Can Women be teachers, elders, and ministers in the Church?

Can Women be teachers, elders, and ministers in the Church? By Jack Kettler

In this study, we will seek to understand what the Scriptures teach regarding women and the biblical injunctions for them not to be elders or ministers in Christ’s church. As in previous studies, we will look at scriptures, commentary evidence and confessional support for the glorifying of God in how we live.

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

New Testament Church Offices:

Presbuteros, (elders, bishops, overseers) Diakonos, (deacons)

The English word “priest” comes from the Greek word (presbuteros). The priests (presbuteroi) are known today as “presbyters” or “elders.” The words bishops, elders, presbyters are used interchangeably, see, (Acts 20:17-28; 1 Peter 5:1 1 Peter 5:2; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:2).

The New Testament offices listed above have their roots in the Old Testament Israel’s system of priests and elders along with the patriarchs. In regards to Old Testament priests, Aaron and his sons were called by God to serve as Levitical priests. As will be seen this calling was limited to Aaron’s sons and has implications for New Testament Church offices.

How did the New Testament offices arrive? The roots of the New Testament offices have their beginning in the Old Testament.

For example, from the Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology on elders:

“The New Testament. The office of elder in the New Testament church cannot be fully understood without the background of the Old Testament local elder, an office still functioning in New Testament Judaism with duties pertaining to discipline and leadership (cf. Luke 7:3 ; and the implications of Matt 10:17; and John 9:22 ). The first Christians were Jewish and the office was familiar to them. Thus, Luke did not need to explain his first reference to Christian elders in Acts 11:30.

New Testament elders (presbyteroi [presbuvtero]) are also called bishops (episkopoi [ejpivskopo]) without implying any essential difference in the office referred to. In Acts 20:17, 28 and Tit 1:5, 7 the two names are used interchangeably. Also the requirements for the office of the elders and bishops are very similar (cf. Titus 1:5-9; and 1 Tim 3:1-7). The term “elder” stresses the connection with the age of the office bearer, while the term “bishop” emphasizes the nature of the task that is to be done. A distinction is made (in 1 Tim 5:17) between those elders who rule well, especially those who labor in the preaching and teaching (who are now called ministers), and others (who are now referred to as elders and whose full-time task is directing the affairs of the church).” (1)

Who are and what is an Old Testament Patriarch?


“pa’-tri-ark, patriarches). The word occurs in the New Testament in application to Abraham (Hebrews 7:4), to the sons of Jacob (Acts 7:8, 9), and to David (Acts 2:29). In Septuagint it is used as the equivalent of the head of the fathers’ house, or of a tribe (1 Chronicles 24:31; 27:32; 2 Chronicles 26:12). Commonly now the term is used of the persons whose names appear in the genealogies and covenant-histories in the periods preceding Moses (Gen 5; 11, histories of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc.; compare “patriarchal dispensation”).” (2)

The Patriarchs:

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were patriarchs as were the heads of the tribes of Israel were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulon, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Benjamin, and Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh.

The reader will notice that the priests and patriarchs were all men. Patriarchy in the Old Testament was a system where males exercise main power and the principal roles of leadership, and moral authority.

Deborah a prophetess (Judges 4:4) and Esther in the Old Testament were individual cases of women who were in influential leadership roles. These individual cases do not invalidate the norm of male leadership in the Old Covenant system. Prophets in the Old Testament functioned external of the governing body of elders and priests. The prophets were sent to rebuke the leaders of Israel or the nation itself.

This section of the study will look at the Old Testament office of the priesthood and its implications for the question of women elders and ministers.

What do the Scriptures say regarding the priesthood?

Old Testament priesthood was restricted to the sons of Aaron and was perpetual:

“And thou shalt gird them with girdles, Aaron and his sons, and put the bonnets on them: and the priest’s office shall be theirs for a perpetual statute: and thou shalt consecrate Aaron and his sons.” (Exodus 29:9) (Underlining emphasis mine)

“And thou shalt put upon Aaron the holy garments, and anoint him, and sanctify him; that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office. And thou shalt bring his sons, and clothe them with coats: And thou shalt anoint them, as thou didst anoint their father that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office: for their anointing shall surely be an everlasting (‘olam) priesthood throughout their generations.” (Exodus 40:13–15)


The Hebrew word ‘olam (everlasting) can have a temporal aspect ascribed to it. It can be used regarding ordinances in the Older Covenant that were to be kept by the people of Israel, which were not carried over into the New Covenant Church practice in their Older Covenant forms. The outward Old Covenant forms changed, the substance of the forms did not. Said another way, there are discontinuities and continuities between covenants. The temporal aspect was the forms changed. The everlasting aspect was the substance did not change. In truth, there are significant discontinuities and continuities in redemptive history when moving from the Older Covenant into the New Covenant era. To illustrate this, Saturday/Sunday Sabbath practice, circumcision/baptism, Passover/communion, and priesthood/elder pastor changes.

Besides, there is a fundamental change in the Old Covenant high priesthood because of Christ Jesus and His role as the only priest after the order of Melchisedec. Instead of many high priests, there is now only one high priest, the Lord Jesus Christ. From many high priests to one is a critical discontinuity. One continuity going into the New Covenant is the continued leadership role of men.

The next passage regarding Aaron’s sons carries the death penalty for its violation:

“But only you and your sons can serve as priests at the altar and in the most holy place. Your work as priests is a gift from me, and anyone else who tries to do that work must be put to death.” (Numbers 18:7CEV)

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible provides valuable information on Numbers 18:7:

“Therefore, thou and thy sons with thee shall keep your priest’s office, observe all the duties of it, and keep out others from intruding into it: for everything of the altar: both of incense and of burnt offering with respect to burning incense on the one, and offering sacrifices on the other; both were to be done by priests, and by no other: and within the vail; in the most holy place, where the high priest entered but once a year, and he only with incense, and the blood of sacrifices, see Hebrews 9:7, and ye shall serve; do all the business that is to be done at either altar, whether in the court, or in the holy place, and whatsoever is to be done in the most holy place within the vail: I have given your priest’s office unto you as a service of gift; it was not what they had taken to themselves of their own will, or had thrust themselves into, but what the Lord had called them to, and had freely invested them with, see Hebrews 5:4, and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death; any common person, as the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan; any Israelite, one that is a stranger from the priests, though a Levite, as Aben Ezra; such an one might not come either to the altar of burnt offering to offer any sacrifice upon it, or the altar of incense, to burn incense on that, or trim the lamps, or put the shewbread in order, or to do anything peculiar to the priest’s office.” (3)

Moving into the New Testament:

New Testament Scriptures that are relevant to the question of women teachers and elders:

Paul’s commandments to the Churches:

“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. What? Came the word of God out from you? Or came it unto you only? If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 14:34-37)


First, Paul says, “Let your women keep silence in the churches.” There is some debate as to what this means. If it is literal, this will prohibit women teachers. Also, Paul says in the above passage “as also saith the law.” When Paul says this, he is most certainly referring to Genesis 3:16, “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow, thou shalt bring forth children, and; thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” Paul’s instruction is in regards to the creational patriarchal order that he says is still binding.

In addition, Paul says his instructions “are the commandments of the Lord,” and he says “churches.” “Churches” are mentioned in the plural. Therefore, “the commandments of the Lord” are not issued to just one church. These commandments of the Lord are different from a culturally conditioned directive like “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you” (Romans 16:16). Greeting or parting with a kiss is still a norm in some Mediterranean countries. This custom never took hold in Northern European countries. Sexually modest clothing would be a commandment. The actual type of clothing styles can vary from country to country and be culturally conditioned. For example, Jesus probably wore a Middle Eastern robe that was the norm in Israel. A robe, however, is not commanded in the twenty-first century. A commandment is not a suggestion, and it signifies divine rule.

How are these commandments of God implemented in the Church? The following abridgment of James W. Scott’s article on women speaking in the church explains this quite well.

May Women Speak in Church? By James W. Scott

What Speaking Is Forbidden?

“As we have already indicated, the speaking that is forbidden to women is public speaking, or speaking out, in the church assemblies. Speaking in general seems to be prohibited.

Praying (that is, leading in prayer) must be included in this speaking. Indeed, 1 Timothy 2:8 specifically states that “men” (in Greek, “males,” not “people”) are to “pray in every place [of worship], lifting up holy hands [that is, leading in prayer].”

Since singing is a form of “speaking” (Ephesians 5:19) and “teaching” (Colossians 3:16), it would also come within the scope of activity prohibited to women. This would rule out “special music” sung by women.

However, it is important to distinguish between an individual addressing the congregation and the congregation as a whole worshiping God audibly in the recitation of a prayer or the singing of a hymn. One aspect of such congregational speech is that the members of the congregation speak to one another (Ephesians 5:19), but in this case no individual teaching or leading is involved.

Would it be right for a minister to read a sermon or congregational prayer written out for him by a woman? Clearly not. Consider, then, whether it is right for him to lead the congregation in singing a song written out by a woman. As much as we may like the sentiments expressed by, say, Fanny Crosby, her words should not be given authority in the worship of the church. To sing her hymns in public worship is to make her a teacher, a worship leader, and a prayer leader in the church assembly.

Is there any way to escape the relentless logic of the rule of silence? Yes, says James B. Hurley, in Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective (Zondervan, 1981, pp. 185-94): the speaking prohibited to women in verses 34-35 is the judging of prophets mentioned briefly in passing way back in verse 29. And since prophecy has ceased, so has the judging of prophets, and thus this passage can now be ignored (pp. 185-94)!

However, verses 33b-36 form a distinct unit, not a continuation of the previous discussion of spiritual gifts. Thus, the previous discussion cannot be imposed on the passage to provide a limitation on its language.

Second, there is not the slightest hint in verses 33b-36 that the judging of prophets is in view. If Paul merely didn’t want women to judge prophets, why didn’t he simply say so?

Third, verses 34-35 are much too far from verse 29 to suppose that a reference there to evaluating prophets would control the subject matter of verses 34-35. Various kinds of speech are mentioned in verses 26-32; why should anyone think that verse 34 harks back to verse 29?

For these reasons, Hurley’s view must be rejected.

The only possible qualification that I can see in the rule of silence is that the verb “speak” has the nuance of “assert one’s views” or “express oneself.” The similar instruction in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 also requires women to remain silent, but more specifically prohibits teaching and other leading.

If this is so, it would be proper for a woman to give a personal testimony, report, announcement, or prayer request to the congregation, provided that it does not become exhortation, teaching, or leading in worship. (Whether such activity is appropriate in a worship service is a separate question.) The woman must be careful to remain “in subjection” (that is, not leading the assembly).” (4)

The New Testament biblical pattern of authority:

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.” (Colossians 3:18)

“But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ, and; the head of the woman is the man, and; the head of Christ is God.” (1 Corinthians 11:3)

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary explains the apostle Paul on 1 Corinthians 11:3:

“3. The Corinthian women, on the ground of the abolition of distinction of sexes in Christ, claimed equality with the male sex, and, overstepping the bounds of propriety, came forward to pray and prophesy without the customary head-covering of females. The Gospel, doubtless, did raise women from the degradation in which they had been sunk, especially in the East. Yet, while on a level with males as to the offer of, and standing in grace (Ga 3:28), their subjection in point of order, modesty, and seemliness, is to be maintained. Paul reproves here their unseemliness as to dress: in 1Co 14:34, as to the retiring modesty in public, which becomes them. He grounds his reproof here on the subjection of woman to a man in the order of creation.

The head—an appropriate expression, when he is about to treat of woman’s appropriate headdress in public.

Of every man … Christ—(Ephesians 5:23).

Of … woman … man —(1Co 11:8; Ge 3:16; 1Ti 2:11, 12; 1Pe 3:1, 5, 6).

The head of Christ is God—(1Co 3:23; 15:27, 28; Lu 3:22, 38; Joh 14:28; 20:17; Ephesians 3:9). “Jesus, therefore, must be of the same essence as God: for, since the man is the head of the woman, and since the head is of the same essence as the body, and God is the head of the Son, it follows the Son is of the same essence as the Father” [Chrysostom]. “The woman is of the essence of the man, and not made by the man; so, too, the Son is not made by the Father, but of the essence of the Father” [Theodoret, t. 3, p. 171].” (5)

“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” (1 Timothy 2:11-12)

Matthew Poole’s Commentary on 1 Timothy 2:12 are helpful:

“But I suffer not a woman to teach; not to teach in the public congregation, except she be a prophetess, endued with extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, as Mary, and Anna, and Huldah, and Deborah, and some women in the primitive church, concerning whom we read, 1 Corinthians 11:5, that they prophesied.

Nor to usurp authority over the man: ordinary teaching of the woman was a usurpation of authority over the man, who is the head, which the apostle also forbade in 1 Corinthians 11:3, and here repeateth. It is probable that the speaking of some women in the church who had extraordinary revelations, imboldened others also to aim at the like, which the apostle here directs his speech against. Nevertheless, women may, and it is their duty to instruct their children and families at home, especially in the absence of their husbands.” (6)


We can conclude from the above Scriptures and commentary that women are not allowed to teach or lead in public worship services. Women can teach in Sunday school classes, present information in congregational meetings, speak and lecture in theology conferences. The above Pauline passages rule out women ministers and elders.

Qualifications for church officers that speak to the prohibition of women elders:

“A bishop (elder) then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach.” (1 Timothy 3:2)

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible on 1 Timothy 3:2 provide essential information:

“A bishop – A minister of religion, according to the foregoing remarks, who has the charge or oversight of any Christian church. The reference here is doubtless to one who had the government of the church entrusted to him 1 Timothy 3:4-5, and who was also a preacher of the gospel.

Must be blameless – This is a different word (ἀνεπίλημπτον anepilēmpton) from that rendered “blameless” in Luke 1:6; Philippians 2:15; Philippians 3:6 (ἄμεμπτος amemptos); compare however, Luke 1:6 note; Philippians 3:6 note. The word here used does not mean that, as a necessary qualification for office, a bishop should be “perfect;” but that he should be a man against whom no charge of immorality, or of holding false doctrine, is alleged. His conduct should be irreprehensible or irreproachable. Undoubtedly it means that if “any” charge could be brought against him implying moral obliquity, he is not fit for the office. He should be a man of irreproachable character for truth, honesty, chastity, and general uprightness.” (7)

In his comments, Barnes leaves no room for women elders.

“One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity.” (1 Timothy 3:4)

Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is most helpful:

“3:1-7 If a man desired the pastoral office, and from love to Christ, and the souls of men, was ready to deny himself, and undergo hardships by devoting himself to that service, he sought to be employed in a good work, and his desire should be approved, provided he was qualified for the office. A minister must give as little occasion for blame as can be, lest he bring reproach upon his office. He must be sober, temperate, moderate in all his actions, and in the use of all creature-comforts. Sobriety and watchfulness are put together in Scripture, they assist one the other. The families of ministers ought to be examples of good to all other families. We should take heed of pride; it is a sin that turned angels into devils. He must be of good repute among his neighbor’s, and under no reproach from his former life. To encourage all faithful ministers, we have Christ’s gracious word of promise, Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world, Mt 28:20. And he will fit his ministers for their work, and carry them through difficulties with comfort, and reward their faithfulness.” (8)

An observation:

The commentators and scriptures use no gender-neutral language. The leadership language is always masculine. As seen in the previous passages, regarding the qualifications of deacons, male leadership is assumed.

“And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so, must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.” (1 Timothy 3:10-12)


It is true that “wives,” (γυνᾶικας gunaikas), could mean women. The apostle is dealing with the ordination of elders and deacons. Let us assume women to be the preferred translation. How would verse 11 fit into the context of Paul’s instructions to Timothy?

Dr. Leonard Coppes has some pertinent observations on this section of Scripture:

What then does one do with 1 Timothy 3:11:

“Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.”

