Dozier, Random discussions on Theology, Evangelism and Apologetics,

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Propitiation, what is a Propitiatory Sacrifice?

Propitiation, what is a Propitiatory Sacrifice? by Jack Kettler

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

In this study, we will look at the biblical teaching regarding propitiation. Christ’s sacrifice was a propitiatory sacrifice. What does this mean?

As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical evidence, commentary evidence, and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live. May God be glorified always!

a sacrifice that satisfies the wrath of God and thus averts God’s wrath toward sinners. *

This means the turning away of wrath by an offering. It is similar to expiation but expiation does not carry the nuances involving wrath. For the Christian the propitiation was the shed blood of Jesus on the cross. It turned away the wrath of God so that He could pass “over the sins previously committed” (Romans 3:25). It was the Father who sent the Son to be the propitiation (1 John 4:10) for all (1 John 2:2). **

From Scripture on Propitiation:

“And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD’S lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.” (Leviticus 16:9-10)

“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:4)

“Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.” (Romans 3:25)

“Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:17 NAS)

“Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)

From Barnes’ Notes on the Bible explaining Romans 3:25:

Whom God hath set forth – Margin, “Fore-ordained” (προέθετο proetheto). The word properly means, “to place in public view;” to exhibit in a conspicuous situation, as goods are exhibited or exposed for sale, or as premiums or rewards of victory were exhibited to public view in the games of the Greeks. It sometimes has the meaning of decreeing, purposing, or constituting, as in the margin (compare Romans 1:13; Ephesians 1:9); and many have supposed that this is its meaning here. But the connection seems to require the usual signification of the word; and it means that God has publicly exhibited Jesus Christ as a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of people. This public exhibition was made by his being offered on the cross, in the face of angels and of people. It was not concealed; it was done openly. He was put to open shame; and so put to death as to attract toward the scene the eyes of angels, and of the inhabitants of all worlds.

To be a propitiation – ἱλαστήριον hilastērion. This word occurs but in one other place in the New Testament. Hebrews 9:5, and over it (the ark) the cherubim of glory shadowing the mercy-seat. It is used here to denote the lid or cover of the ark of the covenant. It was made of gold, and over it were the cherubim. In this sense it is often used by the Septuagint Exodus 25:17, “And thou shalt make a propitiatory ἱλαστήριον hilastērion of gold,” Exodus 18-20, 22; Exodus 30:6; Exodus 31:7; Exodus 35:11; Exodus 37:6-9; Exodus 40:18; Leviticus 16:2, Leviticus 16:13. The Hebrew name for this was כפּרת kaphoreth, from the verb כּפר kaaphar, “to cover” or “to conceal.” It was from this place that God was represented as speaking to the children of Israel. Exodus 25:22, “and I will speak to thee from above the Hilasterion, the propitiatory, the mercy-seat. Leviticus 16:2, “For I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy-seat.” This seat, or cover, was covered with the smoke of the incense, when the high priest entered the most holy place, Leviticus 16:13.

And the blood of the bullock offered on the great day of atonement, was to be sprinkled “upon the mercy-seat,” and “before the mercy-seat,” “seven times,” Leviticus 16:14-15. This sprinkling or offering of blood was called making “an atonement for the holy place because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel,” etc. Leviticus 16:16. It was from this mercy-seat that God pronounced pardon, or expressed himself as reconciled to his people. The atonement was made, the blood was sprinkled, and the reconciliation thus effected. The name was thus given to that cover of the ark, because it was the place from which God declared himself reconciled to his people. Still the inquiry is, why is this name given to Jesus Christ? In what sense is he declared to be a propitiation? It is evident that it cannot be applied to him in any literal sense. Between the golden cover of the ark of the covenant and the Lord Jesus, the analogy must be very slight, if any such analogy can be perceived. We may observe, however,

(1) That the main idea, in regard to the cover of the ark called the mercy-seat, was that of God’s being reconciled to his people; and that this is the main idea in regard to the Lord Jesus whom “God hath set forth.”

(2) this reconciliation was effected then by the sprinkling of blood on the mercy-seat, Leviticus 16:15-16. The same is true of the Lord Jesus – by blood.

(3) in the former case it was by the blood of atonement; the offering of the bullock on the great day of atonement, that the reconciliation was effected, Leviticus 16:17-18. In the case of the Lord Jesus it was also by blood; by the blood of atonement. But it was by his own blood. This the apostle distinctly states in this verse.

(4) in the former case there was a sacrifice, or expiatory offering; and so it is in reconciliation by the Lord Jesus. In the former, the mercy-seat was the visible, declared place where God would express his reconciliation with his people. So in the latter, the offering of the Lord Jesus is the manifest and open way by which God will be reconciled to people.

(5) in the former, there was joined the idea of a sacrifice for sin, Leviticus 16. So in the latter. And hence, the main idea of the apostle here is to convey the idea of a sacrifice for sin; or to set forth the Lord Jesus as such a sacrifice. Hence, the word “propitiation” in the original may express the idea of a propitiatory sacrifice, as well as the cover to the ark. The word is an adjective, and may be joined to the noun sacrifice, as well as to denote the mercy-seat of the ark. This meaning accords also with its classic meaning to denote a propitiatory offering, or an offering to produce reconciliation. Christ is thus represented, not as a mercy-seat, which would be unintelligible; but as the medium, the offering, the expiation, by which reconciliation is produced between God and man.

Through faith – Or by means of faith. The offering will be of no avail without faith. The offering has been made; but it will not be applied, except where there is faith. He has made an offering which may be efficacious in putting away sin; but it produces no reconciliation, no pardon, except where it is accepted by faith.

In his blood – Or in his death – his bloody death. Among the Jews, the blood was regarded as the seat of life, or vitality. Leviticus 17:11, “the life of the flesh is in the blood.” Hence, they were commanded not to eat blood. Genesis 9:4, “but flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.” Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 12:23; 1 Samuel 14:34. This doctrine is contained uniformly in the Sacred Scriptures. And it has been also the opinion of not a few celebrated physiologists, as well in modern as in ancient times. The same was the opinion of the ancient Parsees and Hindus. Homer thus often speaks of blood as the seat of life, as in the expression πορφυρεος θανατος porphureos thanatos, or “purple death.” And Virgil speaks of “purple life,”

Purpuream vomit ille animam.

AEniad, ix. 349.

Empedocles and Critias among the Greek philosophers, also embraced this opinion. Among the moderns, Harvey, to whom we are indebted for a knowledge of the circulation of the blood, fully believed it. Hoffman and Huxham believed it Dr. John Hunter has fully adopted the belief, and sustained it, as he supposed, by a great variety of considerations. See Good’s Book of Nature, pp. 102, 108, New York edition, 1828. This was undoubtedly the doctrine of the Hebrews; and hence, with them to shed the blood was a phrase signifying to kill; hence, the efficacy of their sacrifices was supposed to consist in the blood, that is, in the life of the victim. Hence, it was unlawful to eat it, as it were the life, the seat of vitality; the more immediate and direct gift of God. When, therefore, the blood of Christ is spoken of in the New Testament, it means the offering of his life as a sacrifice, or his death as an expiation. His life was given to make atonement. See the word “blood” thus used in Romans 5:9; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; Hebrews 9:12, Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 13:12; Revelation 1:5; 1 Peter 1:19; 1 John 1:7. By faith in his death as a sacrifice for sin; by believing that he took our sins; that he died in our place; by thus, in some sense, making his offering ours; by approving it, loving it, embracing it, trusting it, our sins become pardoned, and our souls made pure.

To declare – εἰς ἔνδειξις eis endeixis. For “the purpose” of showing, or exhibiting; to present it to man. The meaning is, that the plan was adopted; the Saviour was given; he suffered and died: and the scheme is proposed to people, for the purpose of making a full manifestation of his plan, in contradistinction from all the plans of people. (1)

PROPITIATION from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:


1. Terms and Meaning:

The word is Latin and brings into its English use the atmosphere of heathen rites for winning the favor, or averting the anger, of the gods. In the Old Testament it represents a number of Hebrew words–ten, including derivatives–which are sufficiently discussed under ATONEMENT (which see), of which propitiation is one aspect. It represents in Septuagint the Greek stems hilask- (hile-), and katallag-, with derivatives; in the New Testament only the latter, and is rarely used. Propitiation needs to be studied in connection with reconciliation, which is used frequently in some of the most strategic sentences of the New Testament, especially in the newer versions in Hebrews 2:17, the English Revised Version and the American Standard Revised Version have both changed “reconciliation” of the King James Version to “propitiation,” to make it correspond with the Old Testament use in connection with the sacrifice on the DAY OF ATONEMENT (which see). Luke 18:13 (“God, be thou merciful (margin “be propitiated”) to me the sinner” (the American Standard Revised Version margin)); Hebrews 8:12 (quoted from the Septuagint); and Matthew 16:22 (an idiomatic asseveration like English “mercy on us”) will help in getting at the usage in the New Testament. In Septuagint hilasterion is the term for the “mercy-seat” or “lid of the ark” of the covenant which was sprinkled with blood on the Day of Atonement. It is employed in exactly this sense in Hebrews 9:5, where later versions have in the margin “the propitiatory.”

Elsewhere in the New Testament this form is found only in Romans 3:25, and it is here that difficulty and difference are found extensively in interpreting. Greek fathers generally and prominent modern scholars understand Paul here to say that God appointed Christ Jesus to be the “mercy-seat” for sinners. The reference, while primarily to the Jewish ceremonial in tabernacle and temple, would not depend upon this reference for its comprehension, for the idea was general in religious thought, that some place and means had to be provided for securing friendly meeting with the Deity, offended by man’s sin. In Hebrews particularly, as elsewhere generally, Jesus Christ is presented as priest and sacrifice. Many modern writers (compare Sanday and Headlam), therefore, object that to make Him the “mercy-seat” here complicates the figure still further, and so would understand hilasterion as “expiatory sacrifice.” While this is not impossible, it is better to take the word in the usual sense of “mercy-seat.” It is not necessary to complicate the illustration by bringing in the idea of priest at all here, since Paul does not do so; mercy-seat and sacrifice are both in Christ. Hilasmos, is found in the New Testament only in 1John 2:2; 4:10. Here the idea is active grace, or mercy, or friendliness. The teaching corresponds exactly with that in Romans. “Jesus Christ the righteous” is our “Advocate (margin “Helper”) with the Father,” because He is active mercy concerning (peri) our sins and those of the whole world. Or (Romans 4:10), God “loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for (active mercy concerning) our sins.” This last passage is parallel with Romans 3:25, the one dealing with the abstract theory, and so Christ is set forward as a “mercy-seat,” the other dealing with experience of grace, and so Christ is the mercy of God in concrete expression.

2. Theological Implication:

The basal idea in Hebrew terms is that of covering what is offensive, so restoring friendship, or causing to be kindly disposed. The Greek terms lack the physical reference to covering but introduce the idea of friendliness where antagonism would be natural; hence, graciousness. Naturally, therefore, the idea of expiation entered into the concept. It is especially to be noted that all provisions for this friendly relation as between God and offending man find their initiation and provision in God and are under His direction, but involve the active response of man. All heathen and unworthy conceptions are removed from the Christian notion of propitiation by the fact that God Himself proposed, or “set forth,” Christ as the “mercy-seat,” and that this is the supreme expression of ultimate love. God had all the while been merciful, friendly, “passing over” man’s sins with no apparently adequate, or just, ground for doing so. Now in the blood of Christ sin is condemned and expiated, and God is able to establish and maintain His character for righteousness, while He continues and extends His dealing in gracious love with sinners who exercise faith in Jesus. The propitiation originates with God, not to appease Himself, but to justify Himself in His uniform kindness to men deserving harshness. Compare also as to reconciliation, as in Romans 5:1-11; 2 Corinthians 5:18.



Besides the comms., the literature is the same as for ATONEMENT, to recent works on which add Stalker, The Atonement; Workman, At Onement, or Reconciliation with God; Moberly, in Foundations, Christian Belief in Terms of Modern Thought. William Owen Carver (2)

Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary:

1. (n.) The act of appeasing the wrath and conciliating the favor of an offended person; the act of making propitious.

2. (n.) That which propitiates; atonement or atoning sacrifice; specifically, the influence or effects of the death of Christ in appeasing the divine justice, and conciliating the divine favor.

Strong’s Greek

2434. hilasmos — propitiation

propitiation. Part of Speech: Noun, Masculine Transliteration: hilasmos Phonetic

Spelling: (hil-as-mos’) Short Definition: a propitiation, atoning sacrifice …


Strong’s Hebrew

3722a. kaphar — to cover over, pacify, make propitiation

3722, 3722a. kaphar. 3722b. to cover over, pacify, make propitiation.

Transliteration: kaphar Short Definition: atonement. Word …


Propitiation by John Murray:

This fact does not mean, however, that the atoning work of Christ is not to be interpreted in terms of propitiation.5 There are passages in which the language of propitiation is expressly applied to the work of Christ (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; I John 2:2; 4:10). And this means, without question, that the work of Christ is to be construed as propitiation. But there is also another consideration. The frequency with which the concept appears in the Old Testament in connection with the sacrificial ritual, the fact that the New Testament applies to the work of Christ the very term which denoted this concept in the Greek Old Testament, and the fact that the New Testament regards the Levitical ritual as providing the pattern for the sacrifice of Christ lead to the conclusion that this is a category in terms of which the sacrifice of Christ is not only properly but necessarily interpreted. In other words, the idea of propitiation is so woven into the fabric of the Old Testament ritual that it would be impossible to regard that ritual as the pattern of the sacrifice of Christ if propitiation did not occupy a similar place in the one great sacrifice once offered. This is but another way of saying that sacrifice and propitiation stand in the closest relations with one another. The express application of the term “propitiation” to the work of Christ by the New Testament writers is the confirmation of this conclusion.

But what does propitiation mean? In the Hebrew of the Old Testament it is expressed by a word which means to “cover.” In connection with this covering there are, in particular, three things to be noted:

1. it is in reference to sin that the covering takes place;

2. the effect of this covering is cleansing and forgiveness;

3. it is before the Lord that both the covering and its effect take place (cf. especially lev. 4:35; 10:17; 16:30).

This means that sin creates a situation in relation to the Lord, a situation that makes the covering necessary. It is this Godward reference of both the sin and the covering that must be fully appreciated. It may be said that the sin, or perhaps the person who has sinned, is covered before the sight of the lord. In the thought of the Old Testament there is but one construction that we can place upon this provision of the sacrificial ritual. It is that sin evokes the holy displeasure or wrath of God. Vengeance is the reaction of the holiness of God to sin, and the covering is that which provides for the removal of divine displeasure which the sin evokes. It is obvious that we are brought to the threshold of that which is clearly denoted by the Greek rendering in both Old and New Testaments, namely, that of propitiation. To propitiate means to “placate,” “pacify,” “appease,” “conciliate.” And it is this idea that is applied to the atonement accomplished by Christ.

Propitiation presupposes the wrath and displeasure of God, and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure. Very simply stated the doctrine of propitiation means that Christ propitiated the wrath of God and rendered God propitious to his people.

Perhaps no tenet respecting the atonement has been more violently criticized than this one.6 It has been assailed as involving a mythological conception of God, as supposing internal conflict in the mind of God and between the persons of the Godhead. It has been charged that this doctrine represents the Son as winning over the incensed Father to clemency and love, a supposition wholly inconsistent with the fact that the love of God is the very fount from which the atonement springs.

When the doctrine of propitiation is presented in this light it can be very effectively criticized and can be exposed as a revolting caricature of the Christian gospel. But the doctrine of propitiation does not involve this caricature by which it has been misconceived and misrepresented. To say the least, this kind of criticism has failed to understand or appreciate some elementary and important distinctions.

First of all, to love and to be propitious are not convertible terms. It is false to suppose that the doctrine of propitiation regards propitiation as that which causes or constrains the divine love. It is loose thinking of a deplorable sort to claim that propitiation of the divine wrath does prejudice to or is incompatible with the fullest recognition that the atonement is the provision of the divine love.

