• Apologetics

    This web log is about missions, evangelism and defending the faith. They are, it seems to me three aspects of the same task - to make disciples of all nations. Some divide the theological discipline into Apologetics (defending the faith from unbelievers' attacks) and Polemics (those differences between members of the Body of Christ). I prefer to deal with all differences about the faith (from inside or outside the Church) under that same heading.

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Major and Minor

The modern assumption that biblical doctrine is simple is an attitude towards Scriptural doctrine which can lead us astray. Not every doctrine in Scripture can be reduced to either this” (the assumed truth) or that” (the supposed contrary error). The approach is easy to understand. We want to have firm answers to the questions we are asked. So when, for example, someone asks: “Does the Bible teach free will?” we expect the answer to be “yes” or “no.” Anything else is often treated as suspect. Sometimes the fault lies in the question asked. If we look at the example just mentioned the problem is lack of precision. The question is not clear enough to answer with a “yes” or a “no.” It all depends on what we mean by the expression free will.”

Sometimes the problem is that we are dealing with complex, spiritual, realities. The question is sometimes asked: “Is sin disobeying God?” The concept sin does not refer only to doing things that God forbids. In Proverbs we are told “A proud look and a haughty heart and the lamp (or plowing) of the wicked is sin.” The verse teaches us sin may be seen in the things we do (looking proudly) or way we think (haughtily) or even in the intent which leads us to do what is otherwise a neutral activity. Other passages of Scripture reinforce the idea that “sin” is not just a synonym for “disobedience.” The Shorter Catechism’s: “want of conformity to or direct transgression of the Law of God,” if limited to mere disobedience, does not fully describe the complexity of sin.

Sometimes the problem lies in word usage. Most words have a range of meanings possible according to the context. In John 1: 10,1 for example, the word “world” may be used in at least two different ways. John could be using the word first of all created things and then of mankind. Or he might be speaking of mankind in general and then of the Gentiles (contrasted with the Jews – the “his own” of the next verse). The way the word is used by interpreters of this passage will depend on what they assume is John’s purpose in using just this particular phrasing. It is seldom true that any particular word has only one meaning in the Bible.

By noticing odd things about the way the author makes his point we can be led to find unexpected insights. The leads to the idea behind the title of this article. The major point of a particular passage in Scripture may be made in such a way as we can legitimately draw a minor conclusion from the same passage. Please remember that this does not change the meaning of the passage but it does mean that differences in application do not necessarily mean it has been misinterpreted. It is often in these minor points that we find the explanation of the sermon variety as we listen to different preachers. It is not always that they interpret the same passage so differently but that each places a different emphasis on what may be minor elements in it.

By washing the disciples’ feet, the point Jesus was making was that the greatest among them would be the one who was servant of all.2 He made this point because of a recurring concern the disciples had shown throughout his ministry about which was the “greatest” among them. The point is made absolutely clearly by Peter’s first response. He knew it was not the accepted practice that the leader of the group should be taking on a role usually delegated to a slave. So he is unhappy that his Lord should be the foot washer After that, whenever the disciples were tempted to exalt themselves over one another, both the Lord’s actions and his response to Peter would stand as a reminder of the way it ought to be among fellow believers.3

But, while this is the major point of the passage there is more recorded than just Peter’s first response. When Jesus says to him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me,” Peter replies: “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” To which the Lord responds, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” This interaction contributes to the major point by reminding them that they all equally share with Christ because they have all been washed by him. As his fellow-heirs – those he would sent into the world as his witnesses, they are all equal. Since he who made them clean served them all, then, their leaders also should be expected to do the same.

His response, however, to Peter’s request to having his hands and head washed as well his feet provides us with a principle which has a more specific application than merely the way we ought to consider our role as leaders of a congregation. Honor is by service, that is true but it is also true that even those who have been washed by Christ may not be truly of him. It is significant that Matthew Henry does not miss this aspect of the passage in his commentary on the Bible.

“III. Christ washed his disciples’ feet that he might signify to them spiritual washing, and the cleansing of the soul from the pollutions of sin. This is plainly intimated in his discourse with Peter upon it, John 13:6-11, in which we may observe,

“1. The surprise Peter was in when he saw his Master go about this mean service (John 13:6): Then cometh he to Simon Peter, with his towel and basin, and bids him put out his feet to be washed. Chrysostom conjectures that he first washed the feet of Judas, who readily admitted the honour, and was pleased to see his Master so disparage himself. It is most probable that when he went about this service (which is all that is meant by his beginning to wash, John 13:5) he took Peter first, and that the rest would not have suffered it, if they had not first heard it explained in what passed between Christ and Peter. Whether Christ came first to Peter or no, when he did come to him, Peter was startled at the proposal: Lord (saith he) dost thou wash my feet? Here is an emphasis to be laid upon the persons, thou and me; and the placing of the words is observable, su mou – what, thou mine? Tu mihi lavas pedes? Quid est tu? Quid est mihi? Cogitanda sunt potius quam dicenda – Dost thou wash my feet? What is it thou? What to me? These things are rather to be contemplated than uttered. – Aug. in loc. What thou, our Lord and Master, whom we know and believe to be the Son of God, and Saviour and ruler of the world, do this for me, a worthless worm of the earth, a sinful man, O Lord? Shall those hands wash my feet which with a touch have cleansed lepers, given sight to the blind, and raised the dead? So Theophylact, and from him Dr. Taylor. Very willingly would Peter have taken the basin and towel, and washed his Master’s feet, and been proud of the honour, Luke 17:7, Luke 17:8. “This had been natural and regular; for my Master to wash my feet is such a solecism as never was; such a paradox as I cannot understand. Is this the manner of men?” Note, Christ’s condescensions, especially his condescensions to us, wherein we find ourselves taken notice of by his grace, are justly the matter of our admiration, John 14:22. Who am I, Lord God? And what is my father’s house?