Certainly, women cannot be ordained-that is, invested with authority to represent and participate in ruling over men. Perhaps this statement refers to the wives of deacons as Peter Y. DeJong (The Ministry of Mercy for Today, Grand Rapids, 1952, p. 97f.) argues. He notes that the deacons of the New Testament times would be faced with situations, which would pre-empt their successful execution of their responsibilities, and necessitate the use of a woman (no doubt, he says, their wives). For example, men could hardly tend widows and women who were ill. If so understood, the qualifications for these women are understandable. Another more plausible explanation might be that Paul is here speaking of women who were so used by the church, but who were not ordained. This would certainly explain why verse 10 precedes verse 11.

Verse 10 reads:

“Let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.”

If the intent was to speak of women office-bearers that verse would more consistently follow verse 11.

“Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.”

Our argument is further strengthened (1) by verse 12 which seems to contrast “deacons” with “women” (vs. 11) and thus distinguishes the wives of deacons and these women of verse 11, (20 by verse 13 which suggests that deacons are good candidates for the eldership; and (30 by verse 8 which is virtually parallel to verse 11 except that verse 8 begins with deacons (therefore, deacons are different from women).

The rest of the New Testament makes it clear that women were prominent in aiding (Rom. 16:1f.) and otherwise serving (Rom. 16:3, 6) the saints.” (9)

See * note below under “for more study” for a different view on the translation of (γυνᾶικας gunaikas). This study argues for the translation of “wives” rather than “women.”

What can we learn from the book of Hebrews on the standards of ordination?

“For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.” (Hebrews 5:1)

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on this passage from Hebrews:


“Hebrews 5:1-14. Christ’s High Priesthood; Needed Qualifications; Must Be a Man; Must Not Have Assumed the Dignity Himself, but Have Been Appointed by God; Their Low Spiritual Perceptions a Bar to Paul’s Saying All He Might on Christ’s Melchisedec-like Priesthood.

1. For – substantiating Hebrews 4:15.

Every – that is, every legitimate high priest; for instance, the Levitical, as he is addressing Hebrews, among whom the Levitical priesthood was established as the legitimate one. Whatever, reasons Paul, is excellent in the Levitical priests, is also in Christ, and besides Excellencies, which are not in the Levitical priests.

Taken from among men—not from among angels, who could not have a fellow feeling with us men. This qualification Christ has, as being, like the Levitical priest, a man (Hebrews 2:14, 16). Being “from men,” He can be “for (that is, in behalf of, for the good of) men.”

Ordained – Greek, “constituted,” “appointed.”

Both gifts – to be joined with “for sins,” as “sacrifices” is (the “both … and” requires this); therefore not the Hebrew, “mincha,” “unbloody offerings,” but animal whole burnt offerings, spontaneously given. “Sacrifices” are the animal sacrifices due according to the legal ordinance [Estius].” (10)

Final concluding observations:

“For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.” (1 Peter 3:1; 5-6)

Peter calls the married woman to be in subjection unto their husbands and offers proof for this by referring to Sara obeying Abraham. Peter’s instruction is similar to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:34 where he says “as also saith the law.”

The primary reference in 1 Corinthians 14:34 is to Genesis 3:16. The reference to the law may also be a general reference to the whole Old Testament system of patriarchy as defined the entry on PATRIARCH from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. See note 4.

In these next two citations of Scripture, the leadership of the Old and New Covenant Churches pictured together in heaven.

In Revelation 4:4, the twenty-four elders sitting on twenty-four thrones surrounding the throne of God represents the entire church starting with the twenty-four for the twelve patriarchs (men) of the Old Testament and the twelve apostles (men) of the New Testament, see Revelation 21:12-14.

A pattern in Scripture:

1. God’s covenants were made with the men Adam and the Adamic covenant; Noah and the Noahic covenant; Abraham and the Abrahamic covenant; Moses and the Mosaic covenant; and David and the Davidic covenant.

2. New Covenant is made with the God-man, Christ Jesus, and the head of the Church.

3. God is referred to in masculine terms biblically. For example, a brief list of similes used to describe God is King, Father, Our Father, Husband, and Him, and He.

These concluding observations bring us back to the New Testament declaration:

“But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man, and; the head of Christ is God.” (1 Corinthians 11:3) What Paul is saying is creational as seen in Genesis 3:16 and an ongoing New Testament norm.

In his Doctrinal Considerations of 1 Corinthians 11:3, Simon J. Kistemaker explains the parallels the headship between and husband and wife and Christ and the Church. The continued headship of the husband over the wife has inescapable parallels to male church governance:

“In a discussion on the word head in the current text, we ought to look at the other places where Paul uses this term. In his epistles, it occurs seventeen times; of which seven instances have the literal meaning of the word and ten the figurative connotation.

When Paul develops his teaching of Christ’s authority over the church and all creation, he expounds the headship of Christ. In Ephesians 1:22, Paul introduces Christ’s headship with a reference to his heavenly exaltation far above all “rule and authority, power and dominion.” The text itself speaks of the execution of Christ’s divine authority: “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him head over everything for the church.” The theme that Christ is the head of the church also occurs in Ephesians 4:15; 5:23; and Colossians 1:18; 2:19. Christ is called the head over all things (Col. 2:10).

In one passage, Paul parallels the headship of Christ and the church with the husband as the head of the wife. In this particular text, we have a parallel that is instructive for interpreting 1 Corinthians 11:3. This is the reading: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior” (Eph. 5:22–23). The analogy of husband and wife to Christ and the church is clear. The wife submits to the husband as the church submits to Christ. But headship has its own unique quality, as the text indicates: Christ is the Savior of the church, which is his body. The church, then, has its existence in him. Likewise, on the basis of the account of Eve’s creation (Gen. 2:21–23), the husband acknowledges that the woman is from man and is dependent on him. Thus, headship signifies authority but it also includes a reference to origin that affects a continued relationship.

We infer from the parallel of 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:22–23 that Paul presents Christ’s headship as a model. Just as Christ is the head of every man and of the church, so the husband is the head of the wife. As Christ submits to God the Father, so the wife submits to her husband.” (11)

A partial list of churches that do not ordain women, priests or ministers:

Orthodox Judaism does not allow women Rabbis. The Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church does not allow the ordination of women to the offices of bishops or priests. Conservative Presbyterian and Reformed churches, the Southern Baptist Convention churches, Reformed Baptists churches, Lutheran Wisconsin Synod and Missouri Synod churches do not ordain women. This list is not exhaustive. These different expressions of the Christian faith agree on the doctrine of male-only ordination. Agreement on the non-ordination of women is significant in light of the other differences between these churches.

A relevant question, does the ordination of women lead to theological liberalism?

In a review of “A New Path to Theological Liberalism?” Albert Mohler seeks an answer to this question:

“In Evangelical Feminism, published by Crossway Books, Wayne A. Grudem argues that evangelical feminism now represents one of the greatest dangers to the continued orthodoxy of the evangelical movement. ‘I am concerned that evangelical feminism (also known as “egalitarianism”) has become a new path by which evangelicals are being drawn into theological liberalism,’ he explains.” (12)

Dr. Gordon Clark on the history behind not ordaining women:

“The Protestant Reformation, for all its opposition to Romanism, never questioned the practice of ordaining men only. Now, if this practice has continued from the time of Abraham down to 1960 or thereabouts, those who are innovators surely must bear the burden of proof. The Westminster Confession indeed says, ‘All Synods…may err, and many have erred.’ Therefore, it is theoretically possible that the Reformed Presbyterian Church is in error. But when the agreement is worldwide over 4,000 years, it is, I repeat, extremely improbable. Therefore a mountainous burden of proof rests on those who advocate the ordination of women.” (13)

Therefore, in light of the above biblical material, women cannot be ministers’ or elders, nor teach in worship services in the churches of Christ.


1. Walter A. Elwell, Editor Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House), p. 347.

2. James Orr, M.A., D.D. General Editor, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Definition for ‘PATRIARCH; PATRIARCHS’, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing), p. 2264.

3. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Numbers, 9 Volumes, Romans, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 261-262.

4. James W. Scott is the managing editor of New Horizons. He supplies his own Bible translations. Reprinted from New Horizons, January 1996.

5. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977), p. 1211.

6. Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, vol. 3, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), p. 778.

7. Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, 1 Timothy, p. 3867.

8. Matthew Henry, Concise Commentary, 1 Timothy, (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson), p. 1964.

9. Leonard J. Coppes, Who Will Lead US: A Study in the Development of Biblical Offices with Emphasis on the Diaconate, (Chattanooga, TN, Pilgrim Publishing Company, 1977), pp. 136-137.

10. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977), p. 1408.

11. Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, 1 Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, 1986), pp. 366-367.

12. Albert Mohler, A New Path to Theological Liberalism?, ttps://www.…/a-new-path-to-theological-liberali…

13. http ://www.

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

For more study:

* How should γυνᾶικας gunaikas be translated in 1 Timothy 3:11–“women” or “wives”?

Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood Edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem

The Ordination of Women by Dr. Gordon H. Clark

Who will lead us: A study in the development of Biblical offices, with emphasis on the diaconate by Dr. Leonard J. Coppes

Where can the teaching of women ordination lead? By Matt Slick

Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? By Wayne A. Grudem…/…/1581347340

Dangerous first step Scholar Wayne Grudem on how “evangelical feminism” undermines Scripture and leads to theological liberalism

Women Servants

A Historical and Biblical Examination of Women Deacons by Brian M. Schwertley

Archibald Alexander Allison OPC pastor
Biblical Qualifications for Elders
Biblical Qualifications for Deacons (part1)
Biblical Qualifications for Deacons (part2)
Biblical Qualifications for Deacons(part3)

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Jephthah’s vow, did he sacrifice his Daughter?

Jephthah’s vow, did he sacrifice his Daughter? By Jack Kettler

Did Jephthah kill his daughter? Many commentators believe that Jephthah did sacrifice his daughter as a burnt offering. In this study, an alternative thesis will be put forward by citing some of the dissenting commentators and raising a few questions that make it unlikely that Jephthah did.

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

The section of Scripture for this study:

“Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon. And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering. So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the Lord delivered them into his hands. And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus, the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel. And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter. And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! Thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back. And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the Lord hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon. And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows. And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains. And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel, that the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.” (Judges 11:29-40) (Highlighting emphasis mine)

The textual highlighting is for emphasis that is crucial to a proper interpretation of Jephthah’s vow.

According to the next passage from Numbers, there appears to be no way out of a vow made unto the Lord:

“If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.” (Numbers 30:2)

The above vow made by Jephthah appears to be airtight as far as negating it. If this is true, it would certainly seem to work against the dissenting view that Jephthah did not fulfill the vow in a literal way. Is there a way out of a vow made before God?

There is a provision for an unbiblical or rash vow:

“Or if a soul swear, pronouncing with his lips to do evil, or to do good, whatsoever it be that a man shall pronounce with an oath, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty in one of these. And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing.” (Leviticus 5:4-5)

There is a way out and for those making unbiblical and rash vows. Consider the Benson Commentary on the passage from Leviticus:

Leviticus 5:4. If a soul swear — Rashly and unadvisedly, without consideration, either of God’s law or of his own power or right, as David did, 1 Samuel 25:22 : so the following word, לבשׂא, lebattee, rendered pronouncing, properly signifies, Psalm 106:33. The meaning is, whosoever shall, in a passion or otherwise, make an oath to do a person an injury, or to do him a kindness, and afterward, forgetting his oath, shall fail in the performance, so soon as he recollects himself he shall make atonement for his offence. In the case of threatening private revenge, or to do evil in any other way, the oath ought to be recalled, as being a thing in itself unlawful. But the person who thus rashly uttered that oath was involved in guilt, and needed to have his sin expiated. And for a similar reason he was punishable, if with an oath he promised to do any thing that was not in his power. It may also be understood of a person’s making a vow to do something either beneficial or hurtful to himself, as to fast, or afflict himself. For that is the sense of swearing to do evil, or to his own hurt. And it be hid from him — That is, if through forgetfulness he neglect punctually to perform what he promised on oath. When he knoweth it, he shall be guilty in one of these — As soon as he recollects himself, and comes to the knowledge of such an omission, he shall be obliged to expiate his offence by sacrifices, being guilty in one of these; that is, in one of the things which are forbidden to be done. (1)

Consider King David’s rash vow:

“God do so to the enemies of David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male of all who belong to him.” (1 Samuel 25:22ESV)

God provided a way out for David and his rash vow. Consider the Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament understanding of this passage:

However, intelligible David’s wrath may appear in the situation in which he was placed, it was not right before God, but a sudden burst of sinful passion, which was unseemly in a servant of God. By carrying out his intention, he would have sinned against the Lord and against His people. But the Lord preserved him from this sin by the fact that, just at the right time, Abigail, the intelligent and pious wife of Nabal, heard of the affair, and was able to appease the wrath of David by her immediate and kindly interposition.

1 Samuel 25:14-16

Abigail heard from one of (Nabal’s) servants what had taken place (בּרך, to wish any one prosperity and health, i.e., to salute, as in 1 Samuel 13:10; and יעט, from עיט, to speak wrathfully: on the form, see at 1 Samuel 15:19 and 1 Samuel 14:32), and also what had been praiseworthy in the behaviour of David’s men towards Nabal’s shepherds; how they had not only done them no injury, had not robbed them of anything, but had defended them all the while. “They were a wall (i.e., a firm protection) round us by night and by day, as long as we were with them feeding the sheep,” i.e., a wall of defense against attacks from the Bedouins living in the desert. (2)


As seen in 1 Samuel, Abigail intervened on David’s half, freeing him from the vow. Likewise, Phinehas the priest; at the time of Jephthah could have intervened and redeemed Jephthah’s daughter with a price. Besides, as seen in Leviticus 5:4-5 a substitute animal sacrifice would satisfy the demands of the vow. Did this intervention happen with Phinehas, the priest? We do not know. The scriptural record is silent, so nothing can be said without using an argument from silence.

What about Deuteronomy 12:31 and Exodus 20:13 and Jephthah’s vow?

Jephthah’s vow if in fact was about burning his daughter is contrary to, “Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.” (Deuteronomy 12:31)

The passage in Deuteronomy speaks in particular about the people of Canaan and sacrificing children to their false gods. Despite its particular focus, the passage has implications for Jephthah and how he should have known that a human sacrifice breaks one of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). A typical father would surely be thinking about a way out of the vow. That is where Leviticus 5:4-5 would be relevant.

Because of this commandment in Exodus 20:13, the Israelites were forbidden never to worship God in the way of the Canaanites. It can be presumed that Jephthah was aware of these scriptural prohibitions since God had raised him up as a Judge and deliverer of Israel.

Consider Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible. Gill’s comments show the difficulty of solving the understanding of Jephthah’s daughter and his vow from Judges:

And it came to pass at the end of two months she returned to her father … For the request she made was not a pretense to make her escape out of his hands; but having done what she proposed to do, and the time fixed for it being come, she returned to her father’s house, and delivered herself to him:

who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: but what he did is a question, and which is not easily resolved; some think he really sacrificed her, through a mistaken sense of Leviticus 27:29 and which his action are accounted for through his living a military life, and in a distant part of the country, and at a time when idolatry had greatly prevailed in Israel, and to such a degree as it had not before, and no doubt that branch of it, sacrificing children to Molech; and Jephthah might think that though that was sinful, yet such a sacrifice might be acceptable to the Lord; and especially since his vow, as he thought, bound him to it; and how far the instance of Abraham offering up his son Isaac might encourage him to it, cannot be said: of this mind were Josephus (k), Jonathan Ben Uzziah the Targumist, and some other Jewish writers (l); and many of the ancient Christian fathers, and many modern authors of every name among Christians; and it has been thought that the story of Iphigenia, who Capellus (m) thinks is the same with Jepthigenia, that is, the daughter of Jephthah, and was slain by her father Agamemnon, having several circumstances in it similar to this, is taken from hence: and there is much such a case as this related (n) of Idomeneus, a king of the Cretians, who upon his return after the destruction of Troy, being in a tempest, vowed, should he be saved, that he would sacrifice the first he met with to the gods; and as it was his son he first met with, he sacrificed him; or, as others say, would have done it, but was prevented by the citizens, and who on this account drove him from his kingdom. But others are of opinion that what Jephthah did according to his vow was, that he shut up his daughter, and separated her from the company of men, and obliged her to live unmarried all her days, and therefore she is said to bewail her virginity. Kimchi and Ben Melech say, he built a house for her without the city, where she dwelt alone, and knew no man; and where her father supported her, and obliged her to live all her days; and Abarbinel thinks, that the Romanists from hence learnt to build their cloisters to put their nuns in; and so Ben Gersom interprets this vow of her being separated from men, and devoted to the service of God; and which is the sense of many Christian interpreters. Now though Jephthah had no such power over his daughter, as to oblige her to perpetual virginity, nor did his vow bind him to it; for persons devoted to the Lord were not obliged to abstain from marriage, nor have we any instances of a monastic life in those times, nor among the Jews at any time; yet as he did something not right, which he thought his vow obliged him to, one would be rather tempted to think, in charity to him, that of the two evils he did the least; for if she was put to death, it must be done either by the magistrates, or by the priests, or by Jephthah himself; neither of which is probable:

and she knew no man; never married, but lived and died a virgin: “and it was a custom in Israel”; the Targum adds, “that a man might not offer his son or his daughter for a burnt offering, as Jephthah the Gileadite did, and did not consult Phinehas the priest; for had he consulted Phinehas the priest, he would have redeemed her with a price;”’ so Jarchi, according to Leviticus 27:4 but each stood upon their honour, as the Jews say (o); Jephthah being a king would not go to Phinehas, and Phinehas being an high priest; and the son of an high priest, would not go to a plebeian; and so, between them both, the maiden was lost: but the custom refers to what follows.