Secondly, propitiation is not a turning of the wrath of God into love. The propitiation of the divine wrath, effected in the expiatory work of Christ, is the provision of God’s eternal and unchangeable love, so that through the propitiation of his own wrath that love may realize its purpose in a way that is consonant with and to the glory of the dictates of his holiness. It is one thing to say that the wrathful God is made loving. That would be entirely false. It is another thing to say the wrathful God is loving. That is profoundly true. But it is also true that the wrath by which he is wrathful is propitiated through the cross. This propitiation is the fruit of the divine love that provided it. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:10). The propitiation is the ground upon which the divine love operates and the channel through which it flows in achieving its end.

Thirdly, propitiation does not detract from the love and mercy of God; it rather enhances the marvel of his love. For it shows the cost that redemptive love entails. God is love. But the supreme object of that love is himself. And because he loves himself supremely he cannot suffer what belongs to the integrity of his character and glory to be compromised or curtailed. That is the reason for the propitiation. God appeases his own holy wrath in the cross of Christ in order that the purpose of his love to lost men may be accomplished in accordance with and to the vindication of all the perfections that constitute his glory. “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood to show his righteousness . . . that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:25,26). (3)

Confessional support from the Belgic Confession, Article 21:

We believe that Jesus Christ is a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek— made such by an oath— and that he presented himself in our name before his Father, to appease his wrath with full satisfaction by offering himself on the tree of the cross and pouring out his precious blood for the cleansing of our sins, as the prophets had predicted.

For it is written that “the chastisement of our peace” was placed on the Son of God and that “we are healed by his wounds.” He was “led to death as a lamb”; he was “numbered among sinners” and condemned as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, though Pilate had declared that he was innocent.

Closing comments:

Since man is utterly incapable of satisfying God’s justice except by compensation in hell, there’s no amount of good works, or sacrifices, or gifts that man could offer that would appease the wrath of God or satisfy His justice. The only satisfaction, or propitiation, that would be acceptable to God which could reconcile man to Himself had to be provided by God Himself. “And Abraham said, my son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together” (Genesis 22:8). “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God,’ who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)! “But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19). Christ, came into the world in human flesh to be the perfect sacrifice for sin and make atonement or propitiation for the sins of His people.

“The idea of propitiation – that is, of averting God’s anger by an offering – runs right through the Bible.” – J.I. Packer

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

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


1. Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Romans, p. 2081-2083.

2. Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, “Entry for ‘Propitiation,’” “International Standard Bible Encyclopedia,” (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), pp. 2467.

3. John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company 1955), p.29-32.

“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. He served as an ordained ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He worked in and retired from a fortune five hundred company in corporate America after forty years. He runs two blogs sites and is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at:

For more study:

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

** CARM theological dictionary

*** Reformed answers


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Immanence and Transcendence

Immanence and Transcendence by Jack Kettler

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

In this study, we will look at the biblical teaching regarding Immanence and Transcendence.

As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, commentary evidence, dictionary entries and portions of essays for the purpose to glorify God in how we live. May God be glorified always!


Existing or operating in. Used of God, it refers to his pervasion of, and involvement in, all of his creation. *


God’s immanence refers to His presence within His creation. (It is not to be confused with imminence, which refers to the timing of Jesus’ return to earth.) A belief in God’s immanence holds that God is present in all of creation, while remaining distinct from it. In other words, there is no place where God is not. His sovereign control extends everywhere simultaneously. **


The term used to describe God’s independence and distinction from creation, and his control over it. *


To transcend means “to exist above and independent from; to rise above, surpass, succeed.” By this definition, God is the only truly transcendent Being. The “LORD God Almighty” (in Hebrew, El Shaddai) created all things on the earth, beneath the earth and in the heavens above, yet He exists above and independent from them. All things are upheld by His mighty power (Hebrews 1:3), yet He is upheld by Himself alone. The whole universe exists in Him and for Him that He may receive glory, honor and praise. **

From Scripture on Immanence:

“Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD.” (Jeremiah 23:23-24)

From Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible on Jeremiah 23:24:

“Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. If a man should hide himself in the most secret and hidden places of the earth, and do his works in the most private manner, so that no human eye can see him, he cannot hide himself or his actions from the Lord, who can see from heaven to earth, and through the darkest and thickest clouds, and into the very bowels of the earth, and the most hidden and secret recesses and caverns of it. The darkness and the light are both alike to him; and also near and distant, open and secret places:

do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord; not only with inhabitants, and with other effects of his power and providence; but with his essence, which is everywhere, and is infinite and immense, and cannot be contained in either, or be limited and circumscribed by space and place; see 1 Kings 8:27. The Targum is,

“does not my glory fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord;”’

both of them are full of his glory; and every person and thing in either must be seen and known by him; and so the false prophets and their lies; in order to convince of the truth of which, all this is said, as appears by the following words.” (1)

Additional Scriptures:

“One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Ephesians 4:6)

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)

“And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” (Colossians1:17)

From Scripture on transcendence:

“Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off?” (Jeremiah 23:23)

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

From the Pulpit Commentary on Isaiah 55:8:

“Verses 8-13. – A FRESH ASSURANCE or DELIVERANCE FROM BABYLON. Man can scarcely conceive of the deliverance which God designs; but God’s thoughts are not as man’s (vers. 8, 9). God’s word, once pronounced, is potent to effect its purpose (vers. 10, 11). Deliverance from Babylon, having been promised, will take place, and will be accompanied by all manner of spiritual blessings (vers. 12, 13). Verses 8, 9. – My thoughts are not your thoughts. Though man is made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), yet the nature of God in every way infinitely transcends that of man. Both the thoughts and the acts of God surpass man’s understanding. Men find it hard to pardon those who have offended them; God can pardon, and “pardon abundantly.” Men cannot conceive of coming changes, when they pass certain limits. God knows assuredly what changes are approaching, since they are his doing.” (2)

Additional Scriptures:

“That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us.” (Acts 17:27)

“Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Hebrews 1:3)

“But to which of the angels said he at any time, sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool?” (Hebrews 1:13)

From the Dictionary of Theological Terms on Immanence:

“A word used to convey the idea of God indwelling His creation and its processes. It is the counterpart of transcendence, * which emphasizes His distinctness from and total sovereign superiority over His creation. Pantheism is immanentistic: it, in fact, identifies God with the universe. Another form of immanence is the notion of theistic evolution: God is viewed as always acting “naturally” (i.e., within the course of nature and by means of natural development) and not supernaturally.

These are unscriptural and clearly erroneous views of the immanence of God. Still, the idea of God’s immanence is scriptural. It is not antagonistic to His transcendence. He is immanent in that He is omnipresent throughout His creation (Ps. 139), and yet He is transcendent in that He is personally and essentially distinct from and infinitely superior to His creation. This was graphically portrayed to the Israelites by the camp around the tabernacle. The tabernacle, with the pillar of cloud, signified God’s presence or immanence. His separation, or transcendence, was signified by the fact that the camp was separated from the tabernacle on all four sides by the Levites and Moses, Aaron and the priests (Num. 1:53; 3:31–38).” (3)

From the Dictionary of Theological Terms on Transcendence:

“The theological term that emphasizes the distinction of God from His creation, and His sovereign exaltation over it. In the popular phrase of Barth, God is “wholly other.” He is not part of the universe. He is not the sum of the parts of the universe. He is not the soul of the universe. He is the eternal, uncreated, absolute, self-contained, self-existent, sovereign Creator by whose will and power all things exist. They depend on Him for their being; He depends on none.

Rejection of or rebellion against this essential truth lies at the root of many theological heresies. Pantheism, panentheism, liberalism, God-is-dead theology, process theology, and various forms of political theology show how truth perishes once we lose sight of the transcendence of God.” (4)

Transcendence and immanence by Cornelius Van Til:

“The incommunicable attributes of God stress his transcendence and the communicable attributes stress his immanence. The two imply one another. A Christian notion of transcendence and a Christian notion of immanence go together.

It is not a sufficient description of Christian theism when we say that as Christians we believe in both the transcendence and the immanence of God while pantheistic systems believe only in the immanence of God and deistic systems believe only in the transcendence of God. The transcendence we believe in is not the transcendence of deism and the immanence we believe in is not the immanence of pantheism. In the case of deism transcendence virtually means separation while in the case of pantheism immanence virtually means identification. And if we add separation to identification we do not have theism as a result. As we mean a certain kind of God when as theists we speak of God, so also we mean a certain kind of transcendence and a certain kind of immanence when we use these terms. The Christian doctrine of God implies a definite conception of the relation of God to the created universe. So also the Christian doctrine of God implies a definite conception of everything in the created universe.” (5)

Frame rectangle of opposition

[John Frame’s ‘Rectangle of Opposition’ is a device used throughout his writings to show the antithesis between the biblical view of transcendence and immanence on the left side and the non-biblical view on the right. The diagonal lines represent direct contradictions, while the horizontal lines represent the similarity of language used in the two positions. The vertical line on the left represents the consistency of the biblical view whereas the vertical line on the left represents the tension within the non-biblical view.] #

Immanent or Transcendent? by Gordon H. Clark:

“However, peculiar this type of philosophy may be, contemporary Protestantism is largely dominated by it. The Neo-orthodox ministers may talk about god and revelation, but they do not have in mind the objective God and the objective revelation of the Westminster Confession. They do not believe that the Bible tells the truth. For example, Emil Brunner, who through his books and through his one-time position in Princeton Theological Seminary has become popular in the United States, is so far removed from the Confession that he holds neither the words of Scripture nor the thoughts of Scripture to be the truth. To quote: “All words have merely an instrumental significance. Not only the linguistic expressions but even the conceptual content is not the thing itself, but just its framework, its receptacle, and medium.” A few pages later he continues, “God can…speak his word to a man even through false doctrine.” God then reveals himself in falsehood and untruth. What a revelation!

This type of theology is to be explained partly as a reaction to the immanentism of Hegel, for whom God or the Absolute is nothing other than the unity of the total universe. For Hegel, without the world there could be no God. Kierkegaard, Brunner, and their disciples want a transcendent god. Either immanence, or transcendence; not both-and. By insisting on the transcendence of god, they are able to cloak themselves with the pseudo-piety of their infinite passion and to deceive many Christians who know little about German theology. They can quote Scripture: Of course it may be false, but it is still a revelation. For example, in exalting god above all human limitations they remind us that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. Therefore, they say, the divine mind is so far above our finite minds that there is not a single point of coincidence between his knowledge and ours. When a Calvinist attempts to reason with them logically, they disparagingly contrast human logic with divine paradox. God is Totally Other. He is never an object of our thought. In one ecclesiastical meeting I heard a minister say the human mind possesses no truth at all. And last year in Europe I visited a certain professor who asserted that we can have no absolute truth whatever. When he said that, I took a piece of paper and wrote on it, we can have no absolute truth whatever. I showed him the writing, the sentence – We can have no absolute truth whatever – then I asked, is that sentence absolute truth? Do you not see that if the human mind can have no truth, it could not have the truth that it has no truth? If we know nothing, we could not know we know nothing. And if there is no point of coincidence between God’s knowledge and ours, it rigorously follows, since God knows everything, that we know absolutely nothing.

With such skepticism, it is not surprising that their religion consists in a passionate inwardness that appropriates nothing objective. Unfortunately, skepticism, particularly when discussed in such an academic tone as this address, does not provoke as passionate a reaction among the evangelically minded as it ought. But one ought to realize that even the most gentle and innocuous skepticism is sufficient to defeat the Gospel. To speed the dissolution of Christianity, it is not necessary to say that we know a contrary philosophy is true; it is equally effective to say that we do not know anything is true. The Gospel is a message of positive content, and whether it is dogmatically denied or merely silenced makes little difference.

What is more unfortunate is that the skepticism of Neo-orthodoxy is especially insidious. Men who adopt the position of Kierkegaard and Brunner not only make use of terms such as God and revelation, but they also talk of sin and justification. Some of them might even preach a tolerably good sermon on imputed righteousness. This deceives simple-minded believers. When people hear the familiar words, they naturally assume that the familiar ideas are meant. They fail to see that the Neo-orthodox consider neither the words nor even the intellectual content to be the truth. Although the sermon may be on Adam and the Fall, the Neo-orthodox minister understands the words in a mythological sense. Adam is the myth by which we are stimulated to an infinite passion.” (6)

Closing comments:

The Christian God is transcendent above and beyond creation and the creator of all things. The Christian God is not surrounded by mystery since He is the author, creator, and controller of history and space/time universe. The transcendence of God should be understood as being connected to His divine sovereignty. The transcendence of God means that He is above, different than, and separate from His creation.

The Christian God is also immanent. His immanence means that God is within or near His creation. Immanence is intimately related to God’s omnipresence, in that God is always present within the universe, though separate from it. God is within the universe and is its sustaining cause.

To argue for God’s transcendence only and deny God’s immanence leads to deism. On the other hand, to deny His transcendence and argue for His immanence leads to pantheism.

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

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


1. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Jeremiah, 9 Volumes, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, pp.422-423.

2. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Isaiah, Vol. 10, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 330.

3. Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International), pp. 184-185.

4. Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International), p. 413.

5. Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, New Jersey), pp.11-12.

6. Gordon Clark, God’s Hammer: The Bible and Its Critics, (Jefferson, Maryland, The Trinity Foundation), p. 192-194.

“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. He served as an ordained ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He worked in and retired from a fortune five hundred company in corporate America after forty years. He runs two blogs sites and is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at:

For more study:

# Quote on Frame’s diagram of ‘Rectangle of Opposition’ borrowed from:…/transcendence-and-…/

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


*** Reformed answers

**** CARM theological dictionary

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Molinism and its connection to Arminianism

Molinism and its connection to Arminianism                                                                               by Jack Kettler

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

In this study, we will look at the biblical teaching regarding Molinism. Is Molinism fundamentally different from Arminianism?

As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical evidence, commentary evidence and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live. May God be glorified always!



A philosophical system named after Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina, a system which sought to maintain both the autonomy of human beings and the sovereignty of God by claiming that God’s knowledge of the free decisions of any human beings in any given circumstance was logically prior to his decree of what would happen in the world he would create. *


Molinism in so many words states God has three kinds of knowledge: natural, middle, and free.

Natural knowledge is God’s knowledge of all possible worlds, (all that concerns the necessary and possible in God’s understanding)

Free knowledge is God’s knowledge of this actual world. By a “free act,” he is able to know what he knows absolutely. (So far we are OK, but Molina said this knowledge (free) is not something that is essential in God.)

Middle knowledge states that God cannot know the future free acts of men in the same way he knows other things absolutely. **

Free will and prevenient grace characterize Molinism. Molinism is elements of Arminianism dressed up using fancy philosophical terminology. However, Molinism is much more of an intellectual and sophisticated error than Arminianism.

It will be helpful to look at an excellent overview of Molinism by Alfred J. Freddoso:


Molinism, named after Luis de Molina, is a theological system for reconciling human freedom with God’s grace and providence. Presupposing a strongly libertarian account of freedom, Molinists assert against their rivals that the grace whereby God cooperates with supernaturally salvific acts is not intrinsically efficacious. To preserve divine providence and foreknowledge, they then posit “middle knowledge”, through which God knows, prior to his own free decrees, how any possible rational agent would freely act in any possible situation. Beyond this, they differ among themselves regarding the ground for middle knowledge and the doctrines of efficacious grace and predestination.

Molinism is an influential system within Catholic theology for reconciling human free choice with God’s grace, providence, foreknowledge and predestination. Originating within the Society of Jesus in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, it encountered stiff opposition from Bañezian Thomists and from the self-styled Augustinian disciples of Michael Baius and Cornelius Jansen.

Molinism’s three distinguishing marks are a strongly libertarian account of human freedom; the consequent conviction that the grace whereby God cooperates with supernaturally salvific free acts is not intrinsically efficacious; and the postulation of divine middle knowledge (scientia media), by which God knows, before any of his free decrees regarding creatures, how any possible rational being would freely act in any possible situation (see MOLINA, LUIS DE §§ 2-3).

Beyond this, Molinists disagree about three important issues. The first is the question of how God knows the “conditional future contingents” or “futuribilia” that constitute the objects of middle knowledge. Molinists cannot accept the Bañezian claim that God knows futuribilia by virtue of his freely decreeing their truth, since according to Molinism futuribilia have their truth prior to any free divine decree. Nor can Molinists claim that God knows futuribilia simply by virtue of comprehending all possible creatures, if “comprehending” a creature means just understanding all the metaphysical possibilities involving it. For such comprehension is insufficient for knowing how a possible creature would freely act – as opposed to how it could act – in any possible situation.