“2. The immediate satisfaction Christ gave to this question of surprise. This was at least sufficient to silence his objections (John 13:7): What I do, thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter. Here are two reasons why Peter must submit to what Christ was doing: –

(1.) Because he was at present in the dark concerning it, and ought not to oppose what he did not understand, but acquiesce in the will and wisdom of one who could give a good reason for all he said and did. Christ would teach Peter an implicit obedience: “What I do thou knowest not now, and therefore art no competent judge of it, but must believe it is well done because I do it.” Note, Consciousness to ourselves of the darkness we labour under, and our inability to judge of what God does, should make us sparing and modest in our censures of his proceedings; see Heb. 11:8.

(2.) Because there was something considerable in it, of which he should hereafter know the meaning: “Thou shalt know hereafter what need thou hast of being washed, when thou shalt be guilty of the heinous sin of denying me;” so some. “Thou shalt know, when, in the discharge of the office of an apostle, thou wilt be employed in washing off from those under thy charge the sins and defilements of their earthly affections;” so Dr. Hammond. Note, [1.] Our Lord Jesus does many things the meaning of which even his own disciples do not for the present know, but they shall know afterwards. What he did when he became man for us and what he did when he became a worm and no man for us, what he did when he lived our life and what he did when he laid it down, could not be understood till afterwards, and then it appeared that it behoved him, Heb. 2:17. Subsequent providences explain preceding ones; and we see afterwards what was the kind tendency of events that seemed most cross; and the way which we thought was about proved the right way. [2.] Christ’s washing his disciples’ feet had a significancy in it, which they themselves did not understand till afterwards, when Christ explained it to be a specimen of the laver of regeneration, and till the Spirit was poured out upon them from on high. We must let Christ take his own way, both in ordinances and providences, and we shall find in the issue it was the best way.

“3. Peter’s peremptory refusal, notwithstanding this, to let Christ wash his feet (John 13:8): Thou shalt by no means wash my feet; no, never. So it is in the original. It is the language of a fixed resolution. Now, (1.) Here was a show of humility and modesty. Peter herein seemed to have, and no doubt he really had, a great respect for his Master, as he had, Luke 5:8. Thus many are beguiled of their reward in a voluntary humility (Col. 2:18, Col. 2:23), such a self-denial as Christ neither appoints nor accepts; for, (2.) Under this show of humility there was a real contradiction to the will of the Lord Jesus: “I will wash thy feet,” saith Christ; “But thou never shalt,” saith Peter, “it is not a fitting thing;” so making himself wiser than Christ. It is not humility, but infidelity, to put away the offers of the gospel, as if too rich to be made to us or too good news to be true.

“4. Christ’s insisting upon his offer, and a good reason given to Peter why he should accept it: If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. This may be taken, (1.) As a severe caution against disobedience: “If I wash thee not, if thou continue refractory, and wilt not comply with thy Master’s will in so small a matter, thou shalt not be owned as one of my disciples, but be justly discarded and cashiered for not observing orders.” Thus several of the ancients understand it; if Peter will make himself wiser than his Master, and dispute the commands he ought to obey, he does in effect renounce his allegiance, and say, as they did, What portion have we in David, in the Son of David? And so shall his doom be, he shall have no part in him. Let him use no more manners than will do him good, for to obey is better than sacrifice, 1Sam. 15:22. Or, (2.) As a declaration of the necessity of spiritual washing; and so I think it is to be understood: “If I wash not thy soul from the pollution of sin, thou hast no part with me, no interest in me, no communion with me, no benefit by me.” Note, All those, and those only, that are spiritually washed by Christ, have a part in Christ. [1.] To have a part in Christ, or with Christ, has all the happiness of a Christian bound up in it, to be partakers of Christ (Heb. 3:14), to share in those inestimable privileges which result from a union with him and relation to him. It is that good part the having of which is the one thing needful. [2.] It is necessary to our having a part in Christ that he wash us. All those whom Christ owns and saves he justifies and sanctifies, and both are included in his washing them. We cannot partake of his glory if we partake not of his merit and righteousness, and of his Spirit and grace.

“5. Peter’s more than submission, his earnest request, to be washed by Christ, John 13:9. If this be the meaning of it, Lord, wash not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. How soon is Peter’s mind changed! When the mistake of his understanding was rectified, the corrupt resolution of his will was soon altered. Let us therefore not be peremptory in any resolve (except in our resolve to follow Christ), because we may soon see cause to retract it, but cautious in taking up a purpose we will be tenacious of. Observe,

(1.) How ready Peter is to recede from what he had said: “Lord, what a fool was I to speak such a hasty word!” Now that the washing of him appeared to be an act of Christ’s authority and grace he admits it; but disliked when it seemed only an act of humiliation. Note, [1.] Good men, when they see their error, will not be loth to recant it. [2.] Sooner or later, Christ will bring all to be of his mind.