(k) Antiqu l. 5. c. 7. sect. 10. (l) Bereshit Rabba, sect. 60, fol. 52. 3. Vajikra Rabba, sect. 37. fol. 176. 4. (m) De Voto Jephthae, sect. 12. (n) Alex. ab Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 3. c. 22. Servius in Virgil. Aeneid. l. 3. col. 693. in l. 11. col. 1634. (o) Bereshit Rabba & Vajikra, ut supra. (l)); Midrash Kohelet, fol. 81. 3. (3)

As Gill notes, “for if she was put to death, it must be done either by the magistrates, or by the priests, or by Jephthah himself; neither of which is probable.” Gill’s observations, highlight the interpretive difficulty in understanding the outcome of Jephthah’s vow. In the time of the patriarch Abraham, individuals could offer sacrifices. In Jephthah’s time, the priesthood, and tabernacle were in place, and individuals who were not part of the priesthood could not offer sacrifices. Jephthah was not a priest and therefore was not able to offer sacrifices. As seen later in redemptive history, God revoked Saul from being King over Israel for offering a sacrifice. See 1 Samuel 13:1-15:33.

Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on Judges 11:29-40 is a reasonable supposition to Jephthah’s vow:

11:29-40: Several important lessons are to be learned from Jephthah’s vow. 1. There may be remainders of distrust and doubting, even in the hearts of true and great believers. 2. Our vows to God should not be as a purchase of the favour we desire, but to express gratitude to him. 3. We need to be very well-advised in making vows, lest we entangle ourselves. 4. What we have solemnly vowed to God, we must perform, if it be possible and lawful, though it be difficult and grievous to us. 5. It well becomes children, obediently and cheerfully to submit to their parents in the Lord. It is hard to say what Jephthah did in performance of his vow; but it is thought that he did not offer his daughter as a burnt-offering. Such a sacrifice would have been an abomination to the Lord; it is supposed she was obliged to remain unmarried, and apart from her family. Concerning this and some other such passages in the sacred history, about which learned men are divided and in doubt, we need not perplex ourselves; what is necessary to our salvation, thanks be to God, is plain enough. If the reader recollects the promise of Christ concerning the teaching of the Holy Spirit, and places himself under this heavenly Teacher, the Holy Ghost will guide to all truth in every passage, so far as it is needful to be understood. (4)

Benson’s Commentary on the passage from Judges confirms the alternative thesis, namely, that Jephthah’s daughter was not sacrificed but remained in perpetual virginity:

Judges 11:39. Did with her — That Jephthah’s daughter was not sacrificed, but only devoted to perpetual virginity, appears. 1st, from Judges 11:37-38, where we read that she bewailed, not her death, which had been the chief cause of lamentation, if that had been vowed, but her virginity; 2d, From this verse, where, after the sacred writer had said, that he did with her according to his vow; he adds, by way of declaration of the matter of that vow, and she knew no man. (5)


Jephthah’s daughter said this, “Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows. And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.” (Judges 11:37)

It makes no sense for Jephthah’s daughter and her companions to bewail her virginity if she is about to be put to death. It does make sense to bewail her virginity if she is going to bound to be a perpetual virgin.


“And it came to pass at the end of two months that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man.” (Judges 11:39)

“And she knew no man” is an added on thought in the text. If she was sacrificed, it is a strange way of saying that she was killed as a burnt offering. If she was sacrificed, the added on thought offers unnecessary information. Instead of being unnecessary information, this added on thought may be textual evidence that the vow was not human sacrifice, but perpetual virginity.

Requirements for Levitical burnt offering and implications for Jephthah’s sacrifice:

When considering how at this point in redemptive history and the development of the priesthood and tabernacle, it becomes problematic for the actual sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter and should give pause and consideration of the alternative, interpretation, namely that his daughter and her perpetual virginity was the fulfillment of the vow.

Question: “What is a burnt offering?”

Answer: The burnt offering is one of the oldest and most common offerings in history. It’s entirely possible that Abel’s offering in Genesis 4:4 was a burnt offering, although the first recorded instance is in Genesis 8:20 when Noah offers burnt offerings after the flood. God ordered Abraham to offer his son, Isaac, in a burnt offering in Genesis 22, and then provided a ram as a replacement. After suffering through nine of the ten plagues, Pharaoh decided to let the people go from bondage in Egypt, but his refusal to allow the Israelites to take their livestock with them in order to offer burnt offerings brought about the final plague that led to the Israelites’ delivery (Exodus 10:24-29).

The Hebrew word for “burnt offering” actually means to “ascend,“ literally to “go up in smoke.” The smoke from the sacrifice ascended to God, “a soothing aroma to the LORD” (Leviticus 1:9). Technically, any offering burned over an altar was a burnt offering, but in more specific terms, a burnt offering was the complete destruction of the animal (except for the hide) in an effort to renew the relationship between Holy God and sinful man. With the development of the law, God gave the Israelites specific instructions as to the types of burnt offerings and what they symbolized.

Leviticus 1 and 6:8-13 describe the traditional burnt offering. The Israelites brought a bull, sheep, or goat, a male with no defect, and killed it at the entrance to the tabernacle. The animal’s blood was drained, and the priest sprinkled blood around the altar. The animal was skinned and cut it into pieces, the intestines and legs washed, and the priest burned the pieces over the altar all night. The priest received the skin as a fee for his help. A turtledove or pigeon could also be sacrificed, although they weren’t skinned.

A person could give a burnt offering at any time. It was a sacrifice of general atonement—an acknowledgement of the sin nature and a request for renewed relationship with God. God also set times for the priests to give a burnt offering for the benefit of the Israelites as a whole, although the animals required for each sacrifice varied. See got questions ***

Some additional Levitical references on The Burnt Offerings:

Leviticus 1:3 “Let him offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it of his own free will at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the LORD.”

Leviticus 1:4-9 “Then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him. ’He shall kill the bull before the LORD; and the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall bring the blood and sprinkle the blood all around on the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of meeting . . . and the priest shall burn all on the altar as a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD.”

Leviticus 1:6-9 “And he shall skin the burnt offering and cut it into its pieces. The sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar, and lay the wood in order on the fire. Then the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat in order on the wood that is on the fire upon the altar; but he shall wash its entrails and its legs with water.”

In light of the above information on burnt offerings, it would have been impossible for a priest in Israel to accept Jephthah’s daughter for a burnt offering and follow the prescriptions of draining the blood, skinning and cutting it in pieces and burning the pieces over the altar all night and allowing the priest to keep the skin.

Additionally, the burnt offering required a male animal. “Ye shall offer at your own will a male without blemish, of the beeves, of the sheep, or of the goats” (Leviticus 22:19). The requirement of a male also makes it unlikely that Jephthah daughter became a burnt offering. The requirement of a male surely looked forward to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

Moreover, Jephthah’s vow was rash. As the commentator, Joseph Benson noted, “If a soul swear rashly and unadvisedly, without consideration of God’s law” (Leviticus 5:4). In verse 5 of Leviticus Chapter 5, the text shows that there was a way out of the rash vow.

Also, Jephthah continued as a Judge over Israel for several more years. The text says nothing about any outcry or complaints against the violation of God’s law if Jephthah did indeed sacrifice his daughter. Later in Judges, God chronicled Samson’s sins. Where the Scriptures say nothing or are silent, we must tread carefully.

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


1. Joseph Benson, Benson Commentary of the Old and New Testaments, Leviticus, (New-York, New York, Published By T. Carlton & J. Porter, 1857), page online reference.

2. Keil-Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, 1 Samuel, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted 1985), p.240-241.

3. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Judges, 9 Volumes, Romans, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p.184-186.

4. Matthew Henry, Concise Commentary, Judges, (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson), p.416-417.

5. Joseph Benson, Benson Commentary of the Old and New Testaments, Judges, (New-York, New York, Published By T. Carlton & J. Porter, 1857), page online reference.

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

For more study:


** CARM theological dictionary


A majority view, contrary to the above thesis:

Jephthah’s Vow by Tim Chaffey at

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The Visible and Invisible Church

The Visible and Invisible Church by Jack Kettler

In this study, we will seek to understand the terminology, “Visible” and “Invisible Church.” Are these terms meaningless or essential to help understand the local and universal aspects of the church? As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, commentary evidence and confessional support for the glorifying of God in how we live.

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


Visible church

“All those who profess faith in Christ and give evidence of their faith with their lives”; all those who profess faith in Christ, submit to baptism, and place themselves under the preaching and authority of a local church, along with their children. *

Invisible church

“The company of those who truly believe in Jesus Christ and are the recipients of salvation, both those who are currently alive and those who have died.” *

The Visible Church from Scripture:

“Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” (1 Corinthians 1:2)

Corinth is a visible city on a map with a church that has a physical location for worship.

The Invisible Church from Scripture:

“Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal; The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” (2 Timothy 2:19)

In contrast, 2 Timothy, God speaks of believers that He knows in distinction from a church membership in a specific church like Corinth or Ephesus.

First, it is essential to answer the question; what is the Church?

The word church in the New Testament is the translation of the Greek word ecclesia and is synonymous with the Hebrew kahal in the Old Testament. Kahal is translated Ecclesia in the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament. Both words mean an assembly in their most basic meaning and do not necessarily have anything to do with public worship. The context determines the meaning.

Ecclesia is used in the following ways in the New Testament:

Ecclesia is translated “assembly” in the primary way in Acts 19:32, 39, and 41. In this case, Demetrius and fellow artisans assembled against Paul with the town clerk pacifying the people and keeping order.
It is the whole body of the redeemed, or all those whom the Father has given to Christ, the invisible catholic or universal Church in Ephesians 5:23, 25, 27, 29 and Hebrews 12:23.
It can be used for a few Christians associated together, in Romans 16:5 and Colossians 4:15.
It can be used for Christians in a particular city, irrespective if they are assembled in one place or several places for worship, and are thus an ecclesia. The disciples in Antioch, forming several congregations, were one Church in Acts 13:1, in addition, we see the “Church of God at Corinth” 1 Corinthians 1:2, also the “Church at Jerusalem” in Acts 8:1 and the “Church of Ephesus” in Revelation 2:1.
Ecclesia can also be used for the whole body of confessing Christians throughout the world as seen in 1 Corinthians 15:9, Galatians 1:13, and Matthew 16:18 are the Church of Christ. **

The value of the visible invisible church distinction seen in the next two passages:

“Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matthew 13:30)

“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” (1 John 2:19)

In the visible church, there are fake believers and true believers. They both (tares and wheat) grow together until the end. The tares are part of the visible church. The wheat is part of the visible church plus the universal invisible church. Only God knows the true membership roll making up the invisible church. On a human level, we cannot read the hearts of professors of faith. That is why many are shocked when a seemingly strong member of the church departs and goes into unbelief as John explains in 1 John 2:19.

More evidence that Christ’s Church is both “visible” and “invisible:”

Chapter 25 Of the Church in the Westminster Confession explains how the Church “visible” is comprised of all those throughout the world that profess the true faith, together with their children. The church is called “visible” because its membership roll identifies its members and its assemblies are public in a physical location. In the visible Church, there is a mixture of “wheat and chaff,” or of saints and unconverted sinners. God has commanded His people to organize themselves into visible assemblies, with constitutions, officers, ordinances governing worship, and discipline for the purpose of making known the gospel of His kingdom, and of gathering in all of the elect from the uttermost parts of the earth, Mark 13:27.

Each one of these organized assemblies that pledges fidelity to Christ is part of the visible Church, and together with their children constitute the universal visible Church. A credible profession of faith involving membership vows is required for an adult to be a member of the visible Church. This Church is also called “the kingdom of heaven,” whose characteristics can be seen in the parables found in Matthew 13:24-52.

In comparison, the Church “invisible” consists of the whole number of the elect that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one universal body under Christ, the head thereof. The Church is the body of Christ. It is called “invisible” because the greater part of those who are members in it are already in heaven or are yet unborn, and because its members still on earth cannot with certainly be distinguished this side of heaven because of the mixture of “wheat and chaff.”

The Church is universal or worldwide. Christ’s Church is pictured as the stone in Daniel 2:35. This stone becomes a mountain and fills the whole earth. This kingdom can never be destroyed and is Christ’s Church, Daniel 2:44. In the parable of the mustard seed, we see the Church and how it will become a great tree is seen in (Matthew 13:31-32). Christ’s Church will advance in History and the “Gates of Hell” shall never prevail against Her, Matthew 16:17. **

The distinction between the Visible and Invisible Church by John Calvin:


But because it is now our intention to discuss the visible church, let us learn even from the simple title “mother” [Footnote 10] how useful, indeed how necessary, it is that we should know her. For there is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels [Matthew 22:30]. Our weakness does not allow us to be dismissed from her school until we have been pupils all our lives. Furthermore, away from her bosom one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation, as Isaiah [Isaiah 37:32] and Joel [Joel 2:32] testify. Ezekiel agrees with them when he declares that those whom God rejects from heavenly life will not be enrolled among God’s people [Ezekiel 13:9]. On the other hand, those who turn to the cultivation of true godliness are said to inscribe their names among the citizens of Jerusalem [cf. Isaiah 56:5; Psalm 87:6]. For this reason, it is said in another psalm: “Remember me, O Jehovah, with favor toward thy people; visit me with salvation: that I may see the well-doing of thy chosen ones, that I may rejoice in the joy of thy nation, that I may be glad with thine inheritance” [Psalm 106:4-5 p.; cf. Psalm 105:4, Vg., etc.]. By these words God’s fatherly favor and the especial witness of spiritual life are limited to his flock, so that it is always disastrous to leave the church.

(The visible church: its membership and the marks by which it is recognized, 7-9)


“How we are to judge the church visible, which falls within our knowledge, is, I believe, already evident from the above discussion. For we have said that Holy Scripture speaks of the church in two ways. Sometimes by the term “church” it means that which is actually in God’s presence, into which no persons are received but those who are children of God by grace of adoption and true members of Christ by sanctification of the Holy Spirit. Then, indeed, the church includes not only the saints presently living on earth, but all the elect from the beginning of the world. Often, however, the name “church” designates the whole multitude of men spread over the earth who profess to worship one God and Christ. By baptism we are initiated into faith in him; by partaking in the Lord’s Supper we attest our unity in true doctrine and love; in the Word of the Lord we have agreement, and for the preaching of the Word the ministry instituted by Christ is preserved. In this church are mingled many hypocrites who have nothing of Christ but the name and outward appearance. There are very many ambitious, greedy, envious persons, evil speakers, and some of quite unclean life. Such are tolerated for a time either because they cannot be convicted by a competent tribunal or because a vigorous discipline does not always flourish as it ought. Just as we must believe, therefore, that the former church, invisible to us, [Footnote 14] is visible to the eyes of God alone, so we are commanded to revere and keep communion with the latter, which is called “church” in respect to men.