Molina himself claims that because God’s cognitive power infinitely surpasses the natures of creatures, God is able to know those natures “in a more eminent way than that in which they are knowable in themselves.” So God not only comprehends possible creatures but also “super-comprehends” them, as later Molinists put it, and in this way knows futuribilia involving them. One corollary, explicitly defended by Molina, is that God does not know futuribilia concerning his own free decrees, since his cognitive power does not infinitely surpass his own nature.

Other Molinists retort that no amount of insight into the natures of possible creatures can yield infallible knowledge of futuribilia, since such natures are exhausted by their metaphysical possibilities and do not include futuribilia. Instead, God has direct knowledge of futuribilia, unmediated by his knowledge of natures – and this simply because the futuribilia are true and hence intelligible to an infinite intellect. On this view there is no reason why God should not know futuribilia concerning his own free decrees – a result Molina takes to be incompatible with God’s freedom.

The second dispute concerns the reason for the efficaciousness of the grace whereby God cooperates with supernaturally salvific acts of free choice. Suppose that in circumstances C, influenced by grace G, Peter freely elicits salvific act A. All Molinists agree that God places Peter in C with G knowing full well that Peter will freely elicit A; and they also agree that G is not intrinsically efficacious and hence does not causally predetermine A. However, there is strong disagreement about whether or not it is Peter’s free consent alone that “extrinsically” renders G efficacious in C with respect to A.

One possible scenario is that God first resolves absolutely that Peter should freely elicit A in C and then, as it were, consults his middle knowledge to see just which particular graces would, if bestowed on Peter in C, obtain his free consent and thus issue in A. It follows that, given his antecedent resolution, God would have conferred some grace other than G if he had known by his middle knowledge that G would turn out to be “merely sufficient” with respect to A, i.e., that Peter would not freely consent to G in C. So G is rendered efficacious not only by Peter’s free consent but also, and indeed more principally, by God’s antecedent predetermination to confer a “congruous” grace that will guarantee Peter’s acting well in C. This model, which brings Molinism more into line with Bañezianism, is known as Congruism and was worked out in detail by Robert Bellarmine and Francisco Suárez. In 1613 Congruism was mandated for all Jesuit theologians by the Father General Claude Aquiviva.

Another possible model, which seems to be Molina’s own, is that God simply wills to put Peter into C with G, knowing that Peter will freely elicit A but not having absolutely resolved beforehand that Peter should freely elicit A. This model does not entail that if God had known that Peter would act badly in C with G, he would have conferred some grace other than G in order to guarantee A. Accordingly, it is Peter’s free consent alone that renders G efficacious.

An analogous dispute arises over predestination, where the question concerns not one or another of Peter’s acts, but his eternal salvation. Some Molinists, including Bellarmine and Suárez, agree with the Bañezians that God antecedently elects certain people to eternal glory and only then consults his middle knowledge to discover which graces will guarantee their salvation. Thus, in Peter’s case, God would have chosen different graces if those he actually chose had been foreknown to be merely sufficient and not efficacious for Peter’s salvation. Other Molinists, including Molina himself, vigorously reject any such antecedent absolute election of Peter to salvation. They insist instead that God simply chooses to create a world in which he infallibly foresees Peter’s good use of the supernatural graces afforded him, and only then does he accept Peter among the elect in light of his free consent to those graces.

References and further reading

Bellarmine, R. (1873) Opera Omnia, vol. 5, ed. J. Fèvre, Paris. (Contains the tract De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio, one of the main sources for Congruism.)

Garrigou-Lagrange, R. (1952) Grace, St Louis: Herder. (Chapters 7 and 8 contain a Bañezian assessment of the Molinist and Congruist accounts of efficacious grace.)

Molina, L. (1953) Liberi Arbitrii cum Gratiae Donis, Divina Praescientia, Providentia, Praedestinatione et Reprobatione Concordia, ed. J. Rabeneck, Oña and Madrid; trans. A.J. Freddoso (1988) On Divine Foreknowledge: Part IV of the Concordia, Ithaca: Cornell. (Translation of and introduction to Molina’s theory of middle knowledge.)

Pohle, J. (1947) Grace: Actual and Habitual, ed. A. Preuss, St Louis: Herder. (Gives a weaker characterization of Congruism than that laid out above in order to classify Molina himself as a Congruist.)

Suárez, F. (1963) Opera Omnia, vols 7-11, ed. C. Berton, Brussells: Culture et Civilisation, 1963. (Suárez’s voluminous treatise De Gratia, containing the most sophisticated explication and defense of Congruism.) See also: BAÑEZ, DOMINGO; SUAREZ, FRANCISCO


From Scripture:

“Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being his counseller hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding?? (Isaiah 40:13-14)

For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counseller? (Romans 11:34)


Does God somehow use His knowledge of future events to elect individuals to salvation? Whatever the motive is for attempting to prove that foreknowledge is the cause of election, a person doing this will not escape texts of Scripture that are to the contrary and philosophically will end up jumping through convoluted loops in a futile exercise in mental gymnastics.

Quotations from several sources will be provided that deal with the issues of disagreement with the Molinists. These issues involve God’s foreknowledge, a man’s free will, and the problem of evil.

Consider Gordon H. Clark On Foreknowledge:

“Some people argue that knowledge or foreknowledge does not necessitate anything. Even a man may know that an event will occur tomorrow, but this does not mean that he causes it to happen. Perhaps so. But if he does not cause it to happen, there must be some other cause which does, for unless it were certain, he could not know it. Now, then, since omniscience shows that all events are certain, it follows that if God does not cause them, there must be a cause external to and independent of God. In other words, God has ceased to be God. Toplady recognizes this in his paragraph: “God’s foreknowledge, taken abstractly, is not the sole cause of beings and events; but his will and determinate counsel and foreknowledge act in concert, the latter resulting from and being founded on the former.” Note that foreknowledge is dependent on determinate counsel. This is not true of a man. For example, I know that Christ will return. The event is determined, certain, and necessary. But I did not determine it. (2)


We can agree with Clark that the doctrine of foreknowledge and unconditional election makes the point that God’s favor is unearned by man. It is solely God’s free choice to elect or not elect, not ours. The cause of election is God’s good pleasure. Salvation is determined by God’s will, not man’s will. This excludes all human works and prevents boasting. God’s electing grace demonstrates the fact that salvation is not the result of a human action of any kind; it is all of grace.

Consider how Spurgeon explains the doctrine of God’s foreknowledge:

“But, say others, ‘God elected them on the foresight of their faith.’ Now, God gives faith, therefore he could not have elected them on account of faith, which he foresaw. There shall be twenty beggars in the street, and I determine to give one of them a shilling; but will anyone say that I determined to give that one a shilling, that I elected him to have the shilling, because I foresaw that he would have it? That would be talking nonsense. In like manner to say that God elected men because he foresaw they would have faith, which is salvation in the germ, would be too absurd for us to listen to for a moment. (3)

“Some, who know no better, harp upon the foreknowledge of our repentance and faith, and say that, Election is according to the foreknowledge of God;” a very scriptural statement, but they make a very unscriptural interpretation of it. Advancing by slow degrees, they next assert that God foreknew the faith and the good works of his people. Undoubtedly true, since he foreknew everything; but then comes their groundless inference, namely, that therefore the Lord chose his people because he foreknew them to be believers. It is undoubtedly true that foreknown excellencies are not the causes of election, since I have shown you that the Lord foreknew all our sin: and surely if there were enough virtue in our faith and goodness to constrain him to choose us, there would have been enough demerit in our bad works to have constrained him to reject us; so that if you make foreknowledge to operate in one way, you must also take it in the other, and you will soon perceive that it could not have been from anything good or bad in us that we were chosen, but according to the purpose of his own will, as it is written, I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” (4)

Gordon Clark writes more on God’s foreknowledge:

“On the road below, to the observer’s left, a car is being driven west. To the observer’s right a car is coming south. He can see and know that there will be a collision at the intersection immediately beneath him. But his foreknowledge, so the argument runs, does not cause [that is make necessary] the accident. Similarly, God is supposed to know the future without causing it.

The similarity, however, is deceptive on several points. A human observer cannot really know that a collision will occur. Though it is unlikely, it is possible for both cars to have blowouts before reaching the intersection and swerve apart. It is also possible that the observer has misjudged speeds, in which case one car could slow down and other accelerate, so that they would not collide. The human observer, therefore, does not infallible foreknowledge.

No such mistakes can be assumed for God. The human observer may make a probable guess that the accident will occur, and this guess does not make the accident unavoidable; but if God knows, there is no possibility of avoiding the accident. A hundred years before the drivers were born, there was no possibility that either of them could have chosen to stay home that day, to have driven a different route, to have driven a different time, to have driven a different speed. They could not have chosen otherwise than as they did. This means either that they had no free will [understood as a liberty of indifference] or that God did not know.

Suppose it be granted, just for the moment, that divine foreknowledge, like human guesses, does not cause the foreknown event. Even so, if there is foreknowledge, in contrast with fallible guesses, free will is impossible. If man has free will, and things can be different, God cannot be omniscient. Some Arminians have admitted this and have denied omniscience [the open theists], but this puts them obviously at odds with Biblical Christianity. There is also another difficulty. If the Arminian . . . wishes to retain divine omniscience and at the same time assert that foreknowledge has no causal efficacy, he is put to explain how the collision was made certain a hundred years, an eternity, before the drivers were born. If God did not arrange the universe this way, who did?

If God did not arrange it this way, then there must be an independent factor in the universe. And if there is such, one consequence and perhaps two follow. First, the doctrine of creation must be abandoned. . . . Independent forces cannot be created forces, and created forces cannot be independent. Then, second, if the universe is not God’s creation, his knowledge of it past and future cannot depend on what he intends to do, but on his observation of how it works. In such a case, how could we be sure that God’s observations are accurate? How could we be sure that these independent forces will not later show us an unsuspected twist that will falsify God’s predictions? And finally, on this view God’s knowledge would be empirical, rather than an integral part of his essence, and thus he would be a dependent knower. These objections are insurmountable. We can consistently believe in creation, omnipotence, omniscience, and the divine decree. But we cannot retain sanity and combine any of these with free will.” (5)

From Gordon H. Clark on “Free Will and the Lifeguard.” How free will does not solve the problem of evil?

“Suppose there was a lifeguard on a dangerous beach. A boy plays by the water when the currents are strong and he is sucked out to sea by an undercurrent. He cannot swim and starts to drown. The lifeguard sits in his high chair and does nothing to rescue the boy. Maybe he would shout a few words to encourage the boy to save himself, but that is all. The boy drowns. It was his own free will that the boy went out to sea, and the lifeguard did not ask him to do so. The guard merely permitted that boy to go out to sea and permitted him to drown. Would the Free Will Advocate still say that the Lifeguard is not guilty of the drowning? Permission of evil therefore, does not remove responsibility of the lifeguard. Why then should God permitting sinful actions of man be any less guiltless just because the sinner sins in his free will? It has to be remembered that the guard is not God. An omniscient and omnipotent God would certainly have been able to made the boy a better swimmer, make the ocean less rough, or at least save the boy from drowning.

Not only is free will and permission irrelevant to the problem of evil, but, further, the idea of permission has no intelligible meaning… This permission, however, depends on the fact that the ocean’s undertow is beyond the guard’s control. If the guard had some giant suction device which he operated so as to engulf the boy, one would call it murder, not permission. The idea of permission is possible only where there is an independent force, either the boy’s force or the ocean’s force. But this is not the situation in the case of God and the universe. Nothing in the universe can be independent of the omnipotent creator, for in him we live and move and have our being. Therefore, the idea of permission makes no sense when applied to God.” (6)

More from Gordon H. Clark on the free will doctrine and its consequences:

“If God did not arrange [the world] this way, then there must be an independent factor in the universe. And if there is such, one consequence and perhaps two follow. First, the doctrine of creation must be abandoned. A creation ex nihilo would be completely in God’s control. Independent forces cannot be created forces, and created forces cannot be independent.

Then, second, if the universe is not God’s creation, his knowledge of it–past and future–cannot depend on what he intends to do, but on his observation of how it works. In such a case, how could we be sure that God’s observations are accurate? How could we be sure that these independent forces will not later show an unsuspected twist that will falsify God’s predictions?

And, finally, on this view God’s knowledge would be empirical, rather than an integral part of his essence, and thus he would be a dependent knower. These objections are insurmountable. We can consistently believe in creation, omnipotence, omniscience, and the divine decree. But we cannot retain sanity and combine any one of these with free will.” (7)


“Sin has corrupted salvifically, a man’s nature and he makes all decisions based upon his corrupted or fallen nature. In the view of some, man has a total and complete free will. Unfortunately, many never define what they mean by the term free will, and this problem is further complicated by certain advocates not proving this belief in their particular notion of free will from Scripture. This belief in a totally free will may be popular and emotionally pleasing, but is it biblical? Many assume that there is something called free will and that it is taught in the Bible, or they misinterpret passages to fit the conclusion they want to draw. Contrary to the belief that God is all powerful, in the free will view, God cannot even save a man unless man first says “yes.”

It is clear from the Scriptures that fallen man is spiritually dead, and consequently cannot be really free not to sin. The problem arises for many people because they know that they make choices or decisions. A man most certainly does make choices. The question needs to be asked, why does man choose one thing over another? The solution is found in man’s nature. Fallen man makes decisions that are the result of the desires of his nature. Why does man reject the biblical God? A man does this because it is in his rebelliously independent sinful nature to do so. A Man will choose in harmony with his nature.”

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)

CHAPTER IX – Of Free Will – Westminster Confession of Faith

I. 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. James 1:13-14; 4:7; Deut. 30:19; Isa. 7:11-12; Matt. 17:12; John 5:40

II. Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to God;[2] but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.[3]

2. Eccl. 7:29; Gen. 1:26, 31; Col. 3:10

3. Gen. 2:16-17; 3:6, 17

III. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation:[4] so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good,[5] and dead in sin,[6] is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.[7]

4. Rom. 5:5; 8:7-8; John 6:44, 65; 15:5

5. Rom. 3:9-10, 12, 23

6. Eph. 2:1, 5; Col 2:13

7. John 3:3, 5-6; 6:44, 65; I Cor. 2:14; Titus 3:3-5

IV. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, he freeth him from his natural bondage under sin; [8] and, by his grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; [9] 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. [10]

8. Col. 1:13; John 8:34, 36; Rom. 6:6-7

9. Phil. 2:13; Rom. 6:14, 17-19, 22

10. Gal. 5:17; Rom. 7:14-25; I John 1:8, 10

V. The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to good alone, in the state of glory only. [11]

11. Heb. 12:23; I John 3:2; Jude 1:24; Rev. 21:27

From The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter III- of God’s Eternal Decree:

I. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

II. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.

In conclusion:

Why is it that a majority of modern-day Molinists are Arminians? This refusal of Molinists to be identified with Arminianism certainly muddies the waters since Molinists by in large do not want this classification. The debate between Calvinists and Molinists reminds one of George Bryson from Calvary Chapel who wrote a book against Calvinism titled The Dark Side of Calvinism. Mr. Bryson’s arguments were traditional Arminian arguments, all the while he was claiming he was not an Arminian. One response to Mr. Bryson was titled A Spectacle of Arminian Befuddlement. It seems that the Molinists are a bit befuddled themselves. Why ostensibly trying to preserve God’s free choices and protecting God from the charge of evil, they have done neither. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

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

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


1.      Alfred J. Freddoso, Molinism, www3.

2.      Gordon H. Clark. The Atonement, (Jefferson, Maryland, Trinity Foundation), p. 135.

3.      Spurgeon, On Doctrines of Grace 41.42.317

4.      Spurgeon, Doctrines of Grace, 779.621

5.      Gordon Clark, Religion, Reason and Revelation (Jefferson, Maryland, Trinity Foundation), pp. 217-219.

6.      Gordon H. Clark, God and evil: the problem solved, (Hobbs, New Mexico, Trinity Foundation), p.17-18.

7.      Gordon H. Clark, Religion, Reason & Revelation (Jefferson, Maryland, Trinity Foundation), p. 218-219.

“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. He served as an ordained ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He worked in and retired from a fortune five hundred company in corporate America after forty years. He runs two blogs sites and is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at:

For more study:

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

** Reformed answers


**** CARM theological dictionary

Molinism 101 by Paul Helm

How Biblical Is Molinism? By James Anderson

Molinism is a theory that purports to reconcile a robust doctrine of divine providence and foreknowledge with a libertarian view of free will by appealing to the notion of divine middle knowledge: God’s eternal knowledge of the so-called counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, that is, contingent truths about what possible creatures would freely choose if they were created by God and placed in particular circumstances. In this series of posts I propose to explore these questions with reference to some key biblical texts. I will focus in particular on how Molinism compares to Augustinianism, which is arguably its leading competitor among orthodox Christian theologians. (Note: I’m using the term Augustinianism simply as shorthand for causal divine determinism. Nothing is assumed about whether St. Augustine himself actually held to Augustinianism in that sense! But Augustinianism so defined would include most confessional Calvinists and, I think, many conservative Thomists.)