(2.) How importunate he is for the purifying grace of the Lord Jesus, and the universal influence of it, even upon his hands and head. Note, A divorce from Christ, and an exclusion from having a part in him, is the most formidable evil in the eyes of all that are enlightened, for the fear of which they will be persuaded to any thing. And for fear of this we should be earnest with God in prayer, that he will wash us, will justify and sanctify us. “Lord, that I may not be cut off from thee, make me fit for thee, by the washing of regeneration. Lord, wash not my feet only from the gross pollutions that cleave to them, but also my hands and my head from the spots which they have contracted, and the undiscerned filth which proceeds by perspiration from the body itself.” Note, Those who truly desire to be sanctified desire to be sanctified throughout, and to have the whole man, with all its parts and powers, purified, I Thess. 5:23.

“6. Christ’s further explication of this sign, as it represented spiritual washing.

(1.) With reference to his disciples that were faithful to him (John 13:10): He that is washed all over in the bath (as was frequently practised in those countries), when he returns to his house, needs naught save to wash his feet, his hands and head having been washed, and he having only dirtied his feet in walking home. Peter had gone from one extreme to the other. At first he would not let Christ wash his feet; and now he overlooks what Christ had done for him in his baptism, and what was signified thereby, and cries out to have his hands and head washed. Now Christ directs him into the meaning; he must have his feet washed, but not his hands and head. [1.] See here what is the comfort and privilege of such as are in a justified state; they are washed by Christ, and are clean every whit, that is, they are graciously accepted of God, as if they were so; and, though they offend, yet they need not, upon their repentance, be again put into a justified state, for then should they often be baptized. The evidence of a justified state may be clouded, and the comfort of it suspended, when yet the charter of it is not vacated or taken away. Though we have occasion to repent daily, God’s gifts and callings are without repentance. The heart may be swept and garnished, and yet still remain the devil’s palace; but, if it be washed, it belongs to Christ, and he will not lose it. [2.] See what ought to be the daily care of those who through grace are in a justified state, and that is to wash their feet; to cleanse themselves from the guilt they contract daily through infirmity and inadvertence, by the renewed exercise of repentance, with a believing application of the virtue of Christ’s blood. We must also wash our feet by constant watchfulness against every thing that is defiling, for we must cleanse our way, and cleanse our feet by taking heed thereto, Ps. 119:9. The priests, when they were consecrated, were washed with water; and, though they did not need afterwards to be so washed all over, yet, whenever they went in to minister, they must wash their feet and hands at the laver, on pain of death, Ex. 30:19, Ex. 30:20. The provision made for our cleansing should not make us presumptuous, but the more cautious. I have washed my feet, how shall I defile them? From yesterday’s pardon, we should fetch an argument against this day’s temptation.

(2.) With reflection upon Judas: “And you are clean, but not all,” John 13:10, John 13:11. He pronounces his disciples clean, clean through the word he had spoken to them, John 15:3. He washed them himself, and then said, “You are clean;” but he excepts Judas: “not all;” they were all baptized, even Judas, yet not all clean; many have the sign that have not the thing signified. Note, [1.] Even among those who are called disciples of Christ, and profess relation to him, there are some who are not clean, Prov. 30:12. [2.] The Lord knows those that are his, and those that are not, II Tim. 2:19. The eye of Christ can separate between the precious and the vile, the clean and the unclean. [3.] When those that have called themselves disciples afterwards prove traitors, their apostasy at last is a certain evidence of their hypocrisy all along. [4.] Christ sees it necessary to let his disciples know that they are not all clean; that we may all be jealous over ourselves (Is it I? Lord, is it I that am among the clean, yet not clean?) and that, when hypocrites are discovered, it may be no surprise nor stumbling to us.”4

1  “He was in the world and the world was made by him and the world knew him not.”

2  “So when he had washed their feet, and taken his garments and reclined at the table again, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.’” (John 13: 12-17).

3  “Then he poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. So he came to Simon Peter. He said to him, ‘Lord, do You wash my feet?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.’ Peter said to him, ‘Never shall You wash my feet!’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.’ Jesus said to him, ‘He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’ For he knew the one who was betraying him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean’” (John 13:5-11).

4  Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, loc. cit.

Apologetics and Practice

One of the key things we sometimes forget when we “do theology” is that the Bible is not interested in theology for theology’s sake. What is written is for our instruction that we might be thoroughly prepared “unto all good works.” The Bible, in other words, is intended to help us put principles into practice. Now, obviously good theology is necessary. How can we know which principles we should be putting into practice unless we understand what principles the Bible actually teaches? But it should never stop there – when we understand what is taught we need to discover how to put it into practice and then we need to do just that.

It is significant, for example that when the old Testament speaks of the people of God as not hearing him it is not referring to hearing the words of Scripture. It refers to their obedience (or, more specifically, their lack of obedience). In some cases they knew what God wanted but imagined that if they gave him what they thought he’d like he would ignore their disobedience. That was King Saul’s reasoning when he decided to keep King Agag alive and save the best of the Amalekite cattle for sacrifices to God. Samuel told him and, through him, us that God doesn’t want us to stop at having the principles and the responsibilities straight, he wants us to go ahead and actually do what his Word says needs to be done. Our freedom of choice ought to be guided by God’s purpose.