Accordingly, the Lord by certain marks and tokens has pointed out to us what we should know about the church. As we have cited above from Paul, to know who are His is a prerogative belonging solely to God [2 Timothy 2:19]. [Footnote 15] Steps were indeed thus taken to restrain men’s undue rashness; and daily events themselves remind us how far his secret judgments surpass our comprehension. For those who seemed utterly lost and quite beyond hope are by his goodness called back to the way; while those who more than others seemed to stand firm often fall. ‘Therefore, according to God’s secret predestination (as Augustine says), “many sheep are without, and many wolves are within.” [Footnote 16] For he knows and has marked those who know neither him nor themselves. Of those who openly wear his badge, his eyes alone see the ones who are unfeignedly holy and will persevere to the very end [Matthew 24:13]—the ultimate point of salvation.

But on the other hand, because he foresaw it to be of some value for us to know who were to be counted as his children, he has in this regard accommodated himself to our capacity. And, since assurance of faith was not necessary, he substituted for it a certain charitable judgment whereby we recognize as members of the church those who, by confession of faith, by example of life, and by partaking of the sacraments, profess the same God and Christ with us. [Footnote 17] He has, moreover, set off by plainer marks the knowledge of his very body to us, knowing how necessary it is to our salvation.


From this the face of the church comes forth and becomes visible to our eyes. Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists [cf. Ephesians 2:20]. [Footnote 18] For his promise cannot fail: “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them” [Matthew 18:20]. But that we may clearly grasp the sum of this matter, we must proceed by the following steps: the church universal is a multitude gathered from all nations; it is divided and dispersed in separate places, but agrees on the one truth of divine doctrine, and is bound by the bond of the same religion. Under it are thus included individual churches, disposed in towns and villages according to human need, so that each rightly has the name and authority of the church. Individual men who, by their profession of religion, are reckoned within such churches, even though they may actually be strangers to the church, still in a sense belong to it until they have been rejected by public judgment.

There is, however, a slightly different basis for judgment concerning individual men and churches. For it may happen that we ought to treat like brothers and count as believers those whom we think unworthy of the fellowship of the godly, because of the common agreement of the church by which they are borne and tolerated in the body of Christ. We do not by our vote approve such persons as members of the church, but we leave to them such place as they occupy among the people of God until it is lawfully taken from them.

But we must think otherwise of the whole multitude itself. If it has the ministry of the Word and honors it, if it has the administration of the sacraments, it deserves without doubt to be held and considered a church. For it is certain that such things are not without fruit. In this way we preserve for the universal church its unity, which devilish spirits have always tried to sunder; and we do not defraud of their authority those lawful assemblies which have been set up in accordance with local needs. (1)

From The Westminster Larger Catechism on the Visible Church:

Q62: What is the visible church?

A62: The visible church is a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world do profess the true religion, and of their children.

Q63: What are the special privileges of the visible church?

A63: The visible church has the privilege of being under God’s special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, not withstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him.

From The Westminster Larger Catechism on the Invisible Church:

Q. 64. What is the invisible church?

A. The invisible church is the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ the head.

Q. 65. What special benefits do the members of the invisible church enjoy by Christ?

A. The members of the invisible church by Christ enjoy union and communion with him in grace and glory.

In closing, are you only a member of the visible church?

Are you wheat or a tare? There is an earthly roll and heavenly roll. The Jewish people kept extensive genealogies. These were membership records or rolls. They were earthly membership rolls. Likewise, the early church had membership records as the elders kept records on the numbers of new disciples see Acts 2:41, 47; 4:4; 6:1, 7; 16:5. There is nothing wrong with having your name in the earthly roll, in fact, it is essential. However, being in a Jewish genealogy or being numbered in a church membership roll is not the same as being in the book of life.

“Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.” (Exodus 32:32)

“Like them, the one who is victorious will be dressed in white. And I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but I will confess his name before My Father and His angels.” (Revelation 3:5) This is the heavenly roll of life.

These two passages point to the heavenly membership roll that your name must be in to have eternal life. Are you listed in this book? Usually, you must first be listed in the church’s earthly membership roll.

Church Membership: Is it Biblical? By Phillip G. Kayser:


The Biblical pattern is to be “numbered” or “added to” the rolls of a local church (Acts 2:41,47; 4:4; 6:1,7; 16:5; 1 Tim. 5:9), to be committed to that local body (1 Cor. 12:12-28; Rom. 12:4,5; Eph. 4:25) and under the rule and oversight of shepherds who know each sheep (Heb. 13:7,17-18; 1 Cor. 16:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:11-14). The Old Testament prophesied that in the New Covenant time “the LORD will record, when He registers the peoples” (Psalm 87:6). When moves or transfers were necessary, the Biblical method was to use a letter of transfer or commendation (Acts 18:27; Rom. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 3:1; 8:23-24; Philemon; 3 John 6-9,12). Indeed, any inter-church business was conducted by people with reference letters (e.g., 1 Cor. 16:3; 2 Cor. 8:16-24). Also, it is logically impossible to reconcile the doctrine of discipline with a belief that membership is not necessary. How can an excommunicated person be “taken away from among you” (1 Cor. 5:2) if there is no roll from which the person can be removed? It is not sufficient to say that he is physically barred from the church since even unbelievers could be present (1 Cor. 14:23). Furthermore, if people simply circulated from church to church it would be impossible for the eldership to recognize and bar from the building all who were under discipline. Membership rolls are both Biblically and logically necessary for the maintenance of a holy church. (2)


“Church membership was so important that Paul and Silas baptized the Philippian jailer into the membership of Christ’s church at midnight with Paul’s back still bloody from a beating! He did not even wait till morning! Identification with Christ’s church is important; without it, one must be treated ‘as a heathen and publican.’” – Jay Adams

“We must re-grasp the idea of church membership as being the membership of the body of Christ and as the biggest honour which can come man’s way in this world.” – Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder,” where will you be? If you are in the heavenly roll, you will be called up yonder.


1. Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, The Library of Christian Classics, XX-XXI, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960) Book IV, Chapter 1, pp. 1016, 1021-1024.

2. Phillip G. Kayser, Kayser Commentary, kaysercommentary .com

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

For more study:


** Taken from a devotional given at a RPCNA congregational meeting in 2016

The Kayser Commentary is a great online resource at

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Antinomianism by Jack Kettler

In this study, we will seek to understand antinomianism. As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, commentary evidence and confessional support for the glorifying of God in how we live.

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

Definitions from two sources:


A name for several views that have denied that God’s law in Scripture should directly control the Christian’s life; the belief that obedience to God’s moral law is not necessary for the Christian. *


The word antinomianism comes from two Greek words, anti, meaning “against”; and nomos, meaning “law.” Antinomianism means “against the law.” Theologically, antinomianism is the belief that there are no moral laws God expects Christians to obey. Antinomianism takes a biblical teaching to an unbiblical conclusion. The biblical teaching is that Christians are not required to observe the Old Testament Law as a means of salvation. When Jesus Christ died on the cross, He fulfilled the Old Testament Law (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:23-25; Ephesians 2:15). The unbiblical conclusion is that there is no moral law God expects Christians to obey. **

The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology states, “In fact, it was Luther who actually coined the word antinomianism in his theological struggle with his former student, Johann Agricola.” (1)

Scriptures against Antinomianism:

“The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.” (Psalm 19:7)

“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19)

From Charles Spurgeon’s commentary on Matthew 5:17-19 we read:

Verse 17, “He [Jesus] took care to revise and reform the laws of men; but the law of God he established and confirmed.”

It is noteworthy that Spurgeon says that Jesus came, “established,” and “confirmed.” This was his understanding of “fulfilled.”

Spurgeon continues in verse 18, “Not a syllable is to become effete (exhausted of energy; worn out). Even to the smallest letters, the dot of every ‘I’, and the crossing of every ‘t,’ the law will outlast the creation” Verse 19, Spurgeon says “Our King has not come to abrogate the law, but to confirm and reassert it.” (2)

“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” (Romans 7:7)

“Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” (Romans 7:12)

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

“But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully.” (1 Timothy 1:8)

“Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” (1 John 3:4)

Antinomianism or LAWLESS from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:

lo’-les (anomos): While occurring but once in the King James Version (1 Tim 1:9), is translated in various ways, e.g. “without law” (1 Cor. 9:21); “unlawful” (2 Pet 2:8 the King James Version); “lawless” (1 Tim 1:9); “transgressor” (Mk 15:28; Lk 22:37); “wicked” (Acts 2:23 the King James Version; 2 Thess. 2:8 the King James Version). When Paul claims to be “without law,” he has reference to those things in the ceremonial law, which might well be passed over, and not to the moral law. Paul was by no means an antinomian. Those are “lawless” who break the law of the Decalogue; hence, those who disobey the commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother,” are lawless (1 Tim 1:9). The civil law is also the law of God. Those breaking it are lawless, hence, called “transgressors.” Those who are unjust in their dealings are also “lawless”; for this reason the hands of Pilate and those who with him unjustly condemned Jesus are called
“wicked (unlawful) hands” (Acts 2:23 the King James Version). The most notable example of lawlessness is the Antichrist, that “wicked (lawless) one” (2 Thess. 2:8). William Evans Bibliography Information (3)

The next essay explains the various manifestations of antinomianism:

Antinomianism: We are Not Set Free to Sin by J. I. Packer:

“Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he [Christ] is righteous. – 1 JOHN 3:7

Antinomianism, which means being “anti-law,” is a name for several views that have denied that God’s law in Scripture should directly control the Christian’s life.

Dualistic antinomianism appears in the Gnostic heretics against whom Jude and Peter wrote (Jude 4-19; 2 Pet. 2). This view sees salvation as for the soul only, and bodily behavior as irrelevant both to God’s interest and to the soul’s health, so one may behave riotously and it will not matter.

Spirit-centered antinomianism puts such trust in the Holy Spirit’s inward prompting as to deny any need to be taught by the law how to live. Freedom from the law as a way of salvation is assumed to bring with it freedom from the law as a guide to conduct. In the first 150 years of the Reformation era this kind of antinomianism often threatened, and Paul’s insistence that a truly spiritual person acknowledges the authority of God’s Word through Christ’s apostles (1 Cor. 14:37; cf. 7:40) suggests that the Spirit-obsessed Corinthian church was in the grip of the same mind-set.

Christ-centered antinomianism argues that God sees no sin in believers, because they are in Christ, who kept the law for them, and therefore what they actually do makes no difference, provided that they keep believing. But 1 John 1:8–2:1 (expounding 1:7) and 3:4-10 point in a different direction, showing that it is not possible to be in Christ and at the same time to embrace sin as a way of life.

Dispensational antinomianism holds that keeping the moral law is at no stage necessary for Christians, since we live under a dispensation of grace, not of law. Romans 3:31 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 clearly show, however, that law-keeping is a continuing obligation for Christians. “I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law,” says Paul (1 Cor. 9:21).

Dialectical antinomianism, as in Barth and Brunner, denies that biblical law is God’s direct command and affirms that the Bible’s imperative statements trigger the Word of the Spirit, which when it comes may or may not correspond exactly to what is written. The inadequacy of the neo-orthodox view of biblical authority, which explains the inspiration of Scripture in terms of the Bible’s instrumentality as a channel for God’s present-day utterances to his people, is evident here.

Situationist antinomianism says that a motive and intention of love is all that God now requires of Christians, and the commands of the Decalogue and other ethical parts of Scripture, for all that they are ascribed to God directly, are mere rules of thumb for loving, rules that love may at any time disregard. But Romans 13:8-10, to which this view appeals, teaches that without love as a motive these specific commands cannot be fulfilled. Once more an unacceptably weak view of Scripture surfaces.

It must be stressed that the moral law, as crystallized in the Decalogue and opened up in the ethical teaching of both Testaments, is one coherent law, given to be a code of practice for God’s people in every age. In addition, repentance means resolving henceforth to seek God’s help in keeping that law. The Spirit is given to empower law-keeping and make us more and more like Christ, the archetypal law-keeper (Matt. 5:17). This law-keeping is in fact the fulfilling of our human nature, and Scripture holds out no hope of salvation for any who, whatever their profession of faith, do not seek to turn from sin to righteousness (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Rev. 21:8).” (4)

Protestant Reformer John Calvin on Antinomianism:

“Some unskillful persons, from not attending to this [the third use of the law], boldly discard the whole law of Moses, and do away with both its Tables, imagining it unchristian to adhere to a doctrine which contains the ministration of death. Far from our thoughts be this profane notion!

Moses has admirably shown that the Law, which can produce nothing but death in sinners, ought to have a better and more excellent effect upon the righteous. When about to die, he thus addressed the people, “Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do, all the words of this law. For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life,” (Deut. 32:46, 47.)

If it cannot be denied that it contains a perfect pattern of righteousness, then, unless we ought not to have any proper rule of life, it must be impious to discard it. There are not various rules of life, but one perpetual and inflexible rule; and, therefore, when David describes the righteous as spending their whole lives in meditating on the Law, (Psalm 1:2,) we must not confine to a single age, an employment which is most appropriate to all ages, even to the end of the world.

Nor are we to be deterred or to shun its instructions, because the holiness which it prescribes is stricter than we are able to render, so long as we bear about the prison of the body. It does not now perform toward us the part of a hard taskmaster, who will not be satisfied without full payment; but, in the perfection to which it exhorts us, points out the goal at which, during the whole course of our lives, it is not less our interest than our duty to aim. It is well if we thus press onward. Our whole life is a race, and after we have finished our course, the Lord will enable us to reach that goal to which, at present, we can only aspire in wish.” (5)

The next passage is cited again for its importance and clarification of the law in the life of the Christian.

“But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully.” (1 Timothy 1:8)

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible comments on 1 Timothy 1:8 explain Paul correctly:

“If a man use it lawfully; for if it is used in order to obtain life, righteousness, and salvation by the works of it, or by obedience to it, it is used unlawfully: for the law does not give life, nor can righteousness come by it; nor are, or can men be saved by the works of it; to use the law for such purposes, is to abuse it, as the false teachers did, and make that which is good in itself, and in its proper use, to do what is evil; namely, to obscure and frustrate the grace of God, and make null and void the sufferings and death of Christ. A lawful use of the law is to obey it, as in the hands of Christ, the King of saints, and lawgiver in his church, from a principle of love to him, in the exercise of faith on him, without any mercenary selfish views, without trusting to, or depending on, what is done in obedience to it, but with a view to the glory of God, to testify our subjection to Christ, and our gratitude to him for favours received from him.” (6)

Contemporary theologian, Sinclair Ferguson’s assessment is perceptive as a conclusion to this study:

“Within the matrix of legalism at root is the manifestation of a restricted heart disposition toward God, viewing him through a lens of negative law that obscures the broader context of the Father’s character of holy love. This is a fatal sickness. Paradoxically, it is this same view of God, and the separation of his person from his law, that also lies at the root of antinomianism. The bottom line in both of these -isms is identical. That is why the gospel remedy of them is one and the same.” (7)

Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 89 is important:

Q: How is the word made effectual to salvation?

A: The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, 1 and of building, them up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation. 2

1. Psalm 19:7. The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.

Psalm 119:130. The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.

Hebrews 4:12. For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

2. 1 Thessalonians 1:6. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost.

Romans 1:16. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

Romans 16:25. Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began.

Acts 20:32. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.

“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. Walter A. Elwell, Editor, The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House), p.58.

2. Charles Spurgeon, The Gospel of the Kingdom, Commentary on Matthew, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Revell, 1987 reprinted 1995), p. 52-53.

3. James Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Definition for “LAWLESS,” (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, 1915), p.1859.

4. J.I. Packer, Concise Theology, (Wheaton, Illinois, Tyndale, 1993), pp. 178-180.

5. John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), p. 419–420.

6. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, 1 Timothy, 9 Volumes, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 12.

7. Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance―Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters, (Wheaton, Illinois, Crossway, 2016), p. 85.