How well is Molinism supported by the Bible? Part I
There are at least two components to the question at hand. First, is Molinism consistent with the Bible? In other words, does the Bible teach some things that are (or appear to be) inconsistent with the tenets or implications of Molinism? Second, does the Bible offer any positive support for the distinctive claims of Molinism, i.e., those tenets that distinguish Molinism from its major alternatives such as Augustinianism or Open Theism?

How well is Molinism supported by the Bible? Part II
In Part II, I examine one candidate for the proposition that moral freedom is incompatible with determinism (which Molinists invariably affirm, but Augustinians typically deny). I answer the question, does the Bible support incompatibilism?

How well is Molinism supported by the Bible? Part III
In this post I’ll consider a second candidate for the proposition that God desires all to be saved.

How well is Molinism supported by the Bible? Part IV
Is Molinism more biblical than Calvinism because the latter makes God the author of sin? We deny: This is quite a common objection for Molinists to level against Calvinists (and Augustinians more broadly). For example, William Lane Craig raises this complaint in his contribution to the book Four Views on Divine Providence. (I’ll examine his criticisms more closely below.) The thrust of the charge is that Augustinianism, on account of its commitment to divine determinism, makes God the author of sin in a way that Molinism (which rejects divine determinism) does not.

Dr. James Anderson is an ordained minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. Dr. Anderson came to RTS from Edinburgh, Scotland, and specializes in philosophical theology, religious epistemology, and Christian apologetics. His doctoral thesis at the University of Edinburgh explored the paradoxical nature of certain Christian doctrines and the implications for the rationality of Christian faith. His research and writing has also focused on the presuppositionalism of Cornelius Van Til, particularly his advocacy of the transcendental argument. Dr. Anderson has a longstanding concern to bring the Reformed theological tradition into greater dialogue with contemporary analytic philosophy. Before studying philosophy, Dr. Anderson also earned a Ph.D. in Computer Simulation from the University of Edinburgh. He is a member of the Society of Christian Philosophers, the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion, and the Evangelical Philosophical Society. Prior to joining RTS Charlotte, Dr. Anderson served as an assistant pastor at the historic Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh where he engaged in regular preaching, teaching, and pastoral ministry. He is active now in service at Ballantyne Presbyterian Church in Charlotte. He is married to Catriona and they have three children.

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Is Hell Eternal? A Bible Study