Now, when it comes to evangelism (or apologetics – if you want the more formal designation) there are certain principles which govern a sound approach to the subject. These principles lead to implications which, in turn, drive us to act in a certain way. The best evangelist was, of course, the Lord Jesus himself. The Gospels show us how we went about “preaching the kingdom.” This element was only a part of his task on earth. John tells us his purpose. John announced that Jesus was the “Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world.” So preaching the kingdom was a part, an important part, of the work of taking away sin. The sacrificial system was the visible lesson God used to teach his covenant people that sin was an ever present evil and that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness for that evil. It also indicated, by the constant repetition of the sacrifices, that a better system was to come.

John’s announcement was that the day of the better system was here. Jesus’ teaching, therefore, was a part of making Israel aware of their sin and of their danger if they ignored the provision God had made. The miracles he preformed were designed to confirm that fact. His interactions with the people of his age show a versatility which many of those who produce books about evangelism and apologetics do not. One of the things that was consistent in his interactions was that Jesus dealt with their spiritual needs beginning with their perceived needs. This, it seems, is a legitimate pattern to follow. Each interaction was designed to bring about a change – in some cases a radical one, as with the rich young ruler.

Radical or not, as we present the reasons for our faith our presentation ought to be such that a listener is led to recognize their sin and need of the provision God made in sending his only-begotten son to earth approximately 2000 years ago. We may not have the opportunity to present all of it but we ought to have thought it through and in our own words because, after all, it’s how we ourselves became followers of Christ.


Feast Days

The reason for including this discussion under Apologetics is that the question of whether to celebrate feast days or not is a matter which God leaves up to the individual conscience. There is a deliberate freedom here to celebrate or not. This means, in the New Testament, celebration may not be imposed as if it is a commandment of the Lord. The problem does not usually arise from those who wish to exercise that freedom to abstain. It is far more often that those who wish to celebrate such days attempt to impose the “feast days” as if they are required of all Christians. For more on the principle involved see my posting on the Regulative Principle.

Nevertheless there is something to be said for taking advantage of such festivals for evangelism or missions. When others have their attention on the great Acts of God for the salvation of mankind, there is an opportunity provided to speak on his behalf. As Paul was moved to speak up on behalf of the true God they obviously did not know, by the Athenian preoccupation to make sure they worshiped every single god lest they offend one, we too can use the occasion to present the Gospel.

Nor is the opportunity diminished by the fact that, in our world, the celebrations have become reduced to mere holidays. This week is Easter, celebrated by many as the time for Easter Bunnies, colored chickens and chocolate or colored eggs. In such a situation there is the perfect opportunity to explain the *real* reason why the Church in older times used to celebrate this day. As long as your conscience is clear and as long as you are not making your explanation a reason why everyone should celebrate this day, there is Scriptural warrant for doing so.

The same would be true if (on any other day of the year) someone was talking about Easter and mentioned it as a time for the bunny/egg celebration. To speak of Christ’s death and resurrection as the real purpose behind the feast is a subject they raised and is perfectly appropriate. Feast days, therefore, are an opportunity for missions or evangelism; as long as we do not make it mandatory to use them (even for such a worthy cause). It falls under the provisions of the Apostle’s command to “… be ready both in season and out of season to give an answer for the hope that is within you …”

Always, however, with this proviso – when the person we speak with wants to change the subject so also should we. The offense should be that of the Gospel not of the preacher.

Apologetics and Van Til.

In his review for the Fall edition of the 1985 Westminster Theological Journal, of the book “Classical Apologetics” authored by John H. Gerstner,‎ Arthur W. Lindsley and R.C. Sproul  and published by Ligonier Ministries in 1984, John Frame made the following comment about the difference between the approach taken by the authors and that of Cornelius Van Til. Discussing Van Til’s criticism of the notion of intellectual autonomy, he points out that on Van Til’s view, the self is the ‘proximate,’ but not the ‘ultimate’ starting point when coming to know God. He adds (emphasis added):

“What this means, I think, is that it is the self which makes its decisions both in thought and practical life: every judgment we make, we make because we, ourselves, think it is right. But this fact does not entail that the self is its own ultimate criterion of truth. We are regularly faced with the decision as to whether we should trust our own unaided judgment, or rely on someone else. There is nothing odd or strange (let alone logically impossible) about such a question; it is entirely normal.

“Therefore, there are two questions to be resolved: (1) the metaphysical (actually tautological!) question of whether all decisions are decisions of the self, and (2) the epistemological-ethical question of what standard the self ought to use in coming to its decisions. Van Til and the Ligonier group agree, I think, on the first question, though it is not of much interest to Van Til; but that agreement does not prejudice the answer to the second question. That one still needs to be posed and resolved. And it is the second question that Van Til — and Scripture — are concerned about. Scripture regularly calls God’s creatures to submit their judgment to that of their creator. If someone objects that even a choice to serve God is a choice made by the self and therefore ‘starting with’ the self in one sense, Van Til can simply grant the point, while reminding his questioner that in another sense, in a far more important sense, this choice does not ‘start with’ the self.

The heart of the issue between Calvinists and Arminians is the question of the way our exercise of the will functions. Calvinists have always argued that even the will is tainted by sin and so, in order for us to ever do anything that is pleasing to God, it needs to be renewed by the Holy Spirit. The Arminian appears to agree with this statement but, when discussing coming to Christ, argues that that choice has to be autonomously made. As a result he argues for a work of the Holy Spirit which puts the person in a neutral position where the choice can either be for Christ or against him with no indication of the possible results.