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

For more study:



Antidote to the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent on the Doctrine of Justification (1547)

By John Calvin

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Transgenderism by Jack Kettler

In this study, we will look at transgenderism. We hear the term in the media; see characters in movies and the children in fed gov schools are being indoctrinated into its acceptance. Restrooms in many places are now so-called gender neutral. Going into a restroom is now left up to a person’s personal assessment of what their sex is. This new standard of individual subjective assessment of sexual status is problematic.

Past societal norms are being bludgeoned apart by the new social justice warriors. States, fed gov agencies are in full swing behind eradicating the biblical norms and the past moral consensus. The only standard used is that of the individual or who can scream the loudest on a college campus. This standard of subjective individualism as the interpretive norm is full-blown autonomous humanism.

The Bible God’s revelation to man is the only objective standard for determining right and wrong.

Hence, as in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical data, and commentary evidence and confessional support for the glorifying of God in how we live.


Transsexualism, also known as transgenderism, Gender Identity Disorder (GID), or gender dysphoria, is a feeling that your biological/genetic/physiological gender does not match the gender you identify with and/or perceive yourself to be. Transsexuals/transgenders often describe themselves as feeling “trapped” in a body that does not match their true gender. They often practice transvestism/transvestitism and may also seek hormone therapy and/or gender reassignment surgery to bring their bodies into conformity with their perceived gender. *

Is there a societal event that has triggered the transgender movement? In the modern era, it may very well be that feminism is partially the cause of gender confusion. Feminism would be a cause because of feminism’s idea of radical equality and its corollary that there is no male supremacy by a man over a woman. This assertion is speculative; nevertheless, ideas have consequences, and there can be a causal connection, for example, legalized abortion and the progression to calls for infanticide.

Transgenderism a biblical evaluation:

Transgenderism must be dealt with primarily as an issue of biblical conformity. Besides the sinful nature, one should not rule out factors such as fed gov school indoctrination, media propaganda, side effects of pharmaceutical drugs, imbalanced diets. In addition, sexual molestation as a young person by an adult and hormone therapies as possible contributing factors to gender confusion. These possible extenuating factors in no way lessens the requirement of biblical fidelity on the part of individuals. It is possible that someone can struggle with gender confusion without becoming transsexual.

The Bible does not directly mention the word transgenderism. The passage referred to most often is Deuteronomy 22:5 in discussions of transgenderism. This passage is undoubtedly relevant to the issue of transgenderism. 1 Corinthians 6:9 is also uniquely important passage as will be seen. In the additional biblical passages consulted in this study, it is evident that men and women are distinguished clearly in Scripture, and this fact most certainly has to bear on the subject.

What do the Scriptures say?

This distinction between men and women is seen right from the beginning:

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

As said, the passage most often referred to is:

“The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man; neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are an abomination unto the LORD thy God.” (Deuteronomy 22:5)

From the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on this section of Scripture:

“De 22:5-12. The Sex to Be Distinguished by Apparel.

5. The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment—Though disguises were assumed at certain times in heathen temples, it is probable that a reference was made to unbecoming levities practiced in common life. They were properly forbidden; for the adoption of the habiliments of the one sex by the other is an outrage on decency, obliterates the distinctions of nature by fostering softness and effeminacy in the man, impudence and boldness in the woman as well as levity and hypocrisy in both; and, in short, it opens the door to an influx of so many evils that all who wear the dress of another sex are pronounced ‘an abomination unto the Lord.’” (1)

In the Gospel of Mark, we see confirmation of the creational norm:

“But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female.” (Mark 10:6)

Apostolic directives to husbands and wives add further confirmation:

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.” (Ephesians 5:22–24)

“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives.” (1 Pet 3:1)

A Pauline message to churches concerning apostolic instructions that also distinguish the sexes:

“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:34, 35)

“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach.” “Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.” (1 Timothy 3:2, 12)

“That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded.” (Titus 2:2–6)

Paul continues, and exhorts Timothy to esteem and reassure older men as fathers, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters:

“Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; the elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity.” (1 Timothy 5:1–2).

The next two passages assume that we can distinguish men and women:

“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands.” (1 Peter 3:1).

“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” (1 Timothy 2:11, 12)

Men and women, distinguished in worship:

“Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. 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. For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman, but all things of God. Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?” (1 Corinthians 11:4-13)


Thus far, it is clear that the Scriptures give no support for transgenderism as an accepted Christian lifestyle. God created both men and women; they have different roles in marriage and the church.

A conclusion thus far:

“It is significant that Genesis 1:26–28 appoints the binary categories male and female using the anatomical (rather than social) terms of gender: “male (zakar) and female (neqebah) he created them” (v. 27). We believe this is done because it is the anatomical sex of the individual, which indicates his or her gender calling. The social role of manhood (Heb., ’ish) or womanhood (Heb., ’ishah) is determined by the person’s anatomical sex.” (2)

The warnings of judgment in Scripture:

“Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.” (Romans 1:24-27)

As mentioned at the start, 1 Corinthians 6:9 is particularly relevant:

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind.” (1 Corinthians 6:9)

Regarding the word effeminate:

Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:

1 Strong’s Number: g3120 Greek: malakos

Effeminate: “soft, soft to the touch” (Lat., mollis, Eng., “mollify,” “emollient,” etc.), is used

(a) of raiment, Mat 11:8 (twice); Luke 7:25;

(b) metaphorically, in a bad sense, 1Cr 6:9, “effeminate,” not simply of a male who practices forms of lewdness, but persons in general, who are guilty of addiction to sins of the flesh, voluptuous. (3)

Strong’s Concordance 3120 malakos:

malakos: soft, effeminate

Original Word: μαλακός, ή, όν

Part of Speech: Adjective

Transliteration: malakos

Phonetic Spelling: (mal-ak-os’)

Short Definition: soft, effeminate

Definition: (a) soft, (b) of persons: soft, delicate, effeminate.

Some Bible translations connect the word effeminate with homosexuality. For example:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality.” (1 Corinthians 6:9 ESV)

“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who submit to or perform homosexual acts.” (1 Corinthians 6:9 Berean Study Bible)


For those identifying as transgender, the Bible categorizes it under the general heading of homosexuality. Two points, first, this passage from 1 Corinthians is listed under the heading of a biblical warning. Second, all must heed the warning to flee from sexual immorality.

There is hope for those struggling with these types of temptations as seen in Paul’s writing in the past tense wording used in the next passage.

“And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11)

For those struggling with transgenderism, there is hope. You are not alone. Everyone is to flee from sexual sins.

“Flee from sexual immorality (porneia). Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18ESV)

Strong’s Concordance on fornication, sexual immorality:

porneia: fornication 4202

Original Word: πορνεία, ας, ἡ

Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine

Transliteration: porneia

Phonetic Spelling: (por-ni’-ah)

Short Definition: fornication, idolatry

Definition: fornication, whoredom, met: idolatry.

The word porneia is broader than fornication, and includes homosexuality, adultery, transgenderism and other sexual sins. The transgender individual is to “flee from sexual immorality” just like the apostle calls everyone. The Scriptures give no support for anyone living in any type of sexual immorality.

As seen from the Bible passages covered in this study, men and women are differentiated, and God has ordained these differences. Therefore, someone struggling with gender confusion needs to come to terms with created personhood and God’s purposes.

Confessional support for the above exposition.

The Westminster Larger Catechism Question 139:

Question139. What are the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment?

Answer. The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required,1 are, adultery, fornication,2 rape, incest,3 sodomy, and all unnatural lusts;4 all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections;5 all corrupt or filthy communications, or listening thereunto;6 wanton looks,7 impudent or light behaviour, immodest apparel;8 prohibiting of lawful,9 and dispensing with unlawful marriages;10 allowing, tolerating, keeping of stews, and resorting to them;11 entangling vows of single life,12 undue delay of marriage,13 having more wives or husbands than one at the same time;14 unjust divorce,15 or desertion;16 idleness, gluttony, drunkenness,17 unchaste company;18 lascivious songs, books, pictures, dancings, stage plays;19 and all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others.20

Scriptural proofs:

1 Proverbs 5:7: And now, O sons, listen to me, and do not depart from the words of my mouth.

2 Hebrews 13:4: Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Galatians 5:19: Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality.

3 2 Samuel 13:14: But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her. 1 Corinthians 5:1: It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.

4 Romans 1:24, 26-27: Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves. … For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. Leviticus 20:15-16: If a man lies with an animal, he shall surely be put to death, and you shall kill the animal. If a woman approaches any animal and lies with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.

5 Matthew 5:28: But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 15:19: For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. Colossians 3:5: Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

6 Ephesians 5:3-4: But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. Proverbs 7:5, 21-22: To keep you from the forbidden woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words. … With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him. All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast.

7 Isaiah 3:16: The LORD said: Because the daughters of Zion are haughty and walk with outstretched necks, glancing wantonly with their eyes, mincing along as they go, tinkling with their feet. 2 Peter 2:14: They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children!

8 Proverbs 7:10, 13: And behold, the woman meets him, dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart. … She seizes him and kisses him, and with bold face she says to him.

9 1 Timothy 4:3: Who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.

10 Leviticus 18:1-21: Click to read passage. Mark 6:18: For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife. Malachi 2:11-12: Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. May the LORD cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the LORD of hosts!

11 1 Kings 15:12: He put away the male cult prostitutes out of the land and removed all the idols that his fathers had made. 2 Kings 23:7: And he broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the LORD, where the women wove hangings for the Asherah. Deuteronomy 23:17-18: None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute, and none of the sons of Israel shall be a cult prostitute. You shall not bring the fee of a prostitute or the wages of a dog into the house of the LORD your God in payment for any vow, for both of these are an abomination to the LORD your God. Leviticus 19:29: Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, lest the land fall into prostitution and the land become full of depravity. Jeremiah 5:7: How can I pardon you? Your children have forsaken me and have sworn by those who are no gods. When I fed them to the full, they committed adultery and trooped to the houses of whores. Proverbs 7:24-27: And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth. Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths, for many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death.

12 Matthew 19:10-11: The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given.”

13 1 Corinthians 7:7-9: I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. Genesis 38:26: Then Judah identified them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not know her again.

14 Malachi 2:14-15: But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. Matthew 19:5: And said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”?

15 Malachi 2:16: “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” Matthew 5:32: But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

16 1 Corinthians 7:12-13: To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.

17 Ezekiel 16:49: Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. Proverbs 23:30-33: Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things.

18 Genesis 39:19: As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, “This is the way your servant treated me,” his anger was kindled. Proverbs 5:8: Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house.

19 Ephesians 5:4: Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. Ezekiel 23:14-16: But she carried her whoring further. She saw men portrayed on the wall, the images of the Chaldeans portrayed in vermilion, wearing belts on their waists, with flowing turbans on their heads, all of them having the appearance of officers, a likeness of Babylonians whose native land was Chaldea. When she saw them, she lusted after them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea. Isaiah 23:15-17: In that day Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years, like the days of one king. At the end of seventy years, it will happen to Tyre as in the song of the prostitute: “Take a harp; go about the city, O forgotten prostitute! Make sweet melody; sing many songs, that you may be remembered.” At the end of seventy years, the LORD will visit Tyre, and she will return to her wages and will prostitute herself with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth. Isaiah 3:16: The LORD said: Because the daughters of Zion are haughty and walk with outstretched necks, glancing wantonly with their eyes, mincing along as they go, tinkling with their feet. Mark 6:22: For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” 1 Peter 4:3: For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.

20 2 Kings 9:30: When Jehu came to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it. And she painted her eyes and adorned her head and looked out of the window. Jeremiah 4:30: And you, O desolate one, what do you mean that you dress in scarlet, that you adorn yourself with ornaments of gold, that you enlarge your eyes with paint? In vain you beautify yourself. Your lovers despise you; they seek your life. Ezekiel 23:40: They even sent for men to come from afar, to whom a messenger was sent; and behold, they came. For them you bathed yourself, painted your eyes, and adorned yourself with ornaments.

Never forget:

“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. 157.

2. North America, Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. Gender as Calling: The Gospel & Gender Identity (Kindle Locations 388-392). Crown & Covenant Publications. Page Location 385 Kindle Edition.

3. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Iowa Falls, Iowa, Riverside Book and Bible House), p. 349.

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

For more study:


Many articles on the topic of transgenderism and political ramifications at

For one of the best experts on sexual sins and those struggling with sexual sins, see

Rosaria Butterfield at

Gender as Calling: The Gospel & Gender Identity

This booklet offers an introduction to the development of the transgender movement and its terminology, a critique of the philosophies that undergird it, and a loving, biblical response. Purchase at also available at Amazon in the Kindle format.

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Shew me thy ways, O LORD, teach me thy paths. Psalm 25:4

Shew me thy ways, O LORD, teach me thy paths. Psalm 25:4 by Jack Kettler

In this study, we will look at how to learn God’s ways! This involves understanding or knowledge. What does the knowledge of God produce in our lives?

As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, commentary evidence for glorifying God in how we live.


Question: What does the Bible say about knowledge?

Answer: The word knowledge in the Bible denotes an understanding, a recognition, or an acknowledgment. To “know” something is to perceive it or to be aware of it. Many times in Scripture, knowledge carries the idea of a deeper appreciation of something or a relationship with someone. The Bible is clear that the knowledge of God is the most valuable knowledge a human being can possess. *

Scriptural passage that instructs us concerning knowledge:

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

KJV Lexicon


yada` (yaw-dah’)

to know (properly, to ascertain by seeing); used in a great variety of senses, figuratively, literally, euphemistically and inferentially me thy ways

derek (deh’-rek)

a road (as trodden); figuratively, a course of life or mode of action, often adverb O LORD

Yhovah (yeh-ho-vaw’)

(the) self-Existent or Eternal; Jehovah, Jewish national name of God — Jehovah, the Lord. Teach

lamad (law-mad’)

to goad, i.e. (by implication) to teach (the rod being an Oriental incentive):(un-) accustomed, diligently, expert, instruct, learn, skillful, teach(-er, -ing).me thy paths

‘orach (o’-rakh)

a well-trodden road; also a caravan — manner, path, race, rank, traveler, troop, (by-, high-)way.

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible on Psalms 25:4 is clear and concise:

Show me thy ways, O Lord, Either those which the Lord himself took and walked in; as those of creation and providence, in which he has displayed his power, wisdom, and goodness; and which are desirable to be known by his people, and require divine instruction and direction; and particularly his ways of grace, mercy, and truth, and the methods he has taken for the salvation of his people, both in eternity and in time; or those ways which he orders and directs his people to walk in; namely, the paths of duty, the ways of his worship and ordinances; a greater knowledge of which good men desire to have, as well as more grace to enable them to walk more closely and constantly in them; teach me thy paths; a petition the same with the other, in different words. (1)


The Psalmist asks the Lord to show him and teach him His ways and paths. This petition involves attaining the knowledge of God. Obtaining God’s knowledge leads us to meditate upon His Word, fear God’s name, which then leads to adoration of God’s person and His works.

The Psalmist makes this clear in the next three passages:

“Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.” (Psalm 86:11)

“I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.” (Psalm 119:15)

“Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.” (Psalm 119:34)

As seen in the above passages, the Bible speaks of knowledge and the understanding of God’s Word. This acquired knowledge produces action or a response in the lives of believers, i.e., “walk in thy truth,” “respect thy ways,” and “I shall keep thy law.”

The next passage makes clear; believers are too always to grow in both grace and knowledge:

“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18)

“To him be glory both now and forever. Amen” is a doxology or a scriptural formula of praise to God. This praise to God is the fruit of the knowledge of God.

How can anyone read the above Psalms and not believe that God is speaking to us in the Scriptures in response to our petitions, imparting knowledge to us with real words that are understandable and bear fruit in the lives of believers?

With this said, it could be a conclusion to this study. Instead, we can use what we have seen thus far as a springboard to dig deeper into the study of knowledge.

The study of the topic knowledge is more in-depth than might be expected. In the philosophical world, philosophers attempt to understand the mechanism of how acquiring knowledge happens in a human mind. This would be through the study of epistemology. In this type of study, you would learn about empiricism, rationalism, and scripturalism.