Is Hell Eternal? A Bible Study by Jack Kettler
“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4)
In this study, we will look at the biblical teaching about eternal judgment. We will do this under the general heading of annihilationism. There are several subheadings such as soul sleep, conditional immortality, and everlasting punishment.
As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical evidence, commentary evidence and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live. May God be glorified always!
“The teaching that after death unbelievers suffer the penalty of God’s wrath for a time, and then are ‘annihilated,’ or destroyed, so that they no longer exist. Some forms of this teaching hold that annihilation occurs immediately upon death.” *
Conditional Immortality:
The view that immortality is given only to those Christians who believe in Christ. The rest are destroyed and do not exist. Some adherents to conditional immortality believe that the wicked will be punished in hell for a period proportional to their sins and then they are annihilated. **
Soul Sleep:
The teaching that when a person dies his soul ceases to exist. On the final judgment day he is brought back to life and judged. This is not a heresy, only an error of interpretation. The Bible is not specific on the condition of the person between death and resurrection. However, there are scriptures that strongly suggest man’s continued self-awareness and continued existence after death (Luke 16:19-31; 2 Corinthians 5:1-10; Philippians 1:21-23). **
From Scripture:
“And these shall go away into everlasting (αἰώνιον, aiōnion, age-long, eternal) punishment: but the righteous into life eternal (αἰώνιον, aiōnion, age-long, eternal).” (Matthew 25:46)
My comments on Matthew 25:46:
For those arguing for some form of temporal punishment for non-believers citing the Greek word aiōnion, which they say may not be eternal but only age long, I ask for consistency. To be consistent, the advocates of temporal punishment would have to say for believers that life eternal may be only age long or temporal. To argue this is absurd since the same Greek word for everlasting punishment and life eternal is used in the Matthew passage.
The proponents of temporal punishment are committing a fallacy that is known as amphiboly, which comes from the Greek word “indeterminate.” This fallacy is similar to equivocation. Here, the ambiguity results from an inconsistent grammatical misreading. Consequently, since the same Greek word used to refer to both “everlasting punishment” and “life eternal,” it is a biblical conclusion that both believers and non-believers have an eternal/immortal soul.
From the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on Matthew 25:46:
46. And these shall go away—these “cursed” ones. Sentence, it should seem, was first pronounced—in the hearing of the wicked—upon the righteous, who thereupon sit as assessors in the judgment upon the wicked (1Co 6:2); but sentence is first executed, it should seem, upon the wicked, in the sight of the righteous—whose glory will thus not be beheld by the wicked, while their descent into “their own place” will be witnessed by the righteous, as Bengel notes.
Into everlasting punishment—or, as in Mt 25:41, “everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Compare Mt 13:42; 2Th 1:9, &c. This is said to be “prepared for the devil and his angels,” because they were “first in transgression.” But both have one doom, because one unholy character.
But the righteous into life eternal—that is, “life everlasting.” The word in both clauses, being in the original the same, should have been the same in the translation also. Thus the decisions of this awful day will be final, irreversible, unending. (1)
“And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.” (Revelation 14:9-11)
From the Pulpit Commentary on Revelation 14:11:
Verse 11. – And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever. Compare the wording of the passages quoted above on ver. 10, especially Isaiah 34:9, 10, “The smoke thereof shall go up forever.” This statement of the eternity of punishment is also in agreement with Luke 16:26 and Mark 9:44. And they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name. “No rest,” in contrast with the blessed rest of the saints (ver. 13). Wordsworth says, “Οἱ προσκυνοῦντες τὸ θηρίον is a stronger expression than ‘those who worship the beast;’ it means those whose distinguishing characteristic is that they are worshipping the beast, and persist in worshipping him, even to the end. This characteristic is so strongly marked that they are here represented as keeping it even after their death.” (On the “mark,” see on Revelation 13:16-18.) (2)
My comments on Revelation 14:11:
The “smoke ascendeth up forever and ever,” means that what the fire is burning is never finished burning or what is burning is never burned up. If so, the smoke should cease. Thus, this punishment is endless as evidenced by the fact that the smoke never ends ascending up.
“And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting (עֹולָ֔ם, o·v·lam, long duration, antiquity, futurity) life, and some to shame and everlasting (עֹולָ֔ם, o·v·lam, long duration, antiquity, futurity) contempt.” (Daniel 12:2)
My comments on Daniel 12:2:
Observations on this passage are virtually the same as the Matthew 25:46. In this passage the same Hebrew word used for everlasting life and everlasting shame and contempt. These two passages are definitive in deciding this debate about eternal life or temporal punishment. It is readily admitted that in Greek and Hebrew that everlasting may be tied to a long age. When you have the same words in the same verse saying everlasting life for believers and everlasting punishment for non-believers, you cannot equivocate and say there are two different usages of the word in the same verse that are coupled together by way of contrast. If one word may mean temporal, the other may also which is nonsense when speaking of everlasting life for the believer.
The next entry is well worth the serious Bible student’s time to carefully consider:
PUNISHMENT, EVERLASTING from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:
1. Survival after Death
2. Retribution for Sin
3. Conscious Suffering in Future
1. Old Testament and Jewish Conceptions
2. New Testament Teaching
(1) “Eternal”
(2) Equivalent Expressions
(3) The Last Judgment
3. Teaching of Analogy
1. Universal Salvation
2. Annihilation
3. Second Probation
1. Mystery of the Future
2. Nature of Punishment
3. Range of Divine Mercy
4. Gradation of Punishment
5. God “All in All”
I. Preliminary Assumptions.
(For “everlasting,” where used in the King James Version as the rendering of aionios, the Revised Version (British and American) substitutes “eternal.”) It is assumed in this article that Scripture teaches the survival of the soul after death, the reality of retribution and of judgment to come, and a shorter or longer period of suffering for sin in the case of the unredeemed in the world beyond. Only a few words need be said, therefore, in preliminary remark on these assumptions.
1. Survival after Death:
Whatever view may be taken of the development of the doctrine of immortality in the Old Testament (see ESCHATOLOGY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT), it will scarcely be doubted that it is throughout assumed in the New Testament that the souls of men, good and bad, survive death (see IMMORTALITY). Two passages only need be referred to in proof:
one, Christ’s saying in Matthew 10:28: “Be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Gehenna); the other, the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31: Lazarus is carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; the rich man lifts up his eyes in Hades, being in torments. The whole doctrine of the future judgment in the New Testament presupposes survival after death.
2. Retribution for Sin:
Retribution for sin is a cardinal point in the teaching of both the Old Testament and New Testament. The doctrine of judgment, again, in the New Testament, with Christ as judge, turns on this point. The following passages are decisive:
Isaiah 3:10, 11; Matthew 11:22, 24; 12:41, 42; Romans 2:5, 12; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Galatians 6:7, 8, etc.
3. Conscious Suffering in Future:
The conscious endurance of punishment for sin in the future state is already implied in the preceding. The parable of the Rich Man speaks of it as following immediately on death in Hades; all the descriptions of the judgment imply pain and anguish as the result of condemnation (compare Romans 2:5,12). This does not settle the nature or duration of the punishment; but it excludes the idea that physical death is the extinction of being, or that annihilation follows immediately upon death or judgment.
These things being assumed, the questions that remain are:
Is the period of suffering for sin eternal, or is it terminable? May it be cut short by repentance or by annihilation? Is there any final solution of the discord it implies in the universe? It is maintained here that the punishment of sin, in the case of the finally impenitent, is everlasting.
II. Scriptural Support.
The doctrine that the punishment of sin is everlasting is sustained by many plain testimonies of Scripture.
1. Old Testament and Jewish Conceptions:
The doctrine of future punishment is not prominent in the Old Testament, where rewards and punishments are chiefly connected with the present life. In a few passages (Psalms 49:14, 15; 73:18, 19; compare Isaiah 24:21, 22; 66:24), Dr. Charles thinks that “Sheol appears as the place of punishment of the wicked” (Eschatology, 73-76, 156). If so, there is no suggestion of escape from it. In Daniel 12:2 some that sleep in the dust are represented as awaking to “shame and everlasting contempt” (the word for “everlasting” is the usual one, `olam). In the Jewish literature of the century before Christ, “Sheol is regarded,” says Dr. Charles, “as the place of final eternal punishment, that is, it has become hell” (op. cit., 236).
2. New Testament Teaching:
In the New Testament, the strongest language is used by Jesus and the apostolic writers on the certainty and severity of the punishment of sin in the future state, and always in a manner which suggests that the doom is final.
(1) “Eternal.”
The word “eternal” (aionios) is repeatedly applied to the punishment of sin, or to the fire which is its symbol. A principal example is Matthew 25:41, 46, “eternal fire,” “eternal punishment” (kolasis aionios). Here precisely the same word is applied to the punishment of the wicked as to the blessedness of the righteous. Other instances are Matthew 18:8; Jude 1:7; compare Revelation 14:11; 19:3; 20:10. In 2 Thessalonians 1:9, we have, “eternal destruction.” The kindred word aidios, “everlasting,” is in Jude 1:6 applied to the punishment of the fallen angels.
The reply made by Maurice (Theological Essays, 442) that aionios in such passages denotes quality, not duration, cannot be sustained. Whatever else the term includes, it connotes duration. More pertinent is the criticism of other writers (e.g. Cox, Salvator Mundi, 96; Farrar, Eternal Hope, Pref., xxxiv, pp. 78, 197; compare his Mercy and Judgment, passim) that aionios does not necessarily mean “eternal” (according to Cox it does not mean this at all), but is strictly “age-long,” is therefore compatible with, if it does not directly suggest, a terminable period. Cox allows that the term is “saturated through and through with the element of time” (p. 100,), but he denies its equivalence with “everlasting.” The sense, no doubt, is to be determined by the context, but it can hardly be questioned that “the eons of the eons” and similar phrases are the practical New Testament equivalents for eternity, and that aionios in its application to God and to life (“eternal life”) includes the idea of unending duration (compare John 10:28, 29 for express assertion of this). When, therefore, the term is applied in the same context to punishment and to life (Matthew 25:46), and no hint is given anywhere of limitation, the only reasonable exegesis is to take the word in its full sense of “eternal.”
(2) Equivalent Expressions.
The meaning “eternal” is confirmed by the use of equivalent expressions and of forms of speech which convey in the strongest manner the idea of finality. Such are the expressions, “the unquenchable fire,” the “worm” that “dieth not” (Matthew 3:12; Mark 9:43-48; compare Matthew 13:42, 50), with those numerous references to “death,” “destruction,” “second death,” on which the advocates of conditional immortality build their arguments for final extinction. Such is the dictum of Jesus:
“He that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth (remains) on him” (John 3:36; the opposite of “life” is “perishing,” 3:16); or that in Revelation 22:11, “He that is unrighteous, let him do unrighteousness still: and he that is filthy, let him be made filthy still.” Finality is the note in all Christ’s warnings—“the outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12; 22:13); “The door was shut …. I know you not” (Matthew 25:10, 12; compare 7:23), as in those of the Epistles (e.g. Hebrews 2:3; 6:6, 8; 10:27, 31; 12:25, 29). Jesus speaks of the blasphemy against the Spirit as a sin which shall not be forgiven, “neither in this world, nor in that which is to come” (Matthew 12:32; not as implying that other sins, unforgiven in this life, may be forgiven in the next), a passage which Mark gives in the remarkable form, “hath never forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29). The Rich Man in Hades found an impassable gulf fixed between himself and Lazarus (Luke 16:26). See GULF. It adds to the terribleness of these sayings that, as before remarked, there is nothing to put against them; no hint or indication of a termination of the doom. Why did Jesus not safeguard His words from misapprehension, if behind them there lay an assurance of restoration and mercy? One may ask with Oxenham, in a reply to Jukes, “whether if Christ had intended to teach the doctrine of eternal punishment, He could possibly have taught it in plainer terms.”
(3) The Last Judgment.
The New Testament doctrine of the last judgment leads to the same conclusion. Two things seem plainly taught about this judgment:
The first, that it proceeds on the matter of the present life—“the things done in the body” (Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:12); and the second, that it is decisive in its issues. Not a single suggestion is given of a reversal of its decisions in any future age. Such silence is inexplicable if the Scriptures meant to teach what the opponents of this doctrine so confidently maintain.
3. Teaching of Analogy:
In corroboration of this Scriptural view analogy might be pleaded. How constantly even in this life is the law illustrated of the tendency of character to fixity! The present is the season of grace (2 Corinthians 6:2), yet what powers of resistance to God and goodness are seen to lie in human nature, and how effectually, often, does it harden itself under the influences that seem most fitted to break down its rebellion! What likelihood is there that eternity will alter this tendency, or make conversion more easy? Eternity can hardly be thought of as more really a scene of grace than time is for those to whom the gospel has already come. Its characteristic mark is said to be “judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Like the photographer’s bath, may its effect not be to develop and fix existing character, rather than to change it? If so, the state in which judgment finds the soul may be presumed to be one that will remain.
III. Difficulties and Objections–Rival Hypotheses.
What, it will now be asked, of the tremendous difficulties which inhere in this doctrine, with their undeniable effect in alienating many generous minds from it and from Christianity? The lurid rhetorical picturings of the sufferings of the lost, too frequent in the teaching of the past, may be discounted; it is not necessary to go beyond the inexpressibly solemn words of Christ Himself and His apostles. But even with this limitation, does it not seem as if, by this doctrine, a reflection was cast on the righteousness and mercy of God in creating such multitudes of the human race, as, on any showing, are outside the pale of Christ’s salvation–the countless generations of the heathen, with the masses even in Christian lands who have not received or do not obey the light–only to doom them to endless misery? Before attempting a positive answer, it is proper that a glance be taken at the rival theories put forth in alleviation of the difficulty.
1. Universal Salvation:
The most comprehensive solution propounded is that of universal salvation–of a final restitution of all souls to God’s favor and to blessedness. This tempting speculation–for it is no more–advocated by Origen in the early church, by Schleiermacher in the last century, has been urged by many writers in modern times. One of its best known advocates was Samuel Cox, in his book Salvator Mundi. It is noticeable that not a few who favor this theory (e.g. Maurice, Farrar) decline to commit themselves to it as more than a “hope,” and admit the possibility of human souls continuing to resist God endlessly (Maurice, Theological Essays, 476; Farrar, Eternal Hope, Pref., xv, xvi; Mercy and Judgment, I, 485, “In this sense there may be for some souls an endless hell”). It must, however, be evident that, be the number greater or smaller–and who shall give assurance of its smallness?–if there are any such souls, the difficulty in principle remains, and the passages alleged as teaching universal restoration are equally contradicted. The deeper objection to this theory is that, springing, not from real knowledge, but from men’s hopes and wishes, it has, as already shown, the tremendous stress of Scripture testimony against it; nor do the passages commonly adduced as favoring it really bear the weight put upon them. We read, e.g., of a restoration of all things–the same that Christ calls the palingenesia–but, in the same breath, we are told of those who will not hearken, and will be destroyed (Matthew 19:28; Acts 3:21, 23). We read of Christ drawing all men unto Him (John 12:32); but we are not less clearly told that at His coming Christ will pronounce on some a tremendous condemnation (Matthew 7:23; 25:41); we read of all things being gathered, or summed up, in Christ, of Christ subduing all things to Himself, etc.; but representative exegetes like Meyer and Weiss show that it is far from Paul’s view to teach an ultimate conversion or annihilation of the kingdom of evil (compare Meyer on 1 Corinthians 15:21,28 and Ephesians 1:10; Weiss, Biblical Theology, II, 723, 107, 109, English translation). We confess, however, that the strain of these last passages does seem to point in the direction of some ultimate unity, be it through subjugation, or in some other way, in which active opposition to God’s kingdom is no longer to be reckoned with.
2. Annihilation:
The view favored by another class is that of the annihilation of the finally impenitent. The type of doctrine called “conditional immortality” includes other elements which need not here be discussed (see IMMORTALITY). The annihilation theory takes different forms. So far as the annihilation is supposed to take place at death, it is contradicted by the Scriptures which support the soul’s survival after death; so far as it is believed to take place after a longer or shorter period of conscious suffering (which is White’s theory), it involves its advocates in difficulties with their own interpretations of “death,” “destruction,” “perishing,” seeing that in Scripture this doom is uniformly represented as overtaking the ungodly at the day of judgment, and not at some indefinite period thereafter. The theory conflicts also with the idea of gradation of punishment, for which room has to be sought in the period of conscious suffering, and rests really on an unduly narrowed conception of the meaning of the Scriptural terms “life” and “death.” Life is not bare existence, nor is “death” necessarily extinction of being. As said earlier, the language of many parts of Scripture implies the continued existence of the subjects of the divine wrath.
3. Second Probation:
It is significant that on the side alike of the advocates of restoration and of those of annihilation (e.g. E. White), refuge from the difficulties is frequently sought in the hypothesis of an extended probation and work of evangelization beyond death. This theory labors under the drawback that, in marked contrast with Scripture, it throws immensely the larger part of the work of salvation into the future state of being. It is, besides, apart from the dubious and limited support given to it by the passage on Christ’s preaching to “the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19, 20); destitute of Scriptural support. It has already been pointed out that the final judgment is uniformly represented as proceeding on the matter of this life. The theory is considered elsewhere.
IV. Nature, Conditions and Issues.
1. Mystery of the Future:
While dogmatisms like the above, which seem opposed to Scripture, are to be avoided, it is equally necessary to guard against dogmatisms of an opposite kind, as if eternity must not, in the nature of the case, have its undisclosed mysteries of which we here in time can frame no conception. The difficulties connected with the ultimate destinies of mankind are truly enormous, and no serious thinker will minimize them. Scripture does not warrant it in negative, any more than in positive, dogmatisms; with its uniformly practical aim, it does not seek to satisfy an idle curiosity (compare Luke 13:23,24). Its language is bold, popular, figurative, intense; the essential idea is to be held fast, but what is said cannot be taken as a directory to all that is to transpire in the ages upon ages of an unending duration. God’s methods of dealing with sin in the eternities may prove to be as much above our present thoughts as His dealings now are with men in grace. In His hands we must be content to leave it, only using such light as His immediate revelation yields.
2. Nature of Punishment:
As respects the nature of the punishment of sin, it cannot be doubted that in its essence it is spiritual. Everything can be adopted here which is said by Maurice and others—“The eternal punishment is the punishment of being without the knowledge of God, who is love, and of Jesus Christ who has manifested it; even as eternal life is declared to be the having the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ” (Theological Essays, 450). The supreme penalty of sin is unquestionably the loss of God’s life and love–the being sinful. Environment, indeed, may be expected to correspond with character, but the hell is one the sinner essentially makes for himself, and, like the kingdom of God, is within. The fire, the worm, the stripes, that figure its severity, are not physical. Even should the poena sensus (were that conceivable) be utterly removed, the poena damni would eternally remain.
3. Range of Divine Mercy:
It is a sound principle that, in His dealing with sin in the world to come, God’s mercy will reach as far as ever it can reach. This follows from the whole Scriptural revelation of the character of God. What may be included in it, it is impossible for anyone to say. It should be noticed that those of whom it is said that they shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on them, are those who “obey not” the truth (John 3:36)–who actively and consciously disregard and oppose it. But all do not belong to this class. It may be assumed that none will be lost who can in consistency with holiness and love be saved. The most germinal goodness, which is the implantation of His own Spirit, God will acknowledge and develop. The problem of undeveloped character may receive a solution we do not wot of with the entrance into the eternal light–not in change of character, but rather, as said before, in the revelation of character’s inmost bent. In this sense, the entrance into eternity may be to many the revelation of a love and grace which had not been understood or appreciated as it should have been on earth, but with which it is in essential kinship. There are at least many shades and degrees of character, and God may be entrusted to take the most just, yet most merciful, account of all.
4. Gradation of Punishment:
The fullest weight must further be given to what the Scripture so expressly says of gradation of punishment, even of the unsaved. It is not the case that the lot of all who fail of the eternal life in Christ is all of one grade. There are the “few stripes” and the “many stripes” (Luke 12:47, 48); those for whom it will be “more tolerable” than for others in the day of judgment (Matthew 11:20, 24). Even “Sodom and her daughters” will be mercifully dealt with in comparison with others (Ezekiel 16:48, 49, 53, 55, 61). There will be for everyone the most exact weighing of privilege, knowledge and opportunity. There is a vast area here for the divine administration on which no light at all is afforded us.
5. God “All in All”:
There remain those passages already alluded to which do seem to speak, not, indeed, of conversion or admission into the light and fellowship of Christ’s kingdom, but still of a final subjugation of the powers of evil, to the extent, at least, of a cessation of active opposition to God’s will, of some form of ultimate unification and acknowledgment of Christ as Lord. Such passages are Ephesians 1:10; Philippians 2:9-11; above all, 1 Corinthians 15:24-28. God, in this final vision, has become “all in all.” Here, again, dogmatism is entirely out of place, but it is permissible to believe that these texts foreshadow such a final persuasion of God’s righteousness in His judgment and of the futility of further rebellion as shall bring about an outward pacification and restoration of order in the universe disturbed by sin, though it can never repair that eternal loss accruing from exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and glory.
Maurice, Theological Essays, “Eternal Life and Eternal Death”; S. Cox, Salvator Mundi; F. W. Farrar, Eternal Hope; Mercy and Judgment; A. Jukes, The Second Death and the Restitution of All Things; E. White, Life in Christ; H. Constable, Duration and Nature of Future Punishment. For: Pusey, What Is of Faith as to Everlasting Punishment, H. N. Oxenham, Catholic Eschatology; C. Clemance, Future Punishment; Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus, the Messiah, Appendix, xix, “On Eternal Punishment, according to the Rabbis and the New Testament “; The Future Life, A Defence of the Orthodox View, by the Most Eminent American Scholars; S. D. F. Salmond, The Christian Doctrine of Immortality, Book VI; Orr, Christian View of God, lecture ix; Luthardt, Saving Truths (English translations), lecture x. See also the various works on Dogmatic and Biblical Theology. James Orr (3)
J. I. Packer on Why Annihilationism Is Wrong article is abridged:
2. The Intrinsic Eternality of the Soul
The second common argument is that once the idea of the intrinsic immortality of the soul (i.e., the conscious person) is set aside as a Platonic intrusion into second-century exegesis, it will appear that the only natural meaning of the NT imagery of death, destruction, fire, and darkness as indicators of the destiny of unbelievers is that such persons cease to be. On inspection, however, this proves not to be the case. For evangelicals, the analogy of Scripture—the axiom of its inner coherence and consistency and power to elucidate its own teaching from within itself—is a controlling principle in all interpretation, and though there are texts which, taken in isolation, might carry annihilationist implications, others can’t naturally be fitted into any form of this scheme. But no proposed theory of the Bible’s meaning that doesn’t cover all the Bible’s relevant statements can be true.
Texts like Jude 6, Matthew 8:12, Matthew 22:13, and Matthew 25:30 show that darkness signifies a state of deprivation and distress, not of destruction in the sense of ceasing to exist.
After all, only those who exist can weep and gnash their teeth, as those banished into the darkness are said to do.
Nowhere in Scripture does death signify extinction; physical death is departure into another mode of being, called sheol or hades, and metaphorical death is existence that is God-less and graceless; nothing in biblical usage warrants the idea that the “second death” of Revelation 2:11; 20:14; and 21:8 means or involves cessation of being.
Moreover, Luke 16:22–24 shows that, as in a good deal of extra biblical apocalyptic, fire signifies continued existence in pain. The chilling words of Revelation 14:10 with 19:20 and 20:10, and of Matthew 13:42, 50, confirm this.
In 2 Thessalonians 1:9 Paul explains, or extends, the meaning of “punished with everlasting [eternal, aionios] destruction” by adding “and shut out from the presence of the Lord”—which, by affirming exclusion, rules out the idea that “destruction” meant extinction. Only those who exist can be excluded. It’s often been pointed out that in Greek the natural meaning of the destruction vocabulary (noun, olethros; verb, apollumi) is “wrecking,” so that what’s destroyed is henceforth nonfunctional rather than annihilated altogether.
Annihilationists respond with special pleading. Sometimes they urge that such references to continued distress refer only to the temporary experience of the lost before they’re extinguished, but this is to beg the question by speculative eisegesis and to give up the original claim that the NT imagery of eternal loss naturally implies extinction. Robert Peterson quotes from Stott, which he calls “the best case for annihilationism,” the following on the words “And the smoke of their torment rises forever and ever” (Rev. 14:11):
The fire itself is termed “eternal” and “unquenchable,” but it would be very odd if what is thrown into it proves indestructible. Our expectation would be the opposite: it would be consumed forever, not tormented forever. Hence it is the smoke (evidence that the fire has done its work) which “rises for ever and ever.”
“On the contrary,” Peterson replies, “our expectation would be that the smoke would die out once the fire had finished its work. . . . The rest of the verse confirms our interpretation: ‘There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image.’” There seems no answer to this.
So at every point, the linguistic argument simply fails. To say that some texts, taken in isolation, might mean annihilation proves nothing when other texts evidently do not. (4)
Is immortality of the soul a Greek concept smuggled into the Bible?
Immortality of the Soul by Louis Berkhof – article is abridged:
The historical and philosophical proofs for the survival of the soul are not absolutely demonstrative, and therefore do not compel belief. For greater assurance in this matter, it is necessary to direct the eye of faith to Scripture. Here, too, we must rely on the voice of authority. Now the position of Scripture with respect to this matter may at first seem somewhat dubious. It speaks of God as the only one who hath immortality (I Tim. 6:15), and never predicates this of man. There is no explicit mention of the immortality of the soul, and much less any attempt to prove it in a formal way. Hence the Russellites or Millennial Dawnists often challenge theologians to point to a single passage in which the Bible teaches that the soul of man is immortal. But even if the Bible does not explicitly state that the soul of man is immortal, and does not seek to prove this in a formal way, any more than it seeks to present formal proof for the existence of God, this does not mean that Scripture denies or contradicts or even ignores it. It clearly assumes in many passages that man continues his conscious existence after death. In fact, it treats the truth of the immortality of man very much as it does that of the existence of God, that is, it assumes this as an undisputed postulate.
1. THE DOCTRINE OF IMMORTALITY IN THE OLD TESTAMENT. The assertion has been made repeatedly that the Old Testament, and particularly the Pentateuch, does not teach in any way the immortality of the soul. Now it is perfectly true that this great truth is revealed less clearly in the Old than in the New Testament; but the facts in the case do not warrant the assertion that it is absent from the Old Testament altogether. It is a well-known and generally recognized fact that God’s revelation in Scripture is progressive and gradually increases in clearness; and it stands to reason that the doctrine of immortality in the sense of a blessed eternal life, could only be revealed in all its bearings after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who “brought life and immortality to light,” II Tim. 1:10. But while all this is true, it cannot be denied that the Old Testament implies the continued conscious existence of man, either in the sense of a bare immortality or survival of the soul, or of a blessed future life, in several ways. This is implied:
A. In its doctrine of God and man. The very root of Israel’s hope of immortality was found in its belief in God as its Creator and Redeemer, its covenant God, who would never fail them. He was to them the living, the eternal, the faithful God, in whose fellowship they found joy, life, peace, and perfect satisfaction. Would they have panted after Him as they did, have entrusted themselves to Him completely in life and death, and have sung of Him as their portion forever, if they felt that all He offered them was but for a brief span of time? How could they derive real comfort from the promised redemption of God, if they regarded death as the end of their existence? Moreover, the Old Testament represents man as created in the image of God, created for life and not for mortality. In distinction from the brute, he possesses a life that transcends time and already contains within itself a pledge of immortality. He is made for communion with God, is but little lower than the angels, and God has set eternity in his heart, Eccl. 3:11.
B. In its doctrine of sheol. We are taught in the Old Testament that the dead descend into sheol. The discussion of this doctrine belongs to the following chapter. But whatever may be the proper interpretation of the Old Testament sheol, and whatever may be said of the condition of those who have descended into it, this is certainly represented as a state of more or less conscious existence, though not one of bliss. Man enters upon the state of perfect bliss only by a deliverance from sheol. In this deliverance we reach the real core of the Old Testament hope of a blessed immortality. This is clearly taught in several passages, such as Ps. 16:10; 49:14, 15.
C. In its frequent warnings against consulting the dead or “familiar spirits,” that is, persons who were able to summon the spirits of the dead and to convey their messages to the inquirers, Lev. 19:31; 20:27; Deut. 18:11; Isa. 8:19; 29:4. Scripture does not say that it is impossible to consult the dead, but rather seems to presuppose the possibility while it condemns the practice.
D. In its teachings respecting the resurrection of the dead. This doctrine is not explicitly taught in the earlier books of the Old Testament. Christ points out, however, that it was taught by implication in the statement, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” Matt. 22:32, cf. Ex. 3:6, and chides the Jews for not understanding the Scriptures on this point. Moreover, the doctrine of the resurrection is explicitly taught in such passages as Job 19:23-27; Ps. 16:9-11; 17:15; 49:15; 73:24; Isa. 26:19; Dan. 12:2.
E. In certain striking Old Testament passages which speak of the believer’s enjoyment in communion with God after death. These are in the main identical with the passages referred to in the preceding, namely, Job 19:25-27; Ps. 16:9-11; 17:15; 73:23, 24, 26. They breathe the confident expectation of pleasures in the presence of Jehovah.
2. THE DOCTRINE OF IMMORTALITY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. In the New Testament, after Christ has brought life and immortality to light, the proofs naturally multiply. The passages that contain these may again be divided into various classes, as referring:
A. To the survival of the soul. A continued existence of both the righteous and the wicked is clearly taught. That the souls of believers survive, appears from such passages as Matt. 10:28; Luke 23:43; John 11:25 f.; 14:3; II Cor. 5:1; and several other passages make it quite evident that the same can be said of the souls of the wicked, Matt. 11:21-24; 12:41; Rom. 2:5-11; II Cor. 5:10.
B. To the resurrection by which the body is also made to share in the future existence. For believers the resurrection means the redemption of the body and entrance into the perfect life in communion with God, the full blessedness of immortality. This resurrection is taught in Luke 20:35, 36; John 5:25-29; I Cor. 15; I Thess. 4:16; Phil. 3:21, and other passages. For the wicked the resurrection will also mean a renewed and continued existence of the body, but this can hardly be called life. Scripture calls it eternal death. The resurrection of the wicked is mentioned in John 5:29; Acts 24:15; Rev. 20:12-15.
C. To the blessed life of believers in communion with God. There are numerous passages in the New Testament which stress the fact that the immortality of believers is not a bare endless existence, but a rapturous life of bliss in communion with God and with Jesus Christ, the full fruition of the life that is implanted in the soul while still on earth. This is clearly emphasized in such passages as Matt. 13:43; 25:34; Rom. 2:7, 10; I Cor. 15:49; Phil. 3:21; II Tim. 4:8; Rev. 21:4; 22:3, 4. (5)
In closing, we can affirm:
The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXXII. Of the State of Men after Death, and of the Resurrection of the Dead:
I. The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption:[1] but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them:[2] the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies.[3] And the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day.[4] Beside these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledges none.
II. At the last day, such as are found alive shall not die, but be changed: [5] and all the dead shall be raised up, with the selfsame bodies, and none other (although with different qualities), which shall be united again to their souls forever. [6]
III. The bodies of the unjust shall, by the power of Christ, be raised to dishonor: the bodies of the just, by His Spirit, unto honor; and be made conformable to His own glorious body. [7]
Scripture Proofs
[1] GEN 3:19 in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. ACT 13:36 For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption.
[2] LUK 23:43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, to day shalt thou be with me in paradise. ECC 12:7 then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
[3] HEB 12:23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect. 2CO 5:1 For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 6 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord. 8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. PHI 1:23 For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better. ACT 3:21 whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. EPH 4:10 He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.
[4] LUK 16:23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. ACT 1:25 that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. JUD 6 and the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. 7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. 1PE 3:19 by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison.
[5] 1TH 4:17 then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 1CO 15:51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
[6] JOB 19:26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: 27 Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me. 1CO 15:42 so also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: 43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
[7] ACT 24:15 And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust. JOH 5:28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, 29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. 1CO 15:43 it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. PHI 3:21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.
“Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:12)
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
1. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 946.
2. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Revelation, Vol. 22, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 349.
3. Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, “Entry ‘PUNISHMENT, EVERLASTING,’” “International Standard Bible Encyclopedia,” (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), pp. 2501-2504.
4. J.I.Packer, Why Annihilationism is wrong, (Minneapolis, MN: The Gospel Coalition: Oct 7, 2015),
5. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, “Immortality of the Soul,” (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans), pp. 674-676.
“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. He served as an ordained ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He worked in and retired from a fortune five hundred company in corporate America after forty years. He runs two blogs sites and is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at:

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Sin, what is it? A Bible Study

Sin, what is it? A Bible Study by Jack Kettler

“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4)
In this study, we will look at the biblical teaching about sin. What is it? How is it defined?
As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical evidence, commentary evidence and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live. May God be glorified always!
Definitions from two sources:
Any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude, or nature. *
Sin is anything that is contrary to the law or will of God. For example: if you lie, you have sinned. Why? Because God has said not to lie (Exodus 20:16). If you do what God has forbidden, then you have sinned. In addition, if you do not do what God has commanded, you sin (James 4:17). Either way, the result is eternal separation from God (Isaiah 59:2). Sin is lawlessness (1 John 1:3) and unrighteousness (1 John 5:17). Sin leads to bondage (Romans 6:14-20) and death (Romans 6:23).
Paul, in the book of Romans, discusses sin. He shows that everyone, both Jew and Greek, is under sin (Romans 3:9). He shows that sin is not simply something that is done, but a condition of the heart (Romans 3:10-12). In Ephesians Paul says that we are “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). Yet, “while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). **
From Scripture:
“Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” (1 John 3:4)
From Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on 1 John 3:4:
4. Sin is incompatible with birth from God (1Jo 3:1-3). John often sets forth the same truth negatively, which he had before set forth positively. He had shown, birth from God involves self-purification; he now shows where sin, that is, the want of self-purification, is, there is no birth from God.
Whosoever—Greek, “Everyone who.”
Committeth sin—in contrast to 1Jo 3:3, “Every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself”; and 1Jo 3:7, “He that doeth righteousness.”
Transgresseth … the law—Greek, “committeth transgression of law.” God’s law of purity; and so shows he has no such hope of being hereafter pure as God is pure, and, therefore, that he is not born of God.
For—Greek, “and.”
Sin is … transgression of … law—definition of sin in general. The Greek having the article to both, implies that they are convertible terms. The Greek “sin” (hamartia) is literally, “a missing of the mark.” God’s will being that mark to be ever aimed at. “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” The crookedness of a line is shown by being brought into juxtaposition with a straight ruler. (1)
“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20)
From Matthew Poole’s Commentary on Romans 3:20:
Therefore; i.e. Seeing the Gentiles, by the law of nature, and the Jews, by the written law, are thus subject to the judgment of God; and seeing no one is able to fulfil the law, and satisfy for the breach of it; therefore, &c.
By the deeds of the law; he means the moral law, and not the ceremonial law only or chiefly; even that law that forbids theft and adultery, as Romans 2:21,22, and concupiscence, as Romans 7:1-25; and by which, as this text says,
Is the knowledge of sin; to which Gentiles as well as Jews are obliged, and by which therefore they are condemned.
No flesh; a common synecdoche: see Genesis 6:3, 12, and elsewhere. The same with no man living, in the psalmist; especially being depraved with original corruption, which is called flesh in Scripture.
Be justified in his sight; or be discharged in the court of heaven: the phrase is taken from Psalm 143:2, see annotations there.
For by the law is the knowledge of sin: lest any should think that the law hereupon is useless, he goes on to show its use, but a quite contrary one to what they intended. It convinceth us of our guilt, and therefore is far from being our righteousness, Romans 7:7 1 Corinthians 15:56. (2)
“Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.” (Romans 4:15)
From Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible on Romans 4:15:
Because the law worketh wrath, Not the wrath of man, though that is sometimes stirred up through the prohibitions of the law, to which the carnal mind of man is enmity, but the wrath of God the law is so far from justifying sinners, that it curses and condemns them; and when it comes into the heart and is let into the conscience of a sinner, it fills with terrible apprehensions of the wrath of God, and a fearful looking for of his judgment and fiery indignation:
for where no law is, there is no transgression; (r); a sort of a proverbial expression: had the law of Moses not been given, there was the law of nature which sin is a transgression of; but the law of Moses was added for the better discovery and detection of sin, which would not have been so manifest without it, and which may be the apostle’s sense; that where there is no law, there is no knowledge of any transgression; and so the Ethiopic version reads the words, “if the law had not come, there would have been none who would have known sin”; but the law is come, and there is a law by which is the knowledge of sin, and therefore no man can be justified by it; since that convinces him of sin, and fills him with a sense of divine wrath on account of it. (r) Caphtor, fol. 10. 1. (3)
Digging deeper, From Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words on sin:
A-1 Noun Strong’s Number: g266 Greek: hamartia
Sin (Noun and Verb):
Is, lit., “a missing of the mark,” but this etymological meaning is largely lost sight of in the NT. It is the most comprehensive term for moral obliquity. It is used of “sin” as
(a) a principle or source of action, or an inward element producing acts, e.g., Rom 3:9; 5:12, 13, 20; 6:1, 2; 7:7 (abstract for concrete); Rom 7:8 (twice), Rom 7:9, 11, 13, “sin, that it might be shown to be sin,” i.e., “sin became death to me, that it might be exposed in its heinous character:” in the clause, “sin might become exceeding sinful,” i.e., through the holiness of the Law, the true nature of sin was designed to be manifested to the conscience;
(b) a governing principle or power, e.g., Rom 6:6; “(the body) of sin,” here “sin” is spoken of as an organized power, acting through the members of the body, though the seat of “sin” is in the will (the body is the organic instrument); in the next clause, and in other passages, as follows, this governing principle is personified, e.g., Rom 5:21; 6:12, 14, 17; 7:11, 14, 17, 20, 23, 25; 8:2; 1Cr 15:56; Hbr 3:13; 11:25; 12:4; Jam 1:15 (2nd part);
(c) a generic term (distinct from specific terms such as No. 2 yet sometimes inclusive of concrete wrong doing, e.g., Jhn 8:21, 34, 46; 9:41; 15:22, 24; 19:11); in Rom 8:3, “God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh,” lit., “flesh of sin,” the flesh stands for the body, the instrument of indwelling “sin” [Christ, pre-existently the Son of God, assumed human flesh, “of the substance of the Virgin Mary;” the reality of incarnation was His, without taint of sin (for homoioma, “likeness,” see LIKENESS)], and as an offering for sin,” i.e., “a sin offering” (so the Sept. e.g., in Lev 4:32; 5:6-9), “condemned sin in the flesh,” i.e., Christ, having taken human nature, “sin” apart (Hbr 4:15), and having lived a sinless life, died under the condemnation and judgment due to our “sin;” for the generic sense see further, e.g., Hbr 9:26; 10:6, 8, 18; 13:11; 1Jo 1:7, 8; 3:4 (1st part; in the 2nd part, “sin” is defined as “lawlessness,” RV), 1Jo 3:8, 9; in these verses the AV use of the verb to commit is misleading; not the committal of an act is in view, but a continuous course of “sin,” as indicated by the RV, “doeth.” The Apostle’s use of the present tense of poieo, “to do,” virtually expresses the meaning of prasso, “to practice,” which John does not use (it is not infrequent in this sense in Paul’s Epp., e.g., Rom 1:32, RV; 2:1; Gal 5:21; Phl 4:9); 1Pe 4:1 (singular in the best texts), lit., “has been made to cease from sin,” i.e., as a result of suffering in the flesh, the mortifying of our members, and of obedience to a Savior who suffered in flesh. Such no longer lives in the flesh, “to the lusts of men, but to the will of God;” sometimes the word is used as virtually equivalent to a condition of “sin,” e.g., Jhn 1:29, “the sin (not sins) of the world;” 1Cr 15:17; or a course of “sin,” characterized by continuous acts, e.g., 1Th 2:16; in 1Jo 5:16 (2nd part) the RV marg., is probably to be preferred, “there is sin unto death,” not a special act of “sin,” but the state or condition producing acts; in 1Jo 5:17, “all unrighteousness is sin” is not a definition of “sin” (as in 1Jo 3:4), it gives a specification of the term in its generic sense;
(d) a sinful deed, an act of “sin,” e.g., Mat 12:31; Act 7:60; Jam 1:15 (1st part); Jam 2:9; 4:17; 5:15, 20; 1Jo 5:16 (1st part).
(1) Christ is predicated as having been without “sin” in every respect, e.g., (a), (b), (c) above, 2Cr 5:21 (1st part); 1Jo 3:5; Jhn 14:30; (d) Jhn 8:46; Hbr 4:15; 1Pe 2:22.
(2) In Hbr 9:28 (2nd part) the reference is to a “sin” offering.
(3) In 2Cr 5:21, “Him… He made to be sin” indicates that God dealt with Him as He must deal with “sin,” and that Christ fulfilled what was typified in the guilt offering.
(4) For the phrase “man of sin” in 2Th 2:3, see INIQUITY, No. 1.
A-2 Noun Strong’s Number: g265 Greek: hamartema
Sin (Noun and Verb):
Akin to No. 1, denotes “an act of disobedience to Divine law” [as distinct from No. 1 (a), (b), (c)]; plural in Mar 3:28; Rom 3:25; 2Pe 1:9, in some texts; sing. In Mar 3:29 (some mss. have krisis, AV, “damnation”); 1Cr 6:18.
(1) For paraptoma, rendered “sins” in the AV in Eph 1:7; 2:5; Col 2:13 (RV, “trespass”), see TRESPASS. In Jam 5:16, the best texts have No. 1 (RV, “sins”).
B-1 Adjective Strong’s Number: g361 Greek: anamartetos
Sin (Noun and Verb):
“Without sin” (a, negative, n, euphonic, and C, No. 1), is found in Jhn 8:7. In the Sept., Deu 29:19.
C-1 Verb Strong’s Number: g264 Greek: hamartano
Sin (Noun and Verb):
lit., “to miss the mark,” is used in the NT
(a) Of “sinning” against God,
(1) By angels, 2Pe 2:4;
(2) by man, Mat 27:4; Luk 15:18, 21 (heaven standing, by metonymy, for God); Jhn 5:14; 8:11; 9:2, 3; Rom 2:12 (twice); Rom 3:23; 5:12, 14, 16; 6:15; 1Cr 7:28 (twice), 1Cr 7:36; 15:34; Eph 4:26; 1Ti 5:20; Tts 3:11; Hbr 3:17; 10:26; 1Jo 1:10; in 1Jo 2:1 (twice), the aorist tense in each place, referring to an act of “sin;” on the contrary, in 1Jo 3:6 (twice), 1Jo 3:8,9, the present tense indicates, not the committal of an act, but the continuous practice of “sin” [see on A, No. 1 (c)]; in 1Jo 5:16 (twice) the present tense indicates the condition resulting from an act, “unto death” signifying “tending towards death;”
(b) Against Christ, 1Cr 8:12;
(c) Against man,
(1) A brother, Mat 18:15, RV, “sin” (AV, “trespass”); Mat 18:21; Luke 17:3, 4, RV, “sin” (AV, “trespass”); 1Cr 8:12;
(2) In Luke 15:18, 21, against the father by the Prodigal Son, “in thy sight” being suggestive of befitting reverence;
(d) Against Jewish law, the Temple, and Caesar, Act 25:8, RV, “sinned” (AV, “offended”);
(e) Against one’s own body, by fornication, 1Cr 6:18;
(f) Against earthly masters by servants, 1Pe 2:20, RV, “(when) ye sin (and are buffeted for it),” AV, “(when ye be buffeted) for your faults,” lit., “having sinned.”
C-2 Verb Strong’s Number: g4258 Greek: proamartano
Sin (Noun and Verb):
“To sin previously” (pro, “before,” and No. 1), occurs in 2Cr 12:21; 13:2, RV in each place, “have sinned heretofore” (so AV in the 2nd; in the 1st, “have sinned already”). (4)
Now, a Classic Sermon on Sin:
What is Sin? A Sermon by Rev. John Kennedy, D.D., of Dingwall, Scotland:
“Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.” — Psalm 51:4.
He had acted to the injury of his own soul, he had offended, by his conduct, those who feared the Lord, and by his evil example he had encouraged the ungodly to continue in sin; but yet he says, “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned.” Viewing his conduct as sin, he thinks only of its being against God. It might bring misery on himself, it might bring grief to the hearts of the godly, and it might encourage others to continue to act the part of suicides, but his conduct he regarded as sinful only as it was “against” God.
1. It was against the law of God. Associating the law with God, how venerable it seemed to his eyes, opened as these were, to behold the glory of Jehovah, as Lawgiver and Judge; how awful seemed to him the guilt which was involved in the breach of such a law; and how impossible escape from the law’s penalty appeared to him as he thought of the omnipotence, faithfulness, and justice of Him who was Judge of all, unless mercy came to him with a free pardon through atoning blood. One may transgress the law of his country, and his offence never be discovered; or even if it be discovered, he may not be convicted of the crime; or by some miscarriage of justice the execution may not follow the passing of the sentence. But in none of these ways can, under His government, any transgressors of the law of God escape. Sinner, seek to realise this. Have done with dreaming of being able to sin with impunity while the eye that is “as a flame of fire” is on you, while the sword of divine justice is wielded by the Almighty, and while it is impossible for God to lie. Either life, through the righteousness of Christ being placed to your account, or death, as the wages of your sin, is the only alternative to you, and to me, and to all. “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law; for sin is the transgression of the law,” and “the soul that sinneth shall die.”
2. Sin is against the will of God. Not merely against what was the will of God, but against what, at the moment when the sin is committed, is the will of God — against a present volition of the will of God bearing authoritatively on the transgressor, and in opposition to what he is about to do, or is doing. There is many a law on the Statute Book of our nation the very existence of which is unknown to our Sovereign, and which cannot be regarded as an intended expression of her will; and we must not think of a transgressor of our laws as acting in opposition to a present exercise of the Queen’s will bearing on him individually. But do not approach so to conceive of the relation in which God stands to His own law, and to those by whom that law is broken. His will is ever active in volitions which accord with the claims of His commandments, and bears according to the law’s demands on each individual, always and everywhere. Because of this there must be in every act of sin a collision with the will of God, the Most High, “whose name is holy.” Think of the weak worm dashing himself against the will of Jehovah, as, swayed by enmity, he ventures to transgress His law, which is “holy, and just, and good.” Friend, do not conceive of God as like yourself, and one to be trifled with, as if He could forget your sin; and do not imagine that such collisions with the will of God can take place with impunity though “sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily.” The will of God, now expressed in the form of law, shall soon and surely be expressed in a providence by which you shall be utterly and eternally overwhelmed.
3. Sin is rebellion against the authority of God. The authority of God as our Lawgiver — His right to reign — rests on what He is in the infinite excellence of His being and glory. He, because of what He is, is entitled to be Lord over all — to bring His will in the form of law to bear on each rational being whom He hath created, whether their place originally was heaven or earth. There is rebellion against authority thus founded and asserted, in every transgression of His law, and this cannot be without a denial of His right to reign, without an attack on His throne. How fearful sin is as implying — necessarily implying — this! And there cannot be rebellion such as this that does not imply a claim on the part of the transgressor to the place which necessarily and eternally belongs to the Most High. The rebelling will of the creature makes this demand. He raises himself throne wards, in his meanness and loathsomeness, and requires that Jehovah should give place to him. “Who is the Lord that He should reign over us?” is the mad shout that reaches the ear of God from the hearts of all transgressors of His law; and, as they demand for themselves the sovereignty which is God’s, they ask, “Who is Lord over us?”
4. Sin is against the name of God. There can be no sinning that does not cast dishonour on the moral glory of Jehovah. He demands perfect love to Himself, because of what He is in the infinite loveliness of His moral character. His claim for love rests on what He is in the infinite beauty of His holiness. On this the eye of His omniscience ever rests, and to this He “is,” and must be “love.” And through this love to Himself He is “blessed forever” in the enjoyment of Himself. And He cannot have this knowledge of, this love to, and this enjoyment of, Himself, and act righteously as the supreme Governor, without demanding love to Himself from all rational beings. One who did not necessarily make such a demand could not reasonably be worshipped. And there is goodness as well as authority in such a claim. If to Himself His love to Himself is the source of such blessedness, what can be more surely good than to demand love to Him from His creatures, who shall never fail to find that through love to Him satisfying blessedness shall flow into their hearts from “the fountain of living waters.” But whichever of the Ten Commandments you break, you cannot do so without refusing this love to God. You cannot break any of the commandments of the second table of the law without refusing such love to God as would be expressed in submission to His authority. For He requires with equal authority love to your neighbour as love to Himself. To refuse this expression of love to Him is blasphemously to declare Him unworthy of what He demands, though His right to be loved rests on what He is in the infinite glory of His moral character. But there can be no negative feeling towards the holiness of God. If there is not love to it as the spring of action in the heart, there must be enmity. In every unconverted man there is nothing but the flesh, and the minding of the flesh is enmity against God. Think of God beholding, loving, and rejoicing in, His own infinite beauty, and at the same time having before His eye the creature of His hand turning away from and hating Him because His name is holy, and expressing in his transgression of His law his enmity to what He so infinitely loves and enjoys. How marvellous is the patience of God with thee, who wast observed by Him thus dishonouring His glorious name in every one of all thy countless transgressions!
5. Sin is against the being of God. God cannot be without being infinitely great and infinitely holy. His greatness is the basis of His right to issue a law, and His holiness is the basis of His claim for love. His law demanding obedience in love rests on His unchangeable majesty and loveliness. It is entrenched within His being. You cannot assail that law without an attack on God. You cannot rise against the throne without setting yourself against the existence of God. Every sinner is, in intent, a Deicide. And in every “carnal mind” there is positive enmity to the very being of God. This may not be a reality in your consciousness, but it is the root of all your action in transgressing the law of God. Roots are usually hidden, and why is this “root of bitterness” undiscovered by you? It is because you keep so far away from God that you have no opportunity of discovering how you are affected towards Him. But if you were pressed by the law’s claims, and overwhelmed by the terrors of its curse, if you were left for a season without any conscious hope of “escape from the wrath to come,” and at the same time were persuaded that there can be no withdrawal of these demands and terrors, till the justice of the unchangeable and Eternal God was satisfied, then would you find in your consciousness the stirring of an enmity to God, whose cry is, “Let there be no God.” How fearful the consciousness of this! And how bitter the remembrance of this when the glory of Jehovah was so revealed to you, and the riches of His pardoning mercy, that, while having hope in Him, you went forth in loving desire after Him! But whether you are conscious of this enmity towards the very being of God or not, of all the sin in your action this is the root in your heart.
1. Mark well the difference between considering sin in its bearing on God, and viewing it merely in its bearing on yourself. For this indicates the difference between a true and a counterfeit conviction of sin. You may be much afflicted by a sense of the danger to which you have exposed yourself by sinning, and from that danger you may be most intensely anxious to escape. To secure a sense of deliverance from death what would you not do, what not sacrifice of carnal indulgence, what not suffer that would be penance to the flesh? But there is no such view of sin before your mind as constrains you to justify God in condemning you to death, as persuades you that there can be no hope for you unless the name of God, which you dishonoured, shall be glorified, as shuts you up to the cross of Christ as the only channel through which pardoning mercy can flow out from God to you as a sinner, or as enables you to have any right conception of the grace to which alone you may hopefully appeal. Only the man who heartily confesses “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight,” can heartily add a vindication of divine justice such as we have in the words, “That Thou mightest be justified when Thou speakest, and be clear when Thou judgest,” can honestly cry for the application of atoning blood, or can make a guileless appeal to the loving-kindness and mercy of the Lord.
2. Almost all religious errors spring from defective views of sin, as these are the result of defective views of God. In these days it is becoming common to ignore all divine attributes but love, and so to conceive of divine love as something utterly inconsistent with His righteousness and holiness, and as therefore requiring the removal of all impressions of these which the revelations of the Old Testament and the true doctrine of the cross are fitted to produce. And all relations between God and men, such as are indicated in Scripture, are kept out of sight, and for all these there is substituted a supposed relation of universal fatherhood on the part of God, the faith of which is all that is required to make men safe and happy. Towards this is the drift of religious thought in these days, though only in a few instances as the position indicated been reached. Against this rationalised scheme of grace all would do well to be on their guard. It may for a season act as a sedative, but just as surely it will act as a deadly poison. Know God, and know sin as against Him, and attain to some acquaintance with the mystery of the cross, then the plausible sophistries of rationalistic teachers will fail to draw thee aside from “the old paths” in which the fathers walked with God.
3. Only a heart in which there is love to God can be duly affected by viewing sin as against Him. Only from such a heart can true repentance flow. Let your prayer then be, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” (5)
The above sermon is abridged and was preached to the Free Church congregation in Dingwall, Scotland in 1883.
Q. 14. What is sin?
A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God. [38]
[38] Leviticus 5:17. And if a soul sin, and commit any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the LORD; though he wist it not, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity. James 4:17. Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. 1 John 3:4. Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
In closing, we can affirm:
Sin is defined in the Bible as a transgression of God’s law (1 John 3:4). It is missing the mark of God’s Holy Standards. When we sin, we sin against God Himself.
“Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:12)
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
1. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 1504.
2. Matthew Poole, Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. 3, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), p. 488.
3. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Romans, 9 Volumes, Romans, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 92.
4. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Iowa Falls, Iowa, Riverside Book and Bible House), pp. 1045-1047.
5. Rev. John Kennedy, D.D., What is Sin? A Sermon, 1883, Dingwall, Scotland.
“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. He served as an ordained ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He worked in and retired from a fortune five hundred company in corporate America after forty years. He runs two blogs sites and is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at:
For more study:
* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes:
** CARM theological dictionary
**** Reformed answers
Man as the image of God by Louis Berkhof…/berkhof/systematic_theology.html…
The Original State of Man by A. A. Hodge
St Augustine Confessions:
At one time I heard a quote that a person was not truly educated if they have never read Augustine’s Confessions.