The Calvinist recognizes that choice is never made from a neutral position. Sin always leads us to rebel against God and so, even in the heart of the regenerated, it is by ensuring our choices are submitted to the judgement of God that we can think and act as we should. In preaching the congregation is reminded of the importance of this test of our choices so why should it be a strange thing to do the same with our methods of apologetics? When we call upon the unbeliever to submit his evaluation of his life to that of God’s should we begin by encouraging him to think he has the right to bring God to the bar of his sin-tainted intellect? It is the work of the Holy Spirit enabling us to both see the need and guide our desires so our choices are truly God-honoring which helps us to increasingly become more Christlike. Should we not be showing unbeliever, then, that the only way his view of the world has any coherence is in the light of the reality as God presents it in his word?

Should our approach to the discipline of apologetics, in other words, be Arminian or Calvinistic? How seriously should we take the effects of sin on the intellect when it comes to speaking to others about Christ? In Romans 1, Paul describes man’s denial of God’s revelation in nature in order to worship his idols. Applying the insight gained by that description to Paul’s speech to the Athenians should surely guide our Apologetical methodology even as it presently shapes our Soteriology and Systematic Theology.

Quotation above is from: Frame, John. Van Til and the Ligonier Apologetic Westminster Theological Journal [47, 2 (Fall 1985), 279-99]. The full article may be found at the Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics, under the Apologetics section and looking for the above title, or by purchasing the journal cited above at the Westminster Theological Seminary website



A Book Review worth Reading

Though I disagree with the author of the review that this is the best place to begin reading Cornelius Van Til, his review is well worth the read, even if only for his favorite quotations from the book. There is, however, a much better reason for reading it. The writer seems to have grasped the essence of Van Til’s approach presenting his findings in a persuasive manner. As usual, if the link above does not work for your browser, here is the URL to his review:


Defending the Vulgate?

We often say there is nothing new under the sun and, while we may sympathize with the sentiment expressed, we seldom actually believe it is true.If we did, we would not be so quick to ignore the lessons of the past. Today there is an uproar in the church about which Bible translation is acceptable. While there are many voices, some in favor of this translation and others in favor of another, one group argues vociferously for the old, widely used, version of our forefathers. In spite of the language being difficult for most modern English speakers to comprehend, this group would have us believe the version they champion is the only translation which ought to be considered. J H Merle d’Aubigne, records a little of the protest in his “History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century,” Book 18, Chapter 1.

A key element in defense of using an older translation, such as (for example) the Authorized Version, is that we have no right to correct the original text that has been received since that text was preserved by God’s providence. Modern critics, we are told, are only interested in setting aside the text using ungodly methods of evaluation. Some go as far as to say textual criticism should be banned from the universities that train our ministers — this practice is the source of the modern day corruption of the Church. Yet the version from which the “received text” was developed used just those techniques which are now denied.

“Erasmus had collated many Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, and was surrounded by all the commentaries and translations, by the writings of Origen, Cyprian, Ambrose, Basil, Chrysostom, Cyril, Jerome and Augustine. … He had investigated the texts according to the principles of sacred criticism. When a knowledge of Hebrew was necessary he had consulted Capito, and more particularly Oecolampadius. Nothing without Theseus, said he of the latter, making use of a Greek proverb. He had corrected the amphibologies, obscurities, hebraisms and barbarisms of the Vulgate; and had caused a list to be printed of the errors in that version.”

After being forced to leave England, Erasmus sent published copies of his newly revised Greek New Testament back to his friends in that country. It had been formed by comparing what were then the newest manuscripts available. This version of the Greek New Testament became known as the Textus Receptus, the basis for the New Testament text of our older, King James’ Version, of the Bible. Bound together with the Greek Erasmus included a new translation of the that Greek into Latin. It was embraced and used immediately by the scholars in the universities but it was rejected and vilified by the clergy who did not approve of people reading the Bible in their own language. They feared the scholars would soon produce other translations, this time into common English, allowing ordinary people to test whether their sermons were actually true to the Bible from which they were supposedly drawn.

The clergy attacked Erasmus’ translation by attempting to show (in comparison to the Vulgate) how it contained, or would lead to, heresies which (if tolerated) would destroy the Church. They attacked the effrontery of the translator of calling into question the veracity of the venerable Vulgate and setting himself up as an authority against the great Church Father, Jerome. They also charged him (falsely) with attempting, via the new translation, to change those practices of the Church which everyone knew were just and right since things “had always been done this particular way.”

“… Franciscans and Dominicans, priests and bishops, not daring to attack the educated and well-born went among the ignorant populous and endeavored by their tales and clamors to stir up susceptible women and credulous men. ‘Here are horrible heresies,’ the exclaimed.’ ‘Here are frightful antichrists! If this book be tolerated it will be the death of the papacy!’ — ‘We must drive this man from the university!’ said one. ‘We must turn him out of the Church!’ added another.’ …

“The priests saw the danger and, by a skillful manoeuvre, instead of finding fault with the Greek Testament attacked the translation and the translator. ‘He has corrected the Vulgate,’ they said, and puts himself in the place of St Jerome [translator of the Vulgate]. He sets aside a work authorized by the consent of ages and inspired by the Holy Ghost. What audacity!’ And then, turning over the pages, they pointed out the most odious passages: ‘Look here! this book calls upon men to repent, instead of requiring them as the Vulgate does, to do penance’ (Matt. 4: 17).”