In theological liberalism or Neo-orthodoxy, the pursuit of knowledge does not involve accepting the Scriptures literally or seeking the historical truth. When someone speaks of encountering God, this may be a tip-off that a Neo-orthodox liberal has been met. For the Neo-orthodox, the word of God is experienced or encountered and is not connected to the actual historical events mentioned in the texts of Scripture. Said another way, in Neo-orthodoxy, the Bible is not understood to be an objective text given by God in history about real, historical events. Instead, Neo-orthodoxy uses the scriptures in a non-literal sense as a jumping off point to encounter the wholly other God. With its non-literal view of Scripture, Neo-orthodoxy is very mysterious, endlessly subjective, and dangerously unbiblical.

What is a biblical doctrine of knowledge?

In this study, we will look at two theologians whose articles, deal with the range of knowledge and in particular, knowledge of God that we learn about in Scripture. The first essay will contrast biblical, historical knowledge with the Neo-orthodox theory of knowledge. Also, this article will also deal with epistemology. As will be seen, the truth of Scripture will shine brighter when contrasted with an error.

Know, Knowledge by Gordon H. Clark

KNOW, KNOWLEDGE (ידע, know; Gr. γινώσκω, know [by experience]; οιδα, know [a fact])

1. Biblical usage

2. Knowledge and faith

3. Epistemology

a. Philosophical

b. Biblical

4. Neo-orthodoxy

5. Knowledge of God

Presumably, knowledge, if it be defined at all, means the possession of truth by a mind. The problems that an analysis of knowledge entails are enormous.

1. Biblical usage.

The Bible frequently commends knowledge and wisdom: “The Lord is a God of knowledge” (1 Sam 2:3). “Have they no knowledge, all the evil doers who… do not call upon the Lord?” (Ps 14:4). “Teach me good judgment and knowledge.” (Ps 119:66). “Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold.” (Prov. 8:10). “By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make you free: (John 8:32). “Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.” (1 Cor. 13:12). Asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col 1:9). “We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, to know him who is true” (1 John 5:20). One may note relative to this last verse that the so-called epistle of love uses the word “know” thirty times in its five chapters, not counting words like “understand”, “teach”, “see”, “hear”, “believe”, and “truth”, all of which have to do with knowledge.

In view of the misapprehensions of some immature Christians, what the Bible does not say also should be pointed out. Nowhere does the Scripture modify the high value it places on knowledge by deprecating “mere” human reason. Reason and knowledge are integral parts of the image of God in which man was created. In the OT the term “heart” designates the mind, intellect, or reason in about three-fourths of its 750 occurrences. Examples are: “The Lord said in his heart….” (Gen 8:21) (obviously he did not say in his emotions); “I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and mind” (1 Sam 2:35); “Make the heart of this people fat….lest they ….understand with their hearts” (Isa 6:10); “He has shut …their minds [KJV hearts] so that they cannot understand. No one considers” [KJV “none calleth to mind”] (Isa 44:18, 19). In both cases, the same Hebrew word is used.

Granted that the mind or heart of man can be and is sinful, as some of these verses plainly indicate, the antithesis between the heart and the head, along with the suggestion that the intellect is evil but the emotions are free from sin, is nevertheless a distortion of the Scriptural view of man.

Although the Heb. and the Gr. verbs for knowing usually bear the most ordinary meaning, exemplified when one says that he knows that David was king of Israel and that Paul was an apostle, they can also be used in other senses, some of which are sources of confusion in theology and philosophy.

The sense in which the words are used to designate sexual intercourse, as in Genesis 4:1, “Now Adam knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain,” is a sense that causes no confusion. We simply note the usage and pass on.

Confusion, however, may arise from another meaning which also has no place in epistemology, for in addition to knowing that David was a king, the verb also means to choose, to select, and therefore to approve. When Psalm 1:6 says that “the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish,” it is not reflecting on divine omniscience. In the ordinary sense God knows the way of the wicked as He knows everything else. Here the word is used in the sense of approval. Similarly, when Amos 3:2 says “You only have I known of all the families of the earth,” the prophet is not denying that God knew the Egyptians and Canaanites. This verse is no denial of omniscience. Here the verb means to choose or elect.

This usage, so clear in the OT, causes some theological confusion when NT material is discussed. Those who reject the doctrines of predestination or unconditional election try to base salvation on foreseen faith and election of foreknowledge. Such a view is inconsistent with the meaning of the words. In 1 Peter 1:2, where the RSV gives the correct sense, “chosen and destined by God,” the KJV has the more literal tr. “elect according to the foreknowledge of God.” In 1 Peter 1:20 the KJV vs. the same word “foreordained.” Similarly Romans 8:29 does not speak of the mere knowing ahead of time, as Eng. usage would lead one to expect, as if God looked ahead into an independent and undetermined future and discovered (If anything undetermined could be discovered) what was going to happen; rather, foreknowledge means foreordination.

In addition to the above source of theological confusion, there is an alleged usage that causes philosophical confusion. Or, perhaps, it may be said that a certain philosophical confusion tries to construe knowledge in a still different sense. Some devout and fairly orthodox theologians, and in general the neo-orthodox thinkers insist that there is a radical difference between knowing a proposition and knowing a person, or between knowledge “about” and knowledge “by acquaintance.”

According to the neo-orthodox position God does not reveal truths that can be intellectually apprehended, but He reveals Himself in a direct encounter or confrontation. Now, insofar as support for this view is sought in the different compounds of γινώσκω or in the other verbs οιδα, ειδεναι and επισταμαι, the attempt is a failure. Kittel’s Wörterbuch under the entry γινώσκω states that this knowledge “is achieved in all the acts in which a man can attain knowledge, seeing and hearing, in investigating and reflecting….also personal acquaintance….Whatever can be the object of enquiry can be the object of γινώσκω.” Kittel continues by noting that Gnostic γνωσις is no different except as to the object. And in the LXX γινώσκω and ειδεναι both tr. the one Heb. verb ידע Kittel is replete with all the lexicographical details, none of which are of any help in epistemology.

2. Faith and knowledge.

Noting the usage of the word knowledge in its ordinary meaning offers little aid in solving problems of theology and philosophy. One such problem is the distinction between knowledge and faith. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1), does not at first sight agree with the praises of knowledge quoted earlier; yet the following verses indicate that the knowledge referred to is either mistaken opinion or a true proposition so misapplied and conjoined with error that the combination is false. Some commentators explain v.1 as ironical.

A similar explanation is required to understand the Christian opposition to Gnosticism. This religion in the early centuries, using Christian terminology, made salvation depend on knowledge, and, by implication, not on faith. The great objection to Gnosticism, however, is not a repugnance to knowledge as such. The real objection was twofold. First, the Gnostic tenets amounted to a texture of superstitious mythology. Second, even if the Gnostics had propounded a true science of astronomy, such knowledge could not save. Salvation depends on faith in Christ.

What then is the relation between faith and knowledge? Protestants have traditionally analyzed faith into knowledge, assent, and trust. This analysis is not as simple as it seems. Knowledge in this context apparently refers only to understanding (not believing) the meaning of a proposition. Of course one can understand the meaning of false propositions, such as, David was king of Tyre; but undoubtedly true propositions are intended because assent to or belief in a false proposition would be error, not knowledge.

Note that this last instance of the word knowledge does not bear the same meaning it bears in the analysis. In the analysis, knowledge occurs as distinct from assent, as a separate element in faith; but if knowledge is defined as the minds possession of truth, there can be no knowledge apart from assent. This is one difficulty. Furthermore, worse, the element of trust, which Protestants emphasize, defies all explanation and remains in utter confusion. Illustrations, such as actually depositing money in a bank rather than merely believing that the bank is sound, depend on a physical action, in addition to the mental act of believing. Such additional external action is inappropriate to represent the thoroughly inner mental act of faith. Knowledge is an integral part of faith, and not its antithesis.

3. Epistemology.

(a) Philosophical. The main problem of knowledge, which is the crucial question in all the history of philosophy, concerns knowledge in its most ordinary sense. We say we know that two and two are four, that the earth revolves around the sun, or at least that a bright disk appears in the sky, and perhaps that God exists and stealing is immoral. Epistemology is a theory of how one can know anything. This question is not explicitly discussed in the Bible; but answers to it, however obtained, have a profound influence on theological formulations.

Since the matter is extremely technical and difficult, some simplification is necessary.

Systems of philosophy generally can be divided into two groups: empirical philosophies are exemplified by Aristotle, Aquinas, Hume, and the contemporary schools of Pragmatism and logical Positivism-the second group comprises the rationalistic or idealistic philosophies, exemplified by Plato, Augustine, Anselm, Spinoza, Kant, and Hegel. The first group exhibits serious divergencies, for Aristotle and Logical Positivism are rather far apart; but differences within the second group are perhaps even greater.

Empiricism is the view that all knowledge is based on experience alone. Experience has not always been restricted to the five senses, though this is a common form of the principle; but the Epicureans stressed the experience of pain, the Sophists acknowledged the experience of dreams and hallucinations (a fact Descartes and other rationalists use in opposition), others admit aesthetic experience-coining the word aesthetics from the Gr. word for sensation, and, finally Schleiermacher, the founder of modernism, and contemporary liberalism develop religion and theology out of religious experience. Sensation, however, remains basic in all forms of empiricism.

Rationalism (idealism is not a good name, for Berkeleyan idealism is completely empirical) holds that all or at least some knowledge is a priori, innate, rational, non-sensuous.

Plato taught that the soul before birth is in contact with the ideal objects of knowledge, and that here on earth we remember what we previously knew. Spinoza taught that without the aid of sensation, doubtful aid because it is the source of error, all knowledge can be deduced from definitions by logic alone. Even the existence of God, as Anselm taught earlier, can be demonstrated from the definition that God is the all-perfect Being: if He did not exist, He would not be all-perfect. Kant said that the mind at birth is furnished with the a priori (independent of experience) intuitions of space and time, and a set of twelve a priori categories. Neither of these by themselves, and much less sensations by themselves, are knowledge, but when sensory material is arranged and ordered by these a priori forms, the combination is knowledge. Finally, the dialectic of concepts of the last philosopher listed, Hegel, is just too complicated to characterize in any space.

Two lines of procedure are now necessary: one should evaluate the merit of each of these main divisions of philosophy, and one should attempt to determine which, if either, the Bible favors.

The first is a task for the professional philosopher. Some considerations, however, may be mentioned, which must be taken into account.

All philosophy, all theology, and all common conversation must make use of so-called abstract concepts. In philosophy the terms substance, cause, quality, relation find a necessary place; in theology there is sin and righteousness, atonement and justification, and so on; in common speech too one talks about causes and relations as well as about truth and falsity, times and places, cats and dogs.

Rationalism specifically asserts the reality of such concepts. These are the objects of knowledge that constitute Plato’s World of Ideas. Philo Judaeus and Augustine make them the content of the Divine Mind. Thus far, rationalism makes philosophy, theology, and conversation possible.

Although nominalists such as Roscellinus and Occam assert that concepts refer to no reality whatever, that they are mere sounds in the air without meaning, and thus make philosophy and ordinary conversation both impossible, still the major empiricists try to explain the genesis of concepts. Aristotle attempted to abstract them from sensory experience. The concepts were somehow in the visible objects and could be detached, or abstracted by imagination and intellect. The British empiricists build up concepts by adding and subtracting particular sensations. Thus they claim to make knowledge possible.

The question, of course, is whether or not concepts can in fact be abstracted from sensations. Plato denied it. Further, even the abstraction of such “empirical” concepts as cat and dog depends on a theory of visual imagery that introspective psychology cannot sustain. It is all the more difficult to see how normative concepts such as justice, can be derived from purely factual material.

Kant forcefully extended this argument in opposition to Hume. Knowledge, Kant insisted, contains necessary and universal judgments, such as two and two are, are always, and must be four, and, all pendulums always must swing in a certain way. Note definitely that when the law of the pendulum was formulated, the scientists thought that all pendulums in the past have swung and all future pendulums will swing just as described. But experience does not extend to all past pendulums, and with even greater clarity it does not extend to any future pendulums. Experience gives neither universality nor necessity.

Similarly, normative moral principles can never be derived from experience. We see acts of honesty and instances of theft. The two are equally in experience. Experiences can never determine that theft is wrong or that honesty is right.

Perhaps the simplest example of an a priori category is that of unity. The concept of the number one is essential, not only to mathematics, but also to all learning; for learning could never proceed unless we could distinguish one thing from another. Berkeley, the British empiricist, attempted to base the idea of unity in sensation. The unit, he said, is just any one thing you choose. You can count chairs or grains of sand. Thus we find our unit in experience. Kant demolished Berkeley’s argument. First, the empiricist misstated the problem, which is not the selection of a unit from among other unities; the problem is the origin of the idea of unity. Second, the idea of one must be present before we can identify a chair or a grain of sand as one. the idea is not derived from the experienced object. And, finally, no experienced object is strictly a unity, since everything in space has parts. Therefore, the concept of one must precede experience. These sample arguments must suffice to show the philosophic advantages of rationalism, or a priorism, over empiricism.

(b) Biblical. Does Scripture take sides in the dispute between empiricism and rationalism? Obviously the Bible has no such technical arguments as those found in Kant. Nevertheless the prophets and apostles tell us something about the nature of man.

In the first place God created man in His own image. The animals were not so created. The difference is that man is rational, and animals are not. In Proverbs 7:22, 23 and Isaiah 56:10 the natural ignorance of animals is used as a similitude to castigate the sinful ignorance of men.

That knowledge is part of the image of God, and therefore that at least some knowledge is non-empirical, is broadly hinted in Colossians 3:10, where the effect of regeneration is the renewal of the knowledge original in the divine image.

Further, Romans 1:32 and 2:14 show that even sin does not eradicate certain innate moral knowledge. And with respect to sin, all the historical churches acknowledge that a depravity of nature is inherited from Adam. This is inconsistent with the view that the mind at birth is a blank sheet of paper (Locke), or morally neutral (Aristotle), and requires the admission of some sort of a priori. If therefore the more complex matters of morality are innate, how can one deny that simpler principles antecede experience? Scripture therefore seems to be on the side of a priorism.

4. Neo-orthodoxy.

The discussion so far has maintained the position that knowledge is commendable and is essential to faith. Therefore religion, or at any rate Christianity, must hold theology in high esteem. At various times, however, protests are made against “cold” intellectualism or the pride of “mere” human reason. Mystics have commended trances; others make religion essentially emotional; and most recently neo-orthodoxy has enthroned paradox and contradiction.

These modern theologians have arrived at their position more by emotional reaction than by logic. They had been educated under a combination of Scheiermacher and Hegel. This liberalism looked on sin as a fast disappearing remnant of man’s animal ancestors. The kingdom of God was equated with socialism and optimism flourished. Then World War 1 revealed man’s depravity to Europeans, and World War II to Americans. Machine guns and concentration camps liquidated the utopian doctrine of man’s essential goodness and society’s progress.

Furthermore, Hegel’s rationalistic solution of all philosophic problems was too neat, and therefore unreal. The great dialectic came to appear as hollow word-play. Yet these theologians were equally unable to solve the problems. They braved Socrates’ sad scorn of misologists and declared that the problems of life are rationally insoluble. Life is a deeper than logic. The universe and God Himself are self-contradictory. We must make our decisions in the freedom of blind faith. Besides, religion is not an intellectual matter anyhow: it is an experiential encounter with God.

Emil Brunner states this position clearly. Rejecting the idea that revelation is a communication of truth, Brunner asserts that “All words have only an instrumental value. Neither the spoken words nor their conceptual content are the Word itself, but only its frame” (The Divine-Human Encounter, p. 110). He then adds that “God can, when he wills, speak his Word to a man even through false doctrine” (ibid. p. 117).