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The Image of God in man

The Image of God in man By Jack Kettler

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

In this study, we will look at the biblical teaching about mankind being created in God’s image. How does man show this image? Is it physical, or spiritual?

As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical evidence, commentary evidence and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live. May God be glorified always!
Definitions from two sources:
Image of God:

(Or, for the lovers of Latin, imago Dei.) A phrase used in scripture in reference to humankind as created by God and as distinguished from other creatures. Throughout history, there have been many different ideas as to what it means to be created in God’s image, but the bottom line is that in some way (or ways), human beings are like God and represent him. *
Image of God:

Man was made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). The image of God is generally held to mean that people contain within their nature elements that reflect God’s nature: compassion, reason, love, hate, patience, kindness, self-awareness, etc. Though we have a physical image, it does not mean that God has one. Rather, God is spirit (John 4:24), not flesh and bones (Luke 24:39). **

From Scripture:

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:26-31)

“For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.” (1 Corinthians 11:7)

“And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” (1 Corinthians 15:49)

In regards to the 1 Corinthians 15:49 passage, consider:

The Image of God in Man by Abraham Kuyper
“As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” — 1 Cor. xv.49.
One more point remains to be discussed, viz., whether the divine image refers to the image of Christ.
This singular opinion has found many warm defenders in the Church from the beginning. It originated with Origen, who with his brilliant, fascinating, and seducing heresies has unsettled many things in the Church; and his heresy in this respect has found many defenders both East and West. Even Tertullian and Ambrose supported it, as well as Basil and Chrysostom; and it took no less a person than Augustine to uproot it.
Our Reformed theologians, closely following Augustine, have strongly opposed it. Junius, Zanchius and Calvin, Voetius and Coccejus condemned it as error. We can safely say that in our Reformed inheritance this error never had a place. .
But in the last century it has crept again into the Church. The pantheistic philosophy occasioned it; and its after-effects have tempted our German and Dutch mediation theologians to return to this ancient error.
The great philosophers who enthralled the minds of men at the beginning of this century fell in love with the idea that God became man. They taught not that the Word became flesh, but God became man; and that in the fatal sense that God is ever becoming, and that He becomes a better and a purer God as He becomes more purely man. This pernicious system, which subverts the foundations of the Christian faith, and under a Christian form annihilates essential Christianity, has led to the doctrine that in Christ Jesus this incarnation had become a fact; and from it was deduced that God would have become man even if man had not sinned.
We have often spoken of the danger of teaching this doctrine. The Scripture repudiates it, teaching that Christ is a Redeemer from and an atonement for sin. But a mere passing contradiction will not stop this evil; this poisonous thread, running through the warp and woof of the Ethical theology, will not be pulled from the preaching until the conviction prevails that it is philosophic and pantheistic, leading away from the simplicity of Scripture.
But for the present nothing can be done. Almost all the German manuals now used by our rising ministers feed this error; hence the widespread prevalence of the idea that the image in which man was created was the Christ.
And this is natural. So long as it is maintained that, even without sin, man was destined for Christ and Christ for man, it must follow that the original man was calculated for Christ, and hence was created after the image of Christ.
For evidence that this deviates from the truth, we refer theologians to the writings of Augustine, Calvin, and Voetius on this point, and to our lay-readers we offer a short explanation why we and all Reformed churches reject this interpretation.
We begin with referring to the many passages in Scripture, teaching that the redeemed sinner must be renewed and transformed after the image of Christ.
In 2 Cor. iii.18 we read: “We all are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord”; and in Rom. viii.29: “That we are predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son”; and in I Cor. xv.49: “As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” To this category belong all such passages in which the Holy Spirit admonishes us to conform ourselves to the example of Jesus, which may not be understood as mere imitation, but which decidedly means a transformation into His image. And lastly, here belong those passages that teach that we must increase to a perfect man, “to the stature of the fullness of Christ”; and that “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”
Hence believers are called to transform themselves after Christ’s image, which is the final aim of their redemption. But this image is not the Eternal Word, the Second Person in the Trinity, but the Messiah, the Incarnate Word.1 Cor. xv.44 furnishes the undeniable proof. St. Paul declares there that the first man Adam was of the earth earthy; i.e., not only after the fall, but by creation. Then he says that as believers have borne the image of the earthy, so they will also bear the image of the heavenly, i.e., Christ. This shows clearly that in his original state man did not possess the image of Christ, but that afterward he will possess it. What Adam received in creation is clearly distinguished from what a redeemed sinner possesses in Christ; distinguished in this particular that it was not according to his nature to be formed after Christ’s image, which image he could receive only by grace after the fall.
This is evident also from what St. Paul teaches in — 1 Cor. xi In the third verse, speaking of the various degrees of ascending glory, he says that the man is the head of the woman, and the head of every man is Christ, and the head of Christ is God. And yet, having spoken of these four, woman, man, Christ, God, he says emphatically, in ver.7, not as might be expected, “The woman is the glory of the man, the man the glory of Christ,” but, omitting the link Christ, he writes: “For the man is the glory of God, and the woman the glory of the man.” If this theory under consideration were correct, he should have said: “The man is the image of Christ.”
Hence it is plain that according to Scripture the image after which we are to be renewed is not that after which we are created; the two must be distinguished. The latter is that of the Triune God whose image penetrated into the being of the race. The former is that of the holy and perfect Man Christ Jesus, our federal Head, and as such the Example [Dutch, Voorbeeld; literally, an image placed before one. — Trans.], after which every child of God is to be renewed, and which at last he shall resemble.
Hence Scripture offers two different representations: first, the Son who is the image of the Father as the Second Person in the Trinity; second, the Mediator our Example [Voorbeeld, image put before one], hence our image after which we are to be renewed; and between the two there is almost no connection. The Scripture teaching that the Son of God is the express image of His Person and the image of the Invisible, refers to the relation between the Father and the Son in the hidden mystery of the Divine Being. But speaking of our calling to be renewed after the image of Christ, it refers to the Incarnate Word, our Savior, tempted like as we are in all things, yet without sin.
Mere similarity of sound should not lead us to make this mistake. Every effort to translate Gen. I.26, “Let Us make man in or after the image of the Son,” is confusing. Then “Let Us” must refer to the Father speaking to the Holy Spirit; and this cannot be. Scripture never places the Father and the Holy Spirit in such relation. Moreover, it would put the Son outside the greatest act of creation, viz., the creation of man. And Scripture says: “Without Him was not anything made that was made” (John i.3); and again: “Through Him are created all things in heaven and on earth.”
Hence this “Let Us” must be taken either as a plural of majesty, of which the Hebrew has not a single instance in the first person; or as spoken by the Triune God, the Three Persons mutually addressing each other; or the Father addressing the two other Persons. A third is impossible.
Supposing that the Three Persons address each other; the image cannot refer to the Son, because, speaking of His own, He cannot say, “Our image,” without including the other Persons. Or suppose that the Father speaks to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; even then it cannot refer to the image of the Son, since He is the Father’s image and not that of the Holy Spirit. In whatever sense it be taken, this view is untenable, outside the analogy of Scripture, and inconsistent with the correct interpretation of Gen. I.26.
To put it comprehensively: If the divine image refers to the Christ, it must be that of the Eternal Son, or of the Mediator, or of Christ in the flesh. These three are equally impossible. First, the Son is Himself engaged in the creative work. Second, without sin there is no need of a Mediator. Third, Scripture teaches that the Son became flesh after our image, but never that in the creation we became flesh after His image.
The notion that the divine image refers to Christ’s righteousness and holiness, implying that Adam was created in extraneous righteousness, confounds the righteousness of Christ which we embrace by faith and which did not exist when Adam was created, and the original, eternal righteousness of God the Son. It is true that David embraced the imputed righteousness, although it existed not in his day, but David was a sinner and Adam before the fall was not. He was created without sin; hence the divine image cannot refer to the righteousness of Christ, revealed only in relation to sin.
In our present sad condition, we confess unconditionally that even now we lie in the midst of death, and have our life outside of ourselves in Christ alone. But we add: Blessed be God, it shall not always be so. With our last breath we die wholly to sin, and in the resurrection morning we shall be like Him; hence in the eternal felicity our life shall be no more without us, but in us.
Wherefore, to put the separation which was caused only by sin, and which in the saint continues only on account of sin, in Adam before the fall, is nothing else than to carry something sinful into Creation itself, and to annihilate the divine statement that man was created good.
Wherefore we admonish preachers of the truth to return to the old, tried paths in this respect, and teach in recitation-hall, pulpit, and catechetical class that man was created after the image of the Triune God. (1)