There may come a day when the Church of today will agree, as a whole, on a single translation. In the meantime what a treasure we have for those who do not have access to the original languages! By comparing one translation with another we may, at the very least, gain a clearer idea of what the original writers meant us to know of the Word of God. As we consider what he has said in his Word we may, coming in repentance and faith, learn to love him. This is the path to eternal life.

Noah and Baptism

A short meditation on the picture painted by Peter of the role of baptism as a picture of the salvation God intends for his people. The picture Peter is painting is a typeanti-type illustration. In order to understand why this is important we need to know that in the original language the word “corresponding” in the clause “Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you” (ὃ καὶ ὑμᾶς ἀντίτυπον νῦν σῴζει βάπτισμα) represents the concept “anti-type.” The type is the original form of an historical event or person and the anti-type the greater form based upon something they both have in common. For example, Paul uses a form of this typeanti-type illustration in Hebrews 10: 11-14

“Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

From the example above we note the following elements. The Levitical priest offers a ritual sacrifice, ordained by God, to symbolize the covering of sins. But, since it doesn’t actually remove sins the ritual needs to be repeated daily. The action (presenting a sacrifice for sin) becomes a connecting point between Christ and the priest. The priest is the type and Jesus (as a greater priest, being of the Order of Melchizedek) is the anti-type. Both offer a sacrifice for sin but the first symbolizes Christ’s sacrifice, the reality of which actually does take away sin. The greater reality of the anti-type is seen in Christ’s only having to offer his sacrifice once after which he sat down. Three things are important. The connection has to be designed (which is why we often use those examples which use either the word “type” or “anti-type)” the similarities between type and anti-type need to be clear (both Christ and the priest offer a sacrifice), and there should be an indication that the anti-type shows an greater reality God wants us to understand. Using what we have shown of the “type” and “anti-type” concept helps us understand more clearly what Peter wants us to know.

“16b… keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. 17 For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. 18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you — not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience — through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.” (I Peter 3: 16-22)

Before evaluating what Peter says here there are a few textual items which ought to be taken into account. For this reason, contrary to my usual practice, I have left the verse numbers in the quotation above. Those words in italics are no part of the original language and are included at the publishers’ instigation, so that the translation will read more easily for the English reader. In most of the cases in this passage those words are appropriate but in verse 19 the word now is not necessary since the proclamation was made by Noah at the Lord’s behest to those who were perishing because of their sin.

The idea of baptismal regeneration which some find in the language of St Peter is not a necessary inference from the language here used. The noun “salvation” or the verb “save” has implications which are realized by the context. In Matt. 8: 25 it is used of “saving” the disciples from drowning; in Matt. 9: 21, 22 it was a woman who was “saved” from a persistent hemorrhage (though to be fair the meaning Jesus gives it in v 22 is ambiguous). In Luke 8: 12 the word “saved” is applied to those who might be redeemed from sin by the Gospel. In Mark 10: 52 there seems to be a double meaning for the word; the primary is that the man had his sight restored but, since he followed Christ in the road, he may well also have been born again to eternal life. In I Peter 3, therefore, while Peter says baptism “saves” us it may not necessarily mean being regenerated by baptism — after all, though Noah and his children and their wives were rescued from the wicked generation before the flood, they also brought sin into the new world with them. Only after the Final Judgment will there no longer be any sin in the world. Not all who are baptized do, in reality, persevere to the end. Examples of this truth are, of course, Ananias and Sapphira, Simon Magus and others in the pages of the New Testament.

The clause “preserved through water” (διεσώθησαν δι᾿ ὕδατος) is less accurately translated “brought safely through the water.” Correct translation here is important for finding the connection point of the typeanti-type illustration Peter has in mind. While “were brought safely through through the water,” is a natural reading from the context, it makes the ark the type and the anti-type baptism; whereas to read it as suggested by the original language allows the the water itself to be the connecting point of Peter’s comparison. For a type — anti-type relationship to be properly constructed the connection point is vital. It needs to be the same in both type and anti-type. In the relationship between Adam and Christ in Romans 5:14, the connection point is the federal headship that each obtains towards the human race. The argument Paul makes depends on this fact to explain why the sinful action of one brought death to those related to him and the obedient actions of the other bring life. The translation “preserved through water” would allow the interpreter to refer to the water as the means used to preserve the ark in which were the eight people who were saved as a result.

The footnote, in the NASB translation, which stresses the fact that the water in verse 20 is “the great flood” leads us to a false conclusion if we assume the ark is the type. If the ark is the type then the connection has to be fact that the people were in it. Baptism would then be the thing that saves by our being “in it.” What relationship the flood has to the ark and our relationship to Christ has to do with baptism is not clear, if we take baptism to be immersion (as some do) then the ark is not a picture of baptism. The ark was not immersed in the water of the great flood; it rode on top of it. The best we can do is assume the priority of faith (which led to building the ark) is a connecting point. Having the same prior faith which leads us to be baptized could be used to make sense of the figure. Even so, the interpretation seems to be a little convoluted.

The difficulty is greatly reduced or completely vanishes if the type is the flood and the anti-type the waters of baptism. This interpretation makes more sense of the type and anti-type illustration of the point Peter is making that the water represents the means God uses to pass us from being members in the old, sinful, world into membership a the new world wherein dwells righteousness. Where the type section of the illustration is to do with temporal affairs it would be necessary to make the point that baptism has more than temporal relationships in mind. And that is exactly what we find Peter turns his attention to next.