Karl Barth earlier, in his Romans, had made a great deal of contradictions and insoluble paradoxes. Though later he lost some of his exuberance, he still rejected logical consistency. The latest edition of Church Dogmatics, in a section refuting a defense of logical consistency, argues that “The very minimum postulate of freedom from contradiction is acceptable by theology only upon the very limited interpretation, by the scientific theorist upon the scarcely tolerable one, that theology will not assert an irremovability in principle of the ‘contradictions’ which it is bound to make good” (Church Dogmatics, I, i, p. 8). This sentence is obscure: it neither asserts nor denies that contradictions are removable; it merely says that theology should not assert their irremovability. What follows in the passage seems to let the contradictions stand, for he says, “But the propositions in which it asserts their removal will be propositions about the free action of God, and so not propositions that ‘remove’ the contradiction from the world.” Continuing to talk of coherence and systematization, Barth insists that “The theologian ….should know what he is doing when he transgresses them, and that as a theologian he cannot escape the necessity of transgressing them.” Or, in very plain words, a theologian must be incoherent.

Nevertheless the neo-orthodox school writes theology, and Barth and Brunner have been esp. voluminous. But if they do not recognize the necessity of being consistent, of what value can their theology be? In principle, every one of their sentences is both true and false. If we discard logic, then, when we believe that David was king of Israel, nothing prevents us from believing at the same time that David was not king of Israel. This would be simply the necessary incoherence of theology.

In particular, the neo-orthodox theologians, and some modernists as well, believe that God reveals Himself through contradictory systems in the Bible. Brunner concocts a remarkable conclusion that we could believe in the resurrection of Christ, even if there were no reports, for the witness to the resurrection is not that of eyewitnesses but of faith-witnesses. He further makes Christ sinless but fallible. Then, again, when Paul speaks of a time before Esau’s birth, he means the Edomites in the days of Malachi. And, finally, “God and the medium of conceptuality exclude each other” (cf. Paul King Jewett, Emil Brunner’s Concept of Revelation, p. 184 and passim).

If, now, all our theological talk is self-contradictory, if faith must curb logic, and if God and thought are mutually exclusive, then no knowledge of God is possible, and religion must be emotional and experiential. But it will not be Christianity.

5. Knowledge of God.

In opposition to this neo-orthodoxy and to all other forms of thought that deny God can be known, we are here conclude with what was strongly hinted at the beginning of this article in its commendation of knowledge in general. We shall simply add a few references to knowledge of God in particular.

In the first place, all Scripture is inspired of God and is profitable for doctrine The following vv. are some of those which are most explicitly profitable for the doctrine of God. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” introduces the concept of creation and of God as creator. That this creation was decreed from all eternity and is always controlled by providence is taught in Ephesians 1;11, “The purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, ” and in Daniel 4:35, “he does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand,” and in many other passages. The Bible also tells us that God exists in three persons; that God is eternal, omniscient, and immutable.

That God can be known, that man can entertain truth, that theology is possible, has been an unbroken tradition among all Christians. To deprecate knowledge in favor of some emotional upheaval, to repudiate logic and enthrone contradiction and incoherence, to reduce the Biblical material to the status of a symbolism that points uncertainly to an unknowable something or other, is to abandon Christianity and commit intellectual suicide.

BIBLIOGRAPHY. S. Charnock, Discourses on the Existence and Attributes of God (1680); Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (1780); B.B. Warfield, Augustine’s Doctrine of Knowledge, in Studies in Tertullian and Augustine (1921), and Calvin’s Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, in Calvin and Calvinism (1930, 1931); P.K. Jewett, Emil Brunner’s Concept of Revelation 91954); G.H. Clark Karl Barth’s Theological Method (1963).
G.H. CLARK (2)

The Knowledge of God by Herman Bavinck

God is the highest good of man–that is the testimony of the whole Scriptures. The Bible begins with the account that God created man after His own image and likeness, in order that he should know God his Creator aright, should love Him with all his heart, and should live with Him in eternal blessedness. And the Bible ends with the description of the new Jerusalem, whose inhabitants shall see God face to face and shall have His name upon their foreheads.

Between these two moments lies the revelation of God in all its length and breadth. As its content this revelation has the one, great, comprehensive promise of the covenant of grace: I will be a God unto thee, and ye shall be my people. And as its mid-point and its high-point this revelation has its Immanuel, God-with-us. For the promise and its fulfillment go hand in hand. The word of God is the beginning, the principle, the seed, and it is in the act that the seed comes into its full realization. Just as at the beginning God called things into being by His word, so by His word He will in the course of the ages bring into being the new heaven and the new earth, in which the tabernacle of God shall be among men.

That is why Christ, in whom the Word became flesh, is said to be full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

He is the Word which in the beginning was with God and Himself was God, and as such He was the life and the light of men. Because the Father shares His life with Christ and gives expression to His thought in Christ, therefore the full being of God is revealed in Him. He not only declares the Father to us and discloses His name to us, but in Himself He shows us and gives us the Father. Christ is God expressed and God given. He is God revealing Himself and God sharing Himself, and therefore He is full of truth and also full of grace. The word of the promise, I will be a God unto thee, included within itself from the very moment in which it was uttered, the fulfillment, I am thy God. God gives Himself to His people in order that His people should give themselves to Him.

In the Scriptures we find God constantly repeating His declaration: I am thy God. From the mother-promise of Genesis 3 :15 on, this rich testimony, comprehending all blessedness and all salvation whatsoever, is repeated again and again, be it in the lives of the patriarchs, in the history of the people of Israel, or in that of the church of the New Testament. And in response the church throughout the ages comes with the endless varieties of its language of faith, speaking in gratitude and praise: Thou art our God, and we are Thy people, and the sheep of Thy pasture.

This declaration of faith on the part of the church is not a scientific doctrine, nor a form of unity that is being repeated, but is rather a confession of a deeply felt reality, and of a conviction of reality that has out of experience in life. The prophets and apostles, and the saints generally who appear before us in the Old and New Testament and later in the church of Christ, did not sit and philosophize about God in abstracted concepts, but rather confessed what God meant to them and what they owed to Him in all the circumstances of life. God was for them not at all a cold concept, which they then proceeded rationally to analyze, but He was a living, personal force, a reality infinitely more real than the world around them. Indeed, He was to them the one, eternal, worshipful Being. They reckoned with Him in their lives, they lived in His tent, walked as if always before His face, served Him in His courts, and worshiped Him in His sanctuary.

The genuineness and depth of their experience comes to expression in the language they used to express what God meant to them. They did not have to strain for words, for their lips overflowed with what welled up out of their hearts, and the world of man and nature supplied them with figures of speech. God was to them a King, a Lord, a Valiant One, a Leader, a Shepherd, a Savior, a Redeemer, a Helper, a Physician, a Man, and a Father. All their bliss and well-being, their truth and righteousness, their life and mercy, their strength and power, their peace and rest they found in Him. He was a sun and shield to them, a buckler, a light and a fire, a fountain and a well-head, a rock and shelter, a high refuge and a tower, a reward and a shadow, a city and a temple. All that the world has to offer in discrete and sub-divided goods was to them an image and likeness of the unfathomable fullness of the salvation available in God for His people. Hence it is that David in Psalm 16:2 (according to a telling translation) addresses Jehovah as follows: Thou art my Lord; I have no higher good than Thou. Thus also Asaph sang in Psalm 73: Whom have I in heaven hut Thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever. For the saint, heaven in all its blessedness and glory would be void and stale without God; and when he lives in communion with God he cares for nothing on earth, for the love of God far transcends all other goods.

Such is the experience of the children of God. It is an experience which they have felt because God presented Himself to them for their enjoyment in the Son of His love. In this sense Christ said that eternal life, that is, the totality of salvation, consists for man in the knowledge of the one, true God and of Jesus Christ whom He has sent.

It was an auspicious moment in which Christ spoke those words. He stood at the point of crossing the brook Kidron in order to enter the garden of Gethsemane and to suffer the last struggle of His soul there. Before He proceeds to that point, however, He prepares Himself as our High Priest for His passion and death, and He prays the Father that the Father may glorify Him in His suffering and after it, so that the Son in turn may glorify the Father in giving out all those blessings which He is now about to achieve by His obedience unto death. And when the Son prays in this way, He knows of nothing to desire except that which is the Father’s own will and good pleasure. The Father has given Him power over all flesh in order that the Son should give eternal life to as many as the Father has given Him. Such eternal life consists of nothing other than the knowledge of the one, true God and of Jesus Christ who was sent to reveal Him (John 17:1-3). (3)

In closing:

It is well worth repeating Gordon Clark’s admonition in his concluding paragraph in his above article on knowledge.

“That God can be known, that man can entertain truth, that theology is possible, has been an unbroken tradition among all Christians. To deprecate knowledge in favor of some emotional upheaval, to repudiate logic and enthrone contradiction and incoherence, to reduce the Biblical material to the status of a symbolism that points uncertainly to an unknowable something or other, is to abandon Christianity and commit intellectual suicide.”

Therefore, the Christian can affirm:

“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, Psalms, 9 Volumes, Romans, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 284.

2. Merrill C. Tenney, editor, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 5 Vol. (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan Publishing House, 1975), pp. 834-840.

3. Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, 1956), pp 24-26.

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

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

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Infralapsarianism and Supralapsarianism

Infralapsarianism and Supralapsarianism by Jack Kettler

In this study, we will seek to understand infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism. This is a study in Reformed theology. This study will deal with God’s eternal decrees involving predestination. Christians that are not reformed also have theologies that attempt to understand God’s eternal degrees. The serious reader should consult the Cannons of Dort to see two competing systems in contrast.

The doctrine of predestination more than any other teaching of Scripture takes salvation out of man’s hands and places it in God’s control. The cause of God’s choosing or election is found in God Himself. If a man insists that he played a part in God’s choice, then human merit is brought into the picture. Salvation then becomes synergistic (a cooperative effort) rather than monergistic (God alone saves apart from man’s effort). Biblical salvation is monergistic. Christ alone, by his complete and finished work saves a fallen man. Within a synergistic scheme, salvation becomes a mutual effort.

The words predestination and election appear in the pages of Scripture. A Christian, therefore, must have an understanding of passages that teach this. This study of infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism will seek to clarify and help us better understand the doctrine of grace seen in God’s election of sinners. The goal of this study is to glorify God.

Therefore, we must start with the Scripture:

“My name is the LORD! I won’t let idols or humans share my glory and praise.” (Isaiah 42:8 CEV)

“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34)

“Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30)

“According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” (Ephesians 1:4)

“But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13)

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

Definitions from two sources:


The view that in the plan made by God in eternity, his decree to permit the fall logically preceded his decree of election, so that when God chose some people to receive eternal life, he was choosing them from the whole mass of humanity, all regarded as fallen creatures. *


An issue within Reformed theology dealing with what may have happened in God’s mind regarding the logical order of His considering whom to elect into salvation before the foundation of the world. The word means “after the fall.” The position is that God first decided he would allow sin into the world and second that he would then save people from it. By contrast, the supralapsarian (“before the fall”) position holds that God first decided that he would save some people and then second that he would allow sin into the world. **


The view that in the plan made by God in eternity, his decree of election logically preceded his decree to permit the fall, so that when God chose “some to receive eternal life and rejected all others,” he was contemplating them as unfallen. *


An issue within Reformed theology dealing with what may have happened in God’s mind regarding the logical order of His considering whom to elect into salvation before the foundation of the world. The word means “before the fall.” This position holds that God first decided that he would save some people and then second that he would allow sin into the world. By contrast, the infralapsarian (“after the fall”) position is the reverse in that it holds that God first decided he would allow sin into the world and second that he would then save people from it. **

Scripture in support of infralapsarianism:

“If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” (John 15:19)

It will be good to look at John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible on John 15:19:

“If ye were of the world … Belonged to the world, were of the same spirit and principles with it, and pursued the same practices:

the world would love its own; for every like loves it’s like; the men of the world love each other’s persons, company, and conversation:

but because ye are not of the world: once they were, being born into it, brought up in it, had their conversation among the men of it, were themselves men of carnal, worldly, principles and practices; but being called by Christ, and becoming his disciples, they were no more of it; and as he was not of the world, so they were not of it, though they were in it. The Jews distinguish the disciples of the wise men, from, “the men of the world” (u), pretending that they were not; but this is a character that only belongs to the disciples of Christ, in consequence of their being called by him out of it:

but I have chosen you out of the world: which designs not the eternal election of them, but the separation of them from the rest of the world in the effectual calling, and the designation of them to his work and service:

therefore the world hateth you; and since it was upon that account, they had no reason to be uneasy, but rather to rejoice; seeing this was an evidence of their not belonging to the world, and of being chosen and called by Christ out of it.” (1)

The next passage:

“According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” (Ephesians 1:4-6)

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible on Ephesians 1:5 is particularly helpful:

Having predestinated us – On the meaning of the word here used, see the notes at Romans 1:4, Romans 8:29 note. The word used πρωρίζω prōrizō means properly “to set bounds before;” and then to “pre-determine.” There is the essential idea of setting bounds or limits, and of doing this beforehand. It is not that God determined to do it when it was actually done, but that he intended to do it beforehand. No language could express this more clearly, and I suppose this interpretation is generally admitted. Even by those who deny the doctrine of particular election, it is not denied that the word here used means to “pre-determine;” and they maintain that the sense is, that God had pre-determined to admit the Gentiles to the privileges of his people. Admitting then that the meaning is to predestinate in the proper sense, the only question is, “who” are predestinated? To whom does the expression apply? Is it to nations or to individuals? In reply to this, in addition to the remarks already made, I would observe,

(1) that there is no specification of “nations” here as such, no mention of the Gentiles in contradistinction from the Jews.

(2) those referred to were those included in the word “us,” among whom Paul was one – but Paul was not a heathen.

(3) the same objection will lie against the doctrine of predestinating “nations” which will lie against predestinating “individuals.”

(4) nations are made up of individuals, and the pre-determination must have had some reference to individuals.

What is a nation but a collection of individuals? There is no such abstract being or thing as a nation; and if there was any purpose in regard to a nation, it must have had some reference to the individuals composing it. He that would act on the ocean, must act on the drops of water that make up the ocean; for besides the collection of drops of water there is no ocean. He that would remove a mountain, must act on the particles of matter that compose that mountain; for there is no such thing as an abstract mountain. Perhaps there was never a greater illusion than to suppose that all difficulty is removed in regard to the doctrine of election and predestination, by saying that it refers to “nations.” What difficulty is lessened? What is gained by it? How does it make God appear more amiable and good?

Does it render him less “partial” to suppose that he has made a difference among nations, than to suppose that he has made a difference among individuals? Does it remove any difficulty about the offer of salvation, to suppose that he has granted the knowledge of his truth to some “nations,” and withheld it from others? The truth is, that all the reasoning which has been founded on this supposition, has been merely throwing dust in the eyes. If there is “any” well-founded objection to the doctrine of decrees or predestination, it is to the doctrine “at all,” alike in regard to nations and individuals, and there are just the same difficulties in the one case as in the other. But there is no real difficulty in either. Who could worship or honor a God who had no plan, or purpose, or intention in what he did? Who can believe that the universe was formed and is governed without design? Who can doubt that what God “does” he always meant to do?

When, therefore, he converts and saves a soul, it is clear that he always intended to do it. He has no new plan. It is not an afterthought. It is not the work of chance. If I can find out anything that God has “done,” I have the most certain conviction that he “always meant” to do it – and this is all that is intended by the doctrine of election or predestination. What God does, he always meant to do. What he permits, he always meant to permit. I may add further, that if it is right to “do” it, it was right to “intend” to do it. If there is no injustice or partiality in the act itself, there is no injustice or partiality in the intention to perform it. If it is right to save a soul, it was also right to intend to save it. If it is right to condemn a sinner to we, it was right to intend to do it. Let us then look “at the thing itself,” and if that is not wrong, we should not blame the purpose to do it, however long it has been cherished.

Unto the adoption … – see John 1:12 note, Romans 8:15 note.