Another Important Scripture:
“And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” (Colossians 3:10)

From the Pulpit Commentary on Colossians 3:10:
Verse 10. – And having put on the new (man), which is being renewed unto (full) knowledge, after (the) image of him that created him (Ephesians 4:23, 24; Ephesians 2:15; Romans 6:4; Romans 7:6; Romans 8:1-4; Romans 13:12-14; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Colossians 1:9; Colossians 2:2, 3; Genesis 1:26-28; Matthew 5:48; Hebrews 12:10; 1 Peter 1:16; Romans 8:29). New (νέος) is “young,” “of recent date” (compare the “once,” “but now” of vers. 7, 8; also Colossians 1:5-8; 1 Peter 2:1, 2). Whose birth was well remembered, and which presented so vivid a contrast to the “old man with his deeds.” “Being renewed” (ἀνακαινούμενον, derived from the adjective καινός) sets forth the other side of this newness, its novelty of quality and condition (compare “newness of life,” Romans 6:4). And this participle is in the present tense (continuous), while the former is in the aorist (historical). So the notions are combined of a new birth taking place once for all, and a new character in course of formation. In Ephesians 4:23, 24 these ideas are in the same order (see Trench’s ‘Synonyms’). “Full knowledge” was one purpose of this renewal, the purpose most necessary to be set before the Colossians. The nature and objects of this knowledge have been already specified (Colossians 1:6, 9, 27, 28; Colossians 2:2, 3, 9, 10: comp. Ephesians 1:18, 19; Ephesians 3:18, 19; Philippians 3:8-14; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; and on ἐπίγνωσις, see note, Colossians 1:6). “After (the) image” is clearly an allusion to Genesis 1:26-28; so in Ephesians 4:24 (“after God”). It is adverbial to “renewed,” not to “knowledge.” Man’s renewal in Christ makes him what the Creator at first designed him to be, namely, his own image (compare note on “reconcile,” Colossians 1:20). Chrysostom and others take “Christ” as “him that created,” in view of Colossians 1:15, 16; but then it is said that all things “were created in… through… for Christ,” not absolutely that Christ created them. But “the image of God after which” man was created and is now recreated, is seen in Christ (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Corinthians 4:4; John 1:18). (2)

Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:
1 Strong’s Number: g1504 Greek: eikon
Denotes “an image;” the word involves the two ideas of representation and manifestation. “The idea of perfection does not lie in the word itself, but must be sought from the context” (Lightfoot); the following instances clearly show any distinction between the imperfect and the perfect likeness.
The word is used
(1) of an “image” or a coin (not a mere likeness), Mat 22:20; Mar 12:16; Luke 20:24; so of a statue or similar representation (more than a resemblance), Rom 1:23; Rev 13:14, 15 (thrice); 14:9, 11; 15:2; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4; of the descendants of Adam as bearing his image, 1Cr 15:49, each a representation derived from the prototype;
(2) of subjects relative to things spiritual, Hbr 10:1, negatively of the Law as having “a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things,” i.e., not the essential and substantial form of them; the contrast has been likened to the difference between a statue and the shadow cast by it;
(3) Of the relations between God the Father, Christ, and man,
(a) Of man as he was created as being a visible representation of God, 1Cr 11:7, a being corresponding to the original; the condition of man as a fallen creature has not entirely effaced the “image;” he is still suitable to bear responsibility, he still has Godlike qualities, such as love of goodness and beauty, none of which are found in a mere animal; in the Fall man ceased to be a perfect vehicle for the representation of God; God’s grace in Christ will yet accomplish more than what Adam lost;
(b) Of regenerate persons, in being moral representations of what God is, Col 3:10; cp. Eph 4:24;
(c) Of believers, in their glorified state, not merely as resembling Christ but representing Him, Rom 8:29; 1Cr 15:49; here the perfection is the work of Divine grace; believers are yet to represent, not something like Him, but what He is in Himself, both in His spiritual body and in His moral character;
(d) Of Christ in relation to God, 2Cr 4:4, “the image of God,” i.e., essentially and absolutely the perfect expression and representation of the Archetype, God the Father; in Col 1:15, “the image of the invisible God” gives the additional thought suggested by the word “invisible,” that Christ is the visible representation and manifestation of God to created beings; the likeness expressed in this manifestation is involved in the essential relations in the Godhead, and is therefore unique and perfect; “he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father,” Jhn 14:9. “The epithet “invisible.”… Must not be confined to the apprehension of the bodily senses, but will include the cognizance of the inward eye also” (Lightfoot).
As to synonymous words, homoioma, “likeness,” stresses the resemblance to an archetype, though the resemblance may not be derived, whereas eikon is a “derived likeness” (see LIKENESS); eidos, “a shape, form,” is an appearance, “not necessarily based on reality” (see FORM); skia, is “a shadowed resemblance” (see SHADOW); morphe is “the form, as indicative of the inner being” (Abbott-Smith); see FORM. For charakter, see No. 2.
2 Strong’s Number: g5481 Greek: charakter
Denotes, firstly, “a tool for graving” (from charasso, “to cut into, to engross;” cp. Eng., “character,” “characteristic”); then, “a stamp” or “impress,” as on a coin or a seal, in which case the seal or die which makes an impression bears the “image” produced by it, and, vice versa, all the features of the “image” correspond respectively with those of the instrument producing it. In the NT it is used metaphorically in Hbr 1:3, of the Son of God as “the very image (marg., ‘the impress’) of His substance.” RV. The phrase expresses the fact that the Son “is both personally distinct from, and yet literally equal to, Him of whose essence He is the adequate imprint” (Liddon). The Son of God is not merely his “image” (His charakter), He is the “image” or impress of His substance, or essence. It is the fact of complete similarity which this word stresses in comparison with those mentioned at the end of No. 1. In the Sept., Lev 13:28, “the mark (of the inflammation).”
“In Jhn 1:1-3, Col 1:15-17; Hbr 1:2, 3, the special function of creating and upholding the universe is ascribed to Christ under His titles of Word, Image, and Son, respectively. The kind of Creatorship so predicated of Him is not that of a mere instrument or artificer in the formation of the world, but that of One ‘by whom, in whom, and for whom’ all things are made, and through whom they subsist. This implies the assertion of His true and absolute Godhood” (Laidlaw, in Hastings’ Bib. Dic.).
Note: The similar word charagma, “a mark” (see GRAVEN and MARK), has the narrower meaning of “the thing impressed,” without denoting the special characteristic of that which produces it, e.g., Rev 13:16, 17. In Act 17:29 the meaning is not “graven (charagma) by art,” but “an engraved work of art.” (3)

The Image of God by Gordon H. Clark
IMAGE OF GOD. See also fall of Man; Imitation of Christ. The image of God in man is asserted but not precisely explained in Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1; 9:6; I Cor. 11:7, and James 3:9. Something of an explanation comes in Col. 3:10 and Eph. 4:24, where one may infer that the image consists of knowledge or rationality and righteousness or holiness, from which proceeds dominion over the creatures. Romans 8:29 confirms this by describing salvation as a process of conforming the predestined saint to the image of Christ.
Other passages also, such as Heb. 2:6-8 with its appeal to Ps. 8, and Acts 17:26-29, are examples and contribute at least implicitly to the doctrine. When, too, empirical philosophers deny innate ideas, inherited corruption, and a priori forms of the mind, Rom. 2:15 and Ps. 51:5 give the Biblical reply.
To avoid error, one must note that the image does not consist in man’s body. First, animals have bodies but were not created in God’s image. Second, God is spirit and has no body; for which reason idolatry is sin (Rom. 1:23).
Man is not two images, as a fanciful exegesis would interpret image and likeness in Gen. 1:26. Note that likeness is not repeated in Gen. 1:27. Nor can the single image be divided into parts. Dominion over the creatures is not an extra part, but one of the functions of unitary rationality. Not even morality is a second part, as if knowledge and righteousness are two components. Righteous action is a function of the unitary image. In fact, the unitary image is not something man has: the image is man. “Man is the image and glory of God” (I Cor. 11:7).
The reason some theologians have asserted a duality in the image, rather than the unity of the person and the plurality of his functions, is the occurrence of sin. Since Adam remained Adam after the fall, these theologians thought that some part of the image had been lost. Unfortunately this view allows the remaining part of man to be untouched by sin and so conflicts with the doctrine of total depravity.
Although sinful men, especially very sinful men, do not seem to be God’s image, these men could not sin unless they were. Sin presupposes rationality and voluntary decision. Sinning always starts in thought. Adam thought, incorrectly, but nevertheless thought that it would be better to join Eve in disobedience than to obey God and be separated from her. Sin has interfered with but does not prevent thought. It does not eradicate the image but causes it to malfunction. Responsibility (q.v.) depends on knowledge. Animals cannot sin and are not morally responsible because they are not rational or intellectual creatures. Therefore man remains the image of God even after the fall.
The image must be reason or intellect. Christ is the image of God because he is God’s Logos or Wisdom. This Logos enlightens every man that comes into the world. Man must be rational to have fellowship with God. II Peter 1:2-8; 2:20; 3:18 emphasize knowledge and state that the means through which God grants us all things that pertain to life and godliness is theology- our knowledge of him. This idea is important for the late twentieth century when the dialectical theologians deny the image of God in man, calling God Totally Other, or define image ridiculously as the sexual distinction between man and woman (Karl Barth), and insist that God cannot put his “truth” into language, thus denying that the Scriptures are revelation and even reducing them to false pointers to something unknowable.
Secular objections to the image of God in man can be based only on a general non-theistic philosophy. Evolution views man as a natural development from neutrons and protons, through plants and animals, until in Africa, Asia, and the East Indies human being emerged. Therefore evolution cannot insist on the unity of the human race as Christianity does in Acts 17:26.
Evolution as an explanatory principle must apply to the mind as well as to the body. There can then be no divine image, no eternal principles, no fixed truth or logic. The mind operates only with the practical results of biological adaptation. Reason is simply a human method of handling things. Earlier man had and future man will have other forms of logic. The syllogism called Barbara is valid now but will become a fallacy after a while.
If this be so, that is, if evolutionists have used evolutionary logic in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in order to sustain their theory, then their arguments will prove fallacious in the next evolutionary advance and evolution will then be a fallacy.
The Biblical doctrine alone makes eternal truth possible (and “truth” that is not eternal is not truth). Reason makes possible both sin and fellowship with God. Sin has caused a malfunctioning of man’s mind, but redemption will renew men in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, so that in heaven we shall no longer make mistakes even in arithmetic. GORDON H. CLARK (4)

Does the image of God in man mean that God has a body?
No, because God is omnipresent, meaning, He is fully present everywhere.

From Scripture, God’s Omnipresence is seen in the following verses:
“But will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth? Behold heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee: how much less this house which I have built!” (2 Chronicles 6:18)
“Wither shall I go from thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?” (Psalms 139:7)
“Thus Saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? And where is the place of my rest?” (Isaiah 66:1)
“Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? Saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth?” (Jeremiah 23:24)
If God has a corporeal finite body, it would be a logical contradiction and rejection of God’s omnipresence. See *****

Additional support from Scripture that God does not have a body:
In the next two passages, Jesus says:
“Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” (Luke 24:39)
“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)

In closing:

Reformed Confessions on man in God’s image:
Belgic Confession (1561):
14. We believe that God created man out of the dust of the earth, and made and formed him after his own image and likeness, good, righteous, and holy, capable in all things to will, agreeably to the will of God. But being in honour, he understood it not, neither knew his excellency, but willfully subjected himself to sin, and consequently to death, and the curse, giving ear to the words of the devil. For the commandment of life, which he had received, he transgressed; and by sin separated himself from God, who was his true life, having corrupted his whole nature; whereby he made himself liable to corporal and spiritual death. And being thus become wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all his ways, he hath lost all his excellent gifts, which he had received from God, and only retained a few remains thereof, which, however, are sufficient to leave man without excuse; for all the light which is in us is changed into darkness, as the Scriptures teach us, saying: The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not: where St. John calleth men darkness.

Heidelberg Catechism (1563):
Q. 6. Did God then create man so wicked and perverse?
A. By no means; but God created man good, and after his own image, in true righteousness and holiness, that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love him and live with him in eternal happiness to glorify and praise him.
Q. 86. Since then we are delivered from our misery merely of grace, through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we still do good works?
A. Because Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit after His own image; that so we may testify by the whole of our conduct our gratitude to God for His blessings, and that He may be praised by us; also, that every one may be assured in himself of his faith by the fruits thereof; and that by our godly conversation others may be gained to Christ.

Canons of Dordt (1618-1619):
III/IV: 1. Man was originally formed after the image of God. His understanding was adorned with a true and saving knowledge of his Creator, and of spiritual things; his heart and will were upright; all his affections pure; and the whole man was holy; but revolting from God by the instigation of the devil, and abusing the freedom of his own will, he forfeited these excellent gifts; and on the contrary entailed on himself blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity and perverseness of judgment, became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in his affections.
III/IV: R: 2. [The Synod rejects the errors of those] Who teach that the spiritual gifts, or the good qualities and virtues, such as goodness, holiness, righteousness, could not belong to the will of man when he was first created, and that these, therefore, could not have been separated therefrom in the fall.

Westminster Confession (1646):
4:2. After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it: and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject unto change. Beside this law written in their hearts, they received a command, not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; which while they kept, they were happy in their communion with God, and had dominion over the creatures.

Westminster Larger Catechism (1647):
Q. 17. How did God create man?
A. After God had made all other creatures, he created man male and female; formed the body of the man out of the dust of the ground, and the woman of the rib of the man, endued them with living, reasonable and immortal souls; made them after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness and holiness.

Notable quote:
William Perkins: “The image of God is nothing else but a conformity of man unto God whereby man is holy as God is holy: for Paul saith, Put on the new man, which after God, that is in God’s image, is created in righteousness and holiness. Now I reason thus: Wherein the renewing of the image of God in man doth stand, therein was it at the first; but the renewing of God’s image in man doth stand in righteousness and holiness: therefore God’s image wherein man was created at the beginning, was a conformity to God in righteousness and holiness.” (Works, vol. 1, pp. 150-151)

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

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

1. Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, ‘IX. The Image of God in Man.’ (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing, reprinted 1979), pp. 242-246.
2. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Colossians, Vol. 20, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 151.
3. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Iowa Falls, Iowa, Riverside Book and Bible House), pp. 576-578.
4. Gordon H. Clark, in Baker’s Dictionary of Christian Ethics. Carl F.H. Henry, ed. Washington D.C., Canon Press, 1973). Encyclopedia 55. Image of God (typed)
“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. He served as an ordained ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He worked in and retired from a fortune five hundred company in corporate America after forty years. He runs two blogs sites and is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at:
For more study:
* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes:
** CARM theological dictionary
**** Reformed answers
Man as the image of God by Louis Berkhof…/berkhof/systematic_theology.html…
The Original State of Man by A. A. Hodge

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