The parenthetical statement “not the removal of the dirt from the flesh but the appeal of a good conscience to God ” does not make sense if we assume the ark is the point of connection because the ark would not remove dirt from the flesh. If the connection is the water of baptism (corresponding to the water of the flood) then what Peter is saying makes good sense. Water does remove dirt from the flesh but, Peter tells us, though that might be true it is not the point he is making. It is the appeal of a good conscience to God. As faith in God (the result of a good conscience) led Noah to build an ark; as the waters carried him away from the wickedness and evil of the old world into the new world (Gen. 7:17- 8: 19) and he and his family were saved; so putting our faith in Christ (our ark), symbolized our salvation by the waters of baptism. The water represents the Holy Spirit who carries away the wickedness and evil of a bad conscience transferring us into a new world where righteousness dwells (v 22 ff).

In keeping with typeanti-type figure we expect a greater reality to be portrayed in the second part of the picture than that in the first. In Noah’s case the destruction of the world and salvation of his people was purely a temporal blessing while in the anti-type the salvation envisaged is of a spiritual nature. There is also a further element in the picture Peter paints because baptism, itself, points to something which has not yet been fulfilled. Like all the sacraments the final fulfillment of the symbol is in the New Heavens and the New Earth when they will no longer be needed.

So the type “the waters (of the flood)” which pronounce judgment upon the wicked world of Noah, destroying the wicked generation and rescuing him and his family from the real danger of falling into their sin. On one level, then, the waters represent the punishment due to that generation. On another they represent the rescuing agent which transfers them, from the old, to the new world. The anti-type which finds its expression in “the waters (of baptism)” speaks of judgment owing to our present, wicked, generation and their coming destruction. The anti-type also shows salvation comes through the Spirit of God washing us, cleansing sin from our souls, as water washes dirt from our flesh. Beyond baptism we are reminded of the final fulfillment of its promise when judgment again comes upon the earth. Then we will live forever as those marked by baptism and rescued by the grace of God in the world where, in his presence, there is no longer any sin or miseryonly the eternal pleasure of all the saints.


Implications of the New Birth

An increasing number of people imagine that, in order to be saved, faith is necessary to complete the work done by the Lord, Jesus Christ. The statement, as it stands, is only partly true. It depends on what you mean by the words “to be saved.” To many today those words are almost an insult. They imply the hearer is unable to look after him- (or her-) self. If you want to find the reason why so many seem to think that Christianity is a prop for the weak and unstable this oft-repeated phrase has done much to encourage that belief. Add the teaching, prevalent in many churches, that man is dying of a sickness called sin and that Jesus is the cure and many in our society feel justified in thinking this religion is for the sick and weak. If they do not feel weak or sick they see no need to be cured or saved.

The first implication of the New Birth, then, is that our grasp of the state of society is different from the views of unbelievers. In many cases it is different from the way we formerly viewed it since we now see many, if not all, of the problems as related to our attitude towards God. This change in viewpoint leads to a conflict in any proposed solutions to those problems. In fact, Christians ought to recognize conflict is unavoidable. The natural man just will not see that he is a part of the problem unless he changes his view of God. We may attempt to form a harmonious and peaceful society but while the earth remains there will always be conflict either out in the open or simmering below the surface.

Even if we begin by teaching that, by nature, man is a rebel against God and prove he has changed the glory of God revealed in nature into an idol which he sets up instead of God, as Paul does in Romans 1, few today would accept this picture applies to themselves. The whole argument, they would say, rests upon an antiquated concept which we, as enlightened human beings, no longer need. Why do we need a God they ask, all that we see and all that exists has come about by natural processes. The growing rate of suicide and the general dissatisfaction with life, that effects even the rich, indicate the truth that man is aware something is wrong with this generally-accepted evolutionary approach to life in our society but sees no way to correct the problem.

The singer, Peggy Lee, captures this well in her song “Is that all there is?”a song that echoes the words of Ecclesiastes: “Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”1 The Psalmist tells us that the fool has said in his heart, there is no God. Modern man agrees, and his attempt to place a particular form of determinism in God’s place is trumpeted from the stage, in schools and everywhere using every means at his disposal to do so. Nor should we be surprised. Putting an idol in God’s place is exactly what Paul describes the unbeliever as doing in the first chapter of his letter to the Roman Church.

“… the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

“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. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”2

The New Birth gives Christians a different view of both the problems and the idols that are commonly revered in our society. Chief among them is the notion that Science will provide us with answer to all our ills. Whether by means of new medicines, better communication technology or even finding better ways of controlling the wicked among us, science is the future hope for so many in our world today. Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry’s view of the glorious future of man as we evolve out of our dependence on antiquated prejudices is a hopeful, if unrealistic, attempt to set out the principles needed to put things right without recourse to the powers of an immortal superior being. If we are to understand the implications of the New Birth for defending the faith in society today, we should note carefully some things Paul draws to our attention in this passage.