According to the good pleasure of his will – The word rendered “good pleasure” – (εὐδοκία eudokia) – means “a being well pleased;” delight in anything, favor, good-will, Luke 2:14; Philippians 1:15; compare Luke 12:32. Then it denotes purpose, or will, the idea of benevolence being included – Robinson. Rosenmuller renders the phrase, “from his most benignant decree.” The evident object of the apostle is to state why God chose the heirs of salvation. It was done as it seemed good to him in the circumstances of the case. It was not that man had any control over him, or that man was consulted in the determination, or that it was based on the good works of man, real or foreseen. But we are not to suppose that there were no good reasons for what he has thus done. Convicts are frequently pardoned by an executive. He does it according to his own will, or as seems good in his sight.

He is to be the judge, and no one has a right to control him in doing it. It may seem to be entirely arbitrary. The executive may not have communicated the reasons why he did it, either to those who are pardoned, or to the other prisoners, or to anyone else. But we are not to infer that there was no “reason” for doing it. If he is a wise magistrate, and worthy of his station, it is to be presumed that there were reasons which, if known, would be satisfactory to all. But those reasons he is under no obligations to make known. Indeed, it might be improper that they should be known. Of that he is the best judge. Meantime, however, we may see what would be the effect in those who were not forgiven. It would excite, very likely, their hatred, and they would charge him with partiality or with tyranny. But they should remember that whoever might be pardoned, and on whatever ground it might be done, they could not complain.

They would suffer no more than they deserve. But what if, when the act of pardon was made known to one part, it was offered to the others also on certain plain and easy conditions? Suppose it should appear that while the executive meant, for wise but concealed reasons, to forgive a part, he had also determined to offer forgiveness to all. And suppose that they were in fact disposed in the highest degree to neglect it, and that no inducements or arguments could prevail on them to accept of it. Who then could blame the executive? Now this is about the case in regard to God, and the doctrine of election. All people were guilty and condemned. For wise reasons, which God has not communicated to us, he determined to bring a portion at least of the human race to salvation. This he did not intend to leave to chance and hap-hazard. He saw that all would of themselves reject the offer, and that unless some efficient means were used, the blood of the atonement would be shed in vain.

He did not make known to people who they were that he meant to save, nor the reason why they particularly were to be brought to heaven. Meantime he meant to make the offer universal; to make the terms as easy as possible, and thus to take away every ground of complaint. If people will not accept of pardon; if they prefer their sins; if nothing can induce them to come and be saved, why should they complain? If the doors of a prison are open, and the chains of the prisoners are knocked off, and they will not come out, why should they complain that others are in fact willing to come out and be saved? Let it be borne in mind that the purposes of God correspond exactly to facts as they actually occur, and much of the difficulty is taken away. If in the facts there is no just ground of complaint, there can be none, because it was the intention of God that the facts should be so. (2)

Scriptures in support of supralapsarianism:

“For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Thou wilt say then unto me, why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” (Romans 9:17, 19-21)

Matthew Poole’s Commentary sums up Paul’s argument in Romans perfectly:

“He argueth from the less to the greater, that if a potter hath power over his clay, to form it as he pleaseth, then God hath much more power over his creatures, to form them or order them as he listeth. God’s authority over his creature, is greater than that of a potter over his clay. The potter made not his clay; but both clay and potter are made by God. Here is something implied, that as there is no difference in the matter or lump out of which the potter frameth diversity of vessels, so there is no difference in mankind; all men are alike by nature, and in the same corrupt state; both those who are elected, and those who are rejected, that are made vessels of mercy, or vessels of wrath. And here is this expressed, that as the potter maketh vessels of honour or dishonour, of nobler or viler use, out of the same lump, as he listeth, and is not bound to give a reason of his so doing to his pots; so God may choose some, and reject others, and give no account thereof unto his creatures. The potter takes nothing from the clay, of what form soever he makes it; and the Creator doth no wrong to the creature, however he doth dispose of it.” (3)


Among those who call themselves Calvinists there has been some difference of opinion as to the order of events in the Divine plan. The question here is, when the decrees of election and reprobation came into existence were men considered as fallen or as unfallen? Were the objects of these decrees contemplated as members of a sinful, corrupt mass, or were they contemplated merely as men whom God would create?

According to the infralapsarian view the order of events was as follows: God proposed,

1. to create;

2. to permit the fall;

3. to elect to eternal life and blessedness a great multitude out of this mass of fallen men, and to leave the others, as He left the Devil and the fallen angels, to suffer the just punishment of their sins;

4. to give His Son, Jesus Christ, for the redemption of the elect; and

5. to send the Holy Spirit to apply to the elect the redemption which was purchased by Christ.

According to the supralapsarian view the order of events was:

1. to elect some creatable men (that is, men who were to be created) to life and to condemn others to destruction;

2. to create;

3. to permit the fall;

4. to send Christ to redeem the elect; and

5. to send the Holy Spirit to apply this redemption to the elect The question then is as to whether election precedes or follows the fall.

One of the leading motives in the supralapsarian scheme is to emphasize the idea of discrimination and to push this idea into the whole of God’s dealings with men. We believe, however, that supralapsarianism over-emphasizes this idea. In the very nature of the case this idea cannot be consistently carried out, e.g., in creation, and especially in the fall. It was not merely some of the members of the human race who were objects of the decree to create, but all mankind, and that with the same nature. And it was not merely some men, but the entire race, which was permitted to fall. Supralapsarianism goes to as great an extreme on the one side as does universalism on the other. Only the infralapsarian scheme is self-consistent or consistent with other facts.

In regard to this difference Dr. Warfield writes: “The mere putting of the question seems to carry its answer with it. For the actual dealing with men which is in question, is, with respect to both classes alike, those who are elected and those who are passed by, conditioned on sin; we cannot speak of salvation any more than of reprobation without positing sin. Sin is necessarily precedent in thought, not indeed to the abstract idea of discrimination, but to the concrete instance of discrimination which is in question, a discrimination with regard to a destiny which involves either salvation or punishment. There must be sin in contemplation to ground a decree of salvation, as truly as a decree of punishment. We cannot speak of a decree discriminating between men with reference to salvation and punishment, therefore, without positing the contemplation of men as sinners as its logical prius.”1

And to the same effect Dr. Charles Hodge says:

“It is a clearly revealed Scriptural principle that where there is no sin there is no condemnation. . . . He hath mercy upon one and not on another, according to His own good pleasure, because all are equally unworthy and guilty . . . Everywhere, as in Romans 1:24, 26, 28, reprobation is declared to be judicial, founded upon the sinfulness of its object. Otherwise, it could not be a manifestation of the justice of God.” 2

It is not in harmony with the Scripture ideas of God that innocent men, men who are not contemplated as sinners, should be foreordained to eternal misery and death. The decrees concerning the saved ‘and the lost should not be looked upon as based merely on abstract sovereignty. God is truly sovereign, but this sovereignty is not exercised in an arbitrary way. Rather it is a sovereignty exercised in harmony with His other attributes, especially His justice, holiness, and wisdom. God cannot commit sin; and in that respect He is limited, although it would be more accurate to speak of His inability to commit sin as a perfection. There is, of course, mystery in connection with either system; but the supralapsarian system seems to pass beyond mystery and into contradiction.

The Scriptures are practically infralapsarian, — Christians are said to have been chosen “out of” the world, John 15:19; the potter has a right over the clay, “from the same lump,” to make one part a vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor, Rom. 9:21; and the elect and the non-elect are regarded as being originally in a common state of misery. Suffering and death are uniformly represented as the wages of sin. The infralapsarian scheme naturally commends itself to our ideas of justice and mercy; and it is at least free from the Arminian objection that God simply creates some men in order to damn them. Augustine and the great majority of those who have held the doctrine of Election since that time have been and are infralapsarians, — that is, they believe that it was from the mass of fallen men that some were elected to eternal life while others were sentenced to eternal death for their sins. There is no Reformed confession which teaches the supralapsarian view; but on the other hand a considerable number do explicitly teach the infralapsarian view, which thus emerges as the typical form of Calvinism. At the present day it is probably safe to say that not more than one Calvinist in a hundred holds the supralapsarian view. We are Calvinists strongly enough, but not “high Calvinists.” By a “high Calvinist” we mean one who holds the supralapsarian view.

It is of course true that in either system the sovereign choice of God in election is stressed and salvation in its whole course is the work of God. Opponents usually stress the supralapsarian system since it is the one which without explanation is more likely to conflict with man’s natural feelings and impressions. It is also true that there are some things here which cannot be put into the time mould, — that these events are not in the Divine mind as they are in ours, by a succession of acts, one after another, but that by one single act God has at once ordained all these things. In the Divine mind the plan is a unit, each part of which is designed with reference to a state of facts which God intended should result from the other parts. All of the decrees are eternal. They have a logical, but not a chronological, relationship. Yet in order for us to reason intelligently about them we must have a certain order of thought. We very naturally think of the gift of Christ in sanctification and glorification as following the decrees of the creation and the fall.

In regard to the teaching of the Westminster Confession, Dr. Charles Hodge makes the following comment:

“Twiss, the Prolocutor of that venerable body (the Westminster Assembly), was a zealous supralapsarian; the great majority of its members, however, were on the other side. The symbols of that Assembly, while they clearly imply the infralapsarian view, were yet so framed as to avoid offence to those who adopted the supralapsarian theory. In the ‘Westminster Confession,’ it is said that God appointed the elect unto eternal life, and the rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy as He pleaseth, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice.’ It is here taught that those whom God passes by are ‘the rest of mankind’; not the rest of ideal or possible men, but the rest of those human beings who constitute mankind, or the human race. In the second place, the passage quoted teaches that the non-elect are passed by and ordained to wrath ‘for their sin.’ This implies that they were contemplated as sinful before this foreordination to judgment. The infralapsarian view is still more obviously assumed in the answer to the 19th and 20th questions in the ‘Shorter Catechism.’ It is there taught that all mankind by the fall lost communion with God, and are under His wrath and curse, and that God out of His mere good pleasure elected some (some of those under His wrath and curse), unto everlasting life. Such has been the doctrine of the great body of Augustinians from the time of Augustine to the present day.” 3

Notes referenced in the article:

1. The Plan of Salvation, p. 28.

2. Systematic Theology, II, p. 318.

3. Systematic Theology, II, p. 317. (4)

Conclusions from the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology published by Baker:

Infralapsarianism, (Sublapsarianism)

(Lat. for “after the fall,” sometimes designated “sublapsarianism”). A part of the doctrine of predestination, specifically that which relates to the decrees of election and reprobation. The issues involved are God’s eternal decrees and man’s will, how can the one be affirmed without denying the other. If one argues for God’s predetermination of mankind’s fate, this tends to deny mankind’s free will and threatens to make God responsible for sin.

On the other hand, if one argues for the freedom of mankind’s will, thus making man responsible for sin, this can threaten the sovereignty and power of God since his decrees then are contingent upon mankind’s decisions. The argument / dilemma is not new. Pelagius and Augustine argued over the issue with the Synod of Orange, 529, which sided with Augustine. In the Middle Ages, Duns Scotus and William of Ockham questioned Augustine’s position. Luther and Erasmus argued the issue in Freedom of the Will and Bondage of the Will. Melanchthon got involved and was accused by Flacius of synergism, and by the end of the sixteenth century the position of Arminius stirred the controversy among the Reformed, who attempted to resolve the issue at the Synod of Dort.

What is the order of the eternal decrees of God? Infralapsarians argue for this order:

(1) God decreed the creation of mankind, a good, blessed creation, not marred or flawed.

(2) God decreed mankind would be allowed to fall through its own self determination.

(3) God decreed to save some of the fallen.

(4) God decreed to leave the rest to their just fate of condemnation.

(5) God provides the Redeemer for the saved.

(6) God sends the Holy Spirit to effect redemption among the saved.

The key to the order of the decrees is that God decreed election to salvation after the fall, not before; hence the name of the view “infralapsarianism.” The supralapsarian view would offer an order in which the decree for election and reprobation occurs before the creation. Those on both sides of the issue cite weighty arguments for their positions, quote Scripture as a foundation, and comb through Augustine, Calvin, and others for support. Generally most Reformed assemblies have refused to make either infra – or supralapsarianism normative, although the tendency has been to favor the former without condemning those who hold to the latter.
R V Schnucker
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary) (5)


The doctrine that God decreed both election and reprobation before the fall. Supralapsarianism differs from infralapsarianism on the relation of God’s decree to human sin. The differences go back to the conflict between Augustine and Pelagius. Before the Reformation, the main difference was whether Adam’s fall was included in God’s eternal decree; supralapsarians held that it was, but infralapsarians acknowledged only God’s foreknowledge of sin. Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin were agreed that Adam’s fall was somehow included in God’s decree; it came to be referred to as a “permissive decree,” and all insisted that God was in no way the author of sin. As a result of the Reformers’ agreement, after the Reformation the distinction between infra – and supralapsarianism shifted to differences on the logical order of God’s decrees.

Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor at Geneva, was the first to develop supralapsarianism in this new sense. By the time of the Synod of Dort in 1618 – 19, a heated intraconfessional controversy developed between infra – and supralapsarians; both positions were represented at the synod. Francis Gomarus, the chief opponent of James Arminius, was a supralapsarian.

The question of the logical, not the temporal, order of the eternal decrees reflected differences on God’s ultimate goal in predestination and on the specific objects of predestination. Supralapsarians considered God’s ultimate goal to be his own glory in election and reprobation, while infralapsarians considered predestination subordinate to other goals. The object of predestination, according to supralapsarians, was uncreated and unfallen humanity, while infralapsarians viewed the object as created and fallen humanity.

The term “supralapsarianism” comes from the Latin words supra and lapsus; the decree of predestination was considered to be “above” (supra) or logically “before” the decree concerning the fall (lapsus), while the infralapsarians viewed it as “below” (infra) or logically “after” the decree concerning the fall. The contrast of the two views is evident from the following summaries.

The logical order of the decrees in the supralapsarian scheme is:

(1) God’s decree to glorify himself through the election of some and the reprobation of others;

(2) as a means to that goal, the decree to create those elected and reprobated;

(3) the decree to permit the fall; and

(4) the decree to provide salvation for the elect through Jesus Christ.

The logical order of the decrees according to infralapsarians is:

(1) God’s decree to glorify himself through the creation of the human race;

(2) the decree to permit the fall;

(3) the decree to elect some of the fallen race to salvation and to pass by the others and condemn them for their sin; and

(4) the decree to provide salvation for the elect through Jesus Christ.

Infralapsarians were in the majority at the Synod of Dort. The Arminians tried to depict all the Calvinists as representatives of the “repulsive” supralapsarian doctrine. Four attempts were made at Dort to condemn the supralapsarian view, but the efforts were unsuccessful. Although the Canons of Dort do not deal with the order of the divine decrees, they are infralapsarian in the sense that the elect are “chosen from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault from their primitive state of rectitude into sin and destruction” (I, 7; cf. I, 1). The reprobate “are passed by in the eternal decree” and God “decreed to leave (them) in the common misery into which they have willfully plunged themselves” and “to condemn and punish them forever…for all their sins” (I, 15).

Defenders of supralapsarianism continued after Dort. The chairman of the Westminister Assembly, William Twisse, was a supralapsarian but the Westminister standards do not favor either position. Although supralapsarianism never received confessional endorsement within the Reformed churches, it has been tolerated within the confessional boundaries. In 1905 the Reformed churches of the Netherlands and the Christian Reformed Church in 1908 adopted the Conclusions of Utrecht, which stated that “our Confessional Standards admittedly follow the infralapsarian presentation in respect to the doctrine of election, but that it is evident…that this in no wise intended to exclude or condemn the supralapsarian presentation.” Recent defenders of the supralapsarian position have been Gerhardus Vos, Herman Hoeksema, and G H Kersten.
F H Klooster
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary) (6)

In closing:

From The Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q. 19. What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell?

A. All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all the miseries of this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever.

Q. 20. Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?

A. God, having out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.

“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, John, 9 Volumes, Romans, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 504.

2. Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Ephesians, pp. 3354-3356 .

3. Matthew Poole, Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, Romans, vol. 3, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), p. 511.

4. Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing CO. signed copy 1984), pp. 126-130.

5. Walter A. Elwell, Editor, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House), p. 560-561.

6. Walter A. Elwell, Editor, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House), p. 1059-1060.

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

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

For more study:


** CARM theological dictionary

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