The first thing to note is that this was written to the church folk in Rome; a sizable section of which were converts from Judaism. As such Paul’s arguments are addressed to people who would be familiar with, and accepting of, the authority of the Bible. The letter was not intended to be used as an argument to convince unbelievers of the error of their ways. Now, though that was not his intent, there are some truths expressed in the letter which may be used for that purpose. Since the evidence in the letter to the Romans is drawn from the Scriptures, however, it is necessary to first establish the veracity of our authority when dealing with unbelievers or use one which already has credibility with them. The latter approach was used by Paul on Mars’ Hill in Athens.3 We may establish our case from non-biblical sources even when our argument is based on biblical concepts. Scripture is necessary, however, for certain elements of the gospel presentation, even if not acknowledged.4

We also note that man is a sinner without excuse for his sin. Man knows God’s power and divine nature from the creation since these things are clearly understood by the creatures in general and by man in particular. Paul makes it plain that man not only dishonors God but denies his existence. He would rather accept a lie, in spite of evidence to the contrary,5 than admit the Creator is God. Paul says men “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”6 Consequently to claim, as did some of the Greek philosophers of his day, that creation came into being without any reference to the Creator, then, is to lie about the nature of the universe so we can deny what we already know about God. Worse, it is foolish to make representations of mere mortals and honor them as gods, in spite of evidence to the contrary, even if it is only poets and playwrights make the folly plain. Thanks to Paul Christians know this is done to avoid giving reverence to the Creator (God) where it rightly belongs, so it can be given to the creature (“Nature,” by way of the theory of evolution). This principle, even if unstated in our apologetic, informs our expectations when developing our argument showing man’s inconsistency in this practice – as Paul did on Mars’ Hill.

Thirdly, God allows the wicked to count their bodies as of little worth because of man’s idolatry. We sometimes forget that idolatry led to abuses against children (offered as burnt sacrifices to Morloch, for example) and of many of the best of the society (some of whom were made prostitutes for the “worship services” of their idols. It was counted as an honor to be so treated in idolatrous societies. If God removes his restraints on the lusts of men’s hearts then sin, having been redefined as honorable behavior, rages unchecked through society. Paul traces this result back to man’s idolatry. It was idolatry which led Eve astray in the Garden of Eden. She placed the word of a creature before that of God. Knowing what had happened Adam still chose to do the same (in his case placing Eve before God). After the initial idolatry they made futile attempts to cover the effects of that sin, tried to shift the blame rather than take responsibility for their actions, and Adam even accused God of creating the situation which led to the sin they committed. The New Birth helps us recognize these attempts for what they are and allows us to use them to return to the real problem when dealing with people of our society. In so doing we learn to answer the concerns they raise so that the discussion is brought step by step to the real problem – man’s sin and God’s solution.

We observe, lastly, that what is called problematic behavior” is, in reality, sin. This is a source of hope to the Christian because, having been born again he knows that others may share the same experience and insights. No matter the prevalence of sin, though the flaws in human nature it reveals, God is more than capable of restoring us and our society to the condition it was designed to be. Since idolatry is the source of the problem, a return to the true God, putting his word into action provides a real hope for the future. That so many of the sins Paul lists find an echo in our own hearts gives us a sympathetic ear to those who recognize their sin and strive to overcome it. All sinners live in God’s world and are dependent on him for all things. The root problem is described as failure to acknowledge God as God or be thankful. New Birth is, therefore, the only lasting solution to the problem. Even though it is possible to have external compliance to the Law of God and so mitigate the evils of our society at heart there is still idolatry until man truly bows the knee to God.

Apologetically this passage shows us that unbelievers do know God, in spite of their claimed ignorance or their denial that there is a God. By paying careful attention to the way they present their argument, we may show that any view which does not accept God’s nature and power leads to logical inconsistencies. Though natural revelation is a help in that direction the only consistent view of the world we live in is that presented by the Bible’s teaching. It is the New Birth which enables us to see the present age has a choice between a determinism which randomly selects which of us survives or the actions of a loving God who allows us the privilege of making fools of ourselves. Not only that, he has made clear on the face of creation the folly of attempting to run the world on our own in order to bring us to realize how much we need his love and guidance.

It is the role and privilege of apologetes like us to have a small part in making people aware of their need. Paul did this at Athens by showing God is not like an idol and so may not be worshiped by using one. We must do the same in our society. The problem is the same but it shows itself in a different guise. As those who have learned how faulty was our own idolatry, we are especially prepared to help others discover theirs. This must be done humbly (we had to be shown ours by God) and with much prayer. Only God can rescue those who are headed for destruction and the need for workers to help with the task is pressing – as our Lord once said:

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”7

1  Ecclesiastes 2: 17

2  Romans 1: 18-32

3  Acts 17: 18-32

4  In the passage cited above it was the significance of Christ’s resurrection.

5  As one example, in spite of evidence for the necessity, and existence, of Intelligent Design in the physical world, many would deny this evidence in order to maintain the world came into existence by unplanned random events. It is surely no co-incidence that this also allows them to believe they are not answerable to the God of the Bible.

6  Romans 1: 25

7  Luke 10: 2 NASB

Determining the Sense of Scripture

“They have a very mean idea of the Gospel, who consider as frivolous, vain and unjust all that they imagine does not accord with their own reason. … Men are not permitted to wrest the Gospel at pleasure so that it may square with their own sentiments and interpretation.”

– Ulrich Zwingli
Zwinglii Opera cur. Schulero et Schulthessio Turici 1829 vol. 1: 202, 215
cited in The History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century by J.H. Merle d’Aubigne Book 8, Chapter 3 (epub edition p 625 of 1994)

Presuppositional Resources

Westminster Theological Seminary has a number of videos available for purchase. Some of the good ones are by Dr K Scott Oliphint. One of the best of his that I have listened to called “What is Presuppositional Apologetics?” is here. It is also possible to find some by other presuppositionalists here’s one of the best by Greg Bahnsen, called “This is How You do Apologetics.”

I will add more useful resources as I find them.